Monday, December 28, 2015

NOSHA’s Social Aid and Pleasure Club: Helping at the Holidays!

~A special report from NOSHA member Eve Ortiz

As 2015 comes to an end, NOSHA members came together once again to volunteer at the Second Harvest Food Bank. While families and friends all across the nation start preparing for their end of the year festivities, many see the need to give back to their communities through volunteer work. This time of year is about giving; giving our time and our labor can be the best gift of all. Food banks and soup kitchens are a good choice for helping the neediest. For a few selfless hours, we ensure that many will eat another day.

NOSHA members have proven time and again that hard work does not scare us away, and our December 5 shift was no different. In past visits we helped to box up the food to be distributed to 474 locations throughout the 23 southern most parishes of Louisiana. By now we pretty much have a system down for the “boxing” room. The most recent visit presented us a new task. We were to sort the foods that would eventually go to the “boxing” room.

At first, it seemed a daunting task as we listened to the employee go through the instructions. In the middle of the room were several crates piled high with the donated foods that we would be sorting. Bordering the edges of the room were the many categorized boxes we were to fill. As an extra incentive, we were told that the foods that we sorted that day would end up on kitchen tables in time for Christmas dinners.

Organized chaos is what comes to mind when I think of that day! We eagerly dove in, and although some of us seemed a bit confused in the beginning, we all quickly fell into step and were sorting like it was our second nature. Organizer and NOSHA member Glenn Pearl commented that if one was to look down on us it would have looked like a bunch of ants toiling about—we were definitely a determined bunch. The speed with which we were moving — in, out, and around each other— it is surprising there were no accidents.

In the short four hours that we were there, we not only accomplished our goal of giving back to the community, but we all also got in a good physical workout. By quitting time we had emptied all the crates and had sorted a whopping 9,000 pounds of food. Thanks to Glenn for organizing another successful outing by NOSHA’s Social Aid and Pleasure Club. We’ll be back in 2016 most definitely!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Humanism (and NOSHA) Goes to Church!

The Immaculate Conception Jesuit Church
Mr. Alan Wolfe helps coordinate the “First Tuesdays: Spirituality in the City” speaker series and acts as the liaison between the guest speakers and a the co-sponsorship of The Immaculate Conception Jesuit Church and several other Catholics entities. Now in it’s seventh season, guests from diverse religions, human interest groups, and prominent leaders in local government and business are chosen to “initiate conversations about their spiritual traditions and address the theme ‘Spirituality in the City’.” We met up with Mr. Wolf at the front steps of the grand 160-year old Immaculate Conception Jesuit Church—with its Moor-influenced architecture of onion domes and pointed arches—less than a block off Canal Street in the Central Business District of New Orleans. He shuttled us down a pedestrian alley between the church and the adjacent Lenes Hall, the parish center for the church where the group meets.

Scrolling through the list of past speakers, one finds representatives from Buddhist, Muslim, and Jewish traditions; journalists and authors, including Jason Berry, Bob Marshall, and John Barry; and local celebrity chefs Leah Chase and John Besh. Tuesday, December 1, the bar for diversity was set a bit higher, even by the liberal standards of the Jesuits.

“We had a speaker from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation a while back,” Wolf told me after Tuesday’s presentation, “but this was the real deal.” The “deal” being the presentation of a humanitarian, ethically positive outlook on life based on naturalism rather than traditional theology, gods, or laying claim to an ethereal spiritualism, courtesy of the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association (NOSHA).
NOSHA President Charlotte Klasson and Membership Coordinator Beth Deitch spoke on the theme “Humanism: Ethical, Secular and Good for Everyone” in a coordinated tag team effort before a group of about 30 there for the midday talk and light lunch affair. Deitch started by defining terms: Humanism, naturalism, consequentialist ethics—all fitting together in overlapping  meanings and nuance, and building on a comprehensive outlook on life through the “self-aware moral agent” that the human is. Klasson gave the audience a brief history of NOSHA from its beginnings, its affiliate groups, and its function as the only local organization of its type for people sharing a non-theistic, naturalistic worldview. She stressed the importance of being vigilant about church and state separation issues, and pointed out Harry Greenberger’s (NOSHA President Emeritus) multiple ‘secular invocations’ at city council meetings to balance the typically Christian bias at that part of the meeting agenda.

Beth referred to cognitive scientist and linguist Steven Pinker’s recent  book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Pinker’s thesis, that, in spite of appearances, violence in the world is decreasing, could  be traced back to the tradition of the Enlightenment movement of the 17th and 18th Century Europe and America, which held as axiomatic that there are knowable truths in the world, which, when discovered through the scientific method and rational thinking, would lead to an increasing improvement of the human condition—and less violent behavior—over time. This is a foundational concept of secular humanism.

During a brief Q and A segment at the end, several of the typical concerns about a godless world were brought up by thoughtful listeners. One questioned how humans could have been the basis of their own positive ethical behavior. A: The primary motivation of survival has shown us that cooperation and altruism are necessary for maintaining and propagating life. Another question from a priest in the audience was how values of good and evil, right or wrong can emanate from the naturalistic materialism that humanism claims—a problem Kant had, he added. A: The problem of consciousness remains unsolved, and the solution to the question lies in the theory of consciousness itself. (And besides that, our consequentialist ethics are “at 180s” with Kant’s categorical imperative, or universal and unswerving morality Kant thought could be  derived from rationality.)

Maybe the most relevant question—at least as it related to the theme of "Spirituality in the City”—came from a dapper man near the front, who wanted to know if humanists have anything they call spirituality. “The term is problematic,” said Deitch, as the ambiguity between spirituality being something that comes from some real but intangible spirit, which we reject, or if it is something more like a sense of awe or wonderment, a magical or enchanted mental state. Apparently he had been unmoved by an earlier partial reading of Carl Sagan’s ode “Pale Blue Dot” which, for many, stimulates an awe that comes from man’s realization of his insignificance in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps the observation of theoretical physicist/cosmologist Lawrence Krauss, though not quite as lyrical, but no less poetical, which invokes a sense of wonderment by a reversal of tack, placing man as a shining product of the grand scheme of the universe, his bodily makeup the result of elements manufactured in solar furnaces, and then spread by the exploding aged stars and spread as elemental fertilizer to create untold diversity in the cosmos.

And maybe when it is shown that spirituality is possible without spirits, numen, genies or poltergeists or gods, will we better appreciate the “real deal.”

~ Marty Bankson

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Greenberger Gives Historical Invocation at City Council Meeting

Harry Greenberger’s Secular Invocation
New Orleans City Council
November 19, 2015

"I am Harry Greenberger, President Emeritus of the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association.

Thank you for having me today for my eighth secular invocation before this Council. Only one Councilperson now seated was here for any of those prior meetings, so I find it appropriate to give a quick explanation of the constitutional requirement that mandates allowance of such invocations. An old Supreme Court ruled that “Freedom of Religion” in the Bill of Rights meant that government must stay out of religion and religion must stay out of government. A more recent Supreme Court ruling was that religious invocations before governmental bodies did not violate that restriction, so long as the body invites any and all religions and established non-religious groups to present such invocations.

So you convene to consider the needs of our city, instead of lowering your heads in prayer, I invoke you, with eyes open, to deliberate with reason and compassion the needs and problems of New Orleans in order to produce the best solutions possible, remembering that we have a disparate population in which most of us are members of some minority group, race, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, and I hope that we all share the belief that we must treat our fellow human beings with respect and dignity.

By applying your experience, intelligence and persuasiveness to matters on your agenda, you have, without a need for prayer, ability to lead this city into brighter days ahead.

I therefore, invoke: Your ability to govern amid conflicting interests and issues. Your ability to work together in harmony. Your sense of the true needs and welfare of the New Orleans people.

So be it. Amen."

You can watch it here. Harry's invocation starts around 26:00 minutes (not much happens for a while... there are some large gaps in activity, so be patient.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

In Honor of Dr. Sagan

The November reading for  the NOSHA meeting by Connie Roeder Gordon Schultz (November 21, 2015)


In 1990 as Voyager 1 spacecraft sailed away from Earth, Ground Control issued a command that directed the craft to turn around and look back from its 4 billion mile vantage point and photograph all the planets it had passed leaving our solar system.

“From Voyager’s vast distance, the Earth was captured as an infinitesimal point of light, actually smaller than a single pixel of a photo.  The image was taken with a narrow angle camera lens, with the Sun quite close to the field of view.  Quite by accident, the Earth was captured in one of the scattered light rays caused by taking the image at an angle so close to the Sun."  Dr. Carl Sagan was quite moved by that pale blue dot in the photograph.

In 1994, Dr. Sagan published Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space.

I want to read a couple of pertinent excerpts from that book, not only in honor of Dr. Sagan’s recent birthday, November 9, but also as we share in the recent atrocities that continue to wrack our tiny planet and ALL OF HUMANITY, all seven-plus billion of us, not just in Paris, or Beirut, or Syria, or in Nigeria, and just yesterday in Mali, or in a movie theater in Lafayette, or a community college in Oregon, or at a historically black church in South Carolina, but everywhere on our pale blue dot.

“From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of particular interest. But for us, it's different. Consider again that dot. That's here, that's home, that's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. 
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.  
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.  
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.  
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.” 

And one more excerpt . . .

Ann Druyan [Dr. Sagan’s wife] suggests an experiment: Look back again at the pale blue dot . . . . Take a good long look at it. Stare at the dot for any length of time and then try to convince yourself that God created the whole Universe for one of the 10 million or so species of life that inhabit that speck of dust. Now take it a step further: Imagine that everything was made just for a single shade of that species, or gender, or ethnic or religious subdivision. If this doesn’t strike you as unlikely, pick another dot. Imagine it to be inhabited by a different form of intelligent life. They, too, cherish the notion of a God who has created everything for their benefit. How seriously do you take their claim?”

Saturday, November 7, 2015

NOSHA members sending donations to HSL!

NOSHA is collecting donations to help the Humane Society of Louisiana in their efforts to rebuild and recover from the horrific fire that destroyed their Tylertown shelter building. Animals lost their lives or are recovering from injuries and several employees lost  many personal belongings and will struggle with getting back on their feet.

We are encouraging members to donate via our website and we'll donate in the name of all secular humanists from our organization. Go to our website and look for the link at the top of the page under our banner (you can't miss it!)

All donations are accepted and appreciated no matter how small, so don't feel like you can't donate if you can't give a huge amount. Every bit adds up! You will receive an acknowledgement from PayPal that you can use if you itemize for your taxes and all monies from this link will go to the Humane Society. It is one way to help homeless animals and the people who work to make our community a more compassionate place for our furry friends in their time of need.

Thank you to everyone who has already stepped up!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Natural, Wild and Free

"Considered by many to be the as the father of wildlife
management and of the United States' wildlife system,
Aldo Leopold was a conservationist, forester, philosopher,
educator, writer and outdoor enthusiast"
From The Aldo
Leopold Foundation
At the October NOSHA meeting featuring journalist Bob Marshall on the status of the Louisiana coast, Board Member Rita Premo read excerpts from Aldo Leopold’s seminal collection of essays on wildlife management and conservation, A Sand County Almanac (New York: Oxford University Press, 1949).

From the Foreword
“Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. We abuse the land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. There is no other way for land to survive the impact of mechanized man, nor for us to reap from it the esthetic harvest it is capable, under science, of contributing to culture. 
That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics. That land yields a cultural harvest is a fact long known, but latterly often forgotten.”
“Such a view of land and people is, of course, subject to the blurs and distortions of personal experience and personal bias. But wherever the truth may lie, this much is crystal-clear: our bigger-and-better society is now like a hypochondriac, so obsessed with its own economic health as to have lost the capacity to remain healthy. The whole world is so greedy for more bathtubs that it has lost the stability necessary to build them, or even to turn off the tap. Nothing could be more salutary at this stage than a little healthy contempt for a plethora of material blessings. 
Perhaps such a shift of values can be achieved by reappraising things unnatural, tame, and confined in terms of things natural, wild, and free."
 From the final chapter
“It is inconceivable to me that an ethical relation to land can exist without love, respect, and admiration for land, and a high regard for its value. By value, I of course mean something far broader than mere economic value; I mean value in the philosophical sense. 
The "key-log" which must be moved to release the evolutionary process for an ethic is simply this: quit thinking about decent land-use as solely an economic problem. Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and esthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient. A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Shelley Segal Rules The PinChurch

Just call it another in a long list of “Only in New Orleans” quirks: book and produce professional musical acts in venues whose primary entertainment attraction is something other than live music. Like a bowling alley, for example—and call it “Rock ’n’ Bowl”; or a pinball parlor snuggled in a nondescript white shell of an abandoned church in a nondescript suburban neighborhood— and call it “PinChurch.”

Mike Perry’s PinChurch and Mystic Krewe of the Silver Ball project is not yet on the scale of Rock ’n’ Bowl, but his dedication to creating a special place is undeniable. He’s gone to great lengths to furnish the interior of the former church with audio-visual equipment, a stocked kitchenette, and pinball machines—lots of them (I stopped counting at 45)— lining the walls: Domino, Jet Spin, Funhouse, Slick Chick, Mystic, Grand Slam,300, Cyclone, Attack from Mars, and, of course, Wizard, to name a few. And all are set for “free play,” which I learned after slugging the slots with a few of my own quarters.


A performer coming into a venue competing for attention against the bells, flashing lights, and whistles and whizzes would necessarily need be confident with her talent. And Shelley Segal was up to the challenge.

Shelley is known by many in the atheist and freethinking community as the Australian singersongwriter- stylist who single-handedly assumed the role of the musical voice for the community with An Atheist Album released in 2011, and has been touring and spreading the message since making appearances with Dan Barker of FFRF and Richard Dawkins. She grew up in a Jewish family in East Melbourne that attended Orthodox sex-segregated services; and her disillusionment with the religious life eventually found a way of expression through her music.

The song “Saved” is a defiant objection to those that would impose the morals of their religion on others, and those that accept it without question “…You think that suffering is/ A part of a great plan/ That’s been devised/ I wonder, I wonder, I wonder, I wonder/ What it will take for you to open your eyes,” the lyrics written over a reggae rhythm alternating between major and minor key. Her voice is powerful, clear, controlled emotion. She incorporates musical styles taken from jazz, Indie Rock , American folk, and Bossa Nova; and writes ballads and poetic anthems that mesh artfully with her interesting guitar chordings.

Shelley is on tour promoting her latest EP Strange Feeling. At this evening’s performance, she was accompanied on several numbers by Dale on electric bass and host Mike, who also happens to be a very capable drummer.

The few from NOSHA who were fortunate enough to get tickets for the event enjoyed the delightful Friday evening experience—the PinChurch is worth the the visit in itself, but even in a house rockin’ with 50 clanging pinball machines, one felt a presence of a greater power in the person of Shelley Segal: the silver ball was no competition.

~Marty Bankson