Friday, December 26, 2014

Hudkins' Response to Greenberger Humanist of the Year Award

This photo of Hudkins was featured in the Times-Picayune
by Dave Walker on December 9, 2014. See article link below.
    At our 15th year anniversary banquet in November 2014, we awarded Farrar Hudkins with our Greenberger Humanist Award. President Emeritus Harry Greenberger, for whom the award is named, read Hudkins' statement of acceptance to the audience. We felt that everyone should be able to enjoy it whether you attended the banquet or not. It is a lovely note on which to end our year!
"I’m tremendously humbled, honored, and really amazed, by this award. My free time comes only a few hours at a stretch, and usually in the middle of night, and when I saw that NOSHA wanted to expand its viewing audience through the Internet, I happily volunteered to convert and upload “The New Orleans Humanist Perspective” programs to YouTube.
It was the perfect way for someone like me to volunteer – someone who is quiet and prefers to work behind-the-scenes. I don’t have much time or money, but I wanted to do something for a cause that I believe in very strongly: that is, the freedom to choose, without external pressures, one’s own way of thinking about life and our place in the universe as humans. 
I value the Humanist Perspective program, and enjoy sharing it with people, because it defies the popular notion of atheists, as a group, marching in lock-step, waging war against all religious belief. It presents free-thinkers as simply human individuals, curious about the world around them, compassionate to other people … willing and eager to engage in polite, thoughtful discussion, about big and small ideas, with people of varied backgrounds and belief systems. I think it’s important to show other people that atheists and agnostics are as diverse as any other subset of humanity, and Harry’s program does that beautifully. It means so much to me that this award comes from an organization that I care deeply about, and that I have enjoyed watching grow and thrive over the years that I, in my very small way, have been involved.
I think it speaks volumes of the New Orleans Humanist community that you have chosen to honor someone like me, who works well out of public view, indeed almost anonymously. In a way, it reflects how humanists have worked for a long time: quietly, and not often in public view. But it is gratifying to see that changing – to see the Humanist causes coming into an ever-growing light, nationwide and worldwide.  
I will continue to do what I can for NOSHA in the future – perhaps even more, once I’ve finished my long tenure as a working college student! You all have my deepest and sincerest gratitude. This is something I will cherish for the rest of my life. Thank you so much."
    The Times -Picayune did a feature story on Hudkins in early December.  Read it here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Offended at the Bookstore?

I recently volunteered to do gift wrapping for holiday shoppers at a major chain bookstore in Metairie. This was mostly a pleasant experience, and an opportunity to make NOSHA visible and even to collect a few dollars in donations. Occasionally, someone would say they wouldn't donate to our group, and I always said that was entirely up to them. Everybody who came to the table got their gift wrapped.

One shopper, though, voiced some negative opinions. He photographed me and the table, accused NOSHA of being anti-Christian, tried to dissuade another patron from having her gift wrapped at our table, and proclaimed our presence “offensive.”

No doubt this fellow thinks nonbelievers are the cause of any number of problems for him, his church, and/or America. He needs to spend more time looking in the mirror.

I guess he felt that people in the bookstore were there to shop for Christmas, that Christmas is a Christian holiday, and therefore only good Christians should volunteer to do gift wrapping. A long list of problems with this position seem not to have occurred to him at all. For starters, we were in a bookstore, not his home nor his church. Yet he seemed to feel he should have some kind of control over the situation, determining who should or should not be performing which services.


It also seemed not to have occurred to this poor fellow that there might be customers in the store who were not Christians. I’m sure many shoppers were buying gifts for a traditional but quite secular holiday celebration, for Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Yule, for Solstice or Festivus or what have you. The days of overwhelmingly Christian demographics are long behind us. He might have felt disappointment that America isn't quite what he wants it to be, but declaring himself offended didn't change anything.

And if he was going to make an argument about atheists performing a public service during a religious holiday, why of all things would he choose Christmas? Exchanging gifts in celebration of Jesus’ birthday is not biblical. Celebrating Jesus’ birthday on December 25th is not biblical. In fact, celebrating Jesus’ birthday at all is not biblical. That’s why the Puritans in early America banned the celebration of Christmas altogether. December 25th, wrapping gifts in fancy paper and exchanging them, decorating evergreens, putting up wreaths and lights, feasting and drinking, are all aspects of Christmas that Christians have avidly appropriated from a mélange of Pagan practices. Arguing about the secularization of Christmas is the weakest and most ridiculous fight any serious Christians can pick with society at large.

Christian believers need to examine themselves for this guy’s kind of behavior. He was uncivil and intolerant. He felt he should be able to control things he had no right to control. He claimed to feel offended merely because people who are different from him existed and were visible. A few unbelievers wrapping Christmas presents at the bookstore aren't going to change anybody’s religion. But this customer’s type of behavior drives people out of churches in droves.
~Jim Dugan

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Keeping It Between The Goalposts

Fifteen years…

Chances are that not many would have given a small band of atheists with a liberal social agenda much hope to last very long as a functioning organization in a city with a strong, 300 year-old Catholic tradition, or in a state situated nearly in the center of the Protestant Bible Belt spanning the southern United States. This would have to have been a pipe dream that wafted away quicker than the pungent smoke they were sharing, right?

Well, wrong.  The hypothetical skeptic would have passed over a deeper look at the message that served as the core principle of the organization, and negligently underestimated the dedication and, quite frankly, chutzpah of founding father Harry Greenberger and the devoted brothers and sisters around him at the beginning. Had the agenda been specious or the organizers easily discouraged, the prognosis of failure would have been correct, but the combination of leadership and purpose made success a fait accompli—nearly everything was right for this marriage made in…well…New Orleans.  

The one-two combination of people and purpose, directors with a directive: what a concept. The symmetry is elegant, but at the same time can be insidiously satisfying—an End, a state of zero energy, motionless poetry. It need not be, and there seems to be no one involved with the group ready to relax on past positives....and counting.


Let’s borrow from that dualism, that two-tiered approach which got us to this point in our history and apply it to a model for reevaluating the motivations and goals of the organization and how best  to proceed in implementing  its chartered mission and approaching other “issues”.

The work is on two fronts: the promotion of the Humanist ideology, which is based on our local chapter’s Statement of Principles, Humanist Manifestos I, II, and III, along with general regulations and by-laws that are in place pertaining to our unique group, including outlines of decorum in public or participating in open or closed social media discussions. The objective is recruiting new members; the method is education through public or private broadcasting (television and radio), news outlets (newspapers, print and online), social media postings, personal blogs, printed handouts, appearances at social gatherings and participation in community voluntarism.  

That in itself would be enough to keep even the more industrious of any group knee-deep (at least) with projects and activity, but there is that second pier of responsibility that must be engaged if the first standard of purpose is to have any hope of maturing and manifesting itself in the future. 

There is a justifiable and growing concern that religious fundamentalist interests are gaining a widening sphere of influence and the gains in political power that can come with it. This is the metaphorical second pillar of our self-justification, our raison d’être. This is the dirty part of our job, the negative part, the part that has to do with challenging and opposing bad ideas. This is where we must “just say no” to proposals for mean-spirited restrictions on basic human rights, and when it is the part of our job to expose the danger of an irrational fear of science and the fallacy of placing unflagging reliance for guidance on patriarchal documents and credos from cruder times. This is may be the harder part. Hard, but doable.

While IRS regulations prohibit non-profit 501(c)(3) organizations from endorsing (or opposing), or contributing to, or working for particular candidates; there remains a certain flexibility that is allowed when it comes to lobbying for or against legislation. We can likewise have allies at the national level that are assuming the principle leadership role given their larger funding bases. The Bill of Rights in our Constitution has served us well generally, but some of the loose and vague provisos therein can and have been interpreted by biased judicial bodies unsatisfactorily. There has been a spate of unfavorable decisions lately on corporate “personhood” in matters of religious and campaign liberties, but at the same time more favorable decisions concerning opening marriage rights to everyone. 

It has been said that the particular faith maintained at the base of Christianity is problematic in the sense that that it is “not only faith beyond reason, but, if need be, faith against reason” (1). The same evaluation would apply to Islam. This is an unacceptable. Our values, expressed in Manifestos or privately held, must include a call for an serious condemnation of fundamentalist religion, at least those based on savage and authoritarian texts, whether that condemnation be through civil debates, public outrage, mockery, or rude disrespect, as long as it is directed to the idea, not the person, in any available format or setting and at any opportunity. Calls for religious pluralism and tolerance must be cross-examined and disregarded if they offer no solutions for the likelihood  that  some of their own are destined to assume prophet status and create an interpretation of the truth based on a novel reading of what is basically a mythology. 

Together, we can do this.

Happy Anniversary, NOSHA!
Happy Holidays, Y'all!                                                                   

~Marty Bankson
November 30, 2014

1. Barrett, William, Irrational Man (New York: Anchor Book Edition, 1990), p. 92.