Sunday, January 25, 2015

Pray The Hate Away

“Pray it away”, indeed; that was but a part of the orchestrated chant put together by the organizers of the “Organize, Reflect, Act: A Day of Action for Justice in Louisiana”, a protest on the LSU campus Saturday against the unholy union of the churchy fundamentalist group the American Family Association and state chief executive Bobby Jindal.  Arriving about thirty minutes early, I was concerned that the turnout was not going to be as strong as hoped; there were only about ten or so people mingling in the chilly sunshine in front of the Bell Tower, but Louisianans, and especially students, are notorious late arrivals, and within 30 minutes the crowd had grown to an estimated 400. 

No group of LGBTQs and heathens that large would escape the notice of a diligent street preacher, (witness the French Quarter at Mardi Gras or the Southern Decadence Festival), and the start of today’s activities was no exception, especially given the likely sizeable contingent of preachers on hand for the day’s activities. The wiry fellow was clearly flushed with Red Bull as well as the holy spirit, his carotid arteries straining visibly through his scruffy neck whiskers.

The little guy persisted and followed the group around the block to the main staging area for the rest of the demonstration near the gate entrance into the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. He was soon made inaudible and even less significant when the Master of Ceremonies, a burly, part-time rap artist began introducing the speakers. A total of about 12 people spoke for 3-5 minutes each, a group that included professors, lawyers, student LGBT activists, a young Muslim woman, a city councilwoman from Grambling, La., Jessie Nieblas with the New Orleans Abortion Fund, and an aspiring youthful poet.

Halfway through the talks, a small army of pro-lifers approached the PMAC in their own march. I am not sure, but I suspect this group was put together after Response organizers realized there would be a protest. I would be misrepresenting the facts if I said it wasn’t a lot of people: there were at least as many as in our gathering. Barricades separated us from the oncoming group, which was then directed toward the ramps that enter the Assembly Center. A few chose to linger, either scowling or trying to stare down our wickedness, and one wannabe masochist-for-Christ got down on his knees on the rough asphalt and waved a crucifix at us for about 20 minutes.


At the conclusion of the talks, we made our way the Student Union and gathered in the ballroom for a panel discussion. Panel members were organizer Peter Jenkins, State Representative Patricia Smith, law professor Jack Harrison, and, now to remain nameless, an Southern Poverty Law Center representative and another of the program’s organizers. The panel did a good job of fielding and answering questions; State Representative Smith was particularly astute and politically motivational, having just been through a week of Martin Luther King activities. An unannounced and almost unnoticed appearance of Zack Kopplin in the audience for a few minutes was not mentioned. I found that a bit curious; perhaps he was on the down low for a reason.

At the conclusion of the panel discussion, four small workshop groups concluded the day. I attended one on social media, the remaining NOSHAN listened to one on grassroots organizing.

“Organize, Reflect, Act” sponsors, participants, and coordinators did a professional job with this project. And mine is just one view, much like theirs, a view from the outside. Inside the Pete Maravich Assembly Center? No one out here really knows if they prayed away the hate or not. But we really doubt it.   
~Marty Bankson        

Friday, January 23, 2015

Just Who The Hell Are We?

There was a thread in our Facebook group recently that elevated the apparent (and possible lack of) understanding of who non-believers are in the political spectrum of thought. It seemed that not everyone realized that "we" all don't believe the same way, whether we label ourselves atheists, secular humanists, freethinkers or whatever. On top of that, some people may have misconceptions about the non-religious because of their own limited awareness or lack of experience, especially if they have only recently left their religion.

Generally, it is safe to say there are basic perspectives that probably are held by the majority given our more progressive slant. Many people who feel religion should be at the forefront of society rarely if ever "lean left", as they say.

For instance, it is likely that if someone believes in a strong separation of church and state concerning most social and medical issues in our society, chances are they are more liberal than they are conservative. How could they not be? Part of religious group-think is to believe that everyone should accept religion as a part of how decisions are made. And by religion, they mean theirs. And they usually assume you are okay with their religion making these important decisions in your life, too. And that's whether or not you're a member of their religion. It is one of the many blind spots we encounter when we discuss certain topics with religious people.


There also might be various understandings of how secular humanism is defined and how we use this as a value system for everyday life. If a certain part of a definition resonates with one person, they may assume that it will be important to everyone else. And then there could be plain ol' misunderstanding and denial. Sometimes we simply believe the parts that confirm our suspicions and discard the rest. And that makes for another whole can of worms in discussions and is a blog for another day.

This link will give you some idea of how the religiously unaffiliated think politically, but here are the highlights of this crowd: (To be fair, this specific Pew survey does not represent only the non-religious community, but anyone who claims to be "unaffiliated", or not a member of any religion, which is the only category under which we will find non-believers. Only 32% of the people in this survey claim they do not believe in God or are unsure, for example.)

55% lean Democrat
73% consider themselves moderate or liberal
66% believe Government is too involved in morality
69% believe that stricter environmental laws are worth the cost
71% believe that homosexuality should be accepted
70% believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases

None of these specific areas of opinion hits 100%, so it is unwise to assume that everyone in a group will share the same opinion on everything (duh, right?). Still there is a trend to the majority of these people, so if you are a betting man or woman, you should assume that when you join a secular humanist or non-religious group, you will be dealing with people who are more progressive than most on social issues and, depending on the group, have a settled definition of what their brand of non-belief is about.

Does this mean that these people are not willing to consider outside points of view or that they will only consider the black and white arguments of a pet topic? Of course not. But if you disagree in some way after putting an idea out there, it doesn't mean you can't hang out and discuss issues of interest at another time. It just means you may not agree on everything all of the time. Kind of like most situations. Stick around and give it a chance. You might actually like some of the people when you get to know them better and you might have more in common with us than you first thought.

One challenge to everyone: try to understand where the other person is coming from. Try. Think about what you intend to post one more time, especially if you think it could be misunderstood. Sometimes you will see a word or phrase that is confusing or could be changed for greater understanding. Confusion is part of the human condition and a little extra effort can go along way to prevent potential hurt feelings. All we have are words in social media, so let's make sure they are the best representation of ourselves that they can be.

Monday, January 12, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails

The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails, edited by John W. Loftus, 2010

John W. Loftus has given us a number of volumes, most famously his monograph Why I Became an Atheist : A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity. Continuing the themes and arguments from that work, Loftus gathered a group of writers from different disciplines to expand on or respond to topics such as the relationship between Western society and Christianity, the psychology of religion, the relationship between world-view and reason, the morality of the Judeo-Christian God, and the like. The result is an admirable edited volume, published in 2010 under the title The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails.
Each chapter of The Christian Delusion presents one writer’s perspective on a particular idea.  In The Cultures of Christianities, Anthropologist David Eller reminds us that Christianity is not a monolith, and that each variety of Christianity is intertwined with a particular culture.  Culture, for the most part, is something we absorb unconsciously, so changing it can be quite difficult.

“Christians are not easily reasoned out of religion,” he writes, “since they are not usually reasoned into it.  Christians, like other religionists, are not so much convinced by arguments and proofs as colonized by assumptions and premises” (p. 44). 


In Christian Belief Through the Lens of Cognitive Science, psychologist Valerie Tarico asks secularists to better understand religious believers in light of the fact that our shared human nature is to be irrational. She points out that “certainty is a feeling, not proof of knowing,” and that “the structure of thought itself predisposes us to religious thinking” (48). It is worth repeating the adage that the scientific method is “what we know about how not to fool ourselves.” Each of the thirteen other chapters offers its own particular perspective on similar themes.

For me, the last section of the book, dealing with Christianity and society, was the most interesting.  Anthropologist David Eller argues that Christianity Does Not Provide the Basis for Morality, while Hector Avalos, a child evangelist who became an atheist academician, clarifies that Atheism was Not the Cause of the Holocaust.  Historian Richard Carrier deftly demonstrates that Christianity Was Not Responsible for Modern Science.  To many secularists it might seem that these positions are too obvious to need argumentation. Sadly, that is not the case. Creationists and other Christian apologists repeatedly make exactly these claims, and that is one of the main reasons a volume such is this is so necessary.  

~ Jim Dugan