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.)