News and Views from the World of Humanism

[The following items of note are from The Secular Humanist Bulletin, The Associate Members' Newsletter of the Council for Secular Humanism, Vol. 17, No. 4, Winter 2001/02]

September 11

At about 9 A.M. on Tuesday, the 11th of September, most at the Center for Inquiry staff gathered, as we always do on Tuesday mornings, for our weekly Monday-morning-meeting-on-Tuesday. We were not far along in the meeting, starting to discuss something (probably no one can now remember exactly what), when SHB Managing Editor Andrea Szalanski came into the room, looking and sounding distraught...She happened to be the first among us to hear and pass along the early news about the horrors of terrorism being violently brought home to America.

By the time you read this, it will have been about three months since September 11, but it seems so much longer. We have since shed tears, worried, and engaged in all kinds of speculation (much of it angry), but we here at the Council don't claim to have any easy answers for terrorism or the aftermath of September 11. We know that all secular humanists everywhere join us in extending heartfelt sympathy to the familes and friends of the thousands of Americans who died and to those whe were injured in the attacks. We also sympathize with the many who have suffered since, from grief or worry or anthrax. We know that all secular humanists do not agree on what should be done now. We will all, I hope, remember that freedom does not come easily and cannot be maintained without courage and a conscious effort to protect minority rights.

Those of us Americans who lack religion have been under another kind of attack during these difficult days. It has not been anything as immediately threatening or painful as terrorism, but it has been disheartening. Religious opportunists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson have insulted us, attempted to minimize our role in American society, egregiously violated the separation of church and state, and then seemingly dared us to defend our rights and reputations. One of the most maddening of the many columns that have seemed to be aimed directly at us was one by Kathleen Parker in USA Today. I wish that all Americans had missed the chance to read it...

Thanks to excellent work from the Council staff, we have had some success in getting responses into the media...We must not miss any chance to protect our rights and reputation--and yours.

We're also making progress in many other ways, including much better support from here for local secular humanists, but our contributions are way down (many of our largest donors have been hit hard by the recession). The upshot of all this is that September 11 means that mutual support among secular humanists--emotional, financial, and other kinds of support--is going to be crucial in the tough times ahead. Please let us know if you need something from us or have ideas about what we should be doing.

Ed Buckner, CSH Executive Director

Atheists Cry Also

Frank Greene

In the days that followed the tragedy of September 11, the news reports were full of stories about people turning to religion for comfort and understanding. As a nontheist, I could not do this. I felt left out of the public mourning for the loss of so many other human beings. My pain and sorrow were multiplied and twisted tight about my heart because I believe that the life that was taken away from so many innocent people was the only life they will ever have. I had no god to wipe away my tears with assurances that loved ones would be seen again, that evil would be turned into good, and that God would avenge us.

I have no god to console me, no angels to guide me. I cry in anger when I learn that the men who did this believe they are doing God's will--that God wants them to murder other human beings who do not agree with them: that God will grant them eternal life for giving their lives to take the lives of others. Mingled in my tears I taste the stinging salt of the tears of Northern Ireland, Palestine, Israel, Macedonia, and other blood-drenched lands torn by unholy jihads, crusades of destruction, and inquisitions of fire. Religion against religion, race against race, ethnic group against ethnic group, brother against brother, urged on by a schizophrenic god cheering for both sides.

What is the sense in Jerry Falwell and Pat Robinson's blaming the attacks on pagans, abortionists, feminists, homosexuals, the American Civil Liberties Union, and People for the American Way? These mean and small men, who offer us only a god of punishment and revenge, continue to sow the seeds of hatred and division that can only bloom in violence. Shame!

But I know I am not alone, not abandoned. As a humanist I find hope in humanity, in my fellow human beings. As I watched the televised gatherings in famous places of worship I realized that the real point was not religion, but humans getting together to embrace, to touch, to hold, to sing, to talk, to say out loud that life is worth living, that freedom from fear is precious and must not be taken away. When I attended a candlelight vigil in an attempt to find a catharsis for my confusion, the emptiness I had felt began to subside. I found no answers--I didn't expect any--but I did have a little more hope. People getting together to express the oneness of their humanity is hopeful.

Only peace, not violence, can come from this. I have been able to find comfort in the arts, listening to music, attending theater--a reminder of the best that humans can create, sharing our oneness in human achievements. But the true greatness of humanity is shown by the altruism of the firefighters, the police, and the medical personnel, many giving their lives in the attempt to save lives--no sermons, no revelation from God, just a job to be done.

This is the sad lesson to be learned here--and it is essential that we learn it. As Americans we must look to our "sacred texts," the Constitution and Bill of Rights, to reaffirm our freedoms and the dignity of each human being. We must also reaffirm and respect the wisdom of our Founding Fathers that religion must be kept out of politics The Taliban have shown in such a terrifying way that religious fanatics can pick and choose from the Koran to justify hate and destruction. All the history of the Crusades, religious wars of the past, and the religious/political bloodshed going on in so many places in the world today have shown that mixing religion and politics can be a very volatile combination. Let us separate church and state so that we do not separate people.

Frank Greene is editor of the WASHLINE, the newsletter of the Washington Area Secular Humanists. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post declined to publish this piece.

Media Mostly Mum

Katherine Bourdonnay

After the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by groups of Islamic terrorists, this country experienced a paroxysm of grief that lead to an incredible display of religious fervor wrapped in the flag. The media also got caught up in these sentiments, and the door of free expression was slammed in the face of any of us who might want to register our grief in nonreligious terms.

One columnist for USA Today asked, in what had to be one of the greatest displays of displaced hostility, why the atheists in this country were so quiet. In my letter to the editor of USA Today, I responded that atheists weren't quiet, just unpublished. My letter went unpublished, of course, as did Tom Flynn's excellent piece, "Don't Shut Out the Nonreligious."

Not only were we kept out of the mainstream media, what was published about us was downright nasty. Even the usually thoughtful PBS ran a segment (which aired in our market immediately after President Bush's statement to the joint session of Congress) called "America Responds" with Maya Angelou telling Bill Moyer in her soft, modulated tones how sad it made her whenever she met someone who was "faith-less." On and on went Angelou, finally getting to her point that those who were "faithful" should lead the rest of us to God.

To give some heart to those who were shut out of the public landscape of national mourning, there were a few noteworthy exceptions. Sam McManis, a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote in his piece, "No Place for the Godless in Prayer Offensive," of September 22, 2001, "If we want to be inclusive...maybe we should also find a place at our multicultural table for atheists and secular humanists." He also quoted Henda Lea of the East Bay Secular Humanists as saying, "We're Americans, just as patriotic as anyone."

There was the cartoon shown on this page that appeared in the Texarkana Gazette. Gustav Niebuhr, religion writer for the New York Times, managed to get in a mention of a Jewish Secular Humanist community that was working to console people in his article that ran on September 17, 2001.

The Religion News Service picked up one of our press releases and quoted Ed Buckner, executive director of the Council, as saying, "The answer to religious fanaticism is not more religious fanaticism." Ed was also quoted in the Ocober 20 issue of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an article on "Secular America."

The Detroit News ran a story on September 21 by Kara Morrison entitled "Nonreligious Grieve Without Prayer," which profiled several nonreligious people, including Bob Brooks, who said, "I feel the same emotions that any American, religious or not, feels: a feeling of hopeless rage." John Scalisse, president of the Great Lakes Humanist Society, said he had gotten through the tragedy by focusing on the heroic firefighters and rescuers who selflessly put their lives on the line. "Humanists are typically very optimisitic. We focus on the fact that the vast majority of people are innately good, but that there are people who do dispicable things."

And, in a short, but oh so sweet speech, (printed in its entirety in the New York Times on October 7), British Prime Minister Tony Blair said, "This atrocity was an attack on us all, on people of all faiths and people of none." Blair's comment prompted Mark Tomcho of Georgia to write in his letter, which was printed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Thank you, Prime Minister, for recognizing that people of atheistic and agnostic beliefs were devastated by this tragedy and grieve with the nation."

Finally, Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune wrote a strong piece in support of the nonreligious actually quoting from the Humanist Manifestos in his October 13 article, "Secular Tenets Are Much Better Than "Nothing.'"

Slowly but surely, and probably as writers ran out of exclusively religious angles, they turned more and more to the reactions of the nonreligious. Gustav Niebuhr of the New York Times interviewed Tom Flynn and ran a story in his column on November 3, 2001, quoting Flynn extensively. The Buffalo News interviewed both Flynn and Ed Buckner for a story on how the nonreligious grieved. And picked up Flynn's Article "Don't Shut Out the Nonreligious" and ran it on the homepage of its Web site.

Ultimately, we are not totally shut out. To all the people who wrote letters to the editors and op-ed pieces, to those who called PBS to complain about their insensitivity, and to the columnists who did represent our point of view, we say, "Thank you."

Katherine Bourdonnay is communications director of CSH.

*Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Atheists, Agnostics...

Progress In Development

Arthur Urrows

We're often asked why the Center for Inquiry needs to ask for contributions. The main sourceof our funds are income from the magazines we publish, Free Inquiry and Skeptical Inquirer. While the two periodicals have more than 80,000 devoted readers, the revenues we receive pay only about half of our expenditures.
What is an example of the Center's operating costs not covered by magazine income? An outstanding instance is the Campus Freethought Alliance (CFA) and the Young Skeptics (YS). These are programs in which we have invested considerable staff and resources with the aim of developing a new generation of humanists and skeptics. CFA and YS activities are completely supported by their parent organizations.
Many donors, wanting to see these grow more rapidly, have designated their contributions to the CFA. One such gift last year enabled the program to prepare and distribute attractive promotional material. More recently, another donation funded a portion of the salary of the new CFA and YS director of field operations.
At present, the CFA has a plan to reach more colleges on the West Coast because it earlier concentrated recruiting activity in the East and Midwest. Already the Campus Alliance has affiliates active at early 100 colleges and universities including Harvard, Princeton, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Minnesota.
Contributions are being sought to make possible increased growth in California and other Western states using the resources of the Center for Inquiry West in Los Angeles.
Our first priority at this time is funding the National Media Center, which we expect to have far-reaching impact. Located at the Center for Inquiry West close to national media sites, it will focus on responding to heavy religious and paranormal propaganda with intensive publich relations. The plan is to issue press releases quickly to answer the distortions. The Center will also provide "guest experts" to answer distortions for the national media.
While primary fundraising for the Center's $495,000 goal has been concentrated on the West Coast, a nationwide Drive is underway since the Los Angeles Center will have widespread influence. The National Media Center will be a significant feature of the Center for Inquiry West in its new Hollywood building. The purchase price was $1.6 million plus $500,000 for extensive remodeling of the structure which is now under way.

Arthur Urrows is the Council's director of development.

TV Studio Goes Online at Center for Inquiry

Tom Flynn

Installation of the center for Inquiry's new ditial television production studio has been completed, making possible production of professional-quality broadcast and Internet video programs at Amherst, New York, facility. The studio is now producing The Humanist Perspective, the Council for Secular Humanism's national cable television access program, with higher-quality digital picture and sound. A public education video has also been released, informing supporters of a new attack on secular humanism from the Religious Right. A recently installed upgrade will make it possible for digital video produced in the studio to be converted into popular computer video formats and made available on the Internet.
Thanks to a generous grant to the Council from the Institute for Humanist Studies at Albany, New York, the Center was able to purchase three digital video cameras, a digital video editing system, a digital video recorder, a video switcher, audio mixer, and support equipment. The apparatus was installed and wired by CFI Superintendent Vance Vigrass and Free Inquiry Editor Tom Flynn.
"For live production, we've wired one of our seminar rooms for sound, light, and digital video," Flynn explained. "The signals go to the control room in my office, where we mix the sound, add titles, switch between images from the three cameras, and record the program." For educational videos and Internet production, individual camera shots and sound elements are loaded into the digital editing system, where they can be recombined in any fashion to create a completed program. Programs can be distributed on analog or digital video videotape or as computer video over the Internet.
The Humanist Perspective, a weekely cable access television program hosted by Joe Beck, has been distributed in more than 20 markets nationwide. If you would like to help us gain a time slot on your local public access station, please contact the Council's Joe Beck at (716) 636-7571, ext. 222. Volunteer sponsors are sought to add omre cable systems to our network. More than 130 half-hour episodes have been produced.

Tom Flynn is the editor of Free Inquiry.

* * *

Historic Nigeria Conference a Success

Norm R. Allen, Jr.

The Nigerian Humanist Movement hosted the first international humanist converence in Sub-Saharan Africa from October 8-10, 2001. Eighty-six humanist scholars, writers, academics, and activists from Nigeria, Uganda, and the United States gathered at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria's premiere university.
The scholarly presentations were impressive, thought-provoking, and controversial. They often sparked heated debates during the question-and-answer sessions. Humanist leaders gave reports on the state of humanism in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, and Black America. Gebregeorgis Yohannes, the founder of the Ethiopian Humanist Organization, noted that "It takes a great deal of courage to go against established beliefs and superstitions in Africa."
Nsajigwa I-G Mwasokwa has established a group called "Sisi Kwa Sisi" (Swahili for "all of us" or "together as one"). Mwasokwa says that humanism presents the new "way forward." He says that the humanist life stance is badly needed to combat dogmas, harmful traditions, irrational fears, authoritarianism, and intolerance. He believes that critical thinking will help Africans break the shackles of modern slavery in all of its forms.
Norm R. Allen, Jr., the executive director of African Americans for Humanism, discussed the profound impact that humanist ideals have had upon the substantive development of Black intellectualism, activism, and culture in the United States. He added however, that according to a recent ABCNews/ poll, only 3 percent of African Americans are nontheists.

Norm Allen is executive director of African Americans for Humanism. An expanded version of this article can be found in the Winter 2001/02 Free Inquiry.


Austin Dacey & DJ Grothe

Humanism in Action
Demonstrating the Council for Secular Humanism's commitment to grassroots humanist organizing, Field Director DJ Grothe has undertaken extensive field work during fall 2001, visiting local groups both on and off campus. He conducted almost three dozen meetings with activists and local secular humanist and freethought societies and Campus Freethought Alliance affiliates in Wisconsin, the Pacific Northwest from Portland to Seattle, southern Florida, northern Ohio, and West Virginia, as well as in the Memphis, Chicago, Syracuse, Toronto, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, areas.
He facilitated a number of meetings tailored to local needs: new group launches, strategy meetings, and presentations on religious-political extremism in America, spreading the word about Christian evangelist Tim LaHaye's recent best-selling attack on secular humanism, Mind Siege. (The Council has distributed a brief video on this new threat to every CSH affiliate.)
"I wish I could bottle the enthusiasm of the outstanding humanists I had the privilege of meeting on these recent trips and share it with everyone else," said DJ. "Many of our affiliates are doing amazing things--it's our goal to help these secular humanist and freethought groups network with one another so that each group can imitate the successes and avoid the pitfalls of grassroots organizing. Along with networking support, we provide administrative, promotional, and program support, all with the aim to add to the success of our secular humanist affiliates."
On his recent trips, DJ was especially impressed by the activities of the many groups he visited. Here are some of the highlights:
Humanists of Greater Portland are sponsoring affordable humanist counseling services as an alternative to the lowcost Christian counseling services readily available in their area. They also sponsor SMART (Self-Management and Rational Therapy) groups, which, like the Council's SOS (Secular Organizations for Sobriety), help partipants to overcome addictive behavior without relying in a "higher power." Humanists of Greater Portland also produce a sharp public-access television program, and participate in an annual regional convention along with a coalition of seven other humanist and freethought organizations, among other things.
Atheists and Agnostics of Wisconsin: From August 2-12, 2001, they manned an outreach table at the Wisconsin State Fair that was shared with other freethought and humanist organizations in their region. This attracted a great number of passersby, including none other than Secretary of Human Health and Services Tommy Thompson!
Across the country, humanists have responded compassionately to the events of September 11. Humanists, freethinkers, atheists, agnostics, and other nonbelievers have given generously to S.H.A.R.E (Secular Humanist Aid and Relief Effort), which goes to help victims of the unconscionable acts. Many more members of CSH have donated blood at local blood banks, organized blood drives for their group, and have been vocal in calling for both reason and compassion in response to the events of September 11.
Members of the Secular Humanist Society of Chicago and the Campus Freethought Alliance at College of DuPage (Chicago) spoke to members of the local and national press about their perspectives as nonbelievers on the general public's exceedingly pious reaction to the tragedy, giving the humanist response instead.
On September 30, a number of San Francisco organizations sponsored a secular memorial service at Golden Gate Park for the victims of September 11 attacks. Participants included Students for a Nonreligious Ethos (SANE) of the University of California, Atheists of San Francisco, Atheists of Silicon Valley, Secular Humanists of the East Bay, and The Humanist Community. Representatives from these groups, along with a local mayor, addressed an audience of over 100. The event drew reporters from the Los Angeles Times and from student papers at California State University at San Francisco, and the University of California at Berkely.
At the annual Center for Inquiry national conference ("Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?" Atlanta, Georgia, November 9-11), Council staff led a session on grassroots organizing for campus and noncampus humanist leaders from across the country. To learn more about how you can participate in the grassroots organizing efforts of the Council, e-mail DJ at [email protected] or call 716-636-7571, ext. 314.

* * *

Campus Freethought Alliance Get Together
"This Mind Not for Rent" read the sign in the window at the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York. It was Thursday, June 21, and almost 100 young people from as far as the United Kingdom and as wide as Texas were converging on the Center and the adjacent University at Buffalo campus for a highlight of the year for student skeptics and humanists: the Campus Freethought Alliance Annual Conference. Its theme: the role of the mass media (as a double-edged sword!) in the struggle for a more rational world.
This was not your usual humanist conference: three days of multimedia and interactive presentations, field trips, socials, stand-up comedy, live music, and dancing--not to mention a walk over 21 feet of hot coals by some of the budding skeptics in attendance. True to the demographic, sessions went well into the night and didn't start again until 10:30 in the morning!
Among the highlights were Paul Kurtz's guided video retrospective of his media appearances; a hands-on skeptical investigation of homeopathic insomnia remedies led by Skeptical Inquirer staffer Kevin Christopher (who hilariously "overdosed" on bottle after bottle of the totally impotent sleeping pills); a small-group sessionwith Beth Corbin of Americans United for Separation of Church and State deconstructing the faith-biased newspaper coverage enjoyed by Bush's faith-based initiative; and uproarious routine by Tim Harrod of the popular satire periodical The Onion; and a roundtable conversation with three new media entrepeneurs of humanism: the president of Infidel Records, the founder of Internet Infidels, and The Infidel Guy, host of the Internet Radio show "Live With The Infidel Guy."
"That was my first humanist event with people my age and I had a great time," said one attendee. "I learned so much about the freethought movement and how I can participate." Said others: "A year ago, I knew nothing about any of this and it's so good to know that there is a place like Center for Inquiry and a group like CFA that I can use as resources and guidance." "I feel like I stepped into an alternative logical universe!"

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