Tag Archives: religion

The Humanist Symposium

To my regular readers: Not too long ago, I (and thousands of others) stumbled across an article titled Atheists and Anger, an articulate, well-thought-out piece which I highly recommend. It had the welcome side effect of introducing me to the wonderful writing of Greta Christina. (Whose themes range far beyond atheism and are not for Read More…

To my regular readers: Not too long ago, I (and thousands of others) stumbled across an article titled Atheists and Anger, an articulate, well-thought-out piece which I highly recommend. It had the welcome side effect of introducing me to the wonderful writing of Greta Christina. (Whose themes range far beyond atheism and are not for everybody… read at your own risk. In case you end up wondering: no, I am not into spanking.)

It was on Greta Christina’s blog that I learned about a new way to share love and traffic among like-minded blogs, called a BlogCarnival. My own piece on Raising a Non-Believer was hosted soon thereafter by The Humanist Symposium, and now I’m doing my bit in return.

The themes of the articles below may include (according to the guidelines):

  • The happiness and freedom of life as an atheist, or other positive aspects to living a life without religious belief
  • Efforts to evangelize for atheism, and stories of people who have recently deconverted from religion
  • How to find meaning and purpose in a godless life
  • How non-religious people deal with weddings, child-raising, deaths, and other significant life events
  • Posts that stir up the human sense of awe and wonder
  • The ethics and moral philosophy of the non-religious
  • How nonbelievers can foster and nourish a sense of community

Here, without further ado, are the articles. The quotes below each are their authors’ descriptions, where such were provided.

Greta Christina presents The Meaning of Death, Part 2 of Many: Motivation and Mid-Life Crises posted at Greta Christina’s Blog:

“In a world with no God and no afterlife, death — like life — doesn’t have any purpose or meaning except the meaning we create. So what meaning can we create for it? Here is one idea: death as a deadline, for those of us who are deadline-driven.”

Phil for Humanity presents The Blame Game << Phil for Humanity posted at Phil for Humanity:

“Recently, I heard a racial slur against Jews because of what they
supposedly did to Jesus Christ. This insult was not against the Jews
that were alive two thousand years ago but against the Jews living
today.”

Samuel Bryson presents The Meaning of life (and other trivial concerns!)- An Existentialist Approach: posted at Total Wellbeing.

Alonzo Fyfe presents E2.0: David Sloan Wilson: New Atheism a Stealth Religion posted at Atheist Ethicist.

KC presents Speak now, speak loudly and speak often posted at Bligbi.

Chris Hallquist presents Review: On Truth posted at The Uncredible Hallq.

Albert Foong presents The life that has gone on before: The Perils of Compassion, Part 2 posted at Urban Monk.

The Sacred Slut presents Beside the Point, posted at A Whore in the Temple of Reason.

Ron Brown presents Finding meaning in wonder and well-being: An ex-fundamentalist’s tale « The Frame Problem posted at The Frame Problem.

vjack presents Atheist Spirituality posted at Atheist Revolution:

Can an atheist be a spiritual person, and if so, in what sense? Is it meaningful to talk of atheist spirituality, or should the term be reserved for religious believers?

Mike White presents How much Freedom do we Have? posted at Life According to Mike White.

An adventure into how much freedom as humans we actually have. How does religion affect our freedom, how morality is affected through our choices and attention taken to our inner self. I think this might be a long one!

plonkee presents violence and incompetence posted at the religious atheist:

It’s funny, but I’ve always heard that you get more conservative, traditional and right wing as you get older, whereas I seem to be getting more pacifist.

John Remy presents For Atheists and Agnostics Who Go To Church | Mind on Fire. posted at Mind on Fire..

From D: I haven’t had time to write anything new myself this week that fits the theme, but those who are new to my site can check out the links on the left for some older musings of mine on atheism.

Though it hasn’t been submitted as part of the Symposium, I strongly recommend that anyone interested in questions of morality and religion read Steven Pinker’s recent NYT article on The Moral Instinct.

The next Humanist Symposium will be Feb. 17 at Cafe Philos.

your thoughts?

Religious Belief vs. Health Care – Tolerating the Intolerable in Italy

Britain’s Telegraph carries an opinion piece titled If Muslim doctors are intolerant, let them go, according to which a few young Muslim medical trainees have been allowed to refuse to see female bodies or to treat alcohol-related problems, on religious grounds. Sainsbury’s, a UK grocery chain, allows its checkout staff to refuse to scan alcohol Read More…

Britain’s Telegraph carries an opinion piece titled If Muslim doctors are intolerant, let them go, according to which a few young Muslim medical trainees have been allowed to refuse to see female bodies or to treat alcohol-related problems, on religious grounds. Sainsbury’s, a UK grocery chain, allows its checkout staff to refuse to scan alcohol if they have religious objections, and there have apparently been cases of taxi drivers refusing passengers who were carrying alcohol.

The opinion piece decries all this – if you’re hired to do a job involving the public, you should not be allowed to discriminate among that public for any reason – and I agree.

The medical question is the most important: to what extent do doctors have a right to refuse treatment that they personally disagree with? The American fundamentalist Christian pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control pills are not carrying out their duty to serve the public; they are conveyors of a necessary public good, and have no right to impose their beliefs on their customers. If you can’t stand the birth control, get out of the pharmacy.

At least in America and Britain there is resistance to these attitudes and attempted practices. In Italy, we have silent acquiescence in similarly unethical behavior by Catholic medical personnel.

When my daughter’s class had (two short sessions of) sex education during her second year of high school here in Lecco, they were warned by the local family health doctor who came to teach them that, while abortion is legal in Italy (and their parents don’t even have to be involved), they would have trouble obtaining an abortion in Lecco (a very Catholic town).

Several of her friends learned the hard way that even obtaining the morning-after pill (also perfectly legal in Italy, but requiring a prescription) can be difficult. One friend went to the hospital (accompanied by her boyfriend) immediately after a condom accident to request it. The doctors and nurses in the ob/gyn department jeered at her and refused. Wandering, crying, through the halls, she eventually ran into a sympathetic doctor who exclaimed furiously “They have no right!” and wrote her the prescription. Othere friends have told Ross similar stories.

An American friend living in Tuscany (fully grown with a teenage daughter) was refused an IUD by her family doctor, on the grounds that this doctor believed the device to be an abortifacient.

The other day I had a routine gynecological exam and pap test. I’ve been thinking about the problem of long-term birth control, so I asked the doctor how one goes about getting sterilized in Italy, and how much it costs. He told me that a sterlization operation is free and easily obtained in Italy (for both sexes), but that I would not be able to do it in Lecco.

To say I was astonished is to put it mildly.

“So I’m supposed to have all the babies god sends me?” I demanded.

“No comment,” he said drily (and in English).

He said I could easily get it done in the nearby hospital of Merate: “What does it matter when you can do it just 20 km down the road?”

How about the principle of the thing? And the law? In a worst-case scenario, what if the Catholic fundamentalist attitude prevalent in Lecco were to spread? Suppose someone found herself in Lecco’s hospital in some serious condition requiring a therapeutic abortion – would they still refuse? Could they, legally? Would anyone bother to enforce the law, whatever it is? Or do we, as usual, just put up with it because “that’s the way it’s always been” and find a workaround? And who are these goddamned Catholics to tell me what to do with my body?

Some of this was old news – Pierangelo Bertoli wrote a song about it decades ago: Certi Momenti.

Oct 29, 2007: Benedict appeals to pharmacists
“They shouldn’t have to sell ‘immoral drugs’, pope says” – And do you know what I say to the Pope? I’m sure you can figure it out…

Pope’s “morning after pill” speech criticized

Raising a Non-Believer

A reader has just written to me: “One was on an essay about Religion as a Cause of Strife in the World – you can bet she went to town on that!” this is a comment you wrote on Ross’ India Diary and i have always wanted to ask you why you believe that Ross Read More…

A reader has just written to me:

“One was on an essay about Religion as a Cause of Strife in the World – you can bet she went to town on that!”

this is a comment you wrote on Ross’ India Diary and i have always wanted to ask you why you believe that Ross has arrived at an independent opinion/thought/decision regarding religion when it is the exact same opinion/insight you and your husband have. maybe mistakenly, but i’ve gotten this impression that you are very prideful that her belief is identical to yours and see it as a sign of her independent, intelligent thought. how much of a stretch is that really? how different is that to the child who grows up with the gospel every week at church and every day at home? how “independent” can that child’s outlook ever be due to that home conditioning?

It’s very true and completely unsurprising that Rossella, like most kids, shares her parents’ beliefs (or lack of). The more interesting question is: did how she arrive at those beliefs?

One of Richard Dawkins’ most provocative theses is that schools and even parents should not be allowed to proselytize children into religion at young ages. He points to lifelong traumas (both physical and mental) inflicted upon people (and cultures) from infancy, in the name of religion.

One might reasonably ask (many have) how Dawkins’ desire to promote atheism is any different from a religious person’s desire to promote religion. The logic here seems to be: “Atheism is just another belief. Why is it okay for you to preach what you believe, but not for religious people to do so?”

Here’s the “fundamental” difference: most religions teach their adherents – and particularly children – to accept certain strictures, norms, behaviors, etc. because someone in “authority” said so. Believers may be allowed to question up to a point, but sooner or later every religion comes down to “faith” – a necessarily blind (because unprovable) belief that there is some “higher power” out there which has an opinion about how you should think and act.

This is emphatically NOT how we raised our daughter.

My husband is a professional mathematician. This means that he thinks long and hard to come up with new hypotheses about how things behave in his particular realm of mathematics. When he can support his ideas with mathematical proofs, and those ideas are new, and important enough to be brought to the attention of his colleagues, he submits them (in the form of articles) to professional mathematical journals. There his ideas are judged by his peers for their truth and interestingness and worthiness of publication. If he gets something wrong, either he or one of his colleagues will figure that out. He thanks the people who point out his errors, and goes back to the drawing board.

The same thing happens in every scientific field. Ideas are developed, tested, and submitted to a jury of one’s peers. Sometimes an idea is proven wrong immediately, sometimes later, as more research is carried out. A few hypotheses survive the judgement of the scientific community and the test of time to become theories: which is to say, scientifically-proven facts.

All of this is done in a spirit of cooperative enquiry and (more or less) humility. No one can claim to know more than anyone else on the basis of some externally-granted “authority” – a scientist must be able to back his or her hypotheses with solid, provable facts.

I’m not a scientist, but I use the classic scientific method in my job every day: Does this work? If not, why not? What went wrong? Test one variable at a time til you find out where the problem is, then fix it. It’s a simple logic which can be usefully applied in many areas of life.

Given our professional and personal biases (and our penchant for arguing about EVERYTHING), Enrico and I have raised our daughter to prize inquiry, and not to grant authority blindly. We would be hypocrites if we had not encouraged Ross to think for herself and ask questions – to which we always gave grown-up answers.

This isn’t a totally easy way to raise a teenager: “Why do I have to be home at midnight?” In a family like ours, “Because I’m the mom and I said so!” doesn’t cut it. In Ross’ most exhausting, argumentative moments, I have gritted my teeth and consoled myself that: “At least I know she’s not going to do something stupid just because her friends are doing it.”

And, mostly, she hasn’t. We raised her to think for herself, and she does think – and, most of the time, she comes to very sensible conclusions.

If Ross called herself an atheist simply in imitation of me and her father, I’d have no reason to boast of her independence of mind. Perhaps at 18 she hasn’t put as much thought into her beliefs as we have, but I don’t think she’s merely parroting us. She knows that she is welcome – encouraged! – to explore what others believe (Woodstock is an excellent venue for that), and decide for herself what she thinks of it all. Her father and I remain open to discussion. Ross is no fool, and very likely someday she’ll persuade me to something I hadn’t previously agreed with. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Ramadan

Laura, the American who lives in Paraguay, wakes me up to tell me that it’s 4: time to eat. For several weeks she has been going with one Alamdar, a very good photographer, Afghan. Ramadan has recently started and Laura, for solidarity with her new love, has decided to keep him company: "I’m not Muslim, Read More…

Laura, the American who lives in Paraguay, wakes me up to tell me that it’s 4: time to eat.

For several weeks she has been going with one Alamdar, a very good photographer, Afghan.

Ramadan has recently started and Laura, for solidarity with her new love, has decided to keep him company: "I’m not Muslim, but at least this way he has someone with whom NOT to eat!"

Surprised by such a drastic decision, and fascinated by the ritual based on total self-control, I have decided to join them.

So I wake up without hesitation and silently open the closet where the evening before I had put two diet/protein bars kindly offered by my diet-obsessed friend.

We sit on the cold floor of the long, dark hall, our voices rough with sleep and eyes half closed. I chew the pasty substance that tastes like peanut butter while Laura, despite her sleepiness, manages to say silly things like: "Wouldn’t it be great to lock everyone in their rooms?" – although my own sense of humor is perverse, at this hour and in this atmosphere, this idea only creeps me out.

I know I won’t eat anything else for more than 14 hours, but I resist the chocolate cookies dipped in Nutella that my companion in adventures and new experiences is putting away.

For those who don’t know, and according to Laura, Ramadan means not eating from sunrise to sunset for 20 days. During this time you must not let anything pass your lips, in my case I’ve already cheated with chewing gum. Giving up food represents a detachment from earthly things and a total dedication to God. It’s also said that excessive hunger can cause revelatory hallucinations.

I don’t know if I’ll make it for all 20 days and, knowing me, once it gets dark I’ll be ready to eat a monkey from hunger!

But why not try this as well.

At 4:30 I can hear the prayers from the mosque like an echo. It’s strangely comforting to wake up to something different every day. We go on chatting for a little while, fantasizing about how great it would be to go around at night and visit the mosque.

I go back to bed and at 7:30 I’m on my feet, ready to not eat until the sun sets.

Now it’s 11:15 AM.

I’ll keep you posted on any hallucinations!

MomComm: It’s rumored that, during WWII, the very short rations given the students were eked out with monkeys shot by some staff members and boys (everyone male hunted in those days), though they didn’t tell the other students just what they were eating!

Papa Fan: A Satirist for the Modern Papacy

Thanks to a tip from Ross, I have for some time been following a very funny fotolog by Francesco Rabaglia, aka Papa Fan (papa is Italian for pope, differentiated from papà – dad – by the stress). It’s hard to see the humor unless you understand Italian well: basically the writer is putting funny captions Read More…

Thanks to a tip from Ross, I have for some time been following a very funny fotolog by Francesco Rabaglia, aka Papa Fan (papa is Italian for pope, differentiated from papà – dad – by the stress). It’s hard to see the humor unless you understand Italian well: basically the writer is putting funny captions in heavily “Germanized” Italian on photos of Pope Benedict (also known in Italy as Papa Ratzi).

A few days ago he published an original poem, translated here with permission. Keep in mind that this is not quite normal Italian – there are no Ks in Italian, but they are often used in humor and comics to denote a German accent.

Io zone joseph ratzinger, zon ztate porporato I am Joseph Ratzinger, I was empurpled [made cardinal]
i signori kartinali poi mi hanno kandidato the lord cardinals then made me a candidate
per difentare pape e komandar tutto il papato to become pope and command all the papacy
e per piu’ di tre motivi me lo zone meritato And for more than three reasons I have earned this
il primo è ke ho koperto kolui ke era indagato The first is that I covered he who was under investigation
per motivi di stupro e di abuso reiterato for reasons of rape and repeated abuse
su pimpi e su minori, da parte del prelato of children and minors, on the part of the priesthood
dimentikate tutto: il fatto non c’è ztato Forget all that: the fact never occurred
zekonde: io zono zolo un umìle servitoreh Second: I am a humble servant
nella distesa vigna che zta a kaza del signoreh in the extensive vineyards of the house of the Lord
produce fino autoctono in krante quantitah producing local wines in great quantity
ne bevo fenti litri ad ogni messa qui in cittàh I drink twenty liters at every mass here in town
per terzo poi io kredo ke zi debba ritornare For third, then, I believe we must return
alla messa tridentina abrogando la volgare To the Tridentine mass, abrogating the vulgar / Vulgate
linguaccia italiana ke io ti foglio tagliare horrible Italian language that I want to cut
kozì recito latino e vi pozzo coglionareh So I recite Latin and can make fools of you.