Religion, Politics, and Rex Murphy

Tomorrow, the Canadian polysyllabic pontificator Rex Murphy will be in Vancouver recording a live episode of Cross Country Checkup on religion in public life..

The Checkup is a long-time Canadian radio talk show, designed to spark dialogue across the country.

To arrange my thoughts for the discussion, I sat down for a Google+ Hangout with Mavaddat and discussed some of the issues that might come up. You can watch the discussion below the fold.

Continue reading Religion, Politics, and Rex Murphy

Support our Light the Night Walk

Grant LaFleche, writing for the St. Catherine’s Standard, wrote a column yesterday calling on atheists to be more charitable.

It’s a common trope that atheists and Humanists don’t give as much (or frequently) as the religious. Lacking formal structures and congregations, there’s less of a culture of philanthropy, both in terms of regular tithes or even to secular charities.

However, these trends are changing.

The Foundation Beyond Belief is working with freethought groups across North America to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night Walk. As of this morning they have raised nearly $305,000 toward their goal of $500,000 – which will be matched by the Stiefel Foundation for a total gift of $1 million to fight blood cancer.

Here in Vancouver, the BC Humanist Association’s team has raised over $3,500 between our 15 team members (comprised of BCHA, Vancouver Skeptics, and UBC Freethinkers members).

Our walk is this Saturday, so if you can spare a few dollars, why not chip into my campaign. Remember that every dollar you donate is being matched and Canadian donations over $25 are eligible for a tax-receipt.

Every gift, big and small, is appreciated and helps highlight the compassion and charity we all have.

Radio Freethinker on Tuesday

Just a quick post tonight.

On Tuesday afternoon, I’ll be on CITR’s Radio Freethinker show talking about all the latest news from the BC Humanists.

The show runs for a full hour, so if you have ideas for what I should talk about, drop them below (obviously soon so that I can be somewhat prepared).

The show will be available as a podcast afterwards and I’ll link to it here when it’s online.

Bible no basis for public policy, declare BC Humanists

BC Premier Christy Clark recently went on 100 Huntley Street and explained that she finds her courage to make tough decisions from what the Bible teaches (~5:30 mark in the video)

This story prompted me to quickly throw together a press release with some input from the BCHA members. That release can be read here: Bible No Basis For Public Policy, Declare BC Humanists.

The piece was quoted by

Most of our members were quite happy with the release, although some would have preferred much stronger language, but I chose to walk a soft line (we can always harden language later). A few people complained that this was unnecessary based on the language she used and that it may paint Humanists in a poor light. My response was as follows (copied from one specific letter I received):

I completely share your vision of a community beyond belief and am working hard toward that end. We have an increasing number of events in Metro Vancouver that are reaching out to many different audiences. For example, I am hoping to build more programming for secular parenting, grief beyond belief, and secular addiction treatment. Outside of Vancouver, I am working to bring humanist communities to the eastern shore of Vancouver Island and to ensure the continued success of communities along the Sunshine Coast and in the interior.

However, building a community is not our sole purpose. Among our other goals is to advocate for secular values in the public sphere. One of these values is a commitment to secularism. As you point out, Ms. Clark may have intended her statement to be more about the generic courage to take controversial decisions, it can also be seen as using the Bible to defend traditional morality. For example, for the second year as premier, Ms. Clark will not be attending the Vancouver Pride Parade (while it will be the third year that the BCHA will be in attendance). Similarly, while she has pledged to work to fight bullying in schools, her plan is noticeably silent on LGBTQ-bullying – a leading cause of suicides among LGBTQ teenagers. Finally, her commitment to the Bible as a tool for decision making and her emphasis on raising “moral” children will undoubtedly leave her supporting BC’s discriminatory independent school system, where Catholic schools that have fired lesbian teachers receive 50% per-student funding from the government.

The fear that I, and many of our members, have is that if Ms. Clark bases some of her decisions on the Bible (the ability to undertake long term policy despite short term controversy), she may base other decisions on the Bible too. My point with the statement is that there are much better principles to derive public policy from than a book that many consider to be inerrant.

Regardless of the above arguments, it is further questionable for the premier of a province as diverse as BC to appear on a Christian talk show in the first place, unless she makes a habit of appearing on all faith and cultural talk shows.

My goal with the release was not to demonize Christianity or her right to read the Bible, but to draw attention to the dangers of an elected official basing their decisions on religion and ideology.

Finally, the BCHA is a democratically governed organization, and all members are entitled to their opinions, including dissenting ones. I believe that this statement falls within the majority view within our organization (as I have received a number of supportive emails since the release) but I am open to changes in the group. You are welcome to make your case among our members – either through the email list-serv, a post on our blog or in person at one of our meetings (just let me know in advance, so I can schedule time).

Humanist Rituals

A few weeks ago, I was invited to give a talk in Kelowna on Humanist Rituals. The attendance was unfortunately rather low, so rather than give a formal speech, I worked it as more of a discussion about humanism, ceremonies, and interfaith involvement.

The speech I intended to give is below though, adapted from a couple earlier speeches on the same topic that I gave.

First, the abstract:

Humanist Rituals
CFI Okanagan
23 June 2012

Atheists discount religious institutions for the obvious harm that dogmatic obedience has caused humanity, but do we lose something when we abandon all rituals that don’t pass the atheist purity test? Should we incorporate some rituals into our lives?

What might be called the New Humanist movement, led by Harvard Humanist Chaplain Greg Epstein, argues that there is value in rationally considered rituals and ceremonies. Alain de Botton called for Atheism 2.0 which would encourage atheists to take pilgrimages and to build atheist temples.

But by co-opting the language and actions of the religious, are we not granting them legitimacy? If a Humanist sits on an interfaith panel are we saying our view are only as legitimate as the theists? Furthermore, there is a legitimate concern that hierarchies like chaplaincies are antithetical to free inquiry. We should be tearing down unquestionable structures, not replacing them with our own.

In this discussion, I will attempt to weave through the arguments and concerns raised by both camps. What does a humanist community look like? Are humanists trying to create church for the unchurched? Is there a need for humanist chaplains and officiants? Is humanism a faith? Can, or should, atheists participate in interfaith events? Finally, I will discuss the work being done by the BC Humanists to build a strong, secular society in this province.

Continue reading Humanist Rituals

Vancouver’s Freethought Movement Grows

Today was a very good day.

This morning the trend of increasingly successful BCHA meetings continued, with just over thirty humanists gathering at the Oakridge Seniors’ Centre for a discussion on Neuroscience and Memory. Four-year-old Addysen was perhaps one of the youngest attendees to one of our meetings yet – although I think she was too advanced for the discussion and preferred to go to the Lego Store.

Afterwards, I headed to New Westminster for a new Skeptics in the Pub meetup, organized by Peter Naugler. This event was organized on about a week or two notice, yet still brought out another thirty skeptics (with very little overlap from the BCHA meeting) due to the convenient location.

Peter didn’t realize how successful this event would be, otherwise he would have called ahead to ensure that The Met Pub had adequate staff. Still, the one waitress that was working was quite efficient and patient with our large and loud group that descended on her Sunday afternoon without warning.

It was fantastic getting to meet so many new people and I got a number of new ideas for programs and events to try to reach broader and wider audiences in the future. It’s going to be an exciting summer!

iPads and a new Job

Just a couple of pieces of great news for now.

First, last week my wife won an iPad through The Peak’s iPad a Day in May contest, and then I won one this week. We’re selling hers, but I’m writing this from my first Apple product!

So far I like the interface and the speed is phenomenal. I’m a bit disappointed by the lack of good free Google Apps that I’m used to having on my Android phone (like Google Drive, Reader, etc.) but I’m quickly discovering new apps for all my needs.

My other piece of news is that I have been hired as the BC Humanists first executive director! I hope to build on my work over the past couple years and really apply the knowledge and skills I’m learning from the nonprofit management courses I’ve been taking rough BCIT.

So hopefully I’ll be able to combine these pieces of great news and develop some promotional slides and videos for the BCHA that I can present on this iPad.

Pride 2010

Yesterday was the 2010 Vancouver Pride Parade.

There was a total of 146 entrants, of which the 135th scheduled entry was the BC Humanist Association. With the BCHA marched the SFU Skeptics and CFI Vancouver.

I had previously marched in the 2008 and 2009 Edmonton Pride Parades with the Society of Edmonton Atheists and they marched again this year with a great FSM sculpture (write up and photos). Our first year there was a bit tame, but we had a table and showed some spirit. It looks like they’ve gotten really good at parades since then.

I’m proud to say that yesterday’s turnout was fantastic. We had almost 20 people out, facepaint, banners and lots of dancing. We unfortunately weren’t quite organized early enough to get a table (I brought this idea to the BCHA in early June and the entry deadline was June 30).

(video and photos below fold)

Continue reading Pride 2010