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.

Why read when you can watch and listen?

A bunch of shameless self promotion.

Back in August I was invited to join Don McLenaghen on Radio Freethinker, the skeptical podcast of CiTR radio (the UBC radio station). Ethan was away that week, so we spent the entire hour talking about Humanism.

You can listen to that interview here (mp3).

Last week, I took a road trip to Edmonton, via Kamloops.

While in Kamloops I dropped by a meeting of the Kamloops Centre for Rational Thought and gave a (somewhat impromptu) short speech on Humanism before going into an extended discussion. I posted my brief presentation on YouTube:

Then, in Edmonton I gave my speech on communicating evidence for the Big Bang, entitled 13.7 Billion Years in 90 Seconds for my old group, the University of Alberta Atheists and Agnostics.

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.

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 Secular Parenting Meetup

While I don’t have kids of my own (yet), I see the need for a larger secular parenting support within the freethought/humanist movement.

This is why I’m excited to be working with some great parents to start a secular parenting meetup group in Vancouver through the BC Humanists.

The group will kick-off after our Sunday, June 17th meeting (Father’s Day), at which we will be discussing Dave McGowan’s Parenting Beyond Belief. The meeting is from 10am-noon at Oakridge Seniors’ Centre. Following the discussion, we will move to the nearby Columbia Park (42nd Ave and Columbia Street) for a barbecue and picnic.

This informal meeting will help gauge the interest in this type of group and allow us to determine what kind of programming to put on later.

With luck, we can hopefully set up a freethinker summer camp next year and maybe I will get to polish off my DiscoverE science presentation skills.

Updates from the BC Humanists

I just thought I’d give a quick update of how things are going with the BC Humanists here in Vancouver.

First, we’ve finalized the date and location of our new book club. We’ll be meeting the first Tuesday of each month at Our Town Cafe at Broadway and Kingsway in Vancouver. The discussion starts at 7:00PM and our first book will be Hitch-22 on February 7th. RSVP to the meetup group here.

Next, we have agreed to give two scholarships to students or low-income BCHA members to go to the Northwest Freethought Alliance Conference in Renton, WA featuring Richard Dawkins. If you’re interested in learning a bit more about the scholarships or interested in applying, just fill out the form here.

We will also be helping to sponsor the Imagine No Religion 2 Conference in Kamloops. This was a very successful conference last year and this year the speaker’s line up is headed by astrophysicist Lawrence Krauss. If you register for both conferences you can save 15%.

We have also created a tentative schedule for our Spring Series of Sunday morning meetings which includes speakers on Secular Meditation, Canada’s Race History, Darwin Day, and Occupy Vancouver.

Between March 15 and 17, Secular Student Alliance speaker and award-winning journalist Ted Cox will be doing a whirlwind tour of the Lower Mainland, speaking for the UBC Freethinkers, the BC Humanists, and SFU Skeptics (in that order). Details are still being finalized for his tour.

Finally, we’re also going to be advertising aggressively online and streamlining our fundraising so that we can keep this pace up well into the future.

It should be a good start to 2012!

Daily Split interview on assisted suicide

Last week I did an interview for the show The Daily Split. The shows plays on VisionTV and this episode played last night. My interview starts at 7:15 (which should be set in the embed below) and the host, Brian discusses assisted suicide further in his closing remarks “House of Common Sense”, which starts at 21:15.

The show’s byline is “it’s about free enterprise” and is unapologetically right-wing, so take what you want from the rest of it.

I wish I hadn’t called humanism “atheism plus” and would have expanded a bit more on how we believe in people’s ability to be good on their own, but it is what it is. Every interview could go a bit better, and this represents a bit of exposure and some practice.

I guess until now atheists knew to keep their mouths shut in Surrey

Wow I love newspaper titles.

The South Fraser Unitarian Congregation was kind enough to send out a press release for my upcoming talk on humanism. Peace Arch News, based in White Rock, picked up the story under the headline “Atheist to speak in Newton.”

It’s a fine article, but does set the bar for all the things I need to explain:

Organizers say Ian Bushfield is to discuss how humanism…promotes living a good and moral life without the need for divine revelation.

Bushfield will also explain why humanists choose not to rely on immutable words and holy books, but instead find value and purpose in life through reason and science.

Of course, I think I wrote some of those words into the abstract that I sent along, so it may be my own fault.

For more information on the talk, check out the Unitarian’s website.

Skeptical leadership and CFI drama

I have a huge 3000+ word post over at Canadian Atheist on drama at CFI Canada. If you dislike the messy underbelly of egos and in-group politics, take a pass.

Related to the entire theme though is a recent Dan Gardner article on leadership in isolation. In it he discusses recent studies that have found that we make poorer decisions the more power we get.

The concept can be understood in Darwinian terms. Ideas, like organisms, compete for their environment. A bad idea with a lot of competition will die off, while it may have a better chance if not exposed to variation. I’m not talking about memetics, since we actively select out good ideas when we can contrast them with bad ones.

If a leader is surrounded by yes-men and women who agree with him or her, the landscape of ideas generated will be very small. Meanwhile, when people are able to disagree without fear of punishment, more ideas can thrive and compete.

This is why, regardless of one’s own aptitudes and skills, power corrupts. Everyone is susceptible to it.

Being good skeptics, we need to identify and be aware of issues like this when we design our organizational structures. The root causes of the ongoing CFI Canada debacle are a lack of trust, transparency, and accountability. Without an open exchange of ideas, corruption and acrimony spread.

Such drama isn’t the exclusive purview of CFI and it’s corporate structure. Humanist Canada was embroiled in a strikingly similar controversy a year ago when their board split over the actions of their executive director. HAC seems to be getting back on track, potentially a testament of the ability of the membership to throw the board out and elect a new slate.

I don’t know the perfect solution to these types of divisions. I think there needs to be clear lines of accountability, and a means of dealing with divisions in boards that doesn’t make every issue so personal. I’m wide open to any and all ideas, and I’m definitely willing to try anything to ensure the stability and longevity of the BC Humanists for years to come.

My November Cafe Inquiry: Humanism and Interfaith

In December I’m going to be doing a sermon for a Unitarian Church in Surrey on Humanism as part of their interfaith series. In preparation for that, I agreed to do a Cafe Inquiry for CFI Vancouver on Humanism.

Realizing that we all (generally) agree that humanism is good, I decided to mix it up a bit and my topic is now more focussed on the continuing spat between Greg Epstein and PZ Myers. Here’s the abstract I threw together this afternoon.

Humanism and Interfaith

Humanism can be described as atheism with a heart. Yet some New Atheists and Humanists have sparred recently over a number of issues. Some of these key issues are how we structure of our communities; the legitimacy of humanist chaplains; and whether secularists should engage in interfaith dialogues with the religious. Greg Epstein, Humanist Chaplain at Harvard, calls humanism a faith in his 2009 bestseller Good Without God. He has recently announced plans for a new book to serve as a how-to manual to establish groups similar to his Harvard community. On the other side of the debate, many atheists recoil in disgust at terms like interfaith and chaplains. They argue that the unquestionable hierarchy of religion is antithetical to free inquiry. Such structures are to be demolished, not simply rebranded. Amidst the debates on Twitter and the blogosphere, humanist communities are thriving in cities and on campuses around the world. Progressive theists are also actively starting to seek out humanist representatives for interfaith panels.

In this discussion, I will attempt to weave our way 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? And can, or should, atheists participate in interfaith events?

Some related reading and viewing:

Do Atheists Belong in the Interfaith Movement? Christ Stedman, 15 June 2011

Transfaith, The New Atheist Interfaith, Ed Clint – Secular Student Alliance, 18 August 2011

Nonbelievers striving for humanist connection, Boston Globe, 17 October 2011

Atheist church? NO THANK YOU. Pharyngula, 17 October 2011

Just don’t call it church then, Canadian Atheist, 17 October 2011

A Successful Humanist Community in Boston, Friendly Atheist, 18 October 2011

Just call me a Quaker, I guess, Pharyngula, 18 October 2011

What #HumanistComunity? Pharyngula, 19 October 2011

#HumanistCommunity, Twitter, ongoing

The event is scheduled for Saturday, November 19th at 11:00 am at SFU Harbour Centre and there should be coffee and donuts.

I haven’t written the talk yet (that has to wait for the 18th of course), so I’m open to any and all suggestions.

And I’ll post something about the Unitarian event closer to that date.