Tag Archives: humanism

Brunsman Wants Every Student To Know They Can Opt-Out Of The Beliefs Of The Cultural Mainstream

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offical image of August E. Brunsman IV, Executive Director of the Secular Student Alliance
August E. Brunsman IV, Executive Director of the Secular Student Alliance

I have known August Brunsman, Executive Director of the Secular Student Alliance (SSA), for at least 13 years through my Humanist group in Columbus Ohio. I got to watch from the front row as SSA hatched and grew into the premium secular student group in the United States it is today. SSA, as a group, has little drama and they seem to do things right. I conducted an e-mail interview with August asking a range of questions from when his first act of religious dissent was, what is a major issue facing secular students today, and his feelings on the current and sometimes fiery debate over sexism in secular groups.
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American Humanist President says religious and political dogmas should not trump science and reason

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The President of the American Humanist Association, Mel Lipman, spoke to a packed house at the Upper Arlington Library Theater on Saturday, July 29th. His talk was titled “Asserting Our Humanism” where is talked about the Humanist view and religion has infected our national government and its policy. Here are some bits:

The Humanist view does not include revelations interpreted according to the aims and whims of a chosen few–an authoritarian clergy. A clergy that allow religious and political dogmas to trump science and reason, that makes it acceptable to allow our president to continue to deny effective stem cell research. That makes it acceptable for this country to refuse to distribute condoms to fight AIDS in Africa. That makes it acceptable for some Ohio School Board members to even consider changing teaching standards by labeling as controversial such scientific facts as evolution, as global warming, stem cell research.

Reason and science are not trumped by the Humanist view. In the Humanist view, reason would dominate the public square, science would be respected in national policy and debate.

In 2003, speaking to the Christian Coalition, Alabama Governor Bob Riley, spoke about a “more important war than the war in Iraq”. He said the war against secular humanists is “a war for the absolute soul of this country”. He called for a “crusade” to restore the Christian character of America.

In June 2002, responding the the 9th Circuit’s courageous decision concerning the Pledge of Allegiance, George Bush, the second, our president, said “I will only appoint judges who know their rights come from God.” Now Article VI of the United States Constitution specifically prohibits the use of any religious test for any public office. But I guess *our* president can legitmately claim complete ignorance of the Constitution as an excuse.

You can read a complete transcript at The Religious Left Blog. Thanks to Renee who recorded and transcribed the speech.

Censorship of religious criticism is a bad thing

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As we see Middle East strife heat up, with a historical link to religious differences, and the Prophet Mohamed cartoon riots still fresh in our collective memory, there has been a recent attempt by some Islamic countries to censor any religious criticism.

Humanist Network News reported on July 12 that at the June 19th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, delegates from Bangladesh, Lebanon, Sudan, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates called for limits on freedom of speech regarding religion. It was in response to the publishing of cartoons in a Danish newspaper last year that sparked several riots in Islamic countries.

The article said:

Considering the publishing of the Danish cartoons criticizing Islam “a blatant attempt to inflame religious hatred,” they called for mechanisms to curb criticism of religion by claiming that criticism of religion is the same as incitement to religious hatred.

In other words, they want most, if not all, criticism of religion to stop.

Religious Criticism Is Not Religious Hatred

In response at this attempt to censor speech, Roy Brown, head of the International Humanist and Ethical Union delegation to the UN in Geneva, said in a statement:

“The right to question religion and to freely express one’s views on religious matters is a human right. Human beings have human rights, religions do not. This Council has a solemn duty to protect people — not ideas, religions, customs, beliefs or traditional practices, especially when they are used as justification for the abuse of human rights. It is the believer, not the belief, that must be protected.”

On June 30th, the Council asked the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Asma Jahangir, to see if material like the Danish cartoons was religious hatred.

In a follow up article on July 19th, Freedom of Speech and the Harm Principle, Ishtiag Ahmed makes a distinction between physical harm – where someone is acted on violently because of their beliefs – and hurt feelings. Ahmed points out that the historical background of freedom of speech always stopped at physical harm as well as libel and slander. He makes a point concerning the thoughts of John Mill in his book “On Liberty”:

Mill’s chain of reasoning leads him to assert that freedom is necessary to know the truth. If we suppress an opinion, it is possible that it turns out to be true. To assume otherwise is to assume that we are infallible — something which certainly is not true. Moreover, even if an opinion is false, it might still contain some truth. Consequently, given that it is unlikely even for a generally “true” account to be without fault, by listening to other opinions and accounts we get closer to a “total” truth. He goes on to argue that even if the true account already is considered to be “total truth,” it still has to be criticized or challenged, because only by defending an account against criticism or challenge are we able to understand why it is a true account, instead of just accepting uncritically that it is.

Freedom of Speech and the Harm Principle

Religious believers may not like having their beliefs questioned – and I doubt any of them feel good about it – but censoring religious criticism doesn’t lead to understanding and will continue to lead us to more strife like we are seeing in Lebanon.

My adventures on the Radio

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On Monday morning 3/6/2006 I was a guest on the radio show “Interconnect”, which is hosted by a nearby NPR station run by Miami University of Ohio (nearby being 120 miles away from me). The show topic would be “Civil rights for Atheists” which of course I love to talk about.

I am not a Monday person and especially a morning person so they agreed to let me guest by phone. There was a bit a snag at first because I only have a cell phone, having ditched my landline a few years ago. Cell phones are great as long as the battery is charged and you have good signal. The associate producer I dealt with checked with the station manager and the manger agreed to let me use a cell phone. I just needed to make sure the battery was charged and that I had a good signal.

I’m not a phone person – even though my job is to talk on a phone – personally I don’t talk much on the phone. I assumed everything would be swell because my service (Virgin Mobile) never let me down before.

I was one of two to guest for the hour. The other guest was Eddie Tabash. He is a constitutional lawyer, associated with the Council of Secular Humanism, American Atheists, and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. He is a well known person in the Humanist movement.

So I had to ask myself – why am I even on the show?

The associate producer Andrew had contacted the group I am in, the Humanist Community of Central Ohio, to see if anyone could be available to be on the show. It was probably because the show is based in Oxford, OH so they were looking for a localish group. Basically I drew the short straw.

That’s not entirely true. I have wanted HCCO to do radio shows for a long time. In fact I wrote an essay for a recent newsletter pleading us to develop relationship with the press so we would be the ones to be called should a reporter or show need the Humanist-Freethinker-Atheist viewpoint. The rub being that it takes a certain kind of person to talk to a potential world audience about their beliefs. I felt I was ready to do it but I was scared to death.

You don’t have to be a total expert but you do have to know what you are talking about and confident enough to talk about what you know.

I did have a brief pre-interview with the producer on Saturday so I kind of knew how the show would start but I really wasn’t able to organize my thoughts ahead of time. I did know my goal was to answer succinctly and briefly as I could.

My first radio show didn’t start out on a perfect note. I nodded off waiting for the producer to call me 10 minutes before the show so I missed the call. I woke up at 5 minutes to show time and the producer’s third call. I’m sure he started to breathe again when I answered the phone.

I don’t remember all the details of what I said once the show started but I could hear the full show over the phone – and all the breaks. While it was an hour show the actual show part was less than that.

The show is normally hosted by two people, John Hingsbergen and Cheri Lawson, but Cheri was on vacation for this show. Hingsbergen did a good job of steering the discussion and asked some good questions. The last half hour was for questions and comments from listeners and by e-mail. There was the usual questions like how did you become a Humanist, why use the word Atheist since it is so negative, since you don’t believe in God how do you have hope, and what about being spiritual?

Civil rights for Atheists was touched on before the 1/2 way point with Tabash taking the lead on that one. He mentioned the poll that said people would more likely vote for an openly gay candidate for office than an Atheist. I added to that thought by saying that while Atheists aren’t being burned at the stake there is an issue with the separation of church and state being strained with the current Bush administration in power.

Most of the callers and e-mails were positive toward Humanism and non-belief. Reading the blurb about the show on the station’s website, I knew we wouldn’t be getting the flaming religious nuts calling in telling Eddie and me we were going to hell if we didn’t believe in Jeebus.

One e-mail comment mentioned they thought religion made one a slave and another caller said that wasn’t true and he didn’t care for the characterization of religious belief as “child like”. Tabash put in his two cents.

Where was I?

When the comment about using the word Atheist came up, I said you should judge us as people and not by a word. I only know that because a friend of mine e-mailed me later after the show and said that was a great line.

I like to educate people so I don’t look for nor like confrontation so I wasn’t looking for a debate. That meant I really didn’t say much unless the host directed something at me.

As I said the other guest was Eddie Tabash and he makes his living talking about Atheism and Humanism so I thought he could carry the whole hour and if the host wasn’t as good, Tabash may have done just that. I liked and agreed with just about everything he said so I hope the show wasn’t looking for a fight between us.

I also got the toughest question one can get when discussing Humanism. During the first segment the host asked me if it was necessary to be an Atheist to be a Humanist. Now the answer can spark a good debate within Humanism and I answered how I feel – no, one doesn’t need to be an Atheist to be a Humanist. I did the drop the ball for not adding my usual qualifier that it is harder to be a believer and a Humanist but not impossible.

The good part was that the listener lines were all lit up and they had “piles” of e-mails as the host told us so it was nice being part of show that generated a lot interest. I wasn’t really expecting that since it was 9 am on a Monday morning.

During the a news break, at the 1/2 way point, my phone beeped. My time was low and I needed to top-up. Not only did I ditch my landline years ago, I cheaped out by using a “pay-as-you-go” cell phone plan. That means you have to buy time to use the phone and by the 1/2 way point I had about $4 left of time. I scrambled to my computer and added some time through Virgin’s website and breathed a sigh of relief.

Three minutes left in the show and we are listening to a caller and my phone beeps again and the call ended. UGH!

Mental note. You can’t add time to my cell phone while the phone is in use. Would’ve been good to know before hand.

I had made sure that the phone was fully charged and I sat in my apartment where I would get the best signal but I had failed to double check the time left on the phone before the show.

I felt sick knowing they couldn’t call me back nor had time to do so. My friends said that they heard a busy signal and the host said “We lost Doug Berger.”

Luckily it was at the end of the show so the sick feeling wasn’t as bad as it would have been.

I had a good time overall and the show was a great opportunity for educating people about Humanism and Atheism.

The show is now available in a streaming audio archive on the website:


Look for the section that says “PREVIOUS SHOW TOPICS” and WMUB offers Podcasts of its shows. Interconnect’s podcast with my stint as guest can be found here: http://www.wmub.org/rss/Interconnect.xml

I have also transcribed the discussion and created a webspage with the text. Check out Interconnect Radio Show Transcription.

As a final note: Public Radio is one of our national treasures. Without it, views like those of myself and Eddie Tabash might not be heard in our modern corporate profit driven media world. Find, if you don’t already know, your local public broadcaster and donate to help keep all views on the public airways.

National Public Radio