Tag Archives: secular humanism

Ohio Prayer Protest a Success

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My friend Dan Birtcher, who organized a protest of the so-called National Day of Prayer, reports that the protest went well and no one was arrested.

He writes:

Today’s rally at the Statehouse was a great success!

About 10 HCCO and SFF members carried signs and handed out literature from 11am until about 2pm. Because those assembled for the prayer event were seated facing towards the street I believe everyone there (including Mr. Blackwell) got to enjoy our signs during most of the proceedings. I think we did a very good job getting our message across to them without in any way being disruptive.

I had lots of interesting conversations while I was down there – many with supporters who were VERY glad to see us promoting a secular worldview. I also had some cordial discussions with Christians and other believers in prayer. No matter how severe our disagreements may have been, I think I was able to make all my points with a smile – and I’m pretty sure I managed to end every encounter with a handshake. My suspicion is that it will be far harder for the people I talked to to think of atheists and humanists as demons with tails and horns in the future.

– Dan Birtcher


HCCO is the Humanist Community of Central Ohio and SFF stands for the Students for Freethought, a student group at Ohio State. The protest also included members from Capital University also in Columbus. “Mr. Blackwell” is J. Kenneth Blackwell, the freshly minted GOP nominee for Ohio Governor who has not been shy to put his religion on his sleeve.

August Brunsman, executive director of the Student Secular Alliance, took some photos of the protest.

Dan also noted that a reporter from the NY Times interview a couple of the protesters so there might be a mention in the Times.

Borders didn’t ban conservative magazine that also published Danish cartoons

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On March 29th it was reported that the Borders bookstore chain had decided not to stock the April/May issue of the “Free Inquiry” magazine. (see: How ironic: Bookstore bans “Free Inquiry”)

The chain claimed it was concerned about the safety of their customers because the issue of the magazine would include a selection of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that had been published in a Danish newspaper back in September. The cartoons were the focal point of many protests by Muslims around the world and in some cases the protests became violent with the burning of the Danish Embassy in Syria.

I sent an e-mail to the company to complain and they responded with their same line:

“Borders is committed to our customers’ right to choose what to read and what to buy and to the First Amendment right of Free Inquiry to publish the cartoons. In this particular case, we decided not to stock this issue in our stores because we place a priority on the safety and security of our customers and our employees. We believe that carrying this issue presented a challenge to that priority.”

We can agree to disagree. They can choose what they sell and I can choose not to patronize a store that censors a magazine before reading it.

I would like to leave it at that but then while surfing the net this weekend I came across a blog that reported that back in February, the conservative magazine “The Weekly Standard” published an article on the cartoons AND published the cartoons. (I didn’t save the link to the blog – sorry)

I decided to see for myself if The Weekly Standard did publish and article and the cartoons in February. I donned my HazMat suit and swam into the lake of conservatism and sure enough there it was:

Oh, the Anguish!
The cartoon jihad is phony.
by William Kristol
02/20/2006, Volume 011, Issue 22

“U.N., E.U. and Muslims link in call to curb protests,” read the Financial Times headline last week. A “U.N.-brokered statement,” the paper reported, was issued “in an effort to curb days of protests, some violent some peaceful, at the publication and republication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. ‘The anguish in the Muslim world at the publication of the offensive caricatures is shared by all individuals and communities who recognise the sensitivity of deeply held religious belief,'” the statement said.

Oh, the anguish! And why not? You remember–don’t you?–the wave of bloody pogroms against Muslims living in Denmark following the Jyllands-Posten’s publication, on September 30, 2005, of 12 cartoons depicting (in most cases) the prophet Muhammad. (The newspaper was testing freedom of speech in Denmark, and challenging “the self-censorship which rules large parts of the Western world.”)

Oh, the Anguish! (02/20/2006)

And that article had a huge picture of the Danish newspaper’s cartoon page that was used to cause so much rioting.

The question then becomes – Does Borders stock “The Weekly Standard” and if so then their claim to be protecting the safety and security of customers and employees is a PR stunt. Appearing to ban a magazine that holds “offensive” material makes Borders look good while not looking bad on the balance sheet. I’m sure “The Weekly Standard” sells a lot more than “Free Inquiry” not to mention the less chance of a major political cock up had they banned a major conservative magazine.

How does one gain proof? I decided to call my local stores and find out.

In just a few minutes the stores reported they carried “The Weekly Standard”.

Now my point has been proven. If Borders applied their “security concern” consistently then I would not have a problem, but as I found out they don’t since we can assume they didn’t ban the February 20th issue of “The Weekly Standard” (I didn’t hear that they did)

If you would like to share your thoughts with Borders, call your local store and complain or send a letter or e-mail to their corporate headquarters with info found on their contact page

How ironic: Bookstore bans “Free Inquiry”

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The Associated Press reported today (03/29/06) that the company that operates Borders and Waldenbooks stores will not stock the April-May issue of Free Inquiry magazine because it contains cartoons of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad that provoked deadly protests among Muslims in several countries a couple months ago.

Free Inquiry is the official magazine of the Council for Secular Humanism (CSH) based in Amherst, NY. It announced that it would publish some of the cartoons that sparked violence from Denmark to Syria by offended Muslims. In their press release they said they would publish them because the major magazines in the US (Time, Newsweek, etc…) refuses to publish them.

Borders said:

“For us, the safety and security of our customers and employees is a top priority, and we believe that carrying this issue could challenge that priority,” Borders spokeswoman Beth Bingham said Wednesday.

Bingham said the decision was made before the magazine arrived at the chain’s stores. The company operates more than 475 Borders and 650 Waldenbooks stores in the United States, though not all regularly carry the magazine.

Borders won’t carry magazine containing prophet cartoons

So the chain decided BEFORE seeing the magazine… interesting.

According to the AP report the cartoons are accompanied by three articles: one by editor Tom Flynn tracing the controversy and explaining the decision; a commentary by R. Joseph Hoffmann, director of the Council for Secular Humanism’s Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion; and a historic look at representations of the prophet.

Paul Kurtz, editor-in-chief said:

“What is at stake is the precious right of freedom of expression. Cartoons often provide an important form of political satire … To refuse to distribute a publication because of fear of vigilante violence is to undermine freedom of press _ so vital for our democracy.”

To be honest, Borders goofed. Free Inquiry is a small publication compared to others like Maxim, Stuff, and People. In fact I have gone to the two stores in my area and have yet to find an issue of Free Inquiry when I wanted to buy it.

But I get it. They can pander to those customers who might not have appreciated the cartoons in context and it doesn’t hurt them in the balance sheet. However, censoring the magazine is going to create more of a scene than just letting it sit silently on the shelf collecting dust before being shipped back to the distributor. The move also brings fresh free publicity for CSH.

Now if they decided not to stock Dr. Phil’s latest fake psychology book then all hell would break loose – or better what if they ban the Holy Bible – with its tales of incest, sex, violence, and tribulation.

So Borders will stick to its pandering while I cross them off my future shopping list for books.

Their loss.

*Side Note*

While I am against Borders censoring Free Inquiry, I was not pleased that CSH planned to publish the cartoons. I felt it was a self-serving publicity stunt. However, after learning about the 3 articles that will put the controversy in context and from a secular humanist POV, I feel better about them doing it.

Secular Humanism caused riots in France?

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This entry might be a bit off the usual topic but the article I’m commenting on caught my eye.

In recent weeks, France has been the scene of some serious riots in towns and suburbs populated by poor North and West African families. The riots started after two youths were electrocuted while hiding from police in a power sub-station. Even some Mosques were damaged or set on fire. French officials and conservatives here in the US were quick to blame Muslims for the violence.

An article published on the conservative website Frontpagemag.com by Lt. Col. Gordon Cucullu blamed a lack of immigrant assimilation and secular humanism for the violence.

In France: The Cost of Multiculturalism, Cucullu writes:

Columnist Mark Steyn, in a November 3 interview with talk show host Hugh Hewitt, discussed the current alarming situation in France – the Muslim riots that subsequently spread to Denmark and Belgium. These are the opening shots, Steyn says, in the start of a “Eurabian civil war.” The root cause of Muslim disaffection is non-assimilation. This happened for two reasons: Islamic fundamentalist immigrants chose not to assimilate and conscious government policy instituted by their host nations encouraged their separatism. Decades of multicultural secular humanism have excised Judeo-Christian core values from Old Europe, and a lethal element of separatist Islamofascism filled the void. This is a harsh, parasitic movement that intends to destroy its host. Indeed, in some cases the hosts have actually enacted rules to prevent such assimilation and to recognize the immigrant culture as equal to or preferable to the host.

Of course I have a problem with the writer’s conclusions.

First is the assumption that a lack of assimilation was because the immigrants chose not to do it. Assimilation is slowly absorbing the characteristics of the dominant culture – which infers giving up one’s own cultural characteristics. Cucullu is clear that he means that those immigrants in France need to adopt “Judeo-Christian core values” and if they had the riots wouldn’t have happened.

France and many countries in Europe have issues with immigrants. Most are from current or former colonies. The new citizens have learned the language and made efforts to be part of their adopted countries, but due to old colonial classism, the hosts really don’t want them and this causes them to be segregated. These new people are not treated as equal. They may have the same rights by law, but like we saw in the US South for 100 years after the slaves were freed, they aren’t treated as equal.

Second, the assumption is that multicultural secular humanism excised “Judeo-Christian core values from Old Europe” and a “separatist Islamofascism filled the void.”

Saying “multicultural secular humanism” is redundant. Secular Humanism is a belief system that is multicultural (can cross cultural lines). However Cucullu makes the usual conservative mistake by hyping secular humanism into some demonic cabal intent on eating “our children” and destroying the fabric of “our world”. Secular Humanism is not an organized group. Trust me I know because I am one of them and organized is not a word I would use to describe us – at least on the scale Cucullu needs to support the idea that we are excising “Judeo-Christian core values” from Old Europe.

The difference in core values of the host country and immigrants had nothing to do with why groups rioted in France. Unemployment, racism, and discontent were the main reasons for the riot. Secular Humanism has nothing to do with the lack of religiosity of Europe and “Judeo-Christian core values” have no bearing on the “good” or “bad” of a culture. In fact it is a result of state support for religion through special acknowledgement in laws and support with direct tax funding that has led to people moving away from traditional organized religion in Europe. Many just don’t feel the state should tell them how to worship or force them to pay for religions they don’t care to support.

There is No God

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Penn Jillette, of the magic duo Penn & Teller, is an Atheist and has been for some time. The duo has been hosting a show called “Bullshit” on Showtime for several years that exposes myths people can’t seem to drop. This morning an essay he wrote appeared on the NPR website that sums up how we non-believers find a purpose in life especially when this life is all we have. Here is a clip of the essay and I encourage you read the full the piece:

There is No God

by Penn Jillette

Morning Edition, November 21, 2005 · I believe that there is no God. I’m beyond Atheism. Atheism is not believing in God. Not believing in God is easy — you can’t prove a negative, so there’s no work to do.

I have love, blue skies, rainbows and Hallmark cards, and that has to be enough. It has to be enough, but it’s everything in the world and everything in the world is plenty for me. It seems just rude to beg the invisible for more. Just the love of my family that raised me and the family I’m raising now is enough that I don’t need heaven. I won the huge genetic lottery and I get joy every day.

There is No God

Need to kick a group? Send in the Atheists

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Came across an article by John Leo making the rounds of the Internet news sites over the weekend. It is an op/ed column published in US News and World Report. Leo has concerns about the overuse of the label “victim” to the point that he believes no one seems to be responsible for anything anymore.

One example he uses was this:

Atheists are victimized by religious people. “The McCarthy era is the last time this climate existed,” said beleaguered California atheist Stuart Bechman. The Los Angeles Times said nonbelievers feel stress when a major leaguer points skyward after a hit or when an actor thanks God after winning an Oscar. Some join atheist groups anonymously to avoid harassment. Still, atheist organizations are lobbying in Washington and hope to have at least one presidential candidate court their votes in 2008. Thank God.

We’re All Victims

I read the LA Times article and didn’t agree with Bechman’s assessment about major leaguer pointing to the sky after a hit or an actor thanking a god for their Oscar was being stressful or even offensive to a non-believer. It should be offensive to the believer since the person thanking God is thanking Him for selfish means. I don’t know how big offense that would be since I’m not a believer but it can’t be too good.

I find it hard to go along with the idea that Atheists are in fact victims. While we do get the negative reporting and poll numbers, I can’t help but think that it could be worse.

In some countries, now and in the past, they jailed or murdered people with the “wrong” beliefs.

I just laugh when I hear the religious right breathlessly exclaim how secular humanists want to wipe out all public forms of religious expression here in the US (like we have that kind of power ever) but when they do complain about Christian’s being arrested in China, I can sympathize and agree that those actions are wrong.

Atheists may not be victims in the sense that Christians can be victims in countries like China but Atheists (and most non-believers) do suffer from the negative attitude as illustrated in the article by Leo that I started this posting with.

Obviously Leo was complaining about people complaining and he included Atheists in that lot as if our concerns are trivial.

There aren’t too many groups these days that one would hear or tolerate such negative attitudes expressed so publicly without any backlash. Imagine if a popular TV host said on the air she wouldn’t vote for any one who was a Muslim or Christian with the inference that viewers follow her advice.

Or imagine the uproar if someone wrote an article complaining about Muslims trying to take over our schools and corrupt “our children”.

Atheists and secular humanists are a small enough group where one can make fun of them or express negative thoughts and ideas about and not have to really worry about losing your job or having pickets put out front of your business.

That doesn’t make such negative attitudes ok, but explains why people like Leo can disparage Atheists and seem to get away with it.