Secular Family Values Do Well

doing goodMany religious people claim that without religion they would have no moral compass. Many people become more religious so they can have a moral compass, to overcome personal difficulties. Combine this with the desire for comfort and it is a potent mix. Yet, as more families grow up without religion they show they do quite well also, anyway.

Far from being dysfunctional, nihilistic and rudderless without the security and rectitude of religion, secular households provide a sound and solid foundation for children, according to Vern Bengston, a USC professor of gerontology and sociology….

He was surprised by what he found: High levels of family solidarity and emotional closeness between parents and nonreligious youth, and strong ethical standards and moral values that had been clearly articulated as they were imparted to the next generation.

“Many nonreligious parents were more coherent and passionate about their ethical principles than some of the ‘religious’ parents in our study,” Bengston told me. “The vast majority appeared to live goal-filled lives characterized by moral direction and sense of life having a purpose.”

This really should’t be a surprise as the diversity of religions through time has not shown any to be an obvious advantage even if one is extremely forgiving. The issue for many is not so much the past as now. Do religions help people now? That is, if we exclude the so called extremists and fundamentalists–which doesn’t seem quite fair.

Phil Zuckerman agrees.

My own ongoing research among secular Americans — as well as that of a handful of other social scientists who have only recently turned their gaze on secular culture — confirms that nonreligious family life is replete with its own sustaining moral values and enriching ethical precepts. Chief among those: rational problem solving, personal autonomy, independence of thought, avoidance of corporal punishment, a spirit of “questioning everything” and, far above all, empathy.

For secular people, morality is predicated on one simple principle: empathetic reciprocity, widely known as the Golden Rule. Treating other people as you would like to be treated. It is an ancient, universal ethical imperative. And it requires no supernatural beliefs. As one atheist mom who wanted to be identified only as Debbie told me: “The way we teach them what is right and what is wrong is by trying to instill a sense of empathy … how other people feel. You know, just trying to give them that sense of what it’s like to be on the other end of their actions. And I don’t see any need for God in that.

Many religious people will say these natural laws are just their religion for the unwashed. The Golden Rule is after all the Golden Rule. Yet if the Golden Rule is accessible without religion why have religion? Is that baggage helpful?

“If your morality is all tied in with God,” she continued, “what if you at some point start to question the existence of God? Does that mean your moral sense suddenly crumbles? The way we are teaching our children … no matter what they choose to believe later in life, even if they become religious or whatever, they are still going to have that system.”

Being good is something that occurs aside from religion not because of it.

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com

Atheists Do Not Think They are Superior

atheist snobberyRon Ruggieri thinks that atheists are snobs that think they are superior. Odd, considering religious people think they are the only ones gaining salvation and their values are the set values. Of course the religious are inclusive as long as you join. This Catch-22 of religion is exactly why atheists try to provide antidotes as well as support to atheists who are afraid to come out simply because the religious have a hegemony on knowledge, morality, and politics–especially now. As the end of the world types want the world to end to meet their religious fantasies of a rapture and redemption. Most who do come out are glad of it but not because it meets a snobbishness but have finally resolved their dissonance in their new-found integrity.

I don’t have any quarrel with atheistic humanism. But I smell the New Atheism in these obnoxious Rhode Island Public Transit Authority bus ads: “Godless? So are we!”

Of course he has an issue with atheistic humanism or he wouldn’t be writing the article complaining about bus slogans that say being godless is okay. I guess all the slogans that say be saved through Christ or some such are okay because godless people saying other godless exist, and that’s okay, is harmful to maintaining the hegemonic religions of today. It’s okay to advertise religion but not irreligion. It’s okay to advertise buy this product but not to say don’t, which makes vegetarians equally odious as well as those that advertise don’t smoke, overeat, or pollute.

The new atheism is characterized by rude, snobby and mean-spirited effrontery.

And all of the slogans that say be saved are not rude and an affront to those who choose not to be religious? At its softest this is like a car dealer saying to buy my car is an affront to the other car dealers. Cosmic salesmen are limited to the right product only. If the religious hadn’t been forcing their religion on everyone for millennia there would be no need or desire for push back. There have been a few times when the religious were more in line with the nonreligious in deism, pantheism and some such, but for the last few decades it’s become my religion or the highway, and that religion must be aligned with the most isolating, non real, version.

As a socialist, I can only wonder at its political agenda.

 

As if religion didn’t have a political agenda? As if socialism had anything to do with it? As if his version of socialism wasn’t theological?

Individuals who feel a need to join exclusive ” intellectual ” cliques are rarely friends of the oppressed and exploited masses.

Right and the religious are friendly to the exploited masses? And the religious are inclusive to the non religious–as long as you join? As if religions haven’t been fighting over their exclusiveness for all known written history? As if religions haven’t been a convenient excuse for the most horrible exclusionary practices possible? As if the religious GOP today weren’t anti-intellectual because it corrupts their children, at home, in public, in school. Don’t thunk too hard, trust your heart.

Do they apply reason and logic to the highly irrational capitalist system? Or am I correct in suspecting that many of these naturally “superior” individuals are devoted to the cult of Ayn Rand cult, the crackpot queen of pro-capitalist atheism?

Most atheists don’t think they’re superior. Many atheists aren’t trying to convert others but just want to be allowed to practice in peace without being told their only hope of salvation is through Christ or some such. Many libertarians have sought atheism simply because they are tired of being told what to believe and are tired of a government that supports religious practice but not secular practice. Indeed many atheists are quite pissed at the leave-social-justice-out-of-it attitude in libertarian atheists because you can’t leave morality out of it. Logically or morally, atheism implies many things and is not an isolated position in a jungle of interconnected life. Nor should we forget that the most popular libertarians are the moronic religious conservatives in a political world where we don’t even see atheists but maybe uh, two or three.

image source

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com

The Discovery Institute Goes Fishing

discovery instituteThanksgiving and the rest of the holiday season is sketchy for me. I am constantly considering whether to call people on their shit or not, trying to focus on community and bridge building, while making it clear that much of what the holidays mean is not lost in bland community celebration. The KKK is a social, community building organization too you know–when it was clear it wasn’t its founder left. ISIS and other terrorist organizations provide fraternity, mutual good will, and vitality to participants. You would say that the holidays are nothing like that unless you actually remember the history of conquest. My grandfather used to say if we criticize conquest we have to go back to the first people rushing around the world. As if a long line of abuse means we should accept the last, most current abuse. I guess choosing which ancestors get the land is the question. What’s important is that we look to this history and say we must be different.

The venerable evangelical Discovery Institute fished for trolls and friends with a ridiculous article claiming atheism attracts sexist assholes while churches bring in the best and finest equally. DI ignores that churches demanded entire families go and was never oriented to attracting individuals, based on agreement rather than conformity. Further that churches have been losing male attendance so bad they are trying to develop men-oriented activities to bring them in and prevent them from falling asleep in the pews.

DI states that pony-tailed men dominated early atheist groups which is really a slam, incorrect as well, that atheist men were either effeminate, hippies, artsy, or antisocial. Real groups attract men in suits apparently; ones that keep women in place, and then in situations where women had a hope of  socializing with other women outside the home without criticism.

They continue that atheists have had to clean house and root out their misogynist assholes, some of which is really ugly. They forget the churches cherish and hold dear to their misogynist assholes, keeping them as members rather than calling them out on their shit and making them change or leave. Church leaders don’t want to  lose their leaders and bread winners after all and will tolerate damned near anything to do so. At least atheists are cleaning house, painful though that may be. The churches pretend to be inclusive but have no claim on integrity. A church had to include all as it considered itself the leader of flocks of sheep and wolves. It doesn’t matter which as long as they all go to church as if the wolves would learn to no longer eat sheep by osmosis in the face of contrary success.

The diversity of atheist groups is denied as well. The healthy growth and expansion of minority-based atheist groups shows that atheists who never did belong to a monolithic dogma can easily create healthy atmospheres, and are willing to abandon any dogma or status quo to do so.

That women didn’t flock to early atheist groups is a lie in any case though it is true that early suffragist groups decided not to discuss atheism in order not to scare away women who might not join if secularism were an issue. This only proves that the predominate gender issue in US politics and activism were (and are) so male oriented that any group faced a death knell if it even hinted it might be secular. I recently had a GOP supporter point out how certain elections had women’s issues as platforms forgetting how few they are.

I’m sure that when they learn of  all-women atheist groups church men will decry that men aren’t welcome. It doesn’t matter what women do they can’t win.

You can be sure that an atheist who was accepted into church as a sinner than needed to be reformed and never with the idea that what they had to say was acceptable. Most churches considered atheists so egregious as to not even allow them in as redeemable sinners. Atheists were beyond hope, redemption, and socializing and were often excluded inspire of all.

That women went to church is more a sign that they were so abandoned in their lot in life that they had to gain support wherever they could because they sure didn’t have the power or money to get it any other way. Raising children is difficult and the men sure weren’t there to help, assuming that women could birth, rear, and raise them while they were absent doing their important things with other men. As if a check covered for their lack of attendance, criticisms of inferiority, and desire to be elsewhere. After all as  Men’s Rights Activists continue to say today men work better when left to their own gender. It’s not surprising that some sought a separatism, encouraging apartheid, just to be able to have some gender autonomy.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s slogan not for ourselves alone is all about how women are abandoned after sex to deal with the consequences while the men find another conquest, loved or not. It’s also about how women weren’t allowed to gather into social and political groups, and were suspected of being lascivious gender-screwed whores if they did. She herself was trapped at home with children and household, unable to participate in political activism, as she hoped so much. She could of course have gone to church had she chosen because that was at least acceptable and near by. Churches being the most plentiful and elementary building in near every community.

The whole atheist-hating dilemma is so bad that too often the most aggressive of men and women could be the only ones to achieve success and then they face criticism of aggression and dominance. I guess you’re supposed to be a shirking wall flower and hope someone will notice and speak for you.

For me I am grateful for this nasty cleaning house by atheists of all ilk and know it as a positive sign of change, proof that atheism is a moral position. Let the churches take it as an example.

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com

A Salon Take on How Religion Harms

Ipaul elamt’s 9 degrees wind-chill today and I’m supposed to be swapping a window. Not thrilled. To get the work done I need to build up some energy. I also need to go get a truckload of apples for cider making that I have to keep from freezing overnight. I’ll be brief.

….

It’s hard for me to take Salon seriously right now after it published Paul Elam’s idiotic article “if we want society to advance we need to leave men alone to do their work.” My inclination is to remove the salon bookmark but I guess I need to know these idiots exist and be able to parse their arguments when other MRAs throw them at my face like week-old dead fish. One need only look at Elam’s eyes to see either he has a medical condition that needs to be fixed or is a raving lunatic that should not be allowed out, in public.  More so when he makes death threats but calls it satire, just good fun. Because that’s what real men do. Make jokes about raping alcohol-filled passed out chicks, killing opponents, and ripping the dicks off effeminate men. That’s how men work effectively together. Elam is delighted that Salon published him and brags because it makes him more legitimate–kind of like including Charles Manson and promoting “just a shot away” politics. He should be arrested and medicalized.

More  pleasantly Salon posted an article on six basic harms of religion. Richard Dawkins recently tweeted that theology can do no good. This facile take was better served by Hitch when he said religion poisons everything. The subtlety of which was that even if good is produced it taints the goodness by wrong motivation. If a person steals an apple and gives it to a starving person, do we care about the theft or about saving the person? It gets tricky. More obvious would be if a thief steals an apple from a starving person and gives it to another starting person. And these examples are the simplest of conundrums.

EO Wilson recently called Dawkins just a “journalist” and Dawkins responded with mentioning his 22 year-old book the Extended Phenotype. Of course Dawkins had slammed Wilson for his paper on social-based evolution, and gone right back to his selfish gene. Humans look a lot like individualists and ants look pretty damned social. And there’s a lot more out there. Dawkins and Wilson both have been venturing into pop science literature so there you have it. Good reason for me to have refused to participate in the smegma of academia.

These six points in the Salon article do resonate well.

  1. Religion promotes tribalism
  2. Religion anchors believers in the iron age
  3. Religion makes a virtue out of faith
  4. Religion diverts generous impulses and good intentions
  5. Religion teaches helplessness
  6. Religion seks power

I recently read a post by a woman who was feeling bad about her anger. I commented that anger has utility. We wouldn’t change the world if we were comfortable. As usual the trick is to be mad enough to fight the good fight and not so complacent that you want to stay in bed and watch endless Netflix.

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com

Demanding Perfection

perfectionI am taking my daughters to the Concert for Valor in DC. Concerts are so expensive and our budget is so tight that our children have not been to concerts other than at small local venues. Seeing live music has become so expensive it has become out of reach for many. This concert is free but for gas and metro which is still a decent hit to our budget. I worked the weekend to take the day off. I suppose the concert is controversial because why support troops? Well because they die for a job and a cause many, even they, don’t believe. A recent interview of a returned soldier on NPR noted that most of his fellow soldiers don’t believe in the war they are fighting, but rather each other. The friendships soldiers form are often lifelong. When a fellow soldier dies it can be as devastating as losing a close friend or relative back home. The trauma remains for years and often life.

During the Vietnam war it was popular to shun soldiers, and burn draft cards, while wearing flags and military jackets. That was more a FU than a sympathy. Soldiers were supposed to go AWOL and recruits leave for Canada, as my wife at the time said I must do if my name came up. I find this troubling. Yet, protesting a war can be a way of wanting to save people from death and harm in fighting. Yet, it is near impossible to watch others die in political predating and not wish to help. I see ISIS and I want war. I see death and I wish our soldiers could stay home. I see immigrants crossing the border and I want to give them shelter. Another side of me wants to turn them around, give them an AK-7, and send them back to change their country. Of course, it’s never so easy.

A troubling aspect of growing political didacticism and partisanship is the demand for perfection. It is very much like the feminism with which I grew up. The importance of relationships and political purity almost demanded a predatorial like-mindedness. So and so isn’t really a feminist. We won’t associate with her or them anymore. I saw the same later in environmentalism where if you didn’t recycle you were some sort of bad person because it’s just so easy to recycle. Never mind that that person might have donated 10% of their income to an environmental organization, or just might be over the top in the world, barely able to make food after work.This movable line in the sand has grown deeper and wider over time.

Now, if someone screws up they should lose their job, lose their family, and be punished for life. Meanwhile they talk about love, tolerance, and restorative justice. I don’t see how incapacitating a person’s income or social potential for life is in any way helpful. Nor do I see how ostracism, excommunication, and social shunning are any different than the high school clique wars that so many complained harmed them–it would seem they learned and joined the dark side, just a different group shunning. How on Earth can there be rehabilitation if we have marked people for life and put them in a permanent class beneath us?

Tristan Madden notes this inconsistency in religion.

For a long time, I struggled over the question of capital punishment. It didn’t seem right to end a person’s life, but it was often for that very reason these people were condemned to die. Being raised Catholic, I had grown up in a culture of moral absolutism. There was no gray area, because God clearly dictated what was good and what was bad. And while I was taught to separate the sin from the man, I would have been ill-advised to express any kind of pity for a serial rapist, for example, outside the context of Mass or Sunday school.

I noticed that in Mass, people would nod eagerly when the priest spoke of redemption and forgiveness, but when it came to murderers, rapists and similar offenders, these people who had so vigorously nodded their heads in Mass often refused to extend forgiveness. And I was the same way.

I believed people should be given a second chance, but I felt there were some people who were beyond redemption. I believed all humans should have a chance to repent, but the kind of people who were being executed, I reasoned, were something other than human. They were monsters who had sacrificed their humanity when they committed their heinous crime.

As another popular example now. I hate rape. I don’t even understand it psychologically. Yet, the current move to expel rapists from their occupations, schools, and families ensures the continuation of the condemnation for life as an underclass, never to be worthy of any kind of respect again. No amount of prison or restitution matters. It’s just not possible. This is social justice? How they hell can anyone change in isolation? A victim can only recover if they know their oppressor has a scarlet letter emblazoned on their chest and better if they are sent to the streets never to be seen again in polite company. This isn’t closure. It’s revenge and vengance. Perfectionism creates an atmosphere of crippling fear.

It is a steroidal version of debates about atheist leaders like Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer, Sam Harris and others where on various levels they have been found wanting and should no longer be followed or supported because they apparently have nothing to say to anyone any more of any value. The same with women who have ambiguous stories like Lena Dunham who many call a sexual predator and should now be excommunicated because everything she says or does must be poisoned. Let’s just impoverish her and make her homeless. We don’t even really know the facts of the case and yet we judge fatally with the rapidity of a tweet.

Maybe we should just shoot these people as studies have long shown than ostracism, shunning, and excommunication often feel, are, worse than death, and usually do lead to a kind of living death. Just as solitary confinement ruins people in prison for life and creates permanent criminals, psychologically screwed for life. One reason why shame-based cultures are even more powerful than guilt-based cultures.

The only thing that can come of this are lies, subterfuge, and the creation of private worlds that few know but all fear because we just don’t trust anyone anymore. it reminds me of a police ranger friend of mine who said everyone is a criminal. When called on it he said everyone has the potential to be a criminal. Isn’t the potential the point. Isn’t the ability to get over it why we don’t just shoot them?

My mother who helped form university-based child care and was an activist in women’s groups used to say the last perfect man died 2,000 years ago. She saw her friends getting swallowed in shame and guilt. I don’t think she really believed in Jesus at that point in her life but she got that demanding perfection of others harms all of us. At some point that gaze will come your way and no one can withstand it.

Jim Newman, www.froniersofreason.com

Atheism as Religion in Law, Cicero Lives

religionThis is the time of year where my get and go has done got up and went. Demotivation from work stress, increasing cold, and short days makes it difficult for me to even know about, much less achieve, the many things to be done. This spirals into depression where self-criticism rules and it becomes difficult not to see fault in near everything, and to feel how near everything really needs to change to make the world and me better.

That this midterm election was perhaps the most important one since Eisenhower didn’t help. The growing trend towards conservatism makes it worse in my case, since I have few leanings towards it anymore. That Obama has spent less money than any president since Eisenhower, as reported by Forbes, doesn’t help. One reason is it’s a bald-faced lie to say Obama has been the biggest spender in history and another is the recovery would have occurred faster and better if Obama could have injected money into the work force and created incentives for businesses to relieve their hoarding. Not to mention less tax relief for the uberwealthy.

Cicero’s brother wrote a little book “How to Win an Electiontelling Cicero to basically promise anything, appeal to the privileged, flatter all,  surround yourself with support, be a chameleon, and accuse opponents of sex scandals. This perhaps apocryphal book almost seems like a parody right down to it being written by a scoundrel brother to a politician that promoted honesty, virtue, and restraint. Yet, Cicero, in his later works speaks of ambition, ruthlessness, and temptation as constant motivations in his life. Note that Karl Rove recommended this book on the cover of Freeman’s edition but Garry Wills blasted the book for being disingenuous to real politics. What do you think? It seems the practice of honesty is a virtue only if you’re surrounded by like minded people…

Much like including atheist displays on public property as equal time with religious displays, a Federal District court allowed an atheist prison inmate to form a a humanist group.

In a decision issued Thursday, Senior District Judge Ancer Haggerty ruled that prison officials violated inmate Jason Holden’s constitutional rights under the First and Fifth Amendments, and moved to recognize secular humanism as a religion for “Establishment Clause purposes.”

This seems like a victory, a big victory. Especially since prisons use religions so strongly that there are virtually no atheists in prison. Which doesn’t necessarily mean there are no atheists in prison but you aren’t allowed to be one.

The case, co-filed by the American Humanist Association, marks a victory for secular groups seeking access to the same legal rights afforded to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews and Muslims — all of whom are permitted to organize under the current federal prison system.

Making humanism, secularism and atheism religions does disservice to their definitions but it also supports the idea that specific social justice issues, or morality, are part and parcel of these groups–far beyond revealed or not. It also means the government lists approved religions for personal rights.

In siding with the plaintiffs, Haggerty cited a 1961 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Torcaso v. Watkins, which referred to “Secular Humanism” as a religion in its landmark decision to prohibit state and federal governments from passing any laws that impose religious requirements on holding public office.

“The court finds that Secular Humanism is a religion for Establishment Clause purposes,” Haggerty, a Bill Clinton appointee, concluded on Thursday. “Allowing followers of other faiths to join religious group meetings while denying Holden the same privilege is discrimination on the basis of religion.”

The only way to defend against the insistence of religious-oriented support legally is to call them religions. There are no phrases like philosophy, world-view or social moral code in this kind of law. Everyone is a group, much like zero is an amount or baldness is a hairstyle. All of which are true in some ways. It sidesteps the real misuse that government shouldn’t be in the religion business.

I suppose it is a wedge which allows the presence and acknowledgement of secular interests, but it only fuels fire to the idea that atheism is competing with religion in morality, when many atheists don’t want any specific morality included in the package–they just don’t want to be preached to or do theological therapy.

For now this is how it must be as a political tactic but I find it troubling and wonder if it won’t cause problems in the long run. It takes away from the point of a secular public space that allows religious tolerance. It gives credibility that atheism and theism are just two peas in the same pod.

It will be interesting to see secular groups spawn and form their own groups much like local, regional, and national churches. I wonder how the system will handle them when they want their own brand of support?

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com