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July 09 2013

*Women of Color Beyond Faith : Call for submissions* ❝A new anthology entitled “Women of Color…

Women of Color Beyond Faith: Call for submissions

A new anthology entitled “Women of Color Beyond Faith: Feminism, Freethought and Social Justice” is currently being developed and edited by Sikivu Hutchinson (pictured at right), president of Black Skeptics of Los Angeles, and Kimberly Veal (pictured at left), executive director of Black Non-Believers of Chicago. The anthology will address the dire need for scholarship, critical theory, and analysis of women of color non-believers, and women of color freethought and humanist traditions in the United States. Currently, there are no American book publications that address these issues from a multi-disciplinary standpoint.

(...)

This anthology will offer an important corrective to this lacuna. Going beyond basic questions of the challenges women of color non-believers face, it will articulate a vision of humanist social and gender justice that is firmly situated in the politics of anti-racism, anti-heterosexism, and anti-imperialism.

(...)

Hutchinson and Veal are seeking abstracts of approximately 500 words by September 30, 2013. All are welcome to submit an abstract and bio to shutch2396@aol.com by the deadline. For more information, contact Sikivu Hutchinson at the email address above.

http://www.americanhumanist.org/HNN/details/2013-06-women-of-color-beyond-faith-call-for-submissions

#womenofcolor #race #class #feminist #humanist #atheism #freethinkers #Sikivu_Hutchinson #Kimberly_Veal #Black_Non-Believers_of_Chicago

January 26 2012

Alain de Botton's 'temples for atheists' have a foundational flaw

Aren't believers just as likely to appreciate a shrine to perspective? And doesn't the Large Hadron Collider qualify as a rationalist temple? De Botton's doctrine feels a trifle holy

Perhaps emboldened by the success of the atheist bus, or his own Living Architecture initiative (in which top architects design desirable holiday homes), or the fact that he's got a new book to promote, Alain de Botton is now proposing a series of temples for atheists to be built around the UK.

"Why should religious people have the most beautiful buildings in the land?" he asks. "It's time atheists had their own versions of the great churches and cathedrals."

Sounds great, Alain. But what are we worshipping?

"You can build a temple to anything that's positive and good," he continues. "That could mean: a temple to love, friendship, calm or perspective."

In order to make atheism more attractive, De Botton argues in the accompanying book, Religion for Atheists, its advocates should pick and choose from the aspects of religion they all like. So, yes to a sense of community and civic responsibility; no to persecuting gay people and abusing choirboys. And one of the things we all like about religion, especially De Botton, is the architecture, isn't it? It gets the message across far better than something like a book. Unless that book is the Bible, or the Qur'an, but certainly if that book is Religion for Atheists.

De Botton's first monument will be the "Temple to Perspective", a hollow stone tower located in the City of London, that well-known hotbed of religious fanaticism. Its height corresponds to the age of the earth – one centimetre per million years, with mankind's time on the planet represented by a gold band around the base one millimetre thick. It was designed by a young architect named Tom Greenall, who collaborated with De Botton on the book. Several other possibilities are suggested: a Temple to Love, which looks like a box whose facades are rose windows from cathedrals; a Shrine to Care, filled with little glass figurines of humans filled with blood, and so forth.

They come across like witty art installations, but would these follies – sorry, "temples" – convince any religious adherent to cross over? It's unlikely. And why couldn't a Christian or a Muslim enjoy the Temple of Perspective, just as an atheist can be stunned by Gaudi's Sagrada Familia? Architecture and godliness don't necessarily go hand in hand. The great Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, who designed the beautiful Cathedral of Brasilia and several other churches, laughs about the fact that he has been a lifelong atheist.

What De Botton seems to be preaching is his own rather narrow definition of atheism, with its own unified philosophy, set of rules and even architectural brand identity. It feels rather like, er, a religion.

To answer De Botton's original question, atheists do have their own versions of great churches and cathedrals. If the antithesis of religion is scientific rationalism, then surely its temples are the British Library, the Millau Viaduct and the Large Hadron Collider? If it's about glorifying creation, then why not the Natural History Museum or the Eden Project? What about the Tate Modern? Or Wembley Stadium? Or the O2? Or the Westfield shopping centre? Perhaps non-believers should decide for themselves what a temple of atheism should be.


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September 07 2010

Natural selection

Charles Darwin never patronised his audience but presented his evidence modestly; Richard Dawkins, on the other hand, lacks the patience to let natural history speak for itself

Charles Darwin was not a clever man. Well, clearly he was a very clever man. But he was not self-consciously clever: he never talked down to his readers. His masterpiece, On the Origin of Species, is a modest book. It begins with evidence – and down-to-earth, homely evidence at that. Even though Darwin's encounter with the island species of the Galapagos and other exotic discoveries on his voyage with HMS Beagle was so important to his intellectual evolution he starts his great work with observations about domestic British breeds. Similarly, in The Descent of Man he offers copious anecdotes about his study of primates in London Zoo (he wasn't above teasing the animals).

Darwin is the finest fruit of English empiricism. His modest presentation of evidence contrasts, I am sorry to say, with the rhetorical stridency of Richard Dawkins. Visit the famous atheist's website and you will see two causes being pushed. Dawkins is campaigning with other secular stars against the pope's visit to Britain. Meanwhile he is touring the paperback of his book The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. The trouble with this book is that it lacks Darwin's empirical style. Where the Victorian writer presented masses of evidence, and let his astonishing, earth-shattering theory emerge from common-sense observations of nature, Dawkins lacks the patience, at this point in his career, to let natural history speak for itself. He has become the mirror image of the theological dogmatists he despises.

He just can't separate science from the debate he has got into with religious people. "Debate" is too kind a word. In a debate you are trying to convince your opponents, but the new atheists have closed off the grey area in which, for a long time in the west, science and religion co-existed. In The Greatest Show On Earth, Dawkins tries momentarily to backtrack, pointing out that all educated bishops believe in evolution. But he is soon back to the realm of dogma, asking himself why it took so long to come across the reality of evolution. This is clearly a historical question, although it may not be a good historical question (why did it take so long to discover the iPad? Well, first you had to invent the wheel ...) No sooner does he ask this question than Dawkins replies, in effect – and I am only slightly caricaturing – that it was because people were a bit thick. He offers no intellectual history of how Darwin's big idea was born from centuries of natural science, how the religious Victorians created an intellectual atmosphere in which such a leap in the dark could be contemplated.

Nor does he offer what is surely needed – a blow-by-blow introduction to evolution that starts calmly from the visible evidence all around us. In a telling aside, he is dismissive about the fossil Ida, which he cannot resist telling his readers was massively overhyped. Missing link? You'd have to be an idiot to think that, he grumps ... I am not defending the publicity for this fossil, but it typifies the self-regard of the public atheist that when an accessible, immediate, exciting piece of visual evidence for The Descent of Man enters the mainstream, his reaction is to sneer. He doesn't actually want to persuade, he just wants to be the cleverest kid in the class. Which Darwin never was.


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May 05 2010

The politics of faith | Nick Spencer

A comparison of Clegg and Attlee shows how bland politics has become. Leaders should be able to speak out on belief

Nick Clegg and Clement Attlee do not have a great deal obviously in common. They do, however, share one significant political feature. They are (or were) each openly atheist.

According to Peter Hennessy, Attlee was one of only three post-war British prime ministers who fell firmly into the unbelief camp (the others were Churchill and Eden). In spite of attending Haileybury Imperial Service College, "a school suffused with Anglicanism", Attlee seems to have been "entirely untouched by organised religion".

Clegg, as he admitted in the second prime ministerial debate two weeks ago, is also "not a man of faith", and it was this point that Eddie Mair, presenter of Radio 4's PM programme, chose to take up with the Liberal Democrat leader at the start of his extended interview with him last week. He opened with a viciously simply question. "In the last television debate you volunteered that you are not a man of faith. Why don't you believe?"

Nick Clegg's answer began with a few seconds of stunned silence, lasted a minute and was a masterclass of incoherence.

"Why don't I believe? Em … Gosh, that's one of the most difficult questions, I, I think I can, I can imagine … I … why do, why do I not know … whether God exists or not … it's not something, it's not something … "

At this point Mair came back in, although it was clearly to bury Nick Clegg rather than to praise him. "You tell me what you think and what you don't think and explain why you arrived at that conclusion."

Clegg stumbled on. "Because I quite simply don't know whether, whether, whether God exists and … you know, I know it's obviously fashionable to say, say that, you know, one does, but I … I don't, you know, I'm not a man, a man of faith … sometimes I very much wish I was, because I think having faith must be a great thing. You know, members of my family do, my wife does, my children are being brought up in her church, and I think it can be a wonderful, unifying thing … but I, I myself ... you know, have not, have not, have not, you know, experienced, if you like, clearly what other people of faith have. Maybe it'll happen one day."

You could almost sense Mr Clegg's relief when he finally ground to a halt, but Eddie Mair was not finished with him. "Were you brought up in a Christian family?"

This was, at least, an easier question which Nick Clegg answered with confidence if not relish, concluding that faith "is not something that has happened to me, or at least not yet."

"So is it something you have actively rejected or have yet to be convinced of?" Mair pressed on.

"No, it's not something I've actively rejected at all," Nick Clegg replied. "I'm, I'm very interested, I think, like everybody is to, you know, a very personal level, with, you know, issues of, of, of spirituality, I think that's what makes us human … and … you know, it's nothing to with my politics but I, like every other individual, struggle with those very important aspects of our, of our, of our lives. So it's not something I'm closed off from at all. No, far from it."

Now, let's compare this exchange with one that Clement Attlee had with Kenneth Harris on the same subject.

Harris: Was it Christianity that took you into politics?

Attlee: Social conscience, I would say. Inherited it. My parents were very much that way.

Harris: But your parents were actually professing Christians, weren't they?

Attlee: Yes. And my brothers and sisters.

Harris: But you weren't?

Attlee: No. I'm one of those people who are incapable of religious experience.

Harris: Do you mean you have no feeling about Christianity, or that you have no feeling about God, Christ, and life after death?

Attlee: Believe in the ethics of Christianity. Can't believe the mumbo jumbo.

Harris: Would you say you are an agnostic?

Attlee: I don't know.

Harris: Is there an afterlife, do you think?

Attlee: Possibly.

Comparison between these two exchanges is a little unfair. Clegg was live on air during a campaign; Attlee talking to his official biographer. Clegg's response is a direct transcription (well, minus the "ums" and "ers") and everyone sounds incoherent when thus rendered; Attlee's was doubtless edited during transcription. And Clegg and Attlee are simply different characters. Attlee, as Peter Hennessey has observed, had the habit of reducing interviewers to near desperation by the brevity of his replies. Douglas Jay, who worked with him in No 10, once said that Clement "would never use one syllable where none would do."

Nevertheless, the comparison remains instructive. Can you imagine Nick Clegg or any other party leader saying to Eddie Mair, "Well, Eddie, I believe in the ethics of Christianity but I can't believe in all the mumbo jumbo." Radio nerves and Mair's notorious curve-balls notwithstanding, it would never happen.

Those of an atheist disposition will put this down to the ludicrous oversensitivity that we show today towards religion. Politicians have been bullied into silence by religious fanatics and are simply scared to roll their sleeves up, get stuck in and call mumbo jumbo by its proper name.

That, however, is obvious nonsense. Tony Blair, who knew a thing or two about being in the public gaze, took a vow of silence about his religious beliefs when he realised, to his cost, how people reacted whenever he mentioned God. On the rare occasions he broke his own rules – such as when he let slip to Michael Parkinson his entirely innocuous belief that as a Christian he thought he would be judged by God – he was reprimanded, not least by tolerant liberal secularists like Evan Harris MP who warned him against making "references to deity" in public life.

The truth behind Nick Clegg's vacillation, Tony Blair's silence, and the reason why both are so different from Clement Attlee's abrasive, monosyllabic honesty, has much more to do with our broader political culture.

Growing religious illiteracy, fear of religious violence and the media pressures that have turned election campaigns into minutely choreographed tours of duty have forced a crushing blandness on our party leaders, draining them of serious personal opinions that might offend voters. As part of that trend, we are seemingly incapable of grasping the fact that public servants are driven by private motivations. Because they are there to serve the universal public good, we seem to believe that they must be driven by universally acceptable public beliefs.

But people don't work like that. Every belief is a belief in something and not in something else. Everyone thinks their beliefs are right, which often means other people's are wrong. And every politician – or at least every conviction politician – is motivated by a particular conception of the good which is informed by particular beliefs about the world. Pretending otherwise, even if it is for noblest reasons of inclusion or public accessibility, is to practise a vast deceit on public life, evacuating politics of its honesty and vigour.

Describing Winston Churchill's own faith (which was rather more in himself than in God), the historian Paul Addison has written how Churchill "belonged to an era of secularised religion in which the doctrines of liberalism, socialism and imperialism were all bathed in the afterglow of a Christian sunset. Now the afterglow has gone: and political discourse has shrunk into a narrow, stultifying recital of economic indicators, enlivened by occasional outbreaks of xenophobia."

The Christian sunset may have faded, but the very fact that Eddie Mair opened with the question he did reminds us that the question of religion and politics burns as bright today as it ever has done. We seem ill-adept at dealing with it, liable to denounce political leaders for believing in things we don't. If we ever hope to escape the political stage-management and stultifying recital of economic indicators, we need to permit our representatives, whether atheist Cleggs or Christian Blairs, to speak openly about the personal beliefs without jumping down their throats when we hear something we don't like.


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