Saskatoon has a Freethinkers group which is worth joining if you’re in the area. It’s partly affiliated with the Centre of Inquiry and the group hopes to promote atheism and the secular humanist approach to life in this city and beyond.
Most recent events first (assuming I remember to update):
On May 3rd we held a debate at Frances Morrison Library in Saskatoon: Should Assisted Suicide be Legalized in Canada? It was arranged as part of a series of debates across the country that CFI had organized. It featured Wanda Morris, Executive Director of Dying with Dignity against Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition. I had to work so couldn’t attend, but I was able to catch up with them as the audience drifted out. I quizzed a few members and it sounds like it was a decent event. One felt compelled to walk out during Schadenberg’s part because of how he was coming across and another attempted to talk with him after the debate and was stymied by his attitude and approach. We took Wanda out for drinks after the talk.
On April 15th, I ran the day’s talk. I wanted to explore some examples of paredolia since I find it amusing the media will cater to the kooks who think they see Mary, Jesus, and God in everyday objects. I also wanted to touch on a few real issues surrounding religious iconography and controversies that they create. I had a good crowd for it and do plan on doing another one, although I don’t know what I’ll pick for a topic yet.
April 6th was our third annual Great Friday Pub Night but I had to miss it. i think everyone who came out had a good time though. April 5th was our banned book club meeting (Heart of Darkness) but I missed that, too. I’ll still make sure I read the book and report on it, though.
March 25th was a meet-up about Aids in Africa. I was sorry to miss it. I also missed a karaoke pub night later that week but I had such a crappy cold, I wasn’t going to be able to sing anyway.
The 13th was our banned book club meeting (see here) and on the 16th was our regular meeting. We invited constitutional lawyer Dhugal Whitbread to come by and provide us with a rundown of what falls under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms as it would pertain to people like us who care about freedom from religion. I will admit to tuning out of a lot of it because legal stuff only entertains me when it’s dramatized on television. He did have an interesting story about JWs in Quebec having problems proselytizing in the land of Roman Catholics back in the 1950s. Read more about that elsewhere.
James Randi was in Saskatoon on the 26th thanks to us and I think the show was a hit. Here’s the write-up about that. We also had an ex-Mormon member come to the front and talk to us about his experience as a Mormon and how he changed his whole approach to life. It was incredibly interesting and the write up is here.
Chris DiCarlo added Saskatoon into his book tour and it was nice to have him back on the 26th. Some attended a lunch with him that afternoon and met up at the Bessborough Hotel after the talk for more discussion. His book is titled How to Become a Really Good Pain in the Ass and the aim of it is to help people think critically and improve the way people deal with opposition and other viewpoints. The Socratic method was one he mentioned a few times as an excellent technique. He also talked about the difference between truths discovered via scientific method (experimenting, deduction, testing theories, etc.) and Truths assumed to be knowable by people based on how heavy their reliance is on supernatural explanations (God did it. QED!). It was really interesting. Sadly I only had cash on hand for one item and I picked a Darwin shirt over a signed book. I’ll likely get one at some point, though.
The Banned Book club met on the 25th to discuss Brave New World (see here). Next book is 1984.
The second annual Freethinker Family Camp ran from the 19th to the 21st. It was out at Pike Lake, I believe. I don’t have kids so I didn’t go. I know there was some sort of amateur astronomy thing set up for one night and I’m sure there were plenty of fun activities in the sun, too.
July 17th was our regularly scheduled meet-up but I was out of town. There was no set discussion but I’m sure everyone managed to be independently interesting.
On the 7th our banned book club discussed Lolita and picked Brave New World for next time.
On June 19th we invited Pastor Sandra Beardsall to talk to us on the topic titled “Confessions of a Christian Feminist:Women & the Church in the Post-Enlightenment”. I wrote several posts about that one. (Read the first, second, third & fourth)
On June 12th, several Freethinkers walked and ran in the Bridge City Boogie. Enough to get our names printed on our shirts, at least. I just did the 2k walk but next year will likely do the five.
The emphasis of this meet-up was to discuss the merits and detriments of the current atheism movement: “Moderate Believers / Militant Atheists: Accommodation vs. Confrontation”
I don’t think we really picked one over the other, but we do have some in our group that detest the idea of accommodation on account of the fact that it’s a reverse of reality. We aren’t a majority so how can it be said we ought to accommodate Christians, especially when some of those same Christians don’t want to treat atheists as rational, reasonable, morally ethical citizens within out society? Should more emphasis be put on making a welcome and safe place for those on the cusp of leaving their faith? Are we turning them off by being too belligerent and mean toward the beliefs that once sustained them? How will that encourage them to embrace atheism as an acceptable alternative?
I didn’t stay for the whole thing but since Canada’s heading toward a federal election on May 2nd, it was a good idea to talk about options for atheists and anyone else pro-secular who’d like to see changes in government. Suggestions came up, like utilizing Voteswap Canada. Others thought Canada should switch to a government system like New Zealand and parts of Europe and create proportional governing coalitions. There was concern raised over the two party system we might wind up with at some point if smaller parties can’t get enough funding or voting power. We also read through a couple letters that groups were planning to send to their politicians. They had questions about evolution in schools, same sex marriage and other issues that tend to get ignored during debates and campaigning. No idea if political people would have felt like answering any of those. Some probably don’t even want to admit they’re atheist lest it cost them some votes.
The meeting about oaths that I led. It went pretty well. I talked about the history of oath taking, its uses in governments past and present, the religious nature of oaths, and we discussed other issues around this during the Q and A. Here’s the link to what I wrote. I stuck to it pretty well. We also had a fun time chatting about mincing one’s oaths and the nature of pretend swearing to avoid offending god directly.
A meeting I missed. The question of the day was “Should atheists debate apologists?”
Philosopher and atheist George Williamson debated Michael Horner in Regina and Dr. William Lane Craig. I don’t know what all got discussed with Horner, but it probably amounted to the same stuff as with Craig. Also had our general meeting and discussed plans for the coming year in terms of advertising and public events. We’re looking forward to Darwin Day events on February 12th.
I’ll have to look back through my stuff and see if I remember doing more than Festivus. I seem to recall there were some pub nights and Saskatoon Freethinkers got a bit more official. We’re CFI Saskatoon now, which opens up a few doors in terms of support across the province and country. CFI Regina is pottering along also, hopefully getting some decent interest.
Justin Trottier was in from CFI Canada at the start of this month to tell us about the perks of becoming more involved with CFI as a group. We also saw him give a talk about the New Age Movement and a few of us joined him in Regina when he went to meet with some Freethinkers there and talk to a VP at the Saskatchewan Science Centre about possible collaboration at some point.
Our Banned Book Club got underway with an attempt at the Satanic Verses. Next book is Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird which ought to be a little easier. At our main meeting this month we watched Deliver Us from Evil, a film about a pedophile priest in California and why he got away with it for so long. I wrote a post about that one.
Am I ever glad I went to this one. Tim Thibault is one of our members and talked to us today about a book by Marci McDonald: The Armageddon Factor
The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada. He provided much in the way of research toward it. In his earlier days, he’d been involved in religious movements that have a surprising amount of influence on politics and government run agencies. His major concern for years now has been the continued operation of a station called the Miracle Channel and how the CRTC is allowing it to run even though it’s known to be in violation of all kinds of rules and regulations. His own blog called The Miracle Channel (not to be confused with the “official” Miracle Channel site) has plenty of information about his ordeals with them going back to his early attempts at merely attempting to correct their theology. Recent posts focus more on failed attempts at getting his complaints dealt with. He also brought up another blog, Religious Right Alert, to which he contributes articles. That one looks very interesting and will need some serious time devoted to it.
It was a good talk, aside from a bit too much rambling about his background. We were more interested in hearing what he’d learned that led Marci McDonald toward contacting him in the first place. Bothersome stuff, anyway. I think if he were to polish up his method of speaking, he could do more public talks about this issue and help bring them into the foreground a little more. It got asked how many people would actually read McDonald’s book and he agreed it won’t appeal to everyone. But it contains information that everyone probably should be aware of, regardless.
Today we had our regular Meetup and discussed Canadian tax dollars going towards the funding of Catholic schools. Apparently the UN has been after Ontario a couple times for putting so much public money into that when the same courtesies don’t extend to other religions that might want public funding for their schools, too. Some provinces have already scrapped the dual school system for a secular arrangement that everyone can attend regardless of belief system. Saskatchewan still has both school boards operating and some discussion went on about whether or not this is something we could take issue with at the group level. Some of the ideas discussed involved economics in terms of the restrictions the Catholic side puts on who they’ll hire. It’s not just Catholics who need work. We could also take the discrimination angle and discuss the stigma faced by homosexuals who work in those schools but have to hide who they are lest they lose their jobs. There would also be the possibility of encouraging a morality course (or ethics I suppose) in secular schools and perhaps pushing for comparative religion classes so all kids would get exposure to various belief systems without any one in particular coming across as “right” or “best.”
August 11 — last night we hosted a lecture by Chris diCarlo entitled We Are All Africans. Frankly, the idea that anyone would balk at the idea is laughable, but he swears people do. The whole reason he’s doing this lecture across Canada is to provide his audiences with scientific data that suggests pretty strongly that everyone currently existing on the planet can trace their DNA all the way back to Ethiopia/Sudan, the area of the world the very first homo sapiens called home. He actually lost a university job over this topic after an Aboriginal student complained and some Christian nutters wrote some letters.
I’m also reminded of another post I wrote yesterday regarding great people and ideas. He’s creating discourse here. Intelligent, worthwhile discourse about the origin of all humanity and how much alike we truly are, no matter how culture or religion or skin colour or facial features might differ. And he is running up against opposition every day. Why is this such a hard idea to wrap one’s head around? He mentioned the fact that people live by a memetic mean, a mental equilibrium that most people like to avoid challenging. He also pointed out that anyone with a hundred bucks and enough curiosity can get the test done that will track either their material or paternal DNA all the way back to exactly where their early ancestors left Africa and when. It’s called the Genographic Project.
July 18th is our next major meet, which I’ll be missing. Seems like it’s an open ended kind of day, an anything goes topic mishmash.
June 14th was a really great pub night at Nino’s. There were just a dozen of us in a small and quiet room and had a great time hitting all sorts of topics like why atheists would bother getting married; do atheists have to care on a grand scale, or will work toward small local change be just as useful; the differences between right and privilege in terms of discrimination in law making, jobs, and schools. Another good discussion centered around Brights (a UK group related to Freethinkers) and the semantics of languages. When does a word’s use become insulting, and can two uses of the same word co-exist without that happening? We also looked into the feasibility of getting another speaker in on short notice – Chris diCarlo. It’d be a real boon to our group if we could lure him to town for an evening and have the public in to hear him. The more successful public shows we have, the more noticeable we’ll get and the more impact we’ll have overall.
June 20th was our monthly meeting – Secular Humanism: What is it, What are our values? Values seem to be the same as what anyone else should want for humanity, touching on ethics and human rights, and a need to figure out what best benefits us as a society, and how to deal with what’s detrimental. The difference between this style of humanism and religious humanism is the fact that secular humanists don’t look toward a deity for help with the answers.
June 11th they showed Richard Dawkins’ film, The Enemies of Reason. That was a public venue for anyone in town who wanted to stop in and see it.
Contra-dictions: Understanding confusing holy texts. I missed this meetup on account of family stuff. It was probably pretty interesting. It’s certainly stuff I’ve touched on within my own blog at one time or another
Great Friday 1st annual Funraiser held April 2nd. I missed this one on account of family stuff, sadly. It sounded fun and was fun, by all accounts. April 18th was the regular meetup, this time about altruism. We discussed statistics of donation and motivational aspects, ulterior motives, and learned more about May 6th’s blood drive in honour of the Day of Reason. We also donated cash to Kiva.org to help entrepreneurs overseas. One fellow in our group said his class in high school had done it as a project one year and the money they raised helped a gentleman in India build a hand cart to use as a taxi service in his village. Pretty cool. They’re also collecting donations for a cancer walk next month, I think. I’ll have to double check the date on that.
Missed this one for family reasons. It was about the inquisition among other things. I wrote about the inquisition here instead.
We met this afternoon for “Love: atheist style.” It was a bigger topic than time allowed, that’s for sure. Between the history of love (blame the troubadour) or the chemical causes (blame the amygdala) and the importance of ritual in marriage (celebrants add a twist to marking major moments) or abolishing marriage (or at least the ’til death you part part), it made for heady conversation.
February 14, 2010 – Darwin Day thoughts
We hosted a lecture and discussion about Charles Darwin on the 12th. The lecture was by a geology professor from the University of Saskatchewan who discussed the people who helped influence Darwin’s big ideas, specifically Charles Lyell (whose book the 22-year-old took on the Beagle) and his professor, Adam Sedgwick, who took him to Wales for a couple weeks to study fossils. And apparently Darwin’s set of books about barnacles and their fossil kin are still the best and only worthwhile books on the subject. It was an interesting evening. I expect the pub also got interesting afterward because one of the members of the audience had just finished reading a book about Alfred Russell Wallace and his contributions that should have been just as interesting to everyone, but were largely ignored in favour of the man with higher social standing. He was keen to discuss that injustice.
January meeting (missed on account of snow)
December 20, 2009 – Festivus/1 year anniversary party
Not much went on with this meeting aside from a cake decorated with Saskatoon’s Freethinker bus ad, and a video one of the guys supplied that was recorded in 1998 (judging by the ads for Patch Adams and Shakespeare in Love) off Canada’s History network about the history of Christmas and how much of it comes from traditions and festivals that predate the biblical accounts. There wasn’t much in there I hadn’t seen before, but it was interesting all the same.
Today we had a meeting to discuss how to deal with death and dying. We heard from a woman who is in the memorial business. She explained how small a role religion plays when choosing a way to immortalize a life for a tombstone or memory plaque. People do prefer to pick ways that celebrate the life rather than the doctrine regarding what might happen after. Another woman got up to discuss the parenting aspect of it, in terms of talking to kids about loss and helping them understand it without belittling their feelings or thinking they need to be sheltered from the experience. Then we broke off for smaller discussions.
The woman next to me had recently lost a loved one, so she didn’t feel like talking about how to deal while she was trying to do it, so the two of us talked about life and jobs and movies and anything else we could think of to pass the time until the end of discussion. All I wound up sharing from our discussion was a story regarding my mother and her sister who had died. Dad’s sister e-mailed me to tell me that if that aunt had been taking X herbal medical mumbo jumbo, she might not have died. She wanted me to pass that along to my mother for some reason. I deleted the missive without ever telling Mom what she said. The audacity of the claim blew my mind.
We’re in the middle of our own atheist bus campaign. So far there are four small ads running in four buses in the city, but they’ll be looking at getting two placed on the bus butts so people have something interesting to look at while they wait at stop lights. Other options of advertising are being considered. They’ve already got shirts with their bus slogan which I’ll buy next time we meet up, I think.
After our meeting, we did the Stand Against Poverty Pledge, and got counted. We also heard from one of the council members who got to attend the recent International Atheist Conference in California and reminded us that next year it’s being held in Montreal. Something to consider for holidays next year, methinks.