I have to talk about oaths later this month

March 8, 2011

So posts might be sporadic, depending on my productivity level as the end of the month approaches. I’ve been asked by my Freethinker group to write up and present for 10-20 minutes on the history of oaths and whether or not people care about that kind of thing anymore and whether or not they should.

I’ll come up with a snappier, easier to remember title than that, of course.

This is the first presentation I’ve been invited to do. Hopefully I’ll do alright with it. Last year I’d been to a talk by Margaret Visser for the Whelen Lecture Series put on at the University of Saskatchewan. The talk was called I SWEAR: Oaths, Curses and Modernity. I was really hoping the video at the site still worked, but I guess it was only up for a limited time. I wasn’t keeping notes when I saw her and a year later it’s kind of tricky to recall what got said.

It doesn’t feel like something I’ll be able to whip together in a couple hours, and I don’t want to fuss with audio/visual projector stuff which means finding adequate things to hand out so people can peruse those instead of looking at me all the time. I also want to make sense and be concise. It’s a pretty big topic to get into, I’m finding.

I’m thinking to start at playground level with the notion of “Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye,” the first oath kids learn how to make and the punishment they claim they’ll go through if they can’t keep their word. Then add to that the ritual of crossing one’s fingers to void what just got said. Did you know that they’ll still do that in the American military? There’s a photo of a soldier shaking hands with Hillary Clinton and that’s why his fingers are crossed in it, to subtly announce that he didn’t actually support her.

From there I’d have the choice to continue in a military theme, which would get me to the Oath Keepers and a brief history of oaths used for military purposes (and the problems when an oath to follow orders leads to following some pretty terrible orders), or segue into the political arena where all manner of oaths are given, although not always gladly. In 2008, MPs in England put in a request to reword their 500 year old oath so they could direct their allegiance toward their constituents rather than the Queen, who doesn’t even pay taxes. I can’t find anything to suggest there’s been success with that.

From there, I could briefly touch on the history of swearing loyalty to kings and the like maybe, but since the MP oath mentions God, that’d give me the in to get into sacred oaths and perceived eternal punishments for breaking those. Whether it’s Islam, Judaism or Christianity, all manner of sacred oaths have had power over people.

I could even take a philosophical angle on some of this, and will probably have to in order to discuss why oaths have power and what they say about a person’s desire to be seen as honourable, noble, loyal and trustworthy. They also tend to be legally binding, so no matter how many times people swear to god that they’ll behave, “tell the truth, the whole truth,” it’s still necessary to have some kind of punishment ready to dole out in case they don’t. A god might be waiting around to punish you in the afterlife, but your current life’s reputation is at stake now…

I’d like the main aim here to be centered on the secular nature of keeping one’s word today and whether we as secular humanists, freethinkers, atheists etc. have a greater need to be responsible for the promises we make. How do we make sure that others (ie, religious folk who think we’re all unethical heathens) know we understand the value of that? Does it become more important for us to set good examples as we go about our daily lives?

As you can see, a lot of things to consider. I’m open to suggestions if anybody can think of something I could add, links to related videos or podcasts that I can pass on if my audience wants them, that sort of thing.

Are there Reasonable Women?

March 5, 2011

Apparently so. Saskatoon Freethinkers has a mini group meeting tonight for women who think they qualify. They let me join so I guess I qualify, too. There’s been some debate about whether or not it’s necessary to create a group within the group just for women, but they haven’t let that stop them from trying it. The organizer got the idea from a recent Blag Hag post regarding women and their “minority” status in atheist groups, plus the idea that women might be put off by a room dominated by men and male speakers who may or may not be curious about the reasons why women might not want to put up with that.

Our Freethinker group has several women on the Executive and our leader is a woman, so as a group we might be less likely to have trouble with this but men do outnumber the women at meetings and pub nights so maybe it will be worthwhile for a while to run a group geared toward women, assuming enough women want something that exclusive and will want to continue meeting that way. I see the appeal, but I signed up more because it’ll give me an opportunity to hang out with the gals for a change. The guys are entertaining, but it’s time to switch it up a little, I think.

Something ironic to mention that happened with me and some of the guys in our group recently. At my banned book club, the new group idea got talked about a bit and one of the guys asked me if I’d ever felt like my input wasn’t going to be taken seriously, not listened to, was I ever getting interrupted by guys who thought whatever they wanted to say was going to be more important than letting me finish. While trying to explain why that did or didn’t bother me, I kept getting interrupted by several of the guys.

Is that annoying? Yeah. Is it worth freaking out over? It really depends on what I’m trying to say, and how important I feel it is. Personality- wise, I’ve never been one who wants to be the center of attention so it doesn’t get under my skin like it might for those who think deserve the spotlight at all times. I have been around guys who prefer the sound of their own voices, but I’ve been interrupted by women just as often, I’m sure. No doubt there are those who’d say I’ve done my share of interrupting, too.

I’ll report on what got discussed next time. International Women’s Day is on March 8th and that was mentioned on the Meet-up site as one of the reasons we’re meeting this weekend. I wonder if anyone will bring up the sad fact that women felt it was necessary to organize a day to remind the world that women have value beyond their wombs. I think it’s sad anyway, so maybe I’ll have to bring it up…

Secular Organizations for Sobriety has started up in Saskatoon

March 1, 2011

I’m curious as to why the Star Phoenix slapped this story in its sports tab as opposed to the news one but I found it anyway, and that’s the main thing.

Janet, who asked that her last name not be used, is organizing the local SOS chapter. She attended AA for several months but the spiritual content of the meetings left her feeling uncomfortable.

“If addiction is a disability, why is it being treated with faith?” Janet said. “I quit smoking 15 years ago and I didn’t need God’s help to do it.”

When she expressed her concern in an AA meeting, several others in the group approached Janet and said they had similar feelings about the faithbased approach of AA.

She discovered the SOS Toronto chapter and decided to start the group in Saskatoon. The group plans to meet every other Sunday at 8: 30 p.m. at the Avenue Community Centre on 21st Street West.

“This is not a treatment. It’s a support group,” Janet said.

“The thing is it puts sobriety first on the list, not finding God or atoning for your sins. You’re not handing responsibility for your addiction to a higher power. You’re taking responsibility for it yourself.”

I suppose there’s some possibly logical reason why the author of the piece never mentioned it was set up through the Saskatoon Freethinkers. Maybe because “Freethinker” isn’t always a term people understand or because the paper didn’t want to discourage readers from looking it up by announcing that a pile of anti-God freaks are running this thing? We aren’t freaks, obviously. The ones who are working on putting this together simply want to offer something additional (and god free) to the pool of available support resources in the city. I think it’s a good idea and I hope they find success with it.

The first meeting was this weekend and if it sounds like something you’d like to try, or you know someone who might benefit from this approach, here’s more information.

Of course it’d happen the week I won’t be updating much…

February 23, 2011

Just saw the email from Planet Atheism letting me know my blog will be turning up on that site now.

I debated sending a request but in the end went with it. It’ll be neat to get a bit more exposure. No idea if anyone will comment or care about my content but hey. I write what I feel like and hopefully sometimes hit on something original or oddly interesting.

So yay! Virtual cookies and cake all around…

What is the purpose of church? Depends who you ask

February 10, 2011

I found a new opinion piece put together by Leon Fontaine at the Winnipeg Sun. I wrote a reply to something else he published recently regarding faith and I’m game for another go.

We live in a world where many don’t belong to a church.

Statistics tell us that church attendance has been in steady decline for the last five decades. However another survey reveals that many people don’t go to church simply because they’ve never been invited.

Fontaine doesn’t elaborate on where or how he found this information. I found a Canadian piece about declining numbers and it splits the stats up between weekly attendance, monthly and yearly. The question asked there is not why people leave the church but why they’ve reduced the number of times they sit in it. They suggest it could be a lack of commitment but are willing to concede changes in community and culture might also play a role.

Christianity Today has the UK survey information from 2007. Three million people apparently stated they’d go to church if someone asked them to attend. It says nothing about whether they’d make a habit of it, mind you. They’d just go “if they were given the right invitation.”

Jesus’ church is to be a place of hope and encouragement, a place where people’s can grow and have their destinies altered for all eternity by coming into relationship with Him. It’s a place where people can feel accepted and unconditionally loved as together they commit their lives to becoming more and more like Him. When you consider the true purpose of church, you can’t help but feel that its decline is very unfortunate.

I think people also like to use church as a community center where they can meet up with their friends regularly, get involved with fund raising and do some nice things for the less fortunate. But church isn’t the only way to get involved with one’s community. There are so many kinds of groups people can join that will provide the same chances to alter destiny .. assuming you buy into the idea of destiny in the first place, obviously.

Governments and community organizations do many great things, but nothing takes the place of a life-changing church. It’s where people learn to become leaders with honesty and integrity.

Any group can promote and encourage the growth of leadership potential. The church doesn’t hold any monopoly on honesty and integrity; as I reported earlier today, billions of dollars worth of church money gets siphoned out of the church coffers by dirty leaders every year (see here).

It is a rescue for those in trouble, a refuge for those in grief, and a place of love, laughter and discovering a higher purpose. Most important, church is about falling deeper in love with God, learning about the good news of Jesus Christ, and growing in a relationship with Him.

I don’t think the Jesus Christ stuff is at all necessary to achieve that. Won’t a Jewish temples can’t offer the same rescue and refuge? Don’t Muslim temples inspire people to find higher purposes? Judging by what’s most likely to get reported, it’s hard to approve of what they might consider a “higher purpose”, but it’s also a major fallacy to assume everyone who practices Islam will become an expert in terrorist tactics in the process. Can’t a Buddhist also know love? He probably thinks an atheist can’t at all, but he’s clueless.

Church should never be a place where you feel judged or condemned. It is meant to inspire you to do good works, to become a better person, discover unbelievable joy and develop faith in God. Where else in society can families learn to grow together, married couples find skills to work through problems and discover a higher level of intimacy, and where men and women find exciting purpose and meaning in their lives?

Psychologists and self-help gurus have to earn a living somehow.

Not very marriage counselor is going to take a biblical tact for dealing with relationship issues, either. Marriage counselors have gotten into hot water by doing that, actually.

If you’ve found a great church, you owe it to yourself to get involved. Volunteering is one of the most rewarding things you can do. It will enrich your life tremendously. You also have the great privilege of growing the church. Make it your mission to share your faith and invite others. Look around at the people in your life. Do they know where you attend church? Have you ever asked them to join you? If not, what are you waiting for? Ask someone new to join you on Sunday morning. You never know, it may change someone’s life—and their destiny—forever.

But keep in mind that the people you ask have a right to say no without feeling guilty about it. The people you ask have a right to live their lives the way they want without your interference or assumed need for intervention. They have a right to believe what they want, think what they want, do what they want, even if it all runs contrary to what you think is God’s plan for their lives. If they want him, they can seek him out anytime. They can seek you out any time and ask for Jesus. Pray for them if you feel you must but it’s none of your business what they do if they don’t.

Maybe they’ve already joined a local chapter of Freethinkers or Humanists and will never want what you’re offering.

What are you doing for Darwin Day 2011?

February 1, 2011

If you’re in or around Saskatoon, or can plan to be here on February 12th, you can join me and the rest of us CFI/Freethinker/science nerds here:

It’ll be fun for the whole family. And, like with everything else we do, includes an after party at a pub to discuss what got discussed.

More details will be available on the day.

The One Minion Search Party, vol. 44

January 5, 2011

Someone was hunting for information about “new humanist advertising” recently. I see New Humanist had an article in November about an ad campaign in the States but I’d rather see how the Centre for Inquiry-Canada’s ad campaign is doing.

Justin Trottier, the executive director of CFI-Canada, had a radio face-off with anti-gay activist Charles McVety in December. Here’s what Trottier wrote about that experience:

perhaps I shouldn’t lose too much sleep over McVety’s opinions. He also stated that Richard Dawkins sparked the Extraordinary Claims Campaign (totally wrong), that the “Origin of Species” explicitly advocates atheism (Darwin couldn’t have been more careful to maintain strict agnosticism in his magnum opus) and that CFI wants to ban bibles in schools, despite the fact that only last week I debated him on the news and stated explicitly – and repeatedly – that while we didn’t want bibles distributed by Gideon in classrooms we believe bibles did belong in school libraries (unlike the Catholic and equally tax-payer funded schools that have banned atheistic literature outright). Actually, McVety acknowledged that point, only to return fire by retorting that relegating bibles just to the library was equivalent to banning them!

Right, because kids aren’t allowed to use libraries. They might learn something not included in the bible…

McVety also claimed the campaign was hate speech but he’s the guy who, according to Justin, called transsexuals “perverts.” This campaign, on the other hand, is merely encouraging people to question long-held ideas and determine logically if they are still worth hanging onto.

And this was interesting:

It’s ironic that we keep hearing from Christians that they’re not offended, but rather are worried that we’re offending muslims. Yet the muslim community has been quiet, at least thus far, on this new Campaign. I think such remarks betray their own insecurity which they choose to externalize upon some other faith group rather than come out and admit it.

When Justin was in Saskatoon for a New Age and Science talk, that was one of the concerns that came up, considering how nuts some Muslims would go over cartoons and stuffed toys named Mohammad and the like. To actually suggest on a billboard that belief Allah was on par with belief in unicorns.. it’s good to see they aren’t treating this as a threat big enough to kill people over.

And, now that Saskatoon Freethinkers is officially a branch of CFI-Canada (as CFI-Saskatoon), we’ll probably be looking into running some of these Extraordinary Claims bus ads here in the city at some point. I expect details are still being ironed out about that but we might learn more at our main meeting at the end of the month. Wait and see, I guess.

You can’t be angry with something that doesn’t exist

January 4, 2011

I came across an article this morning featuring information about a recent study done by psychologist Julie Exline at Case Western Reserve University. She was researching anger towards god when bad shit happens. Quoting from Business Week:

Exline’s study analyzed the results of five previous studies that examined people’s relationships with God, particularly during times of personal crisis or disappointment.

In addition to finding that those who were more religious were less likely to be angry with God, the researchers found that certain types of religions, specifically Protestant Christians, were slightly less likely to get angry with God in the face of personal problems.

Interestingly, those who don’t believe in God or question God’s existence reported more anger at God than people who said they believed.

Other groups that were more likely to be angry at God when something bad occurs in their lives include younger people and whites, according to Exline.

Exline said that the anger people feel toward God often parallels the anger that people may feel in other relationships. For example, if someone sees God as responsible for what goes on in their lives, they may feel betrayed by God when they receive a cancer diagnosis, as if God abandoned them in their time of need.

I bold a bit there because I feel like pointing out that anger toward a god can certainly lead people toward questioning his ability to give a damn. And, this questioning of a very basic faith-based principle can eventually lead to people toward giving up the remaining assumptions that he exists. But the anger in cases like that aren’t rails against a god, necessarily. Instead it might be aimed more toward the system that treats this supernatural mysticism as a Truth as real as the existence of the chair you’re sitting on, a truth that has no real legs of any kind to stand on. If atheists or agnostics ever come across as angry at a god, it’s far less about an actual deity and more about the beliefs that are still so damned prevalent when they should be irrelevant by now.

“Anger at God can become a vicious cycle for some,” said psychologist Simon Rego, director of the cognitive behavior therapy program at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. “You may think God has turned His back on you, then you feel guilty for feeling angry and that makes you feel more depressed, which then makes you more angry.”

Rego pointed out that it’s not unhealthy to feel some anger. “All emotions are there for a good reason,” he said, but if the anger is very distressing to you or it starts to disrupt your normal life, it may be time to get help.

“When you stop doing what’s important to you or you can’t function, get some help,” said Rego, adding that when you’re angry at your spouse, you eventually let go of that anger and heal, which often makes the relationship stronger. If you were to stay angry indefinitely, it would have serious effects on your marriage.

“If you’re angry with God and you stop going to church, you’re letting your anger stop you from doing something that’s been of value to you,” he said.

I’ll bet a cookie that Rego is a regular church-goer who doesn’t understand the atheist mindset.

I’m a unique case; I’ve always been an atheist, but I have friends who went through the pain of de-conversion and have come out of it whole and at peace with their decisions, even when it’s meant losing contact with loved ones because of them. They aren’t angry people, either.

If anger toward a deity has led you to question the existence of said deity to the point where you might very well walk away from every belief you ever had about said deity, then now is the perfect time to Google the town you are living in and add the word “Freethinker” or “humanist” into the search field. See what kind of local support you have in your area that will help you cope with the loss of something you no longer hold dear.

If there’s nothing in your area, there are numerous support groups online that you can join instead. You’re not wrong to question this stuff and getting angry over it is a good first step to getting out of it. The article suggests talking spiritual problems over with the clergy or sympathetic psychologists but talking it over with people who’ve gone through the very same thing you’re going through might be the better bet.

Think about it. Don’t let your clergy figures leave you thinking we’re all demons over here. We’re not. We’re just ordinary people, living ordinary lives, law abiding, orderly, and (for the most part) good without gods. It’s an option, is what I’m saying, and it might be a far more beneficial one in the end than it may seem on the surface. Think about it.

Regina has Freethinkers; also, biology is disgusting

November 7, 2010

Took a road trip with a few Saskatoon Freethinkers to Regina yesterday to meet up with a few locals over there who want to start their own group. I think the trouble with starting groups of any kind, let alone a Freethinker one, is getting the motivation and desire to start in the first place and figuring out where to look for answers to questions you haven’t even realized need asking yet. I was mostly along for the ride rather than to provide aid on that topic; we had three “pros” on the trip who gave those guys some good ideas and starting points so hopefully their willingness to meet with us will translate into others in Regina willing to meet with them and get the ball rolling. They’ll be on Facebook at some point and possibly kajiji for meeting announcements so if you’re in that area and keen to get involved, look them up.

Prior to that, we met with a VP of the Saskatchewan Science Centre. Justin Trottier, from CFI Canada, was keen to see what sort of work they do promoting science education in the province and our group wanted to find out if they’d be willing to do anything in collaboration with us at some point, i.e. Darwin Day/evolution stuff. If I recall correctly, it sounded as if they’d be wary of getting involved with anything overtly anti-faith and tend to keep out of the evolution displays altogether. The guy also sounded surprised to discover there were creationist leanings in this country, let alone this province. We told this to those Freethinker hopefuls during lunch. One of them works for the Science Centre and told us that he thought that level of obliviousness was fairly appalling in a VP considering the discussions he himself had overheard at the geology display over the course of working there.

After lunch the four of us returned to the Science Centre. Two of our party did a brief tour of the thing and another guy and I paid extra for the Our Body: the universe within exhibit that’s been touring. I’d been wary of checking it out because innards are not my thrill but it wasn’t as gross as I’d been anticipating. Nice for anyone interested in medicine and biology in general who cares about what all the bones and muscles are called, I guess. I didn’t have much appetite for my pulled pork supper later that afternoon, though. I don’t know why I didn’t just order a salad…

After the Science Centre we did a quick trip through the Royal Saskatchewan Museum and had a few minutes left for the Legislative Building (the carpet stories were surprisingly interesting) and then we drove to Moose Jaw for the Al Capone tunnel tour. We all got equally picked on by the cast of the show and on the way home we detoured down a dark road so we could check out the stars with a pair of high powered binoculars. I confess I didn’t see much of anything through them; I was afraid of being clumsy and knocking the tripod over or something. That would have sucked.

All in all a good and full day. I got asked again about joining our council and becoming more involved in the group that way. They’re desperate for people to take a bigger interest in that side of things. It’s a quite job to keep it running and funded and they’re all feeling overworked, I think. But, family function stuff aside, I’m not big on involving myself in the planning of things. I don’t like making myself a possible target for complaints or criticisms, either. I know I’ll feel guilty saying no, but that’s the truth of it. As much as I like the group and help them out by volunteering to work at events and stuff, I’m really more a behind the scenes kind of person than a leader and that’s all there is to it.

It’s healthier to be a skeptic

November 6, 2010

A pitiful showing for Justin Trottier’s talk on the New Age Movement and what science is up against but some Saskatoon Freethinkers had a few theories on why that was, not the least of which the time of night – too close to supper/leaving work – and possibly disinterest in the topic – which was the point of the event in the first place, I would suggest: people don’t care enough about science to care about how the New Age movement is perverting every scientific idea out there to make their shit sound technical and sophisticated instead of ridiculous and wrong.

In one amusing case it was a misinterpretation of the sign we had made for the event. The leader of our group got a phone call from a possible attendee not long before we were set to start who asked if we had any psychics there. Apparently she was less than excited to hear that someone from CFI Canada was here to talk about why they aim to do battle against woo and religiously-inspired hokum.

I think my only complaint about last night’s presentation has to do with the sheer size of the topic and Justin trying to cover as much as possible in the little time he had overall. I think he was also lacking a distinct unifying theme beyond “These people are wacko,” which, given the thirty-some Freethinkers in the audience, wasn’t going to come as a surprise.

So, a rundown of a few points made that I can remember well enough to paraphrase.

One came down to the money. Humanist groups like CFI are young, little, and small in number with not much in the way of monetary support coming in — yet. Justin had a slide in his presentation showing the enormous gap between CFI Canada, with donations less than $300,000 a year so far and the religious groups whose charitable donations easily surpass the million dollar mark, no matter how few people in this country might hold that religion (Baha’i or Sikh, for example).

Another came down to science education, in a roundabout way. I’ll get the name of the woman from Justin later and update this – he showed us a brief Youtube video of a talk given by a perplexing homeopathy guru (edit: somebody named Dr. Warner – google you who was trying to explain why her little white pills work to cure diseases. Turned out it was because the pills were dipped in a specially made substance that was energized to be vibratory and would work to change the vibrations a disease makes in a body into better, more proper vibrations of the healthy person kind. That’s all disease is, according to her, bad vibrations.

The way she got to this conclusion was by explaining to the audience her version of the science behind optics and sound. I’m setting that in bold because that there is the problem. She didn’t understand the nature of light or sound and ultimately she was banking on standing in front of an audience who had even less of a grasp than she did. I don’t really understand it all either, but I think if I spent an hour researching those topics in the Children’s section of the library I’d get a better understanding of the inner workings of our eyes and ears than she demonstrated. And it wouldn’t require editing Einstein’s classic E=mc2 to make it true, either.

The main reason these hucksters gain credibility with their unprovable, untestable bunk is because people at large simply don’t know enough to really question it. I’m reminded of those ionic foot baths that were supposed to pull toxins from feet and improve overall health. They didn’t. The design just utilized a chemical reaction in the water that was going to be happening whether feet got a wash or not. The makers made a fortune off scientific ignorance and it’s happening all the time. Every new device is a new way to take money from the people who won’t know enough science to ask valid questions, and the rest will come out of the wallets of those gullible, hopeful souls who simply want to believe there are extraordinary answers to their everyday problems no matter how much evidence might exist to the contrary.

Advocacy got a mention near the end, when Justin showed us the new advertising. Real effort needs to be put into explaining why these people are problematic, why it’s not going to be helpful if governments and health agencies continue to treat every alternative to medicine as a legitimate cure for what might ail a person. Sure, some of it has been proven to work through rigorous scientific testing and is, therefore, A-OK, but if it can’t be logically tested because it makes no earthly, logical sense for it to be true, it shouldn’t be supported.

The New Advertising Campaign

The actual campaign kicks off later this month and the companion website highlights so many more dubious topics. You can click any one of them to see why it made the list. If you agree with their assessment, feel free to donate to the cause while you’re there. They have charitable status so you can claim it on your income tax, always a bonus. And you can join if you want, too. I will be.


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