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.