1. Hemant Mehta’s new book, “The Young Atheist’s Survival Guide,” is now available in paperback!
I just finished reading Hemant Mehta of The Friendly Atheist‘s new book. It’s a great and easily digestible exploration of Christian privilege in public schools, and it provides background and practical advice on how to deal with a sensitive time in many atheist’s lives. It’s somewhat on the short side, and regular readers of his blog might already be familiar with much of the content. Those minor quibbles aside, though, it’s a great read for students, parents, or any atheists interested in supporting young, nonreligious teens.
So for those unwilling or unable to buy the electronic version, you can finally read about high school atheism the way Gutenberg intended.
2. Paul Fidalgo joins Freethought Blogs, grows to accept e-books.
Paul Fidalgo, notorious toddler-raiser and eminent compiler of links at The Morning Heresy, recently sold his soul to join the Freethought Blogs network. So far he’s busted into verse and grown to accept ebooks, so he seems to be off to a good start. I’d like to extend to him my warmest congratulations—I’ve been following his tumblr blog for a while, so I’m happy to see him get a wider audience.
As for e-books, I’m not as enthused about them as Paul is, if only because Amazon is kind of trying to use them to destroy the book publishing industry. E-books on Amazon are often sold at a loss, which Amazon can offset with the money they make selling everything else in the world. Traditional publishers can’t, so there’s a serious chance that this might crowd book publishers out of the industry.
Some see this as a good thing—I see that as the death of editing, good writing, and decent quality control that only giant, bloated gatekeepers like book publishers and magazines currently provide.
Amazon, which already controls about 60 percent of the e-book market, can take a loss on every book it sells to gain market share for its Kindle devices. When it has enough competitive advantage, it can dictate its own terms, something publishers say is beginning to happen.
. . .
“If there’s an upside, I don’t see it yet,” said J. B. Dickey, the owner of the Seattle Mystery Bookshop. “My fear is that the major publishers won’t be able to stay in business just selling e-books. You can’t bring in enough money to support the infrastructure. If that happens, there goes the marketing, the editorial, the author tours, the expertise of the book industry.”
And his store, he added.
Of course, the upside is cheaper e-books now for consumers. But [cue dramatic music] at what cost?! I say this completely aware of the fact that I own a kindle and used it to read Hemant’s new book. I still support bookstores, though, and maybe you should, too.
3. How is religion like corn syrup?
I stumbled on this blog post yesterday and liked it a lot. Greg Stevens writes:
Finally, some people say that corn syrup is simply unnatural and has some health risks, so wouldn’t it simply be more rational to use something different? Many of these people even have specific ideas in mind (usually things like raw cane sugar or organic honey).
Personally, I’m indifferent to this. I mean, if someone likes corn syrup, and he doesn’t eat so much of it so that it destroys his health, then it doesn’t bug me if he includes corn syrup in his diet. Sure, the corn syrup industry has its issues; but what industry doesn’t? One can fight to fix the institutions without eliminating the product completely. Personally, I don’t need corn syrup in my diet to enjoy what I’m eating. But if someone else enjoys it, I don’t know why that should bother me.
So, those are my thoughts on religion…. I mean, corn syrup.
Check the whole thing out. I think it’s a really nice analogy, and we should think more about how much of the problematic aspects of religion are caused by religion itself, or by more fundamental facets of human nature—such as tribalism, cognitive biases, and other nastiness inherent in our social psychology. I think it’s clear where I stand, but even if you disagree, the post raises some thoughtful points to engage with.
4. Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal talks about the true miracle of Christmas.
As attentive readers might know, I am all about Christmas and Christmas related things. SMBC, my favorite philosophy-and-also-everything-else related webcomic, writes about the real magical power Christmas has on those who celebrate it.
Today’s guest post in the current lineup of “Other NonProphets” is by Lewis Marshall, the president of Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics (AHA!) at Stanford. Lewis reflects on how AHA! became one of the Stanford Associated Religions (SAR) and the subsequent interfaith alliances they built. This is a really great resource for any non-religious students interested in interfaith campus work. Without further ado:
I had the honor of being on a panel discussion about operating an atheist student group in an interfaith organization at the Secular Student Alliance (SSA) conference this summer. I had a great time, and it was nice to meet the other panelists (Hemant Mehta, Chris Stedman, and Jonathan Weyer). Chris has graciously invited me to share more of my experiences with getting involved in interfaith work. I hope this context helps to explain why I think atheist groups should be involved in interfaith organizations. I’m also going to share a few lessons I’ve learned that may help those starting this process.
There may be dissent from your own organization
In the spring of 2009, Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics at Stanford (AHA!) applied to become a member of the Stanford Associated Religions (SAR). The main sticking point in becoming a member of the SAR was discomfort inside our group about the pledge that is required of SAR groups. In part, it reads: “promote the moral and spiritual growth of the Stanford University community.”
That single word, “spiritual,” was a major source of argument in deciding whether to join the SAR. Many people believed that joining this organization would compromise our values. Others thought that we shouldn’t join because we are not technically a “religion.”
In the end, we joined, and with our application included a memorandum of understanding, which read in part:
Though its participants generally do not consider themselves religious, AHA! reconciles its purpose with a broad interpretation of the term “religion,” and of the pledge by all SAR organizations to promote “spiritual growth” …with respect to open inquiry into questions of meaning and morality, which are spiritual questions in the most comprehensive sense, AHA!’s function complements those of the other SAR organizations.
Looking back now, the initial argument was overblown. Being part of the SAR has not affected the daily life of our group, or forced us to compromise our mission. We’ve still been able to do controversial events and we’ve still been able to run our group as we see fit. In my mind, the practical outcomes are more important than any hang-up over labels.
There may be less backlash from religious organizations than you expect.
In part, we wrote the memorandum of understanding for ourselves, to show that we had a clear vision for our involvement with the SAR. In another sense, it was a way of preparing for objections from religious organizations. We were concerned that religious organizations would question our place in a community that pledges to promote spiritual growth.
In reality, we’ve had virtually no comment from religious organizations on our involvement with the SAR. No one objected to us when we joined, no one has showed surprise at seeing our banner at events. It has been a complete non-issue.
We anticipated some criticism participating in Everybody Draw Muhammad day. In particular, the rules of the SAR require that we inform religious organizations of events critical of their religion. We did not receive any response from Muslim student groups over this event, the only criticism was in anonymous comments on our website.
In my mind the take-away lesson is this: If you act like you belong in an interfaith organization, people will treat you like you belong in an interfaith organization. Be kind and confident, and you might be surprised by the reaction.
There may be more material benefits to joining an interfaith organization than you realize.
When we joined the SAR, we anticipated that it would be a mainly symbolic gesture. In reality, we’ve received a number of material benefits that we never considered.
Incoming freshmen at Stanford are asked to fill out a religious preference card letting the Office of Religoius life know their religious affiliation. Each year, we get a list of over 100 incoming freshmen who listed themselves as atheists, agnostics, or something uncommon like like “Jedi” or “Discordian.”
Being on the SAR mailing list has led us to many event opportunities. While we always table at the major activity fairs, we now have the opportunity to participate in discussions and tabling events specifically for religious organizations. We currently have a list of about five events catering to the religious needs of incoming freshmen this fall.
We now have access to a number of meeting spaces we would not otherwise have, including the Stanford Memorial Church. This year, we were able to host Austin Dacey in the church at the regional SSA conference at no cost to ourselves.
Religious organizations are likely to need the same sorts of infrastructure as an atheist student group. Interfaith organizations can help you tap into that infrastructure and make organizing your group that much easier.
You may find some natural allies.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the very helpful people we’ve met in Stanford’s religious community. The Progressive Christians have been some of our best friends at Stanford. They were particularly helpful in setting up a discussion with Hemant Mehta and their campus minister, Geoff Browning. The Hare Krishnas facilitated one of the most vigorous discussions we’ve had about the existence of God. We’ve also had contact with the Quaker and Buddhist communities. These two groups contain atheists and I think they could make great allies.
I think it’s important to build ties to partner organizations like this, because it’s one of the quickest ways of changing perceptions about atheists. Some of these communities were hesitant to work with us, but after holding events together I think we have a solid relationship and a real understanding.
So why join an interfaith organization?
In my mind, this is like asking, “Why join the SSA? Why join the Center for Inquiry?” All of these organizations have resources that can help your group. They have connections to interesting, involved people. If you can find a way to use those resources, you’re helping yourself, and you’re helping to build a meaningful, diverse community.
P.S. That’s great, Lewis, but it doesn’t really help me…
I realize that many of you live in areas more conservative than the Stanford, and you might not find your religious organizations as welcoming as we did. I’ve certainly talked to people still getting a cold shoulder from religious organizations. I can only speak from my experience, but I think this will get better. Religious students attend meetings and share ideas cross-country too. As more and more atheist groups enter interfaith communities, I think it will start to seem more normal. That’s what I’m hoping for.
Lewis Marshall is the former publicist and current president of Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics (AHA!) at Stanford. He was previously a member of the Campus Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists (CASH) at the University of Minnesota. Lewis is currently a third-year Ph.D. student of chemical engineering at Stanford and received his B.S. in chemical engineering at the University of Minnesota in 2008.
Hey folks! I’ve got a few big projects in the works right now (how vague and ambiguous…), so, to keep NonProphet Status fresh amidst my busyness, I’ve recruited a few worthy guest bloggers to populate it with content over the next few weeks. In the past, I’ve been honored to feature some pretty incredible guest posts from the likes of Tim Brauhn, Jessica Kelley, Nick Mattos, Sayira Khokar, Rory Fenton, Nate Mauger, Kate Fridkis, Andrew Fogle, Miranda Hovemeyer, Nat DeLuca, Mary Ellen Giess, Jeff Pollet, Joseph Varisco, Corinne Tobias, Vandana Goel LaClair, Nicholas Lang, and even my own Mom! We’ve also hosted original writing by Eboo Patel, August Brunsman, Hemant Mehta, Erik Roldan, and Emanuel Aguilar.
We’ve featured so many guest posters because NPS was never intended to be “Chris Stedman’s platform.” Rather, I wanted to create a forum for an alternative secular narrative. It’s why I initiated, organized and ran our first Share Your Secular Story contest. Featuring an amazing panel of judges that included the former head of Amnesty International USA and 2000 “Humanist of the Year” William Schulz, the contest inspired an influx of submissions from all across the United States and even across the globe, with entries from Ireland and Kenya and a story from one entrant’s childhood growing up in India.
In hosting the story contest and featuring so many guest bloggers, I’ve hoped to make NPS a place where a multitude of voices help define a new narrative for the secular community: one that respects the religious identities of others while remaining authentic to our own identities (be they secular, religious, or somewhere in-between).
I can’t wait to read along with you as this next diverse batch of guest bloggers continues to show us all a new way forward. I’m on the edge of my secular seat!
August 16th, 2010 | Posted by: Chris Stedman
While I was in Minnesota last week for a wedding, the Secular Student Alliance (SSA) posted a video of the panel I was on at their National Conference last month. Hemant Mehta, Friendly Atheist blogger, was also on the panel (along with Jonathan Weyer, a Christian Reverend who has done interfaith work, and Lewis Marshall from Stanford’s Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics) and posted the video to his blog. I checked out his post today and the majority of the comments aren’t exactly, well, friendly. Per Friendly Atheist readers, I am “an insufferable moron“ who uses “weasel language“ and “has no fucking clue.”
A bit scathing, eh? I’ll let you be the judge and watch the video for yourself (though be warned, it is very long):
Reflecting on the panel, I feel that I did a good job representing what I believe and standing my ground on the issue of interfaith cooperation despite being in the minority and finding myself on the receiving end of some very pointed questions (as one Friendly Atheist commenter kindly stated: “I have to say Chris took the heckling with dignity“) …and, you know, having seen a dead body just an hour before.
Each time I speak on this apparently contentious issue, I become better at articulating what I believe. At 23 years old I still have a lot of learning to do, so I appreciate the opportunities I get to articulate and refine my stance. I’m not just interested in writing about this issue – I want to actively discuss it with people and so I am glad that we are able to, even when we find ourselves in profound disagreement.
It seems we won’t be coming to a consensus any time soon, but I am glad we are at least discussing it in a civil manner (the above blog comments aside, I guess). We’re not all going to agree on this issue, but I appreciate those who have offered constructive critiques rather than just mean-spirited criticisms. I have definitely taken the pushback I’ve gotten into consideration as I weigh how to offer my opinions, just as I have the positive feedback I got from a handful of participants, including one who cited me as her inspiration (a very heartwarming moment for me, to be sure!). In all I do, I try to learn — to me, this is a key part of being a Secular Humanist. And this is what drives me to interfaith instead of so-called “aggressive” Atheism: a desire to learn from others instead of set out to “prove wrong” those who disagree with me.
The bottom line: many, many thanks to the SSA and to all the folks who asked clarifying questions during the Q&A for listening respectfully and engaging my perspective – I look forward to continued dialogue!
In a recent post on The Friendly Atheist, blogger Hemant Mehta shared a video of the Secular Student Alliance National Conference (where I spoke on a panel) keynote address by atheist blogger Greta Christina on what Atheists can learn from the LGBT movement. I’ve heard her give this talk before, but it was Hemant’s conversation with her about it that caught my attention:
I had a chance to ask Greta later what she considered to be our “Stonewall” — what event did she feel mobilized atheists in a way never before seen? […]
So, what was Greta’s response to what our version of Stonewall was?
As a queer person, I am mortified by this comparison. The riots at Stonewall, which I was fortunate enough to visit earlier this year, were the first major instance that queer folks, long persecuted in the United States, decided to fight back and defend themselves. Stonewall is hugely symbolic for the queer community; to summon it as a parallel to the terrorist attacks on 9/11 – a moment when, per Greta, many atheists decided to start being vocally opposed to religion – is not just inappropriate, but a gross distortion of what those riots represented.
9/11 was not a moment that catalyzed a community to stand up for equality; co-opting the tragic events of 9/11 to make a case against religion strikes me as simply malicious and manipulative, just as the extremists who co-opted Islam on 9/11 manipulated their tradition.
The comparison of 9/11 to the Stonewall riots offends me personally as a queer person, it offends me intellectually as a rationalist, and it offends me as an advocate for the disenfranchised. It is truly a sad day for our community when we sound more sensational and less thoughtful than Sarah Palin.
This comparison is merely a symptom of a larger problem: our fundamentally flawed approach to religion, and more specifically to Islam. At least once a week I hear atheists say: “Why aren’t Muslims speaking out against the terrorists who claim their tradition? Maybe if they did that, then I’d see a difference between the two.”
First, who are we to dictate what a Muslim should or shouldn’t do? They shouldn’t be expected to help us understand why they are different than extremists who also claim that identity. We wouldn’t want others demanding that we explain how we’re different from violent atheists like Kim Jong Il, Pol Pot, Jeffrey Dahmer (who said “if a person doesn’t think that there is a God to be accountable to, then what’s the point of trying to modify your behavior to keep it within acceptable ranges?”), and others, right? I don’t see many Christians running around apologizing for Fred Phelps. It’s because they don’t have to – most of us just get that there is an ideological chasm between the clan who stands with “God Hates Fags” placards and the majority of mainstream Christians.
Second, Muslims are speaking out against extremists who cite Islam as their inspiration. Need some examples? There. Are. So. Many. That. I. Can’t. Link. To. Them. All (but those eleven are a good start).
The real problem? We’re just not listening.
We need to start seeking out different stories. When we look for the worst in religion, that’s what we’re going to find. Stories of Muslims engaging in peaceful faith-inspired endeavors don’t sell nearly as well as stories of attempted Times Square bombings. Yet even coverage of violent stories is skewed against Muslims: the mainstream media totally ignored when a mosque in Florida was bombed earlier this year – imagine the media frenzy if that had been a Muslim bombing a church. The press also ignored the fact that the man who stopped the Times Square bomber was himself a Muslim.
Perhaps we perceive Islam as inherently violent because our perspective is shaped by the warped way the media reports on it. As a community that boasts critical thinking and reason as our primary concerns, we shouldn’t be so quick to swallow the inaccurate portrayal of Islam narrated by our biased news media.
For too long, Islamophobia has been given a free pass in the United States, and the atheist community has been a willing accomplice. Atheism is supposed to be a pillar of reason, yet many atheists talk about Islam in the same problematic way as right-wing conservatives (just one example: “Muslims are particularly barbaric and primitive“). We claim to be progressive and enlightened but, in the same breath, espouse an oversimplified and uninformed view of Islam.
The real issue is that so often we confuse “Islam” with “Muslims.” We must not, as we so often do, look at the Koran and say, “I know what Muslims believe!” No, we don’t. Religion doesn’t work like that. If we want to understand what Muslims believe, we must stop assuming and actually talk to Muslims; ask them what they believe and how they live their lives.
In an article published yesterday in the New York Times, one man said of the growing protests at mosques around the country: “they have fear because they don’t know [Muslims].” The same is true of many atheists. We must know our neighbors before we make qualitative judgments about what they believe. Besides – c’mon, is this really the company with which we want to cast our lot?
Atheists are quick to tout that America was not formed a Christian nation but on the principle of religious freedom. And yet, to quote from the Huffington Post‘s report on Akbar Ahmed’s recent appearance on The Daily Show, “unlike today’s attitudes of intolerance and suspicion, Ahmed observes that the founding fathers maintained a deep respect for Islam.”
We need religious freedom as much as anyone else and should be quick to denounce when that right is threatened. Instead, we lead the charge against it by perpetuating false claims against an entire community of people with rhetoric more inflammatory than what I hear on Fox News. We’ve no right to invoke the queer movement when this kind of tactic runs so counter to what Stonewall stood for – the idea that everyone deserves dignity.
The only “wall” such comparisons construct is yet another division. Let’s stop building walls and start breaking them down, like the rioters at Stonewall did – brick by brick, piece by piece. And we can start by inviting Muslims to help us understand Islam instead of calling them guilty by association.