Blog Archives for December 2012

Responding to a Slam in the New York Times

Advocatus Diaboli with Tom Flynn
December 29, 2012

It's Saturday, and each Saturday brings a new religion feature story in the New York Times. This week's installment is by Samuel G. Freedman, with the lurid headline "In a Crisis, Humanists Seem Absent." It concerns a phenomenon widely noted within the nontheist community, as well -- the fact that despite the great increase in atheism's social prominence, freethinkers were largely unheard from in the social response to the Newtown massacre. In fairness, Freedman's analysis was more even-handed than his essay's headline would suggest. He recognized that unbelievers were as much shut out of "interfaith" outpourings as they failed to step up. But does it make sense to say that there's any sense in which the nonreligious actually "failed to step up"? Greg Epstein thinks so. He is Harvard's humanist chaplain and, for all intents and purposes, the current "pope" of the religious-humanist camp. He told Freedman, "we need to provide an alternative form of community if we're going to matter for the increasing number of people who say they are not believers." But I'm not convinced. Truly secular people, precisely insofar as they are secular, have outgrown the need to seek emotional support primarily from a group that has been twice segregated to resemble them: segregated once by adjacent residence, and segregated again by worldview. That's what a traditional church congregation is, after all: a community of people who live in the same area and see the world in about the same way. Secular humanists tend not to seek that parochial sort of support. That's a distinctive characteristic of their approach to life, not a shortcoming. Colloquially, it's a feature, not a bug. I wrote a letter to the New York Times making this point. Since I'm more likely to be struck by lightning twice while marrying a terrorist than to see my letter published, I reproduce it below.

29 Comments

SKEPTICAL INQUIRER Article Strikes Hammer Blow Against Strategies to Shield Dogma

Advocatus Diaboli with Tom Flynn
December 23, 2012

Pardon me while I blow the horn for FREE INQUIRY's sister zine. The January/February SKEPTICAL INQUIRER contains an article that just may strike the definitive blow against those who, by appeal to righteous indignation or sanctity, would shield heinous cultural practices or religious dogmas against any comment or criticism. (SI doesn't post articles from an issue until the next issue comes out, so "bad news," you'll just have to lay your hands on a physical copy!)

4 Comments

A Personal Note About Dec. 25th

Advocatus Diaboli with Tom Flynn
December 18, 2012

Some folks -- from humanist/atheist activists to folks in the media -- have made it a tradition to phone me at the office on December 25 whenever that date falls during the work week. Some call to wish me "Happy just another day," some just to make sure I'm there. Well, I won't  be there this year, and I figured I'd better explain why. (Spoiler alert: It's not because I've succumbed to the lures of a certain holiday beloved for different reasons by many Christians and some neo-pagans.

25 Comments

What’s Wrong with HumanLight / the Winter Solstice?

Advocatus Diaboli with Tom Flynn
December 13, 2012

Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, has posted a blog endorsing HumanLight, a Winter Solstice observance invented a bit more than a decade ago by a local humanist group in New Jersey then led by the late Joe Fox. Perhaps that's an appropriate action for Roy, whose organization has a history of being friendlier toward religious humanists than the Council for Secular Humanism. But I couldn't resist leaving a secular humanist rejoinder as a comment to Roy's post. Here it is, below:

25 Comments

Flynn December Talks Target the South

Advocatus Diaboli with Tom Flynn
December 03, 2012

Look out, Dixie, Council for Secular Humanism executive director Tom Flynn (i. e., yours truly) will do a lecture tour across the South just in time for some people's favorite holiday, December 7 - 10. I'll be speaking on church-state separation in Chattanooga and Tuscaloosa, and delivering my barn-burning illustrated talk "The Trouble with Christmas" in Knoxville and Atlanta.