Sample topics from prior meetings

The following is a sampling of some discussion topics we have featured at our main forum since our founding in 1988:

Stories of Exile and of Home: An Intersection Between the Humanities and Humanism
Guest Presenter: Beatriz Badikian-Gartler Beatriz is an acclaimed poet and also a frequent speaker in the "Road Scholars" program of the Illinois Humanities Council. We are pleased to present this as the first in an occasional series of programs exploring the intersections of the humanities and humanism. With us, Beatriz will present a collage of stories, poems and essays based on her own family history as well as firsthand experiences of immigration and the struggle to adapt and create a new home in urban America.

The Curious Case of our Vanishing Civil Rights
There seems to be universal agreement on at least one aspect of the September bombings: they were intended as an attack on "Western" democratic ideals. A list of those ideals would have to include freedom of speech, presumption of innocence, the right of the accused to receive a trial by jury, and secular governance. Why, then, are these very ideals being abridged so quickly in the aftermath of the attacks? And seemingly by our own elected federal officials? The daily news sets the stage for our discussion. Military tribunals, disturbing letters to hyphenated Americans, increased attendance at gun shows, hot words calling for a return to piety. Why is this happening? How best to respond?

To Pray or Not to Pray at Graduation: A Public High School Student's True Story
Guest Presenter: Natasha Appenheimer - Recent Graduate of Washington, IL High School It all happened quite quickly for Natasha and her family this past Spring. From her discovery of the school's plans to sponsor a prayer at graduation, to her decision to take action, then a lawsuit on her behalf filed by the ACLU, then a temporary restraining order, and finally a permanent injunction banning prayer during the graduation ceremony, it all happened in about six weeks.

A September to Remember (September, 2001)
In the midst of this terrorist crisis, what are the roles, duties and responsibilities of secular humanist groups? We need to keep in mind that churches and other religious organizations often take on high-profile activities during such times. Are such groups really just fishing for converts and placating their memberships' guilt pangs? Or are other types of human needs being met? If so, are there any with a common denominator among all people? In addition, we will take time to discuss our own personal reactions to the crisis.

Secular Humanism Under Attack: The New Book "Mind Siege" and the Ravings of its Author, Tim LaHaye
Guest Presenter: D.J. Grothe, the new Field Director of Local Secular Humanist Groups of the Council for Secular Humanism D.J. will screen a video made by LaHaye that is being circulated to churches and fundamentalist groups nationwide. The extensive charges made in the video against secular humanism are alternately preposterous and very disturbing. LaHaye made the video to follow up on his allegedly non-fiction book, "Mind Siege." Grothe will also screen portions of a tape now being made by the Council to respond to these virulent attacks.

Darwin Day!
We'll celebrate the life and writings of Charles Darwin, born this month (February) in England in 1809. We will have some fun with trivia quizzes about his education, early travels, personality and writings, and the intellectual and social milieu of his times. Feel free to bring along anything Darwin- or evolution-related, especially if it's slightly silly or slightly educational, or both.

The Death Penalty and Secular Society
What is it about America's fascination with the death penalty? Are secular humanists just as divided on this subject as everyone else? Is the vigor of this national debate suggestive of the fundamentally secular nature of our country? Or is there no connection whatever between the two?

Screenings of Videotapes from the "Humanist Perspective" Series
Produced by the Council for Secular Humanism

The Roman Catholic Church's Unique Influence in the United Nations
Through an entity called the Holy See, the Roman Catholic church enjoys status as a quasi-state at the United Nations. However, the Holy See is a religious entity without defined physical territory. There a number of concerns about this, including that at UN conferences the Holy See actively tries to limit global access to abortion, condoms, family planning and disease prevention.

On Finding, Keeping and Expressing Joy
Religious people are fond of speculating that atheists and other secularists, without a sense of spirituality, must live out their days joylessly and drearily. Aren't we simply pickle-pussed, hair-splitting nags? Well, are we? Come with an example (or two) about some thing, event or person that brought you absolute bliss. How do you describe this feeling to yourself? Then consider how you came to feel that way.

National Prayer Day - Sponsored With Our Tax Dollars!
On Monday, June 12, 1775, the Continental Congress (with John Hancock signing the Congressional order), established the first Day of Prayer for this nation. On April 30, 1863, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that a day of prayer "is an effective remedy for our National ills for all people in all nations." During 1952, President Harry Truman signed the unanimous joint resolution by Congress establishing an annual National Day of Prayer, now held on the first Thursday of May. As argued by Jeffrey Jay Lowder, a member of Internet Infidels: "In a nutshell, the main problem with the National Prayer Day is that it is government-sanctioned religion, which is unconstitutional." If May 3d will be National Prayer Day this year, could May 2d or May 4th be, say, "National Rational Day"?

Science Has No Need of the "God" Hypothesis (but can science prove it?)
You may find yourself rephrasing the title as: "Can Science Ever Sufficiently Prove that God Does Not Exist?" While most of the world acknowledges that science has provided mankind with answers to an immense number of questions that formerly were within the sphere of religion, most of that same world yet refuses to concede that science and the scientific process will ever, in time, cause the religious sphere to dwindle away.

Human Population Growth - Challenges and Opportunities for Secular Humanists?
Guest Presenters: Tim Olivas and Dr. Lora Chamberlin of Zero Population Growth (ZPG) The number of us all is immense and growing exponentially. Most are poor; most are in poor health; most are women and girls; most of them live elsewhere; most will die very young and miserably. Are these things tragedies? Or Darwinian realities? Or both? Does it make any difference to us that most of these millions are products of pervasively religious cultures?

The Problem with Evil - We all know what evil is . . . or do we?
Religions have always dealt with this issue - trying to explain what evil is, how it arises in people, and how to resolve it (e.g., maybe define it as sinful) or reconcile it (maybe through repentance). As secularists, how do we explain evil to ourselves? Does the very term "evil" fit our worldview? Is there a rational, even Darwinian, explanation for "evil" thoughts?

Church/State Separation and the Upcoming National Election
Guest Presenter: Leonard Nelson, Greater Chicago Chapter of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman has made it clear that the Republicans are not the only pious party. The ADL was the first prominent organization to criticize this stance as a possible breach of the separation of the religious and governmental spheres.

When Your Significant Other Has Other Views . . .
Many secular humanists are married to or partnered with non-secularists. How do these relationships form? Do couples start the relationship having the same views, and only later find the views diverging? Or do they start from different positions and resolve to find common ground? How are ethical and moral differences resolved between them? How are the children raised? What do they tell their friends, their parents, their business colleagues?

Should Secular Humanism Have a Role in our Public Life?
Does either platform give a free inquirer cause for celebration? Anger? Resignation? Must we always choose among candidates who fall all over themselves in an effort to "out-faith" each other?

When Extraterrestrial Life is Discovered....
It almost seems possible that evidence of the existence away from Earth of some life-like form, however primitive, will be discovered within a few years. How will our lives change when this happens? What tortured rationales will theologians be forced to create? Will our own ethics need reexamination? What will we tell our kids?

God In the Workplace
Have you seen the latest Bible-themed screen savers around some offices? Or a "WWJD" calendar conspicuous in the corridor? We will explore our own personal experiences with displays of faith in the workplace. Are such displays legal? Do workers at work have an expectation of privacy about their own views on religion? Is there any recourse, or will I risk my job security if I speak up?

What's Love Got To Do With It?
Secularism in the era of "God's Love" A powerful attraction to many Christians (as well as to followers of other faiths) is the idea that some entity or spirit "loves" them wholly, regardless of their earthly faults. Is this a simple crutch? Or a basic human need? Is there a secular analogue, or should there be?

The Impact of Religion on the Development of the United States
Guest Presenter: Gil Sorber, SHS/Chicago member and board member Pogroms, migration, colonization, the 1st Amendment, education.... and more.

How Well Does Secular Humanism Speak to People of Color?
Abortion -- Is There a Wiser View?
Is There a Coherent Secular Humanist Response to Religious Warfare?
You walk into the press conference as the first secular humanist US President (or UN Secretary General, or similar). A hot war has just broken out in Rwanda, Kosovo, Ireland or Palestine. Important interests are at stake for your constituency. How will you respond to Sam Donaldson and the others?

Whither the Christian Right?
Has it won the "battle" for middle America, or has Pat Robertson been deposed? Is the Kansas creationism issue an aberration or a sign of the Right's strength?

A New Millennium -- New Enlightenment or New Apocalypse?
What will our futures hold?

Sacrifice, Violence and Christianity
Guest Presenter: Lena Ksarjian, a graduate student at the University of Chicago

Planetary Humanism: Just What is the "Humanist Manifesto 2000"?

How Did I Become a Secular Humanist? or, How Did I Begin Identifying with Secular Humanism?

Why Does Religion Persist? Can Secularism Persist?
Follow-up on the themes of the recent national secular humanist conference

Whether -- and How -- Secular Humanists are Pro-Family
The New Illinois Private School Voucher Bill
What's happening to church/state separation?

Does Thanksgiving Have Meaning to Me and My Family?
Is there a concept of giving thanks -- to whom? for what?