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Thursday, May 21, 2009

When friends attack

We've all experienced a friend saying something hurtful to us - those little jabs and barbs. Today I was thinking and realized what that can often mean, sometimes why it happens, and what to do about it in those cases.

I have two friends who are close friends with one another. However, they go through cold spots from time to time. One of them, let's say Friend A, recently told Friend B something somewhat the equivalent of "you don't really matter to me anyway". Friend B was telling me how hurt she was by that.

Why do friends sometimes say things like this? It happens between couples as well, but let's just look at friends to keep it simple. I think it sometimes happens because your friend is starting to lose confidence in whether or not you still care. It sounds strange to say this, but it is important for your close friends to know they have the ability to hurt you.

When you're close to someone, you invest part of yourself in them. You trust them with a piece of your heart, and what they say matters to you. You want to know that they feel the same way. When I think about Friend B, I realize that she is a very busy person and sometimes doesn't answer messages or give a lot of time to friends. I think maybe Friend A was starting to lose confidence that she was still entrusted with a piece of Friend B's heart. She was starting to wonder whether Friend B still cared what she had to say.

So, when this happens and we're starting to doubt whether or not our friends care, sometimes we're tempted to run a little experiment. By pricking the person with a snide remark, we see whether or not they're hurt by it. If we know we have the power to hurt them, then we know whether or not they still care. It's strange but I think sometimes this is the motivation behind these kinds of remarks, even if only subconsciously.

Unfortunately, if we are on the receiving end of something like that, our response is often egotistical. We don't want them to have the 'satisfaction' of knowing they hurt us, so we act like it didn't matter and we don't even care what they say. This is the exact opposite of what the friend was hoping to see. It only confirms their suspicion that you no longer are invested in them and, sadly, the friendship is further strained or even broken with both sides hurt. It sounds silly, but if you are hurt by it, the friend will often be surprised that you were so hurt, but deep down relieved. Then they'll suddenly feel guilty about saying it now that they know you really do care.

Next time you get a snide remark, insult, or hurtful comment from a friend, think about whether or not they might feel neglected. They might be 'pinging' you because they're losing confidence in whether or not you still care for them. Let them know, in a non-accusatory way, that you were hurt by the comment and the reason you were hurt is because you care what they think. Then offer them reassurance that you love them and are invested in them, and apologize for not making that more obvious lately. If my theory is correct, that response should be helpful.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Thoughts on Compassion

Criminal in China long ago, not allowed to
feed himself, must rely on the compassion
of others. (CC) Okinawa Soba,
What is compassion and what are its benefits? How can we learn to be more compassionate? Let's take a look at some ideas on these questions and how they can improve our lives.

Last Sunday I visited the Huntsville Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, where I had been invited to speak. The topic I chose was compassion. I like to speak and write on compassion because I think many Humanists tend to overlook it, often distracted by arguments about god/s, science, reason, superstition, dogma, and pseudo-science, and a lot of other things that may be compatible with Humanism - even a part of it in some cases - but not quite Humanism directly. Humanism is, first and foremost, about compassion. It's very name is meant to be juxtaposed with other 'isms', saying: our concern is for our fellow human being. All other ideas and principles spring from that root foundation.

But rather than talk about 'isms', I'd prefer to talk about compassion itself, and what role it should have in all of our lives. My talk was a modified form of the talk I gave to the Houston Church of Freethought some time ago, and summarized in an essay at The Humanist Contemplative. In it, some key points about compassion are:

  • Compassion makes logical and survival sense
  • Compassion is an integral part of our nature as social animals
  • Compassion is not a 'sacrifice' or a 'charity' to others - it is a benefit to its user
  • It is essential that sometimes Compassion be shown when it is not deserved
  • The greatest gains we stand to make are when we show compassion to enemies

I have recently spent a couple of years actively trying to condition myself to be more compassionate in character. I often fail at this, and slip many times, but I think the effort has helped me, and added a lot of happiness to my life. At one point, however, I found that I had made myself more vulnerable to emotional pain. It was in a Dharma talk at the Jade Buddha Temple here in Houston where I learned what the problem was. Compassion must be balanced with wisdom, and by wisdom I mean specifically the wisdom of non-attachment. Combining compassion and non-attachment is one of the most difficult subjects I've approached, but that's something I will cover in the future.

For now, here are some practices and ideas I think should be helpful in improving our ability to be compassionate...

1) Do not fill your time and your mind with vitriol
Vitriol and hateful thinking is insidious, as tempting as candy, and as addictive as a narcotic. It’s so easy to slip into without realizing it, but no sensible position or action ever requires it. Even if violence were the logical alternative, it can be done without hatefulness. That hatefulness may seem to be our ally when it comes time to perform certain actions or present certain positions, but it lingers around long after it has worn out its welcome. It shapes our habits and our character, and that hatefulness will breed. Not even counting its effects on our external world, it will make us bitter and negatively affect our contentment internally. When you notice yourself thinking hatefully, try to imagine how tragic it is that our enemies weren’t more enlightened, how unfortunate it is that they didn’t turn out to be loving happy people themselves.

2) Avoid media that ‘poisons the soul’
Films with generally bad people in them aren’t a problem. All good stories need bad guys. But some forms of media, especially the likes of talk shows and some reality television, relish in meanness toward others and the suffering of others. Even many radio talk programs can do this. I used to listen to many of them out of curiosity for the topics, but some contained such vitriol that I found myself affected by it and it seemed to be shaping my attitudes. Since leaving vitriolic programming behind, I have found myself much happier.

3) Smile more
It may sound fake and make you feel hypocritical smiling when you don’t really feel that way. But soon you’ll discover that that it’s not just smiles that follow emotional state, but emotional state can follow smiling too. You’ll get some nice responses from time to time, but mostly you'll be surprised at the inner effects.

4) Learn how to moderate your words without sacrificing the integrity of your position or your content
This is an important one for those who think of compassion as some form of appeasement. As mentioned, no position or action ever requires extraneous meanness, insults, or phrasing. Anything substantive that can be said, can be communicated just as well by taking care to word things in a compassionate way. In fact, this will often help those words be more effective because they won’t cause the reader to bring up ‘defensive shields’ and stop listening. Some people are going to be offended no matter what, simply based on the content. But why miss out on the opportunity to get through to those who might not by throwing in extraneous vitriol? Remember too, that these words affect your habits and your character, which will affect your own long term happiness.

5) Be mindful of your own internal emotional responses and states
There are all sorts of stoic philosophies and meditative practices for interjecting your conscious awareness between outside stimulus and passionate response, but even just the attempt to watch ourselves can be helpful. It may seem odd to advise controlling your emotions in order to be more compassionate. This is because, usually, a lack of compassion is due to emotionalism rather than the opposite. This is another indicator that compassion is not merely a feeling, but has a rational component.

6) Remember the source of the benefits of compassion
Remember that most of the benefits of compassion don’t change based on the behavior of the other person. Compassion is about who you are – not about who they are. It’s a matter of asking ourselves, “what kind of person do I want to be?” and enjoying the fruits thereof.

7) Become the advocate for your enemy
First, learn to tell the difference between a person with genuine malicious intent and a person with whom you simply have a misunderstanding, even if they may have done wrong things. For the former, do what you must to protect the innocent (including yourself) and don’t let hatred consume you in the process. But for the latter, consider what motivates them and try to help them in a careful way, to become a better person. Disarm their fears and challenge their preconceptions with kindness

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Being good: Spock, Obama, Jesus style

Composite, AP Photos
In my previous article about reader feedback, I wrote about building character - both as an individual and as a nation. Let's explore that further by considering being good versus doing good.

As a long time fan of Star Trek, I was happy to see the recent release of the film reviving the original characters. Zackary Quinto is being hailed for his portrayal of Mr. Spock; a favorite character for many of us. Although Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was a Humanist, Mr. Spock once described himself as a Stoic.

In so doing, Spock was referring to the ancient Greek (planet Earth, that is) philosophy whose adherents are known for either lacking or controlling of emotion. This is an unfortunate caricature of Stoicism, as Stoics can certainly enjoy life joyfully. Over at, Jeff Greenwald recently made an interesting case for Barack Obama being our planet's version of Mr. Spock. With his cool demeanor and yet, ability to smile and laugh with others, Obama is perhaps a better example of true Stoicism than Mr. Spock. I have no idea whether or not he has knowingly read of the philosophy, yet its wisdom has traveled through many streams over the centuries and may have found its way to Obama in unknown ways.

What Stoicism is really about isn't suppressing emotion, but rather changing our way of looking at the world so that we understand what is in our control and what is not - so that we value the things that are truly valuable, get less consumed with those things that are not, and apply ourselves to living more virtuously and in accordance with our genuine natures. When this is deeply understood and practiced, one will naturally find themselves in a more emotionally balanced state and that equilibrium will less often give rise to extreme emotions in the first place. I've said many times before, if you're suppressing an emotion (a psychologically unhealthy thing to do regularly) then you've already failed in the Stoic endeavor. I've given a more lengthy, yet still informal, explanation of Stoicism on my philosophy website for those interested.

When Gene Mayes sent me a link to a paper by Roderick T. Long titled, On Making Small Contributions to Evil, I thought about the issue of how much of Western philosophy looks at ethics, and how differently Stoicism looks at it. Long's is an interesting paper that tries to address the issue of whether or not we have a duty not to make small (insignificant) contributions to evil. This would be something like our carbon footprint and global warming, for example. On one hand, you could say that one person's stopping their pollution will make no difference unless everyone changes. On the other, you could say that we do have such a duty regardless, which leads to a lot of uncomfortable conclusions. Long attempts to create an argument for a middle ground between the extreme of not modifying our behavior at all, and living like a cave man. Even within its context, I think the paper is weak and has some holes, but it's a noble effort.

Aside from that, they main thing I noticed was how focused the entire thing was on outcomes - on the external results of our actions. Western philosophy often treats ethics as a puzzle; a logical and linguistic mind game of weighing up various outcomes, principles, and implied contracts. It looks at how many bodies you have left in the dead pile, how many lives 'saved', how many people who think they're happy, and so on. From this it deduces what is moral, what is immoral, what ought to be done, and what ought not to be done. Those complying with these rules are called 'good' and those not complying are called 'evil' (or at least 'bad'). The entire enterprise just seems hopelessly off base and ridiculous to me.

One of my quibbles (to put it mildly) with Cheney has been the suggestion that we should look at the effects of using torture, although he wouldn't call it torture. Aside from the fact that even that approach is debatable, here we have an example of measuring things by external, easily measurable outcomes and results. The Obama administration has rejected the notion that the results matter when it comes to torture - again, in line the with classic Stoic approach, knowingly or not.

The Stoic approach to ethics is not so concerned with what it would call 'externals'. Rather, to a Stoic, ethics is about personal virtue. It doesn't really matter so much whether you succeed or fail in your efforts, or what effect - lasting or not - those efforts have. If something is appropriate to your nature and virtuous, you are wise to practice in that manner, regardless.

Socrates wasn't a Stoic. He predated Stoicism as a formal school, but was considered a prime influential predecessor. When Socrates drank the hemlock as per the requirements of his death sentence, he never thought about whether his compliance would move people to change the laws, or encourage them to be compliant, or anything of the sort. The only question was, was it suitable to him as a virtuous man? In this line of thinking, it is the motivation and the internal mindset that matters most when we act as moral agents, and what many modern approaches to ethics miss entirely. I'll explain why this is the important element in a moment.

On the International Stoic Forum, Dave Kelly made a post in which he summarized a paper by Stanley Stowers of Brown University: Jesus the Teacher and Stoic Ethics in the Gospel of Matthew. In that paper Stowers makes a case for Stoic influences in the gospel of Matthew which paint Jesus as a Stoic Sage. He states:

"What God requires for righteousness is not simply the performance of actions that in themselves are generally accepted as morally good, but rather that such actions be done with the right moral disposition that is the equivalent doing God’s will."

Although this is arguable, earlier Stoics might substitute "in accordance with Nature" for "God's will", or perhaps use the term 'Zeus' but imply a less personified concept than most modern Christians think of God. The important point is the emphasis on the fact that it is our internal moral disposition that is more important than merely performing outward acts, or even the external consequences of those acts.

Why is Stoicism so different than what much of Western philosophy came to be in this area? There is what Mr. Spock would call a 'fascinating' line of investigation into the early interactions between ancient Greek philosophers and Eastern philosophy. Buddhism, close to Stoicism in many respects, also has a take on this. The word 'karma' literally means 'intention'.

The reason inner intention and motivation are so important to ethics is because the entire purpose of ethics is to inform us of the best way to live such that we may enjoy happiness. And, by happiness I mean a deep contentment which is not dependent on outward circumstance - not necessarily short-sighted immediate pleasure. This is the 'good life' - the flourishing life of well being, and it is not about how many cars you have or how many friends you have. It's a state that is reached because you are living in accordance with your inner nature as a moral being.

While some Western thoughts on ethics get into legalisms, mechanisms, and logical structures on duties, morals, etc, the Eastern approach (and Western Stoic approach) sticks to the idea of what produces happiness - the very reason for all those ethics in the first place. This is the difference between doing good, and being good.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Humanism and Being Humanist

CC Drew Myers,
Today's article is by guest writer Tom Brucia:

Earlier this week I listened to Reza Aslan speak at St. Thomas University in Houston.  I'm now reading his book, 'How to Win A Cosmic War: God, Globalization and the End of the War on Terror'. I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who thinks of themselves as a humanist.

Aslan makes the point that as globalization breaks down the influence and power of the nation state, humans are dividing into two camps.  The smaller one is that of people who think of themselves as citizens of the world.  The larger one is people who search for identity in being part of a people (Jew, American, Arab, Persian, black, white, Han, etc, etc) or as members of a religion (Muslim, Jew, Catholic, 'Christian', Humanist, Communist, Socialist, Hindu, etc, etc).

It suddenly dawned on me that humanists are as much divided as are other people.  A few humanists speak of "us" and mean the human race.  Most humanists speak of "us" and mean either atheists, or Jews, or Americans, or haters of Islam, or haters of fundamentalism, or Democrats, or whatever.  And then I thought of the words of the former honorary president of the American Humanist Association, Kurt Vonnegut, who dismissively described a "granfalloon": "the Communist party, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the General Electric Company, the International Order of Odd Fellows -- and any nation, anytime, anywhere." He went on to say, "If you wish to study a granfalloon, Just remove the skin of a toy balloon."

And here lies my disillusion NOT with humanism (pledging allegiance to the human race), but with many 'humanists', who (in my individualist arrogance) just 'don't get it' and are hung up on a variety of granfalloons...

As a humanist, I think of being an American in the same way that I do being a Houstonian.   I think of being white in the same way as being pink, red, grey and white (as I am under my skin).  I think of being a non-Christian in the same way I think of myself as being a non-Hindu, a non-animist, and a non-Zoroastrian...

In other words, why should I bother with 'having an identity'? Isn't just 'being a human being' enough?

DT Strain adds:

I featured Tom's words here because I share many of his concerns. If Humanism is about anything, it is about being concerned for all of humanity, even a-Humanists. Tom went on to say that he felt only being a part of the Humanist movement is very constraining. I'd also agree. It is my hope that this column at will be my little way of interacting with all of our non-Humanist friends here, discussing the real issues we all care about through a humanistic lens, and simply living as a Humanist rather than being consumed by 'preaching' Humanism or insulting people with other beliefs.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

More on beliefs, torture, complexity: reader feedback

Juliette Rousselot opposing torture, AP
I've been so happy for the responses I've been getting to this blog. There are two lists I am able to see, which show top five visited blogs on One is the top five Examiner blogs in Houston (out of 127), and the other is the top five for the Religion & Spirituality section (out of 274, regardless of city). Thanks to readers, I have several times seen Houston Humanist Examiner appear on both of these lists. We passed 1,000 unique hits sooner than I thought we would, which substantially exceeded the average for a little over 1 week being active.

Along the way, I have received many excellent comments from you all (some of them have been directly or in other venues than the comments sections you see here at Please know that I read every one of them and give them all careful consideration. I decided that I'm not going to comment in the comments section below the articles, but rather leave that as a place for you all to have your say. However, I do plan to make a post every so often where I answer reader feedback. I've tried to answer the most interesting or pertinent questions, or one's where you've put me on the spot. Many I have not answered, but it isn't because I don't think they were good comments, or that I don't appreciate them. It's just that many of them speak well for themselves, or I'd have little to offer. So, without further ado, let me address some of your wonderful points!

From "Torture: what's the answer?"

Nathan: "how can any immoral action be justified using the logic in this article? If it is wrong to torture, regardless so of the circumstances, then how can it ever be considered right to kill somebody because "it's war", or imprison somebody because "they broke the law and must learn their lesson". How do you distinguish something like torture which you seem to say is wrong in all cases) from something like imprisonment (which we view as wrong to do to somebody - unless they deserve it). How do you define which actions merit the "it's ok if the person deserves it" tag, and which merit the "wrong in all cases" tag?"

You win the prize for deepest and most difficult question of the month! I think your question is essentially one of ends vs means. Despite my admonishment of an 'ends justifies the means' mentality produced by consequentialism in my article, I actually believe that sometimes the ends do justify the means. Usually when we face and ends/means question, it's because two principles are at odds. The 'weight' or importance of those principles relative to one another will determine whether the ends justifies or does not justify the means (for more on this, please see my essay "2.13 The Means/Ends Principle").

However, in this case - the main point I make is that, in looking only at outward consequences, we are not weighing the value of "not torturing" correctly, in proportion to the value of the information we might glean, or even the lives saved from it. Instead, when we consider how being a 'torturing people' will effect us, our society, and the kind of world in which we live, I believe the consequences are so substantial, that were we to measure these things properly, we would find torture not to be worth it.

Many times in our individual lives, when we go through our various tumultuous dramas that cause us so much distress, we see a person who is trying to play the puppeteer, crunching the numbers, looking at what will happen and when, and imagining that if they take certain actions at certain times, they can orchestrate events to come out as they desire. To a degree we can influence things like this, but the operation is always more daunting than we first imagined, and more complex and out of our control than we perceive. So, it's easy to get caught up in that and think of ethics as 'general principles that work most of the time, but not in this case'.

However, what really leads to a lasting, deep, happiness and contentment is not outcomes - but the nature of our character, and that is formed only by being virtuous. So, what we must do is rely on that wisdom, even when our machinations can't always calculate just how they will result in good outcomes. That will build a fortitude that will carry us through all outcomes.

Sam: "I consistently see the statement that we prosecuted Japanese soldiers who used waterboarding during WWII. The reality is that we DID prosecute them, and in fact executed some. But it is always framed as if waterboarding was the sole or main offense. Waterboarding might as well have been 'boogie-boarding' compared to the types of torture done by the Japanese. (Starvation, Electric shock and cannibalism to name a few) To use this, in my opinion, muddies the conversation.

It is certainly true that Japanese were not executed solely or even mainly for waterboarding. Some people may sometimes veer into framing it that way in order to emphasize their point and when they do so they are wrong. After being criticized by Mark Hemmingway in the National Review, Paul Begala justifies his point in this article but Hemmingway answered the next day here.

As Hemmingway notes, Begala smudged the line when he said on television, "We executed them for the same for the same crime we are now committing ourselves". Actually, we charged them for the crime as though it were a war crime and torture, and they were charged with a lot of other stuff and eventually executed. So, technically Begala oversteps a little here - something that should be important to we who care about intellectual honesty. But it's also important to know that the fudge isn't where it counts when it comes to the point of contention. Remember that the argument isn't that waterboarding deserves execution, or that the U.S. should execute waterboarders if it is to be consistent. Rather, the argument is that, to be consistent, the U.S. should consider waterboarding torture and a war crime in the same way it did when it included that in the charges against Japanese soldiers.

Hemmingway concedes that his argument doesn't mean waterboarding isn't torture, and he notes that McCain's original statement (which Begala was referencing) was correct as McCain phrased it: "The Japanese were tried and convicted and hung for war crimes committed against American POWs. Among those charges for which they were convicted was waterboarding." I was careful to use similar wording in my post when I wrote, "the United States tried and executed Japanese personnel after World War II for war crimes, specifically including waterboarding." Although we risk muddying the conversation if we suggest the waterboarding was the main charge, I think it is so important to know that the U.S. at one time saw fit to include waterboarding among war crime charges, that we should carefully continue to make that point.

From "Why do my beliefs not match my religion?"

Sam: "I don't believe that any one person's beliefs can be 100% orthogonal with the 'published' beliefs of a religious group."

I'd definitely agree with that, I think most people would. What I found fascinating about the recent population of those identifying as Christians, is just how enormous and 'foundational' many of their beliefs are to traditional Christian doctrine.

Sam: "This article is a fine example of what we need more of. The more we think about our beliefs and better establish our values, the better off we will be. Excellent job."

Thanks very much! This kind of feedback gives me an indication of what people are interested and will effect what I offer readers.

Michel: "My issue with local Humanist/Atheist groups is their focus on debunking OTHER religions, rather than providing a rational approach to addressing the big questions that those religions answer."

I couldn't agree more Michel. As former president and long time member of local Humanist organizations, keeping the focus on the positive aspects of Humanist values is a constant challenge. Throughout the country, the Humanist movement has its share of hard-line atheists who are really just concerned with bucking the religious majority. I think it's fine for specifically atheist organizations to meet those needs, and to do important things like keeping a check on church/state mingling. But Humanist organizations should emphasize Humanism. It also doesn't help that the national level Humanist organizations have become very political in their focus. But I always tell people this: if you don't like what your local Humanist organization is, it's only that way as an emergent property of the current participants and their actions - jump in, get involved, and help to change and direct it where it needs to go, because if people like us don't, then the community will only do the opposite. In a way, my own efforts here at are all about quitting my complaining about what Humanists should be doing, and being an example of it. As Marcus Aurelius wrote, "Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one." The same could be said of being a good Humanist.

Arthur: "DT- You said: "...the barren meaningless landscape of Wal-marts, iPods, and materialism plaguing our society." Why on earth do you consider these three items barren, meaningless, and a plague?"

First, two linguistic points about that sentence that lacked clarity...
The grouping of items as I was thinking of them was:
barren meaningless landscape of:

1) Wal-marts
2) iPods
3) materialism plaguing our society

So, the "plague" part referred to the materialism.
The second linguistic point is the definition of "materialism". Here I am not referring to the philosophy which excludes the supernatural. For that, I use the term naturalism (to which I ascribe). Materialism here refers to an unhealthy focus on material possessions, greed, and jealousy - the "keeping up with the Joneses" mentality.

There's nothing wrong with iPods (I have one myself), or with retail stores per se, or with material possessions. But, within the framework of writing about deeper purpose and values in life - they truly are 'barren and meaningless'.  Things which are meaningless with regard to 'ultimate values' and barren of 'deep meaning' are not evil or wrong - in fact, they can be fun and add spice to life. But they are wholly insufficient as a means to a true contentment and real happiness and long term satisfaction in life. Therefore, any philosophy which seeks to remove the current basis of those values without replacing it with something, imagining the three items listed above to be enough, will absolutely fail.

Bill: "No matter where America goes, doesn't go, or the world for that matter, there will always be a few who continue to recognize Jesus as 'the way, the truth and the life.' Narrow minded to many perhaps, but faithful nonetheless."

Bill, I hope going forward we live in a world where people have even more freedom across the globe to believe and practice their faiths (or secular philosophies) peacefully and without oppression, in the open marketplace of ideas, wherever that leads. I think this can only happen when we have societies that are free, tolerant, respect free speech to the fullest, and the free exchange of ideas and opinions. I personally suspect this will have a diversification effect on the global population, which may even lead to an increased secularization. For Christianity and other mainline religions, that would probably mean a shrinkage - however, I'd only tolerate such a thing if it were a naturally occurring evolution of the population's demographics and free beliefs, and never if it were being enforced by others. All in all, I think you're right that we're likely to see some version of Christianity hanging around for a long, long time to come.

From "Swine flu, recession, terrorism, & Houston traffic: connection?"

smijer: "When I was a kid, they called this thing 'chaos theory'."

I think they still do actually. The book I mentioned refers to chaos theory quite a bit, but I think they are slightly different things. As far as I can tell as a layman, it seems to me that chaos theory is one part of complex systems theory. In other words, chaos is an element that plays out within complex systems, but (a) not all examples chaos pertain to a complex system, and (b) there are many other apects to complex systems besides that which chaos theory covers.

tbrucia: "It's fascinating how some people find the complexity we swim in endlessly fascinating and refreshing, while others find it threatening."

True tbrucia. I have had 'profound experiences' in learning about these things, which is why I wanted to see what implications complexity might have for naturalistic spirituality. As you likely know, the Buddhists would say that distress to which you refer is a result of the delusion of ego. We fail to perceive that what we think of as a unified continuous self, is actually an amalgamation of interacting parts in an impermanent pattern which flows seamlessly with the other patterns around it. Accepting this fully is part of acheiving the detachment needed to appreciate the beauty and wholeness of Nature. It involves letting go of that instinctive drive we have, understanding it is only there because of the natural selective processes which bred it into these bodies - letting go of things over which we have no control, and acting without fear or desire but rather from understanding. What a silly thing for me to try and communicate this in a single paragraph! We'll have to disuss more in coming posts :)

Thanks again to everyone, and if you like what you've read here so far - please consider subscribing to ths blog. By the way, I don't get to see your personal email addresses when you subscribe, that stuff is all secure and automated. But I do get to see how many subscribers I have and that tells me if I'm doing something right.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Dollhouse creator Joss Whedon, Star Trek executive, NYT & other news on Humanism

Joss Wheddon at Harvard University
Just some quick newsbits happening lately:
  • Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, and Dollhouse, spoke about Humanism in April. He spoke after receiving the Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism at Harvard University's Memorial Church. Wheddon, himself a secular Humanist, in pressing for more education noted, "The enemy of Humanism is not faith. The enemy of Humanism is hate, is fear, is ignorance..."
    [see the video]
  • Speaking of hate, the Humanist magazine's blog Rant & Reason just posted a good explanation of the hate crimes legislation recently passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, which expands hate crimes to cover sexual orientation, sexual identity, disability, and gender. Along the way, they answer many of the criticisms aimed at it.
    [see the article]
  • With the new Star Trek movie releasing in the U.S. in two weeks, I thought it appropriate to mention this tidbit: the Indiana Daily Student recently reported that Susan Sackett, who worked with Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, spoke about his Humanism and humanist themes in Star Trek. The talk was given on the Indiana University campus. I had the pleasure of dining with Ms. Sackett when she came to Houston to give a similar presentation for the Humanists of Houston. As a big Star Trek fan, it was fun to hear her stories.
    [see the article]
  • The New York Times just featured an article about the rise of atheism/Humanism. I've seen the link online, but not the physical paper. However, I heard it was front page. While the exposure for Humanist groups is great, the article seems to mesh atheism and Humanism a little too much in my view. Humanists may be non-theistic, but not all atheists are Humanists. Still, I suppose it's best not to look a gift horse in the mouth.
    [see the article]
  • Last but not least, the American Humanist Association (AHA) is holding it's 58th Annual Conference in Phoenix, Arizona this June 5-7, 2009. These conferences feature big name authors and speakers on a wide variety of important and fascinating topics. If you're interested in learning more about it or attending, I suggest checking out their site and registering.
    [conference info here]

Many thanks to my Tweeps: cameo, CFIOnCampus, TorieA for passing along much of this news. Check back soon for more articles on ethics, values, spirituality, and Humanist living!