National Non-belief Day
An exciting event is in the planning stages. Sunday, October 8 of this year has been set aside for the first National Proclaim Non-belief Day or N-Day. On this day, it is hoped that a mighty chorus of voices, all proclaiming their disbelief of gods and religion, will be heard across the country, as thousands of atheists, agnostics, and other freethinkers join to celebrate non-belief.
The day will mark the start of National Freethought Week, which runs October 12 – 19, 1995. (Although we have chosen to “kick off” National Freethought Week with N-Day, the two events are administered separately.) N-Day exists for several purposes:
- Visibility: According to our best surveys, nonbelievers make up anywhere from 7 to 15% of the populace. This translates to as many as 20,000,000 of us, roughly the same as the gay population. Yet, unlike the gays, we seem to be the 20 million quietest people in the country. N-Day would hopefully give isolated freethinkers nationwide the courage to come forward and voice their disbelief.
- Publicity: N-Day is designed to focus media attention on nonbelievers and freethought issues in a positive, non-controversial context. Thousands of people proclaiming that they don’t believe in god, all on the same day, cannot help but attract camera lenses and talk shows. This will be a golden opportunity for nonbelievers and freethought groups to garner some publicity and say to the public, “We exist, and we have points of view that you need to hear.”
- Solidarity: Compared again to the gay community, nonbelievers have little or no political clout. Speaking with one voice on our “coming out” day is the first step toward developing the cohesiveness necessary to be recognized as a special interest group that politicians will need to deal with in the future…especially important if we are to have any say in the church/state separation issues.
N-Day is a project that started with our group, Arizona Secular Humanists, which is loosely affiliated with CODESH. But we do not wish to be “in charge” of N-Day. We are asking atheist, agnostic, non-belief, humanist and other freethought groups around the country to join with us in organizing the first National Proclaim Non-belief Day, to make it as successful as possible. It is important that we show a united front, so that we are perceived as the cohesive and dynamic movement that we must become.
President, Arizona Secular Humanists
The Origin of Humankind
What is consciousness? What is it for? What is its function? These questions and several more observations concerning the uniqueness of Homo sapiens are explored with clarity by Richard Leakey in his recent book The Origin of Humankind. The son of the renowned Louis and Mary Leakey writes for the lay-person without compromising his unquestioned authority as a paleontologist. In less than 160 pages he covers the fascinating 2.5 million years of human evolution, it social organization, culture, personal behavior and the development of consciousness.
Whatever your level of interest, education and background, you’ll be rewarded for the time spent reading this book and, in the vernacular of our local culture, “Your testimony of humanism will be strengthened.”
Strategic Initiative Preamble
The following is an extract from the Preamble and Goals sections of the formal document prepared for the membership.
We believe, like most people, that the world could be a better place. War, poverty, in-humaneness, and ignorance abound. Crime and hatred persist. Environmental degradation and overpopulation threaten the very survival of the human race.
In one sense, however, the world is becoming a better place. Experimental science, just a few centuries old, has discovered and is discovering vast amounts of reliable knowledge about us and our world. Democratic governments are spreading and protecting human rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for more people than ever before.
In this sense the world is becoming more humanistic. Humanism is committed to human progress. It believes, based on the historical record, that the best means for discovering truth is through science, experience, and reason. Its fundamental moral value is the worth, freedom, and development of every human being.
As a chapter, our current strengths lie in our members, who we like to think are, as humanists, by definition intellectually and emotionally mature and well balanced; and in our positive philosophy, which stresses the development of all human beings to be the best they can be. We also have an excellent monthly journal and a tradition of free thought. We are committed to reason, experience, and following reality wherever it leads us.
We also have weaknesses as a chapter. We have a concentration of older people and need younger members, especially families. We have meager resources; our chapter is supported by modest annual dues from our membership. We have no meeting place of our own. We lack diversity. We have not developed the kind of meetings at which we get to know each other very well. And we have not had a training program for future leaders.
- Provide a humanistic educational program that will help members develop their natural inner strengths in order to practice the art of living.
- Serve as a community for those members who value warm relationships with others, and provide support for those who are discovering humanism as an attractive alternative to their religious beliefs.
- Reach out into the larger community to those who may be interested in the humanist alternative.
- Make humanistic views known on social and political issues, primarily through the individual actions of its members.
- Encourage members to engage in compassionate service, both individually and, when appropriate, collectively.
- Explore the possibility of developing a humanist center.
N-Day: An Opinion
The rationale for N-Day is undeniable. Humanists everywhere need “visibility, publicity, and solidarity.” ASH president Jim Speiser expresses these concerns with passion and clarity.
My only problem is the chosen name for the day of celebration. I find the choice of a Boolean negative discouraging. Too many of us are defined, or allow ourselves to be defined, as what we are not: non-mormon, non-white, etc. The organizers of N-Day seem to realize this, the first thing they do is abbreviate “Non-belief” to “N”.
If the day is to truly be a celebration where “a mighty chorus of voices proclaim” our presence, our beliefs and our solidarity, wouldn’t it be much better to declare what we are instead of what we are not?
Please don’t misunderstand; I plan to celebrate October 8th. I hope it becomes an annual event. I just wish we were calling it “Day of Reason” or “Rational Day” or maybe even “Humanist Day”(?!)
Fables, Fantasies, and Fairytales
So now the Emperor walked under his high canopy in the middle of the procession right through the streets of his capital city. And all the people standing by and those at the window cried out, “Oh, how beautiful are our Emperor’s new clothes! What a magnificent train. And how gracefully the scarf hangs!” In fact, no one would admit that he could not see these clothes which everyone seemed to think so beautiful for fear he would be called a simpleton or unfit for office.
Never before had any of the Emperor’s clothes caused so much excitement as these.
“But the Emperor has nothing on at all!” said a little child.
“The child tells the truth,” said the father.
And so it was that what the child said was whispered from one to another until all knew and they cried out altogether, “BUT HE HAS NOTHING ON AT ALL!“
The Emperor felt very silly, for he knew that the people were right, but he thought, “The procession has started and it must go on now!”
Hans Christian Andersen’s famous fairytale, The Emperor’s New Clothes, is as appealing and applicable today as it was in Denmark in the 1850’s. Somehow, we mortals get a sense of satisfaction seeing an arrogant leader exposed as a result of his own vanity.
Andersen had a knack for seeing through people and getting to the heart of matters, and his talent is reflected in his children’s stories, many of which teach valuable lessons that when learned early are able to stay as habits of the heart throughout life. For example, in the Emperor’s tale, he unveils the human susceptibility to be easily deceived, and our predisposition to social conformity. If we learn to recognize our inclinations early in life, then we will be able to catch and correct them sooner.
Andersen delightfully presents the innocence of a child as being an essential human quality for telling the truth. If we can learn to always reserve part of “our child within” for those times when we need to be open and honest, then perhaps we’d have a bit more integrity.
Another lesson pertains to the Emperor’s denial of being caught unattired, and proceeding on as if nothing had happened. We admire him for trying to maintain his dignity, but his facade is a reminder of some leaders today who refuse to face the truth out of fear, so they continue on with their own procession of myopic myths in order to maintain their positions of power and authority. From this we can learn to have periodic “reality checks” to see if we want to be part of a mythological problem, or be part of a different kind of solution.
What is it that attracts people of all ages to fables, fantasies, and fairytales? Feminist author Clarissa Estes believes, “Back in the recesses of our mind is a secret desire for life to arrange itself as a fairytale.” That’s probably why the movie, Sleepless in Seattle, became so popular. Stories with happy endings meet a human need–the need for hope, and the need to feel that the world can sometimes be a congenial place where everything works out well. Good stories also provide an indirect way to learn some of life’s lessons, because when we identify with certain characters, we get to discover our own truths, which can lead to positive changes. Reading tales can also compensate for our particular feelings of inadequacy and make us feel whole. We tend to fill in our own gaps with the good qualities of story characters when we identify with them. Who couldn’t identify with the charming spunk of Ann of Green Gables, or the unwavering integrity of Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Reading tales with challenges and noble ideas can also have a curative effect on us.
“Stories are the simplest and most accessible ingredient for healing.” (Estes) By vicariously stepping into a story character’s role, there’s a possibility of curing our own ailments, because we gain insight on how to change our own behavior. In a sense, reading can become “bibliotherapy.” Whether its learning to be more assertive, to control one’s temper, or to show respect for people’s feelings, we can still change our behavior.
Joseph Campbell, renowned professor of mythology, believed stories offer people of all ages models for living a good life, but that the models must be meaningful to have any positive effect. He felt our present moral order had to catch up with the moral necessities of life in the here and now. “The old time religion belongs to another age, another people, another set of human values, another universe. We need myths that will identify the individual not with his local group, but with the planet.” A good myth, or story, then, must not be provincial in nature, such as reflected in the belief of being “one of the chosen people,” or belonging to the “one and only true church” but must speak to the unity of all people and the wellness of the earth. The tales can be old or new, just so the plots have unifying motives and/or a global message.
Without developing an active imagination and hopeful fantasies, people of all ages might not have the strength to meet the dragons of life. “Good tales give our anxieties form and show us the ways to overcome our monsters. If our fear of being devoured takes the tangible form of a witch, it can be gotten rid of by burning her in the oven,” said child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim. In other words, a child can learn to deal with the mean-spirited people in life by symbolically shutting them away until he or she can learn, through experience, more and productive ways to deal with troublesome characters.
Fairytales and other stories bridge the gap between childhood and adulthood. “Before a child can come to grips with reality, he must have some frame of reference to evaluate it.” (Bettelheim) Good books speak to a child’s mind, and in such a way he or she can understand. Stories offer beneficial emotional lessons which can shape brain circuits in more productive ways. Research also verifies that “adult brain circuits can change just as well as children’s.” (Daniel Goleman, 1995)
Childhood is especially a time when fantasies need to be nurtured because that’s when the creative venture begins. It’s also a time when life can be overpowering for some little ones. Good stories can be a respite for tenuous circumstances because they help reassure a child about a just and happy outcome. For example, a selfish Emperor (who might represent father) is publicly humbled; the wicked witch (mother?) gets shoved into an oven; The Wizard of Oz (an authority figure) is exposed as a charlatan; the ugly duckling (an insecure child) turns out to be attractive; and the sky in Chicken Little’s scary world really can’t fall.
Good tales can help people of all ages become mentally healthier and happier human beings, but childhood is the ideal time to begin telling or reading stories because that’s the time when children learn the most. Caregivers can facilitate the process early by creating an emotionally stable foundation which includes choosing good stories, and by asking the right questions about the stories. Bettelheim said, “Asking , ‘Is it true?’ is not as important as wondering with a child, ‘Do you think the monster was good or was he wicked?” This type of questioning will promote self-discovery and self-confidence. Leisurely helping children to think for themselves will eventually guide them toward a sense of reality and a mature adulthood which just might help them to “live happily ever after” or at least reasonably so.
The Bible Says So
Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report
The Utah Humanists’ Study Group this month heard a taped presentation by humanist comedian Henry Scampini. The excerpts that follow refer to some of the milder “pornography” in the Bible. Rawer stuff can be found by the “original” authors cited below:
When David was a young man, he went up on the roof to look around; and he saw Bathsheba bathing herself; and he said, “Wow, I’d like to bath Sheba.” So he maneuvered to have her husband killed, and then he married her and had a son, Solomon. When David died, his son Solomon, became king, and he married Abashag. His older brother, Adonijah, wanted her, and he had his brother killed so that he could marry her. Solomon’s songs in the Psalms were written for her.
When I was a kid, this was absolutely the funniest thing in the Bible. This was hysterical:
- God mooned Moses. God says to Moses, “I will take away my hand, and thou shalt see my back parts, but my face shall not be seen.” So God showed Moses his back parts. If I was Moses, I would have kicked him right in the ass.
- The Bible tells us God has white hair, eyes the color of fire, and smoke comes out of his nostrils and fire out of his mouth. Now, if that smoke coming out of his nostrils is white, it is marijuana. That explains a lot. We only have three things to smoke in that part of the world, depending on what you can afford-marijuana, tobacco, and camel dung. Jesus said hate your mother, hate your father, hate your wife. Now what the hell was he smoking?
Why do we still have old-time religion? Because we don’t have anything else to replace it, and it’s up to the humanists to find a replacement. All religion is silly. It’s the world’s oldest scam. It’s the rape of the mind and I laugh that I may not weep. But be of good cheer. The day will come when priests will marry, the pope will be a nun, Jews will eat ham, and Muslims will pray standing up. The day will come when no one under 21 will be allowed to read the barbaric book of inspired ignorance called the Holy Bible.
I would like to thank my writers, Ezekiel and Isaiah.
Be of good cheer. At long last our time is coming, and the truth will prevail!