Parenting Beyond Belief: On secular parenting and other natural wonders

Stupid Jack

beanstalkdsoie3Just ran across a scribbled note from 2002 — a conversation with my son Connor, then seven, after we read Jack and the Beanstalk together.

CONNOR: I don’t like that story.

DAD: How come?

CONNOR, frowning hard: I hate Jack.

DAD: Why?

CONNOR: He breaks into the giant’s house and steals his gold. Then he breaks in again and steals his goose. Then he breaks in again and steals his magic harp. And when the giant chases him to get his own things back, Jack cuts down the beanstalk and the giant gets killed! And he didn’t do anything wrong! I hate that stupid Jack.

Is somebody watching Tim Minchin’s cholesterol?

timminchin21109I don’t fall in love as often as I used to. When I was young, I ran into something new to love every time I turned around. Like Kurt Vonnegut, like fresh guacamole. Like sex with others, like Richard Dawkins.

Like deeelicious sentential ambiguity.

I find myself falling in love a lot less often at middle age. I need to be surprised, and it’s hard to do that to me anymore. Everything seems derivative. That’s bad, because though some of my old loves (like sex and guacamole) have staying power, most lose their luster with time. I’m still friends with some of my early loves, like David Hume and Tower of Power, but we don’t bump uglies as much as we used to. I need new meat, and I go years at a time without finding anything worth stalking.

But in 2009 alone, I fell for three very promising things: coconut red curry beef, Radiolab, and Tim Minchin.

I don’t like the fact that the things I love are finite. Peek under the religious impulse and I think you’ll find that exact thing — an answer to the human yearning that shit be mortal and the good eternal. When I first recognized Radiolab as my soulmate, I downloaded the complete podcast archive of 63 shows. A few quick calculations later, I realized that 63 was a finite number and wept. I’m now halfway through that archive, and that realization still sniffles a bit every time I finish an episode. They’re making more, but too slowly.

My wife Becca is also said to be mortal. I’ve made her promise to outlive me, something that required less arm-twisting than I would have liked.

I’m not the only one in this house who hates impermanence. I blogged last year about my youngest, Delaney, hearing that Dr. Seuss was no longer alive:

Erin (9): Is he still alive?

Dad: Who?

Erin: Dr. Seuss.

Dad: Oh. No, he died about fifteen years ago, I think. But he had a good long life first.

As I continued reading, I suddenly became aware that Delaney (6) was very quietly sobbing.

Dad: Oh, sweetie, what’s the matter?

Delaney: Is anybody taking his place?

Dad: What do you mean, punkin?

Delaney: Is anybody taking Dr. Seuss’ place to write his books? (Begins a deep cry.) Because I love them so much, I don’t want him to be all-done!

I scanned the list of Seuss books on the back cover. “Hey, you know what?” I said. “We haven’t even read half of his books yet!”

Feeble, I know. So did she.

“But we will read them all!” she said. “And then there won’t be any more!” I had only moved the target, which didn’t solve the problem in the least.

Which brings me to Tim Minchin’s cholesterol.

Tim is a British-born Australian comedian who (like most great, original comedians) makes that word look flimsy and inadequate. I found him earlier this year through his nine-minute beat poem “Storm.” I listened to it, found it unbelievably smart and funny and posted it on the blog, and then let busyness keep me from finding and having my way with everything he has ever done.

Last week I came across “Storm” again, re-swooned at it, then downloaded the whole live CD on which it appears.

Holy Shi’ite.

If a 15-track CD — music, comedy, whatever — has three good, two great, and one brilliant track, I count myself lucky. Double each of those at least and you’ve got Tim Minchin’s CD Ready for This?

Since surprise is so much of the thrill, I won’t try to describe any of them specifically. I’ll just say that his vehicle is the comedy song, that his musical chops as both composer and piano performer are insane, and that his comic sensibility and intelligence make this some of the most densely rewarding comedy I have found in a long, long time looking.

It’s not all about surprise, though. Yesterday, while listening to one of the tracks in the car for the FOURTH time, I began laughing/crying so hard that I had to hand the steering wheel over to Isaac Newton for a minute. Listen to the developing intellectual and comic curve of this thing:

(I began to lose control at 2:20 and went over the cliff at 2:36. Thanks for the cards and letters.)

It goes on and on. But here’s the thing: Tim Minchin is going to die. I now have a vested interest in preventing this, or at least delaying it until after my own exit. That way I can cultivate the idea that it will be Tim Minchin who kills me in the end — me 85, driving; he 73, singing.

I had hoped for the same lifelong gift from David Foster Wallace, my favorite writer, who was exactly my age when clinical depression hung him from a rafter in his home last year. I’ll be needing Tim Minchin to stick around longer than that — at least twice as long as his great-great-great-great uncleses and auntses, as he would put it. That’s why I hope somebody is watching Tim’s cholesterol and holding his hand to cross the street (TIP: Traffic in the U.K. goes the wrong way!)

I’m a selfish bastard for even asking these things, really. David Foster Wallace didn’t owe me anything after Infinite Jest — didn’t even “owe” me that — and if Tim Minchin never writes or performs another thing, Ready for This? is plenty.

One of the most unexpected gifts on the CD is the last full song. Titled “White Wine in the Sun,” it’s a straight, simple, moving anthem of the humanist heart — more powerful than any other musical expression of its kind that I’ve heard. And I want it played at my funeral — live would be nice — after which, and only after which, Tim Minchin has permission to die.

Download “Ready for This?” from Amazon
(Note to my brothers: You’re getting a copy for Krismas, so don’t click.)

Going around the messengers

(Via the Atheist Bus Campaign UK)

A simple, marvelous message currently on display in four UK cities. It’s also #6 in the list of best practices on page viii of Raising Freethinkers and one of the most important concepts in freethought parenting. Heck, it’s practically, the definition of it.

Our family spent the best six months of our lives in the UK in 2004. And though I’m sure my British readers can strip me of my fawning rosy visitor goggles in no time flat, I found very little of the deep anti-intellectualism that we here in the Colonies swim in every bleedin’ day.

Also nice was the fact that religious disbelief is not a terribly big deal in the UK. A large whack of public figures — entertainers, giants of industry, journalists, politicians — are out nonbelievers. Thanks to this, secular humanists can move on from our current location on Horton’s speck (“We are HERE, we are HERE, we are HERE!!”) to taking positions on actual issues, such as suggesting that children not be labeled with complex worldviews that they cannot have chosen themselves (including, of course, “atheist”).

I’d guess from my own UK time that the billboard is raising relatively few hackles among the sane majority of religious folks there. But there will always be some colorful responses, and the news outlets were determined to find them. From the Belfast Telegraph, under the super-cool, pot-stirring headline, “Humanist poster stirs up religious storm” :

The giant poster, at the junction of Great Victoria Street and Bruce Street [in Belfast], shows a photograph of a young girl against the backdrop of “shadowy” descriptions such as Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu or Sikh.

(And Atheist and Agnostic. Sorry, am I blowing things into proportion?)

Reverend David McIlveen from the Free Presbyterian Church said: “It is none of their business how people bring up their children. It is the height of arrogance that the BHA would even assume to tell people not to instruct their children in the religion.”

See how the slope slips? The poster says nothing about not instructing them in the religion. He continues:

“It is reprehensible and so typical of the hypocrisy of the British Humanist Association today…I think it is totally arrogant, presumptuous and sparks of total hypocrisy… I will be expressing my public position on it in my own church on Sunday. I will be saying that this advert is another attack on the Biblical position of the family and will be totally rejecting it.”

McIlveen was the gent behind an anti-gay ad campaign in the UK last year that was hateful enough to draw a ban from the British Advertising Standards Authority. I doubt very much that he represents most British Christians — certainly not those I met while I was there.

Also quoted in the article is

Sheikh Anwar Mady from the Belfast Islamic Centre: “We believe that every child is born as a Muslim. Religion is not given by the family, but it is a natural religion given by our God at birth. The role of the family is to teach the traditions of the faith. But that faith is implanted at birth.”

Okay. Now here’s my question: How many news outlets made an effort to find religious spokespersons who thought the poster campaign was perfectly acceptable? The BBC article online includes only one quote from a religious leader, and it’s frothing mad. And who did they find to represent the religious point of view? Why, it’s the Reverend David McIlveen from the Free Presbyterian Church.

Maybe they were all working from the same wire story, but I checked a dozen major news outlets covering the story and was unable to find a single quote from a religious leader in support of the campaign. But does that mean they aren’t out there—or that the news outlets are interested only in stirring the pot to draw readers?

Waaaait a minute. Lookie here!

Justin Thacker, head of theology at the Evangelical Alliance, said it was great to see humanists were now agreeing that children should make their own decisions about faith. “Evangelicals do not believe that God has any grandchildren, only children,” he said. “You are not a Christian simply because your parents are. Every child or adult has to make up their own minds about the reality of God.”

This marvelous quote is not to be found in the news. It’s squirreled away on a small number of religious websites.

An equally good question is why atheist bloggers aren’t generally taking the time to find that voice. I’m afraid in many cases, the answer is the same: in addition to confirming our own biases, the loony McIlveen quote is simply too attractive as a pot-stirrer to go seeking mere balance. We bloggers can blame the media, and the media can blame the wire story. At some point, we’ve all got to dig deeper to get beneath the shitstorm on the surface of these things.

I’ve sent a message to the folks behind the poster suggesting they post that EA statement. It’s another opportunity to isolate nuts like McIlveen, showing that the non-crazy majority of religious and nonreligious have more in common with each other than with their own less-tightly-hinged members. I’ll let you know what happens.
UPDATE: Sure enough, BHA were already on top of it. Messages of support, including several sorry, ONE from a religious believer (not enough), are posted here. There’s also a Facebook Group for the campaign, and it’s being Tweeted avidly.

There is also some misunderstanding about what the ad is advocating. Among other things, it does NOT say families should not attend church together or practice their religious traditions. It simply suggests that children be made to know that the choice of identification is ultimately their own.

This is one of the central messages of Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers. If you support the idea, get busy Tweeting and blogging it. And be sure to extend the circle of support to include religious voices. If you find other good quotes, let me know in the comments.

The Joy of Giving Up / cyhmn? 8

walkingaway4309I started this series-about-Facebook-within-a-series-about-communication by describing an exchange with two normal, non-crazy, hearable and listenable religious friends. I wanted to show (1) that most religious people are, in fact, normal, non-crazy, hearable and listenable, (2) that it’s best to assume someone is all those things until proven otherwise, and (3) that time spent communicating thoughtfully with such friends is time well spent.

On the other hand, I do know many people of religious and nonreligious persuasions for whom no amount of care or thoughtful message crafting justifies the time spent at the potter’s wheel. This post is about giving one’s self permission to recognize pointlessness and walk away, with a smile, before throwing good time and effort after bad.

A recent exchange on Facebook with an old friend — I’ll call him Aaron — illustrates the point.

Though I came to discover a huge gulf between our worldviews since last we met (during the Carter Administration), I doubt very much that Aaron is crazy. I might very well enjoy time in his company as I once did. He has a perfect right to his opinions and to the expression of same. It’s true that I wish fewer people believed as Aaron apparently does. But I think engaging Aaron on religious and related questions offers only an amazing facsimile of actual accomplishment, and that the invested time and energy would be better spent on other things. Like cleaning my gutters.

My exchange with Aaron began when I posted this in my Facebook status:

Congratulations Greg Epstein on the release of “Good Without God: What A Billion Nonreligious People DO Believe.” Sure to be a fine contribution.

Aaron replied

Mr. Epstein is a “Humanist Rabbi”. Isn’t that a little like being an Amish auto-mechanic, lol?

I remember having exactly the same blinkered reaction the first time I heard about Humanistic Judaism ten years ago. Why fault Aaron for being where I once was? So I started with a little empathy, then gave a context for reconsidering:

Hi Aaron! Takes a bit of getting used to, doesn’t it? But 40,000 Secular Humanistic Jews (among others) have understood and embraced it for two generations. Anyone interested in these questions beyond the LOL should read Greg’s book to see how people without theistic beliefs satisfy the same human needs that have traditionally been addressed by religion.

Aaron saw an opening:

Very respectfully Dale, a casual look at the mess-of-a-world around us, in the news, and on talk shows is ample indication of how people have sought satisfaction and fulfillment apart from accountability to the Bible. I think it was Napolean who said, “People will believe anything as long as it isn’t in the Bible”.

At this point I have some choices. Do I challenge his assertion that the world is a mess? Do I challenge the idea that a drift from Biblical accountability is responsible for what mess there is? Do I point out that the Bible has inspired its fair share of the mess? Correct his spelling of Napoleon? Tell him the quote is actually, “People will believe anything as long as you whisper it to them” and was only changed later, and that it was more likely said by trial lawyer Louis Nizer before being reverse-engineered to Napoleon and readapted to the Bible? Do I point out that the whole tired “mess-of-a-world” trope is refuted by the fact that crime across the board is at the lowest level in modern history?

To answer these, answer this: What result am I after?

Ten years ago I would have started with, “Oh Aaron, Aaron. Where do I even begin?”—then gone after every single one of those points in as superior a voice as possible. In the end, I’d imagine him lying in a pool of cyber-blood.

But most of us eventually notice that winning an argument requires that the vanquished recognize his defeat. Sure enough, time after time, I would be amazed and incensed when the other person — apparently unaware of his demise — came back with more nonsense.

I came to realize that these exchanges accomplish precisely nothing but lost time and gained blood pressure. He comes back, I reply, again and again. We consult our mutually-exclusive rulebooks to see who’s winning. And oh how the pretty painted ponies go round and round.

I want those hours back.

xkcdWorse yet, if there’s an audience, such as Facebook friends, a poorly-toned or twelve-point reply can look to the non-choir like so much intellectual bullying. It’s just too much to process as anything else.

One option, rarely taken, is to not reply at all. But but but I have the perfect argument, we say. It’s ever so compelling and irrefutable. Go shout your brilliance into a bucket. Better yet, go find Bob and Andrea. If you proceed thoughtfully, it’s possible to bring a conversation with those two (and most of their fellow reasonables) to an actual conclusion. I may be wrong, but I suspect there is neither end nor purpose to continuing with Aaron. That’s no cause for rudeness or personal disrespect — just an invitation to be done.

So what did I do? I continued anyway. As it happened, I had a minute. My gutters were already clean, and I like to test my own hypotheses about these exchanges. But I continued without illusions. I didn’t unleash a deafening point-by-point but chose a third option: the (potentially) hearable reply.

The hearable reply includes two elements: at least one point of agreement, and ONLY ONE solid, well-supported point of difference:

I share your concern about the mess-of-a-world, Aaron, in a big way. So does Greg. But I think the “casual glance” at causation is precisely what leads us off the mark. Some of the mess is certainly fueled by non-Biblical causes; another large percentage specifically stems from biblical or other religious inspiration. (I’ll assume you don’t need a list.) The best things we can do is get all of us who are concerned with making the world a better place working together instead of drawing lines that divide us.

Another friend forced my hand on a second point, noting that the world in many ways is not more of a mess than before. I agreed with her and offered a link from the US Dept of Justice showing that violent crime is actually at the lowest rate ever.

Aaron was in for a pound:

Terrorism was not in our thoughts a generation ago. Concern for our security and identity, and the measures we need to take to safeguard them, has increased. Carjacking. Pornography. Sex trade. Human and child trafficking. Slave trade. School dropouts. Teen pregnancy. Single-parent households….Increase of welfare as a lifestyle. As the Bible predicted, men will call what is bad as good, and call what is good as bad… I’m reading a terrif book called “The Truth War” by John MacArthur. In his first chapter on Post-Modernism…

At this point I have plenty of evidence that there’s not much to be gained by continuing. He is so deeply siloed that he is unlikely to be able to hear it. More importantly, there’s something to be lost if I look like a bully. I reposted the link he had ignored, mostly so others could see it, and let those who wished to do so fence on.

I used to walk away from these threads only after countless hours of escalating aggravation. Then I began to experience the joy of giving up — the liberating feeling of walking out of pointless exchanges early, with a friendly tip of my hat, my pockets brimming with unexpended arguments and witty retorts, to spend my time and energy hearing others and being heard by them. I don’t always manage it, but when I do, I’m damn proud of my great big grownup self.

coda211002Interesting coda: One of those who continued in discourse with Aaron, gently challenging him for another few rounds, was a friend of mine who I know to be actively religious. If I had bullied Aaron, or appeared to do so, it’s likely that Joseph never would have joined in. By taking a bit of care, I had made it possible for a religious moderate to find more common cause with me than with Aaron. I’ll call that a positive result.

(Comic by the matchless xkcd, through which all life stands explained. Hat tip to blotzphoto!)
[The complete Can You Hear Me Now? series]

[fuehrer221 has logged out]

ERIN (11), doing social studies homework: Hitler isn’t still alive, is he?

DAD: Nope. He killed himself.

ERIN: When did he do that?

DAD: Right at the end of the war. The Soviet Army was closing in, and he shot himself before he could be captured.

ERIN: Omigosh, that’s exactly what happens on Club Penguin all the time!!

DAD: Uh…buh?

ERIN: You can do these karate duels on Club Penguin, and RIGHT when I’m about to beat the other person, he logs out…and I don’t get the points for winning. So Hitler did the same thing??

DAD: Pretty much.

ERIN: Figures. That is totally not fair.

Pigeonhole THIS / Can you hear me now? 7


When she says “I’m Sagittarian”
I confess a pigeonhole starts to form
And is immediately filled with pigeon
When she says her name is Storm.

Tim Minchin, “Storm”

We all do it. We listen for a few clues, then assign a pigeonhole to the speaker. Maybe the beak’s still moving, who knows. It’s hard to hear since we’ve already shoved the bird headfirst into the hole.

Though some might forget this by the end of the page, I’m NOT calling for an end to the pigeonhole. It’s a necessary, practical shortcut. We don’t have the luxury of time or energy for a full investigation into every minor question. When it matters most, I take that time. But for a thousand decisions a day, I pick up clues and come to conclusions before I have all the information. There’s simply no choice.

What I’m suggesting, in the interest of getting more things more right, is that we work on delaying the leap to the pigeonhole just that little bit.

When I listen to another person, I try to listen and think a few minutes beyond my natural tendency to stop — juuust in case the pigeonhole I’m carving isn’t the right fit after all. I find in the end that I make slightly more comfortable pigeonholes that way, better tailored to what the person actually says and thinks.

And I end up with a much more interesting coop.

I’m sure Richard Dawkins wonders at the pigeonhole he’s been jammed into. He has become a conveniently polar figure for atheists and theists alike, the banner carrier for scorched-earth Atheism. But for the most part, it doesn’t fit with what he says, nor even how he says it.

It’s easy to maintain this caricature if you never hear him speak or read his books, or if you do so only through the filter of preconceptions. Richard spends vast whacks of time acknowledging the positive contributions of religion, the Bible’s contribution to Western literature, the need for religious literacy, the difference between moderates and fundamentalists. But once he’s in the extremist pigeonhole, all that nuance goes unnoticed by BOTH sides. Wouldn’t want to have to carve out a whole new hole, now would we.

One of my favorite moments is when one of those carefully-formed complexities finally gets itself noticed by the pigeonholers. The result is pandemonium as the question is raised: Is so-and-so actually in the completely OPPOSITE pigeonhole?

That was the sadly comical case when Antony Flew, under his own power (or not) renounced his atheism (or didn’t) to become a Christian (or a deist, or something else). The Flew affair was not just a battle between believers and nonbelievers, but between pigeonholers and nuance. (If you’re not familiar, the Wikipedia article on Flew includes a nice synopsis of the whole farce.)

Then there was a remarkable speech by Sam Harris at the Atheist Alliance convention in 2007. His talk (as always) was brilliantly crafted and filled with subtleties that most of any given audience can’t hear because they’ve ensconsed him in the pigeonhole of either Extreme-Atheist-Yay! or Extreme-Atheist-Boo!

You’d think the title of his talk — “The Problem with Atheism” — would have forewarned the AAI crowd that this wasn’t the typical self-congratulatory slop on which we sup. But the opening sentences lulled a lot of us into complacency:

To begin, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge just how strange it is that a meeting like this is even necessary. The year is 2007, and we have all taken time out of our busy lives, and many of us have traveled considerable distance, so that we can strategize about how best to live in a world in which most people believe in an imaginary God.

A few sentences later, he tried to signal what was coming:

In thinking about what I could say to you all tonight, it seemed to me that I have a choice between throwing red meat to the lions of atheism or moving the conversation into areas where we actually might not agree. I’ve decided, at some risk to your mood, to take the second approach and to say a few things that might prove controversial in this context.

Then, the crux splendidior of his message:

Given the absence of evidence for God, and the stupidity and suffering that still thrives under the mantle of religion, declaring oneself an “atheist” would seem the only appropriate response. And it is the stance that many of us have proudly and publicly adopted. Tonight, I’d like to try to make the case, that our use of this label is a mistake—and a mistake of some consequence.

Oh dear, thought the group, looking at their nametags and banners. Several hundred atheists had awakened to find themselves holding the flapping pigeon of Sam Harris — and began searching frantically for a new hole into which he could be stuffed.

I won’t excerpt his actual argument here since it must be read in full and slept on, then read again. (Please do that at the end of this post before responding to Harris.)

By the end of this unprecedented speech, Harris provided many in the room with the evidence they needed to dispose of him when he criticized the tendency of many atheists to auto-reject anything that has ever been associated with religion or spirituality.

Take meditation, he said — and proceeded to discuss how important the practice has been to him and how seriously he pursues it.

I could barely hear the rest of the speech for the sound of birds slamming home around me: Sam Harris isn’t a bold atheist crusader after all — he’s a fuzzy-headed devotee of flim-flam and woo-woo!

Those are the only choices, you know.

Harris had “take[n] some pains to denude [meditation] of metaphysics” for the audience, but that went largely unheard. Sure enough, the very first questioner walked to the mike and said, “I was very disapppointed with your speech. I did not know you were a supporter of spiritual nonsense.” Most of the rest were much the same.

A similar re-pigeoning mini-kerfuffle happened recently after Richard Dawkins suggested in a Newsweek interview that some intelligent people believe evolution can be reconciled with traditional religious belief. Even though he said he himself continues to find them irreconcilable, scores of atheist blogs suddenly lit up with the title “RICHARD DAWKINS, ACCOMMODATIONIST?”

I spend a huge amount of energy resisting pigeonholes myself so that my favorite nuances can be heard. Many religious readers see “atheist” and slam me into the hole with Stalin and Pol Pot. Many atheists have me pigeonholed as a “nice atheist” or part of “Atheism 3.0.” It’s often assumed, despite the evidence, that I believe all points of view are deserving of respect, that we should “all just get along.” And when I step out of that cartoon by (for example) suggesting that religious moderates need to “get off their butts” and help me oppose religious extremism, I am accused of violating a Nice Atheist oath I never actually took.

My hope here is to help raise our collective awareness that careless pigeonholing can get in the way of hearing and being heard.

Sam Harris speech in full:

Full text of “The Problem with Atheism” by Sam Harris

Evolution is candy! And so is volunteering.

cplogoNothing seems to come out of Charlie’s Playhouse — whether blog post, newsletter, toy, shirt design, or just plain idea — that isn’t clever and fun. Yesterday Charlie’s boss Kate Miller announced a new project called Ask the Kids:

The 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s amazing book On The Origin of Species is coming up this month. To celebrate, we’re starting a conversation about evolution with kids everywhere…

We’re asking parents to pose one question to their kids: ‘What is evolution?’ …and let us know the very first answer.

Kids’ first thoughts are wonderful — charmingly wrong, spot-on accurate, or revealing what is really important. (“Evolution is candy,” said one 3-year-old.)

We’ll weave their answers into a short, fun video and release it to the world on November 24th, the 150th anniversary of “Origin of Species.” Your kids will be the stars!

Deadline is November 16, and there are parental releases to be signed and such, so don’t put it off! Click here for more.

fbbsquareIN OTHER NEWS: Application forms are now online for volunteer positions with Foundation Beyond Belief. We’re looking for

MEMBERSHIP DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANTS to build the Foundation’s membership prior to the full launch on January 1 launch. Especially seeking those with knowledge of/access to Unitarian Universalism, Ethical Culture, local and/or national atheist and humanist organizations, general parenting groups, Atheist Nexus, or existing forums or groups devoted to our cause areas.

CHARITABLE GIVING ASSISTANTS to assist our Charitable Giving Coordinator in gathering information about potential featured charities, managing and organizing charity nominations by members, and working with featured charities to select video, graphics, and text to present the best information for members during the feature period.

FORUM MODERATOR beginning January 1, 2010 to manage an active forum for discussion of our ten charitable categories, philanthropy in general, and humanism.

SOCIAL MEDIA COORDINATOR with significant experience as a user and/or administrator of social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Atheist Nexus, YouTube, etc. to monitor, coordinate, and update the Foundation’s many social media accounts.

PARENT EDUCATION COORDINATOR to help plan and execute the first stages of our program of parent support communities nationwide AND to establish a parent resource center on the website (Informal volunteer position to start. On January 1, 2010, we hope to open a formal search and convert to a paid quarter-time position.)

PARENT EDUCATION RESOURCE ASSISTANTS to staff our online parent resource center (including downloable documents, curricula, reviews, and family ideas for our parent education program) in conjunction with our Parent Ed Coordinator and Webmaster.

PARENTING COMMUNITY LEADERS to form groups of ten or more nontheistic parents in their local communities with a dual social and educational purpose. Leaders will receive training from me via web-based conferencing and financial and material support to get their communities off the ground.

CLICK HERE for more information or to apply.

50 Voices of Disbelief

50voicesWe interrupt the series Can You Hear Me Now? to bring you even more combinations of 26 letters and 10 punctuation marks.

I’ve begun receiving more than the usual number of questions about my “path” vis-a-vis religious questions — which as it happens is the topic of my chapter in the newly-released 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists. So I’ve decided to post the chapter here.

First of all, a note about the cover of the book, which I mentioned in passing a few weeks ago. I asked the co-editor Russell Blackford what the thinking was behind the snuffed black candle in darkness, which I thought might play into the idea of atheism as the death of hope.

No, he said:

It is supposed to represent the light of reason kind of snuffed out, and surrounded by the darkness of superstition. When you open the book, there’s a reference to this in the introduction, but then each essay has a lit candle near the top of its first page, next to its author’s name, as if the various authors are relighting the candle of reason.

Lovely. A bit subtle for the average cover-skimmer (c’est moi!), but there it is.

I just received my copy in the mail last week, so I’ve only just moved beyond cover-skimming to page-riffling, but it looks like a good read. Russell and Udo’s idea was to gather personal stories from prominent nonbelievers (and me) about why we believe as we do. Surprisingly, this was something of a gap in the literature, and I’m happy to be a part of filling that gap.

My contribution is too long for a regular post, so instead it’s a link in the sidebar, and will remain so. Might be a good thing, since I manage in the course of the essay to answer most of the common questions I get about my own background. Now, instead of stringing together letters and punctuation over and over, I can point and grunt.

Read “The Unconditional Love of Reality” by Dale McGowan,
from 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists