The Meming of Life: on secular parenting and other natural wonders

Joe Klein apologizes (Genre: Fantasy)

Joe_Klein_2011_ShankboneIn his recent cover story for TIME magazine titled “Can Service Save Us?“, Joe Klein got something wrong.

Hey, it happens.

I happened to be in Oklahoma City when I saw the article. I had the privilege of meeting with some secular humanists there who organized volunteers, resources, and blood drives, teamed with local businesses to feed relief volunteers, and drove bulk donations around the city to distribution centers after the tornadoes. They drove backhoes into neighborhoods to clear rubble and get the rebuilding started, took people into their own homes, fed them and clothed them.

I told them about the efforts of the secular humanist organization I direct, including partnering with the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma to put 100,000 meals in the hands of the survivors of the storms. Foundation Beyond Belief, Atheists Giving Aid, Oklahoma Atheists, the Atheist Community of Tulsa, the Lawton Area Secular Society, the Norman Naturalism Group, FreeOK, the Oklahoma State Secular Organization — the response from the secular humanist and atheist community was overwhelming. Some gave money (nearly a quarter million dollars in ten days), and others gave untold time and energy.

But Joe didn’t describe our efforts in his article.

That’s fine. I mean my goodness, you can’t name every single group that helped out, be reasonable. But unlike other organizations that he didn’t name, Joe went out of his way to specifically say that our organizations were not there:

But there was an occupying army of relief workers, led by local first responders, exhausted but still humping it a week after the storm, church groups from all over the country — funny how you don’t see organized groups of secular humanists giving out hot meals

I’d say it’s funny how you don’t see what you don’t look for.

These atheist and humanist contributions to the disaster relief effort were not hard to find. A five-second Google search turns up almost every one of them. But Klein checked only his assumptions and biases, and in so doing reinforced the assumptions and biases of his readers — just about the most shameful thing a journalist can do. Even the time-honored test of substituting another subgroup (“funny how you don’t see any organized groups of Jews/blacks/women handing out meals” etc.) should have been enough to slap the sleeping journalist awake in Klein’s head, pushing his cursor the scant few inches needed to open the browser of his choice and see whether that thing he assumed was true was actually true.

After being flooded with indignant emails for a few days, Joe posted what he must have seen as a clarification under the darkly snarky title “Secular Humanist Watch.” He didn’t say there weren’t any secular humanists in the relief effort, you see. He said there weren’t organized groups of secular humanists. He then tangents into an irrelevant discourse on his own beliefs and mis-defines atheism and secular humanism before restating the whopper:

[I]t is certainly true, as my critics point out, that secular humanists, including atheists, can be incredibly generous. I never meant to imply they weren’t. But they are not organized.

This is the jump from carelessness to the lie. He had just been flooded with proof that there was a large, organized secular humanist and atheist presence in the relief effort. Instead of apologizing for a careless error, he opted for an outrageous doubling down. And now, instead of focusing on the good work we’re trying to do, we have to complain, something that further reinforces stereotypes. I hate that.

Here’s the apology that a person of character and integrity might have made:

Dear Readers:

In my recent TIME cover story on service, I said that you don’t see organized groups of secular humanists giving out meals after a disaster. Apparently this is not at all true. To be honest, it’s something I thought was true. I am accustomed to seeing religious organizations on the scene, as well as non-sectarian NGOs, but I was not aware that secular humanist organizations have also been present — not just as individuals, but as part of the organized, collective effort to diminish suffering and heal a broken community. This was news to me, and good news at that. With a little more care, I could have brought that news to my readers and enhanced the story.

As it turns out, it would have been quite easy to discover this fact. I simply didn’t think this particular claim needed checking. I was wrong about that, and for that I am sorry.

I’m particularly troubled to realize that my claim disregarded the hard work and dedication of real people who opened their hearts to the victims of the tragedy in Oklahoma, just as their religious friends and neighbors had opened their hearts. I erased these folks, and worse still, reinforced the popular mistrust that exists against them. That is simply not okay.

I briefly considered writing a follow-up that defended my statement on technical grounds, noting that I said there were no organized secular humanist groups, or something to that effect. But I quickly realized that this was just as untrue as the original statement, and that it was more important at any rate to reverse the harm done than to defend my own work.

So thanks to those of you who corrected me on this. I’m always glad to learn something new. It keeps me growing as a journalist and as a human being.

Much better.

How you can help after the Boston bombing

The humanist members and staff of Foundation Beyond Belief extend our hearts to everyone affected by the tragic bombing in Boston on April 15.

FBB has become a touchpoint for compassionate humanist action in the freethought community. That’s a responsibility we take very seriously. When a tragic event like this one happens, many atheists and humanists contact us to see if FBB will mount a crisis response drive. We examined the Boston situation carefully and decided we could be most helpful by pointing toward existing efforts.

If you would like to assist the victims of the bombing and their families, here are a few ways to help:

candsThe Harvard Humanists shared the news that one of their volunteers and her daughter were badly injured in the bombing. Celeste and Sydney Corcoran are both enduring extensive surgeries, and Celeste lost both legs below the knee. Consider making a donation to help the family cope with the financial burden. You can learn more about Celeste and Sydney here.

The One Fund Boston is a fund started by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino to assist the families most affected by the bombing. Individuals and businesses are contributing to this fund, including a $1 million commitment from John Hancock and donations from many other corporations. “The One Fund Boston will act as a central fund to receive much needed financial support,” according to Governor Patrick.

Those looking for a specifically nontheistic response might consider the drive currently underway through We Are Atheism, Atheists Giving Aid. We Are Atheism intends to distribute the funds to local Boston agencies and/or directly to the families affected.

The Red Cross reported that, thanks to generous donors, the blood supply was adequate to meet demand after the bombing, but people across the country can always schedule an appointment to donate blood.

Double the members. Double the donations. Double the good works.

Screen shot 2013-03-31 at 12.48.20 PMFoundation Beyond Belief, one of the loves of my life, is going through a pretty profound transformation this year. Thanks to the generosity of a few extraordinary donors this year, our programs are expanding rapidly, including a pilot for an international humanist service corps that launches this summer. (Much more on that soon.)

But the humanist giving program remains at the heart of what we do — over 1,350 individual humanists contributing what they can on a monthly basis to make the world a better place. We’ve supported over 100 outstanding charities since our 2010 launch and expect to clear $1 million in total donations by year’s end. And every dollar designated for our featured charities goes to those charities.

I know a lot of Meming of Life readers are also Foundation members, and that seriously warms my cockles. If you invite a friend to join and they tell us you referred them, you’ll be entered in a drawing for some cool thank-you prizes, and so will they! (Deets here.)

If you’re not a member yet, now is a GREAT time to join. For one thing, you’ll help us reach our goal of doubling our giving membership by the end of 2013. The giving is simple and fully in your control. You choose your own giving level, starting as low as $5 a month, then distribute your donations among our five cause areas based on your own vision of humanism.

So why not join us now, or watch this video, THEN join, or learn more here, THEN join. Thanks!

Screen shot 2013-03-31 at 12.50.19 PM

Checking in on FBB

Foundation Beyond Belief, the humanist giving community I first announced on this blog, is continuing to grow, and I realized recently I haven’t been keeping Meming of Life readers in the loop very well. Bad Dad.

We now have over 1,300 contributing members and have raised over three-quarters of a million dollars for more than 100 charities since our 2010 launch. Volunteers Beyond Belief now includes teams of humanist volunteers in 23 cities across the U.S., and we’re launching our first international affiliates in Canada and Australia later this year.

Here’s a peek at our current slate of beneficiaries:

Now why not join up?

You want this book

I really shouldn’t presume that you want this book. It’s just that…you kinda do.

I’m giving away three signed, personalized copies of my most recent book Voices of Unbelief: Documents from Atheists and Agnostics to support the year-end fund drive of Foundation Beyond Belief.

It’s a ripping good cause. The humanist members and supporters of FBB have had an astonishing year. We raised over half a million dollars for 24 charities, including our first ever Light the Night drive for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society. We expanded our network of humanist volunteer teams to 23 cities, and we’re poised to launch FBB affiliates in Australia and Canada. Next year we hope to double our membership, launch a new and improved website, and top $1 million in donations.

We make all that happen with a small, dedicated staff and a really reasonable budget. But the budget is still a positive number, and we rely on grants and direct donations to keep the lights on.

So here’s the deal: Join or donate to FBB during December, and for every $5 of membership level or $10 donation you give, you’ll be entered in a drawing for one of three signed, personalized copies of Voices of Unbelief.

Three reasons you just might want this book:

1. Most people will never own it.
It’s an expensive, large-format, high-quality hardcover, intended mostly for universities and libraries. The list price is $100 (and 0 < 100). 2. It’s unique.
The book is built around 47 documents by atheists and agnostics throughout history. In addition to the US and Europe, there are voices from Persia, Uganda, Nigeria, India, and China. The material includes essays, letters, journal entries, clandestine manuscripts, and even transcripts from Inquisition interrogations. Sure, it has Russell and Dawkins, but also Julia Sweeney and Mr. Deity.

3. It includes rare and never-before-published items.
Among several rarities, you’ve probably never read the amazing transcripts of Inquisition interrogations from the 14th century that are included -– because they’ve never been published before in English.

Click to donate to FBB – every $10 gets you 1 entry
Click to join FBB – every $5 of membership level gets you 1 entry

Thanks for putting humanist compassion to work for a better world!

Now it’s getting serious

Just five days until I can get back to telling you about Atheism for Dummies. But first, I need your help with a problem.

Foundation Beyond Belief means the world to me. You know that. I want to see it succeed in expanding the reach and impact of compassionate humanism around the world. It’s the most meaningful work I’ve ever done.

You may also know that we’re in the running for a Chase Community Giving grant that would completely transform our work. But today, after several good days, we’re slipping in the ranks. This is serious. So I’m asking, from the bottom of my heart: If you haven’t voted yet, we really, really need you. Can you take a minute to help us out?

If any of my books have been helpful to you, this would be the best possible way to say thanks right now. And while you’re there, consider sharing to your Facebook page. Thank you!

Cast your vote

UPDATE 15 Sept. 8:00 pm: After an incredible surge on Friday, we’re rising again and are now just 96 votes away from the $50,000 grant. Thanks for taking the time to make this happen! Voting ends September 19.

What we do

Thanks to your votes, Foundation Beyond Belief is now #54 in the Chase Community Giving competition with seven days to go. That means we’re in striking distance of a $50,000 grant.

This grant would completely transform our ability to focus and encourage generosity and compassion in the atheist and humanist community. Since our launch, we’ve created a network of 18 volunteer teams across the U.S and raised nearly half a million dollars for charities around the world. Here’s the idea:

The video’s out of date — in fact, a new video is one of many things a grant would buy. We’d also double the size of our Volunteer network, redesign our website to better tell the stories of the outstanding charities we support, and much more.

I’m really proud to do this work, and I want to do it better. This grant will help immensely. All we need are clicks!

Please take just a moment to vote for FBB in the Chase Community Giving competition

FBB needs your clicks!

This is so big — and so, so easy.

Foundation Beyond Belief is one of several thousand charities nominated for a Chase Community Giving grant. Two hundred charities will win grants of $10,000 to $250,000 based entirely on public votes. Voting has begun, and we are currently #67. If we stay there, we’ll earn $25,000, an amount that would completely transform our ability to put humanist compassion to work next year. Just 150 votes would launch us to #45, which is $50,000.

This is HUGE.

Please take a moment to click the link, approve the annoying app, and cast your vote for Foundation Beyond Belief. If you can share with your friends, that’s gravy. Voting ends September 19, so I’m afraid I’ll be a pest for nine more days.

VOTE FOR FBB!

UPDATE 9:00pm: When I posted this we were at 442 votes and #67. We’re now at 607 and #57. If you’ve voted, please click the link to return to your vote page and share the link from there!

Intern for Foundation Beyond Belief!

(You know you want to.)

Foundation Beyond Belief is now accepting internship applications for Fall 2012! The internships run Aug 1 – Jan 31 and average 8 hours per week on a volunteer basis. Interns assist the Foundation with membership development, researching and selecting featured charities, donor management, outreach, communications (including blog and social media), program design, and creative organizational development.

Desirable characteristics include:

• Self-discipline, self-direction, reliability
• High personal motivation and perseverance
• Enthusiasm for and commitment to the Foundation’s mission
• Demonstrated familiarity/involvement with the freethought community
• Clear written communication skills
• Creative problem-solving abilities

Experience in the nonprofit sector is not a requirement. Experience in grant writing or other development capacities is a plus, but is also not a requirement.

To learn more about the intern positions or how to apply, go here. Deadline July 23.

Help FBB pin the needle

New Year’s Eve is a scary time in the inboxes of America as non-profits and political orgs invoke their boogeymen to squeeze out the last 2011 donations. Democrats put a flashlight under their chin and talk about Gingrinches and Bachmenn massing just beyond the horizon. Same flashlight for the Republicans, but they only have to say socialism. Secularist organizations warn of creeping theocracy, and the religious warn of creeping secularism.

Not really one for scare tactics myself, which may put me at a disadvantage here in the final hours of the Foundation Beyond Belief fund drive. The drive is vital to our work, but I can’t say anything scary will happen in 2012 if we don’t meet our goal — just fewer cool things.

And OH, the cool things we have planned! We’re hoping to have a presence at Reason Rally, Rock Beyond Belief, and the International Freethought Film Festival, expand our humanist volunteer network to four more cities, completely revamp our website, and give our quarter-millionth dollar to charity. We’re also about to launch a national FBB Team to raise funds for a major cancer-fighting charity (no, not THAT one).

For all that positive humanism, I hope you’ll agree that our own financial needs are pretty reasonable.

I must say I’m feeling a little giddy about the drive (though mentioning that is an outrageous violation of the Fund Drive Rules). In all channels combined — widgets, website, and checks in the mail — this year’s drive is now at $12,550 [Update 8:39 pm: $14,110!]. That’s really close to securing a quarter of the modest funding we need for 2012, which has me dancing in my jammies. If we end up raising the additional $2,450 $890 in the next 11 3 hours, I may just have to sing in them.

The drive ends at 11:45 Eastern Standard Time tonight. If you’ve already given, THANK YOU — it means more than you know. If you haven’t yet, and you can, we’d be grateful for any amount to help us blow through the goal and keep humanist compassion growing and thriving in 2012.

UPDATE JAN 1, 2012: We finished the drive at $14,460. That’s 97 percent of the goal. I am thrilled and relieved. All of our plans for 2012 can go forward. Sincere thanks to all of our very generous donors! We will make you proud this year.