Monday, September 26, 2011

    Freethinkers Share Food and Fun

     The second Freethinkers potluck lunch, held September 18th, was a rip-roaring success, attracting attendance that doubled that of the inaugural event.  The quality and variety of the potluck offerings attested to the imagination and creativity that we would expect from Freethinkers. 

    Judging by the noise level, great discussions were being held at all of the tables, on topics ranging from vegan activism through the current state of politics to, of course, what distinguishes Humanism from garden-variety atheism.

    LuAnn had come with her 14-year-old daughter to the initial potluck as their first HSGP event. LuAnn has “always been more of a scientist” and was “looking for a community to replace church”. She left the Lutheran Church years ago and was envious of friends who still had their church community.  We’re happy to note that LuAnn decided to join our HSGP community and attended Sunday’s event as a new member.  

    The potluck was followed by a screening of Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Attendance for the joint event totaled 52 freethinkers. In addition to HSGP members, the event was advertised to the Phoenix Atheists Meetup Group and Phoenix Skepticsin the Pub.

    Contributed by Linda Wendler, John Sadowsky, Shelley Newman.

    Wednesday, September 21, 2011

    Jake DaSilva: How I became a Humanist...

    ...since I wasn't always.

    When I was a little kid I noticed that my dad did not ever go to church or talk about being religious. Simultaneously my mother would force my sister and me to go to church and special classes on the weekend to learn about Catholicism. I hated to go to church. It was boring and I felt like my life was literally being stolen from me. I also thought it was unsanitary to drink wine after all those other people. I also did not like wine.

    Once, when I asked my mom about germs on the communal wineglass she said, “don’t worry. God will clean it.”


    My dad was a voracious science fiction reader and science-buff. So I would often read over the short articles in his Science News magazine. And while they were over my head, I started to realize how ridiculous the nonsense I was being taught about the bible was.

    This made me a skeptic, but it did not turn me into a full-tilt atheist – let alone a Secular Humanist.

    I started asking questions in my Catholic classes. And the nuns were none-too-pleased about it. They would tell me how God did not want women to have abortions. I asked why and they told me God loves life and that one of those aborted “babies” could have grown up to cure cancer.

    I returned the volley with this: “If God likes life so much then why doesn’t he just give me the cure. I’d be happy to give it to everyone.”

    Eventually, nuns and creepy priests-in-training who taught those classes took to inviting me to leave when I would question too often. Flattered by their invitations I would often walk out unceremoniously and stand in the snowy cold of Ohio winter rather than listen to their craziness.

    Around this time, in my early adolescence, my skepticism about religion led me to disavow God. Looking back on it, it was rather thrilling. And it came down to this: My dad shared a refrain with me that still sticks with me today: “Religion is a crutch for the weak-minded.” I don’t know where he got that, I only know it re-sculpted my mind and I knew then that my dad did not believe.

    When it came time to be “confirmed” I told my mom that I was just going to go through the motions and lie to the priest about believing in God. I told her I did not believe in God anymore. My dad watched this whole thing closely, and merely suggested that I play along with the ludicrous ritual to keep from making waves.

    For me, as a working-class kid in semi-rural Ohio, the wonders of science came mostly in the form of Nova documentaries on PBS or my father’s aforementioned Science News magazines. So, these did little to really push me over the edge into atheism. What did it for me was misery, sadness, poverty, wars, famine, disease, the cruelty in everyday life, death, pain, etc.

    I just could not understand why an all-powerful god would allow this when he could just make the whole place a paradise. So, for a brief moment, I was like: “This God guy is a total asshole. I hope he sends me to hell. I’ll help Lucifer raise hell!”

    But then I just started to think that the chaos I saw throughout my community and on TV throughout the world was just that – chaos. No God governed us. We governed ourselves, for good or bad, in a bicameral congress with Nature.

    And all the science I learned from then on only reinforced my atheism.

    And one day, when I was 16 and a hardcore atheist, I was in an argument with my superstitious Catholic mother about going to Catholic classes on weekends. The argument was heated. When my dad finally got in the middle of it he said, “Leave the boy be! He doesn’t need to go to those classes anymore. He is old enough to make his own choices. And it looks like he made his choice about religion.”

    It was an amazingly liberating moment. No more church. No more Catholic classes. No more creepy priests and nuns. I was freed from religion.

    Through college and grad school I dabbled in Atheist related activism, nothing too big. And what I noticed was that atheism lacks a set of values. So, I felt a void.

    Ironically, my highly religious mother got me into reading Kurt Vonnegut. I tore through all his works. When I began reading about Vonnegut I found out that he was a secular humanist. And then I read about humanism and I joined the national organization for humanists – the AmericanHumanist Association – when I was in grad school.

    The void of values I found in atheism was filled by the philosophy of secular humanism. Now I am both an atheist and a secular humanist. And I am proud to be a dues-paying member of the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix.

    Monday, September 12, 2011

    Peter Hand: "How I Became a Humanist"

    I grew up with parents who were not very religious.  My Father was a survivor of one of the great US Concentration Camps of the Depression: St. John's Orphanage in Brooklyn, New York.  My mother was a "light" Methodist, who rarely went to church.  When I was about 10, my mother won an apparent battle with my father and sent my brother and I to Sunday School at the local Methodist Church where we lived, in Simsbury, Connecticut.  It was a pleasant experience full of story telling, punch and cookies. 

    By the time I was 12, we were offered the opportunity to memorize the 23rd Psalm and for this, we would get a Bible with our name embossed on the cover.  It seemed like a good deal to me.  Not that I would ever read the thing, because even at that age, I thought the language in the "modern" King James bible was so completely archaic, that it wasn't easy at all to understand, and required that you read a passage eight or nine times just to figure out what they were talking about.  Ramping up to the recital of the bible, a new requirement popped up: We were encouraged to accept Jesus as our savior.  I discussed this at length with my Sunday school teacher, much to her dismay, without ever coming to an understanding of just what that meant.  I knew I wasn't a sinner.  I was a good kid.  If God couldn't see that, he wasn't very interested or astute. And it made no sense that saying I accepted Jesus as my savior would make the difference between God accepting me or not. 

    After completely exhausting my Sunday school teacher, I got up the nerve to ask our Minister, Mr. Amrein.  Now, I was a very small kid. Even today, I am only about 5'5", although, I am very broad and muscular, so I don't look small, but back then, I was tiny.  Mr. Amrein was well over 6' and very intimidating to me, despite the fact that he was a really nice guy.  I caught him in the hall outside my Sunday school room and asked him for a moment of his time.  I told him that I very much wanted to accept Jesus as my savior, but was completely at a lost as to how to do it and why it is at all necessary.  The same arguments that had stumped my teacher, confounded Minister Amrein.  He didn't last nearly as long, of course, and after 5 minutes, he sent me back to my Sunday school teacher for any further assistance.  I began to think to myself "This is a hoax! No one really knows!  They all just fake it and say they're part of this club!"  I began to dismiss the whole thing right then and there.

    I went on to recite the psalm and get the bible.  But Minister Amrein and my Sunday school teacher told me that there were no answers here, and that the whole thing was a sham.  Part of this was because the myths and stories they told me, that were supposedly "true", were outrageous, even to an 11 year old with a very active imagination.  Shortly after receiving my bible, my parents sat my brother and me down and asked if we wanted to continue going to church.  Our alternative activity was to have extra time to complete our chores or watch TV.  DONE! My brother and I didn't even hesitate!  For a year, we were church free.

    The following year, I went to the local Unitarian Church with a friend and really thought I had found my home.  The lay teachers in the religious education program there taught us about the Hopi, the Navajo, the Christians, Jews, Baha'i, Muslims, you name it! It was fascinating.  And the best part was the thing they told us with every story: Take the part of this story that is true to you and make it part of your story.  You don't need to believe in anything in particular to be a good person, this is just information that shows you how history has presented certain behaviors to guide you.  If you disagree, do something different!

    About 35 years later, after being president of a Unitarian church and very involved at times over the years, I decided to leave.   The UUA's message of "All religion has something to offer" was something I wasn't sure I believed and I had heard all of the sermons based on the bible that I ever wanted to hear.  In my time as President of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bartlesville (OK), I even counselled a visiting minister to go easy on the mix of bible-related stories because the group there was mostly atheists and not interested in that type of thing.  After one sermon, where she related stories from the bible, the pews were full at first, but by the end of the first half, 90% of the group had left or gotten a jump on coffee hour.

    When I moved from Oklahoma, I ran into church after church of Unitarian communities that were Bible-rich.  I stopped going altogether.  I had identified myself as a secular humanist for many years at that point and was just going to have to content myself with using my Sundays to catch up on my chores and watch cartoons.  I have written a web site with a presentation called "A Discussion about God" to help people understand my beliefs further.  It's

    Friday, September 9, 2011

    Anita Romanowski: "How I Became a Humanist"

    Was “God” arrogantly created in the image of the human male?  Yes, I think so.

    I don’t like to use the word belief, for believing is not necessarily knowing.  Therefore, I do not believe or disbelieve in what has not been unequivocally proven or disproven.  However, I absolutely do not believe in any god or gods created by man.  Nobody knows how everything came to be.  That saddens me, because I’m quite certain my intense curiosity will not be satisfied before I die.

    How did I become a humanist?  Well, it was a long evolution.  My passionate interest in science has played a huge role. 

    After making my first communion, I went to confession every Saturday so I could receive Jesus into my body on Sunday morning.  Many of us young Catholics actually believed that we could commit any “sin” during the week because we’d be forgiven by the priest on Saturday.  Slowly, I began to think, why do I need to confess my minor transgressions to some mortal human when I really should be taking responsibility for my own actions. 

    I think the death of my maternal grandmother was the beginning of my journey toward rejecting religion.  Why did this wonderful, nurturing woman have to suffer a life of an unhappy, arranged marriage and heart and kidney failure?  After her death my mother forced me to go to church every Sunday and light a candle for her mother.  It got to the point where I just couldn’t take it anymore and stopped going to church altogether.  I was 18 years old.

    Beginning in my preteens, I watched every TV program having to do with science fiction and documentaries on anything related to science, technology and medicine.

    The “birth” of the Hubble Telescope opened up a whole new universe for me, literally.  If it is possible for a person to be head-over-heels in love with an inanimate object, this my feeling towards the Hubble.  I might even be inclined to say that I “worship” the thing.

    I used to think that astronomy was just looking at the stars and identifying the constellations.  Wow, was I ever wrong!  Stars, galaxies, nebulas, black holes, pillars of creation, neutron stars, dark matter, dark energy, antimatter, quasars, supernovas, the list goes on and on.  The more I learn, the more I want to learn and the more questions I have.  It’s absolutely exhilarating!

    In another twist of my evolving non-beliefs, I was listening to sermons in church and watching people pray to plaster statues while I was looking at the live plants arranged at the altar and praying to nature.  Slowly, I began to theorize that God is in nature, indeed is nature.  The mysticism I was hearing just didn’t jive with the reality I was witnessing in the world.  How could a loving benevolent God be allowing so much strife and suffering to occur to all the living things he loves in the world he created?  More and more I began to think, where does all the supernaturalism and mysticism of religion fit into all of this?  Nowhere I can think of.

    I apparently was born with the ability to reason, to analyze situations, to find solutions to solvable problems, to be a free-thinker, to see events as they really are and not as I think they should be.  Eureka – I’m a critical thinker!

    Religious beliefs are so deep-rooted in the psyche of the general human population, that I don’t foresee any earth-shattering changes in the blind faith shared by all believers.

    My childhood was not a very pleasant one, so I built emotional walls against being hurt by people.  With the help of some psychological counseling, I came to realize that my feelings and emotions are valid and I’m entitled to them.  I also realized that the same holds true to everyone and began to become more sensitive to, and accepting of, people.  Ah, the dawn of Humanism on my narrow little mind.

    Upon entering my 30s was becoming more sensitive to the homelessness and abusive situations of animals.  As a long-time volunteer with animal welfare agencies, I’ve become aware of a growing need for pet parenting education.  In my opinion, pet and child parenting are one and the same.  My concern for animals has helped me become more sensitive to some of the problems faced by people.

    After having subscribed to Free Inquiry magazine for many years, I decided to search for a Humanist organization in the Phoenix area.  I found HSGP on line and went to a meeting.  I was so impressed by the camaraderie and the speaker that I immediately joined the membership.  That was three years ago.  I have become extremely involved with the organization, becoming the Membership Chairperson and now am a board member at large.

    Humanism has given me a true, caring family.