Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Boston Nonsense Watch: Maum flyers seen in the wild


I've just uploaded a new document to the Boston Atheists Meetup files section, accessible here. It's a PDF scan of a flyer I saw at Panera Bread at Alewife plaza where I was meeting other members of the Sunday Assembly Boston planning team. What caught my eye was the provocative slogan on the front panel: STOP THINKING. Whoa! Is thinking so dangerous? I've been doing it all this time... think of the damage I might have been doing to myself!

So I pick it up and, lo and behold, it turns out to be up a propaganda for Maum Meditation, a network of cultish storefront offices found across the globe. Maum links its gospel messages of "Calm your spirit!" (hmm, okay) and "Empty your mind!" (wait, what?) to the fashionable craze for gobbledygook neuro-nonsense. The Maum system may be nothing more than a heap of reheated philosophicalish New Age fluff married to scientific-sounding terminology, but it is very good at extracting money from members-cum-victims.

Now, I see these flyers all over town: cafes, bookstores, stacked on the inside counter at beauty salons and grocery stores. When I see them through the window, I go inside, and in businesslike fashion, pick up the whole stack, and leave. I throw them away in the first trash can I pass, ripping them in half first to ensure that they aren't put back into circulation by well-meaning parties who don't know the background about Maum.

There are a number of other dubious outfits in Boston, including Twelve Tribes, New Acropolis, and Eckankar. (And of course members likely already know about the fine brownstone on Beacon Street off Mass Ave near the south footing of the Harvard Bridge, the one that houses the Boston branch of the Church of Scientology.) Let's make a collective agreement to stay alert to these kinds of organizations. Some may be benign, or merely nonsensical, while others that seem just as nonthreatening may afflict members with coercive, disorienting, destructive teachings and pressures. Make sure to let us know here at Boston Nonsense Watch headquarters about anything you want us to know more about.

Boston Nonsense Watch is a free service of the Boston Atheists.

Related reading:

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Slate: "The Real Victims of Satanic Ritual Abuse"

Everyone's been talking about the proposal to put a statue of Satan on the grounds of the Oklahoma state house; it's timely then that we see this article at Slate magazine, reporting on recent affairs relating to one of the strangest, widest-reaching, and most damaging moral panics in America’s history: the satanic ritual abuse panic of the 1980s and 1990s."

From the article:
"[It] was literally a witch hunt," said Keith Hampton, pro-bono lawyer for the Kellers. "We say ‘witch hunt’ in this figurative way, but that was a modern-day literal witch hunt. They really were after people who they thought were worshipping at the feet of the Dark Lord."
The defendants profiled in the article seem to have been the victims of a bizarre and antirational social affair, but that isn't to say that child abuse itself is a figment of overactive supernaturalistic imaginations. I think here to mention the good work of the organization CHILD ("Children's Healthcare Is a Legal Duty"), that works to identify and lobbies to close legal loopholes that allow persons guilty of religiously-motivated medical neglect of children to avoid prosecution.

The example closest to home of this kind of abuse is seen in the Christian Science religion, whose teachings tell parents that prayer facilitated by a religious practitioner is enough to heal any ailment... as long as one's faith is strong enough, of course.

Related reading

  • "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds" by Charles MacKay
  • "Why People Believe Weird Things" by Michael Shermer
  • "A Delusion Of Satan: The Full Story Of The Salem Witch Trials" by Frances Hill and Karen Armstrong
  • Tuesday, January 07, 2014

    CBS Boston asks: Should we have religious monument in govt buildings?

    Continuing the conversation started by the proposal to place a statue of Satan at Oklahoma's state capitol, the Facebook team at CBS Boston has asked a question:
    Should commissioners approve the monument, or should religious monuments not be allowed at a government building?
    Well, no.

    The civic space should be equally accessible to all members of the community, since it is owned collectively by that community.

    Philosophy and ethics are determinedly private matters, and cannot be readily translated into public language that we can all partake in. It isn't about removing contentious symbols that might offend some people; it is about making sure our government does its work in a language we can all speak. (See John Rawls for more about the distinction between private and public language.)

    Here's an interesting thought: Why don't we think of the concrete absence in the public space of symbols that are religious or similarly "private" in nature, as a monument in itself? A monument that says something in its silence about our solemn shared commitment to a form of government in which persons of all and any creed can all participate equally.

    (cross-posted from the Atheology blog)

    Thursday, November 14, 2013

    Foreigners: "American religion is weirdly prominent."

    Over at Thought Catalog, Michael Koh's scraped together a list of responses by Quora.com contributors answering the question, "What couldn't you believe about America before moving here?" What's interesting is how many of the respondents were surprised by the prominence of American religiousity. Here are some of the responses having to do with religion:

    • Triya Bhattacharya, India, writes: "I always thought that America must be very laid-back about religion, like Europe, but that was not true. And one of the weirdest things I encountered was a Jewish person (in the black suit) preaching to us on the subway to believe in God, and Apocalypse or something, and giving us “Trillion dollar” notes with this stuff written on it."
    • Riona MacNarmara, Ireland, writes: "[I was surprised by] Religion being an actual thing. Prayer breakfasts in the White House. Educated people believing in creationism. The number of churches and denominations. People actually going to church." 
    • Olof Ã…kerlund, Sweden, writes: "The role of religion is much stronger here than in other Western nations. Things like creationism are usually believed by a handful of people in other places, but here it seems to be at least a force to be reckoned with." 

     For more perspectives on life in these United States from newcomers to America, visit the original thread on Quora.com.

    Thursday, October 24, 2013

    More links about Oprah's atheist-shaming, part 1

    Upworthy.com by Adam Mordecai:
    "Oprah Tells An Atheist She Believes In God. The Atheist Responds Like A Christian. Or Any Human."

    Description: "I'm an atheist. PLEASE DON'T CLOSE THIS WINDOW YET! By being an atheist, I am in no way judging others' beliefs. I just lack them. Same with Diana Nyad, the world class swimmer and all-around awesome human being. We still have moral codes, just like everyone else. We just are slightly different. Which Oprah didn't think was possible. However, Oprah recovered nicely toward the end and really listened, which was a pleasant surprise. Yay for civilized conversation!"

    Link: http://www.upworthy.com/oprah-tells-an-atheist-she-believes-in-god-the-atheist-responds-like-a-christian-or-any-human

    *

    Hindustan Times, from Asian News Service:
    "Oprah Winfrey mocked by atheists for god advice"

    Description: "Oprah Winfrey has come under fire from atheists after she suggested that non-believers cannot experience "awe" and "wonder" of the universe and if they do experience it, then they should believe in god."

    Link: http://www.hindustantimes.com/entertainment/tabloid/oprah-winfrey-mocked-by-atheists-for-god-advice/article1-1136297.aspx

    *

    Secular Woman, by multiple contributors:
    "Awe and Wonder and Oprah"

    Description: "While Oprah almost certainly meant to try to find common ground, she did something far too many religious individuals do without thinking: rather than actually seeking common ground ... she forced atheists into her own religious paradigm." (With a list of reader-contributed answers to the question, "What makes gives atheists a sense of awe and wonder?"

    Link: http://www.secularwoman.org/awe_and_wonder

    *

    Charisma News, by Kimberly Winston for Religious News Service:
    "Why the Atheist Agenda Is Furious at Oprah"

    Description: "Within a day or two of the broadcast, several prominent atheist leaders and organizations issued statements expressing disappointment with Winfrey. Most saw in the talk show host’s rejection of Nyad’s atheism what polls, studies and often their own experience tell them—that atheists are among the least trusted and least liked Americans."

    Link: http://www.charismanews.com/us/41457-why-the-atheist-agenda-is-furious-at-oprah

    Monday, October 21, 2013

    Shaw on his religion

    It's Monday, a day begging for a bit of wit to start the week off right. So enjoy this, the responses playwright George Bernard Shaw gave to a 1931 questionnaire asking about his views on religion.  (links to Slate.com)

    Our Oprah ads were on CNN this weekend


    The Boston Atheists social media campaign were featured on CNN.

    It's great that we're seeing yet more traction with our efforts to alert Oprah Winfrey to the insensitivity of her comments about atheism. This weekend on CNN's "Faces of Faith" segment, Chris Stedman of the Humanist Community at Harvard did a fantastic job speaking to the need for dialogue across the knowledge/belief gap dividing religious and nonreligious communities in the US. A full transcript appears below.

    The anchors, interestingly, were, like seemingly uneasy with or unclear as to how an atheist could experience awe and wonder. Mysteriously, the "atheist group" that demands an apology from Oprah isn't anywhere identified as the Boston Atheists! Not that we are surprised that the media would rather reach out to a Humanist representative before an atheist one, to speak about the experience of being a nontheist. 

    We know we have a PR challenge ahead of us, insofar as American really do think that atheists aren't good or happy people. That fact is really at the core of Oprah's thoughtless comments.

    Please continue to share the #atheistawesome tag on social media, to invite @Oprah and @OWNtv to dialogue about the issue of atheist identity. And share the images in our Boston Atheists Oprah images gallery, as featured on the Friendly Atheist blog! You can find the full set on Facebook.

    Transcript of the CNN piece:

    Friday, October 18, 2013

    For Oprah: Don't relabel atheists! (#12)

    In response to Oprah Winfrey's biased comments against atheists in an October 2013 interview, the Boston Atheists are asking for support in asking her for an apology and some gesture of acknowledgment and affirmation toward the secular community. Whether that means inviting she invites Edwina RogersEddie Izzard, and Stephen Fry for a sit-down on camera to talk about secular activism and atheist aesthetics, depends entirely on how much noise we can make about this! Please spread these images widely, and credit them to the Boston Atheists(a local affiliate of American Atheists. More will be posted in coming days, under the tag atheistawesome.

    Tweet this image to the Oprah team! Suggested language:
    @Oprah and @OWNTV, won't you tell your audience that atheists have feelings too? #atheistawesome


    For Oprah: Don't relabel atheists! (#11)

    In response to Oprah Winfrey's biased comments against atheists in an October 2013 interview, the Boston Atheists are asking for support in asking her for an apology and some gesture of acknowledgment and affirmation toward the secular community. Whether that means inviting she invites Edwina RogersEddie Izzard, and Stephen Fry for a sit-down on camera to talk about secular activism and atheist aesthetics, depends entirely on how much noise we can make about this! Please spread these images widely, and credit them to the Boston Atheists(a local affiliate of American Atheists. More will be posted in coming days, under the tag atheistawesome.

    Tweet this image to the Oprah team! Suggested language:
    @Oprah and @OWNTV, you've spoken up for equality so many times... how about now? #atheistawesome


    For Oprah: Don't relabel atheists! (#10)

    In response to Oprah Winfrey's biased comments against atheists in an October 2013 interview, the Boston Atheists are asking for support in asking her for an apology and some gesture of acknowledgment and affirmation toward the secular community. Whether that means inviting she invites Edwina RogersEddie Izzard, and Stephen Fry for a sit-down on camera to talk about secular activism and atheist aesthetics, depends entirely on how much noise we can make about this! Please spread these images widely, and credit them to the Boston Atheists(a local affiliate of American Atheists. More will be posted in coming days, under the tag atheistawesome.

    Tweet this image to the Oprah team! Suggested language:
    @Oprah and @OWNTV, when you deny someone's identity, you dehumanize them.. #atheistawesome