Wednesday, March 28, 2012

3/28/2012 Secular Mass Newsletter

The listing of links and commentary which follows is a roughly-weekly compilation of items of likely interest to skeptics, atheists, and humanists in Massachusetts and the area. The range of topics is typically diverse: politics, humor, research, culture. Feel free to suggest items for inclusion in the next mailer, by writing to "zbos" at Let me know if you prefer not to receive this mailing. -- Zachary Bos, MA State Director for American Atheists 

Events in our Area

  • TOMORROW, March 29, 2012: The Disproof Atheism Society will present "Abraham, Job, & Jesus: The Bible’s Attack on Reason", a discussion in support of the Reason Rally in DC, based on N. Zangwill, 'The Myth of Religious Experience,' and M. Piper, “Why Theists Cannot Accept Skeptical Theism.” In Room 442 of the BU Photonics Center, 8 St. Mary’s St., Boston. Free & open to all. For more information, email
  • April 1, 2012: Boston Atheists John McCargar will convene a book club discussion on the new book from physicist Lawrence Krauss, A Universe from Nothing. Join the conversation at Blue State Coffee, 957 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, at noon. If you don't have a copy, but would like to take a look, reply to this newsletter message by email and I'll get a sample chapter into your hands. RSVP at
  • April 4, 2012: At the Concord Area Humanists Wednesday dialogue this week, naturalist and author Peter Alden will be speaking about "Changes in Flora and Fauna from Thoreau's Day to Today." Social at 7 PM, program at 7:30, in the First Parish church building, 20 Lexington Road, Concord. To help planning, RSVP by email with "ALDEN" in subject line.
  • April 15, 2012: 3rd Sunday Luncheon/Discussion Program, sponsored by the Greater Boston Humanists. Harvard Kennedy School Fellows Laila Atshahn and Dina Kraft will speak about "The Impact on Women of Fundamentalism in Israel/Palestine". To take place in the Phillips Brooks House Parlor; free buffet lunch at noon, lecture to begin at 1 PM. To RSVP, contact Tom Ferrick.

Articles of Interest, and Other Items of Note

TWO HOURS OF ATHEISM. This past Sunday, the MSNBC show "Up with Chris Hayes" took an in-depth look at atheism in America and its role in politics, global warming, and the culture of belief. Among the guests were Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Jamila Bey, and Susan Jacoby.

BECK'S THE BLAZE REPORTS ON RALLY. "Now, at 16% of the American population, Atheists feel they are poised to effect change in the halls of America’s institutions, actively lobbying congress on issues most important to them. One current push is to dismantle any protections in place that would prevent religious employers from covering the cost of contraception to its employees per Obamacare’s controversial mandate." From Related: Video interviews of attendees at the Rally, ; and The Blaze's report on the Secular Coalition of America's lobby training session.

FAITH AS BOTH PLAYACTING AND BELIEF. Joan Acocella, for The New Yorker, reviews a new book by ethnographer T.M. Luhrmann, When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God. She writes:
Luhrmann warns us against calling the evangelicals' visions and voices 'hallucinations'; that is a psychiatric and, hence, pathologizing term. In her vocabulary, such events are 'sensory overrides'—sensory perceptions that override material evidence. [...] And she reports a vision of her own, which she had while working with the English witches. One morning, she woke up and saw six Druids looking at her through her window. (She lived on an upper floor.) In a moment, they were gone, and that was the only vision she ever had, but she has no doubt that she truly saw them.
All this hinges on what is meant by 'truly,' which, since Luhrmann, who is fifty-three, was educated in the time of postmodern theory, is not a straightforward matter. She says that the Vineyarders know that their 'faith practice'—their date nights with God, their asking him for a red convertible—is, in some measure, playacting. At the same time, they see it as a way of encountering God. She later adds, 'The playfulness and paradox of this new religiosity does for Christians what postmodernism, with its doubt-filled, self-aware, playful intellectual style, did for intellectuals. It allows them to waver between the metaphorical and the literal.'
JIMMY CARTER LEAVES CHURCH. The former President Jimmy Carter has decided to abandon his long-time affiliation with the Southern Baptist Church, in view of church leaders' prohibition on women being ordained and insistence that wives be subservient role to husbands. He writes: "The truth is that male religious leaders have had -- and still have -- an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world."

ATHEIST LOGO NOT ALLOWED. A consumer wanted his custom credit card image to be the "red A" of atheism; Capital One told him that's not allowed (but Christian crosses are pre-approved).

NAP SCHOLARSHIPS ANNOUNCED. The National Atheist Party, to encourage the expansion of knowledge and the principles of secular humanism, has announced the creation of two scholarship programs: the "Our Secular Future Scholarship" and the "Science Steps Forward Scholarship". Two awards of $1,000 will be awarded in each scholarship program to a college student and a high school student. College level submission deadline: November 1st, 2012. High school level submission deadline: March 1st, 2013.

A HEATHEN MANIFESTO. Thank you to BA member Jenna D. for bringing to our attention this article by Julian Baggini in The Guardian, where he lays out his 12 rules for heathens:
The so-called 'new atheism' may have put us on the map, but in the public imagination it amounts to little more than a caricature of Richard Dawkins, which is not an accurate representation of the terrain many of us occupy. We now need something else. 
This manifesto is an attempt to point towards the next phase of atheism's involvement in public discourse. It is not a list of doctrines that people are asked to sign up to but a set of suggestions to provide a focus for debate and discussion. Nor is it an attempt to accurately describe what all atheists have in common. Rather it is an attempt to prescribe what the best form of atheism should be like.


... the Cambridge-Somerville Secular Buddhists? This secular meditation group is open to people, from beginners to experienced meditators, who want to practice and to discuss their meditation practice with others. It is intended to connect people of diverse backgrounds who want to explore mindfulness practice. Learn more at

A bit of aht... 

Singer/songwriter Shelley Segal -- maybe you saw her perform at the Reason Rally this weekend? -- has released the first single, "Saved", from her debut CD, An Atheist Album. A taste of the lyrics:
Say that i need to be saved
Say with me the devils got his way
I want to know how when you are praying
And when you are doomsdaying
How you think you know that someone is listening to what you are saying.

A quote in parting

Not even the visionary or mystical experience ever lasts very long. It is for art to capture that experience, to offer it to, in the case of literature, its readers; to be, for a secular, materialist culture, some sort of replacement for what the love of god offers in the world of faith. -- Salman Rushdie

SUPPORT SECULAR COMMUNITY-BUILDING IN 2012. Whether you want to be more involved in secular activism, defending educational standards, or resisting the encroachment of religious influences in public matters; whether you want the companionship of like-minded freethinkers, and a social scene where you can speak your mind without fear of censure; or whether you'd like to be involved in one of the aspirational community groups developing congregation-type programs for its members, there's no shortage of groups in the area that would benefit from your participation. For a listing of secular groups in MA and New England, visit -- and let me know if you know of any groups that should be added to the roll.

WORK WITH THE BOSTON ATHEISTS. The Boston Atheists would welcome volunteer organizers who want to plan events, write for the blog or newsletter, develop programs, and work to increase the benefits of group membership. Drop us a line if you'd like to find out how you can be a part of what's going on.