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Archive for the ‘Lectures’ Category

The Reed Secular Alliance is excited to announce that Phil Zuckerman, the author of “Society Without God” and contributor to the Huffington Post, has been rescheduled for this coming Friday.  Come listen to his talk “Faith No More”!  The lecture is on Friday, April 22, 2011, at 5 pm in the Psychology Auditorium at Reed College.  The room is also known as Psychology 105.  For directions, go to http://www.reed.edu and look at the map.

During his 2009 inaugural speech, President Obama described the United States as a nation of “Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus—and nonbelievers.” It was the first time an American president had acknowledged the existence of this rapidly growing segment of the population in such a public forum. Indeed, so many Americans claim no religion (16%, up from 8% in 1990) that this category now outranks every other religious group except Catholics and Baptists.

And yet the reasons why more and more Americans are turning away from religion are still poorly understood.  Based on in-depth interviews with nearly ninety people who have left religion, Zuckerman discusses what’s really behind the process of losing one’s faith.  He shows that rejecting religion is a highly personal, complex, and drawn-out process.  And rather than the cliche of the angry, nihilistic atheist, apostates are life-affirming, courageous, highly intelligent and inquisitive, and deeply moral individuals.

Phil Zuckerman has an impressive resume, including a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Oregon in 1998.  He is currently a professor of sociology at Pitzer College in Claremont, California, where he teaches courses in religion, secularity, and social theory.  He is also a regular visiting professor at the University of Aarhus, in Denmark.

He is the author of several books, including Faith No More: How and Why People Reject Religion (Oxford, 2011), Society Without God (NYU, 2008) and Invitation to the Sociology of Religion (Routledge, 2003), and the editor of several books, including Atheism and Secularity (Praeger, 2009) and The Social Theory of W.E.B. Du Bois (Pine Forge, 2004).  He has also written numerous essays and articles, and is a regular contributor to Free Inquiry and Huffington Post. He lives in Claremont, California, with his wife and three children.  His favorite Beatles album is “Revolver.”

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Why Are You Atheists So Angry?

Greta Christina speaks at the SSA Conference; Photo By: Leslie A. Zukor

Come join the Reed Secular Alliance as we welcome atheist blogger, Greta Christina ’83, to speak at Reed. Christina, a Reed alumna and Religion major, has been a freelance writer since 1989. She currently blogs at http://gretachristina.typepad.com about atheism, sexuality, and her queer identity.

Christina will discuss the atheist movement, which is often accused of being driven by anger. She will address the validity of this assessment, as well as why some atheists seem so angry. Among the questions she asks are “Is this anger legitimate?” and “Can anger be an effective force behind a movement for social change?”

The lecture is on Monday, September 13, at 7 pm in the Biology Lecture Hall (Bio 19). We hope to see you there.

Please email Elad Gilo at egilo@reed.edu with any questions.

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The Reed Secular Alliance is pleased to announce that Greg Epstein’s lecture is now online.  The November 19th talk centers around Greg Epstein’s new book, Good Without God:  What A Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe.  Below you can watch the unedited Humanist speech.

Unfortunately, the talk cuts out at the tail end of Epstein’s response to the last question.  Nevertheless, it is an enjoyable presentation, with interesting information about the speaker’s background and the influences on his Humanist development.

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Greg Epstein gestures to the heavens

On his Good Without God book tour, Greg Epstein spoke to a standing room only crowd at Reed College on Thursday night.  The event, which was cosponsored by the Reed Secular Alliance, Kol Shalom Humanistic Jews of Portland, and the Portland Coalition of Reason, drew a crowd of 170.  All involved were pleased with the turnout.

A large crowd listens attentively to Greg Epstein

The crowd looks on at Greg Epstein's talk

During his lecture, Epstein outlined his personal journey from a secular Jewish boy to Harvard’s Humanist Chaplain.  The son of a Cuban refugee mother and a father of Eastern European Jewish descent, Epstein’s spiritual journey led him to Buddhism.  However, after spending time in the East, Epstein realized that no religion had a special access to “Truth”.

Greg Epstein expresses his opinion of humanism

Greg Epstein expresses humanist values

Throughout his presentation, Epstein stressed the importance of finding freethinking fellowship.  Like those of faith, Epstein explained, the billion people who are non-religious need to have communities too.  Asked what his role was as Harvard’s Humanist Chaplain, Greg Epstein explained that he served as a “coach”, not preaching about god but guiding his fellow humanists.

Audience members look on at Thursday's lecture

Audience members ponder Epstein's various points

While Epstein emphasized community inside the lecture hall, the secular organizations tabling outside offered a home for non-theists.  Among those tabling included Kol Shalom, the Center For Inquiry Community of Portland, and the Humanists of Greater Portland.  Epstein’s book tour was part of a greater effort to attract the religiously unaffiliated to various secular organizations.

Portland's Atheist Bus Ads

Starting  Monday, ten Portland-area buses have featured signs that say “Are you good without god?  Millions are.”  The ads, which are set to run for one month, have sparked quite a conversation around Portland.  Responses varied from indignation to excitement, but most of the responses have been positive.  Area freethought groups eagerly await the impact of this campaign.

A larger version of the atheist bus ads

At his lecture, Greg Epstein emphasized the importance of having conversations.  And it was just such a dialogue that the Good Without God tour hoped to spark.  Whatever the campaign’s long-term results, stressing positive humanism can only have a good impact upon the Portland community.  And Epstein has done a great job of starting a dialogue about humanism.

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Greg Epstein's new book

Recently, the Reed Secular Alliance had the opportunity to interview Greg Epstein, who will be speaking about his book, Good Without God at Reed on November 19th.  The talk will take place this Thursday in the Psychology Auditorium at 7:30 pm.  There will be plenty of free food.  We hope to see you there.

RSA:  What is your contribution to the discussions about religion and society in the beginning of the 21st century?

Epstein:  I wrote the book to introduce Americans—particularly a younger generation of Americans—to Humanism. I like the formal American Humanist Association definition of Humanism that you’d find in the back of my book, from the document “Humanism and its Aspirations,” but a short definition of Humanism is “good, without god.” Humanism is about doing good for our own sake, for the sake of our loved ones, for the sake of all human beings, and for the sake of the natural world that surrounds us and sustains us and is in grave danger. It’s about making this world better in the here and now, before we die, not for the sake of reward in heaven but because Humanists believe in life before death. We are imperiled right now by multiple wars, by continued nuclear proliferation, by global climate change, and by completely unstable economy, to name a few. We need massive solutions to these sorts of massive problems. Most people think the only way to motivate us to find such massive solutions is a narrow religious frame of reference. We need to show the world that there are secular alternatives that can work and need to be given a chance.

That said, I didn’t write the book as an answer to the question, “can you be good without God?” Of course you can be good without God. But that’s not what the book is about. Because if you think we can’t be good without God, that’s not just your opinion. That’s not just some brainstorm that crossed your mind. It’s prejudice. It might even be discrimination. I mean, no one in his or her right mind would ever say, “Oh, you’re a Catholic. How nice—is it possible for you to be a decent human being, too?” We wouldn’t ask whether it’s possible to be a good person and Jewish, or Muslim, or Buddhist. We don’t ask whether you can be good and a Democrat, or a Republican (at least, usually we don’t). So since we know that there are now millions and millions of people living without belief in a god, it’s time to reject the question of whether we can be good without God.

However, the question why we can be good without God is much very much worth asking. And the question of how we can be good without God is absolutely crucial. Those are the questions I’m addressing in this book. They are the essential questions of Humanism.

RSA:  What are your criticisms of the New Atheists, and why do you believe that Humanism offers a better solution to the problems of the 21st century?

Epstein:  I respect a lot of what Harris, Dawkins, and others are trying to do. But Harris has said, “Science must destroy religion.” Dawkins has likened religious education to child abuse. Hitchens has said we need to prepare for war with religion. And recently Bill Maher upped the rhetorical ante, if that’s possible, by saying that “for humanity to live, religion must die.” Such statements aren’t helpful. Humanism isn’t trying to erase religion. It’s an embracing philosophy. We’re not saying we’re any better, even any more reasonable, than religious people.

Most nonreligious people are not anti-religious, and we’re happy to admit you can also be good with God. We just want to be considered as equals in politics, in culture, in society. We believe in pluralism, in interfaith cooperation, in religious literacy, but it’s not okay to talk about those things anymore without talking about Humanism. President Obama has been very good at this—including Humanists in the public conversation. He’s one of the most Humanist presidents we’ve had in generations.

RSA:  How does your position as Humanist Chaplain give you unique insight as to what young people are searching for philosophically and spiritually?

Epstein:  I don’t think that my position gives me any unique insight. Humanists like me (and you, I’m betting) don’t believe in such things as special positions that make certain people wiser or better than others. Being pope of Humanists at Harvard or elsewhere, or being able to provide all the answers to anyone’s questions of life and death are not in my job description.

I would say, however, that because I am in my position I get to talk all the time with young people who would never accept the revealed dogma of any religion, yet are still searching for some sense in which they can genuinely feel their lives have a meaning, a worthwhile purpose. I frequently meet young people who would rather walk on broken glass than walk into a Church or house of worship that purported to tell them how to live, yet are still looking for a community they can be part of that goes beyond what a sports team or political movement would have to offer. Humanism, as a philosophy of life and as a community, helped me to find answers to these sorts of questions and I think it can be an important resource for others.

RSA:  The subtitle of your book is What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe.  Do you feel that Humanism can accurately represent what those billion people do believe?  Do you see Humanism as a meaningful life-stance that can appeal to the one billion people who are not religious?

Epstein:  All the major recent studies of world religious beliefs, despite using different methodologies, will tell you that there are approximately one billion people who define themselves as nonreligious or secular. In America, there are approximately forty to fifty million nonreligious people, with the percentage of the nonreligious having gone up in every single state in the past twenty years. And there are even higher numbers among young people–one in every four or five Americans aged 18 to 25 is nonreligious today. This is beyond a trend. It’s a revolution.

Now, we all know what these people don’t believe in. But for the longest time, there have been no books, no major works that examine and explain what these billion nonreligious people do believe in. If you look closely, most of us are believers in Humanism. We believe that this one world, the natural world, is the only world we will ever know, and this life is the only life we’ll ever have, so we have to make it as good as we can.

Some people complain that there are actually a lot of nonreligious people who say they believe in some form of a god. True. But “Do you believe in God?” is actually a totally meaningless question. Because in this day and age, the term God can mean anything you want it to mean. If you mean a bearded deity on a throne who worries about your personal lifestyle and issued 613 commandments, we reject that. But if saying you believe in God means you believe in nature, or the universe, or love, well, of course Humanists believe in those things, but we don’t feel the need to call them God. We believe God is the most influential literary character ever created. But the real point is that there is no magical, supernatural force that is going to help us love one another or take care of one another or save the planet from war or climate change. We have to do those things for each other

RSA:  What part of Secular Humanism would you believe is the most valuable for Reed students to take away from this interview and from your talk?

Epstein:  I hope Reed students will get increasingly involved in building a positive, life-affirming Humanist movement on campus and beyond. I understand you’re a senior, Leslie, so in many ways the greatest gift you can give your campus this year is to turn your own group over to talented, passionate, if less experienced young leaders as you move on to the next, non-college stage of being a Humanist leader. And those new leaders continue your good work with the Secular Student Alliance, perhaps looking out for ways to rally Humanists to take the lead in community service projects from cleaning up parks and homeless shelters to doing microloans to the developing world on Kiva; they should also be taking the lead in organizing interfaith projects with religious groups who support Church-state separation and protecting the environment—and who have to understand that they have to no right to exclude Humanists and atheists from their work in this day and age. I look forward to seeing what they can do!

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Anda Clark speaks to Darrel Ray before she introduced the speaker

Anda Clark speaks to Darrel Ray before she introduced the speaker

Roughly 200 people attended Darrel Ray’s The God Virus lecture at Reed College on October 7th.  During the event, Dr. Ray made the case that religion is indeed a virus-like phenomenon, as it infects individuals and societies.  Drawing heavily from Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and memetic theory, Darrel Ray argued that the idea of religion has a strong impact on our minds, and thus, upon our actions as members of society.

Darrel Ray speaks about his book

Darrel Ray speaks about his book

During Ray’s talk, the speaker went to great lengths in detailing the deleterious effects of religion.  Not only does religion prey on human feelings of inadequacy, it also guilt trips humans into believing that they must worship x deity, or else they are destined for Hell.  In short, a religion like Christianity necessitates its own cosmology by having an answer – Heaven through belief – to guilt of its own design.

Center For Inquiry event organizer, Kurt Johansen, looks on from the crowd

Center For Inquiry event organizer, Kurt Johansen, looks on from the crowd

Although the lecture was interesting, it was met with objections by many Reed students.  According to an audience member, Ray was downright “inflammatory”.  “What are you trying to accomplish,” the student asked, “by being offensive?”   Another Reedie wondered why the speaker was invited, given that he had the temerity to make jokes at the expense of religion.

Darrel Ray tells about a virus in rats that needs to infect a cat

Darrel Ray tells about a virus in rats that needs to infect a cat

“I was disappointed by the sheer volume of jokes against religion,” event organizer, Leslie Zukor, said after the talk.  “I expected the lecture to be provocative.  However, I was hoping for a more serious presentation of the evidence.”  Zukor also wished for more cultural explanations for religious phenomena.  “He used memetics and biology at the expense of all else,” Zukor, an Anthropology major, explained.

Darrel Ray presents his case

Darrel Ray presents his case

Although some Reed students were critical of Dr. Ray, the off-campus attendees were satisfied with his presentation.  Audience members comprised “recovering” Catholics, fundamentalists, and Jews.  They were all enthused by the speaker’s rhetoric and were looking for more connections with the Portland freethought community.  Darrel Ray vowed to start a “recovering religion” group in the Portland-area.

The large crowd for Dr. Darrel Ray

The large crowd for Dr. Darrel Ray

Despite the talk’s provocative nature, Darrel Ray offered a human solution to debating theists about religion.  “When people talk about the human problems that have led them to accept Jesus,” he explained, “Be a friend to them.  Don’t try to argue with their emotional conclusion with rational evidence.”  According to some audience members, the conclusion felt out of place.

Darrel Ray connects with the audience

Darrel Ray connects with the audience

“How can you be a friend to religious people, when you mock and make fun of their beliefs?” audience members wondered.   Despite all the criticisms from Reed students, the Center For Inquiry members who showed up were pleased at the crowd, Darrel Ray’s talk, and the information presented that religion is indeed a virus that infects our lives and culture.

We hope you will attend our next talk with Harvard Humanist Chaplain Greg Epstein.

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The Flying Spaghetti Monster Lands at Reed

The Flying Spaghetti Monster Lands at Reed

The Reed Secular Alliance is hosting a Pastafarian dinner with Darrel Ray, author of The God Virus.  We will meet at Eliot Circle at 4:45 pm and head out to an Italian Food restaurant, where we will be touched by His Noodly Appendage.  The Pastafarian dinner will be from 5 to 6 pm at a Portland-area pizza parlor.  Details TBD.  To RSVP, contact the RSA at rsa.secular@gmail.com.

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