Atheist Ten Commandments

Over at WEIT, there is a post (by Grania) regarding proposed “atheist ten commandments.”  It should immediately be pointed out that these are not meant as “commandments” in anything like a religious sense, but rather as items of discussion; I think they are good in that regard.  Anyway, since we have been discussing shared values with the CPC folks (and even though that discussion has already taken place), I thought they might be worth re-posting here.

What does everyone think?

10k

A Dawkins Fail?

I get a weekly email from the Richard Dawkins Foundation and it often contains links to things not easily found on the main site for the Foundation. This week it contained a link to a video of Dawkins attempting to teach evolution and a bit of other science to a group of high school students. The students appear to be going to a relatively upscale school since they are dressed in relatively fancy uniforms or suits for the boys and coats and skirts for the girls that are similar in style and color to those of the boys. Maybe this is standard in UK schools, but I suspect this is what they call a “public” school and in this country would be called a “private” school. The students all seem to be well versed in creationist understandings of things if you can call it understanding. It appears that Richard was brought in to speak with them about real science and evolution and Darwinian theory in particular. The discussion appears to take place in what looks like a high school science classroom with some lab equipment and benches.

As noted, all of the students appear to have been thoroughly indoctrinated in creationism, but there is mention of a religious education class (RE) which covers many of the worlds major religions. While many obviously have connections with areas of the world other than Britain (ex. India, Caribbean, etc.), it isn’t clear whether they have been raised in different faiths or are predominantly Christian. It is clear that they have an extremely limited understanding of evolution and also of the nature of the scientific method and process of gaining scientific knowledge. They also don’t understand the nature of a scientific theory.

So there is lots for Dawkins to explain and correct. What is disturbing is how badly he seems to be doing this in the amount of time available. He tries to engage the students by taking the questions asked of him and presenting them back to the class for their own answers. But this is difficult for the students since they don’t really understand the nature of things – that’s why they asked the questions after all – and they appear uncomfortable and even a little put off by being put on the spot. Maybe they’ve been taught so well to rely upon authority, they are expecting Richard to simply tell them what to think or what to repeat back. He mentions on several occasions that they shouldn’t be taking what he says as “gospel”, but I’m not sure they were prepared to view him as an authority in the same way they seem to regard those who have taught them to this point. What they’ve learned about creationism sounds like canned repetition of standard tropes. They can’t really defend or explain these ideas, just repeat them using words familiar from listening to someone like Ken Ham or Kent Hovind or even Ray Comfort.

I would suppose that Dawkins might like to return to this class and try again. There are points where he is quite astounded that they believe the things they assert. I’ve seen him show this kind of surprise in other settings too. But with a group of young people I wouldn’t expect really great answers and would have anticipated having to help them figure out how to get to an answer and how to really think about the answers I might provide. I suspect Richard was mostly comfortable with a university level class and is out of his element in high school. I’m not sure I would have put up this video as an example of Dawkins at his best.

So, should Richard hide this away or ask for a redo or what?

Inspiration from the Bible

I have been thinking about posting, from time to time, some biblical passages that might make believers uncomfortable, even progressive believers who like to claim the Bible is an inspirational book and a great moral guide. Of course, there are passages in the Bible that do contain some sound moral precepts, but, as Thomas Jefferson put it, it is a bit like extracting a diamond from a dunghill. Is that too strong? Decide for yourself. At any rate, here is today’s inspiration — I have long been familiar with this story but it just happened to be the topic on a Patheos blog I was reading:

23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” 24 He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.

Read more: Mock the prophet, get mauled: Morality lessons with ACE.

Conversations with the CPC – 3

Our third conversation took place on Tuesday, December 9th. The mix of participants was slightly different from the previous one, but the number involved was seven as at that meeting. We seem to have difficulty getting everyone who was originally invited to participate to make each of the meetings, but I suppose that is likely given the demands of jobs, family and whatever. Despite this, we continue to move “forward” as far as I can tell.

For this meeting we planned to explore a list of issues developed by Herb Silverman and a newspaper editor that represented points on which an atheist and a progressive Christian would likely agree. The list can be found here. For the most part, the list reflects what I would consider to be a secular/humanist orientation with the possible exception of the tenth item regarding the “war on drugs”. Some of the participants in our conversation suggested editing that they would like to do on the list, but none of the changes suggested would change the fundamental nature of the list.

It wasn’t surprising that both the CPC and GRAF participants would find common ground in this list given the content of our previous conversations. An initial question from a CPC member was expected. The charge is often made by those who don’t really know anything about atheists that we can’t have any basis for our morality or values because we lack a book of scriptures or theological teachings on which to rely. My CPC interlocutor didn’t seem to really hold that perspective, but just wanted to know if I had followed a different path than he had. It turned out that we had followed essentially the same route of developing our adult identities during adolescence, early adulthood and continuing until now. While he had taken inspiration from his religion in some part, that was a small difference between us. I could easily state that religious teachings per se had no role in my development of a secular/humanist perspective. In fact, I think I used religion as a counter example for myself. He on the other hand had developed an admiration for Jesus as an exemplar of humanism. I didn’t raise any questions about the reality of Jesus as an actual historical figure or point out any of the non-humanitarian perspectives attributed to him. None of that seemed crucial at all given that we had both arrived at mostly the same place.

Others in the group appeared to be quite in tune with the process we described. Their own processes of living and growing were the source of a progressive and humanistic set of values with some emphasizing the importance of religion and others not. The dominant theme became realization on their part that atheists could represent a group they could trust because of our shared values. They were intrigued by the realization that atheists were no more homogeneous than Presbyterians and were interested in the points of contention which are currently at play in the atheist community. They are much more appreciative also regarding the discrimination experienced by atheists as they had all seen the article in the New York Times regarding unconstitutional prohibitions against atheists running for or holding public office in several states. They seem much more inclined now to take our claims of discrimination seriously.

The CPC members also shared their frustration in being counted in the same camp as crazy fundamentalists and like some Muslims complain about the extreme elements “hijacking” their religion. It will be interesting at some point to see if they can handle the idea that they are enabling the fundamentalists by using the same bad epistemology and giving it “support”. So who are the true Christians? The fundamentalists or the progressives? As far as I can tell, all the arguments that can be made against the fundamentalists must rely upon using a humanistic set of values that are mostly divorced from religion (GRAF members have the same values for the most part). Challenging the faith claims by offering your own faith claims begs the question of how you are to verify which faith is true given the total absence of any evidence to support any faith claim. An issue for another day I think.

I took the opportunity to spend a little time at the meeting to voice the concern that we will eventually have differences in views that can’t be resolved without addressing the faith “elephant” in the room. Perhaps not with the current CPC members, but certainly with any new CPC members who are more traditionally aligned. There wasn’t any strong worry about that in the group, but I felt it needed to be mentioned. It is also likely that some GRAF members may feel they are having to bite their tongues if the faith idea never gets mentioned much as is the case so far. I don’t want to see the group shut down those questions in all cases. I’m not sure how we deal with them without damaging the relationship we have right now. Since the current CPC participants seem so close to being atheists, the GRAF members don’t encounter points where we might argue. The reference to Jesus as an inspiration offered a small opportunity since his existence may be as only a myth. I suppose myths can be inspiring.

This meeting ended with a decision to meet again in January, but to verify that most if not all of the original members can and will make it to the meeting. Our next task is to begin the process of inviting others to join in. That would mean both CPC and GRAF members. We need full participation from all the current members to be sure that everyone is comfortable with that and up to speed with those who have attended most of the meetings. We don’t know how many new people to invite, but we do know that they need to be prepared to follow the rules we have been living with successfully. I’m not sure how hard that will be. From that point we will work toward opening things up to religious folks who are not associated with CPC. That may be a real challenge. The CPC members cautioned against expecting too much from the possible discussion with some “bible thumpers” we are considering. They agreed with me that listening to “Testimony” wasn’t going to go well.

Holiday Program Toy Packing, Sat. Dec. 13th–9:00am (Zion)

Thanks to all who’ve volunteered to help pack toys for the annual Second Harvest Food Shelf “Itasca Holiday Program.” This year, the event–which involves a large group of families, individuals and community groups–will take place at a new location, in the gym/cafeteria at Zion Lutheran Church, 2901 S Highway 169 in Grand Rapids. We’re asked to be there by 9:00am on Saturday, Dec. 13th. Many of us have volunteered at the Food Shelf on our own in various capacities over the years, but last year we participated as an official community group for the first time. It was, as always, heart-warming to devote a morning to helping others have a more joyful holiday season. I look forward to seeing many of you there!

In case you didn’t see this week’s article about the program in the Grand Rapids Herald-Review, I’ll paste it in below. If you have questions, bounce an e-mail to me at fsm.gr.mn@gmail.com -Amy :)
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From the 12/4/14 Grand Rapids Herald-Review Online:
“More than 1,800 gift bags will be filled on Saturday, Dec. 13 and the goal is to have enough donated items to provide each referred child with a gift. Second Harvest is in need of new, unwrapped gifts for children ranging in age from one to 12 years, especially ages 1, and 9 – 12.

Gift donations are being collected at many local businesses, retailers and churches. Donations can be dropped at any of the red and green gingerbread giving tree locations, Toys for Tots locations, or brought directly to Second Harvest during regular business hours. The deadline for all toy donations is Friday, Dec. 12 at 5 p.m. Donations can be brought to Second Harvest or Zion Lutheran Church.

Gift suggestions include toys and games for children age 1-12, hats, mittens and gloves, sports equipment, and personal care items for the older age groups. Suggested price range is $10-$20.

The holidays are especially difficult for struggling working families. Home heating costs and seasonal layoffs put a dent in very tight budgets. If it wasn’t for the food and gifts provided by Second Harvest’s Itasca Holiday Program, there might not be those special holiday meals or gifts under the tree.

One young woman who was signing up for the holiday program recently shared what it meant for her family.

“Last year we did not know about the program and we had nothing for the kids that year. When they were really little it didn’t matter that much, but to explain to them at this age that Santa won’t be coming to our house because we can’t afford gifts, is really hard. My husband’s hours keep getting cut and my job pays minimum wage. We are grateful to be able to look forward to a better Christmas this year, because we can breathe a little easier knowing we will have the extra food and some things under the tree. It helps a lot,” she said tearfully.

The holiday season is difficult for this Grand Rapids mom and her family. A majority of the 46.5 million Americans who used a food shelf in the Feeding America network last year live in working households; 25 million people, including children, are in working families that relied on food shelves to stave off hunger, according to a new study by Oxfam America and Feeding America. According to “From Paycheck to Pantry: Hunger in Working America” client households with employment utilize multiple strategies to secure enough food for the family. Three quarters of employed client households report making the choice between paying for food and paying for utilities as well as making choices between paying for food and transportation. Many families simply can’t feed themselves without utilizing public and private safety net programs and other coping strategies such as watering down food and beverages.

Second Harvest recognizes the need to help these struggling working families and the low income seniors and disabled adults in the community. The primary component of the Itasca Holiday Program is a special food box containing traditional holiday foods and other items to provide for several additional meals. A $15 grocery voucher is included for a holiday turkey or other food item that the family would like. Funds are needed to provide for the food required to fill 1,800 food boxes. The food boxes and gifts will be distributed at eight locations throughout Itasca County beginning Sunday, Dec. 14 through Thursday, Dec. 18.

According to Sue Estee, Second Harvest Executive Director, “Distribution of 1,800 food boxes and over 1,850 gift bags takes a lot of effort. Starting this week, hundreds of volunteers will be engaged in preparing, sorting and packing the gift bags, bagging fruit and helping to distribute the food boxes and gift bags in Grand Rapids and the other seven communities. Area food shelves have been working since October to sign up eligible families, local businesses, retailers and churches have been collecting gifts and many people and organizations have donated gifts and funds for the holiday food boxes. The people of Itasca County and Hill City really come together to provide a brighter holiday for their friends and neighbors.”

Second Harvest North Central Food Bank serves 130 hunger relief agencies in Koochiching, Itasca, Cass, Aitkin, Crow Wing, Mille Lacs and Kanabec counties. 4.5 million pounds of food and grocery products were distributed through those agencies in 2013. For more information regarding Second Harvest North Central Food Bank, visit www.secondharvestncfb.com or call 218.326.4420.”

The Philosophy of Happiness – Our monthly meeting on November 25, 2014

We had a presentation by Janet Neurauter from the ICC Foundation regarding scholarship options for GRAF via the Foundation. Then we had a fairly long discussion about our plans for providing a scholarship and decided the best route appeared to be to work with the ICC Foundation. We would offer a single scholarship for $500 in the spring of next year for use by a student in the fall and spring semesters next year. The Foundation requires a minimum of $500 and then provides half that amount in the fall of 2015 and the remainder in the spring of 2016. There is no charge from the Foundation and they handle most of the administration and award process. We can specify criteria for students eligible for the scholarship and make those as exclusive or inclusive as we choose. The Foundation chooses a subject for an essay by the applicants and has a committee review these and make the decisions on the awards based on whether a student qualifies for a particular scholarship. The funds available and the sponsoring organizations or groups are publicized by the Foundation at the local schools, through the Community Foundation and probably through the newspaper as well. We will need to authorize this process by early January and provide our criteria by then as well. Since the Community Foundation charges a fee for handling any scholarships and the ICC Foundation has a minimum amount that matches what we had considered investing in total, it seemed a simple decision to work with the ICC Foundation. An email explaining all of the details again will be sent to GRAF members for feedback.

In addition to discussing the scholarship issue we took a look at the new website developed for the Iron Range Coalition of Reason by the United Coalition of Reason in Washington D.C. This is a regional group in which we are planning to participate. The site can be viewed here. It is still a work in progress and we will eventually be able to edit and add to the site as needed. The coalition is intended to help publicize the presence of organizations like GRAF in this region of Minnesota and help us acquire additional members. Training in how to manage publicity is still being planned, but we don’t have dates or details as yet. It may be the case that much of the training would be done online rather than in a meeting in Duluth.

Given the time required to discuss the items noted above, we didn’t have a lot of time to discuss the video by Alain de Botton regarding the philosophy of happiness. So, here it is and we can discuss it online.

More next

I’ve been reading Greta Christina’s book “Coming Out Atheist: How to do it, How to Help Each Other and Why”. I had avoided reading it until now because I didn’t think there was likely to be any big “news” in the book that I wasn’t already aware of. For the most part that has proved to be true. There is a general discussion about why it’s a good thing that more atheists come out in their communities, families, social groups etc.. Mostly this is so the larger community becomes more aware of our existence and the fact that we don’t really fit the stereotypes about us. It’s also good for helping others to gain the courage to come out – they realize they aren’t alone. From there she moves on to multiple chapters describing the problems and issues atheists might face in coming out to particular people like parents, employers and to particular groups like family, coworkers, friends, etc.  Through all of this there is a repeated emphasis on the idea that each person needs to find her own time, place and means to come out should they decide to do this. There are also sections in which she explores dealing with the problems if you are outed accidentally or even intentionally by someone else. Another recurring theme is that virtually all of them were glad they came out in the long run.

All of this is potentially helpful to someone considering coming out who hasn’t done so already, but not especially interesting if you are already out. At the end of the book Greta moves to a shorter chapter about joining or forming an atheist community. She sees this as crucial to gain support and find or create a social group that can provide some of things that religion has often provided to believers. This is where it starts to move into the issue raised in Lucretius’ most recent post on “What’s next”.

GRAF is a little more than half way through its 3rd year. Our membership has shown a tiny amount of growth if you count those who have registered with Meetup.com – we now have 53 names on that list. But the active membership (those regularly participating in the monthly meetings, showing up for activities (like the highway clean up and toy packing that will take place next month), has not shown a lot of growth. We can expect about 15 people at the monthly meetings, about 8 or so at the VFW each week, and maybe 4 if we are lucky at the book group. The women’s group still posts meetings on meetup, so I guess that is continuing too. The activity that still tends to draw the largest number is the occasional “party” like the upcoming Winter Solstice Gala.

However, another observation is that we have had several folks show up as new participants to one or two meetings, but then not return. We have never had success in getting them to tell us why they decided not to continue. We can speculate, but that’s about it. What do we need to do differently? What is missing that would get more people involved and keep them coming? Having access to a group like ours is described by Greta as important to atheists both before and after they come out. Is the size of GRAF and the participation level of GRAF the best we could hope for at this point or could we do something different? What should be next?

Greta addresses this issue by trying to list the things provided by religion that are unique and that couldn’t be provided by a group like GRAF. The list of special things that churches can do that we can’t compete with is short:

  • A belief in the supernatural.

That’s it. “a belief in a supernatural creator or creators, a supernatural caretaker or caretakers, and/or a supernatural afterlife.” Beyond that, she feels religion doesn’t provide anything that can’t be provided by other groups. That list is a bit longer:

  • Social support
  • Rites of passage
  • A sense of tradition
  • A sense of purpose and meaning
  • Safety nets
  • Networking
  • Companionship
  • Continuity

Those things certainly have value even if provided by religion, but as Greta notes, the price to be paid for those benefits can be steep within the church. As she says, “The ‘support’ can be toxic in and of itself when it promotes hatred and ignorance and intolerance, or makes outrageous demands as the cost of belonging.”.  She cites a number of people she received stories from regarding their coming out that explicitly referred to finding the strength to overcome their reluctance to leave the church when they contemplated spending the rest of their lives listening to that poisonous stew of hate. They couldn’t tolerate it anymore even if they were anxious about coming out as an atheist. Not all of them came out, but they definitely left the church.

Greta goes on to say that it is dangerous to buy into the notion that religion does something special with the items on the longer list. She doesn’t think that’s true and we need to look at it from a different perspective. We don’t need to compete with the churches on all those non-special items they already try to cover. We need to offer something they don’t or can’t offer at all, but that the non-believers in the community would be attracted to. We need to define what the atheist community can do to meet local needs given this is our location, our region, the local culture or subculture, the force of religion in the community and what the churches may be failing to do here. And this is where I stumble. I’m sure that individuals stuck in church are getting their own unique selections from that list of things churches provide. It’s a buffet and they can pick and choose what works best for them. They may leave only when they get bored with the selections or they get tired of paying the price for access to the buffet. So maybe GRAF doesn’t have a big enough buffet at this point or the preferred items are not offered as often or as easily as they should be. There may be important items that aren’t part of what we offer at all and there may be a few that only a few really want. It seems that we may not have the size to really support a buffet at all.

So our problem may be a “catch 22″. To do more, we need to be bigger, but too get bigger we need to do more. We are stuck trying to do more because we may be stretching our resources to the point where things could break. Everyone has a limit on how much time than can and will spend on helping the group grow. We may be at the limit for many members now. We can try to offer more variety in the programs we present at our monthly meetings, but we aren’t sure improved “sermons” will actually draw in or keep anymore people. Other things like “family” activities are a struggle because a relatively small number of people currently active in GRAF have young families. We could offer to help support a segment of members who are younger than our average, but we probably can’t do that without actually getting a half dozen to join in and tolerate the process of moving to that point. LSF in Duluth seems to be doing nothing to hold on to the younger people who are sometimes showing up for their meetings. I’m concerned that we wouldn’t be able to do much better at this point.

I know I’ve ranted on some of this stuff in the past, and have often been admonished to be patient or to be happy with what we have already accomplished. At the beginning of next year we are planning to do our first radio advertising on KAXE. So what will we offer to any new people who show up in response to those ads? How can we keep them coming back? What’s next for us to be better at growing?

What Next?

So, you are an atheist.  You have let go of god, or perhaps never believed in the first place.  So what next?  You still have a life to live — how should you live it?  What is important and what is not?

This is known in philosophy as “the problem of conduct.”  What is the good life?  Is there only one type of “good life?” Is it available to anyone, or just a select few?

These questions were probably best addressed by philosophers of the Hellenistic Age (definition available on Wikipedia).  How to live a good life was the major unifying topic among Stoics, Epicureans, Cynics, and others.

English author and activist Alexis de Botton has come under fire from other atheists due to his endorsement of “atheist churches” and the like, but he is well versed in philosophy, especially the problem of conduct.  At our upcoming monthly meeting, Ken tells me (and sorry if I have stolen any of your thunder, Ken) that we will be viewing a video by de Botton regarding Epicurus, the Philosopher of Pleasure.  This moniker has gotten Epicurus a bad name; but before you judge, come and see exactly what it is that Epicurus meant by pleasure, and see if you agree with his prescription (or some of it anyway) for a good life.

Street Epistemology

UPDATE: Here is a link to see the large number of conversations that Anthony has had with various believers. Many are with street preachers, but others are just with random people he meets outside the University of Texas, San Antonio buildings and people visiting the Alamo site in San Antonio.

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Some of you may recall Peter Boghossian’s book “A Manual for Creating Atheists” in which he advocated for engaging in “street epistemology” with believers. Briefly, Boghossian described these as encounters with believers in which he would engage them in a conversation about their beliefs and structure these somewhat like a Socratic dialog. He would ask them to explain the nature and strength of their beliefs and ask questions that would lead them to reconsider their beliefs and the way in which they defended them or sought to justify them. In the book, Boghossian provided a few examples of conversations in which he had engaged and talked a bit about various techniques that he considered crucial to having a successful dialog. In particular, he made it clear that he avoided getting into a debate or an attack on the person he was talking to and would merely strive to get them thinking more clearly about their beliefs. Shortly after the book was published, Boghossian announced that he was going to begin posting video examples of these conversations as a means of providing a tutorial for those interested in pursuing this idea. So far, that hasn’t happened and I suspect it might never happen. We’d be left with the short and incomplete examples in the book and have to figure it out on our own. My own interest was in merely having a more productive way to talk with a believer rather than attempting to argue with them, but examples would still be helpful.

Now, someone who read Boghossian’s book has done the tutorial work for him. Anthony Magnabosco has recorded several conversations he has had with believers in San Antonio, Texas, mostly on the campus of the university located there. The videos include all of the conversation, but some also include his analysis of what he was doing, what mistakes he made and what reactions he was able to observe in those with whom he was conversing. There are currently 4 of these conversations available online at the following URL: http://tinyurl.com/sebdplaylist/. It is best to view them in order I think. The first and the fourth are probably the best, but to get the full picture, you should look at all of them.

In addition to these 4 tutorials, Magnabosco has several other conversations which follow the same pattern, but lack the “breakdown” in which he provides commentary and explanation of what he is doing. A couple are with street preachers who are trying to engage in conversations so that they can proselytize for their faith to people willing to talk to them. Magnabosco gets them to become the object of the conversation rather than him.

Even if you are not planning on doing any street epistemology yourself, watching these videos gives you a very good introduction into how you can explore someone’s faith and open small gaps in their commitment to their beliefs by careful questioning. An interesting note is that he almost always asks them to rank the strength of their belief on a scale from 0 (no belief) to 100 (absolutely certain about their belief). All of them give their belief a rank of 100 suggesting that they feel their belief is unassailable, but in responding to questions about how they can support this assessment, they all discover there are problems. A couple begin to rethink things while others either reaffirm that they can’t be wrong or get uncomfortable and seek to end the conversation.

Magnabosco is generally very good in these conversations, but acknowledges that he is still learning and often makes what he considers to be mistakes. On the whole, his approach seems less confrontational than Boghossian’s and reminds me a lot of the “client centered” dialogs advocated by a clinical psychologist of many years ago named Carl Rogers. I had to learn this technique at one time, but hadn’t had any real need to use it for many years. I suppose I could build up my skills in it again since it isn’t particularly difficult to learn. In fact, you could learn much of it from watching these videos. The technique here is not being used as a therapy of course, it is just a way to keep a conversation going on a topic that might ordinarily become more difficult to discuss.

Conversations with the CPC – 2

Our second conversation with a group of members of the Community Presbyterian Church (CPC) occurred on Tuesday, November 11th. It was a somewhat smaller group since a number of participants were either away or occupied with other activities. However, we had a total of 7 people (3 CPC and 4 GRAF). So enough to have an interesting discussion with a variety of points of view.

I had come with a brief agenda developed with Kim that included discussing the choice of a name for the group should one ever be needed and then a return to the question about spirituality that we had begun with at the previous meeting. As it happened, discussing the name put us on an entirely different track and we never go back to the spirituality question.

One of the CPC members had sent out a notice about a group offering training on developing understanding among groups with different “worldviews” in the Twin Cities. She suggested that the term “worldview” might serve us better than referring to our conversation as an “interfaith dialog”. The problem with that phrase is that GRAF doesn’t have a “faith” position unless you count a denial of faith as having any value as a position. There have been lots of problems already with the use of “interfaith” because it concedes the ground to the religious and serves to imply that faith is the premier issue in a dialog between believing and nonbelieving groups. So, we began to discuss alternative words that we might use and that quickly led to some basic questions: What are we trying to accomplish? What is our goal? How can our chosen name more clearly communicate what we are up to?

At our initial meeting I had provided a very brief description of what I thought we were trying to do, but it emphasized what GRAF was seeking to get out of it and not so much what CPC might get from it. So I returned to that description and started to fill in some of the gaps and to clarify what was intended. Mostly, that came down to saying that Kim and I were in agreement that we shared a lot of values and goals in life – hers perhaps reflecting the dictates of her faith, mine reflecting a long standing attachment to the secular/humanistic perspective. Given that we shared these things even if for different reasons, it seemed we ought to be able to work together in the advancement of those values in the community as a whole and take action together on those values.

This led to affirming the first reason offered by Chris Stedman for speaking with a religious group which I had previously put aside as not really necessary at this point. It was the need for GRAF to partner with a larger and more resource rich group in some projects that would exceed our current capacity given our small membership. For the CPC members this required also giving examples of what we choose to work on as partners. It also led to a more detailed discussion of the prejudice and hostility GRAF has faced and would likely continue to face by becoming more visible and our need for support from others like the CPC.

The discussion became more and more relaxed and comfortable for all involved as we proceeded and discovered in our words support for the initial idea that we shared many values. I don’t know that the CPC members were surprised to find that we had or shared values similar to their own, but their interest was intense enough that they suggested we put aside the religious issues that we had started with and spend more time exploring all the shared ideas we had. I suggested we work with Herb Silverman’s list which I’ve noted here. They agreed to this and I was given the task of passing around the link to his article and also to break the news to Kim who was not at the meeting so she would understand why her desire to talk about belief and faith had been postponed.

So, an enjoyable meeting that cut the tension that had existed at the start. We still have a long way to go even with the list of shared values since Herb’s wording is not going to be exactly what GRAF or CPC members may be comfortable with. For example, Herb lists agreement that the bible contains a lot of wisdom, but shouldn’t be take literally. I would go farther and note that the bible contains a lot more lunacy and barbarism than wisdom and not only shouldn’t be read literally, but recognized as less than the “greatest story ever told”. Some parts shouldn’t be read at all let alone literally. While the CPC members we have met so far would likely agree with some of the limitations of the bible, I’m not sure they would be eager to trash the barbaric sections as eagerly as I might.

We meet again next month. This hasn’t been a bad idea at all…yet.