Welcome one and all to the cheesy late holidays card edition of the Humanist Symposium! This edition doffs a cap to every guilty afterthought holidays card sent in response to that old schoolmate, coworker, or distant relative whose existence came back into focus around the holidays because, somehow, they still had your address and sent you a card.
The cover features the back-drawer-quality stylings of the card you sent in reply -- a picturesque winter setting resembling nothing from your actual experience, featuring a horse-driven sleigh, a frigid stream passing beneath a stone arch bridge, a tiny orange cabin in the woods, and a faux-handwritten-typeface greeting whose sentiment embarrasses all previous efforts at ecumenical, multiculturalist vagueness. In short, it's the kind of card a charitable organization sends free in hopes you'll donate and that you squirrel away in a drawer for just such an emergency of etiquette.
Well, what can we say? Humanists aren't known for following the holiday rituals strictly. The card opens up to reveal a bundle of musings, recollections, and reflections from a variety of humanists that didn't quite make it out before the new year but that deserve your attention.
The posts for this edition are listed below, in no particular order. Enjoy!
Paul Sunstone, Don’t Tell Curtis My Secret, Uncle Paul! posted at Café Philos: Paul gives a homily about competition that spans a conversation over toy cars with his five-year-old nephew to the ideals of the ancient Greeks and back again. It's not only a nice reminder to "focus on your own performance, and what you can do to improve it, rather than to worry too much about what your competition is doing" but a lovely illustration of the virtues of natural curiosity.
The Ridger, The reason for the season? posted at The Greenbelt: The Ridger steps up to say that all people have good reasons to celebrate this time of year: "we can all celebrate the warmth of humanity in the depth of the cold. (Or the height of summer, if you live in the southern hemisphere, of course.) We can all celebrate family, giving, love." We certainly can!
Stefan Monsaureus, Out of the Closet posted at Polypyloctomy: In a thoughtful post on the meaning of "humanist," Stefan rather starkly concludes that "either we need some new thinking, or a new label."
Greta Christina, "Let Them Make Up Their Own Minds": Bringing Up Kids Without God posted at Greta Christina's Blog: Greta provides a lively cautionary tale about those of us seeking to raise children without religious twaddle: she recounts having been raised by non-believing parents who didn't explain why they didn't believe, leading her to "years wasted believing an embarrassing assortment of stupid woo bullshit." You might remember this post from Skeptic's Circle #77 over at Whitecoat Underground, and while you're remembering, if you're anything like me, you also might remember believing some stupid woo bullshit of your own.
Mike White, Non-Belief as a Foundation for World Belief posted at Life According to Mike White: Mike observes the stubborn fact of disparate beliefs, and proposes a humanistic belief-about-beliefs: even-handed skepticism that sees through all dogmatic barriers such that all people may "freely think and freely accept others."
vjack, Atheist Pride posted at Atheist Revolution: vjack steps back for a moment and takes justifiable pride in putting aside the blinders and blind alleys of superstition: "I am living a more authentic life, free to experience the world for what it is and not simply how I want it to be."
John Remy, How can we console others (and ourselves) without heaven or an afterlife? posted at Mind on Fire: John asks a very good question for humanists to consider and offers one possible answer inspired, in part, by the great Carl Sagan: "that long after we die our material might return to the stars." This is not only elegant and beautiful in its way, but it has the virtue of being true, and surely that should count for something.
Lynet, Subjectivity posted at Elliptica: Addressing an audience of fellow skeptical humanists who tend to be wary of a particular version of the moralistic fallacy, Lynet encourages us to consider the boundaries between the subjective and the objective, and offers a thought experiment to test both the boundary and our attachment to it. Don't worry, it ends happily: "You can't leave your subjectivity behind. And you don't have to. Aren't you glad?" Yes. Yes I am!
Brian Larnder, It's All About the Suffering posted at Primordial Blog: After highlighting some of the shortcomings of Buddhism and Stoicism on the question of human suffering, Brian favors the Epicurean principle that "we should organize our lives to maximize pleasure while avoiding unnecessary pain." As humanists, we are free to set aside religion's puzzles of theodicy, its facile dismissals of suffering, and its perverse mystifications of pain, and realize simply that bad stuff is part of a good life.
Alonzo Fyfe, Political Considerations for Religious Belief posted at Atheist Ethicist: Alonzo makes an argument that "we have every right to hold somebody’s religious views against them when we vote," correctly noting that a candidate's religious beliefs cannot be separated from his or her foreseeable conduct in office. And that it is not only the right but the duty of voters to come to reasoned, fact-based conclusions about a candidate's foreseeable conduct in office, a duty that may sometimes involve considering the candidate's religious views.
Garnet David, The Porous Nature of Thought posted at Glittering Muse: Starting from the premise that "the Self includes the body and mind, the whole package," Garnet walks us through walking, thinking, reacting, emoting, and how we might use humanistic meditation techniques to bring these into harmony. Garnet gives us a tidy example of thinking about the mind and body as a system without invoking a "ghost in the machine," soul, or any such supernatural stuff.
Greta Christina, Atheist Funerals posted at Greta Christina's Blog: Greta challenges the non-religious to set aside our pooh-poohing of the afterlife for a moment and give serious thought to our funerals. Speaking for herself, she declares "my funeral will be the last thing I do, and I'd love to have the last thing I do be to say to the world, 'Life and death without God or the afterlife are still rich and meaningful.'"
Stefan Monsaureus, Secular Communities posted at Polypyloctomy: Stefan outlines some of the challenges that have hampered the development of secular communities, and lays out some down-to-earth suggestions for building such communities going forward, lest humanism amount to nothing more than "the private retreat of third culture elites and well-spoken malcontents." Geez, Stefan, I'm right here! Did you mean to type that out loud? But seriously, there is some very good food for thought here, of interest to anyone who wishes to see humanism take shape as a positive vision and influential force in social, cultural, and political affairs.
I want to thank all the contributors for making this a rich and varied Humanist Symposium, and special thanks to Adam at Daylight Atheism for letting me carry the torch.
If one or more of these posts has inspired or aggravated you, worry not: the next Humanist Symposium will be hosted by Countries Beginning With I on 27 January 2008. The guidelines and submissions can be found here.