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The Secular Coalition gets a new executive director, and (I think) gets it right May 3, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Skepticism and atheism.
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I have been a fan of the past executive directors of the SCA.  Lori Lipman Brown and Sean Faircloth are both smart, friendly, fun-loving people who I enjoyed getting to know.  When Sean left the position to be with the Richard Dawkins Foundation, there was the hanging question of who would be chosen to succeed him.

And today we have an answer from Hemant Mehta’s blog.  The choice is a former Republican lobbyist named Edwina Rogers.  I have never heard of her until today, but let me tell you, based on what I read from Hemant’s interview, why I think that the choice is a good one.

First, her answers to Hemant’s questions are encouraging.  She’s a nontheist (her preferred term), secularist, and she seems to be aware of the issues which the SCA is designed to confront.  In short, she’s one of us.

Second, the fact that she is a she is a plus in the sense that we do have some issues with gender inequality in the larger community of reason.  Not that hiring a man would have been a mistake, but this is an added bonus from an equality point of view. 

Third, she has inroads to Republicans.  This, I think, is the most important part.  For some time there has been an idea that there is a divide in our “culture wars” which divide along the lines of Democrat/liberal/secularist versus Republican/conservative/theocrat.  This divide is way too simplistic, and as Edwina Rogers states, its not true in the majority of cases.

Secularism is not a uniquely liberal value or cause.  Yes, there are many conservative voices who declare their opposition to the liberal and secularist agendas, but even those conservatives have much to gain, and maintain, in a secular government.  With Edwina speaking for us, perhaps some of those voices will be forced to allow their connected ears to get some exercise.  Seculaism has much to offer conservatives, especially the religious ones.

Yes, I have stark political and philosophical differences with conservative people (some who are family members) who view me as some crazed, brainwashed, confused elitist who has been fed the liberal lie of separation of church and state.  Perhaps Edwina’s voice can carry a little more weight with such people (perhaps not, in many), ot at least be able to frame them in ways those people will understand.

And there may in fact be a majority of conservative contituents who hold similar views about us elitist progressive secularists, but there are paths towards developing political alliances with secular conservatives who hold, or at least are near, levers of power and authority.

I would prefer to see America become more progressive as a whole.  I would like to see the Democratic party become truly progressive, fully secular, and deal with real social inequalities such as those brought up by the Occupy movement.  I would like to see the Republican party return to leaders such as Barry Goldwater, rather than the theocracy-downed idiocy that so often sways Republican constituents and legislation.

I would like to see real, substantive, argument about policy between people who intelligently disagree, rather than be distracted by Biblical proclamations and religiously-based anti-gay, anti-women, and anti-science ideologies which end up doing damage to the nation we all live in.  There is much to love about America, but sometimes those attributes become smudged with too much mud from religious contamination.

Theocratic tendencies in politics harm us all in ways which we often don’t even realize, unless we are paying close attention.  Having someone familiar with conservative lobbying circles assisting in our efforts to support secularism in America will be a boon for us all–liberal, conservative, etc–long-term.

I think that the SCA made a smart move in choosing Edwina Rogers.  Let’s see if I’m right.  In the mean time, let’s all welcome Edwina to her new position.

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Past liberal, future conservative. April 24, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Skepticism and atheism.
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I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what it means to be sexually liberated.  The 1960s began a new cultural revolution for sexuality in the west, and it has allowed the once radical idea of sexual freedom for adults to become mainstream.  And, as I see it, what was once radical traversed through liberal/progressive to mainstream, and its trajectory is pushing it towards conservativism for future generations. 

Currently many people, who would have been thought of as radical to 1950’s repressive standards, are now trying to defend our cultural accomplishment of liberated sexuality against the remaining religiously-motivated reactionaries who are trying to maintain a pseudo-traditional view of strict abstinence towards life-long monogamous marriage. 

I don’t have statistics available to me right now, but I would bet that evidence exists to support the claim that the majority of people in countries like the US, Western Europe, etc agree that non-married adults who choose to maintain sexual relationships with other non-married adults should be permitted to do so at their whim.  That is, our freedom to have relationships of our choosing, as adults, is mostly uncontroversial.

This, in our culture, has not always been the case in the last couple of centuries.   There were many social stigmas as well as other cultural control mechanisms which made such things rather difficult for adults, especially woman, even if it did happen (our desires are too strong to eliminate completely!).

So, having gone through a couple of generations since the sexual revolution of the 60s, most people accept a worldview of sexually active adults.  Many people still may have reservations about gay marriage, the alternative sex world, or non-monogamy but do not object to the extistence of relationships which include homosexual, kinky, or non-monogamous behavior if that is what people want.

When we talk about “conservatives,” then, we are talking about people who oppose homosexuality, non-procreative sex, and “adultery,” right? I mean, people who oppose such things certainly are conservative, but are they the extreme conservatives or merely the standard conservatives?

For me, to be conservative is to attempt to maintain some “normal” or mainstream behavior in order to preserve cultural practices which are beneficial either because they are valuable in themselves or because they work to maintain some other aspect of culture which is valuable.

As an example, take the rhetoric about traditional v. Gay marriage.  Gay marriage, it is claimed, seeks to destroy “traditional marriage”, even though the “tradition” of marriage has already changed from a property arrangement to an agreement between two individuals to remain committed to each other and share responsibility for resources, children, etc. 

That is, the former tradition of a property arrangement, a tradition once defended by conservatives of an era past, has been transformed by progressives (“liberals”) of the same era, and has become traditional.  And now that new tradition is being defended again by people who share the opinion of those once-radical progressives, but we call them conservatives today. 

We at least call them not-liberal (as my own father’s political status is on facebook).  The point is that history is currently moving towards liberalization, progressive values, etc.  Even if it is moving slower than I would like.  Also, it could possibly start moving in the other direction just as easily, so we need to keep up the effort.

My hypothesis is this; within the next generation or so, or at least within my lifetime, what we now see as the mainstream view of relationships will begin to look more conservative—what is now centrist, mainstream, or traditional will shift as progressive people recognize the legitimacy of views which are seen as radical now; things like polyamory, for example.

Liberals of today are maintaining pretty tame views about sexual liberation.  Even my own generation, people I went to highschool, college, etc (as well as those 10 years younger, in many cases) hold views about relationships which look to me, from my “radical” point of view, as conservative by comparison.

These are people who self-identify as liberals.  They support Barack Obama, gay marriage, science, and are almost exclusively pro-choice.  But they see much of BDSM, swinging, polyamory, etc as radical.  They think it is damaging, impractical, or at best experimental.  They tend to question whether my engagement and relationships can really be legitimately serious, important, and be a function of mature, responsible, true love.

Ladies, gentlemen, and genderqueerfolk, I present to you tomorrow’s tradition-defending, centrist (but leaning conservative), pragmatic culture.  They will take what they have learned, in response to yesterday’s conservatism, and create a newer conservatism of their own.

And when they are retired, grandparents, and defending the tradition they were raised with, our grandchildren will be pushing the possibilities of relationships, sexuality, etc in directions that us weird folk can only imagine and dream about now. 

And we will be proud while those whining conservatives we grew up with will be grumbling about traditional one-at-a-time spouses, how they had to fumble around with their first sex partners to learn, rather than having excellent comprehensive sex education which makes young adults unashamed to enjoy sex, etc.  Just like conservatives do. 

And these future generations will be the newer liberals, progressing in ways hard for us to imagine.  Our generation will be the conservative generation, with some of us weird folks sticking around to appreciate what legacy we worked for, were ostracized for, and for which we were labeled as freaks all our lives.

Well, let’s get on with it then, freaks!  Let’s pave an easier road for the next couple of generations, and see what unrepressed, unshamed, and radical people can do with the possibilities of love, sex, and (hopefully) skepticism.

Destruction of Traditional Values Should be Legal, Safe, and Rare April 27, 2009

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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It is my proposal for discussion that social progress must, necessarily, destroy some traditional values. It is my hope that this destruction will only take place where those traditional values are themselves causing destruction, hopefully unintentionally.

Is there anything wrong with being homosexual or bisexual? Is there anything wrong with being polyamorous? Is there anything wrong with being an atheist? Is there anything wrong with these things in themselves?

Is there anything wrong with a society that accepts homosexuals on equal terms? Is there anything wrong with a culture that accepts non-monogamy on equal terms with monogamy? Is there anything wrong with a world that does not care if a person does not believe in spurious metaphysical claims?

Society will change as the individuals that make it up change. And as we see the principles of moral behavior projected onto these new personal behaviors of people, we would be remiss…no, we would be hypocritical…not to apply the same values of fairness and justice upon the similar social structures.

Marriage, through most of history, has been defined as being between the opposing sexes. The reasons make sense, as in order to raise children it is the minimal requirement that one man and one woman get together and make babies. And as society began to complicate and settle, allowing people to explore more complicated relationships, it should be of no surprise that some would create situations, both unintended and eventually intended, that would forgo the status quo of what was done usually.

Question #1:

Is it the case that, purely on an interpersonal level, that relationships can be made to work between two people of the same sex, three people, and can people live fulfilling lives without religion or faith? More generally, can people live happy, productive, and moral lives not following the normal paths? Does eschewing traditional worldviews and values necessitate that life will become difficult, perverse, etc?

I think that the answer is quite clearly that casting off traditional values and lifestyles can often have its difficulties, but that it is very possible to live fulfilling lives. The success of the attempts will vary depending on other social considerations.

Question #2:

Is it reasonable to expect that individuals living their lives according to their values will not be noticed by, inspire, and inform other people of alternative possibilities of life? That is, even if these non-traditional people never write a blog, protest, try to pass legislation, run for office, etc in order to support their non-traditional lifestyle, will they simply go unnoticed?

I think the answer to this question is a mixed bag. I think that their are many things that people do that go unnoticed. The reasons are varied, but it is clear that there are many things that remain unseen, unspoken of at work or at parties (at least mixed parties), and so go largely unnoticed. I think that eventually the general awareness of such things happening is nearly impossible to contain, even if the specific people and places are not known.

Question#3:

When non-traditional ideas spread to so-called “mainstream” culture, what happens? That is, when the cat is out of the bag what do people say? Again mixed bag. Depending on how close to home, emotionally, religiously, and morally (yes, all of these things are related) these non-traditional ideas are. Thus things that challenge “normal” views which people have close emotional associations with such as religion, sexuality, family, etc, the more likely the challenge will be taken personally and thus cause a defensive reaction.

This means that the issue becomes of social consequence, but only because it is a strongly personal issue that challenge ideas of society.

Question#4

Does it make any sense to believe that changes at the personal level, things that individuals do, should not often change society eventually?

Any change that happens on the personal level has the potential to eventually transform social norms. Why? Personal transformations are the building blocks of social change. Thus as interpersonal relationships change in nature, it is only natural that those people will begin to redefine concepts which their relationships use. Concepts like ‘family,’ ‘marriage,’ and ‘even ‘love’ will take on different meanings in the context of their new experiences.

Atheists have been around for thousands of years. We didn’t always call ourselves that, but we were around. For most of human history, religion, politics, and economics were tied together in ways that they are not any longer in much of the world. One of the many factors of this change is the concept of separation of church and state, which was a radical change in the US Constitution but which was probably inevitable to happen. Thus, the personal changes of small numbers of people that didn’t believe in gods were able, eventually, to demand political representation that would have been nonsensical in prior eras.

Same sex marriage would have been a concept that made no sense hundreds of years ago. Even in times and places where gay sex was acceptable even if it was generally done behind closed doors, the concept of marriage had a meaning surrounded by family and property, and not so much with love, tax breaks, sharing of medical benefits, or simple interpersonal bonding as it does not for many people.

But as these concepts began to be associated with marriage, the institution itself began to change. This was not an intentional effort to change what marriage is, it is just part of the process of history and culture. Thus, when men who wanted to cohabit, adopt children, or just declare to the world their love for one another were able to say so in the open without excessive fear of social reprisal, of course they want to the same legal rights as straight people. It just followed by simply application of human rights to what the concept of marriage had become.

That is, it was not the homosexuals and lesbians that redefined marriage, it was the changing culture that had already done so through changes in women’s rights, economic shifts, and changes to sexual culture in general, and gays simply saw that it naturally applied to them because they were doing exactly what many straight couples were doing.

The fact that certain elements of society had not realized that this change had occurred, realized and disagreed with the changing tides of said change, or simply don’t want people not like them to have the same rights for simple bigotry is an unfortunate aspect of this slow social change.

There will inevitably be some people who are operating under a different set of assumptions, value different and sometimes older concepts, or for whom the older ideas are so important that to see them challenges is a personal, cultural, and possibly theological affront.

But the cultural change is not an attack against them. Rather, the reactionary elements of culture are an attack of a change already in process. And while the change that happens will actually destroy their values in many ways, it is not done in order to achieve this end.

It is somewhat like what happens when a man who has spent a lifetime collecting and adoring vinyl records finds that music is no longer produced in this form. It affects him personally and his offense is understood and we feel for his loss, but the world has moved on. He will still be able to find others who share this love, old stores that still have some left-over copies of a favorite album, but the time has passed. He can try to prevent it, but it is likely in vain.

And certainly there will be true losses, true beautiful tragedies in the loss of certain constraints, values, and of lost traditions, but this is part of the human condition. I lament these looses, but at the same time I celebrate the process of culture, as I hope it will lead to greater personal freedoms and move away from bigotry and fear that are often the result of clinging to traditions, even if said traditions contain their own beauty as well.

Within the lives of people who hold more traditional views are great points of beauty, love, and genuine humanity in its greatest forms. But sometimes to hold onto such ideas, despite their beauty, is to cause unseen and unintended harm that made necessary the change that threatens them.

Traditional concepts of marriage was not originally intended to discriminate against people, but it does. Traditional values of meaning, morality, and society was not, I don’t think, originally intended to create social and cultural difficulties for atheists, but they do. These institutions, with all of their beauty, were not intended to have the consequences they have, but they have those consequences.

By being socially conservative about many things, one is trying to hold onto to beautiful and meaningful things. These are things that define large segments of society in ways that may not be replaced easily, if at all. But as we pull back and look at the affects of traditional policies, definitions, and values, we find that they have consequences that many, and I would hope most, of social conservatives would not want to impose upon people if they understood the affects.

I will continue to hope that the intention behind people is to preserve what is important to them, and not to destroy what is important to others.

I say that because as a social liberal, I do not intend to destroy the values of conservatives, I must admit that this is an unintentional result of the struggle for fairness, liberty, and positive social change. We do not wish to destroy traditional values except where those values threaten greater liberty for all.

I do not challenge tradition blindly. I challenge it because tradition sometimes challenges my freedoms, as well as the freedoms of many others. I encourage people to keep all challenges in check, just in case we overstep our bounds. But I do believe that many traditions will have to be destroyed to make room for improved traditions that cannot live alongside the ones being protected by conservatives.