January 9, 2015
Cause & Effect is the biweekly newsletter of the Center for Inquiry community, covering the wide range of work that you help make possible.
The Main Events
When Free Expression Was Threatened, We Pushed Back
It has been a remarkable time for the cause of free expression.
Earlier this week, as the world reeled from the murderous attack on French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo, we firmly expressed our solidarity and resolve. The terrorists who killed 12 members of Charlie Hebdo’s staff in Paris were reportedly motivated by the magazine’s frequent satirical jabs at Islam and religion in general, and perhaps in part by a cartoon of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al–Baghdadi (though the magazine has long earned the ire of religious extremists of all kinds, as explained in this 2012 New Yorker article). In response, we made clear our absolute commitment to free expression and our support of Charlie Hebdo by posting the al–Baghdadi cartoon image prominently on the CFI homepage. We also released an official statement, making our position clear:
We are heartbroken by the unthinkable and cowardly attack at the magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris today, and outraged that such a barbaric act was a response to journalists and satirists exercising their right to free expression. … We will not be cowed by the savagery of those few who would like to see the world dragged back to the Dark Ages, who will kill to protect their backward ideologies from criticism, and we will continue to fight for the right of all people to dissent, to satirize, and to freely speak their minds.
This is a cause close to our hearts, in part because in 2006, our magazine Free Inquiry was the first (and for quite some time, the only) U.S. publication to run the controversial “Danish cartoons” of Muhammad that sparked international outrage and violence. That original article is now available online free of charge.
Michael De Dora, our public policy director and representative to the UN, was a guest on The Ed Show on MSNBC to discuss the attacks and their implications for free expression. Our statement on the events in Paris were covered in a wide range of outlets, including Variety, and CFI president and CEO Ron Lindsay gave interviews to US News, WBFO radio, the Kingkade & Breakenridge radio show, and a had long, in-depth conversation on Connections with Evan Dawson on WXXI.
On Thursday, we were confronted with more horrifying news, that Saudi dissident Raif Badawi would begin to suffer the first 50 of the total 1000 lashes decreed by his sentencing, which were carried indeed out in barbaric fashion. He is also serving 10 years in prison, all for the crime of “insulting Islam” for running a liberal website. Our history with Raif is a deep and personal one, having defended him at the UN Human Rights Council, even in the face of Saudi rage at our representative. We released a statement demanding that the Saudi government spare Raif this brutality, saying in part:
The notion that Islam or any religion must be protected from questioning is incompatible with fundamental human rights, and can motivate extremists to engage in outrageous acts, as confirmed by the attacks in Paris. It is human beings who deserve respect, and it is the right to free expression that must be protected.
Just a few weeks ago, a rather silly movie became the center of an international debate, as Sony Pictures announced it had cancelled the entire release of its film The Interview, a comedy about the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in response to terroristic threats from shadowy sources. At the core of CFI’s mission is the right to free expression, regardless of the offense it might cause, so Ron Lindsay sent a letter to Sony Pictures, offering to screen the movie at CFI headquarters in Buffalo, and expressing our disappointment at Sony’s capitulation to threats by individuals still unknown, saying that the cancellation sent a troubling message that even powerful corporations will censor ideas that might meet the disapproval of particular figures or regimes.
As the controversy swirled, and even President Obama expressed his regret at Sony’s self–censorship, the media took note of the one organization that was standing up for free speech and defying the nebulous warnings from mysterious, unidentified characters. The Associated Press covered our offer, as Ron and CFI’s Paul Fidalgo both gave interviews on Buffalo television news.
In the end, Sony reversed itself, and we were pleased that they did. As an organization that fights for the right to dissent and express unpopular opinions in places around the world, it was only fitting that we fight for this right here in the U.S. too.
Create a Likable Sitcom Atheist, Win Likable Prize Money
The freethought community is full of people who are creative, with clever and irreverent senses of humor, and believe it or not, some of us are rather pleasant to be around. You might not know any of that, however, by the way nonbelievers are portrayed in TV and movies. More often than not, if a character is an atheist, they’re grouchy, mean, amoral, or simply emotionless. We think we can do better, and more specifically, we think you can do better, and that’s why we’ve partnered with the Freedom From Religion Foundation to launch the No God But Funny contest, where we ask you to come up with your own sitcom script, or film a short “webisode,” featuring a likable atheist lead character. Best of all, there’s prize money to be had. Head on over to the No God But Funny website to learn more.
REASON FOR CHANGE: CFI’s International Conference Coming This June!
Our next major conference, “Reason for Change,“ will take place June 11–15, 2015, in Buffalo, NY, with featured speakers that include Rebecca Goldstein, Susan Jacoby, and Richard Dawkins, among a whole host of brilliant experts, activists, and thinkers. New developments about the conference are happening all the time, from events being added, new speakers joining the lineup, to additional details and information about the program.
We’ve been posting news about the conference, as well as showcasing particular speakers and events, at the conference’s official website. You can follow all of it, just like a regular blog, on Tumblr. This week, we highlighted three speakers who have made extraordinary journeys from faith to nonbelief: Clergy Project alumni Catherine Dunphy and Jerry DeWitt, and the executive director of Ex–Muslims of North America, Muhammad Syed. You can stay up to date with all the action by clicking the “+ FOLLOW” button on the upper right of the website.
If you haven’t already, register right now!
News from HQ and the CFI Community
Still the Anti–Claus, Thirty Years Later
The holidays are over, and perhaps no one is more pleased than the Council for Secular Humanism’s executive director Tom Flynn. As Christmas Day approached, Tom looked back on his three decades of opting out of all of the trappings of Christmas on secular principle. In a Free Inquiry op–ed (available to subscribers only), Tom reflected on how things have changed since he began going “yule–free,” and on the CFI blog, he unearths a piece he wrote from way back in 1992 for the Secular Humanist Bulletin, where he first donned the title of “Anti–Claus,” a persona that has become a tradition of its own, as Tom annually delivers lectures on “The Trouble with Christmas” (and of course has a book of the same name). To cap the season off, Tom sat down for a special bonus episode of Point of Inquiry, in which he chats with producer Nora Hurley about the past 30 years of rejecting Christmas in a holiday–obsessed culture.
In other fronts of Tom’s one–man War on Christmas, he duels with CFI’s education director David Koepsell to see which man’s position on the holiday would most upset Kirk Cameron, and Tom also rejects the “subtle sensations” of holiday magic that New York Times columnist David Brooks assumes we all feel: “I have never had a religious experience. I have never felt oceanic oneness with the cosmos. No wordless mystery has ever struggled to reach me.” May it ever be so!
A Secular Summit to Lobby Lawmakers in Ohio
On January 20, freethinkers in the Buckeye State will get a chance to make their voices heard at the statehouse, as CFI–Northeast Ohio holds its third Ohio Secular Summit. In addition to meeting with their state representatives and senators during prearranged appointments, attendees will get a tour of the statehouse and hear from speakers working to advance the secular cause. Michael De Dora, CFI’s national director public policy, will provide tips and guidance for how to approach and raise concerns with legislators. You can register now!
Touching a Nerve with CFI–L.A.
At CFI–Los Angeles’s Feed Your Brain lecture series, more than 125 people turned out to hear from Patricia Churchland, professor emerita of the University of California, San Diego. Churchland delivered a presentation on morality and the brain, which is the subject of her book, Touching a Nerve. Churchland also discussed the neuroscience of near–death experiences, the evolution of brains in mammals, and how various brain chemicals affect behavior. Everyone’s brain chemicals were pleased by the event.
CFI’s president and CEO Ron Lindsay will be their next featured speaker, discussing subjects from his new book, The Necessity of Secularism: Why God Can’t Tell Us What to Do, on January 18.
Honoring Activism at CFI–Michigan
Before the holidays descended on all of us, CFI–Michigan held their West and East Michigan Solstice Dinners, where awards were given out to outstanding members and notable activists. The Volunteer of the Year award was given to Tim Hamlin for his work in building attendance, and promoting CFI in the Muskegon area, as well as working with others to pursue a secular presence in local government. The Freethinker of the Year awards were given to Mike R. and Shirley Draft for their work in developing and hosting their twice monthly Living Without Religion Support Groups in Grand Rapids. Shirley had still been a closet nonbeliever, even though she’s been an atheist for 50 years, and said at the awards presentation, “I guess this is as good a time as any to finally come out!”
Shirley joined CFI-Michigan’s Jennifer Beahan for an interview about the need for community and support among nonbelievers on WGVU radio.
CFI in the Media
CFI staff were featured in a great deal of media over the past couple of weeks, as indicated above in the stories about the Paris attacks, Raif Badawi, and The Interview. But that wasn’t all.
● Ben Radford was a guest on MSNBC’s Greenhouse, discussing the hypothetical impact climate change would have on mythical creatures like Bigfoot.
● Karen Kaplan at the Los Angeles Times reports on research showing that fully two–thirds of Dr. Oz’s advice is unsupported by real science, and cites CFI communications director Paul Fidalgo’s characterization of Oz as a seller of “snake oil.”
● CFI’s public policy team, Michael De Dora and Ed Beck, contribute to a roundup of 2014’s most important stories in atheism at Religion News Service, highlighting the Greece v. Galloway case and the advancement of nonbelievers’ issues in the U.S. military.
● In a major piece on near–death experiences and questions about the afterlife, CNN.com looks to our own Joe Nickell for the skeptical perspective.
● The Monterey Herald covers the SkeptiCamp event, with references to CFI–Los Angeles, the Independent Investigations Group, and Skeptical Inquirer.
● Secularism researcher Phil Zuckerman is interviewed by Religion News Service on feelings of mystery and awe, and also writes a piece in Huffington Post on the state of secularism, and in each is contrasted with the less–rosy perspectives of Tom Flynn.
Highlights from CFI on the Web
● On our podcast Point of Inquiry, Lindsay Beyerstein talks to reproductive rights advocate Lynn Paltrow about how women in the U.S. are expected to give up much of their autonomy when they become pregnant, and how those who seek medical help for pregnancy complications are being met with incarceration and outrageous sentences.
● Huffington Post publishes two essays by Ron Lindsay. The first is on the debate over Islam’s role in violent extremism. The other is a rebuttal to the revivied canard that atheism leads to immorality.
● Stephen Law explores the legitimate purposes behind lampooning religion, and it’s not just to “upset” people. “Laughter may not be the only way of getting people to recognise the truth, but it’s sometimes the quickest and most effective way.”
● Joe Nickell investigates the history of Bigfoot sightings in the Yukon.
● Ben Radford takes to task those who condemned Sony for planning to permanently cancel The Interview (including CFI), which he asserts was never really at issue. He also blogs about the importance of answering queries about the paranormal that come from the public, especially children.
● Tom Flynn makes his pick for the biggest religion story not covered in 2014, that of the Pope’s oversized role in mending U.S.–Cuba relations. “We should be saying more about how ridiculous it is that in this day and age, the Vatican still enjoys the status of a sovereign state.”
● CFI Libraries recently acquired the papers and materials of Dr. Martin T. Orne, a world renowned psychiatrist who did groundbreaking work in the areas of false memories and the unreliability of testimony drawn from hypnosis. Tim Binga explains.
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Upcoming CFI Events
● CFI–Tallahassee hears a presentation on “The Holocaust and Human Nature” from Dr. Maya Ackerman.
● Sheril Kirshenbaum joins CFI–Michigan to discuss science literacy in the 21st century.
● CFI–Northeast Ohio holds its 20–year anniversary luncheon, joined by Tom Flynn.
● CFI–Northeast Ohio holds its Secular Summit 3.0.
● Ron Lindsay discusses The Necessity of Secularism with the Bakersfield Area Skeptics Society.
● CFI–Michigan takes part in a service event by helping out Feeding America West Michigan’s mobile food pantry.
● David Niose, Legal Director of the American Humanist Association, joins CFI–DC to discuss “The Attack on Reason”
● Gary Doherty, author of The Ignition Point, discusses his book with CFI–Indiana.
● Joshua Colby discusses antisocial behavior and psychopathy in a presentation for CFI–Michigan.
● CFI–Indiana holds its Fourth Annual Civic Day.
Everything we do at CFI is made possible by you and your support. Let’s keep working together for science, reason, and secular values. Donate today!
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Cause & Effect: The Center for Inquiry Newsletter
is edited by Paul Fidalgo, Center for Inquiry communications director.
The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in
Washington, D.C. It is also home to both the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism. The mission of CFI is to foster a
secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. CFI’s web address is https://centerforinquiry.org.