Poetry Sunday: Church Going

Today's edition of Poetry Sunday features the English poet and novelist Philip Larkin. Born in Coventry in 1922, Larkin received a degree in literature from Oxford in 1943. Though he worked for most of his life as a librarian at the University of Hull, he was well-known and widely acclaimed for his poetry and his work as a literary reviewer and jazz critic. He received numerous awards for his writing in his lifetime, including the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry, the German Shakespeare Prize, an … [Read more...]

Calling the Earth to Witness

According to Buddhist tradition, the final stage of Prince Siddhartha Gautama's becoming the Buddha came after he had rejected the extremes of both luxury and asceticism in his quest for enlightenment. Sitting beneath a Bodhi tree in meditation, he vowed not to stir from that spot until he had found the answer to the problem of suffering. While he sat there, he had an encounter with the demon lord Mara, who sought to keep him from enlightenment by breaking his concentration. Mara first … [Read more...]

A Particular God

Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars gives us the scoop on a California school district which voted to display posters declaring "In God We Trust" in every classroom in the district. Although one board member called the display a way of "promoting patriotism", a different quote indicates what the real intention is here: The classroom displays were first suggested by the non-profit group In God We Trust -- America Inc., whose president, Jacquie Sullivan, is a Bakersfield … [Read more...]

Georgia’s Rain Prayer Farce

It may be the 21st century, but you wouldn't know it from stories like this: Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue stepped up to a podium outside the state Capitol on Tuesday and led a solemn crowd of several hundred people in a prayer for rain on his drought-stricken state. "We've come together here simply for one reason and one reason only: To very reverently and respectfully pray up a storm," Perdue said after a choir provided a hymn. These past few months, the American South has been suffering from … [Read more...]

Report from the Secular Society Conference: Day Three

The final day of The Secular Society and Its Enemies had three programs. The first, a panel titled "Secularism: The Next Generation", was moderated by Derek Araujo and featured several young freethinkers: Matt LaClair, whom I discussed previously; Sarah Stone, a student freethought organizer from Indiana; Mark Antony Smith, a CFI intern from Arizona; Justin Trotter, the director of CFI Ontario; as well as Nica Lalli, the author of Nothing: Something to Believe In. The panelists discussed … [Read more...]

Report from the Secular Society Conference: Day Two

The second day of The Secular Society and Its Enemies was largely devoted to panel discussions. I mentioned yesterday that the conference site at the New York Academy of Sciences had some spectacular views of Ground Zero and lower Manhattan; here are a few of them I took that morning: Looking down on Ground Zero. Looking east across the river into Brooklyn. Looking north. The morning opened with a panel titled "Secularism Through History: From Spinoza to JFK", with … [Read more...]

Report from the Secular Society Conference: Day One

I mentioned back in October that this weekend I'd be attending The Secular Society and Its Enemies, the 2007 conference of the Center for Inquiry. I didn't get to post my report on the first day of the conference yesterday (since it finished rather late), so I'll do that now. My report on today's events will be up tomorrow, and Sunday's report will be posted on Monday. The conference was held at the New York Academy of Sciences in lower Manhattan, which is on the 40th floor of World Trade … [Read more...]

Advice to an Atheist

A few days ago, I had an e-mail query from an atheist looking for advice. I answered him as best as I was able, but his was a question that I think could benefit from some additional perspectives. With my correspondent's permission, I'm reprinting his query below. If you were in his situation, what would you do? My wife is a Christian and I am an Atheist. We have two small children. She knows how I feel about religion and doesn't like it, but we have basically agreed to disagree. I do not try … [Read more...]

Flickers of Conscience

One year ago this month, I posted an essay titled "A Seriously Warped Moral Compass". In it, I highlighted the disturbing tendency of religious beliefs to twist and distort a person's conscience to the point where they accept terrible evils as just acts, and, conversely, elevate harmless actions to the height of wickedness and sin. But I do wonder sometimes if even the most thorough and relentless religious brainwashing can ever completely succeed. Are human beings infinitely malleable, so that … [Read more...]

The Exploitation of Antony Flew

Have you heard the shocking news? The world's most notorious atheist has converted! No, it's not Richard Dawkins. Or Sam Harris. Or Christopher Hitchens. Or Dan Barker. Or Michael Newdow. Or Julia Sweeney. No, this world-famous, notorious atheist convert is the philosopher Antony Flew. If you're wondering, "Who?", you're probably not alone. Antony Flew is a British philosopher, now retired and of advanced age. Though fairly well-known in philosophical circles in his day, I doubt he was … [Read more...]