As the last hours of 2015 pass, it’s time to revisit the themes and ideas that I kept returning to over the year. These are the most significant:
A Violent Year
Paris suffered not one, but two atrocities. In January, there was a bloody terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo, committed by fanatics who slaughtered artists for the imaginary crime of blasphemy. I mused about whether terrorism is courageous and reacted with disbelief when Pope Francis condoned the violence. Then, in November, there was another, even worse attack on the city itself, too tragic for me to write more than a brief paean.
In the Middle East, 2015 saw the emergence of ISIS, the most brutal and violent Islamist group yet. I wrote about what could draw Muslims to join such a squalid sect and lamented the destruction of knowledge and history at the hands of the fanatics. In South Asia, the world witnessed the ongoing slaughter of secularists at the hands of Islamist thugs, while the government sits on its hands. But it’s not just Islam that’s responsible for violence: every religion has its own violent fundamentalists, as I pointed out in “Saffron Fascism“.
The U.S., meanwhile, is awash in guns and plagued by violence that knows no boundaries of race or religion. A gun-fondling atheist killed three of his Muslim neighbors; two Islamist gunmen attacked a Mohammed cartoon contest; a white supremacist killed nine people at a historic black church; an anti-choice Christian terrorist assaulted a Planned Parenthood. In the latter two cases, I pointed out the complicity of historically racist theology and irresponsible, lying anti-choice rhetoric that radicalized the killers.
The biggest single civil-rights story of the year was the coming of marriage equality to America. Prior to the ruling, Alabama tried to create a constitutional crisis by reviving the Jim Crow-era idea of nullification, and a religious right-to-refuse-service law took shape but was beaten back in Indiana.
But all those stories were trumped by the Supreme Court making marriage equality the law of the land in Obergefell v. Hodges. I dissected the religious right’s fallback position in “The Manhattan Option“, pointed out in the Guardian how this tactic could work against them, and ridiculed the hypocrisy of bigots like Kim Davis who tried to ignore the ruling. Last but not least, I praised Ireland for enacting marriage equality by overwhelming popular vote.
Social Justice & Civil Rights
The Black Lives Matter movement continued to roil American politics, especially in Baltimore, where there were protests over the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of the police. I tried to put the outrage in context by showing how and why segregation became public policy in the U.S. I also responded to a very confused atheist who claimed to be against “ideology” and wrote about the “Sad Puppies'” attempt to hijack the Hugo Awards.
In the first half of the year, I discovered the financial-independence blogger Mr. Money Mustache and wrote about how his philosophy is concordant with humanism. I contemplated whether advancing technology will create a post-work society, what the economy is even for, and whether morality demands extreme altruism to help the less fortunate.
My marathon review of Atlas Shrugged is approaching its conclusion. This year, we reviewed the second movie and toured the fantastical capitalist utopia of Galt’s Gulch.
Leaving Liberal Faith
Some of my most controversial posts this year invited liberal, pro-LGBT theists to disassociate from churches that attack the people whose rights they support. I pointed out that if you defend human rights, atheism is a much easier way to do it; rebutted the more common replies; and asked why they think God took so long to deliver corrective revelations. I gave a specific example in the case of liberal Mormons dismayed by their church’s great leap backwards on LGBT rights.
Although Obamacare was upheld yet again, 2015 saw a resurgence of anti-science fundamentalists who want to erase the past and deny the future. I also wrote about the astounding hypocrisy of Christians who want to keep Syrian refugees out, and offered a humanist view of welcome.
Glimmers of Optimism
Despite the bad news and bloodshed, 2015 continued to show signs of human progress. I described scientific triumphs like the first reusable orbital rocket and the successful New Horizons mission to Pluto.
Stories like these remind us that, for better or for worse, we live at the cusp of history. To have a realistic picture of where we stand, it’s essential to pay attention to the news you don’t see. In the Guardian, I wrote about trends of improvement that give me hope for 2016.
Writing & Speaking
I went into the lions’ den to speak to a secular student group in Alabama, debated Andrew Murtagh before two Christian audiences in Indianapolis, and spoke about the coming secular era at the SSA’s annual convention in Columbus. I published Arc of Fire, the fourth and final in my Caliel Cycle series of fantasy novels.