The Value of Autonomy

I've been following this debate between Ross Douthat and Kevin Drum about the morality of assisted suicide. In his latest post, Douthat made a telling, though apparently unintentional, statement:The slippery slope that I discussed in the column doesn't amount to much if you don't disapprove at all of people deciding to take their own lives. Absent that disapproval (and an accompanying, even-stronger disapproval of the people who assist them), you won't be bothered by... people taking lethal … [Read more...]

On Religious Right Grave-Robbers

I realize this is the season for Christmas trees, candy canes and presents, not for jack-o'-lanterns, black cats and witches, but I can't help pointing out that a rotting ghoul has crawled out of its grave and is sitting around leering at us. Unfortunately this isn't the kind of creature that goes away if you politely ignore it, so a little house-cleaning is, I think, in order.You may have heard that Elizabeth Edwards died recently after deciding to forego further treatment for metastatic … [Read more...]

How Much Comfort Does Religion Really Provide?

In past posts, I've argued that we shouldn't specifically target the beliefs of people in dire straits who rely on their religion for comfort. But there's an underlying assumption that at the very least deserves examination: Does religion actually comfort people in desperate circumstances? Does it make them feel better than they otherwise would?This seems like it should be obvious, but things that are obvious aren't always true. Take this study reported on Science Daily, which examined the … [Read more...]

The Language of God: Ultimate Meaning

The Language of God, Chapter 2By B.J. MarshallIn this section, Collins poses the questions of whether the near-ubiquity of the search for the existence of a supernatural being represents "a universal but groundless human longing for something outside ourselves to give meaning to a meaningless life and to take away the sting of death" (p.35). The search for meaning in one's life is an important question, but I don't think the search for the divine stops there. We have a curious approach to … [Read more...]

Some Sad News

I'm saddened to report the passing of David Randolph. He was 95 years old.Mr. Randolph was a renowned conductor and choral director, a fixture in the New York music scene for decades. He was known for hosting a weekly classical music program on WNYC, for teaching music at several local universities, and for a critically praised book, This Is Music. However, he's best known as the conductor of the secular St. Cecilia Chorus, which he had led since 1965 (!). He was also an outspoken freethinker … [Read more...]

A Profile in Nonbelief: Roger Ebert

Most Americans have heard of the movie critic and writer Roger Ebert. But what most people probably didn't know - what I didn't know - is that he hasn't been able to eat, drink or speak since 2006. That was the year when most of his jaw had to be surgically removed, the result of complications from thyroid cancer that nearly cost him his life. This information comes via a surprisingly moving article in Esquire by Chris Jones, which describes how Ebert's life has been altered by his illness. And … [Read more...]

The Lesson of Autumn Leaves: A Humanist Sermon

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November is a good month for poetry.Most great poetry is about transience, and with autumn in full swing, there's much in November to inspire the poet's thoughts on that topic: the last yellow and brown leaves raining from the trees; the early fall of dusk as the days continue to shorten; the gray skies and cool days as the first taste of winter frost becomes perceptible in the air, and the world settles in for its yearly sleep.While I was walking in the leaves the other day, I had a … [Read more...]

In Honor of Terry Pratchett

I should have mentioned this story much earlier, but better late than never.If you're an atheist and a regular reader of sci-fi and fantasy, you probably know the name Terry Pratchett - and if you don't, you should. He's the award-winning and much-loved author of Discworld, a series of fantasy novels set in a flat, circular world that's carried through space on the back of a giant tortoise. Discworld began as a straight-up parody of other fantasy novels, but it's moved on to parodying all … [Read more...]

Poetry Sunday: An Arundel Tomb

Today's edition of Poetry Sunday features a return of 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 … [Read more...]

Dignity in Dying: An Atheist's View

By way of Dangerous Intersection, I came across this sorrowful, beautiful story:He spent his life conducting world-renowned orchestras, but was almost blind and growing deaf – the music he loved increasingly out of reach. His wife of 54 years had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. So Edward and Joan Downes decided to die together.Edward Downes, a renowned British conductor who headed the BBC Philharmonic and served for five decades as a music director for the Royal Opera House, was going … [Read more...]


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