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By:  Elad Gilo

RSA Signator, Elad Gilo

After passing the half way mark of my domestic exchange semester at Vassar College, I think it appropriate to reflect upon secularism and “non-theism” as handled within its community. Vassar in many ways fulfills the quintessential notion of a small liberal arts college.  The small student body which is broken into much smaller class sizes, a predominantly homogeneous middle and upper-middle class demographic combined with a generally liberal-minded and idealistic student body, makes it a suitable place for free thought and general discontent with dogma and established patriarchal institutions seen to be forces of oppression.

My experience however, has been all too similar to most places I visit and in some ways similar to Reed College.  Vassar’s 5 religious student organizations compared to Reed’s one religious organization (Vassar has nearly 1000 students more than Reed) shows the proportional disparity of religious organization at Vassar compared to Reed.  Despite the relatively high number of religious groups that exist, the vast majority of individuals that I have encountered proclaim themselves to be soft secularists and a large number even express themselves to be Atheists.  While all of this is merely anecdotal, the underlying non-theistic world view of the student body prevails.  As I sat in on an ethics class, the teacher jovially poked fun at Vassar’s ever prominent and increasing atheistic student body, which in this case inhibited students from providing religious doctrine as basis for ethical and moral authority in the course.  All of this is encouraging from a secular point of view.

While clearly not possessing Reed’s staunch and ostentatious atheist culture, Vassar seems to be indicative of many comparable liberal arts colleges whose student body shies away from mainstream religion and even if more agnostic than atheist are not prepared to accept conventional conceptions of god. The difficultly, like at Reed has been to convince people of the pressing need for an organized secular movement. Had I been at Vassar for a longer period of time I would have started a Vassar Secular Alliance which currently does not exist.  When speaking to people about such a group it is hard to find resounding support.  People who may be completely onboard in terms of their own personal convictions fail to see the need for such a secular organization to exist, particularly because so much of their objection to religion is mass organization itself.  This is a pressing problem all over, at Reed as well and one that must be battled on the ground, talking to people one by one explaining the need for such organization.  Nonetheless my discussions are usually met with soft agreement but not acknowledgement of the pressing urgency.  Despite being disappointed at the lack of will to organize, I am also incredibly optimistic by the level of non-theism that currently exists on the campus and that constantly reminds me of the endless number of individuals who think similarly but go under the radar for not subscribing to a visible group; they are the silent warriors.

Freethought Books for Prisoners

This past weekend, the Reed Secular Alliance completed its Freethought Books Project mailing.  The statistics are as follows:

Boxes:  10

Books:  91

Magazines:  13

Sent To:  9 individual prisoners

1 non-theistic books to prisoners drive

TitlesThe Born Again Skeptic’s Guide to the Bible, The Soul of Science, American Infidel:  Robert G. Ingersoll, One Woman’s Fight, Essays in the Philosophy of Humanism, Keepers:  Voices of Secular Recovery, Biographical Dictionary of Scientists (2 volumes), Language, Proof, and Logic, Principles of Chemistry, Contemporary Linguistics:  An Introduction, Imagine No Superstition, God:  Hit or Myth?, Religion & Gods, God:  The Failed Hypothesis, Forbidden Fruit:  The Ethics of Humanism, Rhymes for the Irreverent, Why I Am Not a Christian, What Is Secular Humanism?, How We Believe:  The Search for God in an Age of Science, Atheism:  The Case Against God, Affirmations:  Joyful and Creative Exuberance, The Transcendental Temptation, God’s Problem, Over the Influence, Why Atheism?, The Family:  The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, Freethought on the American Frontier, The Darwin Awards

MagazinesThe Humanist, Free Inquiry, Skeptical Inquirer

We hope the prisoners enjoy the books!

New Reed Secular Alliance Signator, Elad Gilo, is passionate about the freethought movement.  Below is a complete biography of the Reed sophomore.

Reed Secular Alliance Signator, Elad Gilo

Name: Elad Gilo

Interests: I love to travel. Whenever I get the opportunity to travel the world and experience new cultures, geographies and people, I will take it. I enjoying backpacking and outdoor sports. Snowboarding is my sport of choice, as I used to partake in it competitively on a national level. Above all I like to hang out with friends and talk about whatever pops into our heads.

Major: Economics and Philosophy Interdisciplinary Major

Year: Sophomore, class of 2012

Passions: The topics I tend to be most passionate about usually surround religion (e.g. atheism, secularism, and the rise of evangelical Christianity). The other topic that I feel particularly connected to and passionate about is the Iraeli-Palestinian conflict. I am strongly committed to the establishment of a two-state solution and the pro-Israel, pro-Peace movement.

Secularism: Secularism has become an increasingly important topic for me. Since I began my journey from skeptical young boy to an atheist adult, I have taken it upon myself to engage any and all on the topic of religion and the existence of “god”. While I hope to have treated everyone with respect, I became very tired of a society that found it so difficult to a) address the issue of piety and religion, for fear it would offend someone’s personal beliefs, and b) that people would not use the consistent reasoning in their own daily life or regarding the existence of a deity.

As my own path has taken me to atheism (the negation of a world view, not a world view in itself), I understood very well that my goal could not be the abolition of religion (unrealistic/utopian) but rather the assurance of a secular society in which one’s individual rights and self be protected from the influence of religion. To this degree I find the issue of secularism something that can unite atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, and even the religious.

With nearly 1 of 5 individuals not subscribing to a theological belief in the US, there is significant work that has to be done, in order to unify this voice and as a whole ensure the civil liberties of all (particularly in the face of rising evangelical political influence). This task is not an easy one. Trying to organize a population of non-theological individuals around a cause appears rather paradoxical to many. The same people who reject the organization of a belief also organizing themselves? To this I respond by saying a) the alternative is much worse, and b) so long as secularists remain non-dogmatic in their worldview, then the worry becomes unfounded.

As the Reed Secular Alliance signator, I hope to continue fostering debate and dialogue regarding secular issues on the Reed Campus. It would be my goal to continue educating the students at Reed about local and national issues regarding unconstitutional religious influence in civil society, and furthermore, mobilizing students for different secular campaigns. If nothing else, the RSA will provide a space for like-minded individuals to meet and discuss along with showing support for secularism on a state and national level.

By:  Leslie A. Zukor

Christopher Hitchens and Leslie Zukor

When I was invited to have dinner with Christopher Hitchens, I jumped at the opportunity.  For the past several years, Hitchens has made a name as a provocateur, as someone who minces no words with regard to his personal views.

His latest target, as he wrote about in God Is Not Great, is the institution of religion.  When I had the opportunity to eat dinner with Hitchens, I was curious as to the validity of the book’s subtitle, How Religion Poisons Everything.

What came next I should have expected.  Hitchens comported himself with an almost narrow-minded disdain for all things religious.  Anything good that believers did was possible without religion, and everything else was the fault of the faith.

By the end of the night, I had tired of Hitchens’s dogmatic rejection of religion.  In a room full of scholars and educated people, he could have learned something from others’ experiences.  Instead, Hitchens clung fervently to his disdain for faith.

It was ultimately Hitchens’s dogmatism that proved to be his undoing.  Such a strident rejection of religion shared more than a little in common with the religious people he condemned.  In short, Hitchens is an atheist fundamentalist.

For more about the Hitchens dinner in Portland and my objections to his dogmatism, see the Portland Monthly Magazine’s website.

After more than 80 years, the Oregon House moved to revise the Statute that says that public school teachers are forbidden to wear religious garb.  The objection was met by praise in some quarters, but others bristled with hostility at the allowance of expressions of faith in the classroom.  Read more.

A prisoner is locked in his cell

Editor’s NoteThe following is Part Eleven of the Reed Secular Alliance’s prisoner letter feature.  Throughout this series, a prisoner who receives literature from the Freethought Books Project has been writing letters, to tell more about both prison life and atheism behind bars.  Prison Bob is a pseudonym for a real, living, breathing inmate in Oklahoma.  To check out old additions, start with the first prisoner letter feature.

It has been a busy few days here in the ol’ Barbed Wire Monastery.  As temperatures cool and people are kept indoors more, forced interaction peaks.  This isn’t a good thing.  In trying to get away from this forced by-play, I ended up with more material to write about.  IT started another of my famous discussions.  The loud talk began with my recounting what I overheard our newest Ultra-Christian [Jad], whom I’ve written about previously.  He’s the one who was gay, but now is getting “married” if and when he leaves here.  He got picked out online like a puppy from the pound.

Anyway, Pubby Boy is a freshly minted Christian with all the inherent blind spots.  He was holding forth on what an “awesome and relevant” tome the book, “Jesus Freaks” is.  If you haven’t read this work, keep it that way.  I’ve read most of it.  It could be a powerful tool of indoctrination for new seekers looking for any port in a storm.  The basic gist is:  If these modern people, facing torture and execution can hold onto their faith “unto death” – why can’t you?  (The book is a list of martyrs.)

Hmm…because II have survival instincts?  Because I realize that I can do Nothing when deceased?  Because this deity you tout is a myth to me?

My point in the oncoming argument was, that type of ideological fealty is the stupidest damned thing a human being can do.  My buddy, temporarily turned adversary said, “No, it isn’t stupid.  It’s glorious.  They advanced the cause.  They’re martyrs and saints now.”  Sometimes he likes stirring me up.

I don’t believe they furthered any cause.  It does them no good to be martyred.  They are dead.

So, as always:  The following are my opinions after considerable hours of pondering the point.

A)  If you feel it valorous or morally obligatory to die for your beliefs when a simple, if illusory, change of mind would keep you from being terminated, good riddance.

B)  If you are not smart enough to know that the only sacrosanct and inviolate area we have is the mind, and you are stubb0rn enough to die instead of lie about a concept, see  ya.  we’re better off as whole without you in the gene pool.

C)  To exist is the foremost goal, the primal directive, if you will.  Humans are evolved to think and survive.  Only when misguided intellect interferes do we get things like religious martyrdom.

You are able to effect change only if you exist.  You may be a catalyst for change after your demise, but what can you care?  You’re dead.  At that point, nothing matters to you.

As humans, we come chock full of survival instincts.  If you ignore millennia of conditioning, in the form of instincts, you die.  When something causes pain, we do what is necessary to stop the pain, or we suffer and/or die if the pain is too detrimental.  This is how humans learn.

If you’re not smart enough to get out of jury duty or say aloud under torture: “Oh, I’m sorry.  You’re right.  Communism is the best for of governance ever.  My bad!” to effectively escape death – then you deserve destruction.  Because it is possible to say things you do not believe.

All people die.  It is the only thing that all humans have in common.  If you die due to a giant game of “My Dad will kick your Dad’s ass,” that’s on you.

If you’re already being tortured, they’re probably gonna kill you anyway.  Cost benefit ratio.

-Prison Bob

Freethought Books for Prisoners

Freethought Books for Prisoners

In the November 2009 issue of Freethought Today, the Freedom From Religion Foundation featured the Freethought Books Project.  The article, entitled, “Project Puts Freethought Behind Bars“, showcased the Reed Secular Alliance’s efforts to get non-theistic literature into prisons.

“It was neat to be covered in Freethought Today,” book project founder, Leslie Zukor, explains.  “That publication reaches a lot of eyes.”  And since the article’s publication, the RSA has heard from prisoners and potential Pen Pals wanting to benefit the project.