Sunday, May 24, 2015

When Irish Votes Are Smiling

It appears that Ireland will enter the history books as the first nation to vote, via public majority, to legalize same-sex marriage. Votes counted at this writing give the pluralistic “yes” majority a significant win over the “no” votes, which were heavily backed by the Roman Catholic Church and other religious organizations.

More than twenty nations have legalized same-sex marriage around the world. But this legalization has always been done through some political legislation or court decision. Never, until today’s Irish referendum, has a nation through public vote offered equal marriage rights and thus equal protection to all of its citizens.

Ireland had always been a bastion of strictly conservative Catholic orthodox theology.  Now, with divorce legalized (1996) and limited abortion (2013), the newly passed same-sex marriage referendum is another blow to organized religion’s social pull on that (and all) culture.

There is a counter balance that impacts the scale of secular humanism versus faith every time a liberalized law passes. With each liberal passage the gravity that ensures physical, emotional and intellectual freedom pulls the scale further towards both outward nonbelief and also secularized spirituality which is not dependent on commitment to any organized religion.

So while most people in Ireland who aren’t atheist claim to be Catholic or Protestant, they do so without any need or use of the church to claim their religious identity. This trend of course is in line with overarching demographics related to the under-30 crowd, also known as the “Nones” who as they age remain staunchly uninterested and unwilling to follow their parents into a life which includes participation in organized religion.

But there’s also something more happening here which underlies the shift away from organized faith tradition. It’s not just age which is the main demographic which keeps younger people away from church life.

Many young people are technology savvy consumers and with the underlying conservative nature of religious doctrine combined with so many scandals (child sex abuse, financial improprieties, political mischief, revealed internal power struggles) many see organized faith as yet another contrivance which itself is on shaky moral and intellectual ground.

So when a faith’s message is love and peace, but it’s actual wish is to exclude others and is even responsible for war and violence, its easy to see why so many people, the Nones and beyond, need an organized church less these days than ever before.

This is not pontification on my part. All you have to do is look at the numbers presented by PEW, Win/Gallup, the Barna group and even the Vatican’s own statistics bureau and you’ll see it isn’t those without faith who will remind the world that organized religion is on the decline globally.

That is of course except in the Muslim world where it is predicted based on current trends to be the only growing religious faith. But that’s not because of the religion’s "message" but because of birthrate rather than any sort of mass conversion.

Of course organized Christianity remains staunchly entwined and strong in the developing world. So it’s no wonder the current Pope is South American. Both Central and South American, as well as the African continent and in parts of Asia, each remain a central outpost for many of the organized faiths.

In places where people are less educated and where there is social and economic strife the need for organized religion, while actually counter-intuitive to peace and justice, remains high. That’s because organized faith sells prayer and at times is the only safe place for people to physically turn to in times of instability.

In the more developed parts of the world, everywhere there is emerging or actual peace, strong economies, good social welfare, higher standards of education and living conditions, those nations have moved or are moving away from the need for organized religion.

Of course in my opinion that’s a very good thing. So Ireland’s passing vote this week, twenty prior nations with legalized gay marriage and of course soon the United States of America. So long as the Supreme Court rightly agrees that freedom to love who we wish is more important than any subjective religious doctrine, the world will move further up the scale to even greater secular social justice.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Book Review: How: A Day in the Life of a Young Humanist

Let me start my review by noting that the book's author, Michelle Iturrate, contacted me and solicited my support for the book. She also offered a free copy. But, as a self-declared humanist, I felt it would be wiser and fairer for me to purchase my own copy of the book. So I did just that on iBooks (for $8.95) and downloaded it to my iPad.

What a lovely book! Every page within "How" is filled with compassion and intelligence. Ms. Iturrate clearly writes from a place of empathy. Since this book is geared for children I should also comment on the illustrations. The pictures, all done by Steven Rogers, are vibrant and appear to me to share a faint resemblance to the work of Normal Rockwell in their clarity and realism.

The book tells the story of a mother and daughter walking in a forest and discussing, in the simple terms of a child, whether it's better to grow up to be a good or naughty person. The mother urges the child to work through this issue and to come to her own conclusions. I will not disclose the process or particulars, but the book does make it clear that we can be good naturally when we are guided by our humanist conscience.

The mother and daughter are really very empowered characters. I like this very much because it sends a strong message that women and female children can be very smart, thoughtful and independent.

This is something that all humanists and women’s rights advocates can appreciate as the equality of our ideas and individual equality make us whole people. And women and girls who are free and unencumbered by negative perceptions, stereotypes and sometimes violent circumstances (think Malala) can show how truly smart they are and thus can change the world.

I say that this is a great book for children to curl up with a parent or caregiver, male or female, to enjoy. The humanist message for the child reader is very subtle but for the adult it is certainly more powerful as it is heartwarming to read.

It’s hard to think of a better book for the price to place your young one on the road to Humanism. So parent, grandparent, uncle or aunt, if you read this review, buy a copy for those special little ones in your life and read this book with them.

Few experiences bring people closer together then the shared enjoyment of a well-written and well read book.