Thursday, July 30, 2015

Federal Bureau of Prisons Grants Religious Status to Humanist Prisoners

A fellow humanist traveler, human rights advocate  and reader of this site offered a recent news item about the growth of religious freedom in our nation's prison system.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons will now allow Humanist prisoners the same religious rights - from Humanist gatherings to time for personal reflection and the celebration of Darwin Day as equal to other religious meditations and holidays.

While we know most inmates in prisons hold religious beliefs that are closely connected to Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions, this is the first time that a court has found non-believers have the same and equal rights to their ideas and convictions.

In one sense this is terrific because there is now a legal precedent to allow nonbelievers equal time and equal access to chapels for meetings and to bring the good word of atheism and humanism behind the walls of incarceration.

In another sense, this sort of equates Humanism and atheist perspectives with forms of religious belief which they are not and neither should they be considered (at least to the outside world) forms of belief that are religious in nature.

But if many religions have missionaries in the prison system, it is fair to allow equal rights to those inmates of non-faith who do deserve to be seen as equals when it comes to celebrating their ideas about the world.

In the end, the ruling will impact less than one percent of the prison population. However, protecting human and civil rights and ensuring access and equality isn't and should never be considered a numbers game.

It is about the right to be free and to have a Constitutional right to be religious or not to be religious and still be treated equally and fairly in society...even while incarcerated.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

What Does Living for Today Really Mean?

I'm always surprised when someone says we should live for today.

Usually, this is mentioned because of some tragic unexpected accident finds its way into the local or national news or through some scenario, "like this it's our last day on Earth because...hmmm...a meteor is about to hit the planet."

The expectation is we'd all be off para-sailing or bungee jumping, or on an eating binge, or for those with darker intentions off pummeling a neighbor...or who knows.

My immediate response is NONE OF THOSE THINGS. Knowing myself as I do, I think I'd want to spend my last conscious moments with my closest family. Peering into their eyes and hearts as an uncaring and unplanned universe offers its decisive murderous blow to our lovely planet and everyone on it.

But I also like to think of the question differently. Why make it so immediate? Like what's so special about 24-hours? What would I do (or you do) if it wasn't 24-hours but say four weeks and you still knew the cosmic clock was about to tick off its last seconds and with you with it.

Now let's expand that even further. Let's say it's not four weeks but four years, or four decades or even 70 to 100 years. What we all tend to forget is that from the perspective of linear time a typical human life span is really much less than 24 hours.

Our lives are spent counting days, or hours and minutes because that's what our little primate brains can handle. But time itself is immense and it is forever. In contrast our human lives start, move through and are completed in seconds within space-time.  Really we are nothing more than dew drops collecting our personal and human history in a rain bucket.

But knowing this doesn't make our lives and those who we share the planet with irrelevant or not worth caring about. It's precisely the opposite prediction for me. I care more, not less about our shared humanity, simply because I understand that this is the one and only time I will be here TO CARE about our collective humanity.

So if you think like me (sadly as fellow humanists many of you do) I think that spending time doing kind acts and helping others cope with loss, fighting for human and civil rights, and being present for others is the most humane thing we can do for one another.

That's because most humanists live their lives through actions rather than stagnation. Many times our actions are actually reactions to events or people or situations that call on us to work against those forces who would take away our rights. Other times we are actively involved in shaping the world through community service or international service projects. Making the world safer, richer and kinder I might add.

Sometimes still it is the simple act of attention and open listening that allows us to be present for one another. The interest to place one's own agenda behind rather than in front of others which helps us remain connected and caring. Not because any of the numerous gods or theologies command, but because this is how we wish to be humanistically treated and how we anticipate we will treat others.

A foundation of goodness through the Golden Rule located within our DNA and actualized through our conscious individual and collective empathy leads us to help and care and love one another.

This is also where we separate between those whose impulse it is to have religious faith and first pray for salvation, or support or forgiveness. For humanists salvation does not come through the mindless and selfish act of prayer but through the mindful and empathetic act of doing for oneself or others.

Regardless if it's 24-hours for 85 years to get our lives upright and right, before our dew drop evaporates and returns to the universe, this time now is where we all make our final stand.

So I guess you can spend your last minutes bungee jumping if you choose. For me, I'll be home on the sofa hugging as many of my family as possible.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Why Carl Sagan is Still Smiling....

File this under both fun and cool.

At the beginning of the film Contact, the opening scene shows a satellite's view of the the Earth. In the background you hear contemporary music. As the camera draws back further from the Earth you begin to hear music clips and radio broadcasts going back further into time.

The meaning of the opening sequence sets up the whole film but it is also serves as an instant science lesson about radio waves and how far and fast they travel into space.

Now a group of science and tech guys, in a tribute to Sagan and the film, have created a new website that tells you exactly by year how far the radio waves of your favorite songs have traveled in our solar system.

Of course in reality the further you go back in space-time, the less likely the music will actually sound like a song. It will just sound like background static.

The website is Go to it and have some fun.


Carl, wherever you are in the universe, I know you're smiling.