I may write a book someday about my experiences with experiments with Un-churches. One of the chapters would concern Universism. For those who don't know, Universism is a "religion" like Unitarian Universalism except that instead of embracing all religious heritages, it rejects all of them in favor of "faith in reason, inspiration in nature, and hope in progress". The emphasis was "on the attitude and spirit in which you address religious questions, and the tools you use to do so, rather than focusing on any conclusions that you may arrive at". Those tools were personal experience and reason. Flaky new-agers did not find a very welcome home among us, despite their attraction to the idea of experimental religion, because they didn't enjoy our disapproval of blind faith, prophets, and gurus.

The movement gained worldwide attention, hosted live internet chats with John Horgan, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins, and many appearances in radio, television and newspapers. Universist YouTube videos still circulate.

Today I found out how that chapter of the book ends. Many of you met Universism's founder, Ford Vox, when he visited me last year and accompanied me to the weekly gathering of fans at Tio's in Ann Arbor. He has replaced the Universism website with a retraction of the desire to present an opposing force to faith. Much of what he says is true and valuable, but no reason to back down. Read more... )
Ford had a good time with the gang at Tio's and fit right in. [livejournal.com profile] tlatoani had a great idea for me: a foundation to help kids from fundamentalist religious families go to accredited schools. Ford says if I start such a foundation, Universism can provide the corporate structure under the Universism charity. It seems like this is the week for meeting people who I've known for years only on the internet! In addition to Ford's visit, this weekend I'll meet Robin Lee Powell and several other speakers of Lojban at their intermittently-annual gathering. I call it "try-annual" because we try to have it annually. Tomorrow morning Bill and I leave for Pennsylvania to attend Philcon, which has set aside a room for Lojban. Bill won't attend Logfest, of course; but he needs a good science fiction convention where he doesn't have to worry about running it. I've made this 11-hour car drive twice all alone, and I'll be very glad to have another driver.

Ford Vox

Dec. 6th, 2005 06:13 pm
Ford Vox, who kicked off the Universism movement, is visiting Ann Arbor and wants to meet with [livejournal.com profile] cossettevaljean tonight. We've invited him to Tuesdays at Tios.
The Lojban mailing list directed me to a fascinating article about new linguistics research:
"New research by Dan Everett (University of Manchester) into the language of the Pirahã people of Amazonas, Brazil disputes two prominent linguistic ideas regarding grammar and translation. The Pirahã are intelligent, highly skilled hunters and fishers who speak a language remarkable for the complexity of its verb and sound systems. Yet, the Pirahã language and culture has several features that not known to exist in any other in the world and lacks features that have been assumed to be found in all human groups. The language does not have color words or grammatical devices for putting phrases inside other phrases. They do not have fiction or creation myths, and they have a lack of numbers and counting. Despite 200 years of contact, they have steadfastly refused to learn Portuguese or any other outside language. The unifying feature behind all of these characteristics is a cultural restriction against talking about things that extend beyond personal experience. This restriction counters claims of linguists, such as Noam Chomsky, that grammar is genetically driven system with universal features. Despite the absence of these allegedly universal features, the Pirahã communicate effectively with one another and coordinate simple tasks. Moreover, Pirahã suggests that it is not always possible to translate from one language to another."
Emphasis mine. I wonder if the Pirahã are indiginous Universists!
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
We Universists have been getting a streak of publicity lately. United Universists teamed up with writer-director Brian Flemming to distribute a documentary film, "The God Who Wasn't There." Representatives keep getting radio appearances. One of them even recently sat down with a director of Focus on the Family's institute for taking over the culture, in which the director reportedly was not shy about their goal to someday break down our bedroom doors with jackboots. We've had more news articles than I can keep track of.

When the Birmingham, Alabama contingent was not allowed to meet in a local coffee shop, they boycotted and got a story about it in U.S. News and World Report. What do you think? Should a privately-owned business be able to tell people to go elsewhere on the basis of their religious beliefs?

Rachel once visited a service at a local church in Southfield, Michigan. They were offering for sale at huge prices rags of cloth which had been prayed over for healing purposes. If I ran a coffee shop I'm not sure I'd want it to be the hub of activity for door-to-door evangelists from their church. Well, what's good for the goose is good for the gander, so if the proprietor of Cool Beans in Birmingham thinks we're using her store to send ourselves and others to an eternity of getting their flesh burned off, kicking us out of her store would be the least she should do.

The proper response in the Cool Beans case is not to stage a lunch-counter protest to force the coffee-shop to change, just as I wouldn't want to be forced to change if I were in her shoes.Subtle distinctions need to be drawn about this. I'm not saying we should do nothing. We should excercise the same right in reverse-- stop associating with the business that doesn't want to associate with me and my friends. Privately encourage good people to do the same.

This is a different civil rights battle than that of decades ago. There's no moral dimension to being born black. There is a moral dimension to selling or debunking snake oil. I'm sorry to the very sophisticated progressives on my friends list, but untruth does lead to harm, and for this reason, truth claims do matter. This is like a libel/slander prosecution-- if it's true, it's not slander, and if it isn't true, it is slander, and religious discrimination cases should be handled the same way. The truth in the Cool Beans case is that I do not deserve to go to hell for my unbelief, and the truth in the hypothetical case is that rags do not gain medical efficacy by being prayed over. Statements to the contrary are not OK just because they are based on faith. You can't carry out a prosecution or a defense in a court of law by saying "the evidence is against this but I believe it on faith." You ignore everything but the evidence. But that's all secularism is. That's why a nation with multi-lateral religious equality ironically can't help but be a secularist state.
An audio file of Friday's Russ and Dee radio show is now online at:
Having listened to the show again, personally, I think I hit it out of the ballpark.
My call-in begins about a third of the way through the file and ends about half-way through. I'd like to extract that section into a separate audio file for the convenience of my friends, but I don't know how and I don't have the web space.
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
This morning two of my friends from Alabama in the Universism movement were guests on the Russ and Dee Show. After some Alabama listeners were discussing on Universism's "Faithless Community" chat room what they heard on the show, I called in and spent almost a half hour on the line with the host, my two friends, and a guest theologian. The Universists on the chat room were ecstatic about how I came off on the radio and responded to the theologian. I think it's been recorded and maybe I can eventually get it as a download for you.
The Universist Movement will host the famed Professor Richard Dawkins for a live guest discussion at The Faithless Community on Sunday March 20th at 4PM Eastern (9PM GMT).

Richard Dawkins' first book, The Selfish Gene (1976), in which he invented the concept of "memes," became an immediate international bestseller and was translated into all the major languages. Its sequel, The Extended Phenotype, followed in 1982. His other bestsellers include River Out of Eden (1995), Climbing Mount Improbable (1996), and Unweaving the Rainbow (1998). Dawkins won both the Royal Society of Literature Award and the Los Angeles Times Literary Prize in 1987 for The Blind Watchmaker. The television film of the book, shown in the 'Horizon' series, won the Sci-Tech Prize for the Best Science Program of 1987. He has also won the 1989 Silver Medal of the Zoological Society of London and the 1990 Royal Society Michael Faraday Award for the furtherance of the public understanding of science. In 1994 he won the Nakayama Prize for Human Science and in 1995 was awarded an Honorary D.Litt. by the University of St Andrews. Humanist of the Year Award 1996. Since 1996 has been Vice President of the British Humanist Association. Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1997. Winner of the 1997 (Fifth) International Cosmos Prize in Commemoration of Expo' 90. Recently he spearheaded an effort to introduce the word "bright" into the English language as an atheist analogue to the word "gay." Wired published an excellent biographical article on Dawkins in 1995 (read).
nemorathwald: (me Matt)
It was recently pointed out to me that according to the transcript of United Universists' live chat with science journalist John Horgan, I'm the one who gave him the word "Horganism" to use in his New York Times Op-Ed article about us. It was read by millions. The novel The Religion War, by Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams, which I journaled about recently, involved someone called the Prime Influencer. This character unknowingly tips world opinion by giving a catchy phrase to a few influential friends. It seems slightly more plausible now... ;)
Science journalist John Horgan, who was a guest for a live chat event with the Universists a few months ago, has now written an op-ed column about us in the New York Times. (Some of you might remember Universism from my blog entry The O'Doul's of Religion.) Mr. Horgan panned us, but brings up some important points for improvement. Most importantly he got us exposure through one of the world's biggest media outlets. Our registrations at meetup.com have increased by the hundreds in a single day!
nemorathwald: (me Matt)
It's heartening to encounter a kindred spirit. If I collected my essays and published them as a book, it would take the same essential positions as this bestselling book that Sam Harris has now published, titled The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. You need to read this interview. I'm far from the only person who has come to these realizations, and it's clearly spreading. Click this link to join us tonight at 8pm Eastern for a live chat interview with Sam Harris of which I will be one of the moderators.
In my wanderings around the web I've noticed that certain kinds of conflict happen to very certain kinds of projects. Read more... )And yet all these are the very same people who have the greatest need to band together to succeed, because they serve a niche within a niche. Read more... )
United Universists has scheduled me to be a guest on The Infidel Guy, an internet call-in show popular with freethinkers, to talk about Universism. Watch this space to find out the day and time..
In this online excerpt from Rational Mysticism, Dispatches from the Border Between Science and Spirituality, journalist John Horgan interviews the authors of The Guru Papers about the dangers of cults, gurus, and spiritual authority. "In 1999, just after I started researching a book on mysticism, I asked for advice from J.P., a man who works for a holistic-learning institute in New York City. J.P. cautiously recommended a book that critiqued the enlightenment industry and had caused a stir after its publication in 1993. Although the book makes valid points about the dangers of mystical traditions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, J.P. warned me, it "throws out the baby with the bathwater." That's how Mr. Horgan's article begins. The approach of weeding out careful, gradual amounts of spiritual bathwater is an excellent one. Keep doing that and one will eventually scrape the bottom of the bathtub and discover there is no baby. I was trying to explain this to Friar Jerry from Africa who randomly Instant Messaged me this weekend in order to evangelize me. He wanted to know "what happened" to make me non-theistic. There was no crisis point for me at which I suddenly ceased to be a dogmatic fundamentalist Christian and became a committed secularist. The breaking down of emotional barriers were many and varied, and so were the educational experiences such as reading Talkorigins.net. It was a process of gradual growth.

Now, whether or not the kid in The Matrix was correct that "there is no spoon," yeah, there probably is a spoon. The score so far: Spoon 1, Baby 0. :D Anyway, United Universists will present a live online chat with Mr. Horgan this Wednesday, September 15 at 8:00 p.m.
Agnostics, deists, atheists, pantheists, transcendentalists and other freethinkers are meeting for the next local Universist meetup at Barnes and Noble Booksellers on Washtenaw Ave. in Ann Arbor at 8:00 p.m. Thursday, September 2. Those who are curious are invited to join us. Universism unites freethinkers by replacing the traditional concept of faith with reasoned credibility, inspiration in nature, and hope in progress.
nemorathwald: (me Matt)
There's a verse in the bible that says "be ye not drunk with wine, but be drunk with the spirit." If religions were beverages and faith were alcohol, Universism would be O'Douls. For those of us who used to be raging irresponsible abusive drunks when we got high on god, this is welcome news.

For those who drink faith in moderation, like Unitarian Universalists, I suppose the equivalent of O'Douls is not necessary. But teetotalism is the right choice for those of us who find the analogy of driving and boating under the influence a tragically appropriate metaphor for our own experiences. Sometimes we were the pedestrian victim, other times we were passengers, some times we were the drivers. Other people can handle it... you're welcome to it. Don't worry, I believe in freedom of religion, so I'm not going to advocate restricting religious education until you're twenty-one years of age with valid ID.Read more... )
nemorathwald: (me Matt)

I was looking forward so much to The Fellowship of Reason's 2003 conference on starting local branches, which was cancelled, that I've started discussions on the forums of the secularist groups I'm involved in, asking for volunteer workers to help me step up to the plate and organize this type of conference. It will be a congress of all moral communities that promote reason as primary, and do not require that we pretend to respect blind faith. The way I envision it, F.O.R., Universists, North Texas Church of Freethought, Houston Church of Freethought, Church of Virus, Brights Net, Reason's Fellowship, and the Center for Inquiry's new "Communities" program would be invited as delegations of equals. The purpose will be to network and plan how to promote this type of community. What I'm been saying to them is:
"if one of our organizations grows in our society, we all grow. Our differences are mostly allergic reactions to vocabulary, and are not as important as our common ground. We can make our shared goals work, if we all team together to share our brainstorming ideas!"Read more... )

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