Secular humanism

Bracing for the next news story: Was Bernie Sanders actually pushing 'secular humanism'?

Bracing for the next news story: Was Bernie Sanders actually pushing 'secular humanism'?

Does anyone remember the days, a decade or two ago, when the official boogeyman of religious conservatism was a cultural tsunami called "secular humanism"?

I sure do. That nasty label was being pinned on people all over the place.

The only problem was, when I went out to do my religion-beat reporting work, I never seemed to run into many people whose personal beliefs actually fit under the dictionary definition of "secular," which looks something like this:

secular (adjective)
1. of or relating to worldly things or to things that are not regarded as religious, spiritual, or sacred; temporal: secular interests.
2. not pertaining to or connected with religion (opposed to sacred ): secular music.

I hardly ever met culture warriors who didn't have religious beliefs of some kind. Oh, there were some atheists and agnostics in these dramas. But what what I kept running into were packs of evolving, progressive, liberal religious believers who rejected the beliefs of traditional religious believers, almost always on issues linked to sexuality and salvation.

Yes, there were also some "spiritual but not religious" folks, but when you talked to them you discovered that they would be perfectly happy in a Unitarian folding chair or an Episcopal pew -- if they wanted to get out of bed on Sunday mornings. And if you probe those Pew Research Center "Nones" numbers, you'll discover that most religiously unaffiliated people are rather spiritual, on their own "Sheilaism" terms. You can toss the Moralistic Therapeutic Deism trend in there, too.

Variations on all of these themes popped up this week when Todd Wilken and recorded the new "Crossroads"podcast (click here to tune that in). We discussed my new "On Religion" column about the recent U.S. Senate hearing showdown between Sen. Bernie Sanders and Russell Vought, the White House nominee to serve as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.

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Let us not pray: Religion News Service eyes the National Day of Reason -- but not closely

Let us not pray: Religion News Service eyes the National Day of Reason -- but not closely

With the much-discussed Rise of the Nones has come a rise in demand for celebrations especially for them. Enter the National Day of Reason, championed since 2003 by the American Humanist Association and the Washington Area Secular Humanists.

That's today, according to the NDOR website; but the Religion News Service reports that its backers have been trying to get Congress to move it officially to May 4. Not coincidently, RNS notes, that's the National Day of Prayer, so declared by Congress and all presidents since 1952:

And that, says Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, is the problem.
"This is government recognition of prayer and that is wrong, no matter how you look at it," Speckhardt said. "Having a National Day of Reason on the same day says this is an example of a day the government can endorse that doesn’t exclude people based on their answers to a religious question."

The story cleverly connects some dots suggesting that the NDOR movement may be gaining traction. Those dots include the three sponsors of this year's congressional resolution (though it's been tied up in committee).

Also mentioned are the three states -- Iowa, Nebraska and Delaware -- that proclaimed the day on May 4 last year, and Iowa scheduled another one this year.  And groups "from San Diego to Portland, Maine" have held National Day of Reason events since 2011. RNS even notes that President Obama's National Day of Prayer proclamation last year "acknowledged Americans who 'practice no faith at all.' " Nice enterprise reporting, all of it.

Less enterprising is the article's sharp left turn into International Darwin Day, Feb. 12, and how it has grown in popularity since its founding in the 1990s. Apparently, the reason for adding it here is to say the NDOR folks hope to emulate its success. But the story appears to err in branding Darwin an atheist. Several biographies, including this one, say he called himself an agnostic instead.

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New Yorker article finds unusual scapegoat for euthanasia in Belgium: Secular humanists

New Yorker article finds unusual scapegoat for euthanasia in Belgium: Secular humanists

Euthanasia has gotten some pretty uncritical treatment from the media, especially the month-long media drama last fall involving 29-year-old Bethany ­­­Maynard. Her decision to short-circuit an almost-certain agonizing death via brain cancer by deciding to kill herself beforehand kept the nation enthralled for weeks, especially when she seemed to back off from her resolution near the end. But she did the deed last Nov. 1, her target date. 

What went untold there -- and in many euthanasia narratives before that -- was something of the devastation felt by the nearest of kin. 

Which is why this New Yorker piece on Godelieva De Troyer, a Belgian woman who did not have a terminal illness but chose to die nevertheless, is the exception.

The story first goes into De Troyer’s lifelong battles with depression, which was abetted when her husband committed suicide, leaving her a single parent with two small children. She struggled along, finding comfort in a new boyfriend for a time, but then losing him and also losing the affection of her daughter, who had moved to Africa and wished no contact with her. What remained was a son, who was married with two children. It is this son, named Tom, that the article spends much time on.

Belgium had passed a law in 2002 that allows euthanasia for those who have an incurable illness that causes them unbearable physical or mental suffering. (It also allows euthanasia for incurably ill children and a law allowing euthanasia for dementia is also in the works.) When De Troyer turned 63, she met Wim Distelmans, a doctor who was a proponent of that law. One thing led to another and in late 2011, she told her children she’d filed a euthanasia request with her doctor. Neither took her seriously, so they were shocked to learn the following April that she had indeed killed herself. The son found a note from her saying that after 40 years of unsuccessful therapy for her depression, she was done.

At this point, the article slips into theology:

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