Goodwill vs. God’s Will

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

August, 2016

The crew of NOSHA volunteers who made the trip to Denham Springs to assist in the cleanup from the flooding that swamped nearly 90 percent of the homes there traveled in separate cars with the exception of Dave and Joyce Thomas, who shared their ride. Joining in on the project were the Thomases, Eve Ortiz, Kathleen Branley, Jennifer Porter, Glenn Pearl, MartyBankson, and Cecelia (a young woman referred by previously committed Adam Kay). Most used  smartphone GPS  to guide them into the subdivision and onto the street where the project was, but most  all had to park and locate a mailbox somewhere on the street to find the house number, or call a contact already on the job if they didn’t recognize anyone working outside. The mailboxes were lost at the curb’s edge in the heaps of soggy mattresses, broken dining furniture, stacks of wadded clothes, rolls of ragged-edged carpeting, teevees, fridges, and picture frames with water-stained photos of family memories . A small hill of ruined doors, millwork,  cabinetry and sinks would continue filling the front yard from the street back toward the house as the day passed.


The Thomas’ acquaintance Paul was coordinating the work. Paul calls Connie Donovan “Aunt Connie”–though their actual relationship may have been less direct. Connie is a 63-year old widow, living alone, and is still working. She was one of the fortunate few who had flood insurance, if “fortunate” is indeed even fit in the description of a  500-year flood.  Many of the modest houses in this neighborhood were built on piers and were elevated about three feet above the ground, but the neighborhood  got  6-7 feet of floodwater from the overflowing Amite River just to the west of it. The maths and elevations didn’t work out. Every house in the subdivision and many more subdivisions like it went under, along with most of the business along the main thoroughfares.


Paul got the crew quick-schooled and started at the basics of house gutting: taking the door and baseboard trim off with hammers and pry bars, removing the electrical switch and receptacle plates, then pulling the soggy sheetrock from the wall studs at the seam four feet above the floor. Then the crumbling and saturated mess had to be shoveled and wheelbarrowed out of the house down the front porch steps, adding more to the misery of the front yard. Bathroom vanity cabinets, toilets, kitchen cabinets, pots, pans, dishes and foodstuffs in the pantry all had to go. Two mice were forced to relocate when their space inside a wall was uncovered.


The feeling of overwhelming loss never seems to be strong enough to keep the victims from finding something–anything–left in the wreckage that was salvageable, something to cling to; and those things become  special and dear. Aunt Connie had set up a makeshift table in the front yard near the driveway, where she placed and cleaned and dried those things she found. A pop-up summer shower was about to do what the floodwaters didn’t, but we managed to get some scraps of plastic sheeting and a tarp over them before the hardest rain fell.


About midday someone delivered some go-boxes of jambalaya; those that didn’t pack a lunch didn’t  go hungry. And there was plenty of water for hydrating, though Cecelia had an overheating episode but seemed recovered enough to be able to get to her car and drive back to New Orleans. The heat and humidity was reminiscent of the hot tropical conditions that plagued New Orleans after Katrina. Joyce and Dave’s experience in that disaster was evident as they chipped away through the day’s work, like, “¡No problema!”.


This volunteer effort was the most labor-intensive the Social Aid and Pleasure Club has experienced; a true test of physical stamina and heat tolerance. But it will be remembered as most edifying when thinking  of Aunt Connie’s words of appreciation and thanks to each of us as, one by one, we headed home. And when reflecting on her little makeshift table, and the keepsakes that took on a new and special meaning for her– and for us.




Four years ago, Reason Rally 2012 was promoted as the “largest secular event in world history,” a Woodstock for atheists and skeptics. Organized and produced by David Silverman, President of American Atheists, Inc., it was a momentous coming out part for 30,000 non-believers on the Mall in Washington, D. C. A long lineup of speakers from the scientific and entertainment fields were the main event.

Reason Rally 2016, held last month, and again in Washington, “had a greater variety of activities over the weekend, which reflects the happy fact that the secular movement has progressed beyond the need to merely show we exist,” said Beth Deitch, one of several NOSHA members from New Orleans who went. “The number of groups was so much larger than four years before. So many demographics and perspectives were represented.” To be sure, over 30 groups were represented—from FFRF to Secular Media Network to Mythicists Milwaukee to Lady Parts Justice—almost all of them tabling in tents set up along the outer edge of the mall.

The organizers set a decidedly more political slant to the speaking subjects and activities this year, probably in part due to it being an election year, and partly because so much legislative wrangling  and a plethora of court opinions have been handed down over the last year. LGBTQ and other social justice issues were a recurring theme. “The Reason Rally is absolutely a political event,” said executive director Lyz Liddell. “That’s the reason we’re holding this in an election year. We want to see reason taking precedence over religious-driven ideology.”

Traveling with Deitch was William Gautreaux; John and Donna Williams and John’s sister, Darlene Reaves were in the crowd while also visiting their daughter during their trip to the city. Former NOSHA members Douglas and Yvette Parfait came, said Doug, with one purpose:  “I didn’t go this time to listen to speakers, and I didn’t. Not one.  I went to mingle, to find as many people I’ve only known on Facebook as I could.” Taking pictures was another thing he managed to do, and do quite well—thanks to him for the photos included in this story.

THE VENUE. THE CROWD.  A noticeably  lower turnout from the 2012 event has been the topic of discussion for just about everyone associated with the event. Hemant Mehta, The Friendly Atheist blogger, came up with several reasons for the low turnout, including: the late cancellation of Johnny Depp and Richard Dawkins; the novelty had worn off; it took place in the summer; etc., etc. A few observations, estimates, and a few explanations by our NOLA contingent:

Douglas P.

“In 2012, the number was 30K-ish, I haven’t heard of any official estimate for 2016, however I would say 4K (but that’s just my estimation).

The white chairs in front of the stage were VIP seating, and those chairs were never filled, sparse as well. I found that a little embarrassing.”

Beth D.

“I do think the physical layout of the event made the crowd look somewhat smaller than it actually was. The stage was in front of the Lincoln Memorial, with the space in front of the stage taken up by the VIP seating. We had VIP seats, which was nice, for sure, but it kept the bulk of the crowd from being close to the stage — behind the chairs was the reflecting pool, so the crowd had to be split off on either side of the pool were still around 10,000 atheists gathered in one place for RR2016, which was exhilarating!  I believe that growth may have contributed to the lower  attendance in 2016 than in 2012: There are now atheist conventions and events and communities all over the country, all throughout the year….”

John W. 

“I haven’t seen an official after-the-fact estimate of the turnout but I’m guessing it didn’t reach the 30+K that was projected. [George] Whitfield was routinely delivering numbers like this throughout the colonies over 270 years ago, during the Great Awakening [the original American religious revival event], before there were planes or cars. So for me the turnout was disappointing…

We sat under a tree, in the shade, near the spot where, in the movie, Jenny spilled into the Reflecting Pool yelling for Forrest [Gump]. A few ducks with ducklings swam in the green water of the pond, shoveling algae up with their bills like a BP oil skimmer. A large egret flew overhead several times, and on each occasion was promptly mobbed by two crows. One of us sat in doggy doo. My impression is that DC is behind the times when it comes to curbing your dog. We even ran across it on our way out, in the airport, on the terminal floor.”

OBSERVATIONS IN THE PSEUDO-TRANSGENDER BATHROOMS. Public restrooms: almost every anti-theocrat and social justice advocate’s favorite issue this spring; and the management at the hotel where (ironically) the comedy program was presented was happy to accommodate; transforming, with a quick paper-over, the usually gender-specific WCs into New Age community  toities. 


“Friday night we went to a Reason Rally comedy show, which was so much fun! The emcee for the show was David Smalley, who is the host of the Dogma Debate radio show/podcast, and founder/president of the Secular Media Group. He has been a strong ally for trans people in this ridiculous focus on their right to pee in peace. So I was not at all surprised to find that the signs for the restrooms at the show venue had been covered with new paper signs reading “gender-neutral restroom.” And guess what? Not one person fainted away, or was overcome with a sudden desire to sexually assault someone! However, one of the comedians did comment on one behavioral change he noticed: with women being around, ALL of the men were actually washing their hands! William leaned over to me and said ‘yeah, that’s not usually the case.’”


“We all attended the Friday night comedy show. The comics were Leighann Lord, Ian Harris, Keith Jensen, and they were all very funny, as good as any New York comedy show I’ve been to. After the comedy show, off of the hotel’s lobby, I used my first gender-neutral public toilet. I’m not sure it was sanctioned by the hotel. There were several women waiting for stalls in the bathroom; and I’ve never seen men belly-up so close to the urinals, which is actually a good thing. The guys also all washed their hands when they left, just like one of the comics had just joked about. There is a lot of truth in good comedy.”

ON THE PROSELYTIZERS. No gathering of heretics, secular activists, or misguided souls debauching on Bourbon Street escapes their notice and compulsion to share God’s word. No one expected a reversal of this trend at the Reason Rally.


There were a few bothersome protesters and proselytizers about, but the occasional individual ranter was easy to ignore, and any protesting groups were small and on the periphery.  (I know Ray Comfort had wished to bring a large contingent of harassers, but was informed that any sizable protest would require a permit and a designated location).”


The Christian protesters were not allowed to organize within our rally to harass us, but they were sometimes alone or in groups of two or three within the rally proselytizing. Of course, we completely ignored them.

However, there was one guy handing out little cards with the HRC (Human Rights Campaign), symbol on them. It has a dark blue background with a yellow equal sign. Since I was a volunteer with HRC for 10 years, I wanted to support them, so Beth and I each took a card. We flipped the card over, and there were Bible verses denouncing gay people. We went to give the cards back to the guy and told him that this was dishonest and intentionally deceptive. I asked him why Christians needed to use lies and deception to get people to listen to their message. He did not have an answer. It’s just like when Christians go into schools and bribe kids with pizza and other kinds of treats in exchange for listening to the Christian message.”

Feels True


“…A little further down, at 17th and Constitution, my sister and I ran into an aggressive preacher with a bullhorn. I promised myself that I wouldn’t engage him, but again, like many times before, I did anyway. In an amplified voice he told us that we were going to live in Hell for eternity. We said we would be amongst friends and started dancing like it was Mardi Gras. With this he became unhinged. As we danced away the bullhorn quoted bible verses and called us fools. We were fools for reason.”

———————————————————————-Reason rally stage03338_985982304850694_8801684794868600588_o

Signs, Trans, and the Times

I just became familiar with the journal First Things. The same people that published it have a Facebook page by the same name. I ended up on their mailing list and got a steeply discounted offer to subscribe. The mailer introducing the publication said First Things “is the home of today’s greatest religious thinkers and writers…with…lively ideas, debate, and commentary by noted…scholars and public intellectuals.”
The price was right: the $60 newsstand price for 12 issues was only $19.95; and knowing thine enemy, especially what thine enemies’ “scholars and intellectuals” are up to is, in my book, always a good strategy. So I poked around on their site a found a cache of blogs, essays, and links. The editors were obviously quite proud of a recent short essay “The Semiotics of Transgender Bathroom Signage” by Jordan Zajak, O.P.,  as it got prominent billing on their webpage and on Facebook. The author-priest-scholar responsible for it did his best to give his best hipness-by-association slant by using semiotics (theory of signs) as the thread to drive toward this crash of postmodern confusion: the half-skirted, half-trousered graphic signing a trans-friendly restroom “neither corresponds to nor captures lived reality…but the empty signifier…is an efficacious sign of thdownloade inefficacy and incoherence of the gender ideology it is trying to represent.”
Now, let me say that I know the principle of charity requires one to appreciate that someone advancing an argument is sincere in his belief and should assume that the argument follows a modicum of rationality and may have points well taken. This argument, however, seems absurd on the face of it: their are many trans folks that could verify the sign does indeed corresponds to a “live reality”–their own. Add to this “the inefficacy and incoherence of gender ideology [sic] “, and the only charitable thing I muster would be that the poor fellow got his St. Jerome and Augustine confused with his Saussure and Barthes. Maybe his weakness at  reading signs of the times, is probably no fault of his own. For now though,  I may wait to subscribe.

Being Judged by the Company You Keep

20140714_182249_resizedYou have to give credit to Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee for either sticking by his principles, or at least for properly interpreting the handwriting on the imaginary wall that separates his state from  neighboring North Carolina, and doing something about it.

North Carolina just passed and signed into law the ballyhooed “bathroom” bill; a bill designed to keep transsexuals  out of their preferred bathrooms and banished to the bushes or back alleys to do their business; and the bill that was to become the most recent rallying point against the discriminatory root at the foundation of similar legislation in several states around the country dealing with sexuality, gender identification, women’s health, and legal interpretations of marriage. North Carolina was immediately shown lots of anti-love by corporate headquarters and performing artists with cancellations of business and concert appearances.

The fact that all of these bills are based on moral concepts based on religious scripture—usually of the Abrahamic variety, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam— and favor dogmatic, two-thousand year-old  mores over the modern understanding of a liberal and open government of laws and a pluralistic method for making those laws. The Founding Fathers saw how the effects of doctrinal adherence of religion, or the favoring of one religion over another, or efforts to incorporate any  of it into the law of the land could upset the concept of an open government. Sister Mary Ann Walsh, Director of Media Relation at the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said “ Politics by its very nature is an institution of compromise; the church by its nature holds to that fact there are certain absolutes. There is, and must always be, a natural divide between them.” 

Let’s assume Governor Haslam was sticking by these principles—the separation of church and state, written into the first of the Bill of Rights—when he vetoed legislation passed by representatives in the statehouse resolving that the Holy Bible was to be the official state book. Let’s assume the governor was not looking at the immediately negative economic impact the bathroom bill had had on North Carolina. And let’s further assume he was not looking and the legal costs the state would pay defending this law from challenges to its constitutionality.

The ultimate decision seemed to have been based on a rarely-cited insight of the wisdom of the separation of church and state expressed by some of the most devout followers of the faith: that maintaining the strict divide between matters of religion and matters of state prevents, or at least reduces, the debasing effect of the association of the purity of religion with the rude machinations and corrupting influences of governmental affairs. As Jimi Jobin, a Nevada pastor so eloquently wrote in an open letter  admonishing a pastor in South Dakota for endorsing a certain gubernatorial candidate, “It desecrates our pulpit to yield it to politics. We are called to something higher than to meddle in the affairs of ambitious men. We are not so Holy that we can merely baptize a candidate, and never drink the poison of his words. We do not stump for senators, we do not campaign for congressman, we do not preach for presidents, because the name of Christ is too precious to risk on a common election, no matter how important the issues at stake may seem.” Running a government is a dirty, rough-and-tumble enterprise, so why risk sullying the simple goodness of the logos, or invite bureaucratic tinkering and probing of your day-to-day operations (least of all your financial statements)?

This abstract notion was brought to a real world perspective by the governor. He showed that the newly anointed state book would assume its place in a list of other state official favorites, where to be found are some rather average critters, vegetation, and other unremarkably common things found in everyday life; none nearly what would be readily assumed to be the materials or life forms of the heavenly realm.

Some examples of the Volunteer State’s favorite and official things, with the governor’s possible objection to the Bible’s insertion into a list with them:

The Official State…

Amphibian—the Tennessee Cave Salamander. Too snake-like. And the snake was the single most catastrophic agent in the Bible. An obviously bad choice.

Fish (1 of 2)—Channel Catfish. The filth associated with bottom-feeders just doesn’t work in this morality.

Beverage—Milk. This is bearing false witness: everyone knows it is Jack Daniels.

Rock—Limestone. Not a strong, solid rock that one could expect to build an eternal church upon.  Try igneous— granite, marble, etc.

Reptile—Eastern Box Turtle. At least they got away from their snake and salamander fetish; but, no.

Horse—Tennessee Walking Horse. The male Tennessee Stud, popularized in a 1950s song could be suggestive of the fantasies of sisters Ahola and Aholibah in the Book of Ezekiel.

Whether Governor Haslam was authentically sticking to principles when he vetoed this bill would be hard to say for sure; mainly because we don’t know that he even held a strong opinion on this matter before the case presented itself. But we should recognize that he was clever enough to learn from the backlash now swamping North Carolina; and that he was, if not principled, at least crafty enough to play this seldom-used defense of the Wall of Separation by using a political legerdemain which (temporarily) stopped the bill, while at the same time maintaining the appearance of a good shepherd of biblical morality by shielding the Good Book from the debasing results of close contact with the vulgar, or just the average and the earthly.

An Hour or Two with Harry

Born Free in Okeechobee

When the first question came up dAndy Rooneyuring my discussion with Harry Greenberger, a quotation came to mind: “Everyone starts out being an atheist.”  It turns out to be the words of the sage but sardonic curmudgeon-commentator Andy Rooney, who appeared regularly on CBS’ 60 Minutes. Harry has earned the “sage” moniker , stating that he was always an atheist; in but contrast to Rooney’s crabby presentation of wisdom, the octogenarian Greenberger’s bonhomie and easy demeanor is as smooth as the Southern gentry of days past.

Humanist Advocate

You related to me earlier that you were Jewish. Can you tell me a little about your childhood. e. g.—did you grow up in a strict religious home, or were your parents secular? Did you ever experience any overt or covert acts of prejudice because of your Jewish origins?

Harry Greenberger

I lived in Okeechobee, Florida, which is a very small town in south Florida with my two older brothers, a sister, and parents, who had moved there from New York City, by way of Amarillo, Texas. There were from time to time maybe three Jewish families, but there was never a temple nor synagogue where I grew up. My father had become a Christian Scientist, and the town was so small there was no Christian Science Church either. I’m convinced my mother was an atheist, but the subject never came up. We didn’t even talk about it. So I didn’t get any indoctrination as a Jew or Christian Scientist. There were four children, and my parents didn’t try to force things, except by example. And by example I mean, as people in the South, they treated Blacks very well and were very liberal. My mother and father ran a little store in Okeechobee, and the children were raised by a black maid. I had no idea there were  any problems between the races, except that the Blacks lived in one part of town and we lived in another. You asked earlier if I ever experienced any prejudice for being Jewish and we did not. No one was aware of those religious differences—we were just accepted as a part of the community. In school, we would recite the Lord’s Prayer every day, did readings from the New Testament, but I didn’t see anything to it, and we just did it. I was in a Christmas pageant play, and played the role of one of the wise men. But I didn’t know I shouldn’t have been doing that as a Jew.

Okeechobee High School, Class of ‘44 Valedictorian Harry then received a BA degree, with Honors, from the University of Florida, passed the Florida CPA  examination and moved on to Florida State University, where he was an Accounting teacher’s assistant and earned a Master’s Degree in Psychology. Soon after, he and a friend decided to move to New Orleans. After a career in accounting and a partner in the ownership of a French Quarter art gallery, Harry was ready to get involved with a group that had like-minded secular, non-theistic opinions.

Getting Started

“So the man sitting next to me said ,’How about this man?,’ pointing to me.”


Did you consider your self a little courageous or at least  adventurous for getting involved with an atheist organization given the preponderance of Catholic influence in the city?


When  the small group started NOSHA (New Orleans Secular Humanist Association), I was retired by then. If not, I might not have been able to go public because it could influence people I worked with and also customers of our business. I was retired so I didn’t have that restriction. When the article appeared [about the new group]  in the Times-Picayune, which was a lengthy article, about me and our atheism, I had friends who said “You’re going to be in trouble. People are going to break windows in your house and spray paint your car”.  I had no problem, not a single instance, ugly phone calls, any problem. I think maybe people of New Orleans have enough of a varied background that they can accept people that are different.


Tell me something about the early days, some of the background of getting started up.


Many years ago I got a notice that a group was forming an American Atheists group. It was kind of a small, ragtag group and I decided it was going nowhere; and it didn’t. Some years later, there was a meeting at the Unitarian Universalist Church, and in this case there were two people who came in from the Council for Secular Humanism—I think that’s where they were from—and talked about setting up a group. I had the feeling at the time that that group was not going to develop either. And it hung around a little while and went by the wayside. My third invitation to become a part of a secular group was the one at which NOSHA was formed. There was a meeting of about a dozen people at a bookstore in Metairie and I was impressed that these people were of good background and this would be a successful group. None of us knew each other. The woman who had arranged for this had contacted the Council for Secular Humanism to ask if there was a local branch, and they told her there was not, but that she could start one. She said she did not want to be the president; but she wanted a place where her young children could go because they wouldn’t be going to church or Sunday School; but she had to keep a low profile to avoid professional or social repercussions.  She had all the material that showed how you set up an organization, and she said “this is how you set up an organization—the first thing you do is elect a President.” So the man sitting next to me said “How about this man?,” pointing to me. And I said to them “If anyone else would like to do it, please take it; if not, I’ll do it”    

“I felt like this group really had a chance for survival, because of what I perceived as the quality of the members. Three of those on the Board of Directors were college professors, Dave Schultz being one that is still with us on the boad. I was never one of those in-your-face atheists, and I think we had a refined group on the board of directors.

Organization Man; City Council Opens Up; Humanism Televised

“….and Harry Greenberger should be President.”


Had you any experience setting up a non-profit organization or was your career work helpful?


Absolutely. At that meeting, we talked about getting organized, and I told them that I was a CPA, and had some experience in organization. As one of the owners of Nahan Art Galleries on Royal Street, I had called for a meeting of the Royal Street merchants to set up an organization to be called the Royal Street Association, because we had top quality art galleries, antiques stores, first class restaurants on the street that I thought we would benefit from being an organized entity. I called for a meeting to start the association. We had another store on Chartres Street, and when the Chartres Street people saw what we were doing they formed the Chartres Street Association and I served on their Board of Directors. I was the President of the Royal Street organization as well.

Come World’s Fair time, streets were under construction and killing business. Royal, Chartres, and Bourbon Street groups met with the Mayor and his aides to discuss problems, and a woman said “what we need is a French Quarter Business Association and Harry Greenberger should be the president.”  I became the President of another new organization. It was because of my presidencies  that I got to know everybody on the City Council because we would go there with problems and complaints. At that point, I knew everybody on the city council and they all knew me. Also, I represented our company at the Chamber of Commerce, and I was really pissed off because they just ignored the French Quarter. I arranged to talk at the meeting of their board and made the point that needed to pay more attention to the FQ. because of the tourist business it brought. So they set up a French Quarter committee and made me the chairman, so that’s another one that I had to put together.


You have given a secular invocation to start 8 City Council meetings. Was your familiarity with the council members that helped you to get your foot in door to do this?


Councilman Marlin Gusman, and I do not remember what brought it on,  approached me with the proposal that if I wished to give a secular invocation at a meeting, he would set it up for me. And I did. That is how I got to know the city council’s chaplain, who usually gave the invocation. After a few months or year passed and I called him and said I would like to do another one. Since he found out I was not insulting religious people, I was just doing my thing, and any time I wanted to do one, I would just call him and he would fit me into the agenda.


You also write the material and host a variety of guests from many walks of life on “The Humanist Perspective” a locally produced cable TV program. How long have you done that, and did the idea for that come after NOSHA got off and running?


My guess is that I have hosted the show for about 15 years. The tapes made prior to Katrina were lost in the flood. I’m doing two shows a month; at one time I was doing more than two shows a month.

The way I got involved in the program was the American Atheist Association was looking for people who would deliver their tapes to  public access TV stations and sponsor them locally. I didn’t even know there was a public TV access station, but said I would do it. They would deliver the tapes to me and I would take them to the station to air them. When I went to do that the first time, I found out you had to be a resident of the parish or a member of a non-profit based within it. I also found out they were producing shows there, and I asked what you had to do to have a show. They gave me an application, and for a fee of $100 a year, you could do a show. That was part of the deal Cox Cable agreed to be awarded the monopoly cable TV provider in Orleans Parish—they had to put up a million dollars a year for public access programming between 4 and 6 channels in their lineup.


Did you experience much frustration finding people to interview or scheduling appearances and keeping on schedule?

Generally, this whole thing over the years has operated very smoothly. Sometimes I get a little anxious that I don’t have commitments from two people, because I do two interviews at the same session. But I always end up with two guests, and I cannot remember a time when someone did’t show up. I rarely have a problem with thinking we will run out of things to say to fill the time. It usually goes so smoothly…I don’t know how many times I said to my guests “A half hour goes by fast, doesn’t it?”


You recently retired as President of NOSHA. Given your age, Is the end in sight for your work on this TV production?

Let me put it this way…I stepped down from the presidency of NOSHA because I decided it was time for some new blood. I was a little tired of that. I did not give up the show because I still got some pleasure out of it. Do I see an end to it? Yes, because I am getting very old. I haven’t lost my mental capacity but I can’t remember anything. But when I gave up the presidency, there was more than one person who was qualified to step into that position. But I don’t know anyone in NOSHA now who  would take over that show if I said I was ready to give it up, and of course I’ll have to give it up because of age. But I won’t have to give it up for lack of guests to interview. Early on, I got most of my guests from my contacts having been in public life, but that can’t go on forever. Now I get most of my guests from stories I read in the paper. But in fact, if I knew someone in NOSHA whom I thought would really like to do the show and was capable, I might be ready to turn it over, but I don’t see anyone who has shown any interest.


But it needs to continue…

When it came on, it appeared twice a week, at 2:30 pm and 2:30 am on the weekends. And originally, that’s all that I thought it was. But I knew we had someone who was converting our tapes to go on YouTube. I’m not much of a tech or a computer person , but found out when you go to YouTube to our spot, it also shows how many people have watched.  I couldn’t believe the number of people who had watched. For instance, the professor of economics at Loyola who was an Ayn Rand  fan…I can’t remember…I think it was 4,000..I couldn’t believe how many people were watching my shows on YouTube….they can also been seen on Vimeo; and on our website.

Harry the Humanist

“Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.”—a Quotation from Margaret Mead—and all that was printed on a letter-size sheet of paper Harry handed me.


Strictly considered, atheism, or other brands of skepticism would not seem to be necessarily linked to any political ideology or viewpoint. In Humanism, from which NOSHA takes its name, that point is not quite so clear; and that some humanist principles are better represented in certain political parties than others. What is your thinking on this?


First, on the Wall of Separation. There are some conservatives who say that say those words never appear in the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson, who wrote most of it, made it very clear that the First Amendment intended to erect a wall of separation between church and state. I think that is going to stand, no matter what. I still say we [non-theists] are the most maligned minority in this country. Polls show that we are the least likely out of any groups to be elected for office. I heard some commentator refer to Bernie Sanders as an atheist. Wouldn’t it be something if an atheist Jew was elected President? I tell you what concerns the hell out of me: the Supreme Court. The ultra-conservatives are not going to let Obama get a new member in there. We’re okay if the Democrats win the Presidency, but if the Republicans win, we are gone forever because not only this spot will be filled, but in another 4 years another one is going to die. Ginsburg would probably like to retire, but she doesn’t want the wrong person put in there.

But going back to humanism: humanism, with the lower case “h”, is not specific as upper-case Humanism, which is the philosophy of humanism, and that philosophy says we are concerned with the welfare and the living of full lives for ourselves and others without any reliance on the supernatural. People ask me all the time about secular humanism—what it is. I tell them “secular” means we are non-religious, but that just says what we are not, rather than what we are. Humanism says what we are, and says that since we are not going to have an afterlife and that this is the only life we are going to have we should live it fully and rewardingly, getting the most out of it we can and allowing others to do the same thing.

What I just told you has a lot to do with guests I’ve asked to be on the TV show. I couldn’t have just spent all these years talking about non-religion; how many guests can you have on that subject? Secular humanism says live life fully, get out of it what you can. That enables us to do things that are worth taking a part in or observing—it contributes to the fullness of our lives which is why I talk to people who are in theater and all manner of things, so long that this is a subject that can give some joy and pleasure and satisfaction in our lives.


Do you think the usefulness of organizations which are founded on the principle of non-theism has past its prime?


No way. I think we are only in the beginning of it and see nothing but expansion in the future. This country is becoming a whole lot less religious. The young people…they don’t even talk about it…I was wondering why we didn’t have more secular organizations at UNO, Delgado, Tulane…and I was told that young people don’t even think about religion. That’s why the numbers are going to change, because of the young people. For us older people, we are trying to overcome the old discriminations and trying to make secularism more acceptable. The young people don’t have that same outlook.


In addition to scheduling  hundreds of speakers for monthly NOSHA meetings during his time as President of NOSHA, interviewing hundreds more on “The Humanist Perspective” television program, some other noteworthy events, publications, and awards Harry has had a hand in:

2002—Interviewed by Elizabeth Mullener for the Times-Picayune

2005—Acknowledgement and photograph of Mayoral Proclamation of “Day of Reason” in New Orleans requested by members of NOSHA published in Freedom from Religion Foundation publication Freethought Today

2009Recognition of New Orleans City Council Proclamation of Day of Reason in Free Mind. Both proclamations were proposed as alternatives to the National Day of Prayer.

2012—Interviewed by Eric Nguyen of the Humanist News Network, the weekly online publication of the American Humanist Association.

2012—Recipient of The Humanist Award of NOSHA. The award was later given his name.

2013—Designated as President Emeritus of NOSHA

2014—Named to the Honor Roll of the Humanist Foundation, a subsidiary of the American Humanist Association.

2014—Published an essay in Free Inquiry, the magazine of the Council of Secular Humanism, addressing the theme “The Faith I Left Behind”. His essay, “Why I am Not a Believer,” was one of several, out of the hundreds submitted,  to be selected for publication in the book The Faith I Left Behind .

An Evening with Bart, Bird, and the Baptists

Persecutors Pay the Price

February , 2016

Getting comfortable in the nearly straight-backed, hardwood benches with a minimum of padding involved  a continual re-alignment of posture for the dozen disciples of New Orleans’ club for Christian persecutors unaccustomed to sitting in church. The benches—pews in churchspeak– were in the voluminous Leavell Chapel, located on the grounds of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. The Persecutors made a rare appearance in church and suffered the punishing seating arrangements as a penance to hear one of their own: Biblical scholar, UNC professor, prolific author and fellow non-believer Bart Ehrman debate with theological lecturer and author Michael Bird, who made the trip from his native Australian. Ehrman could have been from the other, not-Australian place Down Under judging from the awkward introduction and reception he was given prior to his lead-off address. The forum director, Robert Stewart’s introduction of him to the audience of about 1200 seminarians, instructors, old Baptist preachers, and the dozen Persecutors was worded awkwardly enough not to invite applause. 

The title of the dialogue was “How Did Jesus Become God,” named from Ehrman’s most recent book, and was the the theme of the larger Greer-Heard Point-Counter Forum held annually at the seminary for the last 11 years. The Friday night dialogue is followed Saturday morning and early afternoon with more lectures from other distinguished presenters followed up with responses from the key speakers Ehrman and Bird. The idea of the for the forum was initially proposed by seminary donors– and husband and wife –Greer and Heard, said President Chuck Kelley during his general introduction. Besides the unstated purpose of getting their names attached to something of interest related to the seminary operations, their published  motivation was to get divergent viewpoints on matters religious for the goal of “teaching preachers to think.” Anyone would see what a novel concept that was, and its potential for successful outcomes, though not guaranteed, remain in the realm of possibility. In theory.

Dr. Ehrman kicked off by setting out the “terms” of the discussion, though “limits” may have been a better choice. The purpose would be to present a credible explanation of how the historical person Jesus, described at length in the New Testament addition to the Bible, came to be also known, called, pronounced, exalted as, or proclaimed to be… God.  Ehrman emphasized that the discussion was limited to the historical possibilities of the question and not its theological ramifications. Whether Jesus truly was the same as, or the son of the God was not part of the debate. Ehrman does agree with  other skeptics and agnostics, and believes that the personhood of Jesus is affirmed (that the historical person of Jesus existed); and that position of mythicism—that a historical Jesus did not really exist, but was rather a mythical figure, a composite other such deities of the area, such as (among others) Dionysus and Osiris of Greek and Egyptian lore, was false.

The short answer, said Ehrman, is that Jesus officially became God at the Council of Nicea in 325 C. E. Roman Emperor Constantine, who may have made his first mistake by legalizing Christianity in the Empire, and second, really big error making it the official state religion, called for a meeting of about 300 bishops to smooth out some of the details of the newly established religion in an effort to patch up the social structure of an empire that was falling apart and was in need of a unifying….something. In a truy democratic process, the motion to proclaim Jesus to be the co-eternal, co-equal,  begotten, and of the same essence as the real god received a majority vote of those in favor. And so came to be the Nicean Creed. It can only be speculated how things may have turned out had voter fraud later be uncovered.

So to be fair, Ehrman painted a little historical perspective of the official coronation done by the Council. A study of the New Testament scriptures shows that Jesus’ disciples did not believe at the time of their association with him he was divine, but only came to that belief after the Resurrection. The empty tomb was a trigger for a group with high expectations and an even loftier imagination to surmise no explanation existed for their leader’s disappearance other than that he had been exalted to Heaven—a transformation which happens only to truly godly beings, they thought.  Ehrman quoted and referred frequently and breezily from Biblical verse and chapter, evaluating nuances in the semantics and aphorisms of the scripture to validate his position that the Jesus-God unification was of a Christology called adoptionism; that Jesus was really born as a mortal man and was later “adopted” to be the son, and, curiously enough, at the same time, the same being as God. This theory conflicts with the final edicts of the Council of Nicea, which ended up with a god of not two, but three agents, all three almighty, all three, one; each one, three. And they understandably called it the Doctrine of the Trinity. It is difficult, using logicians’ standard  laws of thought, specifically the law of the excluded middle; or Leibniz’ catchy Identity of Indiscernables, to get one’s head around all this, a problem church theoreticians recognized soon enough, and called it a mystery—euphemizing the problem temporarily away, kicking it down the line for future generations to figure out.

Dr. Bird is along with this idea, too. The diminutive but plucky redhead is an informed and entertaining presenter, and kept a light-hearted attitude and non-apocalyptic tone throughout (even if the irony in the overused icebreaker Australian speakers often employ, associating his homeland, Crocodile Dundee, and Outback Steakhouse resonated as bit Trinitarian itself). Bird tried to show that the theory of adoptionism didn’t emerge until about 190 C. E. from a group following the works of Theodotus, which had itself carried the tradition of the mortal beginnings of the Christ fellow from the earlier thought of Bishop Arius, one of the participants of the Council of Nicea and the leading opponent to the doctrine that was eventually accepted. Dr. Bird patched together verses from the Gospels, mixed in references from Pauline Epistles, and tied them together with the “Word,” or “logos” notion from John the baptizer to fortify his theory of the making of Jesus-God as a version of the “possession” Christology. All this meaning that Jesus was of “the word”, was in possession of the same substance and eternal existence as the god and the divine spirit.

Thus,the Doctrine of the Trinity is reaffirmed by Bird, albeit with a few twists. Ehrman, getting the final rebutting remarks, said as much. Mr. Bird had not contributed an answer to discussion’s primary puzzle: How did Jesus become God? For Bird, and likely most of the seminarians, instructors and old Baptists preachers there, the proposition that Jesus is “of the Word” and just is, always was, just as the god Yahweh and the spirit are, is, when outfitted with enough Biblical cross references, the Truth (with a capital T) for the ages.

As for the Persecutors, some left wondering (and doubting) if the Greer and Heard goal of getting preachers to think came close to being accomplished. A few wondered if it was the mental gymnastics required to square the logical constraints of identity, non-contradiction, and excluded middles against Trinitarian mysticism that made them uncomfortable, keeping them out of church, or if it was bodily taxation caused by the stiff, straight-backed pews.  Catholic churches can be even more sadistic, it has been said, with those non-optional prayer kneelers.

X-Mas List, With Love and XOXO

It was only natural, probably written in the stars: the Christian spirit of giving, the tradition started by the three wise men bringing gifts to the newborn Christ, expanded at some point to include making one’s own personal wish list: gifts you would like to receive. And since the spirit-tradition does not begrudge anyone from participating in the routine, but in fact encourages every one, of every faith or no faith  to participate, because it is good for the economy, it’s a win-win.

For that reason–the universal spirit of giving and getting–I am not even slightly embarrassed or feeling presumptuous or hypocritical about publicly posting my personal little wish list (or sharing the news that I have bought stuff to give to others in the coming days), even though I am not a Christian or a member of any other faith.

My experience with the Christmas gifting tradition is probably like most others in Middle Class America. There would be a “big”thing (toy, bicycle, jewelry, or, in more recent decades, electronic devices–iPad, or phone, or XBox or 55” flatscreen–and several smaller, less expensive gewgaws and novelties tucked in large ornamental stockings, sometimes hung from a fireplace mantel. My wish list this year is just one big thing from which several small goodies can be gleaned. The only way this is possible is what I am asking for is not something material, or store-bought, or even the thoughtful love-labor of some talented artisanal  acquaintance; but a recognition, understanding, appreciation, and sharing of a concept in scheme of human relations, how people join together to make agencies and governments for maintaining order and improving the general well-being of their populations, theoretically, toward maximum freedom for individual citizens  along with the greatest flourishing for the greatest number of them.

This progressive and positive  form of politics was born in the 17th Century, the time of the Reformation and Enlightenment, when the avant-garde began breaking free from Middle Age traditions of feudalism and Scholastic thought, and began pioneering new ways to observe the world from new empirical scientific  and  philosophically rational  perspectives.

Religious influence, once domineering all phases of public and private life, began a slow and steady decline. The rise of capitalism may have also contributed to this decline, as its driving force of profit-making was not a good fit with a fundamental anti-materialism message at the core of Christianity.

On the matter of formulating principle for the new, democratic, and liberal body politic, philosopher Richard Rorty, in the essay “Religion as Conversation-stopper”, points out what he call a “Jeffersonian compromise that the Enlightenment reached with the religious…This compromise consists in privatizing religion–keeping it out of the public square..” and

Contemporary liberal philosophers think that we shall not be able to keep a democratic political community going unless the religious believers remain willing to trade privatization for a guarantee of religious liberty…(1)

The wisdom of this trade-off becomes apparent when Rorty explains how interjecting religion, as a moral or scriptural foundation for making or discussing policy becomes, at miniumum, a “conversation-stopper”, or worse, an “argument-starter.” The interlocutor with  religion tries to have the last word and seal his position against possible challenges. But this easily invites an opposing foundational and equally irreproachable retort, be it from a different religious a or secular/rational viewpoint, and thus a new argument emerges over principles rather than the issue at hand. The principle “to limit the conversation t0 premises held in common” ends up as the only pragmatic alternative.

This is just another way to look at the “Wall of Separation” between the State and Religion that Jefferson and his fellow founders had the foresight to build into the law of the land. Allowing the foundational dogma of one religion to underlie legislation favors one privately held belief (it could as easily be a private “hobby”, says Rorty) over another, and undermines the guiding goal of pluralism. Adherence to pluralism also helps prevent a “tyranny of the majority,” be it religion or other non-common premiss. The pie graph representing a theoretical total amount of political influence, with the center point as a hub for spokes radiating from it at different angles results in different sizes of opinion-influence in  a majority-rule-all diagram, where the 49% would control all:

pie graph

And the same amount of influence represented in the pie divided by chords, criss-crossing and intersecting; representing differences and similarities at the areas of overlapping. This is a better representation of the idea of pluralism:

chords in circle


That would be my big thing under the tree. Good old-fashioned classic liberal pluralism (and maybe the end of capitalism). Non-material, no-cost, no exploited Global South labor, and no carbon footprint. It’s just a matter of education. Free also would be the smaller stuffers in my tinseled-out red stocking, including, among things yet dreamed of,

  • The end of laws permitting discrimination based on fundamentalist religious scripture
  • Repeal laws giving religiously-based theories of the origins and development of life on Earth equal stature with academically accepted scientific theory in public schools
  • The elimination of well-funded and influential webs of lobby groups such as the Louisiana Family Forum in this state, and the huge semi-clandestine American-based organization but internationally powerful International Christian Leadership, a.k.a. The Family.
  • Revisit federal and state tax code relating to churches and ministries and statutes concerning non-profits v. beneficent non-profits, administrator and pastoral salaries.
  • Require no religious tests for admission into the United States, strict interpretation of the 14th Amendment.
  • Have the United Nations enter into discussions with the Holy See of the Roman Catholic Church with the purpose of affecting major changes in its policy on contraception. It is currently an impediment to reducing STDs and slowing the population explosion, particularly in Africa.


As I lay down the night before Christmas, and just before  visions of sugarplums danced in my head, I was startled back to wakefulness with the thought of the Syrian refugee, turned away from the American Inn, pregnant, and….did it….could it be…did our fearful, mostly Christian leaders just turn away…who?


(1) Richard Rorty, “Religion as Conversation-stopper,” Philosophy and Social Hope. ( London: Penguin Books, 1999)

Humanism Goes to Church


Mr. Alan Wolfe helps coordinate the “First Tuesdays: Spirituality in the City” speaker series and acts as the liaison between the guest speakers and a the co-sponsorship of The Immaculate Conception Jesuit Church and several other Catholics entities. Now in it’s seventh season, guests from diverse religions, human interest groups, and prominent leaders in local government and business are chosen to “initiate conversations about their spiritual traditions and address the theme ‘Spirituality in the City’.” We met up with Mr. Wolf at the front steps of the grand 160-year old Immaculate Conception Jesuit Church—with it’s Moor-influenced architecture of onion domes and pointed arches—less than a block off Canal Street in the Central Business District of New Orleans. He shuttled us down a pedestrian alley between the church and the adjacent Lenes Hall, the parish center for the church where the group meets.

Scrolling through the list of past speakers, one finds representatives from Buddhist, Muslim, and Jewish traditions; journalists and authors, including Jason Berry, Bob Marshall, and John Barry; and local celebrity chefs Leah Chase and John Besh. Tuesday, December 1, the bar for diversity was set a bit higher, even by the liberal standards of the Jesuits. 

“We had a speaker from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation a while back,” Wolf told me after Tuesday’s presentation, “but this was the real deal.” The “deal” being the presentation of a humanitarian, ethically positive outlook on life based on naturalism rather than traditional theology, gods, or laying claim to an ethereal spiritualism, courtesy of the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association (NOSHA).

NOSHA President Charlotte Klasson and Membership Coordinator Beth Deitch spoke on the theme “Humanism: Ethical, Secular and Good for Everyone” in a coordinated tag team effort before a group of about 30 there for the midday talk and light lunch affair. Beth started by defining terms: Humanism, naturalism, consequentialist ethics—all fitting together in overlapping  meanings and nuance, and building on a comprehensive outlook on life through the “self-aware moral agent” that the human is. Charlotte gave the audience a brief history of NOSHA from its beginnings, its affiliate groups, and its function as the only local organization of its type for people sharing a non-theistic, naturalistic worldview. She stressed the importance of being vigilant about church and state separation issues, and pointed out Harry Greenberger’s (NOSHA President Emeritus) multiple ‘secular invocations’ at city council meetings to balance the typically Christian bias at that part of the meeting agenda.

Beth referred to cognitive scientist and linguist Steven Pinker’s recent  book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Pinker’s thesis, that, in spite of appearances, violence in the world is decreasing, could  be traced back to the tradition of the Enlightenment movement of the 17th and 18th Century Europe and America, which held as axiomatic that there are knowable truths in the world, which, when discovered through the scientific method and rational thinking, would lead to an increasing improvement of the human condition—and less violent behavior—over time. This is a foundational concept of secular humanism.

During a brief Q and A segment at the end, several of the typical concerns about a godless world were brought up by thoughtful listeners. One questioned how humans could have been the basis of their own positive ethical behavior. A: The primary motivation of survival has shown us that cooperation and altruism are necessary for maintaining and propagating life. Another question from a priest in the audience was how values of good and evil, right or wrong can emanate from the naturalistic materialism that humanism claims—a problem Kant had, he added. A: The problem of consciousness remains unsolved, and the solution to the question lies in the theory of consciousness itself. (And besides that, our consequentialist ethics are “at 180s” with Kant’s categorical imperative, or universal and unswerving morality Kant thought could be  derived from rationality.)

Maybe the most relevant question—at least as it related to the theme of “Spirituality in the City”—came from a dapper man near the front, who wanted to know if humanists have anything they call spirituality. “The term is problematic,” said Deitch, as the ambiguity between spirituality being something that comes from some real but intangible spirit, which we reject, or if it is something more like a sense of awe or wonderment, a magical or enchanted mental state. Apparently he had been unmoved by an earlier partial reading of Carl Sagan’s ode “Pale Blue Dot” which, for many, stimulates an awe that comes from man’s realization of his insignificance in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps the observation of theoretical physicist/cosmologist Lawrence Krauss, though not quite as lyrical, but no less poetical, which invokes a sense of wonderment by a reversal of tack, placing man as a shining product of the grand scheme of the universe, his bodily makeup the result of elements manufactured in solar furnaces, and then spread by the exploding aged stars and spread as elemental fertilizer to create untold diversity in the cosmos.

And maybe when it is shown that spirituality is possible without spirits, numen, genies or poltergeists or gods, will we better appreciate the “real deal.”

Heretical Compromise?

Religion is one of man’s first attempts at a coherent narrative about the human condition—all that is sublime, all that is wretched, and all the tedium in between. It’s a methodology for making a revered completeness from a fragmented and bewildering sensory experience.  As such, it is a branch of the  larger topic of humanism—“any system or mode of thought or action in which human interests, values, and dignity predominate.”¹

Over the past 400 years, during and since the Enlightenment movement, the definition of humanism, as an philosophical worldview has been narrowed. It had never been worded into a doctrinal format until 1933, when a group of 30-odd academic scientists, sociologists, ministers, and philosophers agreed on the tenants to be penned in the first Humanist Manifestowhich “was designed to represent a developing point of view….representative of a large number who are forging a new philosophy out of the materials of the modern world.” The document listed 15 points, and included the words “religion” or “religious” about 10 times, and the term “religious humanism” five times. Forty years later, a second, lengthier manifesto was compiled; and  in 2003 Humanism and Its Aspirations, subtitled Humanist Manifesto III, a successor to the Humanist Manifesto of 1933 was published. It did not use “religion” or any of its derivations. It is not likely that  this refinement of the language excluding religion and religious humanism was  an indication that the framers of the document believed the connotations of religion would create a misrepresentation of their message, allying it by word association with traditional theological thought, as their message was unequivocal in the first document: “There is great danger of a final, and we believe fatal, identification of the word religion with doctrines and methods which have lost their significance and which are powerless to solve the problem of humans living in the Twentieth Century.” Rather, it could have been a symbolic expungement, reinforcing their idea that traditional religions had passed their expiration dates as positive and effective social constructions to improve on the human condition.

Cemented as the base of the ethical foundation  of humanism, as well as today’s major religions is the school of Utilitarianism, developed to its modern formulation by Jeremy Bentham near the beginning of the 19th Century. Simply  put, humans seek pleasure and avoid pain; on a grander scale it is defined as the greatest amount good for the greatest number of people. As a end point, it appears that the religious faithful and secular humanists are on the same page. After that—how to get there—is where the differences begin. Secular humanists see the following shared major tenants of Western religions (the last is specific to Christianity, but parallels could be found in the others)  as obstacles to progress.

The Afterlife and Procrastination

The Abrahamic religions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam foretell of another life, in or of some nebulous realm, that succeeds our earthly biological experience. The ultimate utility is culminated in that afterlife; and though we may seek and find well-being during our worldly existence, it eventually is not to be prioritized. Rather, it is only that second life we really need to be concerned with. Humanists think that in placing high hopes on having “a second chance” the utilitarian goal of the greatest good is set  up with an excuse for failure. No use to work on alleviating poverty and hunger in the world. To the humanist, “the poor you will always have with you,…” (Mark 14:7) is not a good reason to for the Son of God, the People’s Prophet to indulge in lavish toiletries rather than exchange the oil for assistance to the needy. The here and now, represented by the oil-to-alms possibility, becomes secondary to a glimpse of the afterlife, symbolized in the fleeting worldly presence of the godhead.

The Unaccountable Sovereign

The idea of trusting any belief system, be it religious, ideological, or political to a single, omnipotent authoritarian figure, seems inimical to insure a balanced, just, and merciful administration of human proceedings. The Biblical accounts of the jealous, domineering and punishing Yahweh of the Old Testament do not depict a ruler with the well-being of his subjects as his  primary concern, but rather speaks to his obsession with their submission to his single-minded will and whim. This type of power structure is exactly what progressive political theorists have been disclaiming as flawed for real world applications for the last 400 years. Humanists reject the proposition of an unknown, unseen, authoritarian power as unfounded;  and a dangerous model favoring a master/slave form of governance.

Solutions through Our Strengths

Nietzsche called Christianity the religion of pity. Its continual image of reference is a bleeding, tortured soul stretched and spiked to a lofty cross. The philosopher thought “A man loses power when he pities. By means of pity the drain on strength which suffering itself already introduces into the world is multiplied a thousandfold.” Also involved in the emotion of pity, Nietzsche claims, is a contempt toward the subject of one’s pity, bringing out an attitude  of superiority. The energy expended on pity would better be spent encouraging the suffering to face up to their difficulties and struggle against  them as best they could. This is the lesson taught in humanism–rather than wallow in a self-perpetuating misery, use the power of rationality and approach the problem of the sorrowful with empathy and compassion to rise above the pain and travail.

From these three—there are others—conceptual differences, many more, smaller distinctions can be  inferred. Are the disagreements too numerous or complex to overcome? Humanists are by definition an optimistic lot, presupposing, as did the Enlightenment thinkers, that a widening understanding of our world and ourselves can only lead to increasing well-being and improvement of the human condition. We also understand, through the disciplines of psychology, sociology, anthropology, that religion has served to fill a need with its explanatory value during  man’s early times, and as a fulfillment of an unexplained psychological  desire for the enchanting aura of mystery. Not lost on us either is the reality that the ideals of The Enlightenment, though not failed, have yet to be fulfilled. The most brutal reminder being that we are only 7 decades past the nearly complete nihilistic collapse of social sanity.

Our endgame remains the same. Progressive believers and secular humanists can and must set aside theoretical disagreements and work together toward the goal of the betterment of all people, taking on each difference as a new opportunity to compromise.  We  must serve as a voices of moderation within our own domains. Fanatical fundamentalism is showing the dark side of religion. Disrespect and intolerance is a problem with some individuals in the movement away from religiosity. We are living in a world  recovering from insanity, but the indicators of schizophrenia remain.

We are in survival mode. It can create strange bedfellows.

Segal Humbles PinChurch

Call it another in a long list of “Only in New Orleans” quirks: book and produce professional musical acts in venues whose primary entertainment attraction is something other than live music. Like a bowling alley, for example—and call it “Rock ’n’ Bowl”; or a pinball parlor snuggled in a nondescript white shell of an abandoned church in a nondesIMG_1084cript  suburban neighborhood—and call it “PinChurch.”

Mike Perry’s PinChurch and Mystic Krewe of the Silver Ball project is not yet on the scale of Rock ’n’ Bowl, but his dedication to creating a special place is undeniable. He’s gone to great lengths  to furnish the interior of the former church with audio-visual equipment, a stocked kitchenette, and pinball machines—lots of them (I stopped counting at 45)— lining the walls: Domino, Jet Spin, Funhouse, Slick Chick, Mystic, Grand Slam,300, Cyclone, Attack from Mars, and, of course, Wizard, to name a few. And all are set for “free play,” which I learned after slugging the slots with a few of my own quarters.

A performer coming into a venue competing for attention against the bells, flashing lights, and whistles and whizzes would necessarily need be confident with her talent. And Shelley Segal was up to the challenge.

Shelley is known by many in the atheist and freethinking community as the AustralIMG_0011_2ian singer-songwriter-stylist who single-handedly assumed the role of the musical voice for the community with An Atheist Album released in 2011, and has been touring and spreading the message since, making appearances with Dan Barker of FFRF and Richard Dawkins. She grew up in a Jewish family in East Melbourne that attended Orthodox sex-segregated services; and her disillusionment with the religious life eventually found a way of expression through her music. The song “Saved” is a defiant objection to those that would impose the morals of their religion on others, and those that accept it without question “…You think that suffering is / A part of a great plan / That’s been devised / I wonder, I wonder, I wonder, I wonder / What it will take for you to open your eyes,” the lyrics written over a reggae rhythm alternating between its syncopated upbeat strum and switching back  the more common 4/4 timing in the chorus. Her voice is powerful, clear, controlled emotion. She incorporates musical styles taken from jazz, Indie Rock , American folk, and Bossa Nova; and writes ballads and poetic anthems that mesh artfully with her interesting guitar chordings.

Shelley is on tour promoting her latest EP Strange Feeling. At this evening’s performance, she was accompanied on several numbers by Dale on electric bass and host Mike, who also happens to be a very capable drummer.

The few from NOSHA who were fortunate enough to get tickets for the event enjoyed the delightful Friday evening experience—the PinChurch is worth the the visit in itself, but even in a house rockin’ with 50 clanging pinball machines, one felt a presence of a greater power in the person of Shelley Segal: the silver ball was no competition.