Film Review, the Short Story of M. M. O’Hair

It’s the middle of the summer and the movie is king  at NOSHA’s monthly meeting.

Godless in America: The Complete Short Film of Madly Murray O’Hair  opens with a close-up of a phonograph spinning on a turntable as the voice, ostensibly the record itself, is that of the original French Quarter street preacher Bob Harrington, The Chaplain of Bourbon Street.  The revolving LP: Ten Reasons Madalyn Murray O’Hair Must be Stopped…and Ten Ways to Stop Her.

A one-hour documentary on any subject must leave much of the story unsaid, undocumented. This film missed a beautiful opportunity to explore a collusion of dichotomies, a pact between good and evil, the demon-directed damsel in bed with the playboy preacher. The blinged out, philandering Chaplain, and matronly but manic atheist O’Hair took to a roadshow debate, a Manichean Punch and Judy tour through the South, making a couple of stops in on the Phil Donahue talk show in the mid-1970s. And since no one, other than atheists themselves (or so it is said), expect  anything resembling moral virtue from the ungodly, O’Hair can be judged as acting in character; Harrington, conversely, had sold out. And in the worst way: not only did he arrange the tour of staged debates and pay O’Hair for her appearances, he also paid part of her legal bill in her suits petitioning the courts to remove “In God We Trust” and “one nation, under God” from public property and the Pledge of Allegiance. Advantage (not even close): O’Hair.

But a more serious flaw in the film was not one of this one omission of elevated irony, but rather one of consolidation—intermingling historical facts about O’Hairs battles against prayer in public schools and the actual evolution of court cases and decisions. The impression one came away with from the film was that it was her case, her victory in a Supreme Court ruling in 1963 that banned prayer in public schools. As the narrator put it, “Madalyn had found her cause…for 3 long years she pursued her secular journey against school prayer all the way to the Supreme Court. At last, in 1963, she won a landmark ruling.” The fact was that state-sponsored school prayer was banned by SCOTUS in the Engel v. Vitale decision in 1962. The Murray v. Curlett  case (specific to The Lord’s Prayer in Baltimore)  was consolidated with Abington v. Schempp, challenging Bible-readings and other state-sponsored religious activities in 1963. Both won and were just icing on the cake. Could this mishmash of legalisms be the result of superficial research or a simple misunderstanding of the peculiarities of American law by the British documenters?

The film maker can be credited for a good explanation of the solution to the mystery around her and her family’s disappearance and death in the San Antonio area of South Texas in 1995. About half of the film was used to outline the characters involved in her American Atheists business operation, and their betrayal and conspiracy to simply steal all of the money from the organization, liquid assets totaling about $600,000. David Waters, office manager and overall bad actor with a criminal past, along with accomplices kidnaped and imprisoned the matriarch, her son and granddaughter in a motel room for a week before vengefully strangling and dismembering them and stuffing their corpses into 55-gallon drums, later found buried in a grove of dusty Mesquite shrubs in “the Texas outback.”  Cruel, godless  irony double-crossed the perpetrators when common burglars defeated the five-dollar lock securing the highway-side storage unit where the loot, after being converted to about 1500 gold coins had been stashed, and high-tailed it with the loot.

Murray’s bones and steel surgical hip joint were recovered, but the fate of all but one of the gold coins remains unknown. But the mother of irony in this story is that after years of death threats as the most reviled woman in America, her undoing was motivated by the very worldly weakness of greed and vengefulness within the closed ranks of her close associates. 

Godless in America: The Complete Short Film of Madalyn Murray O’Hair, an October Films Production for BBC, 2006. Directed and produced by Leslie Woodhead

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Science Cafe Opens

SCIENCE CAFE SERVES UP FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Local food and restaurant critic Tom Fitzmorrris lists 1401 eateries in the metro New Orleans. and that’s not counting franchises or fast food outlets. He will probably not be including one recent opening in his updates—that of a local version of the new multinational concept of “Science Cafes”.  That’s because the fare served there is information, specifically about topics in science, rather than the latest twist on bistro comfort food or arty but bitty portions of nouvelle cuisine.

NOSHA has teamed up with Dr. Marion Freistadt to bring topics of different scientific disciplines to the general public. It’s an interesting new approach for widening  public awareness about the value of having a least a cursory understanding of how science relates to issues in an increasingly complex world. Lectures and discussions are served up  for small groups in an informal setting at easily accessible locations.

Marion’s educational and professional background is in the biological discipline of virology, the study of viruses. She comes “from a strong traditional academic background with grant funding,” she told me in an email. “I am currently setting out on my own and am therefore seeking a robust partnership of local and national sponsors “. She is the founder of  and director of Virology Institute of New Orleans, a nonprofit incorporated in Louisiana, which was established for “Advancing Science Education” . Services provided by the Institute to achieve that end include “Science Cafe, monthly newsletters, the ‘Going Viral’ radio show, enhancement of science literacy, science career mentoring, research funding reform, and virology research”.

On May 12th, Freistadt presented a group of 20-30  at the uber-funky Neutral Ground Coffeehouse with a balanced overview on the topic vaccines: the different types and how they work to protect from infection; a brief history from the earliest days of the discoveries of Jenner and his discovery of the cowpox vaccine to fight the then rampant smallpox scourge; and Pasteur finding defenses against rabies and anthrax.  Her talk included some of the current issues centered around vaccination, and she put into perspective which concerns are legitimate and others that are based more on hysteria and conspiracy theories than fact. Over the years, we have basically eradicated smallpox and polio, and were on the way to ending measles before the recent upsurge in cases—primarily because of misinformation riding on the coattails of the vaccine-as-Autism-cause panic.

Dr. Freistadt’s long-term goal is to have her Virology Institute housed in geodesic dome similar to the one Buckminster Fuller designed as the biosphere for Expo 67 in Montreal. She says it is “visually educational” because the design mimiimagescs the naturally-occurring design that many viruses use to package their genome within a three-dimensional structure.

More Science Cafe sessions are to be sponsored “in the foreseeable future,” said Marion. “The broader mission of VINO is to enhance science literacy….Lots of suggestions, such as astronomy and relativity have been put forward, I am open to many ideas. We are just starting.”

So let’s do lunch. And think about tipping VINO at http://virologyinstituteofneworleans.org. This fledgling good-cause operation is worthy of our support.

Betting the Love and Happiness Exacta

What is the natural partner of marriage, as the partners within marriage itself are paired to one another? Divorce, of course: what man has brought together, allow him also rend asunder, I think the saying could go. Divorce is the true, dialectical counterpoint of marriage, thesis-antithesis, in the American tradition, where the rate of persons ever once married dissolve the contract at a very consistent, long-term rate between 40 and 50 percent..   And it doesn’t get to hide from the children by spelling it out Tammy Wynette-style, D-I-V-O-R-C-E. We have fine public records accounting to vouch for that.

  And it is not gender specific, though the frequency may diverge with time. Louisiana’s first official marriage between my friends  Earl Benjamin and Michael Robinson took place on the first Monday morning after the Friday the Supreme Court determined that there is not legal justification to prevent couples of the same sex from the social dignity and statutory stipulations of marriage. The no-frills, judge-administered ceremony followed a divorce in a separate courtroom of the Orleans Parish Civil District Court. The divorce of two New Orleans women, Anna Wellman and Stephanie Baus, who had been married in Massachusetts in 2009, was possible since their previously unrecognized hitching in Massachusetts was now bequeathed  full legal status in Louisiana, and with such standing, marriage could be reunited with its alter-ego, the Big D-and-I-don’t-mean-Dallas,  it’s 50-50 bet hedged against either success or failure cashed out.

The Benjamin-Robinsons look like they will be winners in the marriage wager. The two bright and committed souls  have been sticking it out for 14 years, and will win this lottery of love and happiness, I know it.

IMG_1017And may the  prigs and preachers bewailing their loss of traditional marriage admit there is no sure bet about tradition, its wheel spins mainly in dark as do all others, with unknown outcomes, but the percentages speak for themselves. Tradition is no better than the data says it is–just average.

May the Circularity Go Unbroken

All Scripture is breathed out by God

2 Timothy 3:16   ESV

IMG_0898Is it possible for a Perfect Being to have halitosis?

Me

April 11, 2015

Have you wondered why  so many people believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible,  that the book is an “inerrant” document and all the tales, histories, biographies, and timelines are undeniably true and accurate? With just a little reading and reflection of the book, wouldn’t it be obvious that there are too many inconsistencies, contradictions,  and second-to-none tales of imagination and fantasy for anyone to believe? To understand why anyone would, it might be helpful to trace the origins of the idea and follow one possible thread of circumstances leading to it.

Karen Armstrong’sThe Bible: A Biography follows a historical trail from what she believes is the origin to a period in the early Twentieth Century. Armstrong says that the claim of biblical inerrancy is a relatively recent phenomenon—really getting started less that about 150 years ago—and earlier interpretations (of the limited few who had the opportunity to read and evaluate the material) accepted the more realistic viewpoint that the Bible, while serving as the foundational narrative of Western religion, was also rich with allegories, mythical representation, and presented a morality play sui generis of good versus evil.

But in the late 18th Century, philosopher Baruch Spinoza claimed that the Bible could not have been of divine origin given the number of contradictions, and from that conclusion began construction of his “pantheistic” interpretation of the worldly order.IMG_0863

His criticism would become known as the “Higher Criticism” (later called “historical criticism”) and was taken up for study by other contemporaries of the age: “By the end of the eighteenth century, German scholars led the way in biblical studies and were taking Spinoza’s historical-critical method to new lengths…” (1) leading to the revelation ”By the nineteenth century, it was generally agreed by the scholars of the Higher Criticism that the Pentateuch was a combination of four originally independent sources.”(2)

These sources, writers or transcribers, would come to be designated J (Yahweh), E (Elohim), D (Deuteronomist), and P (Priestly) and are still the standard model for interpreting the different nuances of style and terminology of the Torah. Moses as the author was now officially debunked.

It didn’t take long for the thoughtful among the devoted to realize that this was a problem—the sole foundation, the surviving written account and singular record and history of Judaism and Christianity was now shown to be error prone. And if one or many— each and every error contributed to devaluing the veracity of the whole. Making things worse, the results of these critical works was reaching a larger  audience— people of modest means were by now beginning to have greater access to the printed word. Specifically, a work called Essays and Reviews published in 1861 by seven Anglican clergymen created an such an uproar that little attention was given to a work published two years earlier that would soon become the most formidable and durable challenge to the seven day creation of a young earth related in the Bible: Darwin’s The Origin of the Species. But “Darwin did not attack religion and at first the religious response was muted.”(3)

The challenge to the divine inspiration of the holy book now firmly defined, apologists for inerrancy scurried from the woodwork. Pastor Dwight Moody published Many Infallible Truths in 1895, nine years after founding the Moody Bible Institute; Archibald Hodge and Benjamin Warfield of the Princeton Theological Seminary worked together on an 1881 article about the inspiration of the Bible, and Warfield would later publish the book The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible. “The belief in biblical inerrancy, pioneered by Warfield and Hodge, would..become crucial to Christian fundamentalism and would involve considerable denial.” (4) The foundation for perhaps the largest intellectual scam in the history of Western thought was now laid, brought about as a reaction from fear (rather than a result of a premeditated conspiracy)—a fear of a loss of trust in a fable-backed religion which had heretofore been such an easy and accessible method for gaining and maintaining power and control of  the innermost psyche of a populace needing and searching for security in a tumultuous world. The gross circularity of the apologetic, buried in volumes of abstruse verbiage made it particularly offensive.

The beginning of the 20th Century opens with a widening web of anti-Enlightenment thought, with fundamentalist Christianity assuming an interdependent and participating role in cultural and political developments. Unencumbered by “empirical correctness”, fascist ideologies flourished, often using the fundamentalist assumption of a self-sovereign, Higher Authority as legislator, judge, and executioner. In the Age of Modernity, a population just recently introduced to the seemingly unlimited possibilities of progress through science and  world peace from toleration and pluralism was now confronted with what Karl Popper saw as the paradox inherent  within, set like a trap to reverse 300 years of achievement.

(1) Karen Armstrong, The Bible: A Biography (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2007)

(2) Ibid.

(3)Ibid.

(4)Ibid.

Solstice Celebrations in NOLA

IMG_0994

After a Spring season with a full schedule of monthly meetings, extra-curricular projects, lectures, and community service outings, NOSHA takes a break for one last chill before the dog days of summer smother New Orleans with a steamy woolen blanket. The date marking the summer solstice, usually June 20-22, dovetails perfectly for a time-out, and as an appropriately  pagan festivity celebrated by heathens like us for hundreds, if not thousands of years worldwide. The past several years, the NOSHA group has alternated its summer salute to the sun between the homes of Harry Greenberger and Marshall Harris on Bayou St. John, and Beth Deitch’s attractively renovated Uptown address. This year’s party returned to Harry and Marshall’s, and the hosts did an excellent job of  arranging comfortable accommodations for enjoying potluck delectables and icy drinks.

What makes their home a great venue for hosting is the large open floor plan—foyer, dining and living areas are merged into one spacious and contemporary expanse. The visually striking leather high-backed dining and black Barcelona lounge chairs accented the all-white walls and enameled columns and ceiling beams. A glistering spherical  chandelier of squiggly crystalline twists,  sculpted around hundreds of tiny LED points of light served as a grand unifying focal point.

Harry, Marshall, and others assisting in the organizing also did a faultless job of setting up about 50 RSVPd guests for an itinerary that would change the theme of the celebration— from party—to wedding.

And wedding reception, of course. To the surprise of most guests, original  NOSHA members Dave Schultz and Connie Gordon would be doing their nuptials there that day. After “only 15 years of courtship, we’ve decided to do the honorable thing,” Connie posted to her Facebook timeline on  May 10th. Rose Mortillaro, NOSHA Treasurer and Humanist Minister presided over the “I do’s, ring exchange, and the husband-wife pronouncement, just on the staircase landing trimmed in pink and white. The Schultzes, witnesses Grant and Suzy Smith and Rose moved into the office to “seal the deal”  by signing the documents making it all official and legal. I got to tag along as the unofficial  but designated photographer.IMG_0984

Deliciously prepared hot and cold dishes brought by the guests created a cornucopia for feasting appropriate for the pre-ceremony reception and worthy of the food town that is New Orleans—dishes of grilled  veggies; Parmesan entrees; meat, cheese, and fruit platters; and salads, to mention but several dishes, topped the serving counters. The dessert table was a “must” stop—one particular cheesecake creation embodied everything you have seen in or on the cool, creamy confectionary: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries (or maybe it was the Southern “dewberries”); each complementiIMG_0993ng the other on the chocolate-drizzled top and sides. Beverages included vodka screwdrivers, wines, beer, mixers and soft drinks. A refreshing summertime lemonade was maybe the favorite of all.

Through the glass patio doors at the rear of the room you can go outside onto the covered porch—also arranged with tables and seating.     The heat of the day had mostly passed by 7, so it was not  unbearable outdoors, and was a good place for some quiet conversation, or for just sitting on the seawall and  appreciating the serenity of the sliver of Bayou St. John directly behind the home. To the left was the Harrison Avenue bridge that crosses away from the house into City Park near the point where the bayou branches, one branch looping around the back of the house  and rejoins the other to the right, a little farther down,images solstice creating Park Island, directly across the water.

Marshall’s inflatable swan, which Harry calls a duck, bobbed impishly at its mooring on the seawall. “All good times must come to an end, Mr. Cinderella,” I imagined it saying. Three-quarters of a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc was at play here. “You’re right,” I imagined replying, “it’s 8 and time to give our hosts a break.”

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Words on Marriage and Other Causes: An Interview

On the Monday following the Friday the Supreme Court handed down its decision removing legal restrictions against same-sex marriage, Earl Nupsius Benjamin and Michael Robinson exercised their newly-sanctioned right, and on June 29, 2015 became the Benjamin-Robinsons, the first such couple to marry in Louisiana. During the process of getting the license and completing the nuptials, the pair had become the face of the new reality that swept gender restrictions on marriage from Louisiana and twelve other states that had resisted change. They appeared in local and regional news coverage from Friday through Monday, and were interviewed on CNN’s New Day Sunday morning. They were unable to get the license in Orleans Parish Friday, probably due more to bureaucratic bumbling than  theocratic finagling or other conscious opposition. On Monday they were advised that licenses would begin being issued that day in neighboring Jefferson Parish, and the beginning of the end of their fourteen-year struggle for fairness was at hand.

This interview was completed in two sessions, the first part was done in person, and the second by telephone.

MB  How did the time pass from Friday until Monday—was it more like an eternity or an eye-blink?

Michael  For me, yeah it do go quickly, but that is only because there was so much going on. There were people calling and emailing and texting and congratulating. We were on the phone with people and we were talking with The Forum for Equality because we knew they were doing things behind the scenes as far as working with lawyers, strategizing. They asked  how far we would be willing to drive to get this marriage license, and we were like wher-ev-er.   So we knew they were getting things in place and it kept us excited and anxious—they seemed to be convinced we could get this straightened out before this week was over. So that gave us a lot of hope, so yeah, it didn’t seem like time was going by at a snails pace.

Earl  I also had a paper that was due so I contacted my professor to let him know that “hey, there was not going to be any way I was going to turn this in today.” He gave me an extension until Monday so with all this going on and that paper needing to be completed, it went by fast.

Michael And by Sunday morning, we were on CNN. We got up at 5 that morning because we had to be at the studio at 6:30 for a live broadcast  on New Day. Once we left there, we started getting texts and requests for interviews.

MB  How did you plan to deal with this time, whether you might have to wait days or weeks before you got a license?

Earl  We were just going to deal with it, go with the flow. Probably take the opportunity to do more interviews, to push their hand, to proceed with what needed to be done to get the license.

Michael But we did have one strategy: I work in the building where the license is issued, where Vital Records is. It was going to be easy for me stop down on my way to work every day—Hey, you got my license today?—-We were going to tag team them all day long…..that was Monday morning, and we would take turns, asking, checking.

MB What kind of assistance did the Forum for Equality give you?

Earl   They did everything, except legal counseling. They had reached out to us the week before and told us this was about to take place, and asked if we wanted to be a part of it, what the strategy would be the day the decision came down. So we got a lot of guidance from them—when to move, who to have conversations with, sometimes even what to say. They were really key in giving us those fundamentals and basic talking points around the issue.

Michael The other thing FFE did was to set up the Judge Paula Brown to marry us. There was some background work that had to be set up for that to take place. We knew that once we go the license, there could be a problem getting a judge to marry us, and getting married was our intention. So that detail about getting a judge that would perform it was important.  We would really like to thank Sarah Jane, Chris, and both Johns, and I know there were many others who worked tirelessly. Jackie, all of them. The did the heavy lifting.

Earl We have marriage rights now, but we still have some ways to go on other issues. LGBT individuals  can still be fired from their job and discriminated against in housing .  So when marriage rights are complete, this battle must go on with the other issues that need to be talked about.

MB  We know that race and sex orientation aren’t choices but religion is. As a member of NOSHA, Earl, it could be assumed you are an atheist or at least agnostic on matters of religion. When or how did you decide that atheism was a choice or a viewpoint that seemed to make more sense for you?

Earl   It was a long process. I think I became an agnostic in 2004. I was raised a Southern Baptist, and I started to come to terms with there was no…I couldn’t find any validation in the Bible anymore; where it related to me, validated my existence, particularly being a gay man. So I just began to study a lot, and over the period of a couple of years, I came to the understanding I was really an atheist, and the only reason I was an agonistic was because I was try to cling to, or make sense of what I had been taught as a child, and give it purpose and meaning in my life. But as I began to think about my experiences —I never saw any hocus-pocus stuff— when I became emotional in church i began to see it for what it was: just emotions attached to an experience. But when started to think about what slaves went through—and I thought there was no relief—that was 400 years of pain.  When you think about it, 400 years of pain, and all that time I’m hearing people say God works in mysterious ways, God may not come when you want but he’s always on time. That did’t fit anymore, it didn’t make sense anymore, and I was not going to tarnish what my ancestors went through with a BS religious belief. At that time about in 2007, I came to the understanding that just was not for me, and it just fell away….just like that, it fell off. I can’t do this anymore and I need to remember these individuals and remember the pain they went through and use that information to live the best life I can live.

MB How do you two deal with the diversity in religious belief and non-belief, in view of the fact that you, Michael, are Christian?

Michael Thats a good question. Sometimes we have discussions, sometimes heated debates, about our different belief systems —we’ve even debated about what he believes is even a belief at all; down to the nitty-gritty of describing the words of how we interpret this whole thing. Its been a journey for both of us. I don’t have any issues with him being atheist. I respect him for living by his convictions . The only thing I wanted for Earl, or anybody, was just to have peace within themselves. As long as he has that, it doesn’t matter if he is a believer or not. I describe myself as a Christian, and that is the easiest description, but probably not the most accurate. Earl would probably describe me as an agnostic   I still describe myself as as Christian because I was led to enlightenment through the teachings of Jesus Christ. But some principles that Christians live by I don’t always agree with those . It allows us to have good conversations that would not be possible if I adhered to the strict letter of the law. I am more open minded. I don’t allow placing blame and judgement.

MB  So if you don’t go by the strict interpretation of the Bible, you don’t accept what it claims are what marriage is supposed to be?

Michael  It’s not that I don’t believe it, it’s just that some use the texts to express bigotry and make judgements against others. I have reconciled in my heart what God tells me about …its a very personal thing…I can validate from scripture that God loves me as I am ….but I still have to be responsible, as a Christian, as a gay Christian, I can’t go having sex with everybody, I have to respect my body as a temple. To me there are two different things: religion and faith.  And religion is man-made. Greatly flawed. We try to live perfectly and it is not obtainable, so people want to classify and put you in groups.  We have corrupted what should be: the spirit of love.

MB Earl, growing up black and gay in post-Jim Crow Louisiana in what is nearly the geographical center of the Bible Belt must have had its challenges, to say the least. Were there times when you doubted yourself, or even disliked what you were?

Earl   Growing up black and GAY  starting with my pre-teen days I was very uncomfortable. When I was 12 I was coming to terms that I was gay. I remember one day I went home and went into the bathroom and cried out to God as I looked in the mirror and told myself to say I was gay and I couldn’t say it; but then finally did and became overwhelmed with emotion. From the age of 10 to 19 I was very unsure of myself. Even though I presented a facade of confidence and most people believed I had it together, there were a lot of times I was really unsure about myself. My religion, racism, and being gay played a tremendous part of that discomfort . I had many experiences that made me feel like I was a second class citizen. I know this is post-Jim Crow, however growing up in the 1980s and 1990s—I grew up in Grambling but went to school in Ruston—Ruston is about 50-50 black and white, but whites really ran the town. You felt it and you knew it. For example, one day I went to school with a lot of change in my pocket.  Some money came up missing. The teacher accused me, saying “You did it! You did it!”  Another time I remember talking about Miss Louisiana with some white friends and I remember them saying there will “never be a black Miss Louisiana, never.” I remember that to this day. I know those kids got that from their parents. Another time I got into a verbal altercation with another student and he called me a n****…and I had never been called that before…we didn’t even use the word in our house. The teacher just shrugged it off and told me to “get over it”. Just the institutional and structural racism that existed inside the educational system, you could feel it.  And later in high school, people start picking up that you are gay, and that just added to it. I remember a teacher, out of the blue she just came up to me and started apologizing. I asked what she was apologizing for, and she said it was for treating me in a certain way…it wasn’t until later that I processed what she had done; and what she had done was treating me differently for being gay rather than black. She was a drama teacher and you would think would do better with dealing with this type of students but she really didn’t. So I could really see that both my race and sexual orientation had shaped how I was perceived as not fully acceptable to others. Evaluating that perception also gave me a clearer picture of the god that really isn’t there for me. You hear often within the African-American experience of how spiritual we are, and when you look at the amount of praying that we do, our devotion and faith, but for that, we still have this huge amount of poverty and inequality.  And for me that was a huge disconnect. And so for me at around 30 I started to take a look at that and see that hmm, this is a mythology. Its a mythology and it doesn’t work for me and I no longer want to be a part of it. And it fell away.

MB   The politicians courting the Religious Right seem to be coming up with all of these rules about how this state, and Mississippi and Texas are going to “interpret” this ruling and set their own conditions for its implementation. For example, Louisiana Governor Jindal says that any clerk of court that has a deeply-held religious belief against same sex marriage will not be forced to issue a license. What’s up with all these politicians?

Michael   We’re listening to the idiotic, discriminatory and reprehensible comments that Donald Trump makes. They are always targeting another group so they play the different communities against one another— when these groups could be stronger together instead of in opposition . We have been taught that we need to be separate, for whatever reason, and that diversity is more than just cultural, and something that has some deeper moral value. I think we all should start embracing what makes us different, whether we are white or black, gay or straight, or atheist or Christian.

Earl   And to the point, it is one thing to agree with this, but we are at the point where the majority group, the white, need to take ownership of the fact that, in being white, there is a certain amount of privilege that you have, and in order for things to get better they need to have conversations about this privilege. Your privilege comes at a cost to people that look like me, sound like me. I’m not trying to take anything from you, I just want the same opportunities, the right to work hard as well. A lot of politicians telling you we are just trying to take what is yours. No, we just want a fair playing field. No one has ever wanted to have those conversations.  It’s not about blame, it’s just what happened and how we resolve it. The politicians are taking advantage of many people that are poor and don’t have much education  and make them feel better by giving them a voice or some code language that says “I am with you! We are one, and that’s the other people, they are trying to take what you have.” No, someone is pulling the sheets over your eyes. At the end of the day, they don’t really care about the poor white anymore that the black.

Michael   It’s kind of like that conversation about the Confederate flag. I don’t think it needs to be destroyed or anything, but that it just needs to go into a museum so that we can remember our history. Give a historical reference for why it was important at that time—that it still means heritage to some people — it’s offensive to enough people that it’s only fair that we move away from things that are divisive and find things that bring us together. Adding to what Earl said, it’s also the privilege that comes with being heterosexual, and I think that is the next conversation that needs to happen.  I’ve been reading the comments online since this started and I’m hearing a lot of heterosexual bias. Straights  don’t understand that some of their comments are offensive when they are trying to be cool—it’s kind of like the white person that says I have a lot of black friends. And they say things like—Well, why do you have to call it “marriage?”  In other words you want it to be separate, but equal? They don’t even realize they are repeating the same things that we have learned don’t work. I think they need to acknowledge that there is a privilege that comes with being heterosexual. A privilege that keeps them from having to think about the things we are forced to think about that we shouldn’t need to. But because these conversations are happening, I think it is starting to create a better country.

The interview was completed several days later, with Earl.

MB  We talked about privilege-white privilege, heterosexual privilege. Would comment on the privilege owned by Christians in this country?

Earl   In the United States, Christians have a tremendous amount of privilege.  I believe about 70% the population in the US is Christian and 80% of Congress is Christian, the people that represent us.  You can see they have a significant amount of power, as a result of that power they get to affect policy and laws, they get to set the tone for how they think culture should look or is shaped. 

MB   Privilege, of a sort, of the non-religious has also recently been brought into the discussion.This month’s Humanist from the AHA is has several articles inspired by a panel group session the association convened at its annual convention. The panel group was on the subject of humanists and the black community, in particular, #BlackLivesMatter. Do you as a humanist, and looking at it from both sides, think that humanists may also be complacent and rest on privilege that keep them from real-time involvement or just the simple act reaching out to our black neighbors?

Earl  Yes, I know as humanists we are a microcosm of society, and sometimes overlook minorities  and fail to reach out to other groups. We think we are doing a good job of it, but we really aren’t. I’m glad they took that issue up in the magazine, because now I know my humanist brothers and sisters are thinking about the ramifications of their actions involving all human life, not just focused on learning science but also thinking about those social justice issues that effect all of us.

MB  To quote Monica Miller, in her article “Outlaw Humanism” from the magazine, advises that “Humanists….must get beyond our obsession with deconstructing belief in a god…What does a humanism look like that gets beyond its position on ‘gods,’ ‘belief,’ ’theism,’ and ‘religion’ in order to address the mess, social evil, and death that humans have created?’

Earl   Yes…I know for a fact that there are many African-Americans in New Orleans, in Louisiana that do not subscribe to religion, but yet they participate in those routines because they have no other place to socialized or network. So if a humanist organization would re-direct its efforts from trying to deconstruct religion and focus on the social justice issues within their community, they would increase their numbers tremendously, particularly in the African-American community. The thing the church has over us is the fellowshipping —I think Jerry DeWitt has a very good idea about that: I think that is more attractive to those people who want to leave religion but don’t want to leave those cultural elements like that fellowship they find in the church. Sometimes we want to get so intellectual, but not everyone is like that—it might even turn people off sometime because they are not at that level or just don’t get it. Some don’t even like to talk about things like morality on a deeper level, which I think is very interesting, but not everybody wants to hear about that. They just want to hear about day-to-day life, how does it affect me. For example, Michael thinks all we do is try to convert people, or ridicule people, Being a scientist though, he does like discussions about science.

MB  Being a humanist, I have hope. I’m an atheist but I still have hope for the human race. Sometimes you wonder, and it takes a lot of effort to keep the hope alive. And when you see things like this happening—expansion of marriage rights and the validation of the Affordable Care Act—last week was a great week.

Earl   When we were in Jefferson Parish waiting to get the license, I saw people caring about us, iI didn’t go in thinking people were going to congratulate us, but there were black people, white people, Asian people, and old people—they all congratulated us. They said encouraging things. Human beings, when you remove culture, are innately good. People are basically good, but when you bring in things like tribalism the issues come. It’s when things like xenophobia, homophobia, racism, and poverty  come to the forefront and people don’t see you or me as the human that we are.

If I don’t leave you with anything else, I think there is something in us, it may be a survival mechanism, that says we are stronger together and it isn’t until issues of lack of resources, tribalism, and homophobia come to the table that our attitudes and beliefs start to help us see each other differently—that we are all stars—and I mean that literally and figuratively. We come from the stars and  I’m just a living, walking, breathing star.

MB  We are all just stardust, and it’s just a matter of how it is arranged.

Earl   Yes.