What Humanism ISN’T, and why the F-Word is needed

Note: I wrote this Friday, March 23 but wasn’t able to post until today so while much has changed in the Trayvon Martin story, the key pieces remain still shocking and upsetting. 

Some days you get double slapped with awful human behavior, the wonder that is the internet keeps a steady stream of information flying across the various screens in our lives. Well within moments I saw two stories in my Facebook Newsfeed that were shocking, rage-inducing, and dumbfounding all at once.

I’ve often been asked about definitions of what Humanism is; had discussions about why someone would be a moral or ethical person without a belief in any god(s); or even about what drives someone to do good work if there isn’t a supernatural force guiding them to do so. All good questions, but today I’m struck simultaneously by examples of what Humanism ISN’T and proof that the F-Word is still a part of my vocabulary after years of fighting to never use it again.

First there was the Belvedere Vodka Rape Ad:

And no, it isn’t a meme or something like the Onion, it is actually an ad to sell expensive vodka: http://jezebel.com/5895931/the-rapey-belvedere-vodka-ad-that-just-got-pulled

Followed closely by “journalist”-extraordinaire Geraldo saying that the way Trayvon Martin was dressed had just as much to do with his being murdered as George Zimmerman. What?!

I am urging the parents of black and Latino youngsters particularly to not let their children go out wearing hoodies. I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was.

— Geraldo Rivera on Fox News

See the clip here: http://gawker.com/5895867/minorities-who-wear-hoodies-just-asking-to-be-shot-says-geraldo-rivera

So what do these examples of awfulness have to do with Humanism? Nothing and everything. So often Humanists, Atheists, and Secular folks get labelled as immoral or are questioned on why someone would do anything good in the world if they lacked faith. Well I feel that examples like these highlight something important. When a core part of how you view the world is: human beings are capable of doing good without any supernatural being intervening, and then you see examples of how awful people are to each other you actually need to use the F-Word. Faith of course.

I go out into the world each day and interact with my fellow humans believing that there is no special creator looking out for me or there to help me in a time of crisis. If I need help or assistance I need to turn inward to myself or outward to other people but there is no referee in the sky to help me. People make thousands of choices each day some of them are helpful or creative others are harmful or destructive. Yet at the end of the day I believe that the human mind has — through a stroke of evolutionary luck — developed the ability to aspire toward ideals. That is something pretty close to unique and why I feel people, though flawed and capable of horrendous acts and stupendous statements, are still worthy of faith. Given this belief my forehead may hurt from self-inflicted face palms from time to time. And now to reference my favorite Humanist quote:

Faith in god means believing absolutely in something with no proof whatsoever. Faith in humanity means believing absolutely in something with a huge amount of proof to the contrary. We are the true believers.

— Joss Whedon (source: http://bit.ly/GJNoEK)

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It Matters How We Communicate

Post 22 of 40 of the Humanist Lent Writing Project

This weekend is the Prairie Star District of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Annual Conference in Ames, IA. I will be part of a panel called It Matters How We Communicate and speaking about my experience as a Communications Coordinator for a large UU church.

I’m excited to hear the questions and have some conversations about how to do communications in a rapidly changing environment. The information I plan to share goes beyond churches, I tend to focus on nonprofit organizations in my freelance life through www.AidanWebServices.com and I feel these tips work well for smaller organizations or businesses.

Website Advice:

  • Make it easily updated and don’t invest in a design for a lifetime, invest with a plan that it will need to be done again in 3-5 years (closer to 3 if you want to stay current).
  • I strongly recommend using WordPress.com or WordPress.org. This platform allows you to get a site up quickly, has a professional look and feel, and is easily updated by people without knowledge of html or programming languages. WordPress.com is easier to do, WordPress.org gives you more options and control.
  • Use Google Analytics (more on this below).

Social Media:

  • Facebook first, then the rest. If you are going to do social media and don’t know where to start, Facebook has the largest audience and the most functionality. It will change at the whim of Facebook but it will change for everyone.
  • Make a Page, not a Group.
  • Get a short URL for your Page (i.e. facebook.com/yourorgname). You can’t change it, so think about it first.
  • Once you start it, keep content going up there at least weekly.

Digital Communications:

  • Less is more. In  both design and content, I tend towards as simple as possible. If you need to have lots of text in a digital newsletter, try having a lead sentence or two and a link to the whole story on your website or blog.
  • Email Newsletters: www.constantcontact.com or www.mailchimp.com. They are simple to use, affordable, and you get a nice end product with the ability to track open rates and clicks.
  • DON’T BCC your email list to send out your newsletter. This leads to your organization being labeled as spammers and is difficult to fix (I know, it happened to an org I worked with once).

Print Communications:

  • Less is more, less is more, less is more. Sunday Bulletins, Print Newsletters, Brochures. All of these should be a concise as possible. Just a bit about a select few programs happening, stories of success, and then how to find out more online. Or better yet, how to get in touch with a real person to have a conversation.

Office IT:

  • Google Apps (www.google.com/apps). You can have email set up to @yoursite.org, along with google’s powerful suite of tools (docs, calendar, chat, and more) for free. Your whole organization can be running them anywhere they have an internet connect.
  • Cloud File Storage. If at all possible ditch the office file server for www.dropbox.com or www.box.net. This is an easy way to keep your files backed up, shareable with colleagues, AND accessible form multiple and computer with internet access. Also copies of the files stay on your computer as well so if you don’t have internet access you can make changes and they will sync when you get online again.
  • Analytics. Track what is happening with your communications. With your email newsletters and facebook page you can easily track how many people open, click, or “like” your organization.
  • Google Analytics. Also free, a GREAT product for accurately tracking visits and activity on your website.

These are my starting points, I also plan to talk about Branding and why I think it is important even for small nonprofits and I’m sure individual questions will take me in other directions as well.

Other ideas? Feel free to add on in the comments!

No More Glenn Beck: Will Young People Even Notice?

Post 21 of 40 of the Humanist Lent Writing Project

Glenn Beck is done? No Way! Now I don’t think it is a surprise that as a very Liberal person I’m not a Glenn Beck fan, but then I was never meant to be part of his fan base. The interesting thing here is I’ve long ago let his brand of craziness and attention getting fade into the background, like a child throwing a tantrum. The thing I didn’t consider was that his viewers would as well. Joanna Brooks offers a really great post about this.

As a Millennial and someone who lives and works online none of the major news networks can count me as a loyal viewer. I get my news through Minnesota Public Radio, twitter, blog feeds, facebook links, podcasts, emails from friends, and email newsletters. My home television is used to watch BluRays, Hulu Plus, and Netflix. We don’t pay for cable television but do pay for cable internet. I wonder how many of my peers and those younger than me are in a similar place?While I understand that the major news networks still hold incredible sway and have millions of viewers, for how much longer can will that be true?

I’m happy that my parent’s and grandparent’s generation won’t be bombarded with rants involving tear-streaked chalk boards. After I read of Beck’s potential departure I was surprised but elated, then I googled to see if other news sources were saying the same thing (here is a MSNBC article about his leaving and a hilarious Huffington Post piece with possible Beck replacements), finally I thought to myself: wait a minute… when was the last time I saw Glenn Beck that wasn’t on The Colbert Report or The Daily Show?

So at the end of the day my real take away from this news is how little it really impacts my daily life and how wonderful it is that those people in the world I disagree with on so much and I have a new commonality: neither of us cares what Glenn Beck has to say.

Why I’m a Lifelong Nonprofiteer

The American Academy of Forensic Sciences Annual Conference in Texas

Post 9 of 40 of the Humanist Lent Writing Project

A while back now a good friend of mine Cary Walski presented at the 2010 Minnesota Council of Nonprofits Technology and Communications Conference. She spoke about Metrics that Matter. In the presentation I was interviewed about my work at my former job (First Universalist Church of Minneapolis) and the amazing Laura Matanah was interviewed about Rainbow Rumpus: the online magazine for youth with LGBT parent (of which I am a board member).

This got me thinking about how people tie together different communities and work in the nonprofit sector. I give, volunteer, or work for nonprofit organizations that cover: unitarain universalist communities, jewish communities, LGBT communities, humanist communities, atheist communities, higher education, and more.

Many of these organizations don’t work together in any real way but they are all advancing things that matter to me. At their core I see these and many more nonprofits advancing the ability to make choices for yourself and to make connections to people that might otherwise be hard to find. I see a parallel here to the debate going on at the federal level in defunding public broadcasting. I know myself and other liberal friends of mine have been thinking about do we want things like NPR funded because we like them or because they really should? A friend posted something about this that I hadn’t thought of coming from Minneapolis, home of Minnesota Public Radio — for smaller communities public broadcasting is sometimes the only source for news. I have many ways to get to information in my life but others do not. When it comes down to it, that is why I love being in the nonprofit sector, the organizations I give my time, treasure, and talent to are creating opportunities for people learn, grow, and build community where they couldn’t before.

The only thing more expensive than education is ignorance. – Benjamin Franklin

Same-Sex Marriage, Summer of Love

NOTE: This is a post from a previous blog-venture — FromOurPerspective.com — It was posted August 10, 2010 a lot has changed in the world of same-sex/similar-sex marriage since then!

Same-sex marriage has been a subject of political, social, and legal debate for a number of years and recently has been gaining ground in the United States and around the world. A total of ten countries now recognize full marriage equality for same-sex couples (list below). The first country to legalize marriage was the Netherlands in 2001, and since that time one or two countries have followed suit every couple of years. The interesting thing to me is that the countries per year seem to be picking up steam. In 2009 two countries made the move to legalize (Sweden and Norway). While these places are relatively similar geographically and culturally,the most interesting series of events took place within the first seven months of 2010.

So far this year Portugal, Iceland, and Argentina have all moved to legalize same-sex marriage nationally. Additionally, Mexico has ordered that same-sex marriages performed in Mexico City be recognized nationwide. At a time when the United States has a pat work of differing laws from state to state, an increasing number of our neighbors (geographically as well as culturally) are making national level changes.

In addition to the three countries mentioned above, California’s controversial Proposition 8, which took away the momentary right same-sex marriage, has been overruled. This ruling by a federal judge is popularly considered to be the case that will move up to the United States Supreme Court and give a national ruling.

So during this summer we have seen an unprecedented number a nations legalize same-sex marriage and movement in that direction for the United States. The reason I am writing about this topic now is that I feel this year is an important moment in the fast-paced history of the debate around marriage equality. I also think that by the end of 2010 even more countries will be added to the list of those with full legal equality for same-sex couples.

As a millennial moving into my mid-twenties, the subjects of marriage and starting a family are culturally being moved from the back of my mind to the front. I see those of similar ages having children and getting married. It is exciting to speculate that my generation may be one of the first where this is happening for both my LGBT friends and straight allies. I am the product of a generation that came out at eighteen or even earlier (and the average age is only getting lower and lower), is dating and figuring out relationships at similar ages to my straight peers, and has the ability to start a family with at least some legal protections. Less than ten years ago this wasn’t the case for most people; individuals tended to come out later in life or remain in relationships in order to hide their true selves.

While I may or may not be married by the time i am thirty, I believe that by the time I am thirty I will have the full legal right to do so anywhere in the United States and in many more countries throughout the world. Additionally, i believe that I will be able to adopt a child (either with a legally married same-sex partner or on my own) with out having to lie about my sexuality to the adoption agency. Lastly, I believe that more and more religious communities will welcome these individuals and their new families. Already many religious traditions have or are in the process of opening their doors to the opening LGBT individual and their family.

It is a new world for this twenty-something gay man. I have a partner of three years whose little sister was recently married and they have a small child. My partner’s mother keeps wondering about our plans for the future, especially in the baby department. Our friends are asking us about wedding plans and other friends keep on showing me engagement rings (for him to buy for me). While it is exciting to be part of this aspect of the larger culture, which I never really considered I would be when growing up, it also adds new pressures and things to think about.

What are other LGBT people thinking about in regards to families, adoption, the marriage debate, etc?

Current Countries Where Same-Sex Marriage is Legal:

  • Mexico (Mexico City) – August 10, 2010 *
  • Argentina (July 22, 2010)
  • Iceland (June 27, 2010)
  • Portugal (June 5, 2010)
  • Sweden (2009)
  • Norway (2009)
  • South Africa (2006)
  • Canada (2005)
  • Spain (2005)
  • Belgium (2003)
  • the Netherlands (2001)