Here are some of the presentations we have had at our services over the years. They are offered as "food for thought" as well as examples of what facts and reason can make of "religious questions" and the sort of challenges posed by the personal and subjective side of the human condition.
The Media - Today's bulletin has some material on "Media Manipulation." There is a double entendre there. For it is thought that the media manipulates people and society. But also, clearly, there are those who know how and do manipulate the media to get their message heard and tilt people's opinions in the directions they want.
The Meaning of Life - What is the meaning of life? It depends what we mean by "life" and by "meaning." "Meaning" has to do with what something represents, what it "stands for," or, simply, what it's "for." Or it can refer to any number of things connected with what whatever something "means."
Freethought Month - October is Freethought Month because October 12th is Freethought Day. The abbreviated explanation for this is that the Salem witchcraft trials were essentially ended in October of 1692 by Massachusetts Governor Sir William Phips.
Race and Racism - Last month, the Pew Research Center reported that a growing number of Americans consider racism a serious problem. 59% feel additional changes need to be made to achieve racial equality while 32% feel enough changes have been made. There is a substantial racial divide on this question with 86% of blacks having the opinion that more needs to be done. Unfortunately, the Pew researchers did not explore what, exactly, people think should be done.
Bioscience, Biotech, and Bioethics - It's safe to say — and all the pundits are saying, consistent with the betting on Wall Street — that the coming century will see the flowering of biotechnology. Just as the century now coming to a close witnessed thedawn of the Nuclear Age and the Space Age, the 21st Century will usher in a new Age of Bioscience.
Falsifying History, The Case of Holocaust Denial - Perhaps the best known statement on the subject of history is George Santayana's remark that — "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
Religion on Money & Economics - "Money is the root of all evil!" This is not exactly what the Bible says. In 1 Timothy 6:10 it actually says "the love of money" and not "is the root of all evil" but, rather, "is a root of all kinds of evil." But now does that really change anything?
Render Unto Caesar - The synoptic gospels -Matthew, Mark and Luke — tell the curious story of an attempt on the part of "Pharisees and Herodians" or "the chief priests and the scribes," depending on the evangelist, to get an incriminating statement from the character of Jesus. In Mark's chapter 12 they "say unto him, Master, we know that thou art true, and carest for no man: for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not? Shall we give, or shall we not give?
Some Remarks on Justice - In Islamabad, Turkey this year, a fundamentalist group warned that they would smash the cars of anyone celebrating and/or having fun by ringing in the new year. So how did the Turkish authorities react to this threat? They officially banned all New Year celebrations.
What is Culture and What Does it Mean? - It's amazing how recent events have a way of lending significance and emphasis to what we talk about at the monthly services of the NTCOF. No sooner had we planned to consider culture and cultural differences this month than an article was published in Nature magazine that caused something of a stir in the popular media on the very same subject.
Ultimate Truth - What if you could acquire "all knowledge" - but it would kill you? That was the scenario earnestly presented to me and some others recently by a professional couple I met while traveling. The idea was said to have come from some movie that they had seen.
Tiptoe Through the Terminology - A consideration of the "isms" and other terms applied to and used by unbelievers. Those who claim to be the followers of Jesus Christ call themselves "Christians." Yet the words "Christian" and "Christians" are used only three times in the Bible.
The Shining City - Even the critics of former President Ronald Reagan grudgingly allowed that he deserved his sobriquet of "The Great Communicator." For Reagan was able to think and speak in broad themes and ideals without sounding phony, foolish, or trite. And the themes he spoke about were well-chosen, for the most part, because they usually had a kind of timeless and universal appeal, as well as specific meaning and importance for Americans, who often tend to forget that there is anything at all that makes us uniquely a nation. One of the most successful of Reagan's themes was that of, "The Shining City on a Hill."
On Freethinkers' Values - Surely today no one is shot to death by divine command, children do not jump in front of trains to become the angels their parents have told them about, and teenagers don't commit crimes, including murder, because they think the devil is real and can be bargained with in some way.
The Spirit of Liberty - During World War II, in the critical year of 1944, a public patriotic event was held in Central Park in New York City on May 21st at which Judge Learned Hand gave a brief address. His remarks were well-received and have since been anthologized. Portions of the following are shamelessly - in fact, proudly - borrowed from Judge Hand's original address on "The Spirit of Liberty."
On Unemployment - Unemployment is a subject that is high on the list of economic facts with moral implications. Let it be understood that by "unemployment" I mean - and I think most people would mean - an involuntary condition that afflicts people who would like to be employed - earning an income - enough to be out looking for work and who aren't unreasonably particular about the sort of work and compensation that they will accept.
Humans as Creatures - Today's service is a reflection on and consideration of ourselves as an animal species not intrinsically different - at least not scientifically - from other living things. At the same time, we don't see our household pets going off to church. Nor do dolphins or killer whales betray the least signs of being perplexed or otherwise troubled by the "big" questions of existence that so fascinate us.
What Does Christmas Mean for Atheists - For thousands of years before the time that Jesus Christ is supposed to have lived, this time of year has been celebrated. Did people used to ask the ancient Jews what this holiday means for them? Hanukah, after all, commemorates events which did not take place until 165 B.C.E. (the victory of the Maccabees over Ant iochus Epiphanes and the rededication of the Temple at Jerusalem).
State Church Separation in Turkey - A larger and recurring struggle in Turkey is with fundamentalist Islamic factions. Not only separatist political groups, but theocratic religious parties have been so disruptive that the military has had to step in and disband them. There are Turkish Islamic Creationists who object to the teaching of evolution in the schools.
The Shroud of Turin - Every year around Easter it seems that Christian believers spring some sort of "news" to plug their beliefs and dogmas. This year it was yet another claim of "new proof" that the Shroud of Turin is the authentic burial shroud of Jesus Christ. Even if it were, of course, it would not verify Christian theology.
On Andy Rooney - Did you ever notice, when some big celebrity retires or dies and the media spends the several days before — or the following several days in the case of a death — telling us all about the great person? Did you ever notice that along with all the interesting things about such people that we usually hear about their religion?
Good With and Without God(s) - "Good Without God" is not just a slogan. Like the spherical earth, like heliocentrism, like evolution, it's a very important idea that adds to and allows us to advance our ideas, in this case, about morality. Like these other important concepts, it's hard to make the best sense of it without first considering what came before it, in this case the notion of "Good With God."
The Economics of Religion - The clergy of every established church constitute a great incorporation. They can act in concert, and pursue their interest upon one plan, and with one spirit as much as if they were under the direction of one man; and they are frequently, too, under such direction. Their interest as an incorporated body is never the same with that of the sovereign, and is sometimes directly opposite to it.
How Christmas Came on December 25th - The story really begins when Julius Caesar was ordered by the Roman Republic's Senate to surrender command of his troops. He had won a number of big conquests in England and Northern Germany as well as stabilized North Africa with the exception of Egypt. Faced with the fact that he would be crushed by his rival, Pompey, if he gave up his military command, he ignored the Senate's wishes and famously crossed the Rubicon River into Italy in 49 BCE. He proceeded to establish the Roman Empire with himself at its head.
The Unknown Christmas - My remarks in the past at this time of year have concerned why Christmas is a holiday that belongs to everyone, including atheists. I've also defended the involvement of children in the Santa Claus myth. Today I want to elaborate a bit on these two themes: the universality and the secular history of the Christmas tradition and the role of Santa Claus.
Some Observations on Jewish Fundamentalism - I always enjoy hearing about Christianity ... from non-Christians. That's mainly why I went to hear Tovia Singer: Rabbi Tovia Singer, that is. His talk was entitled "Who Is The Messiah?" which he delivered at the Arlington Ramada Inn last June 30th. Mr. Singer runs an outfit called "Outreach Judaism," the purpose of which is to reclaim Jews who've converted to Christianity. You know, "Jews for Jesus" and that. Mr. Singer takes his Judaism very seriously.
A Holiday for Facts and Reason - Freethought Day is October 12th - next week Monday - which also happens to be Columbus Day, which it is every year, in fact. Freethought Day commemorates the effective end of the Salem Witchcraft Trials which, coincidentally, occurred in 1692, just 200 years after Columbus reached the Americas in 1492.
Thanksgiving for Atheists - Almost at the end of this month — this year it falls on the 26th — is Thanksgiving. As happens every year we can expect that it will come with the usual "you can't celebrate because you're an atheist!" attack from some believers. As there is more awareness of religious unbelief — a good thing! — we can also expect some of the same criticism expressed in the media and on the internet.
Fooling Ourselves - I think most everyone likes to think of themselves as being realistic. They like to consider themselves as being practical. They like to regard themselves as down-to-earth, no-nonsense, and matter-of-fact. And they like for others to think so too.
Faith and Freethinkers - It's very interesting to consider the appearance of the word "faith" in the Bible. The word shows up only twice in all of the Old Testament. Maybe that's because when your God is a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night - avolcano - you don't need faith.
Economics and Freethought - Soon after the general topic of today's service was announced, someone asked me what possible connection there could be between economics and Freethought. I have to confess that I was troubled by that, not because I doubt that there is a connection, but because I wasn't sure how to go about saying what I think it is.
Chance and Necessity - Everything existing in the Universe is the fruit of chance and necessity.
Foundations of Freethought - Unlike the established faith-based religions, the principles of facts and reason as applied to religious questions — Freethought — cannot be traced to a single person or event, historical or mythical.
Being Thankful For Religious Liberty - Historians rethink the past at least every generation, mining history for new insights or, at least, a new book. About the founders of this nation there has been a good deal of rethinking lately. David McCullough reminds us that John Adams really was a good guy, and that we shouldn't think of him simply as the Federalist foil to Thomas Jefferson's more democratic view of the world.
Grace for Freethinkers - I heard that some people here don't say grace before meals, as if they're not grateful. But that is so wrong. There is so much to be grateful for on your plate.
Honor and Duty - Honor and duty are important concepts but, like so many important things, they are not objectively demonstrable. They are not "out there" among the measurable entities and features of the world that we share.
The Newdow Decision: Why Did Newdow Lose? - On June 14th of 2004 the US Supreme Court reversed the ruling of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that the 1954 Congressional insertion of "under God" into the Pledge of Allegiance, our official oath of national loyalty, is a violation of the Establishment Clause and unconstitutional.
Science v. Religion or Science and Religion - I do not think it would be wrong to say that religion may well have been the first sort of science.
Knowing What Ain't So - It was Mark Twain who said that: "The trouble with the world is not that people know too little, but that they know so many things that ain't so."
The Prayer Prescription: Considering the New Evidence - Years ago, in 1988, it was reported in The Southern Medical Journal that it had been scientifically proven that prayer caused patients in a coronary care unit (CCU) to get better. There were very serious methodological flaws in that study.
The Meaning of Life - A lot of Atheists say that science has a good answer. And certainly most of here would agree that we're here because of the nature and behavior of matter and energy since time and space — we think — came out of a singularity in a primordial event referred to as "The Big Bang." We're here.
The Labor of Philosophy and the Birth of Science - Philosophy and science in their primordial condition were never recorded. We can only infer them. Or we can speculate, which is to say, we can think about how it might have been, consistent with our present-day understanding of what it may have been like.
Health and Church Attendance - Dale A. Matthews, M.D., of Georgetown University, reported at the 1996 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Baltimore on the results of his review of 212 studies exploring the relationship between religion and health. According to Matthews, three fourths showed a positive relationship between the two.
Making Believe: Fiction and Fantasy - I don't believe in God because I don't believe in Mother Goose.
On Good and Evil - The world is in moral decay, say the theists, because of "moral relativism." Only a divine power makes possible an absolute standard of right and wrong, they say. Yet if we leave aside all the evil that men (and women) do, there is much that remains that is terrible and unjust in the world.
Remarks on a Letter from a Believer - I got a couple of letters as a result of last month's newspaper coverage of our church. I wonder what it is about believers, though, that they always forget to put their names and return addresses on their correspondence.
Remarks on State Church Separation - Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
Reflections on Resurrection> - I was resurrected this morning. And so were you. That is, every time we wake up from a night's sleep ? or even a short nap, in fact ? we are resurrected. Of course, we are not dead when we are asleep, if by death we mean an irreversible cessation of our personalities and of the brain functions of which they are the products . But sleep is nevertheless a kind of oblivion. People who die in their sleep simply don't wake up.
On Human Perfection/Perfectability - Although some Atheists enjoy, and spend a great deal of time bashing superstitious religions, especially Christianity, we don't do a whole lot of that here. On the other hand, I think we do need to consider and respond to — if even in our own minds — the attacks that god-believers habitually heap on Atheism, at least when their arguments pretend to have merit.
Merry Mythmas: Believing, Thinking, and Santa Claus - Yesterday I got the Christmas tree out of the garage at the insistence of my daughter. She and her brother and sister have had their list for Santa posted now for a week or so. Meanwhile, my fellow Freethinker Tom Flynn, the author of The Trouble With Santa, will be speaking to members of Atheists United on why both Christmas and Santa Claus are myths and frauds with which supporters of reason ought to have nothing to do.
Remarks on Huxley's Letter to Kingsley - I'd like to make a few remarks about Huxley's letter to Kingsley. Huxley certainly says a great deal worth thinking about. But the greater part of it is well summarized by his insisting that "my business is to teach my aspirations to conform themselves to fact, not to try and make facts harmonize with my aspirations."
Predicting the Future (of Freethought) - Were it not for the fact that an altogether different sort of human activity has long been regarded as The Oldest Profession, fortune-telling might well enjoy that distinction. For soothsayers and prophets, seers and diviners, have been with us since time unremembered. The ideological heirs of the earliest shamans are with us today, the "psychic" prognosticators, the astrologers, and the New Age channelers.
On the 220th Anniversary of the US Declaration of Independence - Two hundred and twenty years ago, the gods were retired from politics. The Declaration of Independence is the grandest, the bravest, and the profoundest political document that was ever signed by the representatives of a people. It is the embodiment of physical and moral courage and of political wisdom.
Morality Without God: The Reasons for Morality - "If there is no God, why be good?"
On the Question of Free Will - Are we really the masters of our fates and the captains of our souls? Or are we, rather, the pawns of Fate and the chained slaves in the hold of a ship that's buffeted about by uncontrollable forces of Nature? Is not wincing or crying aloud the most that we can really do, and, even then, is such courage — if it is really more than bravado (?) — something that we really choose, through pure force of will, to exercise?