ISSUE: October 2001
Edited by Sharon Fratepietro and Sharon Strong
Edwin Kagin Makes a Return Engagement at SHL in October
"The American Religious Civil War -- Historic Perspective, Battlefield Notes, and Prognosis."
That's the current civil war, of course, and the title of Edwin Kagin's talk at the October meeting of the SHL. You'll probably recall that Edwin Kagin was definitely the favorite and funniest past poet-guest of the SHL (remember "The Rights of the Unconceived?").
"This topic seems timely," says Edwin. "Mrs. James Dobson (wife of Dr. James Dobson of 'Focus on the Family'), opined on national radio recently that the September 11 horror was part of the judgement of god on America because a sitcom based in New York is talking about oral sex on TV. I fear civil war more than the war against terrorists. Are those who did not go to church to pray to god to aid his victims not good Americans? Stay tuned."
Edwin's talk, a provocative, tragi-comic mixture of oratory and humorous readings, will take place on Sunday, October 21, starting at 4 p.m. The meeting will be at Gage Hall next door to the Unitarian Church at 4 Archdale St. in downtown Charleston. The public is welcome to attend the meeting, which will be followed by an optional dinner at Vickery's restaurant nearby.
Edwin Kagin is a lawyer in Kentucky, and a member of the Secular Students Alliance Advisory Board. He is the son of a Presbyterian minister and a D.A.R. mother, and married to Helen Kagin, a retired physician. Edwin is a former college English Instructor, a U.S. Air Force veteran, an N.R.A. Certified Handgun Instructor, and an Honorary Black Belt in Kenpo Karate. He is Director of Camp Quest, the nation's first secular humanist, residential summer camp for young people.
He is the former Vice President and a current board member of the Free Inquiry Group (FIG) of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, and a published writer of poetry and prose that appears regularly in FIG Leaves and elsewhere, as "Kagin's Column." Collections of his writings can be found on Web site www.edwinkagin.com, and he has a book coming out early next year.
Edwin has run unsuccessfully as "the candidate without a prayer" for the Kentucky Supreme Court and for the Kentucky State Senate. He is listed in Who's Who in Hell.
A Few Words of Appreciation
Some of you may know SHL member Dave Brown only by his name on the annual request sent to you to pay organization dues. Dave has volunteered for that usually thankless job, as well as other SHL tasks that deserve our appreciation. He's often among the trash pickers at the Adopt-A-Highway quarterly cleanups. Dave's latest work on our behalf can be seen in the Charleston Post and Courier prior to monthly meetings--the advertisements he create to inform readers about the existence and purpose of the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry. While we don't much use titles in the SHL, it would be fair to say that Dave Brown is both our Membership Chair and Advertising Director, as well as an essential member of our Steering Committee.
Once a month we can count on hearing Dave's thoughtful observations at Barnes and Noble while discussing the latest selection of the Humanist Book Group. Dave is also everyone's favorite discussion facilitator, with a rare talent for drawing people out through provocative questions, while moving conversation along at an interesting pace.
Dave's volunteer hours don't end with the SHL. Three times a month you can find him at the Edmonston-Alston House at 21 East Battery in downtown Charleston. He acts as a docent there, indulging in his longtime interests in history and interacting with other people. Other spare hours are spent jogging or on the tennis court.
All the above might make you guess that Dave is retired from working life, but you would be wrong. He owns a charming gift shop, the Mole Hole, at 94 North Market St. in downtown Charleston, where he and his daughter Traci, the store manager, stock unique items people love to be given. Until 8 years ago, Traci, Dave and his wife Joan lived in Peoria, Illinois, where Dave owned a chain of sporting goods stores and an art gallery. Their relocation to the Isle of Palms has benefited both Charleston and the SHL. Thank you, Dave, for all you do for our community.
Humanist Book Discussion Group
by Sharon Strong
The next Humanist Book Group meeting will take place at the Barnes and Noble bookstore on
Sam Rittenberg Blvd. (as usual) on Sunday, October 28 from 3:00-5:00 p.m. Jordan Glassman will be facilitating a discussion of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel
In case you want to get an early start on November's book selection, start reading Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong's controversial Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism (you'll find it in the "Religion" secion under "Christianity"). And please remember that you all are welcome to attend the meeting, even if you haven't read the book and just want to hear the discussion.
Letter to Editor by SHL Member
The following was sent to the Savannah Morning News (published) and the Charleston Post and Courier (so far unpublished).
The tragic events of the past week have raised the age-old question, how can evil exist in a world actively engaged in by a personal God? To paraphrase Epicurus: If God is both willing and able to take away evil, why does He not remove it?
Deep thinkers over the millennia have answered with a variety of rationales: God is punishing us (Jerry Falwell's favorite); suffering is good for us; God, as with Job, is testing us; He will rectify it in an afterlife, etc.
For the man in the street and the uninformed cleric, the most popular explanation seems to be that evil is a consequence of a greater good, God's gift of free will to humankind. This defense has for sometime been shown to be logically flawed, and no serious philosopher of religion argues it anymore with respect to the traditional God.
The only rationale defended today, by such heavyweights as Notre Dame's Alvin Plantinga, is that we simply do not know why God permits evil. While an old Biblical position, e.g., Rom. 11:33, this argument fails nonetheless to meet the burden of proof because it is dependent on the existence of a strict proof -- not just a belief -- for the God of Jews, Christians and Muslims. Such is unavailable, as most believers will admit. Not only that, the existence of evil in this world underlies a very strong proof for the non-existence of God, though I can not give it here.
In the weeks ahead, America will need all her resources -- mental and physical -- to combat evil. We will be wasting effort if we persist in carrying along the religious baggage of a more primitive time. We need to accept personal responsibility for changing this world, and not abrogate that responsibility to a chimerical entity that we now see cannot help us.
New South Carolina Secular Council
Last year the secular groups in Minnesota created a loosely formed secular council in order to show strength in numbers and have a louder voice regarding political and social issues in their state. Gov. Jesse Ventura granted them a formal meeting at the state capitol, where he listened to their joint concerns and promised help with several matters.
This is the inspiration for the newly formed South Carolina Secular Council. Its charter members include the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, the Secular Humanists of the S.C. Midlands, the Skeptical Humanists of the Grand Strand, the South Carolina Atheists, the Upstate S.C. Secular Humanists, and the College of Charleston Atheist-Humanist Alliance student group.
The purpose of our state Secular Council is to support, defend and advocate a non-supernaturalist view. Its primary goals are to educate governmental bodies and public officials about the existence and views of the non-supernaturalist community. It will also provide factual and legal information related to the rights and concerns of the community.
November Freethought Conference in Atlanta
by Sharon Fratepietro
If you've never been to a national freethought conference, you have a treat coming. Often the quality of speakers is only surpassed by the opportunity to meet other interesting non-theists in the audience from around the country. Each year all the national freethought organizations hold conferences, including those with which our SHL is affiliated: the American Humanist Association, the Atheist Alliance, and the Council for Secular Humanism.
Atlanta will be the site for the Center for Inquiry International Conference from November 9-11. It is called "Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?" The conference is sponsored by the national Council for Secular Humanism. While Herb and I will have to miss this one because of an obligation to attend the AHA (American Humanist Association) board meeting scheduled for the same time, we certainly would head to Atlanta on November 9 if not for the conflict. If you decide to go, we'd love to have your comments on the event for a future issue of our newsletter. You can find details about the conference at the Web site www.secularhumanism.org.
SHL Participates in Unity Prayer Service
by Sharon Fratepietro
I don't know about you, but I have felt askew and unwanted during past weeks, as our local and national communities responded with public ceremonies to mourn the great suffering caused by the events of September 11. All the ceremonies were prayer services featuring Christians, Jews and Muslims. Like you, probably, I don't believe in prayer and refuse to mouth words to an imaginary deity. I'd just as soon ask for help from the tooth fairy. But I am worried and sad about the war into which we all were irrevocably plunged on September 11. And I do love a great deal about our United States and consider myself a patriot, even while sometimes protesting what I consider its social and political shortsightedness.
All this commentary is by way of explanation of how appreciative I felt when the Charleston Baha'i Faith group organized a public Unity Prayer Service in Hampton Park on September 16, and invited the nontheistic Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry to participate. They also invited representatives from non-mainstream religions usually missing from public forums -- the Hindus and Buddhists -- along with Christians, Jews and Muslims. Even former Congressman and gubernatorial candidate Mark Sanford accepted the invitation and gave an inspiring, non-political talk.
So Herb Silverman and I and a couple of others from the SHL attended the ceremony, where most people prayed mostly inclusive prayers, and Herb Silverman gave a secular address that was greatly appreciated, based on comments he got afterward from the audience. Jacqueline Collins, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Charleston, also said some fine words. Next month I'll tell you what she said, but for now, in case you could not get to the hastily-called service, the next piece is what Herb Silverman said at the Unity Prayer Service on September 16.
A Secular Humanist Message
by Herb Silverman
During this time of mourning and remembrance, the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry call on all people to respond with thoughtful reason and compassion. We pledge our best efforts to help one another, and to defend the rights of all citizens and residents of our nation, regardless of their philosophical or religious beliefs or national origins.
Some in our own secular community have suffered prejudice and exclusion because we do not share the religious beliefs of the majority. At this time, we feel particular compassion for those Muslim Americans who are being mistreated. We must all remember that the acts of terrorism were the work of individual extremists and that no racial, ethnic, or religious group is responsible for them. We must not react with personal acts of hate and violence. In the words of Martin Luther King, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
As we struggle to cope with the consequences of attack, and possible further attacks, there will be great temptation to restrict freedom of speech and other freedoms in the name of national security. This would also be a great tragedy. Governments and guns alone cannot maintain freedom. Nor can the tactics of terrorists destroy it. The truest defense of a civilized society is a culture that respects each person while taking into consideration the needs of all.
Some individuals with absolutist views often demonize people simply because they are different. Rev. Jerry Falwell recently stated that certain groups he disapproves of, including secularists, evoked God's anger against America and must therefore share the blame for this devastation. These words could just as easily have come from the lips of Osama bin Laden. It is precisely this kind of righteous finger pointing that we hope people of conscience everywhere will repudiate.
Rather than focusing only on who is to blame, let us address root causes. Rather than being dragged down to the level of others, let us rise to the height of our own ideals. The way we react to the challenges before us will shape our world far more than the recent acts of terrorism.
We are gathered today, both religious and secular members of our community, with the shared belief that we must treat our fellow human beings with respect and dignity. This provides evidence of something more important than the creeds that all too often divide us. It is our common humanity, which unites us.
SHL CalendarSunday, October 21: Edwin Kagin speaks at the SHL monthly meeting. At Gage Hall, 4 Archdale St., downtown Charleston, 4 p.m. Followed by optional dinner at Vickery's.
Sunday, October 28: Humanist Book Discussion, Barnes & Noble, 1812 Sam Rittenberg Blvd. (West Ashley), 3-5 p.m.
November 9-11: Center for Inquiry International Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. "Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?" Organized by the national organization, the Council for Secular Humanism.