“Atheists in America” by Dr. Melanie Brewster

Atheists in AmericaAtheists in America by Melanie E. Brewster

Dr. Brewster’s book is an interesting collection of “testimonies” from non-believers of all walks of life in America. This book isn’t essential reading for an atheist or seeker to understand the relevant philosophical arguments, but it’s good for seeing how non-belief manifests in many aspects of life, with sections focusing on leaving faith, queer atheists, romantic relationships with theists, family and parenting, community, work, and aging.
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新年快乐 – Happy New Year!

We spent the afternoon on Saturday celebrating the Chinese New Year. It was a great afternoon of a dragon dance, songs, and dancing. This isn’t something that’s part of my heritage or my wife’s heritage, so why did J and I do this for the third straight year? Because our boys are students at The Chinese School at the St. Louis Language Immersion Schools (SLLIS). Yep, D and M spend their days learning all their school subjects in Mandarin Chinese.

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Good Cheer

Ethical Culture is a bit of an odd duck. It’s a non-theistic religion, or as I like to say, “the religion for people who don’t like religion.” The movement’s founder, Felix Adler, said that it is “religious to those who are religiously-minded and to those who interpret its work religiously, and it is simply ethical to those who are not so minded.” At my congregation, the Ethical Society of St. Louis, we express this as being a “Welcoming Home for Humanists”, where we focus on “Deed Before Creed”.

But what does this mean in practice? I was asked this in an interview for the Ask an Atheist podcast in the summer of 2013, when they visited the Ethical Society of St. Louis. I answered by describing what happens at the Society on a typical Sunday morning. But there’s another aspect of our community that I didn’t mention then, but that I experienced again last week: Good Cheer.

Good Cheer is the Ethical Society of St. Louis’s annual winter festival (other Ethical Societies around the country have different names and different specifics). We have several seasonal festivals throughout the year, and we also have a Thanksgiving Festival, but Good Cheer is our biggest seasonal event. That’s probably because it is closely analogous to Christmas, the biggest holiday of the year for the majority of American culture. So, what does Good Cheer mean for us? Food, Fellowship, Fun, and Festivities
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“Contact” by Carl Sagan

ContactContact by Carl Sagan

Without even noticing, just as astronomy entered a golden age most people cut themselves off from the sky.

I saw the movie based on this book when I was a teen and it was in theaters, and I’ve been getting more into Carl Sagan the past few years. I’ve enjoyed watching Sagan’s Cosmos series (and Tyson’s sequel to it), and I’ve read some of Sagan’s non-fiction before. This was the first time I had read any of Sagan’s fiction, and I found it interesting – it has given me a lot to think about.
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Report from Skepticon: CampQuest

I’m at Skepticon this weekend. It’s the nation’s largest free conference on skepticism, science, intersectionality, and atheism. It brings feminist-friendly atheism to Springfield, MO, one of the buckles of America’s broad Bible belt.

I love this conference. There are so many awesome people here talking about so many issues that are relevant to humanists, from socio-economic privilege to sexuality to Islam to secular community. There’s not a lot that is specific to parenting, but one workshop today was really relevant: CampQuest.

If you are in a secular family, and you find yourself feeling jealous when you see the other families around you send their kids to church camp, then CampQuest might be the answer for your family. CampQuest is a nationwide specifically-secular sleep-away camping opportunity for kids ages 8 and up. You can send your kids to these camps at various locations around the country to swim, hike, learn archery, learn about bugs, explore the Socratic method, and generally be comfortable in an environment without religious influence.

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“A History of God” by Karen Armstrong

A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and IslamA History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Karen Armstrong

A few years ago, I saw a YouTube video that gave a different history of the God of the Bible than I had picked up in Lutheran Confirmation. According to this video, Yahweh, El Shaddai, and Elohim were different gods in an old polytheistic pantheon who were merged together over many different generations during the course of the Old Testament into the monothestic God worshiped today.

Of course, this is a very provocative claim, and I wanted to go the video’s source, Karen Armstrong’s “A History of God”.
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“Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex” by Mary Roach

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex delivers on its subtitle; it’s a survey of scientific research and inquiry about all matters sexual, from the early days of a curious female descendant of Napolean, through the formative years of Kinsey and Masters & Johnson, up to modern veterinary, psychological, pharmacological, and medical investigation.

Once again, Mary Roach is hilarious when investigating an area of scientific research. I really enjoyed her exploration of the logistics of outer space in Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, though I wasn’t quite as tickled by the exploration of afterlife-related wishful thinking in Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. Since this was a return to a more scientific area, I was really looking forward to it.
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Worried about a Secular/Religious Marriage? Let Dale McGowan Help

In Faith and in Doubt: How Religious Believers and Nonbelievers Can Create Strong Marriages and Loving FamiliesIn Faith and in Doubt: How Religious Believers and Nonbelievers Can Create Strong Marriages and Loving Families by Dale McGowan

I’ve been an enthusiastic reader of Dale McGowan‘s books for a few years now. He has found a very relevant niche (secular family life) and has filled it with compassion, knowledge, and humor. His first two books in this area, Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion and Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Belief, were focused on parenting, and I found them to be very useful sources for both contemplation and practical resources as a secular parent.

In Faith and in Doubt moves a bit away from parenting as a focus to another important and underserved question: mixed marriages. Specifically, marriages in which one spouse is a religious believer and the other isn’t. I’m in such a marriage, and I’ve written previously about how J and I have navigated the difference.
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Kari, Grant, Tori… and Mike Brown

Thursday night, I was surprised by a tweet from Mythbusters’ Kari Byron:

What did that mean? Mythbusters is a show that I watch with my boys, and we love the mix of science and fun from the show. Was the show over?

Eventually, subsequent tweets and a race through the latest episode on the DVR showed that Kari, Grant, and Tori were leaving the show, and that the show would revert to its original lineup of Adam and Jamie.

But why? Did Kari, Grant, and Tori ask for a raise that the Discovery Channel rejected? Did Adam and Jamie want to change the show? Were Kari, Grant, and Tori tired of being second-fiddle in the show and wanted to make their own show? Was it something else?

I couldn’t find an answer to this question – the involved individuals were tight-lipped as far as I could see from articles and tweets online. Of course, online commenters were speculating that the Discovery Channel was too cheap, or that Kari, Grant, and Tori were getting bored or greedy, etc. In other words, in the absence of solid information, people were making assumptions.

I’ve been seeing that a lot this week, in a case that is significantly more important than the casting changes on a science education show: the death of Michael Brown at the hands of Officer Darren Wilson.
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America’s Best Idea – for Kids

One of the United States’ great legacies for the world is our National Parks. Starting with the founding of Yellowstone National Park, in 1872, National Parks have become one of the most important ways that natural treasures and important cultural sites have been protected and preserved for us and the generations to follow us.

Our family has really enjoyed using the sites protected by the National Park Service, both on trips and locally in St. Louis. Some of these sites are very accessible to children and really tap into their senses of awe and wonder about the world. But other sites, like National Battlefields and historical sites like Presidential homes, are not so relatable for children.

Fortunately, there is a great program for children at many of these parks: the Junior Ranger program. About half of the 401 areas owned or administered by the National Park Service provide these gateways for children to interact with and understand the National Parks and the legacies they protect.
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