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Humanists Thinking of Carl Sagan as New “Cosmos” Series About To Debut

“Humanists are especially eager. They claim Sagan as their own, and see in the “Cosmos” series — a multipart journey to the outer reaches of our universe — and in his dozen books a vibrant strain of their own philosophy. That philosophy favors reason over religion and holds human beings as both good and responsible for the Earth’s plight.”

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Time for a Fair Wage Certification

Thousands of protesters gathered yesterday at Wal-Marts throughout the country.  They targeted our largest retailer on the busiest shopping day of the year to make a point: there are not enough hours in the week for many Americans to earn a living wage at the low wages paid by many companies.  Wal-mart earned about $17 billion in profits last year, yet the average Wal-Mart employee requires about $2,000/year in public assistance.  Taxpayers subsidize Wal-Mart’s payroll, because they are not paying workers a living wage.

Yes, the minimum wage needs to be raised.  But, that is going to take time in the current political climate.  In the meantime, consumers should support businesses that pay their employees decent wages.  Companies like Trader Joe’s, Costco, and Quicktrip have won recognition by paying higher than industry averages.  They have proven that paying a living wage can be a profitable strategy, because there is less turnover and better performance when employees are paid and treated well. 

Wages will rise when more businesses realize that paying a living wage is good for business. And, more businesses will get that message when consumers spend their money at stores and restaurants that that treat their employees fairly.  We have Fair Trade certifications for coffee and chocolate. Why not a “Fair Wage” certification for businesses?  The cost of a drive-through lunch wouldn’t be that much higher if the folks who prepared were paid a few bucks an hour more than a typical McDonald’s employee.  In Connecticut, the Wal-Mart protesters focused on a store in Avon because, according to one of the organizers, “this is a fairly wealthy area of the state, surrounded by wealthy towns, and these are a lot of people that have financial choice to shop somewhere else.”   

Many consumers do have a financial choice on where we shop  It would be a great help if we had better information so that we could meaningfully exercise that choice.  Fair Wage Certification would help consumers separate the Costcos from the Wal-Marts.  

 

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Toys for (Christian) Tots

The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Legal Center is threatening to sue public schools that are participating in a program run by Frank Graham’s “Samaritan’s Purse” group to collect toys and distribute them to needy kids.  Nothing wrong that that by itself – that is praiseworthy and noble.  But, the gifts come with a string – the kids are given “Pledges to Christianity” to sign.  Worse yet, the parents and kids that donated the gifts were often in the dark about the Christianity Pledges.

Isn’t it ironic that Frank Graham named his group “Samaritan’s Purse”?  In biblical times, the Samaritans practiced their religion differently and were despised by the Jews for being different. The whole point of Parable of the Good Samaritan is that people of different beliefs are worthy and capable of doing good.

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A SMART Approach to Recovery

Starting this month, I will be writing for the Hartford Faith & Values blog. My first contribution, which is today’s lead story, discusses efforts by Humanist groups to help establish SMART Recovery meetings in Connecticut. SMART Recovery is a science-based program that has been demonstrated to be effective in combating alcoholism and substance addiction.

How Humanists Are Good Without God

Yesterday, I was honored to be the guest at Unitarian Universalist Society: East in Manchester, CT to present the sermon.  The topic was “How Humanists Are Good Without God”.  About 180 people were present, including a nice contingent from Hartford Area Humanists.  It was a wonderful experience for me, and the reaction from the Congregation was quite positive.  Quite a few mentioned that they had not previously understood what Humanism was about.

Below is the text of the written version of the sermon.  This is quite a distance from what I actually said.  I hope to get a recording of the actual sermon soon.

UU East Address FINAL

Why Do We Celebrate Darwin Day?

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Charles Darwin’s birthday is today – February 12.  It is a big deal among the science and humanist communities.  Local groups in Fairfield County hold an annual banquet  to honor the event (rescheduled to Feb 16 due to the storm – you can still register).

The International Darwin Day Foundation’s website has a good explanation for why we celebrate Darwin’s Birthday on or around February 12:

Charles Darwin as a Symbol for the Celebration of Science and Humanity

Celebrations are an important part of every culture. They provide a tradition and a common bond to be shared among those who make up their culture, permitting them to experience a meaningful connection to one another and to the principles to which they subscribe. Unfortunately, most celebrations are based on ancient traditions that are relevant to only a specific country or culture, and they have often been, and continue to be, the source of serious conflicts.

At this juncture in history, the world has become so small and interdependent that we need a Global Celebration to promote a common bond among all people. The Darwin Day Celebration was founded on the premise that science, like music, is an international language that speaks to all people in very similar ways. While music is both intellectual and entertaining, science is our most reliable knowledge system, and it has been and continues to be acquired through human curiosity and ingenuity. Moreover, evolution via genetic variation and natural selection, introduced by Darwin, has become the central organizing principle in biology. In addition, evolution also plays a central role in astronomy and cosmology, where it refers to the way that stars, galaxies and the entire universe ‘change over time.’ To study biology while neglecting evolution would be like studying physics without Newton’s laws that govern the universe or chemistry without the periodic table. Clearly, Darwin himself has become an internationally acclaimed figure, whose influence on progressive modern thought continues to be both profound and pervasive (Ernst Mayr, Darwin’s Influence on Modern Thought, Scientific American, July 2000).

Current research in the field of genetics, including that on the human genome, has conclusively shown that all humans are essentially identical and that we are genetically related to all other living things on this planet. Thus an enlightened view of genetics is one of unity and equality among all humans and also one that fosters a deeper sense of respect and appreciation for all life. Today the validity of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection rests in our understanding of the molecular mechanisms of genetics. Therefore, we conclude that Charles Darwin is a worthy symbol on which to focus, in order to build a Global Celebration of Science and Humanity that is intended to promote a common bond among all people of the earth.

Phil Plait, the “Bad Astronomer” on Slate, suggests celebrating Darwin Day by making a contribution to the National Center for Science Education.  Great idea!

Happy Darwin Day!