Free Inquiry, the transnational secular humanist magazine published by the Council for Secular Humanism, enters its 30th year of continuous publication this month with the debut of its new, comprehensive redesign.
Set for publication on Nov. 15, 2009 Free Inquiry Volume 30 Number 1 will feature an exclusive excerpt from biologist Richard Dawkins’s new book The Greatest Show on Earth. (Free Inquiry is the only U. S. publication other than Newsweek permitted to publish an excerpt from this new book of arguments for Darwinian evolution, which opened at #5 on the New York Times bestseller list.)
That edition will also be the first to feature a wholly new design featuring a cleaner, more contemporary look and a more focused use of graphics. Readers will now find ten to fifteen percent more content in each new issue of Free Inquiry.
“This issue introduces only the second comprehensive redesign Free Inquiry has undergone during its publishing history,” said Tom Flynn, editor of Free Inquiry and executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism. “The new look is cleaner and less dependent on graphics. It is designed to focus attention on the words and the often-challenging ideas they embody.”
The redesign was conducted by the graphic design house Secret Valley Media Labs, based in Hamburg, NY. Chris Fix, the magazine’s art director, developed the publication’s new logo.
Founded in 1979 by philosopher Paul Kurtz, who is the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Free Inquiry (published six times a year; circulation 36,000) has emerged as the leading journal of a secular humanist movement worldwide. Approximately 10 percent of the publication’s subscribers live outside the United States in 76 countries.
The journal gained worldwide attention for its 1986 exposé of false faith healers, which inspired the 1992 Steve Martin movie Leap of Faith. In 2006, Free Inquiry was the first major U. S. publication to publish a selection of the controversial Danish “Muhammad” cartoons. The book store chains Borders, Waldenbooks, and (in Canada) Coles, Chapters, and Indigo were widely criticized for removing Free Inquiry from their shelves during this controversy.
“Free Inquiry is one of the leading journals of ideas in the world,” said Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of the Council for Secular Humanism and its supporting organization, the Center for Inquiry. “It has achieved this status by combining high-quality writing with cutting edge topics and topics of interest to the nonreligious throughout the world. Incisive and thoughtful, Free Inquiry persuasively articulates the philosophy of secular humanism while engaging those with opposing views. It is nothing less than the journal of record for secular humanism.”
Ingersoll Museum Wraps Up
2009 Season with Record Sales, Online
The Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum concluded its 2009 season on Saturday, October 31. America’s only freethought museum, the Ingersoll Birthplace in Dresden, New York, has been operated by the Council for Secular Humanism each summer and fall since 1993.
“Despite the recession, visitor traffic was steady relative to last year,” said museum director Tom Flynn, who is also executive director of the Council. “More important, this year we were able to greatly enhance our online impact.” The 2009 season saw the dramatic expansion of two Web sites related to the museum. RGIMuseum.org provides a “virtual visit” to the Ingersoll Museum for those unable to visit Dresden and for those wanting to get the most from a planned future visit. Freethought-Trail.org profiles the Ingersoll Museum in the context of almost 80 other marked and unmarked sites within 80 miles of Dresden that relate to the histories of freethought, woman’s rights, abolitionism, and other forms of radical reform. The Freethought Trail was also promoted with an impressive brochure that was placed in brochure racks throughout central New York State.
“We believe it’s because of this online presence and the extra brochures that our visitor census held steady despite the economy,” Flynn said. “It also seems that our visitors arrived better-informed and primed for heightened interest in the story our museum tells. Despite steady attendance, this is the best year we’ve ever had for sales at the museum gift shop—everything from T-shirts to historical books. Sales were double our best previous year. Of course, those dollars help to lessen the museum’s annual operating deficit and reduce the amount we need to seek from our donors and friends.”
Financial support for the Ingersoll Museum by nonvisitors had been down sharply at mid-year, promoting concerns that the museum’s late-2009 and 2010 schedules might need to be cut back. “We now believe that will not be necessary,” Flynn said. “Donor response to an emergency appeal mailing has been strong and it now appears that we will have enough funding in place to ensure normal operations in 2010."
The Center for Inquiry, a supporting organization of the Council for Secular Humanism, in its special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, has delivered a statement to the chair of the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly strongly opposing the proposed "Combating the Defamation of Religions" resolution backed by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). The resolution is expected to be considered by the Third Committee in coming days.
The resolution has been sponsored each year by the 57-member OIC, who introduced it in 1999 as a resolution to combat the “Defamation of Islam.” The language was expanded in 2008 to include Christianity and Judaism. The effort has gained some traction with the General Assembly since 2005 when Danish newspapers published cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad. But earlier this month, the UN's Human Rights Council in Geneva rejected the concept of "defamation of religions" by omitting this term from a compromise resolution on freedom of opinion and expression.
The resolution in its current form is non-binding; rather than having the force of law, it urges member states of the UN to adopt laws prohibiting the "defamation of religion." However, outside of the General Assembly there is a movement afoot at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that would incorporate similar measures against "defamation of religions" into international treaties, thereby granting legal force to the resolution as part of international law.
“This misguided resolution would turn human rights law on its head. International law protects individuals, not systems of religious belief,” said Derek C. Araujo, general counsel and representative to the United Nations for the Center for Inquiry. “Existing laws and norms already protect religious people as individuals from discrimination and abuse. This resolution serves the interests of those who would violate freedom of belief by stifling religious dissent and criticism.”
Read CFI's full press release here.
With the health care issue now firmly in the sights of Congress, the month of October has proven extremely busy for the Center for Inquiry’s Office of Public Policy (OPP). (The Center is a supporting organization of the Council for Secular Humanism.) While Congress is debating the merits of the various health care proposals, we have been regularly communicating to them the views of CFI on certain aspects of health legislation:
Although CFI does not endorse any particular plan for health care reform, CFI recognizes the importance of guaranteeing a decent minimum of health care for all. CFI endorses universal coverage not only on the moral grounds of helping those in need, but also because providing access to preventive care has been shown to lower the social cost of medical treatment.
Another area where we have been hard at work is ensuring that the separation of church and state is maintained under President Obama’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. On October 13th, representatives from our office attended the quarterly meeting of the president’s advisory council and presented CFI’s positions to them via our position paper during the public comment segment.
In support of funding for science and scientific education, the Office of Public Policy attended the monthly meeting of the Coalition for National Science Funding. At this meeting Dixon Butler, a professional staffer for the House Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee, discussed the “Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act”—which in part lays out total government science funding for fiscal year 2010. The meeting also brought to the forefront the importance of promoting science and technology education at all levels, from kindergarten all the way through college. Because of this, we are planning a campaign to promote science education among both legislators and the general public.
Earlier this month we attended the “Women, Money, Power” Summit hosted by the Feminist Majority Foundation. The summit highlighted current issues women are facing and what advocacy groups and Congress are doing to address them. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA, informed us of the creation of the first-ever foreign relation subcommittee on women’s issues. Rep. Nita Lowey, D-NY, also joined us to speak about the importance of leveling the playing field for women, both in the United States and abroad.
Along with all of this new work, the Office of Public Policy is proud to announce two new individuals to help us. First, Lori Sommerfelt is interning with the Office of Public Policy for the fall semester of this year. Lori is an undergraduate student majoring in sociology at American University. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, her interests include social justice advocacy and secularism.
In addition to Lori, Matt Separa is a new part-time policy analyst who will assist Toni Van Pelt in her lobbying and advocacy efforts. Matt is currently a graduate student at The George Washington University, where he is pursuing his master’s degree in public policy. Prior to moving to Washington, Matt lived in Michigan where he received his bachelor’s degree in political science from Wayne State University. While studying at Wayne State, he worked on several political campaigns and regularly contacted his legislators on issues of importance to him.
Scholars from around the country and places afar gathered together at the Center for Inquiry/Transnational in Amherst, New York from October 22-24 to take part in a special conference honoring the 150th Birthday of one of the giants of naturalistic humanism, John Dewey.
Dewey, who was born in 1859 and died in 1952, was not merely America’s greatest pragmatist of the 20th century, but many have also judged him to be America’s greatest philosopher as well. Hilary Putnam and Philip Kitcher, along with CFI’s founder Paul Kurtz, delivered their addresses at this celebration to agree with these claims and describe the immense impact of Dewey’s thought on America and the world. (Philip Kitcher’s article “John Dewey, Philosophical Radical” appeared in the October/November 2009 issue of Free Inquiry.) Hilary Putnam, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Harvard University and one of the most eminent living philosophers, gave his “Reflections on Pragmatism” to recount his strong defenses of several principles of pragmatism advocated by Dewey. Philip Kitcher, the John Dewey Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University where Dewey taught for much of his career, delivered a paper titled “The Importance of Dewey for Philosophy (and for much else besides),” to explain Dewey’s radical insights into dissolving traditional philosophical puzzles. Consistent with Paul Kurtz’s talk on “Looking Ahead: What are the Prospects for Dewey’s Philosophy in the Future?” the rest of the conference’s 40 speakers spoke about Dewey’s lasting impact on a broad range of practical issues from religion and politics to ethics and science. Assembling from many states and several countries, these scholars along with dozens of attendees (reaching a high point of about 80 participants in all) also took the opportunity to discuss future collaborations and potential conferences to continue applying Dewey’s philosophy to global problems.
Other high points of the conference include an unveiling of a new bust of John Dewey by Paul Kurtz and Larry Hickman, Director of the Center for Dewey Studies; the naming of a new research library at the Center for Inquiry in the name of John Dewey; and a call for future annual conferences about John Dewey to perpetuate the growing interest in “America’s philosopher.”
John Shook is Vice President and Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Inquiry
Many secular activists have heralded President Barack Obama’s election as a defeat of the Religious Right, but author Jeff Sharlet considers that assumption to be dangerously premature.
In his latest New York Times bestselling book, "The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power," Sharlet exposes one of the most influential and theocratic organizations currently working to bend the ear of Congress and the Oval Office. Established in 1935 on the premise that the Great Depression was God’s punishment for American decadence, The Family consists almost entirely of powerful, affluent, government insiders, and has exerted influence in Washington, D.C. through all manner of administrations.
In a recent episode of Point of Inquiry, hosted by D.J. Grothe, Sharlet explained how his book explores the fundamentalism, political interventions, economic stances, secrecy, alliances, foreign-policy influence and convictions of The Family, as well as the Fellowship’s controversial role in the creation of the National Prayer Breakfast in 1953, where they wanted a public ritual to “consecrate the governing class to Jesus.”
The ongoing goal of the organization, according to Sharlet, is to justify the use of religious mandates in the shaping of public policy. A stated objective is to have the U.S. government operate through the lens of “Jesus Plus Nothing,” or what the Family has called “The Totalitarianism of Christ;” that there should be no distinction between economics, foreign affairs, politics, and (the Christian) religion.”
Listen to the compelling full interview here.
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What is Secular Humanism? with Paul Kurtz
A definitive statement on the agenda and aspirations of the secular humanist movement by Center for Inquiry founder Paul Kurtz. Dr. Kurtz recorded these remarks for distribution to local groups affiliated with the Council for Secular Humanism. “What Is Secular Humanism?” is a question we hear frequently – sometimes from religious traditionalists who associate secular humanism with everything gone wrong in our society, sometimes from ethical critical thinkers who suspect the label “secular humanist” applies to them, but want to know more.
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