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Tom Flynn

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Tom Flynn is executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism and editor of its flagship magazine, Free Inquiry. A founding coeditor of the newsletter Secular Humanist Bulletin, he designed and directs the Council's museum at the Dresden, N.Y., birthplace of 19th century agnostic orator Robert Green Ingersoll. He is also vice president for media at the Center for Inquiry and director of its audio-visual production arm, Inquiry Media Productions. He has written or edited four books including The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief (Prometheus, 2007). He is executive producer of the Council for Secular Humanism's 2013 video miniseries, American Freethought.

Secular Humanism: Not a Religion

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
November 10, 2014

Litigation always carries risk – first of all, the risk of losing one’s case, but also the risk that a court decision will bring unintended consequences. On October 30, 2014, the American Humanist Association had what may prove to be a similar experience. In American Humanist Association v. United States of America, a federal district court in Oregon ruled that a prisoner had a valid legal claim when he alleged that prison officials refused to authorize a humanist study group. So far, so good. However, in reaching this conclusion the court bizarrely ruled that secular humanism is a religion, when the nature of secular humanism was never even an issue in the case. Of course, the judge may have been persuaded to reach this conclusion because in its arguments to the court the AHA vigorously contended that humanism is a religion, and made no effort to distinguish its brand of humanism from secular humanism.

Of Gender, Language, and Clarity

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 2, 2014

FREE INQUIRY columnist Greta Christina wrote a great essay for her other column (over at THE HUMANIST) about issues associated with treating transgender people with respect. (No idea whether it’s online, but the column “Trans People and Basic Human Respect” is on pages 38-39 of the new September-October issue.) ... At one point Christina writes that some transgender people “choose to be identified with the gendered pronouns ‘he’ and ‘she,’ while others prefer new gender-neutral pronouns like ‘zie’ and ‘hir’ or use ‘they’ as a singular pronoun.” I’m down with all of that except the last bit. Using “they” as a singular pronoun ... strikes me as going one step too far, because it unnecessarily degrades the clarity of our language in regards to number.

Really, Mr. Friedman?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
August 6, 2014

Writing from Tel Aviv, New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman today  surveyed the current Israeli-Gaza war and sighed, “More and more, this is becoming a religious conflict.” Becoming, Mr. Friedman? Really? The seemingly-perpetual crisis in the Middle East has been a religious conflict—not totally, but significantly (and often principally) since its beginnings. And all three Abrahamic faiths bear guilt, in my view.

For many U. S. Christians, It’s Still “Subdue the Earth”

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 18, 2014
For many U. S. Christians, It’s Still “Subdue the Earth”

Rank-and-file Christians seem to be less concerned about the environment than other Americans—and also, less concerned than their pastors think they are.

The Dry Humor of Samuel Alito

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 1, 2014

Not since Mick Jagger promoted the upcoming Monty Python reunion concert by complaining about old stars from the 60s who just endlessly rehash their own stuff (OK, that was earlier this week) has anyone displayed mastery of dry British humor like U. S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, Jr.

Ingersoll Museum Renovation: Progress Report

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
March 18, 2014
Ingersoll Museum Renovation: Progress Report

It’s been a vicious winter; nonetheless progress continues toward the installation of the all-new T. M. Scruggs Museum Interior. Herewith, some progress photos.

A Classic Article on the Religious/Secular Humanist Divide

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 21, 2014

From time to time I’ll flag classic articles from back issues of FREE INQUIRY—pieces that are worth another read today if you keep your physical back issues. If you’re a current FI subscriber, you can also read the article online (link at bottom of this post).

 From the Summer 2002 issue (Volume 22, No. 3), Bible scholar Robert M. Price limns the difference between religious and secular humanism about as elegantly as one can. 

 

2014 Will Be a Big Year for the Ingersoll Museum

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 21, 2014

2014 will be an epic year for the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum in Dresden, New York. Last year we challenged our donors and friends to raise $70,000 for a long-needed redesign of the museum interior. They exceeded the target by more than $20,000. We’re well into the redesign process. The Museum will open in May with all-new exhibits and expanded promotion, and in August we’ll have an Ingersoll-themed mini-conference in western and central New York State. For the full story see the link at the bottom of this post!

Catholicism’s Sex Abuse Scandal Goes Global

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 5, 2014

The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child savaged the Vatican today, in a report that accused the worldwide Roman Catholic Church of “systematically” allowing priests to rape and otherwise sexually abuse tens of thousands of children—and then to evade responsibility for their acts— over multiple decades. In one sense, this is only a capstone for a scandal that’s been erupting in country after country for almost three decades. But freethinkers shouldn’t allow the fact that this scandal has been grinding on for so long to blind them to the sheer fact of what a huge, even extraordinary development it represents.

 

Nye/Ham Debate Probably a Bad Idea, but I’d Love to Be There for It

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 3, 2014

Planetary Society director and forever “Science Guy” Bill Nye has apparently agreed to debate young-earth creationist Ken Ham on February 4th at Ham’s sprawling Creation Museum in northern Kentucky. At least Ham says so on his website, and I haven’t seen a denial from the Nye camp yet. Opinions are mixed on this, and mine are too—there’s a very real risk that Nye will shine a fresh spotlight on a fading evangelist whose museum has lately been grasping at straws to keep its attendance numbers up. But it’s sure to make for great theater.

The Difference between Religious and Secular Humanism in Its Essence

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 30, 2013

In a Guardian blog, New Humanist commentator Suzanne Moore has—if inadvertently—defined the key difference between religious humanists and secular humanists in a very few words.

Those Celebrating Only a Holiday Other Than Christmas Barely Outnumber Those Celebrating Nothing

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 24, 2013

Another interesting factoid from the PRRI-RNS study on holiday preferences. Roughly 9 in 10 respondents reported celebrating Christmas in some form. Interestingly, those who reported celebrating only some holiday other than Christmas (Hanukkah, Solstice, Kwanzaa, Diwali, or whatever) numbered 6 percent, compared to the 5 percent who reported celebrating no December holiday whatever (as I blogged yesterday: http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/entry/five_percent_of_americans_celebrate_no_december_holiday/).

Five Percent of Americans Celebrate No December Holiday

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 23, 2013

Yes, I know that quite a few secular humanists and other freethinkers celebrate the Solstice, HumanLight, Newton’s Birthday, or even a bowdlerized form of Christmas this time of year. Even so, a new PRRI/RNS survey (click the link beliow full text) indicates that the number of Americans who tell pollsters that they celebrate no holiday in December has reached 5 percent. 5 percent? That’s more than double the usual figure for the size of the American Jewish community (2.2 percent). Who knows, this year that figure may include a large number of American Jews, given that Hanukkah unfolded mostly in November. 

 

We Shoulda Seen This Coming—Oh, Wait, I Did!

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
October 2, 2013

Way back in the October/November 2011 FREE INQUIRY, I sounded the alarm about the danger of unintended consequences from the drive for humanist chaplains in the military. Since then, the issue has only mushroomed. Now (partly but not solely by way of Harvard’s humanist chaplaincy) tearing down the fences between humanism and religion has become a game almost anyone can play. Today even Peter J. Reilly, an online tax columnist (!) for Forbes, has weighed in with an essay asking “Should Humanist Groups Seek Church Status?”

Supreme Court Link Rot Highlights Shortcomings of Online Citations

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 24, 2013

The U. S. Supreme Court has a “link rot” problem, and how—according to one study, 49 percent of the hyperlinks cited in Supreme Court decisions point nowhere. These include not only links to other sites, but even links to former postings on the Court’s own Web site. This casts fresh light on an issue I’ve written about before—if you’re writing something whose references just might be of interest to future scholars, Internet citations are far too emphemeral to rely on.

 

White House Interfaith Panel—No Place for Humanists

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
September 19, 2013

The Secular Student Alliance (SSA) has accepted an invitation from the White House to take part in a Department of Education interfaith panel to help plan campus service projects, and most of the movement is happily abuzz about that. I’d like to offer an alternative view. Speaking personally, I think that to accept that invitation was most unfortunate – and I think that is true on several levels.

 

Anti-Humanist Chaplain Vote in the House Has a Lesson For Us

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 26, 2013

By a 253 to 173 vote, the U. S. House of Representatives passed an amendment to H. R. 2397, the defense authorization bill, that will block the appointment of humanist chaplains in the military. Most in the movement have been outraged. I follow a different drummer. By forbidding humanist chaplains, the House majority has reminded us of something important about chaplaincy—and about religion itself—something that I fear too many humanists have been willing to overlook in their recent “Ooooh, we want to be chaplains too!” enthusiasm.

Mehta’s Not Too Friendly to Pierce Prison Religion Info Embargo

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
July 17, 2013

“Friendly Atheist” blogger Hemant Mehta wasn’t too friendly to use the Freedom of Information Act to shake loose bombshell data on the religious affiliations of inmates in the Federal prison system. This pierces (but does not completely shatter) what I believe has been a six-decade embargo by prison administrators to hold back information on how many prisoners are or aren’t religious.

Actually, Joe Klein Was Right

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
June 24, 2013

In a TIME cover story on community service, columnist Joe Klein observed that one never sees secular humanist groups handing out hot meals at disaster sites. Many in the atheosphere, including Hemant Mehta, Amanda Knief, and our own Paul Fidalgo, took umbrage at this “nasty crack,” But you know what? So long as we’re talking strictly about secular humanists, not about atheists/freethinkers generally, Klein was right. And there’s a good reason why.

Does Spiraling Sex Abuse Mean Gender Integration in the Military Has Failed?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
May 8, 2013

Usually when I blog here, I argue for something with great confidence and bluster. This time I’m just posing a question—an uncomfortable question, but one that I’m amazed no one else seems to be asking. There’s a vast sex abuse crisis in the U. S. military, with incident rates skyrocketing year to year. Might this mean that America’s great experiment in creating a gender-neutral military has failed?

“Interfaith” and Inclusion: Another View

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 19, 2013

There’s been much passionate commentary about the recent Boston interfaith service excluding humanist, atheists, and other freethinkers. It’s not for lack of effort; Harvard humanist chaplain Greg Epstein and other heavy-hitters in the movement strove mightily for a place on the altar—pardon me, stage—and were coldly stonewalled. But what are we asking for when we seek inclusion in such events? While it may make sense for Epstein, whose work skews religious-humanist, to want a place at an interfaith event, should atheists and more secular humanists be seeking to stand by his side? I don’t think so. On my view, those of us in the movement who are not comfortable with the “religious humanist” identifier should not be seeking entry to interfaith events. Instead, we should be boycotting them, then demanding something more inclusive in their place.

When Seculars Get Sectarian

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
April 16, 2013

Making the rounds on Facebook is an announcement that yet another humanist/atheist charity has started a fund drive for victims of the Boston Marathon bombings. It’s a fine cause, but I wonder whether its organizers have considered the implications when nonbelievers—normally quick to revile sectarianism when religious people indulge in it—conduct a blatantly sectarian appeal for aid. Perhaps it’s overdue to review the full meaning of the word “secular.”

Available in the Print Edition. Subscribe Here.

Paul Kurtz, Philosopher, Humanist Leader, and Founder of the Modern Skeptical Movement, Dies at 86

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 37.1, January/February 2013

Paul Kurtz In Memoriam

Religious Humanism (Or Something) Gone Wild

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
February 14, 2013
Now I've seen it all. NonProphet Status (NPS), the blog of Faitheist author Chris Stedman, is inviting seculars to give something up for Lent!

Sweet Vindication

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 31, 2013
For a decade I've been writing that secular humanists and other atheists need to compel greater social acceptance by making themselves "irresistibly visible." Now social science has backed me up.

Is This Our Future?

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 22, 2013
“If we fail in this great experiment," author Ronald Wright told journalist Chris Hedges, "this experiment of apes becoming intelligent enough to take charge of their own destiny, nature will shrug and say it was fun for a while to let the apes run the laboratory, but in the end it was a bad idea.” Is humankind's assault on its planetary home already past the point of no return?

Prager Misses the Point

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
January 17, 2013

In a NATIONAL REVIEW rebuttal of Susan Jacoby's NEW YORK TIMES piece on the atheist response to the school shootings at Sandy Hook, right-wing pundit Dennis Prager proves that he doesn't understand atheism nearly as well as he thinks he does.

Responding to a Slam in the New York Times

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 29, 2012
It's Saturday, and each Saturday brings a new religion feature story in the New York Times. This week's installment is by Samuel G. Freedman, with the lurid headline "In a Crisis, Humanists Seem Absent." It concerns a phenomenon widely noted within the nontheist community, as well -- the fact that despite the great increase in atheism's social prominence, freethinkers were largely unheard from in the social response to the Newtown massacre. In fairness, Freedman's analysis was more even-handed than his essay's headline would suggest. He recognized that unbelievers were as much shut out of "interfaith" outpourings as they failed to step up. But does it make sense to say that there's any sense in which the nonreligious actually "failed to step up"? Greg Epstein thinks so. He is Harvard's humanist chaplain and, for all intents and purposes, the current "pope" of the religious-humanist camp. He told Freedman, "we need to provide an alternative form of community if we're going to matter for the increasing number of people who say they are not believers." But I'm not convinced. Truly secular people, precisely insofar as they are secular, have outgrown the need to seek emotional support primarily from a group that has been twice segregated to resemble them: segregated once by adjacent residence, and segregated again by worldview. That's what a traditional church congregation is, after all: a community of people who live in the same area and see the world in about the same way. Secular humanists tend not to seek that parochial sort of support. That's a distinctive characteristic of their approach to life, not a shortcoming. Colloquially, it's a feature, not a bug. I wrote a letter to the New York Times making this point. Since I'm more likely to be struck by lightning twice while marrying a terrorist than to see my letter published, I reproduce it below.

SKEPTICAL INQUIRER Article Strikes Hammer Blow Against Strategies to Shield Dogma

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 23, 2012
Pardon me while I blow the horn for FREE INQUIRY's sister zine. The January/February SKEPTICAL INQUIRER contains an article that just may strike the definitive blow against those who, by appeal to righteous indignation or sanctity, would shield heinous cultural practices or religious dogmas against any comment or criticism. (SI doesn't post articles from an issue until the next issue comes out, so "bad news," you'll just have to lay your hands on a physical copy!)

A Personal Note About Dec. 25th

Free Thinking (centerforinquiry.net)
December 18, 2012
Some folks -- from humanist/atheist activists to folks in the media -- have made it a tradition to phone me at the office on December 25 whenever that date falls during the work week. Some call to wish me "Happy just another day," some just to make sure I'm there. Well, I won't  be there this year, and I figured I'd better explain why. (Spoiler alert: It's not because I've succumbed to the lures of a certain holiday beloved for different reasons by many Christians and some neo-pagans.

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