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Tom Flynn

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Tom Flynn is the Center for Inquiry’s vice president for media and director of Inquiry Media Productions. He is also executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism and editor of its flagship magazine, Free Inquiry. He designed and directs the Council's museum at the Dresden, N.Y., birthplace of 19th century agnostic orator Robert Green Ingersoll. He has written or edited eight books, including The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief (Prometheus, 2007).

What Secular Humanism Means to Me

Free Thinking (
March 21, 2017

It’s been a while since I blogged here! Herewith, an oldie-but-goodie from the October/November 2010 issue of FREE INQUIRY. At the time I was kicking off an event inviting readers to describe secular humanism is one word. I picked the word “emancipatory.” Subject only to a 1000-word limit, here’s what I wrote.

A Seasonal Reflection

Free Thinking (
December 16, 2016

As some readers know, I’m a longtime advocate of humanists, atheists, and other secular folks conspicuously sitting out that Christian observance of Jesus’s birthday that monopolizes the last six weeks of every year. I’m hardly the only one, but clearly “going Yule-free” is a minority stance among nonreligious Americans. From time to time, seculars who enjoy the holiday in whatever form – and who may resent my suggestions that by doing so, they might be harming our community – pose a question along the lines of, “But I like exchanging gifts with my loved ones. I like the decorations and the songs. Hell, I like eggnog. What evidence do you have that nonreligious people celebrating the holiday in some form is harmful?”


Secular humanism and secularization

Free Thinking (
March 24, 2016

Yesterday a member of the public asked me, “What could secular humanism have done to prevent today’s slaughter in Brussels?” Here is how I answered:

An Anti-marriage Rebel’s View of 50-state Same-sex Marriage

Free Thinking (
June 29, 2015

First, I join in the general jubilation that same-sex marriage is now legal in all 50 states. It’s a great step forward for same-sex couples who want to marry. But not all do. Come to think of it, not all opposite-sex couples want to marry. Civil-rights landmark that it undeniably is, the same-sex marriage victory has left some of us behind.

Wanted: Better Understanding of Humanism

Free Thinking (
June 1, 2015

Molly Worthen’s Sunday New York Times op-ed on the Sunday Assembly phenomenon (“Wanted: A Theology of Atheism,” May 30) demonstrates, if nothing else, how badly we need to educate the media about the humanist movement—and about atheism, for that matter.

What RFRA Sowed, the Nation Reaps

Free Thinking (
April 1, 2015

First Indiana, now Arkansas have passed “religious freedom” bills that will protect Christians who discriminate on religious grounds. This is a predictable result of the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a regrettable law whose beneficiaries are now (in the wake of the disastrous Hobby Lobby decision) free to unleash all the unconstitutional mischief that this ill-considered legislation always portended.

The Top Church-State Un-Story of 2014

Free Thinking (
January 2, 2015

What’s the top church-state un-story of 2014? I’d have to nominate the close cooperation between the United States and the Holy See in the diplomatic negotiations that led to the change of U. S. policy toward Cuba. The pope is the head of a church; he is a head of state only by dint of a huge and archaic legal fiction. For the White House to work that closely with a single church on a geopolitical issue violates the separation of church and state in the most literal way imaginable, and I’m amazed that none of the usual church-state watchdogs raised an objection to it.

Which Should Kirk Cameron Fear More?

Free Thinking (
December 24, 2014

In a post from yesterday, my esteemed colleague David Koepsell, one of my predecessors as executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, suggests that he is doing more than I am to give Kirk Cameron nightmares. David good-naturedly suggests that by keeping a more-or-less traditional Christmas with zero religious or supernatural content, he and his thoroughly secular family are doing more to undermine Christianity’s role in the culture than I am when I urge atheists, humanists, and freethinkers to spurn the Christians’ birthday festival altogether. I respectfully disagree. Equally respectfully, I hope, I would warn David that his chosen path carries a very real risk of being co-opted, and of inadvertently helping Christianity to achieve the best future it can hope for in a world that’s secularizing out from under it.

The Subtle Bunkum of Faith

Free Thinking (
December 23, 2014

In today’s New York TimesDavid Brooks offers his obligatory annual column of holiday woo. In “The Subtle Sensations of Faith” he plumps for faith as a near-universal human experience. He depicts it as the response to genuine “glimmering experiences … of wonder and mystery,” “magical moments of wonder and clearest consciousness, which suggested a dimension of existence beyond the everyday.” Clearly, Brooks accepts without question that these are experiences of something genuine – that is to say, that there factually is “a dimension of existence beyond the everyday.” Sorry, Mr. Brooks, I don’t buy it.

The Article that Started It All

Free Thinking (
December 17, 2014
The Article that Started It All

In my Dec/Jan Free Inquiry op-ed “Thirty Years Yule-Free” I mentioned my 1992 Secular Humanist Bulletin article, “Confessions of an Anti-Claus,” the inadvertent beginning of my personal war on Christmas. Apparently there are some readers out there who haven’t saved their Bulletins from 1992, who want to see that article—but it’s not archived anywhere online. Okay, if you’re terminally curious, here is a PDF scan of the article that started it all.


Legacy Atheist Bans in State Constitutions a Long Recognized Problem

Free Thinking (
December 8, 2014

Todd Stiefel and the Openly Secular project have announced a bold plan to lobby legislators to repeal unconstitutional “legacy” language in seven states’ constitutions that bars atheists from holding public office. It bespeaks the growing prominence of unbelievers and “nones” in public discourse that someone now imagines that these unenforceable, but repellent, constitutional provisions might finally be swept away. The unbelieving community has long recognized that these hateful provisions exist, and that they are problematic. What is new, and welcome, is the possibility that our community finally has the muscle to demand that something be done about them.

Secular Humanism: Not a Religion

Free Thinking (
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 (
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 (
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 (
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 (
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 (
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 (
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 (
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 (
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 (
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 (
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 (
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:

Five Percent of Americans Celebrate No December Holiday

Free Thinking (
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 (
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 (
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 (
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 (
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 (
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 (
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.

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