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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).

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

Free Thinking (
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 (
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 (
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.”

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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 (
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 (
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 (
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 (
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 (
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 (
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 (
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.

What’s Wrong with HumanLight / the Winter Solstice?

Free Thinking (
December 13, 2012
Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, has posted a blog endorsing HumanLight, a Winter Solstice observance invented a bit more than a decade ago by a local humanist group in New Jersey then led by the late Joe Fox. Perhaps that's an appropriate action for Roy, whose organization has a history of being friendlier toward religious humanists than the Council for Secular Humanism. But I couldn't resist leaving a secular humanist rejoinder as a comment to Roy's post. Here it is, below:

Flynn December Talks Target the South

Free Thinking (
December 3, 2012
Look out, Dixie, Council for Secular Humanism executive director Tom Flynn (i. e., yours truly) will do a lecture tour across the South just in time for some people's favorite holiday, December 7 - 10. I'll be speaking on church-state separation in Chattanooga and Tuscaloosa, and delivering my barn-burning illustrated talk "The Trouble with Christmas" in Knoxville and Atlanta.

Two Cheers for Rhode Island!

Free Thinking (
November 28, 2012
Two cheers for Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chaffee, who has stood tall against religious-Right posturing to insist that the 17-1/2 foot conifer in the state capitol will again be called the Holiday Tree, not the Christmas Tree. He stated that the more inclusive language was appropriate because the state house "is a public building...paid for by people with different religions." So far, so good ... but is even Governor Chaffee being inclusive enough?

Santa Monica Gets It Right: Public Parks No Place for Xmas Displays

Free Thinking (
November 20, 2012
One year after an atheist group smartly gamed a cumbersome lottery, seizing a majority of the exhibit slots under a clumsy system for ensuring diversity in "holiday" displays at a public park, Santa Monica, California, got the message. (Or rather, a wise Federal judge had to get it for them.) The message is that holiday displays with religious overtones have no business in the public square, whether they're Christian, Jewish, Wiccan, Muslim, or whatever. Even atheist or humanist displays that comment on the bankruptcy of all religions can be blocked, it seems to me, if the benefit is that ALL religious displays, especially those representative of majority faith positions, are blocked also. There is more than enough property belonging to religious institutions and private owners where creches, trees, Santas, menorahs, and the like can be displayed at the upcoming time of year. Public spaces should be for everyone -- and "everyone" includes people who are celebrating any number of holidays at this time of year, as well as others with no celebration whatever in their plans.

Florida’s Amendment 8 Soundly Defeated

Free Thinking (
November 7, 2012
Florida's Amendment 8 ballot initiative, which would have eliminated the state constitution's provision prohibiting state funding of religious or sectarian organizations, was soundly defeated at the polls. Only 44 percent of voters approved the initiative, which required a 60 percent vote for passage -- this despite enthusiastic and open-handed support by the Roman Catholic Church. Opponents of the measure included the Florida Education Association, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and a spectrum of both secular and pro-education organizations. If Amendment 8 passed, it would likely have rendered moot Council for Secular Humanism v. McNeil, our lawsuit (ongoing since 2007) challenging state contracts with explicitly sectarian religious charities.

Paul Kurtz - a Personal Reflection

Free Thinking (
October 22, 2012
Our movement has lost a titan. Paul Kurtz died at his home in Amherst, New York, on October 20, 2012. Among his legacies are a vast treasury of books and articles, an independent publishing house that has continued to thrive in an environment deeply corrosive of such institutions, and of course the Center for Inquiry, the world's foremost humanist and skeptical organization.

Atheist Giving More Compassion-Driven than Giving By the Religious

Free Thinking (
September 27, 2012
Don't know how I missed this before, but a study appearing in the July 2012 issue of Social Psychological and Personality Science finds that atheists are more motivated by compassion than givers with strong religious beliefs. This was not a study of whether atheists give more or less than churchgoers -- that's a whole other controversy -- but rather a study of why religious and nonreligious givers give.

Parsing the “God” Blunder

Free Thinking (
September 5, 2012
The blunder I have in mind isn't leaving God out of the 2012 Democratic platform. It's putting it back.

Atheist Will Give Tulsa Council “Prayer”

Free Thinking (
August 29, 2012
The good news: the Tulsa, Oklahoma, city council will have its opening invocation given by an atheist in place of the usual prayer by some community cleric. The bad news?

What Is Religious Humanism—Really?

Free Thinking (
August 23, 2012

There's been a flurry of interest in the idea of "Atheism-Plus" or "A+" -- atheism that incorporates a strong values component. Essentially it's secular humanism by another name, except that some advocates broaden it to include a specific, usually left-progressive, ideological agenda that secular humanism welcomes but does not demand. As such ideas often do, the A+ debate has spawned a spin-off debate over the meaning of other terms, including that perennial puzzler "What is Humanism?" At his "Temple of the Future" blog, James Croft of Harvard's humanist chaplaincy offers a definition of humanism that in many ways is quite good ( This post is sure to be widely quoted, so I think it's important to note the one thing Croft got, in my view, spectacularly wrong.

Missouri Votes to Reap the Whirlwind

Free Thinking (
August 9, 2012
Missouri voters this week approved a benighted and mischievous “right to pray” amendment to the state’s Constitution. Amendment Two passed by 779,628 votes to 162,404, a thundering 5-to-1 margin!

Praying for Rain? Really, Secretary Vilsack?

Free Thinking (
July 19, 2012
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told reporters at the White House that he is praying for rain to end the drought parching 61 percent of the United States. But it sends the wrong message to distraught farmers when the Agriculture Secretary suggests that the best response is to pray.

For the First Time, Most Would Vote for an Atheist President

Free Thinking (
July 18, 2012
For the First Time, Most Would Vote for an Atheist President
Yes, hell HAS frozen over. Gallup reports that for the first time since 1958, a majority of American respondents said they would vote for a generally well-qualified atheist for president of the United States.

Charitable Giving to Religion Declines in 2011

Free Thinking (
July 13, 2012
After years of growth in the number of Americans who don’t attend church or don’t declare a religion, it had to happen. U. S. giving to churches and religious organizations actually declined in 2011. What’s more, it has declined in three of the last four years.

In this game of Info Survivor, print wins

Free Thinking (
June 18, 2012
One of the joys of blogging is sometimes you just get to rant. Here's one case, at least, where a very good book has lost a bit of its value because its publisher was too quick to jump on the online bandwagon.

Population, Consumption Threaten Earth’s Future—Who’s Surprised?

Free Thinking (
June 15, 2012
If a consortium of 105 national science academies and a report by 22 scientists in the June 7 Nature are to be believed, overpopulation and unsustainable consumption may already have set humanity on course for a catastrophic future. If only we'd listened to the "popullution" alarmists back in the 1970s, when human numbers were far lower and remedial action might have been easier.

L. Frank Baum, Freethought Firebrand?

Free Thinking (
May 16, 2012
L. Frank Baum, Freethought Firebrand?

Tomorrow (May 17) is the 112th anniversary of the publication of that subversive freethought children's book, THE WIZARD OF OZ. You didn't know it was a freethought book? Have I got a tale for you ...

What We’ve Gained—and What We’ve Lost

Free Thinking (
May 10, 2012
If anyone didn't already know that the legalization of same-sex marriage is inevitable, President Obama's dramatic announcement that he supports it should settle the matter. That makes this a good time to appreciate what those of us who favor the expansion of rights as a general principle have gained -- and what we've lost.

Mojave Cross Case Shows Nonbelievers Are Still Second Class Citizens

Free Thinking (
April 25, 2012

The Mojave cross case has ended, and it's official: nonreligious Americans are still second class citizens!

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