Saturday, June 23, 2007

Summer Solstice at Camp Grayling

Yesterday was Litha, Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year.

(How can any day be longer than any other? They all have 24 hours, right? Summer Solstice is the day with the most hours of sunlight in the northern hemisphere, because of the tilt of the Earth on its axis.)

Here at Camp Grayling, it was a beautiful, breezy, sun-drenched day. I could only get on the internet by sitting out front of my building (wireless access has its limitations), and I delighted in spending lots of time with the sun, the moon, the oak and maple trees near the door, and the wind dancing through them. Just down the hill is Lake Margrethe, sparkling in the sun.

And it was, in fact, a day with loooong sunshine: nearly 15 1/2 hours of light. According to the US Naval Observatory, the data for Grayling, MI for yesterday are:

Begin civil twilight       5:16 a.m.                
Sunrise 5:53 a.m.
Sun transit 1:41 p.m.
Sunset 9:28 p.m.
End civil twilight 10:05 p.m.

I walked a case over to admin at 10:30 pm last night, and the sky was still not completely dark. It was a lovely, luminous blue, with the moon, nearly half-full, sailing high.

Friday, June 22, 2007

When doctors' beliefs hinder patient care

I am glad to see this in a fairly mainstream news source. I've faced this kind of discrimination regularly throughout my life. I've also watched clients and friends face this. You'd think we'd've advanced further by now. Often, it's not nearly this blatant -- this kind of discrimination, like many others, can be pretty insidious. And, as with some of the women profiled here, can leave you wondering if you're the crazy one.

I've also worked with some really wonderful doctors who treated me me as a whole person and a partner in my care, rather than dictated to me from their assumptions. I celebrate them (and regularly refer others to them).

The last time I had a doctor who treated me this way, I fired him: I called his office and cancelled my remaining appointments. I'm a very educated health care consumer, and even so, firing someone who was treating me badly -- and whose inability to see past his own assumptions was putting me in danger -- was intimidating.

Doctors' beliefs can hinder patient care

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Toxics at Summer Gathering

FGC Summer Gathering has been working hard for several years to make Gathering accessible to people who are particularly sensitive to environmental toxins. One way to do this is for everyone who attends to pay attention to the personal care products we use at Gathering. But how do you know what works? Below are some suggestions. - sm

(Lighting the way to Less Toxic Living)
Liberty Goodwin, Director
P.O. Box 40441, Providence, RI 02940
Tel. 401-351-9193, E-Mail:


(Provided by a group of chemically sensitive Quakers in preparation for a conference with a fragrance-free policy for attenders. Updated & expanded, June, 2007)

· Almay fragrance-free roll-on
or clear gel
· Crystal Stick
· Deodorant Stone
· Herbal Magic unscented
· Kiss My Face fragrance-free
· Tom’s of Maine unscented

· Clearly Natural unscented
· Dr. Bronner’s Baby Mild
(also usable as shampoo)
· Kiss My Face Pure Olive Oil Soap, fragrance-free
· Neutrogena unscented
· Tom’s of Maine Unscented

Laundry Detergent:
· Arm & Hammer FabriCare FREE
· Bio-Pac
· Natural Value
· Ecos Free & Clear
· Enviro-Rite
· Seventh Generation Free & Clear
· Shaklee Fresh Laundry Powder & HE Compatible Liquid

Shaving Cream:
· Kiss My Face Moisture Shave fragrance-free
· Ray Ban hypoallergenic
· Edge Advanced Gel
Ultra Sensitive Formula - Fragrance-Free

Shampoo and Conditioner:
· Earth Science, fragrance-free
· California Baby Super Sensitive Shampoo & Bodywash
· Free & Clear
· The Heritage Store Original Olive Oil Unscented
· Neutrogena unscented
· Tom’s of Maine Natural Moisturizing unscented

Hair Gel:
· Alba Ultimate Strong Hold
· Magick Botanicals

Hair Spray:
· Aloe Vera 80 Styling Spray (alcohol & fragrance-free)
· Magick Botanicals

· Alba Botanicals Original unscented
· Aubrey Organics Ultimate Moist unscented
· Kiss My Face fragrance-free Olive & Aloe
· Nature’s Gate fragrance-free Moisturizing Lotion
· Nature’s Gate Colloidal Oatmeal Lotion For Itchy Dry Sensitive Skin

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Peace Testimony and Armed Forces Emergency Services

In the midst of much preparation for Gathering, I received a phone call from the local Red Cross, where I used to work and where I still volunteer. Could I go to Camp Grayling and fill in for 96 hours for a Red Cross AFES caseworker who's having unexpected surgery?

What's AFES, you ask? The American Red Cross has three primary lines of service: Blood and Biomedical, Health and Safety, and Emergency Services. I volunteer in the Emergency Services department, where I work both in Disaster Services and Armed Forces Emergency Services (AFES). (The American Red Cross thinks it has the corner on alphabet soup, but I still think Quakerism's got that one...)

AFES (pronounded "AY-feez") casework for me usually involves being on call after-hours once a month, nights and weekends, for anywhere from two to four days. I like to joke that it's the only Red Cross job you can do in your pajamas with no one the wiser, because when I get a call in the middle of the night, I really do roll out of bed to the phone and computer, and then, when all's done, roll (sometimes stagger) back into bed. I mostly work with families of active-duty service members, and help them get emergency messages to their service member: an illness or accident, death, other emergency situation, even the occasional birth. The Red Cross does independent verifications with medical personnel, which helps give command the information they need to decide to grant leave if it's been requested.

When the schedule first went around for us to staff Camp Grayling, my supervisor really wanted me to go. It didn't work out schedule-wise -- someone else had already signed up for the only time I could go -- and that was okay with me: I knew doing AFES casework on a military base would stretch me, and I wasn't sure I wanted to be stretched.

So, you are wondering, what's a nice pacifist like me doing working military cases, and now planning to spend four nights on a military installation?

It's about the peace testimony.

I don't have good words to explain how, for me, being part of providing this service is part of walking the peace testimony in the world. But I will try. :)

Let me start, I guess, with the Fundamental Principles of the International Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement: humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity, and universality.

I know, it sounds like a bunch of words. But each Principle provides very real guidance for behavior. Each one helps me put my beliefs and convictions into action as part of a larger organization, side-by-side with people who, in ordinary life, might not give me the time of day, people who wouldn't otherwise think they have a lot in common with me, and vice versa. To me, Friends, this is a blessing and a privilege.

(And, I admit, kind of fun sometimes -- I get a kick out of it when I connect with, and do what someone else would call God's work with, someone I know believes I am evil and going to hell, and they go home and have to think about it. Connecting on a real level with people is the key to changing the world. And I find it vastly entertaining when a real life lesbian Quaker Witch compares to the one in people's heads, and makes their brains itch.)

Humanity is one key, and one link for me to the peace testimony. With each AFES case I work, I have several opportunities to recognize and honor the humanity in another human being, and to honor That-Which-Is-Sacred, in each person I speak to -- the spouse or parent or sibling or cousin or friend who's initiating the case; the medical administrator, nurse, doctor, police officer, funeral director, or hospice nurse with whom I verify the case; the AFES Center worker who takes the case or gives one to me.

Another key is found in the Principles, and in Red Cross history. The first-ever Nobel Prizes were awarded in 1901. Henri Dunant, the founder of the International Red Cross, was co-awarded the first Nobel Peace Prize. Both the international and American organizations were founded in the midst of war, out of a desire to help the wounded on the battlefield, with no consideration for which side of a conflict anyone was one. Humanity. Neutrality. Impartiality. Independence.

A local Friend asked me a few months ago if I felt conflicted when I do AFES casework because I'm making the lives of soldiers easier. That thought hadn't occurred to me.

And I realized, I haven't talked to one family or one soldier whose life is easy.

Other thoughts had occurred to me, though: when I first started doing AFES casework in 2005, I wondered if I'd feel weird talking to military families or service members when I don't personally support this war.

The service I offer as an AFES caseworker is one where I work with people in a time of great stress, and touch them as embodiments of That-Which-Is-Sacred. As real people. Many of the families and professionals I work with are struggling to make a difference in the world; many of the families and professionals I work with are struggling simply to get through each day. For the families, having a loved one in the service right now is not easy. There's not one family I've worked with that hasn't been under enormous added stress because they have someone on active duty right now. When someone they love is ill or dying or giving birth or being born, it doesn't matter whether or not they support the war: they are the same people as you and me.

I guess that's really the key, what it really comes down to. Working AFES has helped me see that the military is not a monolith or even a monoculture. It has helped me recognize military members and families as people just like me. Families who are suffering because of this war. Some of them believe in it, some of them don't. It actually doesn't matter: they are all suffering for it, in ways those of us back home who don't have a direct connection can't understand.

"[The Red Cross] endeavours... to relieve the suffering of individuals, being guided solely by their needs, and to give priority to the most urgent cases of distress."


The peace testimony.

Each of us is sacred.

Sunday, June 17, 2007


In 2002, I spent two weeks in Israel and Palestine on peace witness delegations through two different NGOs. A lot of what's happening right now has me very sad. I expect to post a couple of different things that have come my way recently; for now, check out Christian Peacemaker Teams' CPT in Palestine website. CPT's main website is here.

MI Supreme Court and Domestic Partner Benefits

Between The Lines Newspaper
From issue number 1522
Return to PrideSource

Originally printed 5/31/06

Capitol Correspondent

LANSING - Just days after more than 100 citizens marched on the Hall of Justice demanding the Michigan Supreme Court hear the case on domestic partner benefits, the Michigan Supreme Court announced today that it would hear arguments.

"We are very happy that the Michigan Supreme Court is going to give us another chance to argue this case," said Triangle Foundation's Director of Policy Sean Kosofsky. "The appeals court decision was a miscarriage of justice and poorly written and poorly decided."

The high court agreed to hear arguments, but did not issue a stay in the immediate effect clause of the original Appeals Court decision. The refusal to stay the Appeals Court decision was a 5-2 vote, while the agreement to hear the case was unanimous at 7-0 vote.

"The Michigan Court of Appeals upheld lies and deceit of the proponents of Proposal 2," says Doug Meeks, President of Michigan Equality and an attorney in Lansing. "Basically the Court of Appeals said there are no relationships between same-sex couples. That's fundamentally unconstitutional in my opinion."

Dr. Thomas Rasmusson, a professor of Constitution Law at Cooley Law School and a Lansing Community College Board of Trustees member, said the ruling failed to look at several vital issues.

"Article 1 section 10 of the U.S. Constitution says no state shall impair the obligation of contract and it clearly does that," he said of the amendment and the ruling. He added however, that looking at a limited state scope, as the Court of Appeals did, he can see how they arrived at their conclusions. "It is not the decision I would have reached."

Rasmusson introduced a resolution with the Lansing Community College Board of Trustees directing legal counsel to research the potential of filing a federal court action to retain the college's domestic partner program and affirmative action programs. The proposal passed unanimously through the board, which is waiting for its law firm to return an opinion to it.

According to Rasmusson, universities and educational institutions have traditionally been treated differently under state law, specifically regarding their independence.

"There is another issue they kind of treat. The amendment to the state constitution has to be read within the context of the contract that make universities autonomous from state regulation," he said. "Universities are there to seek the truth and have an historic role to be an academic asylum. When you read those together, the amendment should not be read (in order) to touch colleges and universities."

Jay Kaplan of the ACLU of Michigan says he will ask the high court to send it back to the trial court, which ruled domestic partner benefits did not violate the state constitutional amendment and to do fact finding on voter intent.

"We are going to ask that the Supreme Court remand the case to the lower court to find the voter intent," he said. "Because you have two separate interpretations, there seems to be some ambiguity."

No date for arguments has been set.

Same-gender marriage in MA

(c) The New York Times

June 15, 2007

Massachusetts Gay Marriage to Remain Legal

BOSTON, June 14 — Same-sex marriage will continue to be legal in Massachusetts, after proponents in both houses won a pitched months-long battle on Thursday to defeat a proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

“In Massachusetts today, the freedom to marry is secure,” Gov. Deval Patrick said after the legislature voted 151 to 45 against the amendment, which needed 50 favorable votes to come before voters in a referendum in November 2008.

The vote means that opponents would have to start from Square 1 to sponsor a new amendment, which could not get on the ballot before 2012. Massachusetts is the only state where same-sex marriage is legal, although five states allow civil unions or the equivalent.

Thursday’s victory for same-sex marriage was not a foregone conclusion, especially after the amendment won first-round approval from the previous legislature in January, with 62 lawmakers supporting it.

As late as a couple of hours before the 1 p.m. vote on Thursday, advocates on both sides of the issue said they were not sure of the outcome. The eleventh-hour decisions of several legislators to vote against the amendment followed intensive lobbying by the leaders of the House and Senate and Governor Patrick, who, like most members of the legislature, is a Democrat.

“I think I am going to be doing a certain number of fund-raisers for districts, and I am happy to do that,” said Mr. Patrick, who said he had tried to persuade lawmakers not only that same-sex marriage should be allowed but also that a 2008 referendum would be divisive and distract from other important state issues.

About 8,500 same-sex couples have married in Massachusetts since the unions became legal in May 2004. In December 2005, opponents, led by the Massachusetts Family Institute, gathered a record 170,000 signatures for an amendment banning same-sex marriage, a measure that was supported by Mr. Patrick’s predecessor, Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican who is now running for president.

Kris Mineau, president of the institute, did not indicate on Thursday whether opponents would start a new petition drive, but said, “We’re not going away.”

“We want to find out why votes switched and see what avenues are available to challenge those votes, perhaps in court,” Mr. Mineau said.

The vote reflected changes in the legislature, the election of Mr. Patrick, and lobbying by national and local gay rights groups.

“This was the focus of our national community,” said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “Frankly, a loss today would have been very demoralizing.”

It is difficult to know how support for same-sex marriage has changed since legalization because polls taken before and after have asked different questions. The most recent Massachusetts poll, in April 2007, found that 56 percent of those surveyed would oppose the amendment.

One legislator who switched his vote was Representative Paul Kujawski, Democrat of Uxbridge, saying meetings with gay and lesbian constituents convinced him that “I couldn’t take away the happiness those people have been able to enjoy.”

Mr. Kujawski, who said he grew up in a conservative Roman Catholic neighborhood and had not understood gay relationships, said, “So many people said, ‘I didn’t ask to be gay; I was born this way.’ ”

He added, “Our job is to help people who need help, and I feel the gay side of the issue needed more help than the other side.”

Senator Gale D. Candaras, a Democrat, voted against the amendment Thursday, although she had supported it as a state representative in January. Ms. Candaras said her vote reflected constituent views in her larger, more progressive Senate district and her fear of a vicious referendum campaign.

Most moving, she said, were older constituents who had changed their views after meeting gay men and lesbians. One woman had “asked me to put it on the ballot for a vote, but since then a lovely couple moved in,” Ms. Candaras said. “She said, ‘They help me with my lawn, and if there can’t be marriage in Massachusetts, they’ll leave and they can’t help me with my lawn.”

Unlike several previous constitutional conventions on same-sex marriage with impassioned soliloquies, Thursday’s session took barely 10 minutes. Afterward, supporters of same-sex marriage, many in tears, erupted in standing ovations.

Katie Zezima contributed reporting.

Second-parent adoption in MI

Bill sparks culture war
Proposal would allow second adult in nontraditional family to adopt

Kim Kozlowski / The Detroit News (c) 2007

SOUTHFIELD -- Karen Oosterhous is due to give birth to her first child in July and wants her lesbian partner to adopt him, so he can have a second legal parent.

But Michigan law only allows married couples and single people to adopt children, prompting legislation to allow adoptions by a second adult raising a child in a nontraditional family -- including unmarried couples, the partners of gay couples or two relatives.

The issue has ignited a culture war between religious conservatives and children's advocates. Opponents say gay couples are inappropriate adoptive parents and changing the law would threaten the institution of marriage.

"The state should not be lowering their standards so they can unload kids in homes that are not healthy for them," said Brian Rooney, spokesman for the conservative Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor.

Advocates counter that gay people already can adopt children in Michigan, and they provide loving homes.

"This is not a gay issue at all," said Sean Kosofsky of the Triangle Foundation, a gay advocacy organization. "It is about children's rights."

'I can't tell you the sadness'

The effort, known as second parent adoptions, is aimed at providing more prospective parents to the 4,500 foster children available for adoption in Michigan, advocates say.

They also say changing the law would offer children who are being raised in nontraditional homes options for better health care, backup benefits in the event of the death or disability of the primary caregiver and a second person who can legally handle emergency or everyday decisions.

"As of now, my partner does not have any legal rights to our child," said Oosterhous, 36.
"That covers so many things, even the right to pick him up from day care."

As an attorney who previously did pro-bono work for hospice organizations, bill sponsor Rep. Paul Condino, D-Southfield, had to tell dying mothers that they would have to relinquish their rights to their children in order for their unmarried partners to adopt and raise them.

"I can't tell you the sadness," said Condino, adding it has bipartisan support in the House and support is growing in the Senate.

Many child welfare agencies also support it because they often work with relatives and unmarried partners caring for children.

"We can license live-together partners to foster children," said Robert Ennis, head of the Ennis Center for Children. "They have these kids for three or four years. Then we have to tell them -- 'Only one of you can adopt.' It's ridiculous. How you can you be good enough to be foster parents but only one of you can adopt?"

Best interests of child cited

Second parent adoption laws have been passed in nine states, and a handful of other states are considering similar legislation. Local supporters include the State Bar of Michigan Family Law Section, the Michigan Department of Human Services and Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

"The best interests of children are always paramount," said Liz Boyd, Granholm's spokeswoman.

But last month when legislation was voted out of the House Judiciary subcommittee, religious conservatives began fighting it.

"We think the law should be changed to not allow homosexuals to adopt as individuals," said Gary Glenn, head of the Midland-based American Family Association of Michigan. "It is not in the best interest of the child."

Brad Snavely, executive director of the Michigan Family Forum, added: "It's really not about whether unmarried people love children or can care adequately for children. The legislation would undermine the institution of marriage."

If opponents of the legislation invest the same amount of energy into recruiting adoptive parents or adopting children themselves as they do fighting gays, Michigan's foster care caseload could be dramatically reduced, said Beverly Davidson, head of the Coalition for Adoption Rights Equality, which is working to pass the law.

"We have too many kids in desperate situations to be spewing that kind of nonsense," Davidson said. "It's an abomination they want to spend their money and time to ban kids from getting adopted."

Impact on foster kids

In 2006, 2,589 children were adopted from Michigan's foster care system. Of those, 1,621 went to married couples, 907 to single females and 61 to single males.

An internal analysis by the Michigan Department of Human Services showed second parent adoptions, if approved, likely wouldn't have an impact on the state's foster children available for adoption, spokeswoman Maureen Sorbet said.

Even so, Debraha Watson, a former foster child who aged out of the system, supports the legislation.

The five foster homes Watson lived in were headed by married couples, but she was abused sexually in one and physically in another.

"It's about stability for the child and having a person that can provide them with guidance and direction and love," said Watson, a Westland resident. "You cannot blanketly say only a traditional mother and father can give that."

You can reach Kim Kozlowski at (313) 222-2024 or

Posting about the news

There's a fair amount in the news lately that strikes close to home for different reasons, most of them around issues of social justice. So look for a small spate of news-related posts.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The New Atheists

Why liberal and radical people of faith should, and must, build bridges with secular humanists. - sm

This article can be found on the web at

The New Atheists


[from the June 25, 2007 issue]

What began with publisher W.W. Norton taking a chance on a gutsy, hyperbolic and idiosyncratic attack on religion by a graduate student in neuroscience has grown into a remarkable intellectual wave. No fewer than five books by the New Atheists have appeared on bestseller lists in the past two years--Sam Harris's The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell, Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion and now Christopher Hitchens's God Is Not Great. The scandalized media have both attacked and inflated the phenomenon. After the New York Times Book Review, for example, ran a thoughtful review of Harris and then a negative front-page review of Dawkins, the daily paper published two weak op-ed attacks on the writers and a vapid article on how atheists celebrate Christmas, followed by tongue-in-cheek admiration in the Book Review for Hitchens's ability to promote his career by saying the unexpected.

Despite such dubious blessings, the four have become must-read writers. The most remarkable fact is not their books themselves--blunt, no-holds-barred attacks on religion in different registers--but that they have succeeded in reaching mainstream readers and in becoming bestsellers. Is this because Americans are beginning to get fed up with the religiosity of the past several years? It would be comforting if we could explain this as a cultural signal of the end of the right-wing/evangelical ascendancy. Such speculations are probably wishful thinking--book buyers are such a small slice of the population that few sociologists would stake their careers on claiming that book buyers' preferences reflect anything like a national mood.

The success of the New Atheists may, however, reflect something significant among their audience. In the past generation in the United States, atheists, agnostics and secular humanists have been a timid minority--almost voiceless, often on the defensive, routinely derided, both warned against and ignored. As Susan Jacoby pointed out in her book Freethinkers, it is symptomatic of the situation that the most dramatic presidential address in generations took place in the National Cathedral three days after September 11, 2001, so filled with religious language that it sounded like a sermon. It was delivered by a President flanked by Jewish, Muslim and Christian representatives, a model of religious inclusiveness, without anyone standing alongside them representing the tens of millions of nonreligious Americans. At this most important collective moment in our recent history, it was as if they did not exist. This is what the polls are telling us: Virtually everyone in America believes in God.

We know how zealously the conservative Christian denominations have politicized themselves in the past generation, how the GOP has harnessed this energy by embracing their demands--opposing stem-cell research, gay marriage and abortion rights, championing government aid to religious schools and faith-based social programs--and by appointing sympathetic judges. So effectively have they framed the issues that, according to the Pew Research Center's 2006 report on religion and public life, fully 69 percent of Americans believe that liberals have "gone too far in trying to keep religion out of schools and government."

We commonly hear that only a tiny percentage of Americans don't believe in God and that, as a Newsweek poll claimed this spring, 91 percent do. In fact, this is not true. How many unbelievers are there? The question is difficult to assess accurately because of the challenges of constructing survey questions that do not tap into the prevailing biases about religion. According to the American Religious Identification Survey, which interviewed more than 50,000 people, more than 29 million adults--one in seven Americans--declare themselves to be without religion. The more recent Baylor Religion Survey ("American Piety in the 21st Century") of more than 1,700 people, which bills itself as "the most extensive and sensitive study of religion ever conducted," calls for adjusting this number downward to exclude those who believe in a God but do not belong to a religion. Fair enough. But Baylor's own Gallup survey is a bit shaky for at least two reasons. It counts anyone who believes in a "higher power" but not God as believing in God--casting a vast net over adherents of everything from spirit to history to love. Yet the study allows unbelievers only one option: to not believe in "anything beyond the physical world," leaving no space for those who regard themselves as agnostics or skeptics, secularists or humanists. Contrast this with a more recent and more nuanced Financial Times/Harris poll of Europeans and Americans that allowed respondents to declare agnosticism as well as atheism: 18 percent of the more than 2,000 American respondents chose one or the other, while 73 percent affirmed belief in God or a supreme being.

A more general issue affects American surveys on religious beliefs, namely, the "social desirability effect," in which respondents are reluctant to give an unpopular answer in a society in which being religious is the norm. What happens when questions are framed to overcome this distortion? The FT/H poll tried to counteract it by allowing space not only for the customary "Not sure" but also for "Would prefer not to say"--and 6 percent of Americans chose this as their answer to the question of whether they believed in God or a supreme being. Add to this those who declared themselves as atheists or agnostics and, lo and behold, the possible sum of unbelievers is nearly one in four Americans.

All this helps explain the popularity of the New Atheists--Americans as a whole may not be getting too much religion, but a significant constituency must be getting fed up with being routinely marginalized, ignored and insulted. After all, unbelievers are concentrated at the higher end of the educational scale--a recent Harris American poll shows that 31 percent of those with postgraduate education do not avow belief in God (compared with only 14 percent of those with a high school education or less). The percentage rises among professors and then again among professors at research universities, reaching 93 percent among members of the National Academy of Sciences. Unbelievers are to be found concentrated among those whose professional lives emphasize science or rationality and who also have developed a relatively high level of confidence in their own intellectual faculties. And they are frequently teachers or opinion-makers.

But over the past generation they have come to feel beleaguered and, except for rare individuals like comedian and talk-show host Bill Maher, voiceless in the public arena. The great success of the New Atheists is to have reached them, both speaking to and for them. These writers are devoted, with sledgehammer force and angry urgency, to "breaking the spell" cast by the religious ascendancy, to overcoming a situation in which every other area of life can be critically analyzed while admittedly irrational religious faith is made central to American life but exempted from serious discussion.

This does not make for restraint. Harris displays brash self-confidence, Hitchens and Dawkins angry intellectual bite and Dennett an inexhaustible theoretical energy and range of inquiry. Harris excoriates religious moderates, accusing them of providing cover for fundamentalists at home and abroad by refusing to contest the extremists' premises--because they share them. More upbeat, Dennett is devoted to creating the intellectual conditions for future discussions, in which religion will be treated as just another "natural" phenomenon and accordingly subjected to critical scrutiny. Dawkins bulldozes his way through every major argument for religious belief, and a great many minor ones. And Hitchens endlessly catalogues religion's crimes and absurdities. Each man is at war, writing as if no others had preceded him, and with a passion that can only be described as political.

Above all, each sees himself as breaking a taboo. This explains not only the vigor and urgency of these books, their mainstream character and their publishing success but also the common refrain in reviews that they have "gone too far." Of course they have, because their many faults are often inseparable from their strengths. Self-indulgence is their common flaw: Dennett and Dawkins might have considered their readers more and disciplined their own need to follow out every line of thought, while Harris is so full of his point of view that he, like Hitchens, is unable to consider faith as anything but stupid. They show little understanding of religion or interest in it [see Daniel Lazare, "Among the Disbelievers," May 28]. Still, I am surprised by the hostility and bemusement expressed toward them by their fellow travelers in The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker and The London Review of Books. In attacking religion the four have been breaking the taboo against talking about it seriously, and they may be forgiven for not being calmer, more expert or more measured. Doing battle with what they see as the most pervasive and bothersome phenomenon in American life during the past generation, Harris, Dennett, Dawkins and Hitchens deserve praise for their courage and tenacity in shattering its spell.

Where does the work of the New Atheists leave us? I hope they have roused a significant portion of America from its timidity. But to what end? Living without God means turning toward something. To flourish we need coherent secular popular philosophies that effectively answer life's vital questions. Enlightenment optimism once supplied unbelievers with hope for a better world, whether this was based on Marxism, science, education or democracy. After Progress, after Marxism, is it any wonder atheism fell on hard times? Restoring secular confidence will take much positive work as well as the fierce attacks on religion by our atheist champions. On a societal level, as Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris point out in Sacred and Secular, living without God requires creating conditions in which people are free from the kinds of existential vulnerability that have marked all human societies until the advent of Europe's postindustrial welfare states. Markedly more religious than any of them, the United States provides a life that is far more unequal and far more insecure.

The surprising response to the New Atheist offensive should thus inspire us to think politically as well as philosophically. As a first step this demands creating a coalition between unbelievers and their natural allies, secular-minded believers. I am speaking first about many millions of Americans who nominally belong to a religion but effectively live without any active relationship either to it or to God, or belong to a church and attend services but are "tacit atheists," living day in and day out with only token reference to God. And I also include the many believers who accept the principle of America as a secular society. These include members of the liberal Jewish and Christian denominations, who have long practice in accommodating themselves to science and the modern world and who, as the National Council of Churches website tells us, may remain inspired by Genesis while not needing to take it in "literal, factual terms." Many of these turned up in the most significant finding of the Baylor survey, namely that more than one in four American "believers" does not mean by this a personal God at all but a distant God who has little or nothing to do with the world or themselves. This sounds very much like the deist God of "unbelievers" Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine.

These believers, along with those who think of themselves as "spiritual," as well as professed unbelievers, help to explain why according to the Pew study so many Americans--32 percent--want less religious influence on government. Twenty-four percent say that President Bush talks too much about his religious faith and prayer, and 28 percent deny that the United States is a Christian nation. Most dramatically, a whopping 49 percent believe that Christian conservatives have gone too far "in trying to impose their religious values on the country." This, then, is an unreported secret of American life: Considerable numbers of Americans, religious and secular, are becoming fed up with the in-your-face religion that has come to mark our society.

Until now the most vocal left-of-center response to the Christian right, for example by Sojourners, has been to call for more religion in politics, not less. In early June the group organized a nationally televised forum at which John Edwards, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton testified to their faith, talking about the "hand of God" (Edwards), forgiveness (Obama) and prayer (Clinton). Few loud-and-clear voices have been agitating in the mainstream on behalf of the separation of church and state, for secular and public education, or demanding less rather than more political discussion of religion. Yet tens of millions of Americans worry about such things.

Whether most of them continue to believe in God matters much less than that they are comfortable with secular knowledge and America's secular Constitution. Barry Lynn, for example, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, is a Protestant minister. Although Harris and Dawkins castigate all believers for sharing the premises of conservative Christians, the fact is that many believers could easily be working with out-and-out atheists and agnostics on key issues.

Such a coalition should take the offensive on behalf of American constitutional promises of a secular society, increasingly under threat from Bush's Supreme Court appointments. It will gain support in unexpected places: Judge John Jones III, a Bush appointee, delivered a devastating blow to the forces behind "intelligent design" in his December 2005 decision in the Dover School Board case. The first half of his impressive decision contains a crystal-clear reflection on what science is and why intelligent design, a refurbished form of creationism, is religion, not science. The second half reads like a whodunit, revealing how a minority on the school board conspired to impose intelligent design on the district. It should be a rallying point for the nearly half of all Americans who are disturbed by right-wing religious attempts to impose their faith on the rest of us. An immediate goal should be a call for the publication and widest possible distribution of the Dover decision. It could become another bestseller--by a conservative judge no less!--and a text for civics, current events, history, law and basic science classes.

A second goal of such a coalition might be a campaign to reorient American thinking about atheists and atheism. In recent polls, far more respondents have declared themselves willing to vote for a woman or African-American for President than for an atheist--atheists are more unpopular than gays. Television news viewers are encouraged to nod in agreement with such ageless gibes as "There are no atheists in foxholes" without seeing just how nasty they are. This obnoxious remark, by Katie Couric on NBC's Today show, drew a few complaints and letters, but no wider protests or apology. A coalition determined to widen the range of socially acceptable belief could make a significant difference on such issues.

A broad secular coalition could also demand more nuanced discussion of the range of belief and unbelief in America today. Rather than consciously or unconsciously promoting religious belief, public opinion research should try to register a full range of beliefs, including the interesting and perplexing ways in which people live secular as well as religious lives and their sometimes contradictory combinations. These are rejected by Harris, Dawkins, Dennett and Hitchens, and ignored by the media and mainstream politicians.

Finally, such an alliance could become one place where Dennett's goal of discussing religion openly and critically--as well as atheism and agnosticism--could begin to be realized. A number of questions might be explored: What, for example, is the common ground and what are the differences between believers and unbelievers? And--I save for last the touchiest question of all--shouldn't all Americans be instructed in the great religious and secular traditions, as well as their greatest books? After all, achieving literacy in both religion and secularism might allow us to discuss them more intelligently.

(c) 2007 The Nation

Friday, June 8, 2007

Musings - ?

I am noticing that most of my posts so far have been about gatherings of Friends. Because of timing and scheduling, gatherings are much of what I'm focused on right now (Great Waters, FGC Summer Gathering). But I think this also points to something larger: community is sacred, and building community is sacred work. The opportunities to come together as spiritual community, to share our journeys, to have chewy conversations, to worship and do magic together, and simply to be together -- these are gifts; these are a blessing.

Quaker Lesbian Conference East

From Friends on the East Coast. - sm

QLC 2007

31st Annual
Quaker Lesbian Conference!

Building Bridges across Class, Race, and Age

August 17–19, 2007
Burlington Meeting House Conference Center
Burlington, N.J.

Quaker Lesbian Conference exists to be a loving time and space in which women (self-defined) familiar with Quakerism, who are lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, or moving toward those identities can connect with Spirit and with each other. We envision a community in which each woman shares worship, spiritual exploration, and loving relationships in an environment embracing diversity, individual leadings, struggle, and play.

The center is in the middle of downtown Burlington, N.J., an urban setting. We will have exclusive use of this relatively accessible facility. There are bunk beds and it is necessary for you to bring your own linens. There is ample and interesting space for workshops and an attached meetinghouse in which to hold worship.

For more information or to add your name to the mailing list, send an e-mail to QLConf [at] aol [dot] com.

Quaker Lesbian Conference West

From Friends on the West Coast. - sm

Announcing the 27th Annual Quaker Lesbian Conference, July 20-23 2007 in Ben Lomond, CA

Dear Friends,

"Dreams and Visions" will be the theme of the 27th Annual Quaker Lesbian Conference. It will be held July 20-23, 2007 at Ben Lomond Quaker Center in Ben Lomond, California (approximately 30 minutes from Santa Cruz and an hour and a half from San Francisco).

QLC is a sweet gathering of queer-identifying women. We especially welcome younger women and women of color. At this time we are unable to provide facilities for children.

Dreams, visions and nightmares inform our whole being. How do we embody our dreams? How do we transform our lives in such a way as to create the vision of our most essential selves? What do our nightmares tell us about ourselves? Can they benefit our growth?

Conference events include Quaker meeting for worship for both large and small sharing groups along with your choice of interest groups and workshops held by participants. We also have a Saturday night talent show.

Accommodations include camping and the Orchard Lodge (twin beds with shared bathrooms). Wheelchair accessible accommodations are available.

Well-balanced vegetarian meals will be served Thursday night through Sunday lunch. Substitutes for dairy and wheat will be available.

Please feel free to announce our gathering at your Meeting. We are seeking to expand our geographical range and look forward to meeting women from near and afar. At this time we do not have online registration, but interested women may print and email the attached pdf registration form. If you have questions for us, please contact Deva Luna or Terra Lee at 408-259-0446 or email them at

Julie Murphy
Registrar, QLC 2007

Thursday, June 7, 2007

SpiralSong at Gathering

In terms of my music ministry, two interesting things happened during the Gathering Committee weekend in May. One is that several people asked me to make sure A Winter Solstice Singing Ritual is available in the Bookstore. The other is that I was asked to make some of that music available live at Gathering.

This is a lovely compliment.

When I got home, I contacted the folks I could think of who've sung this material (in performance, in ritual, or in a workshop I've taught) and who would be attending Gathering in River Falls. So far, there are six of us. We'll be singing some (not all) of the material from Winter Solstice, plus a few other songs that are well-loved by us, at the Limeade Cabaret. Four of the six of us have sung with SpiralSong Feminist Spirituality Vocal Ensemble, so it looks like we'll sing under that name.

I'm excited and happy, and very much looking forward to singing with dear F/friends.

(p.s. If you're familiar with the music from AWSSR, are going to be at Gathering, and are interested in being part of our small group, please let me know.)

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Great Waters Pagan Friends Gathering

Great Waters Pagan Friends Gathering took place last weekend, from Friday evening through Monday afternoon. Several Friends are working on an epistle, which I will happily post once it is approved.

For me, the Gathering was intense, challenging, good, and satisfying. Monday was particularly good for me: we had a really good Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business, which made me quite happy.

It was good to spend time in community. And it was good to meet new Friends, not to mention spend time with those I've known longer.

I am looking forward to Friends General Conference Summer Gathering. I am looking forward to community, and to doing work that fulfills leadings -- facilitating the workshop, and co-coordinating the Healing Center -- and I'm looking forward to having fun. :)