Harvard Humanists announce Boston's First Atheist Community Center

Boston's First Atheist Community Center by Sarah Chandonnet - GoFundMe

Here's their funding Press Release.  More info at

"We believe in reason, compassion, creativity, justice, integrity, awareness, environmentalism, feminism, equality, science, progress, and pluralism."

The Humanist Community at Harvard is an organization with a mission: to build a strong community of atheists, agnostics, Humanists, and the nonreligious at Harvard University and beyond, and to do so by addressing the philosophical and pastoral needs and values of those who come to our events and those who share our resources worldwide.

After many years, we're finally ready to move into a space that will help us bring people together better than we ever have before. It's a 2,700 square foot office in Harvard Square that has the potential to be used for lectures, Sunday meetings, counseling, classrooms, interfaith service projects, events hosted by our partners at Boston area atheist/humanist groups, and more. 

We've already raised more than $250,000 for rent, but now we need funding for construction and furnishing in order to build and create an atheist gathering place that focuses on what matters most to you.


IPS – Q&A: The Security of a Nation Is Its Women - Interview with Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda

IPS – Q&A: The Security of a Nation Is Its Women | Inter Press Service

Interview with Nvyaradzayi Gumbonzavanda, one of the candidates for the new Executive Director at UN Women, to replace Michelle Bachelet.  You can read the whole article at the link above.


GENEVA, May 7 2013 (IPS) - Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, a human rights lawyer and the general secretary of the global rights network World YWCA, knows what it is like to struggle against poverty and violence: she herself comes from a poor family in Magaya village in Murewa district, which lies northeast of Zimbabwe’s capital Harare.
But Gumbonzvanda has travelled a long way from her home. And she has spent much of her life trying to change the lives of women who were not as fortunate as she was.
And now she is a candidate for the executive director position at United Nations Women – a post formerly held by Chile’s ex-president Michelle Bachelet, who resigned in March.
In an interview with IPS at her offices in Geneva, Switzerland, Gumbonzvanda said that economic growth and development have to address “opportunities for creating wealth at household level, but also structural issues such as the violence and inequality that women continue to experience almost on a daily basis.”
She applauded development on the African continent, while stressing that further economic and social empowerment was needed to change the lives of women.
“I see women going forward in various areas and sectors in all African countries, who are able to shape a new narrative. We need economic and social empowerment – it is not enough to have political empowerment,” she said.
Excerpts of the interview follow:
Q: Let us start with the growing rates of rape and domestic violence against women. How grave is this problem and is it universal?
A:  I think this is one of the biggest issues facing women and girls in the world today. I see the violence against women as a manifestation of inequalities, disempowerment and exclusion…
Social disempowerment, the fact that women are seen as second-class citizens who do not often have a voice or rights about their own bodies; the painful realities of poverty and violence against women; and child trafficking for sexual exploitative work are all burning issues that need to be addressed.
What is important is that we work on preventing violence against women, including domestic violence, violence in conflict (situations) and sexual abuse. The prevention part is critical, (and it should be) followed by robust policies in different social sectors within countries and at the international level.
Q: Over the last 30 years there have been tremendous changes in the global economy and culture – largely due to the internet and globalisation. What impact has this had on women?
A:  I think there are a couple of things that happened in the last 30 years. I was in Beijing (in 1995) for the (World) Conference on Women and I would argue that there has been real international work on the international norms to do with women and human rights that is progressively good.
We now have conventions and treaties at an international level, and even at regional level, like the Maputo Plan of Action for Women (on reproductive and sexual health rights).
Even at the normative level, we see quite a lot of work and some good progress. However, whether an economic model can address the structural issues that contribute to violence against women still needs to be resolved.  .....


What is Interfaith Cooperation For? | Religion Dispatches

What is Interfaith Cooperation For? It’s a question of civic space rather than of political ideology. By Eboo Patel. Religion Dispatches [note, this is from a US perspective]

  • Some years back I met the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Nechervan Barzani. One of the first things he did was thank me for the American military intervention that he described as freeing his people from oppression. I informed him that many of my friends viewed the Iraq War as profoundly unjust and protested vociferously against it.
    Barzani was rendered speechless for a moment. When he finally spoke it was to say, through clenched teeth, that the only thing unjust about the war that removed Saddam Hussein was that it didn’t happen sooner.
    I was reminded of that story when I read Lucia Hulsether’s thoughtful critique here on RD of my recent Huffington Post article on the urgency of interfaith cooperation after the Boston bombings. As religious diversity continues to grow both in demographic fact and in salience in our public discourse, and as interfaith efforts expand, it is more important than ever to engage in a thoughtful exchange about the purpose of interfaith programs. I wish to use this space to advance my view of what interfaith cooperation is for. The ideas I present below have been developed in conversation with my colleagues at Interfaith Youth Core, the organization I founded and lead, and it guides the work we do with college campuses and students.
    Let me begin by summarizing one of Hulsether’s main arguments. She maintains that mainstream interfaith projects reach a wider base by avoiding divisive political topics and glossing over issues of “justice” and “structural violence.” This is a problem because, to Hulsether, those are the issues that really matter. Hulsether names civil liberties, material conflicts, and American military campaigns abroad as some examples that fit her list of priorities. She writes, “Appeals to ‘interfaith’ often prioritize projects for recognition of such identities over attention to systemic forms of material and social inequality” and “interfaith programs always provide means to other ends.”
    All in all, it is a well-articulated view of what might be called a progressive social justice understanding of interfaith work. What it comes down to is this: interfaith work is only meaningful when it mobilizes diverse religious/secular narratives and communities in support of progressive politics.
    My conversation with Prime Minister Barzani reminded me of something both profound and obvious: people have different definitions of justice, and those definitions are shaped by their interpretations of religious traditions and their belonging to particular religious and ethnic communities. There are Catholics and Evangelicals who believe the most important justice issue in the world is a pro-life view on abortion, and religious and secular people who believe that a pro-choice position is an equally important justice issue. There are Muslims who believe the most important justice issue in the world is supporting the Palestinian cause, and Jews who believe the most important justice issue in the world is a secure (and for some, an expanded) Israel.
    Complicating matters further, there are people from the same religious community who are on different sides of justice issues—Jews who support the Palestinian cause, pro-choice Catholics, pro-Iraq War Muslims. Moreover, there are religious groups who will agree with you on some progressive positions (many Catholics on immigration and poverty issues) and disagree with you on other progressive positions (the same Catholics on abortion and gay marriage). And religious convictions profoundly shape all of these positions.
    For the record, I was opposed to the war in Iraq. But I would have had a hard time telling Prime Minister Barzani that he endorsed injustice and structural violence because he supported it. From his location as a Muslim Iraqi Kurd—an oppressed group if there ever was one—supporting that war makes perfect sense.
    Based on what I could gather from her piece, my views on most political issues are probably in the same general universe as Hulsether’s. So this is not primarily about a difference in politics. Instead, this is about another very important fact: Hulsether and I share a country and a world with people who have very different views on a whole range of fundamental issues. Frequently, those views are shaped by faith commitments.
    The central problem interfaith work seeks to solve is this: how are all of us, with our deep differences, to share a nation and a world together? I believe that is primarily a question of civic space, not political ideology. Shouldn’t Muslim and Jewish doctors who have different views on the Middle East continue operating on patients together in American hospitals? Shouldn’t conservative Catholic and progressive Protestant pre-school teachers who disagree on abortion continue educating their students together? Shouldn’t anti-Iraq War Sunnis and pro-Iraq War Kurds send their kids to the same Little League baseball camps? Participating in civic activities with people you disagree with on political or theological issues is not, as Hulsether states, “excus(ing) an exceptionalist ideology that deepens ruts in a two-tiered legal system and sanctions US military presence abroad.” It’s being a good citizen of a diverse democracy.
    I do not think the primary task of interfaith work is to circle religiously diverse wagons more tightly around particular political positions, however strongly I might hold some of those positions. There are already well-established groups who mobilize diverse religious communities for various causes. There is a religiously diverse movement for gay marriage, and one against it; a religiously diverse movement for abortion, and one against it; a religiously diverse movement that supports the Palestinian cause, and a religiously diverse movement that supports Israel.
    Of course I would like my political views to win the day at the ballot box, but I am also concerned that different political views (especially those shaped by religious interpretations) can cause deep divisions in American civic life—in our hospitals, preschools, Little Leagues, and so forth. We are seeing signs of this. One of the most important findings in Robert Putnam and David Campbell’s American Grace is that perhaps the most polarized areas in American life are around political positions that are connected to religion. Increasingly, people with progressive definitions of “justice” and conservative definitions of “justice” run in separate social, civic and intellectual circles.
    I do not believe that interfaith cooperation should contribute to widening these divisions. Instead, I think interfaith work is about building positive relationships between people whose diverse religious convictions shape their dramatically different politics. I believe that is both an end in itself, and a means to another useful end—expanding civic space, strengthening social cohesion and increasing social capital. How else do you have a thriving diverse democracy unless people who have deep disagreements on some issues are able to work together on other issues?

    Comment from the RD blog: Atheists are often excluded from any "interfaith" or what I prefer to call it "community building" The problem is since the terminology implies faith we are passed by as people who are not to be included in the bridge building. Even when we look past that, we are still excluded. With all do respect in your article you mentioned "secular" in pointing out a pro-choice stance and left us out when you speak of building relationships. We are a very large part of society and the numbers are growing. Atheists need to be included in this.


Critics Propose Economy with Less Growth and Environmental Damage - SPIEGEL ONLINE

Critics Propose Economy with Less Growth and Environmental Damage - SPIEGEL ONLINE
[and here they come - the new economist/ecologists... let's see if this makes it's way to UofT..]

Harald Welzer's career as a critic of growth began with a few simple reflections. Just how progressive is it, he asked himself, when millions of hectares of land are used elsewhere in the world so that we keep down the cost of meat? How modern is it when producing a kilogram of salmon in a supposedly sustainable way requires feeding the fish five to six kilograms (11 to 13 pounds) of other types of fish?
If everyone used up as much space and resources as we do, says the 54-year-old Berlin-based social psychologist, we would need three earths. In Welzer's eyes, this can hardly be called progress. All of this made Welzer so angry that he wrote a book critical of equating this sort of progress with growth. The ruling class of economists, who he characterizes as "disdainers of reality" and "proponents of a world essentially limited by consumption," is responsible for compulsively tying these two concepts together, he argues. His treatise, "Selbst denken" ("Thinking for Ourselves"), is a manual for phasing out the "totalitarian consumerism" that gives people desires that, until recently, they didn't even suspect they would ever have.
Until a few months ago, Welzer specialized in studying the psyche of Nazi criminals. He has also written about climate wars. His current bestseller, "Selbst denken," has now made him the figurehead of a movement that radically questions the growth model of the Western economy.
Welzer was also recently named a professor in transformation design at the University of Flensburg, in northern Germany. When a local journalist asked him what transformation design is, he replied: "We don't exactly know yet ourselves." But the goal of the discipline, he added, is to counter the "systematic scam" created by an industry that produces things that break unnecessarily or are hardly capable of being repaired. Welzer wants to "design corridors" in which companies would be given time to transform faceless, no-name products into durable products with an origin and a history....
But such slimmed-down jobs would hardly be enough for many people, says an older man. He hears that a lot, says Paech, especially when he speaks at union functions, where he is routinely grilled by his audience. Besides, says the economist, all the hype about jobs in our supposed knowledge society is in fact questionable. "What exactly are we doing?" he asks. "As we anxiously invoke competitiveness, we train younger and younger delegators with touchscreens to manage the dirty work, forcing Indians to whom the work is being outsourced halfway around the world to work extra hours so that we'll continue to be flooded with consumer goods." By now, some of his listeners are nodding in agreement.
Paech recently spoke at an event sponsored by Volkswagen, the German automotive giant. "I was in the lion's den, being showered with malice," he says. At a certain point, he asked what the workers did during the economic crisis, when so many saw their hours reduced under the Kurzarbeit program, the "short-time work" program that the German government used during the crisis to avoid layoffs by encouraging companies to reduce workers' hours while making up for some of the workers' lost salaries and benefits itself. "We worked in the garden, did things in the neighborhood and fixed things," they told Paech.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan