Sunday, October 21, 2012

Secularists, please take a moment of silence for Paul Kurtz.

If one could finger one person as a “founder” of modern, post-World War II secular humanism in the United States, it would be Kurtz, the creator of Humanist Manifesto II and an energizer of a more activist, more engaged secular humanism. Beyond that, he founded Prometheus Books to give secular humanism its own “voice.”

Well, he died today.

Sadly, in a power struggle and a philosophy struggle, the Council on Secular Humanism booted him from his leadership posts two years ago. Kurtz had opposed the rise of “New Atheism” or “Gnu Atheism” if you will, due to a confrontationalist psychology it espoused, which I have previously argued was and is a “tar baby” mirror of Christian fundamentalism’s evangelism style.

No, Kurtz wasn’t perfect, and perhaps could have been a better financial manager of CFI.

That said, Wikipedia’s entry well sums up Kurtz’s philosophy in one short paragraph:
Kurtz believed that the nonreligious members of the community should take a positive view on life. Religious skepticism, according to Paul Kurtz, is only one aspect of the secular humanistic outlook.
Indeed. And, vis a vis Gnu Atheism, Kurtz wanted to look at positive ways to collaborate with religious people of faith, positive ways to present what secular humanism is about and more.

I don’t know who will be the primary leader of his new (of 2009) institution, Institute for Science and Human Values. But, let’s hope that there’s a centralized voice for carrying on his vision about secular humanism.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Gratitude without god

When I first heard of this idea, a decade or more ago, I was in a psychological place where I was learning more and more about the idea of gratitude.

But, at the same time, I was pretty well down the road to my secularist, contra-metaphysical philosophical naturalist stance of today. I had tried “working with” ideas of “spirituality” but found what I was seeing promoted under that guise was New Agey-type metaphysics that, even if technically not religious, was indeed metaphysical and impossible to square with my re-emerging philosophical naturalism.

But, I was still trying to wrestle with this issue.

Having heard the phrase “an attitude of gratitude” in both New Age-type settings and from traditional ministers, and it being, for various reasons, an idea that I agreed with, I was trying to figure out how to be grateful if there wasn’t anyone to whom to be grateful.

Finally, I realized that I was mentally enshackled by the New Agey “present situations” that I had recently been in, plus my childhood religious preacher’s kid background.

Instead, why couldn’t I simply have an “attitude of gratitude” without a personal object for my gratitude?

And, so I do today. Little mental tools such as reminding myself of three good things that have happened for/to me today, especially if I had an active part in any of them, help this process.

The new job I have is reason to be grateful. I don’t have to listen to a boss asking me to resign (and himself not being grateful for me not doing so, since another person did leave a week after I would have completed my 30 days notice), threaten to “forget” my paycheck, or other things. I have work that’s fairly easy, still OK on pay, and fairly non-stressful while leaving open a growth curve.

I have the possibility of thinking about new work-creative outlets with the “timing” of the economy continuing to improve, as seems likely, albeit still slowly.

I have a life free from debt, the ability to live frugally without living stingily. That includes being a smart grocery shopper and knowing how to cook healthily while on a budget.

I’m grateful for modern medicine, including psychological counseling and medications as needed. Being a methodological and philosophical naturalist, I’m grateful for the scientific mindset behind it.

I’m grateful for the Internet. I’m grateful for the skeptical, critical thinking ability to recognize the dark side of the Internet itself, as well as seeing through most all of the spam, urban legends and such to which the Internet has given impetus.

Anyway, I don’t need to show you all my “gratitude list,” though I do believe journaling like this is a helpful psychological tool.

Let’s get back to my main point. Just as one can be moral without god, religion or metaphysically-oriented spirituality (karma is just as evil a “stick” as hell), one can be grateful as a state of being without needing a good to whom to tell that.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Glenn Gould gets Beethoven right

Listening to Glenn Gould and realizing he is the ONLY pianist I've ever heard play Moonlight Sonata fast enough, especially/namely the iconic first movement. Most casual classical aficionados may not realize it's written in cut time, and should be played at least 25 percent faster than the average concert pianist plays it. And the finale (listen to the whole sonata, if you haven't) should be played like your hair's on fire.

How much would you spend on pet health?

A New York Times column, with a couple expecting their first kid also staring at a $4Kdoggie health bill, is one of several things, both reading and real-life issues, that bring that to mind.

Beyond paying a vet that much, we get next to pet health insurance. After that, you get into the world of air-conditioned doghouses and more.

Even if I had more money, or made more money, than I actually do … the utilitarian in me simply can’t see spending that much money on a pet.

How much would you spend, speaking of utilitarianism?