Earth Day & Ask An Atheist Day 2017

4/23/17

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You just gotta be…

We had an amazing day at Earth Day meeting great people and engaging in wonderful conversations.  Thank you to everyone who came out to enjoy the beautiful day with us. We were grateful for the company of our fellow secular friends from the Central Florida Freethought Community and the Humanist Community of the Space Coast. The March for Science brought an uplifting crowd of GREAT t-shirts!

livesimpacted_blooddriveresultsThis was our third Earth Day Blood Drive – we estimate 16 units collected.  That’s a total of 43 donors since 2014, impacting 129 lives!  At the fall festival (Veg Fest), 73 donors have impacted 219 lives in the past three years.  That is 348 lives impacted through these festivals!  Thank you to everyone who donated blood with us!

 

We also thank everyone who dropped in a monetary donation to support our volunteer work.  We raised $41 that will help support our upcoming dinner at the Ronald McDonald House. 🙂

At our booth we had a display about Ask an Atheist Day, which was this past Thursday. Ask an Atheist Day, spearheaded by the national office of the Secular Student Alliance, promotes creating opportunities for open, respectful conversation that can build bridges across differences and help overcome misconceptions about non-religious people.  It falls on the third Thursday of April every year, and last year we shared a blog post about it.  Since then, we’ve gotten some great questions submitted – and some great questions were shared yesterday at Earth Day as well.

Below are personal responses from Tee Rogers, founder of BE. Orlando.

How do you find meaning in your life?

Ask yourself, what is really important to you? Yes, other than chocolate. 🙂 When you look at others who inspire you, what traits and life actions do they have in common? What do you want to be different in this world because you were here? Go through the process of writing your personal mission statement. Need help? Franklin Covey has a great tool.  Mine is “Focus on positive impact.”  When you determine what your purpose is – the difference you are going to make – your sense of meaning and fulfillment is clear. You can align your personal and professional goals and actions with your mission, creating balance and peace in your life.

Your organization is based on service; what does service mean to you as an Atheist?

Service is the act of delivering value. It means making a positive difference for the person, people, agency, or business that is receiving the service. It entails truly understanding what is needed, genuine compassion, and a commitment to follow through.

As a service-minded Humanist organization, we focus on our responsibility and empowerment to make a positive difference in the world, and we provide opportunities for kind, compassionate members of the non-faith community to serve together. Being a contributing member of the greater whole and knowing that our actions have impact beyond ourselves is an important element of the pursuit of happiness, personal integrity, and dignity.  Some people seek out that kind of fulfillment on their own; others seek a shared-values community where service is a coordinated group activity performed in a way that aligns with their worldview.

Another important aspect of service when intersected with the identity of Atheism is communicating the message that all people, regardless of faith or non-faith perspective, have equal potentials for kindness and compassion.  There is a common misconception that one needs a god or the supernatural as part of their worldview in order to be a good human being; however; having a religious perspective isn’t what makes a good person.  Having integrity does. Therefore, we are openly Humanist and part of our mission is to educate others about Humanism and dispel such divisive, harmful myths.

Every person, every living thing, has a story; a history; a journey.  Every living thing experiences pain.  We can help one another along our journeys, and through that we become connected in a perceptible way.  Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve.” In what ways do you serve others?

Do you allow religious people in your group?

We are a Humanist organization and provide intentional messaging and support for non-theists, but our focus on service and commitment to our community attracts members of all faith and non-faith perspectives. We are an inclusive, diverse organization.

From our policies: We do not ask about members’ perspectives. We welcome members of the faith community to join us – serving our community together builds bridges across our differences, and together we can achieve more. Members of all faith and non-faith perspectives will be welcomed and respected at our events.  [read more about our group policies]

What is the difference between Atheist and Agnostic?

A theist believes in God/god/gods.  The prefix “a” negates that: an atheist is one who does not believe in G/g/s. Similarly, gnostic means knowledge – we can have certain knowledge of a thing (“Truth with a capital T”).  Negate it with the prefix “a” – agnostic is one that does not believe certain knowledge of a thing is possible.

People use the word Agnostic in different ways.  It can simply be an epistemological statement about human capacity for understanding: can our human minds comprehend the infinite? In that case, the word may not define the person’s theist/atheist identity. It can also mean someone who is not sure there is a god.   Here’s a graph to help, borrowed from the Secular and Religious Minority Experience diversity presentation at the University of Central Florida: a-gnostic-a-theis

What is the difference between Atheism and Humanism?

Atheism is simply an answer to the question of whether or not you believe in God/god/s.  When was the last time you asked someone their religion and they answered “Theist.”  People often want to communicate more about what their religious perspective means in their lives, so they will use words like Christian, Buddhist, or Humanist.

Humanism describes how a non-religious person relates to the world and how we answer inner-life questions about meaning, connection, and fulfillment.  Which leads us to the next question…

What is Humanism?

Humanism is a non-religious worldview that focuses on our empowerment and responsibility to make a positive difference in the world; on our common ground as human beings – our human needs and potentials; and on the value and goodness in all humans.  It seeks rational, solution-oriented approaches to addressing human, animal, environmental, sustainability, and other issues.

I heard you say you feel connected to something greater than yourself.  How can that be true if you don’t believe in God?

Great question, and one i’ve heard many times – so it’s something folks wonder about.  When we’re connected to our family, we’re connected to something beyond ourselves.  Family, friend group, significant other, neighborhood, volunteer group, sports team, professional colleagues and the company we work for, churches/perspective communities, animals, nature, the environment and the Earth, and for some people, God.  Each of those things shakes us out of our solipsistic funk & connects us to something beyond ourselves. We have evolved to be interdependent and to understand that our potential, meaning, and purpose will be defined by our actions that impact the world outside of our selves.

Just as there are those who feel removing God detracts from the connection to the world around us, there are those who feel adding God detracts from that connection.  But all people have the potential to feel that connection; for some, their faith or non-faith strengthens or gives greater meaning to that connection.

As an Atheist, i do not believe God is real.  Something that is not real has no impact on the meaning, connections, purpose, or actions in my life.

Do Atheists have feelings?

I’ve actually been asked this more than once. Some people do believe that because Atheists don’t have God in their hearts that they are incapable of experiencing human joy, love, awe, gratitude, sorrow, and other emotions.  A religious person might call an emotion “deeper” because it is connected to God; a non-religious person may see that connection to god as making the emotion more shallow, and that deeper experience comes from the emotion in relation what they perceive reality.   So… We’re all experiencing the emotions in our own way.

Yes, humans of all faith and non-faith perspectives have feelings.

How does an Atheist find comfort when you face pain alone?

When we are alone, especially in a challenging time, knowing that we are actually not alone is a great comfort. But you don’t need to believe there is someone in the sky watching you to achieve that; we have the knowledge that there are others in the world who have experienced or who are experiencing what we are.  We are part of the human family.  (even beyond – grab a tissue & look at this photo story of a bird losing his mate). Loss and pain are universally understood, and we never experience these alone.

For me solitude is not equivalent to loneliness, and i don’t feel worse when no one is around.  In fact i’d prefer to recover in private and then rejoin the world.  “Crawling under my rock” for a bit, i say – be back out soon.  🙂

When i wake up in the morning, i listen to the birds.  Have you ever listened to the day awaken?  One rogue bird instigates the whole darn mess (and it’s not the same bird each day, these rebels take turns poking the bear – or they race).  Another bird answers.  There’s a grand and lazy caesura as morning takes a calming breath. The crepusculars are barely milling about and the sky’s dark begins its fade to a deeply bright blue (named Royce Blue after a friend of mine), starting with a thin azure line on the distant horizon.  A hesitant chirping conversation starts – probably curmudgeonly grumbles about the damn rebels.  This takes a long time: As morning bats clean insects from the air in a wild finale dance and cricketsong gradually ebbs, bird conversations join more conversations, slowly building into a mellifluous, cacophonous symphony.  If you listen closely, you can isolate their voices and imagine their discussions, which gently disperse into the chatter of the day. My favorite place to watch the show is offshore on a kayak, but i’ll enjoy it from my front door any day.

Everyone has their own way of coping with pain.  The best way to cope, for me, is to remember that i am not alone in suffering; to find connection to nature, pets, and friends; give myself the space to recover; focus on the positive and on gratitude; and as soon as possible to crawl out from under that rock and rise up to begin working to alleviate the suffering of others.

What motivates you to volunteer?

Here are a few: Inevitably, volunteering challenges us, teaches us, and improves us. Volunteering has health benefits and is a great way to meet new people who share my values.  In gratitude for the good in my life, i want to give back.  I care about others and want to make a difference. I want to set an example of giving and service for others.  I want to make the world a better place. I want to demonstrate that all people have the potential for compassion and kindness (we can be good without God).   And i want to create opportunities for others.

What motivates YOU to volunteer?

How do you know that you are loved?

A person’s actions tell you what their feelings are.  What beings care about, they prioritize and make time for.

Do you think everyone should be an Atheist?

No.  Here’s a great video:

When did you realize you were an Atheist?

Everyone’s journey to their faith and non-faith identity is unique.

For me, it wasn’t a realization.  When i was a kid, i guess i just gradually stopped believing but wasn’t cognizant of the process. In retrospect the reasons are clear. Nuns in school didn’t have good answers to practical questions (and in fact punished you for asking).  Yet they demonstrate that if you don’t have answers to questions, you fail the test. The rituals seemed hokey to me, and the concept of a god didn’t fit the world i saw. I guess when i reached the age of reason i journeyed past religion into just living life in a positive way.

I never thought of it as atheism, just as i never thought of not believing in Santa as a realization of being an Asantaist. Someone who doesn’t play sports doesn’t tie their personal  identity to a term like non-sporter or asportist; we identify as what we do, not what we don’t do.

In college i learned they had words for people with a non-theistic worldview, so at that point i understood my identity and began a life and journey as an actual Atheist. I also started to glimpse the related discrimination, marginalization, and other challenges.  I’ve identified across a range of non-faith labels, including Antitheist and Evangelical Atheist during a phase of thinking that the whole world would be better if everyone shared a non-theistic worldview.

I now use the term Humanist to describe my positive, life-affirming worldview and Atheist to describe my stance on religion. Over the past decade i’ve come to fully see the discrimination against  people of non-faith and have also witnessed and learned of so many faith-related injustices.  Everyone’s faith or non-faith is based on their own experience, culture, evaluation of evidence, interpretation of teachings, and so much more.  People of all faiths and non-faith identities suffer injustices. We must find a way to respect one another so that we can stand shoulder-to-shoulder and work together to make this world a better place.

I’ve grown into a quieter place of compassion and seeking common ground, and while i cannot understand why people believe in the supernatural, i can respect their right to believe.  I now do volunteer work to defend everyone’s right to express their faith or non-faith perspective (equally) and reduce faith-related conflict and stress in workplace, academic, and social environments.

What has been your greatest challenge as an Atheist? As a person?

As an Atheist the biggest challenge is balancing an understanding of religion as detrimental and harmful with belief that we need to connect people and promote a respectful world where everyone is able to express their faith or non-faith perspective.  Where my balance falters, i try to fall on the side of compassion. There are so many people pretending to be religious out of fear or because they don’t know there are alternative communities out there.  To make the world a safer place for non-theists, we need to make it a safer place for everyone.  People can then truly be free to express their genuine faith or non-faith perspective.

As a person, my biggest challenge is enduring any moment in life that doesn’t have a dog in it.

What inspires you?

The word “inspiration” is often mistaken as connected to religion.  The word is not; some people’s inspiration may be connected to religion, but the word is not a religious concept. All people can experience inspiration.

I’m inspired by people of integrity and courage, those who make great differences in the lives of others, and a great deal by times of quiet solitude in nature.

Visit Tiny Buddha’s 50 Ways to Find Inspiration for some paths to find inspiration.

inspiring.jpg

Are you afraid of dying?

I have no feelings about death.  I’m not a fan of experiencing pain, but we face pain throughout life often more so than at the time of our death.  Death to me does not look mysterious, unnatural, or unknown.  It is natural.  The flame goes out.  I imagine it will be just like we all remember about our lives from before our conception.  Remember that?  Me, either.

The only real fear i do have is not accomplishing enough before my time is up. You know? There’s so much to do. Every moment of our lives is precious and should be wisely invested; we don’t get a second chance at that moment.  And the real value of our lives is what we have done that makes a difference beyond us.  When i hear people talk about boredom, to me it means they don’t get that.  It’s sad.

What is YOUR question?

You may find you have more in common with fellow human beings than you knew – even those who hold equally strong commitments to worldviews different from your own.

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