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The Austin trip was simply perfect. Got to visit with regular Memling and CFI Austin Exec Dir Clare Wuellner once again, met her husband Roger, reveled in the shuttling services and company of Shane and Mark McCain and their fabulous kidlings, and chatted in person with Memling Thranil! The seminar itself was the largest yet at 62 participants, with no less than 31 kids in the daycare down the hall. Easy flights, warm weather, and home in time for a Sunday nap.

My meager attempt at reaching across the aisle after the vandalism at Mt. Carmel Christian Church largely fizzled, at least in the short term. I do hope it planted some seeds for later efforts. I sent words of support to the minister, and I know several of you did as well. Only one of the freethought organizations I contacted responded to my message, but that reply was very encouraging:

Dear Dale,

This was a most interesting idea you proposed. Unfortunately, I was out of the office on a speaking trip when you proposed it and your message wasn’t copied to anyone else here. Also, I didn’t read it until just now (7:45 PM Monday) when cleaning up my e-mail backlog upon my return….

So, by a copy of this e-mail to our executive director and my PR assistant, I’m asking that this idea of yours be looked into in order to see if it’s still possible to act and if we are in a position to do so.

Fred Edwords
Director of Communications
American Humanist Association

Through no fault of the AHA, it was indeed too late. As the local media noted over the weekend,

Motivated by devotion to their church, the very same people who donated their time and money for supplies came together again to heal this holiday hurt.

“It’s very disappointing,” said Carlos Guerra, who organized the live nativity scene. “At the same time, it’s good to see that situations like this bring the church together.”

Not just one church. Volunteers from other parts of metro-Atlanta arrived to help.

So what could have been the coming together of people of goodwill across lines of religious difference instead became yet another heartwarming confirmation of the singular power of faith.

Hemant Mehta picked up the story as well and agreed with my suggestion, as did most of his commenters. A good sign. Now let’s get a rapid response mechanism in place for the future.

One of the most difficult things about articulating a public position of any kind — especially one outside the mainstream — is that all the careful thought and word choice and message refinement and clarification in the world won’t prevent some yahoo from willfully distorting your position. Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris get this all the time, especially in the form of “Dawkins/Harris fails to distinguish between religious extremists and religious moderates,” when in fact they do make those distinctions, with great care and in great detail.

Now an article in The Harvard Salient, a conservative political journal, has done the same with my recent Harvard talk, claiming that (among other things) I equated religious upbringing with indoctrination. As I pointed out in a probably ill-advised comment on the site,

I repeatedly noted that I distinguish between dogmatic and non-dogmatic religion and that many moderate religious parents work hard to reconcile the religious and scientific approaches to knowledge. “I don’t need a world free of religion,” I said at one point. “I’ll gladly settle for a world free of indoctrination.” Does that sound like someone who makes a blanket equation of religious upbringing and religious indoctrination?

The word “religion” almost never appears in the text of my speech without a modifier. I refer to “orthodox religion,” “traditional religion,” “moderate religious believers,” “liberal Christians,” and so on, precisely to avoid the dullard charge that I paint with a broad brush. Dawkins and Harris have also repeatedly made these distinctions yet are repeatedly accused of making no distinctions. It is tiresome.

I am open to all reasonable critique, but it seems sensible to ask that you limit your critique to what was actually said.

I say ill-advised only because I hate to get drawn into gleeful fencing with people who have already demonstrated an inability to set their biases aside and listen carefully.

The solstice drive
Four days remaining in the drive to retire the site operation debt that has been accumulating on my tender white shoulders this year — and as you can see in the sidebar, to my grateful astonishment, we are halfway there! I really cannot begin to express my appreciation to each and every one of you who has chipped in. Even if we don’t make it to the full amount, it has been a tremendous relief to have your help digging out of that hole.


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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.