Secular Solstice: Doing good for goodness’ sake

Secular Solstice: Doing good for goodness’ sake

OAKLAND, Calif. (RNS) It’s a common ritual in religious observances this time of year: Light a candle against the darkness, the winter, the uncertainty of the world.

But a newly minted observance called Secular Solstice adds its own spin. Those lighting the candles are nonbelievers — humanists, atheists, skeptics and other freethinkers — and the candles represent no unseen divinity, but the actions and intentions of those who light them to make the world a better place.

A publicity shot for “Secular Solstice,” a newly minted December observance for atheists, humanists and other freethinkers that features candles, readings, music and an emphasis on human beings’ capacity to improve the world. Photo courtesy of Raymond Arnold
A publicity shot for “Secular Solstice,” a newly minted December observance for atheists, humanists and other freethinkers that features candles, readings, music and an emphasis on human beings’ capacity to improve the world. Photo courtesy of Raymond Arnold

“We live in a world beyond the reach of God,” one of the service’s many readers said as 130 or so people gathered huddled over white candles in glass votives at Humanist Hall — a purple-painted house near downtown Oakland. “It is a hard universe. If we want to build a softer universe we will have to do it ourselves.” As a choir broke into “Here Comes the Sun,” an inscription painted on the wall beamed down upon the gathered, “The world is my country, to do good is my religion.”

Secular Solstice is the handiwork of Raymond Arnold, a 28-year-old Catholic-turned-humanist who wanted to do something meaningful with friends in mid-December. He put together the first Secular Solstice — a two-hour blend of music and readings by candlelight — last year in New York, where he works as a web developer.

He struck a nerve — the first Secular Solstice was packed, and this year there will be Secular Solstices in New York, Seattle, San Diego and Leipzig, Germany. A Kickstarter campaign to stage the New York event attracted more than its $7,500 goal and brought Arnold to Oakland, where the first Secular Solstice this season was held Saturday (Dec. 13) in Humanist Hall.

It included moments of hilarity as well as deep seriousness. The crowd — almost entirely white and most seemingly under 30 — sat quietly with candles in their laps as a long string of speakers shared their own struggles with the suicide of loved ones, their encounters with death and their realization that the universe is vast and uncaring.

The readings and testimonies were punctuated here and there by Arnold, a slight young man in a scarlet dress shirt, rousing the crowd to sing along to “Deck the Halls,” “Let it Snow” and other songs. Singing together, he said, is a main focus of the event.

“When we sing with each other we forget ourselves and find a sense of belonging,” he told the capacity crowd. “The feeling of belonging is an intensely powerful thing, to lean into that sense of belonging, so let’s sing together.”

Raymond Arnold, founder of Secular Solstice, a December holiday for nonbelievers. Photo by Apneet Jolly, courtesy of Humanist Culture
Raymond Arnold, founder of Secular Solstice, a December holiday for nonbelievers. Photo by Apneet Jolly, courtesy of Humanist Culture

Secular Solstice is another in a recent series of atheist-humanist events that look something like church. Sunday Assembly, a weekly morning gathering that started in London and spread quickly across the U.S., Canada and Europe, features uplifting talks and popular music. HumanLight is a December holiday promoted by humanist organizations that includes a ring of candles a lot like an Advent wreath.

Arnold is aware of the similarities to religion and embraces them.

“We are trying to accomplish a similar thing — gathering together as a community to talk about the things that are important to us,” he said.

A Catholic church’s midnight Mass or a Protestant church’s “lessons and carols” service may have a similar goal but a different worldview, one that places God at the center of all things.

“Just as there is no God to put a limit on suffering,” another reader told the gathered, “there is no God to put a limit on the good that we can do.”

Alex Altair, 26, helped organize the Oakland event. He attended a Secular Solstice held last year in a private home in San Francisco and immediately knew he wanted to help bring the event to a public space in the Bay Area this year.

“It was seeing so many people who truly care about the same things I care about” such as rationality and working toward a just society, he said. “I feel like the multifaceted, rational communities that are around here have a lot to celebrate and don’t have a lot of ways to celebrate them.”

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Saul of Tarsus, Revised

An Epistle from Saul of Tarsus

Some chose to leave. Some chose to stay and fight. I became lost and chose to write.

Saul sends his greeting

To Evangelicals spread throughout Christendom:

Saul of Tarsus, along with the brothers Franklin and James, bring you greetings from outside of prison.

I have been thanking God for your incredible faith during the difficulties you have faced under the Obama administration. I have been told that this “persecutor of conservatives” has forced believers everywhere to have health insurance in case they, or a loved one, were in need of care. Do not let such radical teachings persuade you from the ill health impoverished people so rightly deserve.

Evangelicalism’s unwavering faith

Evangelicals everywhere have heard of how badly you are being persecuted because of your intolerance. You are to be admonished for your unwavering strength and perseverance despite infiltration into your churches by liberals. Do not think at all like the world, but empty your mind of all rationality; for faith must remain blind in order for self-righteousness to abound.

Franklin reported to me that there are vast amounts of sexual deviants, in your midst. Do not be deceived like the believers who meet together at World Vision almost were. These deviants will try to tempt you using rational arguments like “we only wish to be treated fairly”. But, do not listen to them; for they only want to take from you the moral authority that God has so graciously bestowed to his chosen few.

Do you not remember, it was our Lord who refused to help a Samaritan woman because of her sexual deviance? And don’t you remember the woman that was caught in adultery. The people wanted to let her go, but did not our Lord say “stone her, for it is what God’s Word demands”?

The Kingdom of God

Indeed Jesus made it clear that only those who are self-righteous can make it into the kingdom of God.

Remember, you are God’s people, his chosen nation. Therefore, you must convert as many people to Evangelicalism as possible. The Kingdom of God depends upon your faithfulness to this call; for if we confess with our lips that Jesus Christ is lord, then we are saved. It is essential that you make those who enter your doors to conform to your version of Christianity lest some think you dress shabby, listen to rock music and damage your skin with the ink that tells your story. For this could ruin the testimony you currently don’t have anyway.

I am told there are some among you who are preaching a gospel of love and tolerance – even among the sexual deviants. But, this is the message we preach: that all have sinned (some more than others), and have fallen short of the glory of God. There is no one who is righteous and all are doomed to eternal punishment, unless they repent from all of their sins; past, present, and future. They must shed everything that is worldly and focus on their eternal reward, which is heaven.

The End Times

In the last days there will be many who will say “we desire to know the truth of God” and there will be women who will say “we want to minister alongside our brethren”. Do not let such fancy statements sway you from your devotion to false doctrine, but set an example in word only; for you know that your actions might cause Christians everywhere to follow your lead.

In the last days there will be those among you who will say “let the sexual deviants minister the gospel alongside you”, but you are to remember your devotion to God’s Word. For God has said the only unforgivable sin is sexual deviance. Christ declared this because they bring disease and a general yuckiness to your nation.

Brothers, do not succumb to the darkness of the times. Remember our battles are not against evil, but against certain types of sin. Therefore, put on the full armor of God so that you can fight against a culture war you created. Stand firm with the belt of absolute truth around your waist, with the breastplate of self-righteousness, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes with your ability to answer any objection. In addition to all of this, take up the shield of irrationality so that you can block the arrows of truth when they come your way. Finally, put upon your giant head the helmet of pride and the dull sword of the false spirit, which is your interpretation of the Word of God.

Final Remarks

I will be coming to you soon. But, until I come, devote yourselves to “sola scriptura”. You must remember the law that your ancestors received from God; for it is God’s inerrant Word! It is alive and active; powerful and effective, able to justify anything, and divide even the strongest liberal congregation.

Remind those who are rich to be watchful and to share only a small portion of their wealth. For if one is in need of a tunic give him a shoe instead. For a time will come where they will be forced to help those who are impoverished. Give generously to ministry organizations so that when the time comes you might be able to use your wealth to influence their policies should they try to help those you don’t approve of.

In the meantime I will send you a professor of systematic theology and Pseudo-filosofica the apologist, so that you can have complete assurance in everything you do. They will provide your people with fine-sounding arguments. I urge you to collect those arguments and keep them close to your heart, so that you can use them to combat liberalism and science when the time comes.

Stand firm upon the prestigious foundation laid for you, and be imitators of those who are my fellow co-workers, the Pharisees.



Franklin son of William was an influential Evangelical leader during the reign of Obama the Great ↩

Not much is known about James. We know he was influential in helping certain types of families during the reign of Obama the Great ↩

This was during the reign of Obama the great ↩

Indeed this persecution was severe. It was so severe that it has been said, the entire nation was against them. Though some suspect this was a delusion powered by those who need to be victimized in order to confirm the veracity of their faith. ↩

Some translations render this “with common sense” ↩

could also be rendered “homosexuals”, “Gays”, or “Miscreants” ↩

World Vision was an Evangelical humanitarian organization who helped feed starving children. In March of the year 2014, they decided not to discriminate against homosexuals, but quickly reversed their decision because of pressure from Evangelicals who threatened to starve poor children if the policy was not changed. Two days later the policy was changed whereby they were again allowed to discriminate against certain types of Christians. ↩

Considered to be the foundation of the Evangelical gospel. ↩

Apparently, some of the sexual deviants were claiming to be “Christians” ↩

the Law clearly forbade women to have opinions and thus it follows that they are unable to minister as effectively as men were ↩

Some translations use uncomfortableness ↩

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Spray-on Solar Power

Pretty soon, powering your tablet could be as simple as wrapping it in cling wrap. Scientists have just invented a new way to spray solar cells onto flexible surfaces using miniscule light-sensitive materials known as colloidal quantum dots (CQDs) — a major step toward making spray-on solar cells easy and cheap to manufacture.

“My dream is that one day you’ll have two technicians with Ghostbusters backpacks come to your house and spray your roof,” said Kramer, a post-doctoral fellow with The Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering at the University of Toronto and IBM Canada’s Research and Development Centre.

Solar-sensitive CQDs printed onto a flexible film could be used to coat all kinds of weirdly shaped surfaces, from patio furniture to an airplane’s wing. A surface the size of your car’s roof wrapped with CQD-coated film would produce enough energy to power three 100-Watt light bulbs — or 24 compact fluorescents.

He calls his system sprayLD, a play on the manufacturing process called ALD, short for atomic layer deposition, in which materials are laid down on a surface one atom-thickness at a time


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Biological Boot Loader for Artificial Intelligence

Yesterday, Stephen Hawking warned that artificial intelligence could end mankind. As one of the world’s greatest thinkers, Hawking knows perhaps better than others because his biological life depends on artificial intelligence. In fact, he uses a state of the art speaking system which anticipates words he might speak.

Robots, the Internet, smart phones and this IPad which anticipates the words I am typing are commonplace examples of Ai already in use. One can anticipate even more at the upcoming exhibition of consumer electronics in January. Apps like the Smartphone INSTEON adds remote control and automation to lighting, appliance and home control applications of all types. Your programable thermostat is now an antique in comparison.

What about the “end of mankind” scenario? Tia Ghose, LiveScience Staff Writer, reports:

“In the end humans may become like mitochondria, the energy powerhouses of the cells. Though mitochondria were once independent organisms, primitive bacteria engulfed mitochondria long ago, and they gradually outsourced all their functions but making energy. Humans may similarly lose all their abilities, regressing to the point that they only provide energy for the machines.”

In fact, there is speculation that we humans are mere biological creations of some superhuman Ai elsewhere in the multiverse. Maybe even Soilent Green!

In another recent article, How Should We Live If Humanity Is the “Biological Boot Loader for Digital Superintelligence”? author Paul Metzger writes, “Humankind may well be, as Elon Musk puts it, the “biological boot loader for digital superintelligence.” In the future, extinct humanity will be regarded the Christ sacrificed, and living as The Spirit within religious machines. Can we have a binary amen? (“Isaac Edward Leibowitz”)”

He goes on, “…while science may someday have the capacity to generate a digital super-intelligence that replaces humanity, we should not bring to pass such scientific advances based on ethical considerations. The question still is “Why?” Is humanity an end in itself? Why is it such an end? Because of a certain level of rational freedom or autonomy? But if in the end what we take to be the basis for rational freedom is simply a form of matter, what is the fundamental difference between humanity and machine?”

Ah, these questions now become the property of the philosopher and the theologian. Or NOT the theologian. Especially not! After all, theology assumes that we humans were created by a Deity so that, after the failure of the biological body, i.e. death, we can join “him” in Heaven. I’m not sure that the place drummed-up as ‘Heaven’ has anything to do with engulfed mitochondria.

With all of this scientific speculation, the absurdity of religious wars becomes even more barbaric than usual. ISIS piques it to absurdity perhaps even more than the Crusades or the Inquisition because they utilize Ai.

So, humans are the most intelligent creatures on earth. Really?


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What bugs me about the Ferguson thing…

It’s the ignorance surrounding what a Grand Jury does and how it is supposed to work.  And it doesn’t come from just the general public since I saw one “legal scholar” make a comment that there should have been rigourous cross examination.

There are two different parts of the criminal process for determining whether a case should go to trial: the preliminary hearing and a grand jury.  Neither of these two proceedings involves a finding of guilt or punishment of a party.  In fact, no “jeopardy” attaches and one can be retried if found “innocent” in one of these proceedings.  The difference between the two is that a preliminary hearing looks like a trial it is open to the public with a prosecution, defence, and judge addressing the matter: None of those are present in a grand jury.

Grand jury proceedings are much more relaxed than normal court room proceedings. There is no judge present and frequently there are no lawyers except for the prosecutor. The prosecutor will explain the law to the jury and work with them to gather evidence and hear testimony. Under normal courtroom rules of evidence, exhibits and other testimony must adhere to strict rules before admission. In fact, a grand jury has broad power to see and hear almost anything they would like.

Well, almost everything.  United States v. Williams, 504 U.S. 36 (1992) points out that there is no right to testify or produce exculpatory evidence:

It is the grand jury’s function not ‘to enquire … upon what foundation [the charge may be] denied,’ or otherwise to try the suspect’s defenses, but only to examine ‘upon what foundation [the charge] is made’ by the prosecutor. Respublica v. Shaffer, 1 Dall. 236 (O. T. Phila. 1788); see also F. Wharton, Criminal Pleading and Practice § 360, pp. 248-249 (8th ed. 1880). As a consequence, neither in this country nor in England has the suspect under investigation by the grand jury ever been thought to have a right to testify or to have exculpatory evidence presented.

The difference in procedures and rules lead to a situation that a former New York state Chief Judge Sol Wachtler would comment that a prosecutor could persuade a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich.”  Of course, that is also due to the fact that the burden of proof in these proceedings is less than a regular criminal trial: preponderance of the evidence v. beyond a reasonable doubt.  In other words, is it more likely than not that a crime occurred.

Federal law required a grand jury indictment before beginning a criminal proceeding.  There were 162,000 federal cases filed in 2010:  Grand juries declined to return an indictment in 11 of them. Of course, this was a state proceeding rather than a federal one (and the feds love cases they can’t lose). On the other hand, “If the prosecutor wants an indictment (in a non-federal case) and doesn’t get one, something has gone horribly wrong,” said Andrew D. Leipold, a University of Illinois law professor who has written critically about grand juries. “It just doesn’t happen.”

Of course, a lot of commenters are thinking that the prosecution didn’t want to bring charges, but this is a high profile case with a lot at stake.  What better than to pick a procedure where these is no real scrutiny.  In fact, ordinarily the proceedings in a grand jury case should be sealed, but they have been released in this case to try and give some form of legitimacy that this was some form of adversarial proceeding, which gets to the comment about cross examination.

That didn’t happen here.  In fact, from what I heard the prosecution basically discounted anyone who contradicted Officer Wilson’s defence.  Additionally, this was done without any real cross examination, yet there is this mysterious “grand jury proceeding” to lend an air that “justice has been done” when that was hardly the case.

Of course, I can guess that people who believe that a white person can carry a gun late at night in a known drug and prostitution area will find that the police acted with justification in shooting an unarmed black youth who may have been surrendering.  If the police officer in the first instance faces reprimand–shouldn’t he also in the second one?  In fact, it would seem more important that justice is done in the second situation since deadly force was actually used.

The real issue is not so much whether Michael Brown was an innocent young man as much as whether justice has truly been done.

Of course, that is something that far too many people have missed in this situation.

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Chemists have Successfully Produced Amino Acid-like Molecules in a Single Test tube.

For the first time, chemists have successfully produced amino acid-like molecules that all have the same ‘handedness’, from simple building blocks and in a single test tube. Could this be how life started. On earth? Or in space, as the Philae lander is currently exploring? René Steendam researcher in Astrochemistry at Radboud University, the Netherlands has published the findings in Nature Communications.

Some molecules are found in two chiral variants that, just like hands, are mirror images of one another. Nature, however, makes use of only one variant; for example, DNA is made of a right-handed helix and the most common sugar — glucose — is also right-handed. Why nature does this, and how it all started, remains an intriguing puzzle. After all, whenever chemists make the same molecules they obtain a mix of both variants.

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House intel panel debunks many Benghazi theories

My, my. Who could imagine that? What will the right-wing do now??–politics.html


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