Sunsara Taylor Open Letter Challenging Her Dis-Invitation from Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago
October 29, 2009
To Everyone Concerned About Critical Thought and the State of the World:
Something very wrong is afoot among those one would expect to be among the greatest champions of critical thought and open exchange. On October 19, 2009, the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago (EHSC) rescinded their long-standing invitation for me to speak to their Society's weekly gathering on November 1, 2009.
I had been invited to speak on the topic of “Morality Without Gods” back in July and I accepted this invitation in good faith. I arranged to be in Chicago to give this talk because I believe it is of the utmost importance to open up discussion of the questions thrown up by the moral crisis of our times and because I believe I have a valuable contribution to make to this discussion. As testified to by the statements below, this is a view that is shared by many who have heard me speak, shared a platform with me, and who have interviewed me, whether they agree with all of my views or not.
EHSC’s decision to dis-invite me was based on gross mischaracterizations and distortions of my character and of the content of my intended talk. It was pushed through in contradiction to the Society’s own stated principles and in an atmosphere where fear and anti-communism were being aggressively stoked by some members of their Program Committee.
Their decision to dis-invite me is wrong. It is not in keeping with EHSC’s avowed principles, i.e. “We value the importance of living an ethical, responsible, and joyful life. We promote intellectual, philosophical, and artistic freedom, avoiding dogma and rigid creed.” (from “Who We Are-What We Value” mission statement of EHSC). And, this decision contributes very negatively to the current chill on intellectual and political discourse that challenges the status quo in the academy, the media, and beyond.
I have heard many reports of fear-mongering and anti-communist hysteria being whipped up among members in regards to the alleged harm I could bring to EHSC if allowed to speak. None of this was ever addressed to me in an open or aboveboard way. Rather, the Committee has repeatedly implied that there was something in the content of my proposed talk that was either different than what they had invited me to speak on or beyond the pale of reasonable discourse for their Society. However, the theme of my talk is precisely in keeping with the original theme they invited me to speak on (“Morality Without Gods”). [see my submitted description below]
The only time anyone from the EHSC Program Committee cited anything objectionable in my proposed talk, it was complete distortion and defamation. On October 21, 2009, I wrote to the Program Committee, setting the record straight and documenting just some of this. Here is an excerpt of that letter from me:
In any case, I feel it necessary to set the record straight. Kashyap [of the EHS Program Committee] wrote:
"On the first point, we are an inclusive humanist group. A talk that dwells on 'Christian fascists' and characterizes the leading moral problems facing the U.S. as depending critically on 'an influx of immigrants from around the world, [and] the entering of women into the workforce in the last generation' is not what we were expecting."
In fact, the description of my presentation clearly says we live in a time of moral crisis because "the stability and way of life of millions of people are being disrupted by the effects of imperialist globalization." I give examples of these huge fast-paced changes and instability in people's lives here and around the world as part of what is giving impetus to a resurgence of reactionary fundamentalist religion as people seek something solid, familiar and absolute in a time of such upheaval and change. Kashyap has pulled a snippet of my talk description out of context to imply that I blame society's moral crisis on immigrants and women joining the work force when my actual meaning was clearly just the opposite, including to counter the scapegoating and backlash that a narrow and hateful brand of Christian fundamentalism engenders against these sections of our population.
Is there any who can read such a gross mischaracterization and inversion of the content of my planned talk and believe this dis-invitation was based on sound principle?
Instead of responding to any of the key matters of fact and principle addressed in my above quoted letter, or offering any honest objection to the actual content of my planned talk, the wrong decision to dis-invite me was then compounded and fortified. On Monday, October 26th, the Society as a whole allowed the Board of Trustees to shamefully reaffirm this decision on the same wrong basis in a hurriedly called meeting.
It matters little whether the broader membership sanctioned this dis-invitation due to blatant anti-communism or “merely” out of the desire to “preserve the unity” of the Society; the effect and the precedent remain the same. All too often these days, great moral wrongs are allowed to sit, and capitulation on matters of principle is excused in the name of “not disrupting unity” or that it is simply “too much work” to go up against the forces arrayed against what is just.
This calls to mind the line from Yeats, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.”1 Those times when it is most difficult to stand up for principle, those times when standing up for principle requires going against the grain and sometimes even sacrifice, are precisely the times when it is most required and can make the greatest difference. These days, there is all too much self-censorship and acquiescence to the curtailment of unconventional discourse in academic and intellectual life, in political discourse, and on matters of morality and ethics. The decision of the Society must be seen in the context of, and as contributing to, this broader chill and this is why it is unacceptable.
In their most recent letter to me, the Board of Trustees of EHSC wrongly invokes all sorts of procedural “rights” of their committee rather than addressing the content of my objections to their decision.
They write, “We do not censor programs, and it is clear to our members that speakers do not necessarily reflect the view of our Society. We do, however, have the right to choose the speakers who speak and the topics of their presentations. We have a Program Committee that conducts a process to determine the speakers and topics for our Sunday.”
However, it was not I who went to the Program Committee and insisted that they allow me to speak; they approached me. After conducting their established process, they invited me and published my name as an upcoming speaker in their October newsletter.
Further, the fact that it is the bureaucratic “right” of the Board of Trustees to reach the decision to dis-invite me does not make that decision morally right, any more than the “right” of California voters to ban gay marriage through made that decision morally or ethically defensible.
All suggestions on the part of EHSC Board or Program Committee, as made in their October 28th letter to me, that I would somehow endanger the “safe, peaceful, engaging” atmosphere of their Sunday program is merely further character slander. This behavior from any organization is shameful, but coming from a group that avows itself to be rooted in ethics and humanism it is disgraceful.
If the Society continues to proceed in this fashion and does not reverse its decision to dis-invite, it would be more appropriate to rename itself the “Un-Ethical Society for Anti-Humanism.”
In their October 28 letter, the Board of Trustees apologized for “any acrimony between the Ethical Humanist Society and [myself] that has transpired recently.”
However, the conflict that has arisen between EHSC and myself was never about feelings of “acrimony” but of profound matters of principle and ethics. I protest and condemn in the strongest terms their decision not out of feelings of personal acrimony or a sense of pride, but out of a firm commitment to matters of ethics and principle. Indeed, I do not believe I would be worthy of any platform to speak on matters of ethics or morality if I did not strongly object and condemn and call out such shameful behavior on the part of any organization.
I intend to fulfill my commitment to all who want to hear me speak. I will lead a workshop on the theme of “The Liberation of Women and the Emancipation of All Humanity” on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2-4:00 p.m. at the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago, 7574 N. Lincoln Avenue in Skokie. Further, I will be available and prepared to speak to all and any willing to hear the content of my originally scheduled talk, “Morality Without Gods,” on Sunday, November 1st.
I believe this is the only ethical thing to do.
1 “The Second Coming,” by W.B. Yeats
ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION OF SUNSARA TAYLOR'S TALK TO EHS OF CHICAGO
“MORALITY WITHOUT GODS”
We live in a time of moral crises. These crises are NOT, as the Christian fascists like to constantly insist, because of “abortionists, the ACLU, homosexuals, and science instructors who teach evolution.” These crises exist because the stability and way of life of millions of people are being disrupted by the effects of imperialist globalization. Around the world: massive global migrations, the rise of a transnational sex slave trade consuming millions of young women and girls, the wars and widespread use of torture by the U.S., and the increased disparity between the obscenely wealthy and the billions who have been cast into desperation, poverty and disease with no hope of a decent life. Here in the U.S.: the loss of millions of stable middle class jobs, an influx of immigrants from around the world, the entering of women into the work force in the last generation, and the development of a violent and bigoted movement with Christian fundamentalism woven into its core.
Why have these changes led to a resurgence of reactionary fundamentalist religion here and all over the world?
How do we counter that with a secular morality of our own?
Sunsara has traveled the country and reported on the rise of Christian fascism. She has also written and spoken about the ways that U.S. imperialist wars and aggression and reactionary Islamic fundamentalism have reinforced each other, even while opposing each other. In this work she has drawn on the framework and themes developed by Bob Avakian, the Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, including in his pathbreaking book, Away with All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World. In this talk, Taylor will bring alive many of the themes spoken to by Avakian in Away With All Gods to answer these questions and to explore communist morality as a real and viable alternative: a morality rooted in, and serving as a guide to get to, a world without men oppressing women, without a handful accumulating vast wealth at the expense of the many, without white people lording it over people of color, without one country trying to run the whole globe, and a world where critical thought and the scientific pursuit of the truth, as well as artistic and intellectual ferment and the flourishing of individuality, are fostered.
STATEMENTS IN SUPPORT OF SUNSARA TAYLOR
[Letter sent to EHSC] To whom it may concern:
I write to express my great surprise, and disapproval, on learning that the EHSC has decided to rescind its speaking invitation to Sunsara Taylor.
While certain of her arguments may well be controversial, that is no reason whatsoever to decide against allowing her to make them publicly, under your auspices: on the contrary. It is because her arguments are challenging that she should be allowed to go ahead and make them, as originally planned--allowing others there to challenge them in turn, if those others should be so inclined.
Please reconsider your decision, which does just not reflect badly on your organization, but, if allowed to stand, will represent yet one more victory for "safe" opinion over full and vigorous debate.
Mark Crispin Miller
Professor of Media, Culture and Communication, New York University
I debated Sunsara in New York City on the topic of atheism and religion. We stand on separate sides, I as a seminary graduate and believer, she as a committed atheist. Sunsara was serious, respectful and thoughtful in our debate. Her voice helped two communities that often do not come together find common ground and further mutual respect.
Pulitzer prize-winning journalist & author of
War Is A Force Which Gives Us Meaning
Senior fellow at The Nation Institute
Anschutz Distinguished Fellow at Princeton University
Sunsara is a well-known speaker on a variety of issues. If you haven't seen her, I urge you to go on YouTube now. Yes, she may take stances you disagree with. But on the topic of morality without god, I would hope the society and Sunsara share viewpoints. That's what she is talking about and no doubt she'll do a great job of it. If you have concerns on her other stances, i feel they are irrelevant in this matter.
Chair of the Secular Student Alliance Board of Directors*
I hear tell that some persons are opposed to Sunsara Taylor's upcoming presentation. You may recall, I was on the program with her at Colombia College and I was surprised at the response she engendered among the several hundred young people present. I know that her presentation will add much to the conversation of your group. I believe that we should welcome opposing points of view because it is out of such interaction that we may find our way as a human community.
Bob Bossie, SCJ
Catholic order of Priests of the Sacred Heart
staff member, 8th Day Center for Justice, Chicago*
I have had formal and informal debates with Sunsara Taylor, and -- despite our disagreements on politics and philosophy - I have always found her a thoughtful voice of reason and an engaging public presence. She brings a different point of view to the conversation, and we need desperately different points of view to have a vibrant democracy
Professor of Ecology and Evolution at State University of NY Stonybrook
Chair of Dept. of Philosophy - Lehman College
As someone who's reported extensively on the Christian right, I've shared the podium with Sunsara on a number of panels and events, and I've also watched her hold her own on late night political talk shows. Sunsara is consistently open and frank about her convictions; she forthrightly and thoughtfully engages in political arguments and brings energy and passion to any discussion. Moreover, at this time of economic crisis, when many Americans are dumbfounded to hear that Wall Street is already in recovery while they suffer joblessness and foreclosure, Sunsara's critique of capitalism strikes me as an especially important perspective to have aired.
Investigative Editor, The Nation Institute
Project Censored at Sonoma State University has hosted Sunsara Taylor on two occasions and both times her talks were intellectual, stimulating and of significant importance to social justice both in the US and the world. I highly recommend her presentations as positive support for academic freedom and human equality.
Professor Sociology, Sonoma State University
President, Media Freedom Foundation*
To Whom It May Concern,
It seems strange, not to mention sad, that one would have to begin any letter in this day and age with the following declaration: I am not now nor ever have been a member of any communist party. I say this because my expression of disappointment in the Ethical Humanists Society for canceling a scheduled talk by Sunsara Taylor of the Revolutionary Communist Party is not in any way linked to agreement with all of her political views (or, for that matter, her perspective on religion). None of that should matter. Your organization invited Taylor to speak. Taylor in no way tries to hide her views. It's simply inappropriate and unethical to rescind your invitation. The honest thing to do, of course, is to engage her; to disagree with her; to argue with her. Not to cancel her.
I happen to disagree with Taylor's use of the term "Christian fascists." I've said as much to her. I understand that she's not using the term to cover all Christians. But I don't think it's accurate in almost any instance. So we have a point of disagreement, which has led to fruitful conversations. Likewise her Maoism; I don't share it. But in public events and in private conversation, I've learned from our disagreements.
I do share with Taylor a concern about the influence of fundamentalism and a conviction that it is ultimately at odds with basic social justice. But I'd be writing this same letter if, say, I heard that Pat Robertson had been invited to speak and then canceled. Ethical Humanists, especially, should adhere to a standard of transparency and open dialogue.
Visiting Research Scholar, New York University
Contributing Editor, Harper's
Author, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power
I was very disappointed to read that the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago has announced the cancellation of a presentation by Sunsara Taylor on the topic “Morality Without Gods.” Since I conducted an hour-long interview with Ms. Taylor in April for Atheist Talk Radio in Minnesota , I am familiar with her views on a variety of topics of interest to humanists. I know her to be not only extremely articulate and well-read, but also civil in discussions with people of opposing views. She remarked during my interview with her that she is pleased when someone points out her errors, because if she is wrong about something she wants to know it.
I think that is a model of critical thinking that should be honored by humanists. Yet too often atheist and humanist organizations are justifiably criticized as ideological appendages of the Democratic Party. While humanism should provide a common home to a wide variety of godless ethical reasoning, too often it merely parades the platitudes of American liberalism as universal values.
Have you presented other speakers who analyze morality as a product of class division, or describe a revolutionary morality that might emerge from the very practical struggle against all forms exploitation? Surely it is a topic of interest to a community of godless, secular ethics. If the Ethical Humanist Society cancels Sunsara Taylor’s presentation it will be difficult to understand as anything but censorship of a minority position within the humanist community.
George Francis Kane
Public Relations Officer for the Minnesota Atheists*
Sunsara's smart, energetic and she's always gathering information from where the action is. Does she have an opinion? Sure but an exchange of views is what we believe in, right? I've featured her on my tv and radio programs on many occasions and always find her contributions valuable to the mix.
Host of GRIT TV on Free Speech TV
I have shared a podium with Sunsara Taylor several times and heard her speak many more times, in person, on TV, and online at YouTube. She is a dynamic, articulate, principled, passionate, lively, and important voice for reason, fresh and historically informed revolutionary ideas, and atheism.
I am surprised, based on the letter that you sent her disinviting her to speak at your November 1 event, that her description of her intended talk could have been so thoroughly misunderstood. I have presented at Humanist conferences myself in the past and found the gatherings to be stimulating and generous in spirit.
You write: “[W]e are an inclusive humanist group. A talk that dwells on ‘Christian fascists’ and characterizes the leading moral problems facing the U.S. as depending critically on ‘an influx of immigrants from around the world, [and] the entering of women into the workforce in the last generation’ is not what we were expecting.
“Second, instead we had been hoping that you could help us think about how moral, ethical behavior need not depend on a theistic outlook.”
It is clear not only from what she submitted as a description and also her very well-documented record, readily available as a speaker and writer in numerous fora, that she would in fact be speaking precisely to the questions you requested that she address and doing so in the most inclusive of ways, reaching out to those who approach the question very differently from her.
Sunsara in her description of her upcoming talk said: “We live in a time of moral crises. These crises are NOT, as the Christian fascists like to constantly insist, because of ‘abortionists, the ACLU, homosexuals, and science instructors who teach evolution.’ These crises exist because the stability and way of life of millions of people are being disrupted by the effects of imperialist globalization.”
Ms. Taylor is here contextualizing why we are in the midst of moral crises in this country. It sets the foundation upon which she will address the questions you wanted her to address. You asked that she help you “think about how moral, ethical behavior need not depend on a theistic outlook.” That is exactly what she intends to do.
I would be shocked if you did not rescind this extraordinary attempt to withdraw your invitation of July to have her speak. It would set an exceedingly bad example both for your organization and for the broader society. Now more than ever reasoned dialogue and lively exchanges of ideas are called for.
Dennis Loo, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology, CalPoly Ponoma
Co-editor of Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney
Winner of the Alfred R. Lindesmith Award, the Nation Magazine’s Most Valuable Crusade Award
and Project Censored Award
National Steering Committee Member of the World Can’t Wait
To Whom It May Concern:
I have seen many of the emails regarding the controversy your organization has been in over Sunsara Taylor. It is ironic that an organization dedicated to the defense and promotion of critical thinking would be involved in such a controversy.
In 1989, FREE INQUIRY had a debate in the pages of its journal on libertarianism versus socialism. We have printed the writings of postmodernists, theists, and others with whom we disagree. That is why it is hard to understand why some members of your organization do not want Ms. Taylor to present her views to your group. Humanists and Ethical Culturists are supposed to be about unfettered free inquiry, if nothing else.
There are many different conceptions of humanism. Indeed, some people speak of "humanisms" just as some feminists speak of "feminisms." It is a mistake for anyone to believe that they have the one and only true conception of humanism.
Over the years, I have met people that believe that true humanism inevitably leads one to embrace socialism and reject capitalism. I have heard other humanists say that all humanists must reject socialism and embrace capitalism. I know of one humanist that defines humanism so cleverly that only anarchists can be said to be true humanists. (Surprise! He's an anarchist.)
All of these people are misguided. True humanists, Ethical Culturists, etc. should be primarily concerned with testing their ideas, listening to others, and learning to value the opinions of those with whom they disagree. Otherwise, why not just be religious?
By now it should be absolutely clear that your organization should allow Ms. Taylor to address your members. Please do the right thing.
Norm R. Allen Jr.
African Americans for Humanism*
To Whom it May Concern:
Have we become so polarized in this society that we cannot respectfully listen to opposing viewpoints, especially ones that are as well informed and presented as Sunsara Taylor's are? I have heard Ms. Taylor on this subject, and as a matter of fact have added my own perspective to hers.
I can guarantee you that Ms. Taylor's presentation will be informative and will spark a much needed dialogue and give every one who attends much needed food for thought.
Mother of Casey Sheehan, KIA in Iraq on April 04, 2004
Dear Sir or Madam,
I've heard that, incredibly, you're considering rescinding an invitation to have Sunsara Taylor speak.
I had the opportunity to meet Sunsara Taylor when she appeared as part of our parody church show, "The Best Church of God." The show, which has been repeatedly acclaimed by critics, was graced with her presence, intelligence and good humor last spring. While I don't necessarily agree with every single aspect of Ms. Sunsara's politics, I was very, very impressed with her intelligence, sense of fair play and attractive and positive demeanor. Our "church" pretends to ally itself with the most extreme of conservative views, and she rebutted our nonsensical (yet Biblically "sound" arguments) brilliantly, with a serious recitation of facts but also with tremendous good humor. Our audience enjoyed themselves thoroughly, not only because of our comedy skills, but also because they saw a lively, well-thought-out and entertaining exchange of ideas from every onstage.
It dishonors your entire organization by rescinding Ms. Taylor's invitation to speak, you are not only doing a disservice to your cause and your organization, you are denying the public and your members the opportunity to hear from one of the most intelligent, dynamic and original voices in the country today. Please do not make that mistake! Allow Sunsara Taylor to speak on November 1st.
"Pastor Dave Shepherd" of The Best Church of God
To Whom it Concerns,
I am writing to express my strong support for allowing Sunsara Taylor to speak as scheduled at the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago meeting November 1st. Sunsara Taylor has valuable, intelligent perspectives to share on ethical issues and severe challenges that face our world today, and her speech should be welcomed, not censored.
Please allow a diversity of helpful perspectives to inform your program.
Prof. Taigen Dan Leighton
Loyola University Chicago
Ms. Taylor brings a perspective to the arena of ideas which aids one's critical thinking ability. While one may or may not agree with Ms. Taylor's views, she passionately presents her ideas and thoughts. Her presentation helped to spark a spirited debate on our campus. Our students benefited from the debate. One should always be open to listen to divergent thoughts because it helps to test and strengthen our own points of view.
Dr. Michael R. Williams
Director, Black Studies Program*
Cleveland State University
Dear Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago:
I am a literary agent in New York City and am absolutely appalled to learn that you have withdrawn an invitation to Sunsara Taylor to speak at your organization.
This is an affront on just about every level. It’s an act of extraordinary rudeness and unprofessionalism to a nationally respected speaker, it reflects a level of provincialism I would have thought absent from an important organization such as yours, it appears to reflect a dangerous political desire to suppress a point of view that might be at variance with your organization’s, and it makes a mockery of the meaning of “ethical humanism.”
I can’t imagine you would want this ill-reasoned decision to circulate among the agents and speaking bureaus in the United States. I hope you will review this matter and let Sunsara Taylor (a dynamic presenter who I have heard speak) give her talk this Sunday.
President, The Marton Agency, New York, NY
I was shocked to learn that a group of people at EHSC have waged an unprecedented effort to rescind your fine organization's invitation to Sunsara taylor to speak on "Morality Without Gods." It is a disappointing surprise to find that some in the EHSC are wallowing in the irrational fear and hatred whipped up by Joe McCarthy and other right-wing lunatics in the 1950's and '60s and the resurgence of this nonsense by the ghoulish remains of the Republican Party in response to the election of America's first black president.
As you know, the author, entertainer and great American secular humanist Steve Allen was a victim of America 's right-wing hysteria during the dark days of blacklisting. Steve, who was honorary chairman of my campaign committee when I was a Democratic party candidate for the California State Senate, had been hurt so badly he went to great lengths to assure that he would never again be labeled a "communist," "communist sympathizer" or "pinko" by those vicious, un-American people who had brought him down decades earlier. In this respect, he was like a shell-shocked soldier. Even so, he had a strong commitment to free speech, free discussion and free exchange of all points of view. I think Steve would be as shocked and disappointed as I am today to learn of your decision to prevent your membership from hearing Sunsara Taylor.
My first encounter with Ms. Taylor was at the atheist conference in Burbank early this month where she revealed what a beautifully gifted orator she is. I was impressed with the depth of her knowledge and her ability to excite and energize her audience. Her speech was as entertaining as it was informative and the audience loved her. I met and talked with her afterwards and I am convinced she is a brilliant, sensible, responsible and informed person. I cannot imagine how ignorant, fearful or hateful anyone would have to be to want to prevent others from hearing this intelligent, well-informed and articulate woman.
As I am sure you are aware, our nation is burdened with ignorant people who will not accept evolution no matter what, who still believe that the sun orbits the earth; who claim the world is only 6,000 years old; who think, "English was good enough for Jesus, so it's good enough for me;" who want the "government to stop messing with Medicare;" and who cannot explain the differences between capitalism, socialism, communism, our democratic republic, or even the differences between the state of New Mexico and the nation of Mexico. Denying the free exchange of ideas is what caused this sorry condition.
I am hopeful that you will reject the decision by the small minority of people in your organization who want to prevent Sunsara Taylor from sharing her knowledge with your full membership. I am hopeful that you will reject the efforts of those who still channel the ghost of Joe McCarthy and affirm the critical thinking and intellectual openness the EHSC is known for by re-inviting Sunsara Taylor to speak. Please don't cave in under the objections of the few who value ignorance over knowledge.
Thank you for considering my request,
Charles W. Belser
Author of Larry the Penguin Searches for the Meaning of Life
To the Program Committee, EHSC:
I am writing this e-mail on behalf of Ms. Sunsara Taylor, whose scheduled presentation on November 1st. is apparently the target of disruption by the very organization responsible for inviting her in the first place (EHSC). I find this cancellation unconscionable.
I have shared a speaker's table with Sunsara Taylor on three occasions--twice at New York University and once at Pace University (on all three occasions we discussed the very same topic she is to present on at EHSC, "Morality Without Gods", and we both are involved as sometime hosts of the WBAI-radio (NYC) program Equal Time for Freethought. I cannot understand how you could in good faith cancel such a presentation from someone with so distinguished a track record in this regard.
The suggestion in Anil Kashyap's notice of cancellation to Ms. Taylor that "It makes no sense to bring you to speak to an audience who will not be interested or enthusiastic" not only speaks volumes about ignorance of Ms. Taylor's work, but also about the meanings of both 'ethics' and 'humanism'. I urge you to correct your error and allow the presentation to proceed as scheduled.
I find it ironic that I returned home today from a one-day conference at Villanova University, PA, on the subject of "Catholicism and Intelligent Design," where I was introduced to some folks who think that humans walked with dinosaurs, and that human beings are 'devolving instead of evolving'. Am I to assume that this last suggestion is evidenced by the behavior of your organization towards Ms. Taylor?
I found what I expected at the Villanova conference today; I expect better behavior from those one would ordinarily consider either natural allies or at least reasonable persons. This would be amusing if the crisis we are facing today weren't so serious. I can't help but suggest that you reflect on the history of mistakes like this carried out by organizations with otherwise respectable track-records (for example, see the historical example of what the ACLU did to Elizabeth Gurley Flynn). Whatever the motivations for your actions, appearances count for a whole lot. This cancellation has a 'bad odor' about it; now is the time to reverse the error, and allow Ms. Taylor to speak as scheduled.
Paul Eckstein, MA
Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religion
Bergen Community College, Paramus, NJ*
To whom it may concern at the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago re the Workshop this Saturday and Sunday morning talk;
Reading the twisted and backward representation of Sunsara Taylor's presentation sent me into waves of outrage and nausea, which were only stopped upon reading the numerous letters written in her support. It is those letters that gave me some hope for our country which seemed on a slippery slope due to your actions.
As a humanist, the outrage that a humanist society which purports to be based on reason denying any person a place to speak I was reminded of a Thomas Jefferson quote I took as a motto as a child:
"I have sworn, upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against any form of tyranny over the mind of man. "
Censoring the presentation of Sunsara Taylor is just such a tyranny, one that all freethinking people should decry. And especially at this time in history when critical minds are under siege in academia and women's bodies are under siege from the society at large. Her workshop on the Emancipation of Women and the Liberation of all human beings, is necessary. I happen to believe that the only way towards such liberation is through women's liberation, and I would be curious to know what you and Ms Taylor would have to say.
A discussion of Morality without Gods is simply key, especially when it comes from such an engaging speaker as Sunsara Taylor. Thomas Jefferson was speaking ironically about that altar, as I hope you know.
The Society should immediately extend its invitation to speak and its apologies to Sunsara Taylor, and to the rest of us. I was in the Free Speech Movement 45 years ago this Fall, and have been involved in its reunion Conferences. You should know that our student body representatives to our top committees had people for Goldwater and Ayn Rand to people way left of Sunsara Taylor. That is the point of free speech. As adults you should do no less.
I can also say as a nationally recognized speaker for 3 decades that no one cancelled my talks without proper payment of my fees and out of pocket expenses and profuse apologies. It happened twice, once because I was preempted by Charles and Diana of England when touring Canada and the American group really could not help the situation. It was not pre-censorship of the content of what I had to say, and believe me it was controversial in its day!
Sincerely yours, and I expect a reply
Laura X, founder/director of the former
National Clearinghouse on Marital and Date Rape
Women's History Library, Berkeley , CA
Let me say up front that Sunsara Taylor is one of six regular hosts (including myself) on the radio program I produce for WBAI-NY (Pacifica), 'Equal Time for Freethought' (ETFF). And while I want to mention here that Ms. Taylor's interviews have been among the best the program has had to offer, ETFF does not pretend to share all of her world views. Indeed, all six of us have different political philosophies (though I admit we are all left of center), yet we ALL share the common core message of philosophical humanism. In the proud humanist tradition of respecting the diversity of thought, let me then say this.
I have to admit that while I am disappointed that the Ethical Culture Society of Chicago would UN-invite Sunsara Taylor to speak on clearly humanistic topics, I am not surprised. Organized humanism in America has developed over the last 50 years or so as a mirror image of American society itself, which means it's more concerned with it's popularity, mainstream "image," and ability to appeal to the most possible individuals it can. In other words, organized humanism has more often than not traded it's principles for profit (albeit sometimes required just to stay alive in a capitalism system).
This ineffective and neutered 'humanism' has too often turned a blind eye to the sociopolitical and economic heart of humanism, while creating in its absence either a sort of flaky New Age "spirituality," or a narrow-minded, bitter atheism. And while humanism IS about heart, and a naturalistic world view, it's so much more than either.
At its core, I feel humanism is about humanity's drive toward real freedom, social equality, and individual liberty...both of mind and body. Humanism is therefore opposed to that which reduces our chance of obtaining such, including reactionary or authoritarian forms of religion, authoritarian styled power concentration (whether governmental or privatized), and economic systems which are inherently exploitive, oppressive or unfair. In this regard, Sunsara Taylor's message agrees with humanism where it critiques Imperialism, Capitalism, Organized Religion, and Religious Fundamentalism (no matter what one calls the latter).
Do I assert that ALL of Ms. Taylor's approaches are humanistic? No. Then again, how many humanists can claim this these days? I do not agree, for instance, that a rethinking of Leninist-Maoist "communism" will lead us toward a truly humanistic society due to it's own authoritarian and 'concentrated power' limitations. I also do not think that the evangelical, 'tough-love' atheism Ms. Taylor seems to embrace (along with capitalist atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens), is the way to bring people to a humanistic consciousness.. Nor is it true to Marx's own understanding of religion and the kind of society which embraces it.
But all in all, Sunsara Taylor's message gets to the core of what the humanist world view is all about, and to silence her simply because one may disagree with some (or even many) of her prescriptions, is to argue that humanists can no longer recognize their own philosophy when they see it, and have forgotten the "market place of ideas" motto of historical Freethought itself. If humanists are not willing to embrace such ideas in these times of political, religious and economic turmoil, who will?
Barry F. Seidman
Exec. Producer: Equal Time for Freethought!
For people who call themselves ethical and humanist to dis-invite Sunsara Taylor--or frankly, any speaker whom they had previously invited--suggests that they may well be neither. Though I have many disagreements with Sunsara, she is nothing if not thoughtful, fair-minded and, importantly for this matter, ethical. What is most disturbing about this decision is its lack of transparency. Surely the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago must have known of Sunsara's views before inviting her to speak. As such, their decision to withdraw the invitation would seem to indicate that they backed down after pressure was applied by those unwilling to countenance the introduction of communist ideas into the humanist debate. Such content-based censorship is inappropriate and frightening, and this kind of red-baiting has never served the progressive-left community well."
author, White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son and Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama
Only a fool would argue that people can't be moral without a belief in God, and only a fool would believe that people who do believe in God can't be moral and challenge global capitalism in all its perversity.
Rabbi Michael Lerner
Editor of Tikkun www.tikkun.org and Chair
with Sister Joan Chittister of the interfaith Network of Spiritual
Progressives (NSP) www.spiritualprogressives.org
* for identification purposes only