Contact Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago...
Stop UNPRECEDENTED effort to cancel Sunsara Taylor talk at Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago
Everyone should know about an unprecedented attempt to cancel Sunsara's Taylor's invitation to speak at the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago (EHSC) on November 1st—a talk which has already been announced publically in the EHSC October Newsletter and promoted in the area.
In July, 2009, Sunsara was invited to speak at the Nov. 1 Sunday platform by EHSC on "Morality Without Gods." Some on the EHSC Program Committee are moving to rescind their invitation, based on gross mischaracterization of Sunsara’s views and the claim that people wouid be “not interested or enthusiastic.” Sunsara intends to honor this already publicized, long-standing commitment. She will be coming on Sunday, Nov. 1st and will be prepared speak on the topic of "Morality Without Gods." She also will be leading an already-scheduled workshop at EHSC on Sat. Oct 31 on “The Liberation of Women and the Emancipation of All Humanity.”
This situation concerns everyone who values critical thinking, open and honest engagement of diverse perspectives. If EHSC rescinds this invitation, they will be contributing, even if inadvertently, to the new anti-communist, McCarthy-ist mind set and chill rippling through society today.
We are asking everyone to:
* Please contact the EHSC and let them know what you think.
Email to firstname.lastname@example.org, telephone 847-677-3334.
Please send a copy or write to email@example.com
Statements of support for Sunsara have come in from Chris Hedges, Mark Crispin Miller, Cindy Sheehan, Esther Kaplan, Bob Bossie, Peter Phillips, Hemant Mehta and more (see below).
* Spread the word. Everyone in the Chicago area is welcome to attend the EHSC program, Sunday, Nov. 1st at 10:30 a.m. and to join the workshop led by Sunsara, Saturday, Oct. 31st from 2-4 pm, on “The Liberation of Women and the Emancipation of All Humanity.” 7574 N. Lincoln Avenue, Skokie, Ilinois.
* Show your support for Sunsara: Invite her to speak at your organization, on your campus, in your department, in your community.
from Sunsara Taylor…..
October 21, 2009
To the Program Committee, Members, & Friends of EHSC from Sunsara Taylor
Last July I was extended an invitation by the Ethical Humanist Society of Greater Chicago to speak on the topic of “Morality Without Gods.” I accepted this invitation in good faith, arranged my schedule to be in Chicago on November 1st, and I plan to honor my commitment to speak on November 1, 2009, 10:30 am at the Ethical Humanist Society of Greater Chicago, 7574 N. Lincoln Ave., Skokie, IL.
Sunday night, October 18, less than two weeks before the program, I received an email letter from Anil Kashyap (copy attached) notifying me that some in the program committee are trying to cancel my talk.
I am appalled at the discourtesy of this, especially from a society centered around ethics. Never in my years of public speaking has anyone canceled a scheduled talk.
I have spoken on these same issues -- of morality without gods and morality to change the world -- to very diverse audiences in many different venues and forums. My talks have been sponsored by university departments such as the Center for the Study of Religion at UCLA, the Humanities Department at Columbia College, the African American Studies Department at Cleveland State; by secular student groups at schools such as New York University, Stanford, and Georgia State; by bookstores, high school assemblies, conferences such as the Atheist Alliance International Conference. I have spoken on my own as well as on panels with scientists, priests, Buddhists, Ayn Rand Objectivists, Black liberation theologists, and more. Many of my audiences include biblical literalists and because I posit a morality that speaks to their concerns and I have strategic confidence in their ability to change, if presented with the truth, we can have a positive engagement.
Again, the Ethical Humanist Society of Greater Chicago is the first to have some individuals try to cancel a speaking engagement.
This attempt to cancel my talk has clearly been driven by political and ideological disagreements with me by some on the EHSC program committee. This is shameful for any organization, but coming from and organization that prides itself on ethical action and promoting intellectual, philosophical and artistic freedom it is all the more disturbing.
The letter from Anil Kashyap that justifies his decision to attempt to cancel contains gross mischaracterizations of my views. If for no other reason, this alone would be reason enough why people in EHSC should have the opportunity to hear my views and analysis without a distorting lens. It certainly makes me wonder, did any of these individuals even listen to any parts of my talks or writings which are available on line before trying to cancel this presentation?
In any case, I feel it necessary to set the record straight. Kashyap 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 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.
Kashyap then objects to my use of the term “Christian fascism” as if this reflects some kind of blind rejection of all religious people on my part. Quite the contrary, using those two words together is precisely a way of specifying that I am NOT referring to all Christians. My use of the words “Christian fascism” is well considered, though it hardly seems that remarkable when describing far right-wing Christian dominionists who murder abortion providers and impede women's access to birth control, apply biblical literalist interpretations to their excoriation of gay people, speak of illegal wars of aggression as god-ordained crusades, deny the solid scientific fact of evolution, and wish to impose Old Testament Mosaic rule as the law of the land. Further, I am hardly alone in describing this phenomenon this way.
If anyone in the Society has sincere doubts as to whether this description fits, please attend my talk as I have reported live from some of the hottest flashpoints of the Christian fascist offensives in this country for years – from Terri Schiavo's hospice to stadiums filled with Christian youth being trained as shock troops by Bush appointees and Navy SEALS to Dr. George Tiller's besieged clinic and funeral and beyond.
The description of my talk clearly states that I will explore countering this with a secular morality. My views on this are informed by my experience and study of how society could be organized differently, by a vision of a world without oppression, mass ignorance, or exploitation, and by a communist morality “rooted in and serving 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 truth, as well as artistic and intellectual ferment and the flourishing of individuality, are fostered.”
This is the farthest thing from the bigoted anti-immigrant, anti-woman picture Prof. Kashyap implies as a reason for prohibiting this talk.
As a second reason to try and cancel my talk, Prof. Kashyap writes
“Second, instead we had been hoping that you could help us think about how moral, ethical behavior need not depend on a theistic outlook. We did not anticipate that a discussion of this question would look anything like the description you sent. I understand that you have thought further about the talk and not seen any obvious way to adjust it while staying true to your beliefs.”
In fact, the title and focus of my presentation is “Morality Without Gods.” Clearly this is about morality that does not depend on a theistic outlook.
Prof. Kashyap is not correct in saying that I was unwilling or unable to adjust what my talk was about.
In exchanges with other members of the program committee over my talk we discussed whether the focus of my presentation could be shifted to “human nature” but then agreed to stick with the original title on "Morality without Gods. In the course of this we clarified that this was not a talk on the topic of Revolution and Communism. As I wrote committee members:
"Obviously, while focusing on morality without gods, human nature will come up, it would be wrong to bill something as covering BOTH with real substance. So, I went back to what we had originally arranged -- and this title 'Morality Without Gods' is exactly that, a talk about morality without gods (not about communist revolution)."“The only reference to communism in the description is in regards to my orientation -- not in terms of what I am explicating in this discussion.”
At the very last minute, on the basis of these and quite a few other mischaracterizations of the facts, on the basis of fear that was whipped up on an unprincipled basis about my presentation and the supposed harm it would cause EHSC, some people have tried to cancel the speaking engagement. This is not an ethical way to handle disagreements.
This leads me to conclude that what this is really about is that some people don’t want aired certain views with which they disagree, and they are doing everything they can to suppress those views.
In my experience, and exactly because we live in a time of moral crisis where religious fundamentalism is on the rise, people do hunger for discussions of morality that explore both broader themes as well as how they apply in this particularly acute historical juncture and how we shall live morally in it.
I find it hard to believe that the majority membership of the Ethical Humanist Society of Greater Chicago finds this “uninteresting” or finds the suppression of this conversation tolerable. And I certainly doubt they care for contributing to the broader chill in society, the atmosphere where critical thinking, dissent, and thinking outside the dominant narrative is marginalized and suppressed.
Prof. Kashyap’s letter states:
“In light of all this, our committee does not want to proceed with this presentation. I understand you have many groups who wish to hear you speak. It makes no sense to bring you to speak to an audience who will not be interested or enthusiastic. (I gather that others in the society were trying to set up a workshop but, as far as I can tell, no one had signed up for that either.)”
In fact, there are people at EHSC and others from the broader community who have expressed interest in this program on Morality Without Gods and are enthusiastic about it, once they have seen the description of what it will be. Based on my experience with such a wide range of other audiences, I expect it will be lively and invigorating, with lots of different views, disagreements and depth to the engagement. Those who are truly not interested can stay home, sleep through that part of the Sunday platform, read a book, or plug their ears if they wish. Those who vehemently disagree can come and say why. But it is not right to keep others from being part of this – and not right to treat a speaker with such disrespect, either. I hope everyone, including Professor Kashyap, will come and raise their toughest questions. That I welcome and look forward to.
The Saturday workshop on "The Liberation of Women and the Emancipation of Humanity" is going forward as planned (2 pm to 4 pm, at the Ethical Humanist Society, 7574 N. Lincoln Ave, Skokie). The letter is correct in stating that this is being organized by others (outside the program committee); it is not correct in implying there is no interest.
I encourage everyone to join me.
2. Some of the statements received from noteworthy people who are familiar with Sunsara’s work. As can be seen in these comments, Sunsara Taylor is an engaged, passionate, and well-reasoned speaker. From Father Bob Bossie, Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges, Cindy Sheehan, Professor Peter Phillips of “Project Censored,” and more. (Some of these were sent specifically in response to word that some in EHSC were moving to cancel her speaking engagement).
1. Full description of Sunsara Taylor's planned presentation: “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.
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.
2. Statements of Support:
[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
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*
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.
If dishonor 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
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 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 Taylors presentation it will be difficult to understand as anything but censorship of a minority position within the humanist community.
George Francis Kane
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,
and Project Censored AwardNational Steering Committee Member of the World Can’t Wait
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
* for identification purposes only