Domingo, 6 de enero de 2013

In a recent conversation with a fellow journalist, I voiced my exasperation at the endless talk about faith in God as the only consolation for those devastated by the unfathomable murders in Newtown, Conn. Some of those grieving parents surely believe, as I do, that this is our one and only life. Atheists cannot find solace in the idea that dead children are now angels in heaven. “That only shows the limits of atheism,” my colleague replied. “It’s all about nonbelief and has nothing to offer when people are suffering.”

This widespread misapprehension that atheists believe in nothing positive is one of the main reasons secularly inclined Americans — roughly 20 percent of the population — do not wield public influence commensurate with their numbers.…  Seguir leyendo »

Societal change usually happens slowly, even once it's clear there's a problem. That's because, in a country as big as the United States, public opinion moves in leisurely currents. Change often requires going up against powerful, established interests, and it can take decades for those currents to erode the foundations of our special-interest fortresses. Think civil rights, gay marriage, equal rights for women.

Even facing undeniably real problems — say, discrimination against gay people — one can make the case that gradual change is the best option. Had some mythical liberal Supreme Court declared, in 1990, that gay marriage was now the law of the land, the backlash might have been swift and severe.…  Seguir leyendo »

Are people, by nature, kind or rotten? This question has kept philosophers, theologians, social scientists and writers busy for millenniums.

A vote for our basic rottenness comes from scholars such as Steven Pinker of Harvard, who has documented how it is the regulating forces of society, rather than human nature, that have brought a decline in human violence over the centuries. A vote for our basic decency comes, surprisingly, from work by primatologists such as Frans de Waal of Emory University, who have observed that other primates display the basics of altruism, reciprocity, empathy and a sense of justice. Those virtues have a long legacy that precedes humans.…  Seguir leyendo »