Space City Skeptics

The Official Blog of the Houston Skeptic Society

Archive for November 25th, 2009

Event: Yes! Humanists celebrate the solstice

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That time of year! (cc) Rachel (AriCee),

It’s that time of year again! Humanists, like those in many other traditions, do indeed celebrate around the time of the winter solstice. Why? Well, for one it’s fun – but it’s also important to have a special time of year where we call attention to fellowship, sharing, and the value of giving. Why not do it at a time of year when the weather is bad and people tend to be affected by that? Furthermore, attaching celebrations to natural events like solstices makes perfect sense for a people who have a naturalistic worldview, and a sense of awe at the natural universe (Humanists also celebrate World Humanist Day on or around the summer solstice).

In more logistical terms, it makes good sense to celebrate when the rest of our community is celebrating in similar ways, which of course affects work and business schedules and the like. This way, we can also join with non-Humanist friends and family in the celebration of those values of our various holidays which overlap and are compatible. These must have been similar concerns when early Christians decided that the pagan celebration of the solstice was a good time of year to celebrate the birth of their savior.

There are other names for the Humanist celebration around this time of year. One is called HumanLight, a fairly new term adopted by the American Humanist Association and some others. It’s basically another name for the same concept, taking place technically on December 23rd. Many of these terms are still gelling together, but the celebration itself has been pretty broad and constant among Humanists. Here in Houston, the Humanists of Houston has been holding a Winter Solstice Celebration for many, many years. Over the years it has grown and has lately become an event shared with, and sponsored by, the family of organizations known as the Houston Freethought Alliance. So, without further ado, let me announce this year’s 2009 Winter Solstice Party!

The Houston Freethought Alliance presents…
2009 Winter Solstice Party

Date & Time: December 12th, 2009 from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM
Theme: Celestial Splendor
Location: Memorial Park Golf Club (click here for an online map)
1001 E Memorial Loop; Houston TX 77007

Food/Drink: Beck’s Prime Steakhouse will provide a rib eye steak, chicken, hamburger, hot dog, or veggie burger; plus unlimited sides, soda, and water for $18 per adult. Burgers and dogs for kids under 12 yrs old for $8/child. For menu details, check out ‘The Blowout’. Adult beverages will be available for purchase!
Please note –outside food and drink is not allowed!

Entertainment: We will have games for kids and our own Santa Claus! Please let us know the ages of kids attending when you RSVP. We will also be having a raffle/silent auction to raise funds for Camp Quest Texas! Check out the SECULAR Center website for a list of prizes!

RSVP: Please RSVP online at no later than December 7th, 2009. Click on our ‘Events & Volunteering’ page and then click on ‘RSVP for the HFA Solstice Party’.

Enter username: hfasolsticeparty and password: solstice2009.

Questions? E-mail or call 832 295-0188.



Although the main purpose of this post is to announce the Winter Solstice Party, I would be silly not to acknowledge this as the day right before Thanksgiving. For those who are wondering, there isn’t an official version of Thanksgiving for Humanists of which I’m aware. However, I think you’ll find most Humanists celebrate it in some fashion, if for no other reason than that most of their surrounding culture, friends, and family do. But I’d like to take this paragraph to suggest to my Humanist friends that we should approach tomorrow with more than the love of Turkey. While we are non-theistic, it is also a good idea to have at least one time a year where we focus on gratitude. Not only is it a good opportunity to thank others in our lives for what they have done for us and what they mean to us, but it is a psychologically healthy practice to recall those things which are good in our lives, and for which we can have an appreciation. In that spirit, I’d like to wish everyone out there a happy Thanksgiving, and offer my sincere thanks to all those who take the time to read my babbling, and especially who have offered their comments and input!


Written by DT Strain

November 25, 2009 at 11:03 am

Posted in Uncategorized

A Rush to Forward – email chains and critical thinking

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(This article first appeared in slightly different form on the SWIFT blog of the James Randi Education Foundation.)

Opportunities to expose people to critical thinking occur frequently. Last week I received one of those emails we all get on occasion, one that had been forwarded several times, each time with a dozen or so addressees. The oldest email in the chain was dated November 16, but referred to an event that occurred mid September, 2009.   I’ve posted it below, with the copy exactly as it appeared:

I hope this makes it to every person in Texas….we need to shut this store down FOR GOOD!!

Today I went to the Harwin Central Mall to pick up some crystals. The very first store that you come to when you walk from the lobby of the building into the shopping area had this sign posted on their door. The shop is run by Muslims. I couldn’t stay in the building, it made me so sick.

Feel free to share this with others.

Imam Ali flew one of the planes into the twin towers. Nice huh?

The first thing I did when receiving this was to Google for a list of the 9-11 hijackers, which I easily found on several sites, including an FBI press release. Of course, Imam Ali was not on the list. Since I’m a bit of a history buff (although by no means an expert), I knew that “Imam Ali (A.S.)” was the assassinated fourth Caliph, and the son-in-law of Mohammed. Disputes regarding the successors to Mohammed and Ali’s murder contributed to the conflicts that led to the split of Islam between the Sunni and Shia sects.

Because the Islamic calendar is lunar, the anniversaries change dates as related to the Western calendar, and this year the anniversary of his murder happened to fall on September 11. This is a holy date to the Shia community, and each year millions gather to mourn and commemorate. This is a religious event, but it is also important historically.

I’m not a fan of any religion. However, I am against discrimination, stereotypes, ignorance of history, and a failure to check out facts. The news story was carried on Houston affiliates, such as the local ABC station, who covered the story : “The sign was posted on a store…What it said caused so much controversy it’s been blogged about on the Internet and store managers have been threatened and harassed.” (Emphasis added). Other news articles, referred to angry Internet bloggers, but also people who expressed apologies for overreacting without knowing the facts.

Those reactions, and the threats received by the store owners, were based on ignorance. Most Westerners have little or no knowledge of world history in anything but general terms, and that tends to be dominated by northern European or western hemisphere political events. History about religions is not typically addressed. Like everyone, I also get many emails forwarded to me that contain warnings, urban legends, and other false information that can usually be quickly verified by checking on  online – in fact, Snopes covered this within days. Warning someone about flesh-eating bacteria on banana peels probably doesn’t cause anyone harm, but threats to boycott and false information that leads someone to be threatened or abused, can cause injury.

The store owner, Imran Chunawala, closes his shop every year for this anniversary, and was surprised by the reaction. When informed about the controversy regarding the date, he issued an apology and posted a new sign explaining who Imam Ali was, and the coincidence on it occurring on September 11 this year. (Note: The Christian holiday of Easter is also based in part on a lunar calendar, which is why it falls on a different date each year.)

The brouhaha was based on a misunderstanding, which has been cleared up, at least locally. However, the email came from a friend in another part of the state, two months after the incident. When I received it, I wrote a “reply all” to my friend, explaining the significance of the date, asked her to not forward it again and to send my note back to the person from whom she had received the email. Reactions were mixed.  From her, a reply that ‘how could she possibly know about Imam Ali’ and from one other person, a thank you. I wonder how long that email will be passed along without being critically reviewed, researched, or even questioned, and what continued anger it may generate.

Written by Geek Goddess

November 25, 2009 at 8:46 am