City of São Paulo to Open an Immigrant Reception Center

According to a report by Viver São Paulo, the city of São Paulo is set to open in August or September of
this year a center for receiving immigrants. Reportedly the first of its kind, immigrants and refugees will receive legal support, assistance in obtaining documents, Portuguese language lessons as well as shelter. It will be located in downtown São Paulo.

São Paulo city hall says that “a multidisciplinary team will receive and support immigrants in transit or resident in the city, regardless of nationality, migratory status or legal justification for permanency in the national territory.” A diverse public is expected to be served by this center, and the emphasis appears to be on refugees and bearers of humanitarian visas.

About 200 people are expected to be served every month by this center, and there will be 110 beds for those needing a place to stay overnight. Aside from dormitories, the center will provide a cafeteria, kitchen, locker room, storage area and living area. The model for this center are the Centros Nacionais de Apoio ao Imigrante (National Centers of Immigrant Support) in Portugal.

The intention is to prepare those received for the job market, although I personally have my doubts. Brazil is an incredibly challenging place even for qualified Brazilians to find work, and more highly qualified immigrants tend to end up teaching their native languages or doing consulting rather than obtaining work in their true professional areas. Furthermore, there really doesn’t seem to be a shortage of so-called “low-skilled” workers for retail, manufacturing, cleaning and related employment.

In any case, I do appreciate the more welcoming approach to immigrants represented in this project, as compared with that of nations such as the United States. There is a great deal of poverty and violence in the world, and people naturally do not want to remain in such places. Brazil has a fairly high profile as an emerging economy these days, although whether that reputation is truly deserved or not is another matter.


See Also:
Ticket to Paradise: A Short Documentary About Haitian Immigrants in Brazil

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Humanists Support Refugee Children At The U.S. border

It turns out that however we feel about the decisions adults make, people tend to want to protect children. Minors from Central America are arriving in record numbers at the United States border, driven there by desperate poverty and violence in their home countries and carried on the hopes of their parents that they’ll find a better life. Although the U.S. is deeply divided on the issue of immigration, people from across the political and religious spectrum are stepping forward to help. Humanists, freethinkers, atheists, agnostics and others share this desire to look out for the little ones.

Foundation Beyond Belief, a humanist charitable organization that I introduced on this blog a few months ago, is actively seeking contributions to provide legal defense for these kids. See below for the full notice, shared here with the permission of the organization. Links to previous posts about FBB are located at the bottom of this post.


 

Humanist Crisis Response, a joint program of Foundation Beyond Belief and the American Humanist Association, is launching a drive to raise funds for the legal representation of the more than 50,000 child refugees who have fled poverty and violence to reach the southern border of the United States over the last few months.

FBB has chosen two beneficiaries for the funds raised by this campaign: Kids in Need of Defense and The Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, both of which focus on providing attorneys to represent these children in immigration hearings. Those hearings are required by federal law.

While many organizations have focused on providing food, shelter, and other basic needs for the refugee children, little attention has been paid to getting them the legal help they need to navigate an immigration system they don’t understand. KIND and The Florence Project have offices in Texas, Arizona, and California and are already set up to provide this aid, but they need the resources to handle the sudden influx of new refugees.

The overwhelming majority of these child refugees are from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, and the conditions they left for their dangerous journey to the United States are marked with violence, poverty, and instability. For young girls, especially, sexual violence is a major driving factor. An estimated 86% of them have no one to advocate on their behalf during immigration hearings.

“As this crisis has unfolded, it has become clear that the major need for these children is not food and shelter but legal advocacy to protect their basic rights,” said Dale McGowan, executive director of Foundation Beyond Belief. “No child should meet a national immigration system alone. KIND and The Florence Project are doing brilliant work to ensure that they are not alone, and the humanist community is proud to support them.”

“This campaign is an opportunity for humanists to put into practice our values of justice and human rights and to ensure that vulnerable children receive the legal representation that they need,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association.

Click here to donate, and stay up to date with the latest news by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Image credit: Donna Burton (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)


See Also:

The Origins of Noah

As I small child I often paged through an illustrated children’s Bible, fascinated especially with the stories of Adam & Eve as well as Noah. The image in particular of people and animals being swept away in a terrible flood beneath a torrential downpour and amidst lightening seemed both horrifying and intriguing. This story was a part of the cultural air ancient Israel breathed, shared in various forms with the surrounding nations. To this day the story of a righteous man and his family being favored by heaven and spared destruction resonates with humanity.

With today being the DVD/Blu-ray/streaming release date for the Noah movie, I thought the comments below from Dr. Jacob Wright would be appropriate to share. 


See Also:
Course Review: The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future

Don’t Confuse Your Online Shoppers

Those who work in ecommerce might want to take note. It seems that some research indicates that showing online shoppers multiple photos of the same product online confuses them a little, makes them less confident about buying and then are less satisfied after making the purchase. One suggestion is that people value uniqueness, and multiple images works against this process. To me this all makes sense because it’s been shown that customers in brick-and-mortar stores are more indecisive and less satisfied when presented with multiple brands of the same type of product, especially when the prices are similar. For more, watch the video below.

See Also:

An Introduction to Fellowship of Freethought Dallas

Last week I blogged about the Oasis groups in Houston and Kansas City. These are non-theistic organizations whose members and friends gather in a church-like fashion and also engage in service to the community. In the past I’ve also blogged extensively about Sunday Assembly. You can see the bottom of this post for links to some of what I’ve had to say so far about various non-theistic alternatives to churches.

It was in response to a Tweet about my post last week that Zachary Moore brought Fellowship of Freethought Dallas to my attention.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsDigging around online I found the information about Fellowship of Freethought rather limited, so I reached out to Zach. He was kind enough to answer a series of questions about the group, which I include in its entirety here. Other than inclusion of links where it seemed appropriate and the addition of our names in bold to distinguish who is speaking, I have left the text intact.

Many thanks to Zach for his willingness to take the time and provide such great answers.


Adam: How long has FoF Dallas been in existence?

Zach: The FoFD came into existence in January of 2010, and had its first official event on Saturday, January 30th of that year. It’s first major public event (called a “Gathering”) was held on February 21st, and it has been an active organization ever since.

Adam: Is it affiliated with any other groups?

Zach: The FoFD is a member group of the Dallas–Fort Worth Coalition of Reason, an umbrella organization that unites secular groups in the DFW metroplex for increased visibility and shared projects. The DFWCoR is affiliated with the United Coalition of Reason, which is closely allied with the American Humanist Association.

Adam: How did it come about? What was the inspiration/impetus? Who was involved?

Zach: I and about twenty other members of the North Texas Church of Freethought were dissatisfied with its leadership structure, and we decided to create a similar organization that was organized more democratically, and with more emphasis on the membership. We gathered in my living room for the first organizational meeting, and hammered out our new name and basic values. Over the next couple week, we developed a mission statement and a logo, as well as appointed a provisional board of directors. I was selected to be the first Executive Director. We all shared the common vision of a community of freethinkers and Humanists in the Dallas area that focused on educational activities, social events, and charitable outreach. We wanted to demonstrate to ourselves, our children, and our friends and neighbors that we could be a positive force in our community.

Adam: Are there any stated shared values? For example, Sunday Assembly has “Live better, help often, wonder more.”

Zach: Freethought, Fellowship, Friendship, and Family! These represent the four petals of the pansy on our logo.

Adam: What is a typical gathering like? Format?

Zach: The “Gathering” is our flagship event, and takes place on the third Sunday of each month. We meet at a recreational center in Dallas, which is rented for the day. Members and guests typically arrive an hour to thirty minutes early for coffee, and to reconnect with their friends. There is a presentation agenda that typically runs for about an hour, and combines TED-style talks about philosophy, science, or current events, with music, poetry, and sometimes even workshop activities. Our children meet in separate rooms and participate in age-appropriate educational activities, games, and discussions. Immediately following the presentation agenda, we reconfigure the room for a massive potluck lunch, where all our members eat and talk for one to two more hours, before cleaning up and going home for the afternoon.

Adam: What type of topics are generally discussed at gatherings?

Zach: We’ve had presentations on the intersection of neuroscience and perception, artistic expression, Wonder Woman and science, privilege and inequality, the cognitive science of religion, the development of secular traditions, expressions of gratitude, analysis of environmentalism, and literary analysis of Edgar Allen Poe. We’ve also had fantastic guest speakers, including Seth Andrews, Aron Ra, Matt Dillahunty, Jerry DeWitt, and Bridget Gaudette.

Adam: How often does FoF meet?

Zach: Our Gathering happens once a month. Other activities continue throughout the month, predominantly on the weekends, and frequently during the week as well. There are no weeks in the month without an activity.

Adam: Are there children/youth activities?

Zach: Yes. During the Gathering, we have age-appropriate education and activities for our children, and we have a dedicated Youth Director who creates and manages events for kids throughout the month.

Adam: Are there small groups or something similar? Addiction recovery, hobby groups or other?

Zach: We have sponsored secular addiction recovery groups, a philosophy club, a women’s group, and a Recovering from Religion group. We also have small groups who participate in star parties, organize board game tournaments, and come out regularly for nights at the pub.

Adam: Is the group overtly atheistic/anti-theistic, or simply non-theistic?

Zach: We don’t attack religion or the religious, and aren’t even explicitly atheistic. But most of our members are freethinking atheists or secular Humanists, or at least nonreligious. Our goal is to represent our values in a positive way.

Adam: How does someone join FoF?

Zach: To join our activities, all you have to do is show up. If you want to become a Voting Member, there are simple applications available at all Gatherings. Voting Members are expected to participate actively in the FoFD, donate their time and resources as they are able, and are then responsible for the annual election of the board of directors.

Adam: How is FoF supported financially?

Zach: The FoFD is supported entirely on the voluntary donations of its membership. Everyone is encouraged to donate at least $30 per month, more or less as they are able.

Adam: Is there an introduction video that you would recommend including in a blog post?

Zach: Here’s an introduction to one of our Gatherings that touches on charitable giving:

Update from Zach:

Two things I neglected to mention:

1) The Fellowship of Freethought Dallas is also a member organization of the Foundation Beyond Belief’s Beyond Belief Network of volunteer organizations.

2) The FoFD is also designed to be copied by other groups who want to replicate its model in their area. The logo and content is a shareable Creative Commons copyright, and the organizational structure is intended to be bottom-up, not top-down. Any interested persons can contact me for more information.

See Also:

Faithify: The UUA’s New Crowdfunding Site

Raising money for worthy projects can be a tricky proposition. When young people are involved (youth groups, athletic activities, etc) I generally prefer that they do fundraising projects that involve work, as it teaches the value of labor and makes the accomplishment all the sweeter. Some efforts are too big for that, or call for wider participation from a particular community. Kickstarter isn’t always the best option, and recognizing this, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) has launched Faithify.

Faithify is being touted as the first-ever crowdfunding site backed by a denomination. Looking around the site, which appears to have been built in WordPress with plenty of other technology involved, I was impressed by the quality of the site and the range of projects listed. This is a good effort that will be interesting to watch.

For more, watch the video below and read the official press release as well.

//player.vimeo.com/video/94507174 Faithify from Iambic Media on Vimeo.

Course Review: The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future

Introduction

It was in my mid-teens that I started reading the Bible pretty extensively. I spent most of my time in the Wisdom books and the New Testament. The Pentateuch seemed terribly dull and the Prophets were incomprehensible to me because I wasn’t familiar with ancient Near Eastern history. Despite later obtaining an undergraduate degree in “ministry” from a Christian university, I didn’t have a clear picture of Israel’s history until recent years. As it turns out, much of what I learned before now was incorrect.

A couple of months ago I received a notice from Coursera.org about a class then coming up on The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future, taught by Dr. Jacob L. Wright of Emory University. The description sounded really good, and it was free to sign up to watch the course videos and have access to reading material, so I joined in. I didn’t expect my mind to end up so bent out of shape.

Archaeological Evidence

Imagine everything you know about 20th century western history (U.S. and Europe in particular) being thrown into question. For example what if not only did the Berlin Wall never fall, it hadn’t even been built. Also, the U.S. was a backwater province during this time and Britain the superpower alongside the USSR. That’s how it was for me going through this course.

Referring to contemporary archaeologists and their findings, Dr. Wright explained that there was likely never enslavement of the Israelites in Egypt, much less an “exodus” from there. While there may be some historical basis in a small group of rebels leaving Egypt and migrating to the land of Canaan, where their story blended with the history of the peoples already in the land, no large scale movement ever took place.

This much I’d already heard before and I didn’t find terribly difficult. The real challenge came when Dr. Wright made clear that there’s no historical evidence that the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel were ever united in one kingdom. In other words, the stories of Saul and his descendants came from the northern kingdom, and the tales of the Davidic dynasty originated separately in the south. After the northern kingdom was conquered by Assyria in 720 BCE, refugees arrived in the southern kingdom, bringing their traditions with them. Their narratives were blended in such a way as to support and glorify Judah’s monarchy, while also adopting some of the religious traditions of the north.

How the Bible describes history.

What the evidence suggests really happened.

Last year I read the Bible cover-to-cover. That effort laid out for me the full sweep of biblical history in a way I’d never fully grasped. Dots that I’d seen separately in great detail over the years were finally connected. Now I discover it may mostly amount to fiction. Like I said above: mind-bending.

Although per the course the archaeological evidence for this new perspective is strong, I still have my doubts. This is not due to sentimental reasons, but because I’m suspicious of the razzle-dazzle ways of certain scholars of archaeology who are promoting the new understanding, as well as how they seem to base much of their argument on lack of evidence. For example, not having found what they consider “great works” or monuments of Solomon’s reign, they consider him to be potentially fictitious, and certainly not anywhere near as great as what is described in the Bible even if he did exist. I find this unconvincing. Then again, I’m not the scholar.

Textual Criticism

This course follows in general agreement with the findings of higher criticism. Having been raised Roman Catholic and read the commentary in my Bible as a teenager, JEPD was no surprise to me. The documentary hypothesis suggests that the Hebrew Scriptures draw from 4 primary traditions. These are J (Yahwist), E (Elohist), P (Priestly) and D (Deuteronomist). Bringing the best of contemporary scholarship to the course, Dr. Wright clarified what these mean and provided an exercise to help students distinguish between the various threads of tradition.

My professors at Harding University in the 1990s went to great lengths to emphasize that they rejected “higher criticism” while affirming “lower criticism.” The latter simply seeks to understand the text in terms of seeking the “most original” rendition, the former analyzes the possible sources for the textual material as a whole. By the time I took those classes I had decided I couldn’t believe in the accuracy of the Bible as “God’s Word” and also accept any of the conclusions of higher critics, and so I shared the perspective of my professors in denying the documentary hypothesis.

Yet, this view makes so much sense. Deuteronomy, for example, is so different from the previous four books of the Pentateuch. It describes a renewal of the covenant just prior to Israel entering the land, describes Moses as a teacher of the Law and talks about the king as a scholar of sacred writ. It seems quite clear that this was the “rediscovered law” from the beginning of King Josiah’s reign in Judah, and served as the justification for his vast religious and political reforms. Traces of postexilic “finishing touches” can also be detected quite easily.

Purpose of the Hebrew Scriptures

This brings us to the real thrust of this course by Dr. Wright. As he put it: "The Bible is a pedagogical project of peoplehood that emerged in response to defeat.“ Or in other words:

In Dr. Wright’s view, the Bible was drawn from multiple sources and produced in its final form as a way to preserve the distinctiveness of Israel as a nation. They had been defeated multiple times and could easily have faded into history as did so many other nations around them, but because of this collection of books they were able to share a narrative history, common culture and sense of ceremonial and moral distinctiveness that set them apart from other peoples, with or without a land and a king to call their own.

Conclusion

There are indeed many voices from multiple eras in evidence in the Hebrew Scriptures, creating a sort of harmonious cacophany that people throughout the world find challenging and inspiring to this day. In his concluding remarks, Dr. Wright addresses both the usefulness of these writings for people today as well as their relevance for non-theists.

The Bible, he says, can be "mined for wisdom.” This is most certainly true, in my opinion. Not only do the wisdom books give us something to think about, but also the narratives, even with moral failures like that of David with Bathsheba, can serve as lessons for us in our times.

Can atheists and agnostics find value in the study of Hebrew Scripture? Of course, in the same way that modern people of any faith or none can find interesting content and valuable insight through a reading of ancient Greek literature. One does not have to believe in Zeus to enjoy the Homeric epics.

If this course is offered again in the future and you have an interest in the Bible, you would be doing yourself a favor by taking it.

See Also:
Jacob L. Wright on the Bible’s Prehistoy, Purpose, and Political Future (Peter Enns)