Evolution and The Earth

earth-1706213_960_720Submitted by Peter Denison

Many people warn that the earth is in danger. Yet we know that our planet is now more than four billion years old and will probably last several billion more until our sun ultimately blows up. What people really mean is that human life may be in danger. Through the forces of evolution, many species have come into being, lived a number of years, and then died out. Over 99% of all species have run their course and become extinct.

We like to say that the dinosaurs “ruled” the earth for more than a hundred million years. Yes, they were obviously the largest animals on Earth for that period, but to say that they dominated the pests, insects, microbes, and parasites that fed on them and sickened or killed them is a stretch. Also, no single species survived throughout that period. Finally, due to environmental changes which included a gigantic meteorite crash, all dinosaurs became extinct.

Human Rights

Marvin MillerSubmitted by Marvin Miller

In other years I have written about human rights for the December newsletter, in recognition of the anniversaries of the Bill of Rights, Dec. 15, 1791, and the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Dec. 10, 1948. But January is also an appropriate month to remember human rights: it includes the birthday anniversaries of Franklin Roosevelt, Jan. 30, 1882, and Martin Luther King Jr., Jan. 15, 1929.

Dr. King’s struggle for equal civil and political rights for African-Americans is well known. In his ‘I have a dream” speech, he said that his dream was deeply rooted in the American dream, that all men are created equal. (In our day we would say all people are born equal.) Less well known is his struggle for economic rights and his opposition to the war in Vietnam, which he regarded as unjust. His last public appearance was in support of the sanitation workers of Memphis, who were on strike for decent treatment. The signs they carried said, “I am a man.” One of Dr. King’s memorable lines is “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Toward Reconciliation

Submitted by Peter Denison

ESB bannerThe New York Times of Saturday, October 29, 2016, printed a story about a woman named Shifa al-Qudsi, a Palestinian so upset by the mistreatment of her people that she volunteered to become a suicide bomber. Fortunately, she was caught before she could detonate the bomb and was sentenced to six years in an Israeli prison. During her imprisonment, she learned about a group called “Combatants for Peace” which had been started by some Israeli veterans whose army careers had convinced them that there must be a better way than shooting and bombing the enemy. Shifa had come to the same conclusion while serving in prison. Thus she joined a group composed both of Israelis and Palestinians working for a peaceful solution.

Suspect

Marvin MillerSubmitted by Marvin Miller

We can hardly see or hear a news report without encountering the word suspect, with the accent on the first syllable. My dictionary defines suspect as one who is suspected, especially of a crime. It doesn’t say suspected by whom. Usually, when the media use the term suspect, they don’t state who is doing the suspecting. They just call the person a suspect.

BEC Announces Grant Awards

The Grant Committee’s months-long process of soliciting and evaluating grant proposals drew to a climax in late September with the final  allocation of the grant budget. The Committee selected five applicants to receive grants in areas ranging from police-community relations to aiding homeless youth.

The five grantees for 2016 are:

clsacc-imageCommunity Legal Services and Counseling Center of Cambridge ($1979). CLSACC requested funds for its training classes for people applying to Section 8 (low-income) rental housing.

cmaa-imageCambodian Mutual Assistance Association of Lowell ($3000). CMAA requested funds for  voter engagement efforts and for citizenship training classes.

ecco-imageEssex County Community Organization of Lynn ($10,000). ECCO’s grant supports its innovative program to advance police-community relations in a racially-mixed community.

youthharbors

Youth Harbors (Justice Resource Institute, $7500). The Youth Harbors project of JRI serves a growing population of homeless high school students in the Boston area.

massvote-image

MassVOTE of Boston ($2500). MassVOTE is a nonpartisan voter engagement organization that does both grassroots activism as well as legislative lobbying work. They are sharing the grant with Nonprofit VOTE of Cambridge, which does data analysis and training for nonprofits around the country.

The Grant Committee members visited each of the grantees at their respective locations as part of the selection process. Without exception, the selected applicants were impressive for their operation, their vitality, and their dedication to their work.

Campaign 2016

election 2016Submitted by Andrea Perrault

The usual excitement of a presidential campaign has been eclipsed in 2016 by its seeming interminable length, its raucousness, and general meanness. Clearly, systemic change is needed in our political system: extremely long campaign cycles, primaries in states that are not reflective of the broader U.S. population, constant money raising, and arcane policies

In addition, the inability of the media to provide useful information or analysis on policy issues, preferring instead to report only on candidates’ diatribes toward one another, has made this political season seem unpleasant and ineffective in building a more educated electorate. The overriding emotion arising from this reality appears to be hatred. The verbal invective of some candidates has fed into corresponding distrust, distaste, and anger in the population. Collaboration, conciliation, and cooperation within the parties have vanished.

Life, Purpose, Good

marvin-headSubmitted by Marvin Miller

We distinguish living organisms from non-living entities by observing that living organisms act, via internal physical and chemical processes, in the interests of their continued existence and of the future of their species — in other words, with purpose. Purpose is different from intent — for purpose, consciousness isn’t necessary and usually isn’t present.

Since the lifespan of a living organism is limited, living organisms act to perpetuate their species by reproduction. Humans, however, are more complex than other kinds of life, and we can act to continue the existence of our species in ways other than reproduction. We are aware of the environment that sustains us and of the dangers that need to be avoided, such as nuclear war. Actions to avoid those dangers are consistent with our purpose as living organisms.

Homelessness

Marvin Miller

Submitted by Marvin Miller

The Boston Ethical community  has recently been giving its refreshment basket donations to Boston Health Care for the Homeless. We have given our Humanist of the Year award to people involved with providing services for homeless people, dating back to 1983. But why, in 2016, in the richest country in the world, are some people homeless?

Housing is one of the universal human rights in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). The right of every family to a decent home is one of the rights that President Franklin Roosevelt said, in his 1944 State of the Union message, that the United States has accepted.

Professor Juliet Schor Accepts 2016 Humanist of the Year Award

Submitted by Fred Hewett

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On April 10, 2016, BEC honored Professor Juliet Schor of Boston College as the 2016 Humanist of the Year.

Professor Schor’s talk, entitled “New Perspectives on Climate Economy” gave an overview of the economic challenges that confront a world beset by climate change.

She called for dramatic changes in our energy usage. “In the global north we need to move quickly to very large emissions reductions, well outside of the range of historic experience”, she said.