Earlier this year, Fred Edwords started a project modeled after PhilyCOR, or the Philadelphia Coalition of Reason. The initial goal of PhilyCOR is to unite different atheist, humanist, and other secular organizations in order to build a stronger local community. While this has been a lofty goal, by looking at the various Coalition of Reason sites set up during the year, along with high profile advertising campaigns, the impact has not been worth the effort spent by members of the freethought communities the Coalitions of Reason's represent. The sites are lacking in new content, feature a handful of press releases and articles from news sources surrounding the "shocking" advertising in the local community and a small amount of local events lead by only a few members of the Coalition, which leads me to believe that having an external source (UnitedCOR) sweep in, spend money on an ad and leave has little impact.
So, what is the big deal? UnitedCOR comes in, invites a few chosen groups to join the COR, some accept, others join out of peer pressure, an ad campaign is run, and the groups are left to themselves. If only it were that simple.
Because UnitedCOR is an organization which is independent and undemocratic, run by Fred Edwords and an unknown benefactor who are choosing to spend money to further their own cause, the groups which are members have little say in what UnitedCOR does. It is clear from press coverage which follow billboards which appear in communities which have started COR's, that the COR's are formed to support interest in Greg Epsteins's new book.
Greg Epstein is the Humanist Chaplin at Harvard. He believes that the "New Atheism" of authors like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, has a bad image in the public, so rather then defending and supporting the rights of atheists to engage in open dialog and raise important issues regarding religion, he has instead decided to ride their coat tails with a movement he calls, the "New Humanism." "We are interested in anything that is good, without God," Epstein writes. He sees the "New Humanism" movement in stark contrast to the negativity of "New Atheism." I think this dichotomy is false. UnitedCOR carries this attitude that "New Atheism" must be stopped and replaced with "New Humanism."
What harm is there in joining a UnitedCOR sponsored organization? The benefit is that you receive some attention due to a website and billboard. My thought is that organizations can receive just as much, if not more, coverage for doing work in the communities their serve. The harm, is that these organizations then take place in the discrimination of other organizations UnitedCOR and related local organizers seek to exclude.
Do you mean to say that UnitedCOR, a group which seeks to, according to their mission, "to raise the visibility and sense of unity among local groups in the community of reason, to create a national dialogue on the role of nontheists in American society, and to improve the way that nontheists are perceived by average Americans," would exclude atheist groups? Yes.
In PhilyCOR, The Rational Response Squad was excluded due to objections raised by the Ethical Humanist Society of Philadelphia. The Rational Response Squad an been an excellent resource in engaging an audience a generation or two younger then the membership of most freethought organizations. Their exclusion is shocking to me.
It is not surprising that a group which labels itself as an Ethical Humanist society would behave in this fashion, especially after the controversy in Chicago over a dis-invitation and later police action taken by the Ethical Humanist organization there. Our strength is in our diversity. Tolerance must extend to those with whom you disagree. I am not interested in listening to an atheist or humanist echo chamber.
In Minnesota, Atheists for Human Rights was excluded, under the excuse that they are a national organization and national organizations are not to take part in UnitedCOR groups. August Berkshire has had a long standing grievance with Atheists for Human Rights, for various reasons and used his role as organizer of Twin Cities COR to exclude this organization.
At its best UnitedCOR is an ineffective attempt to bring freethought groups together. At its worse, it seeks to exclude groups it chooses while promoting people it deems worthy, such as Greg Epstein.
If you are a member of a UnitedCOR sponsored organization, pay close attention to what is being thrust onto your organization and what is being done in your name. Whether you like it or not, the actions of UnitedCOR reflect on your group.
If you are considering joining a UnitedCOR sponsored organization, I would make sure that your organization's goals match with those of the organizer of your local COR. After all, we all strongly support rationality and careful thought. Groups have the freedom to choose for themselves but must be made well aware of the impact of their decisions.