Revolution Online, April 22, 2010

Spreading Revolution and Communism

A Communist, a Scientist, and a Priest Sat Down to Discuss...Morality to Change the World

On Friday, April 16 at the University of Chicago, a panel featuring Sunsara Taylor (writer for Revolution newspaper), PZ Myers (biology professor at University of Minnesota Morris and author of the most widely read science blog, Pharyngula) and Bob Bossie, SJC, (member of the International Catholic Order of Priests of the Sacred Heart & activist with 8th Day Center for Justice in Chicago) spoke to an audience of around 175 people, largely students. The panel was moderated by Ted Jennings of the Chicago Theological Seminary, and the event was co-sponsored by that organization, the University of Chicago Secular Student Alliance, Revolution Books, the 8th Day Center for Justice, and the UC Philosophy Club.

A representative of the UC Secular Student Alliance welcomed the audience, noting that this was one of the most important discussions we can be having in the world today. This sense was reflected in the comments of the speakers and moderator, as well as a large section of the audience who brought serious urgency to changing the world in fundamental ways—including because of the environmental and economic crises. Some were doing serious soul-searching to figure out how to live their lives, and questioning what sacrifices they were willing to make for the betterment of humanity. Many of those who attended were fans of PZ Myers and his blog, and various kinds of atheists, agnostics, skeptics and humanists. Others were groupings or individual secular or atheist students, including from other campuses who heard about the panel online on various atheist blogs or Facebook. Some felt less urgency for social change but are working to develop a rational worldview and a personal code of ethics for how to be a good person and relate to other humans in a cooperative, respectful way. There were progressive religious people anxious to find areas of overlap and channels for meaningful exchange with progressive secular people. There were activists and people from various social movements. And there were people who have heard about the revolution, or been checking it out, who came to hear the exchange.

The three questions around which the presentations of the panelists revolved were:

  1. Can religion, science or communism provide a morality to change the world?
  2. Are they complementary, conflictual or mutually exclusive of one another?
  3. How will we motivate people, and with what moral paradigm to change the world?

There were some questions about human nature, how to change the world in general and some challenges to the role of religion, the Catholic Church and belief in God coming from the audience. A lot of people seemed surprised by Bob Bossie, who responded to a question from Ted Jennings about what kind of timeline was needed for fundamental change by joking, how about a week? He then went on to say that he wasn't joking and that there was a serious question of what was urgently needed in the world and how people had to ask themselves, and that he constantly asks himself, what are you willing to sacrifice, what are you willing to do for this change? It's one thing to volunteer for a week or two, or donate to something or whatever, but really how are you going to live your life? And many of the questions went to Sunsara Taylor and revolved around communism and revolution—what about people who disagree with you, if you have a centralized government making all the decisions, how will we know they'll be the right decisions, haven't vanguard parties just led to something worse, yes there were advances made for bringing women into the workforce in the Soviet Union but then there was a whole emphasis to them on becoming mothers to serve the revolution.

Feedback surveys were given to the audience, and many dozens were filled out, which offers a lot to learn from. There were criticisms from every side. A number of people were taken aback by the honesty of the panel and the way they had such divergent viewpoints but came together around the need for real change. The panel and Q&A went over two and a half hours, and very few people left early. There was a real feeling in the air that there was something going on here, refreshing and new, and very sorely needed.

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