Campus crusade for secularism

Over the past few years the secular society of United States’ colleges and universities has grown in leaps and bounds.

Student Members of the Illini Secular Student Alliance, via Religious Dispatches Magazine

This should come as little surprise to those who are watching the rise of the Nones throughout America. Most of these nones are part of the Millennial Generation, aka college students. Therefore, colleges who may have had little to no secular organization previously have now become a force to be reckoned with.

The Secular Student Alliance (SSA) is a nonprofit that was incorporated in 2001. By 2007, 80 campus groups had affiliated with them. This number grew to 100 by 2008, 174 by 2009 and doubled to a whopping 394 by 2013.  Jesse Galef, communications director of SSA is positive about the continued growth of secularism on campuses:

We have been seeing rapid growth in the past could of years, and it shows no sign of slowing down. It used to be that we would go to campuses and encourage students to pass out flyers. Now, the students are coming to us almost faster than we can keep up with.

The rise of secular groups on college campuses has been in the works for a few years. In early 2012, presidential candidate Rick Santorum said, “the indoctrination that is going on at the university level is a harm to our country,” and went on to say that “62 percent of kids who go into college with a faith commitment leave without it.” Whether Santorum was right or not, his statement still shows acknowledgment of a secular mentality on college campuses.

This semester the Illini Secular Student Alliance , at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and one of the affiliates of SSA, has done little to shy away from its secular voice.

On February 12, they will eat cake to celebrate Darwin Day, and earlier this year, they performed “de-baptism” ceremonies to celebrate Blasphemy Day, attended a War on Christmas Party, and set up Hug An Atheist and Ask An Atheist booths in the campus quad.

Is the increase in secular students good or bad? Will this help to diversify campuses or simply pose a future problem for Christian students still weak in their faith?

Some Christian campuses are actually welcoming secular groups to form groups of their own.  The Texas Christian University (TCU) is reaching out to aitheists and non-believers by forming the Free Thinking Frogs. Alexis Lohsem, the group’s leader, has seen dozens of students come out of the crevasses of campus.

“There’s a lot of students at this college who are growing up without any  religious affiliation,” Lohse said. “People who apply different labels to  themselves, you know, atheists, agnostic, a free thinker, a skeptics.”

Some students on campus are for it, and other’s are indifferent but not in high praise of the new secular affiliation. But one thing they all do agree on, “non-believers are more common than one might think.”

 

 

No/Yes to government funding of churches

The secular world is amping up its call for restrictions on religion, but this past week they lost the battle over government funding of churches.

I found an urgent email in my inbox a few days ago from the Secular Coalition of America.  They urged me to email my congressman and ask him to vote no to HR 592, The Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013:

Despite its unconstitutionality, lawmakers tomorrow will consider HR 592—a bill to amend the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, to allow houses of worship to directly receive taxpayer dollars.

There’s a reason houses of worship are prohibited. This bill would reverse years of Supreme Court precedent and directly conflict with the First Amendment to the Constitution. Additionally, permitting public grants for churches and other houses of worship would unfairly privilege religious institutions above secular institutions, many of which are not eligible for the grants.

This bill is primarily to help the disaster relief effort after Hurricane Sandy. It will provide aid to church buildings damaged in the storm as well as churches that are instrumental in rebuilding the community. But depending on what side of the secular line you are standing, this may or may not be a step in the right direction.

The amendment to the bill will look like this:

“(C) HOUSES OF WORSHIP. – A church, synagogue  mosque, temple, or other house of worship, and a private nonprofit facility operated by a religious organization, shall be eligible for contribution under paragraph (1)(B), without regard to the religious character of the facility or the primary religious use of the facility.”

But while the secularists were in strict opposition to the amendment, many religious organizations couldn’t be happier. Many of these organizations have been in direct contact with the devastation of Hurricane Sandy and are acutely aware of the need for government funding to rebuild as well as help their communities. Much like the Coalition, the Jewish Press pleaded with its viewers to contact their representatives and urge a yes vote on HR 592.

After Hurricane Sandy ravaged parts of New York City and the surrounding communities last fall, many synagogues and other houses of worship became distribution centers for material goods and spiritual relief to those affected.  Many of those buildings sustaining enormous damage from the storm.  But because those types of non-profits are not specifically mentioned in the authorizing legislation, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been unwilling to provide them with available relief funds.

The HR 592 bill was voted on by congress on Sept. 13 and passed with an overwhelming vote of 354-72. It was a bipartisan decision that will have religious organizations throughout disaster areas falling to their knees in praise. But the secular society is less than amused. After receiving the plea for no votes, 2,500 letters were sent, causing 12 representative to change their yay’s to nay’s. But it was far from enough.

Should the government provide aid to churches? Will this start the government down the path of monetary influence over church function and practices? According the Bill the money is not to be used for the “primary religious use of the facility.” But secularists see this as simply one more way for the church is being tied into government, thus breaking down the wall of separation between church and state.

But Christopher Smith, R-N.J., one of the bill’s lead sponsors, would say this is about something more than the separation of church and state. It’s about not discriminating against people and organizations when they are brought to their weakest moments:

“Today’s debate and vote is about those who are being unfairly left out and left behind. It’s about those who helped feed, comfort, clothe and shelter tens of thousands of victims now being told they are ineligible for a FEMA grant.”

Marriage and religion: does the whole “unevenly yoked” thing really matter?

Mike Bixby and Maria Peyer at their home in Longview, Wash. They have been married for two and half years but have known each other since 1981. Peyer is a church-attending Lutheran, and Bixby is an atheist. (Via NPR)

Married couples who have different religious beliefs. How do they make it work?

NPR recently started a series entitled, Losing Your Religion. It tracks the rising number of nones throughout the United States and seeks to understand why it is they are straying from religion, or more specifically, organized religion.

Here is an interesting episode which pricks the pincushion on both sides of the none advancement.  This segment looks at a couple, Maria Peyer and Mike Bixby, who married a few years ago. However Maria is a devout Lutheran and Mike is an avid atheist. But they still seem to be able to make a good marriage work.

NPR’s episode shows how they are doing it: http://www.npr.org/2013/01/17/168954402/making-marriage-work-when-only-one-spouse-believes-in-god  

Here is a helpful exert from the episode’s transcript:

“Maria’s faith plays a role in making her the person that I love, and I’m good with that. I think we’re both the people who we are because of her faith, because of my lack of faith, and I don’t want to change that,” Bixby says.

In the past, people in relationships like this often would make a change — whichever person had the stronger conviction would set the terms. But these days, people are redrawing the lines.

“These families are doing something different, and they’re making their own choices,” says Erika Seamon, who teaches religion at Georgetown University and studies interfaith relationships. She sees couples find common ground on love, ethics and even spirituality while maintaining very different religious identities.

What do you think? Should Maria and Mike learn to live in their situation? Or should they continue to debate each other’s deep-seeded worldviews?

The Bible makes it clear that two people of differing beliefs should not marry. Therefore, the argument could be made from a Christian standpoint that Mike and Maria should never have gotten married in the first place. But they did get married. Now Maria must constantly accept that her husband may one day die and go to Hell, and as a loving wife she can’t stand to see this happen.

However, even with their differences the couples seems to be doing fine. Therefore, we come to the atheist side of the argument, which states that if a couple can find happiness and love through their differences then it shouldn’t matter what they believe. All that matters is right now – eternity is an illusion.

Both are very passionate about their beliefs, and both have a lot to back up their perspective. So how do we respond to a couple is this unique situation – battling between living for now and living for eternity.

Mommies who don’t believe in God

Via the CNN Belief Blog

If mommies don’t believe in God the odds of them teaching their children to believe in God are slim. This seems logical, but as a recent essay by one of these mothers proves, it is more complicated than we think.

Deborah Mitchell decided when her children were young that she would not raise them to believe in an “imaginary God.” She would instead teach them to be moral and ethical because it makes them feel good about themselves, not because “God is watching.” She compared believe in God to belief in Santa, saying that she is unwilling to teach her two teenage boys what she does not believe herself.

After feeling secluded from her small community in Texas Mitchel decided to begin writing about her non-belief and how it has affected her parental style. She submitted a post, “Why I Raise My Children Without God,” to the CNN Belief Blog that hit home with many other parents throughout the United States.

In the post she wrote:

We are creating the next generation of kids, and there is a wave of young agnostics, atheists, free thinkers and humanists rising up through the ranks who will, hopefully, lower our nation’s religious fever.

She goes on to list a variety of reasons for her disbelief, including accusations that if there is a God, he is illogical, he is unfair, he is a bad parent, he is absent, he does not protect the innocent and the list goes on and on.

Mitchell asks the age old question all human beings will ask at least once: “Why does God let bad things happen?”

In an attempt to answer this question Ryan Barnett, an occupational lawyer and Methodist, wrote a respectful counter to her argument. His post, “Why I Raise My Children With God,” appeared a day later in the CNN Belief Blog. It detailed the necessity of God and the peace that comes with believing in Him. However, he also emphasized that nowhere does God say this life will be “a bed or roses.” (In fact God warns that hard times will come and they will be fierce)

Barnett tries to show the mysterious nature of God in his post:

One experiences God. You can tell me about what love is or feels like – but it defies an acid test. This is the mystery of faith. Our level of understanding is constantly changing. The fact that we did not understand basic concepts in physics years ago does not mean those laws were not present before our understanding.

Barnett brings up some good points and counters each of Mitchell’s accusations against God (although she may not be satisfied with many of them), but when it comes down to it can we really expect a woman to teach her children something she does not believe in. Something she believes to be a dangerous lie that will corrupt them?

“When we raise kids without God, we harm them,” Barnett said toward the end of his post. But no matter how much truth there is to this statement Mitchell does not believe she is harming her children. She believes she is protecting them from an unfair, narcissistic and absent God. Therefore, does the problem lie with her teaching habits, or does it lie in her perspective of God?

Read to this section of Mitchell’s  argument and honestly tell me you wouldn’t do the same thing if about something you don’t believe:

For over a year, I lied to [my three year old son] and made up stories that I didn’t believe about heaven. Like most parents, I love my child so much that I didn’t want him to be scared. I wanted him to feel safe and loved and full of hope. But the trade-off was that I would have to make stuff up, and I would have to brainwash him into believing stories that didn’t make sense, stories that I didn’t believe either… And so I thought it was only right to be honest with my children.

Should we ask her to profess what she does not believe? Or should we address the bigger issue – we live in a secular country with secular values and perspectives. This means as time goes by more mommies will recant what they were taught as children and they will love their children so much that they will not feed them the same lie their parents fed them. Mitchell sees belief in God as a lie and she does not want to pass on the lie to her children.

How do we respond to an argument like Mitchell’s? Do we tell her to forget her personal beliefs and just teach her kids what the rest of her community thinks is best for them? Or do we address the deeper issue of a limited and tainted perspective of God?

Side note: It is important to keep track of what the American public is reading and responding to – Mitchell’s post on the CNN Belief Blog has currently received 755,339 views, 64,758 recommends on Facebook, 7,681 shares and 9,339 comments.  Barnett’s post a day later has currently received 145,781 views, 1,215 recommends on Facebook, 376 shares, and 983 comments.