Boston memorial, atheists feel left out

Via the Syndicate News Service

The Boston bombings have sparked a familiar vein of conflict between religious groups and atheist groups throughout the area. During a recent inter faith vigil for the Boston marathon bombing victims the Harvard Humanist Community was excluded from helping with the event and recognition at the event.

The group was obviously very upset by the lack of inclusion and was all to eager too speak out about it. Greg M. Epstein, The Harvard humanist chaplain and author of “Good Without God” said this to The Raw Story:

“We have friends and family who are in the hospital in critical condition, who nearly died. It wouldn’t have been so difficult for those who organized the vigil today to make some kind of nod to us, and that’s all we would have wanted.”

Atheists and humanists faced the same conflict when attempting to provide comfort after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting back in December. After all, how does an atheist respond to a grieving mother, friend, wife or child who longs only to hear they will see their loved one again someday.

Obviously religious groups are also trying to decide how to treat secular groups during times of great tragedy. These times where the church is notorious for offering aid, shelter, food and most of all prayer and spiritual encouragement. After all, it is during moments of peril when many turn to God or faith for answers.  When seen from a purely spiritual point of view, it is easy to see why religious folk would see no need to include an overtly anti-religious group in the worship service.

Pastor Brad Peters of the First Baptist Church in Niagara Falls presented his views on the matter in Niagarathisweek.com:

The irony of atheists not being able to speak at a church service would be humorous if it weren’t just so sad. I don’t mean to belittle their grief, which I’m sure was absolutely genuine, but besides a platform and publicity, what comfort would they derive from praying to God, in whom they don’t believe?

The tension is there no doubt. And no doubt atheists will continue to be bitter about this overt exclusion.  But one can’t help but wonder why they would want to attend the ceremony at all. It is a direct affront to everything they believe, and a celebration of a higher power that cannot be explained by science and reason. Therefore, one might assume the Harvard Humanist Community would rather have their own memorial ceremony, thus giving them more freedom over the content. The reason for attending could not have been with the intent to pray, so one could hypothesize that the only other reason was to be granted an audience with or recognition by President Obama (who also attended the memorial) and the rest of the world.  And if that really was the reason, many might agree that this wasn’t the time for a popularity contest.

But! Let’s remember that the line is not always as black as we might think. And views on both side need to be heard, no matter how much it muddies the water. Because at its root this issue is more than just popularity. There truly is pain and a longing for some sense and recognition of death.

Sarah Chandonnet, a staffer at Harvard University’s humanist chaplaincy, has a view that may muddy the waters. It’s good for people with religion to listen to those without religion, if only to understand at least a little of their plight. Chandonnet said in an email to the Washington Post:

I feel that the pain I feel for those close to me, and the city I have lived in my entire life, are not heard or shared. I feel excluded, and silenced, because of my identity. I wish more atheists and the nonreligious could feel supported by their city.

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Are the nones really a big deal?

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Via Christianity Today

I believe the nones are a big deal, if only because they are fascinating to right about. But apparently a recent survey shows the nones aggressive upturn is leveling into a slow walk.

This past year marked the smallest increase in nones since 2008, when they were at 14.6 percent. It was at that time when the nones throughout the United States began to grow at noticeable rates. But this past year it has sunk to a whopping 0.3 percent.

Some prominent leaders and academic figures  have mixed feelings about the rise and crawl of the nones’ movement.

Here are some interesting quotes on the issue:

Charles Arn, a professor at Wesley Seminary:

We’re getting bent out of shape over nothing. Institutional affiliation is not a spiritual issue—it’s a generational one. Nearly every membership-based organization is losing members. Most people still come to faith through a relationship—regardless of generation.

Frank Newport, editor in chief of Gallup:

It’s an important shift, but it’s also important not to jump to conclusions about the meaning of this change. Even over the past five years, when the ‘nones’ have been going up—albeit at a slowing rate—there has been no change in Gallup’s measure of church attendance or importance of religion.

Clyde Wilcox, professor of government, Georgetown University:

This is a big story. Usually young people are a little less religiously observant, but this is a pretty substantial departure from the past. It’s not catastrophic, and religious institutions can adapt and think about what it means. But it’s not insignificant.

David Kinnaman, president, Barna Group:

This is a major trend in American religion. Millions of young adults are still devout Christians. But as one of the few areas of ‘growth’ in the realm of religion—most measures are down—we have to pay attention to what it means and why it’s happening.

God out of schools, God out of gov’t, God out of good…

Out! Out! Out! But where should He go? Take Him to your churches, to your places of worship, to your homes. But get him out of our sight!

Ok, that might be a little dramatic for some secularists, but definitely not for all of them. But, more common in today’s world, a different view of atheism is surfacing. It’s not the angry and bitter secular scientist, it is the kind, caring and good person who says God is not necessary for goodness to thrive. We see this throughout government, schools, companies and so much more. The new secular movement is bent on finding a way to get by without God.

For example, the Examiner.com recently published an opinion piece by Chelsea Hoffman with the bold title, “Atheist Win.” Hoffman is enthusiastic about the secular movement’s recent win over an Ohio middle school – forcing it to remove a portrait of Jesus hanging in its halls. The Freedom from Religion Foundation and the ACLU initiated the lawsuit, saying the portrait was unconstitutional.

Hoffman’s article articulates secular pride in their accomplishment:

This is federally illegally and fundamentally unacceptable. It’s not only a win for atheism that they didn’t back down, but for America and the liberty of all who are citizens of it. Imagine had this been some other religious imagery such as a Wiccan pentacle or some imagery relative to Islam. The Christian majority would likely be up in arms about it!

The portrait was placed in the school in 1947 when a group of students arranged for it to be acquired by the school.In January of this year the school’s president vowed never to take down the portrait, to which he got overwhelming support from the school and students. But he and the rest of the school were only able to hold out for so long and on April 3rd they took down the portrait.

But God is being taken out of more than just schools. A German shoe company has embraced the name of atheists as their company motto. They have accepted the stance of no religion, while attempting to prove they can be just as morally good as the Christian shoe companies of the world. Inscribed on the bottom of the shoe is the bold statement, “Ich Bin Atheist” (I am an atheist). They are determined to show that businesses and people can be good without God.

The company is very enthusiastic about their new shoes:

Whether you’re an atheist looking to tickle the world with a foot-first declaration of godlessness, or someone who’s just keen on the aesthetics and craftsmanship of our shoes, we really do hope you’ll enjoy them.

And who can forget the age old argument of religion/Christianity in government. Secularists say government can be good without God dictating what they should believe:

[O]rganised religion has a historical monopoly on ‘good’ and continues to be proud of its ‘do-gooding’, in preach and practice, despite the strong likelihood that it has done far more harm than good in it’s long, yarn-spinning history.

We find this sad. Not only because organised religion survives, scandal after scandal, unscathed, but because the atheists we know are amongst the kindest, most caring people we’ve met, each capable of being moral and good without god stories to show them how.We want to challenge the lowest-common-denominator view of atheism, to demonstrate that you don’t need god to be good.

Conversely, Christians, like the late Chuck Colson, say government cannot hold to true goodness without God’s direction:

In the city of man, there is no moral consensus, and without a moral consensus there can be no law. Chairman Mao expressed the alternative well: in his view, morality begins at the muzzle of a gun.

There has never been a case in history in which a society has been able to survive for long without a strong moral code. And there has never been a time when a moral code has not been informed by religious truth. Recovering our moral code – our religious truth – is the only way our society can survive. The heaping ash remains at Auschwitz, the killing fields of Southeast Asia, and the frozen wastes of the gulag remind us that the city of man is not enough; we must also seek the city of God.

Where does good come from? Each side has a different answer for this question – which then dictates how they view “good.”  And what is even more frustrating is that each side has some dirt to dig up on the other side, allowing them to give credence to their point of view.

Secular leaders throughout much of history have committed crimes of unspeakable magnitude, but then again, so have religious leaders who hide behind a twisted view of the Bible. We can say they were not really Christians, but not many atheists will accept that interpretation. So where does this leave us? Are we forever at an impasse – never finding a way to cross the gulf between our mountain tops of belief?

I hope not. If that is true than my blog is completely pointless. We must try and find common ground. We must try to understand what the paths are like on other mountains. But (and it’s an important “but”) there are some things we will just not agree on. And this is one of them.

Good defined by society is called progressive ethics and is a very dangerous path to fall into. When I think of a scary place to live, it is in a society that dictates what is good and bad based on its mood at the time. In an imperfect world how can we expect man to make perfect laws? Therefore, our ethics must come from something higher than ourselves, and the only person I am willing to trust with that is God.