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.
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.