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

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.


Nones losing speed

Via CNN Belief Blog

It seems the nones’ new found voice in society is not as prominent as we once thought.  While it is true the nones have taken up a much larger chunk of modern society, this past year’s increase fails to reflect that statement.

A recent Gallup Survey shows the nones may not dominate as much of society as previously reported:

The percentage of American adults who have no explicit religious identification averaged 17.8% in 2012, up from 14.6% in 2008 — but only slightly higher than the 17.5% in 2011. The 2011 to 2012 uptick in religious “nones” is the smallest such year-to-year increase over the past five years of Gallup Daily tracking of religion in America.

What does this mean about American society? I’ll refer you to one of my previous posts from a couple months ago. There are many theories drifting around, but as the past year has shown us, American culture is hard to define or categorize.  Those who thought the Romney/Ryan ticket was a slam dunk saw this in real time last November. And churches who reacted with astonishment upon hearing of the rapid influx of anti-churchgoers will also agree that society is hard to predict.

But varies groups will also react to and explain cultural surprises in different ways. The Christians see this downturn in nones as proof that Americans still have a desire to cling to God, however, nones will turn our attention to the fact that while their progression is slowing it is still progressing.

Ponder this quote from Greg Epstein, humanist chaplain at Harvard University:

The truth is, it doesn’t really matter whether one of these surveys – even a big one like Gallup – shows the number leveling off a bit this past year. First of all, the numbers for young Americans are still dramatically higher, and secondly, it is beyond dispute now that the “nones” are one of the largest demographic groups in the United States, and we’re going to stay that way for a long, long time.

It is important that we keep track of the fluctuations throughout the secular and religious culture in America. Only then will we understand what values we can expect to see from society.

This quote from the Gallup Study sums it up well:

The rise in “nones” partly reflects changes in the general pattern of expression of religion in American society today — particularly including trends towards more “unbranded,” casual, informal religion. And, although this “rise of the nones” has increased dramatically over recent decades, the rate of increase slowed last year, suggesting the possibility that there may be a leveling off in this measure in the years ahead.

Secular values = American values?

Via Washington Post online

American values are changing. Or that’s what the secular groups are saying, and they might be right.

On Nov. 6, voters throughout America showed what they truly wanted, and to the chagrin of conservatives, they wanted gay marriage, abortion, marijuana, big government, and Obama. After the increase of the nones, is this another sign that the United States in moving steadily toward secular values? And if it is, should we be okay with this?

Greta Christina, an atheist blogger, seems to think this is the case, and she’s pretty happy about it:

“The political values that are most common among atheists — support for LGBT rights and same-sex marriage, support for birth control and abortion, support for evidence-based drug policy, opposition to religion being intertwined with government, opposition to laws about sex being based on religion, opposition to laws in general being based on religion — are, increasingly, American values.”

We can look at this one of two ways: 1) America is sinking into the depths of sin and destruction and must, now more than ever, be shown the light. 2) America is finally coming out of the oppressive nature of a government influenced by religious intolerance, but  there is still much work to do.

The nones seem to be leaning in the direction of “still much work to do” and they are demanding to be heard by the government. As one of the biggest groups in America the nones played a major part in the 2012 elections. But for many, even though they may have voted for Obama, the religious leaning of the president is still too much for comfort. After all, he did only receive a C in the Secular Coalition of America’s scorecard. But he still marked better than Romney’s F. Obama is pro-gay marriage and pro-abortion, so naturally he is the better candidate for most nones.

Lauren Anderson Youngblood, communications manager with the Secular Coalition, said the Obama administration needed to start taking the nones more seriously.

“The numbers don’t lie. They are an indicator of our untapped potential and politicians who want our vote need to focus on making decisions as lawmakers with reason and science, not theology. They need to tone down the religious rhetoric and when they do mention religious groups, mention us too, because we too are constituents and Americans and we deserve inclusion in our government.”

Will politicians now become more liberal to appease the growing secular population in America? After all, if you believe in progressive ethics (as Christian seems to) that change as the culture and population change, than this would be a necessary, and right, mindset for politicians to have. What was unheard of and viewed as wrong, both in the Bible and in society, has now become much more widely accepted. Therefore, the values of the culture are slowly changing and the “progressive” morals are evolving with it.

So Christina’s point in her blog post is that American values are changing for the better. She would say we are climbing out of the intolerant dogma of religion, and accepting the new ethics that society is in the process of deciding upon. This seems like a dangerous path to walk down. If society decides, as a whole, that something is right, is it right? The acceptance of that particular value must not be the end of the conversation. Were the Aztecs right when the majority of their population decided it was necessary to sacrifice their citizens to the gods?  Was America right when we decided it was okay to treat African Americans as slaves?


Carl Coon, a progressive humanist, is adamant that progressive ethics is the way society must work. He claims that as society advances we gain the ability to make better decisions. In essence, we are becoming smarter so we no longer need to cling to the traditions of “old religions.”

There is a ferment here, but it is not aimless. There is a direction. A global society driven by exploding technological capabilities is seeking new consensuses about a whole new galaxy of problems.

So our values do change, and they are supposed to change – or so all these people keep saying.  And the election just showed all Americans what most of them were already thinking. “This election was, to a great extent, a referendum on secular values versus the values of the theocratic religious right — and secular values won,” Christina said.

But wait! I can think of at least 48 percent of Americans who would be dismayed at this prediction. If secular values equal American values then where does that leave the 48 percent, and maybe more, who oppose Obama, gay marriage and abortion? In other words, 48 percent still oppose secular values – their values haven’t changed. Many of them probably still believe in the “old-fashioned theism” and “old religions” Coon opposes.  Secularists would say this just means America still has far to go, but the reality may be that we have already gone too far.

Perhaps the view of the religious right can be summed up with this comment by Richard Land of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

“Clearly, we face a new moral landscape in America, and huge challenge to those of us who care passionately about these issues. We face a worldview challenge that is far greater than any political challenge, as we must learn how to winsomely convince Americans to share our moral convictions about marriage, sex, the sanctity of life, and a range of moral issues. This will not be easy. It is, however, an urgent call to action.”

If religion fails, where do you turn?

Paul Kurtz, 1925 – 2012
Via the Center for Inquiry

Paul Kurtz turned to reason, science and skepticism.

Kurtz was a pronounced humanist who did more to advance humanism, atheism and skepticism since the 1960’s than any one person ever has. Professor Kurtz founded the Center for Inquiry, an evidence-based organization that opposes organized religion, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, and Prometheus Books. In addition, he created the two magazines Skeptical Inquirer and Free Inquiry.

His goal was to create a place for people to turn if their faith failed them. He did his share of criticizing religion and the concept of God, but that was not his only goal.

“If religion is being weakened, what replaces it in secular society?” Professor Kurtz said in an interview with The New York Times in 2010. “Most of my colleagues are concerned with critiquing the concept of God. That is important, but equally important is, where do you turn?”

Kurtz was even criticized by certain atheists who believed he was not aggressive enough against the myths of religious belief. Eventually Kurtz resigned from the board of the Center for Inquiry partly because he felt it was “on too contentious a path,” according the a New York Times article.

Born on December 21, 1925, Kurtz was raised in New Jersey. He enlisted in the U.S. Army at 19 during World War II, eventually fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. After the war he went on to study philosophy under Sidney Hook, a protegé of John Dewey (a great American thinker in the humanist tradition). Hook’s teaching, derived from Dewey, greatly influenced Kurtz’s perception of religion and reason.

An exert from the Center for Inquiry obituary on Kurtz:

 Kurtz consistently asserted that morality should be rooted in human flourishing and happiness, not on supernatural revelation. He attached high priority to individual liberty in a robustly democratic culture. His ethics were primarily utilitarian, but he tempered his utilitarianism with a strong commitment to basic liberties. As early as 1969 he had written that “there are two basic and minimal principles which especially seem to characterize humanism. First, there is a rejection of any supernatural conception of the universe and a denial that man has any privileged place within nature. Second, there is an affirmation that ethical values are human and have no meaning independent of human experience.” Repeatedly he characterized secular humanism less as a set of moral or philosophical prescriptions than as a process, a template for the conduct of ethical inquiry.

Since the 1960’s, as expected, Kurtz’s humanist work drew opposition from religious groups. The New York Times quoted one religious leader as saying:

“Humanism is basically Satan’s philosophy and program,” the evangelist H. Edward Rowe wrote in a 1976 book, “Save America.” “Certain features of it may sound reasonable, but it always leads to tragedy, simply because it ignores the guidance of God.”

Kurtz died on Saturday October 20, 2012 at his home in Amherst, N.Y.  He was 86. His final book will be published by Prometheus Books in March of next year. It is entitled “the Turbulent Universe” and is a discourse on how people all around the world can unite as one.