Hazards of crossing an atheist

Be careful the next time you offend an atheist, they might take you to court for discrimination.

Usually it’s the religious folks who are fighting for less discrimination, but there is a new trend starting. Freedom from religion has spurred many secular groups to find equality with religion or simply to remove religion altogether.

The Wyndgate Country Club recently lost a court battle with the Center For Inquiry (CFI) in the Richard Dawkins lawsuit. The club had the nerve to cancel an engagement with Richard Dawkins back in October of 2011 and in April 2012 CFI filed a lawsuit saying the club was discriminating against Dawkins because he is an atheist.

The country club’s event coordinator told CFI that the owner “does not wish to associate with certain individuals and philosophies.” This is primarily because of an interview Dawkins had with Fox News earlier that month, in which he talked extensively about his atheist views. However, the club stated later in the 2012 court papers that while the event was cancelled, it was not out of discrimination. In fact, they say this is just the CFI’s ploy to gain publicity.

The CFI is ecstatic after their victory in the case:

This is an important victory for nonbelievers in the fight for equality under the law, one that makes clear that discrimination based on a lack of religion is just as unacceptable as discrimination in any other form. In fact, this is perhaps the first time that federal and state civil rights statutes have been successfully invoked by nonbelievers in a public accommodations lawsuit.

Who is right here? Is CFI embellishing the truth? Or should the Wyndgate Club have done a little more checking on public laws before deciding to cancel the event? One thing is for sure, Wyndgate didn’t think this one decision was going to make them pay out considerable funds a year and a half later.

 

 

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.

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.

Do Sandy Hook victims have the ‘blessing’ of atheism?

FAMILY MEMBERS GRIEVE NEAR SITE OF CONNECTICUT SCHOOL TRAGEDY

Family members grieve near the Sandy Hook Elementary school tragedy

In a recent op-ed published in the New York Times, Susan Jacoby, a pronounced atheist, attempted to comfort the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting – she told them their children would suffer no more in the “perfect rest” of death.

In other words she said that these children, who have suffered so much, have the blessing of blissful nothingness as their consciousness is erased from existence.

During her article Jacoby quotes “The Great Agnostic” Robert Green Ingersoll who died in 1899. He often gave eulogies at funerals and said this while speaking at the service for the death of a friend’s small child:

“They who stand with breaking hearts around this little grave, need have no fear. The larger and the nobler faith in all that is, and is to be, tells us that death, even at its worst, is only perfect rest … The dead do not suffer.”

I have tried, and failed, to find the comfort in this train of thought. Jacoby’s article responds to a coworker who told her that atheism didn’t have much to offer during times of great tragedy. However, her attempt to defend her belief looks more like an attempt to grasp at straws than a deep look at what atheism really offers, in contrast to what belief in an afterlife offers.

Throughout the world today, and in years past, it has been customary to forget about God when times are good, or to rave about Man’s ability to take care of itself. But, as if on cue,  when the hard times come He is dragged back into the courtroom of our injustice and asked to come to account for the evil he has let run free on the world. Often it is times like these when Christians, or others of faith, are asked to explain His “lack of interest” in the hardship of Man.

Jacoby picks up on this beautifully, without skipping a beat she provides the answer to the question that so many people of religion struggle with giving. Where is God? She says, God does not exist:

It is a positive blessing, not a negation of belief, to be free of what is known as the theodicy problem. Human “free will” is Western monotheism’s answer to the question of why God does not use his power to prevent the slaughter of innocents, and many people throughout history (some murdered as heretics) have not been able to let God off the hook in that fashion.

I found an interesting response to Jacoby’s article inDenise Prager’s column, The Atheist Response to Sandy Hook. Prager shows how Jacoby’s compelling picture of atheistic belief actually “confirms her colleague’s assessment,” rather than disproving it. His piece astutely pinpoints the hole in atheism’s attempt to comfort those left behind in a depraved world.

Members of Trinity Episcopal Church mourn the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting.

Members of Trinity Episcopal Church mourn the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting

“The dead do not suffer” is atheism’s consolation to the parents of murdered children? This sentiment can provide some consolation — though still nothing comparable to the affirmation of an afterlife — to those who lose a loved one who had been suffering from a debilitating disease. But it not only offers the parents of Sandy Hook no consolation, it actually (unintentionally) insults them: Were these children suffering before their lives were taken? Would they have suffered if they had lived on? Moreover, it is the parents who are suffering, so the fact that their child isn’t suffering while decomposing in the grave is of no relevance. And, most germane to our subject, this atheist message offers no consolation at all when compared to the religious message that we humans are not just matter but possess eternal souls.

 Jacoby implies that since atheists have the blessing of “perfect rest,” others who believe in an afterlife cannot also have that perfect rest. If she really believes that then she is wrong.  I too can say with absolute certainty that upon my death I will have perfect rest. But I also have the blessing of leaping past where Jacoby is forced to end her monologue. I have the hope of reunion not only with my loved ones from this life, but also with God, my Creator. This is something that atheism cannot offer, and it is why Jacoby’s argument is ultimately unsatisfying to most victims of horrible tragedy.
(Note: I do not often apply so much of my personal beliefs into a post, but I believe this particular one warranted some personal reflection to contrast with Jacoby’s opinion. However  I always strive to give balance to both sides of the argument.)