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.

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.

New pope reaches out to Nones

Pope Francis waves from the pope-mobile during his inauguration Mass at St. Peter’s Square on Tuesday (March 19) at the Vatican. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

With a new pope comes new alliances. Newly ordained Pope Francis is eager to establish peace between religious and nonreligious groups. We can all work together for peace, he said.

But the new pope may have a few challenges waiting for him in this area. Martin E. Marty, professor at University of Chicago Divinity School, see’s many disconnects between the papacy and Catholic members, but a much larger disconnect between Catholics and Nones.

The “Nones” of “no-religion” haunt believers. And in Catholic cities like Chicago, half-full parking lots and pews testify to the indifference in the face of which the new Pope will try to make a difference.

But no doubt Pope Francis will do his best to reach past this indifference. During his first ecumenical meeting the new Pope expressed a desire to reach out to those who don’t belong “to any religious tradition” but feel the “need to search for the truth, the goodness and the beauty of God.”

While, he admits to continue to hold by his predecessor’s view that the elimination of God from humanity will often lead to violence, he does not let this belief cause him to dismiss the Nones altogether.

But Francis, who has set a humbler tone to the papacy since his election on March 13, added that atheists and believers can be “precious allies” in their efforts “to defend the dignity of man, in the building of a peaceful coexistence between peoples and in the careful protection of creation.”

Now, I am not a Catholic, nor do I claim to be nonreligious, but there is something truly wonderful about people from two radically different perspectives joining together for a common goal. Especially since I have just come from perusing the Westboro Baptist Church’s website where intolerance and hateful language abounds. That is one group I fear no one will be able to reach any time soon. But while the WBC seems to have lost hope in humanity, it is refreshing to see the fervor of others to keep that hope alive.

Of course, I am not naive enough to think all is sunshine and lollipops between the Pope and Nones. Nor do I have the foresight to know if his promises will be acted upon or reciprocated. I’m sure there are those who have no love for Pope Francis, and no doubt he will make mistakes and decisions that will cause debate. But it’s a step, or at least a glance, in the right direction. For now I will chose to be hopeful in his acknowledgment of the religious/nonreligious difference, while still finding some common ground to stand on.

Perhaps an atheist for Pope…

Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins for pope? If you don’t know, Richard Dawkins is one of the most pronounced atheists in the world today – so naturally he would be a great candidate for the papacy.

At least that is what a few humorous gamblers implied on the gambling site  paddypower.com. Among the 72 other pope candidates to be bet upon, Richard Hawkins appeared with the ironic odds of 666-1. But this seems to be more than just a funny gimmick. Apparently stunts like these are often present in moments of religious decision.

The Christian Post recently added an article discussing reasons behind the seemingly fruitless practice:

British atheist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins has emerged as a contender among a leading Irish bookmaker’s list of candidates to replace a retired Benedict XVI as pope and leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, which a religion and pop culture expert believes could be a sign of discontent among the Catholic faithful.

The article went on to quote Dr. Jennifer E. Porter, religion and pop culture teacher at Memorial University in Canada

I think betting on Richard Dawkins, Bono or Father Dougal McGuire are tongue-in-cheek ways for people to highlight their criticisms of what they see as a Catholic Church increasingly out of step with mainstream priorities, and the conviction that the church does not ‘hear’ what ordinary people are trying to say… Don’t believe in a literal God? Vote for Dawkins!

While obviously futile, the ballet for Dawkins seems to have been more of an avenue to make certain people’s opinion heard. Did it do any good? Time will tell, but I am going to go out on a limb and say the new pope isn’t thinking twice about atheist who didn’t even come close to sitting on the papal seat.  At best, it seems to have provided a good chuckle for the few people who actually heard about it.

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.

You’re not bad, you’re just unlucky

In his recent speech, Sam Harris approaches the fascinating topic of freewill. But Harris took a position that honestly surprised me.

I expected him to take the stance of the narcissistic “I” and rebel against the religious doctrines that say God is in control of our lives. But instead Harris admitted that we have no control over our lives, but God has nothing to do with it. He rebelled, not against the notion of God being in control of everything, but against the idea that human beings even have freewill to make the right or wrong decision.

Instead, he says, the atoms and molecular makeup of our brains are not in our control. Who raises us and the experiences we have are not in our control. Our own thoughts are not in our control. Therefore, there is no such thing as freewill.

In other words, there is no such thing as the sinful nature of man, there is no such thing as taking responsibility for a wrong committed. There is just good luck and bad luck, and we are not in control of which one we get.

To me this sounds very depressing, but Harris has another interpretation. By removing all responsibility for the evil in a human being, and blaming it all on science and life experiences, we should have much less need to hate that person. After all, they have no control over what they do, they have no freewill so we should not judge them for the horrible acts done.

Harris even goes so far as to say that Uday Hussein, Saddam Hussein’s son, was not responsible for the horrible and evil crimes he committed. Were he still alive, he would be a victim of his upbringing and genetic manipulation. He should be locked up so as to protect the rest of society, but he should not be held responsible for acts that were out of his control. WHAT!?

I anticipate that many Christians will have issue with Harris’s interpretation of life. I welcome comments in response to this video. It is definitely worth watching.

Atheist, Christians aren’t complete idiots

Richard Dawkins
photo via Philly.com

Richard Dawkins, pronounced atheist and British author, would be one of the first to criticize the “stupidity” of religion. But surprisingly, Dawkins’ new found respect for President Obama has lowered his criticism of Christianity.

Apparently, due to Christianity’s ancient tradition, its faults are more understandable given the ignorance of the time, according to Dawkins. But, he would say that  Mormonism, created in the 19th century, is so unfounded that it is especially dim.

“It may be ignorance not stupidity for the creationists, and ignorance is no crime. But to be fooled by Joseph Smith takes real stupidity,” he announced on twitter.

Obviously, Dawkins is not a fan of presidential candidate Mitt Romney. He accuses Mormons of being “barking mad,” “loony,” and “racists.” While Christianity isn’t really that bad, just ignorant, he said.

But, Dawkins did not always draw a distinctions between religions. After all, 90 minutes prier to his tweet about the stupidity of Mormonism he tweeted that “40% in US are stupid enough to believe the world is only 6000 years old. They’ll vote for a man stupid enough to be fooled by Joseph Smith.”

An article in The National Review reported that Dawkins also said during a 2007 conversation with other atheists that while religions were not all “equally bad,” they were uniformly irrational:

My concern, is actually not so much with the evils of religion as whether it’s true. And I really do care passionately about that. The fact of the matter: is there, as a matter of fact, a supernatural creator in this universe? And I really care about that. And so although I also care about the evils of religion, I am prepared to be even-handed because they all make this claim.

But now all of a sudden all religions are not equally irrational because a man Dawkins greatly respects claims to be part of one of these irrational religions. Obama claims to be a Christian and Dawkins is now urging all atheists to vote for him.

The National Review article said this about Dawkins’ new faith in Obama:

In October, [Dawkins] weakly explained to James Taranto that, ”loopy as Christianity may seem to you, it’s stone cold sane compared with Mormonism.” Besides, he continued to his half million followers, Obama can’t possibly be a Christian. Obama, who is “intelligent, educated, humane, [and] witty” is “probably not religious,” and, if he is, he’s ’only vaguely ‘spiritual.’” Whereas, “Bishop Romney really IS Mormon in the full batshit doolally sense.” That’s convenient, then.

Dawkins will be voting democrat on Nov. 6 and he urges other atheists and unaffiliated Americans to do the same.  “Obama can’t succeed with a Congress that filibusters everything because of who he is. Give him a mandate. Vote Democrats for Congress,” he tweeted.

So it seems Dawkins is as much of a partisan as he is an atheist. He has a distinct aversion to Republicans and is even willing to change his stanch opinion of Christians because his presidential “hero” claims to be one.

Surveys have already shown that about 63 percent of nones are voting Democrat, but do they put as much thought into Obama’s Christianity as Dawkins does? Probably not. But even if they do, it simply means they think Christians are ignorant but not nearly as evil to the modern world as Mormonism.  It still doesn’t sound like much of a compliment though.