Tag Archives: humanism

MANY AMERICANS DON’T UNDERSTAND ATHEISTS

And here’s where you act surprised.

I was stumbling around the internet today and I came across this article from the New York Daily News, which asserts that an atheist group’s pending lawsuit in opposition to the prominent display of a cross at the site of the 9/11 museum and future memorial (which operates on donations and has actively sought federal funding) is entirely baseless. The “cross” is a piece of the steel superstructure of the towers that was left over after their collapse, and was specifically chosen for inclusion in the museum because of its remarkable similarity to the Christian symbol. It’s like Jesus on toast, but much less of a coincidence (the building would have had thousands of such steel “crosses” in its framework).


I take no issue with the notion that the suit is unlikely to prevail, since at this point the property on which the museum sits appears to be privately owned. I also take no issue with the shamelessly pejorative light in which nonbelievers are cast throughout the article- frankly, I’ve gotten used to such unwarranted judgement. What I do take issue with is the suggestion that atheists are completely unjustified in resisting such blatant religious affiliation with what should arguably be considered a national memorial.

What follows are some comments on the article, just a sampling from the first 3 pages of comments (at the time I read the article). I think they make it clear what kind of readership the New York Daily News garners… Comments are quoted in their entirety, without alteration (even where my editorial tendencies tugged hard at my heartstrings). I encourage you to check out the most recent comments by following this link to the article to see how things have “evolved.”
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“I’ll tell you what…if an equal number of atheists can get past that group of construction workers and firefighters, then they can take it down. However, since most atheists look like pencil-necked geeks, I sincerely doubt they’d be able to do it.”

“People will do anything for attention.”

“Cross = NO!! Mosque = OK!!”

“I bet on 9/11 when all hell was breaking loose, you couldn’t find an athiest anywhere. Let it go people. If it offends you that much let me be the first to say just don’t go and see it.”

“like it or not, NY and America is a Christian Nation. In God We Trust.”

“Jesus is everywhere. Even at 9/11.”

“My GOD what’s wrong with people? If you don’t believe in God then you should see this as two scraps of metal and nothing more. Go away you little trolls! this is why everyone hates Atheists because they spend more time trying to take God away form others than anything else. God Stll Loves You Dirt bag :@}”

“The Constitution guarantees freedom OF religion, not freedom FROM religion. Thus, it is Constitutionally protected “speech” to display the artifact that is in the shape some view as the religious symbol called a cross.”
*I must point out that the above evaluation of the 1st Amendment is entirely WRONG*

“Do not let the devil steal our joy , only the fool said in his or her heart there is no God . The Atheist will come to their knee soon and ask for forgiveness , give them time they willsee that therte s only one God and it is not money/.,”

“Ummmm, if it were REALLY a cross that had been hanging in a church then the group might have a point albeit an appalling and distasteful one in my opinion. BUT this is not a church cross…it is basically a piece of the rubble from the WTC and yes Christians will see it as a cross but that’s how they see it. Like the letter “T” on a page. Maybe the atheists out there want us to remove the letter “T” from our alphabet?? What a bunch of a***holes.”

“I also believe it is kinda funny and contradicting that “atheists” believe an actual Crucifix was formed by the devastation …..If they didn’t believe it , it wouldn’t bother them !”

“What next, removing “In G..o.d We Trust” from all of our currency? Hey atheists, do what I do when I see something that offends me… look away or change the freakin channel. No impingement of freedoms with that approach.”

“whats the point of separation of church and state?”

“I hate atheists and have absolutely no respect for them. They are the scourge of the Earth.”

“I would like to offer an invitation to those who filed or agree with this lawsuit. I would llike to invte you to go FK YOURSELF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

“all of these misguided fools will be true believers when they are on their deathbed!”

“It’s amazing to realize that a certain percentage of fundamentalist atheists apparently believe that the “separation of church & state” means they never have to gaze upon a religious symbol while out in public. It’s also amazing that 99% of their lawsuits are against Christian symbols. It might suggest that this small group of atheists are more interested in destroying others’ religious beliefs than in offering something positive of their own beliefs. Wait until Xmas & see how much $ they spend to attack the holiday, while not offering a cent to establish an atheist soup kitchen.”
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Most of these speak for themselves, but in response to that last one, I would direct you to The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a massively influential charity. Mr. Gates and his wife are both atheists, and as one of the richest Americans Gates notoriously donates over half of his massive income to charity. The assumption that because atheists are not organized implies that they do not participate in charity is fundamentally a non-sequitur. Just because we don’t get together and sponsor a charity is irrelevant. Many atheists contribute to many non-denominational charities (and I have as well).

But to return to the issue, would New York citizens (perhaps I should really just say the New York Daily News) be so defensive of a different religious symbol being displayed at the museum? Say we found a piece of rubble that some might think looks like the Buddha, or say we were to frame a crescent moon and star that a Muslim had hanging on the wall of his office in one of the towers?  In regard to the former, it would likely be ignored as insignificant, in regard to the latter, we would likely hear yet more right-wing Christian rhetoric about how such a symbol cannot be allowed, and how it must be displayed at a minimum distance from the site of the attacks, and how America is a Christian nation, and how we need more legislation banning Sharia law.

The point is this- a cross at the site of the memorial, as the sole religious symbol, suggests that we have come to a consensus as a nation that it was Christian America, not America itself, that was attacked on 9/11. Nothing says otherwise and there is a gigantic cross standing in the museum. It’s not just a piece of rubble, it has been propped up to specifically resemble a cross. This is despite the fact that not all Americans, and not all of the people killed on 9/11, are Christian.It’s despite the fact that over 20% of Americans don’t identify with Christianity in any way.

Though the article in the New York Daily News might attempt to lambast nonbelievers in general, labeling them as causeless, idiotic assholes with nothing better to do than pick on Christians, the fact remains that it is atheists, not Christians, who are defending the objective position. When we permit only one religious symbol to be displayed at the site, the one religion that it represents is inherently imposed upon all of those who are supposed to be memorialized. Call me wrong, but I think that’s pretty fucked up.

Those arguing on behalf of the cross aren’t arguing on behalf of Americans, they’re arguing on behalf of Christians. The atheists arguing against the cross are in fact arguing on behalf of not just nonbelievers, but people of every faith and creed that was represented in the twin towers, if not the entire nation. We should not forget that in maintaining our constitutionally guaranteed right to not have religion imposed on us, we ensure that future generations of Christians need not fear such a tyranny of the majority as they have so casually, passively affected on others for so long.

Ironically, it is just such a tyranny that caused our founding fathers to flee the monarchy of England, and it is also what led them to insist on the ratification of the First Amendment to our Constitution. This lawsuit isn’t about getting back at anyone, it’s about protecting the rights of everyone. The reason it is being brought is that it presents an interesting question of a conflict between national interest and private property, one that frankly needs to be addressed, if not to prevail then to set a precedent and draw the line. I suspect that private property rights will win out. That’s fine- we have to adhere to the careful doctrines of property law that we have established over the years. I think we all know, however, that just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right, and it doesn’t make it respectful to the dead.

Also, let’s be real here- this “cross” is an I-beam intersection, not a meaningful religious symbol. To treat it otherwise (like by picking it from the ruins and standing it on end in a museum) is to make an exception, and again, lets not kid ourselves that such an exception would be made for Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Pagan, or atheistic symbols. Our memorial shouldn’t be religiously affiliated post ex facto, just like the Mormon church shouldn’t be posthumously baptizing Albert Einstein. It’s not just ridiculous, it’s insulting.

I’m not arguing that all Christians are trying to push their religion on others. I’m not arguing that crosses should not be allowed to be publicly displayed on private property. All I’m arguing is that displaying a massive cross at the site of the 9/11 attacks is tasteless and should be disapproved not just by atheists, but by Americans of all creeds and callings. In defending a freedom from religion in places that clearly transcend faith, we defend the interests of each and every American, regardless of faith.

One day, I hope, we will come to realize and embrace the notion that we should be both mindful and respectful of all forms of belief, not just by allowing them where they are warranted, but by opposing them where they are not. Until then, we will continue to fight, despite little chance of success, for progress.

Painfully. Slow. Progress.

UPDATE 8/9/2011: I found an even better compilation of ridiculous comments on this issue here.

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IS OUR GENERATION A LOST CAUSE?

“The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future less resolved than it will be”

I recently had an email conversation with my mother, who happens to be quite conservative, about whether or not there is any hope for our current generation. She is living in Qatar right now (my parents are expats), and she gets most of her information about our societal goings-on from sources like Fox News and WSJ.  I thought she made an interesting point, and that you, my faithful readers, might find my response interesting as well. So here it is.

Her email:

Where is the optimistic and high-minded view?

Hey guys,
I was browsing the online wsj and came across a paragraph that struck me.  So I’m sending it your way.  You know, Dad and I grew up in, looking back, what seems like a more innocent, wholesome time period.  And, I think that the reason I look back on our time in Norway with such fondness is that the lifestyle there at that time (I don’t know about nowadays, given all the grafitti we saw when we had the reunion there) reminded me of the best days of my own childhood spent out in nature, berry picking, finding tadpoles, etc.  I don’t know, maybe it’s just the rose-colored glasses of old age.  I mean, I also grew up being warned not to talk to strangers, blah blah blah.  But when I read the following exerpt, it kind of resonated with what’s bothering me lately:
“In the Old America there were a lot of bad parents. There always are, because being a parent is hard, and not everyone has the ability or even the desire. But in the old America you knew it wasn’t so bad, because the culture could bring the kids up. Inadequate parents could sort of say, ‘Go outside and play in the culture,” and the culture—relatively innocent, and boring—could be more or less trusted to bring the kids up. Popular songs, the messages in movies—all of it was pretty hopeful, and, to use a corny old word, wholesome. Grown-ups now know you can’t send the kids out to play in the culture, because the culture will leave them distorted and disturbed. And there isn’t less bad parenting now than there used to be. There may be more.”
So, I guess I’m asking you guys, do you see anything wholesome and hopeful in the current culture in which you live?  Please send me instances of the good stuff!  Where are the hopeful, optimistic, uncynical TV shows?  Where is the hopeful uplifting music?  Can you tell me, because I’d like to see it and listen to it, and in general, bathe in it! 🙂  The 24/7 downer news cycle is not the view of life I want!
Love,
Mom
My response:
Hi Mom,
“Every generation is the lost generation.”
~George A. Silver
I really think the ratio of good to bad parents is probably about the same, if not better, today. The reason I think it seems so hopeless these days is that our communication methods have evolved to the point where a bear can’t shit in the woods without the news covering it. Of course, that’s an exaggeration, but I heard a more realistic way of putting the problem from a journalist who was speaking on C-span the other day. He said that the reason most of the news we hear today is bad news is that if a plane lands safely and everybody goes home happy, the news won’t cover it. The same standard goes for crime, corruption, hatred and controversy- these are all sensational topics, and between the real news for which the 24-hour news industry was designed, that’s what keeps viewers watching/listening/reading. An overwhelming majority of negative information of course shifts peoples’ perceptions of the world to one that is mostly bad, as a passive, collateral effect.
We are all indeed, willing or not, part of the largest human experiment to ever be affected on mankind. We are also at our highest population thus far, and our population continues to increase in a nearly exponential manner. Thus, if there was one kid spraying graffiti 20 years ago, now there are a hundred, and in 20 years there will be a thousand. As human beings, we are an incredibly plastic, adaptive society. To run with the graffiti example- as the amount of negative culture increases, a counterculture will inevitably evolve to confront it. Like in Norway, for every time the word “fuck” was scrawled on a wall, a work of art was painted to confront or replace it. The city tends to paint over the bad graffiti and preserve the artistic stuff. Graffiti has in fact led to the creation of a whole new genre of street art, one that is actually receiving much recognition among the modern art community (if you’re interested, check out some of Banksy’s work, he’s famous at this point and his messages are ones of activism, reform, and peace). We cope with negative aspects of society like gang-style/vandalistic graffiti by owning them and redirecting their energies and their purposes.
I understand what the WSJ quote is saying about innocence, but I would counter with the notion that true innocence is a thing that should not, and ultimately cannot, be defended. A sheltered life is no life at all, and should that shelter suddenly be lost, well, reality can be one hell of a shock. In addition, a person sheltered from that which is bad in the world lacks a true frame of reference by which to be good. This is why guided exposure, such as that which you and dad gave to my brother and I, is the norm. It’s also why Mormons have a higher percentage of rapists in their population than the general population- by discouraging and suppressing sexual intimacy they disarm individuals of the means by which to engage in it properly (an informal discussion of how high instances of rape in Utah relates to Mormonism can be found here). One of my beefs with people who actually adhere to and espouse variations of biblical morality (a massive percentage of our population does) is that I think we should establish our sense of morality from the world around us right now, not the world around a book written in the bronze age, or by a known con artist such as Joseph Smith.
How do we develop a sense of right and wrong in practice? We experience some of the right, and some of the wrong, and what we are left with is a choice, a judgement of personal prerogative. This is how one establishes a truly moral worldview, in my opinion. I think we should all confront the world around us for what it is, rather than cling to some idealistic perception of the world as this inherently moral and fair thing. We, in reality, make the rules, and we also, as a society, set the standards of morality. By being bombarded with bad news all the time, we become more aware of the negative aspects of society, and to some extent we become desensitized to them. This is both good and bad. It’s better if we are aware of the desensitization, so that we can learn from it. I think people are becoming more aware of that factor as it happens though. The fact that you are able to perceive a wrongness in society at all is a testament to that- if we were truly desensitized we would not perceive anything to be wrong.
So, in short, I think we’re doing good. I have met many, many wonderful human beings since I have left home for school, and of course every now and then I have run into what I consider a bad, or immoral person. I have come to believe that the majority of human beings are inherently good, and thus I have retained hope for humanity. I think in the long run our society’s moral push and pull will serve to bring us to higher and higher tiers of evolution-  psychological and moral tiers, rather than a physical ones. It’s kind of cool- in the abstract, this generation is a truly transcendent one.
So stay positive 😉
For examples- Did you ever watch the Dalai Lama speak? That’s a good one. Aside from that, wow, that’s a broad request. I know, I’ll refer you to TED- never have I seen a TED talk that hasn’t inspired me. Click the links that follow to see video’s I’ve picked out, and by all means, peruse their other videos! There are thousands of TED talks on the site, and they are all great sources of inspiration. Link 10 goes to the general video page, and once you’re there you can select categories on the left.

LINK 1, LINK 2, LINK 3, LINK 4, LINK 5, LINK 6, LINK 7, LINK 8, LINK 9, LINK 10.

True Patriots Support Atheists!

“I don’t know that Atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.”
– President George H. W. Bush

This 4th of July, Americans from all walks of life will come out to celebrate our nation’s independence, as they do every year. Unfortunately, a certain group of Americans, one of the most commonly and casually discriminated against, has met some serious resistance in their efforts to take part in the celebrations. Atheists, many of whom are veterans or active members of our military, have raised over 20,000 dollars as part of a campaign to display pro-atheist messages on plane-mounted banners over 27 locations today. Their campaign has been stalled, mainly due to private pilots’ unwillingness to participate in an activity (flying the banners) that may be perceived by many as anti-religious.

This isn’t an unfounded concern. One man, an atheist, reportedly told CNN that he “won’t fly it because [he] can’t wear a bulletproof vest.” I think this speaks to our nation’s state of mind as a whole, and gives atheists and humanists such as myself all the more reason to become even more vocal.The more we are perceived the more people will realize that we are perfectly normal human beings who have just as much of a right to express our views as anyone else. The more this is realized and embraced, the less likely private businesses will feel the need to discriminate against providing communication services (a banner communicating that atheists too are patriotic, for instance) to nonbelievers.

I am a patriot. I believe that there is great value in the responsiveness of the American democracy, the dynamism of American culture, and the breadth of American freedoms. I have nothing but the utmost respect for the men and women who have spoken, argued, fought, bled and died to make such a society possible.

On the other hand, I believe that it is the freedoms of those who are the least popular by which the true extent of American freedom should be gauged. I’m not talking about freedoms that have been guaranteed by our government or our constitution- these pilots are part of the private sector and it is surely their right to refuse service, particularly if they feel it is in the interest of their business. What I’m talking about is the American attitude that makes such a refusal in their interest in the first place.

We have long been a country that prides itself on its willingness to embrace notions of equality and freedom. I choose today to remind the American people that if we really want to aspire to such ideals, if as patriots we really want to uphold the visions of our nation’s founders and our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, it is first and foremost the responsibility of us citizens to embrace and embody them. At this point, no amount of legislative proselytizing or judicial decision-making can ensure our freedoms as effectively as we ensure them for ourselves.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
-Evelyn Beatrice Hall

As we celebrate the independence of our great nation with food and drink and fireworks, we should remember those ideals that unite us in celebration. We should, as we have, so many times throughout our history, put aside our petty disagreements and toast to not just our personal visions of the American dream, but to the diversity of perspectives on which our great democracy thrives. It is this push and pull that separates us from other nations of the world, many of which suffer from oppressions of majority despite democratic governmental systems. Our nation is a true melting pot and that is why we are capable of overcoming whatever obstacles to freedom and equality we are faced with!

The issue of pro-atheistic banners is sure to rub people of many religions the wrong way, much in the same way religious banners would likely rub atheists the wrong way. If a religious group wants to raise money and fly their own banners they are obviously welcome to do so. Can you imagine the total shit-storm that would commence were a pilot to refuse to fly a banner that proclaimed that Christianity is patriotic?

To reiterate a point that was recently relayed to me by my wife, it is by challenging our perspectives that we create the opportunity to either reform or reaffirm them. We should always seek to challenge our perspectives so that in the end they are well-considered and can serve as a reliable basis for decision-making throughout life. As I see it, even though only 17 of the 85 pilots asked to fly patriotic atheist banners today will actually be flying, that’s 17 more than have ever been flown on any previous 4th of July. I consider that to be a sign of great progress for a society in which a significant portion of the population holds views like this. Thus,I count it as a win not only for Atheism, but for America and American progress.

Painfully. Slow. Progress.


One Nation, Under God, the Christian One

We here in the United States are a divided bunch, and in most regards that divisiveness is clear after only a brief glance at the composition of our Congress. The reason the term “most” is important here is that there are certain issues that are perceived to be too controversial to be on the wrong side of. One of them is God.

We are a nation composed of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and many other religions. We also have a substantial population of people who are either unaffiliated or are flat-out nonbelievers. The fact that we continue to legislatively support terms like “under God” and “in God we trust” makes a mockery of our democracy and the First Amendment to our constitution.

As you are surely aware, the First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”, and that clause, known as the Establishment Clause, has been roundly interpreted by not only our Supreme Court but a whole slew of lawmakers to imply a separation of Church and State. Jefferson described it as a wall of separation between Church and State.

The entire idea behind the clause is that one religion should not be given preference over another, that religion in general should not be given preference over non-religion, and that non-religion should not be given preference over religion in general. The fact that our politicians and particularly our presidents are perceived to be somehow unelectable if they even fail to announce their devotion to Christianity represents a tyranny of the majority, and the result is the shameless violation of our Constitution.

As a secular humanist, I am disgusted that as a citizen of this great nation I have no choice but to be associated with a religion that I perceive to be morally bankrupt in many respects. It is not the perspectives of the majority for which the Bill of Rights was established, but for those of the minority. In this instance, I am in that minority, and I implore you all to consider that one day I may not be, and that it is in your interest to consider my words carefully.

Painfully. Slow. Progress.