The Roanoke Times printed a letter from me today:
Ann Boyd made an important point in her Dec. 31 letter (“Atheists’ message did offend”): Atheist billboards, appearing all over the country, offend many people by signaling that many others don’t believe in God.
How is this offensive? We are implicitly denying — or at least doubting — Boyd’s and many others’ testimony that God changed their lives for the better. That’s pretty personal.
Indeed, many Christians say that without God in our lives, we would have no sound morals. Without God, our inner depravity would conquer us.
However, this implicitly denies that I, an atheist, have sound morals or do good works — or that I believe anything at all.
I find that offensive.
Boyd is entitled to her offense, but I hope she’ll agree that I’m entitled to mine. After all, if atheists took as much space as Christians to complain about such offenses from billboards, marquees, politicians, pastors and letters to the editor, the papers would print nothing else.
The public dialogue concerning morality — and religion — needs to continue, and people of all beliefs will be offended along the way.
We can cope. I hope. Our nation was founded on pluralism, a value we can share.
Recent behavior by the Giles County School Board and the Roanoke and Franklin County Boards of Supervisors has sparked an ongoing and often heated public dialogue over the morality and Constitutionality of officially sanctioned scripture, prayer, and other religious observance in public institutions. Precedent and regional outcomes, which tend to discourage government endorsement and even indirect favoritism in favor of impartiality and minority protection, appears to have prompted some backlash at the level of the State Senate.
Via the Franklin News-Post (via Scott Mange), State Senator Bill Stanley has proposed an amendment to the Constitution of Virginia clearly intended to rescind the continuing wave of secularism. Mr. Stanley represents the nearby 20th Senatorial district, which he claimed from long-time Democratic Senator Roscoe Reynolds on the heels of the 2010 Republican wave. The amendment would amend Article I, Section 16 (“Free exercise of religion; no establishment of religion.”) to explicitly protect “the right” of “citizens as well as elected officials and employees of the Commonwealth” “to pray on government premises and public property”. It is illustrative to view parts of the amended wording as direct responses to recent events: Read more…
Four days before the Giles County School Board formally agreed to their proposed settlement and took down the framed transcription of the Ten Commandments in Narrows High School, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which represented the plaintiffs, began a similar correspondence with the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors. The board maintains a tradition of sectarian prayers before its meetings, often by local clergy (who may discuss their own congregations as well) but not infrequently by individual volunteers.
The challenge is fairly routine. The current precedent was set in last July’s 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on Wynne v. Town of Great Falls, in which Darla Kaye Wynne, a non-Christian, objected to the opening of town meetings with prayer that included such language as “Our Heavenly Father” and “In Christ’s name”. A district court ruled in Wynne’s favor and prohibited the town “from invoking the name of a specific deity associated with any one specific faith or belief in prayers given at Town Council meetings.” The 4th Circuit Court upheld the district decision, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the town’s next appeal. (Incidentally, Wynne was Wiccan, not irreligious.)
Via the Skeptically Speaking interview with Bruce Schneier, i’ve learned of the hubbub over Sam Harris‘s latest flirt with leftist disavowal, on the topic of ethnic profiling at airport security. The short, short version goes like this: Harris said “If it works, do it.”, Schneier replied “Here’s why it doesn’t work.”, and Harris shrugged. Harris and Schneier summarize the exchange with admirable concision in the intro and outro to their email debate. (If you haven’t yet, read it; it’s better than this.)
This was one fascinating hubbub. And it touches upon a few nagging issues i’ve had with the discourse i’ve been spectating. First, the reaction.
. . . was, of course, my Dad. No question there. He got me to be skeptical about arithmetic, for chrissakes: After i grasped that — that is, that — he asked me, “So what would be?” I promptly answered, ““! Hmm, he responded, i’d better write that out.
Oops. (Yes, this is what it was like for me growing up, and i wouldn’t trade it for the world.)
But we tend not to realize just how radical an idea — like science — or skepticism — or naturalism — is before we’re confronted with its preponderant detractors.
I have a few friends who provide regular excellent reminders that religiosity does not preclude intelligence, rationality, and scientific proficiency. When i posted this follow-up to Mehta’s original post about Jerry Buell, my friend — one of these few — raised a concern over Buell being “faculty sponsor” (which i took to mean “advisor”) for a religious group within the high school. Her position is that public schools (including colleges) should offer no recognition for explicitly religious or irreligious organizations at all.