Wednesday, September 06, 2006

On Merullo's Timidity

Member Robert Skole wrote in to say that a lot of atheists would be interested in reading Roland Merullo’s Op-Ed in yesterday’s Globe, and the writer’s forthcoming book about the “big subject” of God, as well. You can read it here, and maybe you'll agree that it's just a hapless shrug in the direction of sectarian rancor. “This God stuff is what makes the world go 'round, I guess,” writes Merullo. You guess? Surely, there is something more to be said on the incompatibility between societal progress and religiosity? On the categories of ignorance we file away in confidential, eyes-only folders labeled “faith?”

Today’s argument in favor of an increase in our collective intolerance of religion: Grandview Valley Baptist Church North, where old men are reported to molest the children of the community in service to their concept of God. Though some, even or especially in the atheist community, that would condemn religion for charging man with a powerful impulse for wrong-doing, this is not a just attack. In both explicit and implicit ways religion propels many toward an otherwise unachievable goodness. No, religion is not bad (however incorrect), but it can be bad, and when it is bad there must be a way of preserving lawfulness and protecting potential victims from harm and keeping actual victims from further harm. Religious belief and religious practice enjoy protected status in a nation where such status protects the most shameful of practices. Why do we give religion such a reckless privilege? There isn’t any answer from Merullo, who closes the case with a mantra from the Dalai Lama: “My religion is kindness.” All well and good if all believes were benign, but how does “kindness” zealous bigotry? To name one of the many excesses to be found where faith resides.

It would have been nice if the Globe editors had chosen to print an article that engages the issue of religion and modernity, instead of giving Merullo space for market his new book? In which book I hope the author will be less nonplussed by child abuse in the Ozarks, the Crusader spirit of the neo-conservatives, the rational capacity of the voting pious, etc, etc.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Looking Into Boy Scout Recruitment

Margaret Downey, a board member of the organization Scouting For All and President of the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia, has written to ask for the help of anyone who agree that atheists shouldn't be excluded from Scouting. When I think back to the tension during my own board of review for the Life rank, I realize now that the questions were narrowly concerned with the expression of Christian faith in my life. What made me uncomfortable back then at the age of 15 makes me indignant now. The institution of Scouting has much to offer young men, yet a hypothetical youth of impeccable virtue and advanced rationality would be denied those benefits, and forced to seek the same camaraderie and wholesome experiential learning... where? Religion is irrelevant to Scouting's broader program of moral and physical development. I would rather see the religion expunged from Scouting before Scouting ejected from public schools, but on the chance that such expulsion will instigate change you can be sure I will personally be contacting local schools, as Margaret asks requests in the following missive:

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) are currently involved in their annual recruitment drive usually held at all public elementary and middle schools. The Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia contends that if BSA (as a declared private organization) only wants religious children as members, they should conduct their recruitment drives at private religious schools only.

I am currently presenting this argument to the Unionville/Chadds Ford School District in an attempt to stop the Boy Scout recruitment drive. Furthermore, I am using the school districts' own policy as evidence that BSA should not be allowed to use school facilities free of charge. Policy 707 reads in part, that free use of the facility is granted to non-profit organizations "...whose membership is open to district residents."

I really need your help, everyone. I can't cover the entire area (or other states) alone. I am working hard in my own area and I beg all of you to put pressure on BSA and the school where you reside. Contact your local elementary and middle schools and ask the following:

1. Is the school allowing BSA to recruit on school grounds?
2. How is BSA conducting its recruitment drive in the school?
3. Does the recruitment drive involve teachers or administrators (handing out flyers, hosting BSA representatives in the classroom or cafeteria, etc.)?
4. Does a teacher or administrator advocate for BSA membership either by announcements or posting of signs?
5. Does BSA have free use of the school facility for their meetings?
6. Where can a copy of the "Use of School Facilities" policy found?
7. Can I have a copy of that policy?

You are taxpayers whose money is used to support the public school system. You have the right to protect Atheist families from discrimination scenarios. Your calls are actually an attempt to protect the school district from becoming entangled with a discrimination lawsuit should an innocent child be treated like a second class citizen within the confines of his public school. School district funds should not be jeopardized in this way.

Friday, September 01, 2006

More Against City Council Prayer in Lowell

Steve Berthiaume wrote to let us know that another letter to the editor has appeared from a local atheist speaking out against the violation of church of state inherent in opening a city council meeting with sectarian prayer. From The Lowell Sun:

Stop prayers before City Council meetings

I join those opposing prayer before City Council meetings. Besides violating at least the spirit of the Establishment Clause, it violates the principle of separation of church and state. The Wars of Religion, which devastated Europe for centuries, and the tyranny and oppression in the Middle East today largely stem from one group trying to impose their religion on others.

Such conflict is inevitable because government is an agency of coercion. That's why we use it to stop criminals and foreign enemies, who can only be stopped with greater force. Turning government force against a religious minority only changes their behavior, not their minds. A mind cannot be forced. A gun is not an argument, as Ayn Rand said.

The result is an oppressed group just waiting for their chance to seize power and force their religion on everyone else. Civil strife is the inevitable result. Are we not seeing this now on a tiny scale here in Lowell -- religious groups arguing over which prayer the government should impose on people at City Council meetings?

Separation of church and state protects everyone from having religion imposed on them. The result has been centuries of relative religious peace and freedom here in the United States.

It's wrong for the city of Lowell to employ any prayer before council meetings because government exists to protect our rights and not to promote a religious agenda. The Lowell City Council should stop saying prayers before meetings and recognize people's right to make their own religious decisions.

DANIEL E. CALESS, Gloucester
Member, Atheists of Greater Lowell