Friday, April 19, 2013

Mike Sullivan: Bombing attack a "horrific, cowardly and godless" act

Former United States Attorney Michael Sullivan, a current Republican candidate for US Senate from Massachusetts, told on Tuesday that the Boston bombing was a "horrific, cowardly and godless" act. Thank you to Hemant Mehta for alerting us to the story.

A Secular Coalition for Massachusetts representative spoke with staff in Sullivan's campaign office earlier today, and explained that we'd like to think the candidate failed to realize how his words deepened the hurt of those of us who actually are godless as well as patriotic, ethical, and hurting.

We asked if someone could get back in touch with us by close of business, and emphasized that we're eager to give the candidate the benefit of the doubt. This is hopefully a careless injury, rather than an expression of prejudice, and if that's so it can be remedied with good will, an educational conversation, and a heartfelt apology.

Staffer Bill Rivers told us that the campaign is shut down in light of the today's police activity, and that he doesn't know how long it would take for "a decision" to be made or for that decision to be communicated to us. We'll keep you posted.

How do YOU feel about this comment, and the attitudes it reflects? Let Mike Sullivan know, on Twitter: @MikeSullivanMA. Tag @BostonAtheists and @SecularMass so everyone in our community can join the conversation and lend their perspective.

This is what we tweeted from the Boston Atheists account:
@MikeSullivanMA, we're concerned you don't know how your comment about Monday's 'horrific, cowardly and godless' attack deepens our hurt.
The Secular Coalition for Massachusetts is also alert to the situation:
@MikeSullivanMA Please don't associate nontheism with terrorism. The godless people of MA are hurt and grieving too.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Humanist asks: "Am I not a resident of this city?"

From a Patheos post by James Croft, a Research and Education Fellow at the Humanist Community at Harvard:
At times such as this, when a spirit of solidarity and mutual support is essential, it is critical that any publicly-sanctioned expression of grief, any public ritual to heal the psychic wounds of terror, be completely inclusive of all people. Any public response which privileges one religious view above any other, or which excludes anybody due to their beliefs, could add insult to injury, making them feel other, not part of the society which is struggling to put itself together again. [. . .] there is no excuse – no excuse whatsoever - for the divisive, exclusive, and insulting “interfaith” service which President Obama today attended alongside the dignitaries of Boston at Holy Cross Cathedral. The program is almost exclusively Christian, with nods given to Jewish and Muslim representatives. All the readings are from the Judeo-Christian tradition. There are prayers aplenty. The Processional is Praise to the Lord, Almighty
I am not one of those atheists who is allergic to religion. In fact I often find religious ceremonies moving and powerful. Often, I am happy to attend. But this is a publicly-sanctioned, widely-reported service advertised by the State as “an opportunity for the community to come together in the wake of the tragic events at the Boston Marathon”. It is being attended by the Governor and the President himself. It is the symbolic response to the attacks: the seal of the state adorns the program, and the service is called “Healing Our City”. Yet it completely excludes many Bostonians: those who are not religious, and those whose religions are not represented in the program. This is not a service I would choose to attend even given my love of ritual and ceremony, and my deep need to process what has just happened: I wouldn’t feel safe there. I wouldn’t feel respected. Nothing on that program speaks to me, makes me feel I’m wanted as part of this society. Am I not a resident of this city? Am I to be denied healing?

On why we couldn't have been invited to the Boston Marathon interfaith service

A statement from Josiah Van Vliet, President of the Boston Atheists:

This week a secular event in a very secular city was visited by a terrible human tragedy. And in response to this nationally significant event a service was coordinated; a service where the representatives of many different belief systems would be given the chance to speak to their own people and on behalf of their perspective. At this service the non-theistic perspective was not given voice. And I think it is our responsibility to fix what made this outcome inevitable.

It should be noted that the representatives of the secular perspective did every bit of outreach they could have to get us a seat at the table. I know personally several of the people who worked on this and there is no additional amount of leg work that could have made a difference. What we (as non-theists) needed was to have had different relationship with the country at large. And there are two things that I think we need in place for next time.

First we need to have a creed that outsiders can understand. I mean creed here like mission statement, not an object of faith. We need a few sentences that sound nice that can be “what we are about”. These few sentences would be public relations and not gospel. It would be important to get them right, to have them be something that we feel comfortable supporting, but not something that needed to be perfect. It would serve as the greeting card from atheism to the country; something to help us introducing ourselves to people who still just think that we are satanic communists.

Secondly we need representatives. We need people that our community has endorsed, who speak for us and to us in times of tragedy and celebration. Again we can’t wait for the perfect person who everyone got along with about everything, but someone to say what many of us are thinking, so that we can feel that we are heard. These representatives would not be telling the world what we as individuals think, we the represented would not be obliged to agree with, believe, or follow what is said. But like having a politician you voted for speak, they would be our stand in for the public conversation

Having such a public persona and publicly understood mission statement would have made our representation at the upcoming interfaith service possible. Without establishing our public presence in a “day in day out” way, any time we want to be included is going to look like a shocking introduction that will make our inclusion about us “suddenly” being included. We need to be talked about as just another identity of Americans in an ongoing basis so that people get used to us being out and proud. And having a recognizable secular persona who isn’t known for confrontation would make that person’s inclusion in an interfaith service make sense. Someone needs to be out there talking about our community’s perspective in a way that gives us voice without making us look like bomb throwers. Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris are great and have done great things for the Atheist position, but I’m not sure they have done much good for the atheist community.

We have enough debaters; I think we need a communicator.

So what I am suggesting here is that we start to put ourselves forward in a positive way. I am not saying that we forcibly retire Dawkins, or cease to criticize where criticism is necessary. Just that we also start to engage with the majority of our country, which is religious. Religions and religious people are here to stay, but so are we. And when tragedy strikes, it would help if we were already seen as the important part of the American fabric that we already are.

Boston secular groups join community response to tragedy


Boston’s nontheists have been working to help those affected in Monday’s bomb attack. The Secular Coalition for America, the Boston Atheists, and the HumanistCommunity at Harvard are local sponsors of a secular fundraising effort with the group the We Are Atheism, which has raised over $20,000 to assist victims. $10,000 of this money has already been pledged to the One Boston Fund.

Members of the Harvard Humanists have additionally played a lead role in raising over $140,000 for a fund to help two individuals with ties to their community who suffered severe injuries.

Josiah Van Vliet, President of the Boston Atheists, said “I want to reach out to all those who do not have a church or a pastor, to tell them: You are not alone, and that there are others like you out here. We are also upset, and scared. Although your viewpoint may not be expressed at a prayer vigil, it is one that it shared and sympathized with throughout the country.”

Georgina Capetillo, Boston Atheists Director of Diversity, agreed. “In the wake of tragedy, it’s important that atheists be included in a positive way. We are all part of one community, and we sympathize with the victims of the attacks no less than any Americans.”

Scott Romanowski is an organizer with the Atheists of Greater Lowell, one of the partner organizations of the Secular Coalition for Massachusetts. He said, “In tragedies like this all Americans, secular or not, come together to help each other. We can work to prevent such violence, we must also be ready to respond in a unified way when our community suffers a tragedy like this.

“Our hearts go out to the victims, their families and to all of those affected by this senseless act of violence,” said Edwina Rogers, Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America, of which the Secular Coalition for Massachusetts is a state chapter.

Plans are being made for a secular memorial service—a gathering for those disinclined to attend an event organized under a religious or inter-faith banner—to take place in Boston this weekend. An announcement with the time and location will be posted to Secular Coalition for Massachusetts social media pages.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Local interfaith efforts profiled in HuffPo

From an article by Jaweed Kaleem, profiling a few of the ways Boston's ethical communities are responding variously to the Monday attack, with prayer vigils, special services, fundraising, and so on: B
In Boston, home to some of the nation's oldest churches and one where a stroll on any given street block often includes passing historic Protestant congregations, churches have also reported opening for shelter to house displaced residents or out-of-towners visiting for the marathon, as well announced plans to offer counseling. The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center has said it has relief volunteers and counselors available, while Temple Israel of Boston, a Jewish congregation, will also open Tuesday for a prayer vigil. 
The Boston Atheists and the Secular Coalition for Massachusetts have also voiced their support for victims, saying that although "prayer isn’t for us an option," differences in religious beliefs "pale in comparison to what brings us all together as members of the community."

"Victim in bomb attack humbled by ‘raw humanity’"

A small bit of uplifting testimony, from an article in the Boston Herald quoting a victim of Monday's bombing:
“Raw humanity at the core has the ability to be kind and helpful if we would just let it” [...] 
Erickson was lucky to have not one, but two guardian angels on her side. A woman at the Mandarin Hotel comforted Erickson until medics were able to get her to treatment. That woman later texted a touching message. 
“Helping me, helped her, and it was just amazing,” said Erickson. “That happened all over and it’s very humbling. It’s very humbling, and I hope we all can learn from this.”


In order to help facilitate the participation of our members in the larger community response, we are encouraging Twitter users to use hashtags like #ActForBoston rather than #PrayForBoston. We're further more emphasizing the need to set aside divisive topics so that we can all focus on the matter at hand: the need to act in solidarity, and with compassion, to react constructively to this act of senseless violence.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A vigil tonight at Harvard

A vigil has been organized this evening for the Harvard-wide community, at 8 PM on the steps of Memorial Church in Harvard Yard. Members of the larger community, beyond Harvard, are welcome to join the vigil.

This is an opportunity to stand in solidarity as members of a united community. Even when our searching doesn't come up with an explanation for the kinds of violent and tragic events as our city saw yesterday, the act of coming together can bring us comfort.

Share the event link on Facebook and Meetup

Atheists -- from Boston & elsewhere -- raise money for support fund

Over 150 people were injured and 3 died in yesterday's tragic act of violence. The secular community, like all segments of society, has expressed its wish to help; the team at We Are Atheism has set up a fund under their Atheists Giving Aid program, to help us do just that.

Atheists Giving Aid exists to respond in tragedies like this and provide a resource for non-believers (and others) to give money that will make it to the victims and their families without passing through religious affiliated organizations. You can safely donate knowing that no religious condition or message will be associated with your act of charity.

Atheists Giving Aid raised over $25,000 from secular donors for the victims of the Sandy Hook Massacre, in Newtown, CT; this time, monies will be disbursed to parties who were affected  by the violence in Boston.

Americans are resilient. We'll be okay. But, bills still have to be paid. This is where you come it. Give what you can. Share this page: Let people know there is a way they can give.

The organizers of We Are Atheism are actively pursuing their 501(c)3 status so your donations ARE tax deductible. Help those affected by this while also showing that atheists care as much or more than any religious group out there. We don't give money to churches every week, so let's dig deep in your pockets for this cause.

To donate, visit the support fund page at

As of the time of this posting, the current fund total is over $8,500, of which more than $500 came directly from Boston Atheists members (including Howard S., Bill S., Maria G., Andre B., Turner H., Nick G., Jenni K., Jim B., and others...).

The Boston Atheists are the local contact for this We Are Atheism campaign; the campaign is also being sponsored by the Secular Coalition for Massachusetts and the Humanist Community at Harvard.

How to help in times of disaster

In response to inquiries from our members as to how to respond constructively when events like this happen in our community, we offer the following suggestions:

  • Offer to babysit for friends or neighbors who because of today’s events would be helped by such support
  • Sign up for the Red Cross aid appeals mailing list
  • As requested by the Boston Police Department, call 1-800-494-TIPS if you have relevant information
  • Prepare yourself and your family for unexpected crises. Be informed, make a plan, build a kit:
  • Train to help yourself and others. CERT training and First Aid/CPR Training are great ways to build up your tool kit so that you can productively contribute when an emergency, large or small, arises
If you have more time, talent, or resources to contribute, you can find a national-level organization to volunteer with that compliments your situation:
Check with your state and local volunteer fire department, law enforcement, or emergency management office for more opportunities. Thanks to Lt. Col. Edward Bos, Emergency Services Officer, Alaska Wing CAP, for his advice in compiling these suggestions.

Concerning the Marathon Monday tragedy

For public distribution. Tuesday, 04/16/2013 -- 9:00
from the Boston Atheists news page (pdf)

A statement following the tragic events of the Boston Marathon explosions, from the leaders of the Secular Coalition for Massachusetts and the Boston Atheists.

"We know that we’re not alone among atheists and other secular people in wanting to show sympathy and support in response to today’s tragedy. Although prayer isn’t for us an option, we are ready to help by working with the Red Cross and other emergency and community organizations in any way possible.

"Leaders of local secular organizations like the Boston Atheists and the Secular Coalition for Massachusetts have been diligently monitoring communications for any opportunity to respond constructively to the tragic events of the day. We may have a different religious perspective, but on days like today, those differences pale in comparison to what brings us all together as members of the community.

"Our thanks go to the first responders and other support staff who came to the aid of the victims in Copley Square today, and who have been working since then to protect our safety. Above all, our thoughts and compassion are with the victims and their families."


Zachary Bos
Co-chair, Secular Coalition for Massachusetts
Massachusetts State Director, American Atheists
Immediate past president, Boston Atheists

Ellery Schempp
Co-chair, Secular Coalition for Massachusetts

Josiah Van Vliet
President, Boston Atheists

About the BA: The Boston Atheists is the largest atheist membership organization in New England, and one of the most active secular organizations in the Boston area. We provide opportunities for friendship, education, and community for hundreds of local atheists and, as a local affiliate of American Atheists, advocate for the advancement of reality-based worldviews. Twitter | Meetup

About the SC-MA: The mission of the Secular Coalition for Massachusetts, a state chapter of the Secular Coalition for America, is to increase visibility of and respect for nontheistic viewpoints, and to pstrengthen the secular character of our government as the best guarantee of freedom for all Americans. Facebook | Twitter | Webpage