The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘Atheism’

THE ATHEIST CASE FOR NIXMAS

Have you ever noticed that in the season prior to Christmas, people seem to be just a little bit nicer to each other than usual?  It’s something I’ve observed year after year – and I wistfully hope that the spirit of the season would continue throughout the entire year.  Sadly, it seems to evaporate as soon as the party noisemakers are blown and the last glass of champagne is consumed.

On a fundamental level, the story of Jesus’ birth should stir at least a twinge of emotion in all of us, whether or not you believe that He was born as Savior to redeem mankind from the sins with which we bind ourselves.  After all, here is a humble family who find refuge for the Nativity in a barn, surrounded by farm animals.  Nothing fancy, nothing splashy, nothing that would portend any great events yet to come.  Perhaps that, if nothing more, is the reason that many of us take the time to reflect on the beauty and mystery that is life – and causes us to be a little more generous, a bit more compassionate and just a smidgen more caring for our fellow men – at least for a few weeks.

Then, of course, those of us who are fortunate enough to have a roof over our head can enjoy the camaraderie of sharing meals with family and friends.  The smells of the season, whether those come from the cookies baking in the oven or the incense of the Midnight Vigil and celebration of the Liturgy of the Nativity, appeal to our sense of smell and the decorations and light displays excite our vision.  At least that is the case for some of us.

Then there are those who profess atheism as their religion of choice, while denying that they have any religious convictions.  Not to engage in a debate on the subject which might embroil us in little more than a semantic conversation, let’s stipulate that an atheist, at least in America, is entitled to hold and express her convictions just as are Jews, Muslims, Baha’i’s, Buddhists, Christians or anyone of any other religious conviction.  If an atheist wants her position to be respected, it seems natural that they would respect the positions of others whose views might differ from their own.  But that doesn’t seem to be the case, as the following billboards demonstrate:

 

 

 

American atheists generally direct their anti-religious message towards those of the their fellow citizens who are Christians, reserving their antipathy to members of other faiths with generalized derision in the belief in any God.  So why do those who believe that Jesus is Lord deserve their special attention?  This has puzzled me for many years so I thought that I would do a little research into the subject.

Samaritans Purse is a name with which you might have recently become familiar because of the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa.  They have sent and paid for the cost of providing medical practitioners to the area to help those who were ravaged by the disease – all because of the contributions they received from those who support their work.  Perhaps our atheist friends believe that they have simply not done enough.

We are all familiar with the bell ringer volunteers that the Salvation Army puts in front of our stores during the Christmas season.  During the Great Depression, the Salvation Army was the only charitable organization that freely gave out food to those in need.  In 2013, the Salvation Army provided assistance to 30 million Americans with services that ranged from providing food to individuals and families in need, veterans services, half-way houses, prison ministries and services to the elderly and shut ins.  Although my atheist friends must think I’m crazy, I never hesitate to drop a few dollars in those red kettles every time I pass by one.

I grew up with “Make Room For Daddy” and adored Danny Thomas who founded St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.  Thomas loved kids and showed this by establishing this incredible hospital which is totally dependent on donations for its continued works as it does not charge any family for any of the services it provides to the children who come there to be treated for their complex and costly medical conditions.  Although Danny Thomas was a Maronite Catholic, St. Jude does not restrict its practice of free treatment to Catholic children in need but accepts all children as patients irrespective or religion or race.

Catholic Charities is probably the largest and best funded of all Christian charitable services.  It provides assistance by operating shelters for the homeless and abused women, services to immigrants including teaching English, nutrition through the Meals on Wheels program, companion programs for the elderly, just to name some of their activities.  Catholic Charities provides assistance to over 40 million Americans per year.

Despite these obvious good works, the atheists in American society continue their campaign to turn Christmas into Nixmas and spend their money putting up billboards and filing lawsuits, demanding that symbols of Christianity be removed from public display.  Personally, I think the money could be better spent – but that’s just one person’s opinion.

As I try to keep an open mind, should any of my readers who holds an atheist view of life be kind enough to provide me with the name of an atheist organization that actually spends its donations helping children, providing housing for the homeless, feeds the hungry or offers free medical treatment for those in need, I will be happy to make a contribution to their good work.  But irrespective of whether I hear from anyone with that information, let me take a moment to wish all readers, religious or otherwise, a Merry and Blessed Christmas, and a heart filled with charity.

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Easter, 2014

“There are those who have a religious faith and those that don’t, and that has pretty much been the way it’s been throughout mankind’s history.  It’s unfortunate that people who fall into either camp disparage those who believe differently from themselves.  I think of it as philosophical racism.”

“Whether or not we have a religious orientation, I suspect that most of us, if we were to read the Pope’s remarks without knowing who the author was, would applaud his statement.  It seems foolish, if not reprehensible, to discard or demean his comments simply because they come from a religious figure while, if the same speech were given by Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson Mandela, we would applaud it as an outstanding piece of oratory.”

The above two paragraphs were a comment that I left for someone on the Huffington Post who had thoroughly denounced Pope Francis’ Easter “Urbi et Orbi” proclamation.  While I presume from the tone of the statement this person left that he or she is an atheist, the same sort of intolerance unfortunately can be found within the ranks of the religious – both towards members of other belief systems as to those who profess to having none.

If there is one thing that we who claim to be Christians (in whatever form that may take) should most remember at Easter particularly, but throughout the year as well, it is that if you look at the three year ministry of Jesus, he drew everyone to Himself without regard to their physical condition, their status in society or their financial situation.  Much of that message appeared in Francis’ speech at the Vatican.

Easter is a time for renewal and optimism.  So let’s hope before we celebrate it again next year, each of us will be filled with the message of tolerance and love for one’s neighbors that Jesus taught and that we may find that next year the people of the earth are more at peace with one another and with God.

CHRISTMAS CONTROVERSY

Perhaps you’ve heard about various communities which have determined that Christmas displays in public places are not acceptable.  Some of the impetus for these decisions has come from atheist groups who are offended and cite the fact that the Constitution does not allow for government to establish any religion.  They equate the displays as equivalent to violating this provision of our governing document.

Personally, I’ve never felt offended when I’ve seen public displays of Menorahs.  I do have a lot of Jewish friends and I think that their Holiday is a wonderful one, signifying the indomitable nature of the human spirit.  And my Jewish friends have never told me that they object to seeing Nativity scenes.  If they were offended they certainly never aired that opinion.  Nor would I be offended if I were to see a display advocating atheism, such as the recent display that was put up in Times Square.

It shouldn’t surprise us that there have been local protests aimed at individual homeowners who have put up extensive Christmas lighting displays and portray other aspects of the Holy Day.  Some of those are, in my opinion, a bit over the top and garish.  And if I lived next door I might have thought that a little less might have been more artistic.  But knowing myself, I would have lived with it and kept my tongue.

The Christmas season will soon be over for another year, the decorations will be stored away and we can put this conversation back in the closet.  No – wait, I misspoke.  You see Christmas is not a seasonal event – it’s a Forever event – at least according to the United States Postal Service.

This year the USPS printed a new forever stamp – a Christmas stamp.

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Following is the USPS’ description of this philatelic issue, taken directly from its website:

The Holy Family stamp, first issued in 2012, celebrates Christmas with a scene from the Nativity story that reminds us of the joys of the season: family, togetherness, and the birth of the baby Jesus. It continues the U.S. Postal Service’s tradition of issuing beautiful and timeless Christmas stamps and will be a treasured addition to cards and letters sent during this season of goodwill and sharing.
Working together, art director William J. Gicker, designer Greg Breeding, and artist Nancy Stahl created an evocative image of the Holy Family. The stamp illustration shows Joseph leading a donkey that carries Mary and Jesus, guided by a star shining in the twilight of a desert sky.
The Holy Family stamp is being issued as a Forever® stamp. Forever stamps are always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail® one-ounce rate.

While it is hardly part of my agenda to offer suggestions which further undermine the religious celebration of Christmas, it seems to me that if these people are so offended at viewing Christmas that way, they ought to be in front of Post Offices all over the country protesting the issuance of stamps such as these.  And when they finish their morning activities, they can march to our Public Libraries, demanding that they remove all copies of the Bible on hand and throw them into the fire that they’ve built outside the front door.

THE BEST OF ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS

When Voltaire wrote “Candide” he produced one of the greatest satires ever committed to paper by any author of any nationality at any time.  (As I wrote that sentence, my “spellcheck” immediately flagged this title as a possible misspelling so I guess the programmers behind Windows Live Writer are not familiar with the work.   This oversight makes a sad statement about the breadth of what we in the United States euphemistically call education).

If you are not familiar with the work, Voltaire, one of the great thinkers of the “Age of Enlightenment” broadly attacks the institutions of his day.  Those include both religion and government, among others.  The protagonist in the book which bears his name begins life with an optimistic view of the world but begins to encounter the reality which is our mortal existence – experiencing one misfortune after another.

The book is Voltaire’s caustic response in rebuttal to Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’ conclusion in his earlier work, “Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man and the Origin of Evil”, that this is “The Best of all Possible Worlds.”  Empirical observation leads Voltaire to conclude that nothing could be further from the truth.

Leibniz struggled to find an explanation for the existence of evil.  He came from a devout Lutheran background.  How then, did one explain the allowance of a “good God” to permit the existence of so much that was foul and offensive to the Creator?

Voltaire, himself a deist although not affiliated with any particular religion, made the statement, “If there were no God, it would have been necessary to invent him.”  Those who are atheists believe, of course, that is exactly what happened.

It is probably fair to say that those of us living at any time in history believe that things were better way back when.  As we move along the time curve linearly we have an ever-widening time framework to which we may point in defense of that assertion.  In the mid-eighteenth century when “Candide” was written, religion still held a powerful sway in Europe and throughout much of the rest of the world.

But let us consider the growing irrelevance of religion to many Americans.  This is, perhaps with the notable exception of Islam, a development which is hardly unique to us but seems to be a growing trend worldwide.  Science seems to be doing its job in debunking “the old myths” quite nicely.

Well, where are we in the absence of God?  How do we behave when there is no Supreme Being to judge us for our deeds and our misdeeds?  What is there to hold us accountable for our actions?  Why should we not do everything to gorge ourselves on activities that we consider pleasurable, without worrying about the consequences or concerning ourselves about those whom we might hurt in the process of satisfying our lusts?

Not surprisingly, the answer to those questions is that we are where we are today.

In the absence of “Divine law” we have attempted to fill the gap of accountability with law made by man.  But mankind is obviously flawed, motivated more by self-interest than fairness and it is so with those who pass laws to which we are, at least in theory, bound.

Laws, whether of Divine or human construction are inherently punitive.  I do not know of one law on the books which rewards people for good behavior.  And, of course, there are those, realizing that unlike a Divine being who is omniscient and omnipotent and never let’s anything go unnoticed, human governments are far less capable of punishing offenders, so they consciously engage in unlawful behavior believing they can get away with it.  Often they are right.

When the Founding Fathers addressed the subject of religion in our Constitution, specifying that we were free either to accept or reject it in whatever form it might take, they did so with a reason.  At the same time they proclaimed that all men had a right to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”, they also recognized that old Christian religious principle that men had the power of “free will”.  Only within a society which maintains the rights of the individual above those of the state can people truly be free.

I believe a compelling argument can be advanced which suggests that by condemning our religious beliefs to the trash pile of irrelevancy we have replaced God with Mammon and entrusted ourselves and our children to rulers whose only interest is their own agenda – and that in ever increasing amounts.

At one point, we looked to God to save us from calamities – even those we had brought on ourselves.  Those of us who were Americans, whether we believed in a Supreme Being or not, still had the Constitution to which we could turn and which helped us sleep comfortably at night.

But the continuing erosion of the Constitution has now threatened the security of even the most ardent atheist who believes in individual freedom.  And it should not surprise anyone that our government, in order for it to seize all authority to itself, has turned to attacking the one remaining thing in its way which still influences some men’s lives and their actions – their religious faith.

There is no clearer example than the penalty imposed on religious institutions which do not comply with the terms of the Affordable Care Act although those requirements are in direct conflict with their tenets.  This administration has little concern about and no respect for the concept of “Separation of Church and State” – which makes it a new theocracy under the head of a very mortal President and an equally mortal and moribund Congress.

Now those who are atheists may shout – “At last.  We’ve thrown over old demon mythology and religion.  Reason has triumphed.”  But I would contend that atheism, as much as Christianity or Buddhism or Judaism or Islam is itself a religion.  It’s merely one without a head.

In the absence of religion, we have an ever growing, ever more encroaching College of Cardinals and a Pontiff whom we call by political names.  And if it is true that, “Power corrupts”, we are hastening to the day when the corruption will be absolute – in this or any possible world.

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