December 10, 2007

Connecticut Valley Atheists enable thinking and talking about faith

Posted in Religion at 1:38 pm by The Lizard Queen

This story (hat tip to Pharyngula) caught my eye, because its setting is a town in which I used to live. It’s kind of a messy issue: the town allows any religious group (perhaps any group, period?) to place, with a permit, a display relating to their winter holiday of choice on the town green. Here’s what happened this year:

Town officials issued a permit to the [Connecticut Valley Atheists] to place the sign in the park, effective Dec. 1, to mark the winter solstice. They also issued permits to a group of churches that plan to place a creche in the park, and to a local synagogue, which applied to place a menorah there. The atheists have been the only ones to show up so far.

The atheists’ display is three-sided, and on one of the sides there’s an image of the Twin Towers with the words Imagine No Religion.   Personally, I’m conflicted about the statement they’re making with that imagery. Here’s part of the explanatory statement on their website:

Al Qaeda is not an evil organization which happens to be religious (such as the Nazis were), but rather an organization whose evil is directly caused by its religious beliefs. If its members were Atheists instead the WTC would still be intact.

They may well be right about that. However, it’s conceivable that in an alternate reality in which religion didn’t exist, terrorism, or something like it, would still flourish. The implication of that first sentence is that the Nazis were an evil organization that happened to be religious; even if we presume that six million Jews wouldn’t have been killed if religion didn’t exist (which is not necessarily the case given that the Jewish ethnicity might well still exist, just under a different name), what about the others the Nazis killed: Roma, Soviets, Poles, the disabled, homosexuals?

However, even if I don’t necessarily agree with the statement the CVA are making, I think they have a point when they say, “There’s no reason for people to be offended because a display promoting Atheism touts what would be an advantage of Atheism, just because they would prefer a different way of accomplishing the same end.”  (Though, of course, most people don’t need a reason to be offended, but there’s not much that can help that.)  I also see it as a free speech issue, of course.  Furthermore, the sign seems to be engendering thought and discussion:

The Rev. Ray Dupere, pastor of Union Congregational Church, the massive stone church that anchors the west end of Central Park, said the sign has caused people to think and talk about their faith, and to have conversations they might not otherwise have.

“It gives me the opportunity to talk to people about God [who] I might not otherwise get to talk to because they might not ask me what I think,” Dupere said. “I think it’s fine.”

The Rev. John N. Antonelle, a priest at nearby St. Bernard Church, views the atheists’ display as free speech.

“Many people kind of get comfortable in their faith and aren’t challenged,” Antonelle said. “This is a good source to enliven that faith and to open up the doors to discussion and be able to discuss it and reinforce their faith. It’s working out, we think, in a very positive way.”

I’m always a fan of getting people to think for themselves, so good on the CVA for (apparently; hopefully) accomplishing that!

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