The Common Good

Blog Posts By Kimberly Winston

Posted by Kimberly Winston 3 days 3 hours ago
“On the third day, he rose again.”That line, from the Nicene Creed, is the foundational statement of Christian belief. It declares that three days after Jesus died on the cross, he was resurrected, a glimmer of the eternal life promised to believers. It’s the heart of the Easter story in seven little words.But how that statement is interpreted is the source of some of the deepest rifts in Christianity — and a stumbling block for some Christians and more than a few skeptics.Did Jesus literally rise from the dead in a bodily resurrection, as many traditionalist and conservative Christians believe? Or was his rising a symbolic one, a restoration of his spirit of love and compassion to the world, as members of some more liberal brands of Christianity hold?
Posted by Kimberly Winston 2 weeks 3 days ago
If some secular organizations had their way, much of the current class of lawmakers would flunk out of Congress.The Secular Coalition for America, an umbrella organization of 13 nontheistic groups including American Atheists and The Freedom From Religion Foundation, issued a “report card” on members of the U.S.House of Representatives and Senate based on their votes on recent legislation involving church-state issues.More than half of lawmakers received F’s, meaning, in the coalition’s eyes, they fail at upholding the separation of church and state.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 4 weeks 1 day ago
Nathan Phelps, the estranged atheist son of anti-gay Kansas pastor Fred Phelps who died Wednesday, is asking people to look beyond his father’s legacy of hate.“I ask this of everyone,” the younger Phelps said in a statement issued Thursday about his father’s death at age 84. “Let his death mean something. Let every mention of his name and of his church be a constant reminder of the tremendous good we are all capable of doing in our communities.”The younger Phelps, who is 55 and goes by Nate, is one of four of Fred Phelps’ 13 children who renounced their father’s activities, which included picketing the funerals of veterans, AIDS victims, and celebrities and left his Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. The church of approximately 40 members of the Phelps clan is best known for its public protests and colorful signs declaring, “God hates fags.”
Posted by Kimberly Winston 5 weeks 3 days ago
A California resort town, already reeling from a legal fight over the placement of memorial crosses at a minor league baseball stadium, is now engaged in another round of bitter acrimony over the display of crosses on public land.On Thursday, AnnMarie and Chad Devaney reluctantly removed a roadside memorial cross in Lake Elsinore, Calif., near the site where their 19-year-old son Anthony was struck and killed by a car in May 2012.Not long after, another family appeared at the scene to erect six smaller wooden crosses at the same site. Each bore a handwritten message, including “What if this was your child?”, “To each his own,” and “Get a life.”
Posted by Kimberly Winston 6 weeks 1 day ago
America’s vaunted Protestant work ethic is getting a makeover: Now it might be more of an atheist work ethic.A new study has found an inverse relationship between the religiosity of a state’s population and its “productive entrepreneurship.” That’s professor-speak for “entrepreneurial investment responsible for real economic growth.”In other words, the less religious a state’s population, the more likely it is to have a healthy economy.The study, titled “Religion: Productive or Unproductive?” by economists Travis Wiseman of Mississippi State University and Andrew Young of West Virginia University, was published in the March edition of the Journal of Institutional Economics.In the study, Wiseman and Young find that the “measure of total Christian adherents is robustly and positively correlated with states’ unproductive entrepreneurship scores” in a given state.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 6 weeks 3 days ago
Many viewers may be hoping that Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey lives up to the original series created by astronomer Carl Sagan 35 years ago.But no one will watch the program, airing Sunday on Fox, with greater anticipation than nonbelievers — atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other “nones.”Among this group, many credit Sagan and the original Cosmos with instilling in them skepticism of the supernatural and a sense of wonder about the universe. Both, they say, encouraged their rejection of institutional religion.Humanists are especially eager. They claim Sagan as their own, and see in the Cosmos series — a multipart journey to the outer reaches of our universe — and in his dozen books a vibrant strain of their own philosophy. That philosophy favors reason over religion and holds human beings as both good and responsible for the Earth’s plight.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 7 weeks 2 days ago
A California federal judge has rejected a proposed religious memorial at a publicly owned baseball stadium as a violation of both federal and state laws.On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson of California’s Central District ruled that a granite monument depicting a soldier kneeling in prayer before a cross lacked “a secular purpose” and has “the unconstitutional effect” of endorsing religion over nonreligion.The decision came nine months after a lawsuit was filed by the American Humanist Association, a national organization of nonbelievers. The memorial was planned for city property in Lake Elsinore, Calif., a community of about 53,000 people in Southern California’s Riverside County.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 9 weeks 3 days ago
A new film charting Charles Darwin’s passage from Christian to nonbeliever propelled its maker on a similar journey.“Questioning Darwin,” a new, hourlong documentary airing on HBO throughout February, juxtaposes the story of the 19th-century British naturalist with looks into the lives of contemporary American Christians who believe the world was created in six days, as described in the Book of Genesis.Antony Thomas, the 73-year-old British filmmaker behind the camera, said while his goal was to highlight the way his subjects answered big questions about the origins of life, a loving God, and the purpose of suffering, he found his own answers to those questions changing.“This is a personal feeling, but I do believe the two [a belief in God and in evolution] are not compatible,” Thomas said by telephone from New York, where he is working on another documentary. “And that is what made this worthwhile for me.”
Posted by Kimberly Winston 9 weeks 4 days ago
Happy Darwin Day! A time to play pin the tail on the sparrow, partake of “phylum feasts” (potluck dinners where the ingredients come from many different species), and generally give a thumbs-up to evolution’s godfather, Charles Darwin, on his 205th birthday, Wednesday.A growing number of Americans of varied religious backgrounds are marking the 1809 birthday of the British naturalist whose masterpiece “On The Origin of Species” has never been out of print since its publication in 1859.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 11 weeks 2 days ago
Bill Nye may be “The Science Guy,” but Ken Ham is the “Answers in Genesis” man, and a debate between the two over the origins of life has nonbelievers and Christians wringing their hands.Nye, host of a beloved television science series, and Ham, president of a creationist apologetics ministry, will meet at the Creation Museum, where Ham is also the president, on Feb. 4. In what some wags are calling “the Ham-on-Nye debate,” they will weigh this question: “Is creation a viable model of origins?”In truth, both sides answered that question long ago — Nye with Charles Darwin’s work on the origin of species and Ham with the first book of the Bible. Yet many observers — both religious and nonreligious — say the debate is a very bad idea.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 12 weeks 3 days ago
Leslie Zukor was a 19-year-old student at Reed College studying prison rehabilitation programs when something jumped out at her.“Not all prisoners are religious, and I wanted them to know that to turn your life around and be a good and productive member of society does not require a belief in God,” she said. “I just thought, wow, it is time to see about getting other perspectives in there.” While there were programs tackling drug abuse, physical and sexual abuse, technical training, and more, all of them were offered by faith-based organizations. Where were the options for those behind bars who are atheists, like her?So Zukor launched the Freethought Books Project, collecting books about atheism, humanism, and science and sending them to interested prisoners. She estimates that since her first book drive in 2005, she has given out 2,300 books, magazines, and newspapers to perhaps hundreds of prisoners across the country.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 15 weeks 1 day ago
California pastor Ryan Bell has a novel New Year’s resolution. For one year, he proclaimed, he will “live without God.”It’s an odd resolution for an ordained minister, former church pastor, teacher at two highly regarded Christian universities, and church consultant. Yet for the next 12 months, Bell, 42, plans to refrain from praying, reading the Bible, and thinking about God at all.Instead, he will read atheist authors, attend atheist gatherings, and seek out conversation and companionship with unbelievers. He wants to “do whatever I can to enter the world of atheism and live, for a year, as an atheist.”Still, his resolution is only an experiment — he is not, he said, an atheist. “At least not yet,” he wrote in an essay for The Huffington Post, where, on New Year’s Eve, he announced his plan and a new blog to document it.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 22 weeks 2 days ago
An organization of nonbelievers is threatening legal action against public schools that participate in an evangelical Christian charity that delivers Christmas toys to poor children.The American Humanist Association, a national advocacy organization with 20,000 members nationwide, sent letters this week to two public elementary schools after parents complained their children were being asked to collect toys and money for Operation Christmas Child.Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical relief organization founded by Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham. Its stated mission is “to follow the example of Christ by helping those in need and proclaiming the hope of the Gospel.”The toys collected by Operation Christmas Child come with an invitation for recipients to accept Christianity. Since its founding in 1993, Operation Christmas Child has sent 100 million boxes of toys to poor children.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 23 weeks 4 days ago
Like lots of college students, Lauren has a smartphone loaded with some of the most popular apps around — Facebook, Twitter, and eBay. And like a lot of unbelievers, she asked to not use her full name because her family doesn’t know about her closet atheism.One of the apps she uses most regularly is YouVersion, a free Bible app that puts a library’s worth of translations — more than 700 — in the palm of her hand. Close to 115 million people have downloaded YouVersion, making it among the most popular apps of all time.But Lauren, a 22-year-old chemistry major from Colorado, is not interested in the app’s mission to deepen faith and biblical literacy. A newly minted atheist, she uses her YouVersion Bible app to try to persuade people away from the Christianity she grew up in.“I know of a lot of atheists who have come to their nonbelief by actually reading the Bible rather than just the fluffy stories they choose to tell you about in church,” she said. “Reading the full story with all its contradictions and violence and sexism, it should make you think, ‘Is this really what I believe in?’ At least it did for me.”Lauren is not alone. No one knows how many atheists have downloaded YouVersion and other smartphone and tablet Bible apps, but it is enough that word of the phenomenon has reached the Edmond, Okla., headquarters of LifeChurch.tv, the evangelical megachurch that created the app.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 24 weeks 5 days ago
Air Force Academy cadets will no longer be required to include the words “so help me God” when taking their annual Honor Oath.On Friday officials at the Colorado Springs, Colo., campus announced its 4,000 current cadets would be allowed to opt out of the final phrase of their honor code, which they reaffirm each of their four years of study and training.“Here at the Academy, we work to build a culture of dignity and respect, and that respect includes the ability of our cadets, Airmen and civilian Airmen to freely practice and exercise their religious preference — or not,” said Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, the academy’s superintendent, in a statement.“So in the spirit of respect, cadets may or may not choose to finish the Honor Oath with ‘So help me God.’”The current oath reads: “We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does. Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and to live honorably, so help me God.”
Posted by Kimberly Winston 25 weeks 5 days ago
What was supposed to be a touchy-feely, one-on-one interview by Oprah Winfrey with long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad has morphed into a broader, sometimes angry exchange about what it means to be an atheist.Earlier this month Winfrey, 59, hosted Nyad on “Super Soul Sunday,” her weekly talk program on cable’s Oprah Winfrey Network. Nyad, 64, recently completed a 53-hour solo swim from Cuba to Florida.During the hourlong segment, Nyad declared herself an atheist. 
Posted by Kimberly Winston 26 weeks 2 days ago
The number of Hispanic-Americans who say they adhere to no religion is growing and now rivals the number of Hispanic evangelicals, a new study has found.The share of Hispanics living in the U.S. who say they are atheist, agnostic, or have no religious affiliation has reached 12 percent, according to the 2013 Hispanic Values Survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute. That is double the rate reported in 1990 by the American Religious Identification Survey.Researchers say Hispanic “nones” are now statistically equal to the number of U.S. Hispanic evangelical Protestants — 13 percent — and warn of a religious divide in the Hispanic community that will be felt for decades to come.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 28 weeks 5 days ago
A former United Methodist minister-turned-atheist was dismissed from her high-profile position at Harvard University on Thursday after it was revealed she falsified her resume.Teresa MacBain, one of the most high-profile nonbelievers in the country after profiles by NPR, The New York Times, and Religion News Service, was fired from her newly created position with the Humanist Community at Harvard.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 30 weeks 5 days ago
Few outside the atheist community — and even many inside it — would argue that atheism has an image problem.Every challenge to the First Amendment seems to bring to the airwaves some version of an angry atheist versus a sputtering religious pundit. Cooler, calmer heads seldom make an appearance.Now, a new feature-length documentary from a first-time filmmaker hopes to put a more human, middle-of-the-road face on American atheism. Called “Hug an Atheist,” the film will made its debut Saturday at the fifth annual San Francisco Atheist Film Festival before seeking wider distribution at other film festivals and on television.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 32 weeks 4 days ago
Massachusetts’ highest court on Wednesday will consider whether the daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance is a violation of students’ rights.Since the addition of the phrase “under God” in 1954, the pledge has been challenged repeatedly as a violation of the separation of church and state. In 2004, one case reached the Supreme Court, but ultimately failed, as have all previous challenges.But the current case before the state’s Supreme Judicial Court, Doe v. Acton-Boxborough Regional School District, is different because lawyers for the plaintiffs, an anonymous atheist couple, won’t be arguing about federal law but rather that the compulsory recitation of the pledge violates the state’s equal rights laws. They argue that the daily recitation of the pledge is a violation of their guarantee of equal protection under those laws.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 34 weeks 5 days ago
A new study of almost a century’s worth of data shows that the smarter you are, the less likely you are to believe in God.The study, conducted by Miron Zuckerman, a psychologist at the University of Rochester, examined the findings of 63 earlier studies — one dating back to the 1920s — that measured intelligence and religiosity. The majority of those studies found that more intelligent people were more likely to lack religious beliefs.“The relation between intelligence and religion is negative,” Zuckerman said. “It was very early in the study that we realized that.”But Zuckerman is careful to point out that his work — known as a “meta-study” because it examines a range of other studies — does not mean only dumb people believe in God.Rather, he said, it shows only that more intelligent people may have less need for religion.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 38 weeks 2 days ago
House lawmakers late Tuesday approved an amendment to a Pentagon spending bill to prevent the appointment of nonreligious military chaplains.The amendment, sponsored by Rep. John C. Fleming, R-La., requires that only religious organizations be permitted to endorse chaplains for the military.“The amendment holds the military to its current standards on endorsing agencies, which must be recognized religious and faith-based organizations,” said Fleming’s spokesman, Doug Sachtleben.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 38 weeks 4 days ago
If Jason Heap has his way, he’ll trade his Oxford tweeds for the crisp whites of a newly minted U.S. Navy chaplain.“This is my chance to give back to my country,” said Heap, 38. “I want to use my skills on behalf of our people in the service. Hopefully, the Navy will see where I can be useful.”But Heap’s goal is not assured. He fits the requirements — with master’s degrees from both Brite Divinity School and Oxford University. His paperwork is complete. He passed the physical tests and has been interviewed by a Navy chaplain. The only thing he does not have is an endorsement from a religious organization approved by the Navy.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 40 weeks 5 days ago
Nearly half of all Americans — 48 percent — say the growing number of nonreligious people is “bad for society,” according to a poll conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.But about the same amount — 50 percent — say the rise in nonreligious people is either a good thing (39 percent), or doesn’t matter (11 percent).The findings flesh out last year’s Pew Forum survey on the “nones,” the one in five Americans who report no formal religious affiliation. But the results also illustrate the divided reactions to this trend between those who are religious and those who are not. 
Posted by Kimberly Winston 41 weeks 4 days ago
When KellyAnne Kitchin began home schooling her three sons three years ago, she had difficulty finding curriculum programs that fit her atheist and humanist beliefs.So Kitchin, 33, cobbled together what she could. She left out one geography textbook’s description of the earth as God’s creation and another’s disdain for Darwin, and substituted her own point of view — that no supernatural powers guide human beings, who alone have the power to improve the world.She also found many online forums for home-schoolers were unwelcoming. Some had statements faith members needed to agree to. On others she was made to feel unwelcome because of her lack of beliefs.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 42 weeks 5 days ago
A woman who has lived legally in this country for more than 30 years was granted her request to become a naturalized United States citizen Thursday after initially being refused conscientious objector status because she is not religious.Margaret Doughty, who came to the U.S. in 1980 from England, was informed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that unless she provided a letter from a church or a religious official by June 21 backing up her assertion that her “lifelong spiritual/religious beliefs” would prevent her from taking up arms for the U.S., her application would be denied.Immigrants seeking citizenship must pledge to defend the U.S., unless they can prove they are conscientious objectors — people whose religious beliefs prevent them from engaging in war. Conscientious objector status has been awarded to Quakers, Buddhists, and others.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 45 weeks 2 days ago
After years of fights over religious monuments on public land, a county courthouse in Northern Florida will soon be the home of the nation’s first monument to atheism on public property.On June 29, the group American Atheists will unveil a 1,500-pound granite bench engraved with secular-themed quotations from Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and its founder, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, among others, in front of the Bradford County Courthouse in Starke, Fla.The New-Jersey-based group, which has a membership of about 4,000 atheists, humanists, and other non-believers, won the right to erect the monument in a settlement reached in March over a six-ton granite display of the Ten Commandments on the same property.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 46 weeks 2 days ago
The decision by the Boy Scouts of America to accept openly gay Scouts has raised the question: Are atheists and other nonbelievers — the only remaining group BSA still bans — next?No one is holding their breath, least of all Neil Polzin, an Eagle Scout who was fired from his job in 2009 as an aquatics director at a Boy Scout camp in San Diego after he admitted to being an atheist.“I don’t see that happening, at least not in the immediate future,” Polzin said. “The focus has always been on the Scouts’ discrimination against gays and it seems atheists were always on a back burner or not discussed at all.”But that doesn’t mean nonbelievers — atheists, humanists, and other nontheists — have abandoned their quest for inclusion. In the wake of the BSA’s May 23 vote that led to the inclusion of gay Scouts — but not gay scoutmasters — every major organization of nonbelievers has issued a statement condemning their continued exclusion.A BSA official declined to comment, but issued a statement that said, in part, that since the organization had “just completed a lengthy review process, there are no plans for further review on this matter.”The problem for atheists lies in an oath in which scouts promise to “do my duty to God and my country.” Some nonbelievers have suggested their sons change the word “God” to “good,” but the BSA has remained firm. Some atheist children have been asked to leave after years in Scouting when it was revealed that they did not believe in God.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 46 weeks 3 days ago
Meet Robert Ingersoll, the most famous American atheist you’ve probably never heard of.A self-educated attorney and atheist, Ingersoll was a Victorian-era rock star who could pack theaters from Texas to New York with people who came from hundreds of miles around to hear “The Great Agnostic” lecture against religion.He was courted by politicians, his likeness was carved in stone, and when he died in 1899, newspapers around the country carried his obituary. A Civil War veteran, he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 51 weeks 1 day ago
Several atheist protests planned for Thursday outside Bangladeshi embassies and consulates were postponed in the wake of Wednesday’s building collapse that killed at least 244 people in that country’s capital, Dhaka.A coalition of secularist advocacy groups originally planned to rally in London and several cities in the U.S. and Canada over the arrests of four atheist bloggers who were charged with blasphemy in the officially Muslim nation.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 51 weeks 3 days ago
An international consortium of nonbelievers is planning rallies Thursday outside Bangladeshi embassies and consulates to demand the release of several Bangladeshi bloggers who were arrested on charges of blasphemy.The rallies are in support of four Bangladeshi men arrested earlier this month for “hurting religious sentiments,” a crime tied to an 1860 law that can carry up to 10 years in jail.The four men — all bloggers — staged a sit-in at a public square demanding a ban on the country’s largest Islamic political party; Islam is the official state religion in Bangladesh.
Posted by Caleb Bell, Kimberly Winston 1 year 9 hours ago
President Barack Obama praised Bostonians for their actions “in the face of evil” during an interfaith memorial service on Thursday for victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.“You’ve shown us, Boston, that in the face of evil, Americans will lift up what’s good. In the face of cruelty, we will choose compassion,” Obama said.The 90-minute service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross featured local political figures and religious leaders from Christian, Jewish and Islamic traditions. Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley shared a greeting with the congregants from Pope Francis.“The Holy Father invokes God’s peace upon our dead, consolation upon the suffering and God’s strength upon all those engaged in the continuing work of relief and response,” O’Malley said.Obama opened his remarks with Scripture, and quoted it throughout his speech.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 1 year 3 days ago
HOUSTON — Sunday mornings at Houston Oasis may look and feel of a church, but there’s no cross, Bible, hymnal, or stained glass depictions of Jesus. There’s also nary a trace of  doctrine, dogma, or theology.But the 80 or so attendees at this new weekly gathering for nonbelievers come for many of the same reasons that others pack churches in this heavily Christian corner of the Bible Belt — a sense of community and an uplifting message that will help them tackle the challenges of the coming week, and, maybe, the rest of their lives.“Just because you don’t believe in God does not mean you do not need to get together in community and draw strength from that,” said Mike Aus, a onetime Lutheran pastor who is now an atheist and founder of Houston Oasis.“We are open to any message about life as long as no dogmatic claims are made.”
Posted by Kimberly Winston 1 year 2 weeks ago
For someone who was once dubbed “the most hated woman in America,” Madalyn Murray O’Hair is getting a lot of love in this city she once called home. Ten years after her mysterious disappearance in August 1995, the legacy of activist Madalyn Murray O’Hair still influences atheists in America today. She was known for her role in the landmark 1963 Supreme Court decision in Murray vs. Curlett, which, combined with Abington vs. Schempp, ended prayer in public schools across the U.S. and turned her into the self- described “most hated woman in America.” She is depicted here in a Religion News Service file photo from the 1970s.New Jersey-based American Atheists, the group O’Hair founded here in 1963 to further the separation of church and state, is marking its 50th anniversary with a three-day convention that’s expected to draw more than 900 people in its former hometown.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 1 year 3 weeks ago
This Easter, Teresa MacBain will mark an anniversary that’s uncommon for an ordained  minister — her first year as an atheist.Last March, MacBain, now 45, stood at a podium before hundreds of people in a Maryland hotel ballroom at the national convention of American Atheists and told them that, after a lifetime as a Christian and 15 years as a pulpit pastor, she had lost her faith.Her coming out was national news, and she expected it would cost her her position as pastor of a United Methodist church, and she expected she might lose some friends and family members. In the last year, she has lost all those things.But there have been gains, too, including a new career, the embrace of a new community that she had been taught to distrust and a newfound sense of confidence.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 1 year 4 weeks ago
What would an “atheist Lent” look like? A group of young nonbelievers are finding out, observing the Christian practice minus its religious context.They have given up alcohol, animal products, and various Internet and cellphone interactions. One has vowed to make a daily Lenten practice of telling those he encounters how important they are to him.But their observance of the 40-day period in which many Christians abstain from worldly desires in a bid to come closer to God has upset some atheists who say borrowing religious traditions is antithetical to nontheism.The exercise has also illustrated a divide in the nontheist community –  between older atheists who see religion as inherently evil and younger atheists who are more open to interactions with religious belief.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 1 year 6 weeks ago
On a summer night in a Western town of flat fields and hazy sunsets, a young woman stood outside a Greyhound bus with a ticket in her hand and a backpack over her shoulder. Boarding the bus, she said later, would be the hardest thing she had done in her 18 years.Harder than saying a last goodbye to her mother, father, and five siblings that morning. Harder than the two years since as she tried to make a new life, alone, in a strange city.Now 20, she asked to go by the name Samya. If her true identity were known, Samya believes, her family would seek her out and possibly kill her. They would certainly try to persuade her — if not force her — to come home.Her parents, she said, think she is guilty of two serious crimes: She rejected a marriage arranged by her father, who came to the U.S. from the Middle East when Samya was an infant. And perhaps more serious to her parents: She has become an atheist.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 1 year 17 weeks ago
A new report on global religious identity shows that while Christians and Muslims make up the two largest groups, those with no religious affiliation — including atheists and agnostics — are now the third-largest “religious” group in the world.The study, released Tuesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, found that more than eight in 10 (84 percent) of the world’s 7 billion people adheres to some form of religion. Christians make up the largest group, with 2.2 billion adherents, or 23 percent worldwide, followed by Muslims, with 1.6 billion adherents, or 23 percent worldwide.Close behind are the “nones” — those who say they have no religious affiliation or say they do not believe in God — at 1. 1 billion, or 16 percent. That means that about the same number of people who identify as Catholics worldwide say they have no religion.“One out of six people does not have a religious identity,” said Conrad Hackett, a primary researcher and demographer on the study. “But it is also striking that that overwhelming majority of the world does have some type of religious identity. So I think people will be surprised by either way of looking at it.”
Posted by Kimberly Winston 1 year 17 weeks ago
A billboard bearing a positive message about atheism has been vandalized — again.A billboard posted in Chico, Calif., that originally read “Don’t believe in God? Join the club” was defaced on Dec. 12, less than a week after it appeared, with vandals removing the word “don’t.” The billboard was one of 12 purchased this month by a local chapter of the United Coalition of Reason (UnitedCoR),  a national organization that works to unite small, local groups of atheists and other freethinkers.They are the latest in a long line of billboards erected by atheist groups to draw ire, both locally and nationally. Every national freethought organization that has purchased billboards or bus advertisements in the last five years has reported some form of vandalism or protest.If the billboards attract negative attention, criticism, and vandalism, why do atheists — a group that polls repeatedly rank among the least-liked group in America — buy them? Are they worth the money and the ill will they cost the groups that buy them?
Posted by Kimberly Winston 1 year 17 weeks ago
The estranged son of a Kansas pastor famous for protesting the funerals of soldiers and AIDS victims has condemned his family’s plans to picket the funerals of the 26 people — including 20 children — who were killed when a gunman stormed a Connecticut elementary school.In the wake of Friday’s massacre in Newtown, Conn., members of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., posted Twitter messages saying they would picket outside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. The messages provided no information on the time of the planned picketing."Westboro 'God hates Fags' Baptist Church is planning to picket at Sandy Hook, to praise 'God's judgment,'” was posted by Margie Phelps, the daughter of Westboro leader Fred Phelps Sr. Her sister, Shirley Phelps-Roper, tweeted Saturday that the group would "sing praise to God for the glory of his work in executing his judgment."
Posted by Kimberly Winston 1 year 19 weeks ago
A federal court in Indiana has rejected atheists' requests to preside at wedding ceremonies, saying only clergy or public officials are licensed to solemnize marriages.A lawsuit filed by the Indiana chapter of the Center for Inquiry argued that an Indiana law that requires marriages to be “solemnized” — made official by signing a marriage license — only by clergy, judges, mayors or local government clerks violates the Constitution.But Judge Sarah Evans Barker of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana ruled on Nov. 30 that marriage has religious roots. Therefore, government regulation of marriage is an act of religious accommodation — not endorsement — and protected by the Constitution.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 1 year 20 weeks ago
As the assistant humanist chaplain at Harvard University, Chris Stedman coordinates its “Values in Action” program. In his recent book, Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious, he tells how he went from a closeted gay evangelical Christian to an “out” atheist, and, eventually, a Humanist.On the blog NonProphet Status, and now in the book, Stedman calls for atheists and the religious to come together around interfaith work. It is a position that has earned him both strident -- even violent -- condemnation and high praise. Stedman talked with RNS about how and why the religious and atheists should work together.Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.Q: What does the term “faitheist” mean? Is it a positive label or a derisive one? A: It's one of several words used by some atheists to describe other atheists who are seen as too accommodating of religion. But to me, being a faitheist means that I prioritize the pursuit of common ground, and that I’m willing to put “faith” in the idea that religious believers and atheists can and should focus on areas of agreement and work in broad coalitions to advance social justice.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 1 year 22 weeks ago
A First Amendment watchdog group is suing the Internal Revenue Service for failing to challenge the tax-exempt status of churches whose pastors engage in partisan politicking from the pulpit.The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which advocates total separation of church and state, filed the lawsuit Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Western Wisconsin, where the 19,000-member organization is based.The lawsuit claims that as many as 1,500 pastors engaged in “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” on Sunday, Oct. 7, when pastors endorsed one or more candidates, which is a violation of IRS rules for non-profit organizations.IRS rules state that organizations classified as 501(c)(3) non-profits — a tax-exempt status most churches and other religious institutions claim — cannot participate or intervene in “any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any political candidate.”
Posted by Kimberly Winston 1 year 23 weeks ago
Rep. Pete Stark, (D-Calif.), the only openly atheist member of Congress, lost his race for another term on Tuesday.But nonbelievers will not remain unrepresented in the Capitol. Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, a former Arizona state senator, Mormon-turned-nontheist and a bisexual, has narrowly won her pitch for a House seat by 2,000 votes.“We are sad to see Pete Stark go,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, which gave Stark its Humanist of the Year award in 2008.“He was a pioneer for us, and by being open about his lack of a belief in God we hope that he has opened the door for people like Kyrsten Sinema and others that will come after her.”Stark, who turns 80 this year, is the dean of the California congressional delegation and has served Fremont, a religiously diverse community near San Jose, since 1972. He “came out” as a nonbeliever in 2007, and went on to win two re-election bids. But this time he faced recent redistricting and a fellow Democratic challenger, Eric Salwell, almost 50 years his junior. “I don’t think his lack of belief in a god had anything to do with the results of this election,” Speckhardt said. “The numbers were close.”
Posted by Kimberly Winston 1 year 23 weeks ago
Last month, Lauren Anderson Youngblood, communications manager for the Secular Coalition for America, approached Broderick Johnson, a senior adviser to the Obama campaign, as they both left a conference on religion and the election.The SCA is an umbrella group representing 11 nontheistic organizations. So who, Youngblood asked Johnson, could she reach out to with their concerns about civil rights, access to health care and education?“He said, ‘We don’t view you as a constituency,’” Youngblood said. “He said, ‘We don’t do outreach to that community.’”After Tuesday's election, that may soon change. According to a Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life study released last month, “nones” — those who say they have no religious affiliation or do not believe in God — are the fastest-growing faith group in America, at 20 percent of the population, or 46 million adults.In addition, nationwide exit polls conducted Tuesday show that "nones" made up 12 percent of all voters — more than the combined number of voters who are Jewish, Muslim or members of other non-Christian faiths (9 percent), and only slightly smaller than the combined number of Hispanic Catholics and Black Protestants (14 percent). 
Posted by Kimberly Winston 1 year 24 weeks ago
Massachusetts' Supreme Judicial Court has agreed to hear the appeal of a non-religious family that's challenging the mandatory daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in their children’s classrooms.The family, who are secular humanists, claim that the phrase “under God” in the pledge is a violation of the state’s constitutional ban on religious discrimination.In June, a lower court ruled against the family, saying the required recitation of the pledge was not discriminatory because it did not uphold one religion over another. The family appealed, and will now gain a hearing from the state’s highest court.The battle to remove “under God” from the pledge has been a long and, so far, unsuccessful one within atheist circles. California atheist Michael Newdow unsuccessfully argued for its removal before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2004.This time, the suit seeks protection under a state constitution’s equal protection measure, not under the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of the separation of church and state.“There is very little case law that precedes this,” said Bill Burgess, director of the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center, which is representing the plaintiffs. “The court will be making new law when it issues its decision.”
Posted by Kimberly Winston 1 year 29 weeks ago
Hester Prynne would be so proud.The red letter “A” that Nathaniel Hawthorne’s heroine was forced to wear as a badge of shame in the classic novel The Scarlet Letter is now proudly chosen by atheists to wear on jewelry made from ceramic, silver, gold, and wood.Christians have their crosses and crucifixes, Jews their Stars of David, Hindus their oms, and Buddhists their lotuses. Atheists ask, why shouldn’t they and other nonbelievers have their own symbols as well?“It is the most recognized symbol in our community right now,” said Amy Roth, a Los Angeles atheist who makes ceramic "A" pendants for her “Surlyramics” jewelry line that she sells at atheist conventions and meetings, as well as online.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 1 year 30 weeks ago
Cheerleaders at an East Texas high school are fighting their school district’s orders to stop using Bible quotes on their signs at football games.In August, cheerleaders at Kountze High School, a school with fewer than 500 students 30 miles north of Beaumont, Texas, began painting Bible verses on large paper signs football players burst through at the beginning of games.But this week, Kountze Independent School District Superintendent Kevin Weldon called for an end to the banners after consulting with a legal adviser at the Texas Association of School Boards.“It is not a personal opinion of mine,” Weldon told KHOU, a Houston television station. “My personal convictions are that I am a Christian as well. But I’m also a state employee and Kountze ISD representative. And I was advised that such a practice would be in direct violation of United States Supreme Court decisions.”That prompted the cheerleaders and their supporters to launch a Facebook page, “Support Kountze Kids Faith,” which attracted 34,000 members in its first 24 hours — more than 10 times the population of Kountze.Parents of at least three cheerleaders have hired an attorney and are considering suing the school district.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 1 year 30 weeks ago
Jacques Berlinerblau wastes no ink in his new book trying to flatter his fellow nonbelievers."American atheist movements, though fancying themselves a lion, are more like the gimpy little zebra crossing the river full of crocs," he writes in How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom.    Ouch.    "In terms of both political gains and popular appeal, nonbelievers in the United States have little to show. They are encircled by cunning, swarming [religious] Revivalist adversaries who know how to play the atheist card."    Berlinerblau, a Georgetown University biblical scholar who teaches a course on secularism, wants to rescue that little zebra. But his plan may be a hard-sell with some atheists — he wants atheist groups to drop their black-and-white opposition to religion and its adherents in order to preserve the Constitution's guarantee of freedom of religion.    "The gimpy zebra remark was a little goofing on this over-the-top chest-thumping that emerges from Movement Atheists," he said in an interview, referring to atheist organizations with political goals, like American Atheists. "They wildly overestimate their numbers. They tend to overestimate the efficacy of their activism. They underestimate how disciplined and organized their adversaries in the religious right are, too."  
Posted by Kimberly Winston 1 year 32 weeks ago
[Editor's Note: David Niose is president of the American Humanist Association and vice president of the Secular Coalition for America, a group that lobbies on behalf of nontheist and secular Americans. In his new book, “Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans,” he charts the development and growth of the religious right and what he sees as the increasingly organized response from Americans who are committed to the separation of church and state. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.]Q: You write about the 1912 presidential election as one in which all four candidates were sympathetic to evolution, science and religious skepticism. Today, a presidential candidate favors evolution at his or her peril. What’s changed?A: What has changed is the environment of politics, particularly the level of political discourse. Thanks to the rise of the religious right, many candidates today actually emphasize their anti-intellectualism as a selling point to voters. Conservative Christians have always been part of the voter pool, of course, but only in recent decades have they been organizing and flexing their muscle as a voting bloc. Many candidates get mileage by pandering to conservative religion, by openly rejecting science and emphasizing their biblical literalist views.