The Common Good

Blog Posts By Kimberly Winston

Posted by Kimberly Winston 1 day 19 hours ago
The pieces of the religious puzzle that make up the USA Network’s biblical conspiracy action series Dig are beginning to fall into place, and the picture they are revealing is one of history — highlighted by a colorful streak of fiction.Here be spoilers! Read on only if you are up-to-date with the 10-part series, or want to ruin it for yourself and others.“Order of Moriah”This secret religious order, supposedly dating from the Crusades, seems to be a product of the Dig writers’ imaginations. But, like many of the show’s fictional aspects, it is based on historical fact.The Crusades, which mainly took place from 1095 to 1291, were an attempt by the Rome-based Catholic Church to retake the Holy Land — Jerusalem and its environs — away from its Muslim rulers.During that time, the church founded several monastic religious orders whose members traveled to Jerusalem. Some fought with the armies, some cared for the wounded and sick. The most famous of these orders were the Knights Hospitallers, the Knights Teutonic, and the Knights Templar.It is perhaps the Templars that the Order of Moriah is based on. Officially named “The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon,” the Knights Templar were anything but poor. They owned land from Rome to Jerusalem and were involved in finance throughout the Christian world. They loaned money to King Philip IV of France and the church.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 1 week 1 day ago
Archaic prayers, hidden keys, and secret religious orders — such are the elements of the latest episode of the USA Network’s biblical conspiracy action series Dig.Add in a modern re-enactment of one of the most harrowing stories in the Hebrew Bible, and the result is a swirling, baffling stew of religious themes and imagery.This is your spoiler alert! Read on if you are up to date on Dig or a glutton for punishment.“It’s all about the End of Days, the Second Coming, Armageddon, the Rapture,” Debbie (Lauren Ambrose) says in what is the clearest explanation by any character of what is going on in Dig to date.“In order to bring about the Second Coming, the Temple in Jerusalem needs to be rebuilt.”Here’s a quick summary of some of the religion references in this week’s episode:
Posted by Kimberly Winston 1 week 4 days ago
Sen. Randal Howard “Rand” Paul, the junior Republican from Kentucky, is expected to launch his 2016 campaign on April 7. Here are five facts about the faith background of this libertarian candidate:Paul, 52, was baptized an Episcopalian. It didn’t stick. He attended Baylor University, a Baptist school in Texas, then Duke University. He now attends a Presbyterian church. In this, he is like most Americans — all over the map in terms of his religious affiliation. At Baylor, Paul joined the NoZe Brotherhood, a secret and controversial society that routinely skewers the school’s Baptist roots and other aspects of undergraduate life. His association with the group came back to bite him in his initial run for the Senate after GQ magazine ran a story claiming NoZe was dedicated to “blasphemy,” and Paul, while high as a kite, helped kidnap a coed and forced her to pray to “Aqua Buddha,” a made-up water idol. Paul threatened to sue the magazine.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 2 weeks 2 days ago
This is Holy Week, the most sacred time of year for Christians. It is the time they mark the betrayal, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus, and a week that culminates in Easter Sunday, the day Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead. So what do colored eggs have to do with anything? Let us Egg-‘Splain …Q: Is Holy Week really a whole week? I only know about Good Friday and Easter Sunday.A: Holy Week is the entire week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. Not a whole lot happens on Monday and Tuesday, but some Christians mark the crucifixion on Wednesday, and some celebrate Maundy Thursday, the day of the Last Supper, Jesus’ final Passover meal with his disciples. It is sometimes celebrated with a foot-washing ceremony, a tradition beloved by Pope Francis, and a “Pascha” or “Paschal” meal, derived from the Jewish Passover Jesus would have known. Then comes Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. Fun fact: Not all American Christians greet each other with “Happy Easter.” To many evangelicals, the day is “Resurrection Sunday,” in part because they believe the word “Easter” has pagan roots.Q: What is so “good” about Good Friday, the day Jesus was horribly tortured to death? 
Posted by Kimberly Winston 3 weeks 2 days ago
The only murky thing in Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, HBO’s scathing new documentary is: What will happen to the church that sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard built more than 50 years ago after it airs?The two-hour film directed by Academy Award-winning director Alex Gibney is a merciless examination of the Church of Scientology, the religion/business/self-help empire created by Hubbard, who died in 1986. The film, which airs March 29 on HBO, alleges the church has practiced physical, psychological, and financial abuse of its current and former members for decades.And while the film is based on Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lawrence Wright’s 2013 book with an almost identical title, the film manages something the book could not — it allows viewers to look into the eyes of former Scientologists as they describe years of abuse they say they suffered willingly at the hands of the church and the ultimate toll it took: lost relationships, broken lives, empty bank accounts, and more.The film is so unsparing — particularly in its portrait of David Miscavige, who became the church’s “ecclesiastical leader” after Hubbard’s death and reportedly rules it like a tyrant — that the filmmakers and others who study Scientology say they hope it will prompt internal changes and greater transparency in the church, something it has resisted in the past.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 4 weeks 1 day ago
"Dig," the new action-thriller series from the USA Network, is starting to add up — at least in terms of its religious content.The third episode, broadcast March 19, advanced plot lines involving an apocalyptic sect of Jews, a desert-dwelling Christian cult, a stolen Torah breastplate rumored to be a telephone to God and a really cute baby cow named "Red" who is having a less-than-excellent adventure.Tossed like a ball of spices into that potboiler of a story is a difficult biblical text, a secretive society dedicated to restoring the Jewish temple on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount and what may be a nod to Jewish numerology."It’s all about XIX," or the number 19, FBI agent Peter Connelly (Jason Isaacs) reads in a journal swiped from a murdered archaeologist.Here — with spoiler alerts — is what’s behind the newly introduced religious elements to the "Dig" storyline.Numerology:Ever notice how in the Bible there are always 12 of this (Tribes of Israel, disciples) and 40 of that (days of rain, years in the desert)? It’s never eight or 11 or — heaven forbid — 17?That’s because ancient cultures, especially biblical-era Jews, practiced numerology — the belief that numbers have specific religious or spiritual significance. There is a whole branch of study in Judaism called "gematria" by which letters of the Hebrew alphabet are given numerical values and scholars add them up in a search for meaning. The creators of "Dig" seem to be aware of this and are having some fun.Twice in episode three, the number of Peter Connelly’s hotel room — seven — is pointedly shown. In numerology, seven is considered a perfect number, a "divine" number, the number of God. It represents holiness and sanctification — two themes that pop up over and over again in the search for the "pure" red heifer and the apparent need to keep the boy Joshua’s feet "unsoiled."And when Peter has a bad dream, his bedside clock reads 11 p.m. In the Bible, 11 represents chaos, disorder, even impurity.Then there’s that pesky number 19, which is behind much of the episode’s action. In biblical numerology, one is considered the number of God and nine is the number of his judgment. That sounds ominous enough for a thriller-conspiracy-action series like "Dig."
Posted by Kimberly Winston 4 weeks 2 days ago
A college that requires the study of both Wordsworth and the Quran for graduation is now the first fully accredited Islamic university in America.Zaytuna College, a five-year-old institution in Berkeley, Calif., was recognized in March by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, an academic organization that oversees public and private colleges and universities in the U.S.The accreditation means Zaytuna, which owns only two buildings and has 50 students, is a legitimate institution of higher learning, only a few blocks from its esteemed neighbor, the University of California, Berkeley.“Being accredited puts us at the same table” as other accredited colleges and universities, said Colleen Keyes, Zaytuna’s vice president of academic affairs.“It makes us equal partners.”For faculty — of which Zaytuna has 15 — it lends credibility and status.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 4 weeks 5 days ago
A prominent evangelical Christian church in San Francisco has announced it will no longer ask members who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender to remain celibate.“We will no longer discriminate based on sexual orientation and demand lifelong celibacy as a precondition for joining,” senior pastor Fred Harrell, Sr. and six board members of City Church, one of the largest members of the Reformed Church in America denomination, wrote to members in a letter emailed to members March 13.The church, which claims about 1,000 attendees and meets at two San Francisco locations, has long welcomed LGBT persons to attend, but has required life-long celibacy of those LGBT persons seeking membership.“Imagine feeling this from your family or religious community,” the letter states.“‘If you stay, you must accept celibacy with no hope that you too might one day enjoy the fullness of intellectual, spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical companionship. If you pursue a lifelong partnership, you are rejected.’ This is simply not working and people are being hurt. We must listen and respond.”City Church’s action places it in the ranks of at least two other large, urban evangelical congregations that have reversed their policies requiring celibacy for gay members. In January, both Nashville’s GracePointe Church and Seattle’s EastLake Community Church reversed their celibacy policies.The policy of many evangelical denominations and independent churches is that homosexuality is “incompatible” with the Bible and therefore cannot be tolerated among members, or the broader society. 
Posted by Kimberly Winston 5 weeks 2 days ago
For Catholics, Episcopalians and some Lutherans, March 17 is the Feast Day of St. Patrick. For the rest of us, it’s St. Patrick’s Day — a midweek excuse to party until we’re green in the face. But who was Patrick? Did he really drive the snakes out of Ireland or use the shamrock to explain the Trinity? Why should this fifth-century priest be remembered on this day?Q: Was St. Patrick a real guy, and would he approve of green beer?A: Yes, Patrick was a real person, but not much is known of his life. He was born in the late 300s when the Roman Empire extended to England, so he was not “really” Irish — like the vast majority of people who celebrate his day. In his “Confessio,” one of only two surviving documents attributed to him, Patrick wrote that while his father was a Christian deacon, he was not devout. At age 16, Patrick was captured by Irish marauders, carried across the Irish Sea and enslaved. Patrick spent six years alone in the wilderness tending his master’s sheep, praying constantly. “It was among foreigners that it was seen how little I was,” he wrote. He began to have visions and hear voices that told him: “Look, your ship is ready.” So Patrick left his first flock and walked 200 miles to the coast. It’s a pretty safe bet he would have loved a beer, green or otherwise, as he stepped into a boat bound for England.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 5 weeks 5 days ago
Breathlessly describing his new USA Network series “Dig” in a promo, leading man Jason Isaacs promises “everything is based on reality and true.”To a point.The new series, which premiered March 5, moves quickly between multiple story lines and locations, bouncing off prophesies and spinning conspiracies around the Second Coming of Christ, the Book of Revelation and the restoration of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, where much of the series is filmed.Throw in a high priest’s magical breastplate, a spotless red heifer, and a doomsday Christian group living in a bunker and the series becomes the would-be love-child of Steven Spielberg and Dan Brown.And that’s just the first episode.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 8 weeks 4 days ago
Chances are you’ll see a bunch of folks walking around with shmutz on their foreheads this Wednesday. The ‘Splainer asks what having a dirty forehead has to do with being a Christian and why this ritual is gaining in popularity.Q: Excuse me, but why do you have dirt on your forehead?A: Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the day many Christians mark as the first day of Lent, the time of reflection and penitence leading up to Easter Sunday. Clergy all over the world dispense ashes, usually made by burning the palm fronds distributed on last year’s Palm Sunday, making the sign of the cross on the bowed foreheads before them. As they “impose” or “dispense” the ashes, the pastor or priest reminds each Christian of Genesis 3:19: “For dust you are and to dust you shall return.”Q: Well, that’s cheerful. Why would anyone want to start a workday on such a downer?A: It isn’t intended to be a downer. It’s supposed to be a reminder that our lives are short and we must live them to the fullest. OK, maybe it’s a little bit of a downer — that verse from Genesis is what God said to Adam and Eve when he expelled them from the Garden of Eden for their sins. But there’s a big party the night before Ash Wednesday. That’s Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday,” a secular observance that evolved out of “Shrove Tuesday,” the last hurrah – usually marked by eating of pancakes or other sinfully sweet foods – before the solemnity and penance of Lent set in.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 13 weeks 2 days ago
It was a good thing for Trinitas Cellars that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio took the name Pope Francis, and not, say Pope Malbecius.When the Argentine cardinal became pope in 2013, Trinitas didn’t have any malbec — the famous Argentine grape — in its cellars. But it happened to have a few barrels of cabernet franc.Behold! Thus was born “Cabernet FRANCis,” a 2012 red wine from Trinitas, a Catholic-owned winery nestled behind the iconic grape crusher statue at the southern foot of the Napa Valley.“People kept asking me, ‘Why didn’t you make the pope a malbec?’” said Garrett Busch, the 28-year-old CEO of Trinitas, as he spoke in the winery’s book-lined library tasting room, a bottle of the wine before him. “And I’m like, ‘Come on guys, he made it easy on us.’”Actually, the story is a bit more complicated. Trinitas, which is owned by Garrett’s parents, Tim and Steph Busch, made the family’s Catholic faith a part of business since its founding in 2002. Meetings and special events begin with prayer, winery dinners start with grace, and the winery’s website announces the family’s intention to “serve God in all they do.”Even its name is Latin for the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 17 weeks 3 days ago
It’s a common ritual in religious observances this time of year: Light a candle against the darkness, the winter, the uncertainty of the world.But a newly minted observance called Secular Solstice adds its own spin. Those lighting the candles are nonbelievers — humanists, atheists, skeptics, and other freethinkers — and the candles represent no unseen divinity, but the actions and intentions of those who light them to make the world a better place.“We live in a world beyond the reach of God,” one of the service’s many readers said as 130 or so people gathered huddled over white candles in glass votives at Humanist Hall — a purple-painted house near downtown Oakland. “It is a hard universe. If we want to build a softer universe we will have to do it ourselves.” As a choir broke into “Here Comes the Sun,” an inscription painted on the wall beamed down upon the gathered, “The world is my country, to do good is my religion.”Secular Solstice is the handiwork of Raymond Arnold, a 28-year-old Catholic-turned-humanist who wanted to do something meaningful with friends in mid-December. He put together the first Secular Solstice — a two-hour blend of music and readings by candlelight — last year in New York, where he works as a web developer.He struck a nerve — the first Secular Solstice was packed, and this year there will be Secular Solstices in New York, Seattle, San Diego, and Leipzig, Germany. 
Posted by Kimberly Winston 19 weeks 4 days ago
Two years ago, “Max” was a devout Catholic who loved his faith so much he would sometimes cry as he swallowed the Communion wafer.Then came the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, where 20 schoolchildren and six adults were murdered by a troubled gunman. At that moment, a bell went off in his head, he said, ringing “there is no God, there is no God.”Now, Max goes by his online handle “Atheist Max.” A 50-something professional artist from the Northeast, some days he now spends two or more hours online trying to argue people out of their religious beliefs in the comments section of Religion News Service.Max left more than 3,600 comments in the past 12 months, making him RNS’ top commenter. Many of his remarks can be interpreted as angry, hostile, and provocative, casting him in some minds as an Internet “troll” — a purposely disruptive online activist who delights in creating comment chaos.He’s written “Jesus is despicable” or its equivalent more than once — red meat to some readers who come back at him with fervor. Other users have called him “mean-spirited” or “angry.” 
Posted by Kimberly Winston 21 weeks 2 days ago
“There are lots of books out there about why you should not believe in God,” Bayer said. “But there aren’t any about what do secular people believe in. I think that’s the question John and I felt hadn’t been adequately addressed.”In exploring that, the two men — both whom have studied philosophy and logic — came up with 10 essentials. For the extra-nerdy, there’s even “a theorem of belief” in the appendix that looks like something a mathematician might scribble.The result is 10 “non-commandments” — the authors’ irreducible statements of atheist and humanist belief.First up: “The world is real, and our desire to understand the world is the basis for belief.”No. 2 on the list: “We can perceive the world only through our human senses.”Halfway through, at No. 5, the authors conclude: “There is no God.” Once over that hurdle, the non-commandments become less controversial — an ethical society is good, as is moral behavior.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 21 weeks 3 days ago
As the world’s most famous atheist, Richard Dawkins is no stranger to criticism from religious believers.But in recent months, a few of his opinions have riled many in the atheist community as well. Remarks he made on Twitter and elsewhere on subjects ranging from sexual harassment (“stop whining”) to Down syndrome fetuses (“abort and try again”) have sparked suggestions from some fellow nonbelievers that he would serve atheism better by keeping quiet.When asked about his controversial July tweets on pedophilia — Dawkins opined that some attacks on children are “worse” than others — the 73-year-old British evolutionary biologist and best-selling New York Times author declined to be interviewed.But on a speaking tour through the San Francisco Bay Area in support of his new memoir, “An Appetite for Wonder,” he invited a reporter to sit down with him and explore the thinking behind his remarks.Bottom line: He stands by everything he has said — including comments that one form of rape or pedophilia is “worse” than another, and that a drunken woman who is raped might be responsible for her fate.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 27 weeks 2 days ago
Absolutely, say organizers of a first-of-its-kind conference to be held by atheists of color in Los Angeles this weekend. And, they add, it’s about time those issues got some attention.Called “Moving Social Justice,” the conference will tackle topics beyond the usual atheist conference fare of confronting religious believers and promoting science education. Instead, organizers hope to examine issues of special interest to nonwhite atheists, especially the ills rooted in economic and social inequality.“Atheism is not a monolithic, monochromatic movement,” said Sikivu Hutchinson, an atheist activist, author and founder of Los Angeles’ Black Skeptics, one member of a coalition of black atheist and humanist groups staging the conference.“By addressing issues that are culturally and politically relevant to communities of color, we are addressing a range of things that are not typically addressed within the mainstream atheist movement.”The conference is unusual for an atheist gathering in another important way — its lineup of speakers includes members of the religious community. Hutchinson, often an outspoken critic of religion, described the conference as “effectively an interfaith conference.”
Posted by Kimberly Winston 27 weeks 5 days ago
What does a map of the U.S. religious landscape look like in 140 characters?A new study of Twitter finds that self-identified religious users are more likely to tweet to members of their own faith than to members of a different one. The study examined people whose Twitter profiles identified them as Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and atheist.And while adherents of all six groups studied tweet frequently, atheists — among the smallest populations in the U.S. — are the most prolific.“On average, we can say the atheists have more friends, more followers, and they tweet more,” said Lu Chen, a doctoral candidate at the Kno.e.sis Center at Wright State University who co-authored the study with Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn of Rutgers University-Camden. They will present their findings in November at the sixth annual International Conference on Social Informatics.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 29 weeks 3 days ago
A new coalition of atheists, humanists and other nonreligious groups is taking a page from the gay rights movement and encouraging people to admit they are “openly secular.”The coalition — unprecedented in its scope — is broadening a trend of reaching out to religious people and religious groups by making the secular label a catchall for people who are not religious.“We wanted to rise above who is an atheist, who is an agnostic, who is a humanist, who is a secular Jew,” said Todd Stiefel, founder of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation and a main force behind the coalition. “This needed to be about something everyone could rally behind so we intentionally used the word secular because it was one thing we could all agree on.”The campaign, “Openly Secular: Opening Minds, Changing Hearts,” was unveiled at the 65th annual gathering of the Religion Newswriters Association here on Sept. 20. It includes a website, resources for families, employers and clergy, and a YouTube channel featuring both prominent and rank-and-file nonbelievers announcing their names followed by the declaration, “I am openly secular.”
Posted by Kimberly Winston 29 weeks 3 days ago
Happy 5775! At sundown on Sept. 24, Jews around the world will turn the page on the Jewish calendar to begin the new year, Rosh Hashanah. What starts with a feast at home will end 10 days later with a fast in the synagogue on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This time is referred to as “The Days of Awe” as Jews move between repentance and forgiveness, reflection and renewal.Here’s everything goyim need to know about the High Holy Days so they can holler “L’shanah tovah!” — or “Happy New Year!” — without looking like a shmendrick.Q: What do Jews celebrate on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?A: The new year is celebrated with family and friends, but Jews are also expected to think about the meaning and direction of their lives. How could they have been better Jews? Better human beings? That comes full circle on Yom Kippur, when Jews fast for a whole day and reflect on their faults and the ways they have wronged people throughout the year. It is a holiday for making amends, for seeking and giving forgiveness.Q: Well, ain’t that a party? Sign me up. KIDDING!
Posted by Kimberly Winston 30 weeks 4 days ago
It was a gathering that would have been unthinkable just five years ago.On a cool summer evening, in a borrowed classroom overlooking San Francisco Bay, about 150 men and women gathered to screen a short documentary about a Mormon family whose 13-year-old son came out as gay.The Montgomerys, who accepted their son and his news, were ostracized by church members, some of whom refused to accept Communion distributed by the young man in church. Like many conservative Christian denominations, the 15 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints bans homosexual activity and considers it grounds for exclusion from Mormon rites, rituals and even the afterlife.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 30 weeks 5 days ago
A campus appearance by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the outspoken Muslim-turned-atheist activist, is being challenged again, this time at Yale University where she is scheduled to speak Sept. 15.While her previous campus critics have included members of religious groups, especially Muslims, this time the critics include Ali’s fellow ex-Muslims and atheists.“We do not believe Ayaan Hirsi Ali represents the totality of the ex-Muslim experience,” members of Yale Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics posted on Facebook Sept. 12. “Although we acknowledge the value of her story, we do not endorse her blanket statements on all Muslims and Islam.”Those statements include calling Islam “the new fascism” and “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death.” She has called for the closing of Muslim schools in the West, where she settled after immigrating from her native Somalia, and is a vocal advocate for the rights of women and girls in Islam.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 31 weeks 3 days ago
Uber-atheist Sam Harris is getting all spiritual.In his new book, “Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion,” the usually outspoken critic of religion describes how spirituality can and must be divorced from religion if the human mind is to reach its full potential.“Our world is dangerously riven by religious doctrines that all educated people should condemn,” he writes in the book, but adds: “There is more to understanding the human condition than science and secular culture generally admit.”The prescription, Harris holds, is Buddhist-based mindfulness meditation. A Stanford-trained neuroscientist, Harris is a long-time practitioner of Buddhist meditation. He said everyone can, through meditation, achieve a “shift in perspective” by moving beyond a sense of self to reach an enlightening sense of connectedness — a spirituality.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 31 weeks 3 days ago
Sit down and shut up.That’s the message of a campaign launched Sept. 8 by the American Humanist Association, asking Americans to refrain from standing and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance until Congress removes the phrase “under God.”The 29,000-member humanist activist group, which also advocates on First Amendment issues, holds that the phrase “under God” is an unconstitutional establishment of religion.“Until the Pledge is restored to its inclusive version, we can take it upon ourselves to refuse to participate in what’s become a discriminatory exercise,” the campaign’s website, Don’t Say the Pledge, says. It also describes the current pledge as “twisted, with divisive religious language that implies true patriots must be believers.”
Posted by Kimberly Winston 31 weeks 4 days ago
A well-established international Christian student group is being denied recognition at almost two dozen California college campuses because it requires leaders to adhere to Christian beliefs, effectively closing its leadership ranks to non-Christians and gays.California State University, which has 23 campuses, is “de-recognizing” local chapters of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, an evangelical Christian group with 860 chapters in the United States. The university system says InterVarsity’s leadership policy conflicts with its state-mandated nondiscrimination policy requiring membership and leadership in all official student groups be open to all.“For an organization to be recognized, they must sign a general nondiscrimination policy,” said Mike Uhlencamp, director of public affairs for the California State University system. “We have engaged with (InterVarsity) for the better part of a year and informed them they would have to sign a general nondiscrimination statement. They have not.”
Posted by Kimberly Winston 31 weeks 5 days ago
The American Humanist Association said Sept. 4 that an airman at Nevada’s Creech Air Force Base who crossed out “so help me God” in the oath the Air Force requires servicemen and women to sign was told in August he must sign it as is or leave the Air Force.The AHA’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter to the Air Force  on the airman’s behalf demanding he be allowed to sign a secular version of the oath. The U.S. Constitution allows freedom of religious beliefs and prohibits religious tests for holding public office or public trust, the letter states.The airman’s name is being withheld by AHA.“The Supreme Court has held on a number of occasions that it is unconstitutional to force anyone to take an oath that affirms the existence of a supreme being,” said Monica Miller, an attorney for AHA and author of the letter. “Numerous federal courts have specifically held that forcing an atheist to swear to God violates the Free Exercise Clause as well as the Establishment Clause.”
Posted by Kimberly Winston 32 weeks 3 days ago
The atheist community is mourning the death of Victor Stenger, a prominent physicist who championed rooting out religion from the public sphere and was best-known for quipping: “Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.”Stenger, who also graced a very short list of authors who hit the New York Times best-seller list writing about atheism, died August 25 in Hawaii. He was 79.Atheist, skeptic and science blogs, in the U.S. and in England, were filled with tributes and remembrances over the long holiday weekend.“Vic was an unassuming physicist and teacher who took on the challenge (of) taking science out of the classroom and applied it to some of our most sacred cows, from psychics and New Age belief to Intelligent Design creationism,” skeptic D.J. Grothe said on The Friendly Atheist blog.Ron Lindsay, CEO of the Center for Inquiry, a humanist organization with a long association with Stenger, said on the same blog, “With Vic Stenger’s death, the secular and skeptic communities have lost an articulate, knowledgeable, and relentless defender of the naturalistic, scientific worldview.”Though best-known in recent years for his atheism, Stenger was also a well-known particle physicist who contributed to groundbreaking work on gamma rays, quarks and gluons. One of his last projects was working on an underground experiment that showed the neutrino, a subatomic particle, has mass. He held professorships in physics, astronomy and philosophy.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 34 weeks 3 days ago
Kris Ozar, 37, is in charge of programming for Catholic Relief Services in Egypt and is now in northern Iraq coordinating the charity’s emergency efforts with other groups, such as Caritas Iraq. He has been working with Christians and Yazidis forced to choose between conversion to Islam or death by the Islamic State.Ozar spoke with Religion News Service’s Kimberly Winston from Irbil, Iraq, about the challenges refugees face. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.Q: The Christian and Yazidi refugees have been rescued from Mount Sinjar. What is the situation where you are right now?A: From my window, I can see a church compound and it is filled with tents and there are hundreds of people inside those tents. Everyone talked about getting (the displaced people) off Mount Sinjar, and that was an amazing challenge, but what we forget is that the most amazing challenge lies ahead.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 36 weeks 1 day ago
It was 2006’s “The God Delusion” that many credit with sparking a growing interest in atheism in the U.S. Along with best-selling books by the other members of the “Four Horsemen” of atheism—the late Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett—Dawkins’ rising star mirrored the growth of atheism in the last decade.In 2012, the Pew Research Center found 5.7 percent of Americans identified as either atheists or agnostics, up from 3.7 percent in 2007.“Richard Dawkins has done a lot to bring atheism to a whole new generation,” said Phil Zuckerman, a sociology professor who studies atheism and who also credits Dawkins with speaking out against the pedophilia scandal within the Catholic Church. “On the other hand, Dawkins seems to embody everything that people dislike about atheists: He is smug, condescending and emits an unpleasant disdainfulness. He doesn’t ever seem to acknowledge the good aspects of religion, only the bad. In that sense, I think he doesn’t help atheism in the PR department.”One of Dawkins’ biggest missteps came in 2011, when he blasted Rebecca Watson, a young atheist activist who wrote about feeling sexually harassed at a freethought conference. In a now infamous series of comments posted to the blog Pharyngula, Dawkins wrote in a message titled “Dear Muslima,” “Stop whining, will you? ... For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.” 
Posted by Kimberly Winston 38 weeks 4 days ago
The Internal Revenue Service said it will monitor churches and other houses of worship for electioneering in a settlement reached with an atheist group.The settlement was reached Friday in federal court in Madison, Wis., where the initial lawsuit was filed in 2012 by the Freedom from Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based atheist advocacy group that claims 20,000 members nationwide.The suit alleged the IRS routinely ignored complaints by the FFRF and others about churches promoting political candidates, issues or proposed legislation. As part of their tax-exempt status, churches and other religious groups are prohibited from engaging in partisan political activity.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 38 weeks 5 days ago
Some called it “The Great War.” Others called it “The War to End All Wars.” History proves it was neither.As the world marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I — a conflict that left 37 million dead or wounded and reshaped the global map — a number of scholars and authors are examining a facet of the war they say has been overlooked — the religious framework they say led to the conflict, affected its outcome and continues to impact global events today.More than that, they argue, today’s religious and political realities — ongoing wars, disputed borders and hostile relationships — have their roots in the global conflict that began when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 28, 1914.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 41 weeks 4 days ago
The decades-long battle over a cross erected on public land in California will drag out even longer now that the Supreme Court declined Monday to hear the case.In the last full day of the current session, the court said the case must first go to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals before the high court will consider it.The conflict in Mount Soledad Memorial Association v. Trunk, is over a 43-foot cross that sits atop Mount Soledad on public land in San Diego. The cross was erected in the 1950s and has since become a veterans’ memorial.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 43 weeks 5 days ago
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday let stand a lower court ruling that a Wisconsin high school acted unconstitutionally when it held its graduation ceremonies in a local megachurch.The case, Elmbrook School District. v. Doe, involved a high school in a suburb of Milwaukee that rented the nondenominational Elmbrook Church for its graduation exercises in 2009. In 2012, the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals called the event was “offensive” and “coercive.” The church’s banners, pamphlets, Bibles, and other religious materials remained in the sanctuary during the graduation.As is their custom, the justices did not give a reason for declining to hear a challenge to the 7th Circuit ruling.Monday’s decision may be a signal by the court that despite its approval of sectarian prayers at public meetings in the Town of Greece v. Galloway decision in May, it draws the line at exposing children to religious symbols when they have not choice about it.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 44 weeks 4 days ago
As the Secular Coalition for America prepares for its biggest event of the year this week in Washington, D.C., atheist groups are recovering from the sudden departure of the coalition’s highest officer and confronting renewed charges that nonbelief groups have a shortage of women leaders and are suspicious of conservatives.The SCA, which lobbies on behalf of more than a dozen secular groups, announced that its executive director, Edwina Rogers, was let go after employees embezzled $78,000 from the organization.The story was first reported by The New York Times and referred to a leaked internal audit.The SCA said Rogers, who was hired about two years ago, was in no way connected to the missing funds. She dismissed the two employees allegedly responsible and reported the matter to the police and the organization’s board.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 44 weeks 5 days ago
If interfaith marriages are supposedly doomed, Dale McGowan’s should have been toe-tagged from the start.He’s a committed atheist; his wife comes from a line of Southern Baptist preachers. Yet 23 years and three kids later, they are still happily married.What’s their secret? McGowan, 51, has just written “In Faith and In Doubt: How Religious Believers and Nonbelievers Can Create Strong Marriages and Loving Families,” to help other couples considering what he calls a “religious/nonreligious mixed marriage” succeed.“The key is to talk about your values,” McGowan said from his home in Atlanta. “A lot of time we mix up the words ‘values’ and ‘beliefs.’ Beliefs are what you think is true about the universe. Is there a God? Where do we go when we die? But values are what you believe are important and good. When you get couples talking about values they find out they share a tremendous amount, even if they don’t share beliefs.”That’s what McGowan and his wife, Becca, did. While she believed in one God, she did not believe salvation could be had only through belief in Jesus. And he agreed that he could go to church with her — and did, for many years, with their children.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 45 weeks 1 day ago
Just in time for the 70th anniversary of D-Day Friday, the U.S. Senate by unanimous consent passed a bill to include a prayer plaque at the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.The prayer to be included on the plaque was delivered over the radio to millions of Americans by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the morning of the D-Day invasion, the Allied push into Europe that eventually led to the end of the conflict.“O Lord, give us Faith,” the prayer reads in part. “Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade.” It concludes: “Thy will be done, Almighty God.”The U.S. House will have to approve the bill, known as the World War II Memorial Prayer Act of 2013, before it heads to President Obama’s desk for his signature. But political pundits say there is little doubt the House will approve the measure since it passed a similar version of the bill last year.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 47 weeks 3 days ago
An interfaith coalition has again asked the U.S. House of Representatives to reject a prayer plaque at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.The proposed plaque, which is under the consideration of a House subcommittee, would feature a prayer spoken by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the radio on D-Day, June 6, 1944.“O Lord, give us Faith,” it reads in part. “Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade.” It concludes with, “Thy will be done, Almighty God.”The coalition — a mix of religious and secular organizations that includes the Center for Inquiry, a humanist organization; three Jewish groups; the Hindu American Foundation; and the United Methodist Church – said the prayer does not reflect the religious diversity of the United States.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 49 weeks 1 day ago
The highest court in Massachusetts upheld the legality of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance on Friday, dealing a blow to atheist groups who challenged the pledge on anti-discrimination grounds.The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court said the daily, teacher-led recitation of the pledge in state public schools does not violate the state’s equal rights amendment and is not discriminatory against the children of atheists, humanists, and other nontheists.“Participation is entirely voluntary,” the court wrote as a whole in the decision of Doe v. Acton-Boxborough Regional School District, brought by an anonymous humanist family. “[A]ll students are presented with the same options; and one student’s choice not to participate because of a religiously held belief is, as both a practical and a legal matter, indistinguishable from another’s choice to abstain for a wholly different, more mundane, and constitutionally insignificant reason.”The ruling marks the second legal loss for atheists this week. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that sectarian prayers given before government meetings were not a violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of separation of church and state.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 49 weeks 2 days ago
This week’s Supreme Court ruling allowing sectarian prayers at public meetings dealt a body blow to atheist organizations.That was the assessment of David Silverman, president of American Atheists, speaking Tuesday to a group of nonbelievers at Stanford University. He then described a scenario that may raise eyebrows among some atheists: working with religious groups to fight against the ruling.“That’s what we have to do, not only organize the atheists, but the Satanists, the Scientologists,” he said. In a conversation before his talk, he added Muslims, Jews, and Hindus. “We as atheists have the responsibility to urge them and push them and get them in there to get their prayers” said at public meetings.That’s a change for a man who has famously described religion as a “poison.” And it is emblematic, observers say, of the change that may result from the majority opinion in Greece v. Galloway, which found that prayers citing “the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ” are permissible before government business.Other secularists are likewise convinced that now is the time for atheists to join forces with members of minority faiths.
Posted by Kimberly Winston 49 weeks 2 days ago
Move over, Christian televangelists. Atheism is coming to television.Speaking at a gathering of local atheists, humanists, freethinkers, and other nontheists in a chemistry lecture hall at Stanford University, David Silverman, president of American Atheists, a national advocacy group for nontheists, announced Tuesday (May 6) that his New Jersey-based organization would launch the first television channel dedicated to atheism in July.“Why are we going to television?” he asked the audience, a mix of about 100 students and people from the local community. “It’s part of our strategy of going where we are not.”
Posted by Kimberly Winston 1 year 2 days 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 1 year 2 weeks 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 1 year 4 weeks 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 1 year 5 weeks 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 1 year 6 weeks 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 1 year 6 weeks 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 1 year 7 weeks 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 1 year 9 weeks 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 1 year 9 weeks 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 1 year 11 weeks 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.