atheism

Does Pope Francis Endorse Heresy? No, But He Does Raise Questions

RNS photo courtesy Graphic News.

RNS photo courtesy Graphic News.

Is Pope Francis endorsing heresy?

It might look that way from the eye-catching headlines this week that made it appear everyone was bound for heaven — “even atheists!” — thanks to Jesus’ death on the cross.

The passage that prompted the reports came from Francis’ brief homily at the informal morning Mass that he celebrates in the chapel at the Vatican guesthouse.

Speaking on Wednesday, Francis said that as human beings created in the image of God, everyone has a “duty to do good.”

“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists,” he said, answering his own query. “Everyone! And this blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the blood of Christ has redeemed us all!”

Cue the jaw dropping and head scratching. Atheists were pleasantly surprised, conservative Catholics were dazed and confused, and the pope’s comments raced around the Internet; for a while they were the second-most shared piece on Reddit.

So was Francis preaching a form of “universalism?" That is the unorthodox teaching that says, essentially, that all faiths are equal and all are going to heaven, especially if you are nice to people here on earth. It’s also a heresy that Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, spent a career quashing every time he thought he thought he spied a hint of it in some theologian’s writings.

Atheists Rally Around Jailed Bangladeshi Bloggers

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.

The Problem Isn’t God; It’s Certainty

Boy covering his ears,  3445128471 / Shutterstock.com

Boy covering his ears, 3445128471 / Shutterstock.com

Uncertainty about the existence of God is not the same thing as certainty about the non-existence of God.

I’ve enjoyed taking part in the “Subverting the Norm” conference this weekend with many of the forefront thinkers in what has been called “Radical Theology.” Although the word “radical” has sensationalist connotations for lots of people, it really just means a theology that isn’t firmly rooted. I know that in itself sounds scary to some folks, but the radical theology camp might suggest that fear stems from an addiction to certainty.

A Year After Losing Faith, Atheist Pastor Finds a New Calling

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.

One Woman’s Journey Out of Faith, Family, and Fear

RNS photo by Sally Morrow

Samya enjoys peaceful places, she likes music and attends meetings with other atheists once a week. RNS photo by Sally Morrow

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.

Waiting for God in the Dark Night of the Soul: On Peter Rollins' Atheism for Lent

Peter Rollins, via theexileinny / Flickr.

Peter Rollins, via theexileinny / Flickr.

I love Peter Rollins' honesty about his dark night of the soul.

He's popularized a term for the intellectual position accompanying the dark night of the soul: a/theism. I interpret Peter's thought as being in relation to an experience of God's absence. [Note: corrected this paragraph's content from "even coined" to "popularized. Turns out another author coined a/theism."]

I thought it was hilarious that Tony Jones challenged Peter to give up atheism for Lent on the Homebrewed Christianity podcast.

But I took it seriously when Micah Bales, one of my best friends, wrote a post challenging Peter Rollins' Atheism for Lent. You can't give up God because God is a felt presence. (Peter later responded to Micah. And Brian Merritt a piece about who Micah is.) Our conversations got me thinking about what I value about Peter Rollin's voice and what I might challenge about a/theism as I understand it. In order to talk about why a person believes or disbelieves in God, you have to talk about a personal spiritual journey.

Newest Front in 'Christmas Wars:' Billboards

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?

Crosses, Stars, and New Symbols of a Movement

RNS photo by Ronda Churchill

Amy Davis Roth's homemade ceramic line called "Surlyramics" is shown during The Amazing Meeting convention. RNS photo

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.

Atheists Find a New Venue for the Godless: On Film

RNS photo courtesy ingodweteach.com

“In God We Teach" documentary movie poster. RNS photo courtesy ingodweteach.com

There were no red carpets, no paparazzi, no celebrities, and definitely no God at the recent annual Atheist Film Festival.

Instead, there were more than a dozen films, long and short, about separation of church and state, freedom of religion (and no religion), the conflict between science and religion in public schools, and a couple hundred people eager to see them.

“If we don’t do this, who will?" said festival organizer Dave Fitzgerald, as people picked up atheist-themed books and T-shirts at the Aug. 10-11 festival. “Atheists are not well-represented by Hollywood, and a lot of people don’t get any exposure to real atheist thought except through things like this.”

Fitzgerald, who calls himself “a freelance heretic,” started the festival four years ago. His main criteria for including a film is that it shows at least one atheist figure in a positive light.

“My motto is: Are they heretic friendly?" Fitzgerald said. “We are in a position where we can actually turn away movies because their hearts might be in the right place, but they may be stilted and preachy.”

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