Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, USA Today, and the Chicago Tribune. She is the 2005 recipient of the American Academy of Relgion's award for best religion reporting.
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Victor Stenger, Atheism’s 'Fifth Horseman,' is Dead
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.
“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.
Christians, Yazidis Need More Than Escape: Catholic Relief Official in Iraq
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.
Richard Dawkins: Atheism’s Asset or Liability?
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.”
IRS Agrees to Monitor Churches for Electioneering
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.
World War I at 100: New Books Examine the Battle of Beliefs Behind the 'Great War'
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.
The Cross on Mount Soledad Can Stay — For Now
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.
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.
Supreme Court Says 'No' to Public School Graduations in Church
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.
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.
After Edwina Rogers' Ouster, Secular Community Regroups
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 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.
In Mixed Faith Marriages, Focus Is on 'Values,' Not 'Beliefs'
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.
“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.
Senate Approves Prayer Plaque for World War II Monument
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.
“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.
House Considers a Prayer Plaque at WWII Monument; Interfaith Coalition Says 'No'
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.
Atheists Lose Fight Over 'Under God' at Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
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.
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.
Supreme Court Prayer Ruling May Spur New Alliances
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 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.
Atheist TV: Coming Soon to a Television Near You
Move over, Christian televangelists. Atheism is coming to television.
“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.”
Can You Question the Resurrection and Still Be a Christian?
“On the third day, he rose again.”
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?
Secular Coalition Flunks Most Congress Members on Church-State Report Card
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.
Atheist Nate Phelps on His Father: I Mourn 'The Man He Could Have Been'
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.
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.”
Calif. City Torn by Multiple fights Over Public Crosses
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.
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.”
Study: Protestant Work Ethic Isn't Just Protestant Anymore
America’s vaunted Protestant work ethic is getting a makeover: Now it might be more of an atheist work ethic.
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.
As Fox-TV Re-creates 'Cosmos' Series, Carl Sagan's Following Grows
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.