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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Judge Rejects California City’s Religious War Memorial
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.
HBO Filmmaker's Loss of Faith Parallels his Subject's: Darwin
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.”
How Americans Celebrate Charles Darwin's Birthday
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.
Ham-on-Nye Debate Pits Atheists, Creationists
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.
Books Project Helps Atheists Make the Case For Unbelief Behind Bars
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.
Seventh-day Adventist Pastor Plans to Flirt with Atheism for 12 Months
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.
Humanists Warn Public Schools over Franklin Graham’s ‘Operation Christmas Child’
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.
Atheists Use Popular Bible App to Evangelize About Unbelief
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.
Air Force Academy Drops ‘So Help Me God’ from Honor Oath
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.”
Oprah Interview Stirs Debate: What is an Atheist?
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.
Hispanics Increasingly Identify as 'Nones'
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.
Minister-Turned-Atheist Loses Harvard Job After Inflating Resume
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.
‘Hug an Atheist’ Film Aims to Put Human Face on Unbelief
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.
Mass. Supreme Court to Hear Challenge to Pledge of Allegiance
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.
Are Atheists Smarter Than Believers? Not Exactly.
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.
House Rejects Call to Allow Nonreligious Military Chaplains
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.
Humanists Want a Military Chaplain to Call their Own
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.
Is the Growth of the Nonreligious Good or Bad? Americans are Divided
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.
Home Schooling Without God? Humanists Find a Way
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.
Immigration Flap Over Conscientious Objection Resolved Peacefully
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.