atheists

Five Faith Facts About Lincoln Chafee: ‘I Have To Be Respectful of Everyone’

Photo via REUTERS / Jessica Rinaldi / RNS
Then-Gov. Lincoln Chafee, right, after signing Rhode Island’s Marriage Equality Act. Photo via REUTERS / Jessica Rinaldi / RNS

Add one more to the table of Democratic contenders for president in 2016. On June 3 Lincoln Chafee, the Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat who served as both governor and senator of Rhode Island, announced he is in the running. Here are five faith facts about this very dark horse (who used to horseshoe for a living).

1. He’s Episcopalian.

Chafee was raised in the church and his positions on many of the issues largely mirror that of many Episcopalians, one of the more liberal Christian denominations. Chafee supports marriage equality, embryonic stem-cell research, and reproductive choice for women, and he opposes the death penalty.

Can There Be an ‘Atheist Vote’? Nonreligious Set Sights on 2016

Photo via Tyrone Turner / RNS
Thousands of atheists and unbelievers gather on the National Mall for the 2013 Reason Rally. Photo via Tyrone Turner / RNS

As the 2016 election approaches, atheist, humanist, and other freethinking activists are encouraged. They say their longtime goal of creating a cohesive and formidable secular voting bloc from the diverse and scattered category of the nonreligious has taken new life from the study — and could carry them far if they use the data wisely.

“It is going to translate into a lot of political clout and social acceptance if we manage this correctly,” said David Silverman, president of American Atheists.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali Draws Criticism from Fellow Atheists at Yale

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, photographed at the Neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute. Photo courtesy of AEI/RNS.

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.

Americans View Jews, Christians Warmly; Atheists, Muslims Get Cold Shoulder

New Pew Research Center study had Americans rate religious groups. Image courtesy Bill Webster, via Pew Research Center.

A new Pew Research survey finds U.S. adults feel most warmly about people who share their religion or those they know as family, friends or co-workers.

Americans give their highest scores to Jews, Catholics, and Evangelicals on a zero-to-100 “thermometer” featured in the survey, “How Americans Feel about Religious Groups,” released Wednesday. They’re nestled within a few degrees of each other: Jews, 63; Catholics, 62; evangelicals, 61.

In the middle of the chart: Buddhists, 53; Hindus, 50; Mormons, 48. Trending to the chilly negative zone: atheists at 41 and Muslims at 40.

Pew took the thermal reading because “understanding the question of how religious groups view each other is valuable in a country where religion plays an important role in public life,” said Greg Smith, Pew’s associate director of religion research.

The Middle of the Shelf

Girl in a bookstore,  LIUSHENGFILM / Shutterstock.com
Girl in a bookstore, LIUSHENGFILM / Shutterstock.com

A few years ago, I was browsing a bookstore and wound up in the “Spirituality” section. While scanning the titles, I noticed something that struck me as ironic and funny.

At one end of a shelf was a book by an ardent and dogmatic atheist. At the other end of the same shelf was a book by an ardent and dogmatic fundamentalist.

Two books, same shelf.

And in many significant ways, two peas in the same pod, no?

The atheist and the fundamentalist needed each other as foils to sell their books and make a lot of money. They both had a vision of life that was black-and-white. Both thought they had infallible answers to life’s biggest questions.

Matching bookends indeed.

Don’t most of us live somewhere in-between?

Court Hears Atheists' Challenge to Ground Zero Cross

A cross formed from a fallen steel I-beam at the former World Trade Center towers. Photo by John Munson/The Star-Ledger. Via RNS

Atheists are challenging plans to include a 17-foot, cross-shaped beam that became a famous symbol of Ground Zero after 9/11 in a display at the national memorial museum that is scheduled to open this spring.

In arguments before the the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday, American Atheists’ lawyer Edwin Kagin said the cross should go back to St. Peter’s Catholic Church, where it spent some time on display, not in a museum built with a mix of public and private funds.

Last year, a lower court rejected a lawsuit filed in 2011 by the New Jersey-based American Atheists that said the cross was an unconstitutional establishment of religion.

In his appeal, Kagin said his organization is seeking a similar object to be displayed at the museum, something like a plaque that would say “atheists died here, too.”

Skeptics Wonder if Ex-Clergy Should Lead Atheist Movements

Photo courtesy of RNS
Jerry DeWitt, a former Pentecostal preacher, came to be an atheist while still preaching in the pulpit. Photo courtesy of RNS

By definition, skeptics are pretty skeptical. They question what they see as unfounded claims or dubious motivations, whatever the source. Now, they are questioning some of their own leaders.

With the success of organizations such as The Clergy Project — an online community seeking to provide a safe place for clergy members who reject supernatural beliefs — numerous former ministers are joining the ranks of the publicly nontheistic.

Some have risen to the leadership of prominent atheist organizations. Last week, Teresa MacBain was dismissed from her high-profile position at Harvard University’s Humanist Community after it was revealed she inflated her resume. The former United Methodist pastor claimed a degree from Duke Divinity School she did not have.

“Our society needs so much and thriving secular communities could make significant contributions, ” wrote Donald Wright, author and organizer of the Day of Solidarity for Black Non-Believers, on Freethought Blogs. But, he added, “My unsolicited advice is to be skeptical of this new wave of leadership.”

Can You Really Tell the Difference Between Christians and Non-Christians?

Religion survey box, alexmillos / Shutterstock.com
Religion survey box, alexmillos / Shutterstock.com

There is an old Christian hymn that has the lyrics "They'll know we are Christians by our love." It was written in the late 60s and was inspired by the Bible verse John 13:35, where Jesus says, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (NIV) 

Really? We're supposed to be able to tell the difference between Christians and non-Christians? And the difference is love?! 

In reality, it's not nearly that simple, and the fact is, there’s no visible difference. 

If you were to go to the grocery store, a football game, the gym, a school, or your work, there would be no obvious way of identifying — through actions — who is a Christian and who isn't, and we should be careful not to judge. 

Some of the kindest, nicest, authentic, and wonderful people I know don't believe in Jesus. Contrarily, there are some horrible, mean, and downright disgusting Christians.

Religious Diversity is Increasing at the Office, and So Are Pitfalls

A 2013 survey from the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding. Photo
A 2013 survey from the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding. Photo via RNS/Tanenbaum Center.

The American workplace, like the rest of U.S. society, is becoming more religiously diverse and that is raising concerns about employer accommodations for believers — and increasing the odds for uncomfortable moments around the water cooler.

Yet one potential flashpoint among workers does not involve new immigrant faiths but rather two indigenous communities: white evangelicals and unaffiliated Americans who constitute one of the fastest-growing segments of the population.

A major factor contributing to workplace conflict, according to a survey released on Friday, is that evangelicals — whose religious identity is tied to sharing their beliefs — are much more likely to talk about their faith at work than other religious and nonreligious groups.

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.

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