Saturday, April 21, 2007

Atheists in Foxholes, Massacres and Other Places

This is a "FYI" post.

The Virginia Tech killings are getting a lot of attention. Even as numbers from Baghdad or Somalia far out weigh those from Blacksburg, Virginia, there is something about domestic mass murder that cannot be ignored. NPR did a piece this morning describing the memorial wall that has been erected on the VT campus, a place where grief can find a collective expression. I was reminded of my own experience at such a place a few weeks after 9/11.

In matters of faith, this might be a "teachable moment" but faith for many people is what Twain described as "believing what you know ain't so." The old line is: For the believer, no evidence is necessary; for the non-believer, no evidence will ever be enough. Here are a couple of links I have come across just to make notes.

Leila Abu-Saba found this at Kos. (I'm copying from her site. As for Kos, I don't "go there.")

We atheists do not believe in gods, or angels, or demons, or souls that endure, or a meeting place after all is said and done where more can be said and done and the point of it all revealed. We don’t believe in the possibility of redemption after our lives, but the necessity of compassion in our lives. We believe in people, in their joys and pains, in their good ideas and their wit and wisdom. We believe in human rights and dignity, and we know what it is for those to be trampled on by brutes and vandals. We may believe that the universe is pitilessly indifferent but we know that friends and strangers alike most certainly are not. We despise atrocity, not because a god tells us that it is wrong, but because if not massacre then nothing could be wrong.

I am to be found on the drillfield with a candle in my hand. “Amazing Grace” is a beautiful song, and I can sing it for its beauty and its peacefulness. I don’t believe in any god, but I do believe in those people who have struggled through pain and found beauty and peace in their religion. I am not at odds with them any more than I am at odds with Americans when we sing the “Star-Spangled Banner” just because I am not American. I can sing “Lean on Me” and chant for the Hokies in just the same way and for just the same reason.

Krista Tippett's radio program from last June came to mind. She interviewed a military chaplain who very candidly stated...

What I saw in Iraq, and I ended up my tour of duty in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. But what I saw in my combat experience, and I've seen through my 22 years, is on the battlefield, using crude numbers, a third of the soldiers were men and women of faith, growing in their faith or coming to a new understanding of faith. A third of the soldiers were indifferent or fatalistic. And that's — that religion on the battlefield bears a lot of looking at. The other third were either indifferent or jettisoning their faith. And many would say to me, very bluntly, "I've lost my faith. I saw my buddy get blown away," or "I was involved in a firefight that killed innocent people, and if there's a good God, He wouldn't let that to happen. So I do not want to believe anymore."

And finally, Gordon Atkinson this morning pointed to someone now reading scripture whose inspiration is, let's just say, atypical. I will let the reader find the link via the Preacher's blog.

Do you get this? Do you know how interesting and rare this is? A man with no real adult connection to the Christian Church is going to read our scriptures and write about what he finds there. This is a spiritual experience/quest for Hugh, who now calls himself a "Christianist." (He explains what he means by that on the new blog) He and I are going to email and talk on the phone during this journey. I guess I'm a kind of guide or mentor for him in this, but I will definitely only be there to give careful feedback when asked. I don't want my insider views getting in the way of his honest writing.

He's no Biblical scholar, so I'm sure there will be many times when he is very unorthodox. So what? Good! That's what I want to hear. I want to hear what a gay man in Los Angeles has to say about this collection of writings that is so precious to us. I'm looking forward to it. I think you'll enjoy it too.

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