Easter, no Passover, but atheists convene all the same
a deeply religious time, when most Christians celebrate Easter, and Jews observe
Passover, the American Atheists host their national convention at Indian Lakes
Resort in Bloomingdale.
"It was a double-header weekend,"
says Frank Zindler, director of the American Atheist Press, acknowledging the
twin religious significance of the weekend.
But don't read too much into the
decision by the national atheist group based in New Jersey. The timing should
not be construed as a religious or political statement, assures Zindler, a science
writer and author.
"We've discovered that ever since
the time of (American Atheists' founder) Madalyn Murray O'Hair, Easter is the
time you get the absolute best group rates at hotels," Zindler chuckles. With
nearly 300 atheists from around the nation and other countries converging in
the DuPage County suburb, group rates matter.
Convention speakers included serious
academic types such as scientists, professors and a Fulbright Scholar. But the
group also welcomed the inflammatory, irreverent comedy of writer "Normal Bob
Smith," who operates a "Jesus Dress Up" Web site that allows guests to paste
a variety of outfits (including a dress, bunny slippers or a diaper) on a cartoon
Jesus hanging from a cross.
The latter seems at odds with the
less-antagonistic atheist philosophy posted at www.atheist.org: "An Atheist
loves himself and his fellow man instead of a god. An Atheist accepts that heaven
is something for which we should work now - here on earth - for all men together
to enjoy. An Atheist accepts that he can get no help through prayer, but that
he must find in himself the inner conviction and strength to meet life, to grapple
with it, to subdue it and to enjoy it. An Atheist accepts that only in a knowledge
of himself and a knowledge of his fellow man can he find the understanding that
will help to a life of fulfillment."
This year's convention, which concluded
Monday with a god-forsaken national board meeting, marked the 40th anniversary
of the historic 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision (Murray vs. Curlett) that took
forced prayer out of public schools.
That court's ruling certainly didn't
squelch the debate about religion and government during the past four decades.
We still bicker about whether we are a nation "under God."
People who read my columns supporting
the legal move to drop the words "under God" from our Pledge of Allegiance often
assume I'm an atheist. I am not. I'd complain just as much if the majority wanted
to add the words, "one nation, under no God" to the Pledge of Allegiance.
I consider religion, or the lack
thereof, to be a private matter, and not something for governments to decide.
I like to think we have a different philosophy from Saddam Hussein, who proclaimed
a national belief in a supreme being by writing "God is Great" on the Iraq flag.
While Zindler says life since the
1963 court decision has improved for many atheists in this country, "at the
same time the dangers have grown."
For every advance made in the name
of atheism, religious factions escalated their efforts to keep or add God to
the public stage, Zindler says. The entire First Amendment is under attack,
he says, and "we're sort of at the hydrogen bomb stage."
Zindler points to a new poll showing
14 percent of Americans are "without religion." But he also notes that George
Bush has had success getting taxpayers to fund "faith-based" initiatives, and
make missionaries part of the plan to rebuild Iraq. He concludes: "The intrusion
of religion into the governmental public area is greater than it ever has been."
Posted April 22, 2003