Dear Abby

DEAR ABBY: Is it OK for an atheist not to participate in the saying of “grace” before a meal while dining with those who do? I ask because I am a non-believer and, frankly, I’m uncomfortable participating in prayer.
On the other hand, I respect other people’s beliefs, and I don’t want to offend anyone. Your thoughts on this would be greatly appreciated. — NON-BELIEVER IN NEW JERSEY

DEAR NON-BELIEVER: If you do not wish to say grace, bow your head respectfully while your companions do, and say “Amen” when they are finished. There is no rule of etiquette that demands you say the prayer.

Dear Abby

I sit quietly, do not bow my head to a God I don’t believe in, and do not say “Amen” to a prayer I don’t agree with. Sitting quietly and doing nothing as others pray is respectful enough. Just as there is no rule of etiquette that demands you say the prayer, there is also no rule of etiquette that you do anything that participates in the act of praying. It is proper to just not interfere or distract from the act of praying.

A definition of Amen: Hebrew, meaning ‘let it be so’. It is a plea to God for a response to prayer, an affirmation of what will be done by God, a ‘Yes’ to God’s vision, a statement of confidence in God, and even (especially in African-American and Pentecostal circles) a celebration of what will come from God, even before God gives it. It also has an adverbial form that means ‘truly’ or ‘it is so’.

Abby, why would an Atheist want to say Amen after a believer’s prayer?

A Democratic Religion?

Universism sets out to change the landscape of religion and to be the religion for freethought. However, it could also be considered the true religion of Democracy. Its foundations of personal reason, moral relativism, uncertainity, opposition of faith, the personal search for truth, and the lack of an absolute Truth help define the core of the religion. The Universism FAQ discusses absolute Truth as follows:

Rejecting platonic dichotomies such as good and evil does not equate with an endorsement of those concepts, and rejecting faith is not a manifestation of faith. In the Universist perspective, the individual determines for herself what is absolute, so for society as a whole, there are no collective absolutes. In society there are a variety of voices that we must individually judge with our imperfect reason, and acknowledge that we are doing just that. We must not be tempted by righteous absolutist thinking. Universism maintains that group consensus on absolute Truths adds nothing to their validity, and goes so far as to maintain that were something the religious realm determined absolutely true even by science, it would be too dangerous to our preeminent religious value of the ongoing search to endorse such a Truth as a group. The existence of cosmic Truths is an entirely personal matter, and this personalization destroys for all utility in moral pronouncement the validity of absolutes.

FAQ: Is the statement “There is no absolute Truth” itself an absolute Truth?

Even though the FAQ says that Universism makes no claim as to which governmental system is best, the viewpoint on absolute Truth points out a kinship with Democracy. We do have some shared main ideas of right/wrong and truth in the same way as the citizens of this country have them. We will argue and work to redefine the shades of right and wrong and they will definitely change based upon circumstances just like we do in this country. When it comes down to it, as a country, we can’t even say “killing is wrong” is an absolute truth. There are many circumstances where killing is justified, just ask a police officer.

If the American Democracy didn’t work without absolute Truths then we wouldn’t need the Legislative branch to continue to evolve the laws of the land; the Executive branch to try to keep a certain amount of guidance, focus, and leadership; and the Judicial branch to judge the imperfect reality against the “guidelines” of our laws. If law was absolute, we wouldn’t need trials by our peers to determine guilt and punishment and the laws wouldn’t be allowed to change as we hopefully grow wiser.

In comparison, all of this points out that traditional religions are typically totalitarian groups trying to control society. Faith-based religions decree absolute Truth with judgements and condemnation handed down from a select few. A totalitarian government can do some good for its people just as a religion can, but absolute powers corrupts absolutely. The natural tendency of faith-based religion then will be towards a totalitarian abuse of power. American history has decried and fought against totalitarian forms of government, yet ironically a majority of Americans embrace Christianity even though the core of its teachings matches more with the totalitarian definition.

Definition of totalitarian

Of, relating to, being, or imposing a form of government in which the political authority exercises absolute and centralized control over all aspects of life, the individual is subordinated to the state, and opposing political and cultural expression is suppressed: ?A totalitarian regime crushes all autonomous institutions in its drive to seize the human soul?

Definition of faith-based religion???

Of, relating to, being, or imposing a form of society in which the religious authority exercises absolute and centralized control over all aspects of life, the individual is subordinated to the religion, and opposing religious and cultural expression is suppressed: ?A faith-based religion crushes all autonomous institutions in its drive to seize the human soul?

Definition of democracy

Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives.
A political or social unit that has such a government.
The common people, considered as the primary source of political power.
Majority rule.
The principles of social equality and respect for the individual within a community.

Democracy redefined in the religious context. Does a faith-based religion think this way? I think not! Only Universism is a close match.

Religious belief by the people, exercised directly.
A religious or social unit that has such a belief.
The common people, considered as the primary source of religious belief.
Majority rule.
The principles of social equality and respect for the individual within a community.

Conclusion: Universism and other freethought movements are truly American in concept and faith-based religions are really un-American at heart.

Newsday.com: How to keep faith when grandpa’s a vocal atheist

A person asks advice for what a niece should do about an Atheist father’s influence on her children. This is the reply from “The God Squad.”

You should give your niece the courage to raise her children with God for two reasons: 1) they are her kids, not her father’s, and 2) without God, most kids never learn that they have been put here to serve others, not just themselves.

There are many nonaggressive, morally distinguished atheists, but faith is a great help to all of us, particularly children, in creating a modest, compassionate and pious life. You say your niece’s children are young, implying that her father’s atheist beliefs won’t be a problem until they’re older, but he needs to be put in his place.”

Newsday.com: How to keep faith when grandpa’s a vocal atheist

I do agree with their first point that the kids are the niece’s and should be raised the way the niece wants. However, I disagree on trying to shield children from nonbelievers. I don’t overtly shield my children from believers. The more they hear the more they will be able to think for themselves and determine their own truths.

I find it ironic that they think God is needed to teach people they are here to serve others, because I’ve encountered many highly religious people that are completely self-serving, particularly when they view you as unreligious and undeserving of their “service.”

It is nice they admit that there are many “nonaggressive, morally distinguished atheists” even though they don’t admit that these are just human traits and have nothing to do with religious beliefs. Obviously if they can admit Atheists can have morality then it is not something exclusively derivable from religious teachings. I’ll admit some people do get their moral viewpoint from religious teachings, but can they admit that it is not required to define a person’s morality?

The final comment I’ve quoted is just downright rude: “he needs to be put in his place.” Hopefully they only mean that he’s not the parent, so if he’s asked to not interfere he should respect that request. Hopefully they don’t mean that he should keep quiet just because he’s an Atheist.

It makes me wonder if the religious views were reversed in the scenario, would they give the same advice? Would they say the Christian father should keep quiet and let his daughter raise Atheist children free from his contradictory teachings? Maybe I’ll write them and find out…

Think!

If Universism had any commandments it would really just be this one: “think!”

From the Universism FAQ:

An individual can potentially believe anything, it’s how she believes it that makes it Universist or not. Universists don’t believe what we want to believe, we believe what our best perception of reality tells us, and understand that our perception is fallible. Focusing on the “how” allows us to truly be openminded. We do not exclude any possibilities in an area where no one has any authority or special knowledge. This domain is alternatively called metaphysics, religion, spiritualty, the question of existence, etc.

As the FAQ points out, what it is we believe and think isn’t as important as how we do it. The key is that we each think for ourselves. But I also believe the key is that we actually do think as an active part of our existence. We do not just mindlessly sit here completely unaware of the Universe that surrounds us. Instead we do actively wonder and question it and our existence. We do not blindly believe anything by always remembering to question everything. We do not remain apathetic of the Universe, but we also do not jump on any one answer as the final answer of it all. Answers should always lead to more questions.

Clarifying the Atheist

I believe I’ve clarified the definitions of Agnosticism and Atheism well enough for myself, but I still read muddy definitions that are overly complicated by strong/weak qualifiers and twisted usages for the words even though the definitions are clear to me. The biggest problem is Atheists claiming they aren’t “strong” Atheists when they should really call themselves Agnostics.

EVERYONE is atheistic about some gods since so many gods are defined by humanity. We’re all probably atheistic about Zeus for example. Atheism as a belief should mean that you’re atheistic about ALL gods, otherwise it’s best to define yourself as a believer of whichever god it is you are not atheistic about. Strong/weak Atheism is a silly concept and is why Agnosticism came about.

An Agnostic claims we just don’t know. So an Agnostic can be atheistic towards all gods thought to be created by humans, but cannot truly be completely atheistic towards the entire supreme being/creator concept, otherwise they would be an Atheist.