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Underdogs Into The Light

Today I missed a couple of events I’d really like to have gone to, both by coincidence being in Florida.

The one I’d actually actively planned to attend was the dedication of the first monument on public land devoted specifically to atheism, at the Bradford County Courthouse in Starke, Florida.

ATHEIST-MONUMENTAppropriately, it is a monument intended to be useful, as a bench for visitors to rest upon. As Madalyn Murray O’Hare said in the quote on the bench/monument,

“An atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An atheist believes that a deed must be done instead of a prayer said. An atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death. He wants disease conquered, poverty banished, war eliminated.”

Not all atheists hold to that ideal, of course – some atheists are so through a sheer lack of interest, some are nihilists, and so forth. The atheist community I belong to, though, the one exemplified by the organization American Atheists (founded by Ms. O’Hare) which won the right to put up this monument and paid to have it installed, emphatically does.

The installation of the monument is actually a compromise on the part of American Atheists, a fallback position if you will. The original request was simply to keep all mention of religion or the lack thereof out of public spaces, and that remains the preferred position of American Atheists. When it became apparent that keeping the Ten Commandments monument from being placed on public land was not going to be achievable the secondary position was to ensure that all such viewpoints be treated equally. David Silverman in his dedication speech actively encouraged other religions to join the Judeo-Christian and atheist monuments.

That attitude is one of the most appealing aspects, for me, of the atheist community I belong to: inclusiveness.

(Again, this is not necessarily part of being atheist in itself; notoriously, there are for example some fringier atheist communities with quite awful attitudes toward women. I’m not going to discuss them here; search for “slymepit” if you want to know more. That’s a self-applied label.)

The attitude of the atheists I identify with is exemplified by that quote from Madalyn Murray O’Hare. We believe that this is the only life we have, and that the best way to live it is as a human amongst humans, actively helping, supporting, and appreciating one another. We don’t believe in an afterlife or in deities, and so there is neither any reward nor punishment for behaving well or badly beyond those which the actions themselves produce… but that is enough.

As A.C. Grayling put it in his excellent book The God Argument: The Case against Religion and for Humanism,

‘Humanism is not a doctrine, not really a teaching at all. It is an attitude which says, “Let us begin our thinking of how we should live our lives by starting from our best, most generous and sympathetic understanding of human nature.”‘

That in a nutshell is why I wanted at the same time to be with friends of mine at the Tampa Gay Pride Parade (but alas, I couldn’t be there either). I consider the gay rights movement to be the civil and human rights issue of this time; it is simply unconscionable to me, as a humanist, that any fellow human beings should be put down, oppressed, and of all things be prevented from dedicating themselves to one another in love because of irrational prejudice.

The defeat of the un-Constitutional DOMA and the dismissal of the Californian Proposition 8 case broke the back of the bigots’ campaign against same-sex marriage; there is work left to be done (intra-State marriage recognition was not established, for example), but it is in the nature of mopping-up. The overall American attitude toward same-sex relationships, and marriage in particular, has changed from being primarily that of the religiously based social conservatives to that of humanism based social liberalism, and everyone sees that.


I’ll bet that was joyous parade indeed, and I’m sorry to have to have missed this one above any previous parades, but as with the atheist monument my heart was with them, with the coming of the underdogs into the light.

~ by BT Murtagh on June 29, 2013.

Activism, atheism, current events, Difference-making, History, Law, Politics, pop culture, Religion, Sexuality, United States

One Response to “Underdogs Into The Light”

  1. What a trip that would have been. Sorry you had to miss both those events. It was still a good day to celebrate, regardless of your location.

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