BERKELEY, Calif. (RNS) A group of religious, atheist, agnostic, and spiritual-but-not-religious neighbors gathered on the campus of the University of California to mark Thanksgiving today.
The hour-long worship service featured no audible communication from anyone present. After the service concluded, the gathering devolved into a quarrelsome coffee hour. Participants argued about the silence, the venue and whether the event should have taken place at all.
“We chose silence for the service so that we wouldn’t offend anyone with talking in specifics about the Divine Mystery that is beyond any human or other language,” read a sign at the event, which was sponsored by the Center for Body and Soul Liberation.
That decision was met with vocal skepticism by some of the seven worshippers.
“Not speaking gave the appearance of us all meditating,” said the local militant atheist. “Or heaven forbid, praying together. I came to protest the idea of Thanksgiving as a holiday, as well as my usual Marxist critique of religion spiel. I expected my rightful turn at the microphone!”
Holding the event on the campus of a public university also caused a controversy online. Americans United for Separation of Church and State Executive Director Barry W. Lynn tweeted, “Not appropriate to hold any event with the word ‘faith’ in it on public ground! #FreeBerkeley” after the hashtag started trending on the social media site.
The Literalist asked several participants where the event could have taken place instead. Religious house of worship? They certainly wouldn’t want to privilege one religion. Parking lot of grocery store? That would obviously lead to a dangerous idolatry of market capitalism.
If everything they did was problematic, and there would be no problematic-proof solutions, why even meet?
“That’s a good point,” said the Bahá’í member at the service. “Trying can be seen as offensive, so perhaps we should have just stayed home.”