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Humanists push for a National Day of Reason

Thousands of atheists and unbelievers gathered on the National Mall for the Reason Rally in 2013. RNS photo by Tyrone Turner

(RNS) Not all Americans pray.

So the American Humanist Association, among the largest national advocacy groups of nonbelievers and other secularists, wants the first Thursday in May to be recognized by Congress as a National Day of Reason.

But that day is already designated as the National Day of Prayer, with a 65-year history of support from Congress, state and local governments and every sitting president since its inception in 1952.

And that, says Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, is the problem.

“This is government recognition of prayer and that is wrong, no matter how you look at it,” Speckhardt said. “Having a National Day of Reason on the same day says this is an example of a day the government can endorse that doesn’t exclude people based on their answers to a religious question.”

There is little indication the humanists will get their wish. A proposal to create a National Day of Reason went nowhere in Congress last year; this year’s proposal is stalled in committee.

Rep. Judy Chu speaks at a rally in support of immigration reform.

Photo courtesy of RepJudyChu via Flickr

Rep. Judy Chu speaks at a rally in support of immigration reform.

Still, there is some evidence that support for it is picking up and that nontheism is shedding its reputation as the so-called third rail of American politics:

  • Three sitting U.S. representatives (California’s Mike Honda and Judy Chu and Washington, D.C., nonvoting delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton) sponsored this year’s resolution —  more than in any other year. Honda identifies as a Protestant.
  • Last year, governors in three states (Iowa, Nebraska and Delaware) issued proclamations designating a Day of Reason concurrently with the National Day of Prayer. Iowa will mark the day again this year as well.
  • President Obama’s 2015 National Day of Prayer proclamation acknowledged Americans who “practice no faith at all.”
  • Groups from San Diego to Portland, Maine, have held commemorations, picnics, talks, blood drives and other special events since 2011.

But with national days recognizing religious freedom, the Wright brothers and even recycling, does this country need a National Day of Reason? And why must it be on the same day as the National Day of Prayer, created by President Harry S. Truman and supported by religious groups of all stripes?

For Matthew Bulger, a legislative associate at American Humanist, the answer to the first question is “yes.” The federal government and politicians at all levels ignore or reject a National Day of Reason at their peril.

“That’s telling an entire segment of the population that its government supports certain religious values and is not concerned with the nontheistic views of a large portion of the American population,” he said. “You are discouraging Americans from participating in the political process because they assume that their views will not be considered by their elected members of Congress.”

Bulger points to polls that show 23 percent of Americans say they are not affiliated with any religion. Among them, 61 percent say they believe in God, and 62 percent say they “seldom or never” pray.

Charles Darwin (1809-1882), author of "The Origin of the Species". Religion News Service file photo

Charles Darwin (1809-1882), author of “On the Origin of Species.” Religion News Service file photo

Supporters of a reason day hope it will follow the path taken by International Darwin Day, advanced by nonbelievers, scientists and others on evolutionist (and atheist) Charles Darwin’s Feb. 12 birthday.

Created by a handful of  scientists and nonbelievers in the 1990s, Darwin Day has grown to be recognized at the international, state and local levels. Though Congress has yet to pass a formal resolution, it has gained support each year, organizers say.

Some Christian churches and Jewish congregations, too, embrace Darwin Day with “Evolution Weekend” and other congregational-based events.

But experts on secularism suggest the wait for a National Day of Reason could be a long one. Alan Wolfe, director of Boston College’s Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, gave it “no chance at all,” and Paul Djupe, co-editor of the journal Politics and Religion, characterized the AHA’s choice of the same day as the National Day of Prayer as more of a fundraising tactic and less than a serious intention.

“Religious people still compose the vast majority of Americans and so Congress, especially a Republican Congress, will have no truck with this proposal,” Djupe said. “But, too, the nonreligious tend not to be motivated by these kinds of appeals unless they are squarely pitted against religion.”

There are some signs a National Day of Reason is gaining ground among some Christians. Christian columnist Jim Denison and religion scholar Diana Butler Bass endorsed it in an essay in 2013.

Nick Pitts, director of cultural engagement for the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture, a Christian advocacy group based in Dallas, said there is no reason Christians cannot support a National Day of Reason.

“It’s almost a false dichotomy that we have to choose,” he said. “If you are an evangelical, you understand from Isaiah 1:18 that our Lord said, ‘Come and let us reason together.'”

Then, citing the work of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, he said, “Science asks the ‘how’ questions and religion asks the ‘why’ questions. Personally, as Christians, I don’t think we have anything to be afraid of.”

About the author

Kimberly Winston

Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

80 Comments

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  • Nooooooo! A National Day of Reason would be ‘of-the-Devil.’ Martin Luther warned us:

    “Reason is the Devil’s greatest whore; by nature and manner of being she is a noxious whore; she is a prostitute, the Devil’s appointed whore; whore eaten by scab and leprosy who ought to be trodden under foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom… Throw dung in her face to make her ugly. She is and she ought to be drowned in baptism… She would deserve, the wretch, to be banished to the filthiest place in the house, to the closets.

    “Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but—more frequently than not—struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.”

    ———-

    PS: In case it wasn’t obvious, I’m on the side of reason.

  • I wonder how many devout, loving, feeling, thinking Christians would agree with Mr. Luther on that particular subject.

  • To those who believe that atheists are “forcing their hateful beliefs on our once great nation”:

    I believe that the difference between fact and faith is boundaries. I support religion. I’m gratefully comforted knowing that my parents had their heartfelt Christianity to carry them both through a terrible final year. And I think it’s wonderful that people who share the same beliefs can congregate to celebrate their shared beliefs together.

    One pastoral policy my parents taught me was deference to other people’s personal, spiritual, existential boundaries. What lies within is private; open-minded queries may be answered at the owner’s discretion, but unsolicited commentary is strictly forbidden. Faith, fundamentally, is subject to personal boundaries. Contradictory claims presume inequality, advocate trespass, and sanction cruelty; they profane other people’s beliefs.

    Why shouldn’t atheists and devout believers alike sincerely, curiously, receptively ask others what they believe, and why, and how those beliefs affect their lives, etc.; and then respectfully and exclusively listen (emphasis), and appreciate other people’s answers, savoring each one for what it is: a rare taste of another soul’s ambrosia?

    For example, I’m atheist. It’s not the answer I’d like; it’s the only one I can honestly accept. And it’s my answer alone. I would never attempt to impose my beliefs upon others. Rather, I embrace the Golden Rule (which I believe includes respecting others’ beliefs); I hold only myself to my own existential beliefs and values; I accept that my morality binds only me, not my neighbors; and I recognize that my neighbors and I are equals. The “soul’s ambrosia” part, for me, is the unexpected joy and inner peace I’ve experienced in developing and applying my moral code, and in how that code has helped me connect to society in a way and at a level that I never thought would be possible after all these years.

    God or no God, I believe that the responsibility lies with humanity to fix its own problems, and to enjoy the results on their own merits: because all of humanity benefits. (I like to imagine that our failure even to begin work on this difficult-but-not-impossible challenge is what’s been holding up God’s return.)

    I believe that our great nation — and our salvation, by any definition of the term — ultimately depends upon how we treat each other.

    And I believe that all of the above is incalculably more important than whether we have a National Day of Reason.

  • The idea that God will or will not smile on the United States depending on its attitude towards atheists is a load of superstitious nonsense.

  • Google street epistemoloy, it’s a great way for approaching conversations about faith, particularly if you’re an atheist.

  • I have no idea what “Google street epistemolo[g]y” is, but it sounds as if you’re disparaging what I shared, evidently for no reason other than that I hold different beliefs from yours. What a shame, since I spent a lot of time and effort writing my comment. I spoke honestly and without subterfuge, and said nothing to disrespect the beliefs that you and so many others cherish — because, as I said earlier, I admire the Golden Rule, and do my best to follow it. I’m an atheist, not an antitheist.

    At any rate, I stand by my comment, and take heart in recognizing and appreciating that you expressed no actual disagreement with it.

  • I’m an atheist too Mr. Guy, and Street Epistemology is a method of positive engagement that atheists can use to interact with the devout (instead of the Hitchslap method) developed by peter boghossian. Having read what you said it sounded like you would appreciate it… so don’t be an ass, it’s 2016 so I am pretty sure you know how to google something.

  • “If a woman becomes weary, and at last dead, from (child)bearing, that matters not; let her only die from bearing, she is there to do it.” Martin Luther. This is the insanity of christianity. It is time for Reason.

  • Martin Luther, in his christian insanity, said that Jews are a base, whoring people, full of the devil’s feces, whose law, circumcision, and lineage are filth, and they wallow in it like swine. This is the bigotry and hatefulness of christianity. It is time for reason and logic to prevail.

  • The christianly insane Martin Luther called for the homes and synagogues of the Jews to be burned down, the people put in outbuildings, and used as slave labor in the fields. He wanted their scripture taken away from them, and rabbis executed if they preached. He wanted no safe passage for them on the roads, and to confiscate their gold and silver. It is time for this christian farce to be over, and have reason be our goal.

  • I apologize, dulcetpine.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think googling it would have changed my misperception of your earlier reply. Wrong as I was, I thought it was “clearly” sarcastic (i.e., implying that my post had manipulative intent).

    I certainly appreciate your explanation, and am sorry that I treated your earnest post as if it were disparaging.

    A final note: Wikipedia identifies Peter Boghossian’s “street epistemology” as “a set of techniques that atheists can use in personal conversations with religious believers to get them to think more critically with the eventual goal of religious disaffiliation”. I personally oppose that “eventual goal”. My original post was intended only to counter and disarm comments such as Joe Bauer’s. And yet, after re-reading your “Satire at it’s best” reply to Mr. Bauer, I have to admit to being more confused now than ever. It seems I’m way out of my league here… so I’m going to watch some TV, in hopes of becoming smarter.

  • The Lutheran denomination, especially the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) is the largest and most liberal form of Lutheranism, so it’s so ironic that Martin Luther said that. The ELCA would be one of the first Christian churches to endorse a Day of Reason.

    Maybe if they name it a Day of Critical Thinking . . . ? Nah, the right wingers don’t like critical thinking any more than reason, Darwin, or anything similar.

  • Actually Darwin said he could be more accurately called an agnostic. He also saw no reason that a theist could not believe in evolution.

  • ” I believe that our great nation — and our salvation, by any definition of the term — ultimately depends upon how we treat each other. ”

    Perfectly said.

  • Street Epistemology is a method for interjecting critical thinking and logical examination of deeply held religious beliefs by getting those who hold them to consider how reliable they are in a non-confrontational open discussion format. It is a change of pace from the ‘Your belief is dumb because facts’ method so many internet atheists take.

    My reply to Mr. Bauer was appropriate given how beautifully incoherent his comment was, it was almost as if it was written with snark in mind…

    You must be a lot of fun at parties.

  • On an epistemological level, if we’re being reasonable, all of us are agnostics – no one “knows” if a deity exists or not. That doesn’t stop theists, however, from asserting that their particular deity is real and exists – when a theist says “God is real” what they actually mean is something like “I believe God is real on the basis of certain testimonies I personally find credible.” Conversely, anyone who does not believe in the existence of any particular deity is, by definition, an atheist – whether or not they embrace that description.

  • You wouldn’t know this, but I rarely leave my apartment. I have my issues, as do we all, and try to do the best I can under the circumstances. When relaxed, I can readily make people laugh, and consider humor to be one of my most important coping skills to deal with past events (improper diagnosis and nightmarish treatments from 1967 until corrected in 2009) and their obvious effects on me today. (You should see “My Big Fat Mental Health History”.)

    Thank you for explaining Mr. Bauer’s comment, and for your insights on Street Epistemology, which I originally read as “Google street epistemoloy” and inferred to mean something like “Sesame Street-level thinking” — hence my reply to sarcasm which didn’t exist. And it all went downhill from there…

  • RNS, your caption of the gathering on the National Mall is inappropriate. It is no one’s place to identify others as “unbelieving.” It is an insult and personal attack.

  • A tad ironic that rational, scientific, up-to-date Germans were the inventors of the concentration camp. As that old canard goes, “monks invented universities, scientists invented nerve gas.”

  • 2/19/42, just less than 2 months after Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt authorized the incarceration of Japanese-Americans in concentration camps, by E.O. 9066.

  • Monks invented universities in order to further their myths. Scientists straightened them out.

  • True. And prior to 1940s, the American eugenics program was the envy of the world, especially Germany (“The Nazi Doctors”, Lifton)

  • This is an incredibly well-articulated comment upholding the value of religious tolerance. Thank you, G Key.

  • What a great idea! We should all celebrate the awesome display of reason we find in the works of St. Thomas Aquinas, G.K. Chesterton, Dante Alighieri, C.S. Lewis, John Henry Newman, Alfred Delp, Simone Weil, and Pope Benedict XVI. Count me in!

  • Haven’t put my finger on it but there is an attitude in here and not sure how to articulate it

  • You all seem to make light of this man of faith and bash him with your obviously long practiced art of reasoning to show how ridiculous it is to believe in God

  • Fine on Day of Reasoning why shove it down believers throats there are 365 days in a year. Not sure of your “reasoning” here maybe “antagonizing possibly. .

  • I don’t know seems to me you all are trying to impose your beliefs hiding behind reason

  • Seems to me you all are battling believers. Attacking rather than just quietly following your beliefs

  • Since we all are so ignorant and void of reason why not let us live in our ignorant non reasonable bliss

  • I try to deny myself any illusions or delusions, and I think that this perhaps entitles me to try and deny the same to others, at least as long as they refuse to keep their fantasies to themselves.

  • Keep your ignorance contained within the walls of your home and that will most certainly be the case.

  • Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, openmindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.

  • Why not just spam the entire thread with nonsense as you figure it out. That will help.

  • Dawg0808, did you read my original post?

    Some atheists believe in pitting their beliefs against theists. Others don’t.
    Some theists believe in pitting their beliefs against atheists. Others don’t.

    Seems to me it’s not about theists and atheists. It’s about personal boundaries. Everyone cherishes their own beliefs. It’s what we do with our beliefs, and how we treat other people and their equally rightful beliefs and private lives, that matters.

    What do you think?

  • The idea that reason and belief in God are incompatible is not only ridiculous, it is arrogant. Everyone has a right to believe or not believe as they feel resonates with them, but this is arrogance to the extreme. My own faith tradition is based on what we call the three-legged stool of scripture, tradition, and (wait for it….) reason. Reason, leveraging experience and our capabilities, is (or should be) integral to being a person of faith.

    Perhaps, if atheists are looking to create a day that recognizes unbelief, then call it that: National Day of Unbelief or National Day of Secularism or…

  • You seem to be confusing faith with fact. Evidence is not required, though evidence is everywhere. Faith without doubt isn’t faith, but fact. Faith and doubt are intertwined like light and dark. Doubt isn’t a weakness of faith, but is its’ strength.

    And…it is extremely arrogant to claim that another doesn’t know something solely because you understand things differently. You seem to feel threatened by my faith. Why?

  • Right wingers don’t like critical thinking . . .

    Interesting. So there aren’t any conservative engineers?

  • DV, “right wingers” aren’t the same as conservatives. Right wingers are the people who think the government is hiding their pals beneath Walmarts, Obama is a Kenyan Muslim, climate change is not real, Drumpf tells the truth, and other ridiculous stuff.

  • A National Day of Reason would be a major advancement over the National Day of Prattle.

  • It’s always nice to begin a Monday morning by being insulted. Your Rude Gene is apparently alive and well.

  • _”Monks invented universities in order to further their myths. Scientists straightened them out.”_

    By gassing them? Or like Krauss, calling something nothing?

  • Such is said by every group, every ideology, even the most abhorrent and irrational ones. I think first step in being open-minded is realising that one’s thinking of the group he is affiliated with is not the best way to actually know about his group.

  • I find your post insightful. I liked the term “humanist”. For me these were the guys that I thought were fighting for poor, working in leper colonies, setting up hospitals, giving up brilliant careers and large amount of wealth to serve the needy. I didn’t know Humanists were people who because they are probably offended at being there a Day of Prayer would try to pass a legislation in support of Day of Reason.
    Is it an exercise in reason to state that because politicians reject a Day of Reason, they are “discouraging Americans from participating in the political process
    because they assume that their views will not be considered by their
    elected members of Congress.”? Is it exercise in reason to identify the issue solely with “non-theistic class” as no theist has ever had moments of reason?
    And what will the Day of Reason give us? Did we forget the French Revolution? Did we forget how “reasonable” section of humanity replaced a beautiful Church (they could even construct their own) with a “temple of reason” or bowed to a statue wearing colors of France? Ironically it is the same France who banned turban of Sikhs just because people couldn’t swallow a religious object in their sight.
    It is not “reasonable” to force reason in people’s lives. It is a thing that must be volitionally endeavoured for. Infact it is the most ‘unreasonable’ thing to argue for a Day of Reason because by arguing for a Day of Reason, what you are essentially arguing is that assigning a National Day and singing homages and odes to reason actually inculcates reason and is an event to be worth endeavouring for.

    Let us have a Day of Reason and also a Day of Sharia. And a Day of Non-Fathers. Because people who are not fathers comprise a majority of USA population. Yeah I counted all infants and women.

  • Actually this is the similar to what a person arguing for Sharia would say.

    I try to deny myself any right to blaspheme, and I think that this
    perhaps entitles me to try and deny the same to others, at least as long
    as they refuse to keep that to themselves.

    Like they say, people who would vouch for their rationality at every go, are actually in guilt and justification mode. People who really possess a virtue never go around declaring that to every being on earth.

  • Deepities abound.

    If evidence is not required then there is nothing else you can say, we are at a permanent impasse. What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.

    And everyone should feel threatened by faith. Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience.

  • Questions: where did your moral code come from, you say that you developed it yourself? Is this code different for each person? Do you believe in moral absolutes: Say, everyone on Earth believes that rape is part of nature and therefore a perfectly okay thing to do, there is not one person on earth who believes rape is bad. Would rape then be okay?

    You seem to value humanity a whole lot, but where does this intrinsic value come from? if naturalism is true, we are nothing, from nothing, and will end up nothing. We are simply highly evolved apes doomed to perish along with the rest of the universe.

    For all the evils committed in the name of religion, without God there is no good or evil, there is simply nature. Christianity is the basis for which you have developed your view to respect others regardless of their race or religion, Jesus said not only to love our neighbors, but to “love our enemies as well.

  • The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species.

    I know of no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too desirous of evidence in support of their core beliefs.

  • I like the idea of a National Day of Reason. We Christians can show that Christian belief is rational and reasonable. Let’s give it a separate day however, the date that the National Day of Prayer falls on is already taken.

  • This is not an answer to my comment. It is a reflection of how you earnestly believe you have warrant for your beliefs. And any group that possess such thoughts is not a huge distance away from being rendered corrupt as soon theu get a whiff of power.

  • Wow, Steve, you went right to the hard questions, the ones that count! I’ll do my best to answer them.

    1.) “where did your moral code come from, you say that you developed it yourself?”

    In 2009, I found out that the previous 42 years of my life had been a mistake (due to a misdiagnosis and rather extreme and counterproductive treatments ever since 1967). Of course, I was devastated, but realized that I had an opportunity to start a new life (damaged goods notwithstanding), which included the opportunity to choose my own values and moral code.

    So, firstly, I acknowledged that I’ve never believed in God, and it was dishonest to pretend otherwise. Secondly, although I’d long ago learned from my parents to respect other people and their personal, spiritual, existential beliefs, I realized that I needed a more comprehensive moral compass.

    I experimented briefly with selecting different guiding values, but the ones I picked were kind of disjointed, and didn’t produce the coherent and growth-promoting compass I sought. I determined that, first, I needed a foundation, a basis for choosing values, and that the basis would be found by answering, “What’s the most important thing in life to me — what do I care about more than anything else?” Given my past, plus what I observed about people and what I paid attention to in the news reports, the answer was obvious: I care more about how people treat each other than about anything else….

    (continued)

  • …From there, I focused on how I thought people should be treated, how I wanted to think of others vis-à-vis myself, and what values would support those considerations most effectively. Noting that I am most bothered by (1) seeing people treat others as their inferiors, (2) seeing those same people dismiss others’ proprietary rights (privacy, beliefs, choices, etc.), and (3) seeing those same people deliberately yet mindlessly obstruct, insult, emotionally abuse, and even act violently against others — i.e., I’m most disturbed by inequality, trespass, and cruelty — I decided to choose 3 counteractive guiding values: Equality, Respect, and Empathy.

    Those values soon led me to realize how important it is for “Us” to get to know “Them”, because, contrary to the old and odd saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt,” familiarity actually breeds solutions.

    Lastly, I revisited what I admire most about Christianity — The Golden Rule — and embraced it with the belief that it means I should respect other people’s boundaries, beliefs, belongings, bodies, bedrooms and business, along with their rights, freedoms, privacy, and equality, as I would have others respect my own. And I recognized that my beliefs, values, and morality are mine and mine alone: they bind me, not my neighbors….

    (continued)

  • …2.) “Is this code different for each person?”

    I can only answer for myself; but I imagine people differ in their moral codes as much as they differ in their individual upbringings, life experiences, worldviews, and spiritual/existential beliefs.

    3.) “You seem to value humanity a whole lot, but where does this intrinsic value come from? if naturalism is true, we are nothing, from nothing, and will end up nothing. We are simply highly evolved apes doomed to perish along with the rest of the universe.”

    Yes, I most certainly do value humanity a great deal. As an atheist, I believe we’re all we’ve got, and that alone makes us valuable. Spiritual/existential beliefs are not the determining factor when it comes to how individuals value humanity. From my observations, I’d say that, religious or not, most people in our society care about others, but some don’t; most people respect others’ beliefs, but some don’t; and many people (I can’t say most) consider others their equals, and some don’t.

    And Yes, I believe that we, as living persons, “will end up nothing”, but I don’t believe that we “are nothing” or come “from nothing”, even in the sense of your question. We each leave behind what we have done in our lives and with our lives, for better and/or for worse, alone and/or with others….

    (continued)

  • …I personally place great value on making positive contributions to society. Because of my past, I rarely leave my apartment, so my options for contributing are limited; but I seem to have two “no-how knacks” that let me contribute what I can. One is for composing music. (I can’t functionally read or play anything, but I make music up in my head without even thinking about it, so I spend many months “downloading” [“uploading”?] each composition, sound-for-sound, note-by-note, instrument-by-instrument, from my head into a program called Finale, which I then use to play the resulting scores and to burn CDs, so that other people can hear what I hear between-the-ears). And the other “knack” is what I’m doing right now: writing social commentaries, both in postings and more formally on paper.

    As for the “rest of the universe”, I’m working with my best friend on a music video about that very subject.

    4.) “For all the evils committed in the name of religion, without God there is no good or evil, there is simply nature.”…

    (continued)

  • …As you no doubt realize from my previous answers, I couldn’t disagree more. There most definitely is “good”, and “bad”, which, at its extreme, becomes “evil”. (I can’t think of a word for “good” at its extreme, but I imagine that you and many others would call it “God” — and I think that idea is lovely.)

    5.) “Christianity is the basis for which you have developed your view to respect others regardless of their race or religion, Jesus said not only to love our neighbors, but to “love our enemies as well.”

    As I said earlier, I love Christianity’s Golden Rule, and I personally believe it means more than what some Christians believe (e.g., respecting others’ beliefs, choices, privacy, etc.). I understand that many other belief systems, religious and non-religious, have their own variants, which makes perfect sense to me. It’s a beautiful standard for living!…

    (continued)

  • …I just realized that I omitted one of your questions:

    6.) “Do you believe in moral absolutes: Say, everyone on Earth believes that rape is part of nature and therefore a perfectly okay thing to do, there is not one person on earth who believes rape is bad. Would rape then be okay?”

    I’ll skip your example, because it has no place in Earth’s reality (and, these days, reality is especially important to me).

    I do believe in some moral absolutes. I believe that genocide is absolutely wrong; in fact, I believe it exemplifies the “evil” extreme of “bad” (from #4).

    But I believe that many kinds of acts which are generally considered to be wrong are, under certain circumstances, not wrong at all, as in the case of stealing food when the only alternative is starvation.

    Whew! I hope you find my responses satisfactory, Steve. And backatcha: What are your answers to these questions?

  • John, I’m with you when it comes to the term “humanist” and what it means.

    Wiktionary lists four definitions, the third of which applies to the above article, and the fourth of which applies to your initial comments:

    3. An ethical system that centers on humans and their values, needs, interests, abilities, dignity and freedom; especially used for a secular one which rejects theistic religion and superstition.

    4. Humanitarianism, philanthropy.

    It’s that “especially” part of the third definition that strikes me as antitheistic rather than atheistic, because (1) it seems to ignore the fact that, for the great majority of humans, “humans and their values” clearly includes theistic beliefs, and (2) it seems to dismiss “theistic religion” by coupling it with “and superstition” — considering that many if not most Americans associate negative connotations (such as irrationality) with “superstition”.

    At the same time, your statement, “It is not ‘reasonable’ to force reason in people’s lives,” applies just as well when the word “reason” is replaced with “prayer”. I personally dislike both “National Days”. It’s not as if Americans need a government reminder (or state-sanctioned “Day”) to pray, to reason, or to spend the Day kvetching over prayer and reason.

    Imagine if they had a National Day of Silence. Now that’s a Day I’d call blessed!

  • Wow, very thought out and good answers. I just woke up, but I will try to sum up my answers as coherently as possible.

    1. I believe our moral code comes from God. I think the human condition is that we all know the moral code but we just don’t always follow it, even though we all know we should. I think that is where out conscience comes into play. Most people on Earth except for the criminally insane have a conscience. I believe that:
    A. If objective moral values exist than God exists. (By objective moral values I mean they are true regardless of whether anybody believes they are true or not).
    B. Objective moral values do exist.
    C. Therefore God exists.
    I believe this to be true because if there aren’t objective moral values and duties there are only relative moral values. If there are only relative moral values, than any culture in the world could make up any laws they want and we would have to respect them. I can use the Nazi example: if the Nazi’s had succeeded in exterminating all other people who did not agree with the Nazi agenda, and everybody on earth believed that the Nazi’s are good and justified in exterminating the Jews. Does that mean they are good? If everybody capable of conscience thought agrees that it is good to commit genocide, does that make it good? Or might the moral code exist somewhere else outside of the human mind?

    I believe that God is the originator of the moral code because whenever you are talking about the moral code it is about a person or people, therefore I believe a person must have originated the moral code, and the only person capable of doing that is God.

    I believe that God is the moral absolute of goodness and His justice is also absolute therefore, since we have all transgressed His moral law either in thought or deed, we are all estranged from God.

    I believe that human beings have intrinsic value (all humans should be valued) because we were created by God, not only that, but God loves us so much He sent His only son to die for our sins, so that we all may have a chance to be reconciled with Him.

    I hope these answers about the moral code and why human beings have intrinsic value is satisfactory. Thank you for engaging in this debate with gentleness and respect, and keep up your work on the music, don’t fault me for praying that one day God might be your inspiration.

    I don’t mean to go off on a crazy tangent here but more food for thought.
    1. everything that begins to exist has a cause
    2. the universe began to exist
    3. therefore the universe has a cause.

    And If Jesus’ followers never truly believed he was raised from the dead than his movement would have died with him. We wouldn’t still be talking about it today.

    Thanks for reading, and you can think I’m crazy if you want, but I know your parents are with Jesus in heaven, and that makes me so happy that tears are coming out of my eyes. I really wish I could say the same for all the loved ones I’ve lost. I’m not sure if they knew Jesus or not…

  • I think you missed what I said later. National Day of Prayer is not forcing people to pray. Actually it unites people of all faith.
    Wikipedia states –
    The National Day of Prayer is celebrated by Americans of many religions, including Christians of many denominations, including Protestants and Catholics, as well as Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, and Jews,[31][32] reflecting the demographics of the United States.[33]
    On the National Day of Prayer, many Americans assemble in prayer in
    front of courthouses, as well as in houses of worship, such as churches,
    mosques, synagogues, and temples.[34] Luncheons, picnics, and music performances revolving around praying for the nation are also popular observances.[35]

    National Day of Prayer is just an event where people pray for their nation. Even as a unbeliever, you should be happy because if there is even a slightest chance that there is a God, it will only help you and your nation, not to mention even if there is not, there is nothing better than people uniting to hope for goodwill and prosperity of country. Considering America has a strong theistic history, you can just look it as a tradition that is central to America.

    However that is not what is the main point. You can still think Day of Prayer is meaningless. The main point is that having a Day of Reason defeats reason. It might as well be unreasonable to have a Day of Prayer but at least it is not self-contradicting. Like I said such attempt not only shows how much eager are humanists to claim reason as their own, it also shows an amount of “worship culture” developing around “Reason” reminiscent of French Revolution and its aftermath. And I mention forcing reason into people’s lives to point out how much is Humanism dedicated to this project. You can only think of two reasons of it –
    1. Either they want to force it on people, otherwise there is no reason to just chill about it and instead have an unofficial Day of Reason
    2. They hate National Day of Prayer and religion very much (which is true and shows as how they want the Day of Reason on same date)

    How can having a Day of Reason going to promote reason? Because every group believes itself to be reasonable. Rather focus should be on spreading education and knowledge and critical thinking. What they want us to do on Day of Reason? Should we gather around schools and Philosophy colleges, and shout reason at top of our voice, holding placards supporting Reason? It makes no sense. At the end it will either lead to same fanatiscism and fetish for “REASON” as in France or that some people will use this as an opportunity to criticise others leading to divisiveness sanctioned by President of United States every year.

    You can have a Day of Solidarity, Day of Brotherhood, Day of Unity, Day of Patriotism, you can do something on these days, at least hold hands and join in a march. And this is what Humanists claim to stand for.
    What should I do on Day of Reason? It is not that I, if I am unreasonable, will accept my folly just because there is a Day of Reason. A normal person would laugh if he comes to know that America has a Day of Reason. It would mean that American population believes that people of America need a day of reason to think reasonably and that day of reason will actually help them think reasonably.

    I am pretty sure odes and songs about God are better to have than odes and songs about reason, even if you are secular or unbeliever.

  • LOL Bible God killed Job’s children? Probably before a Day of Reason we need a Day of English/Greek/Hebrew or Day of Biblical Study…

  • Thank you, Steven, for sharing what you believe and what you value, and for your kind words regarding my parents, and my music. (And I apologize for missing the “n” in your name in my previous replies.)

    I’m very pleasantly surprised (and relieved!) to note that, even though many of our beliefs differ, our values are very similar: We both choose good over bad. We both care deeply about humankind and how people treat each other. We both want to learn about others’ beliefs. We both recognize that respect is a crucial prerequisite to learning about such a personal and sensitive subject. We both have moral codes, which appear to be remarkably similar, and we both rejoice in them. We both happen to believe that there are some moral absolutes. And we both realize that what we do with our beliefs, values, moral codes, and lives really matters, even after we die.

    You said, “don’t fault me for praying that one day God might be your inspiration.” Of course I don’t fault you; I thank you gratefully. My mom somehow realized that I was an atheist, and she both respected my beliefs and prayed for me. I will always love that she did that. (I’m sure my dad did, too, or at least would have. Unfortunately, by the time I found out what had happened to me over all those years, and reconnected with my parents as an adult, Dad’s Parkinson’s had gotten the best of him, and he couldn’t really communicate. But he did hear my music before he died, and he smiled broadly the whole time.)

    And, based upon over four decades of mental health care “experience”, I can state with the utmost confidence that you are definitely not crazy.

    I would like to ask you for one more favor, if you don’t mind, because I’d really like to hear your perspective on this:

    I know that the Nazis didn’t claim spiritual righteousness, or that they were following God’s will, when they rounded up, tortured, and killed all those millions of people. I also know that some “inhumans”, past and present, have tortured and killed people while loudly and proudly proclaiming that their atrocities were good, righteous, and honorable to their God; and I have no doubt at least some of those people have truly believed that (including, for example, some members of what I consider to be “sacrilegious terrorist” organizations such as ISIS).

    So my question harks back to your comments on genocide: If the Nazis had been devout Christians, and if they believed with all their hearts that what they were doing was right and just, and pleased God; and if, as in your scenario, they succeeded in eliminating everyone on Earth who disagreed with their belief that they were doing God’s will; then what are your beliefs about how God would react, and how he would judge them?

    As for myself, I believe that their faithfully “righteous” acts would still be absolutely, immorally wrong — evil — but that’s me speaking as an atheist. What do you believe?

    It’s been a singular pleasure, and a rewarding challenge, discussing morality with you, Steven. Thank you!

  • Our beliefs differ, John, and, unfortunately, our values seem to conflict.
    We see the world though different lenses.

    Regarding your statement, “Even as a unbeliever, you should be happy because if there is even a slightest chance that there is a God, it will only help you and your nation, not to mention even if there is not, there is nothing better than people uniting to hope for goodwill and prosperity of country”:

    I appreciate prayer, and I think it’s wonderful that many people have faith. But I would appreciate it all the more — in fact, I would rejoice! — if people decided to unite in prayer on their own initiative, while our government remained both “religiously” and “reasonably” neutral, out of equal respect for all of its citizens.

    Although I don’t personally support either a “National Day of Reason” or a “National Day of Prayer”, I recognize that the humanists/atheists cited in the article are simply seeking equal treatment in the eyes of our shared national government. I also recognize that your comments dismiss and disparage the special treatment “their side” seeks, with paragraph after paragraph devoted to ridiculing the name they have chosen for their proposed Day, even as you claim exclusive rights to the special treatment and Day that “your side” currently enjoys.

    Perhaps I’m mistaken — I’d like to think so, and I am certainly open to respectful correction — but right now it appears to me as if you’re disrespecting their position while expecting them to respect yours.

    If you’ve read my comments to Steven Berg, below, then you know I write (as it were) music. I don’t think that music about God is better, and I don’t think that music about reason is better. In fact, I don’t consider myself qualified to state that some music is “better” than others. All I know is that, like everybody else, I like some music more than others.

    When I listen to music, I limit its volume out of respect for the people around me. I don’t know anyone who likes having the music they’re enjoying effectively subordinated by the music of people who don’t respect the people around them, who are quietly enjoying the music they like.

    Of course, I’m not writing about music. And I’m not writing about beliefs.
    I’m writing about about sharing respect. And how “We” treat “Them”.

  • Hey G Key, You have obviously been through a lot in life, and you seem to have a uncommon perseverance. Keep it up!

    As for your question, we don’t really need to pretend the Nazi’s were Christian, we can just look at the pilgrims and puritans in Massachusetts in the 17th century. These were people obsessed with keeping God’s law and they wanted everyone to keep God’s law so much so that they were constantly breaking part two of God’s most important law: “Love your neighbors as you love yourself.”

    Both the Pilgrims and Puritans came to New England so they could live in a society that was shaped by belief in the God of the bible. The first thing the pilgrims did was steal a bunch of corn form the natives, they should not have done this, I believe this was a test they failed. When Massasoit came to the pilgrims saying that a rival tribe was planning an attack on them, the pilgrims attacked first, slaughtering a village including women and children. Another huge failure.

    How do we know what they did was wrong? I mean they did have to eat or they would have starved, and the Indians could have attacked them and killed them first, had they waited. It’s not so black and white when you look at human history, until we look to Jesus: who said, “love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you,” “turn the other cheek,” and was constantly chiding his followers for lack of faith. When we look to Jesus, our Lord and Savior we aren’t going to rob or kill to protect ourselves, we are going to work to let God provide for us.

    A few decades after the arrival of the pilgrims, Massachusetts bay colony (puritans) began systematically killing Indians because they wanted their land. I think this is what happens when people become obsessed with their own self-righteousness and focus on keeping the law. They want everybody to share their beliefs and if they don’t, they deserve punishment. This is so far from how Jesus operates. Jesus came FOR the sinners. This is how being a Christian should make people feel: You are a sinner, your sins are forgiven, now you should be filled with so much joy, that you extend that same grace to every person around you. It is interesting to think that the puritans believed so much in God’s laws but they were still willing to kill, steal, and sell people into slavery. They justified it because it was a societal norm, the puritans back in England were doing the same exact things to the Irish. Had they focused on God’s grace and looked to Jesus, maybe things would have turned out differently.

    My point is this: Christianity only works if it is a religion that focuses, not on God’s wrath but on God’s forgiveness. A true follower of Christ will never be able to justify killing or hurting anyone because God values all human life. If anyone really believes in Jesus than they should know he came here so that all may partake in the goodness of God. Christianity only becomes a world changing religion if we truly follow Christ’s example. Violence begets violence begets violence. Only by loving our enemies and turning the other cheek is the circle of violence ever stopped.

    The Indians had the opportunity to wipe out the pilgrims several times when they first arrived, instead they helped them by teaching them to plant corn and live off the land. Later on those pilgrims children were perfectly willing to wipe out the same Indians who saved their parents lives. It is not always the Christian who acts like Christ. I’m not bold enough to make predictions on God’s judgement because we are all weak and God is great. But who is more deserving of punishment, someone who kills in the name of Christ, or someone who never knew Christ but lived only to help other people. I think God judges everybody individually with much more loving kindness than any human being is capable of and he takes into account the individual revelation given to them. Before the pilgrims came no Indians had heard of Christ, does that mean they are doomed? No, I think God judged them based on other things like their character. God is the most just and most fair, he stitched together each of us in our mothers wombs and cares for us accordingly. I think the “a-hole” who heard about Jesus is under a much more strict judgement than the kind and loving person who never heard the gospel.

    For some people, they become Christian and they think they are special, they feel self-righteous. But no human is deserving of God’s forgiveness. We only have access to that because Jesus lived the perfect life and paid the price for our sins. My advice to Christians would be: Act accordingly.

  • We come back again at square one. You still think that National Day of Prayer is a special treatment and you still are of view that National Day of Reason is an attempt to seek equal treatment in eyes of government which is strange because you, by this statement have accepted “reason” to be sole propriety of the humanists/atheists otherwise why should a Day that belongs to all will forward their cause any better? Still they are behind by one day in “special treatment”.

    It is ironic that you still judge an idea not based on content but “groupism”. Tell me if National Day of Reason goes through, will you have same views about National Day of Sharia, considering that equal treatment should be awarded to Muslims too?

  • Although I was hoping that we would reach a more mutually agreeable and rewarding outcome, we have both succeeded in making our positions clear.
    Thank you, John, and I wish you well.

  • Beautiful! What a compassionate, balanced, and well-thought response!
    I’m very glad our paths crossed, Steven. You speak humbly, wisely, and admirably of your faith, and you set a wonderful example for people of all beliefs. Thank you.

    And Thank you, RNS, for such a stimulating and informative website, and for including this welcome oasis for civil spiritual-existential discourse.

  • Thanks a lot man, I really appreciate it, as you can imagine I don’t always have such a receptive response when sharing what I believe about God. This encounter will definitely motivate me to continue searching for the truth and sharing what I believe with others. If you are still interested in the debate between theists and non-theists check out some videos like this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CBGWFB2W1O8. It’s a debate between a Christian apologist and a really good atheist philosopher. I think this is one of the more evenly matched ones if I can remember correctly. If you manage to watch it, let me know what you think.

  • Same here though I was wondering how did you answer my finnal question… Maybe that will always be a mystery.

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