Topics

Among the Unbelievers–Atheists and ‘Universists’

In today’s commentary I look at George Weigel’s book, The Cube and the Cathedral, that laments and analyzes Europe’s descent into secularism. America is different, of course, at least for now. At present, some of our more colorful rejectionists are affiliated with atheist organizations or similar protest groups. Consider these examples.
ITEM ONE: The “All Atheists Weekend.” Several San Francisco-area atheist groups got together in May for an event they called the “All Atheists Weekend.” If press reports are to be believed, it must have been a fascinating affair. The Associated Press reported that organizers had hoped for “more than 250 people” to attend the event. Final attendance figures were not released, but the group known as “East Bay Atheists” claimed about 100 attendees for each day of the event. Other participating groups included the “Godless Geeks” of Silicon Valley and a group of aging atheists from a local retirement community.
Participants were exhorted to oppose the rise of “fundamentalism” in the nation. “It’s time for us to push back,” said psychologist Jaime Arcila. He called for the nation to embrace “peace, justice, tolerance, and love.” Other were more concerned that atheists are so hard to organize. “Atheists are not joiners,” said Ellen Johnson, president of American Atheists, who spoke at the event. The American Atheists group was founded by the late Madalyn Murray O’Hair in 1963. Now, Johnson expresses some frustration at the group’s failure to mobilize a massive army of unbelievers. “You hear people complain, ‘Look at what they (religious people) are trying to do now,’” she told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Well, yeah, sure. They’re better funded. Better organized. That’s why atheists get pushed around. I say if you don’t like it, get involved and do something about it.”
Her group does get donations, but largely from the deceased. Johnson said that American Atheists depends on wills and bequests for financial support. “People donate to us in their wills, but with all due respect, we don’t need dead atheists.” Dead atheists are presumably even harder to mobilize than live ones.
David Fitzgerald, who presented his multimedia work, “The 10,000 Christs and the Evaporating Jesus,” at the event, afirmned Johnson’s point: “Our thing is that we’re just not that organized. It’s our strength and our weakness.” Fitzgerald is ready to look on the bright side, however. “Still, it’s a great time to be an atheist. Five hundred years ago, we’d be burned for what we were thinking. Fifty years ago, we’d lose our jobs. But today, we’re free to be atheists.”
CHECK OUT THE PRESS:  The San Francisco Chronicle, The Bakersfield Californian.
ITEM TWO: Alabama Medical Student Starts a New Religion. Ford Vox, a medical student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, decided America needed a new religion–so he started it. “Universism” is an anti-supernatural “religion” that teaches that there are no universal religious truths, and that all religious truth must be determined by each individual.
“Religious faith is very powerful,” he told the Birmingham News. “It is so powerful that it is dangerous. It’s very hard to find an alternative to that.” As for beliefs, “We absolutely reject absolute truth,” he emphasized. He seemed absolutely sure of his absolute denial of absolute truth.
Vox thinks that secular people need to have the kind of fellowship Christians experience in congregations, so he plans to create something like Universist churches. Speaking of Christian churches, he said: “They have such a great social infrastructure. Secular people are missing out on that. We’d kind of like to take part.”
The medical student and religion founder shows little respect for liberal churches. “Unitarian Universalism is belief in anything for the sake of belief. There are many people in liberal Protestant churches who share this attitude. They continue to prop up the legitimacy of religion, making it seem an OK precept because you have rational people who continue to call themselves Christian,” he asserted.  When it comes to atheists, it takes one to know one.
Ford Vox may be having some fun, but he also claims to have 7,500 “members” registered through his Web site. Christianity has nothing to fear from Mr. Vox and the Universists. Their version of warmed-over atheism is not likely to gain much ground, though they are certain to attract media attention.
My guess is that the Universists are located in just about the worst place imaginable for institutionalized unbelief. San Francisco is a prime venue for the “All Atheists Weekend” — but Birmingham, Alabama? Perhaps Mr. Vox should venture down to Lloyd’s Restaurant on US 280 South. There, where the iced tea runs thick as pancake syrup, he will discover the limitations to signing up unbelievers in Birmingham.
FOR THE TRULY INTERESTED: The Birmingham News, Atheist World News.