Latest News

Activist Groups Urge Obama to Reject Boy Scout Honor

From Fox News:

Activist groups, including Scouting for All, urge President Obama not to accept the honorary Presidency of the Boy Scouts of America until they stop discriminating.

Scouting for All is a 100% Volunteer 501-(c)(3) Nonprofit Organization. Every dollar donated goes toward our education and advocacy programs, and is tax deductible.

PayPal Pixel

Visitor Count:
Page Counter

Petition Count:

Atheist Activists Look to Future During Easter Convention

March 30, 2005

Randy Hall
Staff Writer/Editor

( - More than 100 atheists from California to Connecticut gathered in Philadelphia over Easter weekend to discuss issues of interest to those who call themselves "Godless Americans" and plan activities to
advance their cause.

While the 31st National Convention of American Atheists had no official theme, one topic that came up often during the event was the future of "nonbelievers," as well as what's ahead for atheism itself.

The first major speech of the weekend was given on Friday morning by Ellen Johnson, president of the American Atheists organization.

During her keynote address, Johnson reviewed the group's history from its founding by Madalyn Murray O'Hair to clips of appearances on cable news programs by Johnson, who was shown asking why a loving God would allow such disasters as the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the tsunami in South Asia to happen.

Johnson then encouraged her listeners to help their movement by becoming more involved in politics, either by contributing to the Godless Americans Political Action Committee (GAMPAC) or running for elective office

Later that morning, the convention welcomed Jack Germond, a veteran journalist and author of the book "Fat Man in a Middle Seat: Forty Years of Covering Politics," who spoke on "How Religion Bends Politics."

After warning the audience about what he called the "growing, staggering, frightening influence of religious organizations" in American politics, the longtime newsman called the struggle over the fate of Terri Schiavo a
"grotesque, ridiculous exercise."

During the question-and-answer session after his talk, a member of the audience asked Germond what nonbelievers -- "the most unjustly despised minority in America" -- must do to gain "a modicum of respect" in today's political climate.

"I notice you don't have any politicians on your program," the newsman replied. "I'm not surprised. I don't know who would come." Germond then suggested atheists could be more widely accepted through a "top down"

"It would help if the president had a well-established atheist among his advisors who didn't run away from it," he said, a prospect he found unlikely while George W. Bush is in the White House.

Still, Germond didn't hold out much hope that the other major party would do better. "Democrats are wusses," he said to laugher from the audience. "Liberals are such nice guys that they want to pussyfoot around things
like this, and sometimes you can't."

'Get past this God stuff'

The future of atheism was particularly on the minds of two speakers who addressed the gathering of "First Amendment activists" on Saturday.

The first of these was Larry Beinhart, who is best known as the author of the novel "Wag the Dog," which was made into the movie of the same name.

Beinhart started his speech by stating that "the idea of a God is kind of ridiculous," a notion that led him to ask such questions as "If we're so smart, why aren't we rich?" and "If we're so right, why doesn't anybody agree with us?"

He added that he considers religion "psychotic" and called it "the search for meaning gone mad" in a vast, indifferent universe, though he acknowledged people spend most of their lives "figuring out how the world

Beinhart said he agreed with Karl Marx that "religion is the opiate of the masses," though he observed that for most people, its effect is "between opium and prozac, and for a lucky few, it's LSD."

However, the author noted that because religious persons have a world view that makes sense to them, they "live longer, they're healthier, and everything else works better. So even if it's delusional, even if it's wrong, it's functional. And ultimately, we have to think about that and respect that."

Beinhart then stated he believes atheists have become trapped in an argument from the last century. "Saying there is no God is a dead end," he added. "The concept of God is offering people something they want. Why do they want it, and what can we offer in its place?"

The writer added that he believes religion can't be repressed or stamped out. "Just look how many people are in here," he said to the audience in the room, "and how many people are out there."

Noting that something in religion "makes sense either for the people doing it or for their relationship to the world or both," Beinhart insisted: "We've got to figure out what that is and separate it from the delusional
parts. We've got to get past this God stuff."

'Whole-body experience'

That theme was discussed further in a speech on Saturday afternoon by David Eller, an anthropologist from Boston University and author of the new book "Natural Atheism," which he told the audience he wrote for three

The first reason was to promote atheism as a perfectly natural premise. "We're all born atheists," he said, adding that if a child were left alone in a room after birth, he or she would not spontaneously come up with

"Most religions in the world have no conception of gods," Eller added. Instead, they focus on ancestor spirits or natural spirituality, and the "God concept" is a recent addition.

Secondly, the professor wanted his book to provide information and analysis for both atheists and theists, or those who believe in God. For example, he stated, tolerance is not a religious principle, since no religion practices it. Instead, tolerance comes from reason, enlightenment and the inability of one group to wipe out another, instead learning to get along.

Eller's third reason for writing his book was to clarify the language in the debate between religion and atheism. One topic he described for his listeners was the difference between "knowledge" and "belief."

Because having a "belief" enables a person to claim something is true with no evidence to support it, the teacher said he'd like to strike the word from our language altogether. "I have no beliefs," he noted.

Eller stated he has a similar problem with the concept of "evil," which he said is an opinion based on cultural standards. "Headhunters kill people all the time, and they don't consider it evil," he said, adding that the term is "not particularly useful when describing reality."

The author also addressed Beinhart's earlier question of what atheists can offer people in place of religion.

Because he works in an academic environment, Eller said he is comfortable "living from the neck up" and acknowledged that atheism "appeals only to the rational few," while religion is a "whole-body experience" that "holds onto people's hearts even as they lose their minds" due to religion's "failing factuality."

Still, the professor stated he has no problem with atheism being an "incomplete view of the world" and is happy to live with "the wonder and beauty of disenchantment."

'Was Jesus?'

During the convention, the audience also heard from persons representing organizations that deal with issues related to atheism.

Robert Raketty, northwestern regional director of Scouting for All, described how his group seeks to end "discrimination" against atheists and homosexuals by the Boy Scouts of America.

Also, Seth Asser, medical consultant for Children's Healthcare Is a Legal Duty (CHILD), talked about how the group works to "stop child abuse that is carried out on grounds of religious or cultural tradition."

Throughout the convention, attendees could purchase copies of several books promoting atheism, as well as T-shirts and bumper stickers bearing such slogans as "Blasphemy Is a Victimless Crime" and "Nothing Is Greater Than a Thinking Human."

Another interesting aspect of the weekend was the opportunity for individuals to record their "oral history" as atheists on videotapes, which were to be stored at the nearby Charles E. Stevens American Atheist Library.

While the Easter holiday was rarely mentioned during the weekend, Christianity was not overlooked during the convention program.

Chris Harper, using the name "Pastor Deacon Fred," delivered a sermon of "religious hysteria" on Friday, and "Was Jesus?" a documentary questioning the existence of Christ, was shown Saturday night.

The weekend ended on Easter Sunday with morning meetings of state affiliates, an afternoon cruise aboard the Spirit of Philadelphia yacht and an evening meeting of the American Atheists' board of directors.




Scouting For All is not an alternative scouting program.
We are an education and advocacy organization reaching out to gay and nontheist youth and adults in our effort to get the Boy Scouts of America to rescind its exlusionary policy.

Any communications sent to Scouting for All or any Scouting for All representative may be published on the Scouting for All web site or in Scouting for All materials unless the communication specifically requests that it not be published.

Copyright 1999-2009 Scouting for All and its content providors.