It’s been a long week, and I have a million things I want to write about.
First up: update on Damon Fowler, the recently-graduated high schooler who was kicked out of his community and his house for challenging an illegal school-sponsored prayer.
Greta Christina wrote a long post with all the important details about his situation and the response of the secular community. This passage struck me the most.
But when Damon Fowler was suffering and in need, the atheist community stepped up. It provided compassion. It demanded justice. It offered emotional support. It offered practical support. It opened its wallets. It made it unassailably clear to Damon Fowler that he was not alone: that although his school, his community, even his parents, had all turned their backs on him, atheists would take care of him, as best they could, until he could take care of himself. It made it clear that, even though he no longer had a home in Bastrop, he had a home in this movement. When Damon Fowler was suffering and in need, the atheist community proved itself to be a real community.
Reflections like the one above don’t just make me feel warm and fuzzy; they make me proud to be part of this movement.
I’ve been thinking about this movement lately, and I realize that the road doesn’t stop here. There’s a lot more to be done. There will be more troubles ahead. We’ll face misunderstanding, ignorance, and outright hatred.
But we have to remember to never ever give into the belief that only religious communities can provide real support and comfort. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that there are some things that others can provide that we can’t.
Remember when I mentioned the billboard put up by the Orange County Coalition for Reason as part of a national billboard campaign?
Well, there are plenty of people not happy with atheists speaking out. Similar billboards in California have been defaced. In Westminster, however, the Christians chose a much more reasonable course of action.
A group of Christians who have been gathering to conduct Bible studies under a “Godless billboard” erected by a national atheist organization say they will do so until the sign comes down.
This is perfect. Nobody breaks any laws. Nobody gets hurt. No property gets damaged or vandalized. No groups or ideas get censored. Both sides get to say and do what they want. More importantly, we’ve given religious people something constructive to do with their time: yell and pray and read the Bible ceaselessly, all to fight against… a sign.
This is almost as nonsensical as atheists gathering and reading Carl Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World each time they see a sign telling non-Christians to either repent or face hell (signs which line the highways of many states). But of course, these Christians (like people of other religions) have holy books as well as special powers that allow them to communicate directly with their over-Lord who tells them “the absolute truth,” and we don’t want to mess with that.
Longbrake, a member of Calvary Chapel Westgrove and a 40-year Orange County resident, said he and other Christians respect the atheists’ freedom of speech, but want their voices to be heard as well.
“There is no question that this billboard is unhealthy for our community,” he said.
Unhealthy? A billboard that says “Don’t Believe In God? You are not alone,” is unquestionably unhealthy? Dear Sir, was the billboard even meant for Christian consumption? My awfully godless, narrow-minded brain tells me that this billboard was meant to reach out to people who already have doubts about religion, who already suspect it is more likely that all religions are false than it is that only one of the millions that have existed is the one true one. It’s a message of solidarity to people who would otherwise feel ostracized by their religious community.
It doesn’t even say you should be an atheist, or that atheism is good, or that we should question God. It says that if you, despite all your effort, find that you just can’t believe, you shouldn’t feel alone. You should know that there are hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people around the world who agree with you and who’ve come to this conclusion independently in many different societies, with different religions, and in different times. You should know that the world is much larger than the community you come from, and that even when horrible things happen to people like Damon Fowler (kicked out of his “Christian” home and community), there are lots of people supporting you and your cause.
Orange County Christians, read the Bible and protest all you want. There’s greater work to be done.