Friday, August 7, 2009

I think we need to have a talk, folks.

Recently, my friend John Hummel was in an article in the St. Pete Times. You can see the article here. The article talks about how John was a Mormon and through life's journey found himself to be an Atheist. It talks about his curiosity about other religions and frustrations about the misconceptions of his own religion (and now lack of religion.) The article goes into how John's curiosity leads him to start a blog and a podcast about seeing 52 religions in 52 weeks.

I am not here to talk to you about the article, as much as I am here to talk to you about people's response to it.

TomH from Arizona commented:

Hummel's problem is simple. He has no faith because he doesn't nourish faith. He could not endure the taunting of the "large and spacious building" and gave into unbelief. Faith is like a seed, it must be planted and nourished. Otherwise, it dies

My problem with Tom's comment is that he expects blind faith in a god. This is the crux of nearly all religions involving a god. You must simply believe, without any proof at all, that they are there. You must believe that things happen because the god wants them too. It's almost as if there would be nothing good in the world if a god hadn't created it. I think John believes in the goodness of man. Tom believes that John was taunted by the "large and spacious building". I'm not sure why he feels that way since the article never says that. It specifically says that John left the church because he disagreed with their involvement in the political arena. Prior to that he had continued to be an active, but Atheist, member.

I'll admit that I know John Hummel. I met him at the first Tweet Up that I ever attended. I liked him from the start. He is funny and well read. He is snarky at times, but never unkind. He listens with genuine interest to views that are not his own and honestly considers them.

I have met his lovely wife, Holli. I have met his beautiful children. I have never seen a man more in love with or devoted to his wife than John Hummel.

Some people assume that an Atheist is stupid or that they have no morals, but that is not true. I have been friends with many people who consider themselves to be an Atheist and the vast majority of them are thoughtful people. They want the best for humanity because it the best for them too. They volunteer. They fight for their country. They feel sadness when their friends and relatives die.

Paul D. Valentine, the leader of the Worldwide Church of Satanic Liberation, has a channel on YouTube. I find him to be incredibly interesting. I am subscribed to his videos because I enjoy listening to him talk. He is an Atheist. Contrary to popular belief, he does not actually worship Satan. (He doesn't really mind if you are silly enough to think so though.) I was listening to a video one day and he was talking about the sadness of loss for an Atheist. He said that it was significantly more sad to know that you would never see the people you love again. I agree.

Doesn't it take a significant amount of, well, faith to believe that there is no god? You have to look at everything around you and believe that it occurred because of some cosmic fluke. Beyond that, you have to believe that you are not a special edition hand crafted by a god being. You are just another blip in the cosmos, no more significant than a grain of sand.

Another response to the article was directed towards me, as I had left a comment.

I said:
To TomH - You are wrong about Hummel's problem. John had been an Atheist for a while, but until the church made stands in areas in which they should not be involved, he remained in the church because he felt they did good in the community.

ea from Washington responded:

"Areas in which they should not be involved"? Who are you, Courtney or anyone else, to say what rights ANY group can or cannot fight for? I would not think to deny any opposing group the right to organize and petition."

I doubt "ea from Washington" will ever read this or my comment that I wrote back, but when I wrote that I was writing about a little thing that people have been trying to shred or protect for years called separation of church and state. The churches do not pay taxes. It's not a good idea for them to be getting involved in politics. It's also not a good idea for governments to be getting involved with (or banning) religion. When churches want to start paying taxes like any other business then I think that they can participate in the political arena. I just don't think that they should at all.

If you are interested in learning more about John Hummel please visit or another blog he runs that I like called Between the Bits. Including this post about the insanity at the Town Hall meeting about the Healthcare reform bill.


  1. Courtney, couple things
    1) The definition of faith is:
    a) confidence or trust in a person or thing
    b) belief that is not based on proof
    Given that, I have a bit of a problem with your problem with faith. The essence of Christian faith is a belief in something you can't see. You can criticize religion on that point, but I don't think it's a valid one.

    2) I don't read John's stuff much and I think I looked at his blog once. Admitting that, I don't see leaving "church" because of their political involvement. My church isn't active in the political arena, nor is my denomination. If he has a Christian belief, find a church that doesn't get involved with politics. If he's an athiest, that's fine, but don't say you're an atheist and in the same breath say I left church because of their involvement in politics. It's kind of a copout.
    3) I am quite sure there are many athiests who are as kind, loving and giving as many Christians. That's not the point of Christianity though. The whole Faith, not works issue was worked over by Paul in the New Testament many times.
    4) Personally, I struggle with religious leaders involvement in politics from the right (Falwell) to the left (Sharpton). I think they have to decide the arena in which they play. I personally don't subscribe to it.
    5) To open up a huge can of worms, the phrase "separation of church and state" does not actually appear in the Constitution or Bill of Rights. It appeared in a letter from Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists. The Supreme Court quoted that letter in a ruling in 1878. The Constitution merely states the government cannot establish a religion.

  2. 1. I do have a problem with faith. If you propose something exists, back it up with more than "well, I just know. I read it in this book about someone who says - they just know."

    2. I didn't leave the church because of their political involvement. I left the church become of the combination of a) I hadn't believed in the precepts for some time, b) I believed that that church's political actions were against my principles that people should not pass laws to restrict the rights of others based on religious beliefs, and c) I believed that the LDS (aka Mormon) church was acting outside of its own principles by attempting to enforce their religious beliefs upon others.

    A copout, though? I remained in the faith of my parents, the one I was raised in out of respect and love for them. I stayed in because I believed that even though I did not believe in a divine being the way the church did, I still thought it did good. Once I determined that they were doing more "bad" than "good", I left.

    If it's a "copout" to remain in something for so long then leave when that organization acts against your principles, then fine.

    3. The point "Christianity isn't about works" isn't the point. The point is that there are people who will say I am "bad" because I don't believe as them. It doesn't matter if I work with a charity, it doesn't matter if I donate blood - I'm "bad" because I don't believe that my actions should be ordered by a Sky God who will bless me or damn me at a later date.

    Ignoring the words of Jesus who said "by their fruits you shall know them", or his talks about those who had his name upon their lips but their hearts were far from him. If a person is good, they do good things. If they are bad, they do bad things.

    That, I believe was the point of Ms. Schoenfeld. People want to say I'm "bad" because, heaven forbid (irony intended) I don't believe their assertion that there's a Magic Man watching my every movement is true. If people want to be a bigot and judge me without having known me, that's their business I guess.

    "Faith without works is dead," as I was taught as a child. So you may not be saved by faith - but if you have no works, then you have no faith, either. I might even argue that my faith is greater - because I don't believe in divine beings, yet still do the right thing anyway. My faith is full of nothing *but* works. How alive is that?

  3. 4. No complaint.

    5. The separation of church and state is a shorthand description for a whole slew of things. You also have the Lemon Test from the supreme court, which clarified the idea of "separation of church and state" which gave a way to define if a law infringes upon seperation of church and state:

    1. The government's actions must have a secular legislative purpose.
    2. The government's action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion.
    3. The government's action must not result in "excessive government entanglement" with religion.

    So when people say "separation of church and state", this is the legal test they're talking about. Want to put the 10 Commandments in a Courthouse? Tough. You're now advancing religion. You can have them in your house, your business, your church, your notebook - but the second you put them into a government office, game over. Want to put Intelligent Design in school, even though (as the recent Dover trial proved) it was spawned to be a replacement for Creationism? To bad, so sad. In fact, the courts have ruled rightly that you can't put up roadblocks about teaching evolution when those roadblocks are only there because of a religious exception.

    Of course, there's always the 1st Amendment that people forget in the Constitution:

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion

    Or the "there is no religious test" clause in the Constitution itself. The framers didn't just want government kept out of religion - they wanted religion kept out of government office. Have a reason for wanting a law enacted or enforced? Great - but you can't do it because "Well, God said so."

  4. 1. I suppose I should have mentioned that while John is an Atheist, I am not. I am not part of any organized religion and can't seem myself ever becoming interested in that again.

    2. John was an Atheist for a long while. He stayed in the church because he felt it did good things for the community. He left when he felt that the bad outweighed the good. That said, I don't really speak for John. If you visit his blog, he explains in detail why he made that decision.

    3. I understand that it is faith not works, but also the Bible says that by their fruits will we know them. John's looking pretty fruity to me.

    4. I agree with you.

    5. I know about the Danbury letter. I link to it in the post. Jefferson is one of the most influential leaders that this country has ever had. I believe strongly in the concept, even if it isn't in the Constitution.

    One of the really great things about my education is that in addition to regular public school, I also attended a Christian school for four years and then I attended a community college. My education is well rounded. I am very familiar with the Bible and I think it has wonderful concepts, but I understand that the Bible was written by men. Whether they were directed by God or not, they were still men. They were affected by the culture around them. Imagine if the Bible was written by about 40 different men today? Can you imagine what that book would look like? Even if it was directed by the hand of God, these men had free will and God never interferes with that.

  5. I'll agree to disagree on the faith point. I struggle with it myself from time to time but keep coming back to it.

    Second, I apologize for using the term "copout". Wasn't appropriate to slam you with it, that's not what I'm about. I appreciate that you stayed in for your parents, but do believe if you're not happy with something why suffer through it, just leave.

    As to your being called "bad." I have an issue with that as well. There are a lot of modern day Pharisees out there and I don't agree with their point of view. I believe our role as Christians on this earth is not to judge. God will handle that when He handles it (or for your sake "if" he handles it). We're supposed to be about love and faith. Passing judgement on you is nobody's business.

    On faith vs works and your doing the right thing anyway, CS Lewis has some good points on that in Mere Christianity. I don't want to try and recall it from memory here, but if you have it, it's near the beginning of the book.

    On separation of church and state, I just wanted to point out it's not a Constitutional issue. Too many people blindly think that is part of the Constitution and it's not. It's a pet peeve of mine.

    That said, religion of any sort isn't part of government. I suppose it could inform opinion but you can't legislate it. "Mixing politics and religion is like mixing ice cream and cow manure. It doesn't improve the manure and it ruins the ice cream." (Tony Campolo)

    Anyway, I've set you up to follow on Twitter John. I'm open to all discussions and promise I'm not a "screamer." Hope you follow me back.