It has been an interesting year and a half for Atheism and secularism. The publications of books by Richard Dawkins (here) and Christopher Hitchens (here and here) received considerable media attention. The Pew Forum for Religion and Public Life made a splash with its survey showing that many Americans are drifting away from traditional organized religion (a trend which our church has benefited from).
Even in our little corner of the world here in West Michigan, the Freedom from Religion Foundation has caused a stir by attacking the City of Hudsonville for including a reference to God in its mission statement, leading to a thorough review by the Grand Rapids Press of the prevalence of religion in local government in the area.
As a former reporter, I have attended many local government meetings and witnessed many invocations and references to God before board meetings, planning commissions, and even some of the most mundane and sparsely attended committee meetings. I was slightly surprised at first because this is government. However, I was also not too shocked because this is West Michigan and religion is deeply rooted here.
Today, I listened to this interview with Richard Dawkins from March 2007 that re-aired on Fresh Air last week. He spoke very eloquently about the ways in science provides a superior and far more fascinating explanation of the universe than you would find in the Bible or other religious texts (Although my minister, Ian Lawton, writes a nice article explaining that religion
and science serve complementary purposes). Dawkins also explains that Einstein described himself as a "deeply, religious non-believer." That is how I would characterize myself, as an Atheist who finds something very spiritual about the vastness and intricacies of the universe.
I would also say that I am not as militant as Christopher Hitchens, who would rather see no religion. I respect that others have religion, I just have no capacity for faith in the supernatural. That being said, I have never run into much trouble for holding these views and found that people here in West Michigan are respectful and very willing engage you on this topic and hear you out.
This brings me to the meat of this post: my problem with the Freedom from Religion Foundation's (FFRF) attack on the City of Hudsonville. Although I would prefer it if local government did not have such blatant expressions of faith here in West Michigan, I think its a deeply-held and generally harmless tradition. There is not a slow ineffable creep toward theocracy here. Generally, the prayers ask for guidance in decision-making. There are not pleas that non-believers repent or convert. Also, no laws or special privileges. are being given. This is also not the same as prayer in school, where minors are compelled into a moment of silence and the chances for ostracism are much higher if you forgo participation (All this is not to say that communities in West Michigan have a totally spotless record of tolerance and standing for free thought. In 2000, Zeeland Public Schools became infamous for attacking Harry Potter).
Hudsonville mission statement is an easy target and the consequences are minor. However, I would be much more impressed if the FFRF was going after Harvard for instituting a gender segregation policy to accomdate muslim students (link here also Instapundit links here, here, and here). As far as I can tell, the FFRF has not taken a stand on this.