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Valerie Celeste Coffey is a woman on a mission. For six years, her small group of local atheists has gathered to exchange bemused stories about the things Christians do in worship and swap tips for raising confident skeptics.
But on a recent Wednesday evening here at the Java Room cafe, Ms. Coffey said the time had come to take the meetings in hand.
"I don't think this group has a vision," said Coffey, a freelance editor who lives in nearby Boxborough, Mass. "We need to figure out what our values are."
Ten days later, something unprecedented happened: The group met over Sunday brunch for a structured discussion with preplanned topics.
The ranks of nonbelievers are on the rise, research suggests, and as they seek out each other online and in small groups, they are increasingly looking to do more than just vent. Read more.
Prominent religious officials led a march to the White House last month to urge President Obama to form a commission of inquiry into interrogation practices under the Bush administration. The clerics and other senior religious leaders and supporters who joined them for the "public witness" formed a crowd adorned with robes, collars, hijabs and yarmulkes.
"It is often said the way to move forward is putting behind the past," said Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, as he stood in front of the White House. "We who gather here today believe the way to the future comes after a full disclosure of truth of wrongdoing."
The rally was sponsored by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), which has applauded Obama's executive order requiring that the U.S. abide by international anti-torture agreements. Read more.
See more below.
Atheism: Living Life Unfettered by Supernaturalism and Groupthink -- Interview With Sikivu Hutchinson
African-American atheist Sikivu Hutchinson calls on black atheists to play a critical role in the atheism movement.
N.M. Conference of Churches urges torture investigation
Trip to the White House is part of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture
By Gwyneth Doland | New Mexico Independent
A Santa Fe woman is among 33 religious leaders meeting in Washington this week to urge President Obama to establish an independent, non-partisan commission to investigate U.S.-sponsored torture of detainees since 9/11.
The Rev. Holly Beaumont, the Santa Fe-based legislative advocate for the New Mexico Conference of Churches, traveled to the capital on Wednesday as part of a delegation from the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. Rev. Beaumont spoke with NMI from Washington, D.C. Here is an excerpt from the conversation: Read more.
Obama's Outreach to Muslims: Empty Rhetoric, Same Old Policies
By Stephen Lendman
As well as anyone, Edward Said understood the West's long-standing antipathy to Islam - reflected in Samuel Huntington's "The Clash of Civilizations" article in the summer 1993 issue of Foreign Affairs and later a 1996 book.
He wrote that future conflicts won't be "primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural....the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future" - demagogically suggesting a benevolent, superior West confronting a belligerent, hostile, inferior Muslim world. In other words, good v. evil.
Describing herself as the "new face of Judaism," Alysa Stanton became the first black female rabbi in the country during an ordination in Cincinnati.
Stanton, of Blue Ash, was among 14 rabbis ordained Saturday at the Plum Street Temple. She will serve as rabbi of the predominantly white Congregation Bayt Shalom in Greenville, N.C., beginning this summer.
The Cincinnati Enquirer reported on its Web site that Stanton said her goals are to break down barriers, build bridges and provide hope. Read more.
Merciful storekeeper changes robber's mind, religion
By Kiran Khalid | CNN
A potential victim became a compassionate counselor during a recent robbery attempt, changing the would-be criminal's mind -- and apparently his religion.
Storekeeper Mohammad Sohail was closing up his Long Island convenience store just after midnight on May 21 when -- as shown on the store's surveillance video -- a man came in wielding a baseball bat and demanding money.
"He said, 'Hurry up and give me the money, give me the money!' and I said, 'Hold on'," Sohail recalled in a phone interview with CNN on Tuesday, after the store video and his story was carried on local TV.
Sohail said he reached under the counter, grabbed his shotgun and told the robber to drop the bat and get down on his knees.
"He's crying like a baby," Sohail said. "He says, 'Don't call police, don't shoot me, I have no money, I have no food in my house.' "
Amidst the man's apologies and pleas, Sohail said he felt a surge of compassion.
Church Blogging #22: “WAR IS FOR POWER AND MONEY”
By Nick Mottern and Nora Freeman
A 78-year-old Army veteran sat in the parish house of the First Baptist Church in White Plains NY at social hour on Sunday, May 24, 2009, Memorial Day weekend, and told me he has come to the conclusion that wars are only about getting power and money.
He was a medic during the Korean War although he was not in combat. Later, after higher education, he worked on the nuclear reactor of the USS Nautilus, the first US nuclear submarine. But while he said Memorial Day brought memories, he is no supporter of war. In fact he thinks mercenaries are being paid to start wars.
He was thankful for the GI benefits that enabled him to go to college, something that he would not otherwise have been able to afford, but he acknowledged that there are other ways the government could have helped him through school.
By Doug Ireland, The Guide
When candidate Barack Obama announced last summer during his campaign that he would expand President George W Bush's so-called 'faith-based initiatives' program, this bad news was greeted with moans of distress from those who believe in the separation of church and state. Among them: the Rev Jesse Jackson, who was caught on videotape whispering into an open TV microphone that Obama's proposal was so repugnant to him that he'd 'cut his nuts off' over it.
Connecticut’s highest court ruled on Friday that thousands of pages of documents from sexual-abuse lawsuits filed against priests in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport that had been kept sealed for more than a decade must be made public.
The 4-to-1 decision by the State Supreme Court was the latest milestone in a seven-year legal fight between the Diocese of Bridgeport and four newspapers: The New York Times, The Hartford Courant, The Boston Globe and The Washington Post.
The diocese claimed that the records would open old wounds, while the newspapers argued that they were an important part of the record of the church’s handling of sexual-abuse charges.
The thousands of victims of Ireland's child-abuse homes spent decades just trying to get the public to believe them. A mammoth investigation has proved the horrors of their youth, but left many disappointed that their abusers were not named.
A nine-year probe into child abuse by Ireland's Catholic religious orders painted a damning portrait of a system that shielded child-molesters from justice and trapped generations of Ireland's poorest children to misery from the 1930s to the 1990s.
High Court Sides With Ashcroft, Mueller in 9/11 Detainee Abuse Case
By Jesse J. Holland, Associated Press | ABCNews
A sharply divided Supreme Court ruled Monday that FBI Director Robert Mueller and former Attorney General John Ashcroft can't face a lawsuit from a former Sept. 11 detainee who argued they were responsible for his restrictive confinement because of his religious beliefs.
The court on Monday overturned a lower court decision that let Javaid Iqbal's (Ick-ball) lawsuit against the high-ranking officials proceed.
Iqbal is a Pakistani Muslim who spent nearly six months in solitary confinement in New York in 2002. He had argued that while Ashcroft and Mueller did not single him out for mistreatment, they were responsible for a policy of confining detainees in highly restrictive conditions because of their religious beliefs or race.
"Notre Dame U. plans to bestow an honorary degree on President Barack Obama. This caused the ultra Iraq War Hawk, Rep. Peter T. King (R-3-NY), to toss a major hissy fit. He insisted that because of Obama’s support for abortion, that the award would be an insult to “Catholic moral teachings.” Why weren’t these Catholic standards applied to the Bush-Cheney Gang’s War without End, torture policies and the shredding of the U.S. Constitution?"
“Thou shalt keep thy religion to thyself.”-- George Carlin
As TomDispatch readers are well aware, James Carroll is a man who knows something about the dangers of mixing religious fervor, war, and the crusading spirit, a subject he dealt with eloquently in his book Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews. A former Catholic priest turned antiwar activist in the Vietnam era, he is a weekly columnist for the Boston Globe, and was perhaps the first media figure to notice -- and warn against -- a presidential "slip of the tongue" just after 9/11, when George W. Bush referred briefly to his new Global War on Terror as a "crusade." He was also possibly the first mainstream columnist in the country to warn against the consequences of launching a war against Afghanistan in response to those attacks -- the disastrous results of which we now see daily.
Carroll's focus on fundamentalist religion and violence is long standing. In print and in other ways, he has spoken out and worked against militarism and intolerance, and has focused on the ways in which religion and violence are increasingly merging into a toxic brew capable of setting our planet aflame. Most recently, he's publicly put both his own practice of Catholicism and the perilous state of his church -- perched as it is at the edge of a fundamentalist precipice with a new Pope who threatens to push it into the void -- under a microscope.
Book Review: "A Deadly Misunderstanding: A Congressman’s Quest to Bridge the Muslim-Christian Divide” By Mark D. Siljander
By Amy Branham, Gold Star Mother, Houston, TX
This book took me on an emotional journey that I really had to struggle with. After reading the first chapter or two of this book, I did not want to go any further. It wasn’t because I objected to what the author was learning and sharing in his story. It was because of where he came from that made me feel very vehemently opposed to hearing what he had to say. Here was an evangelical Christian Republican Congressman who had been known in Washington D.C. as one of the biggest Jesus freaks ever to walk the halls of Congress! One who, under normal circumstances and, much more so today, wouldn’t give me, one of those left-wing liberals, the time of day!
By Jason Leopold
A recent edition of the U.S. Army’s suicide prevention manual advises military chaplains to promote “religiosity,” specifically Christianity, as a way to deter distraught soldiers from committing suicide, which in recent months, according to one veterans advocacy group, has reached epidemic proportions.
The Army Suicide Prevention Manual says “Chaplains... need to openly advocate behavioral health as a resource” to treat suicidal soldiers and instructs behavioral health providers “to openly advocate spirituality and religiosity as resiliency factors."
Pope Benedict XVI has warned against the misuse of religion for political ends, in a speech to Muslim leaders on the second day of his visit to Jordan.
By Robert C. Koehler, Tribune Media Services
“The special forces guys — they hunt men, basically. We do the same things as Christians, we hunt people for Jesus. We do, we hunt them down. Get the hound of heaven after them, so we get them into the kingdom.”
It’s worse than you think.
Torture, religion, democracy, God. They’re all part of the mixed-up, horrific business that George Bush unleashed in the Middle East and Central Asia, and that Barack Obama is struggling to control and rationalize. As the words above demonstrate, the 12th century is striving mightily to join hands with the 20th in the U.S. military: Unbridled religious arrogance is forging a link with high-tech weaponry and an unlimited defense budget.
Catholic Democrats Offer Statement of Support to Notre Dame for Inviting Obama to Deliver Commencement Address
Catholic Democrats Offer This Statement of Support for Notre Dame in their decision to invite President Barack Obama to deliver the university’s 2009 Commencement address. No need to be Catholic to sign. Click here.
New research shows young Americans are dramatically less likely to go to church -- or to participate in any form of organized religion -- than their parents and grandparents.
It's a huge change," says Harvard University professor Robert Putnam, who conducted the research.
US Troops Urged To Share Faith in Afghanistan | Submitted by Michael Munk | www.MichaelMunk.com
The US's highest ranking military officer has said it is not the US military's position to promote any specific religion, after Al Jazeera revealed footage of troops apparently preparing to convert Afghans to their Christian faith.
Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to be the third pontiff to visit the Holy Land from 8-15 May, following in the footsteps of Paul VI in 1964 and John Paul II in 2000, on a mission officially described as a “pilgrimage” and one of “peace and reconciliation.”
However, the Pope will be stepping into “a diplomatic minefield,” where the Catholic highest spiritual authority will be unmercifully scrutinized by the protagonists of the one hundred year old Arab-Israeli conflict for the Holy Father’s every step, word and handshake, which would force him into the defensive in an impossible balancing act that will rule out any hope his presence is supposed to inspire, especially among the down-trodden Arabs of Palestine, whether those who are “Israelis” living as second class citizens since 1948 or those Palestinians living under the Israeli military occupation since 1967.
Even the pontiff’s own Catholic diminishing flock in the Holy Land seems in controversy over the timing and the itinerary of his pilgrimage. "We will ask him why he came, what he intends on saying … and why he isn't coming to Gaza," Father Manuel Mussalam, the pastor of the only Catholic church of about 300 believers in Gaza, out of 3000 Christians in the Israeli besieged Mediterranean strip, was quoted by AFP as asking. "We'll tell him that this is not the right moment to come and visit the holy places, while Jerusalem is occupied," Mussalam added.
“GOD IS PROBABLY SPEAKING” THROUGH THESE MESSENGERS OF PEACE
By Nick Mottern
On Sunday, April 26, 2009 Martha Conte, Margaret Eberle, Nora Freeman and I attended Hitchcock Presbyterian Church in Scarsdale, NY in our bannering campaign to encourage Westchester County clergy and congregations to actively oppose the US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
We found a remarkable openness to our message among the congregation and the first occasion in more than a year of church visits in which a pastor made an on-the-spot revision of the day’s sermon to include our witness.
In the conclusion of his sermon “God Is Still Speaking”, the Rev. Dr. John W. Miller said: “God is probably speaking through these four people who appeared today to bring a message of peace.”