Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Murphy and Malleability

Bishop William Murphy of the Rockville Centre (New York) Diocese publicly confronted Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi in his column published last week in the Diocese newspaper. Murphy took issue with Suozzi’s stance on gay marriage and abortion rights. Suozzi considers himself a Catholic, went to Catholic schools, and regularly attends Mass. However, he supports a woman’s right to choose, and recently changed his stance from being in favor of civil unions for gays to openly supporting gay marriage. This change is what provoked the column by Bishop Murphy.

Murphy contends that Suozzi’s public stances are contradictory to the teachings of the Catholic church. This is entirely accurate. Roman Catholicism is not accepting of gay relationships, as Murphy explains: “While homosexual orientation is a neutral reality on a moral level, homosexual acts are not morally neutral. They are wrong, and they are sinful. Abortion is wrong, and it is sinful.”[1]

Asked about Murphy’s column, County Executive Suozzi said, “The bishop has a job to do as a leader of the church. I have a job to do as a leader of government.”[2] This is interesting; Suozzi is effectively affirming the separation of church and state. According to Newsday, he still considers himself a practicing Catholic. So is this a matter of a politician really representing the public he serves, rather than his own views? Possibly, just possibly.

Sunday of this week, Newsday reported that Catholics on Long Island generally sided with Murphy on same-sex marriage. This was based on an informal survey of attendees at several Long Island Roman Catholic churches. One parishioner said, “If you're going to be a buffet Catholic, where you pick and choose [what teachings to heed], then don't call yourself a Catholic.”[3] This is a principle I tend to agree with — if you call yourself a Catholic but don’t believe in the tenets of Catholicism, you’re probably not really a Catholic; you’re just labeling yourself.

In related news, a bill in the New York State Assembly failed to advance yesterday. According to Newsday, this was due to an effective lobbying effort led by the abovementioned Bishop William Murphy. The Markey Bill would make it easier for alleged child sex abuse victims to sue their abusers by creating an “open window” in which the statute of limitations on child sex abuse cases could be dropped. Murphy’s spokesman Sean Dolan acknowledged that the bishop (not a politician) played a crucial role in opposing the bill.[4]

I find it personally interesting that Murphy condemns Tom Suozzi, a politician (not a clergyperson), for doing his secular job and representing the values of those he represents, but doesn’t hesitate to manipulate the secular system in order to effectively derail a bill that could affect the cash flow of the diocese. Does Murphy consider himself part of the church or part of the state? It’s generally acknowledged that the Roman Catholic Church did all it could to shield pedophile priests (many of whom were homosexual) for decades.[5],[6] Don’t the victims, now adults, deserve some sort of restitution? Why is it more important to protect the Vatican’s coffers than to protect children?

I’m not condemning Murphy, though he seems to deserve it. He’s probably some poor schmuck just trying to do a difficult job, same as you or me or Tom Suozzi. But I would encourage County Executive Tom Suozzi to leave the Roman Catholic Church (hey, he could always try secular humanism). Clearly, Tom Suozzi is capable of growing and changing. The Church is demonstrating itself to be much less capable.


Sunday, June 21, 2009


Gerry Dantone and Cliff Bernstein hold the CFI-LI banner high.

Me, holding the CFI-LI banner with Richard Schloss.

I was proud to march with some of my fellow CFI-LI members in the 19th Annual Long Island Pride Parade in Huntington, New York, on Sunday, June 14, 2009. Our group (secular humanists) was situated in the parade between Long Island GLBT Baby & Me, which was composed of lesbian moms, aunts, sisters, mothers, grandmas and nanas and their toddlers and babies in strollers, and a congregational church which accepts and affirms gay marriage. So much of what the Pride Festival is about is family — these are parents, children, wives, husbands, struggling for affirmation of their rights as families. It is worthwhile to remember that secular humanism is also a family cause.

As parents, we have the responsibility to raise our children in a happy, healthy, loving environment. This includes providing them with a strong sense of ethics; teaching them to value reason; nurturing their natural abilities and whenever possible, instilling a sense of wonder and joy in the cosmos. This applies to humanists and believers alike.

It’s also important to remember that many atheists, agnostics and freethinkers are in the closet. Like so many gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders, they are trapped by a fear of judgment, or concerns that they could lose their jobs, socioeconomic standing, or alienate their families and friends. I came out as an atheist more than a decade ago. I’ll tell you, the last twelve years have not exactly been a cakewalk.

But the Pride Parade gives me hope. I saw three generations of open GLBT’s last Sunday. I hope someday to see as many generations of open secular humanists.

In the preface to his 1957 book Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Related Essays, Bertrand Russell concludes that “The world needs open hearts and open minds, and it is not through rigid systems, whether old or new, that these can be derived.”
This is as true now as it was fifty years ago.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Atheists and Public Prayer

In a recent episode of the excellent web series “Penn Says,” Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller brings up a quandary many atheists, agnostics and freethinkers face: how to respond when asked to join a group in prayer at a dinner or some other group event.

He makes a good point. A secular group composed mainly of Christians would not invite Muslims, Jews or Hindus to an event, then enjoin them to engage in prayer invoking Jesus Christ. It would be inappropriate and probably offensive to the guests. Why, then, is it okay to do the same thing to atheists? Don’t we have feelings, too?

In my experience, many of the faithful seem to have a tough time discerning that the supremacy of their god isn’t obvious and apparent to people who don’t subscribe to that particular magazine. It’s not confined to religious groups — this is true of many belief systems and political or environmental viewpoints. It’s even true of a lot of atheists. It’s certainly hard for me sometimes.

It is always worthwhile to remind others (in a kind way, whenever possible) that your beliefs are as valid as their own. Often, the best way to encourage acceptance and understanding of your own beliefs is by being accepting and understanding of the beliefs of others.

How, then, should we respond in this situation? My default response is, “When in Rome...” and then to approach the group leaders privately afterward so as to address the situation in a kind and respectful manner. However, this is not always appropriate. As a humanist celebrant, I occasionally find myself placed in the role of community leader, and as such, am expected to speak up on subjects that represent my fellow thinkers. Maintaining silence until after the event can be interpreted as tacit agreement. Is my not speaking up in these situations a disservice to other atheists? Possibly, sometimes.

One alternative is to address the situation directly at the time it happens. It can be difficult to do this tactfully, because by interrupting an event in progress, the speaker is already at a disadvantage and seen as a crank. Still, it can be done. It doesn’t necessarily follow that when everyone else in the room is standing with folded hands and bowed heads, they are praying. No doubt some of them are merely following the abovementioned “When in Rome...” default.

Still, it would be nice for other people to understand, accept and respect the fact that not everyone shares their religious views. Perhaps the best thing to do in these situations is to deal with the situation preemptively. If you’re an atheist invited to participate in a group dinner or similar event, ask ahead of time whether the group is religious or has any religious affiliations. Find out beforehand whether the group usually conducts a prayer or blessing before the meal. Ask questions, and make it clear in a respectful, loving way that while you respect their right to believe what they choose, they must also respect your right to accept or decline the invitation based on your own beliefs. Naturally, if you are okay with being asked to pray, the choice is entirely up to you.

When visiting a church and the congregation kneels in prayer, I simply sit. By keeping my seat I am not making a spectacle of my own beliefs, but I am also declining to participate in the worship of (what is to me) an imaginary friend. When attending an event in which a speaker asks the gathered audience to join him in prayer, I do not bow my head; rather, I fold my hands politely and look around to see how many other people are doing the same thing. This course of action is a compromise on my part, but it enables me to gauge the audience and decide whether anyone else might appreciate my speaking up on their behalf. Often, there are several.

Again, the choice of how to proceed in this situation is yours and yours alone. As always, in all situations, I encourage you to treat others with compassion, respect, understanding and joy.

Monday, June 8, 2009


Thanks for reading this, my first blog entry here on Blogger. You may know me from my short stories, my drumming, or my short films and music videos. While references to these pastimes may appear within my posts on this site, the primary aim here is to post information and ideas that may be of interest to atheists, agnostics and freethinkers -- and possibly even to open-minded followers of religions.

One thing you will not find here is hatred. I am of the opinion that faith is a crutch -- but if a crutch helps you walk, and you don't hit anyone over the head with it, then it can be a beautiful part of your life. But we all have our crutches. There are dogmatic atheists, just as there are dogmatic Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Mormons, Shintos, Buddhists, etc.

Science and reason are my crutch(es). For me, they are just as fulfilling as faith; more so, in fact. Their results are verifiable, and subject to critical scrutiny. Atheism doesn't preclude ethics -- quite the opposite. For instance, while I treat others as I would like to be treated, I don't do this because Jesus or Buddha told me to. I do it because a lifetime of trial and error has led me to the conclusion that it is a practical, loving way to go about my daily life.

You can find more information on me and what I do by checking my website: You can also meet me, if you like, at the annual Long Island Pride Parade on Sunday, June 14, at 1:00 PM in Huntington, NY. This long-running parade and festival is the biggest parade in New York state outside of NYC. I march in support of the GLBT community, but also as a proud atheist. After the parade, I will be at the CFI-LI table at the festival in Heckscher Park. Hope to see you there. It's a fun event, with music and games and all sorts of fascinating marchers.

Again, thanks for reading. Looking forward to hearing what you think as this blog progresses.

- Amy Frushour Kelly, O.C.P.