Oct 30, 2013

The Great Commission and the state of Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania State Representative Mark Longietti, a Democrat from Mercer County, recently spoke on his religious reasons for opposing posting "In God We Trust" signs prominently in public schools: 
I have an obligation as a Christian to evangelize. The Great Commission tells me to go and make disciples. But it doesn't tell me to use the government to do that and I think the reason that my faith is that way is because that's not very effective. It really doesn’t change hearts. What changes hearts is one somebody on a personal level shares their faith … 
I think when we do things like this, even though it's talked about from a historical perspective, we create the false impression that somehow we have done our duty in that we have accomplished what we, if we are Christian as I am, are called to do and, really, we've abrogated our duty.
Longietti is a Baptist. He has been a member of his Baptist church since 1976, according to his official bio. He also leads worship at the church and teaches Sunday School.

The bill to require the phrase "In God We Trust" to be displayed in schools passed the Pennsylvania House's education committee last week. It will go up for a vote by the whole house this session, most likely. Longietti's argument was not the main argument against the measure, though it's an interesting one, which shows why the matter of a religiously neutral state is not simply a fight between the religious and the secular. Hemant Mehta reviews the arguments for and defenses of the "National Motto Display Act" raised by the Pennsylvania education committee.

Oct 29, 2013

When I went to a hell house

The man in this picture is a Georgia Baptist, doing his best impersonation of a demon in hell:

Baptist Satan

Such scenes are reenacted every year, about this time, at evangelical churches across America. I visited a hell house in Oct., 2008, while working as a reporter for a small metro Atlanta paper. The story I wrote had the headline, "'Going through hell' at Corinth Baptist": 
When Satan stomps onto the stage, a cowering and scowling demon says, 'Your master plan is still disguised as world peace.'  
Satan shouts 'Yeah!' at every account of Earthly iniquity, opening his mouth and exhaling, 'ha ha ha ha!' He raises his hands in victory when he hears how people were gunned down in church and there are gangs in even the 'hoity-toity' malls, and he yells out, 'Yes!'  

Oct 28, 2013

Economic crisis continues to hurt Protestant churches

It's bad news for the religious real estate market. From the November issue of Christianity Today: 
Hundreds of congregations have filed for bankruptcy or defaulted on loans. University of Illinois law professor Pamela Foohey, who tracks church bankruptcies, says more than 500 congregations filed Chapter 11 between 2006 and 2011-- and the pace hasn't slowed since. About 90 congregations filed for bankruptcy in 2012 ... 
These numbers should be kept in perspective. Ninety congregations isn't that many when there are more than 300,000 in the US. Since the financial crisis, there has been a spike in foreclosures on houses of worship, but anecdotal reporting makes this seem more significant than it is. During the worst year, the banks repossessed 138 churches. Even at that point, though, only one congregation out of every 2,500 was defaulting on loans.

Still, continued defaults and bankruptcies are not good signs.

Add that data to all the other signs, and it seems the financial crisis of 2008 has had serious impact on the economics of American religious institutions, possibly with effects we can not yet fully calculate. The news of real estate problems, for example, follows reports that giving to Protestant churches has declined for four straight years.

Oct 27, 2013

Public prayers like these

The Supreme Court is going to take up the issue of public prayer in the near future, in the case of Town of Greece vs. Galloway. Specifically, it will take up the issue of the constitutionality of prayers opening up government meetings.

More specifically, the issue of the legality of these prayers and prayers like these:

Videos of a number of the prayers at the heart of this case are available online. When the question of First Amendment law -- discrimination, endorsement, coercion, "respecting an establishment of religion" and all the rest -- gets too abstract, it's worthwhile to return to the actual acts being disputed. 

The question is about the place of religion in the public square. The question is about the relationship between a government and a public, quasi-official religious act, and what it should be, and how to know when it is or isn't as it should be. The issue is also very concrete, though, and very specific. Did these prayers said by these ministers in this context serve, effectively, as demonstrations of government endorsements of Christianity, in violation of the Constitution's prohibition on respecting an establishment of religion?

Watch the videos for yourself.

The court's scheduled to decide the issue this term. 

Oct 25, 2013

Churches' redistribution of wealth

"It is allowed to pass as an unquestioned doctrine in regard to social class that 'the rich' ought to 'care for the poor'; that Churches especially ought to collect capital from the rich and spend it for the poor; that parishes ought to be clusters of institutions by means of which one social class should perform its duty to another; and that clergymen, economist, and social philosophers have a technical and professional duty to devise schemes for 'helping the poor.'"

-- William Graham Sumner, "What Social Classes Owe to Each Other," 1883

Oct 23, 2013

Missing the point of snake handling

In 1976, one old snake-handling pentecostal recalled what may have been the first time that someone died of snake handling. It was more than 50 years before. It was, he wrote, a surprise. Mostly because the snake handler had been bitten so much, and it'd never been lethal before.

"One man," wrote James Benton Ellis, "who had been bitten 230 times without harm, was finally bitten one time and died within 30 minutes."

Sometimes people talk about snake-handlers as if they don't get bitten, assuming they don't get bitten. They speculate about what the trick is. How do they do it? Maybe the music hypnotizes the snakes. Maybe the snakes are tame? Maybe they feed the snakes before. Or don't at all? There's a whole history of such speculation, starting from the pretty obviously false assumption that snake handlers escape harm.

NPR is the most recent example of this. NPR suggests it may be science not the supernatural that keeps snake-handling Christians from getting bit. According to John Burnett, the whole thing can perhaps be demystified by snake experts. He writes:
Two weeks ago, NPR reported on a group of Pentecostals in Appalachia who handle snakes in church to prove their faith in God. The story got us thinking: Why are the handlers bitten so rarely, and why are so few of those snakebites lethal? 
After the story aired, NPR was contacted by snake experts who strongly suggest that a snake's reluctance to bite a religious serpent handler may have more to do with the creature's poor health than with supernatural intervention.
There are two problems with this, one scientific, one theological.

First, snake handlers are bitten so rarely compared to what?

Oct 21, 2013

Why church-state lawsuits happen in the fall

The Freedom From Religion Foundation currently has 12 First Amendment lawsuits underway, each attempting to make American government more religiously neutral, more secular. According to P.J. Slinger at The Capitol Times in Wisconsin, "Fighting legal battles over the separation of church and state keeps the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation busy. Very busy."

When is the busiest of the very busy times for those fighting for church-state separation? Fall.

It's the time when the leaves change, football starts, pumpkins ripen, and lawsuits are filed fighting over the place of religion in public life in America.

From Slinger's interview with FFRF co-founder and co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor:
Slinger: Are you currently cramped in your building now, or are you hiring more employees that you will need more space?
Gaylor: It’s both. We can’t expand any more. We’re just sitting in each others' laps. It’s our busiest time of the year in the fall. We just hired a fifth staff attorney to join at the end of the month. So he knows there won’t be a real office for him yet. The attorneys have offices in the library, reception room, so they really don’t have real offices. I have to share my office.  
Slinger: Why is fall your busiest season? 
Gaylor: State-church complaints. Because school's begun, we go from football prayer complaints then to the nativity scene complaints and Christmas-related violations, both in schools and every governmental office. 
The group plans to quadruple their square footage in 2014. FFRF has 13 permanent staff positions, and last year received 2,500 requests for help and sent 1,000 letters of complaint to government agencies. Gaylor says "There's going to be a lot more this year."

For comparison, The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which defends religious practice against government restriction, has 31 current cases, including one where the FFRF is a named party. The Becket Fund has 13 lawyers and a staff of 27.

Oct 20, 2013

'10,000 Reasons' wins Dove awards

"10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)" dominated the Gospel Music Association's 44th annual Christian music awards, winning song of the year, pop song of the year, worship song of the year and songwriter of the year awards for Matt Redman

Redman, a British evangelical, helped found Soul Survivor in the UK in the 1990s and worked with Louie Giglio and Chris Tomlin of Passion City Church in Atlanta from 2008 to 2010. Along with Tomlin, Reman's voice, sensibilities and style serve to shape much of evangelical worship today. His songs have been among the most played in evangelical churches in the last decade. Since October 2004, at least one of his songs has been in the top 10 most-played in US churches every single reporting period. In recent years, Redman's name has appeared on the list of most-played worship music two, three or four times per period, and his 2011 album topped Christian music charts.  

At the Dove Awards this year, he won six trophies, including those for "10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)." The song also won a Grammy for best Christian music earlier this year. The Dove Awards took place on Oct. 15, and will be aired on UP TV Monday night. 

TobyMac, who also won at the Dove Awards, told Billboard that the awards show was a good representation of how relevant Christian music is today. "We flexed our muscles tonight," he said, "and we showed the world that Christian music isn't stodgy. It's filled with life, not only in the lyrics we sing,  but in the style of music that we make."

Oct 17, 2013

'I'm sorry. I don't believe you.'

Madalyn Murray O'Hair debates Phil Donahue, on Donahue's show, circa 1967(?), and answers audience members and callers. Some of them raise unusual arguments: 

Oct 16, 2013

How the moved are moved

It's easy to forget, I find, how people are moved by faith. In faith, by faith, people can sometimes experience the world as totally transformed, as in a moment the most true true thing of all of existence feels revealed in a transfiguration that envelopes and embraces. And is beautiful.

Whatever else a religion does, whatever else it is, culturally, historically, dogmatically, it is for many most essentially this.

One reason I return to conversion stories is to hear about that moment. To remind myself of how that happens and how the faithful, the moved, are so moved.

From Rod Dreher, one such conversion story:
It was in the midst of that crowd, in the midst of the terror, the death, the destruction, that I heard, not in the way you would hear a voice, but inside my head, 'My love is all that matters. And this is who I am.'

I've had God in my head before, twice during times of solitary prayer in masjids, and it is terrifying, overwhelming, engulfing.

I almost never say this publicly, because there are so few people I share this story with. I feel grateful that I was there, at the WTC on that day. I lived in a world where I could have flown an airplane into a tall building and called it righteousness. I was that angry. And there I was, in the midst of someone else’s violent vengeance fantasy, being forced to look hard into the very face of the kinds of things I used the believe ...

It is no small thing to hear, and to say, in a violent and brutal world, in a world where many easily use others for pleasure and profit, 'God is love.'
Do read the whole thing.

Oct 14, 2013

Christian Reconstructionism and the right today

A pretty unhinged and unhelpful analysis of America's rightwing right now:
It's no coincidence that in my new book And God Said, “Billy!”  that I have my character 'Billy' masturbating while he listens to his godly wife read out loud from a book by the guru of all evangelical Dominionist/Reconstructionists -- Rousas Rushdoony. The evangelical world has been metaphorically jacking off to the Rushdoony/Ted Cruz/Koch brothers' political God-hates-everybody-but-us-chosen-few porn for over forty years. Now with the government shutdown they have finally achieved political orgasm.
It's one thing to balance rage and frustration with analysis. It's another to trade the former for the latter. Frank Schaeffer, son of Francis Schaeffer, knows something about the religious right and Christian Reconstructionism, but his slap-dash, connect-the-dots allegations aren't designed for or helpful for anyone trying to understand things. Putting slashes between the name of RJ Rushdoony and the junior senator from Texas and the wealthy libertarians who have funded many rightwing organizations isn't the same as showing that they have anything to do with each other.

How and where and in what way Rushdoony and other Reconstructionists have influenced American politics is a question I'm quite interested in. There is an influence to be studied. But it's simply not the case that
the Reconstructionist movement is a distilled essence of the more mainstream Evangelical version of an exclusionary theology that divides American into the 'Real America' (as the Far Right claims only it is) and the rest of us 'Sinners.' It is also the base of the Koch brothers financed war on our democracy.
That's just crazy talk. As are the fact-free allegations connecting Ted Cruz's father and "legions" of his financial supporters to Christian Reconstructionism.

Actual Reconstructionists' position on the government shutdown are not difficult to find, and are not as neatly political or neatly Republican as one might imagine. They're critical of those who put their faith in politicians, Republicans especially. They're critical, even more, about those who put too much focus on politics at all. That is a large part of what it means to be a Reconstructionist.

A helpful and, by contrast, very grounded argument about America's rightwing right now:
what I find startling, and even surprising, is how absolutely consistent and unchanged the ideology of the extreme American right has been over the past fifty years, from father to son and now, presumably, on to son from father again. The real analogue to today’s unhinged right wing in America is yesterday’s unhinged right wing in America. This really is your grandfather’s right, if not, to be sure, your grandfather’s Republican Party. Half a century ago, the type was much more evenly distributed between the die-hard, neo-Confederate wing of the Democratic Party and the Goldwater wing of the Republicans, an equitable division of loonies that would begin to end after J.F.K.’s death.
As interesting as I find the religious right in all its permutations, any account of the present situation that seriously proposes a Calvinist think tank in Vallecito, California is more relevant than the John Birth Society and the broad, loud anti-Communist movement of the '50s and '60s doesn't know what they're talking about. Or they're lying.

It's like the old saying about two wrongs. Raving about ravings doesn't make you reasonable.

Oct 12, 2013

'For Christ's sake, let's ride'

From the documentary collection, Meet Me Here

The filmmaker's report that for these East Texans, 
Motorcycles might be the first entry point ... but it seems the larger bond is to community. Quite a few people we met had somewhat troubled pasts. Our sense is that finding such a welcoming, non-judgmental group must be very appealing. And being part of the church seemed to give them a greater purpose when out on the open road.
According to the Atlantic, there are 20 biker churches in the United States, and an additional 1,000 Christian biker clubs. There's also at least one Jewish biker group, the King David Bikers.

The group strikes me as, in many ways, paradigmatic of much of contemporary American religion, spirituality, and culture generally. Though they're of course their own unique thing, why and how they're that thing speaks also to the present condition in which we all live and move.

Oct 11, 2013

Protestants turn to the poor

Since the financial crisis, Protestant pastors have turned their attention to poverty, a new study finds
According to a series of telephone surveys conducted by LifeWay Research between 2008 and 2012, there is a growing awareness of and involvement in social justice ministries among Protestant churches in the United States, aimed at caring for the forgotten, disenfranchised, and oppressed. 
Almost all -- 95 percent -- of the 1,000 or more Protestant senior pastors we surveyed agreed that caring for the poor is mandated by the gospel. When pastors believe this, their churches tend to care more about social justice issues. Studies show the percentage of churches engaged in care for the poor has increased over the past four years.
About a year after the financial crisis, poverty had even outpaced hot-button social issues as the "most important issue facing our country" for Protestant pastors:

It's probably worth noting, though, that for many Protestants, particularly conservative evangelicals, there's no connection between a Biblical mandate to care for the poor and support for government programs to care for the poor. Increasing attention to the "social gospel" does not directly connect to support for or advocacy for political policies that benefit the poor or reform the economic systems producing poverty. It connects rather to charities and church-supported programs. 

Much of what's here being called the "social gospel" (though by no means all of it) could also correctly be called compassionate conservatism.

Oct 10, 2013

Billy Graham's big ads

The latter days of Billy Graham's long career as "America's Pastor" may well be remembered with words and images such as this:

This is a full-age ad that ran in the New York Times late last month. It calls attention to the case of Calvary Chapel pastor Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American convert to Christianity who was arrested in Iran in 2012 and sentenced to eight years in prison. His lawyers say Abedini was building an orphanage. Iran says he was undermining national security, specifically through his evangelistic efforts. Abedini's cause has been important to evangelicals since his arrest a year ago, and has been taken up by the US State Department as well. When President Obama spoke to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in a historic phone conversation in September, Abedini's fate was one of the things they talked about. 

Graham's ad ran on Sept. 26, the anniversary of Abedini's arrest, two days before Obama's conversation with Rouhani. According to the Ashville, North Carolina Citizen Times (Graham's hometown paper), Graham's message was sent to the Iranian president in a letter and published at the same time as a paid advertisement.

The evangelist's involvement in this issue isn't particularly controversial and hasn't stirred too much conversation. As the North Carolina paper notes, though, this is something of a new thing for Graham, taking public stances on big political issues, putting his weight behind causes in this way. 

Reporter John Boyle writes:
Graham has been in poor health in recent years but remains mentally alert and up on world affairs, according to his son, the Rev. Franklin Graham, who now heads the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association ... 
While the elder Graham has always been politically connected, counseling numerous American presidents, he has typically not spoken out in advertisements or via letter on hot-button political issues. That leads some observers to suggest Franklin Graham is pushing the issues, not his father.
The ad is actually the third featuring the now-94-year-old evangelist since the spring of 2012. This is the third time he's intervened in this way into politics, foreign and domestic, lending his name, his reputation, and his authority to a cause. Each of these ads are similar in style, prominently featuring the iconic visage of the elder preacher -- somber and strong and determined -- along with a political message from Graham and his signature.

This is how his image is being presented and how his ministry represented in his latter days.

Oct 9, 2013

Evangelical arguments against the death penalty

Marvin Olasky, a significant conservative evangelical gatekeeper, has a long, series-launching piece in World Magazine this month questioning the death penalty.

Olasky, who is editor-in-cheif at World, doesn't question the death penalty in principle, but in practice. The argument of the piece is that "The Bible sets a very high bar for capital punishment, and the American legal system today rarely reaches it."

Oct 6, 2013

Oct 5, 2013

Religious liberty, in theory

"We believe that a theory whose weak point is the potential inclusion of highly improbable hypothetical cases is preferable by far to one that excludes core beliefs and values on the pretext that they do not sufficiently resemble paradigmatic core religious or secular convictions."

-- Jocelyn MacLure and Charles Taylor, Secularism and Freedom of Conscience

Oct 4, 2013

Snake handling and the First Amendment

Jamie Coots, a snake-handling Pentecostal who has recently been featured on a reality TV show, is taking his moment of fame to defend the constitutional right of his religious practice. Religious liberty, he says, should extend even to the little, peculiar sects.

In the Wall Street Journal, he writes:
As pastor at the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name, a Pentecostal church in Middlesboro, Ky., I and my congregants regularly handle venomous snakes such as copperheads and rattlesnakes as part of our services. This might seem strange, but it's no less worthy of legal protection than the more common traditions observed by Jews, Muslims and mainstream Christians. In fact, as members of a small and unpopular religious minority, congregants of serpent-handling churches are precisely the sort of worshipers that the Constitution was designed to protect.
Snake handling, though recognized as a religious act since at least 1910, is against the law is most states. Coots has been arrested and fined a number of times for possessing poisonous snakes -- in one case 74 of them. "Practicing my faith," he writes, "remains a crime across the country ... While the risk of arrest hasn't weakened my religious conviction, it has forced me to question America's commitment to religious liberty."

As far as I know, this is the first time a snake handler has written an op-ed for a major American paper. Coots, along with some other young snake handlers, have been using media differently than generations past, including, now, participating in the national debate over religious liberty and the meaning of the First Amendment's promise about "free exercise thereof."

Chuck Smith, 1927 - 2013

Christianity Today:
Chuck Smith, the evangelical pastor whose outreach to hippies in the 1960s helped transform worship styles in American Christianity and fueled the rise of the Calvary Chapel movement, died Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013, after a battle with lung cancer. He was 86.
Smith was one of the truly transformational figures in contemporary American evangelicalism, and one who has been mostly overlooked by journalists and academics. He never attracted the attention of a Jerry Falwell or a Billy Graham or even a Rick Warren. But like each of those men, he was an influential force felt by faithful evangelicals across America. As Ed Stetzer says, he helped to remap American evangelicalism.

In the 1970s, Smith was one of the first to open church doors to the burgeoning Jesus People movement. He was, at the time, the pastor of an independent pentecostal church of conservative suburbanites in Orange County, California. After meeting several beach hippies who had converted to Christianity, Smith decided to change his church so that it would be open and welcoming to these new Christians.

He ended up changing a lot.

Famously, when his parishioners complained about the dirty hippies ruining the church's new carpet, Smith threatened to rip the carpet out rather than turn anyone away.

That was, effectively, the start of "seeker-sensitive" services.

In the definitive work on the Jesus People movement, God's Forever Family, Larry Eskridge writes that Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa's tnansformation involved a new style of music and different dress standards -- "as the kids came to the church in patched blue jeans, T-shifts, football jerseys, peasant dresses, bare feet, sandals, and sneakers" -- but it also "went beyond matters of style." Under Smith, Calvary Chapel also saw the birth of contemporary Christian praise-and-worship music, and he popularized verse-by-verse expository Bible preaching.

Greg Laurie, a famous and influential pastor in his own right, recalls that preaching changing everything for him. He says the first time he went to the beach church, it was filled with hippies and then "Pastor Chuck," an old guy, came up front:
He sat on this little stool and he just opened up his Bible and I remember his smile. He just sort of beamed when he smiled and I thought, he seems like a pretty happy guy for an old guy, you know? And then he began to teach the Bible. And what amazed me was, I understood what he was saying.
The "Calvary Chapel style," as it has been called, emphasized two core beliefs of American evangelicalism: that anyone can, if they will only accept it, have a moving personal experience with God, and two, that the Bible is God's word and is relevant and applicable to contemporary individual's daily life.

The style was successful and has been widely adopted, though not without controversy. It can be seen now, though, as a hallmark of American evangelicalism. Many had that same experience Laurie had, and experience of recognition, of understanding, of feeling moved by the message of Christ delivered in this style and feeling like they understood, perhaps for the first time, why it mattered.

Oct 3, 2013

The stunts of televangelist Gene Scott

One of the more peculiar characters in the history of televangelism was California's Gene Scott. Televangelism has never attracted the staid and conventional, but Scott was peculiar even in that rarefied company.

Like, for example, when he decided his television ministry needed an equestrian team. Describing the decision in the LA Times in 1994, Glenn F. Bunting writes:
To attract new viewers, Scott ... decided that his church needed a TV sports franchise, something comparable to Ted Turner's Atlanta Braves. Enter the equestrian team. 'There are so many horses' asses on television that I wanted to show the world what a whole horse looked like,' Scott is fond of saying.

Using proceeds from the sale of his art prints, Dr. Gene Scott Inc. acquired the Silver Oaks Ranch in Bradbury, valued at $11 million in 1989, and a stable of more than 100 show horses that are now believed to be worth millions.

First-time viewers 'stop to see the horses because they are a class act,' Scott told viewers in January. 'And before they know it, this cigar-smokin' preacher is talkin' about something a little different than a rantin'-and-ravin', hellfire-and-brimstone hypocrite preacher. And they stop to see the horses and end up hooked on the teachin'. That's it. All you get on this network is me and the horses and the music. Clear?'

'Clear!' his volunteers shouted obediently from behind studio phone banks.

'Just thought I'd say that. Get on the telephone!'
The horses were a stunt, but a stunt that cost a lot of money and was, in the end, also deeply connected with the idea of the show and the presentation of the man himself. The same was probably true of his trademark cigar, the dancing girls, the wacky hats, and the odd worship songs such as "Kill a Pissant for Jesus." They seem to signify nothing and, also, a lot.

They seem to be evidence of a man unhinged, but also of a man who knows exactly what he's doing.

Or maybe it's just a certain kind of off-kilterness. In 1981, Werner Herzog -- himself a connoisseur of off-kilterness -- did a documentary on Scott. It originally aired in West Germany with the title Glaube und Wärhung, "Belief and Currency." In the US, it was retitled God's Angry Man. Though the documentary is from before the hats and horses, Scott's peculiarity is on full display.

If nothing else, the man had the incredible skill of making fund raising suspenseful.

Oct 2, 2013

Leonard J. Kerpelman, 1925 - 2013

Leonard J. Kerpelman, a lawyer who won a landmark Supreme Court case over Bible recitation in public schools, has died in Baltimore. He was 88. 

Kerpelman was an eccentric figure, an iconoclast fond of unpopular cases and causes.

"A wallflower, Kerpelman never was," wrote Baltimore Sun columnist Michael Olesker in 1993. "You want to talk unpopular, this man was unpopular. And uncaring about it. He kept taking on clients and causes nobody else wanted."

Upon news of Kerpelman's death, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley agreed that was a common view, but not the only one. "Some found him irascible and cantankerous," O'Malley said. "He appeared to me to be a relentless and principled advocate. I admired the fearlessness and the nonchalant courage with which he took on authority and convention."

Kerpelman first attracted national attention in the early 1950s, when he represented a Freethought group suing to end religious tax exemptions. He told the Associated Press that he himself was an Orthodox Jew and that his decision to take the case had offended some of his Jewish friends. But, he claimed, "there's no place in the Bible that says churches have to spend this much money looking good." The legal question wasn't about religious liberty but about the right relationship of church and state.

It was Kerpelman's advocacy for one answer to that question that earned him his place in history.

Oct 1, 2013

Atheist outreach

A different sort of atheist outreach is happening at some American universities, this week: It's Hug an Atheist Week.

With one Hug-an-Atheist tent, a secular student group at the University of Illinois, Champaign, raised $110 in one afternoon, last year, at $1 a hug. The money went to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Organized through the Foundation Beyond Belief, similar groups across the country, all together, raised $430,000 for medical research to cure Leukemia and Lymphoma. 

As one Iron Maiden fan from Illinois explains, though, the goal is also to change people's perspectives on atheists:

There is also a documentary out with the same name. The two efforts do not appear to be directly related, though similarly motivated.

Hug an Atheist Week runs from Oct. 1 to 7.