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Atheist speaks at Montclair church

by Rockero Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2009 at 2:18 AM

Atheist speaks at Montclair church: Addresses censorship and church-state separation violation in Rancho Cucamonga February 22, 2009 MONTCLAIR, California -- Dan Barker, influential atheist and co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, addressed a full house today at the Monte Vista Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Montclair, a quiet community on the western end of San Bernardino County known more for its shopping mall than as a bastion of religious tolerance and freethought. One topic on the minds of many in the audience was the recent controversy surrounding a FFRF-sponsored billboard reading "Imagine No Religion" in the nearby city of Rancho Cucamonga. Despite the foundation's contract with the billboard company to display the message for a month, the sign was censored after a mere five days. Legal action against the city is pending.

Atheist speaks at Mo...
imagine.jpg, image/jpeg, 608x900

Meanwhile, in the neighboring city of Chino, a group of right-wing evangelicals held a three-day conference that, according to the local paper, attracted thousands of people and focussed on "biblical prophecy." These evangelicals teach that economic troubles and violence in the Middle East are signs of the "End Times," often called the "Tribulation." Through these teachings, which also demonize Islam, feminism, secularism, and homosexuality, they bring about tribulations indeed: war, homophobia, sexism, domestic violence, closed-mindedness, and white supremacy are all part of the same system that seeks to monopolize religious "truth" and execute it through public policy.

Needless to say it was a relief to hear a voice of reason in these troubled times, and one whose prescriptions could very well help bring about a more tolerant, peaceful society. And it was even more encouraging to see that the lecture was so well-attended. Visitors filled the primary parking lot as well as the overflow lot, and every seat appeared to be taken.

The service began with Barker, who is also an accomplished musician, performing the song "Beware of Dogma" on the piano. "Did you know the tango was outlawed by the church?" he asked in a spoken interlude. "The tango was sinful, sensuous, evil. So what better reason to start with a tango?"

A member of the congregation led the service, and seeing the number of visitors present, began with a brief explanation of Unitarian Universalist beliefs.

"We believe in the freedom of religious expression; we believe in the tolerance of religious ideas. We believe in the authority of reason and conscience; we believe in the neverending search for truth. We believe in the unity of experience; we believe in the worth and dignity of each human being. We believe in the ethical application of religion. We accept and acknowledge, gays, lesbians, and transgenders, so welcome all."

After some announcements and opening rituals, including the lighting of the chalice, friendship time, a recitation, and a hymn, the service leader introduced the speaker, explaining his local connections. "Dan chose the life of a preacher, and from 1968-72, attended Azusa Pacific University. He was an associate pastor at churches in La Puente, Arcadia, and Standard, a town in the foothills north of Yosemite." And later, "On January 16, 1984, this pastor and accomplished Christian musical composer sent out a letter, from the mailbox in front of Chaffey High School in Ontario, by the way, to more than 50 colleagues, friends, and family members announcing his newfound atheism."

Barker began by talking about the growth in atheism and agnosticism. "Twenty years ago when I started doing these talks, and started working for freethought,I could count five or six groups around the country that were atheist, skeptic, humanist, whatever you want to call them. Today, the Secular Student Alliance [has] about 150 college groups that have sprouted up." He emphasized the spontaneity of the growth, as well as the increased demand for atheist materials. "The success of all these atheist books, Dawkins, and Hitchens and Harris and Dennett shows that there's a market, there's a hunger, there's a drive."

He described the foundation's activities, including a PR campaign called "Wake up America." "Let's try putting up some billboards around the country to to fight back, to have equal time. The first one we put up was a stained-glass motif, it was simple, it said, 'Beware of Dogma.'" It was the second billboard, however, which was placed in Rancho Cucamonga: "Imagine no Religion."

According to Barker, "someone in the city got complaints and called the billboard company and suggested that this 'Imagine no religion' was not appropriate. So the billboard company took it down, they refunded the money, and [...] destroyed the sign. We could've reused it!"

The foundation filed suit against the with the U.S. District Court on November 28, claiming the removal "conveyed a message that religion is favored, preferred and promoted by the city of Rancho Cucamonga," a violation of the establishment clause.

Apparently, Rancho Cucamonga is not alone in its intolerant attitudes toward atheism, as Barker went on to relate problems in other cities, including sites important to the history of atheism in the US such as Dayton, Tennessee (the site of the Scopes trial) and Dover, Pennsylvania, (where a judge ruled against the teaching of "intelligent design" as science).

The billboards are designed to show people that "[W]e atheists are not barging into churches and dragging people out of the pews and saying, 'you should stop!' When was the last time an atheist knocked on your front door? It's not what we do. We're live and let live. It's a free country, but we want a place at the table. We want to be part of that quilt, that fabric of America."

He went on to talk about how he became an atheist, which was an interesting voyage beginning in the evangelical mindset, heading toward moderation, and ending with atheism and advocacy. As an evangelical: "So, after a while I would turn and look at you, sitting on the bus next to me, and chit-chatting for a while, and 'Excuse me for saying this, but it seems to me that you are going through some real struggles in your life right now.'" Then, in the role of his unfortunate seatmate, and with a look of bewilderment on his face, "How does he know?? [...] You'd be surprised how many people fall for that. But I was that kind of person, and I didn't change my mind lightly."

But his work as a composer a musician exposed him to other types of Christians. "I started getting invitations from churches that were not as extremely absolutistic as I was, and it made me uncomfortable. I met other flavors of Christians, and that started me on a process."

He ended with some of the merits of atheism.

This enlightening lecture provided a welcome alternative to the extremist view receiving so much attention less than ten miles away.
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Dan Barker

by Rockero Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2009 at 2:18 AM

Dan Barker...
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Dan Barker

by Rockero Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2009 at 2:18 AM

Dan Barker...
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by Rockero Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2009 at 2:18 AM

freedom.jpg, image/jpeg, 2472x3296

the other one said "Peace"
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"Imagine No Religion" - talk by Dan Barker

by Rockero Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2009 at 2:18 AM

audio: MP3 at 55.5 mebibytes

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Imagine No Religion sign in Hollywood SCHA-LA Friday, Feb. 27, 2009 at 7:59 AM
Imagine No Religion sign in Hollywood SCHA-LA Friday, Feb. 27, 2009 at 8:00 AM

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