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Atheists Cry Also

by Frank Greene

The following article is from the Secular Humanist Bulletin, Volume 17, Number 4.

In the days that followed the tragedy of September 11, the news reports were full of stories about people turning to religion for comfort and understanding. As a nontheist, I could not do this. I felt left out of the public mourning for the loss of so many other human beings. My pain and sorrow were multiplied and twisted tight about my heart because I believe that the life that was taken away from so many innocent people was the only life they will ever have. I had no god to wipe away my tears with assurances that loved ones would be seen again, that evil would be turned into good, and that God would avenge us.

I have no god to console me, no angels to guide me. I cry in anger when I learn that the men who did this believe they are doing God's will-that God wants them to murder other human beings who do not agree with them; that God will grant them eternal life for giving their lives to take the lives of others. Mingled in my tears I taste the stinging salt of the tears of Northern Ireland, Palestine, Israel, Macedonia, and other blood-drenched lands torn by unholy jihads, crusades of destruction, and inquisitions of fire. Religion against religion, race against race, ethnic group against ethnic group, brother against brother, urged on by a schizophrenic god cheering for both sides.

What is the sense in Jerry Falwell and Pat Robinson's blaming the attacks on pagans, abortionists, feminists, homosexuals, the American Civil Liberties Union, and People for the American Way? These mean and small men, who offer us only a god of punishment and revenge, continue to sow seeds of hatred and division that can only bloom in violence. Shame!

But I know I am not alone, not abandoned. As a humanist I find hope in humanity, in my fellow human beings. As I watched the televised gatherings in famous places of worship I realized that the real point was not religion, but humans getting together to embrace, to touch, to hold, to sing, to talk, to say out loud that life is worth living, that freedom from fear is precious and must not be taken away. When I attended a candlelight vigil in an attempt to find a catharsis for my confusion, the emptiness I had felt began to subside. I found no answers-I didn't expect any-but I did have a little more hope. People getting together to express the oneness of their humanity is hopeful.

Only peace, not violence, can come from this. I have been able to find comfort in the arts, listening to music, attending theater-a reminder of the best that humans can create, sharing our oneness in human achievements. But the true greatness of humanity is shown by the altruism of the firefighters, the police, and the medical personnel, many giving their lives in the attempt to save lives-no sermons, no revelation from God, just a job to be done.

This is the sad lesson to be learned here-and it is essential that we learn it. As Americans we must look to our "sacred texts," the Constitution and Bill of Rights, to reaffirm our freedoms and the dignity of each human being. We must also reaffirm and respect the wisdom of our Founding Fathers that religion must be kept out of politics. The Taliban have shown in such a terrifying way that religious fanatics can pick and choose from the Koran to justify hate and destruction. All the history of the Crusades, religious wars of the past, and the religious/political bloodshed going on in so many places in the world today have shown that mixing religion and politics can be a very volatile combination. Let us separate church and state so that we do not separate people.

Frank Greene is editor of the WASHLINE, the newsletter of the Washington Area Secular Humanists. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post declined to publish this piece.

[*] Secular Humanism Online Library

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