Friday, July 30, 2004

The Invocation of an Atheist, Continued

This is the opening invocation delivered by Michael R. Harvey of Atheists of Florida at Thursday's meeting of the Tampa City Council:

An invocation is an appeal for guidance from a supernatural power, but it is not only that. It is also a call, a petition, to positive action on behalf of and for a diverse citizenry. On behalf of Atheists of Florida, I would like to express our gratitude in being invited to deliver today's invocation.

We are committed to the separation of state and church as defined by the United States Constitution. It is the core value of that remarkable and visionary document to protect the human-derived rights of all people in the continuous struggle for equal opportunities to pursue a safe and decent quality of life.

When an invocation takes on the form of public prayer, it is also a violation of the very principles upon which our country and Constitution were founded. Although we are dismayed that the practice of public prayer by governing bodies charged with representing all citizens still continues in violation of the Constitution, we also recognize that this practice has become deeply embedded in the national psyche.

Elected and appointed leaders who wish to seek the guidance of a deity can do so in private, as is their right. But not in the public arena where the establishment of religion is an assured end-result.

History - that ever-unfolding, ever-flowering story of human civilization - teaches us that the rights and accomplishments of humanity are the results of its past struggles, and that the road less traveled is many times the highest path to human progress. We therefore invoke this council and all of our leaders to be guided and inspired by the invaluable lessons of history, the honest insights of science, the guileless wisdom of logic, and the heart and soul of our shared humanity - compassion and tolerance.

So rather than clasping your hands, bowing your heads and closing your eyes, open your arms to that which truly makes us strong - our diversity. Raise your heads and open your eyes to recognize and fully understand the problems before you and know that ultimately, solutions to human problems can come only from human beings.

Thank you.

(I’ve put the full address here, as it was posted at the St. Petersburg Times web site, so that you can read it all for yourselves; and so that subsequent quotes are not taken out of context.)

Beyond the rant against the separation of church and state, which has taken a form different from what the “Founding Fathers” of the American nation intended when the concept of separation was written into the Constitution, we see from Mr. Harvey’s “invocation” that the government is to be guided by the “invaluable lessons of history, the honest insights of science, the guileless wisdom of logic, and the heart and soul of our shared humanity - compassion and tolerance.” There is nothing here to which a Christian might object; except, perhaps, the last part of the phrase.

Going back to an earlier posting, where the definition of invocation includes the making of “an appeal to a higher power for assistance,” it would seem that atheists, through the agency of their representative, Mr. Harvey, would appeal to human history, science, logic, compassion, and tolerance. History is replete with both good examples and horrific tragedies. Science, or rather, the fruits of scientific discoveries, are dependent upon the moral character of those who utilize these; the same power that can split the atom to light the world can, and has been, used to destroy cities in an instant. As for logic, compassion, and tolerance: the laws of Nazi Germany were, within their own framework, logical, as were the laws in Stalin’s Russia; as were the laws of this land, allowing the ownership of slaves and excluding all but property-owning males from the political process. Many today think that the murder of unborn children is compassionate; and would extend the same to the murder (they call it “euthanasia”) of persons who, because of some infirmity or deformity, are prevented from living what others would consider “full and happy lives.” Tolerance is also a behavior that seems to be in an increasingly short supply in our society today.

Christians are not perfect in this regard. We cannot deny that a number of wrongs, evils, and atrocities have been committed by Christians as we look at history, and even trends of thought in certain circles today. But our standards of what is moral, of what is ethical, are not dependent upon some “wishful thinking” about “what is brightest and best and possible” in human nature. We know about human nature; we know why wrongs and evils and atrocities occur, because we know about the fallen state of human nature. We also know that there is another standard – God’s standard – by which we are to live; and we know that there is power available – God’s power – to make the transformation of our being possible.

Mr. Harvey urged the members of the Tampa City Council not to fold their hands or close their eyes or bow their heads in prayer, and to recognize that the only source of solutions to human problems is human beings. As Christians, we acknowledge that the source of human problems is human beings; and that, unless we lift our eyes from ourselves to the higher power of God, we will never find our way out of the morass in which we find ourselves today.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

More Thoughts about Marriage

Some of these have been rattling around inside my head (plenty of room there to do that, what with my lack of brains and all) since the debate over the approval of same-sex marriages began; while others have just popped up with recent developments. In the best blogging tradition, I’ll share these with you now. Let me state, up front and for the record, that I do not approve of same-sex marriages; and will not perform them, regardless of what the state may allow, or perhaps, even one day, require.

First of all, I have yet to comprehend the argument often advanced by the “religious right” (whoever they are…) that the state’s approval of same-sex marriages somehow “threatens” the institution of marriage, and the family. What? I mean, if tomorrow Adam and Steve were allowed by the State of Arizona to enter into marriage (as defined by the state), suddenly the union between my wife (32 years this December; and, by the grace of God, counting) and myself is less than it was before; or is in danger of dissolving? I don’t think so. Or is someone trying to suggest that, if same-sex marriages are permitted, men and women will stop getting married; or that those who are now married will start getting divorced? Again, I don’t think so. (As for marriage and divorce in general; with the ratio now being essentially 1:1, and Christians being pretty much on track with the rest of society, it’s pretty obvious we have some house-cleaning of our own to do… but that’s a topic for another rant…er, blog.)

As for the perceived “threat” to the family, well, it might be easier there to make a case for those who are concerned. But we need to be aware of developments that are taking place, such as this report by the American Psychological Association's Council of Representatives Working Group on Same-Sex Families and Relationships; which finds there are no barriers to same-sex marriages based on the psychological impacts on children. The news article states that the APA “…found same-sex and heterosexual couples remarkably similar, and parenting effectiveness and children's psychological well-being unrelated to parental sexual orientation.” Again, I don’t agree with this study; I haven’t read anything other than a report mentioning it. My point is, we must be ready to give answers to those who ask about our position, given the existence of documents of this kind.

Once upon a time, when I was still in the Episcopal Church, I read extensively on the debate over women’s ordination. In the course of this study, I came upon a scientific evaluation written by a Roman Catholic theologian of German background. (Women in the Priesthood: A Systematic Analysis in the Light of the Order of Creation and Redemption; by Manfred Hauke; Ignatius Press, 1988.) It’s been years now since I gave away my copy; but I still recall one part of his argument that applies here. Hauke makes the point that the differences between men and women are more than mere “accidents of plumbing”; that, in fact, the differences are found at the cellular level (with the exception of the gametes). There arises from this a morphological that is distinguishable between males and females. (Granted, there are exceptions to this, at the level of individuals.) One observation, remarkably, has a testimony on its behalf in almost every public place. Males, observed Hauke, tend to be angular; and especially in the geometric shape that can be derived from the shoulders to the hips, which tends to be triangular. Women, on the other hand, tend to be rounded instead of angular. (And, if you note the symbols on public restrooms, you find a triangle for the men, and a circle for the women.) Hauke also observed that men tend to be “outwardly directed”; while women are “inwardly directed.” Men, following the outward direction, were the hunters and protectors from outside threats; while women gathered and maintained the “family circle.”

Without commenting on Hauke’s science, I must say that I certainly agree with his observations. My own observation is that, “Dads are for danger, while moms are for comfort.” It’s usually the dads who are “flying” their kids when they are small; pushing them higher on the swings; and later on, teaching them to drive. When a child skins a knee or cuts a finger, or is teased by others, it’s usually the mom who tends to the wounds, both physical and emotional. That’s how the family works. Each parent is also a role model for their children of either gender; giving rise as well to the “axiom” that “men tend to marry their mothers, while girls tend to marry their fathers.” (And, obviously, this doesn’t mean the parent; but, rather, someone who displays the qualities and attributes of that parent.) And here’s where the rub comes for children in same-sex “families.” When the couple consists of Adam and Steve, who is the mom? When Jill and Jane are “husband and wife,” who is the dad? What will happen over time with this change in role models? Here’s one point where I’m quite sure the APA report falls several bricks short of a load…

The Point of It All

Even if we concede that the state has the power to redefine “marriage” so as to allow same-sex unions (or, for that matter, polygamy, or polyandry, or some other arrangement); and even if we concede (a step I’m not ready to take) that such “alternative lifestyles” have no negative psychological impact on the children of such unions, it ultimately must be said that the state’s power is purely temporal; and, apart from faith groups (of which the APA is not – unless it is the “humanist” faith, which may be the case), the same is true for their line of reasoning. Ours, on the other hand, goes beyond the temporal, beyond this world.

I have never been satisfied with the line of reasoning that goes, “God said it; I believe it; that settles it”; but I don’t think I can make a better summary of the situation than that. Marriage is part of the revelation of God; and it’s hard to argue with it, if only on the basis that the system works for the perpetuation of the species; man and woman joining together – hopefully on the basis of faith in God and love for each other – and forming families, bringing children into the world as God bestows them. Adam and Steve may love each other; and so may Jill and Jane; but they can’t procreate on their own, and that should tell us something about what our Creator intends, as well as the institutions of marriage and the family, which are also a part of His creation. We may not, when we think only in terms of the world, like what God has done; but that doesn’t change what God has done. We either accept or reject His action, and His revelation; and, if the state changes from a position in agreement with the revealed will of God to one of opposition, so much for the state. We, as Christians, are called to hold fast to the things of God, even when the state does otherwise.

Well, I could say more; but this is probably more than enough for now…

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

The Federal Marriage Amendment Petition

Today's email had the following appeal:

Follow the link below to add your name to this important petition in support of the Federal Marriage Amendment. Go to to sign.

It was from a family member, someone I love and respect; and so I felt I should send them a reply. This is what I wrote back in response to their request:

Dear _______,

Thanks for thinking of me when sending this. I'm not going to do as your email suggested; and I thought I'd tell you why.

Based upon my experience in working with the legislatures in Illinois and Arizona, I can tell you that things that come by way of form letters, preprinted post cards, and petitions, carry little or no influence in the offices of the legislators who receive them. They know that all people have done, for the most part, is sign their name -- making little or no other effort to deal with the issue beyond a moment with a pen. What carries far more impact is a personal letter: brief, and to the point; and in your own words -- or a telephone call (not part of an organized phone campaign). These types of activities get the attention of elected officials; while petitions and other things in the same category are just brushed aside.

Your elected officials (and mine) at both the local, state, and national levels already know that there are people who, because of their religious convictions, oppose the legalization by the state of same-sex marriages. They also know the number of these voters in their districts; and whether or not they can already count on your support. (They have access to excellent polling and demographic information; and don't usually hesitate to use it.) So, in a way, your opinion has already been counted. (This is not to say that you should remain silent; but, again, you have work to do to overcome a situation in which they've already taken your views into account, and decided how, if at all, they will be influenced by you and those who share your views.) By the way, the opinions of those outside of their elective districts, such as is the case when people nationally are invited to sign an on-line petition, counts exactly zero-zilch-nada-nothing...

There is a deeper problem here. We, the religious people, have failed to influence the public debate on marriage and morality; and now are in the position of attempting to use the power of the state to impose our views on others who do not share these views. Even if we are in the majority, we have to recognize that, at some level, this is an act of tyranny -- and sets the stage for the same mechanism to be used against us at some time. (It may already be under way; but that's a topic for another time.) What if God took the same approach with us? He makes His will known; but does not impose it. We are free to choose to obey; or to disobey. Each choice has consequences; but the decision is ours.

So: What if the state chooses to allow the definition of marriage to be redefined in a way that is not consistent with Christian beliefs and teachings? We must hold fast to what we believe, to what God has revealed; and not give in to the powers that will be brought to bear against us. Ultimately, this will be a far more effective form of witness than any constitutional amendment can ever hope to be. And, until that time, we must continue to take a stand, and say, with love and patience, why what God has revealed is the only true path for us, and for all mankind; winning hearts and minds one at a time, for the glory of God, and the salvation of their souls.

unworthy Priest John

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The Invocation of an Atheist: What is Prayer?

The following definitions are derived from the website.

“Prayer” is defined as:


a. A reverent petition made to God, a god, or another object of worship.

b. The act of making a reverent petition to God, a god, or another object of worship.

2. An act of communion with God, a god, or another object of worship, such as in devotion, confession, praise, or thanksgiving:

3. A specially worded form used to address God, a god, or another object of worship.

“Invocation” is defined as:

  1. The act or an instance of invoking, especially an appeal to a higher power for assistance.
  2. A prayer or other formula used in invoking, as at the opening of a religious service.
    1. The act of conjuring up a spirit by incantation.
    2. An incantation used in conjuring.

Why make the distinction? Well, in his comments to my previous blog on July 16th, Michael Harvey, who will give the invocation before the Tampa City Council on July 29th, wrote, “I shall be speaking TO humans, FOR humans, OF humans; no belief in the supernatural required, needed, or desired.” Mr. Harvey continued by stating that his invocation will be much more than a prayer.

Of course, the Orthodox definition of “prayer” would take the dictionary reference cited above as, at best, a starting point. The answer to the question, “what is prayer?” (suggested in the comments by jamesofthenorthwest), as asked and answered in Anthony M. Coniaris’ book, Introducing the Orthodox Church: Its Faith and Life, requires over three pages of quotes (pp. 191-195) – and it is not, by an stretch of the imagination, an exhaustive treatment of the question; rather, it is a portal. But, having said that, we can return to the dictionary definitions and work from these; assuming that we can all agree to these definitions…

Prayer, then, is a conversation with God. Granted, it often tends to be one-sided, with us doing the talking, and God doing the listening; but we can each work on that in our own lives. An invocation is, put another way, a summoning of some source of power, to be brought to bear in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. If not God, then some other god, or elemental power, or…?

If Mr. Harvey stays connected to this thread in my blog (and he’s welcome here), I hope he (as well as any else who reads this) does not take offense; I don’t intend to offend anyone. However, I must say that I don’t get it. When we, as Orthodox Christians, pray (and, having once been a Christian other than Orthodox, this applies for the vast majority as well), we know to Whom we speak; and we trust that the requests we make (invoke) will be heard and acted upon by the power of God. I can grasp that when a practitioner of Wicca invokes, in prayer, some power, they likewise trust that the power will be delivered. But how does one invoke humanity? (Is this even the right question?)

Well, campers, stay tuned. Perhaps, once Mr. Harvey has offered his invocation, and the text becomes available, we might learn more about this interesting question.

Lance Armstrong, American Icon?

Recently, an editorial writer (sorry, I’ve misplaced the reference) opined that Americans would do well to pay more attention to the example of Lance Armstrong, and to follow that example by eating less and exercising more. The editorialist’s point was that Americans may be aware of the athletic feat being pursued by Mr. Armstrong, but not enough to draw the connection to the level of physical fitness required to accomplish the pursuit. I believe the article made a reference to the average American’s major source of activity would be to go to the refrigerator for another snack and beverage whilst in the midst of a commercial break watching televise coverage of the Tour de France.

On that level, I must agree – especially since I am one of the “gravimetrically challenged” (translation: fat) persons on the face of the planet. (Honest, as soon as I’m done typing and posting this, it’s off to the gym to swim!) I certainly need to eat less and exercise more; and, without pointing any fingers, I know I’m not alone. (Y’all know who you are!) I must also agree that the level of mental and physical conditioning required to win an event such as the Tour de France even once is exceptional – maybe even qualifying as a form of asceticism. If Mr. Armstrong wins a sixth consecutive time, as he appears poised to do, it will be an outstanding accomplishment. I have rooted for him since his first race, when he was a remarkable story for his successful battle against cancer. There is a part of me rooting for him to reach the heights now.

And yet… The story is different this year. I cannot think or feel the same way about Mr. Armstrong or his accomplishments or his goal. Why? It is because he left his wife, and is now living with the singer, Sheryl Crow. How unfortunate for them all. That’s why, where at one time Mr. Armstrong could, indeed, have been a type of American icon, I must now question whether we should hold him up as an example. The Tour de France is a tour de force. But how sad that his life off the racecourse seems to have taken a turn for the worst…

Friday, July 16, 2004

OK, but to Whom is He Speaking?

The headline reads,
"Atheist to Give Invocation at Council Meeting." According to the
story, Councilman John Dingfelder of the Tampa, Florida, City Council
has requested that Michael Harvey, of Atheists of Florida, give the
invocation for the next meeting of the council, to be held July 29th.
Councilman Dingfelder is reported to have said that it is time to give
the atheists a chance. Mr. Harvey has reportedly said that, instead of
calling for divine guidance, he will ask that Tampa's leaders be guided
by logic, reason and science.

Now, I can't think of a single reason why anyone would object to
someone's asking that the leaders of their city be guided by logic,
reason, and science. I just have to ask this, though: When he offers
the invocation making this request on their behalf, to Whom is Mr.
Harvey speaking?

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Preach a Sermon, Go to Jail

In an article appearing at WorldNetDaily, a pastor in the Pentecostal Church has been found guilty in a Swedish court of "offending homosexuals" in a sermon. (WorldNetDaily cites Ecumenical News International as their source for the report.)

According to the WND report, the pastor, Ake Green, said in a sermon given in 2003, that homosexuality is "abnormal, a horrible cancerous tumor in the body of society." The court found this to be in violation of a statute against incitement; presumably, incitement of hatred of others. If so, this appears to parallel provisions defining hate crimes, as exist in most states today. (One final note from the WND article: a spokesman for the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights is reported to have said that "religious freedom could never be used as a reason to offend people."

Hmmm... I can preach the Gospel, but not if it offends someone? So much for the Gospel as a stumbling stone, and the Cross as an offense...

And yes, campers: It can happen here...

(My thanks to David and Celia for calling this article to my attention.)

Writer's Block to the Max
This blog has been incredibly inconsistent of late. My apologies, if there is anyone who cares to see thoughts posted here more frequently. In part, I've been busy, what with the regular course of events, and a presentation that I made last week at the XIth World Russian Orthodox Youth Conference in San Francisco. But, to be honest, there is so much going on, between world events and developments (and fears) with respect to the on-going conversations about what needs to be done to achieve reconciliation between our Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia and the Church of Moscow and All Russia, that I have had my mind go numb -- there's been very little, or nothing, that I've felt moved to comment on. Whether from being brain dead, or a feeling of, "What's the point?", both this blog and our parish newsletter have suffered.

Hopefully, the newsletter will resume in some form this month; and so will this blog...