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.