Atheist Group Awards ‘Person of the Year’ to… a Christian Pastor?

They’re sincere about it, too.

The Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers gave their “Person of the Year” award to Rev. Mike Burr:

The Atheists and Freethinkers group presented Burr with the Person of the Year award at their monthly meeting Sunday at Mesa Mall’s Community Room.

Burr was unanimously chosen for his work with peace and social/environmental justice issues; his leadership in advocating for the poor, disadvantaged and exploited; his advocacy of separation of church and state; his opposition to recent wars waged by the United States; and his opposition to anti-Muslim views and actions.

“I’ve been a staunch advocate of separation of church and state all my life,” Burr said.

So when the atheists and freethinkers group clashed with city and county officials a couple of years ago regarding the issue of prayer at public meetings, Burr defended the group’s position.

“We’re very supportive of the atheists’ stand on that government has no place establishing any kind of religious observance,” Burr said.

“He’s a very fine human being,” former WCAF president Earle Mullen said. “He has a long history of service in this community and other places.”

The award doesn’t mean WCAF members agree with all of his ideas — for examples, Burr believes that evolution and faith are compatible — but it’s still a very nice gesture.

Moral of the story: You don’t have to agree on theology to be on the right side of common decency.

The fact that this type of “cross-appreciation” doesn’t happen more often has everything to do with the lack of Christians who openly support social justice and equality… as well as atheists who want nothing to do with religious people whatsoever.

WCAF and Burr both deserve credit for breaking that mold.

  • Arachobia

    This ties to something that just happened to me.

    One of my agnostic friends directed me to a video that I believe PZ put up in his blog a few days ago about that girl saying how god answered her prayers and caused the earthquake in Japan. I replied and said that I’d seen it and that it wasn’t that interesting.

    It’s funny as I often get things like this from non-atheist friends with comments about how it’s shocking or something similar. I don’t know how other atheists feel about this, but I no longer get shocked by such things easily. The fact that people have such a deluded belief at all means that behaving in such disgusting ways is just sort of given from my perspective.

    I don’t get shocked at negative religious behaviour. I get shocked about positive religious behaviour. in a good way. So when, as above, a religious person is willing to advocate a position that most other religious people will not (such as supporting seperation of church and state) that shocks me. When I meet a pastor or other religious leader or follower who is quite comfortable with the fact that I’m an atheist, that shocks me.

    Anyway. Well done Rev. Mike Burr for showing that not every religious person is an unreasonable individual.

  • http://SingAlongWithMichael.com MIchael

    While I’m sure there are other actual atheists that probably deserved the award, I think they did the right thing. Giving the award to the leader of a faith-based congregation made a powerful statement, and obviously generated more on-line press had it been given to an atheist. We atheists are not going to be able to change the irrational thoughts of most believers. A faith-based leader openly advocating atheist’s rights is worthy of an award simply because how rare it is.

  • ACN

    Moral of the story: You don’t have to agree on theology to be on the right side of common decency.

    I can get behind that moral :)

  • http://onestdv.blogspot.com OneSTDV

    Burr was unanimously chosen for his work with peace and social/environmental justice issues; his leadership in advocating for the poor, disadvantaged and exploited; his advocacy of separation of church and state; his opposition to recent wars waged by the United States; and his opposition to anti-Muslim views and actions.

    So basically, he’s a hardcore liberal.

    Since when did liberalism and atheism become the same thing?

  • CanadianNihilist

    It would be nice if more christian mythology followers were like Burr.

  • Blacksheep

    OneSTDV,

    Since when did liberalism and atheism become the same thing?

    Who said they were the same thing? The story says that he is a Christian pastor…

  • ManaCostly

    He may be on the right side of decency but that doesn’t mean he’s automatically ‘person of the year’.

    You can find lots of people who are on the right side of decency and don’t adhere superstitious nonsense.

    So all in all there are better candidates out there who are more deserving of that award.

  • http://cheapsignals.blogspot.com/ Gretchen

    Arachobia said:

    One of my agnostic friends directed me to a video that I believe PZ put up in his blog a few days ago about that girl saying how god answered her prayers and caused the earthquake in Japan. I replied and said that I’d seen it and that it wasn’t that interesting.

    That video was fake. I think if atheists were more willing to be shocked at negative religious behavior, more of them would have realized that.

    OneSTDV said:

    So basically, he’s a hardcore liberal.

    I support all of those things and I’m not a hardcore liberal.

  • Blacksheep

    You can find lots of people who are on the right side of decency and don’t adhere superstitious nonsense.

    My understanding of the attitudes here are unfolding slowly for me – and this is one of those insights.

    Mana is saying that people of faiths different than his own (Now I will be reminded that it’s not faith, etc. etc…) are not worthy of recognition or honor from his group (atheists), and that his group should only award “person of the year” to a fellow atheist.

    As I have said before, I obseve more of a “holier than thou” attitude from this supposedly open minded group than from the religious community.

    As a Christian, I would have no problem awarding a “person of the year” award to a person of any faith, including an atheist.
    (Unless of course “must hold the same beliefs as we do” was part of the criteria, in which case I would be fine with that).

  • Kristi

    How neat! I don’t think I have ever seen a recognition award in the opposite sense (Christian offering to atheist). It’s about time the faith barriers get broken down and more people realize that there IS more to life than a person’s spiritual beliefs. Good job! This is setting a GREAT example in more than one sense!

  • Blacksheep

    That video was fake. I think if atheists were more willing to be shocked at negative religious behavior, more of them would have realized that.

    Isn’t being shocked by negative religious behavior what fuels this website? I can’t recall seeing any reports of positive religious behavior.

  • Kristi

    “So basically, he’s a hardcore liberal.

    Since when did liberalism and atheism become the same thing?”

    I do believe YOU said that and set that condition, not them.

  • Qwerty

    The award doesn’t mean WCAF members agree with all of his ideas — for examples, Burr believes that evolution and faith are compatible — but it’s still a very nice gesture.

    Does that mean that WCAF thinks that faith is incompatible with evolution? I checked out the article and their site and saw nothing on what WCAF says about faith and evolution.

    It would seem to me that anyone saying that acceptance of evolution necessarily negates any sort of faith is guilty of the same crimes as saying that because of one’s faith, one must reject evolution.

    Mostly, I’m wondering where you got the idea that they don’t share that idea, or at least why you chose to word it that way. I don’t see any evidence anywhere one way or the other.

    Perhaps it’s just an example of something that Rev. Burr would affirm that the WCAF wouldn’t necessarily affirm. Still, made me do a double take, as it sounded like they would’ve rejected the statement outright.

  • http://cheapsignals.blogspot.com/ Gretchen

    Isn’t being shocked by negative religious behavior what fuels this website?

    At least in part, yes. And that’s a good thing.

  • http://criticallyskeptic.blogspot.com Kev Quondam, Kevque Futurum

    @Blacksheep:

    You’re obviously not looking very hard. Here’s one from this month, even – http://friendlyatheist.com/2011/03/05/a-christian-speaks-out-in-support-of-gay-relationships/

  • Blacksheep

    At least in part, yes. And that’s a good thing.

    yeah, but it’s not so hard to find shocking human behavior in general, from every faith.

  • SWare

    This is a great article.

    “We’re very supportive of the atheists’ stand on that government has no place establishing any kind of religious observance,” Burr said.

    When theists want to push their religious standards into law, any establishment of religion in government would affect not just atheists but the religious as well. As much as it is a violation to my atheism, it is also so for all variety of religions in this country. It amazes me just how few of the religious community seem to recognize it as a threat to their own beliefs.

  • Freemage

    Talking about whether or not “faith” is compatible with evolution was off the mark, Hemant, unless you are operating from a very specifically defined faith that includes doctrinal elements that contradict evolutionary theory.

    Both Deists and Theistic Evolutionists allow for a belief that the Creator included, in the ground rules of the universe, a purely naturalistic process that would eventually lead to abiogenesis and evolution, and eventually to humanity.

    Theistic Evolutionists then go on to say that whenever an event occured that was truly “by chance”, God stepped in and tilted the roulette wheel to get the result He wanted. But unlike IDT advocates, they don’t claim that He was such a clumsy oaf about it that He left his fingerprints all over the result.

    And Deists, of course, just view evolution as one of the many strains of dominos that are still tipping over–from the position of an Omnipotent and Omniscient Creator, things are happening exactly according to Plan, period.

  • BrettH

    OneSTDV: I can understand the confusion, but with the exception of the wars (which I don’t think is liberal/conservative) those are a list of things that make someone a good person, not a liberal. The closest to a specifically liberal thing there is “helping the poor”, but it’s only liberal if the state does it. When a private individual does it, it’s just being nice.

    As an extremely biased side note, realizing that lists of things that were “liberal” and things that were morally good looked suspiciously similar at times lead me to reconsider my conservative/ libertarian position many years back.

  • Lion IRC

    There is no more definitive statement about separation of Church and State than this;

    “Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto Him a penny. And He saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto Him, Caesar’s. Then saith He unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s”
    Matthew 22:17-21

    I think caesar should keep his filthy hands off my religion.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Blacksheep,

    At least in part, yes. And that’s a good thing.

    yeah, but it’s not so hard to find shocking human behavior in general, from every faith.

    Of course, but this is a blog about atheism. It stands to reason that most of the stories about shocking human behavior would have to do with religion in some way. If we lived in a world of religious tolerance and respect, there wouldn’t be so many stories that inspire outrage. If all the Christians and Jews and Muslims never said anything negative about atheists or other disenfranchised groups, there wouldn’t be anything to criticize. We wouldn’t need a blog like this at all. Sadly, that world does not yet exist.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Oh, and Blacksheep, here are some stories about positive religious behavior.

  • Josh Evolved

    I just don’t like “person of the year” awards. They usually only go to someone who is publicly known, as opposed to some little old lady who helps whoever she can, or some gangbanger that leaves the gang and heads down a more productive path (and maybe helps others avoid gangs).

    To me they are people of the year, the ones that makes a difference without a pulpit or press-release.


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