Atheists want to participate in interfaith services

Atheists in Boston are complaining that they haven’t been invited to participate in the interfaith services held in connection to the Boston Marathon bombings.  See No Room for Non-Theists at Boston Interfaith Service | (A)theologies | Religion Dispatches.

Isn’t this an admission that atheism is just another religion?  And if atheists participate in an interfaith service, isn’t this an acknowledgement of those other faiths, indeed, a “participation” in them?  So how are they atheists, really?

I’m very intrigued with the phenomenon of atheists taking part in and developing their own acts of corporate worship.  Anthropologists consider religion, in its essence, to consist of rites and rituals.  Full-blown belief systems come only with highly-developed, highly-advanced religions.  But the religious impulse, they say, derives from the instinct to worship.

I don’t buy that completely, revealed religion being different from man-made religion, but the anthropological insight would show why throwing out religious rites and watering down worship is a bad idea for Christians, since that makes belief all the more abstract, leading eventually to its disappearance.  But perhaps to its re-appearance, as those who have no beliefs still feel that need to worship.

Atheist worship is  a manifestation of a very primitive kind of religion.  Perhaps one day it will develop to the point of ascribing content and objective meaning to their liturgies, giving rise to a belief in God.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://nothingnew.grohn.us Nathan Grohn

    Maybe they can just be given the spot reserved for the Lutherans.

  • Grace

    If atheists want to have a service who cares. They don’t believe in God, what’s the point? No one cares what the atheists do, they don’t believe, their motives are bogus to ours.

    Should they be included?  ‏  ‏  ‏ NO! If they don’t like it, and it becomes a major disagreement, disinvolve yourself from their presence, and have your own service. ENOUGH of this fighting over those who are godless, it’s useless, can’t you see that?

  • fjsteve

    I don’t know if they are conceding that atheism or secular humanism is a faith as much as just trying to be recognized and counted. Professing atheists tend to be a needy lot. But, considering the near meaninglessness of an interfaith service as an act of corporate worship, they may have a point. After all, the primary idea of an interfaith memorial is trying to be inclusive of everyone in the community; worshiping God, as we understand Him or Her, is secondary. Plus, neither the President nor the Governor are religious leaders in any respect yet they both spoke. They are public servants who have as their constituency many atheists. Atheist inclusion would simply push it from almost meaningless to completely meaningless as anything more than a symbolic act. In fact, if I were the cynical sort, I might say that this was their plan all along.

  • Grace

    fjsteve

    Who cares how the “atheists” want to spin the reason – they have no faith in the God of the Bible. Let it go, they aren’t part of Worhip, Prayer, or any other part of our relationship to the living God.

    We are not compeled to live with their godless ideas, ruled by the evil in this world.

    It is “evil” which permeated the minds of those who committed such acts, and you entertain the idea of allowing them to participate within the service? Not a chance, I wouldn’t attend if they were there, they have no faith in God.

  • tODD

    Grace said (@4):

    you entertain the idea of allowing them to participate within the service? Not a chance, I wouldn’t attend if they were there, they have no faith in God.

    See, even Evangelicals have some kind of a doctrine of fellowship, when push comes to shove!

  • Grace

    tODD,

    Put a lid on your sarcasm, or whatever you call your remark. – - When it comes to my relationship with Christ, and my allegiance to HIM, all your smart remarks have no place.

  • fjsteve

    Grace,

    It is “evil” which permeated the minds of those who committed such acts, and you entertain the idea of allowing them to participate within the service?

    I thought those who committed these acts were Muslim.

  • Grace

    “I thought those who committed these acts were Muslim.”

    fjsteve, the reports say they were – Are they of the God of the Bible?

  • Helen K.

    No need to be defensive. Let an atheist join the service. Something might rub off on them. It’s an interfaith service to begin with, the type that some believers wouldn’t agree with and attend anyway. Perhaps they are trying to get attention and/or be recognized. I wouldn’t find them a threat.

  • Pete

    What Nathan Grohn @1 said. An “interfaith service” is a non-event and it sounds like the atheists here have done us the favor of highlighting that.

  • Abby

    @10 +1
    Let them have a chance at the podium (*not* pulpit)!

  • http://athefist.wordpress.com Grim

    Even people who don’t believe have a need to mourn and mark occasions. That does not make it a religion it simply shows that those who are otherwise unrepresented in the false comfort of religious waffle wish to be included.

  • Pete

    Grim, indeed

  • Tom Hering

    They’re interfaith services, not an interfaithless services, though I suppose we could start calling them interwhatever services.

  • Carl Vehse

    Along with the Romanist and Protestants denominations, there are already Unitarians, Jews, Mormons, XXXA, Hindus, Buddhists, Islamoterrorists, and other heathen religions, not to mention traitorous Demonrats, included in “interfaith prayer services,” which are a blasphemy against God.

    Adding satanists, agnostics, and atheists to the devilish mix isn’t going to make this religious debauchery any worse.

  • Tom Hering

    I’m guessing the only service acceptable to Vehse’s god would be one attended by Vehse alone. :-D

  • Matt Jamison

    Planning for the interfaith service led by the President was done very quickly after this incident. This concerns me. It looks to me like the interfaith service is now part of the checklist of things that the office of the President does after a major disaster. Is it proper for the POTUS to act as a worship leader?

    Surely not, in a constitutional republic like ours. Even in a nominally Christian country like Britain, the monarch does not lead worship, but appoints a bishop for that service. This is a very bad precedent and every American should protest the POTUS setting himself up as a religious leader.

  • Tom Hering

    The President was invited to both Newtown and Boston. How does his status as the featured guest speaker make him the leader of those services? In both cases, I can clearly identify a member of the local clergy who was the functioning, acknowledged leader of the service.

  • Carl Vehse

    Tom @16,

    My God says “You shall have no other gods before My face.” (Exodus 20:3)

    What do any of your gods or goddesses say?

  • Kirk

    @19

    This: Acts 17:16-33

  • Tom Hering

    “Carl taste good boiled in pot.”

  • http://www.inspiration-for-singles.com Jack

    No, it’s an inter-FAITH service.

    If atheists want to participate, they should have their own inter-FAITHLESS service.

  • larry

    Who could blame atheist. They may be the only honest ones in such. After all this American religious melange of doctrine does not matter. Its as Paul never penned a word on the subject. Why not atheist if doctrine means little to nothing then what reason to exclude them other than one “just does not like the cut of their jib “. It may be very well that the godless atheist are being sent to expose the same principle problem of interfaith and heterodoxy, that the Word really doe not matter. After all their request does indeed expose this obvious and overt folly. Interfaith prayer services are mearlly the logical extension taken to its logically conclusion of heterodoxies services. Its just a tiny leap from “todether for the ‘gospel ‘” to interfaith services to at last pure atheism or God has not spoken. One begets the other. Atheism does not just pop up out of thin air.

  • Carl Vehse

    Some more regarding the worship of the Triune God vs. the worship of Tom Hering’s gods or goddesses –
    In his paper, “The Church in the Public Square in a Pluralistic Society” (Concordia Journal, 28:4, October, 2002, 364-390), Concordia Seminary Prof. David L. Adams states (p. 384):

    If any Christian performs such an act [the direct worship of a god other than Yahweh] in the context of a civil religious event, he is clearly violating the First Commandment.

    It is a much more subtle question to ask whether a Christian who worships the true God in the context of those engaged in worshiping other gods also violates the First Commandment. In this respect we often fail to appreciate the full import of the First Commandment by translating the text (Ex. 20:3) as, “You shall have no other gods before me.” The wording of the Hebrew text is rather more precise. God says that we must not have other gods “before my [i.e., His] face” or “in my [i.e., His] presence.” The point here is that Yahweh is not claiming the right to be first in our affections (as “before” can easily be misunderstood to mean), He is prohibiting us from allowing any other god into His presence. Yahweh does not want to be our first god or to be first in our life; He must be our only god. The First Commandment is a demand for a radical and absolute exclusivity in our relationship with the realm of divine beings….

    As Americans we may (and do) have to tolerate the worship of other gods within civil society; as Christians we violate the First Commandment any time we tolerate or encourage the worship of other gods in the presence of Yahweh.

    The only possible conclusion upon reading the Word of God is that the people of God must not be a party to any activity that encourages or promotes the worship of other gods.

  • Tom Hering

    Just to be clear, I don’t participate in interfaith services. But I do have the knife and fork, salt and pepper standing by, Carl. *Licks lips*

  • trotk

    Tom, he isn’t a vegetable. I am pretty certain he is in the mollusk family.

  • Tom Hering

    I thought of looking for a soy-based Carl alternative, but I’m afraid my gods and goddesses would be displeased. :-(

  • helen

    I would guess that what the atheists want, besides attention, is to drive the Christians away from such spectacles. Since Christians shouldn’t be participating with non Christians in worship anyway, maybe the inclusion of atheists would cut through the excuses made for their doing so. [Or maybe not; we do have an immense capacity for deluding ourselves!] :(

    Or maybe the “community meetings” would be recast as something clearly other than worship and people who do worship would go to their own churches.

    West, Texas, mourned at the town’s Roman Catholic church, (probably “home” to most of them).

  • helen

    Carl Vehse @ 24
    You have something valid to say here, as you often do.
    I don’t understand why you spoil your witness and reputation with the name calling!

  • helen

    Kirk @ 20
    That’s very good!
    Have you ever heard any Christian use it at any of these “services”?
    If one did, it would be worth their being present.
    (Ain’t gonna happen, though!)

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    Pay no attention to this comment.
    I’m just subscribing in order to receive further comments by email…

  • DonS

    Matt @ 17: +1. “Interfaith service” does seem to be on the disaster recovery checklist, whether that comes from federal, state, or local government authorities.

    The best thing would be to see the Christians in an affected community spontaneously leading in recovery efforts and in ensuring that the spiritual and physical needs of community members are met during their time of loss. Open the churches, find spots in the community where larger numbers can be accommodated, join with other churches of like faith to offer combined services. Don’t complain about what is being done — get in front of it and offer spiritual comfort to your neighbors. If you don’t want to participate in an “interfaith” service, hold your own and make sure your neighbors know it is open to them to attend and be welcomed.

  • Tom Hering

    … whether that comes from federal, state, or local government authorities. (@ 32)

    Why do you believe interfaith services are initiated by government rather than by local clergy (who of course coordinate with local government)?

  • Carl Vehse

    Helen @29,

    In my three prior posts to what name calling are you referring?

  • Kirk

    @34

    “traitorous Demonrats” and “islamoterrorists,” by which, I assume you were referring to Muslims.

  • tODD

    So “Carl” isn’t even aware that he’s engaging in the inane name-calling that the rest of us see? I think I know what the problem is here.

    Carl, you’ve got a terrible spell-checker on your computer! You guys, it was all a simple misunderstanding! Carl isn’t actually frothing at the mouth like he usually appears to be! It’s just a software issue! He’s actually a sane person, after all!

  • http://www.offensivechristianity.blogspot.com Gary Jensen

    It is naive to either suggest or allow the perpetuation of the suggestion that atheists have no faith. The burden of the Bible is not to call people to faith per se, but to to challenge the faith of idolatry that is expressed in the worship of false gods. Notice Luther’s intro to the First Article in the Large Catechism. Atheists have not made good on their assertion that there is no God. Faith in a host of good things being turned into “god” things is the common daily practice of atheists, much the same manner as the rest of us.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Tom @ 21 etc – that is one of the best, and funniest replies I have ever read! You’ve made my day!

  • sg

    Who does it hurt if the atheists participate? It seems mean spirited to exclude them. My atheist friends are really nice people. What is the point of snubbing them? If it is supposed to be all of the community that wishes to come, then it should be for all of the community that needs that kind of thing. Just because some of us have religious convictions that make us not want to participate, why be all mean and try to keep out irreligious folks? Sure, fine, let them participate. It is harmless and might actually give some emotional benefits to some people.

  • fjsteve

    But Gary @ 37, atheism IS idolatry!

  • http://www.offensivechristianity.blogspot.com Gary Jensen

    Your point was my entire point.

  • fjsteve

    Gary, indeed. I misread your post.

  • Random Lutheran

    Let them up there. Let them try to give comforting words to what they themselves cannot deny is utter loss and meaninglessness. Shout-it-out atheists (others, not so much) are, and will remain, their own worst enemies.

  • Joe

    Krik – @ 20 – the difference between what Paul did and an interfaith service is that Paul was not presenting Christianity as one of many choices in the buffet of faith.

    Instead, he was “debating” (as the NIV translates it) or “disputing” (in the King James) or “reasoning” (per the ESV) with the Jews and the Gentile’s who followed Judaism. Then he was asked by certain philosophers to explain his teaching and he “preached” (all of the translations above use this word) Jesus and the resurrection.

    If a Christian ever actually did any of these things in the context of an interfaith worship service, then perhaps Act 17 would be a justification for showing up. But it doesn’t happen that way. Instead, everyone just takes turns making generalized statements about finding comfort in whatever faith/god one adheres to and sometimes, but not always, the Christians deign to mention Jesus by name.

  • helen

    JOE @ 44 +1!
    If a Christian ever actually did any of these things in the context of an interfaith worship service, then perhaps Act 17 would be a justification for showing up. But it doesn’t happen that way. Instead, everyone just takes turns making generalized statements about finding comfort in whatever faith/god one adheres to and sometimes, but not always, the Christians deign to mention Jesus by name.

  • Matt Jamison

    Tom: because it happened way too fast to be some kind of spontaneous thing.

  • helen

    Matt @ 46
    Ministerial associations usually are involved in these “interfaith” demonstrations.
    I think it’s become copycatting. ‘We’ve had a disastrous event here that involves the whole town… what do we do?’ “Let’s get together and pray/talk about it!” And off they go, to get their share of TV time.

    If they worship in their own churches, synagogues, mosques, whatever… no news value in that!
    Maybe I’m just cynical at 3 a.m. but if they were really thinking about God… [or their interpretation of same]… I should think church, et al. would be the more appropriate place to do that.
    I suppose that just makes me a Lutheran. ;)

  • larry

    Really for Lutherans its an issue in which we don’t have a dog in the fight as it were. If it where a “pure ” heterodox ” service we would not be there. Much less an interfaith service. So if atheist wish to show up at either its really just “eehhh ” with a shrug of the shoulders. So its really a yawner. Heterodoxy and /or interfaith is just doing what they do mixing falsehood with pretend truth. Adding atheist to melange is just doubling down and nothing more.

  • sg

    @ 48

    Exactly

  • Hanni

    Perhaps this is just a straw man position; I presume anyone can attend , why need an invitation?


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