Don’t Thank God that Nebraska Ended the Death Penalty

Don’t Thank God that Nebraska Ended the Death Penalty May 28, 2015
Official Photo
Source: Nebraska Legislature Official Photo

Don’t thank God that Nebraska just voted to end the death penalty.

Thank an atheist instead.

And one in particular, State Senator Ernie Chambers, who had introduced a bill to repeal the death penalty 37 times before.

Considering he’s served as a senator for 38 years, that means each year Chambers introduced a bill to repeal state executions. And each year he ultimately failed.

But he never quit, and this year, he succeeded.

In a politically conservative state no less.

In a vote that didn’t fall along party lines.

That is veto-proof.

It’s stunning, hopeful, and poetic.

I’ll be honest. My first inclination, as a liturgical Christian was to offer a hearty, “Thanks be to God!” in celebration. I was tempted to see God at work in this. I was tempted to ponder the beautiful irony that an atheist has done more to build the reign of God on earth than most Christians have. I was even tempted to make a hyperbolic biblical comparison of Chambers to Cyrus of Persia, the Gentile that the Jewish scriptures anoints as the Messiah.

And it’s understandable. With good news like this, many Christians might be tempted to claim this for God or even to call such good news a revelation of the gospel. We are so desperate for good news at times, we’ll colonize just about anything to renew our faith.

Some progressives might even suggest that Chambers is much more of a Christian than most professing Christians. Don’t do it. Because he’s not. He’s an atheist.

But remember Chambers submitted that bill nearly 40 times, not because he was a man of faith but because he wasn’t. Remember that it was Christians who stood in the way and shot it down for almost four decades as well. Remember, too, that the dominant portrait of atheism for many Christians isn’t someone like Chambers but crude and disparaging stereotypes found in films like God’s Not Dead. 

So don’t thank God for what happened in Nebraska. Instead, give credit where credit is truly due.

Thank an atheist.

Honor Chambers, not the God he doesn’t believe in.

If people of faith must include a deity in our gratitude, then perhaps we should simply thank God for an atheist named Ernie Chambers who, against all odds, just made the world a better place for everyone. Maybe even ask God to grant us the humility learn from atheists like Chambers and partner with them respectfully.

So let’s not use Chambers’ singular victory to restore our faith in God.

Let it restore our faith in humanity, instead.


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Linda_LaScola

    Said like a true humanist!

  • Peggy McClanahan

    I am grateful to Ernie Chambers and thank God for him. I also appreciate the many people of faith in Nebraska who labored on this issue since the 1970’s. I was working on it when I lived in Nebraska back then and know that many of the advocates over these decades worked to end the death penalty because of their faith in God.

    • Beth Hagerty

      Did you READ? The guy is an atheist. More proof that you do NOT need “god” to be a good person.

      • Steven Waling

        True, but in the bible apparently God works through several people who weren’t believers, so if I want to I can thank both God and Eddie Chambers… Just ’cause you can’t see the hand of ‘god’ doesn’t mean I can’t. (Though I have to say that I probably have my own reservations about that ‘theology’.)

      • Andrew Hess

        In the bible, God also imposed the death penalty quite liberally. So maybe it’s time to look for a better source for morality.

      • Steven Waling

        Step off that high horse for a minute mate. I don’t recall saying anything about morality; mere that I don’t see why you can’t thank God and an atheiat at the same time. I’d be grateful if you didn’t make’ assumptions about what I believe or don’t believe. I’m not the bible believin’ scenechewer you think I am.

      • Andrew Hess

        It’s not about being on a high horse. I just find it odd how people can ignore the horrendous actions of God in the Bible while espousing the positive virtues.

      • Steven Waling

        Yes, you may be right; and maybea I shouldn’t even have mentioned the bible at all. Maybe I should have just stuck to the subject and say that peoplr can thank God and the senator at the same time without too much difficulty. That’s all I was trying to say. I could spend ages yabbering about what the bible says or doesn’t say but I don’t see the point. I’m not a bibrle literalist nor do I think it’s right about everything. Sorry if I triggered something in you.

      • Notagod

        I hope you don’t mind, I thanked the Devil for you Steven Waling.

      • Steven Waling

        Whatever floats your boat mate.
        … what? You thought I’d get all huffy or something?

      • DavidMHart

        I always want to try out a ‘how would you tell the difference?’ approach in that sort of situation – in this case, how would someone tell the difference between an atheist whom God was using to advance God’s own agenda, and an atheist who was simply acting on their own initiative.

  • jontrott

    Your praise of Ernie Chambers is appropriate and articulate. Your rather odd-ball spin that somehow we need therefore to make sure not to thank God for this decision doesn’t work for me. Yes, Atheists do some *amazing* stuff… one of my friends is an Atheist and lawyer who works for prison reform full-time — his cases have made a real dent in (for instance) solitary confinement in Illinois. But heck yes, I thank God for him. Just like I moan to God about the Christian Right.

    • MountainDewFan4

      Of course it “doesn’t work for you”. Something you feel good about happened, therefore god must have done it.

      If Mr Chambers had done something wonderful which you didn’t happen to agree with, I’m sure that you wouldn’t thank god at that point now would you.

      • Andrew Hess

        It’s amazing how much God agrees with the views of his followers.

      • God has good taste.

  • justinwhitaker

    Great stuff, David! Too many folks turning to ‘thank God’ instead of the people doing good hard work on the ground is part of what turned me away from Christianity in my youth.

  • Jason

    Obviously this person doesn’t know very much about Chambers or has lived in Nebraska. One reason why he has been elected so many times is his loyalty to his citizens. To be honest hes a bit of an odd ball. But He’s put aside his beliefs multiple times to pass bills his constituents want. Even tough he is an atheist he represents part of Nebraska with some of the highest levels of Catholics which is likely why he’s tried to put up this bill.

    FYI I’ve lived in Omaha, NE for about 12 years

    • Lark62

      Yes but he personally believed in this bill.

  • Nicely and fairly stated. Thanks.