PAM Urges Response
To Calls for Prayer

From: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
To: "Positive Atheism List"
Subject: PAM Urges Response To Calls for Prayer
Date: September 14, 2001

As I begin the monumental task of formatting some of the response to the bombings of September 11, I find some common themes. Allow me to summarize one of them on behalf of those who have written to us.

Most shocking is the immediate and almost exploitative call to prayer and worship from the President on down. We atheists are baffled that we are being asked to beseech a deity who allegedly knew not only that this would happen but also how to prevent it from happening. No, this tragedy only reinforces our disbelief, and the response of the religionists only reinforces our disdain for faith.

Thus, we urge our readers to speak out. Speak out to your friends and associates when they bring this subject up and suggest that we pray. Speak out to the press, both local and national. Speak out also to our elected representatives. We also urge our neighbors across the borders and overseas to likewise contact American government officials and the press. Their mailing and e-mail addresses are widely available on places such as Yahoo's "Government" and "News and Media" listings. If everybody on this list picked five of each and sent off letters, we might even make a difference: this is no small list as atheist lists go (so I hear).

Here is my example. Below the signature I have attached releases from American Atheists and Freedom From Religion as food for thought. Take what you will and leave the rest; don't forget to express your heart-felt opinions, using the material below only as food for thought and examples for wording.

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To whom it may concern:

I am shocked, saddened, frightened, and any number of other things as a result of the devastation brought upon United States civilians last Tuesday, September 11, 2001. I know I will never be the same.

While I have reason to hope in that the United States responded to contain this disaster as quickly as possible, I am still fearful for our future. The main reason for this is the immediate response from our President and many other prominent leaders and spokespersons.

Our President wants us to -- pray!? To whom, might I ask? Is there a deity who can both hear and respond to our prayers? If so, where was this deity on Tuesday morning?

No. The wholesale loss of life and destruction of tens of thousands of families only reiterates my doubt that a God exists who listens to the prayers of humans.

Instead, I think many Americans will follow the lead of Europeans after World War II and jettison our love affair with the idea of a personal, rescuing deity. Particularly vulnerable in the wake of Tuesday's destruction is the currently popular idea that a tribal god, Christ, is outraged by the acts of the followers of the competing tribe's god, Allah. The call to prayer, to me, signals the precursor to a call to war, wherein the devoted followers of Christ will avenge Him of the deeds of the followers of Allah. After all, it was the followers of Allah who started this whole thing by avenging their god Allah of the despicable treatment of His followers at the hands of the Americans, who are, in their eyes, the earthly representatives of Alla's hated rival.

I suggest that this call to prayer is the precursor to making this just the beginning of a long chain of further destruction, as the rival clans avenge the soiled reputations of their respective tribal deities. I also suspect that the Americans, like the Europeans, will wake up and see that this thinking style leads only to destruction.

Can you see why a government sponsored call to prayer can only thwart the stated goal of unifying our country in the midst of crisis? Can you see why many of us think religion is likely to be the cause of more problems rather than the solution to any problems?

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Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Six years of service to
     people with no reason to believe
P.O. Box 16811
Portland, OR 97292

"My conclusion is that there is no reason to
     believe any of the dogmas of traditional
     theology and, further, that there is no
     reason to wish that they were true. Man,
     in so far as he is not subject to natural
     forces, is free to work out his own destiny.
     The responsibility is his, and so is the
        -- Bertrand Russell (1872-1970),
               "Is There a God?" (1952)

"The legitimate powers of government extend
     to such acts only as are injurious to others."
        -- Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
               "Statute for Religious Freedom"

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain
     a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty
        nor safety."
           -- Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
               "Historical Review of Pennsylvania"

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A M E R I C A N   A T H E I S T S
#957 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 9/13/01

"Leading The Way For Atheist Civil Rights
And The Separation Of Church And State

In This Issue ...
     * Bombings, bin-Laden and the problem of faith
     * About this list ...

     Religious Faith, Culture and Civilizational
     Identity Lurk Behind Terror Attacks

How to sum up the tragic events of recent days?

Thousands are dead after two hijacked jets slammed into the twin towers of that ultimate monument to modernity, cosmopolitan identity and consumerist culture -- the World Trade Center in New York. Authorities believe that another jet which crashed into the Pentagon was meant for an even more symbolic target, perhaps the White House or Air Force One. Another plane, believed to have been seized by those bent on similar destruction, was possibly prevented from doing so by the heroism of passengers on board.

Slightly less conspicuous than the mammoth accumulation of debris and human bodies covering a swath of lower Manhattan is the talk that "this is war," a postmodern Pearl Harbor, and that America has lost a gossamer innocence as it transits from one historical era to another.

The reality is more complicated than this, however. In a period of less than an hour, events in the real world conspired to obliterate the last vestiges of anti-ideologies proclaiming, as Francis Fukyuama did in his 1992 treatise "The End of History and the Last Man," and advancing the questionable thesis that the accumulated existential baggage of centuries past was somehow no longer relevant, that the end of the cold war would usher in a distinct a-historical epoch. It was to be paradise on earth, the religious and even secular fulfillment of a millennial vision where we would construct the New Jerusalem. The forces that had divided us in the past, everything from language and religion to explicit political ideologies, would evaporate in the face of "the triumph of the West."

For any who still harbored such illusions, Tuesday's events were a stark wake-up call.

* Where was God? We note that as with the Oklahoma City bombing or natural disasters of a titanic scale, the human response to crisis seems to manifest a predictable but irrational trajectory. We now are in the midst of a Religious Wallowing, with endless rounds of church/mosque/temple services and clerics once again stepping into their hoary role of trying to explain "why God permits evil" in the world, why the innocent are slain and so often the monstrously guilty romp free and unpunished. Pat Robertson, the Pope, even the Congress and the President of the United States call us to prayer and supplication. There is nothing new here: this is the problem known as Theodicy, how a supposedly all-good and all-knowing God can permit the existence of evil. From the corner preacher to Franklin Graham, or prelates such as Philadelphia Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, we are presented with a laundry list of syrupy nostrums. It is God in his mystery and wisdom, we are told. Less entertaining is the assertion that evil is of human origin. If so, why do innocents suffer, and why does this God permit it? The silence roars.

Religion, of course, is one of the likely culprits in trying to comprehend why a group of people would scheme for months, even perhaps years as they languish as "sleepers" in deep cover terrorist networks, all with the penultimate goal of slamming themselves and hundreds of their victims into the sides of buildings or moving planes. A similar query may be asked of those Christian Crusaders who nearly a millennia ago set out to invade the "Holy Land" from the ravishing clutches of the infidels. The latter moniker now applies to us in the West, the targets of those who believe in Jihad as the instrument of closure and justice. Like the unarmed phalanxes of Iranian youth flinging themselves into the lines of Iraqi artillery and machine gun fire over a decade ago who believed that they would make the journey from the Earthly to the spiritually favored should they die in battle, Tuesday's terrorists embraced a similar pathetic, deadly illusion.

The prayer vigils and the more disturbing government-organized outbursts of public religiosity simply mirror the religious fervor of many in the Middle East, who embrace Allah as a linchpin of human existence, and Koranic doctrine as a template for the organization of society. The chilling calls that we "give up some of our freedoms to be safe" reflects a similar cavalier attitude -- demonstrated best, perhaps, by Philadelphia Mayor John Street who is actively working with clergy to organize an "interfaith prayer vigil" -- toward the First Amendment. A terrorist attack is not a suitable excuse to suddenly suspend either the Establishment Clause or, indeed, the rest of our political freedoms.

* We ignore the important subtext behind Tuesday's terrorist assault at our own peril. The rhetoric of militant Islam, while it includes specific denunciations of Israel, is directed at a still larger target, namely Western culture. The best of the Enlightenment tradition -- an emphasis on the individual as the quintessential unit of social organization; the primacy of individual rights, civil liberties, and restraint on the power of government; a secularism which confines and "disestablishes" organized religion; and now, a pervasive consumerist/materialist culture with all of its virtues and faults -- remains at odds with the Islamic theocratic agenda (and, indeed, that of many Christians). Osama bin Laden and other Islamic militants decry the permissiveness of American and western lifestyle in general, their "degenerate" character which allows a high degree of expression from alternative subcultures, traditions, fads and points of view. Ironically, the same reforms which over past decades have permitted greater latitude for "outre" expression and participation, everything from gay rights and bohemian rebellion to a greater role for females and so much more draw the wrath of the mullahs. Ironically, both western religious groups like the Vatican, and their Islamic counterparts in the mosque share common enemies -- the virtues, excesses, and contradictions of modernity and western civilization. For bin Laden, it is not just a church or the Pentagon which becomes "the enemy," but centers of financial trade, a shopping mall, a movie theater and even women who dare step out in public.

* We also risk the consequences of ignoring what in the intelligence community is known as "blowback." Even Sadham Hussein was partially correct when, in response to the Trade Center attacks, he remarked that America was reaping the consequence of past actions and policies. The deep historical roots go back centuries, but closer to our own time are, to varying degrees, the consequences of western imperiums, the establishment of the State of Israel and subsequent policies which have permitted the expropriation of Arab properties, and the desire of various Arab/Islamic leaders to use the "Palestinian question" as a distraction from their own ruthless efforts to achieve dictatorial and semi-feudal rule. Osama bin Laden, Hamas, the various Hezbollah or "holy warrior" organizations throughout the region all have flourished in this geo-political soil. Assessing the role of bin Laden and Islamic fundamentalism, writer Michael Moran noted in 1998 that bin Laden "is viewed as a hero by millions in the Islamic world," and personifies the adage: Reap what you sow.

-- Cultural and political dislocations have created an Islamic "sub-caste" of refugees who are vulnerable prey for Muslim fanaticism and religious fundamentalism. The ruthless Taliban regime, for instance, now governing Afghanistan and playing host to bin Laden was incubated in the sprawling network of "madras" refugee camps along the Pakistan border. Children and adolescent males were indoctrinated to a lethal combination of Koranic verse and teachings about the heroism of political violence and martyrdom. They, too, absorbed the Pan Islamic paen which cries for the establishment of regional theocracy as a prophylactic against the corrosive and "sinful" cultural pollution of the West. Bin Laden, a former Saudi businessman and heir to a sizable fortune, broadcasts a message which resonates with many of his fellow Muslims, that the presence of U.S. troops and foreign business interests on Middle Eastern soil "pollutes" the sacred geography of the Islamic faith.

-- Let's not forget "Blowback," a term in intelligence parlance whereby an operative or an operation suddenly turns on its creators. Bin Laden typifies this principle, and whether it is the bombing of Khobar towers or the hijacking of TWA Flight 847, we now live with the unfortunate legacy of this foreign policy debacle.

When America decided to intervene in the Afghanistan conflict of the late 1970s and repulse the Soviet invasion which installed a rump government in Kabul, Islamic fundamentalism because the weapon of choice. Bin Laden, who otherwise might have lived out his life as a prosperous Saudi business tycoon, answered the call for "holy war" against the godless Communist invader. By 1984, he was using his own financial resources and aid from the Central Intelligence Agency and other secret services to operate the shadowy Maktab al-Khidamar or (MAK), a transmission belt for arms and cash from outside vendors to the Afghan "freedom fighters." American and other western money and weapons flowed quickly into the hands of the Mujahadeen, a loose coalition of Islamic guerrilla groups united in their antipathy against the Soviets.

Also working closely with MAK and the CIA was the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence Agency) of Pakistan's military command. With the eventual withdrawal of the Soviet army, civil war erupted. The Pakistan government threw its support behind a rag-tag band of young, semi-literate Islamic mullahs who came pouring out of the "madras" network of refugee camps. They became known as the Taliban.

Bin Laden soon extended his organization to include Islamic fundamentalists from refugee camps throughout the region, including Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt and of course Pakistan. After a split with his CIA paymasters within MAK, he formed al-Qaida, composed mostly of veteran guerrillas from the Afghanistan civil conflict. Individual al-Qaida operatives then began forming other fundamentalist entities or worked closely with existing organizations. The results included the massacres by the GIA in Algeria; the attacks on tourists within Egypt by the Gamat Islalia, and attempts to establish a "pure" religious state; and the Shiite attacks on the Khobar Towers and the Riyadh bombings of 1996.

* Despite the hyper rhetoric of "being at war" or the description that America is "under attack," the stark fact remains that the WTC and Pentagon bombings are not unique in the human experience or especially recent history. Would we use comparable words in describing, say, the U.S. bombing of Belgrade, or the attacks on Iraqi targets which have been similarly bloody? How do we feel about the cruise missile attacks on bin Laden's mountain redoubts in Afghanistan which took a liberal toll of innocent victims, yet seem to have had little impact on his network? None of this justifies the slaughter on Tuesday; but perhaps we need to try to step back and understand how at least a good portion of the world perceives these developments from what to us is an enigmatic and alien perspective. We also risk more of the same if we concentrate only on symptoms, not the root causes and underlying factors which fueled the passions of Tuesday's terrorists. Along with the images of the smoldering ruins in New York City, perhaps we need also to remember the news broadcasts that showed throngs of Palestinians celebrating in the streets.

* We keep returning to that part of the world, the Middle East, a cauldron of religious passions. The Middle East, Palestine, and specifically the city of Jerusalem remain ground zero in a profound and dangerous intersection of conflicting faiths, cultures and identities. A small sliver of real estate, the Temple Mount, is the focal point of Islamic, Jewish and Christian heritage which could erupt at any moment. The "end of history" gurus see these geopolitical fault lines as increasingly irrelevant, when in fact they may well define the future. Forget Fukuyama. In the 1980s, theorists like William Cleveland were warning that the new political dynamic was, as he titled one book, "Islam Against the West" with Muslim faith, culture and identity challenging the Western canon. Samuel P. Huntington is even more prophetic in his 1996 work, "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order." Our future history, far from being over and ended, is instead a confrontation between Western, Sinic and Middle East civilizations where language, culture and religious belief play greatly pronounced roles.

* The attacks have had the curious effects of stimulating a one-dimensional discussion of "good versus bad Islam." We are cautioned against "stereotyping" all Muslims as religious fanatics or automaton followers of Osama bin Laden. The caution is well justified, but it tends to stifle the emergence of a related debate. As Islamic religion in all of its forms (Shiite, Sunni, Sufi) percolates throughout the West, will Muslims -- as the price of accepting their inclusion into society -- also support the core values of this culture? Will "respectable" Islamic organizations embrace the idea of separation of church and state? There are troubling suggestions that they will not. Islamic groups have supported legislation such as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and in some cases even displays of the Ten Commandments and other public religious rituals. Despite the sanguine musings of Bill Moyers during a recent "interfaith" roundtable, Islamists are profoundly conservative in many of their social opinions, and view with hostility many of the same institutions and practices which also offend their Christian brethren. We have had over two centuries of conflict with various Christian groups over the issue of role of religious faith in the public square. Do we now face a comparable struggle involving Islamic belief both domestically and internationally?

* There may be reason for optimism, though, as Enlightenment ideas and consumerist culture (with both its faults and virtues) percolates throughout the world and even the Middle East. The mullahs and potentates see "Western culture," everything from movies and television to the internet and causes such as rights for women, as a diaphanous threat. It is, but with a Janusarian character. As analyst Fouad Jami remarked during a news interview yesterday, there is a duality in how America and the West are perceived. Our "decadence" is alluring, yet easy to denounce. Many of those who publicly eschew us would , paraphrasing Fouad, grab at the opportunity for a green card and a chance at the American dream and lifestyle.

* Religion remains very much part of the problem, and it is questionable that hoisting the banner of "religious diversity" will somehow defeat the alluring cry of Jihad. Ultimately, the solution to religious terrorism is global enlightenment and the spread of secular culture, and all that it emphasizes -- individual rights, liberation for oppressed groups, equality of the sexes and races, restraints of the power of both church and state, and above all an ethic which stresses human and not "spiritual" values.

For further information:
("The Balkan crisis; fault line of civilizations" -- more on Huntington's thesis of the "clash" of civilizations.)
("Taliban abuses ignored for oil money, drug war," 7/19/98)



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The Freedom From Religion Foundation has released a statement about the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The statement is online at:
Below is the text of the statement:

Statement on September 11 Terrorism

Acts of Terrorism the Ultimate "Faith-Based Initiative"?

September 13, 2001

This statement was released by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Madison, Wisconsin-based national association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics) working to protect the constitutional separation of church and state since 1978.

Representing our national membership of freethinkers, as well as the 18.5 percent of U.S. citizens who are not religious, we join in the national mourning over the events on September 11, a horrible and senseless human tragedy.

However, Bush's proclamation of Friday, September 14 as a "National Day of Prayer and Remembrance" shows the pitfalls of the "God is on our side" mentality, and the dangers of religious patriotism.

While it may be natural for religious persons to turn to religion or prayer for solace, it is not the role of the President of the United States, or his spokespersons, to urge citizens to pray, to go to church, to turn to faith, or to observe a National Day of Prayer with worship.

In fact, it appears that the terrorist disasters of September 11 may well have been the ultimate "faith-based initiative." These terrorists apparently expected to find a reward "in heaven" and were bent on starting a "holy war" with our nation.

Our country should not fall into the trap of religious terrorists: Holy wars don't have solutions, they just have body counts.

Religion is not the answer, it is probably the problem. As Pascal put it: "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction."

Prayer had its chance on September 11, and it failed. Imagine the unanswered prayers of hundreds or thousands of the victims of these terrorists. Official prayer will not solve any problems.

We believe it is appropriate for President Bush to call for a Day of Remembrance, but leave prayer up to individuals. Civil War Col. Robert G. Ingersoll reminds us: "The hands that help are better far than lips that pray."

The nonreligious are among the victims and their families, and are represented in the ranks of the heroes, the firefighters and police officers risking or giving their lives to save others. It is offensive that the President of all Americans disregards the convictions, even the existence, of the more than 10 percent of the population that is not religious.

The "God is on our side" mentality was responsible for these tragic acts of terrorism. We must not compound the dangers by a "One Nation Under God" response.

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