Opinion
Join The Times' book club. This month's selection: "Cadillac Desert"
Opinion Opinion L.A.

After Boston memorial, nonbelievers complain about being left out

Some “non-theist” individuals and groups are aggrieved that not even one seat was reserved for a nonbeliever at the service for victims of the Boston Marathon bombings, despite a request for some recognition from the Secular Coalition for America.

Joined by some Christian and Jewish clergy, they have been circulating a petition calling on Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Melissa Rogers, the director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, to “meet with the Humanist and non-theistic community to discuss how to ensure that future gatherings like the Interfaith Healing Service after the Boston Marathon bombing include all Americans.”

My first reaction was to concede that the “non-theists” had a point but that their objection was an abstract and self-serving one. They had a point because the service, which was held in Boston’s Roman Catholic cathedral and featured religious leaders from a variety of traditions, was a civic occasion as well as a religious one. And wasn’t it President Obama who said in his first inaugural address that “we are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers.”

At the same time, I thought, it wasn’t surprising that no atheists received VIP invitations to “Healing Our City: An Interfaith Service,” let alone speaking parts in the ceremony. As I had observed in a post about the interfaith service that followed the killing of 20 children in Newtown, Conn.: “Notwithstanding the advent of the ‘New Atheism’ and the decline in church affiliation, the connection between communal mourning and religion remains strong in this country.”

But then I read an essay by Greg Epstein, the Humanist chaplain at Harvard University. Without naming names, Epstein wrote: “When the Boston Marathon bombings took place, many of us in the local Humanist/secular/non-theistic community realized almost immediately that our community would be affected profoundly. And indeed it was.” That suggests that there were real-life survivors of the bombings who might have identified with or been comforted by a “non-theist” speaker at the memorial.If so (as Obama said in another context), that would change my calculus.

Atheists of my acquaintance tend to be individualists, so I’m not sure that there is a “non-theist community” comparable in size to the faithful of any religious tradition. But to the extent nonbelievers do come together to seek solace, they probably ought to be represented at a quasi-official memorial service like the one in Boston -- even if it takes place in a Catholic cathedral.

ALSO:

How not to say the wrong thing

Are the Rolling Stones too old to rock 'n' roll?

Queen Elizabeth: Should she stay or should she go?

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • Daum: Getting it wrong in Boston

    Daum: Getting it wrong in Boston

    The urge to tweet 'news' of the marathon bombings is a natural tendency to be part of the action. But it can lead to a mountain of misinformation.

  • Operation Jade Helm: Crank up the conspiracies

    Operation Jade Helm: Crank up the conspiracies

    Some of the good folks in nine Southern states have their camo knickers in a twist over the U.S. military's Operation Jade Helm.

  • A look at the nation's leftward shift on social issues

    A look at the nation's leftward shift on social issues

    With the nation’s political discourse seemingly as polarized as ever here in the early going of the 2016 presidential campaign, a new Gallup poll finds that people who self-describe their attitudes on social issues as liberal or conservative have reached parity at 31% each. It’s the first time...

  • How the city controller race led to revelations about DWP nonprofits

    How the city controller race led to revelations about DWP nonprofits

    If you ever wonder whether elections really matter, here is an example of why they do. Last month, City Controller Ron Galperin released an audit detailing how employees of two nonprofit trusts associated with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power were living large on ratepayer money.

  • Rewrite body camera bill or put it aside

    Rewrite body camera bill or put it aside

    As body-worn cameras become standard gear for California's police officers, it's wise to have smart policy regulating how the cameras and the video they produce are used. Such as, when should cameras be turned on and off? What rights should folks not suspected of a crime have to prohibit being...

  • Control guns, not information on making them

    Control guns, not information on making them

    Two years ago, Texas gun enthusiast Cody Wilson experimented with the burgeoning 3-D printing technology that, following coded instructions, manufactures products from plastic. NASA recently used the process to create a wrench aboard the International Space Station with instructions sent from Earth.

Comments
Loading