Earlier this year, the Center for Inquiry - Long Island Community issued a debate challenge to Newsday columnists Rabbi Marc Gellman and Father Tom Hartman, a.k.a. "The God Squad," as a response to the offense taken from a number of their columns published over the years.
The God Squad finally printed an "apology" to atheists and secular humanists that we believe is halfhearted and most likely insincere. For example, the self-proclaimed “intellectual ninjas” who eat atheists for breakfast” neglected to mention, while declining to debate us, that we offered to hold a debate at a time and place of their choice and that we would even accept their substitutes for the God Squad in a debate. They also left deliberately vague the actual point of contention.
Here is, in part, what they wrote in their syndicator's website on 3/23/06:
"For those who suspect from our chosen calling that we are religious, we plead guilty. We are religious not just because we inherited our faiths. We both believe religion takes us closer to the truth than any secular philosophy. This conviction does not constitute bigotry, nor is it intolerance. It is faith. However, it's also a part of our faith to apologize to anyone we've inadvertently offended, so we apologize to all atheists for any feelings of hurt they may have gleaned from our faith in God, and for our belief that faith in God is the most secure foundation for ethical thinking and for the protection of the dignity of all people, whom we believe, with a complete faith, are made in the image of God." (For the whole column go to http://www.tmsfeatures.com/tmsfeatures/subcategory.jsp?catid=1709&custid=67 .)
Readers seeing the above "apology" can only wonder what atheists and secular humanists were complaining about in the first place since Newsday and most other papers did not print the Center's challenge. It seems as though nonbelievers are offended merely by the God Squad being persons of faith. The balance of their column does not clarify the situation any further.
No atheist or humanist has feelings of hurt because the God Squad or the religious have faith in God or believe what they believe about God's existence. The feelings of hurt and other harm stem from statements such as, "When so many people can so easily say they believe in God, then go out and almost kill someone in the parking lot of the church, it's hard to tell the believers from the nonbelievers?" (God Squad column, 9/1/05)
This certainly implies that nonbelievers are more apt to run others over in parking lots, does it not? This statement was entirely irrelevant to the question being asked that week -- it's nothing more than a gratuitous insult at nonbelievers. Am I misunderstanding this?
After all they have also written, "be glad that Sean is only an agnostic and not yet an atheist," and that nonbelievers have "no reason to get out of bed in the morning and no reason to believe that life has an edge over death, hope an edge over despair and love an edge over hate." (God Squad column, 8/26/02).
I have not seen an explanation for these statements or how they can be interpreted as "inadvertent." They are simply insults not backed up by any real world evidence.
Our feelings are not only hurt, our ability to be accepted in American Society is damaged. Atheists are the most unacceptable class of persons in America, as a recent Univ. of Minnesota study found (Go to http://www.ur.umn.edu/FMPro?-db=releases&-lay=web&-format=umnnewsreleases/releasesdetail.html&ID=2816&-Find). We cannot be elected to public office and our children are the subject of prejudice in schools. Families can be torn apart when one member becomes an atheist. It is still politically correct to insult atheistsand secular humanists. Most atheists are still in the "closet." The consequences of this bigotry are real.
Rarely does one read in the mainstream media an accurate description of the humanist basis for morals and good ethics. Humanists care about others and this concern for their lives and the lives of others leads to their desire and aspiration for a better world. Caring is a natural attribute of humans; we love our children whether gods exist or not, and not because a god orders us to love our children. Humanists are not concerned with reward in the afterlife; justice and happiness for all persons in this life are the ultimate concern. How many problems of the world would be minimized if more persons felt that way?
The statements by the God Squad were not "inadvertent" offenses -- they were deliberate and calculated. The God Squad should not distort our complaint to make it seem we are offended simply by their being persons of faith. They should apologize for what they plainly have done which is assert in a number of different ways on different occasions that atheists have "no reason to get out of bed in the morning and no reason to believe that life has an edge over death, hope an edge over despair and love an edge over hate" and that atheists are personally less moral than believers.
With this "apology" little has changed except that the God Squad is now trying to deflect charges of bigotry whereas in the past, bigotry against atheists and secular humanists could not have mattered less.
This is progress.