Saturday, June 4, 2011

Can we Have a Moment of Silence, Please?

Nah, just kidding.

This article about a lawsuit in Florida really pissed me off.  An atheist is asking for a moment of silence to replace the city council's unconstitutional prayer.  It doesn't say why she wants that moment of silence, though.

I would like to know why a moment of silence is needed at all.  As a matter of cultural practice, it makes sense for any gathering to have a speech by a leader stating something about the shared values of the group and the purpose for the gathering.  Ritual is important, and it can set the tone for the event.  Silence is just people alone with their own thoughts - the complete opposite.

The origin of the practice is to give the religionists their moment without giving them their prayer.  It's a concession, not a suitable secular practice.  What is secular about making people shut up for a "moment?"  It's a moment for prayer for the losers.  It's a way of letting them have their prayer without letting them force their prayer on others.  It's still a moment for prayer.

Prayer is what's unconstitutional, not ritual.  Instead of getting rid of the tradition of starting proceedings with a brief speech, the city should adopt a ritual that celebrates their true shared values: the democratic process that brought them together.

They could start with the Pledge of Allegiance (original version).  Or they could make up their own.  It could go something like this: 

Esteemed citizens, welcome to the monthly meeting of the city council, elected by you, empowered by you, and dedicated to the mission of protecting and serving you and your interests.  In doing the people's business, we ask all in the room to be mindful of the highest principles of democracy.

Christians who make the argument that atheists believe in "nothing" don't need to be validated by a court case that pits atheism's moment of nothing vs. religionists moment of inviting their magic fairy's intervention in the democratic process.  We don't want nothing in place of a religious something.  We (should) want something that's positive and democratic.

Silence has its place.   Being alone with one's own thoughts at a funeral for a moment is a good thing.  All the mourners have special memories of the deceased and their relationships are individual.  I want silence when I'm trying to read.  I want silence in the operating room so my surgeon and the technicians can focus. 

Silence is good, but it's not a suitable substitute for public prayer.

15 comments:

Infidel753 said...

Most likely it was meant as a concession -- a moment of silence is not (inherently) religious, but it might have made the religious feel like they were still getting something. Some people feel that defeat can be accepted more easily if you don't rub it in.

After three strategically-timed arrests as efforts to stop her from giving a deposition, though, my guess is that she's feeling rather less conciliatory. She needs to get in touch with the ACLU. Sounds like another lawsuit -- for frivolous arrest and harassment -- is in order.

LadyAtheist said...

Yep, exactly. They still get their prayer, but what we lose by doing that is the opportunity to have a social bonding moment around true shared values.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Congress pays (as in taxpayer money) to have clergy come into the Capitol and lead the body in prayer. Of course, it is always a denomination of Christianity, never any other religion.

Even my wife had to deal with a local realtor board who would start their meeting invoking Jesus Christ. The non-believers and those who followed other religions wrote a letter to the president of the board - which was ignored.

Rather than a moment of silence, I think the best offense is to have a litany of different religious clergy lead the body with their prayers - a little Hebrew, some Farsi maybe some Siek and, of course, Islam. Kind of makes a point, in my opinion.

LadyAtheist said...

I think some places have tried that. The theory is that any belief is better than no belief, or that all beliefs are equal. Either way, they defeat their own claim to have the "right" religion with that kind of tactic.

I used to work for a city agency that was big on diversity but only if it meant being nice to black people, who were overwhelmingly Christian. One of the top bigwigs who was black held this mandatory meeting a few weeks before her retirement and had one of the employees who was also a minister (lots of those in the black community - they don't get paid well in their churches) lead us in a prayer and invoked JC. The four Jews (including one holocaust survivor) and the few muslims and atheists there were livid. But then she announced her retirement plans so there was no point in complaining.

ex-minister1 said...

"I want silence in the operating room so my surgeon and the technicians can focus."

There are no theist on the operating table.

LadyAtheist said...

I'm stealing that quote!!!

cl said...

It's a moment for prayer for the losers. It's a way of letting them have their prayer without letting them force their prayer on others. It's still a moment for prayer.

Wow, you are really batty. That's downright frightening. You see, America has these things called religious freedom and tolerance, which means that the right to pray must be honored as much as the right to be free from religious compulsion. You, on the other hand, apparently want to strip the religious of their rights, even when they are not imposing their beliefs on you. That, my friend, is fascist thought control, plain and simple.

LadyAtheist said...

Religious people have a right to pray anywhere they want but not to impose that prayer on others in a government setting. I have no desire to strip people of their right to pray in other venues.

cl said...

"Religious people have a right to pray anywhere they want but not to impose that prayer on others in a government setting."

I wholeheartedly agree. A moment of silence DOES NOT impose prayer on anyone. That's the "batty" part.

LadyAtheist said...

If it's not a form of prayer, then why do you accuse me of wanting to "to strip the religious of their rights." How does preferring a statement about democracy to a moment of silence constitute stripping the religious of their right if silence isn't religious. Explain, please.

cl said...

"If it's not a form of prayer, then why do you accuse me of wanting to "to strip the religious of their rights."

A moment of silence is a moment of silence. Nobody is forcing anybody to pray, but the moment is there for those who want to take it. By removing even the moment, then, you deny our religious officials their right to pray in their own hearts at the meetings of their choice. Believe me, if prayer was IN ANY WAY being imposed on the uninterested here, I'd be in complete agreement with you. But you can't go too far in the other direction, if you know what I mean. I respect your right to not have prayer or faith or religion imposed on you by the state, and you respect my right to exercise my religious liberties so long as I do not impose them on you. That's the balance we need.

"How does preferring a statement about democracy to a moment of silence constitute stripping the religious of their right if silence isn't religious."

I didn't object to the statement about democracy. That can exist right alongside the moment of silence. I actually think it's a good idea, and I like the way you worded it.

Infidel753 said...

If the moment of silence is intended as an opportunity for praying, then it's government sanctioning of religion and therefore unconstitutional -- and inappropriate in a governmental setting where religion is not supposed to be privileged.

Pray on your own time. That's what freedom of religion means. Leave it out of government.

cl said...

"If the moment of silence is intended as an opportunity for praying, then it's government sanctioning of religion and therefore unconstitutional..."

If it was exclusively intended for compulsory prayer, you'd have a point. Since it isn't, you don't. To sanction a religion is to endorse it. During a moment of silence, one is free to meditate, pray, have sex fantasies, pay homage to LUCA, recite Lady Gaga songs, or participate in any one of a large number of mental exercises. That is NOT a sanction of religion, in any way, shape, or form.

"...and inappropriate in a governmental setting where religion is not supposed to be privileged."

Everybody has their own opinions about what's inappropriate. The question is whether a religion is being endorsed here, and clearly, none are. Religion is not privileged with a moment of silence, any more than visualization or any of the other things I mentioned.

"Pray on your own time. That's what freedom of religion means."

As far as the Constitution is concerned, freedom of religion means you have the right to NOT have any religion imposed on you by the state, and the right to practice your belief system of choice free of interference from the state. In a moment of silence, the state is not imposing any religion on you, neither is the state preventing you from practicing your belief system of choice.

Mike said...

"As far as the Constitution is concerned, freedom of religion means you have the right to NOT have any religion imposed on you by the state, and the right to practice your belief system of choice free of interference from the state. In a moment of silence, the state is not imposing any religion on you, neither is the state preventing you from practicing your belief system of choice."

Well said. Too many atheists go overboard when it comes to church / state. This would be a point in favor of hypothesis B.

Anonymous said...

The only athiest fascist was Stalin. Hitler, Mussolini, ect all used religion to their advantage to help get the indoctranated to follow their cause.