In the meantime, I would hope congregations of atheists like the Center for Inquiry will someday try to help the homeless, care for the sick and provide activities for young people--just because it's the right thing to do. Let them start nonprofit hospitals and credit unions, and do other good works.
If there are community outreach activities like this, my apologies. The only thing I ever see in the media (and the Tucson Weekly article is no exception) pertaining to atheist activities is protests of religion and civil action to get "under God" removed from the Pledge of Allegiance. The Web site for the Center for Inquiry doesn't talk about efforts to make the world a better place. If these efforts are underway, atheists need to do better PR. Words never count as much as actions in demonstrating beliefs and what you truly stand for.
After sifting through the drivel and ignorance of most of the interviewees of the article, only Dr. Guy McPherson came close to understanding this simple fact when he said that he "claimed to be an agnostic professionally because science has no way of testing whether God is real or not." I would have had more respect for him, however, if he had clarified why he can't claim to be an atheist as a professional. Atheism is a belief system with no basis in scientific fact, and therefore the essence of its inferiority as a system of thought is abundantly clear.
Earlier this year, Dan Barker, a former Protestant minister and now an atheist and writer of Losing Faith in Faith, spoke at an open forum at the UA. Sitting in that packed hall, I was just waiting for someone to stand up, Bible in hand, spouting rhetoric. But this didn't happen.
Throughout the speech, the crowd was vocally supportive of the speaker, and he was never once interrupted. When the opportunity for questions came up, I thought to myself, "Here comes the red-faced tirade of condemnations and moral challenges." But again, this did not happen. The questions were about the book, the speaker's life and how he came to the conclusions he had reached. I left with a sense of pride, knowing that there actually is quite a large group of people who are on the same page as I am, and that Tucson is, in fact, a progressive and, especially, a tolerant community.
Each atheist has their reason for not being overly vocal. Some of the looks I've gotten over the years would have made a lot of people run away. But I think it's also a sense of contentment: Most atheists have derived their own opinions on religion apart from the usual dogma or the ideas of others, and have forged their own path, thus building confidence in what they believe despite the social norms around them. I'm not attempting to convey that I am, nor any other atheist is, a better person for this sort of "spiritual journey," but I would like to re-emphasize that no atheist has a goal of undermining the moral fabric of this or any other society. We simply wish to take advantage of the same freedom of religion so coveted by the "patriots" and to live our lives as we see fit.
I am a Russian woman (not a refugee) who immigrated to the United States in 2004 and who lives in Tucson. I personally met quite a few of Meskhetian Turks. We speak the same language. In Russia, I knew very little about Meskhetian Turks--as I never visited Southern Russia or Uzbekistan, and there was no information about Meskhetian Turks in the mass media.
Tucson is a very welcome place for many refugees coming here from different parts of the world. The Tucsonans are open, friendly and hospitable. I am very pleased that refugees from other countries can now call this great place home.
Thanks again to Julia Barton for her article!
My Mailbag letter of June 29 ("Warehouses in the Way of 'Progress' Are Doomed, Unless ...") was my attempt to prod Tucson's Warehouse Arts Management Organization to begin strongly advocating for lease changes and anti-eviction ordinances, but Chicken Little was ignored like the Boy Who Cried Wolf. Unfortunately, now it is too late for such advocacy. All that is left to do now are forms of creative direct action, or the Warehouse Arts District may R.I.P.
In support of my statement, I give you Raul Grijalva, Jon Kyl and John McCain. In spite of piss-poor performances, these fellows know they are going to die of old age in their D.C. offices. And the voters won't give a rat's ass one way or the other, or even notice.
People who actually serve on juries and lawyers who test their cases before them, generally speaking, regard the system with awe. Nothing quite prepares one for the selflessness, seriousness of purpose and independence of mind that one sees demonstrated by the Kirsten Larsens of this community.
My own generation does everything it can to get out of jury duty, and the next generation seems to regard the institution with open contempt. I see no reason to expect otherwise. Danehy-style "satire" provides our image of the reality, and one-dimensional morality plays styled as "crime" and "court-room" dramas provide our ideal. Perhaps it is Ms. Larsen who represents our future. I, for one, hope so.
Robert J. Bushkin