Religion Required

vic_head_small.jpgBy Vic Tanner

In his excellent book, Breaking the Spell, philosopher Daniel C. Dennett made the modest proposal that classes on world religion should be a requirement in all public and private schools as well as home schooling. One community is doing just that. The Modesto, California school district has made a world religion course a requirement for high school graduation in the hopes that it might be a model of how to teach about religion in schools for the rest of the country.


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Shunning is Alive and Well in 21st Century Minnesota

jamesz.jpgBy James Zimmerman

One of the most effective tools a religion has at its disposal is shunning. Fear of being shunned is what keeps many members loyal to a religion they no longer fully believe. And for those few who are vocal about the hypocrisy they've discovered in their former religion, shunning is a form of damage control, a preemptive maneuver that prevents the faithful - the ‘sheep' - from associating with those who may cause their faith to waver.

In religions, and other groups propped up by unverifiable claims, the need for shunning is apparent. Should a member come across damning information about the group, it is imperative to ex-communicate that individual hastily, lest they divulge their findings to others. Of course, merely erasing a former member from a religion's roster does not shut them up, but it does squelch the curiosity of members in good standing. Simply inform the faithful members of a cult, sect, or religion, that their best friend, brother, sister, father or mother has been disfellowshipped and - violá! - suddenly, and without dissent, all in the congregation are now under theological mandate to ignore, demonize and otherwise demean their former companion.


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The Secular Bible Study

The co-sponsored Secular Bible Study met for the first time February 24. Forty-five people attended and appeared to be engaged in the discussions. Chester O'Gorman is a co-leader and sponsored through the out-reach program offered by Trinity Methodist Church. Grant Steves is a co-leader and sponsored by the MNA. The Secular Bible Study group has men and women of all ages and a diversity of beliefs. Chester started the meeting with introductions of the participants, and Grant announced the rules of dialog. The large group was divided into five smaller groups to begin reacting to the first chapter of the book of Genesis. After discussing for several minutes, we reconvened in the large group to share reactions. Their reflections on the first chapter of Genesis and Enuma Elish of Babylonian origins helped to set the stage for how the study will be conducted: the reading of the text for understanding, but not for spiritual edification necessarily.

The next meeting of the group will be March 17 at 7 p.m. in northeast Minneapolis at Trinity United Methodist Church, 2511 Taylor Street NE, Minneapolis, MN 44418.

If you are interested in this group, you may contact them through


President's Column - "Positive Atheism"

watland_gardens12.jpgBy Bjorn Watland

Minnesota Atheists is the state's largest and most active atheist organization.  How did we get to be that way?  Through the efforts of founding members, such as Shirley Moll, Steve Petersen and August Berkshire, our organization is continually fulfilling its mission to provide a welcoming community for atheists, educate the public about atheism, and support the separation of state and church.  We are strong promoters of ‘Positive Atheism,' which means different things to different people.  To me, I see Positive Atheism as advocating several things.

The first is honesty and openness.  Since we do not believe in any gods, we must rely on ourselves to resolve issues great and small.  We cannot appeal to the heavens to feed the hungry, or to ease the mind of someone we have wronged.  We must do so ourselves.  With Minnesota Atheists, I have found members having a good sense of integrity.  With people like that, it is easy to disagree respectfully and know where someone stands.

The second is that atheism, as a unique worldview, should be respected.  While atheists differ on social issues, a person's lack of belief in a god or gods should not affect how others consider his or her opinions.  Lately, there has been more effort to include atheists in interfaith dialog panel discussions and atheists' opinions are being heard regarding social and ethical issues.  Minnesota Atheists has been proud to participate in these efforts.

The third is to stand our ground and let people know we are atheists.  This does not mean being indiscriminately anti-religious, but rather, voicing our opinions on specific issues.  Through respectful dialog, we can challenge any organization which seeks to limit the separation of state and church or seeks to harm others simply because they are atheists.  We focus on protecting our rights and building a community, rather than seeking fights about the existence of God, because we have found we can make a larger difference this way.  If an organization seeks a friendly theological debate, we won't object; we think that our arguments based on truth and evidence stand strong, but our energy is better spent in other ways.

We should not be ashamed or be afraid to admit we are atheists.  As president of Minnesota Atheists, I will continue to work to make our organization unnecessary in society.  That may never happen, but it is my goal.  When atheists don't feel like a minority, when their opinions are respected, and when religious intrusions into our government and society are no longer problems, Minnesota Atheists will have no purpose.  Until that day, I will stand with you.


February Cable TV Report

By Steve Petersen

In January James Zimmerman led a panel discussion with members Crystal Dervetski, Keith Lodermeier, and Ryan Sutter on Arguments for Believing In God. In the first program they discussed The Universe and Logic and on the second program they reviewed the Holy Books. If you would like to help on the cable program or sponsor the show on your cable access station or have ideas for a future program please contact me at





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