Why We Marry, Part 1: The Ceremony

A while ago, Tauriq asked why we should get married. In The Guardian, he argued that we shouldn’t, or at least that he shouldn’t.

I, on the other hand, have spent the last few months deep in Minnesota Atheists’ work on getting marriage law changed so that atheist and humanist celebrants don’t have to declare themselves religious or be recognized by organizations that identify as religious in order to have the state recognize the ceremonies they perform as legal marriages. This means I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people who perform nonreligious ceremonies and to people who have been married in nonreligious ceremonies about why these ceremonies are important to people. I’ve spent somewhat less time talking to legislators about the state’s concerns with the changes we’re asking for.

It also means I’ve spent a bunch of time answering questions about why we’re involved in the issue at all. There are two that are incredibly common in various forms. Why should we take an interest in marriage? Why are we supporting the idea that the state should take an interest in marriage? I’d like to address both of these questions. I’ll split them into separate posts, because they are very separate issues.

So why should a group like Minnesota Atheists take an interest in marriage? In order to answer that, we need to look at why people have marriage rituals at all. [Read more…]

“There Is No LGBTQ Movement”

Someone passed along this post from Steve Ahlquist (yes, Jessica’s uncle), titled, “There is no atheist movement: The American Atheists and CPAC“. The premise of the post is that:

  1. Atheists have no shared values, as demonstrated by American Atheists attempt to pay $3,000 to table at Conservative Political Action Conference;therefore,
  2. There is no atheist movement, because movements have shared values.

The person who shared it with me felt that I would appreciate this argument as akin to the “How can we call ourselves a movement if we welcome behavior that pushes out more people than it invites in?” arguments that we’ve had about movement atheism. (For the record, I think that’s still a movement, just one that’s hobbling itself badly.) As it turns out, I disagree. Ahlquist’s argument only works as long as he leaves out key information. With that information included, his argument instead becomes a framework for understanding American Atheists’ decision. [Read more…]

Another Way to Fleece the Flock

On the way to a meeting last week, I saw a Christian billboard. I see a lot of billboards, but this one caught my eye as being rather unusual. I didn’t get a picture, but since I followed up on the billboard, the advertising is now following me around on the internet too. Here’s a sample.

Banner ad with text: Making Good Bolder. Actors Models & Talent for Christ. plus contact infoYes, boys and girls, God needs your talent to…uh…well….

So I got curious and checked out the website to figure out what was going on. Was there another company like Faith Films that was going to produce unintentional, painful hilarity? Were they looking for unknowns to help them keep their budget, oh, so low?

No. As it turns out, they weren’t looking for people they could pay very little. This group is looking for people to pay them, all for a chance at stardom! [Read more…]

Today in Christian Persecution

Yesterday, Hemant wrote about a student group that came up with a brilliant way to advertise themselves while getting others to think about the flaws of Christian apologetics. They studied up on an apologist who was coming to their school and turned all the bad arguments and logical fallacies into a bingo card, which they then handed out to people entering the talk. It made it easier to focus on the bad arguments instead of their good delivery, and the back of the card provided information on the student group itself. As I said: brilliant.

So I tweeted the article. Then this happened. (The Storify is here if the embed doesn’t work for you.) [Read more…]

Reviewing Marriage Officiant Law

If you’ve been following along here or receive the Minnesota Atheists monthly newsletter, you know we’ve been working toward changing Minnesota marriage law so that religious clergy are not the only non-government-employees who can legally officiate a marriage in Minnesota. We’ve discussed the issue with members of both the state house and state senate. In December, we met with Senator John Marty, who asked us some very good questions about our options for changing the law and the support that these options have.

In response to those questions, we surveyed atheists and secular humanists across Minnesota to get their opinions on the options they would support. The results of that survey appear in this month’s newsletter and will be shared on the Minnesota Atheists website shortly. I’ll link to them when they’re posted.

In addition, Senator Marty also asked how non-government-official, non-religious officiants are handled in the law of other states. Having a research background and finding this sort of digging fun, I volunteered to pull together this information. Below is the information I pulled together, along with links to the relevant law. These are the states that extend the ability to officiate marriages to more than elected officials (mayors, county commissioners, legislators, lieutenant governors, and governors may all officiate in some states) and judges or clerks of the court. Emphasis is mine, to draw attention to the relevant part of the legal code.

Hopefully this will make things easier for any other group that wants to change the law in their state. Be aware, however, that what I quote is a snapshot. Laws change continually, and the information should be verified before being used for another purpose. [Read more…]

Our Lady of Perpetual Ice

Woman #1: Oh, that looks just like the Virgin Mary. Helen*, do you see that?

Woman #2: Oh! Ya.

Woman #1: Harry, Harry, look! Doesn’t that look like the Virgin Mary?

Man: No, I’m not religious.

I didn’t laugh out loud. I’m more polite than that. I didn’t even look behind me to figure out who was having the conversation. I just made sure Ben took a picture of the “virgin” after they moved on. That’s why we were at the Apostle Island National Lakeshore after all, to take pictures of ice. [Read more…]

Comparing Secular Services

The Sunday Assemblies have gotten more people than ever talking about what people want or need from their atheist and humanist organizations. They didn’t start these discussions, of course, but expanding them is good. I have been, however, struck by how many of the articles and blog posts focus on what one person does or doesn’t want from a meeting with other nonbelievers.

Here in the Twin Cities, we were approached by Sunday Assembly, and there’s been some curiosity. The moderate amount of interest wasn’t enough to draw the founders all the way out here on their tour this summer (though it is ongoing).

Back in November, for the Atheists Talk television program, I sat down with representatives from three Twin Cities groups to talk about the general concept of atheist and humanist congregations and what these groups had to offer their members. I’ll note that we have many more than three groups for nonbelievers here, but I only had three chairs to work with. I spoke with August Berkshire of Minnesota Atheists and Scott Lohman, president of Humanists of Minnesota, representatives of the largest local atheist and humanist groups. I also spoke with Rev. David Bredeen, pastor at Minneapolis’s First Unitarian Society, which is unusual for a UU group in that it was founded specifically as an atheist congregation.

Things only got a little competitive.

Minnesota Nonbelievers, Your Opinions Please

Minnesota law, like most states’ laws, restrict who can “solemnize” a marriage–certify to the state that a legal marriage has occurred after whatever type of formalities are deemed appropriate. Here is Minnesota’s current list of people who can be authorized to solemnize marriages (section 517.04 of Minnesota law):

Civil marriages may be solemnized throughout the state by an individual who has attained the age of 21 years and is a judge of a court of record, a retired judge of a court of record, a court administrator, a retired court administrator with the approval of the chief judge of the judicial district, a former court commissioner who is employed by the court system or is acting pursuant to an order of the chief judge of the commissioner’s judicial district, the residential school administrators of the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf and the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind, a licensed or ordained minister of any religious denomination, or by any mode recognized in section 517.18. For purposes of this section, a court of record includes the Office of Administrative Hearings under section 14.48.

Section 517.18 is a list of special provisions for groups that don’t recognize their traditions (or may be at risk of the state not recognizing their traditions) under the description “a licensed or ordained minister of any religious denomination”:

Subdivision 1. Friends or Quakers. All civil marriages solemnized among the people called Friends or Quakers, in the form heretofore practiced and in use in their meetings, shall be valid and not affected by any of the foregoing provisions. The clerk of the meeting in which such civil marriage is solemnized, within one month after any such civil marriage, shall deliver a certificate of the same to the local registrar of the county where the civil marriage took place, under penalty of not more than $100. Such certificate shall be filed and recorded by the court administrator under a like penalty. If such civil marriage does not take place in such meeting, such certificate shall be signed by the parties and at least six witnesses present, and shall be filed and recorded as above provided under a like penalty.

Subd. 2. Baha’i. Civil marriages may be solemnized among members of the Baha’i faith by the chair of an incorporated local Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is, according to the form and usage of such society.

Subd. 3. Hindus; Muslims. Civil marriages may be solemnized among Hindus or Muslims by the person chosen by a local Hindu or Muslim association, according to the form and usage of their respective religions.

Subd. 4. American Indians. Civil marriages may be solemnized among American Indians according to the form and usage of their religion by an Indian Mide’ or holy person chosen by the parties to the civil marriage.

Subd. 5. Construction of section. Nothing in subdivisions 2 to 4 shall be construed to alter the requirements of section 517.01, 517.09 or 517.10.

Based on this law and on discussions with lawmakers, we note that there is no way for a non-religious community to be treated equally on this matter. An atheist or secular humanist could become a celebrant by working with a branch of their community identified as religious. For example, humanists have been allowed to perform marriages working through the religious branch of humanism. Ethical Societies identify as religious groups. An atheist group could potentially choose to do the same if its membership were in favor. However, an atheist group that is clear that it is not a “religious denomination” with “licensed or ordained minister[s]” is excluded under the law as it now stands.

Some members of the Minnesota Atheists board (including me) have also talked to lawmakers about options for changing this. And we heard from members and others with very strong opinions about what should be done about the situation, including doing nothing at all.

In response, we’ve put together a very short survey to find out from nonbelievers in Minnesota where they stand on the question. If that description fits you, please, take a few minutes and let us know where you stand. We have an opportunity to represent you on this issue, and we want to know what that means.

Is This Life as an Atheist?

There is a post from a former pastor at Huffington Post that’s making the rounds. Ryan Bell was recently asked to resign his position as a Seventh-Day Adventist pastor after being unable to affirm some of the articles of faith of that tradition and for being a generally decent human being.

The commentary I’ve seen has been interesting, particularly the suggestions that he won’t really be living as an atheist. The reasons for this vary. There’s one commenter who says Bell can’t live like an atheist until he tells people he’s an atheist so he can experience anti-atheist prejudice. Of course, not all of us who are openly atheist experience much in the way of prejudice.

More importantly, however, in being removed from his church, Bell has already experienced the kind of dislocating rejection that’s common to preachers turned atheist. [Read more…]

Anti-Theist Activism Is Social Justice Activism

I’ve seen many atheist activists, particularly young atheist activists, dismiss the idea of doing anti-theist activism because they’re “interested in social justice”. This is wrong.

It isn’t wrong that they don’t want to do anti-theist activism. Being confrontational, particularly about a topic that raises emotions and tangles with taboo the way religion does, isn’t for everyone. It’s a long haul without much in the way of immediate reward. Besides, there is plenty of social justice work needing good, dedicated, atheist hands. As long as you’re accomplishing something in line with your goals, the good kind of activism is the kind that keeps you motivated to keep pouring your time, energy, and money into it.

However, I have to disagree with the idea that anti-theist activism isn’t social justice activism. [Read more…]