Atheists Want to Bless America, But Not With God

Many atheists feel excluded from the national mourning process, which has centered on prayer services and memorials.

 

(RNS) As grieving continues for victims of the Sept. 11 attacks on New York City and the Pentagon, those who don't embrace organized religion say the nation seems to have forgotten that atheists and agnostics also are pained by the tragedy.

"There's this big unity, but it's all under God," said atheist Gail Pepin, who lives near Chicago. "I feel just as strongly about this as everybody else."

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Atheists have donated blood and participated in other relief efforts following the attacks, but some feel uncomfortable at prayer-centered public gatherings, noted Ron Barrier, a spokesman for American Atheists Inc.

Catharine Lamm, a New Hampshire atheist, said she respects those whose faith is a source of comfort, but she avoids memorial services at Dartmouth College where she works.

"What I object to is the feeling of exclusion for me, particularly when the president addresses the nation and doesn't leave any room for people who find their strength in other places," Lamm told the Associated Press.

Pepin said she cringes "every time Bush and everybody else is saying 'God bless America.'"

"They're saying it's not a holy war, but they're invoking God, their deity, all the time," she said. "I find that very confusing."

Adam Walker, head of the Secular Humanist Society of Chicago, said "we're not here to cast aspersions on religious groups."

"We have much more to offer than to point an accusatory finger and say, 'Don't sing 'God Bless America,'" he said.

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