Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Week of Reason, Part Two – The 2012 American Atheists Convention

By Contributor Han Hills

What better start could there be to this year’s American Atheists Convention than a national rally on the Washington Mall, which I wrote about in part one of this series.

This was a golden achievement and served as an obvious start to their annual convention in Bethesda, running from the end of the rally on March 24 to March 26.

After the resounding success of the Reason Rally, American Atheists held a free after party including “Debaptisms” performed by the always amusing Edwin Kagin. For many, humorous acts such as these serve to show, once again, that the symbolic practices of many organized religions hold very little significance in the real world.

At the conference, Richard Dawkins spoke about the folly that we should quietly respect the illogical and dangerous beliefs of our prospective political leaders. He strongly argued that it was both dangerous and unacceptable to hand the highest social power to men and women who openly vouch for laughably unproven and unfounded faith traditions, and that we need a caliber of leaders with real world understanding based in fact and not fiction.

The splendid and unashamedly blasphemous culmination of Sunday’s activity was a costume dinner, where attendees were encouraged to lampoon their favorite religious icons. I attended as a heavily robed black monk, rosary adorned. It was of no surprise to any present that our blasphemies went noticeably unpunished. The gods, and their creeds, seemed, as always, both absent and silent.

American Atheists are an unashamed group openly and proudly in conflict with the religious industry.

I left the conference with a newly revitalized will to attack injustice and irrationality wherever it should be found. American Atheists, as the name suggests, stand firmly in opposition to the influence of blind faith and dangerous power of organized religion. For them, there are no sacred cows and the toleration of even the smallest irrationality is not an option. This is a fight against a bloated and malignant emperor who must be shown publicly to have no clothes. In their eyes, this is a battle they must fight to the last and their numbers, particularly among the young, grow with each passing day.

Like many, I left the on a cold Maryland morning with a warrior’s resolve. Though I consider myself a compassionate Humanist, I cannot help but see the sharp edge of the debate, tempered by the glimmering intelligence of Dawkins and others. True, this is one end of a long continuum of non-theistic thinking but a powerful and increasingly popular one, especially among new online communities.

The next event in this amazing week of reason is the “Rock Beyond Belief” concert at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, and I will report on this in the final part of my trilogy of posts.

One Brave Christian Experiment: Day 39, “A Life That Really Matters”

Editor’s Note: Contributor Christine Moughamian is blogging each day of Lent about her progress becoming “one brave Christian.” Follow her experiment on Twitter @1bravechristian.

By Contributor Christine Moughamian

In 1965, Danny Morris was the minister of John Wesley Presbyterian Church in Tallahassee, FL, where Sam Teague created his “Ten Brave Christians” experiment. He recounted the spiritual renewal his congregation underwent in his book: “A Life That Really Matters.”

In his foreword, Morris explained it was “the story of how the program started and what happened to the first 38 people who took part.”

I was particularly interested in two of the testimonies.

Under “A New Calling,” Morris told the experience of a young man who participated in the original group and owned a drugstore. Although all names had been withheld, it was easy to identify Calvin LeHew, co-author with Stowe Dailey Shockey of “Flying High,” the book which inspired my Lenten experiment.

Once he completed the program, LeHew asked himself: “How many of my customers’ physical ailments are related to their lack of spiritual life?” He further noted: “With my drugs, they get relief but not help.”

Then LeHew decided to give every new prescription customer a complimentary “good book” which would read on the inside cover:

“Thank you for letting us aid in your physical health! May we also recommend this book to aid in your spiritual health.”

His “New Calling” served two purposes: to “witness to God for others” and to motivate Morris to write the “good book” which became “A Life That Really Matters.”

The second testimony that was meaningful to me came from a woman who had always been a Christian but, “in an attitude of prayer,” still wondered about “surrendering” her life to God.

She said: “in a time of war between two countries… the surrender is complete. I thought of the struggle I had been having in my own soul.”

She realized that to “surrender” her life to God meant: “God can decide – and help me to decide – what in my life needs to be cast off. He is the victor.”

Upon reading her testimony, I was reminded of two wars. The first one was raging in Vietnam at that time.

The second war opens “The Bhagavad Gita,” or “The Lord’s Song.” In the

Prince Arjuna and his Charioteer, Lord Krishna. Photo via Wikipedia

Hindu scripture, it is waged in the soul.

Prince Arjuna is portrayed on the battlefield, in his chariot. He is pleading with Lord Krishna to avoid the inevitable: surrendering to God.

In the epic allegory, the chariot represents the body, which must be fit. The five horses are the five senses, which must be controlled by the reins of the mind. Lord Krishna is the intellect or Divine Guidance within. Arjuna is the Master Archer who must battle his drives and desires with one-pointed concentration and surrender his ego, his own will, to the will of God.

After a long struggle, Arjuna runs out of arguments. He throws down his bow and arrows, sits down in his chariot, despondent. He addresses Lord Krishna “in an attitude of prayer”:

“I am your disciple. Please teach me, for I have taken refuge in you.”

From that place of total surrender to Divine Guidance, Prince Arjuna lets Lord Krishna drive his chariot on the battlefield of the soul. He conquers his inner enemies, the error thoughts of separation from God. The Prince becomes the King of Action, masters the Law of Karma.

He achieves Union with the Divine and inherits the Kingdom of Heaven.

Across thousands of years, those two stories seem to illustrate the same point:

Surrendering the ego to Divine Guidance may lead one to live “a life that really matters.”

The Week of Reason – Part one, Reason Rally

By Contributor Han Hills

This week a tide of reason swept the nation as freethinkers, young and old, came together to embrace a spirit of sense and sanity beginning to wake up the country.

It began with a true landmark event, The Reason Rally on the

Atheist blogger Greta Christina speaking at The Reason Rally in March 2012. Photo via Wikipedia.

National Mall in Washington D.C. on March 24. A powerful and famous group of Atheists, Humanists, Freethinkers and others who have cast aside religion came out onto the public stage in our national capitol to greet a crowd officially estimated at 25,000, a figure beyond all expectations.

The greatest surprise, looking out on the crowd, was the overwhelming majority of young faces. Today’s Freethought movement is driven by America’s youth. Tired of repressive and nonsensical superstition, they reach for a future based on thinking, science and sanity.

Speaker were greats from the worlds of science, comedy, music and the arts including Richard Dawkins, Eddie Izzard, Bill Maher and Tim Minchin.

About halfway through the festivities, the clouds broke and the rains came, but it didn’t matter. The crowds stayed for more. There was something for everyone on the Mall that day. For the very young, a large team from Camp Quest, the new secular program for children of all ages, opened a huge tent to make learning fun. For all ages, there was the joy of being surrounded by the like-minded, the tolerant, and other open hearts unchained by tradition, sectarianism or dogma.

An astonishing phenomenon in recent years has been the growth of the Freethought community online, through Facebook and other social networks, and the thousands of passionate bloggers spreading the message of positivity, equality and visions of a bright future. For many old friends online, the Reason Rally was a first chance to connect in person. This was a rally forged in cyberspace that showed how easily this movement can move out with strength into the world.

In the crowd, the message was a clear and consistent one. This is a beginning, the surge forward of a genuine movement that will shape the future of our country in years and decades to come.

The Rally was organized by many groups from across the spectrum of Freethinking, Atheist and Humanist communities. The truth is those in this movement have far more in common than apart. Together they are becoming an important and growing social voice and voting block. This is a movement of the young and so a voice that is here to stay.

Groups such as American Atheists, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the American Humanist Association and especially the Secular Student Alliance, have seen their membership grow exponentially already this decade, and that trend looks only to continue. This is not just a movement against religion, though. Rather it represents a positive force of ideas for a positive future without repression.

Another large gathering of thousands is happening today (March 31), Rock Beyond Belief at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville. It seems this community will not tire of gathering by the thousands to express their opinions and call for a new wind of sanity. Our nation’s elected leaders should sit up and take notice.

After Trayvon Martin case, churches say ‘stereotypes cost lives’

Trayvon Martin Protest - Sanford

Trayvon Martin Protest - Sanford (Photo credit: werthmedia)

c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

(RNS) An umbrella group of Christian denominations committed to combating racism is urging churches to use the death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin as a “teachable moment” to speak out against racial stereotypes.

“It is a time to understand the burden that some of us have to live always facing the stereotypes of others and the danger that these stereotypes might cost us our lives,” wrote the 10 leaders of Churches Uniting in Christ in a statement released Wednesday (March 28).

“In humility, we invite the Body of Christ to join in serious self-examination about how our communities by our silence support racial profiling and stereotyping.”

CUIC called on churches to examine laws that may have contributed to the Feb. 26 death of Martin, a 17-year-old African-American who was unarmed. George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, admitted shooting Martin in Sanford, Fla., but law enforcement officials have not charged him, citing the state’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law.

“We cannot remain silent as our country once again struggles with the senseless killing of an unarmed young African-American boy,” the CUIC leaders said. “We write because we cannot remain silent at the continued ‘criminalization’ of black and brown peoples with laws that give license to people to shoot first and ask questions later.”

CUIC is composed of 10 mainline Protestant and historically black denominations, including the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church and others, with a special focus on overcoming racism.

Top leaders of the National Council of Churches also called for the aftermath of Martin’s death to be a time for introspection. “All of us — especially those who are white — must engage in urgent self-examination about the ways we react to persons we regard as ‘other,'” wrote NCC President Kathryn M. Lohre and Interim General Secretary Clare J. Chapman.

Some commentators have questioned whether white clergy took too long to add their voices to discussions about the case.

Although the Florida Council of Churches recently issued a statement about the case, “local white faith leaders have been missing from action in the movement for justice for nearly a month,” former Orlando Sentinel religion writer Mark Pinsky wrote in The Huffington Post.



‘Occult’ filming picks spooky spots in the Cape Fear area

By Cassie Foss
Copyright 2012
Reprinted with permission

Maybe it’s the rural setting or the quaint, historical chapel at Shelter Neck’s Universalist Unitarian Camp, but something screams “The Occult” in Burgaw.

The local production, which kicked off filming in the region the week of March 20, has chosen the camp and the surrounding area as the setting of the fictional village of New Bethlehem, a devout community kept under the tight reins of the town’s vigilant elders, according to Blaise Noto, a publicist for the film.

But the production wasn’t satisfied with just being in the country.

On Wednesday, film crews began to spread dirt over about a quarter-mile stretch of Croomsbridge Road near the camp.

The road is expected to be closed near 3747 Croomsbridge until April 14, according to a N.C. Department of Transportation news release.

Although the horror thriller isn’t a period piece, the dirt is designed to give the area a more “countrified” feel, Noto said.

The story follows six girls who are born on the same day to different mothers.

On the eve of their 18th birthdays, the girls begin to mysteriously disappear and are feared dead.

The elders of the village believe the girls’ disappearances are linked to an old prophecy that foretells the coming of the devil’s daughter via the villagers.

Terror overtakes the community, leading villagers to wonder if a serial killer is at work or if the prophecy has come true.

The film, an LD Entertainment Production directed by Christian Christiansen (“The Roommate”) and written by Karl Mueller, stars Rufus Sewell (“The Illusionist”) and Alycia Debnam-Carey.

Heche has worked in the area before. She was cast in last year’s locally filmed “Arthur Newman, Golf Pro” and she had a small role in the 1997’s “I Know What You Did Last Summer.”

Sewell stars in the upcoming “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.”

Other recent cast additions include Colm Meaney (“Law Abiding

Colm J. Meaney, an Irish actor widely known fo...

Colm J. Meaney, an Irish actor widely known for playing Miles O'Brien in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, sits as he speaks into a microphone. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Citizen”), Jennifer Carpenter (“Dexter”) and Cary native singer/songwriter Katie Garfield, who will play Abby, one of the village’s young women.

Burgaw isn’t the only spooky spot cast members will visit.

Location scouts chose Marilyn Meares’ Chestnut Street bungalow in Wilmington as the setting of at least one scene in the film.

The conservation consultant said she came home from work recently to find a note from production scouts taped to her front door.

Scouts may have chosen her bungalow, built in 1923, because of its location in an established neighborhood and its lush, leafy vegetation, Meares said.

They also needed a long hallway.

“I think the main thing they needed was a hallway for people to run through and hide, and I’ve got a long one that goes to my bedroom,” she said. “It just kind of came together.”

The film is expected to shoot at the home Monday through Thursday.

Crews also filmed scenes this month at a wooded area at Autumn Hall Lake near Eastwood Road.

Filming is expected to continue through the end of April, Noto said.

Cassie Foss: 343-2365
On Twitter: @WilmOnFilm

Area Passover services for April 6-14

A Seder table setting

A Seder table setting (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first night of Passover or Pesach – the festival of freedom for Jews – begins at sundown on April 6. Here is a listing of local Passover seders.

B’nai Israel Synagogue in Wilmington is hosting it Second Night Seder at 6:30 p.m. April 7 at the synagogue, 2601 Chestnut St. The traditional meal will be prepared by Chef Mark Scharaga, trained at the California Sushi Academy in Los Angeles. Call for meal costs. Details: 762-1117.

Temple of Israel in Wilmington’s Ladies Concordia Society is hosting its Second Night Seder at 5:30 p.m. April 7 at the Bluewater Grill Restaurant, 4 Marina St. in Wrightsville Beach. Details: Contact the Chair, Jeri Graham at 910-­616-­3487 or

Chabad of Wilmington’s First Night Community Seder is at 8:30 p.m. April 6 at Chabad’s address, 2714 Market Street. Details: 910-763-4770.

Temple Shalom of Myrtle Beach is hosting its Community Seder at 6 p.m. April 6 at Horry Georgetown Technical College and Conference Center, 950 Crabtree Lane at Market Commons.  Call for meal prices. Details: 843-903-6634.

-Amanda Greene

Belief Bytes: Friday’s Religion News Roundup

A portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Matthew Harris Jouett. Courtesy RNS archives

Here is your Religion News Roundup for today:

c. Religion News Service 2012
Reprinted with permission

Suzan Johnson Cook, the State Department’s newish ambassador for international religious freedom, is settling into life in Foggy Bottom. Atheists in the military are getting ready to “Rock Beyond Belief” at North Carolina’s Fort Bragg tomorrow.

In Britain, the big-C Conservatives are leading the push for gay marriage.

Looks like pope’s trip to Mexico was worth the time: legislators approved a measure, 72-35, that will allow public religious events.

Retiring Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams says the challenges facing the Anglican Communion “won’t go away” now that his own Church of England has rejected a proposed Anglican Covenant to keep rogue churches in the Anglican Communion in line.

Police in France rounded up 17 suspected Islamic militants in Toulouse who were presumably accomplices to the man who shot and killed four people outside a Jewish school before being taken down by police. Meanwhile, the gunman, Mohammed Merah, was buried in France yesterday.”

Read the rest of the article here:

-Samantha Freda, WilmingtonFAVS news intern

BRIEF: VeggieTales Live Tour coming to Wilmington Saturday to benefit local children’s nonprofit

The VeggieTales banner. Photo courtesy Yahweh Center.

The 2012 Veggie Tales Live: God Made You Special Tour is stopping  in Wilmington Saturday as one of the 40 cities on its national tour.

The event will be at 2 p.m. Saturday (March 31) in Cape Fear Community College’s Schwartz Center, 610 N. Front St. Tickets are $15 through March 30. Tickets the day of the show are $20.

Proceeds from the concert will benefit The Yahweh Center Children’s Village, which provides psychiatric residential treatment and adoption and foster care services for at-risk, abused and neglected children ages five to 12 in North Carolina.

The organization is expecting about 1,900 children and families to attend the event.

Details: 1-866-924-9347.

– Amanda Greene

One Brave Christian Experiment: Day 38, Interview with “brave Christian” Stowe Dailey Shockey

Stowe Daily Shockey performing at the Positive Music Festival in January. Photo by Christine Moughamian

Editor’s Note: Contributor Christine Moughamian is blogging each day of Lent about her progress becoming “one brave Christian.” Follow her experiment on Twitter @1bravechristian.

By Contributor Christine Moughamian

On Feb. 24, I did a telephone interview with singer and author Stowe Dailey Shockey, whose book “Flying High, A Story of Shared Inspiration,” introduced me to Sam Teague’s program.

Her co-author, Calvin LeHew, was one of the original “Ten Brave Christians” who participated in Sam Teague’s 1965 experiment at John Wesley Presbyterian Church, in Tallahassee, FL.

I first met Stowe in January 2012 at the Seventh Annual Posi Music Festival in Orlando, FL. She was awarded Honorable Mention for the song “The God-shaped Hole” she co-wrote with Karen Taylor-Good. A power-machine on guitar, Stowe had her audience electrified.

Later on, she gave me a copy of her book, then sent me “The John Wesley – Great Experiment” booklet that guided my 31-day practice.

Because of her participation in a prayer group, her “brave Christian” experiment was quite different from mine.

I am grateful to Stowe for her passion, her generosity and for sharing her experience with me.

CM: Stowe, could you tell me what prompted you to try the experiment?

SDS: “For me, it all began after reading the “Ten Brave Christians” book Calvin gave me. My husband Peter is the one who actually had the idea to ask some of our church members to come together as a group.”

CM: In “Flying High,” Calvin said his group kept meeting long after the experiment was over. What happened with your group?

SDS: “We started meeting on Sunday evenings at someone’s house, 10 of us exactly. That was three years ago. We’ve grown close as a group and we still meet regularly.”

CM: How did you proceed with your group?

SDS: “We followed Teague’s practice guidelines at home, then met each Sunday at someone’s home. We talked and prayed for one another. That was the most significant part. From the very beginning, it became obvious that Bible study was less important for our group than talking and sharing.”

CM: Has your format changed over the years?

SDS: “Yes, recently, we’ve been telling our life stories to our group, over two Sundays per person. Initially, my husband Peter would come up with a curriculum but it would always get modified. There were times when we stopped the program to pray for someone in crisis, in a free-flowing kind of prayer. The most powerful prayers bring tears to my eyes.”

CM: Is that what kept your group together, the power in praying together?

SDS: “Yes, when one or more are gathered together because we agreed to it, I believe there is great power. We hold high expectations that our prayers will be answered. We love one another.”

Stowe repeated, with passion, the word “love!”

CM: Did your group experiment bring you closer to God?

SDS: “Yes, being around like-minded people, hearing about their stories, what happens to them… It helps you focus and look up.”

CM: Can you share a story of healing prayers?

SDS: “When I was fighting colon cancer three years ago, I talked about it in our group, and we prayed for my healing. The group would gather around me, put their hands on my head; my shoulders. We were all connected in a circle. A couple of people would raise their hands up to the sky to draw in God’s healing energy. On the “gallery” of my website,, there’s a photo of me with our group members reenacting the way we prayed. We prayed for the healing of my soul. When your soul is healed, your body will follow.”

CM: Did you do anything to facilitate this process?

SDS: “I accepted healing. In our prayer group, we allow ourselves to be conduits of God’s love and light. It’s important that you feel you can receive it.”

CM: In closing, is there some advice you’d like to give our readers?

SDS: “We need to develop a sense of gratitude. Like the Coke commercial said in the 1960’s, ‘things are better with it.’ Something beyond randomness way greater than us created this beautiful universe. When you do have a sense of gratitude, the universe is just singing.”

Religious leaders press Village Voice on sex ads

c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

WASHINGTON (RNS) Religious leaders on Thursday (March 29) delivered more than 230,000 signatures to the office of Village Voice Media, demanding the company shut down the adult advertising section on its website,, where advertisements for sex with underage minors have appeared.

“As a mother and as a member of the clergy, I am outraged by Village Voice Media’s continued refusal to shut down’s adult section, even after being confronted with evidence that girls and teens have been advertised for sex on the site,” said the Rev. Katharine Henderson, president of Auburn Seminary and a leader of the petition.

Leaders from an array of religious groups, including Jews, Sikhs, Baptists, Hindus, and Muslims, have joined together in the fight against sex trafficking.

They are demanding the adult section be removed after multiple cases of minors being sold for sex were traced back to the site, which is owned by Village Voice Media, which produces New York’s Village Voice newspaper.

Amanda Kloer, campaign director at, said the campaign was started by more than 650 faith leaders on in 2011, and thousands have come together because “they consider sex trafficking a common moral issue.”

The religious leaders and their supporters also plan to deliver 100 pairs of girls’ shoes to represent the “unseen victims of child sex trafficking in the United States.”

Village Voice Media has defended the site, most recently responding to a March 17 article in The New York Times.

“Backpage dedicates hundreds of staff to screen adult classifieds in order to keep juveniles off the site and to work proactively with law enforcement in their efforts to locate victims,” the company said.

“For the first time in the history of sex work, law enforcement has, because of the Internet, the ability to shine a light upon those who would abuse children.”