A Turf Battle Between Non-Believers

New York Times, Aug. 17, 2002
http://www.nytimes.com/2002/08/17/national/17BELI.html
By PETER STEINFELS

It’s August, and stories like these traditionally appear in August.

Everyone has boundary problems, it seems, even atheists. The Council for Secular Humanism has questioned the qualifications of two groups backing the Godless Americans March on Washington scheduled for Nov. 2.

American Atheists, the New Jersey-based organizers of the march, has invited “all groups and individuals who sincerely declare themselves to be `Godless Americans’ ” to be listed as endorsers of the march, a protest against a long list of actions and attitudes considered prejudicial to nonbelievers.

Two of the many groups that responded, the Order of Perdition and the United Satanic Convenire, describe themselves as satanist; and satanists, in the view of the Council for Secular Humanism, are insufficiently godless.


“Satanism is a religion, with supernatural beliefs and a belief in the occult,” said Tom Flynn, the editor of Free Inquiry, published by the council. “They should not qualify as endorsers of an event for Godless Americans.”

The United Satanic Convenire responded with a long comment on its Web site. An unidentified leader of the group described himself, or herself, as “a disbeliever in the existence of a metaphysical being called `God.’ ” Some satanists have a deistic view of Satan, it was explained, but apparently not this one. The Convenire promised it would not arrive in Washington waving “pentagrams and other occult paraphernalia.”

As for American Atheists, it is taking endorsers at their word that they are “Godless Americans.” Ellen Johnson, the organization’s president, told the Religion News Service that “we’re disappointed that the Council for Secular Humanism has decided to go public with this nonissue.” She wanted “all of the endorsers to work together and to strive toward unity in this march.”

Ed Buckner, the council’s executive director, did not disagree with this last point. “The issue is not closed,” Mr. Buckner said, “but the council is going full force forward with support for the march.”

The problem, he said, “was partly a public relations thing” — Christian preachers frequently denounced nonbelievers as satanic. But there was more to it, he continued: Satanism dallies with supernatural beliefs that most atheists simply do not entertain.

Groups that use invocations like “Hail Lucifer!” — as the Order of Perdition does — are definitely “not our style,” Mr. Buckner said. “That would be just as mistaken as saying “Hail Mary, full of grace.”

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