How atheist-friendly is Northfield? (also, religious vs. legal views on marital rights)

atheist bus President Barack Obama personally did me and other atheists a big favor in his inaugural speech this week when he said:

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.  We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers. (continued)

I’m not going to start a campaign to put signs on Northfield’s buses like they’re doing in the UK with the Atheist Bus project. But it has made me wonder (like I wondered back in May of 2007 with a How gay-friendly is Northfield? blog post): How atheist-friendly is Northfield?

1,517 Comments

  1. Jerry Friedman said:

    Patrick: The reason why someone is homosexual is irrelevant. If Chico is gay for a conscious, deliberate reason, if Harpo is gay for a subconscious, unknown-to-Harpo reason, and if Groucho is gay for a biological reason, they should be treated identically to each other and identically to heterosexuals. I think that including “biology” as a factor dilutes or confuses your point.

    February 19, 2009
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  2. Patrick,
    Thank you for your thoughtful, detailed comments (#250). Count me as one agnostic heterosexual: who has been married to the same woman for 26 years, six months, and five days; has raised two children to near-adulthood in that time; recognizes that the institution of marriage has the socially stabilizing influence you mention; who is 100% in agreement with your reasoning; and is baffled by those who fail to see the social benefits of codifying similar relationships for all persons regardless of sexual orientation or interest in producing or raising children.

    February 19, 2009
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  3. David Ludescher said:

    Patrick: Jerry is right. Let’s not talk about homosexuality as right or wrong, sinful or not, biological or choice. Let’s just talk about what preferences we want to give to one relationship or another.

    I like the idea of changing the terminology also. Civil unions is OK, but it carries the assumption of two people, which may or may not be a good assumption. I would prefer “personal corporations” or “PCorps”.

    For the sake of this discussion, I think that we can also assume that we need to develop the definition of a “PCorp”.

    Is this a good place to start with a discussion of how we could develop the present concept of marriage? If not, why not? If you want to use “love” or “biology” or “commitment”, please define it, say how to measure it, and explain why government should support it, or prevent it.

    February 19, 2009
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  4. Jerry Friedman said:

    David: My sole criterion for marriage is whether two people want to form a family. A family can be simply the two married people forming a two-person family.

    I think that the gov’t has no right to encourage marriage, but that doesn’t persuade the gov’t not to. If two people want to marry, it’s their business and no one else’s. I understand why gov’t does, but I believe it’s interference with marriage has more to do with theism and prejudice (assuming that married couples are more productive than unmarried but committed individuals).

    The gov’t should discourage oppressive relationships, including oppressive marriages, so some regulations are welcome. I think the gov’t has an interest and obligation to protect people from oppression, so a minimum-age-to-marry law is good. Somewhere in the anti-oppression realm I expect to find laws against polygamy and intrafamily marriages, but I’m sure these could be debated.

    As you stated, the gov’t can’t test for nor regulate “love”, and child-bearing seems like a silly if not arbitrary criterion.

    I am unfamiliar with your idea of a personal corporation. Compared to an individual, the term seems redundant with person, and compared to two people, the term seems redundant with marriage. Why not just use either well-established term?

    February 19, 2009
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  5. Patrick Enders said:

    Jerry, you wrote,

    Patrick: The reason why someone is homosexual is irrelevant. If Chico is gay for a conscious, deliberate reason, if Harpo is gay for a subconscious, unknown-to-Harpo reason, and if Groucho is gay for a biological reason, they should be treated identically to each other and identically to heterosexuals. I think that including “biology” as a factor dilutes or confuses your point.

    I’m not concerned about ‘why’ people are gay, but I know that many conservatives are. Since “all men are created equal” and are “endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights,” the biological naturalness of same-sex romantic attachments seems relevant to discussing the inalienable rights of persons in homosexual relationships.

    Also, I’m only emphasizing ‘homosexuality’ and ‘heterosexuality’ in order to contrast these loving, somewhat-biologically-driven, intimate relationships from David’s odd notion of love-free, sex-free corporations, which don’t seem to relate to the way in which people naturally tend to form loving bonds.

    February 19, 2009
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  6. Patrick Enders said:

    David, you wrote,

    For the sake of this discussion, I think that we can also assume that we need to develop the definition of a “PCorp”.

    As you have done often in this thread, you state something in the universal sense – saying that we should all agree that it is true – when I dont see that anyone actually agree with you.

    Plainly spoken: your idea is silly.

    February 19, 2009
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  7. Jerry Friedman said:

    Patrick: My approach would be to grant my adversary’s position especially if it’s irrelevant to the discussion. By granting their irrelevant arguments, we would hopefully find more common ground to discuss the real issues.

    So I’d grant to a “conservative” that homosexuality is a deliberate choice. Given that, they should still be allowed to marry someone of the same sex.

    February 19, 2009
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  8. Patrick Enders said:

    Jerry,
    That works, too.

    February 19, 2009
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  9. David Ludescher said:

    Patrick and Jerry: I will try to get this back to the atheist-friendly theme.

    The government isn’t preventing anyone from forming loving and committed relationships. What the government has chosen to do (perhaps unintentionally) is to erase any meaningful criteria, except heterosexuality. Why it continues to maintain this criteria has more to do with what marriage has lost then intentional discrimination. I think that society can go two directions; the direction appears to have been largely decided by the homosexual community.

    Under present law, marriage is just a contract. It is also a contract that can be violated without fault or impunity. Why do we even have the secular marriage? Does it make sense to open it up further to more people? Where does society draw the line?

    This is the point where an atheist can better inform the government than a theist. An atheist should be able to see that the current definition is “unfair” to everyone who is not in a man/woman marriage relationship. It is unfair to homosexuals, polygamists, and even some heterosexuals. An atheist should see that the government can’t open up marriage on a “loving and committed” basis. Are we going to screen people to see if they are in a loving and committed relationship? That “loving and committed” thing is a religious concept, which while having a substantial and persuasive effect on nearly everyone, is really just another “belief”.

    Jerry – I don’t think that the “oppressive” standard works much better. It works for children because of an age standard. But, oppressive is an arbitrary standard also. And, Jerry, why two? Why shouldn’t two women have the liberty to marry one man if they all agreed? Where is the dividing line? Is it Jerry’s definition of what he thinks is oppressive?

    Here is where a theist perspective can be helpful. A number of religious concepts can easily be converted to secular concepts to establish some meaningful distinctions in relationships.

    First, is the question of children. Laws that encourage a child’s parents to live together are good and necessary, as are adoptive relationships.

    Second, committed relationships are good. Committment involves being responsible for the other party(ies) so that the other parties don’t become the burden of the government. Til death do us part should be encouraged.

    Third, contractual relationships that lessen government’s potential burden should also be encouraged.

    February 19, 2009
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  10. Patrick Enders said:

    David,
    Perhaps a longer reply tomorrow, but why do you think “That “loving and committed” thing is a religious concept”?

    It sounds more like human nature to me.

    February 19, 2009
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  11. David Ludescher said:

    Patrick,

    Judging by my divorce clients, I don’t think loving and committed comes naturally to humans. It seems to take a lot of focused effort.

    February 19, 2009
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  12. Patrick Enders said:

    Ah. You subscribe to the “human nature is flawed, and only God can raise us up” theory? Or have you just been spending too much time with your non-representative sample of the population?

    Mercifully, most of my family and friends (atheist and otherwise) seem to be pretty good at the relationship thing, so that probably colors my optimistic view of human relationships.

    February 19, 2009
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  13. Patrick Enders said:

    But again, David, why do you think “That “loving and committed” thing is a religious concept”?

    I look it as a commonly-rooted desire and aspiration. Again, human nature. Much like the love that many animals show for their mates and kin – if a bit more layered and complex.

    The fact that individuals don’t always get it right doesn’t change that fact that most people seem to aspire to achieving it. Even the irreligious.

    February 19, 2009
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  14. Jerry Friedman said:

    David: I said already that polygamy can be debated as oppressive or not. Polygamy is normally oppressive so the gov’t policy should be to oppose it, and thankfully it is. If there are exceptions, we can debate them. Might there be exceptions to marrying minors always being oppressive? Maybe, and we can debate them too. In the meantime, thankfully the gov’t policy is to prohibit them.

    It seems to me that laws prohibiting certain types of marriage should parallel the laws that guard against the same types of crimes. All states have statutory rape laws to protect minors, and all states have minimum-age marriage laws also to protect minors. This seems to be the only rational basis to prohibit marriage, if there is a parallel crime. In this vein, same-sex relationships are not against the law in any state, and therefore same-sex marriage should not be either. The gov’t should not care and should not inquire what a bride’s and bride’s, or groom’s and groom’s gender is.

    So that answers your question, if it’s a bad marriage when it’s oppressive in Jerry’s opinion. Check the penal code instead.

    The only criterion I care about is whether the couple wants to form a family. They can love each other or not. They can be zealously committed or barely committed. There is presently no requirement for either and I don’t see why there should be. If bride and bride want to be married, let them. If groom and groom, let them.

    If sects have a problem with that, they can have their own marriage rules that are wholly separate from state standards and state benefits.

    February 19, 2009
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  15. john george said:

    I think the direction of the discussion about dividing the secular definition of marriage and the religious definition is good. Jerry, your idea, “…If sects have a problem with that, they can have their own marriage rules that are wholly separate from state standards and state benefits…” may have merit. As I have read and pondered both sides, there seems to be a fear in both camps that the other’s perspective will be forced upon the opposite. Right now, that is the case relative to the homosexual community. They are being forced to conform to the religious perspective because this is presently the “official” government position. The question is whether that can change without government interference in the inner workings of the various religious sects. That would be a sticky wicket.

    Another question I have not been able to find an answer to is how two people living together without a marriage contract, be they two women, two men or a man and a woman, are having their rights to treatments, visitation or inheritance violated. Jerry, do you know the statistics on cases in the last 5 years where this has happened? And is the trend growing or diminishing? If there is truely an advantage to having this marriage contract, then why are there so many couples, irregardless of gender, cohabiting without it? I also feel that religious affiliation is not thwarting disolutions of marriage, since the divorce rate among “confessing” Christians seems to be about the same rate as the non-churched.

    This leads me to the question, what is the big fight over, if not to impose a set of beliefs upon an opposing view? Since marriage seems to be a threatened institution irregardless of gender attraction, then are we as a society throwing in the towel on it in general? I know that my wife and I have not drifted along passively for the last 41 years. There was a lot of work put into this relationship, and there is more to be done. There are a lot of things cited as holding a marriage together: children, fear of disapproval, religious requirements, etc., but without commitment, the relationship is shallow, if not hollow. I know I would not be where I am today without my wife by my side, and we are really looking forward to our years ahead. This type of commitment does not necessarily need the official stamp of the government to work, but it must be lived on a daily basis. Can this type of commitment form between same sex couples? I don’t know, because my wife and I did not come by it naturally, in spite of your opinion, Patrick. It is something that our God has worked in us.

    February 19, 2009
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  16. David Ludescher said:

    Patrick: OK. Let me change that wording. “Loving and committed” is a very poorly defined secular concept. If we are going to institute same-sex marriages, then let’s change the law to incorporate “loving and committed” into the definition for both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. And, let’s make it clear why it has to be limited to two biologically diverse individuals.

    If same-sex marriages should be governmentally endorsed (they are already permitted under the law; they are not however endorsed) because those individuals love each other and are committed, and then not make that a requirement of the marriage is silly. And to not allow others in different relationships to not marry is discriminatory – without cause.

    Jerry, I think that you are on to something with the idea of “forming a family”. But, give me an empirical definition of what “forming a family” means.

    February 20, 2009
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  17. Jerry Friedman said:

    David: Checking its etymology, “family” derives from “household”. I offer that a “family” in this context is two unrelated people who have affection for each other, who share or intend to share a home together, and who share or intend to share their lives together, all for an indefinite amount of time. I’d add the policy against polygamy, to say that the two people are exclusive.

    I think that the gov’t should be prohibited from testing these factors, unless other laws are implicated (such as immigration fraud). If two people assert, “We want to be married,” then it should be conclusively presumed that they meet the criteria above.

    Other factors that are often associated with marriages may make them even more clearly a family, but these factors aren’t necessary, such as do they closely associate with each other’s ascendants and descendants, do they share incomes and expenses, and do they want to create or adopt children.

    February 20, 2009
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  18. Jerry Friedman said:

    John: Over the years, I’ve heard of instances where same-sex couples have been denied some rights given only to married couples, where the same-sex couples had the equivalent of a marriage. These especially include rights of family to visit a person in the hospital and to authorize treatment on the person if they’re unconscious, and familial inheritance rights. I’m sure I’m missing others. I don’t have any statistics on how many of which type of rights are given to married couples that same-sex couples would want. In my opinion, even if there were no rights being denied, it’s still an unjust law based on arbitrary discrimination against homosexuals.

    I don’t know if same-sex couples can or can’t be compared to opposite-sex couples. I know that the ancient Greeks endorsed homosexuals in the military. It was believed that Greek soldiers would fight more fiercely if their boyfriend was on the same battlefield. I know that many heterosexual couples have a flimsy commitment, but no law prevents them from marriage. There have been stories of high-profile homosexual activists who have deeply committed relationships, and there have been no shortage of divorce stories among celebrities.

    I don’t think that we should inquire into the minds of couples. If they want to marry, let them marry.

    February 20, 2009
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  19. Felicity Enders said:

    David L (259) said: “Laws that encourage a child’s parents to live together are good and necessary.”

    As the child of divorced parents, I can testify that had such laws kept my parents together, that would not have been in my best interests. Laws that favor marriage can make it very difficult for couples that need to separate to do so. Let’s whip off those rose-colored glasses, please.

    February 20, 2009
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  20. kiffi summa said:

    I just can’t imagine that anyone, ANYONE, thinks that the quality of a relationship can, or should , be evaluated by the government!

    And as far as whether marriages are secular or religious, let’s all remember that you must have a license from the local government regulating unit, to get married, whether it is by a judge or a religious functionary. If there are religious groups that ‘marry’ people without a gov’t license, it may be viewed as valid by the participants, but what is the legal point of view?

    As far as promoting/evaluating/encouraging/enforcing “loving and committed”, well, we can’t even control our banking practices, and those are, or should be, a lot more finite than relationships between human beings.

    The quality of the environment of a ‘household’ in which a child is being raised has nothing to do with anything, except the quality of the environment created by the adults in that household. The household could consist of two men, two women, two grandparents and an unmarried aunt, three neighbors , total strangers or adoptive parents(related or unrelated) ……..the possibilities are endless. I don’t understand the blind fixation of staying with one regulatory model of perfection; that kind of uniformity doesn’t exist in nature, and especially not in human nature.

    February 20, 2009
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  21. john george said:

    Jerry- I have heard of many instances in the past, but the studies I have seen, this trend has changed over the last 5-10 years. It is written in most hospital documents I have seen that visitation rights cannot be denied along lines of sexual attraction. Also, insurance beneficiaries cannot be denied along these lines. The reason I bring it up is bacause the gay community is using this line of discrimination to support their push for legalization of same sex marriage. It appears to me that the only benefit they could obtain from this legalization is being able to divorce, rather than just disolve their relationship, and be able to settle joint ownership issues in court. This seems a little negative, given the general direction of shared relationships in our present society. Even the income tax formulas have a negative slant toward married couples rather than individuals when it comes to deductions.

    February 20, 2009
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  22. David Ludescher said:

    Kiffi: Are you advocating that we abandon the “legal” marriage model completely?

    February 20, 2009
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  23. David Ludescher said:

    Jerry, Patrick, or other avowed atheists: From where does an atheist get his or her starting point on an issue like this? Is there any truth or principle that you can point to?

    February 20, 2009
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  24. Anthony Pierre said:

    The Eight “I’d Really Rather You Didn’ts” from the The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster:

    I’d really rather you didn’t act like a sanctimonious holier-than-thou ass when describing my noodly goodness. If some people don’t believe in me, that’s okay. Really, I’m not that vain. Besides, this isn’t about them so don’t change the subject.

    I’d really rather you didn’t use my existence as a means to oppress, subjugate, punish, eviscerate, and/or, you know, be mean to others. I don’t require sacrifices, and purity is for drinking water, not people.

    I’d really rather you didn’t judge people for the way they look, or how they dress, or the way they talk, or, well, just play nice, okay? Oh, and get this into your thick heads: woman = person. man = person. Samey = Samey. One is not better than the other, unless we’re talking about fashion and I’m sorry, but I gave that to women and some guys who know the difference between teal and fuchsia.

    I’d really rather you didn’t indulge in conduct that offends yourself, or your willing, consenting partner of legal age AND mental maturity. As for anyone who might object, I think the expression is “go fuck yourself,” unless they find that offensive in which case they can turn off the TV for once and go for a walk for a change.

    I’d really rather you didn’t challenge the bigoted, misogynistic, hateful ideas of others on an empty stomach. Eat, then go after the bitches.

    I’d really rather you didn’t build multi million-dollar synagogues / churches / temples / mosques / shrines to my noodly goodness when the money could be better spent (take your pick):

    * Ending poverty
    * Curing diseases
    * Living in peace, loving with passion, and lowering the cost of cable

    I might be a complex-carbohydrate omniscient being, but I enjoy the simple things in life. I ought to know. I AM the creator.

    I’d really rather you didn’t go around telling people I talk to you. You’re not that interesting. Get over yourself. And I told you to love your fellow man, can’t you take a hint?

    I’d really rather you didn’t do unto others as you would have them do unto you if you are into, um, stuff that uses a lot of leather/lubricant/vaseline. If the other person is into it, however (pursuant to #4), then have at it, take pictures, and for the love of Mike, wear a CONDOM! Honestly, it’s a piece of rubber. If I didn’t want it to feel good when you did it I would have added spikes, or something.

    February 20, 2009
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  25. Jerry Friedman said:

    David: I can’t speak for atheists. There are too many denominations.

    Personally, I fancy 1 Corinthians 7:27 as the basis of marriage. Otherwise, I fancy convention with ample portions of modern sensibility.

    February 20, 2009
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  26. Britt Ackerman said:

    Isn’t it interesting how a thread asking how atheist-friendly Northfield is turned into a dialogue on same-sex marriage rights?

    Like, atheists clearly must be OK with gays since atheists don’t believe that homosexuality is a “sin”.

    So, by analyzing how gay-friendly Northfield is, can we, by digression, determine how athiest-friendly the town is?

    I’d say no…there’s correlation but no causation between the issues.

    But look at how many comments (100% popularity, if we believe Griff’s programming) are on this thread. Everyone is discussing and defending the big questions and answers that have historically been the basis and reason for organized religion.

    It’s neat how asking and answering these questions has taken the form of secular debate on a thread purportedly about atheism.

    Although I’m not an atheist, I’ll respond to David L’s last question because my answer is probably the same as the atheists’.

    First, I’ll define the issue. Seems like the issue in this thread is now “How should we define ‘marriage’, what is the purpose of marriage, and who should be able to marry and why?”

    Everyone’s answer to this question would obviously be different, depending on their perspectives.

    To answer David L, I think the “starting point” on the issue is to see if the concept of marriage is an exclusive or inclusive one. I would posit that marriage as we know it is exclusive, as only straight people can marry. Making civil unions between same sex individuals legal but calling it something besides marriage (like a personal corporation) is similarly exclusive.

    Marriage as a concept becomes offensive when employed selectively by the government. If marriage was a purely religious endeavor that wasn’t supported, encouraged, and protected by the government, then no problem. But because marriage (in many states) requires a license, therefore the blessing of the State, and is exclusive, we have a problem.

    Pointing to a “truth” or “principle” outside of theological doctrine is hard, but I really like the 21 affirmation of the Humanists. They can be found here. If we employ the Humanist affirmations as a model for finding the “answer” to the “issue”, we see that the answer is not finite or absolute. That’s what’s really interesting….using what we see as “truths” and “principles” as a philosophy for forming an opinion, without being so arrogant to presume that there is a finite, and right, answer.

    February 20, 2009
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  27. kiffi summa said:

    Britt: in the cplloquial sense, AMEN!

    Somehow, thread after thread gets perverted to abortion or homosexuality; how does that happen , Griff?

    David: How in the ho-tel did you jump to that conclusion? What I thought I was saying is that marriage is basically, first and foremost, a legal procedure, and therefor its rights must be applied equally to all persons.

    February 20, 2009
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  28. Patrick Enders said:

    David,
    A small point: I don’t consider myself an “avowed” atheist. I’ll leave the bold declarations to true believers with personal pipelines to The Truth.

    As Jerry said,

    a person who is an atheist because there is no evidence of god, …is more accurately called an agnostic atheist. Compare that to a person who is an atheist who affirms there is no god, … is more accurately called a gnostic atheist.

    I’d be in that first camp, if I needed to be labeled as an atheist at all. I don’t know The Truth of how the world is organized, therefore I don’t consider myself an avowed, or gnostic, Atheist. I’m just an agnostic knows that there is much that I don’t know, and much that I will never know.

    However, my best assessment of the available evidence leads me to conclude that there is remarkable lack of evidence supporting the Christian notion of an actively-involved, anthropomorphic deity, who occasionally takes human form, and personally intervenes in the lives of his/her devotees.

    If there is a God, my assessment of the evidence is that it’s probably something very different from that which people worship in most Christian churches.

    But I don’t Know that, or Avow that. That’s just my best guess.

    Therefore, like Jerry, I can’t speak for atheists.

    For myself, I like much of what I find in humanistic enlightenment philosophies, and I think that this nation’s founding principle of equality for all persons (minus its original, and unfortunate, asterisks) is a pretty good place to start.

    February 21, 2009
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  29. Patrick Enders said:

    David,
    …Following from that principle:

    Marriage is a contract that the government offers to two consenting adults. (Jerry has already covered why children and 3+ partners are excluded from civil marriage contracts.)

    If the two adults are opposite-gender or same gender, they should be allowed to enter into this contract.

    While I believe that marriages are a formalization and recognition of the loving bonds that people naturally tend to form, I agree with Jerry and you that the government is not capable of administering a “love” test. So, like Jerry, I believe the government should grant this contract to any two competent, consenting adults who want to form such a legal partnership.

    February 21, 2009
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  30. David Henson said:

    Love has nothing to do with the historical legal construct of marriage. The purpose is to define the relationship between two partners for the purpose of “breeding.” Further the government’s involvement in offering a standard format is so that courts would not have to sort out a hundred different religious oaths and what was or was not agreed. If the potential to procreate was not at issue then its likely no standard format would be adopted and all marriages would be civil unions. Saying gays are being “excluded” is silly unless one can show the issue was even considered when these laws developed 100s of years ago. This is like saying armed robbers are excluded from from shop lifting laws – the laws just were not written for them. The marriage contract works so poorly now that maybe the argument should be just be to not offer a standardized agreement for anyone.

    February 21, 2009
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  31. David Ludescher said:

    David H: That’s my point. The current definition of “civil” marriage has so lost its meaning that we should either abandon it altogether (and leave it up to the faith communities to decide on their own standard) or we should let anyone and everyone get “married”.

    The third way, which I don’t think will ever happen, is to reexamine the government’s interest in “civil unions”. The government should be able to create varying degrees of contractual relationships between individuals if the government can establish a rational relationship to a legitimate governmental purpose.

    I just don’t understand why such a large portion of the population is unwilling to listen to the arguments of people such as Rick Warren. Who cares if he is a religious right? The most important question is does he make sense? To dismiss him as a religious fanatic is just plain intolerance. Its no different than dismissing someone just because she is an atheist, or a lesbian.

    February 21, 2009
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  32. David Henson said:

    David L, the governments interest was probably avoiding violence that occurred when one found that he was raising someone else’s tomatoes rather than his carrots. Birth control and DNA testing makes much of the laws nuanced purpose archaic – effectively putting government in a sort of religious-sentimental practice where it does not belong.

    February 21, 2009
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  33. Jerry Friedman said:

    Davids: The origins of marriage were not related to love nor theism.

    Through most of Western civilization, marriage has been more a matter of money, power and survival than of delicate sentiments. In medieval Europe, everyone from the lord of the manor to the village locals had a say in deciding who should wed. Love was considered an absurdly flimsy reason for a match. Even during the Enlightenment and Victorian eras, adultery and friendship were often more passionate than marriage. These days, we marry for love—and are rewarded with a blistering divorce rate.

    “Psychology Today” Magazine, May/Jun 2005
    http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-20050506-000006.html

    February 21, 2009
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  34. Patrick Enders said:

    David,
    If Rick Warren can form a convincing argument based upon premises that I accept, then his words might be of interest to me. (Obviously, quoting scripture would hold little weight.)

    …but for now, I think I’ve heard/said enough on the topic of gay marriage.

    Perhaps we could return to discussing how welcome atheists are (or are not) in Northfield? I think I can summarize what’s been covered so far as follows:

    Northfielders are generally polite to atheists – as they are to most people.

    Atheists are welcome in the Unitarian Church.

    Atheists are not welcome in the Boy Scouts of America. However, they might slip in unnoticed under a local “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The Carleton-sponsored Troop might be a better place to do so than would be either of the Lutheran Troops.

    Atheists might be welcome to serve in public office, but “You don’t attend church” has been cited as a reason why a candidate might never be elected to city office.

    Atheists are allowed to shop and travel, but might be refused a taxi ride if their uncleanliness violates the religious beliefs of the driver.

    Atheists are allowed to marry – but not if they wish to marry a partner of the same sex.

    …I think that about covers it.

    February 21, 2009
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  35. john george said:

    Patrick- Great sumation, as always. Perhaps our penchant, be it American or just human, to have to have a label for everything causes more division than unity. I am still amazed that we live together as Americans as peacefully as we actually do, considering how much emphasis we as a society put on individualism.

    Did we actually have any comments submitted by anyone who claims to be an atheist? Anthony, is that your claim? I can’t remember after 286 contributions. It would be interesting to hear an opinion on Norhtfield’s friendliness from someone who claims to be atheist.

    February 21, 2009
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  36. Anthony Pierre said:

    Agnostic.

    and I am one of the first ones to post on this thread 🙂

    February 21, 2009
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  37. David Ludescher said:

    Patrick: I brought up the “gay marriage” issue to help us frame how we can or should incorporate atheistic and theistic thinking together to form a common pluralistic and secular system of beliefs.

    February 22, 2009
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  38. David Ludescher said:

    Patrick: I share the sentiments of Obama that our differences can be a strength. On divisive issues, even small ones, like carrying alcohol in a cab, we should be able to come to a consensus that results in liberty and justice for all that is atheist-friendly and theist-friendly.

    February 23, 2009
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  39. kiffi summa said:

    I don’t know about Sean Penn’s religious persuasion, but when accepting his Oscar last night for his lead role in “Milk” he spoke to the presence of the anti-gay protesters lining the car approach to the awards ceremony……protesters that once again attack the basic civil, and human rights of persons who are not allowed to have their free will, or free choice, over their lives because of the interference of some religious groups into this secular issue.

    This thread started with a question about atheism, quickly became a supposedly linked position with homosexuality, and then even ventured into some really egregious extrapolations/ connections.

    Once again, keep the religious POV’s in the religious community…….and keep civil and human rights equal to ALL.

    Hooray for Harvey Milk! and Hooray for Sean Penn! … who had the courage and principle to portray an important figure in America’s social scene as not a saint, not a sinner, but a fully complex human being who fought for what he believed in were not only his rights, but those of many others who are equally DIS-enfranchised of a portion of their personal rights. And regardless of what anyone thinks personally of Harvey Milk, he thought our country deserved a better world image than one presented by those who would wage a political fight to narrow the basic human rights of one segment of society, based on the religious views of another segment of that society.

    February 23, 2009
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  40. john george said:

    Kiffi- How does a person “…keep the religious POV’s in the religious community…” when a person has no differentiation between their religious and secular life? Perhaps it helps to be bi-polar. And the issue we are facing here in the US is what Canada is struggling with right now with their court decisions- the secular POV is being forced onto the religious. Just like Chuck Colson said years ago, “The gay community is not asking for my permission. They can do what they like. What they are asking for is my praise, and that I cannot give.”

    February 23, 2009
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  41. Jerry Friedman said:

    Kiffi: I embrace your idealism

    Once again, keep the religious POV’s in the religious community…….and keep civil and human rights equal to ALL.

    In my experience, religious POVs, such as the morality of homosexuality, never stay hermetically sealed in their religions. It’s my policy, therefore, not to push them back in and wait for another leak, but to address them when they leak out.

    You’re right, that the subjects of this thread have not always strictly adhered to Northfield being “atheist-friendly.” I see a slightly bigger application of “atheist-friendly” to Northfield, not simply to atheist persons but atheist policies as well. That’s where the subjects of marriage and homosexuality fit into this thread, in my opinion.

    Sometimes conversations drift to similar subjects. I am grateful that John George and I have enjoyed a in-person meeting where topics drifted. I don’t have that luxury with many of you. So if this thread drifts, slightly, then it has my blessings.

    Finally, I am reminded of some dialogs that Plato wrote between Socrates and some of his intellectual prey. When Socrates wanted to prove a point, sometimes he’d meander a ways before coming back to the point.

    I humbly submit that thread drift should be welcomed within a larger scope. A narrower scope for conversation, I think, is too authoritarian for a blog. It might be important for public meetings when time is a factor, but we have no such factors here.

    February 23, 2009
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  42. Obie Holmen said:

    To John,

    Your comment What they [gay community] are asking for is my praise, and that I cannot give strikes me as egocentric and selfish. Gays who want the same civil marriage rights as straights aren’t asking for your praise. This isn’t about you; it’s about non-discrimination, equal rights, and other lofty ideals of the American dream. The notion that gays seeking equal rights is somehow an infringment of your rights is narcissistic.

    February 23, 2009
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  43. john george said:

    Obie- That quote was from Chuck Colson. Why do you say that it is egocentric? Just because I say I will not praise their way of life? I’m not asking them to praise my way of life if they do not agree with it. As Colson said, they can do what they like. See my posts 266 and 272 for my perspective of the push for gay rights. I don’t think I have to restate it here. The conversations I have had with some on this blog attack me for saying I believe what I read in the Bible rather than current secular definitions of relationships. That is fine, I am always glad to defend what I believe, but the foundation for my defense of my beliefs is Biblical. If someone does not agree with the efficacy of that foundation, then we will not be able to come to agreement. That is ok, also, as long as we do not take up arms in defense of our positions. We have been living peacefully together for a couple centuries, which I think gives credence to our foundation of government. I see no reason that cannot continue. What is happening in Canada is the imposition upon pastors to not literally define the scriptures, because they are being redefined as hate speech. I have friends and relatives living there, and they are warning me that the same thing is headed our way. So, I will take advantage of my freedom of speech while I have it, because it may not always be there.

    February 23, 2009
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  44. David Ludescher said:

    Kiffi: I don’t think that it helpful to label points of view religious or non-religious. That is why I have avoided stating either that an atheistic or theistic viewpoint is “right”.

    Civil unions should be a good topic for discussion. It is relevant to what is happening, and the subject needs strong, rational minds to sort out the principles leading to what the government proposes to do.

    Obie: I agree on the fairness issue. It is not fair that gay and lesbian couples cannot enjoy the same government benefits under the present law. But, the gay and lesbian community is advocating that they be included in the privileged group, and that everyone else still be excluded.

    So long as the law continues to allow only heterosexual couples to marry without defining why the government promotes that relationship, and without requiring any love or commitment, any exclusion is going to be just an extension of discrimination.

    One of my hopes is that the gay and lesbian community can restore the idea of commitment into the definition of civil marriage. Another hope is that they can restore the idea of protection and support of children into civil marriage. We badly need both.

    February 23, 2009
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  45. kiffi summa said:

    John: Whether or not you live your life that way, there IS a difference for most people in how they live…under the rule of law……….between their religious and secular life……. when their religious and secular views may differ and the person chooses to honor their religious perspective BUT also honor the law.

    You say: “secular POV being forced onto the religious”……. No one is forcing YOU to engage in activities which would violate your religious perspective. All that is being asked is that you consider your actions too be an expression of your free will (as long as it does not violate the law) and that you allow all others to have that same basic right.

    You seem not to be able to separate the layers between what you perceive as something being forced upon you, and what some feel is your need to enforce your personal perception of governing life rules, on others.

    You have expressed strong commitment to the principles which you choose to govern your life; can’t you allow others to do the same?

    No matter how many times you say it, you cannot prove how any gay rights activist or practitioner is forcing you personally into behavior that you think is wrong.

    If you cannot separate out the layers of personal principle, personal religious tenets, and law, you just continue to conflate all into one big messy pot, over which you would prefer your personal religious/secular perspective to rule supreme.

    February 24, 2009
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  46. Obie Holmen said:

    To John:

    I realize the statement was originally Colson’s but you quoted it with approval. You also mischaracterize my point. No one is asking you to “praise their way of life”. You are the one who equates affording equal rights to gays with your personal “praise”, and that is why I say it is a narcissistic position. It is not about you, but you make it about you and your beliefs.

    I don’t think people are attacking you personally in this blog, but when you offer an opinion, your opinion becomes fair game.

    By the way, I also disagree with your view that the Bible supports your position. It is my opinion that reading the Bible as a whole and reading the various parts in their historical and cultural context suggests that the issue is a lot murkier than you would acknowledge. Yours is not the only Christian view. I think you have suggested that you consider the Bible to be infallible. Does it follow that a literalist, judgmental interpretation is infallible?

    Finally, you really sound paranoid when you equate criticism of your opinions to a threat to your free speech.

    To David:

    I am totally confused by your statement the gay and lesbian community is advocating that they be included in the privileged group, and that everyone else still be excluded. What is the exclusionary attitude of the GLBT community?

    February 24, 2009
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  47. Randy Jennings said:

    Mr. George, some years ago I found and clipped this quote. Unfortunately, I can’t find the source. I find it quite applicable to your comments on this thread:

    Interfaith dialogue is only possible among people interested in the idea of religion, rather than the practice of a specific faith. A true believer of a particular religion cannot conceive of the validity of another’s chosen religion nor of the fallibility of his or her own, much less an accommodation in which many religions — or no religion at all — are equally valid. The true believer is, therefore, unsuited to dialogue.

    So, when you write, as you did in post 295: “If someone does not agree with the efficacy of that foundation [your belief in the Bible], then we will not be able to come to agreement”, you are clearly a true believer.

    I am an atheist in matters of religion, but I am not without some beliefs. One thing in which I believe deeply is in the right to freedom of speech enshrined in the US constitution. I’d stand that up with any religious dogma. So, I absolutely support your right to think and speak whatever you choose to believe. If religious beliefs help you make sense of the world and your place in it, you are fortunate. I draw the line, as described in many comments above, when you or any believer of any religion attempt to restrict or deny others’ rights based on whether or not they conform to your beliefs.

    Your choice of a quote from Colson is indicative. Colson (and you) are wrong: gay and lesbian people actually can’t “do what they like.” Among other things, “they” can’t form the same legally sanctioned relationships that the law allows heterosexual couples to form. This discrimination is perpetuated largely because of the influence of religiously motivated people. (Fortunately, this discrimination is also strongly opposed by many people whose religious faith compels them to confront injustice.) “They” aren’t asking for Colson’s (or your) praise; “they” are asking Colson (and you) to mind your own business and stop imposing your religious ideology on others.

    February 24, 2009
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  48. David Henson said:

    A society that holds masturbatory relationships in the same regard as those bearing offspring is destined for chaos. And unless a scientist can create a human life from hamburgers and carrot juice then I have to hang with Mr George’s God explanation of human life – at the very least it defines how much we don’t know.

    February 24, 2009
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  49. john george said:

    Obie- The request I have heard from the gay community is that their lifestyle be considered an acceptable alternative. This is what I object to and drives my opinion. Their lifestyle is an alternative, but for me to say it is acceptable would be to deny my convictions. I will say to you the same thing I say to Kiffi- There is a movement to have certain of the Biblical interpretations of the gay lifestyle considered hate speech. It is already happening in Canada. It is this movement that I am trying to expose. Whether it will do any good is debatable, but I will still try.

    Kiffi- I know you do not percieve the subtle change coming in this country. I really don’t expect you to. See my comment to Obie above.

    Randy- Thank you for calling me a true believer. That is probably the best indictment I could recieve. As far as the interfaith dialogue, what is the goal? Can there be understanding between two views without them being “equally valid?” I think so, and that is why I participate here. I think it is called tolerance. I’m not looking for affirmation or agreement, just understanding. And I don’t want to force my views off on anyone. That is not my intent when I state them.

    Your comment, “…I am an atheist in matters of religion, but I am not without some beliefs…” is, in my opinion, the most concise differentiation of atheists I have seen yet in this thread. As far as where the gay community is today, I posted this comment in #266: “…They are being forced to conform to the religious perspective because this is presently the “official” government position…”, so I agree with some of your assesments in your post above. I also opined this, “…The question is whether that can change without government interference in the inner workings of the various religious sects…” That is what we need to figure out.

    I will make this observation in general- people who are comfortable really don’t like having their boat rocked, me included. But sometimes, the only way to scrape some barnacles off your boat is to tip it. This is always a little disconcerting, especially while you are still in the boat. Thanks for rocking my boat, folks. Hopefully, I have been able to rid it of a few barnacles, whether it is evident to any of you others or not.

    February 24, 2009
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