Recently, Pastor Don Prange hosted atheists at St. James Church in Lovettsville for a dialogue with his congregation on “evolution weekend.”
You may fairly ask how one can reconcile an atheist who does not believe in God attending a church where the congregation does believe in God.
Pastor Don explained where he thought there was common ground.
He preached, “Jesus and his followers were among the first A-Theists, challenging the Theistic claims of Caesar and religious collaborators … affirming a way of life built around the principles of compassion, justice mercy and peace.”
“Collusions,” Pastor Don said, “between religious and political forces have too often created oppressive realities that abound in the world of today … sometimes contributing to a contemporary spirit of Atheism we acknowledge today.”
Stephanie Ragusky, from the Beltway Atheists, explained she “lost religion at 13” and she tried to find faith but she could not get any clear answers as to “which was literal and which was metaphor in the Bible.” When she studied biology, Christians were “discounting what we were learning in school.” Stephanie needed another way to talk about these things. She found Nobel prize winner Bertrand Russell’s philosophy instructive. Among other things, Russell found that religion impeded knowledge and fostered fear and dependency. Stephanie said now, “I’m responsible for everything I do.”
“Atheists have been misunderstood,” Pastor Don said, “and have faced hostility in society including right here in Loudoun County, just as Darwin and the science of evolution have been misunderstood and maligned by reactionary religious forces.”
Rick Wingrove, the founder of the Beltway Atheists, said, “Some of you may have heard of me. Because of the religious displays on the court house lawn in Leesburg, I am either the most evil or most hated man in Loudoun County.”
Rick criticized those “special rights and privileged access granted to religious displays on the court house lawn in Leesburg.” He said, it was “granting special privileges to adherents of a specific religion, but denying those privileges to non-adherents” and “is fundamentally unfair and patently unconstitutional.” He made it clear that there must be a separation of State from Church. The congregation appeared to agree when Rick said, “no one likes having someone else’s religion shoved down his throat.”
Finding a welcome for his sentiments, Rick said, “So this is a great honor for me and a new personal best for irony.”
Pastor Don said, “Science and religion ask and answer completely different questions about the natural world. There is no reason for them to be in conflict … and we have no reason to be in conflict with those who publicly call themselves atheists.”
Rick said there was a “concerted attack on the science of evolution.” He was talking about “the most adamant of biblical literalists.” He was quick to add, talking to the congregation, “Not you guys, you guys are awesome.” He asked, “if Genesis is taken literally, and if you do, ask yourself where Cain got a wife.” Rick also underscored how to reconcile these matters: “Many people of faith do recognize that Genesis is allegory and not a Science book.”
Stephanie told how one Loudoun County Biology Teacher was told by a student that “only atheists believe in evolution.” The teacher explained that was not true, that there was a clergy letter project in support of evolution, and, otherwise, that the student was attending “a science class not church.”
Larry Mendoza, of the Beltway Atheists, explained he “never felt a spiritual or supernatural connection.” Larry read a lot about reptiles and brought lizards home, he got interested in biology, had a passion for it, thought everyone accepted evolution, and then he realized “there was a movement to discredit what didn’t fit with the theology.”
“I found not every Christian was the same,” Larry said, “and, if every church was like this one, there wouldn’t be any need for an atheistic movement.”
“I’m told I’m immoral because I have no belief in God,” Larry said, “but morality doesn’t require a belief in God. “
Rick charged, “There is an ongoing and determined effort in this country to remove all teaching of the science of Evolution from the public schools, calling Evolution myth, calling science ‘lies from the pits of hell,’ and replacing it with the biblical creationism story …”
When Rick finished these last remarks, he asked if he could get an Amen – and he did.
The ground common to those of belief and unbelief was that the State shouldn’t impose itself on either by establishing a belief system, and that any legitimate belief system had to accommodate science or it was suspect.