A contemplative reader says he heard a good sermon at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Sioux Falls last Sunday. The headliner: Ronald Knapp, minister emeritus of First Unitarian Church of Omaha, who told the congregants why he is an atheist.
My correspondent forwards a 2007 PDF edition of Reverend (?) Knapp's sermon:
If we can - if the human race can - find a way to say “no, no, no" to the conventional faiths, and to the conventional gods, we can then say "yes, yes, yes," in reverence and awe, to a natural world as we now know it, a world where all human beings are members of one family, a world where all living things are interrelated, if we can - if the human race can - say “no, no, no" to the conventional faiths, and the conventional gods, we can say “yes, yes, yes" to an unfolding universe from which we have come and to which we shall return, a universe of oneness [Ronald Knapp, "Why I Am an Atheist," sermon, First Unitarian Church of Sioux City, 2007.09.16].
Curious: Does a pastor get to say things like that and still keep his ordained title?I would think if I regularly published articles about the Democratic Party's divisive and destructive effect on Western civilization, I'd have trouble keeping my post as Lake County Dems treasurer.
I do find the idea of a pastor delivering such a sermon an interesting exercise in intellectual openness and curiosity. I would think at the very least that conversation over coffee afterward was livelier than usual.
But church, as I understand it from my outsider's position, isn't about good conversation. You can certainly have good conversation at church, but church is about getting the Good News, and the Good News is the God News. You go to a church service to acknowledge and worship the Deity. A church can certainly host a speaker or a panel discussion on atheism or Judaism or Islam, but that's not a worship service. That's... something else.
Knapp describes himself as an "evangelical atheist." He separates "evangel" from sacred use and appropriates it for his own calling to spread the "glad tidings" of his naturalist, humanist message. Here Knapp chooses a different path from mine. I'm an atheist, but I don't evangelize. I resolved early on in my adult atheism not to invest much energy in encouraging people to abandon their faith and join me in a universe composed exclusively of atoms and natural forces. I decided I could make more productive use of my finite time and energy exhorting my neighbors to at least exercise their Christian principles consistently rather than trying to pry them away from those principles. (My call to Christian consistency is also much more fun.)
I say this not by way of criticism of the apostate Knapp. I welcome and admire fellow non-believers who are willing to present their non-belief openly and intelligently amidst the great Christian masses of the prairie. But Knapp raises an important question: Do we atheists really have an obligation to convert religionists to our non-faith?