Mar 19, 2012

Unholy Water: Atheists Get Religion in Florida

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

As I said here, when atheists started "de-baptizing" people, atheism has a become a religion.

It's finally happened. Atheism has become a religion. Let's see... a formalized group ritual utilizing symbolic objects to affect a transformational process. Yep. It's a religion.

And now we have a full on sectarian conflict in Polk County, Florida. It's literally a battle over symbolism and how that symbolism will shape a stretch of highway as an atheist group made a public display of washing away the anointing oil placed there by a local church.

"I find it absolutely ludicrous that the atheists who say they don't believe in God have to erase something that they don't believe in," [Associate Pastor Glen] Copple told

On that, I have to agree with the pastor. It strikes me as more than a little odd that atheists are tackling something head on that they consider to be imaginary. And that they're, once again, doing so in such a ritualized context.

The atheist group openly states that the "unanointing" of the highway was a publicity stunt meant to bring attention to a larger problem of religious intolerance in Polk County.

Palmer told CBS Tampa that the group’s major issue was with a billboard posted nearby by the Christian Churches of Polk County and PUP that boldly displays photos of Lakeland Mayor Gow Fields, Polk County School Board Superintendent Dr. Sherrie Nickell and Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.

“If it were just some church blessing a road, that’s not a big deal – churches can do what they want,” Palmer told the station. “The point of [the demonstration] was to protest the co-mingling of church and state.”

It appears to be just the latest chapter in an ongoing struggle over religious (and non-religious) freedom that may have brought legal consequences for one local atheist.

An atheist in Central Florida filed suit in Federal District Court in Tampa on Friday, accusing the Polk County sheriff, an evangelical Christian, of harassing and unnecessarily arresting her as retaliation for not believing in God and for her efforts to keep prayer out of public meetings.

EllenBeth Wachs, the legal coordinator for the group Atheists of Florida, asked the court to prevent the sheriff, Grady Judd, from conducting any new investigations, arrests or complaints resulting from her “nonreligious, atheist viewpoint in the predominantly Christian-oriented Polk County, Fla.” The sheriff’s actions, including two arrests and searches of her house, violated her First Amendment rights and her right to due process, the suit states.

That the church had called in the angels with an anointing ceremony isn't something that I can terribly worked up over. Nor am I offended at their hope that those angels will protect the area from crime. A billboard featuring local officials as participants in a religious struggle with criminal behavior, however, is deeply concerning. As is any implication that non-Christians are a threat to the community.

PUP director Richard Geringswald told Bay News 9, that they were "praying for that entryway in to the city, that God would protect us from evildoers, mainly the drug crowd, that they would be dissuaded to come in to the county."

But Atheists of Florida found evidence on local pastor Frank Smith's blog that PUP's mission in placing the oil was to "ask God to have angels inspect every vehicle that travels into and out of this county if they will not submit to God's way of living, then the prayer is to have them incarcerated or removed from the county."

It's certainly a problem if that belief system is translating into direct action from public officials, as Florida atheists claim.

Unfortunately, that message seems to have been lost, for the most part, in the coverage of this latest atheistic exploration of religious expression. Calling it a "symbolic gesture" doesn't help... because that's what ritual is. What I find humorous about this whole thing is that atheists keep unwittingly demonstrating what a natural impulse to ritualistic behavior we humans have.

Atheists have even started erecting churches. At some point they may have to admit that human beings have an innate need to align ourselves with something greater. In some form or fashion, partnering with archetypes appears to be part of our nature. And cleansing a site with "unholy water" is rich with meaning, whether they mean it to be or not.

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