September 7, 2104

Rector’s Reflection

Dateline Clarion-Ledger, Friday, August 29, 2014: JPS will avoid religious references

A local school district has promised to refrain from using religious references during any future teacher meetings in response to a complaint it violated the Constitution earlier this month.

Jackson Public Schools officials responded Thursday to a letter from an atheist group blasting the district for including prayer at a mandatory teacher convocation held at the start of the current academic year.

In a letter sent to the American Humanist Association’s legal center by JPS counsel J oAnn Shepherd, the district promised to ask convocation speakers in the future to refrain from any religious activity.

This isn’t the first time AHA, whose motto is “Good without God,” has had issues with a Mississippi school district. In May, the group filed a contempt motion against the Rankin County School District on behalf of a Northwest Rankin High School student who said an April 1st district-wide honors program violated the district’s November settlement of a lawsuit over Christian-themed assemblies at the school…

I feel for the JPS folks (and school boards everywhere) who have to keep tabs on the myriad ways they might offend a person or a group… or a thought pattern… or simply someone who has not gotten the memo from Copernicus that he or she is not the center of the universe. I’m not reflecting on what JPS or anyone else should do in the face of challenges from groups like the American Humanist Association. I would probably champion a fight, but I don’t have to pay their legal bills.

I am, however, intrigued by the motto of the AHA – “Good without God.” For starters, you can’t spell good without god… but that is a dismissive response to a serious claim.

“Good without God.” What I want to ask an atheist is from whence comes the standard of good. If there is no God, then there is no basis on which to say an action… or even a life… is good. Within this atheist world view, there is no logical basis for morality, since we are all just a collection of atoms that evolved from non-living particles. Absent God, the idea of good… or just… or right… or wrong… is pretty much up to you or me. And why would your determination of what is good or just or right or wrong be any better than mine? I will allow that particular tribes or clans or communities may settle upon a definition of ‘good’ for their own groups, but application outside those boundaries would probably not be compulsory.

When a horrible crime has been committed, say the kidnaping and decade-long captivity of those three young women in Cleveland, it was condemned by Christians and atheists alike, but the condemnation by the atheist was borrowed from the Christian’s world view.

Only the God who created the universe… only the God who called that creation good… only the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob… only the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ… only that God provides an absolute moral standard by which we can measure what is good and what is bad.

As Mark relates in his gospel: As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”

If you ask me, “Good without God” is nonsense. Perhaps a better motto would be “We hope we’re right.”