Freethinkers, Not Fundamentalists

Rod Dreher is an editorial journalist and conservative commentator who first mentioned the NTCOF in his blog posting entitled, "The Absurdity of Religious Atheists." He then expanded his critique into an op/ed for the Dallas Morning News entitled, "Against Atheist Fundamentalists," in which he ridiculed both the NTCOF and Camp Quest Texas in his eagerness to attack Richard Dawkins and other so-called 'atheist fundamentalists.'

It was unfortunate that Mr. Dreher took two unique opportunities to cast stones at us in public without ever having interviewed anyone from, let alone investigated our unique church. The NTCOF contacted the Dallas Morning News and voiced concerns that the fact-hollow op/ed which had been published by the Dallas Morning News would convey a grossly inaccurate picture of the NTCOF and Camp Quest Texas to the citizens of North Texas. A counter op/ed which was submitted to correct this unfortunate mistake but the editorial staff insisted on publishing it only as a shortened '"Letter to the Editor.' The full original op/ed is published here as a matter of church record:

Rod Dreher should have been reading the Dallas Morning News when it reported on the North Texas Church of Freethought (NTCOF) in November of 1995 and July of 2000. Or he could have better researched the material available at our website. Perhaps then he would not have attacked us under the title of "Against Atheist Fundamentalists" (8/14/09). We at the NTCOF agree that most human beings have a "religious sense" that sustains an interest in philosophical and moral questions that may be impossible to fully answer, a sense of awe at human experience, and of a yearning to discover, again and again, what we call "meaning." But for us these needs are not met by supernatural doctrines and dogmas or a determination to just "have faith" in what, for us, is unbelievable. Our monthly services provide our members an opportunity to consider religious questions in the light of facts and reason without the intrusion of theology. We don't "celebrate the nonexistence" of other people's deities any more than Mr. Dreher's church celebrates the nonexistence of the gods he doesn't believe in. For the past 15 years, the NTCOF has helped Freethinkers from all walks of life appreciate humanity's scientific achievements, enjoy what is beautiful and precious about the human experience, and meet the challenge of everyday ethical dilemmas with empathy and equanimity. Mr. Dreher lumps us with Nazis and Communists. And while Communism espouses atheism, Nazism never did. More importantly, what motivated Hitler was not theology but crazy and unscientific ideas about a "master race." Likewise, what drove Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot was not what they didn't believe but what they did believe that was sheer nonsense, notably the Marxist "Labor Theory of Value," the "historical inevitability of the dictatorship of the proletariat," and the social sciences equivalent of Lysenkoism. We Freethinkers do not suppose that "all will be well" if everyone agrees with us. Thoughtful believers don't think that either. We do have many ideas about how the world might be made better, starting with the idea of improving ourselves. Again, many thoughtful believers agree. Indeed, many thoughtful believers are of the opinion, as we are, that any religion that teaches hatred and encourages violence is a false religion. That there can be so much agreement between people from different religious traditions shows the power of our common belief in the dignity and value of humanity over our disparate beliefs about "god." Like other churches, ours provides structure and a sense of community for us. We find it especially challenging - and rewarding - to encourage our children to learn, explore, and think critically about the world around them. We teach them - and learn again ourselves - that our beliefs are not as important as how we come to them. That is really our creed, that beliefs must rest on evidence and on reason, or they are not worth believing. It is in this spirit that we are sponsoring the first Camp Quest Texas for participants to enjoy a fun-filled day at a Collin County farm/petting zoo complete with baby animals, ponies, and kangaroos. Campers will play games, perform science experiments, try their hand at pottery, go on a scavenger hunt, and generally have a great time with other campers there to do the same. If there is a ghost story, it will not occur to anyone that it is any more factual than the familiar fare of fiction and fantasy to be found on TV and in the movies. We are very gratified by the interest and support Camp Quest Texas has generated. It has been so positive and overwhelming that we are already planning a week-long event in the summer of 2010. Freethinkers and other nontheists, both as individuals and families, have been congregating in the Dallas/Fort Worth area in various ways for years. In March of this year, the Dallas Morning News reported on a billboard letting unbelievers know that they "are not alone." The message was sponsored by the Dallas/Fort Worth Coalition of Reason (DFWCoR), a regional umbrella group of which the NTCOF was a founding member. In our present age of religious pluralism, tolerance ought to be the universal standard. We may seldom agree when it comes to metaphysical and philosophical matters. But that is no excuse for hatred and malicious attacks. We feel confident that if people like Mr. Dreher would take the trouble to learn more about us that they would come to understand that freethinkers, humanists, and other nontheists deserve the same measure of respect and recognition as their fellow believers.