[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, and allowing a second chance for those who missed them the first time, I reprint them here, with permission. The following ran in The Forum newspaper on May 17, 2014.]
Living Faith: Do some non-believers have ‘God envy?’
By Roxane B. Salonen
I recently began receiving email updates from the American Humanist Association, whose motto reads, “Good without a God.”
It referred to the May 5 U.S. Supreme Court case of “Town of Greece vs. Galloway,” in which the practice of voluntary prayer before public meetings was upheld in a 5-4 ruling.
The move brought praise from those who find prayer a long-held American tradition protected by our country’s restrictions against religious censure.
In response, the humanists immediately began gathering resources to empower their fellow non-believers to deliver “secular invocations” during legislative meetings.
Reading the words “secular” and “invocations” side by side gave me pause. “Oxymoron alert,” my brain noted.
In its simplest form, “invocation” means “the act or process of petitioning for help or support,” particularly from the divine.
Though the word has been stretched beyond that definition, the historical use of prayer, or invocation, derives from a deep yearning to call on God for assistance in human situations.
Which begs the question: upon whom do non-believers call in their invocations? If no one, then why invoke?
This isn’t the only example of “God envy” that has come to my attention.
Several years ago, an atheist shared with me that her group of non-believing friends gathers every Dec. 23 for a mock celebration of Christmas.
“Festivus,” as the event is known, comes from an episode of the television sitcom, “Seinfeld,” in which George and Kramer concoct their own version of the holiday in protest of the growing commercialization attached to it.
Upon learning of this secular version of Christmas, I wondered if the atheists who celebrate “Festivus” might be doing more than just poking fun at a religious holiday. Was I detecting an underlying pining for at least some of what our religious celebrations offer?
I don’t mean to be off-putting, but I’m stumped. The need to gather and celebrate may be innate but why borrow from believers?
Even if it’s all in good fun or simply an attempt at equal time, I can’t help but wonder if the mimicking points to something deeper.
After all, many believers don’t like the commercialization of Christmas, either, but our response in general is to go deeper into the real meaning behind our traditions. It’s hard to think of a corollary of an atheist celebration we’d scoff at then imitate in some tainted form for laughs.
While cobbling together my thoughts, another even more disturbing example of “God envy” came to my attention. A story had just broken from Harvard, where a student group in conjunction with a Satanic Temple was set to host a “Black Mass” in mockery of the Catholic Mass.
Spokespersons said it was to be done for educational purposes. But the very idea had some Christians up in arms, especially at the suggestion that the Mass would include “invectives against Christ,” as an article from the organization Women of Grace stated.
From the believers’ perspective, especially those who understand the sacredness of the Mass, this act seems to dangerously cross into the area of hate speech.
The good that might be gleaned from all these examples is that the unbelieving find some believers’ celebrations copy-worthy. We must be doing something right, but maybe there’s another way to go about it.
My 9-year-old shared recently how a peer had been teasing him and his friend during recess. After several days of this, they asked him to please stop. “Sure,” he said, “I’ll stop if you let me play with you.”
Could it be this simple? Maybe we believers have become so absorbed in our corners that we’ve forgotten the power of a basic, sincere “Come on over.”
In that light, non-believers, consider this an open invitation. We know you have your reasons for your worldview. It’s just that we feel we’ve got a pretty awesome 24-7 celebration going on over here, and our all-encompassing guest list has plenty of room.
Why not stop by our party pad and stay a while – or even for an eternity?
If you do come, we think you’re going to love our guest of honor. He’s simply to die for.