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June 19, 2013 8:23 AM   Subscribe

Margaret Doughty is a 65 year old UK citizen, and founder of Literacy Powerline, recently applied for US citizenship after living in the United States for more than 30 years. When she noted in her application that she has a moral objection to taking up arms for her new country, the USCIS asked for a letter on official church stationery. But Ms. Doughty is an atheist.

Related Supreme Court case from 1970, Welsh v. United States
posted by roomthreeseventeen (158 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Surely there is a Unitarian Universalist church that would happily write her a letter?

(Though I am not so naive that I don't suspect part of the point of all this is to test the U.S. citizenship application process in court on this particular issue.)

Here's a summary of Welch v United States on Free Dictionary for those like me too lazy to read / interpret the entire decision as linked to in the FPP.
posted by aught at 8:30 AM on June 19, 2013


aught: "Surely there is a Unitarian Universalist church that would happily write her a letter?"

Why would that be appropriate here? If she's an atheist, she might (would) have an objection to any church vouching for her, regardless of that church's intent or leanings.
posted by boo_radley at 8:37 AM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Surely there is a Unitarian Universalist church that would happily write her a letter?

I think the point is she shouldn't have to find one, if only because it seems dishonest to shop around for a Church she doesn't belong to so she can get a letter like this.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 8:38 AM on June 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


Surely there is a Unitarian Universalist church that would happily write her a letter?

The historical experience of non-religious objectors in the US suggests this would not work. Even religious objectors who are members of 'historical peace churches' go out of their way to create a massive paper trail.

(Though I am not so naive that I don't suspect part of the point of all this is to test the U.S. citizenship application process in court on this particular issue.)

Because there aren't atheist objectors? She's likely taking a smaller risk than the above-mentioned Welsh or Seeger, but I doubt she's doing it to make some atheist point or something.
posted by hoyland at 8:40 AM on June 19, 2013


Why would that be appropriate here? If she's an atheist,

In my experience there are usually more than a few athiests in any given UU congregation. As to the rest of your response, see the second sentence of my comment.
posted by aught at 8:41 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Can't she just do the proper American thing and set up a cult beforehand? Much easier to get official letterhead if you're a cult. They'll even throw in a watermark for free.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:41 AM on June 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


What?
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:42 AM on June 19, 2013


Surely there is a Unitarian Universalist church that would happily write her a letter?

Saying what, that she is a member of their church when she is not?

(Though I am not so naive that I don't suspect part of the point of all this is to test the U.S. citizenship application process in court on this particular issue.)

So the idea that someone would not want to lie immediately makes you think they are misrepresenting themselves.
posted by Quonab at 8:42 AM on June 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


Surely there is a Unitarian Universalist church that would happily write her a letter?

Seems a little selfish to work around oppressive rules Because You Can and leave someone else who might not have the option in the dust. Leave the world a better place than you found it: fight against bad laws.
posted by DU at 8:43 AM on June 19, 2013 [14 favorites]


The potential goal of testing whatever regulation is behind this is not incompatible with making a good faith application. Obviously so.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:43 AM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Bring up UUs is misleading and a detrail to think about since it's not officially pacifist as an organization and I'm not sure how many congregations themselves are (one of those two have to be true for letter from such a group to work). So even if one was a member of a UU church, it helps you a lot less than you'd think. (For example, two recent Sec Defs were active UUs.)

It is an interesting question of how to "prove" you're really a CO if you don't have a long-term binding commitment to an organization that officially states that. I wonder what criteria you could use for pacifist organizations that require dues to use as proof. (I assume that's why they require the "good standing" bit--to prove you've put some money behind your beliefs.)
posted by skynxnex at 8:43 AM on June 19, 2013


In my experience there are usually more than a few athiests in any given UU congregation. As to the rest of your response, see the second sentence of my comment.

I don't think you understand the degree of suspicion with which objectors are treated, especially non-religious objectors. Furthermore, you'll have to argue that it's appropriate for the US government to compel someone to fake membership in a religious organisation. That's pretty ridiculous and it insults UUs, telling them that their religion is suitable to be used as a matter of convenience.
posted by hoyland at 8:45 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Having the UUs - love you! - write her a letter would be inappropriate because no one should have to need a religious institution to tell the fucking government that they're pacifist for moral reasons.

It would also - I hope - be considered by the UUs to be immoral. She is not a UU. They are okay with that, I imagine. I imagine as well that they would A) not want to lie for her and B) feel no religious organization (even one with lots of atheists!) should be required to say "She's okay" and have their word taken seriously just because they are a religious organization.
posted by rtha at 8:45 AM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


On the one hand, they shouldn't hassle her about having a specifically religious reason, though inevitably any conscientious objector status is going to involve some degree of hassle to satisfy The Man.

On the other hand, if you're a 65 year old woman, just sign the damn the thing in the sure and certain knowledge that you are not going to be called on to bear arms for the US and are just making work for bureaucrats. I mean, you're already promising for the umpteenth time that you weren't a Nazi before you were born.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:45 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


aught: "In my experience there are usually more than a few athiests in any given UU congregation."

It seems she would not be one of those atheists in a UU congregation. Saying that it would be appropriate, then, to have her lie about her membership would run counter to the idea that morality can exist without religion.
posted by boo_radley at 8:46 AM on June 19, 2013


On the other hand, if you're a 65 year old woman, just sign the damn the thing

And begin your life as a US citizen with a blatant lie?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:47 AM on June 19, 2013


This looks more like a bureaucratic error than government policy
posted by banal evil at 8:47 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


It is an interesting question of how to "prove" you're really a CO if you don't have a long-term binding commitment to an organization that officially states that. I wonder what criteria you could use for pacifist organizations that require dues to use as proof. (I assume that's why they require the "good standing" bit--to prove you've put some money behind your beliefs.)

You do things like fill out the worksheet at the back of this PDF and mail yourself copies so they're postmarked. And then you cross your fingers and/or pray the draft isn't reinstated.
posted by hoyland at 8:49 AM on June 19, 2013


The underlying problem here is that it's basically impossible to assess someone's true beliefs except through their actions. Joining a church is an action, but the only action that can really show an objection to shooting people is not shooting people. And lots of people don't shoot people.

I'm assuming this is a line for 'in case of emergency' style legislation where everyone gets handed out a gun to defend the nation?
posted by ElliotH at 8:49 AM on June 19, 2013


Yeah. Conscientious Objection was originally a primarily Quaker movement, and I think this "policy" really is just a holdover from that. Good on her for starting her life as a citizen by upholding the constitution though!
posted by Navelgazer at 8:49 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Do we know whether alternate organizations would be acceptable? It's hard to imagine this has never come up before, and requiring religious affiliation to claim conscientious objector status would be Constitutionally problematic.

Presuming then that such a variance is within the realm of possibility, if you're an American and an atheist and concerned about this you could take steps like joining atheist and pacifist organizations early in life. The trouble is when you decide to immigrate later in life -- why would you have bothered?
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:49 AM on June 19, 2013


And begin your life as a US citizen with a blatant lie?

Explain how it would be a blatant lie to choose not to take issue with the spectre of a duty that will not apply to you. (I applaud her for doing so, but giving it a pass would hardly be a 'blatant lie.')
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:52 AM on June 19, 2013


requiring religious affiliation to claim conscientious objector status would be Constitutionally problematic.


It may be problematic, but this also comes up as a problem with conscientious objection in the US military. It is astonishingly hard to get CO status as an atheist - CO applicants must be interviewed by chaplains to ascertain the depth of their "faith."
posted by corb at 8:52 AM on June 19, 2013


For what it's worth, the Church of the Brethren is a non-creedal peace church.
posted by koavf at 8:55 AM on June 19, 2013


On the other hand, if you're a 65 year old woman, just sign the damn the thing in the sure and certain knowledge that you are not going to be called on to bear arms for the US and are just making work for bureaucrats. I mean, you're already promising for the umpteenth time that you weren't a Nazi before you were born.

Doesn't help the 18-year-old man who might have to jump through the same hoops in the future and doesn't have the resources to conduct the campaign that she does.
posted by Etrigan at 8:56 AM on June 19, 2013 [14 favorites]


She's 65 years old, in what universe is she going to be drafted? Even if you could justify the draft, which I don't believe you can, it's the kind of thing you ask of those age 18-30, at the most, isn't it?

And as a UU, I'm sure a congregation would be happy to write her a letter, if asked; joining is usually just a matter of signing a book, there is no doctrine to adhere to. But, as pointed out, she shouldn't have to join any religious or semi-religious organization in order to be opposed to being drafted. Which she wouldn't be anyway, because she's 65.

This country. Argh.
posted by emjaybee at 8:56 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


A friend of mine became a naturalized US citizen and they asked her the arms-bearing question and she said she wouldn't, that she was a committed pacifist for moral and religious reasons. The USCIS guy looked at her papers, looked back up and her, and said, "Look, you're Catholic, so if you really want to become a citizen as a conscientious objector, there's going to be a lot of extra hassle and paperwork and it could extend this process by as much as two years, because Catholics aren't a historical peace church. You need to either say you're a Quaker or say that you'll bear arms. I recommend the latter; you're an extremely short young woman, nobody's going to draft you in any case."

She had a whole argument with him about Catholic pacifists, like, "Dorothy Day? Berrigan Brothers?" and he admitted these were good points, but that it was going to create a massive legal hassle. I think she decided to say she'd bear arms? (She was naturalizing with her parents and there were some family issues I don't really recall that made drawing the process out for an extended period problematic.) But, yeah, the point of the story is that conscientious objector status for individuals who AREN'T members of "historical peace churches" is quite a hassle.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:57 AM on June 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


There are many unstated assumptions in the whole concept of citizenship, which is in any case an idea I'd make illegal if I could. Why do citizens have more rights in 'their' country than non-citizens? Why is something automatically bestowed at birth but denied otherwise? Why do people wanting to become citizens have to demonstrate far higher levels of x or y than birth citizens - what does that accomplish? Who drew the lines on the map in the first place? States get to impose arbitrary rules, like this one, which serve to increase their power at the expense of individuals, for bad or no reasons.

I would like to see a reasonable, determined attempt to imagine a post-citizenship world and how it might work for the benefit of all. A universal right to choose one's place of living would be a mighty powerful thing.
posted by Devonian at 8:57 AM on June 19, 2013 [15 favorites]


Devonian, I like your thinking, but I do wonder how one would choose who gets to enforce which laws and where in that sort of world?
posted by ElliotH at 8:59 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Explain how it would be a blatant lie to choose not to take issue with the spectre of a duty that will not apply to you. (I applaud her for doing so, but giving it a pass would hardly be a 'blatant lie.')

She needs to produce a letter from two "elders, or legally responsible members of [her] congregation" detailing her history in the church, asserting that she is "currently a member in good standing", and explaining why their religion "does not permit its members to take the complete oath of allegance" (their emphasis).

None of those are true for her, or can be for anyone not part of an organised religion. Saying that they were would be blatant lies. Even if she were willing to lie about her beliefs or lack thereof in a document that's both legally binding and symbolically important, she'd need to find church elders who're willing to do the same.

This looks more like a bureaucratic error than government policy
posted by banal evil at 16:47 on June 19 [+][!]


Hah!
posted by metaBugs at 8:59 AM on June 19, 2013


Conscientious Objection was originally a primarily Quaker movement, and I think this "policy" really is just a holdover from that.

The so-called historic peace churches in the US are the Quakers, Mennonites and the Church of the Brethren and they've basically all been objecting since there has been conscription in the US. In the Civil War, I think the government pretty much ignored the Mennonites the Brethren and the Quakers bought themselves out of conscription (you could buy yourself out or send someone in your place), which made objection not a real issue.

Seventh Day Adventists traditionally object as well, but they tended to accept non-combatant status and thus had an easier time. Since modern systems of conscientious objection have come into existence, Jehovah's Witnesses are (IIRC) usually the bulk of imprisoned objectors in most countries because they're technically not pacifists and governments don't know what to do with them.

In the First World War, a couple of Mennonite objectors died as a result of being mistreated in prison, so it's definitely not just a Quaker thing.

Do we know whether alternate organizations would be acceptable? It's hard to imagine this has never come up before, and requiring religious affiliation to claim conscientious objector status would be Constitutionally problematic.

US v Seeger and Welsh v US establish pretty thoroughly that you don't need a religious affiliation to object. You need a deeply held conviction or moral belief (I forget the precise phrasing). In terms of conscription, this kind of comes down to the composition of the local draft board. (Who are volunteers. On the plus side, veterans are banned from sitting on draft boards, which is a big deal given that they used to be packed by whoever ran the local VFW and they tend to be hostile to objectors.)
posted by hoyland at 8:59 AM on June 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Explain how it would be a blatant lie to choose not to take issue with the spectre of a duty that will not apply to you. (I applaud her for doing so, but giving it a pass would hardly be a 'blatant lie.')

Because she has a moral objection to making a promise she has no intention of keeping, even if she would never be called on to keep it. It doesn't matter if you (or anyone else) wouldn't have a problem with it and wouldn't consider checking the box to be a lie. She does.
posted by rtha at 8:59 AM on June 19, 2013


koavf: "For what it's worth, the Church of the Brethren is a non-creedal peace church."

They're non-creedal but they're very definitely Christians.
posted by hoyland at 9:02 AM on June 19, 2013


Well, more power to her elbow if she wins some sort of bureaucratic alteration here--and it would certainly be good if conscientious objectors weren't forced to do anything more than make a solemn declaration of their principled objection to bearing arms. On the other hand, of all the hills one might choose to die on, I'm not sure that this one is all that significant. That is, when one swears, as a new citizen, that one will take up arms to defend your new country, it doesn't really seem to me that one is committing oneself to anything more than all natural born citizens are committed to by virtue of being citizens. That is, one is saying "I recognize that I am subject to all the duties of citizenship, up to and including those that would imperil my life." Now, if, upon becoming a citizen, one finds oneself in a situation where one is actually called upon to bear arms in military combat, it seems to me that one is no more or less engaged by that oath to actually take part in actively attempting to kill enemy soldiers than any natural born citizen is. One is compelled, as any natural born citizen is, to render some kind of active service to the state, including services that put one's life at risk, but the state can afford to recognize your conscientious objection to actually killing on its behalf.
posted by yoink at 9:02 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


She's 65 years old, in what universe is she going to be drafted?

This question can be used to argue that she should just sign the document because she will never be called to take up arms.

But equally it can be used to argue that since she will never be called to take up arms, the government has no justification for asking her to swear that oath.
posted by grouse at 9:04 AM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


...the government has no justification for asking her to swear that oath

Yeah, but what's the use of power if you can't be arbitrary?
posted by banal evil at 9:08 AM on June 19, 2013


Eponysterical!
posted by rtha at 9:12 AM on June 19, 2013


That is, when one swears, as a new citizen, that one will take up arms to defend your new country, it doesn't really seem to me that one is committing oneself to anything more than all natural born citizens are committed to by virtue of being citizens.

So, you're saying it is redundant and shouldn't be there at all? I think I agree.
posted by vacapinta at 9:14 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Do other countries do this to citizens when they're sworn in? I'd be appalled if Canada asked their citizens to bear arms for the country.

Personally, I think you should only fight in wars you think are justified and not just because your government told you to.

Also, I was very uncomfortable with whatever that oath was that California gets people to sign. I think I left it blank.

I'm just not a person who likes to sign oaths. Or pledge allegiance, for that matter. I'm sticking to my 'it depends'.
posted by hydrobatidae at 9:18 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


@If she's an atheist, she might (would) have an objection to any church vouching for her, regardless of that church's intent or leanings. What? Why?
posted by koavf at 9:21 AM on June 19, 2013


@Hoyland: Right, but I'm not sure your point...
posted by koavf at 9:21 AM on June 19, 2013


What? Why?

Many atheists do not want to have organized religion affiliated with our names, ever.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:22 AM on June 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


koavf, you may find this hard to believe, but many people who hold beliefs mean them.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:23 AM on June 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


Surely there is a Unitarian Universalist church that would happily write her a letter?

I rather think this is a matter of principle.
posted by Decani at 9:24 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


None of those are true for her, or can be for anyone not part of an organised religion. Saying that they were would be blatant lies.

The point was that she could just make the standard affirmation in confidence that the duty would never be applied to her, not that she should falsely hold out an affiliation to be a CO.

Because she has a moral objection to making a promise she has no intention of keeping, even if she would never be called on to keep it. It doesn't matter if you (or anyone else) wouldn't have a problem with it and wouldn't consider checking the box to be a lie. She does.

I accept and agree with this. That's different than the assertion that making the standard affirmation is a "blatant lie," i.e. for anyone and everyone, as it's perfectly legitimate to read in the implied 'if called to do so,' and understand that a 65+ year old woman will never be drafted.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:26 AM on June 19, 2013


IMO the whole issue here is that the US government has no interest in letting anyone be a confirmed pacifist. The issue is that churches act effectively like labour unions do by using a large block of individuals as leverage to negotiate individual rights.

But the issue isn't that the US Government loves churches - it simply hates conscientious objectors and churches have enough collective leverage to get past that.

The situation definitely sucks and is idiotic.
posted by GuyZero at 9:27 AM on June 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


What? Why?

Because it indulges in the fiction of being a church, or perhaps actually is devotional in some way, which is understandably unacceptable to some (most?) atheists. They aren't just against organized religion. Atheism is the denial of the existence of god. If no god, no need for a 'church.' Even a pacifist church.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:28 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


So, you're saying it is redundant and shouldn't be there at all? I think I agree.

Well, yes. I think it is redundant in the sense that if one swears to perform all the normal duties of a citizen one is, inter alia, swearing to participate in the armed defense of your country if called upon to do so.

I'd be appalled if Canada asked their citizens to bear arms for the country.


The Canadian citizenship oath doesn't specifically mention bearing arms, no, but it does affirm one's willingness to participate in all the "duties" of citizenship. Those "duties" include the duty of bearing arms if called upon to do so.
posted by yoink at 9:35 AM on June 19, 2013


@threeseventeen and Pope Guilty: What objection would she (i.e. you speaking for her, of course) have to Unitarian Universalists? Is there some inherent problem with the UUA?

@snuffleupagus: The majority of UUs are humanists, agnostics, and atheists.

I get the idea that she doesn't want to lie and I also get that you shouldn't have to have someone vouch for you being a pacifist, especially if you have some publicly verifiable record that you are. What I don't get is why in principle she would be unwilling to associate with UUs or what I perceive to be such hostility on the part of (hypothetical) atheists to associate with them.
posted by koavf at 9:35 AM on June 19, 2013


Is UU a Church? Yes it is. End of discussion. What is difficult about that?

Also, we don't usually do that Twitter style @ thing here, we just read and follow the conversation and/or quote each other in italics.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:36 AM on June 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


What objection would she (i.e. you speaking for her, of course) have to Unitarian Universalists? Is there some inherent problem with the UUA?

Because she is an atheist and is an atheist who is not even a UU. I don't even understand what it is you don't understand.
posted by rtha at 9:39 AM on June 19, 2013 [12 favorites]


@snuffleupagus Linking to prior comments helps me. I still don't understand your point and it seems like your last two comments directly contradict one another...

@rtha: I understand her not wanting to say she's a UU when she's not. What I don't understand are comments like, "Atheists don't like religion" when it's patently untrue: most UUs are atheists and there are plenty of atheists who don't have an axe to grind against religion. I don't see why others are imputing this view to this woman.

I am not proposing that she falsify religious observance for pacifist credentials—lying is wrong and she shouldn't have to do this in the first place—what bewilders me is this attitude of comments here about proposed antagonism on the part of atheists against the UUs when there is no reason that I can see for atheists to be opposed to the UUs or being UUs that I can imagine.
posted by koavf at 9:43 AM on June 19, 2013


What I don't get is why in principle she would be unwilling to associate with UUs or what I perceive to be such hostility on the part of (hypothetical) atheists to associate with them.

The principle is that someone shouldn't be obliged to associate with a group to prove one's convictions. Convictions are a matter for the individual, not to be signed off on by any group to prove that they are valid.
posted by banal evil at 9:43 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


banal evil: “This looks more like a bureaucratic error than government policy”

With a username like that, I guess you'd know. But – yes. More bureaucratic error than government policy. It's difficult to invent a test for the sincerity of conscientious objections. We're still using an old (and unfair) test. Such tests were necessary when conscription was a fact and fairness was an issue – when fighting is a duty, its unfair to allow those willing to pretend to have moral objections to shirk that duty. However, since conscription is pretty much not even a possibility at this point, it's unnecessary to even worry about such tests anymore. Remove that bit from the oaths and forms and move on.
posted by koeselitz at 9:43 AM on June 19, 2013


What I don't understand are comments like, "Atheists don't like religion" when it's patently untrue: most UUs are atheists and there are plenty of atheists who don't have an axe to grind against religion.

You don't have to have an axe to grind to not want to have to submit judgement of your moral worthiness to an organization you don't belong to and whose goals, creed, and/or philosophy you don't agree with.

Also, "most" UUs are atheists? Not the ones I've known. They might not be considered capital C Christians by more conservative Protestant denominations, but they are not atheists.
posted by rtha at 9:46 AM on June 19, 2013


koavf, you seem to not be clear on the situation. She can either

a) agree to bear arms for the U.S.

b) provide an extensive history, including letters from multiple members in a leadership position, about her long association with a pacifist religious organization.

She does not have this history. Saying she does would be a pretty big lie, one that she would have to get more than one person to agree to. She can't just say "yeah I'm UU" and call it good. UU isn't even a pacifist organization, so I don't think she could use an affiliation with them.
posted by Quonab at 9:46 AM on June 19, 2013


@snuffleupagus Linking to prior comments helps me. I still don't understand your point and it seems like your last two comments directly contradict one another...

It clutters up the tread with unnecessary styled links to comments from three minutes ago. But whatevs, not worth a MeTa.

My comments are not contradictory. UU is a church. Atheists don't join churches because they are atheists. The Peace Church suggested briefly upthread is a church. Atheists don't join churches, because they are atheists.

ATHEISTS DON'T JOIN CHURCHES, BECAUSE THEY DON'T BELIEVE IN GOD. Not because they have an issue with any particular creed. Because they don't want to be part of a community of believers, even if that community is open to non-believers for the purpose of fellowship. And even if some more relaxed atheists (probably some are actually agnostics) choose to do so.

Other rights should therefore not be conditioned on Church affiliation.

How can that be simpler?
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:47 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Linking to prior comments helps me.

That's fine, just don't put the @ in front of it.


What I don't understand are comments like, "Atheists don't like religion" when it's patently untrue: most UUs are atheists and there are plenty of atheists who don't have an axe to grind against religion.

All of that is completely irrelevant. She's not a UU and shouldn't be made to pretend she is. Asking her to pretend she is is unreasonable and a violation of her rights.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:47 AM on June 19, 2013


koavf: " "Atheists don't like religion" when it's patently untrue: most UUs are atheists "

More relevant: are most atheists UUs?
posted by boo_radley at 9:48 AM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


since conscription is pretty much not even a possibility at this point

How so? I can see that it's unlikely, sure, but there are strong constituencies on both sides of the political spectrum in favor of widespread national service (leftists think it makes war less likely, righties think it will inculcate the virtues of military discipline in wayward youths). I don't think one can be completely certain that we won't see conscription again in our lifetimes.
posted by yoink at 9:49 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


In the Civil War, I think the government pretty much ignored the Mennonites the Brethren and the Quakers bought themselves out of conscription (you could buy yourself out or send someone in your place), which made objection not a real issue.

hoyland, I am curious about where you learned that Quakers bought themselves out of conscription. I am a Quaker and have never heard of this being a widespread practice (I've never heard of a Quaker doing it, but that doesn't mean it didn't happen at all). During the Civil War, as during the Revolutionary war, many Quakers did choose to fight. There's a nice little article here about Quaker service in the Civil War.

In the 20th Century, it has been pretty hard even for Quakers to get CO status during times when the draft was in place. For this reason, in the monthly meeting I used to belong to, the meeting began creating the "paper trail" showing active participation in the meeting at birth--they would provide a certificate welcoming new babies to the meeting, as the first step in being able to someday say, if the child wanted to claim CO status, that the child's involvement in Quakerism had been life-long.
posted by not that girl at 9:50 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, pretending to be a UU wouldn't even help her. She doesn't need a one-time "seems legit" letter, she needs to document an extensive faith-based relationship with a historical peace church, which the UUs aren't.
posted by KathrynT at 9:50 AM on June 19, 2013


Obama is in office until early 2017. The applicant in question will be around 70 years old. She's not going to be drafted for any kind of national service. Come on now.

The point, admittedly a technical one, is that she could make the oath in good faith. You don't have to agree with the oath, you just have to intend to keep it. And the oath doesn't require you to take up arms on your own initiative.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:51 AM on June 19, 2013


Obama is in office until early 2017. The applicant in question will be around 70 years old. She's not going to be drafted for any kind of national service. Come on now.

That's not what she's concerned about.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:52 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


koavf: “What objection would she (i.e. you speaking for her, of course) have to Unitarian Universalists? Is there some inherent problem with the UUA?”

There is an inherent problem with the UUA for me – I am a traditionalist Christian, and Unitarians believe that my religion is false because they believe that God is one person, not three.
posted by koeselitz at 9:52 AM on June 19, 2013


That's not what she's concerned about.

Of course it's not. And that's perfectly fine!

I'm still on the 'blatant lie' thing. I guess I'm beating a dead horse. I'll stop.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:55 AM on June 19, 2013


I'm still on the 'blatant lie' thing. I guess I'm beating a dead horse. I'll stop.

For her to say she would serve would be a lie, and to say that she's part of a community of faith would also be a lie. She refuses to lie.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:58 AM on June 19, 2013


I'm still on the 'blatant lie' thing. I guess I'm beating a dead horse. I'll stop.

It's okay to have a different view on the moral position of what is considered a lie and what is not considered a lie.

To really understand your position, though, I need to know the church you are affiliated with so I can understand where your position comes from.

/hamburger.
posted by Quonab at 9:59 AM on June 19, 2013


me: “since conscription is pretty much not even a possibility at this point”

yoink: “How so? I can see that it's unlikely, sure, but...”

Yep, that's what I meant. Changes in the United States at this late date take a much bigger impetus than sentiment, even if the sentiment is shared by some on both sides. That could happen, but seems pretty unlikely.
posted by koeselitz at 10:00 AM on June 19, 2013


It's okay to have a different view on the moral position of what is considered a lie and what is not considered a lie.

I'm OK with ceding the moral point, I see (readily) how her position is ethically or morally mandatory. I agree with her position on that. I'm just not sure it's legally mandatory in the context of being able to give the oath in good faith of not violating it. I still applaud her initiative, and I hope she wrangles some changes. There should be no 'church' requirement, clearly.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:05 AM on June 19, 2013


hoyland, I am curious about where you learned that Quakers bought themselves out of conscription. I am a Quaker and have never heard of this being a widespread practice (I've never heard of a Quaker doing it, but that doesn't mean it didn't happen at all). During the Civil War, as during the Revolutionary war, many Quakers did choose to fight. There's a nice little article here about Quaker service in the Civil War.

Buying your way out was the provision for objection in the Civil War. You could be drafted, you could buy your way out (either directly or by paying someone to go in your place*), or you could evade. See here. That site suggests abuse of objectors in the Civil War was a bigger issue than I recalled.

I'm not trying to impugn Quaker patriotism or something, I'm saying that for various reasons, Quakers ended up availing themselves of the objection provision that existed moreso than other groups. (I think they were a bit likelier to have $300, likelier not to live in the middle of nowhere where it was easier to disappear into the woods, etc.) It's entirely possible I'm misremembering. The obvious reference is Peter Brock's Pacifism in the United States, but I don't own a copy.

*I'm sure a few substitutes were volunteers.
posted by hoyland at 10:07 AM on June 19, 2013


Leave the world a better place than you found it: fight against bad laws.

Good on her for taking this stand! Even though it probably is a stunt, it can be immense help to future objectors.

She's 65 years old, in what universe is she going to be drafted?

Exactly: she's a 65 year old British subject. What does she need US citizenship for? The healthcare plan?
posted by ceribus peribus at 10:14 AM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't understand the comments in this thread saying this is silly because she'd never be called to serve or whatever. The case cited by OP as well as US v. Seeger clearly establish the fact that there does not have to be a religious test for obtaining conscientious objector status under US law. This is just a bureaucrat in the Houston USCIS office making a mistake and the person who was effected threatening legal action to uphold the law as it currently stands. If this relatively secure and not vulnerable person can get the USCIS to follow the law maybe it will help more vulnerable people down the line.
posted by Wretch729 at 10:18 AM on June 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


ceribus peribus: "she's a 65 year old British subject. What does she need US citizenship for? The healthcare plan?"

That's another thing people haven't really mentioned: Someone with legal permanent residency who chooses citizenship (especially when coming from another Western country) often does so at least in part for idealistic reasons and because of love of their adopted country and what it stands for. Not that they're rejecting their country of birth, but that they are choosing to make a symbolic commitment to the country where they've chosen to live their adult lives.

That makes it extremely disappointing (as it was for my C.O. friend from upthread) when one's process of becoming a citizen is tainted by this unfair and unconstitutional religious discrimination with regard to conscientious objector status. I understand it's primarily an issue of bureaucracy, but it is very disappointing to say, "Yes, I choose to be a citizen of this country and I believe in the things it stands for" and have that country immediately say "WAIT LET ME VIOLATE YOUR RIGHTS REAL QUICK."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:22 AM on June 19, 2013 [19 favorites]


I don't understand the comments in this thread saying this is silly because she'd never be called to serve or whatever.

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm not saying it's "silly" at all. I was just sort of beanplating whether or not she could give the oath, not saying that she ought to, or questioning that she should not need to show church affiliation to avoid it.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:22 AM on June 19, 2013


She does realize this is the United States of America she's trying to get citizenship in, isn't it? The Beloved Second Amendment doesn't just make bearing arms voluntary, the 'well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state' clause makes it pretty much mandatory.

Know your 'Rights'.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:25 AM on June 19, 2013


Surely there is a Unitarian Universalist church that would happily write her a letter?

My husband is an atheist whose conscientious objector status was verified by the UU church. He happened to actually be a member of the congregation whose leaders filled out the necessary paperwork, and had to have meetings and write essays and find tons of evidence of his long-standing presence in the church (well, as long standing a presence as one can have at 18.) Aside from the testing-the-law issue that you're already aware of, it's really offensive to me as a UU that this is phrased as something that my church would do for funsies.
posted by tchemgrrl at 10:31 AM on June 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


"Ms. Doughty," huh?

Truth in labeling.
posted by kavasa at 10:34 AM on June 19, 2013


I'm not sure that 'frivolously' was the intended sense of 'happily,' I read it more as 'would be pleased to' (out of accordance with the mission and beliefs of UU). Although it's useful hear that it would require direct and sustained participation in an avowedly religious organization.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:35 AM on June 19, 2013


The Canadian citizenship oath doesn't specifically mention bearing arms, no, but it does affirm one's willingness to participate in all the "duties" of citizenship. Those "duties" include the duty of bearing arms if called upon to do so.

The duties of a Canadian citizen don't include defending the country according to this. Maybe I'm missing something.
posted by hydrobatidae at 10:42 AM on June 19, 2013


Much the same thing happened to a friend of mine - an ardent pacifist and an atheist.

When he went into the interviews, they asked him if he'd bear arms for the United States and he correctly said no - so of course they terminated the interview.

He went to talk to a lot of people he knew that cared about moral issues. I personally told him that I completely supported his decision, that I was proud of him and that I'd continue to support him no matter what - but I wouldn't lose any respect at all for him if he lied to them and told them what they wanted to hear. I pointed out that he was an immigrant with a great future in front of him, a nice job and a lovely wife, so he had a lot to lose - and that the sacrifice would have no effect at all.

I told him that lying to someone who has violent, coercive power over you is not morally reprehensible at all, and might be the morally best solution in some cases, particularly when your family is involved.

He did eventually decide to lie to them, and did it effectively.

He's an ethical man, one of the few, and even though I haven't seen him in a decade, I still hold him in high esteem.

This case is different. She has little to lose - and because it's so high profile, she could gain a lot for the large number of non-priest-ridden people who don't want to fight for the United States. Right on, sister.

(I should add that this one thing is the reason that I'm still not an American citizen myself after 30 years in this country - so it certainly does have an impact on me.)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:47 AM on June 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


I was just sort of beanplating whether or not she could give the oath, not saying that she ought to...

Well I love a good beanplating as much as anyone, but in this case I think you're wrong. The question asks "are you willing to take up arms?" (At least that's what OP's link implies)
To answer it honestly one must answer it as it was asked, not in the context of one's own assessment of how likely it is that one will be called upon to serve. I think it's pretty unlikely that anyone is going to appoint me (a random civilian) to be on a firing squad for deserters anytime soon, but I wouldn't swear an oath that I would do so if asked just because I don't think I'll be asked.
posted by Wretch729 at 10:51 AM on June 19, 2013


That is, when one swears, as a new citizen, that one will take up arms to defend your new country, it doesn't really seem to me that one is committing oneself to anything more than all natural born citizens are committed to by virtue of being citizens. That is, one is saying "I recognize that I am subject to all the duties of citizenship, up to and including those that would imperil my life."

Read up on conscientious objectors. It's very much not about the question of putting your own life in peril for your country, but about taking up arms. Conscientious Objectors have historically been subjected to horrific and life-threatening duties as a part of their service and did so without complaint, so long as the duties were pacifist.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:52 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


To answer it honestly one must answer it as it was asked, not in the context of one's own assessment of how likely it is that one will be called upon to serve.

It's a bit stronger than 'don't think I'll be asked,' it's more like 'categorically won't be asked.' And then the question is whether you want to make whether it's a 'lie' hang on "willingness to take up arms" (as an absolute) or read in the implied "if called upon" and then make whether it's a lie hinge on the intent to keep the oath. As one isn't going to be accused of breaking the oath based on one's present beliefs, but rather future conduct.

I'm not sure which view I prefer, but I think both are defensible. At any rate, the law seems settled, and she has standing , so good on her for pursuing it since she has the resources to do so.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:58 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


the Quakers bought themselves out of conscription (you could buy yourself out or send someone in your place), which made objection not a real issue.

It's a bit more nuanced than that. For least some Quakers, buying their way out was as bad as, if not worse than, fighting in the war, since the money would support the war effort while letting them pretend that they personally weren't.

From a series of writings by a Quaker draftee:
[W]e confess a higher duty than that to country; and, asking no military protection of our Government and grateful for none, deny any obligation to support so unlawful a system, as we hold a war to be even when waged in opposition to an evil and oppressive power and ostensibly in defence of liberty, virtue, and free institutions; and, though touched by the kind interest of friends, we could not relieve their distress by a means we held even more sinful than that of serving ourselves, as by supplying money to hire a substitute we would not only be responsible for the result, but be the agents in bringing others into evil.

How widespread that idea was? I'm not sure. I could easily believe that Quakers bought themselves out of conscription at a higher rate than the general population; I'd love to see figures supporting (or not supporting) that -- it's a really interesting question. Some Quakers fought in the war, some paid the fee in lieu of conscription, and some enlisted as cooks or non-combatants. I've heard one anecdote of someone who, having been conscripted, just tried really hard not to actually shoot anyone. There were lots of different personal beliefs about what commitment to the Peace Testimony meant, and how important it was, and that makes drawing generalizations tricky.
posted by cjelli at 10:59 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I told him that lying to someone who has violent, coercive power over you is not morally reprehensible at all, and might be the morally best solution in some cases, particularly when your family is involved.

What violence was it that coerced him to apply for citizenship?
posted by Etrigan at 10:59 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


What violence was it that coerced him to apply for citizenship?

Perhaps the threat of being physically removed from the country when his visa ran out?
posted by onya at 11:04 AM on June 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


koavf - What I don't get is why in principle she would be unwilling to associate with UUs or what I perceive to be such hostility on the part of (hypothetical) atheists to associate with them.

I'm not reading it as a slight against UUs specifically, it's just that they are the only church who've been suggested as a figleaf for her. The root of my hostility to the idea is religion's claimed monopoly on morality: since morals and compassion come to us through God, and atheists reject God, an atheist cannot have strongly held moral principles.* At best, we have good habits derived indirectly from the Church's influence on society. This is, or course, rather insulting when viewed from an atheist's perspective. Therefore, when an atheist wants to prove that they hold a strong moral stance, being told "it's OK, just say that a Church told you to do it!" is a bit of a pisser.

Your profile suggests that you're a Christian. If the above argument isn't enough, imagine being told that, despite living in an avowedly secular country, something as important as citizenship is being witheld from you because you're not a Muslim. You have your own beliefs, of course, but they're not respected as a source of moral authority. But hey, it's OK because there's this one really liberal Muslim community that might vouch for you. All you have to do is publicly swear that you're a long-standing, active member of their community: their principles are your principles, their beliefs are your beliefs. Would you be willing to do that?

*I don't claim that all religious people believe this. But there are plenty who do (and have said so to my face, mostly when assuming that I'm religious), and there's plenty of stuff throughout society, like the constant deferral to religious leaders as moral arbiters, and the perennial claims that the (perceived) decline in society is a consequence of falling Church membership, which reinforces the message.
posted by metaBugs at 11:07 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Someone with legal permanent residency who chooses citizenship (especially when coming from another Western country) often does so at least in part for idealistic reasons and because of love of their adopted country and what it stands for. Not that they're rejecting their country of birth, but that they are choosing to make a symbolic commitment to the country where they've chosen to live their adult lives.

It's important to note that plenty of people choose to become citizens for far more practical reasons. Certainly my mother and the parents of more than a few of my friends (those from countries with 'desirable' passports and not) were motivated by increasing xenophobia and a fear the political situation would deteriorate, not the stuff about patriotism or 'becoming an American' they tried to teach us in school. That doesn't make them 'bad Americans' or whatever.
posted by hoyland at 11:14 AM on June 19, 2013


I just filled out my n-400 last week and as soon as the zit that bloomed on my face goes away, I'll get the two passport photos and send it off. Most of the form is pretty straight forward, almost comical (habitual drunkard? Hmm, does every Thursday after soccer count?) but the Oath Requirements are serious questions and I gave them due consideration, especially "If the law requires it, are you willing to bear arms on behalf of the United States?"

I don't think it should be a question anyone answers easily, or rationalizes away, but I also don't think a 'No' should be as much of a barrier or roadblock to citizenship as it is. I've already answered 'Yes' to the question for myself and I'm comfortable with my reasons for doing so, but I'm glad someone is fighting this fight, and I think in Ms. Doughty they've found the right person to fight it. I'll be watching with interest.
posted by IanMorr at 11:20 AM on June 19, 2013


rtha: "Also, 'most' UUs are atheists?" Yes. I linked to self-reported data which confirm this.

snuffleupagus: "Atheists don't join churches..." That is not true, even leaving aside the fact that a majority of UUs are atheists (and some atheists are agnostics, too; some theists are agnostics.) I don't want to come across as condescending but I don't know how not to when you're ignoring the plain fact that a number of religious persons don't believe in God. It's not just one guy in a basement somewhere with a blog, it's a lot. There is also no contradiction between being an agnostic and a theist. Or an atheist. Or being an atheist and being religious. Or being a theist and not being religious. Etc. It does a disservice to those persons as well as to a discussion about these topics to collapse all of those groups into two opposing camps. The extreme form of this becomes "the fundies versus the scientists" or "God's children versus the heathen commies" depending on which type of mindless extremism you like more.

boo_radley: are most atheists UUs? No. And—again—I'm not suggesting that she should falsify religious affiliation nor that she should be forced to falsify it (or even provide it at all). As pointed out earlier, this would be a simple "out" legally for her if she chose to take it. My consternation is not at the situation (I take it for granted that it's preposterous and immoral) but at the discussion here.
posted by koavf at 11:37 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


proposed antagonism on the part of atheists against the UUs when there is no reason that I can see for atheists to be opposed to the UUs or being UUs that I can imagine.

Why would some atheists be opposed to being Unitarian Universalists? Despite UU's reputation as a welcoming and diverse organization, some of its congregations and members at times perpetuate anti-atheist prejudice and stereotyping that pervades US culture. If an atheist encounters such behavior, as the blogger dr_rieux did, they may not want to associate themselves with UU.
posted by audi alteram partem at 11:42 AM on June 19, 2013


koselitz: Unitarians believe that my religion is false because they believe that God is one person, not three Contemporary UUs aren't Unitarians in the liberal Protestant sense. Very few are Christians at all.

metaBugs: "I'm not reading it as a slight against UUs specifically, it's just that they are the only church who've been suggested as a figleaf for her. The root of my hostility to the idea..." For what it's worth, I also suggested the Church of the Brethren, which is an historic peace church. Your point is well-taken and I don't dispute it: it is wrong to impose religious association on anyone and particularly so if it's because of some civil association. Why I don't get are the "atheists don't like churches" comments, especially when we're discussing her potentially joining a church largely composed of atheists.
posted by koavf at 11:42 AM on June 19, 2013


She'll be greeted as liberators!
posted by blue_beetle at 11:43 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


snuffleupagus: "Atheists don't join churches..." That is not true, even leaving aside the fact that a majority of UUs are atheists (and some atheists are agnostics, too; some theists are agnostics.) I don't want to come across as condescending but I don't know how not to when you're ignoring the plain fact that a number of religious persons don't believe in God.

I didn't mean it as a rule, so much as a statement of principle. Certainly an individual atheist can choose to join a church. That doesn't change the fact that Atheism, as a belief system or world-view, is not compatible with a requirement to belong to a church.

And there is a difference between being a person who identifies with a religion but lacks faith and being an Atheist. I think to suggest that there isn't is a bit condescending.

Contemporary UUs aren't Unitarians in the liberal Protestant sense. Very few are Christians at all.


Now, I know this is condescending. To put it mildly.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:44 AM on June 19, 2013


snuffleupagus: I think we're talking past one another because I have no clue what you just meant. Atheism isn't a belief system and I have no idea what you think the condescension is that you highlight in the last sentence. It's entirely possible that I'm just dense: can you rephrase this? From how you capitalize "[A]theism" it makes me think that you have invested something into this word which simply does not exist.
posted by koavf at 11:46 AM on June 19, 2013


There is also no contradiction between being an agnostic and a theist. Or an atheist.

Theist and Atheist are dictionary antonyms.

I'm giving them initial caps as I might a school of philosophy.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:47 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


"There is also no contradiction between being an agnostic and a theist. Or [being an agnostic and] an atheist."

To clarify.

Atheism is not a school or movement, though. Also, There is nothing condescending about "Contemporary UUs aren't Unitarians in the liberal Protestant sense. Very few are Christians at all." and I'd like you to explain why you think there is, please.
posted by koavf at 11:50 AM on June 19, 2013


The condescension is putting yourself in the position to say whose beliefs are sufficiently Christian to qualify for the title. Unless you are saying that few hold themselves out to be Christians at all, which is not my experience of UU members.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:51 AM on June 19, 2013


Did you read the link that I provided about self-reported affiliation of UUs? (My guess is no.) I am not making this assumption: the only one that I'm making is that they aren't liars.
posted by koavf at 11:51 AM on June 19, 2013


"Also, 'most' UUs are atheists?" Yes. I linked to self-reported data which confirm this.

Per your link:

As for a preferred theological label, among respondents in the FACT survey and in two other polls previously cited, "humanist" always got the most votes. The UUA's in-house survey four years ago asked church members to chose only one label (though some chose more). The top choices were humanist (46 percent), earth/nature centered (19 percent), theist (13 percent), Christian (9.5 percent), with mystic, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu and Muslim in ever-smaller percentages. Another 13 percent picked "other."

You'll note the absence of "atheist" in the most common responses.

The FACT survey and Casebolt's Ohio-based survey asked respondents to pick as many self-descriptions as they wanted. In the FACT survey, which had seven categories, humanist (91 percent), earth-centered, theist and Christian were the top four in the same order as the 1997 survey, but Buddhist and Jewish were also picked by a quarter of the respondents.

Casebolt offered 20 labels, including pagan, atheist and agnostic in his Midwestern survey. Humanist was again a clear choice (54 percent), but agnostic (33 percent) beat out earth-centered (31 percent). Atheist was picked by 18 percent and Buddhist by 16.5 percent. Pagan and Christian tied at 13.1 percent. "That the typical respondent felt the need to circle three or four terms to describe his or her theological views" demonstrated the complexity of many UUs' outlook, Casebolt said.

"18%" isn't "most" by even the loosest of interpretations.

Are you conflating humanism and agnosticism with atheism? That might give you a majority, but if you're doing that there's bound to be some talking past each other here.
posted by cjelli at 11:52 AM on June 19, 2013


"Are you conflating humanism and agnosticism with atheism? That might give you a majority, but if you're doing that there's bound to be some talking past each other here."

You are correct: I should apologize for my own intellectual sloppiness. Also, in that survey, respondents could choose more than one answer, as I recall.
posted by koavf at 11:54 AM on June 19, 2013


Why I don't get are the "atheists don't like churches" comments

Because many of them don't. What is your density on this? If I click a link that goes to a thing that shows that 90% of UUs are atheists (I made up the figure), so what? That says nothing about how many atheists are not UUs or members of any other religious organization.
posted by rtha at 11:54 AM on June 19, 2013


Many atheists don't belong to credit unions, too. That doesn't mean they are opposed to them. Lots of atheists are just atheists without any beef with religious institutions. By necessity, you'll only hear from the ones who are vocal about disliking religious institutions because the ones that don't have a beef with them have nothing to say on the topic other than "Meh".
posted by koavf at 11:56 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Since you were referring to self reporting, I'm happy to withdraw the condescending bit; but I don't think those figures establish what you think they do. And Unitarianism is indubitably Christian in origin, with its own Christology. Willingness to identify with a group isn't based purely on the actuality of its membership.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:57 AM on June 19, 2013


I mean, how could you expect these founding principles to appeal to someone with a strongly held atheism:

•One God and the oneness or unity of God.
•The life and teachings of Jesus Christ constitute the exemplar model for living one's own life.
•Reason, rational thought, science, and philosophy coexist with faith in God.

posted by snuffleupagus at 12:00 PM on June 19, 2013


The founding principles of Unitarians from centuries ago have nothing to do with the Seven Principles and Purposes today. How many atheists do you think would disagree with these: As an aside, I have no idea why everyone refers to Unitarian-Universalists in terms of historic Unitarians but not historic Universalists...
posted by koavf at 12:04 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I guess I have no idea why we got dragged down into debating whatever UUs might believe, or what atheists might believe in a UU context, or why we've decided to purposely confuse the fact that atheists can join a UU congregation with the idea that it might, under certain parameters, be useful within the context of declaring status as a conscientious objector.

What's your end goal here, koavf?
posted by boo_radley at 12:08 PM on June 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


How many atheists do you think would disagree with these:

It's irrelevant whether or not an atheist might find that statement acceptable. What matters is what one might find unacceptable. I'd imagine I could cherry pick some bible verses that are utterly uncontroversial.

As an aside, I have no idea why everyone refers to Unitarian-Universalists in terms of historic Unitarians but not historic Universalists...

Because it's now UU? And in this context the Unitarian aspect is obviously the more relevant one in considering whether our theoretical atheist would be comfortable joining a "Church" that is as much "Unitarian" as "Universalist" by name.
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:10 PM on June 19, 2013


As a larger issue, it would be nice if others didn't consider atheists somehow inherently opposed to religion (they're not and it does a disservice to religious atheists), didn't collapse different terms into one (which I am even guilty of doing in this thread), stopped the us-versus-them tribalism that assumes that one group has to fight another if they disagree, and more particularly, didn't think that atheism is some school/movement/philosophy/lifestance when it's not. It's simply an absence of a belief in God. You can be an atheist and be religious. You can be an atheist and superstitious. You can be a theist and be a good doctor or scientist, etc.
posted by koavf at 12:11 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are non-theist Quakers, but I don't know of any entirely non-theist meetings, and it would need the meeting's support to get a letter.
posted by scruss at 12:11 PM on June 19, 2013


The American Humanist Association's Appignani Legal Center has sent a letter in support of Doughty's right to declare objector status as an atheist. The AHA seems like a much better fit for institutional support of Doughty's stated beliefs than a group like UU.

How many atheists do you think would disagree with these...

There are atheists who object to the term "spiritual" in conceptualizing meaning and then there are atheists who have experiences similar to the person I linked to above who feel that UU's stated principles, particularly the free and responsible search for meaning, do not necessary reflect the practice of UUs.
posted by audi alteram partem at 12:11 PM on June 19, 2013


As a larger issue, it would be nice if others didn't consider atheists somehow inherently opposed to religion

It would be nice if we can acknowledge that many of them are, though. They're not necessarily vocal about it, but you can be opposed to something without shouting it from the rooftops. Refusing to be involved in religious organizations for any reason is one way of noting one's opposition.
posted by rtha at 12:15 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


this:
didn't think that atheism is some school/movement/philosophy/lifestance when it's not

and this:

It's simply an absence of a belief in God.

are hardly exclusive. In fact, an absence of a belief in God is pretty easy to frame as either a philosophy or "lifestance" (which I read as world-view). And I'd also take issue with your earlier rejection of "belief system", as the absence of belief in god is part of the atheists larger belief system. One's belief system encompasses more than faith.

But I'm happy to drop the initial caps if they rankle somehow.


You can be an atheist and be religious. You can be an atheist and superstitious. You can be a theist and be a good doctor or scientist, etc.


No one is contesting this. I am contesting your earlier assertion that you can be a theist and an atheist. Or that all atheists should be comfortable with religion, because some are.
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:17 PM on June 19, 2013


The AHA's letter also spells out the legal reasoning why it is unconstitutional to ask Doughty to get a letter from a church:
Given the Supreme Court’s unequivocal instruction that, to be consistent with the Constitution, the government must interpret a statute permitting conscientious objection on the basis of “religious” belief to include comparable secular moral views, the USCIS’s demand that Ms. Doughty provide proof “on official church stationary [sic]” of her membership in a religious group or face denial of her application for citizenship is illegal and unconstitutional.

It is well established that the government cannot “constitutionally pass laws or impose requirements which aid all religions as against non-believers, and neither can aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different eliefs.”Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488, 495 (1961). By demanding a letter from Ms. Doughty’s “congregation or other religious organization” to permit an application for citizenship to make a conscientious objection to participation in warfare, the USCIS’s has violated the Establishment Clause.
posted by audi alteram partem at 12:21 PM on June 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'm very unhappy with the koavf and snuffleaupagus argument. There's a lot of generalizing about atheists from both directions and I'm quite annoyed at anyone speaking for me as an atheist. "Real" atheists can and do belong to churches, especially one such as UU which allows for atheism. Agnostics and atheists aren't the same. Humanists and atheists are not the same.

And the whole argument is a derail from the post. It has almost no relevance.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:22 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


> What violence was it that coerced him to apply for citizenship?

Here's a young man, someone who'd worked really hard to get where he was, with a good job, a loving fiancée - and a visa that was about to expire. If he didn't get his citizenship, he was going to have to leave - losing the job, forcing his fiancée to choose between him and poverty, or her family and an affluent life in the US (she was a good egg and I believe she'd have chosen the first, but it would have completely sucked) and destroying everything he had worked for.

And this destruction of his life would have been enforced with violence. If he had attempted to live his life in the USA, sooner or later armed men would have come and seized him against his will and have him thrown out of the country forever.

Why should I have to explain this? Why is this not obvious with even a few seconds' thought?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:22 PM on June 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


And the whole argument is a derail from the post. It has almost no relevance.

I'm happy to let it go. And for what it's worth I'm not trying to generalize about all atheists. I'm trying to argue for presumptions regarding legal standards that will protect atheists fundamental rights, and which they are free to make use of or waive as they see fit (should joining a group like UU be right for them).

I apologize for any offense given by my reductiveness in doing so.
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:26 PM on June 19, 2013


If he had attempted to live his life in the USA, sooner or later armed men would have come and seized him against his will and have him thrown out of the country forever.

So he chose to come to the U.S., chose to work in the U.S., chose to start a family and live a life in the U.S., chose to apply for citizenship in the U.S., all while the U.S. held coercive violence over his head to the extent that you believe it was okay for him to lie to escape that coercive violence, for those values of "escape" that include "staying in the coercively violent state that threatens his truthful existence."

Don't get me wrong -- I'm glad your friend decided to apply for citizenship, and I wish that the people administering that application had applied the law of the land, which is that pacifism is not necessarily religiously motivated. But your belief seems to be that it's all right to lie to the government solely because it is the government. I find that to be a conveniently selfish belief.
posted by Etrigan at 12:30 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


So I think we have hammered out some sort of agreement here - while atheism is an important philosophical platform for many atheists, many others simply have no relationship to religion at all - calling this stance a philosophy is like calling my relationship to jai alai (i.e. no knowledge or experience at all) a lifestyle choice.

(Actually, I just looked jai alai up and now I know a lot more about it, that's Heisenberg for you!)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:31 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


koavf: “As a larger issue, it would be nice if others didn't consider atheists somehow inherently opposed to religion (they're not and it does a disservice to religious atheists), didn't collapse different terms into one (which I am even guilty of doing in this thread), stopped the us-versus-them tribalism that assumes that one group has to fight another if they disagree, and more particularly, didn't think that atheism is some school/movement/philosophy/lifestance when it's not. It's simply an absence of a belief in God. You can be an atheist and be religious. You can be an atheist and superstitious. You can be a theist and be a good doctor or scientist, etc.”

Look, er – as a disclaimer, as I said above, I am a Christian, but: you seem to be debating mostly with people who (if I'm not mistaken) themselves identify as atheists. To you, opposition to religion may not be inherent in atheism. To many atheists, however, the vast amount of harm they believe religion has done to humankind is a big part of their atheism; even if it's not a "big part," it's often part of the stance they choose to take. I know I don't agree with them, but I at least respect them for that view, and I respect the fact that, as a matter of principle, they refuse to allow their name to be associated with religious groups. This may even include universalist religious groups; if you believe that religion has been responsible for millions of deaths and the intellectual enslavement of humankind for centuries, why in the world would you align yourself with an organization that encourages the acceptance of all religions?

I don't say that this is the stance of all atheists. Of course there are a lot of people who believe different things, and as your link pointed out 18% of Unitarian Universalists seem to identify themselves as atheists. But I think perhaps you'll have to accept that some of the atheists here really do take it as essential to their atheism that they oppose religion as a matter of principle, and that that opposition probably means not being a member or partisan of the Unitarian Universalist Church.

Ivan Fyodorovich: “‘Real’ atheists can and do belong to churches, especially one such as UU which allows for atheism. Agnostics and atheists aren't the same. Humanists and atheists are not the same. And the whole argument is a derail from the post. It has almost no relevance.”

I agree. The only reason I'm saying all this is sort of as a response to koavf's original point which started this side-discussion, which was this:

koavf: “What I don't get is why in principle she would be unwilling to associate with UUs or what I perceive to be such hostility on the part of (hypothetical) atheists to associate with them.”

To answer that question: some atheists oppose religious institutions on principle, and therefore feel as though it's important to oppose the Unitarian Universalist church, which is at least a haven for religions, I think. Yes, many atheists don't see that as an essential part of their atheism, but it's okay that others do. And it's not just weird projection by religious people to say that; on the contrary, as far as I can tell here there are a number of atheists present in this discussion who feel like opposition to religion is a moral stance in light of the harm religion has historically done.
posted by koeselitz at 12:34 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


So I think we have hammered out some sort of agreement here - while atheism is an important philosophical platform for many atheists, many others simply have no relationship to religion at all - calling this stance a philosophy is like calling my relationship to jai alai (i.e. no knowledge or experience at all) a lifestyle choice.

In the U.S. today, I would liken it more toward one's relationship with football -- you can avoid it and not care about it, but it does take some amount of conscious choice to have no knowledge or experience.
posted by Etrigan at 12:35 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


So I think we have hammered out some sort of agreement here - while atheism is an important philosophical platform for many atheists, many others simply have no relationship to religion at all - calling this stance a philosophy is like calling my relationship to jai alai (i.e. no knowledge or experience at all) a lifestyle choice.

So there's another derail lurking in there somewhere about whether this would have to be self-consciously conceived of as a philosophy to qualify as such, or whether an external observer can observe and identify a 'philosophy' in another individual or group. That is, in the anthropological sense. But I like my neck at its current length.

posted by snuffleupagus at 12:38 PM on June 19, 2013


"Yes, many atheists don't see that as an essential part of their atheism, but it's okay that others do. And it's not just weird projection by religious people to say that; on the contrary, as far as I can tell here there are a number of atheists present in this discussion who feel like opposition to religion is a moral stance in light of the harm religion has historically done."

I agree that many atheists are explicitly hostile to religion and this is integrated into their atheism. And would therefore find affiliation with a church to be a contradiction. And I'm totally okay with that being how they experience and understand their atheism.

What bothers me is the claim or implication, from any direction, that hostility to religion is an essential feature of atheism. A disbelief in any deities is the essential feature of atheism. I'll grant that, in a world filled almost totally with theists, it probably includes some measure of self-aware deliberation about this disbelief, too.

But I absolutely will contest the claim that hostility to religion is essential to atheism and am offended by any implication, from theists or atheists alike, that a lack of hostility calls one's atheism into question.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:47 PM on June 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


...but, in any case, I agree that the linking of CO status to religious belief and affiliation is wrong and should be contested. Even if a given atheist CO is comfortable being a UU, the implication that only by virtue of being UU is their CO valid is fallacious. So an expectation that Doughty could just use a UU church to meet this requirement is problematic — she shouldn't have to. Even if she were comfortable joining a UU church. Even if she already was a UU.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:54 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


As pointed out earlier, this would be a simple "out" legally for her if she chose to take it.

Except that momentary association with the UUs will get her absolutely nowhere. It's not an "out" of any kind, simple or legal or anything else. The UUs are not a historic peace church, and she would be unable to document a long-standing association with them. The whole discussion is completely pointless.
posted by KathrynT at 12:56 PM on June 19, 2013 [11 favorites]


What bothers me is the claim or implication, from any direction, that hostility to religion is an essential feature of atheism....I absolutely will contest the claim that hostility to religion is essential to atheism and am offended by any implication, from theists or atheists alike, that a lack of hostility calls one's atheism into question.

It surely does not nor should it. However, a default assumption that an atheist, without knowing more, would be disinclined to join a church protects the rights of atheists (and is indeed US law, as pointed out upthread). If you completely sever the two, there's a potential for opening the door for requiring some kind of affiliation, since then there's potentially no injury by requiring some affiliation. 'We're not telling you not to be an atheist! Just go join a church that will have you!'

So an expectation that Doughty could just use a UU church to meet this requirement is problematic — she shouldn't have to. Even if she were comfortable joining a UU church. Even if she already was a UU.

Yes, this. Precisely.
posted by snuffleupagus at 1:00 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


For what it's worth, I also suggested the Church of the Brethren, which is an historic peace church.

Like I tried to say to earlier, but apparently wasn't clear, this is a really bizarre suggestion. Maybe I've missed some big fact about the Church of the Brethren, but they're really not high on the list of religious groups one might suspect are receptive to atheist members. (Never mind that Doughty is presumably not interested in joining a church, as she is entitled not to be, regardless of her feelings about the existence of a deity.)
posted by hoyland at 1:47 PM on June 19, 2013


Me, ill-advisedly: Surely there is a Unitarian Universalist church that would happily write her a letter?

I'm an atheist myself, and I guess I should know better after all these years on MeFi than to post in any thread where people are going to be discussing atheism. So, wow, apologies to every atheist or UU member I offended with what I thought might possibly be a practical suggestion to let Margaret Doughty continue her good work on literacy as a U.S. citizen with minimum fuss. I guess I figured that was the important part of the equation here. What the hell was I thinking? Clearly ideological purity is vastly more important than the work she has dedicated her life to.
posted by aught at 1:57 PM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


aught: "Clearly ideological purity is vastly more important than the work she has dedicated her life to."

Are you confusing ideological purity for expediency again?
posted by boo_radley at 2:04 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Clearly ideological purity is vastly more important than the work she has dedicated her life to.

I think this comment is relevant. It's not just about her and her "ideological purity." By taking a stand here, she is paving the way for others. She is also currently a permanent resident of the USA so I don't think she would be deported if denied citizenship (please correct me if this is wrong - regrettably I don't know much about immigration law).
posted by en forme de poire at 2:05 PM on June 19, 2013


aught, the sturm und drang in this thread aside I assumed that Doughty (who is a very capable person) considered a number of possible ways to get around the barrier put up by USCIS and rejected them in favor of making a statement and perhaps helping future (maybe more vulnerable) atheists.

In other words she most likely needs our support but not our advice. (Though the discussion of possible loopholes, to the extent that it is a discussion and not just grar about UU churches and atheism, is interesting in its own right and I found your comment thought-provoking.)

(edited for grammar)
posted by Wretch729 at 2:08 PM on June 19, 2013


aught, I think your well intentioned suggestion is fine. I honestly think that doing whatever is necessary to game the citizenship schemes of any country is just, as citizenship is a bankrupt concept in an age where goods and capital can move freely but labor cannot.

That being said, to me it reads that Ms. Doughty is seeking citizenship on idealistic grounds, considering that if it were a practical matter, she could have just lied.
posted by banal evil at 2:09 PM on June 19, 2013


aught: “I guess I figured that was the important part of the equation here. What the hell was I thinking? Clearly ideological purity is vastly more important than the work she has dedicated her life to.”

Hm. Well, look – I totally get where you're coming from here. lupus_yonderboy had an excellent comment up above about a friend of his who went through this, and it reflects how I feel about it. Basically:

If you're in a situation where the imperative that you be allowed to become a citizen is important, I don't look down on you for lying a little or for faking or concocting a connection to a historic peace church. That's okay with me, and it doesn't make you a bad person. And in that light, I think your suggestion is a great one.

However: it is fundamentally unjust (and moreover kind of pointless now) that anyone would have to lie on such a form. So if someone like Margaret Doughty is ready and willing to take a stand to try to do away with this ridiculous requirement, I say more power to her. It seems that she's already taken the possibilities into account, since she's clearly ready for the legal challenge. And in that light, I think the suggestion that she lie or align herself with a historic peace church kind of misses the point of what she seems to be trying to do.

It's a good suggestion in general, though. (Although, as others have noted, the Unitarian church is probably a bad move, since they're not seen as a historic peace church.) It's just that Ms Doughty seems to be making this an effort to correct the law. And I think that's a fine thing for her to be doing.
posted by koeselitz at 2:10 PM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


a practical suggestion to let Margaret Doughty continue her good work on literacy as a U.S. citizen with minimum fuss. I guess I figured that was the important part of the equation here.

If Margaret Doughty herself was interested in practicality and keeping fuss to a minimum, she could have just lied on her application and said she was willing to bear arms. That she did not do so suggests that she was not concerned solely, or primarily, with practicality.
posted by cjelli at 2:11 PM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's not just about her and her "ideological purity."

I was talking about Mefites' ideological purity, not hers, except I suppose in the way the commenters are happily taking it upon themselves to speak for her motives. (In any of the linked articles, it was not clear to me from anything she herself stated that her chief motivation was to challenge the citizenship policy.) Anyhow, apologies for this confusion too. And having found myself making a second apology in the same thread, I clearly am not communicating well and so I am bowing out.
posted by aught at 2:12 PM on June 19, 2013


(Sorry, aught. I think it was fine – you don't owe any apologies.)
posted by koeselitz at 2:14 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


koavf: you're ignoring the plain fact that a number of religious persons don't believe in God. It's not just one guy in a basement somewhere with a blog, it's a lot. There is also no contradiction between being an agnostic and a theist. Or an atheist. Or being an atheist and being religious. Or being a theist and not being religious. Etc.
Words either mean something or they Fintimlimbimlimbim-whimbimlin Bus Stop Ftang Ftang Olay Biscuit Barrel.

Theists believe in god(s), atheists do not; these words are antonyms. Being religious implies membership in an established religion or reverence for a divine ruling power. Saying that there is no contradiction between these words is simply not correct.
koavf: It does a disservice to those persons as well as to a discussion about these topics to collapse all of those groups into two opposing camps. The extreme form of this becomes "the fundies versus the scientists" or "God's children versus the heathen commies" depending on which type of mindless extremism you like more.
I presume your goal is to try and find common ground, and I'm with you on that, truly. But you may be reading too much into this and causing more unintended conflict as a result.

Insisting on the correct definitions of very distinct words is a call for clarity and respect, not conflict. We do not have to pretend the colors black and white are an indistinct gray to get along. It should simply be enough to explain the exceptions you have in mind (e.g. some atheists attend church, etc.) than to muddle the fundamental definitions.

Also, please be aware that blurring the definitions of these words is a common tactic theists use to mock and insult atheists, e.g. saying atheism requires 'faith' or that atheism is just another 'religion', when these definitions are also antithetical: faith is the belief in something without evidence; atheists do not believe in god because they see no evidence for god's existence. This may explain some of the reactions. (To be clear, I am presuming you had good intentions :)

The fact that many people misuse these labels is besides the point and not a reason for dispensing with plain definitions. That some atheists attend church is not proof that atheism and religion overlap. An atheist may attend church for a variety of reasons absent religion, e.g. habit, social outlet, respect for a spouse's beliefs, etc. If the church-attending 'atheist' is also religious, then they aren't really an atheist and have incorrectly labeled themselves as such. It happens and it isn't a big deal.

However, it becomes a big deal when those (often mislabeled) exceptions are used to redefine an entire class of people and their strongly held beliefs. Especially when there's no need to do so and it only adds to the confusion.
posted by Davenhill at 3:56 PM on June 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


Ms. Doughty says, "I think that is part of what has always appealed to me about America – that people of all beliefs can live together accepting and respecting each other and working together for the common good."

So we have to wonder:now that she's been proven wrong, does she still want to become a citizen?
posted by fredludd at 4:12 PM on June 19, 2013


Theists believe in god(s), atheists do not; these words are antonyms. Being religious implies membership in an established religion or reverence for a divine ruling power. Saying that there is no contradiction between these words is simply not correct.

FWIW, koavf didn't mean to say that atheism and theism are compatible, although it came off that way at first.

As was helpfully pointed out to me via memail. I missed it too.

Davenhill, I largely agree with your comments, although I'm not sure I'd be quite as absolute here:

If the church-attending 'atheist' is also religious, then they aren't really an atheist and have incorrectly labeled themselves as such,

depending on the sense of 'religious' intended. Does it refer to behavior, or motivation? One can participate in "religious" activities and traditions, practicing the religion beyond mere belonging and attendance, but without any religious motivation or aim — perhaps enjoying a cultural attachment or satisfying a familial expectation — and still be an atheist. If your motivation is religious, I think that's usually another way of saying you have some level of belief, or are at least agnostic.
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:14 PM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'd disagree that atheism isn't a school or a movement, although I think I'll find myself at cross purposes to koavf: I'd just like to say that while it doesn't have a single united front or strict consistency, neither do religions and philosophy schools as a rule.

What's more salient to me, though, is that I learnt atheism from experience, reading and reflection, taking on principles and apologia from widely trusted figures*, and assessing them for relevance to my continuing experience. I can't see any way in which this is different from learning to be Christian, for example. I accept though that if you're reading this as a strong theist it probably won't sound plausible, for theological reasons.

*New Atheism turned out to be an offensive, non-humane trainwreck, however, and I don't affiliate myself with it at all.
posted by lokta at 5:07 PM on June 19, 2013


*whips up letterhead for The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster using clipart*
posted by smithsmith at 5:16 PM on June 19, 2013


snuffleupagus: depending on the sense of 'religious' intended. Does it refer to behavior, or motivation? One can participate in "religious" activities and traditions, practicing the religion beyond mere belonging and attendance, but without any religious motivation or aim — perhaps enjoying a cultural attachment or satisfying a familial expectation — and still be an atheist. If your motivation is religious, I think that's usually another way of saying you have some level of belief, or are at least agnostic.
That sounds right to me. I would think the distinction would be easy enough to make based on what one describes as 'religious', the individual or the activities.

An atheist may attend religious services and observe religious holidays without disturbing the belief that there is no god. But it would seem a contradiction of definitions to characterize the atheist as religious, however it might look to a casual observer.
posted by Davenhill at 5:38 PM on June 19, 2013


The reason that being a member of a "historical peace church" is considered to justify exemption from compulsory military service is that most nations have or had Established religions and the authors of the USA's constitution didn't want their new republic to have one. Places with Established religions often have/had quite petty ways of discriminating against people of other faiths: special oaths for people taking government jobs; special taxes for people who don't belong to the right Church; special labor drafts or what have you. This is why the provision is interpreted broadly: because you can effectively Establish a state religion by passing laws that are purportedly neutral but which actually burden people of other faiths (or no faith at all).

This means that there is a balancing act with laws that especially burden people of a particular faith: how necessary is the law? How much does it burden those people? What would the consequences be if we let people escape the law? So you end up with a law that lets Quakers avoid the Draft; some Native Americans use peyote; and lets Jews keep kosher in jail. But the other side of this is that allowing people to escape these consequences for religious reasons might look like Establishment of their own religion! So you need to allow exemptions for people with non-religious moral beliefs, or make escaping the law be so unpleasant that nobody would do it without good reason: e.g., people who don't serve in the army do hard labor; people keeping kosher in jail might get really boring food; or whatever.

I wish people here wouldn't do the "Hurr hurr lookit those clericalists getting a free ride." This is a hard balancing act but it's Constitutionally necessary and there really were many abuses of human rights before the principle was accepted.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:36 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


If the church-attending 'atheist' is also religious, then they aren't really an atheist and have incorrectly labeled themselves as such.

I am both an atheist and a religious Buddhist. I believe in no god. You are seeing duality where it doesn't exist.
posted by Quonab at 6:46 PM on June 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


hoyland: I suggested the Church of the Brethren precisely because it is an historic peace church and it is also non-creedal (kind of as Joe in Australia pointed out). What about them makes you think that they're "not high on the list of religious groups one might suspect are receptive to atheist members"? I admit that there is a lot about the CotB that I don't know: are you privy to something of which I'm ignorant?

Davenhill: I'm sure that you're saying something important, but I can't figure out what it is. E.g. "Insisting on the correct definitions of very distinct words is a call for clarity and respect, not conflict"... I thought that's what I was doing...? Can you rephrase what your point is? Your next two points are virtually unintelligible to me and the former of those is irrelevant: I don't know what tactics you have in mind but I'm not trying to employ them. In fact, I've made it painfully clear what my point is over and over again. As it seems with every thread where I try to have a perspective, that point is lost instantly and then I go down the rabbithole of talking about tertiary issues. To clarify once again (and to partially reiterate Quonab), there are a lot of atheists who are religious. Furthermore, there are irreligious atheists who don't have an axe to grind with religion as such or any particular religious institution. Those who do are the minority. And while someone may invest a lot of meaning in the word "atheism" (as some persons here evidently have), all it means is lack of belief in a god. Some atheists are humanists, some aren't. Some are into science, some aren't. Some are into astrology, some aren't. And when I say "some" I do not mean one or two fringe-dwellers, but lots and lots of them all throughout the world for thousands of years. There is a trend—particularly new and particularly Internet—to make "atheism" mean something that it doesn't which seems to entail things like hating religion on an absolute and abstract level or being committed to logical positivism. Atheism does not demand or imply any of these things; rather, the Internet users who misuse this word do.
posted by koavf at 7:10 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


koavf, how is it that as a avowed Christian you feel comfortable giving such an authoritative opinion of what atheism is and isn't on behalf of all atheists?
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:25 PM on June 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Indeed, dictating to us what it does and doesn't mean.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:28 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Based on exactly what I said, I could be an atheist.

But it's also in the word and the actions of lots of atheists, including ones on this thread. I'm not trying to hijack some term that some community made for themselves ("They're not really *from* Africa, so they can't be African-Americans!"): it's a word made up a long time ago which serves well its purpose and shouldn't be imputed with all of the baggage that others want to add to it. I didn't coin the term and I don't define it by fiat (e.g. here or here). The same goes for you. If you want to use the word "atheism" to mean "rejection of all religion and commitment to secular democratic values and science" then you're going to run into problems like this a lot because that's not what it means. Nor is it whatever else it is you think it means other than "lack of a belief in a god".
posted by koavf at 7:36 PM on June 19, 2013


[Folks, don't bring stuff over from people's profiles pages, don't deny what is on your own profile page, don't abuse the edit window. Let's try this again?]
posted by jessamyn at 7:40 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think it best to let it lie. I don't feel this is going anywhere, and I'm not sure the discussion is being had in good faith.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:42 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Tacitly alleging that the other conversant(s) aren't conversing in good faith is not good faith. And adding another comment to this effect is not letting it lie. I'm also out as well: I honestly can't tell the extent to which this thread going downhill is my fault but I apologize for (again) getting sucked into off-topic bickering. Clearly, there is some problem with me communicating myself in the first place and furthermore with me not getting dragged into side-discussions. If someone thinks that I have something of value to say on this topic, it's easy to contact me off-blog. Thanks/sorry/good night.
posted by koavf at 7:45 PM on June 19, 2013


[Seriously folks, take it offsite at this point.]
posted by jessamyn at 7:46 PM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't understand why she doesn't just print out a copy the Supreme Court decision in Welsh vs US, attach a note that says "pursuant to the law as decided by the Supreme Court of the United States of America, I am not required to comply with this request" (or similar sentimen) and mail it in.
posted by magstheaxe at 10:18 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Davenhill: If the church-attending 'atheist' is also religious, then they aren't really an atheist and have incorrectly labeled themselves as such.
Quonab: I am both an atheist and a religious Buddhist. I believe in no god. You are seeing duality where it doesn't exist.
Indeed. I certainly had not considered church-attending Buddhists; how very C/catholic of you? :)

But you raise a good point that Buddhism is an arguable exception to the definitional contradiction of a 'religious atheist' (provided agreement that Buddhism a religion and not a philosophy, and that certain concepts do not encompass the supernatural). In any event, I will happily concede that a Buddhist calling themselves a 'religious atheist' need not be a contradiction in terms. :)
posted by Davenhill at 11:47 PM on June 19, 2013


What about them makes you think that they're "not high on the list of religious groups one might suspect are receptive to atheist members"? I admit that there is a lot about the CotB that I don't know: are you privy to something of which I'm ignorant?

'Non-creedal' doesn't mean 'belief in God optional', though that's a consequence of non-creedalism in Unitarian Universalism. The Brethren line is about how there is "no creed but the New Testament". They basically mean that they're not going to sit down and hash out once and for all what the Bible means and have that be the Truth with a capital T. They did, however, write down what that means. Brethren approaches to peace and pacifism talk about what God wants and what the Bible says, which is an excellent way to be a pacifist if it works for you, but likely a crappy way to be a pacifist if you're an atheist.

Of the historic peace churches, (some kinds of) Quakerism actually has some atheists floating around, even if the FGC Quakerism FAQ is presuming a deity.* That doesn't mean, though, that Doughty (or any particular atheist) would be any happier as a Quaker than as a UU, even if both are tenable for some atheists. By 65, she's likely figured out whether she wants to be a member of a religion. Moreover, would-be conscientious objectors (of any religion or lack thereof) tend to know what the lay of the land is when it comes to religious pacifism because most of the information on objection that's out there is produced by historic peace churches. After all, the Center on Conscience and War, which is one of two non-religious CO organisations (and the only active one at the moment), is the renamed National Inter-religious Service Board for Conscientious Objectors. They're still kind of religious, but they don't assume objectors are (hence the new name).

*I think the FGC are the least interested in the Bible of the big Quaker groups. Contrast that FAQ to EFGI's about page.
posted by hoyland at 6:15 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I guess as an atheist, UU, and CO I feel the need to give my two cents here.

First of all the idea that religion is primarily about a positive affirmation about God is, I suspect, an artifact of the biggest religions on the block having that as a central part of their stated identity. It's not something I'd consider to be definitive across all religions.

From the UU side, while my church didn't require an affirmation statement about deity, it did require that you agreed with certain ideals about the value of multi-faith community, and sign your name in the book to that effect. Given that those ideals generally match my own as an atheist, I have no problem with that. Other atheists disagree, and would consider it an ethical problem for them to state agreement when they don't. So UU membership isn't an ideological free lunch.

And I suspect that if one has strong opinions about nonviolence, one might have strong opinions about right speech as well. So compelling a false affirmation is demanding that someone commit one ethical wrong in order to avoid the legal compulsion to commit another. While this might be sometimes necessary, it certainly isn't an ideal position.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:58 AM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


USCIS reverses demand for religious letter:
U.S. immigration officials have reversed their demand that an atheist woman applying for U.S. citizenship get a letter from a church to justify her request to opt out of the requirement that she “bear arms” in defense of the United States.

The reversal comes after Margaret Doughty, 64, was assisted by the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center in her fight to defend her constitutional right to assert a secular moral basis for her conscientious objector status, rather than a religious one. Ms. Doughty has been a legal resident of the U.S. for over 30 years.
posted by audi alteram partem at 7:02 PM on June 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


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