My friend and fellow secular humanist, Judge Tommy Hughston, invited me to attend the Unitarian Church in Charleston on July 19. He would be coordinating the service for his visiting minister friend, Dr. J. William Harris (Doctor of Divinity). The intriguing sermon title was “God Must be Proud of Atheists.” Tommy asked me to bring a copy of my book, Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt, for Dr. Harris.
I, of course, was happy to attend. The Unitarian Church is atheist-friendly, but often too new-age spiritual for me. I once gave a sermon there on “Positive Atheism,” agreeing with most of the congregation’s socially progressive positions about diversity, tolerance, and openness to new ideas. But I added, “You shouldn’t be so open-minded that your brains fall out.” In typical Unitarian fashion, they praised me after the service for my thoughtful criticisms. I think it would be a real challenge to insult members of this church.
A hell-free afterlife for everyone might have been more than some in his flock could bear.
The church program at the service with Dr. Harris included this quote from him: “The courage to move beyond traditional theism opens us to a far deeper and richer sense of the presence of God and to a feeling of peace with the great loving mystery in and around us.”
During his time as a Baptist minister, Dr. Harris risked more in his profession than I ever did in mine. I’m an open atheist in South Carolina, but I had job security as a tenured math professor at the College of Charleston. Dr. Harris, on the other hand, was raised as a fundamentalist Baptist who believed in biblical inerrancy and had been baptized and saved for eternity at the age of seven.
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