By Josette Madonia
Arizona Community Press | www.azcommunitypress.org
The Ask an Atheist radio show made a stop in Mesa, Arizona on their summer tour. On July 16th, the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix (HSGP) hosted a live recording of the show. Richard Dewey, president of the HSGP board, was a guest host that night. He was joined with Sam Mulvey and his wife, Becky, the hosts of Ask an Atheist radio show based in Tacoma, Washington. The podcast has over 30,000 downloads per month.
Sam and Becky, were once Phoenix residents. In fact, early on in the show Sam discussed how he was disappointed with the lack of an atheist community in Phoenix and he berates Phoenix for this on the show. Richard Dewey was quick to let him know that the atheist community is alive and thriving in Greater Phoenix. Among the groups and outlets for “non-believers”, and in addition to HSGP which has 270 paid members and 660 members on the meetup page AND a humanist drum circle, there are Americans United, The Phoenix Atheists Meetup Group with approximately 1700 members, Freedom From Religion Foundation – Valley of the Sun Chapter, the Secular Coalition for Arizona – Arizona is the first local chapter of the Secular Coalition of America, the Secular Student Alliance and Camp Quest.
A message from the Executive Director of the Secular Coalition of Arizona was passed along to demonstrate the secular influence in Arizona:
One thing I would mention, because this is a huge deal that really shows no one should write off Arizona, is that for the first time in 15 years in our state, not a single bill limiting access to reproductive healthcare was passed in our state. And only two of the ten bills SCA [Secular Coalition for Arizona] lobbied against were signed into law versus half of the 18 passed last year. CAP [Center for Arizona Policy] called this session the most challenging and disappointing in memory.”
Included in the headway that Arizona has made regarding secular issues, Juan Mendez’s secular invocation was read. Below is the transcript.
Most prayers in this room begin with a request to bow your heads. I would like to ask that you not bow your heads. I would like to ask that you take a moment to look around the room at all of the men and women here, in this moment, sharing this extraordinary experience of being alive and dedicating ourselves to working toward improving the lives of the people in our state. This is a room where there are many challenging debates, many moments of tension, of ideological division, of frustration. But this is also a room where, my Secular Humanist tradition stresses, by the very fact of being human, we have much more in common than we have differences. We share the same spectrum of potential for care, for compassion, for fear, for joy, for love. Carl Sagan once wrote, ‘For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.’ There is, in the political process, much to bear. In this room, let us cherish and celebrate our shared humanness, our shared capacity for reason and compassion, our shared love for the people of our state, for our Constitution, for our democracy — and let us root our policymaking process in these values that are relevant to all Arizonans regardless of religious belief or nonbelief. In gratitude and in love, in reason and in compassion, let us work together for a better Arizona.”
Juan Mendez’s secular invocation:
After Dewey bragged about Arizona’s proud secular community, the live show went on to include a segment where Sam answered emails. The range of topics included thoughts on the existence of a biblical Jesus to the question, do atheists bow their head when a prayer is said? Another topic which drew a lot of discussion not only from an email inquiry but also from the audience questions that were presented at the end of the show, was non-theistic chaplains in the military, including the mention of Pat Tillman’s identification as an atheist. Congress recently shot down non-theistic chaplains in the military. Military psychologists are not much of an option for a secular member of the military, not only because of the social stigma associated with it, but also due to the fact that the visit will go on the military member’s record. However, both the American Humanist Association (AHA) and Harvard support secular chaplains. In fact, Harvard has a humanist chaplaincy program for certification led by Greg Epstein.
The recording of Ask an Atheist radio show may have ended with the audience Q & A, but the night went on with an open invitation to the audience to mingle with Sam and Becky after the show for food, drinks, and more lively discussion.