We get lots of press releases thrown at us by interests far outside of Ceres.
But one caught my attention on Wednesday.
It was titled, "Godless Road Sign is the Target of Vandalism For Third Consecutive Year."
A group of atheists have adopted a section of highway in Butte County for cleanup. Customarily, such groups are noted on a Caltrans' "Adopt A Highway" sign. Theirs has been tagged, obviously by a believer of God. The atheists' presser is an attempt to capitalize on the incident by publicizing their agenda, which suggests that faith and people of faith are the reason why America is not moving forward. They also suggest that they have the cornerstone on critical thinking.
I disapprove of people vandalizing road signs. I also think it's wrong of atheists to paint people of faith - such as I - with such broad strokes of generalization.
Jason Heap, who sent out the presser, also included a photo of the Adopt-a-Highway sign that was targeted. It was hardly what I expected. Under the name of the group, Atheists of Butte County, someone took a thin-lined marker and wrote, "Pray for" with directional arrows to the name.
Someone please send the Atheists of Butte County (ABC) a reality check. We live in a world where Islamic extremists are cutting Americans' heads off (and sending the video to news outlets), flying airplanes into oceans and buildings, bombing marathon routes and shooting magazine staffers to death, and some atheists in Northern California are upset that someone's graffiti is calling for prayer for them? It's hardly the crime of the century in Butte County.
I understand that somebody is upset that their group's sign is being vandalized. I suppose I would be too. But is it about graffiti itself or specifically what was written? Would ABC have fired off a press release in the same degree of angst if some routine gang banger wrote an XIV graffiti tag versus the call for prayer?
In the scheme of things, look at the vandal's motive, however, and is it really worth blowing a cork for? Whoever suggests that atheists need prayer - and ask for it in a public manner - was only motivated by good interests. If I had to make an educated guess I'd say that the graffiti artist was a well-meaning but misguided Christian who earnestly believes the words of Jesus Christ when he preached that there is a real heaven and a real hell and that the only ticket to the place of eternal peace is through Him. ("I am the way, the truth and the life; no man comes to the father except through me." John 14:6). The vandal obviously is interested in divine intervention for the eternal destination of unbelievers, in this case the ones in Butte County, who believe that God is nonsense.
The vandalism in Butte County comes after a large colorful vinyl billboard of theirs that read, "Don't believe in God? Join the club. ButteCountyCoR.com," was vandalized. The vandal(s) cut out the "Don't" and a section of website address that rendered it unreadable. Yes, shame on the vandal. If the vandal has a message, let them buy their own board and message the world.
I'll give the group this: Their signs should not be touched, just as the Adopt-A-Highway signs of church groups should be let alone. But atheists had to take it farther. An ancillary group of atheists, the Butte County Coalition of Reason (BCCR), was opportunistic in using the case of roadside vandalism to promote their anti-faith group:
"We are more committed more than ever to being part of our community and letting all non-believers, free thinkers, agnostics and atheists know that we are here as their organization," said George Gold, Coordinator of the BCCR in the presser.
This is America. If you want to form any society - even one that believes the earth is flat - you have that freedom. But don't expect people of faith to embrace this website statement of the BCCR: "Truly good decisions can only be made if they are based on sound information, not faith. It has been said, faith is believing in something without evidence.
"Critical thinking provides a methodology to assess any given claim, not by divining antiquated edicts to determine what is reasonable, just and compassionate ... we want to promote reason, justice and compassion at the local level. ABC members are helping children to think critically."
There it is: A hostile attack on people of faith as dumb, heartless bigots.
Faith is not defined as "believing in something without evidence." Faith is actually defined as trusting in something you cannot explicitly prove. Faith is not necessarily without evidence.
Faith can also involve reason. Atheists deny God exists and thus that He created the world and everything in it. That's certainly their prerogative. And I suppose that anybody may freely think, after looking at a pocket watch, that nobody made it, that it just happened. The rest of us will look at the evidence of a deliberate conglomeration of intricate parts and a sophisticated function to that product to point out that yes, a great deal of concentration and effort was required to build that pocket watch. Pocket watches don't create themselves. Monkeys can't do it. Wind can't either. Humans are required.
Indeed, our planet and its ecosystem, the way the human brain works differently than an animal brain, the miracle of birth itself, the vastness of the solar system and the simple but sophisticated way in which a plant turns sunlight into life is so complex that it begs - like the pocket watch - to the conclusion of the existence of a skilled and creative force. Indeed, it takes more faith to believe all of this occurred without a master designer, God, than with one.
ABC goes on to say that "during the historic struggles of women's suffrage, civil rights, abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research and other critical issues, powerful religious factions have attempted to conform public policy to match their dogma." In other words, they believe that Christians have been on the wrong side of every issue, a notion I reject. After all, the man who got us to change our belief about racist practices in America was a Christian pastor in Martin Luther King. Indeed, William Wilberforce (1759-1833) railed against slavery in England after his conversion to Christianity after 1784. If you want to say that Christians are on the wrong side of abortion and stem cell research, examine motive: Is it not to preserve life of the yet-to-be-born?
BCCR talks a good game about "compassion at the local level." I realize that Butte County is about 135 miles from Ceres, but I started pondering on all the good that people of faith do on a local level in Ceres to truly make a difference in the world.
Local Christians like Becki and Brian Nicholes spearhead the annual "Love Ceres" event where people are cared for in tangible ways.
Marlin Sena, a member of Harvest Presbyterian Church, made a humanitarian trip to Rwanda last year to distribute gifts to children he didn't know.
Lonny Davis, a Christian businessman, has gone to great expense of time, money and energy to rehabilitate wheelchairs so that poor people in Third World countries don't have to crawl around in the dirt to get from one point to another. He rallied the Ceres Rotary Club to get involved.
Christians like Officer Joe Wren have stepped up to the plate to help others, offering compassion on the job and service now as a Ceres Chamber board member.
Ceres Christian Church Pastor Adam Miller and youth Pastor J.J. Beyronneau annually organize fundraising fun runs to benefit poor students at Westport and Don Pedro schools.
Members of St. Jude's Catholic Church and the St. Vincent DePaul Society help clothe and feed others.
United Samaritans, a Turlock based faith group, routinely drives a food truck into Ceres, stopping at the Collins Road trailer park and Whitmore Park to deliver meals to the homeless.
Christians liked former Ceres residents Vern and Barbara Deatherage worked tirelessly for decades meeting the housing, food and recovery needs of the homeless population across the river.
Billy Bob Muirhead, a Christian living in Ceres, devotes hundreds of hours as a police chaplain in consoling people in grief and tragedy and even making death notifications and being an ear to the emotionally distraught. How many people are willing to sign up for that job?
Who would also spend their Christmas Day feeding the homeless in Stanislaus County as did the late Joddie Ann Zuroff, a teacher's aide at the Kidz Ministry Foundation day care facility who died Sept. 28?
And I haven't even mentioned thousands of other people of faith who do good works, out of a heart and love for others which was the fruit of a love they know God has for them.
I realize that not all good works done by man are based in acts of faith. I realize that even atheists can do good deeds - like pick up trash. But fill my ear with this utter rubbish that faith hasn't been a force for good in our world and I am reminded of Psalm 14:1: "The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.'"
How do you feel? Let Jeff know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.