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OpinionColumnistsWilliam F. B. O'Reilly

O'Reilly: Atheists strike a blow in New York

Gavel at board meeting.

Gavel at board meeting. Credit: Jim Peppler

Bow your heads and pray for Dan's blessing.

It doesn't quite have the same ring to it, does it? But that's what attendees were treated to at a town board meeting in upstate Greece last week -- the first invocation at a government meeting by an atheist, in this case a nonbeliever named Dan Courtney. (Does one capitalize "atheist" now?)

The Greece shindig was hailed as progress, of course. In this day and age, anything that flies in the face of religion and tradition does. So why does Greece's Godless invocation leave this American feeling sick about the future?

Dan's blessing will no doubt be followed by Frank's and Jean's and Louie's. People aren't that original. Copycats will show up at town halls across America demanding the right to give public invocations, just as Courtney did. They'll win. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a recent 5-4 decision that atheists should be able to blather on, too, before town halls, graduations and other public functions. At PC political functions we already have to endure long-winded prayers from the Catholic priest, the Protestant minister, the rabbi and the imam before the tortuous political speeches start. And now this.

The atheists didn't want to deliver invocations. They wanted the Supreme Court to ban religious leaders from offering blessings at public events. The court went another way and awarded atheists the right to join the clergy members on stage.

But really. Who wants to hear an invocation from an atheist? How does one derive inspiration from them? I mean, for God's sake -- if you'll pardon the expression -- Dan Courtney is a mechanical engineer. Unless I want to learn about the proper use of the gyroscope, I really have no interest in his opinions, especially about morality.

How does an atheist invocation even go? "Good morning. Please bow your heads. We're here on a rock, hurtling through the universe at 1,000 miles per hour, alone, and without aim or purpose. What do you say we all be kind to one another."

Hand up in the back of the room: "Um, excuse me. If there really is no aim or purpose or higher power whatsoever, why do I have to listen or even be nice to you. Suppose I just hit you on the head with a rock and take your mechanical pencils? It won't really matter in the grand scheme of things, will it?"

One can make an argument for that, just as easily as one can make an argument for being kind in a Godless world. If there definitively is no God, as atheists maintain, why couldn't we revert to the law of the jungle? The only higher authority then would be the person with greater physical power.

Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner did a great bit called the "2000 Year Old Man." In it Brooks, the eponymous character, explained how religion started: Back then, he said, they had no God. They used to worship this giant named Phillip. He must have been seven feet tall, and he carried around a big bat. Oh, Phillip, they'd say. Please don't step on our heads. Please don't smash us with that bat. And then one day, a miracle occurred. A lightning bolt hit Phillip right in the head. And just like that -- zap -- he was dead. They all looked around and said, hmm. There's something out there bigger than Phillip!

I guarantee you, it's not Dan Courtney.