Freethought Today · October 2012

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Church retreat in 1966 backfired

Name: Dan Nerren.

Where I live: Sand Springs, Okla., a Tulsa suburb.

Where and when I was born: Tupelo, Miss., 1948.

Education: B.S. in education, Southwest Missouri State University, 1971.

Occupation: Retired railroad worker.

Military service: U.S. Army, 1971-73, Wurzberg, Germany.

How I got where I am today: Life is much about unlearning incorrect ideas. Unfortunately, many people never see this. Few there be who have a sense of their own acculturation.

Person in history I admire: Carl Sagan.

A quotation I like: “For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.” (Carl Sagan)

These are a few of my favorite things: Playing piano, reading, volkswalking [noncompetitive, 5K or 10K outdoor walk].

My doubts about religion started: I spent the summer of 1966 working at a church retreat in New Mexico. I was exposed to many sermons. It was there that I began to question the whole scheme.

Ways I promote freethought: I’ve been a Foundation member since 1989. I’m active in a local Unitarian Universalist congregation, Church of the Restoration, so named to indicate the congregation’s desire to bring restoration to the Greenwood District of Tulsa. Greenwood was destroyed in the infamous 1921 race massacre in north Tulsa, where vigilantes took to the skies in aircraft to strafe the helpless black citizens below.

I was instrumental in founding the American Humanist Association chapter in Tulsa in 1988. I later organized an atheist meetup group and stay active in other freethought groups. My next project will be leading a Unitarian Progressive Book Club discussion group, starting with Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.

Editor’s note: Dan also performed an invaluable service for FFRF several years ago by indexing and binding 10 years’ worth of Freethought Today issues. This is a tremendous resource for research and for the legal staff.

Dan Nerren’s secular invocation

On Thursday, Aug. 30, Dan Nerren treated the Tulsa City Council to a first — the first atheist “invocation” at a Tulsa council meeting.

For months the council had refused to stop praying to open its meetings, then eventually agreed to let previously excluded groups address the council. A local Americans United member asked Dan if he would give a secular address.

“I went to the Internet to see what was out there and soon discovered a secular invocation written by Andrew Lovley of the South Maine Association of Secular Humanists, which he had used to speak to his local governmental body. I adapted Lovley’s words to the Tulsa situation.”

The speaker is also expected to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. A TV reporter noted Dan omitted “under God.”

“Had he been listening carefully, he would have discovered another change I made to the pledge,” said Dan. “I closed the pledge not with ‘with liberty and justice for all’ but with ‘with liberty and justice its goal.’ Liberty and justice have not become a reality for many citizens. My son, watching from his home on the cable access channel, caught my change.”

In what could be called a sad commentary, extra security was in place for the meeting because it was announced beforehand that a godless person was giving the invocation. However, Dan said, “There were no problems, no protesters. Everything went smoothly.”

The invocation:

Let us open our hearts to the welfare of all people in our community by respecting the inherent dignity and worth of each person, and realize that our differences of race, religion and party affiliation are merely superficial. Our common humanity unites us all, and may we recognize that through our interdependence we share a common fate.

In order to achieve the greatest good as citizens of Tulsa, it is important for us to maintain an open mind, and honor and respect the human rights of each other. We should consider the benefit provided by differing perspectives, and be willing to question assumptions that serve only to obstruct our path to progress.

Rather than bowing our heads and closing our eyes in deference, we should open our eyes widely to face the reality that confronts us, without losing sight of our ideals of what we could achieve.

Through the prudent use of reason and compassion, we can ensure the success of this great city.

Lastly, we must remember that in the face of adversity we need not look above for answers, but instead recognize the proven potential within ourselves and in each other to overcome any challenges we face.

Thank you.

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