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I’ve Become A Minister!

Yes, you read that right….

First Church of Atheism

Become an Atheist Minister!

An Atheist minister.

How on earth did this happen?

What does an Atheist Minister do?

Isn’t that a contradiction?

Let’s start from the beginning. My wife and I went to visit some friends tonight, and they announced (unofficially, no one has actually proposed) that they are considering marriage (I have been corrected. Apparently it is official, and they posed it to me in a hypothetical sounding manner). They have asked me to marry them. As the only Atheist that they know, and a good friend, I seem the logical choice. They could go the “Justice of the Peace” route, but they would have to get married at the court-house, and that makes for a dull party. They could go the Unitarian route (as my wife and I did), but they want no mention of religion at their service whatsoever. So they asked me. They know that I am not afraid of public speaking. They also know that I am a reasonably articulate person. So I said “Yes.”

I had planned on going the Unitarian route. I was going to get ordained online for the simple purpose of performing simple ceremonies. Anyone can get ordained a minister of anything. Literally. Catholics and Christians have ordained people for centuries with little to no oversight. There is no “governing body” that checks on qualifications to ordain somebody. My father was ordained a Unitarian minister. My friend Sean was ordained so that he could marry people. I was flattered, and knew it was possible. Thus, I accepted. Besides, I need an occasion to wear my suit.

My first question was: “Do I have to be Unitarian?” so I went on the interwebs, and I looked up “Atheist Minister”. Lo, and behold, there arose a website: “http://firstchurchofatheism.com”. I visited, and got ordained. I am now a “Minister of Atheism”. It was free. I can’t marry people, not yet. I have to print out my certificate and then register with the State of California. Then I can marry people. That may cost $14.00. but soon, I will be able to marry people (preferably fellow Atheists and Agnostics) who do not want religion to have a place-setting at their weddings. And when the same-sex marriage legislation finally passes, I will be proud to do gay and lesbian marriages as well. I am all about equality.

In 2003, the Supreme Court (7th Circuit) decreed that Atheism was afforded the protection of freedom of speech and was to be considered legally a religion. The definition of a religion under the law is not what you may consider when looking at it from your personal world-view. In essence (without getting into rulings and legalities), they ruled that even though Atheists view the world as something definable through rational inquiry, and without a supreme being, w still hold an opinion on morality, and the final “end-state of our being”. In that matter, Atheism is no different from any other religion, belief or practice accorded protection under the First Amendment. We, as Atheists, specifically address the concept of God, we just come to a different answer.

So what does that mean? Why an Atheist minister? As I said above, it comes down to a matter of convenience for the secular humanist. We don’t want to get married in churches, and we want to have it at locations of our choosing. Some people are not willing to settle for Unitarianism. I am more than willing to provide friends (or family) the ability to get married without God.

The interesting thing to remember is that marriage itself is not a religious ceremony at all. The concept of an Atheist minister is a legal workaround, at best. The California Equality Website has the following thing to say about who is allowed to marry and who is not:

 In California, persons who are legally authorized to solemnize marriage ceremonies include: clergy members; active and retired judges and court commissioners and assistant commissioners; commissioners of civil marriages or retired commissioners of civil marriage; justices or retired justices of the U.S. Supreme Court or another federal court; U.S. magistrates or retired magistrates; state legislators or constitutional officers of the state; and members of Congress who represent a district within this state. Commissioners and Deputy Commissioners of Civil Marriages perform marriage ceremonies by appointment at designated county offices. (http://www.eqca.org/site/pp.asp?c=kuLRJ9MRKrH&b=4134583 )

The only place where I can fit in to marry my friends without having a law degree, having served for the state of California, or being a member of Congress is under the “clergy” portion. I could get deputized as a “Deputy Commissioner for a Day”, but I would have to be re-deputized for every marriage. Ministers and clergy are the only people that can regularly perform this LEGAL ceremony without oversight and degrees.

But back to marriage being a legal ceremony. If you were Buddhist, you wouldn’t need a Catholic priest to marry you. Marriage is a legal arrangement of property rights, an agreement between two individuals to love and honor each other. It is a position of trust, symbolized by the sharing of rings and the joining of lives and families. But there is no religious requirement. A spouse becomes heir to all property in the event of death, generally becomes beneficiary on life insurance and shares domestic responsibilities and privileges. None of this requires religion. So why are clergy allowed to marry people? They have no oversight. Perhaps because no oversight is necessary in the first place.

So I am going to print my certificate, get my licensed vehicle placard (free parking at weddings!) ad carry a card on me. I will register with the state of California and be free to marry whomever wishes to be joined without the interference of the church.

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