Star-Bulletin Features

Saturday, June 9, 2001


Andi van der Voort, president of the Hawaii Humanists Association,
discussed her philosophies Wednesday at the Open Table at the
United Church of Christ Conference Center.

Different faiths
feed from buffet
of opinions

Open Table members believe
they can learn from
divergent views

By Mary Adamski

Andi van der Voort frequently asks people she meets if they believe in God.

"You'd be surprised how many don't," the professional nurse and professed humanist told a group of believers and seekers. "They'll say, 'I don't believe in God but I'm spiritual.'"

The president of the Hawaii Humanists Association said she does not believe that humans have a relationship with a divinity and that human reason, intelligence and experience are the root of moral and ethical behavior.

"Each of us is responsible for what we do today, what we do in the world. I have to be responsible for what I have done today," she said. "When I go to bed, I don't have to ask someone for forgiveness. I don't have to have someone out there tell me whether it was right or wrong."

View from the Pew
by Mary Adamski

On Faith

Religion Briefs

Religion Calendar

It was not an astonishing viewpoint in these secular times, but the circumstances of the speech might qualify as surprising. The audience of about two dozen people was made up of ministers and lay people from Christian, Jewish, Baha'i, Quaker, Muslim and Sikh faiths who listened and asked civil questions. There were no challenges and no arguments.

Van der Voort and Mitchell Kahle, an avowed atheist, were invited to discuss their philosophies at the Open Table, a meeting of religious people who began convening four years ago for "inter-faith dialogue and spiritual partnerships."

Kahle told the group that they should not view atheism as an alternative religion. "It is not a belief system. An atheist is a person who is without theology or religion. Most atheists tend to be humanists," he said.

Kahle regaled the group with anecdotes of his activism as president of the Hawaii Citizens for Separation of State and Church, which has worked to remove religion-connected displays from public property. He began in 1996 when "I began to notice the incursion of fundamentalist religion on our government." The group is currently challenging the city about allowing a 20-foot cross to stand at a Makakilo church by seeking similar sign exemptions for a proposed Satanic pentagram in Manoa and a gay pride symbol in Makakilo.

The Rev. Sam Cox, a retired Methodist minister, said inclusiveness was the goal when a small group of various denominations and faiths began the monthly meetings four years ago. The Hawaii Council of Churches had disbanded, and "there was a feeling it was too narrow, not accepting non-Christians" regularly.

But exploring atheists' beliefs or lack thereof, isn't this taking ecumenism over the edge?

"If we are at the edge of who we can accept ... we need to grow up," Cox said. When he introduced the program, Cox recalled a seminary professor who told him that in the hierarchy of religious teaching, "the priest is in the middle, and the prophet is at the top. And the atheist is up there with the prophet."

The Rev. Buddy Summers, pastor of Christ Church Uniting, said: "You listen to an atheist for the same reason you listen to anybody. They are different from you. You have a chance to learn something.

"In listening you create a kind of community," Summers said. "For some religions their vision has to do with creating a community. Listening to people is a way that happens."

He said a key to the polite interest of the attendees is that "it is not about trying to hammer out agreements. There's not enough time to probe our different perspectives at great depth," Summers said. "We're learning new language every time, words used in a way we are not accustomed to."

Making a point, Kahle said "we are now a plural and diverse society."

In that, he found himself among fellow believers.

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