McGarty Bernard

McGarty Bernard

As I drove slowly through Rotary Lights at Riverside Park and tuned my radio to the carols, I experienced joy.

Beauty has that effect on me. At this year’s La Crosse Symphony Orchestra Christmas concert, the magnificent sounds were another transcendent experience. A menorah and “Happy Hanukkah” greeting touched my soul. Jewish friends soon will celebrate Purim. Members of Islam will depart for Mecca and the Hajj.

I thought of atheist friends, wishing they might experience similar joy and transcendence. Then the thought occurred to me: What if La Crosse had been settled exclusively by atheists? What would La Crosse be like today?

I am not thinking of Native Americans, who related to Great Manitou, and whose land we occupied. I am thinking of ancestors who began settling here in the 1800s. What if all were atheists, until today?

All of the outdoor lighting of private homes in the city and countryside would be dark, compounding the cold of winter. The symphony would not have a theater with perfect acoustics, such as the house provided by the Franciscan Sisters. If the symphony were to play in a less august space, any of the religious music of Mendelssohn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Bach, Bizet and Verdi would be offensive to atheist ears. Dave Brubeck died recently. His jazz Mass would be anathema. No Muslim sound would call followers to pray five times a day. An a cappella Orthodox chant would not be heard at St. Elias Church.

If all citizens were atheist, there would be no Christmas presents: a fiscal earthquake, beyond a fiscal cliff. No three kings following an Epiphany star, elevating our eyes out of January blues and bills.

Longing for spring, there would be no Ash Wednesday, no Yom Kippur, no fasting at Ramadan, to atone for human error and sin. At Passover, Holy Week and then Easter, no hearing Handel’s “Messiah,” celebrating resurrection. The “Messiah” lifts me off my feet. I soar as I hear it. Does atheism produce any comparable composition celebrating nothingness? By their fruits you shall know them.

By my calculation, there would be no Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center, no Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare in

La Crosse if all citizens were atheist. Two hospitals without religious sponsorship did not survive in La Crosse. A hospital in town is a nice convenience.

The Chamber of Commerce could not advertise La Crosse as “God’s Country.” There would be no Viterbo University, no St. Rose Convent and its incomparable chapel. No Luther High School, no Aquinas High School would exist, offering alternative private education to any youth. There would be no Salvation Army or First Baptist for the Homeless. No Place of Grace, or Our Savior’s Lutheran for a free meal. No Lutheran or Catholic Social Service to help the troubled and unemployed. There would be no YWCA, no YMCA providing a swimming pool, gymnasium, weight room and other programs. Are atheists getting a free ride on we believers?

Life on planet Earth can be tough, hard and cruel. We need some levity for survival. There is the Feast of Booths, Reformation Sunday Thanksgiving Day, St. Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween prior to All Saints Day. Do atheists send or receive valentines? Do they sing songs, tell a joke or buy a drink on Paddy’s Day? At Mardi Gras, do they dance? Are atheist children allowed to trick-or-treat or dress in funny costumes? Do they believe in fun? Do they laugh at themselves as Garrison Keillor does of Lutherans and Norwegians? Are “free thinkers” getting a free ride on our feasts? Is Groundhog Day their feast day?

If atheists were to control the public library and public education, they would not want John Milton’s “Paradise Lost and Paradise Gained” or Dante’s classics or the Bible or Koran or Gita or “Lives of the Saints” or Bunyan’s “Pilgrims Progress” Dickens’ “Christmas Carol” or O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi” or “The Other Wise Man” by Van Dyke. For theater, no production of “Fiddler on the Roof or “Sound of Music” or “Joseph and His Technicolor Coat” or “Joan of Arc.”

In art class, forget Byzantine Orthodox mosaic, African Madonna and Child or any of Raphael, El Greco, Caravaggio, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Titian or Giotto.

In La Crosse County, there are 110 congregations: temples, mosque, church, synagogue, meeting house. Architecture styles representing historic periods add elegance to a city: I see Le Corbusier (French), Greek Revival, English Gothic, German 19th century Gothic, Art Deco, Romanesque, A-frame, Victorian Gothic, Colonial, Cologne Modern Gothic, Bauhaus, contemporary and more.

Do atheists close their eyes when passing such structures? Do they ever sneak a look at the wonder of stained glass? Like Ulysses, do they put wax in their ears to avoid the siren song of “Joy to the World?”

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(15) comments


"Do atheists send or receive valentines?"
Yes, though I'm currently single

"Do they sing songs"
Yes, though I am tone-deaf

"tell a joke or buy a drink on Paddy’s Day?"
Yes and yes, and not only on Paddy's Day - though I don't drink, I'm a teetotaller for personal reasons, I might buy a friend a drink.

"At Mardi Gras, do they dance?"
Yes - never been, but I would if I did.

"Are atheist children allowed to trick-or-treat or dress in funny costumes?"

"Do they believe in fun?"
Very yes.



" A high ranking official in the Catholic church has been given a disorderly conduct citation after a visit to a Wausau massage therapist.

89-year-old Monsignor Bernard McGarty was given that citation Thursday. WSAW television reports that McGarty asked the massage therapist to touch his genitals, which she refused to do. When she refused, McGarty allegedly called the therapist a derogatory name."


As an atheist who was taught the fallacies of the Catholic Church, through Catholic grade school, Catholic h.s., and Jesuit college education in WI, I am insulted at Mr. McGarty's insinuation that atheists might not feel joy, or contribute to society. Is this the last gasp of his religion to de-humanize "others", who are not like him? Is his article as shameful as the horrific deaths of millions under the name of some god? Has he sat on a domestic violence committee with me to help women? Has he joined me in helping the homeless, sat with me as I donate blood? Has he forsaken hours of prayer for hours of actually constructive help for people? Does he actually know any atheists, or sat with them to really know what's in their hearts and enlightened minds?
To his first statement; ignorance was the bliss he was experiencing.


Notwithstanding the sheer lunacy of the preacher's musings; I think he's confusing a non-thesitic winter solstice celebration with a Puritan Christmas celebration.

Rusty Yates

Right! It would be like Sweden (85% non believer) with no music, no hospitals, no literature, no art. What is this guy - nuts?

The La Cross Tribune published this drivel? What if he said this about Jews or blacks would the La Cross Tribune publish it and stand behind it then? This isn't a newspaper, it is a mouthpiece of prejudice and hate.


Oh how threatened the clergy is by the rise of nonbelief in this country. They have been reduced to taking wild swings and jabs in the dark.

The beautiful irony here is that the Freethought Society was scheduled to write a column this Sunday (the 23rd), and we contacted the editor to allow us to go one week early, out of sensitivity to the Christians and the proximity to their holy day. Then what does this enlightened man of the cloth do? 3 days before his holy day he uses this great opportunity to parade the virtues and beauty of his particular holy day, or of others that are held this time of year, and instead uses his opportunity to attack atheism.

How Ironic and illustrative.


In response to this article - um... no?
Oh - and "wow." Beyond that, this isn't even worth going into. If this is considered great contemplation we're all in a whole lotta trouble.

Pat K

Fr. McGarty would get an "F" in theological studies from the Franciscan Friars who taught me in high school and from the Holy Ghost Fathers (now called ("Spiritans") under whom I studied theology at Duquesne University, a superb Catholic institution. First, in regard to his point about lights, he appears uneducated to the fact that celebration of the winter solstice took place for thousands of years of human history before Christians adopted it. Further much of the great art and music throughout the ages was "religious" because that was one of the few ways to get paid--to say nothing of the persecution one would have suffered if one did not kowtow to the overwhelming power, wealth and authoritarian rule of the Church. McGarty is also apparently unaware that Gundersen Lutheran and the YMCA are not faith-based organizations. These are just a few of the examples of factual ignorance in his article.

David Lee

What planet is this idiot from?


Foolishness and ignorance spews copiously forth from a clergyman. Big surprise. Do you think McGarty would see only ugliness if he gazed at the Taj Mahal because he doesn't believe in the same mythology emperor Shah Jahan did? Would he cover his eyes as he neared it? That would seem to be his logic here. I am an atheist and yet I perceive beauty upon viewing the architecture of a medieval cathedral -- yet without buying into the ridiculous religious nonsense that the builders and planners fervently believed. I even have a traditional, lit up evergreen in my house -- without attaching any significance to the Christ-myth. This guy needs to uncloister his head from his apse.

Bill O'Rights


As a non-atheist I suggest you read an objective history of Christianity and its influence on society. You will find that for century after century after century the Christian church tortured and killed millions and millions of people who simply believed something or behaved in a way the Christians did not like. It was called the Dark Ages. Do you feel joy for the way Christians behaved then when they had the power?

Tell us about how your church now wants to be exempt from all societal laws because your so-called "moral" beliefs are somehow more important and better.

Read a little objective history and then tell us about your joy when you realized how many "Christian" celebrations were taken from non-Christian cultures.

Read some objective literature on the countries in Europe and other parts of the world that are rapidly becoming non-religious and at the same time their rates of murder, divorce, abortion, physical violence, etc. etc. etc are falling.


I can identify with the Monsignor's joy over the culture and joy associated with the religious heritage in LaCrosse. Such cultural displays, artistic expression, scientific and medical underlie much of the attractiveness of living here. I suspect, however, that similar expressions, joy, and cultural advances would be in evidence had Atheists settled LaCrosse rather than Christians (I would bet there were more than a few closeted Atheists, even then).

I spent last March in the Republic of China and participated in many cultural events. They were all as filled with love and compassion, joyful celebrations, colorful events, including very large displays of fireworks, wonderful parades, and great foods in a wide variety in abundance, as anything I have ever experienced in nearly 70 years of living in the U.S.

I cannot help but offer this observation: The vast majority of the events and people celebrating in the Republic of China would be Atheists by the standard definition of Atheism.


I agree... he's implying that athiests are joyless, narcissistic creatures... ironically, this article is exactly that.


The Monsignor acts as if the vacuum created by a world suddenly made irreligious would not be filled by something else. There is every reason to believe that humans would still be creative, communal, and charitable - the celebration of the solstice and New Years, for instance, precedes any religious celebration (though, admittedly, it's just as ignorant as any religious one). Remove the religious trappings and we'd have more money to spend, not on churches, but on houses of learning. When I imagine a world without religion, I see one filled with reason and critical thinking, a world of monasteries populated by physicists and chemists.


What if righties didn't waste so much time promoting fear and "what-if's"?

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