Recently I posted some hate mail on Facebook that the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers received. This email said that atheists have no heritage in the United States, that we aren’t real patriots, and that we don’t have the courage to step up and play with those who are.
Dear Carey Dove:
I’ve studied constitutional law, history, and my own genealogy. I know what my heritage is. Apparently, you don’t know me at all.
So, let me give you a little introduction to me, my knowledge about the constitution, and whether or not I have any American heritage.
We’ll start with the constitutional lesson.
George Mason wrote the first bill of rights to be adopted in the Americas. His Virginia Declaration of Rights, written in the spring of 1776, influenced revolutions on two continents. The Declaration of Independence drew heavily from it. The Bill of Rights plagiarized it. The French Revolution’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen tracked it. Its final provision was to grant religious freedom to Virginians.
George Mason was a delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, when fifty-five men from twelve of the newly formed states argued about how to replace the unworkable Articles of Confederation. Mason dominated the discussions. Ultimately, he was one of three delegates who voted against it, primarily because it did not contain a bill of rights – there were no constitutional guarantees of personal liberty.
He would be vindicated four years later, when the bill of rights was adopted. The first of those rights was religious freedom.
So, now we have established that our constitution, and the history that preceded it, includes religious freedom. That means the freedom to dissent and to reject religion, because without the freedom to dissent and reject what we find to be wrong with religion, there can be no freedom in our practice of religion. And if we ultimately reject it all? That is the ultimate freedom.
So now I’ll embark on explaining the pedigree I have in this country.
A few years ago I was chosen to be on the Board of Regents that oversees the maintenance and operation of George Mason’s historic home in Virginia.
I was invited to sit on that board because of who my ancestors were. My European ancestors not only lived in colonial America, but they gave their time, talents, efforts, and money in public service to their colonies. They were politicians, military officers, doctors, judges, ministers, founders of schools, and founders of towns. They spoke out. They acted. They were patriots.
Who they were and what they did has shaped our country and its government. They shaped our states and our institutions. Their words and actions are this country’s heritage, and this country is their legacy.
On a very personal level, who they were and what they did has shaped who I am personally, and what I do. Their behavior, values, strengths, words, intelligence, and deeds are my heritage, and I am the culmination of their legacy.
My favorite ancestor is my 9th great aunt, Anne Marbury Hutchinson. Anne Hutchinson was a well-liked and respected mother of 15 children. She was brilliant, charismatic, and a passionate intellectual. She was also the polestar of a controversy that nearly shattered the religious experiment that was the infant Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Anne and her husband Will came to America in 1634 with a Puritan minister named John Cotton, who would eventually become the most preeminent theologian in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Unlike the Puritan ministers already in Boston when he and the Hutchinsons arrived, John Cotton believed that a person had no control over his own salvation, but had to depend on God’s grace. This was Calvinist predestination in its purest sense, but it was contrary to what other Puritan ministers were teaching. They taught that the good works done by a person were the only ticket to salvation.
The Hutchinsons were wealthy in England, but even wealthier in the colony. They built one of the largest homes in Boston. After church services, Anne Hutchinson would invite other women to gather in her home to discuss the sermons and the Bible. Anne’s meetings were very popular with the women of Boston, and soon men joined in.
Like her mentor John Cotton, Anne emphasized the importance of a state of grace over good works. People liked what she had to say. They were focused on feeding their families and running their businesses; they didn’t have time for unlimited acts of charity. As the number of people at her meetings escalated, Anne’s philosophy quickly leaked back to the Puritan clergy. Boston was a very small town in 1634.
The ministers claimed that Anne’s “unauthorized” religious gatherings “might confuse the faithful.” They argued the theological point of predestination – good works versus inherent grace – among themselves, and ultimately Anne was charged with heresy.
John Cotton, however, was not.
Anne was a woman, so was not authorized to preach.
Left to her own devices, Anne Hutchinson, the first female defendant in any trial in America, defended herself at her heresy trial, which was prosecuted by John Winthrop, her neighbor and the governor of the colony. Governor Winthrop was most displeased with Anne’s religious dissent, because his wife, Margaret, was very fond of attending the meetings in the Hutchinson home, and brought home with her ideas he found unbecoming in a woman.
And like the Reverend Dimmesdale in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, who was modeled after him, John Cotton essentially betrayed Anne to the powerful citizens who brought the charges against her. When he was called to testify, Cotton denied that he had incited any dissent in Anne, and smiled and shrugged, claiming he did not remember the substance of any of his conversations with her.
Upon hearing his repudiation, Anne Hutchinson did something she had been forbidden to do: she began to teach the men. While her teaching had been in private before, here, now, at her trial for heresy, she took off the gloves and came out punching. “If you please to give me leave, I shall give you the ground of what I know to be true.” Without waiting for permission, Anne continued speaking, explaining her own history, her dissatisfaction with the Church of England, her search for the truth she knew had to exist.
Governor Winthrop attempted to interrupt her. She ignored him and continued.
“God did discover unto me the unfaithfulness of the churches, and the danger of them, and that none of those ministers could preach the Lord aright.” Scripture fell from her lips as she brazened on, daring to teach, despite an exchange with Governor Winthrop earlier in her trial during which they had exchanged barbs about the ability of women to teach. (“What, now you would have me teach you what the Bible says?” she mockingly exclaimed to him.)
Governor John Winthrop was also, conveniently, one of the judges, so naturally Anne Hutchinson was convicted, and in November 1637, she was banished from Massachusetts.
Anne was 43 years old at the time of her trial. She was also pregnant, and during the trial she suffered a miscarriage. The superstitious Puritans allied against her saw the severely malformed fetus as proof that Anne had fallen from God’s grace.
Anne’s youngest sister was my 8th great-grandmother, Catherine Marbury Scott. Catherine and her husband, a shoemaker named Richard Scott, came to America on the Griffin with the Hutchinsons and John Cotton in 1634. They left Boston with Anne, first joining Roger Williams at a place he called Providence, in the Rhode Island and Providence Plantations secured by Williams as a separate colony. Williams had himself been banished from Boston in 1635, the year after the Hutchinsons and Scotts had arrived, for preaching that one did not need a a church in which to worship.
In Providence, the Scotts, along with many other of Anne’s followers from Boston, created a new community. Richard Scott wrote the Providence Compact, which was then signed by each of the 39 heads of household to come to that place. They became Baptists for a while, then Quakers. Then, in 1660, Catherine returned to Boston to protest the punishment of two young Quaker men. For her efforts she was stripped to the waist and flogged in public. Even though Boston had been unspeakably cruel to her sister 23 years before, Catherine did not hesitate to speak out when she saw the government do something wrong-headed. She was a worthy bearer of her sister Anne’s torch.
Anne herself was afraid to stay in Providence, especially after her husband’s death. Massachusetts had rattled its saber at the Rhode Island settlers, claiming it had the right to govern them, so she fled with her children to Long Island. There, in 1643, she and all but one of her children were murdered by natives. How long might she have lived had she not been run out of Boston? How much more might she have contributed to the ideas of women’s rights and freedom of conscience had she remained in Boston?
Far from being dour, rigid Puritans, Anne and Catherine were firebrands.
Anne Hutchinson is a key figure in the development of religious freedom in the U.S., and in the history of women in ministry. She challenged authority, and she didn’t back down. A monument to her at the Massachusetts State House calls her a “courageous exponent of civil liberty and religious toleration.” She is easily the most famous – and infamous – Englishwoman in colonial American history.
Anne Hutchinson was a freethinker in the truest sense of the word: Dogmatic as she was in her own way, she seriously contemplated her religion, a deity, and the teachings of those who claimed to know, and then she drew conclusions for herself. The conclusion she reached was not the one that was favored in Boston in 1637. Nevertheless, she did not back down. She had the courage of her convictions, and today she is admired and even revered her her steadfastness.
I admire her enormously. Her courage in the face of adversity, her sustained intelligent wit, her sublime sarcasm – right to the face of the most powerful man in Massachusetts! This – this is a woman I can only hope to live up to as I exercise the courage of my own convictions.
When I speak up and speak out, when I hold meetings in my home, when I dissent from religion, when I give my time and my money and my talents to my community and to issues I care about, I am following the legacy of my heritage. I am doing exactly what my ancestors have done ever since they first came to this continent.
For the 392 years that we’ve been in America, it’s been my family’s tradition to speak up and speak out, and to act on our convictions.
And that, Carey Dove, is a very proud heritage, with full knowledge of where our religious freedoms came from, with full knowledge of when they did not exist here, and with full knowledge of what happens when dissent is not allowed – and why it most definitely and wholeheartedly is.
The lot of a slave in the American South was not easy, no matter how well he or she was treated by well-intentioned owners. It is hard for many of us to imagine being born into bondage, not free to make our own decisions about where to live, whether to be educated, whom to marry, and whether we can even live with our own families. In the early 1800’s, though, for most black people living in the newly-formed United States of America, such a situation was their reality, and a well-intentioned slave owner was not the norm – certainly not when it came to the liberty of his slaves.
Some slaves overcame their stifling beginnings, though, and became laudable examples of the kind of men and women their entire race should always have been allowed to be. Nathan Warren was one of these great men. Born into slavery, Nathan “Nase” Warren was a successful businessman, a minister, a devoted husband and father, a community organizer, and a civil rights activist. He is buried in a lost grave at Mount Holly Cemetery in Little Rock, Arkansas.
When Robert Crittenden came to Arkansas as the first Secretary of the newly-created Arkansas Territory in 1819, he brought with him a six year old slave called Nase. Some of Crittenden’s white descendants and some of Nathan’s black ones believe Crittenden, who was about 15 or 16 years older than his young slave, was the child’s father.
In 1834, when Nathan was about 21 or 22 years old, Robert Crittenden died nearly bankrupt. Crittenden was only 37 years old when he died, and his widow had difficulty even keeping a roof over her head. This meant turmoil for young Nase, whose ownership was transferred to Daniel Greathouse, the pioneer in Faulkner County, Arkansas, who at the time was living in Little Rock. But Greathouse filed an interesting document with the Pulaski County Clerk – after three and a half years of service, Nase was to be freed. Greathouse died before those three and a half years had expired, and Nase was indeed given his freedom just before Arkansas became the 25th state to be admitted to the Union.
Possibly because of his visibility in the Crittenden household, Nathan had made important contacts among other members of Arkansas’ territorial elite. Chester Ashley, one of the men who donated the land where the Mount Holly Cemetery sits to the City of Little Rock, was one of those contacts. Ashley hired Nathan as a carriage driver. Nathan and Anne, the quadroon daughter of the Ashley’s cook, married. They would have either nine or ten children together, and Nase would help to rear Anne’s older son, W.A. Rector.
Nase was much more than an ordinary carriage driver. When he took over a confectionery two blocks from the Ashley’s home, on the land where part of the Capital Hotel now stands, the people of Little Rock quickly learned that he had a true gift for his craft. His shop was so successful that the ladies of Little Rock would not consider having a party without treats from his store. They begged “Uncle Nase” for his secrets, but he refused, telling them that if he shared his recipes with white ladies, he would give away his trade.
His confectionery eventually moved to a larger storefront west of Main Street. He suffered a setback when his shop burned. Arson was suspected. He reopened, though, and business continued briskly.
Nathan was not the only member of his family to live free in the early 1800′s. One of his brothers who had remained with the Crittenden family in D.C. had also been freed, and together they purchased the freedom of a third brother from the Crittenden family in 1844.
When Nathan’s first wife died, he married another Ashley slave, Mary Elizabeth. He had two daughters with her, and eventually purchased their freedom. The children from his first marriage remained slaves in the Ashley family, though.
In the 1850′s, sentiments against free black people ran high in southern states, and Arkansas was no exception. In 1859, Governor Elias N. Conway signed the Free Negro Expulsion Act. Free black people, which meant anyone who had at least one black grandparent, were required to leave the state by January 1, 1860, or face sale into slavery for a period of one year. The continued freedom of about 700 people was directly jeopardized by this Act. Nathan was not among them, though. He was a very intelligent man, and when a similar measure had narrowly failed in the legislature in 1857, Nathan had seen the writing on the wall. He packed up Mary Eliza and their two free daughters and left for Xenia, Ohio, where he lived for several years. While he was in Ohio, he took the name Warren as a surname. At the time of the 1860 census, he lived in Xenia, Greene County, Ohio, with Mary Eliza, their daughters Ellen (8) and Ida (4), and two sons, William (2) and Edwin (7 months). As he had in Little Rock, Nathan worked as a baker.
A story in a newspaper article about Nathan claimed that an old friend encountered him in New York during his exile, and that Nathan was miserably unhappy and down on his luck. The friend, a Mr. Tucker, brought Nathan back to Arkansas even though the Act expelling free black people was still in effect. Family legends and the census locating Nathan’s family in Ohio for this time period dispute this version of events. Nathan’s descendants believe that Nathan and his free family returned to Little Rock about 1863, possibly with the help or sponsorship of the Ashley family. Since Nathan had left nine or ten of his still-enslaved children in Little Rock, one can only assume that he missed them and worried about them as the Civil War raged in and around Little Rock. Perhaps local people had their hands full with politics and the war, or perhaps “Uncle Nase” was so well-liked that the society ladies were grateful for his return and persuaded their husbands to leave him alone. At any rate, upon his return to Little Rock, Nathan Warren reestablished his confectionery and his popularity.
While living in Ohio, Nathan and the Warren family had been introduced to the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The AME church had broken away from the Methodist Church in Pennsylvania because black congregants wanted their own place of worship, independent from the white church. Almost as soon as he returned from Ohio, Nathan started the Bethel AME Church in Little Rock and was ordained as a minister. The Bethel AME Church is still a vital part of the downtown community, although it has moved into a different building that takes up the block bordered by 16th Street and Wright Avenue between Izard and State Streets. It is celebrating its sesquicentennial this year.
The year Nathan Warren started Bethel AME Church was a turning point not just in his life, but in the lives of all American slaves in rebellious states. The Emancipation Proclamation had been issued January 1 of that year, and Civil War raged across the country. Most of the battles fought in Arkansas occurred after January 1863, including the battles of Bayou Meto (also known as Reed’s Bridge) and Bayou Fourche, both of which were fought on the Union army’s approach to Little Rock.
With Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, the rest of Nathan Warren’s family soon became free. Most of the children from his first marriage were adults now, and many of those ten children had inherited Nathan’s musical talent. Nathan was a popular fiddler, and his children played other instruments and performed publicly as a group.
The end of the war brought other changes, too. The government’s efforts at reconstruction in the southern states meant that black people would be granted rights. Exactly how those rights would be realized, and exactly how the former slaves would support themselves, was uncertain. Nathan Warren was a Pulaski County delegate to the Convention of Colored Citizens held in Little Rock November 30 – December 2, 1865. It was the first convention ever held by the black residents of Arkansas.
The language contained in the minutes of that convention is stirring. The convention
met for the purpose of conferring with each other, as to our best interest and future prosperity; also, to memorialize the State Legislature and Congress of the United States, to grant us equality before the law, and the right of suffrage, … we have earned it and, therefore, we deserve it; we have bought it with our blood, and, therefore, it is of priceless value to us.
Rev. Nathan Warren delivered the prayer at the closing session the final day of the convention. The final resolutions of the convention underscored the great hope that the newly emancipated black Arkansans had, while recognizing that a struggle still lay before them.
The persecutions of two and a half centuries have not been enabled to destroy our confidence in the eventual justice of the American people. We believe the time has come when wisdom again asserts her sway in the councils of the nation.
It would be another hundred years before the federal government would pass a civil rights act to ensure racial equality.
Through the Reconstruction era, Nathan Warren maintained his confectionery and his musically-gifted children continued performing. Their musical gifts would bring them tragedy, though. In early 1866, the Warren family performers were hired to perform for a private party aboard the steamboat Miami on a journey between Little Rock and Memphis. In the early morning hours of January 28, 1866, the Miami was on its return to Little Rock. As the Miami navigated waters near the then-thriving town of Napoleon in Desha County, where the Arkansas empties into the Mississippi, its boilers exploded. Three of Nathan’s sons, George, Frank and John, were among the 225 passengers killed, as was his son-in-law, Wash Phillips. Nathan’s son Isaiah and stepson W.A. Rector were on the boat, but survived the explosion.
The Miami was one of three such tragedies in just a few days on America’s central waterways. Two days after the Miami’s explosion, the Missouri exploded, and two days after that, the W.R. Carter blew up. Around 365 lives were lost in the three explosions. The causes of the explosions on the Missouri and the W.R. Carter were never explained, but according to a report in the Cincinnati Enquirer on February 6, 1866, inspectors investigating the incident blamed the Miami tragedy on its engineers, who apparently were aware that the boilers needed repairs, but failed to maintain them properly during the trip. The Atlantic and Mississippi Company, which owned all three of these steamboats as well as three others that had exploded in the preceding year, had no insurance coverage for its vessels. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that the company’s managers had reasoned that it was cheaper to replace a boat now and then than it was to pay expensive insurance premiums on its entire fleet. A month to the day after the Miami tragedy, three more of the Atlantic & Mississippi’s steamboats were destroyed by fire near St. Louis. After losing nine steam boats – six within thirty days of each other – the company finally elected to insure its fleet. The Miami was lost during the most destructive four months in the history of America’s river navigation. It was one of twenty-nine steamboats destroyed by fire in the sixteen weeks between December 15, 1865 and April 12, 1866.
Despite this incredible personal tragedy, Nathan Warren continued to push for his own prosperity and for the prosperity of his race. Bethel AME Church grew exponentially, and Rev. Warren himself shepherded the flock there. On August 22, 1873, an article in the Arkansas Gazette described efforts to form an organization designed to test the limits of the newly-enacted Arkansas Civil Rights Law of 1873. Some believed the act was a sham and that the white people of Arkansas had no intention of granting rights to black people. Nevertheless, a coalition of black and white citizens met to devise ways in which the law’s purpose could be tested and fulfilled. Rev. Warren attended, and was elected to the group’s finance committee.
Rev. Warren’s name appears in minutes of other meetings during Reconstruction. He was a civic leader, a minister, a successful businessman, and a civil rights activist. Despite periods of great suffering, tragic setbacks, and loss, Nathan Warren persevered. His descendants have every reason to be very proud of their notable ancestor.
He died in 1888 at about the age of 76. He was a member of the Mosaic Templars, and was accorded Masonic rites at his funeral. He was buried at Mount Holly Cemetery.
Nathan Warren’s tragedies did not end with his death, however. The civil rights he wanted so much for himself and his family were to be tested in the fires of Jim Crow, and at some point during those terrible years of racial inequity, tombstones of the graves of a number of black residents at Mount Holly were vandalized and removed. The minutes of the Mount Holly Cemetery Association are incomplete for dozens of years in the first half of the 20th century, and no one now alive has any memory of exactly what happened to the obelisk that had been erected on Nathan Warren’s grave. Even the location of his grave has been lost to history.
Mount Holly’s surviving records show that the Reverend Nathan Warren was buried in the Chester Ashley family plot, and that an obelisk marked his grave. On November 9, 2013, a new monument, donated by Dr. Sybil Jordan-Hampton of Little Rock, was unveiled in the Ashley plot over the spot believed to hold Rev. Warren’s grave. Dr. Jordan-Hampton is a member of Bethel AME Church and a member of the Mount Holly Cemetery Association, which maintains the cemetery. The monument is crowned with the Masonic symbol and reads:
BORN INTO SLAVERY 1812
CAME TO AR WITH ROBERT CRITTENDEN IN 1819
OBTAINED FREEDOM IN FEBRUARY 1835, THEN WORKED
TO SECURE THE FREEDOM OF FAMILY MEMBERS
DIED JUNE 3, 1888 LITTLE ROCK, AR
LITTLE ROCK CONFECTIONER
FOUNDER BETHEL AME CHURCH LITTLE ROCK 1863
DEDICATED IN HONOR OF BETHEL AME CHURCH
Dear Leaders of all community-minded organizations:
A study released in September by the Center for American Progress determined that as many as half of all homeless people under the age of 25 are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning their sexuality (LGBTQ), and that those numbers probably under-represent the scope of the problem – obtaining accurate demographics on the homeless is quite a challenge.
These numbers are not surprising. Other studies have shown essentially the same thing, and that while LGBTQ adults may focus on issues like marriage equality, their younger counterparts are struggling to find the resources that will let them stay alive. We already know that school-age people perceived by their peers as homosexual are disproportionately targeted for bullying. The suicide rates among LGBTQ teenagers and young adults far outpaces the suicide rate among straight people of the same age.
Little Rock is no different. Currently, the only local shelter that will accept openly homosexual people is Our House, and beds there fill very quickly. Homeless young LGBT people desperately need resources that are less available to them than to any other segment of the Central Arkansas homeless population.
Lucie’s Place exists specifically to meet these needs in Central Arkansas. The mission of Lucie’s Place is to establish a shelter for homeless LGBTQ young adults, ages eighteen to twenty-five. The envisioned shelter will provide a safe home in which these young adults can get their basic needs met while developing skills necessary for independent living. We are a relatively new nonprofit organization, though, and not yet fully operational. We need your help.
We are currently raising funds with the hope of purchasing and maintaining a building that will house several clients as they get stable enough to go out on their own. In addition to the homeless shelter, these young people need meaningful assistance to ensure that they do not remain homeless, and do not become homeless again. This means counseling, employment services, educational and job training opportunities, and other services in addition to basic food, shelter and clothing.
Most of the funding we’ve received so far has come from grants awarded to Lucie’s Place, but fund raising efforts cannot be limited to grants. This is a community problem, and Lucie’s Place needs help from the community.
Lucie’s Place wants to reach out to churches, civic groups, clubs, and any other organization that may have members willing to help. A board member can present an overall vision of Lucie’s Place and explain the organization’s needs. We need assistance in the form of donations, service providers, and volunteers who can contribute their expertise and resources to serve our mission.
When can Lucie’s Place schedule a presentation to the leaders and interested members of your organization?
Please contact me.
I’m going to try to get The Wall finished – if I can stop editing myself long enough to get the last of it down on paper. Exoplanets. Aliens. Heroic kids. Telepathy. Resilience. Survival. The whole world is at stake.
And if I finish The Wall, I’ll revisit Chigger Hollow to see if Bigfoot has won the girl away from the dwarf with impulse-control issues.
My characters are calling me.
On July 10, two senators introduced Senate Bill 1274, which would add religious buildings to the list of nonprofit facilities eligible to receive federal disaster relief aid after catastrophic events like hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes. The Senate bill and its House counterpart, H. R. 592, address aid to nonprofit facilities damaged in Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 and afterward.
The Secular Coalition of America opposes the bill because tax dollars would directly fund the repair or replacement of damaged and destroyed churches, synagogues, and mosques, not to mention other nonprofit organizations.
SCA is encouraging a campaign to remind our Senators that one of the longest standing principles of our nation is that no citizen should be required to fund any religions with which they disagree, and not to permit taxpayer money to be used to repair or rebuild churches destroyed in natural disasters.
I’m usually right on board with the Secular Coalition of America in anything it does, but this brought me up short.
No, I don’t want my tax dollars to build new churches, fund their missionary programs, or finance a church-supported school’s science-denying science curriculum. It makes me sick that religious institutions get a pass when April 15 rolls around. Frankly, I think all nonprofits ought to pay taxes. If their profits are reinvested for public benefit, or set aside in specific funds intended for that purpose, then that should be credited to them. But should churches, temples, mosques, and synagogues be treated differently than any other nonprofit when they are hit by a natural calamity?
I looked into the status quo, without the passage of this Senate bill.
FEMA’s current policy addressed aid to individuals and their households as well as to government facilities. It does not permit disaster assistance to nonprofits unless they provide “essential services to the general public customarily provided by the government.” Whether nonprofit or for-profit, facilities used primarily for religious, political, athletic, recreational, or vocational purposes don’t qualify for FEMA funds. Churches, the DNC headquarters, the Superdome, Disney World, and Joe’s Body Shop don’t get government money. They are expected to be adequately insured.
The new law would allow virtually any nonprofit organization to benefit, though, which may indeed be desirable when we consider that the gift shop at Hurricane River Cave in the Ozarks (one of the coolest caves I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit) might be taken out when the next big New Madrid quake hits, as might the collection of historical buildings at the Scott Plantation Settlement.
On the other hand, it would also, in this time of high budget deficits and sequestration, open the FEMA coffers to more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations. It does this by removing the requirement that, in order to receive FEMA funds, the organization provide a service that would otherwise be an essential government service. Cool gift shop or not, amazing caverns, even if operated by nonprofit organizations, do not supply an essential governmental service. Nor do historic preserves of bygone eras.
Having a church building is definitely not an essential governmental service.
And, as the SCA points out in its letter to Senators, two-thirds of the American population doesn’t use churches. Nonbelievers and the nonreligious constitute 20% of the American population, and that number is growing. And by expanding FEMA’s coverage in this era of sequestration, 2.3 million nonprofit organizations would immediately become eligible for FEMA funds in the event of a natural disaster. (Only 1.6 million are registered with the IRS. The others haven’t filed their forms to obtain official approval of their nonprofit status.)
“While the services of these nonprofits may provide great benefit to the general public, federal funds should not be diverted away from essential governmental programs toward nonprofits with access to a charitable and generous base of donors nationwide and around the globe,” says the SCA. Being on the boards of a few nonprofits that are always struggling for money, I kind of take issue with the “generous base” description, but I can’t help but acknowledge the definite difference between “great benefit” and “essential service.”
Currently, FEMA funds can go to any
private nonprofit educational, utility, irrigation, emergency, medical, rehabilitational, and temporary or permanent custodial care facilities (including those for the aged and disabled) and facilities on Indian reservations…
[as well as any] [p]rivate nonprofit facility that provides essential services of a governmental nature to the general public, (including museums, zoos, performing arts facilities, community arts centers, libraries, homeless shelters, senior citizen centers, rehabilitation facilities, shelter workshops, and facilities that provide health and safety services of a governmental nature)…
Language proposed by the Senate bill and the House resolution would add community centers and houses of worship to the list.
To be fair, the bill contains a restriction for religious facilities that does not apply to the other nonprofits. Taxpayer-funded disaster relief would be allowed to religious institutions only for the actual buildings damaged. Its language is pretty specific:
In spaces used primarily for religious worship services, contributions…shall only be used to cover the costs of purchasing or replacing, without limitation, the building structure, building enclosure components, building envelope, vertical and horizontal circulation, physical plant support spaces, electrical, plumbing, and mechanical systems (including heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and fire and life safety systems), and related site improvements.
A three-prong test has to be passed in order for government funds to be used by religious institutions, including religious educational institutions:
- The funds must be used for a secular purpose that does not promote religion;
- The effect of using the funds must not promote religion; and
- Enforcement of the secular purpose should not unnecessarily entangle church and state.
In the Tilton case, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that grants for non-religious school facilities did not violate the Establishment Clause because the purpose and effect of the Act that authorized the grants was not to aid religious institutions but to aid education generally. The students affected by the act were secondary students, who the Court determined to be less susceptible to religious indoctrination that elementary school students. Significantly, though, the decision in the Tilton case did not address whether granting schools affiliated with a particular religious sect would enable those schools to further their religious instruction. It did, however, determine that taxpayers were not themselves harmed if their ability to practice their own religion remained untouched.
The Hunt case came out of South Carolina, and addressed whether revenue bonds intended for capital improvements at institutions of higher education could be used by sectarian colleges. Because higher education is a secular purpose, and constructing buildings to house educational facilities does not promote religion, and because at the college level, religious indoctrination is not as significant as it is in elementary schools.
It would seem that an actual church is not a school, though, and its primary purpose is to promote religion. While Tilton and Hunt both seem to say that FEMA funds can be used to rebuild the local Catholic High School, there does not seem to be any justification, based on the Supreme Court’s three-prong test, to use taxpayer funds to rebuild a church, even if the rebuilding is limited to the facility alone and not to providing the pews within it.
An ordinary nonprofit organization exists for the public benefit, and the public does indeed benefit from its existence. These facilities all provide valuable community services. But it can be argued that churches do, too. They are community centers, even though they serve a much smaller slice of the population. Then again, rehabilitation centers and senior citizen centers only serve a portion of the community, too.
While we as secularists may disagree vehemently with the mission of religions in general, are we really any differently situated than, say, someone who believes zoos to be cruel? The argument feels somewhat like saying that if our trashy neighbors’ home got washed away during the flood or flattened by a tornado, they be denied emergency relief to rebuild just because we don’t like them.
I hate feeling mean-spirited. It puts me in a bad mood.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed suit to do away with the favored tax status of churches, and to have them treated like all other nonprofits. If churches want to be nonprofit organizations, they should have to file the expensive tax form that goes along with being awarded that status. If they want to endorse specific candidates or political parties, they should lose their 501(c)(3) and have to satisfy themselves with 501(c)(4), which has stricter reporting requirements. I firmly stand with FFRF on this, as, I suspect, do many readers of this post.
But should a church be treated differently when it comes to disaster relief just because it is a church?
As long as the damaged church isn’t violating its tax-free status by politicking, do you see a problem with treating it like any other nonprofit, and allowing the use of taxpayer funds for it to rebuild after a disaster?
And what about extending FEMA coverage to all nonprofits? It is a noble intent, for sure. But is it practical, given our current economic issues? Why should nonprofits be treated differently than Joe’s Body Shop when it comes to disaster relief? I would think that helping businesses recover from disaster would be a pretty noble investment, too.
I’m very interested in hearing what you have to say, and whether you feel strongly enough about this issue to contact your Senator.
For the second year running, I’m organizing a conference on science and secularism. My friend Sky came up with the idea after a group of us from central Arkansas attended Skepticon in the fall of 2011, and we’ve run with the project. Last year was the first ever Reason in the Rock. We expected maybe 75 people for a day of speakers. Instead, over 250 signed up!
We’ve learned from organizers of similar conferences, especially from Skepticon’s, that we can expect to double our attendance for the first few years as word spreads. And like Skepticon, we really want to keep Reason in the Rock free for anyone who can’t afford to attend otherwise.
This presents a bit of a problem, because renting a venue, hosting speakers from all over the country (not to mention just getting them to Little Rock), and promoting the conference takes money. We depend on donations to make Reason in the Rock a reality.
See the video, which was made mostly in my basement hallway, in front of the collection of books in the Star Wars Expanded Universe – proving my X-treme geekery – and with a diplodocus from the Carnegie Collection of dinosaur figurines serving as the horns of the devil in many segments.
This event is very important. It’s the only one of its kind this year in Arkansas. Conferences like this can change minds, open eyes, and expand horizons. Reason in the Rock did all that last year, and will do it again this year, if it can make its funding goals.
Not only did Reason in the Rock expand the number of people who knew about the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers – because we organized the conference – it got us important positive news coverage. So often when the Freethinkers get in the news, it’s because we’re objecting to violations of separation of church and state, which, in the minds of those who would have us live in a theocracy or think that injecting religion into politics isn’t harmful, makes us seem like Grinches. We aren’t – we’re a group of fun-loving, politically diverse, intellectually active, friendly, community-minded humanists, agnostics, atheists, ethicists, and other secularists.
In the deeply religious Bible Belt, someone who doesn’t ascribe to religion can feel very alone. The Arkansas Society of Freethinkers is working to build a community dedicated to good science education, rational inquiry, critical thinking, secularism, and fun. This conference is one of many ways we can get the word out that the isolated nonbelievers in Arkansas are definitely not alone.
We have a great lineup this year, and one that will appeal to anyone who loves science, reason, and independent thinking.
David Silverman, president of American Atheists, will be here. Dave’s fun to hang out with and fun to hear speak. And yes – those who come to Reason in the Rock will get to hang out with the speakers and talk with them one-on-one. Those who donate $500 to sponsor a speaker will even get to share a meal with one of the stars of the line-up!
Jerry DeWitt, who just published his memoir Hope After Faith about his transition from charismatic Pentecostal preacher to nonbeliever, will be returning. Fun fact: The first time Jerry ever spoke publicly about his atheism was in Little Rock, at a meeting of the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers. He’s a special guy, and we’re glad to be special to him, too! Jerry’s book will be available for sale, and he’ll happily autograph it for you.
Ben Bell and Kyle Sanders, who started Little Rock’s Skeptics in the Pub, will put on a special Skeptics presentation for us. Kyle put together the Indiegogo campaign for us, and he just generally rocks.
Ever seen Matt Dillahunty on the Atheist Experience? No one pwns theocrats and unthinking believers like he does. Oh, they try to argue with him. They lose. Decisively. Matt’s amazing, and if you’ve never seen him in action you should definitely check out the Atheist Experience’s YouTube Channel.
Bil Cash, the director of Arkansas’ EEOC office, will speak about religious discrimination in the workplace. Since he was one of my very best friends in law school a million years ago, I’m really excited about his participation.
The Southern Poverty Law Center is sending Lecia Brooks, the Director of Outreach, to talk about the state of intolerance in America. There’s some controversy here, because some have said that SPLC is promoting intolerance just by keeping and making public its dossiers on hate groups. Is it wrong to keep tabs on the haters and to describe them that way?
We’ll show an awesome documentary, No Dinosaurs in Heaven, and the filmmaker, Greta Schiller will take questions after it. Me, I’m hoping she can explain how none of the dinos managed to make it onto the ark, and how even the prehistoric swimming creatures drowned in the flood. (I’m kidding, guys. Relax.)
Darrel Ray will be here to talk about Sex and God. Rachel Johnson says she’ll be talking about sex, too, but from a biological perspective. She’s one of the co-hosts of the Pink Atheist Podcast along with LeeWood Thomas, who is one of our members, and Phil Ferguson, who also plans to be here.
No conference on secularism would be complete without the participation of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Dan Barker, co-president of FFRF, will be here. As much as FFRF gets slammed in the press by theocratic fundamentalists, you’d think he sports a tail and horns, but in actuality he’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet.
These aren’t the only great speakers in our lineup. There are more, and we want to make sure they all come and they all make a bog impression. Please help the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers make this year’s Reason in the Rock a reality.
We’re actually hoping to be over-funded, so we have a head start on next year’s conference. We have big dreams about who we want to invite next year. BIG dreams!
And Arkansas has uphill battles. We have hateful bigots in our state who advocate the murder of gay people, a former governor with Faux News show who thinks his version of Christianity would make a great theocracy, and a largely uneducated state legislature who not only doesn’t have the first clue about how to pass laws that also pass constitutional muster but also want to impose their dubious morality on everyone in the state…. We need all the help we can get.
When it comes to picking cherries, Heavenly Pizza fills a whole pie.
Heavenly Pizza posted a reference to Leviticus after the Supreme Court decisions last week. Looking it up was an exercise in excess caution. Leviticus 20:13 says exactly what we predicted it would say:
If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.
In other words, those LGBTQ abominations just ought to be killed, that’s all. End of story. God has spoken.
One would think that the authorities would frown upon a business prominently displaying a sign that advocates murder, but this is Searcy, Arkansas. Searcy is dominated by the Churches of Christ. It is home to Harding University, but instead of the tolerance and openness that one tends to expect from a college town, Harding’s worldview mimics that of the town: Harding is a Christian institution, and by Christian, it means Churches of Christ, not those sinful not-really-Christian Presbyterians and Catholics and such. The congregants of the Churches of Christ believe that the bible is the inspired and completely inerrant word of God, which means
- They haven’t read the book to see all the contradictions this “inerrant” work contains;
- They accept what their preachers tell them is dogma when they need to clear up perceived inconsistencies;
- They have read the book, but they have seriously deficient reading comprehension;
- They know nothing about the history of the copying and translation of the bible;
- They cherry-pick their bible, even though they say they don’t; or
- All of the above.
Aside from encouraging hate crimes, Heavenly Pizza has a few problems. Exodus 23:19, Exodus 34:26, and Deuteronomy 14:21 all prohibit cooking cheese and meat together. Therefore, clearly, nothing says “I hate Jesus” like a steaming slice of pepperoni (a sausage made from a blend of pork and beef) served up with extra cheese (beef and cheese together? Not kosher, guys!) and helping of bigotry. If we’re going to abide by Old Testament law, we need to abide by all of it, because after all, this is the inerrant word of God.
Let’s worry about Heavenly Pizza’s sinfulness. Please assure me that their employees aren’t required to wear uniforms made of a cotton-polyester blend, nor that the restaurant’s owners allow anyone wearing such a sinful fabric to enter the place. Can anyone confirm whether Heavenly Pizza pays its employees’ wages daily, not weekly or bi-weekly like sinful employers might? I wonder how many times the cashiers at Heavenly Pizza have accidently given incorrect change, only to find the person they shortchanged to give them the right amount plus an extra 1/5 to make up for the error – and how many times, when an honest customer has told them they received too much change, the Heavenly Pizza employee extracted another 1/5 from him? God requires that, you know.
I hope Heavenly Pies doesn’t have a pizza with shrimp on their menu, because that would be a sin. I hope that when they say the blessing over their pizza, they aren’t sporting zits or bruises or rashes or cuts, they don’t wear glasses,and they aren’t limping, because if so, the blessing just won’t work. And I am shocked – shocked, I tell you! – that they have what they call a “Hog Zone” in their restaurant. While some might think that is a special place for fans of the Arkansas Razorbacks, you and I recognize it as a place to keep unclean animals from polluting the rest of the restaurant.
It is an abomination that Heavenly Pizza is open on Saturday; it’s against God’s law to be open for business that day. According to their Facebook page, they are open on Sunday for lunch, too. I fear for their immortal souls, what with all the work they do on the various and sundry sabbaths.
My guess is that the only verse in the whole chapter in all of Leviticus the good Christians at Heavenly Pizza bother to remember is the one about gay-bashing. I’m so glad that they are all about promoting (in the words of Harding University) “an all-encompassing love for God and a corresponding love for people.”
Except for those homos. Because homos aren’t really people. And treating them like real people entitled to equal rights is one of Satan’s many schemes to lead us down the path of sorrow.
Come have a slice of pizza…..the extra toppings of bigotry and hatred are free!
Surely the good Christians at Heavenly Pizza aren’t hypocrites. Let’s examine Leviticus for possible problems, just to be sure. Now, a lot of Leviticus focuses on the exact rites and beasts and plants that are used to purify offerings and sinners, but there is a lot of good stuff in those 27 chapters that tells us how to live and all. I’m going to assume that all the good Christians at Heavenly Pizza obey each and every stricture of that particular book of the Bible, just like they do all the rest of the chapters. Because inerrant word of God.
I’m sure no one around there has ever told one of their friends, family members or colleagues that they don’t want to testify in court, despite knowing what happened in the case being litigated. That happens a lot, especially in divorce cases – people just don’t want to get involved. They don’t realize that refusing to go to court is a sin, and that to purge themselves of that sin they need to sacrifice a female sheep or goat according to Leviticus 5:6.
They have to do the same if they break any kind of promise, according to Leviticus 5:4. I wonder if there is anyone there at Heavenly Pizza who has not broken a promise, and I wonder how many sheep and goats have died for their sins.
All of the people there surely have a priest check their acne and boils for leprosy as directed by Leviticus 13, too. Don’t they?
What will you bet that some of those folks at Heavenly Pizza are hunters, or know hunters, and have eaten a rabbit or two? Leviticus 11:6 says that’s a sin. I bet they’ve chowed down on tasty crawfish, yummy oysters, and succulent lobster, not to mention some good southern fried catfish. They’re in deep trouble, according to Leviticus 11:9-12. And if those folks have ever tried alligator or rattlesnake meat – delicacies in the rural south – they’re likewise doomed.
Have the women at Heavenly Pizza who have borne children purified themselves after giving birth by sacrificing a lamb in accordance with Leviticus 12:6, and sacrificed two pigeons or turtledoves after every irregular menstruation pursuant to Leviticus 15:29? I hope so. They don’t want to be seen as cherry-picking what parts of the inerrant word of God they want to follow, after all.
I’m sure none of those godly people have ever read their horoscopes, because if they have they are being shunned by the other godly folks thereabouts, and whoever wrote those horoscopes has to be put to death immediately. Likewise, I hope none of them have ever had sex with a menstruating female, because that results in shunning, too. I hope they check the community carefully to see who’s having sex and who isn’t, who’s on her period and who isn’t, and that they keep the sexes strictly separate during that terribly unclean time.
No one at Heavenly Pies has ever had an extramarital affair, because their colleagues already would have put them to death pursuant to Leviticus 20:10, just like the gay people they want to kill. That verse is right before the one they cite to promote the massacre of gays, so you know they totally abide by it. Likewise, if any of the boys around those parts have had sexual relations with an animal, they are murdered immediately, too. I’m not saying any have, naturally, because I’m not aware of the community rising up to stone any cow-, chicken- or pig-fuckers.
Death comes to us all, and when the good, holy people at Heavenly Pies lose someone, I’m sure they immediately stop shaving, and no matter how the death of their loved one distresses them, I’m sure they don’t pull out their hair or scratch or cut themselves in their grief. Because that would be wrong. Likewise, I’m sure they don’t call a coroner or undertaker, because Leviticus 21:1-4 tells them they have to deal with the dead bodies themselves. They don’t tattoo anything on themselves, because Leviticus 19:28 strictly and expressly forbids it, and they treat immigrants just like anyone born and raised in Searcy, because the bible tells them to - why, I would imagine they completely ignore laws against hiring illegal immigrants because they know biblical law supersedes anything Congress tries to say.
I’m sure all the wives of the religious leaders who lead the flock at Heavenly Pizza were virgins when they got married, and that none of them were divorced or widowed, and that all of them are related to their husbands. God doesn’t like second marriages, because cooties or something, and priests have to keep it in the family. And if any of the daughters of these pastors ever slept around, surely her father burned her to death stat, just like Leviticus 21:9 tells him to do. There’s just no killin’ like an honor killin’. These pastors never go near a dead body, either. Funeral rites for the blessed Heavenly Pizza crew are conducted by their close families, not by their church or by a funeral home.
Heavenly Pizza Pies has its ardent supporters in Searcy, of course. Looky what one of Jesus’s peaceful, loving followers said:
First, “sodomites are waging a war of death and misery”. Sure, they are. For years the news has been full of hetero-bashing hate crimes and lynchings like the one committed by that awful Matthew Shepherd, discrimination against heteros in the workplace, denial of adoptions and foster parent qualifications to heterosexual parents, denial of spousal benefits to heterosexual couples, … what? No? I got that backwards? Oh. Then on to the next…
“This Holy Christian Nation.” Exactly! The First Amendment clearly established Christianity as the official religion of all the United States and its territories, and that was confirmed by Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli (ratified by both houses of congress unanimously and signed by Founding Father and 2nd President John Adams) and Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists…. what? No again? Backwards again? Damn. Okay, on to the next point.
“Self-hating baby killers will not stop…” Damn right they won’t. Not until every baby is dead, by golly! We hate babies! They are almost as icky as lesboqueers! Except… no. Those without the guilt imposed by religion don’t hate themselves, and no one kills babies except criminals. Furthermore, “self-hating baby killers” is so off-topic as to be ludicrous in this situation. So, another fail.
“Will not stop until their Atheist religion has ruined everything for everyone.” I can’t even pretend on this one. If atheism is a religion, then bald is a hair color, an empty bowl makes a meal, and not collecting stamps is a hobby. By definition, atheism is the absence of religion. And it doesn’t ruin anything, because there is nothing to ruin. If the commenter wants to hang on to her delusional fairy tales, she can. She can believe in Santa all she wants to, and she can assume that when he doesn’t come down her chimney on Christmas morning it was because she was such an awful person. Because she is.
“They don’t want equality, they want everyone under their control.” Ouchies for the missed semicolon opportunity there. And if she wasn’t sure about the semi-colon, she should have used a period, because that misplaced comma hurts my feelings. And that’s not me wanting to control her; that’s just proper punctuation. The whole idea of “control” is making other people conform to what you want, not what they want. If you don’t want to get gay-married, honey, don’t get gay-married. But you shouldn’t have the right to control gay people’s happiness and basic human rights any more than they should have the right to control yours.
“It’s time we as a country impose God’s will on them…” See the paragraph above. She really doesn’t get it, does she?
“If the sodomites don’t like the punishment imposed in Leviticus 20:13, they certainly won’t like the heat from the flames of hell.” Sweetie, there is no hell. And even if there were, I’m betting you’d get to visit it, too, because of all the rules in Leviticus you’ve broken in your lifetime. Here – wipe your tears with this cotton-poly blend hanky. There’s a good girl. What? You weren’t a virgin when you got married? And you’ve been divorced? Burn, baby, burn!
I’m not even going to bother with the rest, except to say that I think law enforcement takes a rather dim view of making threats of death, mayhem, and torture to other people.
There’s just one thing that Heavenly Pizza Pies and its supporters are forgetting in their argument. The Supreme Court decision that Heavenly Pizza finds so objectionable was a decision about what the government should do in a country that prides itself on equality. Churches and their members are free to do something more strict, more stringent, as they please. They can be bigoted, discriminatory and hateful if they want to be. They are private organizations and they have a right to free speech, too. The government does not enjoy that privilege, however, because while a church can choose who to serve and who not to serve, a government has to be even-handed in its treatment of all of its citizens.
Today my friend Kevin, whose wit and wisdom I admire to the point of not even wanting to give him credit when I plagiarize him, summed it up beautifully. Kevin happens to be from Searcy. He also happens to be one of those loathsome homoqueers that Heavenly Pizza Pies wants to kill. He said:
There is church and there is state, two separate things.
The state is required to have equality. The church is not.
A church member’s opinion may reflect his church’s teachings.
As an American, you either stand for equality or you don’t.
Go ahead, say the words, “I do not believe all people are created equal.
I do not believe all have inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Sounds pretty crappy, huh?
Heavenly Pizza Pies, you and your kind make the baby Jesus cry like you are burning him with your nasty cigarettes.
It just doesn’t stop. The stupidity rife through the ranks of our elected officials, I mean.
Evidently, everyone in our military is religious, or becomes so upon facing death. Despite the fact that nonreligious make up as much as a third of our young people, and the fact that the numbers of the nonreligious are growing, Congress just can’t get its collective head out of its collective ass long enough to realize that by saying the rude, insensitive things about nonreligious people, they aren’t making anything better.
Wednesday, New Jersey Democratic Rep. Rob Andrews offered an amendment to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act that would allow humanists or members of ethical culture groups to join the chaplain corps. Andrews’ idea was to help members of the military who don’t believe in God, but want someone to talk to about things without having to seek a doctor or a psychotherapist – something that can kill a military career, or so I’m told.
Not surprisingly, Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee objected vehemently. These idiots don’t think that non-religious people can offer something similar to spiritual counseling, much less be humanistic or ethical in their interactions with grieving families, dying soldiers, or nonreligious personnel dealing with angsty issues. In fact, these ignorant jackasses actually said that humanists and ethicists would offend dying soldiers or their families – never mind that those dying soldiers or their families might be just as offended by a Christian chaplain telling them they are in in the hands of a god they don’t believe in.
Atheists “don’t believe anything,” said Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas). “I can’t imagine an atheist accompanying a notification team as they go into some family’s home to let them have the worst news of their life and this guy says, ‘You know, that’s it – your son’s just worms, I mean, worm food.’”
This guy just makes me see red.
If someone is a humanist chaplain, that is not something he or she would say. “I’m so sorry for your loss,” comes to mind. Or, “Who can we call to be with you at this difficult time?” Or, “I feel the tragedy of your [son or daughter's] loss. What can I do to help you through this difficult time?” Not “Oh, hey, your kid died. He’s worm food. See ya.” What a jackass to even think such a thing. And a humanist chaplain isn’t the only type of humanist who wouldn’t say that. Frankly, I can’t imagine anyone saying that to someone who is dying or who has just lost a loved one.
Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) wasn’t much better than his Texas colleague. ”This I think would make a mockery of the chaplaincy,” he said. “The last thing in the world we would want to see was a young soldier who may be dying and they’re at a field hospital and the chaplain is standing over that person saying to them, ‘If you die here, there is no hope for you in the future.’”
The complete arrogance of thinking that any nonbeliever even wants his version of heaven after death just astounds me. This is the ultimate in self-absorbed idiocy.
But then there’s Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the top Democrat on the committee, who called the jackasses out. He said that atheists and humanists do in fact have strong belief systems that they value just as much as Christians value theirs. And he pointed out that there are many atheists in the military, famously the late NFL star Pat Tillman, who died in friendly fire in Afghanistan. “To say that an atheist or a humanist doesn’t believe anything is just ignorant,” said Smith. “The response to the gentleman’s amendment makes me feel all the more the necessity of it.”
The amendment appeared to lack the votes needed to pass on the GOP-majority committee, but maybe that was just because the jackasses brayed louder than those who are sensitive to the needs of all servicemen, religious or not. Here’s a little letter I penned in response to Rep. Conaway’s remarks. I faxed it to his office today.
Rep. Michael Conaway
11th District, Texas 2430
Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Via Facsimile to (202) 225-1783
Dear Rep. Conaway:
I just saw a video of your remarks pertaining to humanist and ethicist chaplains in the military. I am disgusted and upset by them.
Your comments show absolutely no insight into the emotional needs of a person who is non-religious or is not affiliated with a particular religion. Your words were insensitive, arrogant, and dead wrong. They show a complete lack of empathy for anyone who might think about death and dying in a way other than your particular way.
People who do not believe in a god or who do not adhere to the practices of a formal, recognized religion do not refer to the dead as “worm food” when comforting grieving families or when comforting a dying person. In fact, I cannot imagine that anyone would do that.
According to the Pew Forum on Public Policy and Religion, as many as one-third of people under 30 do not adhere to any particular religion or are nonbelievers. These people are serving in the military right now. By denying them a chaplain who can talk to them about ethical or humanist practices without religion, you deny them access to emotional and ethical support other than through medical personnel. This is something provided to religious members of the military.
Your position is that of an ignorant jackass – you bray loudly about something you obviously know nothing about. Please educate yourself as to what atheism, humanism and ethicism are before you say that atheists, humanists and ethicists believe in “nothing.” “Nothing” could not be further from the truth.
I am not in your state, much less in your district, so I won’t have the pleasure of voting against you in the next election. Believe me, though, I will use every platform available to me to broadcast your rank stupidity and your crass insensitivity to the needs of nonreligious members of the military.
I wrote a similar one to Rep. Fleming. I may write the rest of the committee. I may send Reps. Andrews and Smith flowers, though.
Critics of mainstream science frequently dispute evolution or climate change. Whatever their target, a common tactic is to challenge how well mainstream scientists accept these ideas.
In this era of U.S. teachers being “pressured to keep evolution out of the classroom or to teach it as a scientifically controversial theory,” the NCSE has taken the lead to insist that science, not religion and not pseudoscience, be taught in our public school classrooms. It is famously successful in stopping Pennsylvania’s intelligent design law in its tracks in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District in 2005. It is working with Zack Kopplin to exterminate the stupidity in Louisiana’s creationism laws, too.
Best of all – and perhaps more encompassing, the NCSE provides resources for everyday science advocates working in the classroom trenches, fighting against not only creationists, but climate change deniers.
Nature’s editorial commended Eugenie Scott’s tireless efforts to make sure that scientists don’t talk over the heads of the general public. “Too often, scientists are ignorant of how students outside their own labs are being educated. In the worst cases, scientists can actually hurt the cause for science education by alienating the people whom they hope to persuade: in their attempts to engage, they may seem condescending or use arcane arguments that fail to connect with teachers, parents, students and other community members.”
The biggest problem I have encountered when talking with creationists is that they don’t understand the science of evolution at all. Often, they simply were not taught it when they were in school. Whether because their teachers shied away from the subject for fear of controversy or, worse, didn’t understand evolutionary theory themselves, for some reason many adults just don’t get it.
NCSE is a fantastic, and necessary, advocate for science, science education, scientists, and science fans. Getting great recognition in such an eminent publication as Nature is no less than what it deserves.
Eugenie Scott is responsible for making NCSE worthy of that recognition. She will be missed.
Graduation seems to be one of those times during the school year when religion rears its head and wants to elbow its way into the public square, disseminating itself messily all over unwilling captive audiences. This year is no exception.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) got involved in an Arkansas case recently, writing a letter to tell the Riverside School District in Lake City, Arkansas, that plans to pray and sing hymns at its sixth grade graduation were unconstitutional. Variations of two different versions of what happened next have made their rounds. In the first story, the school board, possibly at the behest of the superintendent, decided simply to cancel graduation rather than bow to the law. In the second story, the school board voted to abide by the law, but the parents organizing the graduation said that if they couldn’t pray, then graduation at the school would be cancelled. The upshot was that the sixth grade graduation was indeed cancelled, and the organizing parents decided to hold graduation exercises at a local church instead. More uproar has ensued.
Because apparently we’re the only advocates of separation of church and state to be found in Arkansas, the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers was invited to participate in a radio talk show about the kerfuffle. When Alice Stewart, Mike Huckabee’s former spokesperson and the host of the program, told me that her other guest would be the evangelical preacher who enjoyed the spotlight at our fair state’s National Day of Prayer event at the state capitol, I asked her if she had considered asking a representative of a more progressive variety of Christian – one that supports separation of church and state. She said she didn’t know any. Right then and there I probably should have directed her to the Episcopalians, Presbyterians, or Jews, but I didn’t. I agreed to go on the show.
Here’s the TL; DL version of the hosts’s and pastor’s points:
- There’s a war on religion.
- They’ve done it this way forever, so there’s no harm in allowing them to continue praying at public school events.
- The Constitution says we are entitled to the free exercise of religion.
- God is the foundation of our founding documents.
- Many of our founding fathers went to seminary with certainly the intent that God would be incorporated on our money and in our system and society.
- We’ve tried, and we just can’t ever take God, guns, sex, violence, drugs out of school.
- God is everywhere in school forever.
- Our country is built on the principles of God.
- The pledge is a prayer.
- By insisting on leaving religion out of school functions, atheists impose their views on everyone else.
- It’s more important to keep faith in schools than anywhere.
- It’s impossible to take God out of schools because too many religious people are in the schools, and god is in the songs that the school choir sings, plays that the school theater performs, civics and history books, and because there is a federal holiday honoring Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. who taught the nation about the Bible.
- We shouldn’t have to wait for another bombing or mass shooting before a school assembly prays again.
- We should not have to care about the rights of minorities in public schools.
- FFRF wanted graduation stopped.
- Public prayer in school isn’t illegal.
- God calls the light day and the darkness night and no one can change that because it’s an order from god. (If you listen closely you can detect that I nearly busted out laughing here. Sorry.)
- If the Constitution allows the pledge, which contains a prayer, then it is resolved that all prayer should be allowed in schools.
- Religion never changes.
- Jesus said always to pray and not to think.
- The word that God gives Christians is in Psalms 1.
- God’s law is higher than Constitutional law.
- If we say “under God” in the pledge at school, we are obligated to continue praying in schools so as not to be hypocritical.
I know, I know. Our first response is “What? They actually believe this tripe?” followed immediately by a facepalm and “Oh, boy. They really believe this tripe.”
1. The War on Religion
Evidently I burned my draft card on this one. Personally, I couldn’t care less what religion someone else practices, as long as they do no harm with it. (Yeah, I know. That’s impossible, unless they keep it totally to themselves, which they never do.) They can have all the fantasies they like about what happens after death, and no one else is affected. We are, however, affected by their dogmatic attempts to indoctrinate our children, deny freedom of conscience to our children and to us, and to curtail the rights of other people based on their fantasies and what someone said their invisible friend wanted more than two millennia ago. So, practice religion all you want – just keep it strictly to yourself.
2. They’ve done it this way forever, so why make them change?
Ah, yes, the appeal to tradition. As logical fallacies go, this one is pretty easy to dismantle. It is also symptomatic of the traditional conservative state of mind, which holds that progress is bad.
Let’s say you’ve got an employee who regularly steals from the till. You’ve warned him time and time again that if he doesn’t stop, you’re going to take legal action. He doesn’t stop. You call the cops. Do we seriously expect the police to say that since you never called them before, you can’t call them now?
Or, let’s say your neighbor is a wife-beater (the POS, not the shirt). He’s beaten his wife at least weekly for all 40 years of their marriage, and your long-suffering family has witnessed it. One day, you’ve finally had enough. The wife has two black eyes and a bloody nose after one of their little tiffs, and you call the cops. Do you want to live in a society where the police say, “I’m sorry, ma’am, but she let him beat her up for 40 years, so she has to keep letting him beat her up. Just use ear plugs and avert your eyes if you don’t want to be aware of it”?
I didn’t think so.
Illegal is illegal. Period.
3. The Constitution says we are entitled to the free exercise of religion.
It sure does. And then it says that the state can’t tell us how to practice our religions. This is the part the religious right loves to forget as they strive to use government-sponsored events to impose their version of God on the rest of us. And impose it they do – at public invocations, in schools, in the laws they pass, and on billboards across the country. Only one of those instances is actually legal. (Hint: it’s the one that has nothing to do with government.)
4. God is the foundation of our founding documents.
The only foundational document that mentions anything about a God is the Declaration of Independence, which wouldn’t have been a founding document if the rebellion had not been successful. In its introduction, it mentions “Nature’s God” and which in the famous second sentence of its preamble says: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” One of those unalienable rights, which was added to the Constitution 15 years after the Declaration (it wasn’t there to begin with), says that Americans are free to practice whatever religion they choose, and that the state cannot tell them what religion to practice.
It’s the second part that people like Rev. Hunt and Ms. Stewart and their fundamentalist friends have so much trouble with. In fact, they prefer to ignore it, under the short-sighted and arrogant assumption that their version of religion would naturally be the one established by the government.
5. Many of our founding fathers went to seminary with certainly the intent that God would be incorporated on our money and in our system and society.
Sometimes when religious people say idiotic things, we have to graciously understand that they are grasping at straws. I certainly hope that Ms. Stewart knows the facts don’t support this assertion of hers. I hope she has a better grasp of history than what this particular assertion indicated.
First, let’s look at the education opportunities in the late colonial period. Actual colleges were not easy to find – or, maybe they were, since there were so few of them. New College (now Harvard), the College of William and Mary, the Collegiate School (now Yale), the College of New Jersey (Princeton), the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania), King’s College (now Columbia), Rhode Island College (now Brown), Queen’s College (now Rutgers), and Dartmouth College were the only choices for formal higher education, and the last three in that list were founded after 1760, so it’s unlikely the founders attended them. Without exception, all were associated with religious institutions. However, like the colleges and universities sponsored by religious institutions in the 21st century, none of them was strictly a seminary. Since the founding fathers all obtained what formal education they got prior to the Revolution, these nine schools – and probably actually only six schools – were their only choices unless they opted to go abroad. A number of them whose families had money did indeed send their sons abroad for education at places like Cambridge, London’s Middle Temple (one of the famous Inns of Court where British barristers were – and are – formally trained, not a religious institution), and various schools on the European continent.
So, let’s take a closer look at the oldest six. By 1750, the era when the founding fathers who went there would have been enrolled, only 15% of Harvard graduates were seminarians. William and Mary, the second oldest institution, was founded with only one-third of its resources dedicated to a college of divinity, and separation of church and state was already a thing in Virginia prior to the end of the Revolution thanks to the work of George Mason and James Madison on the Virginia Declaration of Rights. Yale was not founded as a seminary, but as a college of the arts and sciences. Princeton was founded primarily to train Presbyterian ministers, but by the 1760′s was focused on the disciplines valued by the Enlightenment: philosophy, science, and the arts, and by the 1780′s no longer housed a seminary at all. Penn was never a seminary, but was founded, mostly on the advocacy of atheist Philadelphian Benjamin Franklin, as a liberal arts institution. Columbia, also, was founded as a liberal arts school. According to its website, “various groups compet[ed] to determine its location and religious affiliation. Advocates of New York City met with success on the first point, while the Anglicans prevailed on the latter. However, all constituencies agreed to commit themselves to principles of religious liberty in establishing the policies of the College.” Brown University was founded as a Baptist college – not Southern Baptist, but traditional, original, New England Baptist – although Congregationalists, Quakers, and Anglicans all had significant representation on its original board of trustees. Its Charter, granted by George III in 1764, declared its purpose was to prepare students “for discharging the Offices of Life with usefulness & reputation” by providing instruction “in the Vernacular and Learned Languages, and in the liberal Arts and Sciences.” It was not a seminary. Rather, the charter specified specifically that ”into this liberal and catholic institution shall never be admitted any religious tests, but on the contrary, all the members hereof shall forever enjoy full, free, absolute, and uninterrupted liberty of conscience.”
But easily half or more of the founding fathers of the United States of America had no formal education at what we would now consider a secondary level. The state of education in colonial America was such that most people were taught to read and write at home, and additional education was often sought with private tutors. For the most part, our founding fathers were autodidacts – self-taught, widely read, and definitely products of the Enlightenment. They never stopped questioning their world, reading, debating topics as diverse as philosophy, agriculture, and astronomy, and most importantly, they never stopped learning.
I think it is extremely safe to assume that not a single founding father decided to go to a seminary so he could foment a revolution and put his god on the money of a new nation, much less so he could violently rebel against his sovereign specifically to get more religion.
6. We’ve tried, and we just can’t ever take God, guns, sex, violence, drugs out of school.
Maybe it’s just me, but when the good Reverend Hunt said this, I couldn’t help but notice that his deity was lumped in with all the other bad things we don’t want in schools. The clear implication of his statement was that we can try, but we ought to just give up. Sorry, Rev. Hunt, but no can do – not as to any of these things.
7. God is everywhere in school forever.
Indeed, our imaginary friends can be wherever we choose for them to be. Inflicting them on other people is unacceptable, though.
8. Our country is built on the principles of God.
The principles of God that I see when I read the Bible are intolerance, caprice, narcissism, homophobia, misogyny, and violence. Are these the principles upon which our country is built? If so, it’s beyond time for reform.
Rev. Hunt probably meant the Ten Commandments, though, because before they were written down about 500 BCE, people just went around killing, coveting, disrespecting their elders, stealing, and bearing false witness all harum-scarum and willy-nilly. Never mind that Egypt’s laws (3000 BCE), Mesopotamia’s Lagash Code (2400 BCE), Sumeria’s laws (2200 BCE), and Hammurabi’s Code (1795 BCE) predate Leviticus by much more than a millennium, and Sparta’s laws (800 BCE) predate it by 400-500 years. Other codes of law from roughly the same time period as Leviticus are well documented, including the Dharmasutras of the Hindu tradition and the evolved versions of all those laws that went before, as well as Roman law (550 BCE), the Zoroastrian Avesta (600 BCE), China’s Zheng laws (500 BCE), and Draco’s Greek law (620 BCE). It is worth mentioning that our trade and maritime laws originated with ancient Phoenicia (~1200 BCE).
Don’t pretend to know legal or social history if you look at it only through the opaque lenses of your Mosaic blinders.
9. The pledge is a prayer.
In the 1962 case of Engel v. Vitale, the Supreme Court held that prayer led by government officials was not permitted in schools, but did not address whether the inclusion of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance rendered it a prayer. Justice Douglas, in his concurring opinion, said that he believed the religion “honeycombed” throughout our federal laws was not permissible, and that the words “under God” should not stand – and that, yes, the pledge was indeed a prayer.
A 2004 case, Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow challenged the pledge directly, but was dismissed because the plaintiff, a noncustodial parent of the school child in question, lacked standing.
Therefore, I sincerely hope the good Reverend will be willing to repeat this assertion that it is resolved that the Pledge is a prayer the next time some godless heathen decides to file suit to challenge the inclusion of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, because it get us one step closer to getting the words stricken.
10. By insisting on leaving religion out of school functions, atheists impose their views on everyone else.
There’s a difference between religious neutrality and forced atheism. If we were forcing our atheism on the impressionable little school children, we’d be hosting “There is No God” as the cool after-school activity to go to instead of tolerating the insidious presence of “Good News Clubs” that indoctrinate children. We’d be demanding that the school choirs sing Tim Minchin songs instead of classical choruses. We’d start every event with an announcement that there is no god, and repeatedly remind any believers out there that they are stupid to still have an imaginary friend. As it is, we may think those things, but we don’t say them in government settings and we certainly don’t try to scare the shit out of their children to ensure the little darlings will come around to our way of thinking.
Religious neutrality means no one says anything one way or another about deities, religions, or the way those imaginary beings think we should conduct ourselves, much less what they plan to do with us when we die.
11. It’s more important to keep faith in schools than anywhere.
On the contrary, school is exactly the place where things should be questioned and not taken on faith. School is the place where facts should be tested, experiments performed, empirical evidence gathered and assessed, and ideas debated. Critical thinking skills need to be emphasized much, much more. Our children should be taught never to take anything on faith, but to investigate and find truth for themselves. Otherwise, all we are doing is drilling information into their heads without giving them the skills to apply it to reality and to the betterment of the world. I don’t know about you, but I want more for my child than for him to be an automaton that dully repeats whatever he’s been told. Faith is the last thing we need to teach our children in school.
12. It’s impossible to take God out of schools because too many religious people are in the schools, and god is in the songs that the school choir sings, plays that the school theater performs, civics and history books, and because there is a federal holiday honoring Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. who taught the nation about the Bible.
Where do I even begin?
Okay, so, there are religious people in schools. Sure. There are religious people everywhere. It does not necessarily follow that everything that comes out of the mouths of those religious people is religious. In a school setting, they need to keep their religion to themselves and teach kids how to think critically, how to solve problems, and what a logical fallacy is. (Maybe by teaching logical fallacies, they will recognize the ones they use on themselves to keep religion alive.)
God is in the songs that the choir sings. Because ecclesiastical patronage is responsible for a considerable chunk of the greatest art and music in history, we neither can nor should avoid some religious songs or art. There is plenty of secular art and music out there, though, and it also should be taught. And if the public school is performing a religious play, someone needs to let the ACLU, Americans United, and FFRF know so a lawsuit can be filed – because it’s illegal. Period.
Religious history is part of human history. The history of the Catholic Church’s political maneuverings is valid study – it has had great effect on the politics of medieval Europe, and despite its lack of stature as an official religion for governments now, it still wields a mighty sword. Its complicity in the Holocaust, for example, should not be downplayed, nor should its interference in human rights issues in places like Africa, where it has helped to spread the HIV/AIDS pandemic by preaching against condom use, and Ireland, where women die because their lives are considered less valuable than the fetuses they carry, sometimes against their will. Religion has a great deal to do with the denial of women’s rights in the Middle East and Central Asia. So, yes, study religion’s effect of world history and current events.
Do not ever make the mistake of teaching public school children which religion is “better” or “correct.” That is establishment of religion, and in this country it is illegal.
And now for Martin Luther King, Jr., who apparently taught us all about the Bible so now we honor him with his very own holiday. I hardly know how to begin to address this idiotic statement, so I’ll just heave a huge sigh and delve in.
Dr. King was indeed a minister. He did indeed connect his faith to his fervent advocacy for civil rights, and frequently invoked his deity and the teachings of the Bible. He wasn’t assassinated for being a minister, though. He died because he was an extremely effective advocate for civil rights and for peace. Dr. King was much more than a minister, and his civil rights and anti-war activism is the reason for that holiday, not his messages from any pulpit. He pioneered peaceful civil disobedience to a degree this country had never before seen. He worked for racial parity and desegregation, something the Bible definitely does not advocate. He worked tirelessly to end an unjust war. The war he wanted to fight was against poverty and the disparate treatment of human beings in American society. That war, at least, was a noble one.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the greatest orators of the 20th century, if not one of the greatest orators in all of American history. His work was rewarded with international acclaim and he was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize because of it. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Four people have federal holidays in their honor: two of them were presidents, one is popularly credited with “discovering” the continent, and the fourth is Dr. King. Could he have done this work without being a minister? Absolutely. Unequivocally. Does he deserve the acclaim he has received? Without a doubt, yes. But not for being a minister. He deserves every accolade he has ever received because of what he did for race relations in the United States 100 years after the Civil War, and for using his popularity and influence to end a horrifically unjust war and to advocate for human rights.
Dr. King didn’t teach Americans the Bible. He taught us something much more important: that all men must be treated equally and fairly. We would certainly appreciate it if the religious right would demonstrate that they understand that lesson.
13. We shouldn’t have to wait for another bombing or mass shooting before a school assembly prays again.
When that next bombing or mass school shooting happens, we still shouldn’t pray – at least, not in school and not as part of a government-sponsored event. Prayer won’t undo it, prayer won’t prevent it, and prayer won’t stop it mid-horror.
Do we really lack so much creativity as a society that we cannot devise another way to honor the dead or mark a tragedy without thanking God for it? Do we really think a prayer will stop malicious and crazy people from socially aberrant behavior? If so, church shootings wouldn’t happen, and legislatures wouldn’t have to make church-goers feel safer by allowing them to carry weapons to Sunday services. And isn’t it ironic that we thank a god for such monstrous atrocities and celebrate the deaths of those killed by saying they’ve been “called home” to that deity? How screwed up is that, anyway?
And this leads us back to good old Epicurus (341 BCE – 270 BCE), another philosopher roughly contemporaneous with the scribes of Leviticus:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then why is there evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?
14. We should not have to care about the rights of minorities in public schools.
There is so much insensitivity in this statement that my mind nearly boggled. The majority rules when votes are counted for candidates. When the candidate elected by the majority takes his oath of office, though, he represents everyone, not just those who elected him, and he owes a duty to everyone, not just those who elected him.
We do not operate our society by doing what the majority of people want to do just because the majority want it done. We also look at the public policy behind doing things, the ramifications of doing them, and the overall effect on society.
We also don’t squash the little guy under our heels just because he is poor, speaks a different language, is mentally handicapped, physically challenged, from another country, homosexual, short, illiterate, fat, old, sick, red-haired, of a different racial derivation than we are, of a different religious persuasion, or for any other reason. It’s just plain wrong. When will the Christian right get this through their thick skulls? Seriously, what jackasses!
15. FFRF wanted graduation stopped.
One of the reasons the uber-conservative media is so good at persuading its watchers and listeners that the boogeyman is at the door is because when the truth doesn’t suit them, they change the facts to fit their narrative.
They make us refute their fake facts, and thereby deprive us of the time to make our points. To borrow a phrase from Christopher Moore, this is heinous fuckery most foul. If you have to lie to make your point, you obviously have a crappy argument to begin with. Go home. You’ve forfeited the game.
16. Public prayer in school isn’t illegal.
The hell it isn’t. See Engel v. Vitale, supra.
17. God calls the light day and the darkness night and no one can change that because it’s an order from god.
If you listen closely at this point in the segment, you can detect that I nearly laughed out loud here. I apologize for the audible derisive snort. I couldn’t help it. I did, however, have considerable empathy at that moment with David Silverman’s conversation with Bill O’Reilly about the reason for tidal forces. Evidently the good Reverend Hunt is a flat-earther who does not understand the earth’s rotation or heliocentrism. He thinks it gets light and dark because God says so. We’ll just ignore the fact that we have night and day for the same basic reason as we have high and low tides: gravity.
After all, gravity is just a theory.
18. It is resolved, that if the Constitution allows the pledge, which contains a prayer, then it is resolved that all prayer should be allowed in schools.
Well, he was almost right. It is definitely resolved that prayer is not permitted in schools. Engel v. Vitale, remember? But what isn’t resolved is whether or not the words “under God” make the pledge tantamount to a prayer. The atheist that is me thinks it does, and the religious guy that is Reverend Hunt thinks it does. Therefore, the pledge is a prayer and pursuant to the precedent set by Engel v. Vitale and pursuant to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, the pledge shouldn’t be recited any more than the Lord’s Prayer should be.
19. Religion never changes.
The delegates to Vatican II would be interested to learn of this.
So would Martin Luther, who kicked off a pretty serious change in Christianity by tacking those 95 theses to the door of that Wittenberg Church back in 1517. (Okay, fine, so the church door thing may be a bit of a myth. But the invention of the printing press did a heck of a lot to change Christianity because that’s how word of the 95 theses got liberally sprinkled throughout Germany and the rest of Europe.)
In fact, I think the attendees of the Council of Nicea – you know, the meeting at which the books of scripture were either included or jettisoned from what we now call the Bible and the meeting at which the Jesus character was determined to be a god – would find the Rev. Hunt’s assertion patently ludicrous, as would those who attended the other thirteen major ecumenical councils of the last two millennia.
I wonder if Rev. Hunt has a Christmas tree? My money says he is clueless about its pagan roots or somehow thinks no religion changed to accommodate that tradition.
20. Jesus said always to pray and not to think.
Herein lies the biggest problem with religion. “Don’t think,” religious leaders tell us. “Just believe what you’re told.” A gullible, uneducated, ignorant populace is all too willing to accept any popular authority that purports to explain their world.
“You’ve got to have faith,” they say.
I have plenty of faith. I have faith that the sun will rise, because every morning it does, and because scientists have provided a reasonable, testable, consistently provable reason for it happening. I have faith that gravity won’t stop working, for the same reason. I even have faith that my computer will post this little rant when I hit a certain combination of keys – because it’s happened before, because it happens consistently and reliably when I hit those keys, and because there is some computer scientist person who knows how and why it happens. I don’t know how or why, and I don’t pretend to understand it, but because it works reliably and consistently with predictable results, I am satisfied that there is a reasonable explanation for it. It might feel like magic to me, because I just say (type) my incantation and poke my fingers at the right buttons and watch it happen – again and again. But I know people who not only understand why it works, but can tell me why it has stopped working, fix it, and make it work again. Reliably and consistently.
That’s the kind of thing I can have faith in.
21. The word that God gives Christians is in Psalms 1.
Wait wait wait wait wait. Wasn’t the Book of Psalms compiled a long time before the guy who started the whole Christianity thing? Hasn’t the god of the Christians failed to utter one single word to them since that dude’s alleged death in the early first century CE? (Well, except for like, the Book of Mormon, but those people are in a cult and not really Christians, right?) I mean, I thought most of the Psalms were attributed to King David, who lived a full millenium before the Jesus character.
Of course, Christians use the Old Testament, too. But since Christianity hadn’t been invented at the time of the composition of the first Psalm (there’s that old religion changing thing again), it would seem that the Christian god might – just might – not have been talking to Christians back then.
22. God’s law is higher than Constitutional law.
Not in the United States of America, it isn’t.
In fact, the original language of the Constitution never once mentions or even refers to any deity or creator. The only time religion is mentioned at all is in the First Amendment, which says government is to keep its hands off religion. The government can’t tell us how to practice religion and can’t tell us not to practice religion. It also can’t tell us that we must practice religion.
This is not Indonesia, Iran, or Saudi Arabia. We do not have to believe in any gods at all, and no one can tell us what version of which of the 3500+ gods man has ever worshipped that we should worship.
And just to make sure that foreign governments were aware of this, John Adams, this country’s second president, included in the Treaty of Tripoli an affirmation of the secular nature of the American government with the following language in the Treaty of Tripoli, which was duly ratified – unanimously – by Congress in 1797:
As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of [Muslims],—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any [Mohammedan] nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
23. If we say “under God” in the pledge at school, we are obligated to continue praying in schools so as not to be hypocritical.
Fine. I won’t say the Pledge, either. Not that I have since I was in elementary school and thought I had to. Actually, I stopped saying the pledge before I was out of elementary school, because by about 5th grade I had had it with religion and with the “because I said so” reasons that I was given for really just about anything. Plus, I thought it was stupid and meaningless to pledge my undying devotion to a piece of cloth. If any piece of cloth could be that important, it would have been the old pink blanket I used to drag around the house when I was a little kid. At least that ratty old thing gave me some comfort and kept me warm.
Rev. Hunt should keep in mind that Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t have to say the pledge, either, because doing so violates the rules of their religion. Neither does anyone else who doesn’t want to, thanks to the Supreme Court’s 1943 ruling in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette.
We’re back to that “free exercise” thing that necessarily goes hand-in-hand with the “disestablishment” thing, and the “freedom of speech” thing that necessarily implies freedom of conscience.
We are free to reject religion, to follow our own consciences, and we are free not to have to submit to someone else’s religion.
Even the religious right’s.
An earlier version of this entry was posted to What Would JT Do?