Engaged with the World

Tag: freethinker

‘Tis the Season to Talk about Religion – Believe It or Not

I just had an interesting conversation about religion with a guy working at my house.

He overheard my end of a phone call with another secular activist about a church-state violation. When I hung up he asked if those were the kinds of cases I take. He knows I’m a lawyer.

“Tis the season for violations of the separation of church and state,” I said lightly, not sure how much he might want to explore the subject or what his feelings might be on it. I’m wary when people I don’t know well bring up the topic of religion. The conversation could go well or it could get very uncomfortable very fast.

“Church and state ought to be completely separate,” he said, “especially in schools when kids are pretty much forced to go along with whatever the class is doing.”

jefferson-separation-of-church-and-state - no religion


I couldn’t agree more. It’s not fair to non-Christian schoolchildren to be told by their teachers what to believe about Christmas, which they may or may not celebrate for any number of reasons. For that matter, there are Christian children who don’t celebrate Christmas. There are non-Christians who do celebrate Christmas for reasons other than religion. If a child is doing religion “wrong,” the proper place for correction is home or their place of worship, not a public school.

secular christmas - religion comes in different guises this season


One thing led to another, and as the conversation developed he told me he had lots of questions, because the whole “god” thing just didn’t make sense to him. I told him about a certain hissy fit I threw over religion when I was a kid. It has never made sense to me, either.

Then he said that he goes to church, but he doesn’t buy everything the preacher says. Who does? I wonder.

We talked about the notion of a prime mover. I strongly suspect that Aristotle was not the first person to wrestle with the notion of what it was that tipped the first domino and set the whole universe into motion. My response to the prime mover concept is, “Okay, but what made the first mover move? Even St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest philosophers Christendom ever produced, ultimately said that God’s existence had to be taken on faith because there was no proof.

My new friend said he thought it was safer to believe, because what if he’s wrong?

Calvin's wager about Santa. It's the same as Pascal's.


“You’ve just described Pascal’s Wager,” I told him. If his preferred deity is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, why won’t his god know about his doubts? If what he outwardly professed conflicted with what his logical processes and his gut told him, wouldn’t that sort of god-the god our culture is typically familiar with-have a clue?

And furthermore, what if the religion he placed his bet on wasn’t the right one? What if there is some other god that really controls it all? What if there are a lot of gods who control by committee? What if those gods really couldn’t care less what people do – isn’t that the more likely scenario?

Then we talked about using the scientific method to explain things that were only explained in the past by “God did it.” I explained the concept of the God of the Gaps, and how that God keeps getting smaller and smaller with every new discovery and addition to scientific knowledge.


god of the gaps - religion plugs holes


Finally he confided that he didn’t believe in the Abrahamic god, but he would never admit that to his wife. And, ultimately, that’s why he goes to church.

There are so many of us out there, closeted and questioning.

Come out, come out, wherever you are.

Amicable and Neighborly

I’ve been busy lately. Reason in the Rock is fast approaching, and the last minute details are time-consuming. I’m doing some research and reading to aid those involved in various aspects of the West Memphis Three matters, and there is a lot of stuff there. On top of that, my family is in the process of selling the family farm. After 100 years of deeds being swapped among four generations and various family-owned entities, there are title issues enough to make a saint swear. My brother and I are working on the title issues, and we are far from sainted. I’ve even had to reopen the long-closed probated estates of both of my grandparents and one of my great aunts to resolve matters.

And yesterday, taking a well-deserved break to engage in a little church-related activity, which is always good for the soul, I stumbled across a float of the Flying Spaghetti Monster created by the Seattle Atheists.



I want it.

The Arkansas Society of Freethinkers needs one. Can’t you just see it in the annual holiday parade here in Little Rock? We freethinkers can dress in our clerical vestments – that is, full pirate regalia  – and toss packages of Ramen noodles to parade watchers. It’ll be Christmas, Mardi Gras, and soup kitchen all rolled into one. We would be able to touch so many people with his noodly appendages!

And I have nothing else to do but figure out how to build a working model of our amazing deity. Really.

But wait!  What’s this? In my inbox is a missive from the company that manages the condos that lie on the other side of my back fence. Gracious, whatever could they want?

Dear Ms. Orsi:

I obtained your contact information from a mutual friend, David Simmons. I am writing on behalf of the Townhouses-in-the-Park Property Owners Association. I have been asked to contact you in reference to your swimming pool and the manner in which the water is being drained. The POA Board believes that the chemicals in your pool water are killing the ivy and eroding a French drain located below your pool on the TIP property. The POA Board wishes to handle this matter in an amicable and neighborly fashion. Would you please contact me to discuss this issue?

Thank you, in advance, for your cooperation.


Not again. This is, sadly, not my first rodeo with these “amicable and neighborly” people.

I clicked on the attachments.



I swear by the noodly appendages and meatballs of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and by all else that is holy, that these two photos are what I was sent as proof of the evildoing of my swimming pool.

I fumed a bit. I needed to collect my thoughts before I called the email’s author, because I was more than a little irked.  I tend to become extremely sarcastic when I’m annoyed. Sarcasm is not “amicable and neighborly,”  or so I’ve been told. So I called Mom and ranted for about 20 minutes.

When I finally calmed down, I called the contractor who had installed the offending pool in 2009.

“Jimmy,” I said, “you aren’t going to believe this.” I told him what was up. He sighed, and said he’d come take a look.

When I calmed down some more, I called the author of the email. She was out.

A few days later, Jimmy came. He looked. We both peered over my fence onto the hillside between my pool and Townhouses in the Park. He scratched his head. “So, where’s the dead ivy?” he asked. Unable to answer his question, I peered over the fence again. Nope. No dead ivy could be seen.

“What do I do?” I asked him. He shrugged helplessly. He outlined the possibility of draining the pool higher up the hill, still on my property, of course. I asked him for a bid. He left, shaking his head. We both know that the mere existence of my pool bugs the crap out of the Townhouses in the Park Property Owners Association. We’ve been down this road before.

Dad, Summer 2002, on the lake in his boat

My beloved father, whose ashes were spread into the Cache River on our family farm over a decade ago, wrote what our family calls “John Letters.” Sometimes he sent them. Usually, Mom, Susan, Jay or I edited them to remove the most sarcastic and offensive parts. At times, to Dad’s chagrin, we’d edit them into starchless, plain vanilla, politely worded protests that in no way resembled what Dad really and truly wanted to say.

The city of Des Arc was the recipient of at least one unedited John letter a few years before Dad died. The city was not amused. Dad was proud of himself. He was such a clever wordsmith.

I’ve written a John letter to the property manager representing Townhouses in the Park. Oh, I’ve edited it. I’ve refined it. I really, really want to send it. I’m proud of myself. I am such a clever wordsmith.


Dear Ms. Jackson:

The Townhouses in the Park Property Owners Association is fond of complaining about my swimming pool, which apparently exists mostly to annoy them. While I was in the process of building it in 2009, Townhouses in the Park reported me to Little Rock Code Enforcement for building not just one, not even two, but three swimming pools in my back yard. Seriously.

After that, they said that the drainage from the pool was washing out the soil from beneath their asphalt and would cause their parking lot to collapse. Yes, they really said that. To alleviate their concerns that my pool would wash Townhouses in the Park all the way down Cedar Hill to the Allsopp Park tennis courts, I installed a drainage system that diffused the backwashed water over a very large area on my property.

Then, on a Saturday night after a pipe had burst that morning and been repaired, they decided to come over to my house when I was having a dinner party to complain, in front of my arriving guests, that there was too much water in their parking lot. They must really hate thunderstorms.

Next, they claimed that the three year old masonry wall of my pool which faces them, and which they cannot see without coming into my yard beyond the wooden privacy fence that separates my property from theirs– and which even then they could not see since a second retaining wall blocks even my own view – was crumbling and collapsing in decay. It wasn’t.

In their latest complaint, Townhouses in the Park apparently believes that the al Qaeda sleeper cell that is my swimming pool suddenly awoke after one of the hottest, driest summers in memory to unscrupulously assassinate what appears to be a two foot spread of ivy hanging over a wall, presumably just down the hill from my property.

As Townhouses in the Park is aware, the backwash from my pool, which amounts to about a bathtub’s worth every week or so, is eliminated on my property through a perforated pipe about 15-20 feet long into a French drain that is even longer. The diffuse drainage is unlikely in the extreme to have zeroed in on that unsuspecting bit of ivy after four years of peaceful coexistence. From the vantage point of my property, I am unable to discern any dead ivy; I cannot tell where the photo was taken. The plants on my property that are even closer to the point of drainage are alive and healthy. Even the ivy.

But, in the interest of resolving this matter in an amicable and neighborly fashion, I had the contractor who installed the pool and drainage system come to look at it. Unsurprisingly, he said there was no way my pool’s backwashed water was the cause of the dearly departed’s demise. Had my pool water been inclined to murder unsuspecting plants such as that particular patch of English ivy, it would do so from the point of drainage all the way to the wall; it would not have the necessary intelligence or purpose to target a single spot at least ten feet away from the point of drainage, leaving all plants between the drain and the target unmolested. That’s just how terrorist swimming pools and their affiliated suicide bomber drainage systems roll.

The seepage pipe in the wall is similarly unaffected by me backwashing my pool. By the time the water gets from the drain to the wall, it has gone through soil at least ten feet wide, twenty feet in length, and ten feet in depth. There is simply not enough water concentrated in that area at any given time to cause the problem complained of.

Townhouses in the Park should be aware that in the event there ever really is a problem that I don’t already know about (and haven’t promptly taken reasonable steps to address), I may not take them seriously. There is a story about a little boy who cried “wolf.” The Townhouses in the Park Property Owners Association should familiarize themselves with the moral to that story.


Should I?


Oh, hell. I know I shouldn’t. But I really, really want to.


Freethinkers Win Lawsuit and Get Their Seasonal Display

Yesterday in Little Rock, ground was broken on something amazing.

I say it’s amazing, because here in the Bible Belt, there is precious little tolerance for non-Christian points of view. If one isn’t Christian, one is unknowably alien, and to some, one is completely suspect.

Isn’t this a Christian nation? (Well, no, actually this country isn’t a theocracy at all.) Without Christian values, aren’t we likely to devolve into moral depravity? (No. Christians don’t have a monopoly on moral behavior – never have had and never will have.) But we all should accept Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior! (Says who? Jesus? That has all the logic of a parent whose justification is, “Because I said so!”)

“Anne, you’re an atheist.” I hear the condemnation, and I take umbrage. I prefer the term “polyatheist.” There are a lot of gods I don’t believe in. And no doubt, anyone reading this is also a polyatheist. There are lots of gods that have been worshipped over the eons of humanity, and I’d bet my money that not a single reader of this essay believes in very many of them.

Christianity adopted many pagan traditions as it evolved. Celebration of the solstices and equinoxes are among those traditions. Christmas falls within a few days of the winter solstice, as does Hanukkah. Likewise, do the celebrations called Saturnalia, Maruaroa o Takurua, Deuorius Riuri, Amaterasu, Yule, Bodhi Day (also known in Buddhism as Rohatsu), Hogmanay, Soyal, Zagmuk, Beiwe, Shabe-Yalda, Lussi Night, Meán Geimhridh, Brumalia, Lenaea (the ancient Greek Festival of Wild Women), Alban Arthuan, Choimus, Inti Raymi, Maidyarem, Karachun, Makara Sankranti, Ziemassvētki, and Perchta. This list is by no means exhaustive. We will never know the many ways the winter solstice and the days surrounding it were marked by paleo-humans, but they left unwritten records of the fact that the event was noted and celebrated. Places like Stonehenge make drawing this conclusion inescapable.

So what is so groundbreaking in Little Rock?

The fact that a group of non-Christians have been allowed to place a display on the capitol grounds explaining the significance of the winter solstice. Last year the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers asked the Arkansas Secretary of State for permission to erect a display and were refused the opportunity. This year, they again asked permission and again, were denied. So they filed suit through the ACLU.

And WON!

This, in a place where the State Constitution makes discrimination against atheists legal!

You don’t believe me? See Article 19, Section 1 of the Arkansas Constitution:

“No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any court.”

Last February a rational thinking legislator tried to get a resolution passed to pave the way to repealing that section of the Constitution, but, sadly, it went nowhere.

But hope springs eternal. Perhaps even Arkansas will someday be seen as progressive, or at least not medieval.

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