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‘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.

Why I Don’t Want My Country Back

I keep hearing people say, “I want my country back.” I don’t understand why they want to regress rather than progress.

We have within our voting booths, email accounts, and voices the ability to make this country truly great. We should use them to make great things happen.

But, to go back?

I would not want to take my country back to a time when a state religion was mandated. The autodidacts of the Enlightenment gave us a gift when, first in the Virginia Declaration and then in the First Amendment, they mandated that states have to stay out of the religion business. By necessity this meant that religion also has to stay out of state business. The last “established church” (in Connecticut) was done away with in 1813 .

conn church

Congregationalist Church in Enfield, Conn. Remember Jonathan Edwards and his bombastic sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God“?

There are political leaders today who claim they want to take the country back to a time when religion invaded every nook and cranny of political life. They’re asking for witch trials, criminal prosecutions for wearing lace, fines for not going to church, taxes that support one church but not anther.

Whose religion will the state support in that scenario? And whose interpretation of that religion? Will we end up in a bloody civil war over predestination and evangelism? Will atheists be burned at the stake? We have a lot of work to do in this area so that the American public understands what the founding fathers did: a secular state is the only one that can possibly serve all of its citizens. I sure wouldn’t go back to a time when states were able to mandate religion, before the passage of the 14th Amendment in 1864 that finally required all of the states to abide by the Bill of Rights. I don’t want that country back.

Other important Amendments to the Constitution were also passed in those heady days immediately following the Civil War, like the one that abolished slavery and the other one that extended the right to vote to every citizen regardless of race. I wouldn’t want to take my country back to a time when an entire demographic was enslaved and marginalized, disenfranchised and dispossessed of even basic human dignity.

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Credit: Bob Daugherty/Associated Press, 1964

We’ve already lost some of the protections minorities had against the privileged majority with the loss of the Voting Rights Act. The ballot box is still under siege from people who would make it harder for the poor, the young, and the elderly to vote. We have to get more people to the polls on every election day, and we have to pass laws reforming campaign finance so that elections are actually decided on the merits of the candidate’s platform and not on the size of their sponsor’s bank accounts. Who wants to live in a country where elections go to the highest bidder? Not me.

As a woman, I wouldn’t want to take my country back to an era when I would not have  had a voice in politics. That means I wouldn’t go back to a time before the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1919.

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Suffrage parade, New York City, May 6, 1912

I wouldn’t ever want to go back to a time when a woman’s “place” was barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. Shackling women to their homes and children, shaming them for working and for success in other endeavors, removing from them their rights to own property or even have guardianship of their own children does an extreme disservice to half the population. That means I wouldn’t take my country back to the time before World War II, when so many women joined the iconic Rosie the Riveter in the workforce.

apron and satan

Discouraging girls from achieving their dream occupation shortchanges not just them, but our entire society. We can all benefit from the power of a brain enthusiastically focused on doing something worthwhile. If we tell boys they can be firemen or doctors  but tell girls they’ll be someone’s wife, we effectively tell our daughters that they will identify themselves by someone else’s name and someone else’s achievements. We send our girls the message that they aren’t good enough tall by themselves.  If that’s what we would return to, I don’t want that country back.

MRS degree

We hear people say they want to return to the values of the 1950’s, when June Cleaver vacuumed her comfortable home in heels and pearls, when Wally and the Beav could roam the neighborhood without supervision, where Ward wore a suit and held the same white collar job for years without stress. I have news for those people: The Cleavers were fiction. They didn’t exist except on television. Neither did that perfectly well-adjusted, large, blended Brady family in the 1970’s. When we say we want our country back, we say we long for only the good parts of a fictional, idealized era where no bad happened. It doesn’t exist and it never did.

Now is better, but it still isn’t good enough. There aren’t enough women yet in positions of power.  Women are capable business and community leaders. There still aren’t enough female CEOs of major corporations, there aren’t enough women in politics, there aren’t enough women of high rank in the military, there aren’t enough women in STEM fields, and women still don’t have the earning power of men.

We made progress in this country when becoming pregnant didn’t automatically trigger wedding bells at the business end of the proverbial shotgun.  We made progress when not just women but men were given the option of leaving bad marriages without suffering social opprobrium. We still need to improve our laws so that single parents have more support from society, so that they can earn a living wage and still have time to spend with their children. Child care needs to be more affordable and widely available so that single parents as well as married women who want financial independence aren’t prevented from reaching for it because they can’t afford to. Truly, as a society, we can’t afford for them not to.

I wouldn’t go back to a time when Jim Crow was not only the unwritten law of the land, but enshrined in statutes. This means I wouldn’t go back to a time before Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954, or even before Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law.

Let’s not take our country back to a time when a family was prevented from moving next door to us simply because of the color of their skin, or when our a playmates were prevented from going to the same school as we did – again, because of the color of their skin. This means I wouldn’t want take the country back to a time before 1968 when the Fair Housing Act became law. My hometown’s schools were integrated in 1968 – the year I started first grade – and I’m glad it didn’t take still longer.

No, I would not want to take this country back to a time when people I knew and enjoyed as friends were treated like second-class citizens, not considered good enough to drink from the same water fountain as I could or to use the same public restroom as I did. We got rid of those statutes and are still fighting an uphill battle for racial equality and equal opportunity. We still have to deal with privilege and marginalization. It’s better, but it still isn’t good.

We haven’t made enough progress in this department: we are incarcerating practically the entire demographic of black males, forever foreclosing their capacity to contribute to society or even to their families in any meaningful way. Young black men get profiled and executed in the streets. The sentences imposed for minor crimes are not only excessive,m they are applied disproportionately along racial lines. Our prisons are focused on punishment rather than rehabilitation and successful reentry to society. They days of lynchings aren’t really over – they just look different. We have a lot more work to do.

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Image from a 1920 lynching in Texas, via Wikimedia Commons

Our society made progress in my lifetime when women were finally granted the right to defend our bodies against unwanted intruders, be they marital rapists or unwanted pregnancies. We haven’t made nearly enough progress in this area, even though we thought we had won it 40 years ago; a woman’s right to decide how and when her body will be used is under a concerted and coordinated attack from those who would reduce women to incubators.  That means I don’t want to take the country back to a pre-1973 world, where Roe v. Wade didn’t protect my body from involuntary servitude to an organism that might kill me. I was eleven years old when that case was decided. No, I wouldn’t go back, even though summers seemed to last forever back then.

I would never, ever want to go back to a time where education of the young was the province of churches, or that religion was allowed in the classroom. We made excellent progress in this regard – again, within my lifetime – and it is under constant threat from teachers who tell children they aren’t Christian enough (this is a state mandating religion again) or who deny evolution and other proven scientific theories (because their preachers tell them to).

In fact, we as a society don’t do enough to ensure that our population is educated. There is a significant segment of the American population that is anti-intellectual and proud of it. (I’m looking at you, Sarah Palin.) These people not only stymie the efforts of good brains, they threaten our nation’s ability to compete in the world’s markets, our health, and our standard of living. We have a lot more work to do in this area. Until every person in the country has access to affordable higher education, we undermine our growth both intellectually and economically.

And this brings me to pseudoscience. We may not have stereotypical snake oil salesmen on every street corner, but we do have quacks on television and Playboy Playmates (TM), all of whom have large soapboxes from which to sell modern-day snake oil in the form of fad diets, homeopathy, and “nutritional” supplements, and who undermine and misrepresent scientific progress.

Polio has become almost nonexistent in my lifetime. Diphtheria has virtually disappeared during my parents’ lifetimes. Smallpox was eradicated in my lifetime.  I would never want to take my country back to a time before antibiotics, vaccines, and modern surgical techniques. That means I don’t want last year’s country back.

But we need to do more to improve health and welfare. We can’t do it if our teachers won’t teach the theory of evolution and idiots without scientific training claim vaccines cause autism. We also can’t do it if every poorly-tested drug is advertised to the uneducated masses. We need to make more progress in this area.

I’ve now brought us into the present. I definitely don’t want to go back to any of what I’ve described.

Moving forward is the only option I see.

country back

You can get this on a t-shirt. Click the image to order.

How Did You Arrive at Non-Belief?

Sometimes I am asked how I came to be atheist. The short answer is that I was born that way.

No one is born with a religious belief system – our parents and others have to tell us the stories and indoctrinate us with their religion. That’s why there are so many Hindus in India, so many Jews in Israel, so many Muslims in Arabia, and so many Christians in America. We are indoctrinated into the religion of our parents. No Buddhist kid surprises his Christian parents with his full-blown understanding of the sutras as soon as he can talk, just like no Christian preschooler tells his Hindu parents that the only way to heaven is to accept Jesus Christ as their personal lord and savior. We all have to be taught religion.

I think some kids are born skeptical. I think I was, and I see those traits very strongly in my oldest and youngest nephews and in my oldest niece. My youngest niece and middle nephew are plenty smart, as is my son, but they don’t have the attitude of “Nuh-uh, you’ll have to prove that to me!” and the excitement inherent in “That’s so cool! How’d that happen?” that the other three do.

DA Presbyterian Church

Presbyterian Church, Des Arc, Arkansas (Source: Kevin Stewart)

My mom is Presbyterian and my dad was Catholic. There was no Catholic church in Des Arc, Arkansas, where I grew up. The Presbyterian Church had been founded by my mother’s ancestors when they first came to Prairie County in the 1800’s, so naturally, that’s where we were taken as kids. The ceiling was pressed tin, and I cannot begin to guess how many times I counted those decorative squares out of sheer boredom.

In Sunday school, we were taught all the usual stories. One of my earliest memories is of sitting in the Sunday school classroom coloring a picture of Daniel in the lion’s den and listening to the teacher explain that God had closed the mouths of the hungry lions so they wouldn’t eat Daniel. I remember thinking, “Nuh-uh. They just weren’t hungry, or there was some other reason.”

By that age (probably by about 6), I already knew the truth about Santa, and had ruined it for my sister and one of our friends. My sister and our friend Mischelle will say how mean I was – truthfully, I think I was just so delighted and excited to have my suspicions confirmed that I couldn’t wait to tell them. They were about 4 or 5 when I ruined Christmas for them forever, and neither one has ever, ever forgiven me.

When I was a little older, I realized that the weekly sermon was supposed to be based on the Bible readings that were part of each church service. I started opening the Bible and reading the verse along with the minister, then reading the passages that led up to it and beyond it. So many times I wanted to raise my hand and tell the minister that he was wrong – if he had read the verses that came just before or just after, he would realize how off-base he was. He was taking the verse out of context and building a brand new story around it, and assigning it meaning it didn’t have.

Then I started reading other parts of the Bible in church just so I didn’t have to listen to the inane ramblings from the pulpit. I came across Judges 19, and at that point I could not accept that there was anything good about these stories at all. A few years ago, I reinterpreted the atrocities of that chapter in a short story set in the modern era. It won a scary short story contest.

Concordant readings and the hymns were excruciating. Eventually, I decided I wouldn’t say or sing the words I thought were silly or that I didn’t agree with. I refused to say out loud that I was a worthless sinner (I didn’t think I was) or that I wanted divine intervention in anything (because I didn’t think it would happen). Then I realized that the whole thing was vapid and insipid. It was just another Santa Claus story.

Illustration by Dori Hartley

Illustration by Dori Hartley

When I was about 9 or 10, I threw a major hissy fit over church. It was a Sunday morning. We were ready to walk out the door for Sunday school and I had had enough. I remember screaming at my mom, telling her that the whole thing was stupid, that God wasn’t real, that God was really mean and horrible, and that going to church was pointless because praying was stupid and the words we were supposed to repeat every week were stupid and made no sense – hey, I was 9 or 10, so everything I didn’t like was “stupid,” right?

My Catholic dad stepped into the middle of my meltdown and suggested that Mom go ahead to church with my brother and sister. He said that he’d have me watch church on television while they were gone. After I calmed down, he started telling me about the Mover of the First Part. (It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized he was teaching me Aristotelian philosophy and basically regurgitating Thomas Aquinas’s apologetic Summa Theologica.) Of course, my question was, “Who made the Prime Mover, then?” Dad didn’t have an answer, but he said we had to watch church on TV since he had promised Mom.

Oral RobertsHe told me that there was a TV preacher named Oral Roberts who started every broadcast by saying, “Something GOOD is going to happen to you!” That’s who we would watch. Sure enough, he turned on Oral Roberts, and sure enough, those words came out of the preacher’s mouth the very first thing.   As soon as the words were said, Dad switched the channel over to a John Wayne movie.

John Wayne Maureen Ohara

Dad and I spent many Sundays watching John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, and Henry Fonda while mom and my siblings were at church. I developed a great appreciation for Westerns (including the spaghetti variety), and was introduced to all-time favorites like the Cheyenne Social Club and Paint Your Wagon, World War II standards like Mister Roberts and Donovan’s Reef, and straight-up classics like The Quiet Man.

fonda-kelly-stewart-social-club I still had to go to church fairly regularly, but after that I always sat next to my dad, and we always found something to giggle about during the hymns and whisper about during the rest of the service. We made an effort to twist things to the absurd. Having a secret, fun co-conspirator made me feel better about having to go in the first place.

I don’t think Dad was atheist. He may have been agnostic, but I suspect he made Pascal’s Wager, because he always told us to get him a priest if we knew he was dying. Not a Presbyterian minister, even though he eventually joined the church and even became a deacon – he wanted a Catholic priest. As it turned out, my father died very suddenly, and there was no time to get a priest. Atheist me insisted that we call one, though, just to satisfy that need he had – because that’s what he had always said he wanted. It was a matter of respect.

When I was about 12, Mom insisted that I take Catechism classes – part of the training for joining the Presbyterian church, even though I insisted that there was no way I would do that. I dutifully memorized the Bible verses and the doctrinal responses. The Presbyterian Church in Des Arc had a tiny congregation, and I was the only student at that time. I spent more time questioning the sense of the verses and the responses to the doctrinal questions, asking “Why?”, and demanding answers to the unanswerable than anything else. The minister’s answers never satisfied me, mostly because things like “God’s ways are mysterious” and “We aren’t meant to know” are completely unsatisfactory answers to someone whose brain thrives on and revels in knowledge. When I was given an answer that rested on convoluted or circular reasoning, it drove me further away from belief, not closer. I never joined the church.

ASES Green Hall

Green Hall, All Saints Episcopal School, Vicksburg, MS

My sis and I were sent to an Episcopal boarding school for high school. During the course of the curriculum, and especially in our senior year, we had to take a class that entailed reading the Bible and being tested on it. I actually looked forward to having this class, because the priest who taught it, Father John Babcock, was very approachable, friendly, and related well with all of us kids.

Unfortunately, a different priest taught that class my senior year. He was more academic than Fr. Babcock, and had us write long, college-like essays on exams. For the midterm, he asked a question that started, “Why do you think…?” Silly me took the bait. I told him exactly what I thought about whatever the topic was. I got a C, which, if you know anything about perfectionist me, you will understand really upset me. When I went to talk with him about it, he told me that I was wrong, so he couldn’t give me a better grade. I was totally pissed – my opinion was only worth a C because it didn’t match his ridiculous opinion.

fearandtremblingAt Colgate, one of the first classes I took my freshman year was the Philosophy of Religion. Aristotle, Kant, Kierkegaard, Aquinas – this is the class where I read about the Prime Mover and remembered my dad’s explanation from a decade before. None of the explanations that any of the religious apologists offered were satisfactory. The reading selection in that class that hit me the hardest was Kierkegaard’s explanation of the Isaac story in Fear and Trembling. It seemed to me to be the stuff of tortured logic. If religion was the source of morality, then how could Isaac’s sacrifice be morally wrong but religiously right? There was no answer to this except the “leap of faith.” Nope – not only was that answer not good enough, it was ethically reprehensible.

If none of these religious stories and doctrines made sense to me, how could they make sense to other people? WHY did they make sense to other people? I decided to try to find out. I went to different religious services on campus, both Catholic and Protestant. I talked to a friend who went from Colgate to Harvard Divinity School to be a rabbi. (He told me a few years later that the rabbi thing didn’t work out, because anyone who pays attention in Divinity School ends up atheist. He’s a doctor now in Springfield, Massachusetts.) I spoke with a cousin who is a Presbyterian minister. I’ve spoken with friends who have strong faith.

When I ask people why they believe, they tend to get defensive instead of explaining their rationale. My asking them why they believe is not meant to be antagonistic – I really want to know, because to this day I don’t understand why normally rational, compassionate people would buy into this whole faith thing. “You’ve just got to believe,” they tell me. No. No, I do not.

My mother once remarked that because I went to Catholic and Episcopalian services, I must like the ceremonial flavor of the more ritualized  “high church” sects. I wasn’t going to church so I could get religion. I was going to try to figure out what other people got out of it. What I concluded was that the ritual seems to calm and comfort the people who attend these churches. Ritual is comforting. We know what to expect, we know what we are supposed to do. Ritual, like meditation, has a calming effect on the human psyche.

Rituals need a purpose, though, and I have never found purpose in a purely religious ritual. I see the point of the ritual in a wedding. I can see the point of ritual when it comes to memorial or funeral services. I see the point of other rituals that mark life transitions, like the naming of a baby or graduation or the passage to adulthood. I understand why human beings want these rituals to formalize life transitions. It doesn’t mean they are any less real if there is no ritual, but it does recognize the transition publicly, and we all want our major life changes to be recognized by others. Recognizing those life transitions is one of the main reasons I got ordained with the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and filed my credentials with the Pulaski County Clerk. Those rituals need to be recognized regardless of religious persuasion or non-belief.

When I got married, I agreed to a church wedding. Mostly that was because a church wedding was important to my beloved mother-in-law, who has a very strong faith. She knew this was the only wedding either of her children was likely to have, and it needed to be right for her. Skip and I would have been perfectly happy – and just as married – to have a judge say the words and sign the certificate on our front porch, followed, of course, by a kegger for our law school buddies. Instead, we were married in a giant church and had a reception at a country club.

We had our child baptized for the same reason – not because I wanted to do it, but because it was important to his grandparents. We took him to church when he was about 5 or 6 because we thought he needed to have had that experience. In retrospect, that was an exercise we didn’t need to put him through. I enjoyed the young adult Sunday school class that we went to there, though, and a few of those classmates I still call friends.

I’ll never forget the Sunday the minister of that church decided to teach our class. We were reading something attributed to Paul, and I was challenging at least half of what the blessed apostle wrote.

“Good! It’s good to question your faith!” the minister said to me, and the entire room erupted into laughter. My Sunday school classmates all knew I was atheist, but evidently word had not filtered up to the pulpit.

“I’m not questioning my faith,” I answered. “I’m questioning yours.”

So, I never “arrived” at non-belief. Truthfully, I didn’t have to. I never found a reason to leave non-belief in the first place.

Patriotic Atheist American Heritage

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.

Carey Dove

 

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.

Carey Dove

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.

GeorgeMason-painting

George Mason (1725-1792), portrait by John Hesselius (1728-1778)

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.

Scene_at_the_Signing_of_the_Constitution_of_the_United_States

Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, by Howard Chandler Christy (1873-1952). See the three men huddled off to the right, looking on disapprovingly as the Constitution is signed by the other delegates? They are George Mason, Elbridge Gerry, and Edmund Randolph.

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.

BillOfRights-1024x673

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.

Gunston

Diorama of Gunston Hall

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.

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Anne Marbury Hutchinson (1591-1643)

My favorite ancestor is my 11th 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.

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John Cotton (1585-1652)

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.

Boston 1634

Boston was a small town in 1634. Click to embiggen, and note that every single household is listed. Will & Anne Hutchinson and their large extended family stayed with friends and relatives while their own home was being built. The population of the entire Massachusetts Bay Colony and Plymouth Plantations was about 5,000 people. (Map from the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center Collection at the Boston Public Library)

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.

Anne-Hutchinson-preaching howard pyle

Anne Hutchinson Preaching at her House in Boston (Howard Pyle, 1901, from the Library of Congress)

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.

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Anne Hutchinson on Trial (Edward Austin Abbey 1901)

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.

Atheist-A

It is no accident that this red A, the icon of the secular movement, evokes the scarlet letter Hester Prynne was required to wear in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel.

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.)

I don't know who painted this image of Anne and her persecutors. If someone else does, please notify me. I've found it in several places on the Internet,but never with attribution.

One of my favorite quotes from Anne is:
“How did Abraham know that it was God that bid him offer his son, being a breach of the sixth commandment?” Nevemind that, chronologically speaking, Abraham knew nothing about any commandments.

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 10th 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.

richard-scott-signature-on-providence-charter

Richard Scott’s signature on the Providence Compact that chartered the town

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

Statue of Anne Hutchinson and her youngest child, Susannah, at the Massachusetts State House. Susannah was the only survivor of the family’s massacre by natives at their New Netherlands home in what is now Pelham Bay Park, NY.

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 for 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.

600_183814952

Firebrand atheism: an in-home “revival,” with Sam Singleton, Atheist Evangelist, at my house in December 2012

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.

Nathan Warren: Free Man, Confectioner, Minister, Civil Rights Advocate

Student portraying Annie, Nathan Warren’s first wife, at 2013’s Tales of the Crypt at the historic Mount Holly Cemetery in Little Rock

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:

NATHAN WARREN
UNCLE “NASE”
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
SESQUICENTENNIAL 2013

Information for this article was gleaned from two articles by Margaret Smith Ross published in the Arkansas Gazette and in the Historic Arkansas Quarterly, from records compiled by Tom Dillard and stored at the Arkansas Studies Institute’s Butler Center, from Bethel AME Church, and from online resources through the magic of Google. The author wishes to give special thanks to Nathan Warren’s 4th great-granddaughter, Shareese Kondo, for her gracious gift of time and for her family legends about her illustrious ancestor.

Heavenly Pizza Pies Wants Mass Murder of Icky Homofags

Heavenly Pizza Wants to Massacre Gays

So sayeth the sign with a picture of a pepperoni on the pizza. (Leviticus 11:7)

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

  1. They haven’t read the book to see all the contradictions this “inerrant” work contains;
  2. They accept what their preachers tell them is dogma when they need to clear up perceived inconsistencies;
  3. They have read the book, but they have seriously deficient reading comprehension;
  4. They know nothing about the history of the copying and translation of the bible;
  5. They cherry-pick their bible, even though they say they don’t; or
  6. 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!

Gay rights in Leviticus pic

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:

heavenly pizza commentSo…much…fail.

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?

–Kevin 7/3/13

Heavenly Pizza Pies, you and your kind make the baby Jesus cry like you are burning him with your nasty cigarettes.

Stop it.

 

Mike Huckabee Displays Idiotic Christian Arrogance Again

Mike Huckabee was on the Daily Show again last night. He’s hawking his new book, but naturally he didn’t much talk about his book.

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“Why does anybody have to be automatically anything other than what they truly believe?” Huckabee asked Stewart in the first part of the interview (6:14). At that point, he was talking about letting black conservatives be conservative without calling them “pawns,” or worse. A good question, which begs the question put to him in the second segment of the interview: why do Christians who don’t believe what their fundamentalist preachers tell them to believe have to be consigned to the fires of hell?

Yes, the second segment of the interview is what’s really important.

Stewart started the second segment by asking, “When [conservatives] keep demonizing these groups, whether it be single women, black people, illegal immigrants, it makes it impossible to work with them as a collaboration. Why would you collaborate with evil people? And when you convince them that they’re evil, why work with them?”

Unfortunately, this question never got answered. Huckabee denied demonizing these people, and truthfully, he probably has not demonized most of them himself. His network and his party certainly have, though he won’t speak for either of those entities. Now, Huckabee has demonized the natures of gay people, but Stewart did not take him to task for that.

Instead, Stewart segued into an abbreviated version of the despicable two minute commercial Huckabee narrated for the Christian Right just before the election. You know the one.

In it, Huckabee quotes Psalm 127:1 and says that “unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” He then calls certain things “not negotiable:”

  • The right to life from conception to natural death
  • Marriage should be reinforced, not be defined
  • It is an egregious violation of our cherished principle of religious liberty for the government to force the church to buy the kind of insurance that leads to the taking of innocent human life

Against a backdrop of flames, Rev. Huckabee goes on to say that “Your vote will be recorded for eternity.” He asks, “Will you vote the values that will stand the test of fire?”

This commercial is so incredibly offensive on so many levels my stomach still churns with anger to watch it, and the election is over and done with.

Huckabee actually claimed that this commercial did not attempt to send the message that if Christians voted for the Democrats they would go to hell – unless they were biblically illiterate. I really cannot imagine how that wasn’t the message, since I don’t even believe in hell and that’s the clear message I got from it – and I’ve read and studied the Bible extensively. “Oh, no!” exclaims Huckabee. “If they know 1 Corinthians 10, they will know!” Then he claimed that 1 Corinthians 10 was about being tested in the fires of a forge, and coming out stronger or some such.

For the biblically illiterate, let me explain 1 Corinthians 10. There is not one word about forges or fire. It’s all about not worshipping false gods and not participating in idolatry. We all know that since there is only one true god, so there can’t be any other gods, no matter how true their own believers believe them to be, and no matter how false those idolaters believe the one true god to be. Frankly, the arrogance of the “one true god” thing just staggers me, especially when one considers that the adherents of the Abrahamic religions have no better proof of their god than the adherents of any other religion.

But let’s look at 1 Corinthians 10:29, which asks, “Why should my liberty be judged by someone else’s conscience?”

Why, indeed, Reverend Huckabee? Why should my freedom be judged by your conscience? You arrogant twit, I can cherry-pick Bible verses just as well as you can.

I think the Good Reverend Huckabee was actually referring to 1 Corinthians 3:13, which more or less says what Huckabee claimed this commercial meant to say, just without the forge part. Because that’s totally not in there. And the part about judgement day, and therefore hell, definitely is in that particular passage.

Again, this is what pisses me off about Christians. They want to spew their Bible at me, but then I have to correct them – even the supposedly learned ones – because they don’t get it right. If they want to beat me up with their scripture, they should at least know their stupid scripture.

Of course, maybe he really meant 1 Peter 1:7, or 2 Peter 3:7, or some other passage that refers to fire but not hell, even though most of the passages I find pretty much equate testing by fire with the Judgment Day and hell. So Huckabee’s protests that the reference to fire doesn’t also refer to Hell or Judgment hold about as much water as that colander I used to strain my spaghetti last night.

Let’s examine the the three points of that disgusting commercial.

The right to life from conception to natural death

Nowhere in the Bible does any religious authority, real or imagined, claim that life begins at the moment of conception. I’d cite verses where it says so, but there aren’t any.

Let’s face it: The Biblical God is not pro-life. He advocates and permits child murder, infanticide, child abuse, and, yes, abortion.  Fundamentalist Christians rely on such passages as “thou shall not kill” Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17 (one of the commandments), and  If men strive and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no misfortune follow, he shall be surely punished according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.And if any misfortune follow, then thou shalt give life for life,eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” Exodus 21:22-24. Although the Exodus passage seems to be a favorite among the anti-choice crowd, I would point out that the harm mentioned in it is harm to the woman, not to the aborted or miscarried fetus.

God’s favored prophets prayed for abortions. Don’t believe me? Read Hosea 9:11-16. This same favored prophet also advocated ripping the fetuses out of the wombs of pregnant women in Hosea 13:16, something the God-favored King Menahem of the Israelites proudly did in 2 Kings 15:16, too. There’s even a ritual to induce an abortion in a faithless wife in Numbers 5:21 (presumably done instead of stoning her, although when stoning and when abortion is the proper course of action, the Bible doesn’t say).

So God is definitely not pro-life, at least for fetuses. But what about hastening death? Apparently the fundamentalist Christians also don’t like euthanasia, mercy-killing, or assisted suicide, either. They want people to suffer. This is where compassion gets thrown to the wind by these Christians. Suicide is tantamount to murder, in their eyes.

The Bible reports several suicides (Ahithophel; Saul and his armor-bearer; Samson; Zimri, who was king of Israel for only seven days; and Judas Iscariot) and men who want to be stricken dead (Moses, the prophet Elijah, and Jonah – twice) but nowhere in the Bible does it condemn them for that. The Bible also reports mercy killings, without reference to judgment, except in the case of the Amalekite who lied to David about killing Saul. Saul himself was not condemned for asking to die. Abimelech begged his armor-carrying servant to kill him in Judges 9:52-54, because he lost a battle and could not bear the indignity of his inevitable murder at the hands of (gasp!) women. There was no judgment attached to Abimelech’s death.

So, there does not seem to be a problem with euthanasia, either. Huckabee’s first point fails, on both counts.

Marriage should be reinforced, not be defined

This one is so easy it’s almost a no-brainer. I cannot grasp why these wackjob Christians think that the Bible defines marriage as between one man and one woman. Jon Stewart jumped on this pretty fast, pointing out that the biblical definition of marriage is polygamy. Although Huckabee tried to say it isn’t, he cited no biblical authority for his position other than the Adam and Eve story. Lots of biblical marriages came after that one. Furthermore, it’s not real clear that Adam and Eve ever actually tied the knot. They sort of hooked up because of the dearth of others of their same species to choose from, and apparently shacked up, never going that extra step of committing to each other monogamously. They had no other options but bestiality.

So it stands to reason that yes, marriage could stand to be defined. But to say it’s biblical marriage really leaves the door wide open.

Because if you let your servant get married, and he leaves your employment, his wife and children are yours unless the servant agrees to stay and have his ear bored through with an awl. (Exodus 21:6) I’m not clear whether this means the servant’s earlobe gets pierced, or if his eardrum gets pierced. Either way, it’s pretty barbaric. But, that’s one definition of Biblical marriage.

Exodus 21:10 reminds men who take second wives that they can’t neglect the first one. Oops, Mr. Huckabee. Guess there’s a new definition of biblical marriage implied here.

Deuteronomy 22 is a great place to look for definitions of marriage. I like the one where the guy marries the woman and decides he doesn’t like her. If her father can’t then produce bloody sheets proving that she was a virgin at the time of the wedding, well, she gets stoned to death. What a sweet marriage that makes.

One of my favorite definitions of marriage is the rapist and his virgin victim. Yeah, Deuteronomy 22:28-30 is all about that.

Now, Paul is not real keen on marriage at all. Despite the fact that the species will disappear without it, sex is gross, and women are … well, Paul’s misogyny is another issue altogether. Paul thought everyone ought to have a spouse, though, if they really want sex, whether or not he could fathom why they’d want it. My guess is that Paul was so undesirable he never got laid, and therefore had no idea what he was missing.

And that doesn’t count all the various marriages in the Bible that involved multiple wives, concubines, and slaves. Heck, Abraham had a wife (Sarah), his wife’s slave (Hagar), another wife (Keturah), and an unknown number of secondary wives.

Then his grandson Jacob had two sister-wives (Rachel and Leah), and two servants of his wives (Zilpah and Bilhah).

Solomon had 700 wives and 300 secondary wives, in addition to the Queen of Sheba. That’s 1001, for those of you who aren’t good with math.

And the list goes on.

It is an egregious violation of our cherished principle of religious liberty for the government to force the church to buy the kind of insurance that leads to the taking of innocent human life.

Right.  Do I really have to explain this?

Most people in the United States who are lucky enough to have health insurance coverage have it because their employer provides it. If their employer did not provide it, health insurance would be prohibitively expensive. Therefore, people are generally forced to accept whatever health insurance is offered through work, unless they are wealthy enough to afford it on their own – which most people are not.

Limiting your employee’s health insurance options based on your own religious beliefs, whether or not your employee shares your religious beliefs, is totally not forcing your religion on them. (/Sarcasm)

Until there is a single-payer system, or until health insurance is decoupled from employment and made affordable, employers are in a position to unfairly force their religious beliefs on their employees.

It is an egregious violation of our cherished principle of religious liberty for anyone to limit our access to health care based on religious beliefs we do not hold. If the government permits this, the government is complicit in the establishment of religion.

Therefore…

Stewart nailed him on the thinly disguised guilt trip the Huckster attempted to foist on good believing Christians. The commercial was pro-life and homophobic, and it essentially told Christian voters, with the appropriate imagery of their religion of intimidation and threat, that if they were not also pro-life and homophobic, they would burn for all eternity. Sweet message, that.

Among the most disturbing things about these Christians who want to impose their Bible on the rest of us are:

  1. For a number of reasons, foremost among them its bizarre contradictions, we don’t believe their Bible to be reliable, and therefore object to basing our laws on it;
  2. Their Bible contravenes proven science;
  3. We do not agree that some of the crazy shit they think is good is actually, well, good;
  4. As a foundational document, their Bible is inconsistent, violent, bigoted, misogynistic, and homicidal, and none of those things are acceptable in modern society;
  5. If they cherry-pick only the “good parts” of the Bible to apply to modern life, we have to question why, if so much of it is dispensable, they consider it to be a legitimate authority;
  6. Why they think it is acceptable to force their dogma on people who do not accept their dogma.

Dissenting minorities and minorities representing different demographics will always need protection from the will of the majority. And right now the majority seem to be batshit Christians, who want to impose their will on the rest of us.

 

Because Raped Women are a Series of Tubes…

One of the pleasures of living in a world where anti-intellectualism rules a major political party is that it’s fairly easy to spot the political leanings of the shockingly ignorant.

Image courtesy of Matt Katzenberger (source)

These are the people who consistently vote against their best interest, and are completely immune to the cognitive dissonance that rational people encounter when they attempt to hold diametrically opposed opinions in the same brain.  They want to repeal Obamacare because socialized medicine is bad, while protecting Medicare because socialized medicine is good. They want the incredibly rich to get ever larger tax breaks, even though the very rich pay proportionately less than they – the working and middle class – do. They actually believe the obvious bullshit of the ultra-rich Romneys and Koch brothers of the world, who promise they would be creating oodles of jobs (Really!) if not for the unduly burdensome 13% or less that they now pay in taxes. They are the same people who are completely in favor of the death penalty, but anti-abortion no matter what the reason.

They support defunding government grants for poor students, since only snobs want their kids to be educated. The budget proposal put forth by Paul Ryan, the new star of Mitt Romney’s presidential ticket, would not only reduce the size of Pell grants and even eliminate access to them for tens of thousands of students, but would have cut the Head Start program to ribbons, too. Education? Our kids don’t need no stinkin’ education! We can compete with the educated workforce of countries like Sweden, Japan and Germany without all that schooling. It doesn’t take education to know stuff.

Just ask U.S. Senate candidate, and current U.S. Congressman, Todd Akin (R-Mo).  He knows stuff. Akin is the guy who has been all over the news in the last couple of days because of his cocksure knowledge that “legitimate rape” doesn’t result in pregnancy. He knows this because “doctors” told him. In his interview with Charles Jaco on a St. Louis television broadcast, Akin said, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole [conception] thing down.” (If you want the full context, watch the full interview. The abortion comments are in the second video, and start at 1:54.)

There are about 32,000 women in America who are now relieved to know that the rape by which they were impregnated last year wasn’t “legitimate” rape. They can now conclude that despite the non-consensual nature of that sexual congress, they actually enjoyed it. And that’s good news for this year’s approximately 32,000 impregnated victims of non-consensual sex, too. Thank you, Congressman Akin, for your words of comfort. All those women can stop going to therapy now that they realize that they weren’t really traumatized at all. That’ll save a bundle on their health care costs, seeing as how your party would prefer not to insure these women’s health, either.

To be fair, Akin did say that he misspoke. He meant to say “forcible” rape, not “legitimate” rape.  Because non-consensual sex with a drunk college student isn’t really rape, whether or not she’s cognizant of what’s happening. And it’s totally not rape if the parties are married, even if they happen to be going through a divorce. It’s not rape if one partner is under the age of consent, because children who have sex know what they are getting into and are making an intelligent, informed decisions about it. Especially children who have had abstinence-only sex education.

A woman's body can totally tell if this is rape or not.

Roulette determines the lucky winner. (Source)

 

Life starts at conception, according to Akin. (It’s right there on his website, so it must be true.) Or maybe it starts two weeks before conception, like Arizona recently legislated, which means that women are in a perpetual state of “pregnancy” because conception could happen two weeks in the future at any time. Akin must be right, because he knows this stuff. He sits on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, and pregnancy is sciencey, right?

Oops. No. I’m wrong. It’s God stuff, not science stuff. Totally my bad. Sorry.

 

Where better to look than to God for guidance on, well, everything? Now, God doesn’t speak out loud, or even very clearly, but fortunately he wrote his completely unclear directions down for us. Reading the Bible for instruction on life is tantamount to reading the instructions from Ikea, except that once you’re done with the Ikea instructions you have a piece of furniture that either wobbles, or doesn’t.  Reading the Bible is tougher, so fortunately we have crowds of really, really smart preachers to tell us exactly what God actually meant when he dictated those mystifying instructions. Now, a disturbing number of those really, really smart preachers, especially the fundamentalist ones, haven’t been to college, much less seminary, but they can read Elizabethan English and understand it just fine because they’re touched by God. Yes, we’re back to the refrain of “We don’t need no education.” Thank you, Pink Floyd.

Yes, I said they are touched. Touched in their various God Spots.  (image source)

The Bible is crystal clear about when life begins, if by “crystal” you mean “obsidian.” If you don’t believe me, check out the Open Bible site, which has all the references its author deems relevant gathered carefully in one place. You can even vote for which verses make things clearest for you. Of the 40 or so verses excerpted from various English translations of the Bible (we know God meant the Bible to be in English), I found two that were absolutely on point and helpful. Oddly, they were the same verse, just in slightly different translation: Exodus 21:22-24, which says that if a bunch of men get together and hit a pregnant woman so that she has a miscarriage, then they either get fined as the husband sees fit, or they get punished to the same extent that the woman was injured. Go ahead and click the link on that verse. Read it in multiple English translations. If you know other languages, read the translation in other languages, too. Now you tell me which one is the best translation, given your expertise in ancient Hebrew.

Now, just for funsies, look at the rest of Chapter 21 of Exodus. It’s all relevant and pertinent to life today, isn’t it? So it makes perfect sense to use it as our go-by.

The homepage of Akin’s campaign website opens with a religious statement that puts the cart before the horse:

First, I want to give thanks to God our Creator who has blessed this campaign, heard your prayers, and answered them with victory. Through the months we have seen frequent instances of His blessing and are reminded that with Him all things are possible!

Evidently he credits prayer and divine intervention with his success in the Republican primary rather than the hard work of his supporters. I suppose that makes sense, seeing as how his list of endorsers lean heavily toward leaders of conservative Christian religious institutions. (Surely there’s no impermissible politicking going on in the churches those endorsers represent. Surely. Because that would jeopardize the tax-exempt status of those churches.)

This situation with Rep. Akin demonstrates exactly why I have a huge problem with politicians using an inconsistently translated collection of  Bronze Age “wisdom” to guide modern government policy. This situation, among others, is why I advocate, agitate, and get politically active – not to mention write passionate blog posts – when elected officials decide it’s okay to blur the lines between church and state. It’s also why I get cheesed off when people want to base their lives on a book of superstitious tales and ancient customs we no longer observe.

When we allow our leaders to cherry-pick verses of this collection of ancient manuscripts, we set ourselves up to go back to that time. Me, I’d rather live in a world of universal health care than a world of leper colonies and plagues. And if that makes me a socialist, then I am a proud socialist.

Furthermore, when a page of platitudes masquerades as “clearly the Bible says life starts at conception,” then I think it’s way beyond time our elementary schools taught critical thinking and logic to children – because if their parents buy the crap on that page as “proof” of anything, they won’t teach their kids to think at home or anywhere else.

Apparently what makes a human different from other living creatures is that we have a soul. How religious people can tell whether we have a soul, and how they know animals do not, remains an insurmountable mystery. Science cannot say when the soul comes into existence, since there is no evidence that such a thing as a “soul” even exists. But ignoramuses like Todd Akin want to legislate matters pertaining to women’s health based on their Bronze Age “wisdom” without any proof whatsoever. If we permit this to happen, we will get the same draconian laws as places like the Dominican Republic, where pregnant teenagers are denied chemotherapy because the life-saving treatment might harm a 13-week old fetus. Yeah, that happened.

The problem is ignorance,  lack of education, and reliance on “facts” gleaned from questionable translations of Bronze Age texts.

The problem is that people with no more background in science that this Akin clown sit on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Presumably he would know something about science if he’s sitting on a major legislative committee devoted to it. Of course, his Bible-based philosophies are contravened by science, so he cannot possibly wrap his head around them. Like that other ignorant politician who attempted to speak about a subject he knew nothing about, Akin apparently believes that women are a series of tubes, tubes that can easily be rerouted just by the nature of forced intercourse, to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

What complete jackassery.

 

 

Yoruba Revenge

Ghost Ship under the sea of the Bermuda Triangle

Aboard a Portuguese Caravel
In the North Atlantic, Somewhere
Between Bermuda and Hispaniola
July, 1516

No light entered the hold except when four of the white men brought wooden buckets of thin, mealy mush. Three of them carried two buckets apiece; the fourth carried a whip and a pistol. The shaft of light stabbed the eyes of the frightened men and women of the Yoruba huddled below. Only if the door was left open a crack, enough for the white men to see, and only if it were left open long enough, did Abeni’s eyes adjust enough to make out the shapes of the others around her.

By the second week aboard, the manacle on the left ankle of the young teenage girl next to Abeni had cut into her flesh, and within three more days it had become infected. Monifa’s complaints of terrible itching told Abeni that the wound was festering. After the first week, Monifa cried that her leg throbbed constantly. She begged Abeni to heal her. In the dim light at feeding time, Abeni saw that the maggots were at work. If they could keep the wound clear of the dead tissue, gangrene might not set in. But soon Abeni knew that the infection had entered the girl’s blood before the maggots had done their work. The child shivered with her fever, moaning as the manacle moved against tender, grossly swollen flesh.

Abeni did not have her fetishes, but she chanted almost constantly, beseeching the gods to return them home. She also chanted and prayed for the child’s ankle to heal. She could tell that the girl was not convinced that Abeni had been initiated as a Queen Mother; she knew she appeared much too young for the rites. The elders chose her because she knew the lore and had found frequent favor with the gods. Nevertheless, she wondered if the child’s increasing infection was due to the honor being given her prematurely.

When the sailors came into the hold with their buckets of slop, Abeni leaned over to the girl, her large body already much smaller than three weeks earlier when they had been herded into the hold of the caravel. “Wake, child. Food.”

Abeni helped the girl into a sitting position, moving her left leg carefully, stopping when Monifa gasped in pain. The men gave each person a bowl of the watery mush, waited for them to consume it, the took back the bowl for the next serving for the next person. Monifa collapsed woozily against Abeni when the reek of the foreign men came close. The sailor offered the bowl and Monifa took it weakly and brought it to her lips. Abeni silently urged the girl had to swallow this meal. Nothing else would be given until the next day. She saw the child take the vile mush into her mouth, but she only held it there. Swallow, Abeni willed the girl silently. Swallow!

With an impatient snarl, the man holding the bucket struck the side of the child’s face. Mush went up her nose and the edges of the wooden bowl bit painfully into her cheeks. Helpless to control it any longer, the girl vomited yellow bile, spewing into the bowl, onto the legs of the man, and onto her own naked skin.

“Bah!” Disgusted, the crewman slapped the bowl away from her and dipped it into the bucket. He offered it to Abeni. Abeni did not reach for it. The sailor thrust the bowl at the woman again, but again Abeni ignored it. She turned instead to the sick girl next to her and resumed chanting in a soft sing-song.

Shrugging, the sailor offered the bowl to Bambidele, the man chained next to Abeni. Bambidele also refused the vomit-tainted mush. The sailor thrust it toward him again, but the man turned his head.

With a roar of Portuguese fury, the sailor stomped back to the ladder and out of the hold. His companions laughed, and continued serving the other captives. No other bowls were offered to the sick girl, Abeni, or Bambidele.

In the dark again, Abeni continued chanting until Monifa fell into a restless, fevered sleep. The Yoruba shaman rocked in place, murmuring under her breath.

“Curse them, and I will see that they cannot deliver us,” Bambidele murmured.

At first, Abeni was not certain what she had heard. “Curse them?”

“You are Queen Mother. You are familiar with Voudon?”

“It is forbidden. Voudon is not Yoruba.”

“But you know how to use it.” He said it quietly, firmly. He did not ask; he stated it as a fact.

“Yes,” said Abeni after a few moments.

“I shall take them. Give me three days.”

He could not have seen her nod in the pitch blackness, but she knew he understood her silent assent.

The next day Monifa’s fever was worse. She lay shivering, incoherent. Abeni could tell that the girl’s infection had poisoned her system; without healing herbs and a healing ritual, she would be lost, if she were not too far gone already. Abeni also knew that Bambidele had worked at his manacle all night, and that he was almost free of it. He, too, had lost flesh and no small amount of blood in his effort to free himself.

When the Portugese sailors came to distribute the daily meal, Bambidele hid his manacled foot. The light was dim enough to prevent the sailors from seeing the bloodstains on the wooden planking of the hold, but he did not risk them seeing that he was working to free himself.

They did not bother to feed Monifa. Instead, they called for another of their companions, who examined her. They conferred in their strange language, shrugged, and left.

“She needs healing!” Abeni hissed in frustration to Bambidele.

“She will not need healing for long,” he murmured back.

It took Bambidele four days. He freed himself the second day, but spent the rest of that day and the next freeing the other captives, whispering to them his plan. Abeni was relieved when the distribution of food on the third day went without incident. Bambidele refused to release the fevered teenage girl from her manacle, though. “She lies where they can see her, and they will know if she is freed,” he explained.

The fourth day’s distribution of mush also went without incident. Monifa was unconscious, and Abeni could tell from her breathing that she would die soon. The girl’s entire leg was swollen and blistered, and the swelling had begun to move into her groin and hips. From experience, Abeni knew that once it reached her torso, the girl’s suffering would end.

Hours passed. The noises above them stilled except for occasional footsteps and even less frequent calls among the sailors. It was time.

Bambidele rose, and in the darkness whispered for the others to take the irons that had held them. Some of the captives had rubbed the edges of the irons against other irons, sharpening them for better use as weapons. Bambidele gathered them around him. First he listened silently at the door for several moments, then he opened it.

Moonlight had never shone so brightly.

Abeni remained in the hold with Monifa and with the other ill captives while the healthiest of the Yoruba men and women did their work. Bambidele returned for her in less time than she expected. He freed Monifa at last, and carrying her small body in his arms he led Abeni out onto the deck.

The night was impossibly bright. The ship’s crew, about 40 men, had been stripped as naked as the Yoruba captives. Several had obvious broken bones; even more had bleeding gashes. Abeni stared at them coldly, seeing the stark fear that had replaced their cruelty.

None of the captives spoke the language of the sailors. Bambidele placed the dying girl gently on the deck. Behind Abeni the other ill and injured captives straggled from the hold to stand in a ring behind her and Bambidele.

Bambidele turned to Abeni. “Curse them,” he said.

Abeni had prepared herself for this moment. She raised her arms skyward and began a singsong chant. The Yoruba around her murmured uncertainly as they realized the words she sang were not Yoruban, but from the darker Voudon practice. Bambidele stood by silently as Abeni’s voice rose and fell in the night. Several of the Portuguese began moaning. Good, thought Abeni as she continued the ritual chant. They should be afraid.

Her first chant ended and Abeni turned to Bambidele. He handed her a wickedly curved long knife. Ritually, she cut herself on both wrists, the blood flowing freely down to cover the hilt. She approached the captain of the Portuguese. She cut his face on either cheek, then once across the width of his forehead. Several of the sailors sobbed aloud now.

Abeni caught the captain’s blood on the blade of the knife, then allowed it to drip into the mouth of the dying girl lying on the deck.

Several of the men propelled the four who had fed them every day to the front of the huddled group of sailors. Abeni had them face their companions across the body of the dying child, and she ritually carved each of their faces the same as the captain’s, again allowing their blood to feed the unconscious girl.

She began chanting again, this time swaying to her own music, her own blood dripping over the length of Monifa’s body. She whirled, and the captain’s throat bloomed red, his eyes wide, as he pitched forward. A Yoruban man caught his lifeless body before it fell onto Monifa, then tossed the corpse aside. One of the remaining four men lost control of his bowels and a second fell senseless to the deck. Contemptuously, Abeni slit their throats with two deft twists of her bloody wrists. She turned her attention to the two who remained.

One fell to his knees, apparently praying to whatever ineffectual gods he might have worshipped. Still chanting, Abeni dispatched him and moved to the fourth man. Her chanting increased in tempo and her pitch rose. She danced in front of him, not caring whether he could see her through the flood of blood washing into his eyes from his forehead.

A wind rose. Had she looked up, Abeni would have seen clouds obscuring the stars at a speed that defied nature. She was focused on her task and spared no time for the effects of the evil she called to this sea with the forbidden rite of Voudon. She felt the crackle of electricity in the air and knew that the gods answered her call. Her curse would be sanctioned by them.

At her direction, Bembidele again lifted the dying child into his arms. He followed Abeni among the mass of terrified sailors as she forced each to touch the girl’s eyes and mouth, and as she slashed each face in triple cuts, feeding their blood to the unconscious child. Those who resisted her received a fourth slash, across their throats, and were tossed aside. So did those who fainted or befouled themselves. Half the sailors remained.

The strength of the wind forced a few huge raindrops to slap against the faces of the Portuguese sailors. In the distance thunder and lightning clamored for attention. Satisfied with the attention of the gods, Abeni prepared for the last of the ritual. Her severed arteries still pumped blood over the hilt of the long knife and she felt herself weakening from her loss. Undaunted, her chanting grew stronger, but now she seated herself on the deck facing the remaining Portuguese. Bambidele lay Monifa’s body before her.

Abeni dreaded what she would have to do next. Steeling herself without losing the rhythm of her song, she raised the knife high above her head. Now arterial blood streamed the length of her arms, dripping onto her breasts, belly, and crossed legs.

With a final cry, she plunged the knife downward, striking Monifa’s thin chest almost exactly in the center. As the iron blade stopped the child’s heart, lightning struck a tall mast of the ship and thunder shook all of the people aboard to the core.

Silence.

Abeni no longer chanted. The curse was in place, and the gods would decide fitting punishment.

One of the sailors cried out, pointing to the tall mast. The crow’s nest, in flames, crashed to the deck. More of the white men cried out. Three started for the flames but a gesture from Bambidele sent six Yoruba to stop them. “The gods have decreed it,” Bambidele said.

The wind grew to gale force, fanning the flames. Rain fell only in huge, hesitant drops, flung sideways. The sails on the ship would not be furled before the fury of this storm.

The deck burned through, and the flames fell into the hold where the Yoruba had been kept. With another gesture from Bambidele, the Yoruba men tossed the corpses of the dead sailors into the inferno below.

Then the Yoruba began sacrificing the living sailors as well.

The fire burned on below deck, but the rain finally came and extinguished the fire above. The ship slid lower and lower in the sea, until the seawater drowned the last spark of the fire.

Abeni looked at her fellow freed captives. She felt light-headed, but heard the gods clearly as they spoke to her. At their request, she instructed the Yoruba to enter the water with their legs together. The first to obey her cried out in surprise, then flipped over the side, swimming in delight in the newly becalmed sea.

Smiles and laughter from the sea prompted the others over the side in the same way. Soon nearly two hundred Yoruba swam, dove, and played in the waves delighting in their new abilities. Only Abeni and Bambidele remained aboard with Monifa’s body.

“We, too, shall join them.” Abeni told Bambidele.

“And the child?”

“The child was sacrificed to give us a new life.”

“Will she become like the rest?”

“No. The gods have decreed that she shall steer the ship beneath the waves.”

“Why?”

Abeni looked up. The sails still held the wind, despite the water sloshing gently over the deck. “The ship will continue to sail,” she said. “Its curse will not die.”

Bambidele was silent. Finally, he asked, “And who will encounter the curse? We shall live in the sea, giving birth to new generations of Yoruba with fish tails and gills. We are blessed by the gods, not cursed.”

Abeni nodded toward the charred hole in the deck, where seawater was beginning to find its way above the cinders. “They are cursed forever,” she said. “They, and their kind, and their kin.” Where they encounter this ship, steered by Monifa of the Yoruba, they will feel the wrath of the curse, and will share the fate of those men.”

Bambidele nodded. “But if the ship is sailing the bottom of the sea, how will anyone encounter it?”

“They will encounter it from above. When a ship casts its shadow on Monifa’s ship, Monifa will call it under the waves, just like this one is being called.”

Water nearly surrounded them on the deck. “It is our time,” Abeni said. “I am weak, and will need help.”

Bambidele stood, then stooped to pull her upright. She leaned heavily against him. He helped her to the edge of the water, then lowered her carefully over the side. He felt vitality return to her, and to confirm it she lifted her face and smiled.

“Now you,” she said as she swam a few feet away from the ship.

He carefully kept his legs together as he slid over the side. Then with a sudden laugh he flipped into the water, displaying his flukes to the disappearing stars and the lightening sky.

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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