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American Atheists Essential Reading List Enjoy the introductory information provided in these books, which are of topics of interests to Atheists. These titles represent only a fraction of the books available from American Atheist Press, yet collectively they provide a broad overview of Atheist thought. ion

Stock #

Price

Pages Book Style STOCK# PRICE Atheism Advanced: Further Thoughts of a Free Thinker by David Eller 16010 $22.00 An anthropologist advances Atheists and Atheism beyond belief!

PAGES 490

STYLE Paperback

Christianity before Christ by John G. Jackson Christian doctrines are traced to their origins in older religions. The Case Against Religion by Albert Ellis A psychotherapist’s view of the harmful aspects of religious belief.

5200

$14.00

237

Paperback

5096

$6.00

57

Stapled

Living in the Light by Anne R. Stone Subtitled “Freeing Your Child from the Dark Ages” This book serves as a manual for Atheist parents.

5588

$12.00

157

Paperback

Our Constitution: The Way It Was by Madalyn O’Hair American Atheist Radio Series episodes about the myth that our founding fathers created a Christian nation. What on Earth is an Atheist! by Madalyn O’Hair American Atheist Radio Series episodes on various topics of Atheist philosophy and history.

5400

$6.00

70

Stapled

5412

$18.00

288

Paperback

The Bible Handbook by G. W. Foote, W. P. Ball, et al. A compilation of biblical absurdities, contradictions, atrocities, immoralities and obscenities.

5008

$17.00

372

Paperback

An Atheist Epic by Madalyn O’Hair The personal story of the battle to end mandatory prayer and bible recitation in schools in the United States.

5376

$18.00

302

Paperback

65 Press Interviews by Robert G. Ingersoll Ingersoll’s 19th-century newspaper interviews as a Freethinker and opponent of superstition.

5589

$15.00

262

Paperback

An Atheist Looks at Women & Religion by Madalyn O’Hair Why attempts to reconcile religion with civil rights for women are self-defeating.

5419

$10.00

42

Paperback

The Jesus the Jews Never Knew by Frank R. Zindler A search of ancient Jewish literature yields no evidence for the existence of any historical Jesus. The Great Infidels by Robert G. Ingersoll How nonbelievers and Atheists have contributed to civilization and enriched our lives.

7026

$20.00

544

Paperback

5197

$7.00

80

Paperback

The Myth of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus by René Salm Jesus couldn’t have come from Nazareth because no one was living there at the time.

16014

$20.00

401

Paperback

Illustrated Stories From The Bible by Paul Farrell You can bet this book won’t ever be used In Sunday Schools!

16000

$16.00

172

Paperback

Jesus is Dead by Robert M. Price Not only is there no reason to believe Jesus rose from the dead, there is no reason to think he ever lived or died at all!

16005

$18.00

291

Paperback

Please see the order form enclosed with this magazine for member discounts and shipping details, or consult www.atheists.org.

Sept/Oct 2009

Vol 47, No.7

ISSN 0516-9623 (Print) ISSN 1935-8369 (Online) AMERICAN ATHEIST PRESS Managing Editor Frank R. Zindler editor@atheists.org AMERICAN ATHEIST ‘A Journal of Atheist News and Thought’ General Editor Bill Hampl editor@americanatheist.org

American Atheist

The Lighter Side of Atheism Interview with an Atheist comedian.

Design & Layout Editor David Smalley dsmalley@atheists.org

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Cover Design David Smalley Cover Photo Kiny McCarrick Published monthly (except June & December) by American Atheists Inc. Mailing Address: P.O. Box 158 Cranford, NJ 07016 908.276.7300 P 908.276.7402 F www.atheists.org

Photo: Kiny McCarrick

also in this edition... 6

In Love with the Preacher

8 12

Book Review: The Holy Bible

American Atheist is indexed in the Alternative Press Index.

14

Us vs. Them

American Atheist Magazine is given free of cost to members of American Atheists as an incident of their membership.

16

Book Review: Jesus Is Dead

18 21

How to Win Friends & Influence People to Aheism

24

Dangers of Tribalism & Pulp Christianity

30

Book Review: Snapshots Behind the Façade

32

Religion 101: Exam Pt. 2

34

Oh Ye of Little Faith

©2009 American Atheists Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission is prohibited.

Subscription fees for one year of American Atheist: Print version only: $45 for 1 subscription and $30 for each additional gift subscription Online version only: $35 Sign up at www.atheists.org/aam Print & online: $55 Discounts for multiple-year subscriptions: 10% for two years 20% for three or more years Additional postage fees for foreign addresses: Canada & Mexico: add $15/year All other countries: add $35/year Discount for libraries and institutions: 50% on all magazine subscriptions and book purchases

Preachers Who See the Sham

Suffer the Little Children

State Directors MILITARY DIRECTOR Kathleen Johnson 411 E. Hwy 190 Ste. 105 PMB66 Copperas Cove, TX 76522 (318) 542-1019 kjohnson@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/mil

CONNECTICUT STATE DIRECTOR Dennis Paul Himes P.O. Box 9203 Bolton, CT 06043 (860) 643-2919 dphimes@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/ct/

MISSOURI STATE DIRECTOR Greg Lammers P.O. Box 1352 Columbia, MO 65205 (573) 289-7633 glammers@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/mo/

ALABAMA STATE DIRECTOR Blair Scott P.O. Box 41 Ryland, AL 35767-2000 (256) 701-6265 bscott@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/al/

FLORIDA STATE DIRECTOR Greg McDowell P.O. Box 680741 Orlando, FL 32868-0741 (352) 217-3470 gmcdowell@atheists.org Ken Loukinen (So. FL Reg. Dir.) 7972 Pines Blvd., #246743 Pembroke Pines, FL 33024 (954) 381-5240 kloukinen@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/fl/

NEW JERSEY STATE DIRECTOR David Silverman 1308 Centennial Ave., Box 101 Piscataway, NJ 08854 (732) 648-9333 dsilverman@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/nj/

ALASKA STATE DIRECTOR Clyde Baxley 3713 Deborah Ln. Anchorage, AK 99504 (907) 333-6499 cbaxley@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/ak/ ARIZONA STATE DIRECTOR [NEW] Don Lacey P.O. Box 1161 Tucson, AZ 85641-1161 (520) 370-8420 azatheist@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/az/ CALIFORNIA STATE DIRECTOR Michael Doss P.O. Box 10541 Santa Ana, CA 92711 (714) 478-8457 mdoss@atheists.org Mark W. Thomas (Asst. Dir.) 472 Lotus Lane Mountain View, CA 94043-4533 (650) 969-5314 mthomas@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/ca/

IDAHO STATE DIRECTOR Susan Harrington P.O. Box 204 Boise, ID 83701-0204 (208) 392-9981 sharrington@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/id/ KENTUCKY STATE DIRECTOR Edwin Kagin P.O. Box 48 Union, KY 41091 (859) 384-7000 ekagin@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/ky/ MICHIGAN STATE DIRECTOR Arlene-Marie amarie@atheists.org George Shiffer (Asst. Dir.) gshiffer@atheists.org Both can be reached at: P.O. Box 0025 Allen Park, MI 48101-9998 (313) 938-5960 http://www.atheists.org/mi/

NORTH CAROLINA STATE DIRECTOR Wayne Aiken P.O. Box 30904 Raleigh, NC 27622 (919) 602-8529 waiken@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/nc/ OHIO STATE DIRECTOR Michael Allen PMB289 1933 E. Dublin-Granville Rd Columbus, OH 43229 (614) 678-6470 mallen@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/oh OKLAHOMA STATE DIRECTOR Ron Pittser P.O. Box 2174 Oklahoma City, OK 73101-2174 (405) 205-8447 rpittser@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/ok/

TEXAS STATE DIRECTOR Joe Zamecki (512) 462-0572 jzamecki@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/tx/ Dick Hogan (TX Reg. Dir., Dallas/Ft. Worth) dhogan@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/dfw/ UTAH STATE DIRECTOR Rich Andrews P.O. Box 165103 Salt Lake City, UT 84116-5103 (801) 718-7930 randrews@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/ut/ VIRGINIA STATE DIRECTOR Rick Wingrove P.O. Box 774 Leesburg, VA 20178 (703) 433-2464 rwingrove@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/va/ WASHINGTON STATE DIRECTOR Wendy Britton 12819 SE 38th St., Suite 485 Bellevue, WA 98006 (425) 269-9108 wbritton@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/wa/ WEST VIRGINIA STATE DIRECTOR Charles Pique P.O. Box 7444 Charleston, WV 25356-0444 (304) 776-5377 cpique@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/wv/

Contacting State Directors Our directors are not provided with contact information for members in their area. If you’re interested in working with your Director on activism, please use the listing on this page to contact them. They would love to hear from you! If you live in a state or area where there is no director, you have been a member for one year or more, and you’re interested in a Director position, please contact: David Kong, Director of State and Regional Operations dksf@atheists.org

www.atheists.org 4

American Atheist - September/October 2009

Atheist Activism

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iving near the famous El Camino Real of California, I observed that some fundamentalist Christian group or individual had illegally posted three professionally made signs on three different telephone poles along the welltraveled road. They were there for about a week, much to my irritation. I figured that if these signs, praising Jesus as the truth, the life, and the way, were allowed to remain, that would give me an opportunity also. I designed a similar-sized sign with a contrary message, promoting Atheism as the way toward the truth, backed by evidence. I had the signs professionally made and posted them directly underneath the fundamentalist signs. Driving back to the sites of the three signs about two hours later, I noticed that all six signs had been removed. Well, at least I got rid of the annoying fundamentalist signs. – Don Havis

September/October 2009 - American Atheist

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In

Love with the Patrick Bens

Preacher I

n the 1740s, the Wesley brothers, both of them prominent  preachers, attracted many young women. Falling in love with the brothers, several young women

bestowed much of their wealth and carnal lust on them. It is said that in these forsaken times, the women led dull lives. For example, this weaver’s daughter, Elizabeth Johnson, admitted that when she saw how much good others were getting from their sermons, (and the hanky panky that followed) she didn’t want to be left out. Marriage was a violent curse to most women. Their entire life was spent in pregnancies, drudgeries, domestic abuse, and deprivation of education. In their mind, the gospels meant an escape. Women saw the gospels as a reality in another time and place, where they wanted to travel to like through a mirror. The mysticism of knowing Jesus became an obsession that drove away the pain of bearing child after child and the despair of seeing one child live and the next one die. Meeting Jesus became a goal. A voyage. A shift. A lift to happiness. Women readied themselves entirely, mentally and physically, to meet Jesus at any cost. One Martha Barham is said to have been ready with “spirit, flesh, and bone” for him, and wanted him, “for better, for worse, for richer, for

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American Atheist - September/October 2009

poorer, in sickness and health, till death shall convey me into his dear arms and bosom.” These emotional and sexual desires were laid at the feet of their preachers; the Wesley brothers made known in the community that they (both) represented Jesus on earth. “She has longed for my coming as a child for the breast,” preached Charles Wesley. His diary is full of  innuendoes. Double entendres crafted from the Scriptures were hurled from the pulpit at the congregation in a measured jab to impose on the weaker sex, much what we still hear in Polygamist churches in northern America in the 21st Century. The fact that women devote more time in church with

the preacher than at home with the family is a case study

Angela Coutts, Dickens’s benefactor in all this and heir

for historians and writers alike. In English literature, the

to the Coutts Bank—then and now the bank to the Royals—

attraction of the lonely woman to the vicar is prevalent.

was the richest woman in London during the industrial

In his first novel, The Pickwick Papers, Charles Dickens

revolution and a close friend of Queen Victoria. She wanted

repeatedly ridicules this. During his entire career he skillfully

to give the former prisoners (all girls 18-25) who had had

mocks the preachers who live off gullible women. When the

miserable lives and were almost all illiterate—some of whom

evangelical Angela Coutts partnered with Dickens to help

had slept under her windows in Piccadilly—a certain degree

rescue young ‘fallen’ women from the streets of London in

of literary and musical education and household skills to

mid Victorian boom times, he resolutely curbed her wishes to

boost their self-dignity before being literally shipped to their

put preachers in charge of the Urania Cottage where the girls

new destination. She was very ahead of her times.

were to be re-educated before being sent off to Australia.

Dickens’s dedication and ultimate success of the Urania

As he had shown in Pickwick, Dickens was well aware that

Home makes me wonder with much sincerity how Lewis

if he was to lift these young women out of the vices that

Carroll would have run the enterprise?  Would the author

had brought them to their ‘fallen’ state, he could not trust

of Alice in Wonderland, an Anglican deacon, have made

religious men. To this day, the Church of Rome has proven

pornographic photography of the ‘inmates’ like he did of the

Dickens’s precautions wise.

real Alice when she was not yet an adolescent? And would

In her recently published Dickens and the Home for Fallen

he have passed those pictures around while he was drinking

Women, Jenny Hartley  compares the  relationship between

with his fellow clergymen and bishops by the fireplace like

the interviews Dickens had with the young delinquents when

he did with Alice’s nude photos? Dickens made one wise

they were introduced to the Home and the characters in his

decision, didn’t he?

novels. The living conditions and conduct  of these  young thieves and prostitutes inspired Dickens to create the prose he is loved for worldwide.  Trust me, novels they are not.

Patrick Bens is a Life-Member of American Atheists.

Most of Dickens’s stories are very real. They are more like reporting than fantasy. After all, Dickens started out as a reporter—and a very good one.

Is religion a cancer of the mind? How does one become an Atheist? Will religion fade out in 100 years? Are you a closet Atheist? Is religion the largest business in the world? Are most wars a result of religions? Do heaven and hell really exist? What every Atheist would like to say is in this excellent controversial and provocative book. Seventy atheist published letters to the editor, plus essays, articles, stories, poems, songs, and famous quotations. Read the winning entry from the American Atheist “Letters to the Editor” competition. A one of a kind book available at Amazon.com and your local book stores. (This book is not available at atheists.org or from AAP) September/October 2009 - American Atheist

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T

here are very few books that can rival the historical and cultural importance of the bible, so I thought I might read it from cover to cover and see what all the fuss is about. Honestly, aside from the literal inconsistencies and the need for a deep-seeded suspension of disbelief, I thought the bible was a quality supernatural thriller to the core and a fantastic allegory for a person’s ability to inflict suffering on him or herself. The main character (‘God’) in the book is cleverly disguised as the all-knowing, all-loving maker of humanity, but he is clearly established as villain to the reader within a few short pages. His Machiavellian scheme to create man as an Orwellian plaything for his own cruel purpose is sheer genius of story-writing. It is a tale akin to Frankenstein’s creature, where the creature is man as he attempts to live up to the cruel dictates of a master who created him to be unable to do so. This is evident from the beginning (Genesis), as the author shows us that man is created with no understanding of right and wrong but is still punished for disobeying the edicts of his nefarious creator. You can almost hear the god’s villainous laughter over the manipulation of man, whom the god created to fall for these evil traps, and you can’t help but wonder how man will escape such tyranny with the odds stacked so heavily against him. It is in this portion of the story that the god’s complex cohort and double agent, Lucifer, is introduced, seemingly to help man in his plight. Lucifer is presented to the reader as the scheming villain while he reveals the god’s adroit lie regarding the tree of knowledge, but quickly we can see how he is the god’s accomplice in his scheme to manipulate and humiliate man for his own sick pleasure. Lucifer’s right hand man, the snake, helps nudge Adam through Eve (the first members of our protagonist group that we meet) into the trap set for them by convincing them to defy the rules and eat from the forbidden tree. He persuades them to eat the fruit so that they, too, can be gods, and not knowing right from wrong, they do it. BAM!!! God’s cruel plan is fulfilled, and both the god and Lucifer settle back for a good laugh at humanity’s expense. We are

left to chuckle to ourselves as we see the humour injected in the story of our creation as the god punishes Adam and Eve for breaking a law that they never understood was wrong. Men are sentenced to hard labour for eternity, and women are sentenced to have painful childbirth woven into their design. For the agent of Lucifer, a symbolic punishment was needed to maintain the illusion of opposition to god, so the snake is cursed to crawl on its belly for all its days. Clearly, this is not really much of a punishment for a snake, but it is the first good humour in the book to see the snake penalized in such an overtly favourable way. This humorous irony in consequence seems to show the collusion between the antagonists against man. The double veneer and genius in manipulation continue without much subtlety for hundreds of pages. If you are squeamish in reading about murder, selling Jason Burgoyne daughters into the sex trade, human sacrifice, war, plunder, genocide, rape, infant killings, and slavery, then this book may not be for you, as the bible can’t seem get enough of it. The masterwork of this manipulation of man comes with the fact that he now knows what good is (the forbidden tree of knowledge gave him that skill), but the god still is able to convince him to partake in these terrible, immoral and sometimes nonsensical things (do not plant seeds of different plants?!)

Books in Review:

The Bible

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American Atheist - September/October 2009

in the name of love and goodness. He is like a used car salesman in that he seems to be able to cover his motives for evil so well as to bring all of humanity to his cause and convince us to buy a Kia for the same price as a Mercedes. This gives the antagonist much pleasure and helps to build our sympathy for a protagonist who is doomed to play the part as marionette to a wicked puppeteer in this tragic tale. When the god’s schemes become too great and bring the world to a state of toiling in its own filth, the god kills them all to wipe all evidence of his crimes with a flood and starts all over with only a very naïve Noah and his family to repopulate (with clearly no knowledge of what ‘incest’ means). The book slows down from time to time with a bit of drudgery as the author seems to enjoy his genealogy, but it picks back up again with the story and all its violence and lust very shortly after. I don’t want to give away the whole story of manipulation and deception, but suffice to say that in the second book, the god tries a new and far more subtle tactic. The genius in this new approach is that when the reader begins to find the burden of suspension of disbelief too heavy to carry, and just when the reader feels like the god’s immorality and violence is too much for man to continue believing that the god is motivated by good, the god changes his approach and sends his son with his message of ‘peace.’ Jesus takes an outwardly gentler hand that has us falling right back in line alongside man for a while. Jesus’s motivation is given away to the reader only when, after selling his message of peace, he surprises you by reinforcing all of the god’s old rules. Now with the message of peace and the continued violence from the old laws, confusion begins to grow for man. At the end of this tragedy, all of the people that remain loyal to the cruel joke in hope of the reward that the god promises are guerdoned with the ‘rapture.’ This is the ultimate realization of the tragedy and the raptured are sent to an alternate dimension to continue to toil in the ego of their tormentor’s selfish entertainment for all time. Those who choose not to accept his conditional, unconditional love find themselves in a sadistic torture pit of the god’s making. This is the terrible secret: with the god in the picture, we lose either way. It is certainly an epic in terror and genius in character development in its portrayal of man as the eternal victim of his own making. My only real issue are the constant

inconsistencies. Dates are not the same from one chapter to another, numbers of generations counted are wrong from page to page, laws and rules contraindicate, and accounts of story vary greatly depending on the author (the apostles) of a given chapter. I can forgive much of this in the name of poetic license, but a greater hand could have been taken in the editing process. In the end if you are looking for a book that will bring you to the edge of your seat with terror, to bring rage to the fore of your emotion for the injustice, and to bring tears of sympathy to your heart for man’s plight, then this is the book for you. Quite simply, it has all the makings of a good Roman Polanski film. Murder, conniving schemes, a powerful villain, lust, sex, sacrifice, betrayal and the hope of redemption (that never comes) fill this book from beginning to end. If you can see into the allegory for our own existence and our tendency as humans to work against our own best interests and past the blood and gore, then this book is a great cautionary tale. A tale that warns us of our own selfdestructive tendencies (represented by the god) and our ability to follow without thought the edicts of an absolute morality that we seem to crave. I give it 3 out of 5 stars with a bonus star for historical significance for a total of 4 /5. Now back to the reading and my next project, Dianetics! *SPOILER ALERT* Jesus dies on page 681 Jason Burgoyne in a twelve-year veteran in the Canadian military whose interests are philosophy, activist, and Atheism.

www.atheists.org September/October 2009 - American Atheist

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New Life Members Robert Bruno – Burnsville, MN Jan Loeb Eisler – Madeira Beach, FL Robert Collins – Birmingham, AL Jeff Hartley – Pflugerville, TX Matthew Dittloff – Battle Creek, MI Elizabeth Goldstein-Powder Springs Rod Knight-Gainesville GA

THE DOGMA DEBATE www.dogmadebate.com

atheists.org

In Memoriam David Fertman – Lake Mary, FL Richard A. Daller – San Francisco, CA David N. Miles – Orange Beach, AL

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American Atheist - September/October 2009

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THE FOUNDERS’ FRIENDS So many of you help American Atheists with donations and other financial support—and we wanted to find a way to say “Thank You!” We are pleased to announce the re-establishment of an American Atheist tradition, The Founders’ Friends, begun by the Murray O’Hair family. Those contributing $50 or more to American Atheists will have their names and amounts entered in subsequent issues of the American Atheist. Just fill out the blue card with the information requested, include your gift, and mail it back to us in the enclosed envelope. Be sure to check the appropriate box authorizing us to thank you by printing your name and contribution amount in the magazine. Mailing addresses will not be mentioned. This is our way of saying THANK YOU to an extraordinary group of people—those of you who want to “do more” and financially support the critical work of American Atheists!

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September/October 2009 - American Atheist

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eep inside, some preachers slowly realize that deities and devils, heavens and hells, and miracles and messiahs are fairy tales. But they don’t dare reveal their qualms, so they hedge in the pulpit, living a pose. However, a few have integrity enough to chuck it all— publicly. Here are four famous cases:

CHARLES TEMPLETON Growing up in Toronto, Templeton was ‘saved’ at a revival, started his own church, and rose to be Canada’s top evangelist in the 1940s. He joined Billy Graham in revivals across America and Europe. But Templeton suffered doubts. Trying to make his religion rational, he earned a degree from Princeton Theological Seminary, then became a special preacher for the National Council of Churches, then head of evangelism for the Presbyterian Church USA. The changes didn’t help. His doubts wiped out his faith. In 1957, he announced that he was an agnostic, stunning the evangelical world. Templeton’s intellect took him on to be a Canadian television commentator—then managing editor of the Toronto Star—then a leader of the Ontario Liberal Party – then an advertising executive—then editor of Maclean’s Magazine—then a host of a daily radio show. In the 1990s, he wrote Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith. His book says Christianity rests on ‘fables’ that no educated person can swallow. The church teaches “beliefs that are outdated, demonstrably untrue, and often... deleterious to individuals and to society,” he wrote. Page after page, he lists Bible miracles that are absurd. Then he asks how an all-merciful father-creator could have designed cruelty: “All life is predicated on death. Every carnivorous creature must kill and devour.... Why does God’s grand design require creatures with teeth designed to crush spines or rend flesh, claws fashioned to seize and tear, venom to paralyze, mouths to suck blood, coils to constrict and smother—even expandable jaws so that prey may be swallowed whole and alive?... How could a loving and omnipotent God create such horrors?” His book concludes: “I believe that there is no supreme being with human attributes—no God in the biblical sense— but that all life is the result of timeless evolutionary forces.... I believe that, in common with all living creatures, we die and cease to exist.” Templeton ceased to exist in 2001.

MARJOE GORTNER Instead of writing a book about his apostasy, Gortner made a movie. He was born in the underbelly of religion. His parents were California evangelists whose revivals were hokum. Onstage, they exchanged secret signals and roused worshipers to emotional peaks to extract large offerings. They sold ‘holy’ gimmicks guaranteed to heal. They named their son Marjoe for Mary and Joseph, and trained him as a squeaky child preacher. They drilled him in sermons and

Preachers Who See the Sham

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American Atheist - September/October 2009

James A. Haught

stage antics. For ten years, Marjoe performed across the Bible Belt. He estimated that his parents reaped $3 million. Then Marjoe ran off at 14 with an older woman. Eventually he returned to the revival circuit, strutting and prancing. Money rolled in again. Gortner knew that his religious act was a sham, yet he had an honest streak and decided to expose his own fraud. He engaged a movie crew to film his revivals, then follow him to hotel rooms where he tossed armfuls of money, crowing, “Thank you, Jesus!” The film, Marjoe, jolted the fundamentalist world in 1972. Gortner became a minor movie star and recording artist, although he went bankrupt while attempting to produce a movie about a crooked evangelist. During Gortner’s revival heyday, another star was faithhealer A.A. Allen, who toured with jars containing bodies he said were demons he had cast out of the sick. (Doubters said they were frogs.) Allen vanished from a West Virginia revival and was found dead of alcoholism in a San Francisco hotel room, his pockets crammed with cash. Gortner said Allen once taught him how to tell when a revival is finished and it’s time to go to the next city: “When you can turn people on their head and shake them and no money falls out, you know God’s saying, ‘Move on, son.’”

JAMES BALDWIN

DAN BARKER

Some bookish Americans may not know that Baldwin, the great black author, formerly was a boy evangelist like Gortner. Baldwin grew up in Harlem, where his tyrannical stepfather was a Pentecostal preacher. In a New Yorker essay titled ‘Down at the Cross,’ Baldwin recounted how, one night at a prayer meeting, “Everything came roaring, screaming, crying out, and I fell to the ground before the altar. It was the strangest sensation I have ever had in my life.” Newly ‘saved,’ he became a 14-year-old junior preacher and became “a much bigger drawing card than my father.” “That was the most frightening time of my life, and quite the most dishonest, and the resulting hysteria lent great passion to my sermons—for a while,” Baldwin wrote. Since crime and vice filled surrounding streets, he said, “It was my good luck—perhaps—that I found myself in the church racket instead of some other.” While he tingled to the ‘fire and excitement’ of Pentecostalism, he nonetheless experienced “the slow crumbling of my faith.” It occurred “when I began to read again.... I began, fatally, with Dostoevsky.” He continued handing out gospel tracts, but knew they were “impossible to believe.” “I was forced, reluctantly, to realize that the Bible itself had been written by men.” He dismissed the claim that the Bible writers were divinely inspired, saying he “knew by now, alas, far more about divine inspiration than I dared admit, for I knew how I worked myself up into my own visions.” The ex-minister wrote that he might have stayed in the church if “there was any loving-kindness to be found” in it, but “there was no love in the church. It was a mask for hatred and self-hatred and despair.” At 17, Baldwin left religion forever. He later called himself a ‘nothing’ theologically. In ‘Down at the Cross,’ he summed up: “Life is tragic simply because the Earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have.” For Baldwin, the sun went down a last, last time in 1987.

How do supernatural beliefs die? Very slowly, in many small expansions of the mind—according to Barker, who evolved from teenage evangelist to Atheist. “It was a gradual process, a growth,” he says. “It would be like asking you, ‘When did you grow up?’” At fifteen, Barker experienced a hysterical conversion at a California revival and then plunged into religiosity. A gifted musician, he rose in the born-again culture. He married a gospel singer and they toured the revival circuit for eight years. But doubts crept in. In his book, Losing Faith in Faith, he explained: “It was some time in 1979, turning thirty, when I started to have some early questions about Christianity.... I began to read some science magazines, some philosophy, psychology, daily newspapers (!), and began to catch up on the liberal arts education I should have had years before. This triggered a ravenous appetite to learn, and produced a slow but steady migration across the theological spectrum that took about four or five years. I had no sudden, eye-opening experience. When you are raised as I was, you don’t just snap your fingers and say, ‘Oh, silly me! There’s no God.’” During his backslide, he suffered shame as he continued preaching: “I felt hypocritical, often hearing myself mouth words about which I was no longer sure, but words that the audience wanted to hear.... I became more and more embarrassed at what I used to believe, and more attracted to rational thinkers.... I no longer believed what I was preaching.” Barker’s transformation wrecked his marriage. Finally, he wrote a mass letter to former colleagues, telling them: “I can no longer honestly call myself a Christian.” Today, Barker is co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. He’s just as exuberant for intellectual honesty as he once was for fundamentalism. In addition to the few who make dramatic public breaks, some other ministers switch to social work or charity service. How many more remain in the pulpit, reciting dogmas they don’t believe, afraid to face their real selves? Perhaps, like Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilytch, in the final hour before death, they will see that their lives were meaningless. James A. Haught is editor of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette. He has written eight skeptic books and sixty magazine essays.

September/October 2009 - American Atheist

13

Us vs. Them

Herb Silverman

But Who Is Us and Who Is Them??

H

ow many of you are proud to be Atheists? Well, I’m not, just like I’m not proud to be a RoundEarther. I’m mostly disappointed that Atheism isn’t the default for all of us who live on this side of Copernicus, Darwin, and the Big Bang. I also wouldn’t be particularly proud if were a black or a gay woman, anymore than I’m proud to be a white, heterosexual man. However, I am proud to support the rights of African-Americans, women, and gays. And I’m very proud to be part of a much-needed Atheist movement. During the 1960s and 70s, I rarely thought about religion. I assumed that my friends in New York and Massachusetts, where I was living at the time, were also Atheists. Things changed when I moved to South Carolina in 1976 and saw how important religion was. Things changed a lot in 1990 when I discovered that the South Carolina Constitution prohibited Atheists from holding public office. Some of you have heard my ‘Candidate Without a Prayer’ story about how I challenged this clause and eventually won in the South Carolina Supreme Court. But that’s not my topic for today. During my political campaign, I remember thinking how nice it would be were there a national organization that promoted Atheism. Then I found one, which I joined. I found another, which I also joined. And others. I joined them all. But skeptic that I am, I wondered why I hadn’t heard of any of them before. Each acted as if other like-minded groups didn’t exist. Then a metaphorical light bulb went on for me. I had a vision—of the Christian Coalition—and I saw that we should be more like them. Though we disagree with everything they stand for, they had a terrific model: Put aside minor theological differences, work together on important political issues, and grab media attention. That was their scheme for changing the culture and making politicians take notice. Their strategy of demonizing nonbelievers and moving this country closer to a theocracy worked all too well. I’m willing to learn from anyone who has something to teach us, even the Christian Coalition. Thus the creation of the Secular Coalition for America, consisting of nine national nontheistic member organizations

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American Atheist - September/October 2009

[See secular.org]. I was thrilled to recently learn from President Ed Buckner that the American Atheists board voted to apply for admission. Our organizations are motivated by a desire to speak with one loud and clear voice, toward the goal of gaining more cultural and political influence, preventing further theocratic threats to our secular democracy, and turning widespread misunderstandings about our constituency into greater respect and public acceptance. The gay and lesbian community achieved much of its progress through people simply coming out of the closet. Thanks to Richard Dawkins for his wonderful Atheist ‘Out Campaign.’ And the Secular Coalition has been urging politicians and others to come out of their Atheist closets, with some success and more anticipated. One artificial barrier to cooperation has been what I call the ‘fixed pie syndrome,’ the false notion that the growth of ‘rival’ organizations must be at the expense of your own. Poker is an example of a fixed pie, called a zero-sum game, where one person’s gain is another’s loss. However, collaboration with nontheistic organizations is not a zerosum game. For every Atheist and Humanist in all of our combined organizations are thousands who have never heard of any of them. Our players can cooperate in creating a bigger pie, to the benefit of all. Many who find one of our organizations wind up joining several others, as I did. This mixture of cooperation and competition is known as ‘co-opetition,’ a term used in economics and mathematical game theory. In cooperative games, players form coalitions, reach agreements, complement one another’s strengths and weaknesses, and work together to create a bigger pie. Organizations continue to promote themselves and compete, with each group getting a bigger slice than it had before. Blacks, women, Jews, and gays have successfully asserted their right to be treated fairly. They worked for an end to discrimination, demanded a place at the table of public opinion, formed special interest groups, and lobbied for political and social change. Discrimination against these groups continues, but not without consequences. Now it’s our

turn! Atheists have not been as influential as many smaller interest groups, in part because we’re an independent lot, not easy to organize. If we can be recognized as a cohesive unit with shared values and expectations, then we can attain significant power. This will require those of us within the secular community to stop focusing on relatively petty disagreements, almost always having to do with semantics, and unite to establish our legitimacy as a demographic. We must build and sustain coalitions among freethinkers, as well as between freethinkers and liberal religionists. We must show our strength in numbers and work for opportunities to get a place at the media and political tables. The Secular Coalition collaborates and lobbies on issues of common interest with a number of organizations that are not nontheistic, like the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. We also cooperate on selected issues with explicitly theistic organizations, like the Interfaith Alliance and Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. Working with such diverse groups provides the additional benefit of gaining more visibility and respect within the larger culture for our unique perspective. Now for my most controversial pronouncement: we have too much fun and waste too much time talking about the Judeo-Christian god and quoting the Bible, much like Christian fundamentalists do. I plead guilty to such a ‘sin,’ confessing with a couple of personal examples. When asked to say grace before a meal, I’ve been known to quote from Malachi 2: “I will corrupt your offspring, and spread dung on your faces.” Amen. Or I might belt out the daily Jewish prayer, “Thank God I was not born a woman!” Of course, we can have such biblical fun at Atheist conventions or when debating fundamentalists, but we turn off potential allies when we assume all religionists are fundamentalists, asking them to justify passages they find every bit as absurd as we do. As Atheists, we won’t win friends and influence people by whining about past injustices or unhappy religious upbringings. I think we should look for opportunities to bring moderate religionists to our side. Movements are most successful when they appeal to folks outside the group. You know, I’m probably the most religious person here, which doesn’t say very much in a room full of godless infidels. But by one measure, I might be the most religious person in the entire country. You see, I have not one, not two, but three religions—more than Pat Roberson and Osama Bin Laden combined! First I joined the Society for Humanistic Judaism, consisting of Atheist Jews, when they joined the

Secular Coalition. Then I joined the American Ethical Union, another nontheistic religion, when they joined the Secular Coalition. Finally, I joined my local Unitarian Church after they invited me to give a sermon on Positive Atheism, and most of them agreed with what I said, even when I was making fun of them. So I hope you won’t hold my religions against me and that you’ll feel comfortable working with other nontheists who may lead with different words. Whether we call ourselves Atheists, Humanists, Secular Humanists, Agnostics, Freethinkers, Brights, or Rationalists, remember this: we all disbelieve in the same gods! Here’s an interesting distinction between Christians and secularists: Christians have the same unifying word, but fight over theology; secularists have the same unifying theology, but fight over words. At least our wars are only verbal. I said earlier that I wanted our organizations to grow, but my real goal is to put American Atheists out of business— along with all the other organizations, including the Secular Coalition. I’m hoping and working for a day when there will be no more need of a Freethought Coalition than there is for a Round-Earth Coalition. But we’re not there yet! I urge you to go to secular.org and sign up for Action Alerts about upcoming legislation. The more responses members of Congress receive from our community, the more attention they will pay to our issues. With the formation of the Secular Coalition for America, we’re finding our voice and power as a unit. Our movement has been compared to herding cats, as uniting secular Americans into a cohesive community requires vigilance, determination, and a significant investment of resources. The end result, however, will be well worth it—an America that respects nontheistic viewpoints, and an America where the influence of conservative religion is mainly limited to within the walls of churches, not the halls of Congress. Herb Silverman delivered a longer version of this essay at the American Atheists Conference on April 10, 2009.

www.atheists.org September/October 2009 - American Atheist

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Review of Robert M. Price’s Jesus Is Dead Cranford, New Jersey: American Atheist Press, 2007. Review by Bill Hampl

A

16

s a born-again Christian in a

are, so to speak, each taking a crack

rationalization. When a group or

high-level seminary course,

at finishing Edwin Drood. They are

individual has staked everything on a

Robert M. Price remembers

writing fiction” (5).

belief and it seems to be destroyed by

“being impressed with what a fragile

As Price sees it, the problem is not

the facts, any reinterpretation of the

mind-game it all was” (2) and notes

the creativity of the authors but the

inconvenient facts will do. The will

that “the conceptual bridges they

demands that readers invest upon the

to believe, especially when reinforced

[the professors teaching] sought to

finished products—that these products

by one’s fellow believers, makes any

build dwarfed the Bridge over the

are historical and ‘gospel’ truth. Price

explanation seem plausible, however

River Kwai” (3). His book examines

notes, “I have tried to show how the

foolish it may look to outsiders” (61).

inconsistencies regarding the biblical

inconsistencies form a discernible

To put it another way, believers (in

Jesus and also analyzes the 1990s texts

pattern: that of various creative authors

the bible or in anything else) gloss

of several theologians.

reworking a common draft to gain

over any inconsistencies and surround

When discussing New Testament

different effects. Not bad witnesses, but

themselves with other people who also

authors, Price notes that Mathew and

good storytellers. Not on the witness

believe and also gloss over the same

Luke use another text as the basis for

stand, but around the campfire. And

inconsistencies.

their own, but each comes up with

the parallels with other ancient stories

However, instead of glossing over

conflicting results. The reason for

indicate what genre the stories belong

inconsistencies, Price fully engages

these differences is that the ‘gospels’

to: they are religious legends. not a bad

them. What he discovers, an noted

of Matthew are Luke are not fact, but

thing. Not unless you want them to be

earlier, is that the gospels are crafted

fiction: “Since each evangelist’s [text]

something else: historical reports” (10).

stories. As a case in point, he notes

bears ample marks of that writer’s

As long as readers treat these biblical

the impossibility of anyone’s knowing

distinctive style and vocabulary, the

books as fiction, literature crafted by

what Jesus prayed in the Garden of

most natural inference would be

actual historical people, no problems

Gethsemane: “We might ask how Mark

that each is making it up as he goes

will result.

knew what Jesus said in prayer in the

along. Similarly, various writers have

When pondering how believers

Garden of Gethsemane when Mark

tried their hand at finishing Dickens’s

deal with biblical inconsistencies,

himself tells us explicitly that Jesus

fragment The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Price

dissonance

had excluded any hearers. And then

No one would take a second author’s

reduction, “the process whereby the

we realize: [Mark] ‘knew’ it because

attempt to continue the abrupt work

mind makes any sacrifice necessary

he had made it up, like lines in a play.

of the first to be historical fact. The

to reconcile clashing realities, either

In short . . . an overt clue, which the

very nature of the enterprise shows the

by forsaking the debunked belief or

author took no trouble to disguise,

whole to be fiction. Matthew and Luke

embracing even the most outrageous

of the fictive character of the whole

American Atheist - September/October 2009

offers

cognitive

enterprise” (66). In other words, the

provable, that the central figure of the

points, all of which make for fascinating

gospels are literature, not divinely

gospels is not based on any historical

reading. His final paragraph helpfully

inspired historical narratives.

individual. Put simply, not only is the

summarizes what he has discussed

Readers might find that the most

theological ‘Christ of faith’ a synthetic

earlier, at length: “So, then, Christ may

scintillating part of Price’s book is

construct of theologians—a symbolic

be said to be a fiction in the four senses

its conclusion. In the final chapter,

Uncle Sam figure—if you could travel

that (1) it is quite possible that there was

‘Christ a Fiction,’ Price offers the

through time . . . and you went back

no historical Jesus, (2) Even if there

theory that Jesus’s existence is akin

to First-Century Nazareth, you would

was, he is lost to us, the result being that

to that of a mascot: “It is quite likely,

not find a Jesus living there” (272).

there is no historical Jesus available to

though certainly by no means definitely

Price thoroughly details four separate

us. Moreover, (3) the Jesus who ‘walks with me and talks with me and tells me I am his own’ is an imaginative visualization and in the nature of the case can be nothing more than a fiction. And finally, (4) ‘Christ’ as a corporate logo for this and that religious institution is a euphemistic fiction, not unlike Ronald McDonald, Mickey Mouse, or Joe Camel, the purpose of which is to get you to swallow a whole raft of beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors

by an act of simple faith,

short-circuiting the dangerous process of thinking the issues out to your own conclusions” (279). In closing, Price’s brilliant book investigates the “intellectual sin” that believers

commit

when they “fudge the meaning of [the New Testament gospels], to stretch it to mean what [they] want it to mean” (3).

September/October 2009 - American Atheist

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I

n 1957 William Sargant published Battle for the Mind, on the current understanding of techniques for “indoctrination, brainwashing, and thought control.”

at least have put these methods into practice, long before the 20th century. They fully appreciate that religion is not a matter of argumentation and certainly not a matter of constructing

David Eller

Twenty years earlier, Dale Carnegie offered advice on How to Win Friends and Influence People. Since then we have learned a great deal more about how beliefs and attitudes are formed and changed—and theists

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American Atheist - September/October 2009

convincing cases. It is, rather, literally a battle for the mind, as numerous Christian Web-sites clearly illustrate: “The Battle for Your Mind” (http:// www.ucgstp.org/lit/vt/vt05/mind. htm), “The Battle of the Mind”

(http://www.sw-mins.org/battle_of_ the_mind.html), “The Battle in Your Mind” (http://www.joycemeyer.org/ OurMinistries/EverydayAnswers/ The+Battle+In+Your+Mind/default. htm), “The Battle for the Mind” (http://www.hissheep. org/deliverance/the_battle_ for_the_mind.html), and “The Battle of the Mind” ( h t t p : / / w w w. e r w m . c o m / AntonBoschBattle.htm) to name but a few. Apparently, we atheists are in a battle for the mind, whether we fully know it or not, and that reality calls for a new orientation as well as new tactics. As rationalists, we value facts and logic and expect everyone else to respect them. However, all of the research into belief/attitude change indicates that facts and logic are not the decisive elements in bringing people around to a new way of thinking. We love to argue and think that arguing is effective, but experience supports the conclusion of Carnegie: “You can’t win an argument.” Instead, “Nine times out of ten, argument ends with each of the contestants more firmly convinced than ever that he is absolutely right.” While we do not have to follow all of Carnegie’s suggestions, we must take seriously the possibility that our current approach is not the best approach—if, that is, we want to actually change people to our way of thinking on the godquestion and not merely entertain ourselves with our cleverness and outrage ourselves with the purported stubbornness and stupidity of our

opponents. In a word, we need to learn what works and apply it, to treat the theist/Atheist encounter as an exercise in applied psychology, of persuasion, of influence. Atheists are obliged to educate themselves on the most successful techniques of attitude-change, what Robert Cialdini in his book Influence: Science and Practice calls “compliance tactics” or “weapons of automatic influence.” I can hear many Atheists objecting already, complaining that persuasion or influence is beneath them, even dishonest, akin to advertising or indoctrination. Indeed, the techniques that Sargant, Carnegie, Cialdini, and many others advocate are akin to advertising, but that is beside the point: they work. We can be noble and unsuccessful, and wallow in our frustration that people don’t get our finely-crafted arguments, or we can be practical and successful. I assure you that, despite all their high-minded rhetoric, theists employ all of the possible tactics of influence and reap the rewards thereof. In the battle for the mind, Atheists have so far been unarmed and disorganized, and our results speak for themselves. Accordingly, in this short article I want to share Cialdini’s six-part plan for effective attitude change. His and all such analyses start from the same premises: first, the human mind functions in specific ways that make some approaches effectual and other approaches ineffectual (and frankly, it is stupid to persist in ineffectual methods), and second, people tend to think and act along what Cialdini calls “fixed action patterns.” This “automatic, stereotyped behavior is prevalent in much of human action,” precisely because “in many cases, it is the most efficient form of behaving”

(7). Fixed action patterns are “short cuts” of thought that frequently work well enough to get by. When they are supported by a power structure and an organized community, they are all the more powerful and unshakable. Cialdini’s six tools to loosen people from their preconceived thought and action patterns and to lead them toward the ideas and behaviors that you want from them begin with reciprocation, give-andtake or exchanging favors. People are more likely to do or think what

I can hear many Atheists

objecting already

you want if you give them something first. Giving creates “a sense of future obligation” (20), making it difficult to refuse the supposedly generous giver. That is one reason why religions focus on doing “good works” or handing out free things like bibles: once someone has done a good turn for you, it is harder to deny their requests. Cialdini specifically mentions the Hare Krishna practice of distributing flowers; Christian theists offer everything from free soup to child care and marriage counseling. The point is to get people through the door and then to get them to feel some debt, which they repay with loyalty

and increasing commitment. The second tool, then, is commitment and consistency. “Once we make a choice or take a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment” (52). Getting people to commit themselves to any part of a position makes them more inclined to accept the rest. Getting them to commit verbally and in person is good; getting to them to commit in public and in writing is even better. Merely evoking a positive response (saying something nice about the group or position) without a full commitment is better than nothing. More subtle aspects of the technique include getting a general or small commitment and working up to a specific or large commitment. Commitment and consistency operate together, for “If I can get you to make a commitment (that is, to take a stand, to go on record), I will have set the stage for your automatic and ill-considered consistency with that earlier commitment” (59). This is why churches encourage people to come down to the altar, to introduce themselves to each other, to attend meetings regularly, to contribute financially to the group, or to perform extreme and demanding acts like tithing or attending sunrise services or undergoing physical and mental ordeals. Like a fraternity initiation or a boot camp, “the more effort that goes into a commitment, the greater is its ability to influence the attitudes of the person who made it” (73). Atheism’s much looser structure— making no demands on people, allowing them to come and go as they please, often letting them be anonymous and passive—results in weaker commitment to groups and to the cause.

September/October 2009 - American Atheist

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Social proof is the third tool, which holds that “We view a behavior as correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it” (99). People are persuaded by other people, not by facts—or, other people’s belief is a fact. “The greater the number of people who find any idea correct, the more a given individual will perceive the idea to be correct” (108–09). Here too religion has the edge, since they are in the majority and regularly encourage members to only consult other members as models for behavior. “Cults” with their own isolated compounds are only the most extreme version of a general religious tendency. An obvious but important facet of influence is liking: people are more inclined to think and act like people whom they find pleasant and agreeable. Liking can be based on physical attractiveness, similarity with the target person, flattery, cooperation (hence the double value of reciprocity), familiarity, and positive associations between things (e.g. between getting free food from some group and feeling good about the group). Not for nothing do churches and many otherwise nonenjoyable activities feature lunches and potlucks and pizza parties. It would behoove atheists to be nice. Fifth is authority, which has been demonstrated again and again. We are more likely to follow and to comply with people in authority, who have power and/of expertise. Humans are, as well as imitative, inherently obedient. And this authority could and should be symbolized with titles, official-looking clothing, and the other trappings of status and knowledge. This is why religions include elaborate robes or decorative altars or imposing architecture.

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American Atheist - September/October 2009

Finally, Cialdini mentions scarcity, because “opportunities seem more valuable to us when they are less available” (200). People are motivated when something is limited in supply and time, or when they are afraid of losing something they already have, or especially when something is in high demand. Religions of course often claim to be dealing in scarce goods, like salvation or remittance of sins. If there are more people than can get into heaven, the (alleged) fact inspires competition for the few remaining spaces. Atheists will notice that theists have some distinct advantages in these areas: we are, among other things, a minority with few goodies (like eternal life) to offer. And some of these recommendations are easier to implement than others. But we are “at war with the exploiters” (233), in this case the religious exploiters, and we have no choice but to accept the challenge to fight the influence they have over people and to try to influence them to what is, happily, the correct, atheistic conclusion.

Suffer the Little Children

Conrad F. Goeringer

I

t has been nearly half a century since the U.S. Supreme

campaign of defiance that has kept First Amendment watchdog

Court struck down a battery of practices that had turned

groups like American Atheists busy trying to uphold the intent

public school classrooms into churches by promoting

of those Supreme Court decisions. Meanwhile, ‘religious

prayer, religious instruction, and displays of religious

freedom’ groups have resorted to every conceivable ploy

iconography. These landmark cases were a clear victory on

and legal strategy to smuggle religious exercise back into the

behalf of state-church separation. The justices took a dim

public schools. Student-led prayer, ‘spontaneous’ praying

view of activities like unison Bible verse recitation or forcing

at athletic events, or holding a student vote on whether to

youngsters to pledge allegiance to the American flag “under

have a religious message delivered at graduation ceremonies

God.” The involvement of younger impressionable children

have become strategies in this culture war fracas. Courts

raised the bar for judicial scrutiny. Courts rightly noted

have not seen the end of this contentious effort, and there

how peer pressure and the threat of social ostracism—even

is good evidence that fundamentalist Christians—especially

violence—meant that religious activities in the classroom

those who hold positions of authority as administrators,

could be especially divisive and inappropriate.

teachers, and school board officials—are not giving up in

You would think, then, that school board officials,

their campaign to “take back our schools for Jesus.” All of this makes what has recently occurred in Florida particularly

outrageous.

The

case began when unidentified plaintiffs—fearing, as in so many First Amendment disputes, retaliation by the faithful—filed for a Preliminary Injunction against the St. John’s County School District and officials at the Webster Elementary School. (See S.D. vs. ST. JOHN’S COUNTRY SCHOOL DISTRICT [3:09-cv-250-J20TEM.]) They charged that the school had third-grade students practice a song titled ‘In God We Still Trust’ to be performed at an endof-year assembly. administrators, and teachers would have understood the

This was not high church music or a classic rivaling

message. Many have, but across the country there has been a

Handel’s Messiah. The piece had been composed and September/October 2009 - American Atheist

21

performed by the award winning American country music

While admitting that “Religion has been closely identified

band Diamond Rio. The group, founded in 1984, had carved

with the development of our history and government

out a niche in the country genre blending several music

… It is, in fact, the religious persecution suffered by our

influences with religious themes. Early tunes boasted titles

forefathers that makes the freedom to religious opinion a

like ‘Oh Me, Oh My Sweet Baby’ and ‘This Romeo Ain’t

cornerstone of our national identities.” Quoting the historic

Got Julie Yet.’ Two years later, Diamond Rio released a

opinion from School Dist. Of Abington Twp. Pa v. Schempp

compendium of country-Gospel music fusion. The band

(1963), Schlesinger added: “[I]t is axiomatic to this identity

signed with Word Records, a Christian music label, in 2007.

that ‘the government

The lyrics of ‘In God We Still Trust’ are blatantly Judeo-

remains neutral, and

Christian, and demonstrate clear hostility toward the First

while protecting all

Amendment:

[religions], it prefers

You place your hand on His Bible

none and disparages

When you swear to tell the truth

none.’” Schlesinger also

His name is on our greatest monuments And all our money too

cited

And when we pledge allegiance

prong test” for the

There is no doubt where we stand

Establishment

There’s no separation

religion outlined by

We are one nation under Him

the high court in the

In God we still trust

historic 1971 opinion

Here in America

in Lemon v. Kurtzman:

22

“threeof

“Through a series

He’s the one we turn to When the going gets tough…

the

of cases, the Supreme

thirdgrade students practice a song titled ‘In God We Still Trust’

According to documents, the song was played three times

Court has established

during regular classes and was sung at least once by the

a

class of third graders. Students were told that they had the

analyzing

option of participating in the practice sessions and the school

under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment…

assembly or being excluded. Parents of two of the students

Under the Lemon test, the Establishment Clause is violated

filed a complaint in federal court asking for an immediate

if the government’s primary purpose is not secular-based, if

injunction, arguing that school officials were imposing

the principal effect is to aid or inhibit religion, or if there is

sectarian religious beliefs onto the children, thus violating

any ‘excessive [government] entanglement’ with religion.”

framework

for

claims

their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The

Schlesinger’s 24-page ruling in support of the injunction

school immediately removed the song from the assembly

reads like a legal treatise on the First Amendment.

program schedule.

School officials blatantly endorsed sectarian religion and

Judge Harvey E. Schlesinger, an appointee to the federal

compelled youngsters to participate in the process. Students

bunch of former President George H. W. Bush, saw the need

who might hesitate and find the lyrics offensive had

to excoriate school administrators and teachers because of

“heightened susceptibility to pressures of conformity and

the important First Amendment issues involved. In a 24-

possible ostracism.” The lyrics were propagandistic, noted

page opinion granting an injunction, Schlesinger described

Schlesinger, and took aim at the separation of government

the words of the offending song as “patently religion” and

and religion: “By encouraging students to sing ‘there is

“proselytizing,” adding, “The lyrics… take aim at one

no separation, we are one nation under Him,’ the school

[of] our nation’s fundamental principles: the separation of

is effectively enforcing a religious view that is contrary to

church and state.”

well-established constitutional law.”

American Atheist - September/October 2009

Although Webster School administrators supposedly

behalf of creationism in science class or uses a Bible to ‘teach

removed the offensive song from the assembly program on

history.’ Indeed, those engaged in such behaviors have won

the same day Judge Schlesinger issued his order—April 15,

significant legal victories, skillfully and persistently arguing

2009—the case did not end there. A week later, attorneys for

that “religion has a place in our classrooms.” The religious

the Plaintiffs were back in court seeking another injunction

content is artfully camouflaged as being historically

against a “blatantly sectarian” song. The Diamond Rio

significant or providing students with an ‘alternative’ view

piece may have been on the back burner, but now a music

of looking at the world.

instructor had students practicing ‘Chatter With the Angels.’

The Webster School case, however, betrays something

The plea for the new injunction stated that this second song

starker and more authoritarian. Religious partisans may

had been selected as retaliation against the Plaintiffs and

speak of a high-school student’s right to learn about

complaining students.

‘alternatives’ to Darwinian evolution or insist that these

There is a political sub-text here that goes deeper

same students have a right to vote on issues like graduation

than the trenchant analysis of First Amendment law by

ceremonial prayer. Are third graders equipped to make such

Judge Schlesinger. Some teachers and officials at St.

judgments, though? Do they even know about the intricacies

John’s School District are clearly engaged in theo-political

of First Amendment law—a subject that engages some of

‘warfare,’ practicing ‘acts of resistance’ to the constitutional

the best legal minds on both sides of the ideological divide?

encroachments by secular, constitutional law. It is a pattern

Is this education or proselytizing? Or should we call it what

that has emerged throughout the nation, with only a few

it is—sectarian indoctrination?

examples reaching the courts and news media. In the latter

cases, legal advocacy groups like the Alliance Defense Fund

Conrad Goeringer surfs the Internet, watches the sky, and

stand ready to assist a teacher who blatantly proselytizes on

writes about the world from his island home in South Jersey.

AVAILABLE AT ATHEISTS.ORG Atheism Advanced An anthropological and philosophical deconstruction of religion, religious language, and the danger of relying on belief or faith instead of knowledge. Atheism is shown to lead to ‘discredism’ — a rejection of belief as well as a rejection of gods.

By David Eller

Paperback xxii + 468 pp. Index $22.00 – Stock # 16010 (Member discount 10%, S&H $6.00) Use the order form insert or visit atheists.org to get your copy!

September/October 2009 - American Atheist

23

Dangers of Tribalism & Pulp Christianity

By Rajiv Thind

I

have examined, studied, admired, imbibed, and critiqued the Christian faith and Bible for the past eight years. Once I derived great sustenance in my darkest hours from conservative Christianity and sermons. Marx said that religion is the opium of the masses, but I know from personal experience that it surely is the opium of a suffering soul, a great comforter, and sustainer. But after about five years of romance with literalism, my faith in the person of Jesus Christ became Humanist and Progressive instead of fundamentalist, literal, and liturgical. I wish to mention that I passionately stand for the freedoms of religion, thought, and expression, no matter how extreme or irrational they may be, as long as they do not directly incite or cause violence and hatred. In fact, it is with this very belief that I offer my critique in this article. Having made clear where I stand, I must say that even the most prominent Christian leaders and evangelists disturb me, more so because of their tribalism they directly contradict Jesus’s compassion for all humanity. For a moment, consider most of the so-called Christian human rights organizations, Web-sites, and broadcasts. They will report persecution of ‘Christians’ in every conceivable corner of the world but will totally overlook human suffering if the oppressed cannot be tagged

24

American Atheist - September/October 2009

as Christians. They never talk about massacre of Muslims in Bosnia or Chechnya or Sabra and Shatila. Such prejudices and deliberate omissions show nothing less than vile deceits, moral bankruptcy, and violation of what the person of Jesus stands for. It also cheapens the real persecution of Christians by making it appear mere propaganda. Even more dangerous is the prophecy business of certain televangelists and other broadcasters. To these evangelists, international relations do not exist if they don’t have a biblical news value. For this reason, Israel and the Middle East is all they can think about. As per these prophets, apparently, very soon the world is coming to Apocalypse when the fierce war of Armageddon starts in ‘the land of Israel.’ One American Christian preacher and broadcaster whom I have always respected recently came up with a series about the end times by joining pulp Christian conspiracy theories, leaving me in utter disbelief. This preacher and evangelist, Dr. David Jeremiah,

leads a mega-church in a suburb of San Diego. He also founded Turning Points Ministries, which has a global outreach, its broadcasts reach almost every continent. In past months, his TV sermons have become notably fantastical. But, especially, it was his recent two part ‘Special’ sermon about the end times that goes beyond all credibility. In brief, the Anti-Christ will be the head of the European Union; he will somehow get involved with Israel, but Armageddon will eventually start. The preacher was adamant that—as the bible says—the number of Eastern forces against Israel that are to converge

Dr. David Jeremiah

at a precisely forecast battlefield will be around 200 million. The preacher assured believers that if you count big Asian countries like China this number is not hard to materialize. To begin with, you must use your wild imagination to believe that all ‘Eastern’ countries or powers would somehow find a big bone to pick with tiny Israel. Then, even liberal estimates may push the size of Chinese military to 2 million; something less than that would be India, and none others have more than 1 million active soldiers, except North Korea. Even if you factor in the reserve forces, we cannot even stretch the number to 100 million. How on earth will ‘Eastern’ forces manage 200 million? And in the age of satellite

Even more

I know it sounds like a joke, but these TV broadcasts reach millions all over the world. Their global penetration far exceeds reputable media outlets, newspapers, and publications. Many people—even the educated ones—who have no basic understanding of foreign countries, international relations, and politics actually do believe these prophecies. I cannot rule out that the world may end tonight for any number of obvious or unimaginable reasons. The world may also get embroiled in a catastrophic world war involving nuclear weapons. It can start from any of the flashpoints: Israel-Muslim fundamentalists, India-Pakistan, Koreas, Taiwan, Russia-West, etc. But

dangerous is the prophecy business... ‘Eastern’ front alone, and that Christ will come back from clouds on a white horse to defeat the European AntiChrist—this is the height of lunacy.

An Evening with Dr. David Jeremiah LIVE from the FedExForum in Memphis, TN

guided intercontinental missiles capped with deadliest nuclear weapons, why on earth will anyone be stupid enough to converge at Armageddon with 200 million men?

to pinpoint and proclaim before the whole world with dead certainty that there will be an all powerful Anti-Christ from the E. U., that an Armageddon will occur with 200 million soldiers from

Rajiv Thind is an aspiring writer with degrees in English Literature from India and journalism from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. September/October 2009 - American Atheist

25

The LIGHTER SIDE of Atheism Interview w/Comedian Keith Lowell Jensen

Photo: Kiny McCarrick

AT WHAT POINT DID YOU

also a mixed martial arts fighter so I

thought, “So, you’re a sociopath!” I’m

REALIZE YOU WERE ATHEIST?

was very brave to be so outspoken.

glad he found religion but in much the

My mom and I until recently had

same way that I’m glad when a heroin

It started with reading Hesse’s

a don’t ask don’t tell policy. I stopped

Siddhartha and attending an Oingo

going to church, and she didn’t ask

Boingo concert when I was 15 followed

why. My Atheism is public enough that

I UNDERSTAND YOU HAVE

by years of residual fear that Avenging

now mom is aware of it. She’s been to

A BRAND NEW BABY GIRL.

Jesus would show up to deliver a smack

my comedy shows and she’s a great

WHAT ARE YOUR BIGGEST

down. Jesus was a no show, which

sport as I make fun of the religion that

CONCERNS WITH RAISING A

means I win by forfeit. I hear people

she raised me in. She is proud of who

CHILD AS AN ATHEIST?

say we’re all born atheist. I hate that.

I am, of my morals but I know that she

I was born not believing in evolution

worries about my soul. Oddly enough

I’ll make sure she knows all

either, or toilets. The only belief babies

my agnostic father gives me the most

about religion so she’s not hit with

have that I find profound is their deep

grief. He’d like it if my brother and I

these promises of immortality or of

respect for breasts.

would just shut up.

never really losing your loved ones,

addict finds methadone.

during a vulnerable time without being HOW DID YOU TELL YOUR

WHERE DO YOU

equipped. I also want her to meet nice

FAMILY & WHAT WAS THE

GET YOUR MORALS?

people of every faith; to know that these

REACTION?

people that Daddy finds so irrational From the same place as everyone

My oldest brother, John, is a

26

else,

self-interest.

The

can still be good neighbors and friends.

more

minister and we both reacted poorly,

enlightened, intelligent, long-term this

DO YOU PLAN TO HAVE YOUR

engaging in near constant debate for

self-interest, the better. A friend who is

DAUGHTER BELIEVE IN SANTA

the next decade to the exclusion of

a minister at a local mega-church, one

CLAUS, THE TOOTH FAIRY, OR

any other interaction. “Happy Birthday

of those Wal-Mart looking churches,

THE EASTER BUNNY?

John. There is no God.” Eventually we

was explaining that before becoming

learned to have a relationship again. I

Christian he’d just as soon step over

Absolutely not. We’ll watch all the

should mention, this same brother was

a dying man then stop and help. I

holiday specials and celebrate every

American Atheist - September/October 2009

IF YOU HAD A TATTOO ON YOUR FOREHEAD, WHAT WOULD IT SAY?

“I hate tattoos... and irony.” 

KEITH LOWELL JENSEN Atheist Comedian

MAXINE ADELAIDE LOVIG-JENSEN Tiny Future Comedian

Photo: Kiny McCarrick

September/October 2009 - American Atheist

27

holiday there is, including ones we

DO YOU HAVE A

a Jewish comedian to join us and took

make up, because make believe is fun.

PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP

it on the road. We’ve hit some of the

But no, she needs to know that mom

WITH POSEIDON?

biggest clubs in the country, even got a

and dad don’t bullshit her. Not to say

nice write up in the LA Times.

she won’t be pranked at every turn.

These rumors need to be put to bed!

There is no greater way to show

She’ll likely have a harder time with

Poseidon and I are just friends. Those

affection for someone than by savaging

dad being a comedian than with dad

photos are misleading. I was at the

them in a joke. I feel it’s more honest

being an outspoken Atheist.

beach, eating a banana, and a bit went

than many ‘inter-faith’ entities because

down the wrong way. Luckily, Poseidon

we don’t pretend to respect each other’s

WILL YOU OBJECT TO YOUR

knew the Heimlich maneuver; unlucky

beliefs, we just respect each other…

DAUGHTER SAYING “ONE

that the damn paparazzi were around. I

sorta. We like each other at any rate.

NATION, UNDER GOD” IN

didn’t realize your magazine was such

PUBLIC SCHOOLS EACH

a gossip rag.

MORNING? She won’t be coerced to say it.

People are so afraid of the topic of religion. I find myself saying, “Look, our controversial message is that

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE

we can get along!” Nobody that has

RELIGION TO MAKE FUN OF?

booked us has regretted it, and nobody

I don’t even like children pledging

that has come to see us has been upset

their allegiance without the ‘god’ part.

The Baha’i, they’re so nice and just

I can’t stand when people, liberal or

the epitome of universalist, Utopian,

conservative, march their children

idealist fantasy fair. I have a good

out at protests or demonstrations with

friend who is Baha’i. I asked about his

IF YOU WEREN’T A COMEDIAN,

stupid little signs. Your kid doesn’t

religion and he so generously shared

WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING?

hate or love Obama-care. Your child

with me for hours. That night he came

is five years old! They’re much more

to the Coexist Comedy show and most

Probably some very important work

concerned with Mac and Cheese than

of my set was on what he’d just taught

that would help mankind out. Whew!

with religion or politics.

me. He loved it.

Thank goodness I found comedy, eh?

I also like making fun of Islam. WHY AREN’T YOU AGNOSTIC?

People ask if it scares me to do so.

except for the drunk lady I performed an exorcism on in Seattle.

I’m sure I’d find some way to be creative and broke. It’s just who I am.

Yeah, because Christians have always I am, technically, but I think

been so kind to their detractors. I think

WHAT DO YOU DO WITH

it’s splitting hairs to say, “Well, we

it would be more offensive to exclude

ALL THAT FREE TIME

can’t prove there’s no ‘god,’ so...” I

my Muslim friends from the ribbing

ON SUNDAYS?

don’t come up with special words for

that I give the rest.

the other things I consider remotely

I post ‘Atheist Church’ to YouTube

possible even if highly unlikely. I’m not

WHAT IS THE COEXIST

every Sunday. As churches go, it’s the

agnostic towards Leprechauns, Genies,

COMEDY TOUR?

best. Attend when you want, no need to

or Compassionate Conservatives, so why should I be towards deities?

get up early. Dress up or attend mass My Hindu friend, Tapan Trivedi and

in your underwear or even buck naked.

I were backstage at a gig cracking on

There’s no tithing required (though

each other’s beliefs or lack there of. We

I certainly wouldn’t stop you from

enjoyed this more than the material we

giving me ten percent of your income.)

were doing onstage. So, we recruited a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Christian, and

28

American Atheist - September/October 2009

The American Atheist is happy to welcome Keith as the newest member of the writing staff! Watch for future articles, and be prepared to laugh.

Rare and unusual memes for the discriminating collector:

www.origin-of-religions.org Specializing in the finest memes - new memes monthly...

September/October 2009 - American Atheist

29

Snapshots behind the Façade By Harry Harner Paperback, 2nd edition, $14.95, published by iUniverse Reviewed by Bill Hampl

Subtitled

“A

Sense

“Where did roadside shrines, with

Look at the Fabricated Environment

their inflated balloons and teddy bears

in Which We Live,” Harner’s book

and flowers, come from and why are

contains several chapters of interest

they tolerated? You see them all over—

to an Atheistic audience, notably his

marking the spot where someone was

chapters on the origin of the universe,

killed by a car or in a vehicle. They are

life and death, religion, hope and

meaningless memorials to everyone

prayer, and the separation of church and

except to the person or persons who

state. The ‘snapshots’ refer to Harner’s

put them there. To the rest of us they

own brief, intense glances (as opposed

represent litter, or worse, a distraction

to dialogues with other authors) at the

that could cause another fatality. All

various topics.

too quickly the balloons deflate, the

Snapshots contains some concise

teddy bears gets [sic] soaked, and the

commentary on the various failures

flowers wilt, and the scene literally

of religion in today’s society. Two

gets ugly. It’s time to get back to the

examples are: “Unfortunately, religion’s

practice of truly respecting our dead

potential to do harm may outweigh

in the cemetery—not in the car as one

its demonstrated capacity to do good.

conveniently drives by on the way to

Christians, for example, have been

the store or work” (47).

promoting ‘Peace on Earth’ for two

I personally find such shrines

thousand years, albeit unsuccessfully”

ridiculous, celebrating the accidental

(11) and “A religious person’s God will

loss of lives in our society. And, from

always be bigger than anyone else’s

an Atheist standpoint, these sites are

God” (16).

further annoying in that they also serve

Also of particular interest are

as excuses to assault the public with

Harner’s writings about death. The

crosses (most often) or other religious

first of these is poetic: “Our life in the

symbols.

Universe is like the beautiful chime of

Although

a bell: there is nothing, and then there

American Atheist

Press, Snapshots

is a momentary, but glorious vibration,

is

read,

and then again—nothing” (4). A second

considering its breadth of topics of

passage on this same topic is presented

interest to an Atheist audience.

in its entirety below:

30

Common

American Atheist - September/October 2009

an

not

engaging

available

from

especially

September/October 2009 - American Atheist

31

Religion 101: Final Exam, Part Two By Terrence Kaye

1) Conceding that torture is permissible under certain conditions, which of the following would be the best justification? A. Your prisoner is the only one who knows the date and time of an assassination attempt on the Pope B. Your prisoner is the only one who knows where a nuclear device has been planted in Washington, D.C. C. Your prisoner is the only one who knows where a vial of nerve gas has been placed in the London water supply system D. Your prisoner has announced that the earth revolves around the sun 2)

We know that Christianity is true because the Gospel writers, inspired by God who can make no error, recorded the founding events. For example, on the first Easter morning, the visitors to the tomb were greeted by which of the following:

A. A young man (Mark 16:5) B. No, no, it was no man, it was an angel (Matthew 28:2-5) C. You’re both wrong, it was two men (Luke 24:4) D. Damn it, there was nobody there (John 20:1-2) 3) Only human beings have souls, and thus only human beings can go to heaven. What is the cutoff point for entry into paradise? A. B. C. D.

Homo habilis Homo erectus Homo Neanderthalensis Homo sapiens

4) According to at least one sainted church father, one of the pleasures of the saved in paradise will be to behold the agony of the damned in hell. What would be the best time of day in heaven for a mother to behold the agony of her only son who didn’t make it? A. Early in the morning before it gets too crowded B. Mid-day when she can compare notes and share the celebration with other mothers C. Late at night when she can enjoy the flames in starker contrast

32

American Atheist - September/October 2009

The author gratefully acknowledges the inspiration provided by E.T. Babinski, Dan Barker, George Carlin, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Judith Hayes, James Haught, Robert Ingersoll, Adam Lee, John Stuart Mill, Pablo Neruda, Blaise Pascal, Seneca, Julia Sweeney, Jethro Tull, Mark Twain, and Mark Vuletic. 5) In the Judeo-Christian tradition, we always look to the Bible as a guide. In this example, your teenage son has returned home from the prom intoxicated. If you want to follow the Bible, you should: A. B. C. D.

Sit him down for a heart to heart talk Enroll him in AA Take away his driving privilege for one month Smash his head in with rocks

6) In this example, your son-in-law, returned from his honeymoon, has just told you he suspects your daughter was not a virgin on their wedding night. Wishing to abide by God’s holy rules as laid out in the Bible, you should: A. B. C. D.

Ask him if he was a virgin before you do anything Advise him to forgive her Talk to your daughter Go find those rocks

7) You are eating lunch at a crowded fast food restaurant, occupied mostly by children, when suddenly a gunman bursts in, screams, ‘Do not question or test me,’ and sprays the room with bullets. Ten people are killed instantly; many more grievously wounded, but somehow you escape unharmed. His ammunition expended, the gunman heads for the door. What should you do? A. Call the police and wait for them to arrive B. Call the police and leave C. Risk death by asking the gunman why he did it, even though he told you not to D. Fall on your knees and give thanks and praise to the gunman for sparing your life 8) Why did God show his backside to Moses, as described in Holy Scripture, Ex.33:23? A. He invented everything, and this was simply the first mooning B. He was really ticked off when Moses dropped the tablets C. He was piqued, having just discovered His almighty powers were useless against chariots of iron (Judges I:19) D. Moses was too serious and needed to lighten up a little

9) Jesus was God, and God knows all things, including all the medical knowledge that will ever be known. Why did Jesus blame demons for the case of epilepsy he cured?

12) Down through the ages, who has been most responsible for the medical discoveries that have relieved untold amounts of suffering and pain, extending the length of that most sacred of creations, the only species made in the divine image, human life?

A. He was suffering from a temporary case of ‘brain freeze’ B. The Aramaic word for ‘demon’ is the same as the word for ‘cranial malfunction’ C. Neurology was not his specialty D. In first-century Palestine, demons really did cause epilepsy. This affliction only began to be caused by electrochemical brain activity after about 1850 A.D. 10) Today’s paper carries a story about a suburban father who became so enraged with his disobedient children that he carried all nine of them to the backyard pool where he drowned them, along with their puppies, their kittens, and their hamsters. How should this father be treated? A. He should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law B. He should be banished from the town C. He should be lynched to save the taxpayers’ money D. The townspeople should gather together to sing hymns of praise to him 11) This morning I started my day by insulting my mother in public, then punched out my father, my brother, and my sister. Then I gathered up all my clothes, sold them to a second-hand store, and with the proceeds bought a used assault rifle and 50 rounds of ammunition. Next, I went down to the animal shelter and injected all the dogs with a drug that caused them to go insane and dive into the nearby canal where they all drowned. By this time I was hungry, so I went over to my neighbor’s apple orchard and burned it down, because I wanted an orange and there weren’t any. On the way home, I stopped at the local steel mill to discuss my philosophy of life with some of the guys. They laughed at me and said to stow it, so I tossed them all into the blast furnace. That night I discovered my son looking at a copy of Playboy. Concerned for his future welfare, I cut off his right hand. What historical character did my activities today most resemble? A. B. C. D.

Genghis Khan Charles Manson Adolph Hitler Jesus Christ

A. B. C. D.

Medical doctors Research biologists Chemists The Catholic Church

13) A great sadness has come into your life which you feel you cannot bear. A friend informs you of a free counseling service which has never failed to aid and comfort many others. You call the counselor; the phone rings and rings with no answer; you finally hang up. What is the most likely explanation?

A. The counselor is sitting by the phone but not answering in order to test your faith in him B. The counselor is fully qualified and able to help you, but just doesn’t feel like it right now C. The counselor will not answer because he wants you to profit by the spiritual strength that only comes through suffering D. The counselor is not home

ESSAY QUESTION While it is true that there have been and still are many different gods and many different religions, they are really just different names by which various cultures approach the same God. Explain how and why each of the following is the same God: • • • • • • •

Quetzalcoatl, who wants you to skin a young virgin alive, then put on the skin and dance; Shiva, who wants you to pray over his penis; Allah, who wants you to fly airliners into buildings; Catholic God, who speaks directly through the Pope; Hebrew God, who most definitely does not; Jesus, who wants you to castrate yourself to ensure arrival in heaven Jehovah, who any day now, is going to kill everyone on the earth except for his Witnesses

September/October 2009 - American Atheist

33

Oh Ye of Little Faith… By John E. Shuey

I

t’s funny when you think about it; how revelations come to us at the damnedest times I mean. For example: Not too long ago I was preparing to leave my house to run some errands when I observed two prim and proper ladies, each wielding a Bible clutched to her bosom, as they approached my front door, paused for thirty seconds or so, and then turned away without knocking or ringing the doorbell, murmuring to each other as they retraced their steps back down our sidewalk. I knew of course the reason for their change of direction and accompanying consternation. Perhaps four years ago, driven to distraction by a constant stream of door to door salespeople and Mormons (along with other assorted proselytizers) disturbing my dinner, work, or peace of mind, I had posted on our front door a “No Solicitors” sign that reads in part: “ ...If your purpose is religious, to tell us about your God’s love for us or to convince us that we need Jesus to be our personal savior, please don’t knock. Instead, bow your head and pray as sincerely and intently as possible for this door to disappear. When it does, feel free to come on in...we will definitely want to hear what you have to say!” Those three sentences, when combined with the reaction of the ladies, suddenly became the source of my latest revelation. Looking back, I can remember at least a dozen different times over the years since I posted that sign when religious types— almost always with a Bible prominently displayed—marched up to my front door, full of the holy spirit and determined to win a convert for their particular god or version thereof, only to stop, read my little sign, and then turn and retreat with a bit less enthusiasm than they had displayed only a few seconds earlier.

34

American Atheist - September/October 2009

Up until this particular day though, it had never occurred to me to ask what should have been the most obvious of questions all along: “Why?” Stop and think about it for a moment. If these marauding ecclesiastical imperialists truly believed they were in the service of an omnipotent god, especially one who heard and answered prayers, why would they just walk away? Why would they not bow their heads and pray fervently for our door—that sole barrier to winning new souls for their master—to disappear? It really didn’t take too much thought to come to the realization that not a single one of them had anywhere near so much faith in their god and his powers as they would have others believe. When the best opportunity they’d ever had to prove everything true that they claim about their god stared them right in the face, they faltered, in the end unwilling to put their faith to a real test. Bingo! Real doubt pervades many more of the faithful than I had imagined. Among those professing total surrender to their lord, conviction is apparently shakable by even the most basic, direct challenge. Are the ties that bind really that loose? It would seem so. You know, in the right hands, revelation can be a wonderfully entertaining and uplifting experience. John Shuey is a secular, libertarian curmudgeon. Retired, he lives in suburban Dallas, Texas, with wife Pat, son John Michael, and two rescued greyhounds. He is a Life Member of American Atheists and Atheist Alliance International, as well as serving on the Texas Libertarian Party State Executive Committee and as a Community Coordinator for Americans for Fair Taxation. He often rants about things religious and otherwise at http://john-shuey.blogspot.com.

Visit us at atheists.org to renew your $20 membership and be sure to tell a friend about this organization and what we stand for. Our members are the lifeline of our cause, and we’re growing stronger each year!

Organizations Presently Affiliated with American Atheists

Is your local or national group interested in affiliating with American Atheists? If so, please contact Blair Scott, National Affiliate Director, at bscott@atheists.org.

Current American Atheists Affiliates

Due to the number of Affiliates, only the group name and Web Page or Email is listed. For a full list including mailing addresses and phone numbers, please visit http://alabamaatheist.org/naod or contact Blair Scott at bscott@atheists.org for additional details. Is your local or national group interested in affiliating with American Atheists? If so, then please contact Blair Scott, National Affiliate Director, at bscott@atheists.org or (256) 701-6265.

ALABAMA Birmingham Atheists atheists.meetup.com/132

Atheists & Agnostics Group of Rossmoor rossmooratheists.info

Florence United Nontheists FlorenceFreethought.org

Atheists & Freethinkers of Contra Costa County contracostaatheists.com Atheists and Other Freethinkers Aofonline.org Atheists of Silicon Valley godlessgeeks.com

Montgomery Area Freethought Association montgomeryfreethought.org North Alabama Freethought Association thenafa.org West Alabama Freethought Association meetup.com/ westalabamafreethought ALASKA Anchorage Atheists http://meetup.com/ anchorageatheists ARIZONA Tucson Atheists atheists.meetup.com/69 CALIFORNIA Agnostic & Atheist Student Association daviswiki.org/agasa

Central Valley Alliance of Atheists and Skeptics cvaas.org East Bay Atheists eastbayatheists.org Humanist Society of Santa Barbara santabarbarahumanists.org

COLORADO Atheists and Freethinkers of Denver atheistsofdenver.org Boulder Atheists boulderatheists.org Metro State Atheists metrostateatheists.wordpress.com Western Colorado Atheists WesternColoradoAtheists@yahoo. com CONNECTICUT Atheist Humanist Society of CT and RI atheisthumanist.org Connecticut Valley Atheists cvatheists.org

San Francisco Atheists sfatheists.com

FLORIDA Florida Atheists & Secular Humanists **Affiliate of the Year, 2008** freethoughtflorida.com

Santa Cruz Atheists santacruzatheists.org

Gator Freethought (UF) gatorfreethought.org

Shasta Atheists & Freethinkers shasta@atheistalliance.org

Rebirth of Reason in Florida rebirthofreason.com/Florida

Orange County Atheists OCAtheists.com

Atheist Coalition of San Diego atheistcoalition.org

September/October 2009 - American Atheist

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Saint Petersburg Atheists atheists.meetup.com/209 South Lake Atheists and Freethinkers atheists.meetup.com/655 GEORGIA Atlanta Freethought Society atlantafreethought.org IDAHO Idaho Atheists idahoatheists.org ILLINOIS Bradley Atheists PTurack@Bradley.edu IWU Atheist, Agnostic, and NonReligious facebook.com/group. php?gid=5558627959 IOWA Iowa Secularists iowasecularist.org Siouxland Atheists siouxlandatheists.org KANSAS First Church of Freethought/Fort Riley Atheists faithforthefaithless@gmail.com Heartland Humanists heartlandhumanists.org Individuals For Freethought k-state.edu/freethought Kansas Freethought Society atheists.meetup.com/642 KC FreeThinkers kcfreethinkers.org

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Miami County Kansas Freethinkers atheists.meetup.com/733 KENTUCKY Kentucky Atheists chambers.michael@gmail.com Lexington Atheists meetup.com/The-LexingtonAtheists-Meetup-Group LOUISIANA Ark-La-Tex Freethinkers (Shreveport) facebook.com/group. php?gid=128265161375 New Orleans Secular Humanist Association nosha.secularhumanism.net MARYLAND Freethinkers Union at McDaniel College mtm007@mcdaniel.edu MASSACHUSETTS American University Rationalists & Atheists facebook.com/group. php?gid=34367344446 Atheists of Greater Lowell atheists.meetup.com/331 Boston Atheists bostonatheists.org MICHIGAN Michigan Atheists michiganatheists.org Mid Michigan Atheists and Humanists mmah.org

American Atheist - September/October 2009

MINNESOTA Campus Atheists & Secular Humanists cashumn.org Minnesota Atheists mnatheists.org St. Olaf Agnostic and Atheist Society stolaf.edu/orgs/aas MISSISSIPPI Great Southern Humanist Society humanism.meetup.com/164 Mid-South Humanist Society midsouth-humanist-society.org MISSOURI Columbia Atheists meetup.com/The-ColumbiaAtheists-Meetup-Group Community of Reason CommunityOfReason.net Joplin Freethinkers joplinfreethinkers.org Rationalist Society of St. Louis rssl.org NEBRASKA Lincoln Atheists lincolnatheists.org Omaha Atheists omahaatheists.org NEVADA Las Vegas Freethought Society lvfs.org NEW JERSEY New Jersey Humanist Network NJHN.org

NEW YORK Freethinkers of Upstate New York funygroup.org Hudson Valley Humanists hudsonvalley.humanists.net Long Island Secular Humanists LISecHum@aol.com New York City Atheists nyc-atheists.org Science Club of Long Island sciencecluboflongisland.com NORTH CAROLINA Charlotte Atheists & Agnostics CharlotteAtheists.com NORTH DAKOTA Red River Freethinkers redriverfreethinkers.org OHIO Free Inquiry Group, Inc. gofigger.org Humanist Community of Central Ohio hcco.org OKLAHOMA Oklahoma Atheists OklahomaAtheists.info PENNSYLVANIA Atheist Station atheiststation.org Central Susquehanna Valley Freethought meetup.com/Central-susquehannavalley-freethought Northeast Pennsylvania Freethought Society atheists.meetup.com/622

PA Nonbelievers panonbelievers.org RHODE ISLAND Rhode Island Atheist Society riatheist.com

VIRGINIA Beltway Atheists meetup.com/beltwayatheists Rational Response Squad @ George Mason myspace.com/rrs@gmu

SOUTH CAROLINA Secular Humanists of Lowcountry lowcountry.humanists.net

WASHINGTON Freethinkers United Network freethinkersunitednetwork.com

TENNESSEE Chattanooga Freethought Association chattanoogafreethoughtassociation. com

Seattle Atheists SeattleAtheists.org

Memphis Freethought Alliance memphisfreethought.com Nashville Secular Life atheists.meetup.com/699 Rationalists of East Tennessee rationalists.org TEXAS Atheist Community of Austin atheist-community.org Denton Atheists Meetup meetup.com/The-Denton-AtheistsMeetup-Group Houston Atheists Meetup meetup.com/Houston-Atheists

WEST VIRGINIA Morgantown Atheists morgantownatheists.org WISCONSIN Southeast Wisconsin FreeThinkers swiftnow.org NATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS Atheist Nexus atheistnexus.org Atheists for Human Rights atheistsforhumanrights.org Atheists United for a Rational America rationalamerica.com Military Assoc. of Atheists & Freethinkers maaf.info

Metroplex Atheists metroplexatheists.org San Antonio Atheists sa-atheists.org UTAH Atheists of Utah atheistsofutah.org

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American Atheist - September/October 2009

AIMS & PURPOSES American Atheists, Inc. is a nonprofit, nonpolitical, educational organization dedicated to the complete and absolute separation of state and church, accepting the explanation of Thomas Jefferson that the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was meant to create a “wall of separation” between state and church.

American Atheists is organized:

To stimulate and promote freedom of thought and inquiry concerning religious beliefs, creeds, dogmas, tenets, rituals, and practices;

To collect and disseminate information, data, and literature on all religions and promote a more thorough understanding of them, their origins, and their histories;

To advocate, labor for, and promote in all lawful ways the complete and absolute separation of state and church;

To act as a “watchdog” to challenge any attempted breach of the wall of separation between state and church;

To advocate, labor for, and promote in all lawful ways the establishment and maintenance of a thoroughly secular system of education available to all;

To encourage the development and public acceptance of a humane ethical system stressing the mutual sympathy, understanding, and interdependence of all people and the corresponding responsibility of each individual in relation to society;

To develop and propagate a social philosophy in which humankind is central and must itself be the source of strength, progress, and ideals for the well-being and happiness of humanity;

To promote the study of the arts and sciences and of all problems affecting the maintenance, perpetuation, and enrichment of human (and other) life; and

To engage in such social, educational, legal, and cultural activity as will be useful and beneficial to the members of American Atheists and to society as a whole.

DEFINITIONS Atheism is the comprehensive world view of persons who are free from theism and have freed themselves of supernatural beliefs altogether. It is predicated on ancient Greek Materialism.. It is predicated on ancient Greek Materialism. Atheism involves the mental attitude that unreservedly accepts the supremacy of reason and aims at establishing a life-style and ethical outlook verifiable by experience and the scientific method, independent of all arbitrary assumptions of authority and creeds. Materialism declares that the cosmos is devoid of immanent conscious purpose; that it is governed by its own inherent, immutable, and impersonal laws; that there is no supernatural interference in human life; that humankind, finding the resources within themselves, can and must create their own destiny. It teaches that we must prize our life on earth and strive always to improve it. It holds that human beings are capable of creating a social system based on reason and justice. Materialism’s “faith” is in humankind and their ability to transform the world culture by their own efforts. This is a commitment that is, in its very essence, life-asserting. It considers the struggle for progress as a moral obligation that is impossible without noble ideas that inspire us to bold, creative works. Materialism holds that our potential for good and more fulfilling cultural development is, for all practical purposes, unlimited.

INFORMATION ABOUT TAX DEDUCTIONS IRS rules state that the tax-deductible portion of membership dues can be found by subtracting the fair-market value of any goods or services that you receive in return. For most of our membership types, your dues are actually LESS than the fair-market value ($40 per year) of a subscription to our magazine. This means that your membership dues are NOT tax-deductible. Life membership dues are also NOT tax-deductible. (If we sold Life magazine subscriptions, they would cost at least as much as life memberships.) The only membership type that is fully tax-deductible is the Associate membership because Associate members do not receive a magazine subscription. For the Couple/Family ($65) and Wall-Builder ($150) membership types, $40 covers your magazine subscription. The remainder of your dues ($25 for Couple/Family and $110 for Wall-Builder) are considered to be a tax-deductible donation. For multiple-year memberships, the same fraction of your dues (1/3 for Couple/Family and 11/15 for Wall-Builder) is tax-deductible (in the year that those membership dues were paid). Also, any donations that you make IN ADDITION TO your membership dues are fully tax-deductible.

THIS MONTH’S FEATURED BOOK... The ancient Jews never heard of Jesus of Nazareth. That is the startling conclusion of a comprehensive investigation of Jewish records surviving from antiquity. Every literary source ever advanced by serious scholars as being a reference to the historical Jesus is examined and found to be nothing of the sort - except for the latest layers of the Babylonian Talmud. Clearly, those references were reactions to Christianity, not to Christ. But what of the Sepher Toldoth Yeshu (“The Book of the Genealogy of Jesus”)? Does that Jewish satirical antigospel reflect echoes of ancient arguments between Jesus of Nazareth and his Jewish brethren? Can the Jesus of that tale - a man portrayed as the bastard son of a soldier named Panther, a magician, and the aerially sodomized victim of a flying Judas - provide information about a historical Jesus? Of course not, but it does provide a fascinating insight into the world in which the gospels were invented. “The historical Jesus has always been made to stand on two legs: the New Testament and Jewish literature. The New Testament leg I consider to have been sawed off long ago. Amputation of the Jewish leg has been, I hope, the achievement of this book. With both his legs missing, the figure of Jesus must now either hover in the air - like the god he started out as in the Christian mysteries or like the Yeshu he became in the Toldoth or he must fall to earth like a deflated balloon.”

The Jesus The Jews Never Knew by Frank R. Zindler Stock # 7026 ($20.00)

Other great titles available from American Atheist Press...

The Myth of Nazareth by Rene’ Salm Stock # 16014 ($20.00)

Atheism Advanced: Further Thoughts of a Freethinker by David Eller Stock # 16010 ($22.00)

purchase online at atheists.org or use the order form insert

American Exorcism by Michael W. Cuneo Stock # 7015 ($24.95)


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