Page 1


ABOUT AMERICAN ATHEIST, INC. 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, Inc., is organized in order to • Stimulate and promote freedom of thought and inquiry concerning religious beliefs, creeds, dogmas, tenets, rituals, and practices; • Collect and disseminate information, data, and literature on all religions and promote a more thorough understanding of them, their origins, and their histories; • Advocate, labor for, and promote in all lawful ways the complete and absolute separation of state and church; • Advocate, labor for, and promote in all lawful ways the establishment and maintenance of a thoroughly secular system of education available to all; • 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; • 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; • Promote the study of the arts and sciences and of all problems affecting the maintenance, perpetuation, and enrichment of human (and other) life; • 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. Atheism may be defined as the mental attitude which unreservedly accepts the supremacy of reason and aims at establishing a life-style and ethical outlook verifiable by experience and 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 their resources within themselves -- can and must create their own destiny. Materialism restores dignity and intellectual integrity to humanity. 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 which 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.

AMERICAN ATHEIST • MEMBERSHIP INFO IF YOU’RE interested in becoming a member please visit our website at www.atheists.org AND FILL out membership form. MEMBERSHIP CATEGORIES and Costs • • • •

ASSOCIATE Member (magazine not included) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . DISTINGUISHED Citizen (65 yrs or older) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . STUDENT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . INDIVIDUAL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

$15/year, International $25/year $25/year, International $35/year $25/year, International $35/year $35/year, International $45/year, TWO YEARS: $60, International $80 • COUPLE/FAMILY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $60/year, International $70/year • WALL Builder (complimentary AA Tote Bag). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $150/year • LIFE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $1500


NOV/DEC 2006 Vol 44, No.8

American Atheist Magazine

ISSN 0332-4310

November/December 2006

Editor, American Atheist Press Frank Zindler Editor, American Atheist Magazine Ellen Johnson Regular Contributors Martin Foreman Conrad F. Goeringer Frank Zindler

CONTENTS 4

Designer Elias Scultori Cover Design Tim Mize

Mailing Address: P.O. Box 5733 Parsippany, NJ 07054-6733 phone — 908.276.7300 FAX — 908.276.7402 editor@americanatheist.org www.atheists.org ©2006 by American Atheists Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission is prohibited. American Atheist Magazine is indexed in the Alternative Press Index. American Atheist Magazine is given free of cost to members of American Atheists as an incident of their membership. Subscriptions for American Atheist Magazine alone are $40 per year for one-year terms only ($50 for Canada & Mexico $70 for all other countries) Gift subscriptions are $25 per year ($35 for Canada & Mexico $55 for all other countries) The library and institutional rate is $20 per year.

Celebrating The Winter Solstice by Ellen Johnson

5

Editorial Assistants Gil and Jeanne Gaudia Published monthly (Except June & December) by American Atheists Inc.

From The President

Head-In-The-Sand Liberals Western Civilization Really Is At Risk From Muslim Extremists by Sam Harris

10

Weighty Matter: Is Religion Making Us Fat? by Cathleen Falsani

7

Financial Fitness For Freethinkers

13

A Letter To A Friend At Christmas

9

by Tom Chancellor

by Gil Gaudia, Ph.D.

Quackwatch Oxygen Hype Is Hot Air by Dr. Stephen Barrett

27

Foxhole Atheist Of The Month

14

The Probing Mind

David Newton

Why The Truth About Nazareth Is Important by Frank R. Zindler

26

God Would Be An Atheist Kill God, Save Lives by Martin Foreman

12

A Personal Story Randy Ausmus


from the president

Celebrating The Winter Solstice Ellen Johnson

I

have always celebrated the Winter Solstice even though I never heard the term when I was growing up. My family wasn’t religious and so when December rolled around it just meant cold weather, winter coats, hot chocolate, snow and yes, Christmas. But Christmas was just about getting presents and a day off from school, pretty much what it is for the rest of America’s youth. There was nothing religious about it, because I didn’t know anything about Jesus, and that was fine with me. I just enjoyed everything secular that one can enjoy at wintertime. I never once accepted that there was a Santa Clause and I don’t even remember my parents telling me and my sisters that there was one. Besides, my parents wouldn’t have been able to pull off the Santa story for very long because our house was small and we always found the hidden “Christmas” presents and peaked at them. We knew where presents came from. They came from our parents because they loved us, and that meant more to me than getting presents from a strange character in a red suit ever could. Those of us who didn’t believe in Santa Clause enjoyed having this special inside information that we would enlighten other kids with. I guess I was in training for my present job. In December we decorated a tree, put colored lights around the house, built snowmen, and went sleigh riding and ice-skating. It was all good. It was all about enjoying the winter season. And that is what the Winter Solstice is all about, the celebration of the season. It isn’t about Jesus. It isn’t about humans. It’s just about the season. It’s about winter. It wasn’t until I became a member of American Atheists in 1978 that I learned about the Winter Solstice. Before then I had never heard the term. For me, celebrating the Winter Solstice is one of the best parts about being an Atheist. We have something to celebrate that makes sense. Unlike the Theists who can’t even agree on when their mythological Jesus was supposed to have been born, we Atheists know the exact time of the Solstice every year. This year it occurs on December 21 at 7:22 pm eastern standard time. How cool is that? I look forward to the Solstice because I dread the shorter and darker days of fall and winter. I like to go for long walks after work and I can’t do that in the dark winter evenings. On the Solstice, the process finally reverses itself, the days get longer and I couldn’t be happier. When I had children of my own I never told them that Santa Clause was real. I don’t think it’s charming to lie to children. My son and daughter didn’t miss the Santa myth, the tooth fairy myth or the Jesus myth. 4

American Atheist — november/december 2006

When they started (public) school there was always the annual Christmas and Hanukkah party in December. And I was right there to tell the teachers that I wanted to talk to the students about what our family celebrated. What could they say? It was only about the beginning of winter. And so for many years I would go into my son and daughter’s classes with homemade sun cookies or a sun cake. A sun cake was just a homemade cake with a yellow and orange sun designed on the top. American Atheists sells “sun” cookie cutters if you want to make sun cookies. You can just make sugar sun-shaped cookies and put yellow sugar on top. I would read from the book we sell called THE WINTER SOLSTICE. It is a beautifully illustrated book, which explains it all. Did my children face any negative consequences from all this talk about the Solstice? No. But maybe that’s because we live in New Jersey and it’s not very religiously oppressive here. My children grew up with a decorated evergreen tree during the Solstice season. We call it our “Solstice” tree. I have accumulated a beautiful collection of sun ornaments over the years and I top the tree with our sun tree topper. Yes, some people think that an evergreen is too “Christmas” but not me. The evergreen was always part of Saturnalia celebrations. (see “Someone Stole Something From Me” page 24). I have all kinds of sun decorations that I put around the house. Candles added a nice touch by representing the light of the sun. My Atheist friends get “Solstice” cards and everyone else gets “Happy Holidays cards.” I have some beautiful “sun” necklaces and earrings that I wear and my car always has the “Solstice Is The Reason For The Season” bumper sticker on it at this time. We always tried to celebrate the Solstice on the Solstice. That isn’t easy because our society doesn’t recognize it as a day off. But that was the day when we opened presents. And so my children got to have their special day before everyone else. My children are in high school now and they don’t want Mom in class doing her Solstice presentation anymore and I miss that. But December will always mean the Solstice to me. And I’m so happy that I have been able to pass this on to my children. The founder of American Atheists Madalyn O’Hair proposed that the Winter and Summer Solstices and Vernal and Autumnal Equinoxes become international days of celebration and I agree. Seasonal changes are something that all humans experience and have in common and doesn’t our world need more things to celebrate, which connect us, one to the other? I hope that you all enjoy the Winter Solstice as much as I do and make it a time of year that you can feel good about celebrating. ❋


Head-In-The-Sand Liberals Western civilization really is at risk from Muslim extremists. by Sam Harris September 18, 2006

T

wo years ago I published a book highly critical of religion, “The End of Faith.” In it, I argued that the world’s major religions are genuinely incompatible, inevitably cause conflict and now prevent the emergence of a viable, global civilization. In response, I have received many thousands of letters and e-mails from priests, journalists, scientists, politicians, soldiers, rabbis, actors, aid workers, and students—from people young and old who occupy every point on the spectrum of belief and nonbelief. This has offered me a special opportunity to see how people of all creeds and political persuasions react when religion is criticized. I am here to report that liberals and conservatives respond very differently to the notion that religion can be a direct cause of human conflict. This difference does not bode well for the future of liberalism. Perhaps I should establish my liberal bone fides at the outset. I’d like to see taxes raised on the wealthy, drugs decriminalized and homosexuals free to marry. I also think that the Bush administration deserves most of the criticism it has received in the last six years—especially with respect to its waging of the war in Iraq, its scuttling of science and its fiscal irresponsibility. But my correspondence with liberals has convinced me that liberalism has grown dangerously out of touch with the realities of our world—specifically with what devout Muslims actually believe about the West, about paradise and about the ultimate ascendance of their faith. On questions of national security, I am now as wary of my fellow liberals as I am of the religious demagogues on the Christian right. This may seem like frank acquiescence to the charge that “liberals are soft on terrorism.” It is, and they are. A cult of death is forming in the Muslim world—for reasons that are perfectly explicable in terms of the Islamic doctrines of martyrdom and jihad. The truth is that we are not fighting a “war on terror.” We are fighting a pestilential theology and a longing for paradise. This is not to say that we are at war with all Muslims. But we are absolutely at war with those who believe that death in defense of the faith is the highest possible good, that cartoonists should be killed for caricaturing the prophet and that any Muslim who loses his faith should be butchered for apostasy. Unfortunately, such religious extremism is not as fringe a phenomenon as we might hope. Numerous studies have found that the most radicalized Muslims tend to have better-than-average educations and economic opportunities.

Given the degree to which religious ideas are still sheltered from criticism in every society, it is actually possible for a person to have the economic and intellectual resources to build a nuclear bomb—and to believe that he will get 72 virgins in paradise. And yet, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, liberals continue to imagine that Muslim terrorism springs from economic despair, lack of education and American militarism. At its most extreme, liberal denial has found expression in a growing subculture of conspiracy theorists who believe that the atrocities of 9/11 were orchestrated by our own government. A nationwide poll conducted by the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University found that more than a third of Americans suspect that the federal government “assisted in the 9/11 terrorist attacks or took no action to stop them so the United States could go to war in the Middle East;” 16% believe that the twin towers collapsed not because fully-fueled passenger jets smashed into them but because agents of the Bush administration had secretly rigged them to explode.

Such an astonishing eruption of masochistic unreason could well mark the decline of liberalism, if not the decline of Western civilization. There are books, films and conferences organized around this phantasmagoria, and they offer an unusually clear view of the debilitating dogma that lurks at the heart of liberalism: Western power is utterly malevolent, while the powerless people of the Earth can be counted on to embrace reason and tolerance, if only given sufficient economic opportunities. november/december 2006 — American Atheist

5


I don’t know how many more engineers and architects need to blow themselves up, fly planes into buildings or saw the heads off of journalists before this fantasy will dissipate. The truth is that there is every reason to believe that a terrifying number of the world’s Muslims now view all political and moral questions in terms of their affiliation with Islam. This leads them to rally to the cause of other Muslims no matter how sociopathic their behavior. This benighted religious solidarity may be the greatest problem facing civilization and yet it is regularly misconstrued, ignored or obfuscated by liberals. Given the mendacity and shocking incompetence of the Bush administration—especially its mishandling of the war in Iraq—liberals can find much to lament in the conservative approach to fighting the war on terror. Unfortunately, liberals hate the current administration with such fury that they regularly fail to acknowledge just how dangerous and depraved our enemies in the Muslim world are. Recent condemnations of the Bush administration’s use of the phrase “Islamic fascism” are a case in point. There is no question that the phrase is imprecise—Islamists are not technically fascists, and the term ignores a variety of schisms that exist even among Islamists— but it is by no means an example of wartime propaganda, as has been repeatedly alleged by liberals. In their analyses of U.S. and Israeli foreign policy, liberals can be relied on to overlook the most basic moral distinctions. For instance, they ignore the fact that Muslims intentionally murder noncombatants, while we and the Israelis (as a rule) seek to avoid doing so. Muslims routinely use human shields, and this accounts for much of the collateral damage we and the Israelis cause; the political discourse throughout much of the Muslim world, especially with respect to Jews, is explicitly and unabashedly genocidal. Given these distinctions, there is no question that the Israelis now hold the moral high ground in their conflict with Hamas and Hezbollah. And yet liberals in the United States and Europe often speak as though the truth were otherwise. We are entering an age of unchecked nuclear proliferation and, it seems likely, nuclear terrorism. There is, therefore, no future in which aspiring martyrs will make good neighbors for us. Unless liberals realize that there are tens of millions of people in the Muslim world who are far scarier than Dick Cheney, they will be unable to protect civilization from its genuine enemies. 6

American Atheist — november/december 2006

Increasingly, Americans will come to believe that the only people hard-headed enough to fight the religious lunatics of the Muslim world are the religious lunatics of the West. Indeed, it is telling that the people who speak with the greatest moral clarity about the current wars in the Middle East are members of the Christian right, whose infatuation with biblical prophecy is nearly as troubling as the ideology of our enemies. Religious dogmatism is now playing both sides of the board in a very dangerous game. While liberals should be the ones pointing the way beyond this Iron Age madness, they are rendering themselves increasingly irrelevant. Being generally reasonable and tolerant of diversity, liberals should be especially sensitive to the dangers of religious literalism. But they aren’t. The same failure of liberalism is evident in Western Europe, where the dogma of multiculturalism has left a secular Europe very slow to address the looming problem of religious extremism among its immigrants. The people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists. To say that this does not bode well for liberalism is an understatement: It does not bode well for the future of civilization. ❋

SAM HARRIS is the author of “The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason” and “Letter to a Christian Nation.” samharris.org


Financial Fitness For Freethinkers by Tom Chancellor

A

Family Financial Emergency Kit Do you have a junk drawer in your home? Most of us do, and it’s usually found in the kitchen. This drawer contains odds and ends that occasionally are needed for just about any situation. It has a few twist ties, a pair of pliers, a couple of screwdrivers, a flashlight, some string, rubber bands, glue, thumb tacks, and so on. Everyone in the house knows to look there when they need a what’s-it for some project. Do you have a similar central location for your financial information? Several years ago, my mother-in-law began to have problems with memory and organization. She became very anxious about managing her money and worried that she might not have enough to support herself. Since I help people with financial matters, my wife and I went to her home to help her get things organized and develop a plan. We were amazed at what we found. Receipts and reports were stuck in boxes in closets; stock certificates were in a dresser; insurance policies were in a lamp table drawer. It took us several full days just to organize what we found. It took months to track down accounts at various banks, insurance firms, and brokerages to determine if assets were still there and get things properly arranged. Fortunately, we were able to eventually pull everything together and found that she did have sufficient resources to support her well for the remainder of her life. But to this day, I can’t say with absolute certainty that we found everything.

The Founders Friends... So many of you help American Atheists with donations and other financial support—and we want 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 your name and amount entered in subsequent issues of the AA Newsletter. 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 Newsletter. 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! American Atheists Thanks The Following Persons For Their Generous Contributions To Our Cause.

Frank H. Titus, OK - $50 George B. Whatley, AL - $125 Jingyu Cui, TX - $50 Tim Lewis, VA - $50 Elizabeth Hittson, TX - $50

This is not an isolated story about an elderly person who may have become a bit eccentric. I know of a relatively young man right now who has stock certificates worth several hundred thousand dollars in a box somewhere in his home. He’s not sure which box they are in-perhaps one that he hasn’t unpacked from his last move four years ago. If he were to be suddenly incapacitated, the fate of those stock certificates could be very uncertain. I recommend that everyone have a central document describing essential elements of their financial and personal resources and plans. Copies should be distributed to trusted family members, professional advisors, and/or friends. Then when the need arises, helpers can quickly and confidently go to the “junk drawer” to find what they need to take care of the situation. Here is a brief list of tools you should have and information that should be gathered together: • A professionally drafted will or will substitute • A medical power of attorney • A durable general power of attorney • A living will • A personal property disposal list—who gets what of your personal items • A list of your consultants and advisors and their addresses • Attorney • Financial advisor/broker • Insurance agent • A listing of accounts and their titles • Description of where documents are located and access instructions in the case of a safety deposit box or a home safe • Ongoing payments or debts and instructions for payment • Mortgage • Life insurance • Listing of insurance policies • Debts owed to you It isn’t necessary or prudent for all the documentation to be in one place, but you can have a single document that indicates what is where and how those you have entrusted to care for you and/or your estate can find and access the resources they will need. Since identity theft and misuse of financial information are real concerns, exercise care in creating and distributing your core document. Ask those to whom you entrust it to keep it in a secure place. ❋ Tom Chancellor is a Certified Financial Planner Professional (CFP©) who works with a national firm and provides advice for the Association and our members.

november/december 2006 — American Atheist

7


Voice Of God Revealed To Be Cheney On Intercom by the onion—www.theonion.com WASHINGTON, DC – Telephone logs recorded by the National Security Agency and obtained by Congress as part of an ongoing investigation suggest that the vice president may have used the Oval Office intercom system to address President Bush at crucial moments, giving categorical directives in a voice the president believed to be that of God. While journalists and presidential historians had long noted Bush’s deep faith and Cheney’s powerful influence in the White House, few had drawn a direct correlation between the two until Tuesday, when transcripts of meetings that took place in March and April of 2002 became available. In a transcript of an intercom exchange recorded in March 2002, a voice positively identified as the vice president’s identifies himself as “the Lord thy God” and promotes the invasion of Iraq, as well as the use of torture in prisoner interrogations. A close examination of Bush’s public statements and Secret Service time logs tracking the vice president reveals a consistent pattern, one which links Bush’s belief that he had received word from God with Cheney’s use of the White House’s telephone-based intercom system. Officials privately acknowledged that there is reason to believe that the vice president, as God, urged Bush to sign legislation benefiting oil companies in 2005. “There’s a lot of religious zeal in the West Wing,” said a former White House staffer who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It’s possible that the vice president has taken advantage of that to fasttrack certain administration objectives.” An ex-Treasury Department official and longtime friend of Cheney was asked to comment on the vice president’s possible subterfuge. “I don’t know. I certainly don’t think it’s something [Cheney] planned,” he said. “I do know that Mr. Bush was unfamiliar with a phone-based intercom, and I suppose it is possible that Dick took advantage of that.” A highly placed NSA official who has reviewed the information released Tuesday said Cheney masked his clipped monotone, employing a deeper, booming voice. Voice Of God Revealed To Be Cheney On Intercom Said the NSA source: “It sounded as though the speaker, who identified himself as God, stood away from the intercom to create an echo effect.” On Capitol Hill, sources are expressing surprise that Cheney, a vice president with more influence than any other in U.S. history, would have resorted to such deception. “The vice president has a lot of sway in this administration,” said a former White House aide. “But perhaps when President Bush was particularly resolute and resistant to mortal persuasion, the vice president chose to quickly resolve disputes in his favor with a half-decent God impression.” For many, the revelation explains Bush’s confusion in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. “I was very surprised by the president’s slow response in New Orleans,” political commentator Bill Kristol said. “The president told me that he was praying every day in his office, but had received no reply. I had no idea what he meant, but of course, it all makes sense now.” At the time of Katrina, Cheney was on a fly-fishing trip, from which he returned on Sept. 1. According to highly placed White House sources, Bush’s senior advisers are trying to shield the president from the news. Aides are concerned that too harsh an awakening might shake Bush’s faith, which has been a central part of his life for nearly 20 years. 8

American Atheist — november/december 2006

“It’s hard to tell the leader of the free world that he has been the butt of an elaborate and long-term ruse,” a former staffer said. “Maybe it would be easier to take if it came from Cheney’s God voice.” ❋ © copyright 2006, Onion, Inc. all rights reserved. reprinted with permission. The Onion is not intended for readers under 18 years of age.

representing

YOU

9/24 — AP quoted our press release on Harold Ford and his campaign ad. 9/19 — American Atheists Capitol Hill Representative Rick Wingrove visited the office of Reps. Frank Wolf and Pete Stark to discuss the Public Expression of Religion Act. 9/23 — Capitol Hill Representative Rick Wingrove and four others rallied outside the Value Voters Summit meeting at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC. Rick was interviewed by two members of the media and he spoke with numerous conference participants. 10/4 — American Atheists President Ellen Johnson’s was quoted in CNSNews.com on the “Maryland School Sued for Refusing to Let Girl Read Bible” 10/10 — Ellen Johnson was interviewed by the East Bay Express Newspaper for an article on a local Atheist group in northern California. 10/12 — The Cincinnati Post Newspaper had a story about American Atheists Legal Director Edwin Kagin and the Public Expression Of Religion Act. 10/14 — Michigan State Director Arlene Marie was a guest on Michigan Talk Radio’s Ron Pritchard Program. 10/15 — Florida State Director Greg McDowell spoke at the Seminole Public Library on “Theist Against Atheist” 10/16 — Conrad Goeringer spoke to the Cincinnati Free Inquiry Group. He spoke on: “NOT DAN BROWN’S KIND OF EVIDENCE - Facts, Fashions and Fables about Freemasonry.” 10/22 — David Silverman, our National Communications Director, was quoted in an article titled, “Atheists seek place in society” which appeared in the The Press-Enterprise. 11/2 — American Atheists Legal Director Edwin Kagin appeared on a live, televised town hall debate titled “God In America” produced by CST television in Aurora, Illinois. 11/7- AA Communications Director Dave Silverman spoke to the Philiadelphia Freethought Society.


quackwatch

Oxygen Hype Is Hot Air by Dr. Stephen Barrett

An ad for the “Millennium Oxygen Cooler” asks, “Are you getting all the oxygen you need for good health?”

I

f you’re like most of us, you’re probably not. Yet studies reveal that oxygen in your bloodstream can enhance your ability to fight infectious bacteria, microbes, and viruses. How? Oxygen in the bloodstream acts as a cleaner, helping to rid your body of the toxins that build up due to pollution. Our revolutionary, hightech oxygen water cooler contains water with a 600% higher concentration of dissolved oxygen (as compared, say, to a mountain stream) which may help maintain your health, concentration, skin tone, and overall well being. It’s far better than bottled water which allows oxygen to evaporate. And because our cooler doesn’t use any flammable materials, it’s perfectly safe. Ad This statement appeared in the January 2001 catalogue of InteliHealth Healthy Home, the mail-order service of the highly respected InteliHealth Web site. The product, which sold for $1,590 plus $19.95 for shipping, was a modern-looking cylindrical device

Meet Rachel Carroll The New Office Manager At The American Atheist Center

I am originally from Michigan. I was born and raised in the Detroit metropolitan area and graduated from Michigan State University (MSU) with a bachelors degree in 2004. You may have spotted me when I attended meetings of various organizations including the MSU Freethinker Alliance, Michigan Atheists, and the MidMichigan Atheists and Humanists. I have two orange tabby cats but also have a fondness for larger-sized dogs, having grown up with a black Labrador retriever. I recently moved to New Jersey to work for American Atheists and absolutely love it. I can be reached at rcarroll@atheists.org Arthur Brenner is still here and he has moved into the position of Director Of Office Improvement Projects

about five feet high and a foot in diameter. It did not appear on the company’s web site. Other companies are making similar claims for pills and liquids that supposedly contain “stabilized” or “aerobic” oxygen. Some sellers claim that “oxygen deficiency” or “oxygen starvation” is an underlying cause of disease and has been increasing because the oxygen content of the earth’s atmosphere has been decreasing. The above claims are about as silly as anything I have seen. Here are the facts: Oxygen from the air enters the lungs and is captured by the heme (iron) portion of the blood. The body adapts to get what it needs by changing its breathing rate. Blood returning to the lungs contains surplus oxygen. Taking oxygen into the stomach through a liquid, pill, or food would not significantly raise the body’s blood level of oxygen. The recommended dosage of “stabilized oxygen” products would provide less oxygen than people get in a single deep breath. Even if it could, it would have no effect on infectious disease or on “ridding the body of toxins.” “Oxygen deficiency” is not an underlying cause of disease. The oxygen content of the earth’s atmosphere has not changed significantly during the past 10,000 years. If enough oxygen is available to sustain life, the body will extract what it needs from the air and deliver what is needed to the cells. In mountainous regions where the air pressure is lowest, humans readily adapt to reasonable levels. It is possible for a device to add a tiny amount of oxygen to water in a sealed tank, but soon after the water is exposed to room air, most of it will quickly bubble out. To extract significant amounts of oxygen from water, a human would need gills. ❋

Dr. Barrett is a retired psychiatrist, nationally renowned author, editor, and consumer advocate. His quackwatch.org website and free e-mail newsletter provide comprehensive information on health fraud, quackery and intelligent decisions. Dr. Barrett lives in Allentown, PA

november/december 2006 — American Atheist

9


Weighty Matter: Is Religion Making Us Fat? by Cathleen Falsani

B

ack in the decadent early 1980s, New Wave rocker Adam Ant mocked clean living in his maddeningly catchy song, “Goody Two Shoes.” “Don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do ya do?” Ant

taunted. A new Purdue University study may hold the answer to Ant’s question. If they don’t drink and don’t smoke, what do they do? Eat, apparently. “America is becoming known as a nation of gluttony and obesity, and churches are a feeding ground for this problem,” says Ken Ferraro, a Purdue sociology professor who studied more than 2,500 adults over a span of eight years looking at the correlation between their religious behavior and their body mass index. “If religious leaders and organizations neglect this issue, they

10

American Atheist — november/december 2006

will contribute to an epidemic that will cost the health-care system millions of dollars and reduce the quality of life for many parishioners,” he says. Ferraro’s most recent study, published in the June issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, is a follow-up to a study he published in 1998, where he found there were more obese people in states with larger populations of folks claiming a religious affiliation than elsewhere—particularly in states with the most Baptists. So it’s not surprising that Ferraro’s latest study found that about 27 percent of Baptists, including Southern Baptists, North American Baptists, and Fundamentalist Baptist, were obese. Surely there are several contributing factors to such a phenomenon, but when Ferraro accounted for geography (southern cooking is generally more high-caloric), race and even whether overweight folks were attracted to churches for moral support, the statistics still


seem to indicate that some churches dispense love handles as well as the love of the Lord. Having attended a Southern Baptist church for most of my formative years, I was hardly shocked by Ferraro’s discoveries. From the coffee (and doughnuts) hour after Sunday-morning worship, to the huge potluck dinners and the Sunday-night ice-cream socials, there was always food around, and it was rarely the lo-cal variety. Ambrosia salad. Seventeen different kinds of chicken/broccoli/cheese casserole. Banana-and-Nilla-wafer-pudding. Fried chicken. Barbecue chicken. Sweet tea. Those were the elements of our social sacraments at the Baptist church. In religious traditions where drinking alcohol, smoking anything and even dancing are vices regularly preached against from the pulpit, overeating has become the “accepted vice,” Ferraro says. Or, as Homer Simpson so eloquently put it on his way to a First Church of Springfield picnic: “If God didn’t want us to eat in church, he’d have made gluttony a sin.” Food often is substituted for alcohol at Baptist and other conservative Protestant gatherings, Ferraro says. I once attended a wedding at a conservative Bible church where, instead of an open bar or champagne fountain, the bride and groom toasted their new beginning with a massive ice-cream sundae buffet. I kid you not. “Baptists may find food one of the few available sources of earthly pleasures,” Ferraro says. Exhibit A: The Rev. Jerry Falwell, Baptist king of the Christian right. Falwell has been accused (rightly) of being many things. Chubby, for instance. He may not drink or smoke, or think lusty liberal thoughts, but it looks like the good reverend has never met a plate of cheese grits he didn’t love. And it may have cost him. Falwell, 73, was hospitalized last year for acute congestive heart failure. His hefty weight, doctors said at the time, wasn’t helping matters. “Baptist and fundamentalist Protestant leaders may want to consider interventions for the ‘overgrazing of the flock,’ “ Ferraro says. While some megachurches have fitness facilities and long have offered exercise classes as well as Bible studies, in most congregations you’re still more likely to find a bake sale than a spinning class on any given Sunday. Ferraro’s study also found that about 20 percent of “Fundamentalist Protestants,” (Church of Christ, Pentecostal, Assemblies of God and Church of God); about 18 percent of “Pietistic Protestants,” (Methodist, Christian Church and African Methodist Episcopal), and about 17 percent of Catholics were obese.

By contrast, about 1 percent of the Jewish population and less than 1 percent of other non-Christians, including Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and others), were tipping the scales with commensurate gusto. “In my mind, one of the distinctive things about Christianity, particularly American Protestant Christianity, is we don’t have any [dietary] behavior codes,” said Daniel Sack of Chicago, a historian and author of the 2000 book, Whitebread Protestants: Food and Religion in American Culture. “Islam does, Judaism does, Catholicism does, but basically there’s nothing scriptural and in most [Protestant] traditions as long as you don’t drink, you’re fine. Particularly in that Baptist cohort, that’s the only real rule.” This is true. Even on the Sundays when we celebrated the “Lord’s Supper,” i.e., communion, we had thimble-sized cups of Welch’s grape juice to go with our chunks of home-baked white bread. No Jesus juice allowed. “Food plays an important social role in the life of a religious community, particularly in the Protestant tradition,” said Sack, an ordained United Church of Christ minister. “In Judaism and Catholicism, [religious celebrations] are largely family-oriented and so they’re home based. Typically Protestant food practices tend to be much more congregational.” And that might have a lot to do with how most Protestant congregations are formed. Increasingly they’re not geographic. People will drive for miles to attend the church they like. Theologically speaking, this kind of community is called a “gathering congregation.” “A gathering congregation has to gather around something, and it’s often around food,” Sack says. Perhaps, as Ferraro suggests, more churches might want to consider turning the fellowship hall into a gym, putting down the Krispy Kremes, and gathering instead around a plate of crudite before taking a brisk walk with the pastor after church. Because, ya know, blessed are the weight watchers. ❋ CATHLEEN FALSANI © 2006 Cathleen Falsani. Dist. By UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved november/december 2006 — American Atheist

11


A Personal Story Randy Ausmus

L

et’s talk about double standards. Wherever you go you are confronted with propaganda on bumper stickers, tee shirts, sides of trucks and rear windshields that proclaim, “Jesus Saves,” and other Christian propaganda. Even TV anchors and celebrities like Oprah Winfrey have their gold crosses hanging from their ears and necklaces—in my face--displaying their religious convictions every time time I turn on the TV. So I decided to buy a tee shirt that reads, “Jesus Christ Super Fraud.” After all, am I not entitled to display my viewpoint too? Recently, when I flew on U.S. Airways I made it a point to wear my “Jesus Christ Super Fraud” tee shirt that day. At the airlines ticket counter a U.S. Airways employee asked me what the tee shirt message was “all about.” As if she needed an explanation, I told her that fraud meant that it was a lie. I also pointed out that there wasn’t any proof that Jesus existed, and because of that, any claims made about him are fraudulent. She made a negative comment and walked away. Immediately, a man behind the counter who was assisting another woman, said that he had something to ask me. I said that if he was going to preach to me, I did not want to talk to him. He nodded his head “No” and said, “If I am wrong, I have nothing to lose, but if I am right, you have everything to lose and how do you comment on that?” I told him that I was not concerned about it because I did not believe in a god any more than I believed in Peter Pan. I also told him that Jesus said some very hateful things about people who believed in other gods and that he is not the type of person I would want to worship. I pointed out that today in Muslim countries people worship Mohammed and by Jesus’ standards they would be condemned. At this point, the person behind the counter made a comment about Muslims going to hell too, and the woman alongside of him mumbled something revealing her agreement with him. She seemed to be referring to his comment regarding “if he was right, he had nothing to lose, and if I was wrong, I had everything to lose.” I was angry and felt like I was being insulted and picked on at this time. I was also thinking that these people were very misguided and that it was so sad that so many people in the U.S. have such bizarre ideas. Then, as I walked away, I overheard the second woman (Linda C.); say in a soft tone of voice, to the others behind the counter, “He’s going to burn. He’s going to burn.” My anger increased but I also felt sorry for this woman because she was condemning me, in a very harsh way, by saying that I would burn in “hell.” When I asked another U.S.Airways employee, who stood near the entrance to the jetway, for the names of these two offenders, specifically the woman who said that I was “going to burn,” he responded, “Oh, I don’t think they were talking about you, they were talking about the tickets.” He did not offer to tell me their names. I knew what I heard and I was almost totally certain that he knew what was going on, as it would have been almost impossible for him not to. This experience revealed to me that Christians think it’s O.K. to spread their bizarre ideas everywhere, and condemn others who disagree with these bizarre ideas. They even insult customers! I feel that they are large in numbers and are often in positions of power and use that power to suppress others who disagree with them. I felt that the people behind the ticket counter could have averted their eyes and should have focused on doing their jobs instead of condemning me. This has only made me even more determined to display my “Jesus Christ, Super Fraud” shirt each time I go to the airport, because I should not have to cave in to the Christians.

12

American Atheist — november/december 2006


“All national institutions of churches ... appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, ...” —Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason

A Letter To A Friend At Christmas

T

he following is the reply to a November, 2005 letter from a Christian friend of mine, a university administrator, whose fear was that Islamic terrorists were about to wreak havoc upon the United States during “our most important holiday,” as he expressed it. Dear Friend, You write to me of fear, Gerald, during this Solstice Season which the Christians have misnamed “Christmas.” You are educated enough to know that they (and you) deny the astronomical basis for its observance, while boasting to the multitudes that “Jesus is the Reason For the Season.” And now you find yourself, as have millions before you and as millions do today, facing that same fear which has been inflicted upon people whenever fundamentalists of any stripe wield the sword of righteousness, as they have for millennia. But as I’ve pointed out to you earlier, there should be no surprise in the use of this tactic, because it is the fundamental principle of religion-especially the Christian religion that you so ardently subscribe to and defend. Politicians have long known that if fear can be introduced into a given situation and encouraged to spread among the populace, it can then be used to attack any current target of convenience. You know, Gerald, that Christians are masters at this game. In fact, it is the foundation of Christianity, originally implanted in the portion of the human race that subscribes to a nonsensical fable that is based upon a brutal murder. As a psychologist, I have been trying to understand the phenomenon of belief for over forty years, especially the belief in the “unbelievable”, and it has become clear to me that the main component of belief in anything other than the natural world stems from the fear that most of us have of ceasing to exist and being conscious-the fear of death. The Judeo-Christian construct of the “Vengeful God”, the apotheosis of which is the concept of Hell (an idea so hideous in its formulation, that anyone under its sway is reduced to a non-thinking groveling penitent) is the bedrock of fear. It is originally implanted into children’s impressionable minds as they go to sleep in their bedrooms confronted with the blood-drenched image of a tortured human hanging by his arms from a cross (Be careful, my child, ... or this could happen to you.) Thomas Paine said it most pointedly in The Age of Reason, “All national institutions of churches ... appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, ...” Gerald, can’t you see, that not only was Paine right, but there is a reason why reason disappears when advocating religion, the Bible and god? There is a reason why you, along with three-quarters of Americans believe in ghosts, spirits, myths, angels and the devil. It all comes down to fear. And now you are facing its latest and most personal incarnation in the fear Muslims have induced at your university that serves as a microcosm of the broader threat. But it isn’t only the fear of death that has been manipulated by your “institutions of churches.” There is another, subtle, yet important dimension of fear that contributes to the almost insurmountable

Fear Is The Real Reason For This Season by Gil Gaudia, Ph.D. power of that emotion, ... fear of being outside of the mainstream. Banishment, ostracism, ridicule, scorn—the very practical fear of loss of standing in the community (including the workplace and social circle)-all compound the fear of death. When combined with the more primitive fear of interminable punishment, the package provides insurmountable motivation to deny the input of our senses, our logic, and everything else we have learned about science and the world. This is the reason why we find so many educated and intelligent people filling the pews of the nation’s churches. This is the reason why some brilliant Ph.D.s mouth utter nonsense like Stephen Hawking’s comments on the Pope in his best-selling book “A Brief History of Time” and the late Stephen Jay Gould’s concept of “NonOverlapping- Magisteria”, in which he maintains that science and religion have no conflict-that they simply operate in separate domains. These knowledgeable people are afraid to express openly what they most assuredly have to believe to be true. However, the fear that has been inoculated early, overcomes the science; the reason; the logic and the common sense of the rational adult, who in the face of overwhelming threat, regresses to the role of a cowering child. But fear is not enough for the vengeful Christians. After implanting the malady, they then hold out the antidote in the form of the greatest and most fantastic bonus of all, eternal redemption. What better way to dispel all fear, than to construct a resurrecting concept of everlasting life beyond the death of the body, and then convincing people that there is nothing to fear at all-in fact death is a condition to be desired and sought after-accept Jesus Christ as your savior and you will go to Heaven, or if not a Christian, to Valhalla, Elysium, Olympus or Nirvana. So there you have it, Gerald. You fear the recent Muslim threat and envision the beginning of catastrophe. But for some reason, you have denied the omnipresent threat that your own religion has imposed upon you for all of your life, and somehow you have managed to glorify it. In your mind, and the minds of all your fellow Christians, you’ve turned it into noble concepts like love, faith, hope, and charity while subordinating the real force behind the “human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, ...” No, Gerald, contrary to the slogan that you and your fellow Christians have popularized in recent years with your baseball caps, tee shirts and bumper stickers, Jesus is not the reason for the season. Fear is. Think about it. ❋ Gil Gaudia is professor Emeritus at the SUNY college at Fredonia. He was also a clinical psychologist and a fellow at The Albert Ellis Institute in Manhattan, and now devotes his time to writing. His novel, Outside, Looking In, is a thinly-veiled autobiography of an atheist. His e-mail address is gjgaudia@comcast.net november/december 2006 — American Atheist

13


the probing mind

Why The Truth About Nazareth Is Important by Frank Zindler

P

roving the non-existence of gods is usually a futile endeavor, generally involving the nearly impossible task of proving a universal negative. Indeed, when the ‘god’ in question is undefined, such proof is impossible. It is impossible because the exercise is scientifically meaningless. In science, unless a claim of the existence of anything—be it a god or a subatomic particle—leads to predictions which can be tested, it can’t even be proven false: it is merely meaningless. The worst part of all this is that no one takes seriously the testing of such claims—nor should he. Recently, when I argued that Jesus didn’t want me to be like the hypocrites and pray in public [Matthew 6:5–6], no one took my ‘proof ’ seriously. Speaking to the ceiling, I had ‘tested’ my own claim by exclaiming “Jesus! If you agree that we should not be hypocrites and should not pray in public, give us absolutely no sign in the next ten seconds!” Similarly, millions of people in TV audiences have been unimpressed by my ‘demonstration’ of the nonexistence of the Christian god when I have exclaimed “Jehovah! If you exist, strike me dead in the next ten minutes!” Even the fact that I am always still alive ten minutes later seems not to move the world one bit. As I said, effectively proving the nonexistence of a god can be frustrating—and usually futile. In the following article, René Salm has, however, found and struck the Achilles’ heel of a very popular god—Jesus of Nazareth. While almost nothing in this god’s definition is agreed upon by scholars and believers, one thing must be true. If he ever existed, he must have been from ‘Nazareth’—just as Dorothy’s Wizard was from ‘Oz.’ We know quite certainly that there never was a Wizard of Oz because exhaustive LandSat photosearches of Missouri and Kansas conclusively fail to find remains of Emerald City and Munchkin burial mounds. Absolute proof is possible because an exhaustive search is possible. If it could be shown conclusively that ‘Nazareth’ did not exist at the time that Jesus and his family are supposed to have lived there... You get my intended point. As I have said, René Salm has found the Achilles’ heel of a god—Jesus of Nazareth. His exhaustive study and critique of what has passed for archaeological excavations of Jesus’ home town make it absolutely certain—or at least as certain as any scientific argument can be—that the place now called Nazareth was not inhabited from around 730 BCE until sometime after 70 CE. This nasty fact is more than a mere inconvenience for those who seek historical facts in the Gospels. By demonstrating the fictive nature of Jesus of Nazareth, Mr. Salm has done a great service for science and civilization in general. Of course, there are those who now might argue that Jesus was ac14

American Atheist — november/december 2006

tually ‘Jesus of Bethlehem of Judaea.’ Alas, the Israeli archaeologist Aviram Oshri has removed that base from the ball park too. He has shown by his own excavations that although Bethlehem in Galilee was inhabited during the Herodian period, Bethlehem in Judaea was not. Of course, a Jesus of Kalamazoo or a Jesus of Cucamonga cannot yet be ruled out. Even so, Franciscan ‘archaeologists’ have not yet realized they need to start building a case for possible gods in ZIP-code areas 49001 and 91729. The Jesus they have been riding all these years has been shot out from under them so suddenly, they don’t yet realize they’re being supported only by (hot) air. The Myth of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus by René Salm René Salm is an authority on Buddhism and a mental health professional who now is turning his attention to the murky beginnings of Christianity. He is presently working on A New Account of Christian Origins, a multivolume work of which The Myth of Nazareth: the Invented Town of Jesus will be the first volume. This article is a brief summary of the meticulously researched and documented book which is to come. He manages the Kevalin Press and resides in Eugene, Oregon. For those who may be interested, the information in this article is set forth in greater detail, together with a wealth of factual information, in a series of chapbooks being published by Kevalin Press over the period of one year. For further information, please visit www.kevalin.org. A popular edition of these findings, in book form, is planned for 2008. The author invites readers to email comments to kevalin@kevalin.org or to write him at: Kevalin Press, P.O.B. 50201, Eugene OR 97405. Did Nazareth exist when Jesus was alive? Did Jesus even live at all? These unsettling questions remind me of the proverbial mad uncle in the cellar—he’s there, but the household wants to keep it a secret, so when the guests come to dinner the hostess’s smile covers a perpetual fear and an unvoiced prayer: “Please uncle Jack, please don’t scream tonight!” The trouble with a mad uncle in the cellar is that he can spoil the party upstairs. The same problem exists with questions like “Did Nazareth exist when Jesus was alive?” and its bigger sibling, “Did


Jesus even live at all?” (being seriously asked by scholars such as Frank Zindler and Earl Doherty). Such questions can spoil the party because if Jesus didn’t exist, then the West’s main excuse for feeling good (“I’m saved”) is suddenly gone. Now, we can argue until the Second Coming whether Jesus actually lived in the flesh, and I suspect he might appear on the clouds before we decide the matter, because there can be no proof for his terrestrial life. Even were someone to present a document they claimed was written by Jesus (say, from the Dead Sea Scrolls), or a garment he touched (like the Shroud of Turin), anybody could simply say: “No, I think that’s someone else. That’s not him.” After all, a fact is only that which is provable. This is what gives the Nazareth issue such great potency. Unlike aspects of the gospel story that are quite beyond verification—the miracles of Jesus, his bodily resurrection, his virgin birth, or even his human nature—the existence of Nazareth two thousand years ago can be proved or disproved by digging in the ground. Because the

If Nazareth didn’t exist, that means the evangelists lied in a big way. The place is mentioned ten times in the canonical gospels and Acts of the Apostles. (The rest of the occurrences ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ in the New Testament are better translated ‘Jesus the Nazarene’ or ‘Nazorean’—whatever that was.) In other words, this is not a onetime error, but a calculated and recurrent invention shared by all four gospels. If the evangelists were spinning a yarn, then conservatives who have been touting scriptural inerrancy for so many years all suddenly have a great deal of egg on their faces. No one likes to be duped. What hurts more is to be duped and shown a fool for telling a false story to one’s children for two thousand years. And we should be clear on this—when it comes to the gospels, mega-bragging rights and total testosterone are involved. Those documents are what drove Crusaders to kill Moslems, inquisitors to burn heretics, and the Church to stand on infallibility and hurl papal bulls to the world. We’re talking about being right, by God, about metaphorically strutting down main street, and about having the blessing to shoot and ask questions later. Hmm... Sounds a lot like conservative Christianity. It is the conservative wing of Christianity that has so much to lose from the scientific investigation of Christian origins. The archaeologist’s spade, at Nazareth as at other places in Palestine, has engendered fear in that quarter because it might show that things did not happen as the scriptures say, that the Bible is not the word of God. No doubt partly for this reason, centuries ago the Roman Catholic Church resolved to buy the most sacred Christian places in the Holy Land. In this way, the Church would shape the story told about those sites and manage any investigation that took place on its property—in addition, of course, to monopolizing the revenues from pilgrims. The Custodia di Terra Santa, an arm of the Franciscan Order, was formed for the purpose of acquiring and controlling the venues deemed most sacred to Christians. In 1620 CE the Custodian of the Holy Land, Fr. Tommaso Obicini, acquired the present venerated area in Nazareth from the Druse emir, Fakr ed-Din. Today, that area is the premiere destination of Christian pilgrimage outside of Jerusalem. It’s not very large—only about 100 m by 60 m, and includes three structures: the Church of the Annunciation (the largest Christian edifice in the Middle East), the Church of St. Joseph to the north, and the Franciscan convent between the two churches. The venerated area has been the venue of virtually all the Roman Catholic excavations in Nazareth, so we should not be surprised if the history of the settlement is seen through thick Roman Catholic lenses. The Bronze-Iron Age settlement

Nazareth and the ancient trade routes of Palestine.

archaeology of any site is empirically demonstrable, ‘Nazareth’ is in a category apart. To this day, it preserves the explosive potential to either prove or disprove the gospel accounts. It is potentially a very loud scream from the cellar.

The Nazareth basin lies in southern Galilee roughly equidistant from the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Galilee—about an easy day’s walk from either. It is surrounded by hills, and thus is both accessible and off the beaten path. The story of human habitation there begins at the dawn of history. It became clear in the 1920s that a substantial settlement existed in the basin already in the Bronze and Iron Ages. My research has clarified prior proposals that the settlement started about 3000 BCE. In fact, it began a millennium later. But the name ‘Nazareth’ does not appear in Jewish scripture, nor in any ancient records before the Christian gospels. This has always struck scholars as curious, but I am now able to offer one possible explanation. There was an ancient settlement in the neighborhood of Nazareth called Japhia. It is mentioned in the Bible (Jos 19:12), as well as in the Egyptian Amarna letters of the fourteenth century BCE. Today, november/december 2006 — American Atheist

15


The Nazareth basin with Bronze-Iron Age sites. The present venerated area is marked by the Church of the Annunciation (CA) and the Church of St. Joseph (CJ).

archaeologists know of Japhia only from the Roman ruins of the town 3 km SW of Nazareth. Japhia was destroyed in 67 CE, during the First Jewish Revolt. Curiously, there are no Bronze-Iron Age remains of Japhia under the Roman ruins. So, the early town mentioned in the Bible was somewhere nearby. There was indeed a considerable settlement in the Nazareth basin during those eras, one beginning about 2000 BCE and continuing for about thirteen centuries (from the Middle Bronze Age to the Middle Iron Age). Thus, by synoptically viewing the evidence from Japhia together with that from the neighboring Nazareth basin, one arrives at the very likely solution: ‘Japhia’ was located in the Nazareth basin in the Bronze and Iron Ages, and it moved in the course of centuries to the eventual Roman location three kilometers away. Such village movement over time was not unusual, and occurred for a variety of reasons. In the case of Japhia we have a good reason: Assyria conquered Israel in 732 BCE and destroyed all the major towns in northern Palestine. It is likely that Japhia was also a casualty of the general destruction at that time. Thus, the earliest town of Nazareth was not ‘Nazareth’ at all, but Japhia. The Great Hiatus The first stage of ‘Nazareth’ history comes to an end with the eighth century destruction of Japhia. Thereafter, according to surveys conducted by the Israeli archaeologist Zvi Gal [1], there was a general depopulation of Galilee. Japhia was abandoned along with many other sites, and the Nazareth basin lay empty of human settlement for many centuries. This is the beginning of what I call a ‘Great Hiatus’ in habitation. There is no evidence at all in the ground at Nazareth from the ensuing Babylonian and Persian Periods (c. 612—c. 330 BCE), and the Church itself has never claimed any. 16

American Atheist — november/december 2006

It’s curious, then, that the Catholic Church maintains the doctrine of continuous habitation, namely, that Nazareth was inhabited from the Bronze Age all the way until the present. Thus Father B. Bagatti [2], the principal archaeologist at the site: “...life did not begin in the place in a recent epoch, but already existed in the Bronze Period, to continue down to our own days” (Exc. 319). This is tantamount to a denial of empirical fact, but the reason is clear: Christian doctrine requires that Nazareth existed in Jesus’ time. This in turn requires that the settlement already existed for some time. Only two possibilities fulfill this requirement. Either (1) Nazareth has existed continuously since the Bronze Age; or (2) there was a hiatus in settlement, but the town was reestabished before Jesus’ time (for example, in the Hellenistic Age). The Roman Catholic Church has officially embraced the simpler solution: Nazareth has existed continuously since 2000 BCE. This is a truly remarkable position. According to the doctrine of continuous habitation, the hamlet of Nazareth has been settled uninterruptedly since the time of Abraham. Presumably, Nazareth joins Jerusalem and a select handful of the world’s settlements that have enjoyed such outstanding longevity. Hardly any Canaanite towns can make a similar claim. Many ancient and venerable Biblical towns do not go back to patriarchal times (Gerasa, Hebron). Others ceased long ago (Gezer, Shechem). Yet others were abandoned or destroyed in the course of time, and then re-established at a different location (Gaza, Jericho, Japhia). In short, the tradition’s shrill assertion that people continuously lived in the Nazareth basin for the last four thousand years would be, if true, quite amazing. Apart from any Christian considerations, it would raise the site inestimably in archaeological value. The stratigraphy of the venerated area (for that is where habitation is claimed) would be of the greatest general interest. Archaeologists would be able to systematically follow the levels of habitation downwards—as they can at the well-excavated site of Megiddo 17 km away—beginning with the upper stratum and progressively exposing older and older settlements. Megiddo offers thirty strata encompassing approximately three millennia, a treasure trove for archaeologists. And Nazareth? No settlement strata have been discovered there at all. In 1955 Bagatti had a special trench cut a few meters to the East of the Church of the Annunciation. Its purpose was to determine the stratigraphic profile of the venerated area, to once and for all find evidence of settlement in the various periods, and to provide some much-needed vindication of Church doctrine. The trench was dug 5.6 meters (18.4 ft.) down to solid bedrock, and was continued for a length of 12.9 meters (42.3 ft.). But the results disappointed the archaeologist. He writes: “at least where excavated, there were no habitations.” He found a few Byzantine sherds, similar to many others in the vicinity. Otherwise, no evidence of human presence was revealed. “All the fill,” Bagatti admits simply, “follows normally the declivity of the hill.” That is to say, no man-made strata were revealed at all—only virgin earth and rock. The Hellenistic period The mid-twentieth century witnessed the birth of the State of Israel and a great advance in technology, largely as a result of World War II. With the passing decades archaeological data and methods became even more precise, and older theories regarding many Palestinian sites had to be discarded. As regards Nazareth, some nonCatholic scholars realized that a hiatus in settlement could not be denied — there simply was no evidence for settlement there after the


Assyrian conquest in 732 BCE. However, the doctrinal requirement for a village at and before the time of Jesus was as real for Protestant scholars as for Catholic. To solve the evidentiary dilemma, they proposed that Nazareth was resettled in Hellenistic times (330–63 BCE). I call this the ‘Hellenistic renaissance’ hypothesis. This hypothesis, however, is no more consistent with the evidence in the ground than is the doctrine of continuous habitation. There is no Hellenistic evidence from Nazareth. My careful examination of the literature shows that the tiny bit of evidence claimed as “Hellenistic” is bogus. For example, below is a photo of six oil lamps discovered in a Nazareth tomb and curtly labeled “Hellenistic” in the original 1931 report, signed by E. Richmond (Illus. 3). A few years later a Catholic writer, Father C. Kopp, wrote a series of articles on Nazareth in which he further characterizes the lamps: “R. classifies the era very generally as ‘Hellenistic’ based on 6 lamps; according to the accompanying photos of the finds [they] must surely go back at least as far as 200 BCE.” [3] In fact, the six lamps date from the Middle to Late Roman periods (70–330 CE), long after the turn of the era. Incredibly, misdatings of the primary evidence, sometimes involving discrepancies of up to 500 years (as in this case), are often encountered in the scholarly Nazareth literature. Fr. Bagatti corrected the above misdating in his 1969 book, Excavations in Nazareth (p. 242) and accepted that these lamps were second-third century CE rather than second-third century BCE. A similar error is made in an influential article entitled “Nazareth” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary (1992), today the premiere American biblical encyclopedia. There, we read the astonishing statement that “The general archaeological picture is of a small village, devoted wholly to agriculture, that came into being in the course of the 3d century B.C.” I did a double-take when I first read this many years ago, assuming a misprint. Surely, I thought, the author means A.D. instead of B.C. But no, he is in earnest, and is simply describing the Hellenistic renaissance doctrine. The word ‘Hellenistic’ is peppered throughout Bagatti’s 325-page book, occurring about a dozen times. But those claims are always tentative and vague. The archaeologist never shows us any complete Hellenistic artefacts, like an oil lamp or a pot, but a few ludicrously small shards each less than one inch square. Such tiny pieces of pottery could be almost anything, even to a specialist. Bagatti’s ultimate summation (p. 319) is: “We have met with only few traces of the Hellenistic period, but there are many elements of the Roman period...” I set about finding those “few traces of the Hellenistic period,” and came up against a brick wall, except for a few other similar claims, such as “some sherds belong to the Hellenistic period” (p. 272) and the following gem of imprecision: “The black varnish given to No. 8 reminds us of the custom in such

products during Hellenistic-Roman times” (p. 185). Now, Hellenistic-Roman times span a period of seven centuries, while black varnish is found on objects of many eras. So, Bagatti’s statement does not tell us much, but it does allow the author to use the word “Hellenistic.”

Middle to Late Roman oil lamps found in a Nazareth tomb. These lamps have all been labeled “Hellenistic” in the scholarly literature.

On two pages of his book (Exc. 136–37), Bagatti offers us the rare treat of concrete evidence from “Hellenic times.” Or does he? Again, they are tiny pieces of pottery, less than an inch square. But according to Bagatti’s own descriptions, they are not certainly Hellenistic. One shard is from “Hellenic times or earlier” (my italics. They are probably Bronze-Iron Age shards). Another example: “Well known as appertaining to the Hellenistic period is the foot of the little vase, like a spindle (No. 15) although these little vases remain in use until the 3rd cent. A.D., as we can see from Jerash.” (Emphasis added.) Well, the shard looks to me from the diagrams like the foot of a Roman-period vase, of which several similar examples survive from Nazareth. The infamous Hellenistic nozzle The search for Hellenistic evidence enters a veritable quagmire of deception with Bagatti’s following statement: The only pieces which seem to indicate the Hellenistic period is the nozzle No. 26 of fig. 233 and 2 of fig. 235, a bit short for the ordinary lamps, but not completely unusual. [Exc. 309-310] One would suppose that the archaeologist is describing two specimens, for he uses the plural ‘pieces’ and gives two examples. Crosschecking, however, shows that both examples refer to the same nozzle: once in a photo (Fig. 233 no. 26), and once in a diagram (Fig. 235 no. 2). The caption to the diagram proclaims: “Pottery lamps of the Bronze, Hellenistic and Roman periods found in various places.” november/december 2006 — American Atheist

17


So, by eliminating all evidence that could be from other periods, it seems that the sum total of Hellenistic evidence from Nazareth finally devolves upon a single broken oil lamp nozzle, about one inch long and the same in width, that is, about the size of the extremity of an adult person’s thumb. But is this nozzle really Hellenistic? We’re speaking here of the protruding front part of all oil lamps, the part which is pierced at the end by the wick-hole. The typical Greek oil lamp had a long nozzle (Illus. 4, no. 2), considerably longer than Bagatti’s example which the Italian, as we see in the above citation, freely admits is “a bit short for the ordinary lamps, but not completely unusual.” Well, perhaps we are dealing with an atypical Hellenistic oil lamp. (Like the disappearing Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland, the Hellenistic evidence gets smaller and smaller...) In a footnote, Bagatti offers several “Hellenistic” parallels to this example. I dutifully looked them up, and with them we finally come to the end of this path leading into the brambles: the parallels do not resemble Bagatti’s example at all. They are longer and exhibit an entirely different profile, with sloping as opposed to parallel sides. We have reached a dead end, and can be assured that there is no Hellenistic evidence at all from Nazareth. [4] We can also be assured that considerable effort has been expended to produce such evidence out of thin air.

Oil lamps are particularly valuable for dating purposes because the many varieties have been on the whole well studied. An expert considers the composition, color, form, method of manufacture (by hand or wheel), decoration, and other features of the lamp. All these data can furnish a very good approximation of the date (and sometimes the place) of manufacture. In the case of Palestinian oil lamps of Greco-Roman times, a lamp can in certain instances be pinpointed to the quarter century. Herodian oil lamps were characterized by a spatulate nozzle, as seen in the lamps at the lower left and lower right of Illustration 3. The Herodian lamp on the lower left is earlier, having very little decoration, no handle, and no volutes (collars at the neck), while the lamp on the lower right possesses all these features. Herodian oil lamps accompany the earliest Roman evidence we have from Nazareth. We have seen that they can be quite late, as late as 150 CE. The more burning question is: how early can they be? That determination tells us how early people could have started coming into the basin. A number of Herodian oil lamps were found in a complex of tombs excavated in 1981 by Ms. Nurit Feig. [5] The tombs are 2.6 km east of the Church of the Annunciation. The oil lamps are identical or similar to those discovered by Bagatti in the venerated area, which makes Feig’s observations very pertinent to our study. Feig dates the Herodian lamps c. 50 CE – c. 150 CE, and concludes: “From these facts and from the findings it is possible to relate the use of these tombs to a period of time between the middle of the first century [CE] to the third century CE. It is also possible to assume that the other tombs on the ridge are from the same time as well” (p.79). This dating is confirmed by F. Fernandez, who has published a study on Roman Galilean pottery. [6] He redates a good deal of evidence first reviewed by Bagatti and others. Regarding artefacts from the most important tomb, that which furnished the lion’s share of Roman evidence at Nazareth (including a number of Herodian lamps), Fernandez concludes that the tomb is “certainly not before the second third of the first century after Christ” (p.63). From the above discussion, understandably simplified due to the brevity of this article, it is evident that people started Typical Palestinian oil lamps. (1) Bronze Age (2) Hellenistic (3) ‘Herodian’ (4) Roman (5) Byzantine to come into the Nazareth basin in the genThe Roman period erations between the First and Second Jewish Revolts (70 CE–130 CE). This stands to reason: Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 CE, and When the Hellenistic period is added to the Assyrian, Babylo- a number of Jews fled northwards. Nazareth was very Jewish and did nian, and Persian periods, then the hiatus in settlement at Nazareth not have anything to do with minim (a Hebrew word for ‘heretics’), extends from four to almost seven centuries (732 BCE–63 BCE). Yet including Jewish-Christians. We know this because there is evidence we have still not reached the epoch when people reentered the basin. that after 135 CE a family of Jewish priests moved to Nazareth. They The first evidence of human presence begins in the first century CE, would not have moved to a town of mixed religious character. and consists of several oil lamps of the ‘Herodian’ type. This name Chronologically, then, it is evident that the village of Nazareth is a misnomer, for the Herodian lamp was made and used until c. did not yet exist in the time of Jesus, that is, at the turn of the era. It 150 CE, long after the time of Herod the Great and even after the came into existence about the time that the evangelists were writing death of his last reigning descendant (c. 100 CE). Thus, like ‘Ro- their gospels. Perhaps they heard of the new village, and decided to man,’ ‘Herodian’ is a word which has been misused by the tradition make it the hometown of Jesus. I can’t affirm this for sure, but note to characterize later evidence as earlier, namely, to the time of Herod that scholars have long known that the Greek name for the village the Great (37–4 BCE). In such subtle ways, the Nazareth literature is does not perfectly correspond with the Semitic name. [7] Thus, the full of pitfalls for the unwary reader. Greek name is artificial and not linked to any known place. 18

American Atheist — november/december 2006


The tomb in Mary’s bedroom In a good year, over a million pilgrims come to Nazareth to visit where the archangel Gabriel announced to the Blessed Virgin, “Hail Mary, full of grace...” Supposedly, this occurred in the virgin’s dwelling, which the Church claims was at the site of the present Church of the Annunciation. However, that church is located in the middle of an ancient Roman cemetery. This fact is quite overlooked in the scholarly Nazareth literature. For Jews, contact with the dead was a source of ritual impurity (Lev 21:11), and for this reason graves had to be located outside the town or village perimeter. The Talmud (m. Bava Bathra 2:9) specifies the required minimum distance (‘fifty ells’) from the nearest habitation. Of course, this is fatal to the traditional conception of the venerated area. This Jewish prohibition was not generally appreciated until the 1950s, and so earlier Catholic archaeologists innocently pointed out tombs in the venerated area, charted them, described them, and even opined that some of Jesus’ family may have been buried in one or another of them. As a result, a careful review of the literature shows that Roman tombs existed directly under the Church of the Annunciation, and close by in all directions. In the 1950s it was realized that the Jewish prohibition against living in proximity to tombs could have a dire impact on the traditional view of the venerated sites, and we read no more of the presence of all these tombs there. But it was too late. The earlier data tell us that a number of tombs surround the Chapel of the Angel (the precise spot where the archangel spoke to Mary). One grave adjoins the northern edge of the Chapel — perhaps it was in her bedroom? This tomb is completely ignored in Bagatti’s compendious book Excavations in Nazareth. A few meters in another direction is a Roman tomb complexwhich contained four to twelve graves. The lame explanations for these interments are almost comical. Bagatti suggests (Exc. 50) that these graves are from Crusader times. Were he correct, we should wonder at this sacrilegious (and otherwise unknown) Crusader custom of burying their dead in the house of the Virgin Mother. Besides, the design of the tombs is clearly Roman. There are other reasons why the so-called venerated area in Nazareth could not have been what tradition claims. Located on the side of a steep and rocky hill called the Nebi Sa‘in, it is inconceivable that the ancient peasantry would have wished (or would have had the engineering skills) to construct dwellings in that area. The grade of the slope is 14%, with the result that today one end of the Church of the Annunciation is about ten meters higher than the other. This fact is, of course, masked by the architecture of the present mammoth structure, which includes internal stairs and two churches one on top of the other. When the village of Nazareth became a reality in in the second century CE, it was located on the valley floor, not on the steep and rocky hillside where the Church property lies. That slope was used as a necropolis and for agriculture: storage of grain, wine, and oil in silos and cisterns; the pressing of oil and wine; and the threshing of wheat, barley, etc. From this brief review of the data, we are now able to reconstruct the true history of settlement in the Nazareth basin: From c. 2000 to c. 730 BCE the Bronze-Iron Age settlement of ‘Japhia’ occupied the present site of Nazareth or at least was quite close to it. From c. 730 BCE to c. 70 CE the region of Nazareth witnessed a ‘Great Hiatus’ in settlement. That is to say, there was no settlement.

Why I Am Not A Muslim by Ibn Warraq A courageous criticism of the dark side of Islam 402 pp. Hard Cover.

ISBN 0-87975-984-4 $25.00 stock # 7011

Around the year 100 CE (70 CE–135 CE) the Founding of Nazareth took place, with settlement of the site continuing up to the present. From these facts, we must draw a conclusion that will be shocking to the orthodox faithful: ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ and his family could not possibly have lived at the site now called Nazareth. Archaeology shows quite conclusively that the Gospel accounts of Nazareth are fictive, not factual. This being the case, we may well ask, “Was Jesus of Nazareth himself a fiction?” ❋ NOTES Zvi Gal, “The Late Bronze Age in Galilee: A Reassessment,” in Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (1988) 272:79–84; Lower Galilee during the Iron Age. Eisenbrauns: Winona Lake, Ind. (1992); “Iron I in Lower Galilee and the Margins of the Jezreel Valley,” in From Nomadism to Monarchy, ed. I. Finkelstein and N. Na’aman. Washington: Biblical Archaeology Society (1994); “Israel in Exile.” Biblical Archaeology Review 24:3 (1998). [2] B. Bagatti, “Ritrovamenti nella Nazaret evangelica,” Liber Annuus 5:5–44 (1955); Excavations in Nazareth. Vol I: From the Beginning till the XII Century. (Publications of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum 17). Jerusalem: Franciscan Printing House, xi + 320 pp., 240 figures, 11 plates, index. Translation from Italian of the 1967 work )1969). [3] E.T. Richmond, “A Rock-Cut Tomb at Nazareth,” in The Quarterly of the Department of Antiquities in Palestine, vol. I, No. 2, 1931, pl. xxxiv, no. 2; and C. Kopp, “Beiträge zur Geschichte Nazareths,” Journal of the Palestine Oriental Society, vol. XVIII (1938) nos. 1–2, p. 194. [4] Bagatti’s ‘Hellenistic’ nozzle is probably the product of a local pottery tradition dating 50 CE – 150 CE, similar to other oil lamps found in the Nazareth area. See N. Feig 1990:74 (Fig. 9:11); also Fernandez Type L1. [5] N. Feig, “Burial Caves at Nazareth,” Atiqot 10 (1990) pp. 67-79 (Hebrew). [6] F. Fernandez, Ceramica Comun Romana de la Galilea. Madrid, 1983. [7] The Greek name has a zeta (a voiced sibilant) where the Semitic name has a tsade (unvoiced). Linguistically, these letters are not compatible. It is most unlikely that the Greek ‘Nazareth’ derived from the Semitic ‘Natsareth,’ at least by any natural phonetic process. [1]

Frank R. Zindler is the managing editor of American Atheist Press and the author of The Jesus the Jews Never Knew, a book that argues that the ancient Jews never heard of Jesus of Nazareth. In fact, they had never heard of Nazareth either. Formerly a professor of biology and geology, for many years now he has worked as a linguist and science writer. He receives e-mail at editor@atheists.org. This article originally appeared as a “Probing Mind” article in the October 1986 issue of American Atheist. november/december 2006 — American Atheist

19


news

Supreme Court Won’t Review City’s Move Against Boy Scouts Group By Mark Sherman A BOY Scouts sailing group that lost free use of a public boat slip because of the Scouts’ discriminatory policies failed to persuade the Supreme Court to take its case. The justices on Monday let stand a unanimous California Supreme Court ruling that the city of Berkeley may treat the Berkeley Sea Scouts differently from other nonprofits because the Scouts bar atheists and gays. The leader of the Sea Scouts argued that forcing the group to pay for a berth at the marina violated the group’s free speech and freedom of association rights. The U.S. high court ruled in 2000 that the Boy Scouts have the right to ban openly homosexual scout leaders, a decision that rested on the Scouts’ First Amendment rights. Even so, the California Supreme Court said in March, local governments are under no obligation to extend benefits to organizations that discriminate. Berkeley, home of free speech protests since the 1960s, adopted a nondiscrimination policy on the use of its marina in 1997 and revoked the Sea Scouts’ subsidy a year later. The Sea Scouts are a branch of the Boy Scouts that teaches sailing, carpentry and plumbing. City officials had told the group that it could retain its berthing subsidy if it broke ties with the Boy Scouts or disavowed the policy against gays and atheists, but the Sea Scouts refused. Eugene Evans, who leads the Sea Scouts, has been paying $500 a month out of his own pocket to berth one boat at the Berkeley Marina; the group removed two other boats because it could not afford the rent. The group has about 40 members, down from as many as 100 before the subsidy was removed. Berkeley had allowed the Scouts free use of the marina since the 1930s, according to Evans. 20

The Sea Scouts said they were singled out because Berkeley elected officials disapprove of the Boy Scouts’ membership policies. The case is Evans v. City of Berkeley, 06-40. ❋ Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

Tories plan to protect same-sex opponents Investigators Say ReligionRelated Fraud Getting Worse As Fake Organizations Bilking Millions By John Ibbitson, Bill Curry and Brian Laghi From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail OTTAWA — The Conservative government is planning measures, including a Defence of Religions Act, to allow public officials, such as Justices of the Peace, to refuse to perform same-sex marriages. The measures are also intended to protect the free-speech rights of religious leaders and others who criticize homosexual behaviour or refuse to do business with gay-rights organizations, The Globe and Mail has learned. Any legislation would be brought forward only if the government loses the motion this fall to reopen the debate on same-sex marriage. All indications are that the motion, which would authorize the government to introduce legislation to repeal the same-sex marriage law passed by Parliament last year, will be defeated by a combination of Opposition MPs supported by a few Conservatives. Introducing a Defence of Religions Act would breathe new life into an issue that otherwise might have expired, and could become pivotal in an election expected as early as next spring. A solid core of Conservative MPs and socially conservative supporters are determined not to let the issue die without introducing some protections for those who are uncomfortable with same-sex marriage. While refusing to discuss specifics, Justice Minister Vic Toews confirmed the government’s intentions yesterday in an interview.

American Atheist — november/december 2006

“The nature of the concerns that are being raised with me are relating to freedom of religion and freedom to practice religion [and] freedom of expression,” he said. “The Prime Minister has indicated that he is bringing the matter forward — the issue of same-sex marriage — on a free vote. And there may be certain options open to the government as to what the response should be in either event, whether that opening is successful or not successful.” Sources say the government is considering measures to protect individuals who oppose homosexual marriages or even relationships from human rights’ complaints. The measures would seek to ensure, for example, that churches cannot be forced to rent their halls for same-sex marriage receptions, or that a justice of the peace cannot be compelled to marry a same-sex couple in violation of his or her religious beliefs. Justice officials have also been told to search for ways to protect the rights of individuals to criticize homosexual activity because it contravenes religious teachings, or to refuse to do business with organizations whose purposes he or she disagrees with, without being brought before a human-rights tribunal. The working title for the vehicle that could enshrine these measures is the Defence of Religions Act. The former Liberal government said that existing laws and court rulings already protect the rights of religious groups not to be compelled to perform same-sex marriage. However, there is acknowledged uncertainty about the rights of individuals to publicly criticize homosexual behaviour, to take out advertisements that quote scripture demanding that homosexuals be put to death, or to refuse to do business with groups whose views an individual or group finds objectionable. For that reason, a Defence of Religions law could face challenges under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Rulings by human-rights commissions and courts across the country have sent mixed signals about the limits of freedom of expression and religious freedom when they conflict with equality rights and existing hate laws.

One source said the complexity of the subject has delayed the bill, which could also delay the timing of the motion on same-sex marriage. However, the source maintained that, while work on the new federal measure is not nearly finished, “the point is there. People have to have the right to say what they want.” Without preventive legislation, some government members fear that church groups and individuals would be taken to court for uttering negative remarks about gays that other members of society view as discriminatory. That is why the measures are being considered in two parts: to protect individuals from having to perform same-sex marriage, and to protect free speech. Protecting the rights to freedom of religion and speech will be a key theme of the Conservative government, as it attempts to navigate the same-sex marriage issue without alienating either its social conservative base or more socially liberal supporters. In response to allegations in the House of Commons yesterday of homophobic remarks by a member of the Conservatives’ political staff, Prime Minister Stephen Harper repeated his government’s determination to protect the rights of gay and lesbian citizens. “At the same time,” he added, “we also defend the right of people of religious faith to practice their religion and to express their religious views.” The measures the Conservatives are pondering resemble a private member’s bill unveiled this year in the Alberta legislature, which would have allowed civil service marriage commissioners to refuse their services to gays. That bill, introduced by Alberta MLA and PC leadership candidate Ted Morton, would also have forbidden anyone from being punished legally for speaking out on or acting on their beliefs against gay marriage. Mr. Morton is a leader among the social conservative movement and is close to a number of Conservative MPs. ❋ Bell Globemedia © Copyright 2006 Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.


news

William And Mary Officials Remove Cross From Changing Chapel WILLIAMSBURG, VA (AP)—Officials at the College of William and Mary have removed a two-foot-high gold cross from a campus chapel that they say is increasingly used for nonreligious events. The Sir Christopher Wren Building, finished in 1699, is used for some of the school’s biggest ceremonies. It is where incoming freshmen take the honor pledge during orientation, and where seniors march through the campus landmark on their way to commencement. With so many of the chapel’s functions not related to religion, administrators said they felt it was time to make the building more inclusive. “Our chapel, like our entire campus, must be welcoming to all,” wrote college President Gene Nichol in an e-mail this week. School officials declined additional comment, but said the cross can be returned to the altar if desired by chapel patrons. William and Mary was founded as an institution of the Anglican Church, but in 1906, it became publicly supported by Virginia. ❋

Nicaraguan Congress Votes To Ban All Abortions By Filadelfor Aleman Associated Press Writer MANAGUA, NICARAGUA (AP)—Nicaragua’s Congress has voted to ban all abortions, despite the concerns of diplomats, doctors and women’s rights advocates that the issue has become politicized ahead of presidential elections. If signed into law by President Enrique Bolanos, the measure would eliminate a century-old exception to Nicaragua’s abortion ban that per-

mits the procedure if three doctors certify that a woman’s health is at risk. Congress passed the bill Thursday. The Managua-based Women’s Autonomous Movement has said it is prepared to seek an injunction to block the measure. The bill has the support of the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front, whose presidential candidate, Daniel Ortega, is trying not to alienate conservative voters in this predominantly Roman Catholic country ahead of the Nov. 5 election. Bolanos has spoken out against abortions and proposed increasing prison sentences for women who have the procedure, as well as for those who assist them. Illegal abortions now carry a six-year prison term, and the president wants it increased to 10 to 30 years. It was unclear whether Bolanos would sign the bill after lawmakers decided against increasing penalties. The president, who has 15 days to sign or throw out the bill, did not make any statements after the vote. Congress approved the bill despite receiving a letter from EU diplomats and U.N. representatives urging them to hold off until after the election. U.N. Assistant Secretary General Rebeca Grynspan, who is in Nicaragua this week, also expressed concerns about the vote taking place before the elections. Nicaragua’s medical association urged legislators to postpone the vote as well, saying the issue had become politicized. Ortega, who favored abortion rights as a young revolutionary, has said he has become a devout Roman Catholic and now opposes abortion. Some 85 percent of Nicaragua’s 5 million people are Catholic. Ortega headed the socialist Sandinista government of the 1980s and had a contentious relationship with the Catholic Church. But he has recently established warm ties with leading church figures in Nicaragua. In 2003, Sandinista-backed women’s groups helped a 9-year-old Nicaraguan girl who had been raped in Costa Rica return to her homeland to get an abortion, outraging the Roman Catholic Church. Congressman Wilfredo Navarro, of the ruling Liberal Constitutional-

ist Party, said the exception to Nicaragua’s ban has allowed women to persuade doctors to say falsely that an abortion was necessary for health reasons. Aside from Cuba, which allows abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, Latin America has some of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws. El Salvador and Chile also ban abortions in all cases. Most of the other countries in this heavily Roman Catholic region allow abortion when a woman’s life is in danger but deny it to victims of rape or incest, according to the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights. In May, Colombia’s constitutional court legalized abortion in cases where fetuses were severely malformed, the pregnancy was the result of a rape or incest or the mother’s life was in danger. Around the world, more than a dozen countries have made it easier to get abortions in the past decade, and women from Mexico to Ireland have mounted court challenges to get access to the procedure. ❋

Carmelite Religious Order, L.A. Archdiocese Settle Clergy Sexual Abuse Case For $10 million By Solvej Schou Associated Press Writer LOS ANGELES (AP)—A Roman Catholic religious order and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles will pay a combined $10 million to seven people to settle allegations of clergy sexual abuse, attorneys said Friday. The Carmelite order will pay most of the settlement, while the archdiocese will contribute about 5 percent, a church spokesman said. Among the seven recipients are two people who said they were sexually molested in the 1970s at an Encino high school the order operates.

“We were glad to be able to work out a settlement, and we hope this brings peace to the people who are involved,” said attorney Jim Geoly, who represents the province of Carmelites. Attorney J. Michael Hennigan, who represents the nation’s largest Roman Catholic archdiocese, told the Los Angeles Times that “we are encouraged by every settlement, and we hope every one leads to another.” Calls to Hennigan’s office Friday were not immediately returned. Defendants included the Rev. Dominic Savino, 67, a Carmelite priest who was fired as president of Crespi Carmelite High School and suspended from the priesthood in 2002 after allegations surfaced that he had molested boys in the ‘70s. Former school principal John Knoernschild and three other members of the order not associated with the school were also named. Venus Soltan, an attorney for one of the plaintiffs, said the amount awarded in each case averaged $1.4 million. “We are pleased that the Carmelites stepped forward to resolve their cases apart from the archdiocese cases, which are still not being settled or resolved,” she said. The Carmelites ousted Savino shortly after a woman reported to the archdiocese’s sex abuse hot line that he had abused her twin sons during a 1979 field trip. Savino originally went to the allboys school in 1977 as a part-time counselor. He left in 1986 to pursue a doctorate in psychology, then returned in 1995. The seven Carmelite cases are dwarfed by more than 560 unresolved claims from people who say they were abused by Catholic priests in Southern California during the last 70 years. That litigation has been pending for years as dozens of lawyers try to agree on a settlement. Last March, Franciscan friars reached a preliminary settlement of more than $28 million with about 25 people who claimed they were sexually abused at a now-defunct Santa Barbara seminary and mission. ❋

november/december 2006 — American Atheist

21


Thumbscrew and Rack by George Macdonald Torture implements employed in the Fiftheenth and Sixteenth Centuries for the promulgation of Christianity. Among the devices pictured and described are the Spanish Collar, the Thumbscrew, the Knobby Crown, the Rack, the Leg Crusher, the Stocks, Damien’s Iron Bed, the Hot Mitten, the Iron Boot, the Iron Virgin and many more. These instruments aroused far more terrifying fears than any modern day horror movie. Illustrated stock # 5232 $6.00

History’s Greates Liars by Joseph McCabe introduction by Madalyn Murray O’Hair At a time when the school books of the nation are under attack by right-wing religious fundamentalists, this small book of Joseph McCabe’s becomes critically important. McCabe was a scholar of the old school of original objective research. He combed through the voluminous tomes of his day to seek out the inaccuracies and the errancies which he knew existed because his own church had educated him well in how to rewrite history. He could recognize and point out the fallacies, the distortions, the deliberate lies and deceits. In addition, from his own independent research, after having been freed from the intellectual strictures which the church had imposed upon him, he was able to weigh the material at hand. With this small handbook as a guide, any amateur historian can start to take an educated look at what is offered to us today in place of real history and immediately uncover the fraudulent posits which are so apparent when once we have a guiding light. The scholarly historian can now peel back the layers of religious accretion and find some small, true, semblence of truth - what might have really happened. The raison d’etre of American Atheists is to educate: to sort out fact from fiction, truth from fantasy. But, again and again we are faced with a job which is overwhelming. How does one deprogram an entire nation, a group of nations, the world? How does one dig out from the myriad of lies, that which has some semblance of reality? When religious fanatics have systematically, for hundreds of years perverted the truth, from whence can come a viable and accurate record? Hope is here at last in this small book. It is highly recommended. You will enjoy every page of it. stock # 5524 $9.00

22

American Atheist — november/december 2006

Our Constitution — The Way It Was from the American Atheist Radio Series by Dr. Madalyn O’Hair One of the many things that Atheist spokespersons are confronted with by the media and by the public at media events is the statement “This country was founded on Christian principles by god-fearing men.” The implication follows then that Atheism is an inappropriate thing for Americans if the nation indeed had a Christian founding. The general public has swallowed this line of thinking for many generations. In actuality, nothing could be further from the truth. OUR CONSTITUTION — THE WAY IT WAS is a collection of scripts od the American Atheist Radio Series dealing with this question in an effort to clear up the many strongly held public misconceptions about the founding of our nation. All of the scripts, as well as the entire American Atheist Radio Series, are authored by Madalyn O’Hair, Founder of American Atheists. These short selections will quickly bring you up to dateon the true sentiments of our “founding fathers” with respect to organized religion. This is a booklet not alone for the adult but is excellent to be shared with your children as a part of their learing experience about early America. 70 pages. Stapled. stock # 5400 $6.00

Religion & Marx by Rick B. A. Wise The news is full of reports on the changes in the Eastern Bloc countries, and many of the stories deal with the demands of religious persons in those nations. And, of course, for years Americans have heard generalizations about Marx and his “dialectic materialism.” But what is that kind of materialism, and how did Marx come to that position? Wise traces the development of Marx’s opinions on religion, from his early years as a devotee of the German philosopher George Hegel, through his embracing Ludwig Feuerbach forward to his final evaluation of the importance of religious criticism. 267 pages. Paperback stock # 5521 $12.00


Atheist Singles

Obituary VASHTI MCCOLLUM, plaintiff in a landmark 1948 U.S. Supreme Court decision pertaining to religious proselytizing in public schools died on August 20 in Champaign, Ill. McCOLLUM v. BOARD OF EDUCATION, 333 U.S. 203 212 (1948) was one of several high court rulings striking down a battery of unconstitutional practices. Life changed for Vashti McCollum when her oldest son, James, refused to participate in so-called “released time” religious instruction classes at the local public school. In fact, the practice of setting aside class time in the public schools so that clergy could “instruct” youngsters was common in nearly 2,000 communities across the country in the late 1940s. The policy began in Champaign in 1940 when members of the Roman Catholic, Jewish and Protestant groups formed a Council on Religious Education” which was granted authority by local school officials to organize classes for “voluntary” religious instruction. This activity took place in classrooms during the regular school day, and was led by both clergy and lay teachers. McCollum, a professed Atheist at the time, complained to school officials. She sued the school board in July, 1945, arguing that the released time classes violated the First Amendment’s establishment clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. She maintained that the “voluntary” policy was an illusion since school officials put pressure on students to attend the religious classes. The County Circuit ruled in favor of the school district, as did the Illinois Supreme Court. The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court which on March 8, 1948 ruled 8-1 in favor of Vashti McCollum. Justice Hugo Black who authored the majority opinion, wrote that the practice of the school board was “beyond all question” a ploy to use tax money and facilities “to aid religious groups to spread their faith.” He added, “It falls squarely under the ban of the first amendment.” Like others who fought for the separation of church and state, McCollum paid a high price for defending her principles. She was branded “that awful McCollum woman” and her family was ostracized by many in Champaign. McCollum later described herself as a “Humanist,” but never abandoned the struggle on behalf of separation of government and religion. She authored a book about her experiences, earned a master’s degree in communications, and lectured widely.

11-01-06 — SWF, 51, northern Illinois. 5’1”, not heightweight proportionate. College degreed, blue collar background, reasonably active and enjoy most of the usual stuff - food, music and performance art. More important is what we do together. I don’t need to be constantly active and in fact do need some down time. I am very affectionate with my special man. I am less interested in your phenotype than in your intelligence and character. Looking ultimately for a long term relationship, my last love, but reality based enough to not hold my breath. Let’s get this party started before WWIII begins! The “Atheist Singles” service is a benefit of membership in American Atheists. It is intended to help members find that special someone. If you are a member and wish to participate in this service, please limit your “Atheist Singles” ad to 100 words or less. Please include your name and postal address so we will know where to forward your replies when they come in. Entries should be mailed to: Atheist Singles, P.O. Box 5733, Parsippany, NJ 07054-6733. Members of American Atheists who wish to communicate with any of the Atheist singles who placed ads should do the following: • Write your response and place it in a stamped, self-addressed, sealed envelope. • On the back of the envelope, place the notation, “A.S.” and the reference number (for example A.S. 00-05-03) of the entry to which you are responding. • Place the envelope inside another envelope, seal it, and mail it after addressing it to the Atheist Singles address in Parsippany listed above. • When your letter arrives at the American Atheist Center, the outer envelope will be removed, the inner envelope extracted, and the address corresponding to the reference number you wrote on it will be written on the front of the envelope. The envelope will then be mailed forthwith. Please include your phone number or e-mail address in case we have questions with your ad. • American Atheists reserves the right to reject any singles ad.

NEW Life Member AMERICAN ATHEISTS Welcomes New Life Member DENNIS MCCONVILLE, Palm Coast, Florida

TOM MALEY was a long time Atheist and member of American Atheists. He died on September 11, 2006. He was a bricklayer by trade. He was active with Seattle Atheists and then San Francisco Atheists. He cofounded two groups in California, East Bay and San Leandro Atheists. He also supported the Atheists of Silicon Valley. Tom is survived by his wife of seven years Irene, four children, and four grandchildren.

Article Submissions WE WELCOME article submissions for American Atheist Magazine. PLEASE TRY to limit to 2,000 words or less. E-MAIL TO editor@americanatheist.org or by postal mail to American Atheist Magazine PO BOX 5733 PARSIPPANY, NJ 07054-6733 WE WELCOME Atheist profiles for: FOXHOLE ATHEIST Of The Month, Atheists & Co., A Personal Story UNSOLICITED ARTICLES mailed to us will not be returned without self-addressed, stamped envelope. We reserve the right to reject any article for any reason. WE RESERVE the right to edit all articles for space and clarity.

november/december 2006 — American Atheist

23


the american atheist radio series

The Solstice Season by Madalyn O’Hair

W

This article originally appeared in the December 1976 issue of American Atheist magazine.

hen the first installment of a regularly scheduled, fifteen-minute, weekly American Atheist radio series on KTBC radio (a station in Austin, Texas, owned by then-president Lyndon Baines Johnson) hit the airwaves on June 3,1968, the nation was shocked. The programs had to be submitted weeks in advance and were heavily censored. The regular production of the series ended in September, 1977, when no further funding was available. The following is the text of American Atheist Radio Series program No. 30, first broadcast on December 23, 1968. In 1968, the first year of broadcasting for the American Atheist Radio Series, we sent out, all over the United States, copies of what we called “The Solstice Season” program. We printed it in our literature and distributed it in a small broadside. When the American Atheist magazine was issued later (we could not afford to publish it in 1968), we reprinted the article as the featured radio program script in December. Since then, for a number of years it has been repeated yearly in the magazine. We are happy to do so again this year. We hope that our new subscribers will come to love it as much as have our old subscribers who have requested a repeat of it in our “American Atheist Radio Series.” Someone stole something from me. I don’t like it. What was stolen from me—and from you—was one of the most beautiful holidays in the world. Robert G. Ingersoll (an American Atheist hero of earlier days) was also angry about this theft. Let me read to you what he had to say about it. He wrote a very famous “Christmas sermon.” It was printed in the Evening Telegram newspaper, New York City, New York, on December 19, 1891. The ministers of the day attacked the newspaper and demanded a boycott of it. The Telegram accepted the challenge and set off an issue across the country. The paper printed the Rev. Dr. J. M. Buckley’s attack, and Robert Ingersoll’s answer. It developed into a real donnybrook. Let’s hear what Ingersoll had to say: The good part of Christmas is not always Christian, it is generally Pagan; that is to say, human and natural. Christianity did not come with tidings of great joy, but with a message of eternal grief. It came with the threat of everlasting torture on its lips. It meant war on earth and perdition thereafter. It taught some good things, the beauty of love and kindness in man. But as a torch-bearer, as a bringer of joy, it has been a failure. It has given infinite consequences to the acts of finite beings, crushing the soul with a responsibility too great for mortals to bear. It has filled the future with fear and flame, and made god the keeper of an eternal penitentiary, destined to be the home of nearly all the sons of men. Not satisfied with that, it has deprived god of the pardoning power. And yet it may have done some good by borrowing from the Pagan world the old festival we know as Christmas. 24

American Atheist — november/december 2006

Long before Christ was born, the sun god triumphed over the Powers of Darkness. About the time that we call Christmas the days began perceptibly to lengthen. Our barbarian ancestors were worshippers of the sun, and they celebrated his victory over the hosts of night. Such a festival was natural and beautiful. The most natural of all religions is the worship of the sun. Christianity adopted this festival. It borrowed from the Pagans the best it has. I believe in Christmas and in every day that has been set apart for joy. We in America have too much work and not enough play. We are too much like the English. I think it was Heinrich Heine who said that he thought a blaspheming Frenchman was a more pleasing object to god than a praying Englishman. We take our joys too sadly. I am in favor of all the good free days, the more the better. Christmas is a good day to forgive and forget, a good day to throwaway prejudices and hatreds, a good day to fill your heart and your house, and the hearts and houses of others with sunshine. Would you believe that such a warm Christmas sermon could cause religious people to launch a vicious attack on a newspaper for publishing it? Ingersoll used the word “borrow.” He said that Christians borrowed the Pagan holiday. I use a stronger word. They stole it. They stole the most beautiful holiday of man—and for what? They claim that this is the birthday of Jesus Christ. Let’s look at their scholars and their history and see if this is a fact. You most probably all know of A. T. Robertson, the late professor of New Testament Greek at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He had written a standard textbook on the so-called Broadus Harmony of the Gospels, and it is used in every school of religion across the land. In this book is summarized all the findings of religious scholarship in relationship to Jesus Christ and, among other things, the date of his birth. After a lengthy explanation of when Jesus Christ may have been born, Dr. Robertson sets the date at—hold on now—the summer or early fall of the year 6 B.C. or 5 B.C. Did you hear that? He set the date in the summer or the fall. Recently the idea of the first week in January has gained some following. But no one who is a religious scholar any more accepts or believes December 25. One must calculate from the possible death of Herod, or the appearance of the so-called star in the East, which could have been a comet recorded by the Chinese or a conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn. But the Greenwich Observatory says that the conjunction appearing as a single star was very unlikely. Or one can judge the “time of the universal peace,” that is the “time of no war” about which the heavenly host sang. But there was never any stoppage of war in that time. One can guess from the so-called ministry of John the Baptist, or the age of Jesus upon his entry into the ministry, or the building of the Temple of Herod, or the closing of the temple of Janus, or the so-called census of Augustus Caesar. All of these lead the poor theologians in ever-increasing directions away from the idea of Christmas and the year “zero” or “one” of our present calendar.


Actually, the idea of December 25 is untenable. All the ancients in Christian history had various days for Christ’s birth. Clement of Alexander, who was closer to that alleged event in time, said it was May 20. April 20 and January 6 have always appeared as possible dates. Why did the Christians want the twenty-fifth of December? Why that particular date? Why did they deliberately steal this very important date from the Pagans? There are four points in our calendar which we use and which we call “Solstice” or “Equinox” points, two of each. The latter is easy: we say that the equinox is when the sun crosses the equator of the earth and day and night are everywhere of equal length. The sun does not actually cross the equator; we all know that. But with the earth’s natural tip on its natural axis as it whirls around the sun, this seems to be so. Then, either one or the other part of our old ball of earth gets the most sun. But on these two occasions, the days are equal in length everywhere and this occurs about March 21 and September 23 by our current calendar. The Solstice is something different. We don’t go around the sun in a circle; we tour around it—on our earth—in an ellipse, which is a flattened circle, or oval. When we are in the points furthest away from the sun, we have another phenomenon. That, along with the 23° inclination of the earth, causes the solstices. Twice a year, when the sun is at its greatest distance from the celestial equator, about June 21 when the sun reaches its northernmost point on the celestial sphere, or about December 22 when it reaches its southernmost point, we call these moments the solstice. The solstice in December is the time when the days of the year, in our hemisphere, are the shortest. Primitive man and Pagan man were not idiots, you know. They saw this. Apparently at the first, they feared the days would get shorter and shorter and shorter and finally—what if there were only night! What a frightening thing, when the sun was so necessary for life, from common observation. So when the day came for the sun to overcome the darkness, and for the sun to cause the days to be longer—even if just a minute longer—it meant that there was not going to be eternal night. The sun had won a fight again. Darkness had had to recede and slowly the days would get longer and longer until spring and summer, with food growing again and the life cycle being renewed again, would be everywhere on the earth. And so every primitive culture had a festivalor a feast on this day. It was celebrated in China, in India, in South America, in Mexico, in Africa, in every single place where man could watch days and nights and seasons. There were presents given on this great day, exchanged as a symbol, for the sun had brought the most precious gift of all to man: the warmth needed for life and a recycle of the seasons again. The ancient men noticed other things too. Certain trees

An Atheist Looks at Women & Religion by Madalyn O’Hair Revised Edition. 42 pp. Paperback.

ISBN 0-910309-74-4 $10.00 stock # 5419

stayed green all year round, a promise of the abundance of spring and summer to come again after winter, a reassurance that all the greens would return in their seasons. The light of the sun and the twinkling light of stars became important in symbolism as well as in fact. The mysterious parasite, mistletoe, ever green, intrigued primitive man. It all needed to be celebrated, to be noted with awe. If one could not give life as the sun did - one could give else, such as a sharing of food or the precious few personal items one had. But, above all it was a time of revelry. Life had been renewed. It was the most joyous of all human occasions. There was universal singing and dancing and laughing and well-being. It was wild and wonderful and human and warm. It was the best of all festivals. It was the gayest of all feasts. It was the warmest and best of all collective human activities. The Christians were no fools. If they permitted the Pagan holiday to continue to exist, it could challenge the basis of the mournful Christian religion, with its great emphasis on death. First came edicts outlawing the Pagan holiday. But nothing so wildly wonderful and natural as this could ever be outlawed. And then the solution came: incorporate it into the Christian religion. Oh, it took some time. It took many years to effect the change. It took much propaganda. It took many reprisals and sanctions against those who continued with the old festival. But, eventually the Christian religion won the day. There were changes in calendars too. When the Julian calendar was changed to the present-day calendar, Solstice—or Christmas—shifted a few days also, so that December 25, by our calendar, came officially to be designated as a Christian day. It took a thousand years, and more, to rob the people of the earth of this grand holiday and to replace it with a personalized myth story of a “new god born,” a god of a horrible, punitive, new religion called Christianity. But, it is even easier now, with mass media. There are many of you in the listening audience old enough to remember Armistice Day. That was the day that World War I ended and it was celebrated for thirty years or more until a second world war broke out. After we veterans came home from that second war we found that there was no more Armistice Day. Instead, there was a Veterans’ Day. All the people in the listening audience tonight who are twenty-five years old or younger, never even heard of Armistice Day. They only know Veterans’ Day, for that is all that they were ever taught. That’s how it is with Christmas. That is how it was with the Solstice. Finally, no one ever heard of the Solstice and its festivities and everyone came to believe that the Christians were celebrating the birthday of Christ and that was all that this holiday had ever been. But Bible scholars know better and Atheists know better and we celebrate that old and wonderful and joyous season. We even sell Solstice cards for this season of Solstice and the New Year (which, really, are both one day). Let me read to you what we print traditionally on our Solstice cards. Joyful and cheerful, with mistletoe and signs of the season, the greetings are to wish one and all the glad tidings of a wonderful Winter Solstice season. The legend inside the card says: December 25, by the Julian calendar, was the Winter Solstice. This day, originally regarded by the Pagans as the day of the nativity of the sun, the shortest day of the year—when the light began its conquering battle against darkness—was celebrated universally in all ages of man. Taken over by the Christians as the birthday of their mythological Christ, this ancient holiday, set by motions of the celestial bodies, survives as a day of rejoicing that good will and love will have a perpetual rebirth in the minds of men—even as the sun has a symbolic rebirth yearly. ❋ november/december 2006 — American Atheist

25


god would be an atheist…

Kill God, Save Lives Faith destroys more than it preserves by Martin Foreman

H

ow many civilians have been killed in the name of religion in Iraq this year? How many more in Gaza and Lebanon? In Afghanistan? India? Pakistan? How about Chechnya? Nigeria? Saudi Arabia? Thailand? Elsewhere? Here are some figures. Iraq: more than 100 a day in June, according to the United Nations. Almost all because, in their murderers’ eyes, they worshiped the right God in the wrong way. Gaza and the West Bank: 101 between July 1 and 19, according to the Palestine Red Crescent. Lebanon: 57 civilians and a Hezbollah fighter on July 19 alone, says the Beirut Daily Star. Israel: The Washington Post reported on July 18 that since the latest flare-up, twelve Israeli civilians had been killed by Hezbollah rockets; the comparative figure killed by Israelis in the Lebanon was 180. Afghanistan: Most recent deaths have been among combatants, either Taliban or coalition troops. ABC quotes a figure of 800 since mid-May. India: At least 160, mostly men, were killed by the Mumbai bombs, probably detonated by Kashmiris who want to separate the Muslim province from Hindu India. Tragic though that number is, it pales beside the hundreds of thousands who died in 1947. That year the former British colony split into independent India and Pakistan, leading to a bloodbath between Hindus and Muslims. And let us not forget that Christians in India are occasionally killed for their faith. In April, 57 people were killed in Pakistan and hundreds wounded in Karachi, victims of the centuries-long feud between Sunnis and Shi’ites. Chechnya: The conflict is abating, but the Chechen State Council calculates that 160,000 soldiers and civilians have lost their lives there in the last decade. Nigeria: In yet another incident in the long-running internal rivalry, at least 17 Christians were killed by Muslims and 30 churches were destroyed in Maiduguri and Bauchi in February. A few days later dozens of Muslims were killed by Christians in Onitsha. Saudi Arabia: Al Qaeda began a campaign of violence there in 2003, with relatively few deaths so far. Thailand: Since January 2004 1,300 people have been killed in the south of the country, where Muslims seek independence from the predominantly Buddhist nation. And so on and so on and so on. We should recognize that while faith motivates suicide bombers and many others who kill, not everyone who pulls a trigger, fires a mortar or drops a bomb is motivated by God. Across the world, poverty, injustice, territorial defense and ethnic discrimination all prompt men and women to take up arms. Anger and revenge can also play a part. Many conflicts, from the world wars in the previous century 26

American Atheist — november/december 2006

to North Korea’s paranoia and mainland China’s desire to subjugate Taiwan, Tibet, Turkestan and other neighbors, are rooted in megalomania not belief. But at the heart of most of today’s wars, especially the Middle East and the misnamed “War on Terrorism,” lies a single phenomenon: religion. People kill to protect their faith. They kill to force others to accept it. They kill with a clear conscience because their imaginary God tells them it is acceptable, even desirable, that others die so the “true” faith can prosper. Non-violent Christians, Muslims, Jews and Hindus argue that their religion preaches non-violence. Those who kill in the name of their faith are betraying their God and their fellow-believers. The reality, however, is that God, in every name and incarnation, seldom spurns blood shed in his name. Christ told his followers to turn the other cheek. But his predecessor, the Old Testament God, regularly kills unbelievers and Jesus himself says he brings not peace but a sword (Matthew 10:34). Allah is unfailingly described as the Compassionate, but texts abound where he exhorts his followers to kill infidels (Sura 2:98, Sura 2:161, etc., etc., etc.) Even Buddhism’s celebrated pacifism is not monolithic. That faith does not prevent the majority Sinhalese in Sri Lanka from fighting the Hindu Tamil minority who seek an independent homeland. That religion begets violence is unsurprising. Faith rejects reason and draws its strength from superstition and emotion. Vague and contradictory scriptures allow believers to justify violence and aggression. Holy texts give a license to kill. Too often, religion destroys humanity. Too often, it encourages bigots to ignore the suffering of those who do not share their illusion. Too often, faith does not protect life; it destroys it. When religion disappears from the world, peace will not come automatically. We will, however, no longer be distracted from the true causes of warfare - inequality, environmental degradation, crime, and the lust for power. As long as the idea of God lives, people will die in his name. To give the people of the Middle East, South Asia, Chechnya and elsewhere a respite from the violence that plagues them, it is time for all deities to die. If God existed, he would... • admire the beauty of a universe that he did not create • recognize that eternity is meaningless • deny both heaven and hell • disown all men and women who speak in his name • denounce the harm caused by religious “morality” • help the human race to thrive without him If God existed, he would be an Atheist. ❋ All Rights Reserved © Martin Foreman


Foxhole Atheist of the Month

U

ntil I joined the military, despite having no real belief in a god, I clung to the safe idea that I was an Agonistic. It was not until later in life, after several years in the military, that I realized that Agnosticism (in my case) was a coward’s position. Knowing I was not a coward, I changed to a complete and total acceptance of my Atheism. The acceptance became very liberating and I saw the world more clearly. I finally understood our country’s Founding Fathers and their desire to push religion from the government. When listening to others I could recognize their hypocrisy and muddled thoughts. It was, as if a great space had been opened in my brain for many more thoughts and ideas. It was freedom. During boot camp, there were only two things you could do on Sunday morning. One was to go to chapel and try to catch some shuteye in the back pew. The other was peel potatoes and/or clean the mess hall. Given the alternatives, I chose the chapel and a nap. In fact, upon entry to the military during the issuing of dog tags, I was asked for my religion for inclusion on the tag. My answer of “None” was unacceptable to them, and I was made to claim “Protestant” (as my religion). When I became an officer I had many debates with a member of the CIA and other government employees (not military) who constantly professed how blessed they are. One day I had about as much of this “blessing” as I could stand and I mouthed off to one of them. I explained to him how I thought he used religion to hide his sexual perversion and if he really were what he professed he would be more concerned with the ills and hardships of others in the world, especially the third world.

David Newton I made some very unflattering comments about his use of religion. At the time, his adult daughter was suing him in court for her early years of child abuse. He fell against the wall behind him as if I had hit him, even though I did not. But it was within the possible alternative outcomes I was considering (Just give me an excuse you religious fraud!). I had no idea how this would play with the leaders of the organization but I got a hint when a lead government engineer started coming around regularly to talk on a wide-ranging number of topics. It seemed that they had accepted my “outburst” but they obviously believed I needed conversion. We talked a lot, but I knew I was right and nothing he could say would ever logically sway my thinking. After 20 years of enlisted and commissioned service I retired on 1 Aug 1994 at the rank of Major. During those twenty years, I had supported the mission of the U-2 aircraft (I believe it is unclassified now) in its world-wide missions in South Korea, Nicaragua, North Africa and Europe, to name a few. I had also volunteered for Foreign Technology Division (FTD) now renamed to National Aeronautic Intelligence Center. During my tour at FTD, Iraq invaded Kuwait and I supported the FTD mission in Desert Storm. I had the distinct privilege of working with some of the most interesting people I have ever met or hope to meet. These talented people were enough to offset the down side of the occasional religious fanatics who choose the military life. I have come to the conclusion that Atheists are correct in their thinking.


American Atheist Center

mailing address

PO Box 5733, Parsippany, NJ 07054 delivery address

225 Cristiani Street, Cranford, NJ 07016 phone

908-276-7300 • fax 908-276-7402

www.atheists.org • info@atheists.org

10  

I F YOU ’ RE interested in becoming a member please visit our website at www.atheists.org AND FILL out membership form. American Atheists, I...

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you