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JANUARY 2007 Vol 45, No.1
American Atheist Magazine
Editor, American Atheist Press Frank Zindler Editor, American Atheist Magazine Ellen Johnson Regular Contributors Martin Foreman Conrad F. Goeringer Frank Zindler
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 email@example.com 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.
Philip K. Paulson by Ellen Johnson
Editorial Assistants Gil and Jeanne Gaudia Published monthly (Except June & December) by American Atheists Inc.
From The President
Culture Watch Passing The Torch... by Conrad F. Goeringer
Anne McCrea Interviews James McElroy The Attorney In The Case Of Paulson v. City Of San Diego
The Amish As An Exemplary Model: Truth Or Distortion?
Fiction Or Fact?
by Doublas Kachel
by Gil Gaudia, Ph.D.
by Margaret Bhatty
Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism by James Burgtorf
Movie Review V For Vendetta: The Power Of One by Norm Cohen
Quackwatch “Miraculous Recoveries” from Cancer by Dr. Stephen Barrett
Foxhole Atheist Of The Month Wayne Adkins
from the president
Philip K. Paulson 1947-2006 Ellen Johnson
never met Phil Paulson, but I’ll never forget him. Phil died on October 25, 2006 from liver cancer. I’ll bet you never met him either. Maybe you’ve never even heard of him. That’s understandable because Phil was one of those quiet, unassuming heros of our movement, one who quietly plants a seed for change that will someday bear fruit that future generations will be able to enjoy. Phil planted such a seed seventeen years ago on May 30, 1989, when he ﬁled a lawsuit to have an unconstitutional religious symbol—a twenty-nine foot cross or “Christian torture device” as Phil called it—removed from Mt. Soledad in San Diego, California. Conrad Goeringer details the long history of the case in this issue. He was born in Clayton, Wisconsin, and was the grandson of a Lutheran minister. He said that he lost faith in religion following two bloody tours of duty during the Vietnam War. “I fought in Vietnam and I thought I fought to maintain freedom and yet the cross-savers in this city would have us believe all of the veterans’ sacriﬁces were in vain, that the Constitution is something to be spit upon,” he added. When Phil ﬁrst ﬁled the suit he did so without an attorney, doing his own legal research and writing. It wasn’t until 1991, when the case went into federal court, that he concluded that he was in over his head and so he enlisted the help of attorney James McElroy. Phil stayed out of the limelight, letting his attorney speak to the press so as not to say anything that could be used against them in court. That was okay with Phil because the important thing was to make the state of California come into compliance with the state constitution. He didn’t want the case to be about him. It was about doing the right thing. Phil believed in a higher authority—the authority of the laws of the land, which are higher than anyone’s personal beliefs. How many people would pursue a case for seventeen years on principle? He never gave up. He matched the Theists point by point, ﬁght by ﬁght, issue by issue. He gave no quarter. The courts sided with Phil every step of the way in declaring that the cross was unconstitutional. Finally, when the courts were about to ﬁne the recalcitrant city of San Diego for not removing the cross, President Bush made another one of his ignorant decisions and signed legislation transferring the land beneath the cross to the federal government’s Department of Defense, ostensibly in order to manage the monument. The case has a new plaintiff now and Mr. McElroy has already ﬁled a complaint in federal court in San Diego against both 4
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the city and the federal government, asking a judge to void the land transfer as a violation of both the state and federal constitutions. We support them 100% and will do anything we can to help. It’s unfortunate that lengthy legal maneuvering by the government prevented Phil from seeing this wrong made right. Unlike, the politicians and particularly President Bush, Phil maintained his dignity, even in the face of death—but then again—he was an Atheist. On June 5 he wrote to me that: “I am referred to as ‘Atheist Philip Paulson’ a name used as a pejorative by the cross-saving psycho-freaks. The Atheist good news is that everyone out here knows that Atheist Philip Paulson, a combat military veteran, will not back down from their legal ﬁghts. Additionally, I have refrained from accepting any congratulatory accolades until the cross is removed. Moreover, I have kept Atheism alive before the news media in San Diego for seventeen long years. Yes, I am the most hated man in San Diegoby the cross-saving Christian zealots who shudder in horrifying hell-ﬁre when they recognize my name “Philip” as the disciple of JC and Paul(son) as an Apostle of JC. I am hated by the slackjawed, zombie-eyed Christian zealots, in the same way that the ‘Dixie Chicks’ are hated by the southern rednecks because they have the name ‘Dixie’ in front of ‘Chicks.’” And so, as we Atheists continue our ﬁghts in the courts of the land, I’ll think of Phil with much respect and admiration. And when this case is ﬁnally won and that odious Christian symbol is removed from public property, it won’t just be the Atheists who will remember the name Phil Paulson. ❋
The Altar Boy Chronicles by Tony Pasquarello The hilarious romp of a logical mind trying to grow up Catholic in Philadelphia’s Little Italy during World War II. 214 pp. Paperback.
ISBN 1-57884-953-5 $16.00 — stock # 5583
Passing The Torch… by Conrad F. Goeringer
After seventeen years of ﬁghting to remove the Mt. Soledad Christian Cross and losing his battle to terminal cancer, Atheist Phil Paulson passed the torch to ensure that his legal battle continued.
t may be the most lengthy suit dealing with the separation of church and state in the history of American jurisprudence. The target was the 43-foot high Latin cross that looms over a 170-acre parcel of land established in 1916 as “The Mt. Soledad Natural Park,” in San Diego. The ﬁrst cross, constructed in 1913 was destroyed by vandals. It was replaced by another cross made of wood and stucco, but this was destroyed by a windstorm in 1952. The present concrete cross was erected in 1954 by a community group calling itself the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association. It was ostensibly built as a tribute to veterans of the two World Wars and the conﬂict in Korea,after it received approval from the City Council. This cross was dedicated in a religious service conducted on Easter Sunday, and soon became the venue for weddings, baptisms and other devotional rites, including an annual Easter sunrise service. According to Wikipedia: “1. Every annual publication of the Thomas Brothers Maps from 1954 to 1989 presented a geographic legal description of the location as the “Mt. Soledad Easter Cross” after which year (cross case was ﬁled on May 31, 1989) the name of the legal location on the map was changed to the “Mt. Soledad Memorial.”—[Paulson v. City of San Diego, 262 F.3d 885 (9th Cir. 2001), Documents on ﬁle with the US District Court of Southern California] 2. There was no placard or marker to be found anywhere on Mt. Soledad Natural Park nor at the site of the Mt. Soledad Easter Cross to indicate that it was a veterans’ memorial until after November 11, 1989, (See picture below of the Plaque at the base of the cross). 3. Every Easter holiday sunrise since 1954 was an occasion at the Mt. Soledad Easter Cross for local Christian worship services. On Easter Sunday, April 7, 1996, University of California-San Diego Political Science Professor (Emeritus) Peter Irons applied for and was granted a permit and conducted a wellattended secular sunrise rally for people of all religions and for those with no religion. There is no record of a Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or any other major religious sect or denomination having a religious service on Mt. Soledad.” january 2007 — American Atheist
For over 17 years, Atheist Phil Paulson courageously fought to have the Mt. Soledad Christian Cross removed from the public property in a struggle which has become emblematic of the on-going ﬁght for the separation of church and state. He died on Wednesday, October 25, 2006 from liver cancer. The former Vietnam veteran who had been raised in a devout Christian family, had been diagnosed in July, and was hospitalized a week prior to his death after experiencing abdominal pain. Paulson’s battle over the cross began in 1989 when he ﬁled suit in U.S. District Court on his own behalf against the City of San Diego, alleging that the presence of the cross on public property violated both the U.S. and California Constitutions. On December 3, 1991, the U.S. District Court ruled that the presence of this Christian cross on municipal land violated the “No Preference Clause” of the California Constitution.
The court noted that while the Mt. Soledad cross could be characterized as a war memorial, it nevertheless conveyed “an inherently religious message” and created “an appearance of honoring only those servicemen of that particular religion.” The Court issued an injunction “forbidding the permanent presence of the Mt. Soledad Cross on public property.” The City decided, however, that rather than remove the cross, it would instead resort to a strategy widely used by municipalities and other government entities when caught in such a violation. It would sell the land under the cross to a private group. 6
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This initiated a series of legal maneuvers to keep the cross standing prominently atop Mt. Soledad that would drag on up to the present day. Defenders of the cross, including attorneys representing the city, constantly tried to minimize the religious dimensions and history of the structure, insisting that its alleged status as a “war memorial” avoided any possible constitutional difﬁculties. However, the court agreed with Paulson’s position at every step during this process. From 1993 to 2002, the municipality repeated its attempts to circumvent the intent of the Constitution and the courts, by transferring the property under and around the Mt. Soledad Christian Cross to private ownership. The issue has also “gone national.” The Mt. Soledad case has been cited by religious-right advocacy groups as an example of “judicial activism.” Judges and courts, they claim, have run amok by handing down unpopular or misunderstood rulings that afﬁrm principles such as the separation of church and state. On Capitol Hill, legislation was introduced by California Representative Duncan Hunter to have the cross and a sliver of property it stood on transferred to the United States government. Since Paulson’s suit relied on the California State Constitution, by “federalizing” the case, cross supporters hoped to use slightly different legal standards about the display of religious symbols on public property. Earlier rulings would thus be circumvented. In May, 2006 U.S. District Judge Gordon Thompson afﬁrmed a ruling he had made in 1999, and ordered that the Mt. Soledad Christian cross be removed by August, 2006 or the City of San Diego would face penalties of up to $5,000 per day. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, in a terse twoparagraph statement, announced a stay on that order. This gave cross supporters a reprieve, and time to move on the legislative front. Hunter’s bill, H.R. 5683, sailed through the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, winning support from both sides of the party aisle. On August 14, President Bush signed the measure into law. James McElroy, attorney for Mr. Paulson, immediately ﬁled papers in federal court to void the transfer and declare the whole sham unconstitutional. He told reporters that the highly-publicized bill signing “smacks of election-year politics,” and added, “I don’t think anybody really thinks the cross is going to remain on Mt. Soledad. It’s been 17 years of litigation, and every court, every judge who’s ever looked at it has ruled it’s unconstitutional.” In late July of this year, it was announced that Phil Paulson had been diagnosed with terminal liver cancer. The prognosis was serious especially with this fast-growing liver tumor; but he remained philosophical and determined to the end.
“I want people to understand how an Atheist dies,” Paulson told a reporter for the San Diego Union Tribune newspaper. “I don’t have any problem with death. When it’s time to go, it’s time to go. When you die, you’re in a total unconscious state. I’m not into that wishful thinking. There’s no by-and-by in the sky when you die.” It was one of the few times Phil broke his policy of remaining silent about the Mt. Soledad case. He usually relied on attorneys to communicate with media. Union Tribune staffer Kelly Thornton noted, “With humor and candor, he (Paulson) said he isn’t worried about how cross supporters will react to the news.” “However the public response to it turns out to be, it will be interesting. I fully expect someone to say it’s God’s revenge. I anticipate that. I expect it. I wonder who will be the ﬁrst to say it.” The Legal Battle Is Joined Paulson enlisted the support of Steve Trunk to serve as a new plaintiff in the Mt. Soledad case. Like Phil, Mr. Trunk is “a Vietnam war veteran, an Atheist and the product of a religious upbringing.” The case has also been joined by a Jewish veterans group and several San Diego residents, all represented by the ACLU. In late September, U.S. District Judge Barry Moskowitz formally consolidated these cases which now challenge both the constitutionality of the Mt. Soledad Christian cross, and the land-grab by the federal government. Should the transfer of the cross to the Department of Defense as a “war memorial” be voided, the case would revert back to Judge Thompson who twice has ruled against the City and ordered the removal of this blatant religious symbol.
Whatever the outcome of this historic legal battle should be, Mr. Paulson remains a heroic symbol of committed to his Atheism. He had chosen the Atheist symbol, the “atomic whirl” designed by Madalyn O’Hair, founder of American Atheists, and approved by the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs to be etched on his granite grave marker. He told the Union Tribune that he was not interested in outlawing crosses or any other symbols from graves. “There’s a big difference between a government-sponsored Latin cross on Mount Soledad that is supposed to represent all veterans, which it does not because it does not represent me,” said Paulson, “and individual veterans selecting among various religious icons to put on their gravestone marker.” Paulson also mused about the role the important role the Mt. Soledad case has played in his life. “I’m not concerned about the end result, I’m more concerned about the trying. It’s all about the trying. I measure success based on my own efforts. People who know me know that Philip Paulson has perseverance, persistence, ceaseless determined energy. I never give up.” Indeed, the outcome of this and any other case seeking to uphold the First Amendment is always in doubt. What we know for certain is that Paulson will long be remembered for his commitment and passion in ﬁghting this, the “good ﬁght.” ❋ Federal standards permit the argument that religious symbols on public property may be constitutionally permissible if they have a legitimate “secular purpose.”  San Diego Union-Tribune, September 1, 2006 article by Kelly Thornton, “Opponent of cross has terminal cancer.” 
january 2007 — American Atheist
Anne McCrea Interviews James McElroy The Attorney In The Case Of Paulson v. City of San Diego. by Anne McCrea
Anne: Could you give us a summary of your perspective on the case so far? Mr. McElroy: As you know, the original case started seventeen years ago, and now there are actually three different cases going forward at the same time. There’s the original case Phil started that most recently resulted in Judge Thompson ordering the removal of the cross in ninety days, to avoid payment of ﬁnes. At that, we pretty much thought we had it resolved. However, the city then asked the appellate court for a stay, and the appellate court refused to grant it. After that, the mayor said if they didn’t get the stay they’d remove the cross. We were about twenty days from that happening, and this whole case would have been over, but then, Justice Kennedy intervened and agreed to the stay. So, the city appealed Judge Thompson’s order and we are arguing that matter now in the appellate court. At the same time, there’s also a battle in the state court over whether the city can give that land over to the federal government. Well, we won that case, but the city has appealed, so that battle is going forward to the state court. Finally, the federal government took the land by eminent domain, and they did so to save the cross, ... there’s no question about that, ... and in doing so in order to save a religious symbol clearly violates the constitution. So we ﬁled a new case against the federal government, and after we ﬁled, we were joined by some other plaintiffs who were represented by the ACLU, and that case is going forward. So we have two appeals, and then a case involving the taking of the land by the United States government, that are all proceeding at the same time. Anne: Are you associated with the ACLU? Mr. McElroy: No, I’m a sole practitioner with a private practice, and all this work is pro bono, if or until some court decides to order some attorneys fees to be paid. So, handling three cases, and paying my staff has all gotten much more costly than I originally anticipated. When I ﬁrst got involved in the case, I thought we would just be ﬁling a motion and the case would be resolved. And that was ten years ago, and this is today. Anne: How did you originally get involved in the case? Mr. McElroy: Phil was representing himself at the time and clearly needed help, and some other lawyers in the community asked if I would help him. I have done pro bono work, I worked with the Southern Poverty Law Center, I’m on their board, and I had also done some pro bono work for Planned Parenthood in the community, and for National Planned Parenthood. People knew I was willing to do work that interested me and that I thought was important and involved with civil rights, and so they asked me if I might help Phil out. I met with him and agreed to help him out. 8
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Anne: What’s kept you going with this case for so long and what has the case meant to you personally? Mr. McElroy: When I ﬁrst took the case it was not necessarily an issue I was all that passionate about, although I guess I’m passionate about all things that have to do with our constitution. One of the reasons I became a lawyer is because I was passionate about the law, but primarily about civil rights. That’s a lot of what the Southern Poverty Law Center does, is civil rights work, basically involving hate crimes and teaching tolerance and things like that. Growing up when I did, in the sixties and seventies, and growing up where I did, in the Midwest, I’ve always equated the key issue of civil rights with racial discrimination. I then became interested in other similar types of discrimination, and was involved with various groups concerned with those kinds of issues. Separation of church and state wasn’t something that really jumped out at me as one of my top three or four priorities, as far as the law goes. But once I got involved in this case, I just saw it as an extension of those civil rights that I was already working on and already passionate about. I saw it as a lack of tolerance, and I saw it as some people trying to shove the dominant religion down other people’s throats and as insensitivity toward minority religions or toward those who are Atheists. I felt that it was obviously a clear violation of our constitution, and I got madder and madder about the fact that the government would not respect the court orders. We’ve won just about every battle in this case, and yet we’ve had politicians who didn’t have the courage to follow the law, because they were afraid of how their constituents might respond. It was this lack of leadership, and, in my opinion, cowardice, on the part of many local politicians, that has cost the city of San Diego hundreds of thousands of dollars. Those issues, and all the resistance I get, all the people refusing to do the right thing, have actually made me even more passionate about the case. And there are collateral issues that are very close to things that I’ve always cared about. For example, the latest version of this cross was built in 1952, on a hill which is what you might consider the front door to La Jolla. Now La Jolla is a pretty exclusive, wealthy community in San Diego. In 1952, most of the homes in La Jolla came with restricted covenants, which meant that Jews could not buy those homes. And here you have this enormous Christian symbol on the doorstep of La Jolla. I’ve had several Jewish people tell me that what it symbolizes to them is exclusion. And then the government called it a war memorial. Phil was a volunteer Vietnam veteran. He was passionate about veterans’ issues. He saw a lot of people die in that war. He was on the ground with a
riﬂe; he wasn’t sitting behind a desk. He was involved in some of the bloodiest battles in Vietnam, and it infuriated him and me as well, that people would try to save that cross by wrapping themselves in the ﬂag and saying, “this is for our veterans.” We kept asking, “what about all those veterans who fought and died for our country who don’t happen to have been Christians?” And the court agreed that you’re only honoring Christian veterans with this forty-foot, twentyton, Christian cross you’re calling a war memorial. What about the people who fought and died for our country who don’t subscribe to a religion, or who happen to be Jewish, or happen to be some other religious minority? So those were the issues that got me ﬁred up, and I told Phil before he passed away, when he was sick, that I would continue this battle in his honor. I had hoped he was going to be around to see the victory, but unfortunately, that wasn’t very realistic, as his prognosis was pretty grim. Anne: From what I’ve read about the case, both you and Mr. Paulsen seem to be extremely courageous people with a lot of integrity. Mr.McElroy: Well thank you, I don’t know what you’ve been reading, but people have been lying about me, apparently. It really doesn’t take a lot of courage to do what you care about, in fact I feel lucky that I’ve been able to get involved in cases that I care about that can make a difference in the lives of people. You know, a lot of attorneys just don’t have the luxury to do that, and throughout my entire career I’ve been able to get involved in those kinds of cases, and I’m very glad that I’ve had that opportunity. Anne: Have you received a lot of personal attacks or negative feedback in regard to this case? Mr. McElroy: Well Phil and I have gotten a lot of hate mail and a lot of death threats, and he always put up with it with good humor. I was a little more worried about him than about me, because I’m a grizzled old attorney and I’m kind of used to that stuff. I’ve had it with other cases--for example white supremacy cases I’ve worked on,--and even the Planned Parenthood cases. You know a lot of death threats, and for me, that’s familiar territory, but for Phil, he’s just a regular guy out there, but as I say, he was quite a courageous guy in Vietnam, and he took all of that with a good sense of humor. I told him once that the way I feel about it is the more people that are telling me they wish I was dead, probably the better job I’m doing. If I wasn’t having much effect there wouldn’t be any reason to hate me! I must be doing something right! Anne: That’s a really positive way of looking at it! It sounds like you and Mr. Paulsen were pretty close. Mr. McElroy: I have a lot of respect for Phil. Anne: There are a lot of religious web sites with running commentaries on this case, one of which is the Thomas Moore Law Center, which hosts an online petition to Congress to save the Mt. Soledad cross. Are they providing a lot of support to the other side in the case? Mr. McElroy: Yes, they’ve been very active in the litigation, and they’re one of the reasons we are where we are today. They fought long and hard to promote this thing with the Republicans, and used political pressure wherever they could. They haven’t been particularly effective in the courtroom, but they have been effective in inﬂuencing very conservative Republicans and in getting us to the position where we are now. Anne: Could you tell me what you think is so important about this case for American Atheists? Mr.McElroy: I’d rather rephrase that question and say what is important about this case for Americans, because I think it means the same
to Atheists that it means to Christians. Quite frankly, in this country we set out with a damn good idea, and no other country really had that idea, and that was to make religion a matter of individual conscience and choice; a matter for families, and a matter for churches, but we were not going to let the government get involved in the business of religion. We decided that when it comes to religious matters, the government should be completely neutral, that it should not endorse religion over no religion, or one religion over other religions, and it seems to me our courts have been pretty good over the last 50 years at upholding that.
There have been a few cases I disagreed with, but there have been 12 cases involving Latin crosses and every single one of them has come down the same way. The Latin cross is the pre-eminent symbol of Christianity, the most powerful religious symbol in our country, and it does not belong on public property, because it sends the wrong message. And that’s the important thing about this case. Our government should be acting toward religious and non-religious people as it is acting toward black Americans, Latino Americans and white Americans. It should be opening its arms and saying we welcome everyone equally, regardless of race, and regardless of their religion or non-religion. If we want to honor veterans, we ought to honor ALL veterans; we sure as hell shouldn’t put up a forty-foot, twenty-ton symbol of one religion and imply that that is the only good religion or that those are the only good veterans. So it’s matter of tolerance, it’s a matter of acceptance, it’s a matjanuary 2007 — American Atheist
ter of honoring our diversity and it’s a really damn good idea we had a couple of hundred years ago, and I’d hate to see that idea go down the drain. But that idea, unfortunately, is really, really threatened today. I’m hoping that the pendulum might swing back the other way, ten to twenty years from now, as people realize how important an idea it is. And it’s not about eradicating religion, either, religion is a ﬁne thing. We’re a very religious country, and that’s great for those people who want it, but the government ought to stay the hell out of it. And that’s the most important thing about this case. Phil and I agreed to a settlement that moved the cross a thousand yards to private church property, and the city agreed to that settlement, then backed out of it. But I thought that was a very reasonable thing, and that Phil and I were showing respect for other people’s values, respect that other people sure as heck weren’t showing to Phil. We said we understand how this is an important symbol to people and how they are very emotional about it and very attached to it. We don’t want to take a sledge hammer and knock it down. Let’s move it to where it belongs, on private property at a church, and let the people who want to enjoy it, enjoy it. But let everyone who wants to enjoy this beautiful, tax-payer supported, public park enjoy it equally. Anne: Given the unanimous senate passage last August of the bill to “preserve the Mt . Soledad Veteran’s Memorial,” do you think there’s much chance of a successful outcome for the case? Mr. McElroy: Yes, I do. The unanimous consent of congress was extremely disappointing to me, that senators like Hilary Clinton, Kennedy and Lieberman would let something like this happen. But I realize I’m not very sophisticated when it comes to politics and I was advised by a lobbyist, that election year politics is all about God, guns, and gays. That’s what you’re going to get, pro-god stuff, progun stuff, and anti-gay stuff, because of the election, and no Democrat is going to have the backbone to stand up to that and that’s just very, very disappointing to me. I’m pretty happy with our courts still, although I do have some concern about the Supreme Court and its changing personality; and how some of their views seem to be very much at odds with our constitution and with precedents of the last ﬁfty years. They want to change the law. The Republicans talk about activist judges, that’s what an activist judge does, is change the law. If they don’t change the law, the law is pretty clear, and our courts have been pretty strong to look at congress and say, “Hey, you can pass any laws you want, but we have this little Bill of Rights, and the reason this Bill of Rights was passed was to prevent you from passing laws that infringe on the rights that belong to the people.” And if you infringe on somebody’s right to free speech by passing a law, we don’t care if it’s by unanimous consent; we don’t care if every single person in the house and the senate and the president voted for it. We don’t care if the majority of the American public wants it. If it infringes on free speech, it violates the constitution, and it’s the job of the courts to protect the rights of the people. One of the fundamental jobs for all courts is to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority. So I have a lot of conﬁdence that we will win this latest case against the federal government. At the trial level and at the appellate level, all the previous cases have been decided in our favor. However, I don’t know what will happen in the Supreme Court; that’s something that’s very hard to predict, but I’m optimistic. Anne: I’m very sorry for the loss of your friend Mr. Paulsen, and also, thank you Mr. McElroy, for so passionately protecting our American constitution and our civil rights. Mr. McElroy: It was a pleasure talking to you and it’s a pleasure for me to do this kind of work. ❋ 10
American Atheist — january 2007
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 Magazine. Just ﬁll out the blue card with the information requested, include your gift, and mail it back to us in the enclosed envelope. Be sure to check the appropriate box authorizing us to thank you by printing your name and contribution amount in the Magazine. Mailing addresses will not be mentioned. This is our way of saying THANK YOU to an extraordinary group of people—those of you who want to “do more” and ﬁnancially support the critical work of American Atheists! American Atheists Thanks The Following Persons For Their Generous Contributions To Our Cause.
Bill Treloar, NJ—$50 Jonathan Noll, WA—$1,000 Jason Goldsmith, MD—$75 Frank H. Titus, OK—$50 Jeffrey D. Borelli, OH—$50 Neal A. Cary, VA—$1,000 Martin Eberhard, CA—$250 Willam Caputo, PA—$50 Chuck Cannon, CA—$50 Terry N. Tappan, CA—$50 Mike Jolley, LA—$100 Samantha Porter, MD—$100 Windell Horton, TX—$300 Renee H. Bream, CA—$200 Richard D. Hogan, TX—$150 Bill Kight, FL—$50 Tommie Morrison, CA—$50 Bill Young, CA—$50 Ted Thal, CA—$50 Curt V. Carleen, RI—$75
Why I Am Not A Muslim by Ibn Warraq A courageous criticism of the dark side of Islam 402 pp. Hard Cover.
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The Amish As An Exemplary Model: Truth Or Distortion? by Douglas Kachel
n an unrelenting stream the mass media in the United States Countless feature stories in newspapers and magazines as well bombard its citizens with the tragedies and failures of the cul- as frequent references to the Amish in books on singular topics such ture, revealing a panorama of violence, corruption, family dis- as ecology or family issues extol the Amish virtues. Praised are their integration, and various indicators of potential ecological ca- self-sufﬁciency and self-reliance, a family and community structure tastrophe. While the severity of these problems differs according to where all work harmoniously for the good of the whole, an agrarian whom and how the data is interpreted, such maladies as drug abuse, economy which neither exploits resources nor pollutes, and a society AIDS, homelessness, economic and racial inequality, mental illness, which is basically free of the problems besetting modern American and alienation seem to be ever-present problems of the contemporary society. These gentle, picturesque people with their unique dress and United States. And if these problems were not enough, we are told quaint horse and buggy transportation are portrayed by the media as by various social analysts that the accomplishments of our educa- an idyllic group which has somehow steadfastly resisted the alleged tional system and our economic productivity continue to erode, falling not only behind the standards of the United States of a generation ago, but also behind the recent successes of other industrialized nations. Meanwhile a seemingly polarized political system appears unable to generate viable solutions and continues to offer at best “more of the same.” Many Americans react to the incessant exposure of these mounting social problems by a range of behaviors “who cares” indifference, negativistic cynicism, active support of reactionary politicians, and so forth. Others search for alternative values to those of the dominant culture by ﬁnding short-term answers in the promises of cult like groups, New Age philosophy, or in often romanticized subculMotion pictures and popular literature paint Amish communities in rosy tones. tures such as Native Americans, who are purported to have in But for the women and children who must live there, life is less than idyllic their traditional wisdom certain values which, if adopted by contemporary American society, would alleviate many of its social problems. One group has received contamination and destructiveness of the modern, urban, materialisan inordinate amount of positive attention from the media, particu- tic culture. The popular ﬁlm Witness ampliﬁed this contrast between larly when one considers its relatively small size, and is almost always good and evil—the Amish being portrayed in the ﬁlm as innocent, portrayed as an exemplary model in contrast to the rest of American wholesome, and pure and American society as a frenzy of violence, society. This is the Old Order Amish. corruption, and debauchery. january 2007 — American Atheist
One could argue that these stereotypical media contrasts of the Amish with the larger American society are highly selective in what is compared (or what is omitted), resulting in a bias in favor of the Amish. What is being presented by most social analysts and the media is an unfair, slanted comparison—the best of Amish culture is continually contrasted with the worst of American society. Failure to address the entire range of both Amish and American cultures gives a distorted, untruthful view of both sides. What then are some features of Amish culture which the media rarely examine which most Americans would probably ﬁnd objectionable if not abhorrent?
In my interviews with the Amish in their homes, I have found that wives rarely speak. They only do so when they receive some sign of permission from their husband, such as a nod of the head or a verbal cue. Even when wives do talk, they are often interrupted by their husbands. An Amish wife never interrupts her husband when a stranger is present. Moreover, when an Amish couple is being interviewed the husband often speaks about the family or farms as if the wife were not present, virtually ignoring her. Much of this female subordination is based on what the Amish stress and interpret from Scripture (such interpretation is, of course, solely an Amish male prerogative). Emphasized passages are:
Individual expression A few months ago I attended a regional recital for high school musicians, an obviously select and talented group of young Americans. The hours of work to hone their individual talents, whether instrumental or vocal, and the efforts of the supportive and encouraging parents must have been prodigious. Amish youth would never achieve this level of individual endeavor, share with others their developed talents, or feel the pride of accomplishment. Nor would they receive any encouragement from their elders to do so. Within the Amish world, there is virtually no freedom to be different, to show the pride of accomplishment, or to assert oneself for a unique individual goal. Individual rights, freedom of expression and initiative, and numerous privileges enjoyed by Americans and perhaps taken for granted would be rejected by the Amish for the sake of religious ritualism and the preservation of community traditions which are enforced by what may be described as a benign herd mentality. The great (and not-so-great) literature of the ages and the enduring music and art of the centuries would be anathema in the Amish world. A world without the likes of Shakespeare, Dickens or Hemingway; without a Beethoven or Mozart; devoid of Michelangelo, van Gogh, or Picasso; lacking the plays of Ibsen or the poetry of Wordsworth and Robert Frost; would be the sterile, simple world of the Amish. This would be a world furthermore without concern for, appreciation of, or any developed sensibilities for the genius in whatever endeavor no matter how ennobling or inspiring. In fact, creativity, beyond perhaps a simple variation in a quilt design or placing plants in an interesting arrange-ment in a ﬂower bed, would be conspicuously absent in Amish culture. Papa is all The Amish society is a deeply rigid patriarchal society. Most Americans, particularly women, would be repulsed by the sharp sexrole divisions and by the expectations placed on the Amish wife and mother. All leadership roles whether bishop, preacher, or deacon—are held by men, most often by the older men of the church community. At the religious services, women enter the building after the men and sit behind them; when the service is over, the women leave last. One can still see in Amishland many incidents of a wife trailing a step or two behind her husband as they walk down an aisle at a market or along the sidewalk of a town. This dominance of the Amish husband and father is best expressed in a phrase popular among the Amish: “papa is all.” 12
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But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. (1 Cor. 11:3) For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. (1 Cor. 11:7) Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. (1 Cor. 11:9) The approved position of women in church is characterized by the verse: Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obe-dience, as also saith the law. (1 Cor. 14:34)
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2:15)
The lot of an Amish woman Amish women often seem physically older than their chronological age would indicate. Perhaps this is because they wear no makeup or stylish clothes as do other American women who pursue the all-too-ﬂeeting illusion of youth behind their made-up facade. More likely, Amish women are timeworn by the constant drudgery of physical labor and by the large number of children they bear and rear. One only has to attend one Amish meal to get a feel for the domestic role expectations of the Amish wife and mother. All three meal preparations of the day are extensive, including much daily baking of breads and pastries. Cooking is done with a coal stove, and since there is no electricity in Amish homes, there are no electric appliances to help in meal preparations. Furthermore, there is usually limited indoor plumbing in Amish homes, so heated water for washing dishes or for bathing is prepared in kettles on the stove. Clothes washing for the large family is done mostly by hand or washing machines which are crude by current American standards. Clothes are hung out on lines to dry. Ironing is done with irons heated over the stove. Amish women are also responsible for the planting and tending of the family gardens, all canning of vegetables, and helping out in the ﬁelds at harvest time. When family members become ill or when the elderly become incapacitated, it is the wife’s duty to administer to their needs. Only under extreme necessity would the Amish see a doctor or venture to a hospital for aid. With an average of six or seven children per family (ten or more is not unusual), often only one year apart, the Amish mother has virtually no free or quiet time. While American women who are bound to several demanding roles sometimes refer to themselves in half-jest as “superwomen,” the Amish housewife’s roles are at least equally demanding and perhaps beyond comparison. Furthermore, if Amish wives and mothers do not ﬁnd their role fulﬁllment in children and in the home, they are unlikely to ﬁnd it anywhere else; there are few if any career or educational options for wives and mothers within the Amish community. With educational opportunities and growing economic independence, American women can opt for divorce if they ﬁnd their marriages incompatible with their needs. Amish women who have only eight years of schooling, as is customary in Amish society, and have no substantial chance for economic independence must stay in their marriages, dependent on their husbands under almost any circumstance. While divorce is almost nonexistent in Amishland (a popular Amish-to-American contrast in the media), this is to a degree the result of Amish wives and mothers having only limited opportunities to choose an alternative life-style. In addition, strong community pressure would also be exerted on the Amish woman who might wish to separate from her husband. In terms of world openness and level of sophistication, the Amish of today have changed little from their sixteenth-century German peasant heritage. The Amish maintain an exclusive subculture and are perhaps the most ethnocentric population in the United States, believing that they and they alone are god’s chosen people, “a royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:9). The Amish justify the separation of their church community from the world by their interpretation of various scriptural passages. Two of these are: Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? (2 Cor. 6:14)
Escape from freedom The world is becoming smaller with shared values, attitudes, and a growing informational consensus, and we increasingly realize that the need to co-operate among all world citizens and nations is tantamount to survival. But the Amish remain closed and resolute, maintaining their traditional ways of sep-arateness and religious superiority. While the Amish can be lauded for their self-sufﬁciency and self-reliance, could they have existed and thrived without the tolerance, accommodation, and special status granted to them by the laws of the United States? A toleration, one may add, that the Amish have rarely shown for anyone whose values and beliefs differ from their own. Why then do the Amish continue to have such a favorable image and serve as a model for so many Americans? Perhaps many see in the Amish society values they feel have been lost in the hustle and bustle of a complex, urban, industrialized society, that is, roots in a secure, predictable, and stress-free social environment. Still, individualistic Americans accustomed to personal freedom and choices would ﬁnd living in Amish society unbearable, as they would if they could return to the provincialism of a rural village in nineteenth-century America. Perhaps most Americans do not want the opportunity for freedom with all the risks, insecurities, and potential for failure that it can generate. Was Erich Fromm right when he noted that most Americans really don’t want freedom but want to “escape from freedom?” For those wishing to escape from the freedom of individuality, the freedom of choice, and the basic insecurities of modern life, the absolutism and security of group conformity manifested in Amish society could, indeed, be viewed as a positive alternative, especially for those alienated from the vast opportunities and rewards of the contemporary United States. ❋ 
Erich Fromm (1900-1980), psychoanalyst, social theorist, and writer. The author of this essay refers to Fromm’s work Escape From Freedom (New York: Avon Books, 1965)
This article originally appeared in the June 1992 issue of American Atheist Magazine. Dr. Douglas Kachel is professor and chair of the Sociology Department, Grand View College, Des Moines, Iowa. He has conducted extensive ﬁeld research and published widely on the Amish and numerous other minority groups. Dr. Kachel grew up among the Old Order Amish in southeastern Pennsylvania and has continued to conduct research among the Amish communities in Iowa.
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january 2007 — American Atheist
Fiction Or Fact by Gil Gaudia, Ph.D.
he main character in Outside, Looking In, a novel that I wrote in 2003, was Gene Geminni, a belligerent and sometimes aggressive Atheist. He wasn’t a bad guy, but his attitude toward the religious people he encountered, especially fundamentalist Christians, frequently got him into unpleasant social situations. Any resemblance to persons living or dead, including this author, was decidedly NOT coincidental. Toward the end of the novel, Gene found himself in a hospital room preparing to donate a kidney to his half-brother, Carl Peterson, who was suffering from end-state renal failure. In the room, Carl, his mother Marge, and Gene’s wife Ginny, were discussing the upcoming operation when the surgeon, Dr. J. Rowland Barton, unexpectedly came in to discuss the next morning’s protocol. As soon as the surgeon entered the room, Gene knew he was going to have a problem with the guy. “Which one of you is Carl and which one is Gene?” the courtly appearing physician asked brusquely. “I’m Dr. J. Rowland Barton, Chief of Surgery.” (He had actually examined Carl two weeks ago but apparently didn’t recognize him in his hospital attire). “Okay,” Gene thought, “so he didn’t have a chance to meet the donor or take the time to get the names sorted out. Forget the fact that there were two people involved here who had earned doctorates themselves and were being addressed by their ﬁrst names while he adorned himself with both his titles.” What produces the phenomenon that takes place between people—sometimes referred to in our society as “being on the same wavelength”, or “establishing rapport” or “chemistry”—colloquially
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called “vibes’—were all absent as Gene sensed his ﬁrst impression of the person who was going to hold both of their lives in his hands within the next few days. What made it worse was that Dr. Barton never made eye contact with him or his brother, and didn’t even bother to inquire about the other two people—women—in the room. He looked down at his charts and papers as he informed the brothers how he planned to proceed in the operation and while there was a clear description of the method he intended to employ in severing and connecting the various nerves, blood vessels and layers of tissue, there was not a single reference to anyone’s feelings, concerns, fears or questions that all four of them had in abundance. But the clincher for Gene was, when he had ﬁnished his prepared lecture, he stood up to leave and said, “I’d like to ask you all to join hands with me and pray for God to guide my hands and the hands of all of us in the operating room as we seek to restore health to this young man.” If Ginny had had the time, she would have dived under the bed anticipating the explosion that she knew was coming. After being with Gene for forty years she was well aware of what would trigger him and she often could abort disastrous situations, ... but not this time. “Not on your fucking life,” Gene blurted, “ If you think I’m going to let someone chop into my body and remove my kidney while he’s counting on some mysterious being to be responsible for it going right, you’re out of your Goddam mind. I don’t know about you Carl, but my vote is that we ﬁnd someone whose faith resides more in his own abilities rather than some God that he can then blame if it doesn’t go right.” Dr. Barton looked like he had been punched in the jaw, because it dropped down to his gown and he stepped back as his gaze met Gene’s for the ﬁrst time since he had entered the room. “I have conﬁdence in myself and was only asking for the Lord’s guidance in this most serious undertaking before us. I don’t understand your outburst, and I think you’re out of line.” Carl spoke up saying calmly, “My brother is not out of line. No offense, Doctor Barton, but you were out of line to as-
sume that we wanted you to play the role of preacher instead of man of science.” By that time everyone except Carl was moving about the room in a sort of frenzy of agitation and Marge trying to pacify the surgeon, spoke to him saying, “Please Dr. Barton, they didn’t mean anything except that they aren’t believers, but you certainly have every right to pray as much as you want.” Ginny, trying to keep the lid on said, “Why don’t we all just calm down and discuss it among ourselves. Dr. Barton, you can understand the strain we’re all feeling, can’t you? It’s been a difﬁcult week for us. We’ll call your ofﬁce as soon as we can get our thoughts clariﬁed, and thanks for your understanding.” Barton, happy there was at least one rational voice in the room backed out of the doorway saying, “Yes, call me as soon as you can, since my schedule is very tight, and I have to know what your decision is today.” As soon as he was out of the room Ginny turned to Gene and let him have a salvo beginning with, “Why does everybody have to match your philosophical expectations? If you needed a kidney would you refuse one from a Christian? I can’t believe you. If this guy is the best surgeon around what difference does it make if he’s a Christian or a Jew, Muslim or Buddhist? Are you really so turned off by other people’s beliefs that you’d rather have an Atheist surgeon even if he might be so incompetent that he couldn’t ﬁnd his way down the corridor to operate on you? Think about it!” She was in high gear and Gene was aware that he had not only been out of line, but that he had no right to decide for Carl what his surgeon’s view of the world should be. Gene sat dejectedly on the edge of the bed and Carl leaned over and put his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Don’t feel bad, we can get another member of the team to do it. There’s several of them here.” Gene was still digesting Ginny’s accusation, and as he frequently had done in the past he realized that his priorities were misplaced. Barton was the best surgeon in town by everyone’s standards including Carl’s internist who had referred him to this center, and once again he was going to have to repair the damage done by his obsessive insistence on dealing only with people that he considered to be rational by his own rigidly strict standards. They’d sacriﬁced many friends in the past because they were too religious for Gene’s taste. They either wanted to say grace before meals or they sent their kids to parochial schools and no matter how much he liked them or enjoyed their company he found it necessary after a while to sever the relationship. His defense was that he felt that he had to stiﬂe his freedom of expression and had to keep his opinions to himself, which was certainly appropriate at times, but Ginny could never understand why he had to be annoyed when someone said, “God bless you”, after he sneezed. She knew that what he really wanted to do was debate religious issues with the believers that he was contemptuous of and if they didn’t want to take the challenge, he felt frustrated. If they did accept it, he insulted their intelligence and powers of reason, and either way it usually ﬁnished the relationship. This ﬁctional social dilemma I have just described may seem to some, to be a bit improbable. At the time of its writing I wasn’t sure it would sound plausible to the reader. After all, surgeons, medical people and scientists in general are an enlightened bunch, and the chances of a situation like this occurring in real life are pretty slim. Or are they? Recently, on a warm August afternoon, three years after the fabricated situation depicted above, in the ofﬁce of Stanley Chasen, M.D., F.A.C.S., I (not Gene Geminni) discussed with my young,
highly successful and prominent local eye surgeon, the upcoming removal of a cataract from my left eye (a far less threatening procedure than a kidney transplant.) My wife, Jeanne and I listened carefully as Dr. Chasen outlined the details of the delicate operation. Methodically he described what would take place, from the time I entered the clinic, each carefully planned step of the cataract removal called, “extracapsular lens extraction by phacoemulsiﬁcation” a name which takes almost as long to say as the procedure takes to perform. When he ﬁnished his detailed description, he dropped his gaze, folded his well-shaped, delicate hands reverently in his lap and solemnly murmured, “... and before I begin the surgery, if you like, we’ll have prayer.” I cannot believe my ears! What am I ... a prophet? Didn’t I create a ﬁctitious situation like this three years ago in a novel? Did I actually just hear a real-live ophthalmic surgeon repeat the words I had almost hesitated to write because I thought no one would believe any surgeon would encourage his patients to pray before surgery? No matter, ... exercising more control than my ﬁctional alter ego, Gene, I merely said, “No, we won’t pray. I’m an Atheist.” The surgeon smiled weakly, and stammered, “That’s okay. That’s okay. That’s a good reason for not wanting to pray.” And we simply dropped the subject. The next day, I seriously considered canceling the surgery, because like Gene Geminni, I was no longer comfortable with the person to whom I was about to trust my eyesight. Was I justiﬁed to feel uncomfortable letting a surgeon operate on me simply because he revealed his religious bias to me? I say “bias” because I feel it was presumptuous and arrogant of him to have brought up the subject of religion in a situation that I felt was completely unrelated to it. And the questions for you, Dear Readers, are these. Is it irrational to have such a reaction as I did? Is it inappropriate to want to speak up for Atheism, even when the real issue is about such a serious subject as surgery or other medical treatment? Does your dentist have to be nonreligious, or at least not mention his or her religion before ﬁlling a cavity or extracting a wisdom tooth? How about your hairdresser? Your automobile mechanic? What if the lady you meet every morning on your walk, wants to tell you about how her late husband, James, is looking down on her from heaven? When should Atheists interrupt a seemingly innocuous conversation to object to the presentation, however subtle, of the interlocutor’s beliefs, or to proclaim their own philosophy? When is it appropriate to announce your Atheism to a completely innocent, if unthinking, acquaintance; or, ... to put it in the words of that great social philosopher, Kenny Rogers, is it true, for Atheists, that, in most interpersonal relations, “You gotta know when to hold ‘em; know when to fold ‘em; know when to walk away and know when to run”? ❋ 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 firstname.lastname@example.org january 2007 — American Atheist
Unintended Jokes by Margaret Bhatty
he god Shiva loves to dance. He is the “god of rhythm.” His dance symbolizes the eternal destruction of the earth and the recreation of it once more. One of the most popular icons is the tandava posture of Shiva Nataraja. The Lord of the Dance is shown with one foot on the body of a dwarf demon — representing his victory over the spirit of evil. It implies a cosmic equation in which destruction is replaced by a divine order. His halo represents the cycle of creation, destruction and then rebirth. However, Shiva is commonly depicted as an ascetic—naked, smeared with ashes and unconcerned about his coiffure. From his long straggled hair the sacred river – the Ganges – ﬂows down. His rigorous meditations and severe austerities imply he is a god capable of great spiritual power. According to a myth he killed Kama, the god of desire, by blasting it with his Third Eye because the god had disturbed his sexless meditation. But his consort Parvati wanted to copulate with him to produce a son. He wasn’t at all keen. But she knew how some devious devices do work. She practiced a number of austerities herself to ﬁre his interest. These severe exercises made all the gods themselves become very anxious about the consummation. In effect Shiva, on his part, enhanced desire and reinforced his role as a fertility god. The child produced was Kattikeya, the god of war. Now there follows a descent to absurdity: Brighu, not a god but an eminent sage of great antiquity, was selected by an ad hoc committee of other sages and was sent as an emissary by them to test the three gods — Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu. He was to call on them each in turn. However, when he arrived at the door of Shiva and Parvati they were in the middle of a passage of love which they were unprepared to break up and rush to the door to greet a guest. Because they stayed where they were, Brighu was insulted. He cursed them for their lack of respect for a sage. From now on all humans would worship their genitals in an icon consisting of Shiva’s phallus as a lingam, resting on a ﬂat receptacle — a yoni — representing a vagina. Thereafter, fulﬁlling Brighu’s curse, phalli sprang up all over the country Among other gods Shiva was not a nice being, often quarreling violently with them and he even struck off one of Brahma’s heads. The gods mocked him for his deplorable poor taste in clothes and his austerities, and his habit of haunting cremation pyres to carry off remains. However, like Vishnu and Brahma, he was conceded a heaven of his own. That is where he dwells—on the high snowy crested mountains of the Himalayas from where the Ganges ﬂows down to the plain of the great peninsula all the way into the ocean. Lingams are worshipped by devotees without any embarrassment. Even phallus-like rocks or formations like stalagmites are garlanded, oil lamps are lit, quantities of milk poured on them and rituals carried out. Countless small icons of stone or metal which can be bought from the market are installed in domestic prayer-rooms. The more recent sage, Bhagwan Rajneesh, now Osho of the twentieth century, denounced phallic worship as abominable and un16
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civilized. He suggested all these obnoxious icons should be shattered and demolished. But he was no ascetic and he believed in the real postures of sexual congress in order to achieve ‘superconsciousness.’ However, getting pregnant, unplanned, he condemned as reproduction on a level with animals. There is no evidence that enlightened Indians will think anew about phallic devotions and scrap Brighu’s curse. One annual event is a massive pilgrimage of almost three million devotees booking seats on trains and buses to arrive at the foot of an arduous climb in the Kashmir mountains up a steep cobbled road to a cave called Amarnath, where Shiva’s lingam can be venerated in the form of an icy column. Devotees whose strength fails can hire hill ponies, or get carried on a dandi—a kind of sedan— borne by four strong men. The weather is bitter and when it rains the pilgrims feel it’s a more blessed test of their faith. Sometimes pilgrims who die en route are seen as fortunate and directed straight to heaven. On the pilgrimage the State Government and a management committee also provide stopovers in tents, with food, warm bedding and bonﬁres—all for a cost. A steady peaceful ﬂow of the pious appears as an easy target to Muslim militants who have sometimes attacked the column. To protect them a considerable number of mountain units are provided by the army for the pilgrims.
10/26/06 — Ellen Johnson was interviewed about celebrating the Winter Solstice for CANVAS Magazine. 10/30/06 — Ellen Johnson gave an interview to the Associated Press on the mid-tern elections. 11/3/06 — Ellen Johnson appeared on the FOX Network program THE LIVE DESK to discuss a recent Harris poll on religion in America. 11/13/06 — Ellen Johnson on the FOX Network program The O’Reilly Factor to discuss whether secularists are succeeding. 11/17/06 — American Atheist’s Legal Director Edwin Kagin was on the Dr. Joesph Michelli Radio program out of Colorado Springs, CO. 11/18/06 — American Atheists Capitol Hill Representative Rick Wingrove spoke at the Michigan Atheists state convention.
Many travelers of earlier times who ‘took darshan’ (caught sight) of Shiva’s lingam returned awestruck by its grandeur. Swami Vivekananda (who ﬁrst organized a Religion Congress in America and attracted many whites as his devotees) made his pilgrimage to Amarnath in 1898. On his return, in November, he rested at the Belur premises of the Math in Calcutta. His disciple noted in his diary that the Swami-ji had returned from Kashmir with indifferent health. He hardly spoke and sat in one place “rapt in thought.” The Swami asked for him to set up tobacco for a smoke before he told of his journey. Then he spoke as he smoked: “I underwent great religious austerities at Amarnath. On the way to Amarnath I made a very steep ascent on the mountain. Pilgrims do not generally travel on that path. But the determination came upon me that I must go by that path, and so I did. The labour of the strenuous ascent told on my body. The cold there is so biting that you feel like pin-pricks.” (meaning goose bumps?) His disciple said that the tradition was to visit the image of Amarnath entirely nude despite the weather. The Swami-ji had only a ﬂimsy gown and ash smeared on his body. “I then did not feel any cold or heat,” he said. “But when I came out of the temple I was benumbed by the cold.” The disciple was keen to know if he had seen the holy pigeons which frequent the place despite the bitter weather. The Swami said he saw three or four white pigeons but he couldn’t tell if they inhabited the cave or rested on neighboring hills. The disciple said he’d heard the sight of the pigeons indicated that one had really been blessed with the vision of Shiva. Vivekananda said that his intense silence was unusual. “Since visiting Amarnath I feel as if Shiva is sitting on my head for twenty-four hours and would not come down,” he declared. (Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda Vol.VII) This year, 2006, a startling event occurred about the lingam of ice in the Amarnath Cave. It diminished and seemed to be melting away. A retired judge was appointed to probe the mysterious disappearance .The report said that the lingam hadn’t been formed but by May 16th a trickling of water from the roof of the cavern had resulted in a formation of the lingam by the ﬁrst week of June. If it hadn’t formed a massive pilgrim procession would have had to cancel their tickets and perhaps quarreled about refunding of their money. Now, according to mischievous media reports the organizers rushed off an order to an ice plant in Delhi to send up a large supply of ice for Rs 85,248. This was used to reinforce the ﬂagging lingam. However, the news got out. On June 10, some Amarnath pilgrims staged protests at the base camp of Baltai. They condemned the SASB committee – Shri Amarnath Shrine Board – for hurting the feelings of those who are pious believers of the miracle. Some more learned people claimed
the miracle is performed naturally by Shiva and human intervention must not be tolerated. The SASB and the State Governor as Chairman of the Board declared the lingam had not been tampered with. The ice brought in was used in the cave to cool the surrounding and prevent unlikely warmth from affecting the miracle. However, in newspaper pictures the lingam didn’t look like an ice stalagmite, not even remotely like an icicle I see in our freezer chest in the fridge. It was a rather hurriedly snowman heap, not effectively disguised by ﬂowers and garlands. The problem is the startling drastic effect of global warming. Next year maybe no lingam will form at all. The effect will be even wider on the Himalayas. I grew up in Kumaon, a particularly beautiful region of the Himalayas—in the 1930s. Those years we had severe winters with six to ten feet of snow after Christmas. Range after range of the snows to the north were heavily shrouded with winter falls. But now they have less snow and aren’t so gleaming and grand. The snow-line is steadily shrinking upwards. At home we have no snow any more in winter despite severe cold weather. Perhaps in time the beautiful snowy mountain Nanda Devi, which local hill-folk worship as a goddess, might stand absolutely bare. Shiva’s abode will have disappeared. And even worse will be the diminishing ﬂow of the Ganges river supposedly from his hair. This important river, along with all its snow-fed other tributaries on its way, will ﬁnally dry up. Water from these natural resources will shrink and disappear. Can concerned people of the planet reverse or even slow down global warming? How about prayers? Maybe the gods as an ad hoc committee chaired by Shiva himself might respond to fervid requests sent up by devotees. The ﬁrst remarkable sign of their replies would surely be the correction of erectile dysfunction in the Amarnath cave. This would at once stiffen their faith as well as reinforcing the curse of the seer Brighu.❋ Margaret Bhatty comes from a Christian missionary family. She is a free-lance journalist and author of books in English for Indian children. She lives in Nagpur, India. For many years a columnist for American Atheist, she is the author of the AAP book An Atheist Reports From India, which is available from American Atheists. ($9.00, ISBN 0-910309-42-6, Stock #5026) She receives e-mail at email@example.com.
Portrait Of Nude, Bleeding Man Hung On School Wall by the onion—www.theonion.com (Humor) BOISE, ID – As a reminder of God’s abundant and undying love for them, a portrait of a nearly naked, bleeding man was hung in full view of students at St. Matthew’s Catholic High School Tuesday. The image of the almost-nude, dripping man violently nailed to wooden planks, now on permanent display in the school’s central hallway, “reminds us that God would do anything for his children,” said Sister Mary Margaret, the school’s math teacher. “It presents an uplifting message
of love and salvation to inspire us all.” Sister Mary went on to praise the craftsmanship of the piece, saying, “You can actually see his bulging eyeballs roll up into his head and the trickles of ooze running into the sockets. Amazing!” ❋ May 26, 1999 – Issue 35•20 © copyright 2006, Onion, Inc. all rights reserved. reprinted with permission. The Onion is not intended for readers under 18 years of age. january 2007 — American Atheist
the american atheist radio series
A Nation Not Under The Constitution. by Madalyn O’Hair
This article originally appeared in the November 1976 issue of American Atheist magazine.
ello there, This is Madalyn Murray O’Hair, American Atheist, back to talk with you again. Organized religion in the Colonies, before the nation was founded and the Constitution adopted in 1788, had over a century and a half in which to exhibit some kind of concern for human brotherhood and to respect the principle of freedom of conscience. It never happened. On the contrary, the intolerance, the repressions, the factional strife over doctrinal differences were so bad that by the time of the Revolution many of the more educated of our leaders had left Christianity and opted for Deism. Unfortunately, adequate information about this is never made available to those who acquire their education in our public schools. There the impression is given that this is a nation founded on Christianity. Deism is only brieﬂy mentioned, although intellectual leaders of the Revolution were committed to the concept. Deism was the system of thought that advocated a natural religion, divorced from the Judeo-Christian Bible, based on reason rather than revelation, emphasizing nature’s harmony and intelligibility, and rejecting the idea that the Creator could interfere with the laws of nature and the matters of mankind on earth. Simply put, the Founding Fathers believed in nature and nature’s god. Among those who disapproved of Christianity as it manifested itself in the Colonies were Colonel Ethan Allen, Thomas Paine, George Mason, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Quincey Adams. Colonel Ethan Allen, the revolutionary hero of the capture of Fort Ticonderoga, wrote a full-scale attack against the Christian religion, entitled Reason the Only Oracle of Man. In the book’s preface he declared, “I am no Christian, except infant baptism make me one.” And on the subject of prayer: “Prayer to god is no part of a rational reli-gion, nor did reason ever dictate it.” Thomas Paine—of whom John Adams said, “Without the pen of Paine the sword of Washington would have been wielded in vain”—wrote Age of Reason, a bitter attack on the Christian church and its theology. His central credo: “I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.” He added, “All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and proﬁt.” Benjamin Franklin, in his Autobiography, explained how he “became a thorough Deist.” Of Christianity he wrote: “I wish it were more productive of good works. I mean really good works, not holyday keeping, sermon hearing, or making long prayers ﬁlled with ﬂatteries and compliments desired by wise men.” George Washington said, “The government of the United States is in no sense founded upon the Christian religion.” 18
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John Adams declared, “This would be the best of all possible worlds if there were no religion in it.” James Madison wrote, “Experience witnesseth that ecclesiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efﬁcacy of religion, have had a contrary operation. During almost ﬁfteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.” Thomas Jefferson went even further: “I have recently been examining all the known supersti-tions of the world, and I do not ﬁnd in our particular superstition (Christianity) one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded upon fables and mythologies. The Christian god is a being of terriﬁc character-cruel, vindictive, capricious, and unjust.” Few people know that Jefferson was so disenchanted with organized Christian religion that he attempted to create his own Bible. He introduced it as a “wee little book” and called it The Philosophy of Jesus Christ. “It is, he wrote, a paradigm of his doctrines, made by cutting the texts out of the book and arranging them on the pages of a blank book, in a certain order.... In extracting the pure principles which he taught, we should have to strip off the artiﬁcial vestaments in which they have been mufﬂed by priests, who have travestied them into various forms as instruments of riches and power for themselves.” An inspection of the book reveals that Jefferson weeded out the illogicalities and the absurdities in such a way as to give Jesus a new dignity and stature. As for the great national documents relating to the founding of our nation, not one of them recognized either Jesus Christ or Christianity. The Articles of Confederation, proposed in 1777, did have one reference to Deism in the phrase “great god of the universe”; and the Declaration of Independence included such deistic terms as “Nature and Nature’s god” and “Divine Providence.” In the Constitution, however, even such vague references were quite deliberately avoided by the Founding Fathers. It is important to remember that the Constitution was written more than a decade after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and that by this time religious groups were demanding that some reference to the Christian god, to Christianity, or to Jesus Christ be included in that in-strument. Yet not only were such references not included, but safeguards against such religious intru-sions were established. One of the ﬁrst guarantees established in the Constitution was that there be no religious test for ofﬁce. On August 30, 1787, Article VI was adopted, and it read, …no religious test shall ever be required as a Qualiﬁcation to any Ofﬁce or public Trust under the United States.” The Constitution in this respect was an echo of Virginia’s Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, drafted by Jefferson in 1779 and passed by the state legislature in 1786, just a year before the Constitution was drafted. It also held that a man’s religious beliefs could not
be made a condition for holding public ofﬁce. Writing about the law in his autobiography, Jefferson said: Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the words Jesus Christ, so that it should read a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion. The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and Gentile, the Christian and the Mohometan, the Hindu, and inﬁdel of every denomination. Indeed, much of the literate world known to the West was beginning to accept this attitude. Not long after, it so happens that the ﬂedgling nation attempted to conclude treaties with other nations, and some of these were of the Muslim faith. Some indication of our religious posture was felt to be needed in the treaties, and so this clause was inserted:
As the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the law, religion, or tranquility of Musselmen; and as the States never have entered into any way or act of hostility against any Mohometan nation, it is declared by the parties that-no pretext arising from religious opinion shall ever produce an interruption of harmony existing between the two countries. The most famous treaty citing this provision is the Treaty of Tripoli concluded on February 10, 1797. The same statement was made in separate treaties with Algiers and with Tunis. The churches fought back. Even after the Constitution had been ratiﬁed, the religious leaders of the Christian community began to press for some acknowledgment of their religion by the pre-
dominantly deistic national leaders. On October 27, 1789, the First Presbytery Eastward in Massachusetts and New Hampshire made a protest to George Washington because there was no “explicit acknowledgment of the only true god and Jesus Christ whom he has sent, somewhere in the Magna Carta of our country.” In 1793, the year Philadelphia was stricken by the yellow fever; the Reverend John Mason preached a sermon in which he declared that the plague was being sent as a visitation from god (the Christian one) because he had not been recognized in the supreme law of the land (at this time Philadelphia was the capital of the United States). In 1803 the Reverend Samuel B. Wylie, Doctor of Divinity of the University of Pennsylvania, preached a sermon in which he asked rhetorically, “Did not the framers of this instrument [the Constitution] in this ... resemble the fool mentioned in Psalms 14:1-3 who said in his heart, ‘There is no god’?” In 1811 Samuel Austin, Doctor of Divinity and later president of the University of Vermont, preached a sermon in Worcester, Massachusetts, in which he said that lack of recognition of god was the “capital defect” in the Constitution, which “will issue inevitably in the destruction of the nation.” These few examples should be sufﬁcient to indicate the unhappy reaction among the clergy. Reading colonial history immediately prior to the Revolution, speciﬁcally the theological clashes between the states, one ﬁnds that the Founding Fathers had become completely disenchanted with each colony’s insistence upon a particular sect established and supported ﬁnancially by tax funds and the body politic. Thus arose the idea called “disestablishment,” which held that each sect should support itself and not be legally, politically, and ﬁnancially “established” as the only ofﬁcial religion in a particular state. This move was well received by minority religious groups, which desired to see pluralism or a number of diverse sectarian groups legally acceptable in each state. The Baptists, for example, fought long and hard to dissuade the new state legislatures from continuing to recognize legally only the Anglican (or Episcopal) church, the Congregationalists, or any other established church of the colonial era. The federal leaders supported such efforts. Virginia, the home of presidents, led the way. Its Declaration of Rights, drafted in part by James Madison and enacted June 12, 1776, advocated “free exercise of religion.” An act later the same year, which suspended payment of tithes or church taxes, effectively disestablished the Church of England, although ﬁnal conﬁrmation of this disestablishment awaited passage in 1786 of Jefferson’s Act for Establishing Religious Freedom. Jefferson’s act, already noted, declared that, in Virginia, “no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions of belief; but that all men shall be free to profess ... their opinion in matters of religion.” january 2007 — American Atheist
Similarly, the churches were disestablished in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey in 1776 and in New York, North Carolina, and Georgia in 1777. South Carolina waited until 1790. In New York and in most of the New England states, however, assistance to the churches in the form of land endowments did persist until 1800. Connecticut’s church, moreover, did not yield its grip until 1818, when the new constitution there decreed separation of church and state. In Massachusetts the constitutional amending did not come until 1833. The legislature of Virginia ventured beyond disestablishment. In the colonial period it had granted lands to the towns in the state for the support of religious worship. After the Revolution, reaction against the old established church eventually reached such a pitch that in 1799 and 1802 the legislature repealed the earlier grants. The state seized not only the original lands but also all their appurtenances-buildings, church furnishings, books and even communion silver. It took everything that had belonged to the “Established Church of Virginia” as of July 5, 1776. All properties were sold, and the proceeds used for public purposes. The Virginia churches’ bitter ﬁght to have their land restored is one of the most famous in legal annals, and it led to a direct confrontation be-tween Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story and ex-President Thomas Jefferson. Story, speaking for the Supreme Court in decisions handed down in 1815, held that Virginia’s repealing acts were contrary to the Constitution and hence void. “If the legislature posessed the authority to make such a grant and conﬁrmation,” he said, “it is very clear to our minds that it vested an ... irrevocable title. We have no knowledge of any authority or principle which could support the doctrine that a legislative grant is revocable .... Such a doctrine would uproot the very foundations of almost all the land titles in Virginia, and is’ utterly inconsistent with ... the right of the citizens to the free enjoyment of their property legalIy acquired.” This part of Story’s argument-afﬁrming the rights and security of property and contract-is perhaps sound, but Story went dangerously on to declare that the First Amendment, citing freedom of religion, was actually proposed and adopted for the encouragement of Christianity. His famous argument reads:
Every American colony, from its foundation to the revolution, ... did openly, by the whole course of its law and institutions, support and sustain in some form the Christian religion,’ and almost invariably gave a peculiar sanction to some of its fundamental doctrines ... Probably at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, and of the [ﬁrst] amendment to it… the general if not the universal sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the state .... The real object of the amendment was not to countenance, much’ less to advance, Mohometanism, or Judaism, or inﬁdelity by prostrating Christianity, but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment which would give to a hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government. Story later reafﬁrmed this opinion in another case, in which he wrote: “It is also said, and truIy, that the Christian religion is a part of the common law of Pennsylvania.” Jefferson was incensed by the interpretation given by Story, and he wrote a memorandum strongly disputing the accuracy of the maxim that Christianity is a part of the common law. His study is a careful historical and legal one. Later, in a letter to John Cartwright dated June 5, 1824, on the subject of a book that Cartwright had written, Jefferson wrote: I was glad to ﬁnd in your book a formal contradiction at length, of the judicial usurpation of legislative powers; for such the judges have usurped in their repeated decisions that Christianity is a part of the common law. The proof of the contrary, which you have adduced, is incontrovertible .... What a conspiracy this, between Church and State!
The disestablished churches did not give up in any of the colonies and tried to rally their people wherever they could. Soon a ﬁght developed around their “incorporation” in the new nation. Incorporated institutions then were given unusual rights, notably the power to levy a tax on the members of their communities. This provision was an extension to the colonies Abolitionist, Actuary, (and thus the states) of a right that had its beginning Atheist: Elizur Wright in the ecclesiastical corporations of England. In order and the Reform to ﬁnance itself, the Episcopal church in Alexandria, Impulse Virginia, tried to incorporate through the U.S. House of Representatives. James Madison, strongly believing by Lawrence B. Goodheart that churches should be self-supporting through free Elizur Wright (1804-85) was an contributions, vetoed the bill that would have incorinﬂuential ofﬁcer of the American porated the church, because he conceived it as a violaAnti-Slavery Society and the tion of the concept of separation of church and state. primary life insurance reformer of Nine years later, for the same reason, the Virhis time. He was also a vocal Atheist ginia state constitutional convention of 1829 forbade and a devoted conservationist. the incorporation of a theological seminary by the state legislature. Today the constitutions of both Virginia 282 pp. Hardcover and West Virginia still contain the restriction that “the General Assembly shall not grant a charter of incorpo$27.50 stock # 5121 ration to any church or religious denomination.” Not all states, however, provided these safeguards; and in some states, the churches under the corporate status granted to them continued to exercise the power to tax their own adherents well into the 1860’s, when such power was ﬁnally withdrawn everywhere. ❋
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Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism by Michelle Goldberg [W. W. Norton & Co., 2006, 242 pp., $23.95]
’m no fan of the horror genre, but Goldberg’s matter-of-fact report on the meteoric rise and exploding political clout of the religious right is the scariest book I’ve read in a long time. And it’s all the more frightening because it’s true. The term “Christian nationalism” itself comes from the old canard, endlessly repeated by the religious right, that America was founded as a “Christian nation.” At the core of this movement is dominionism—the idea that Christians have the right, indeed the duty—to rule over non-Christians. Many people believe that these people just want balance—an equal voice. After all, they like to paint themselves as victims of liberal and secular “bias.” But the Christian nationalists don’t want equality, they want nothing less than dominance—the total control of American society. In the words of one prominent Christian nationalist: ...It is dominion we are after. Not just a voice. It is dominion we are after. Not just inﬂuence. It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time. It is dominion we are after. World conquest. That’s what Christ has commissioned us to accomplish... (George Grant, “The Changing of the Guard: Biblical Principles for Political Action,” quoted in Goldberg, pp. 40-41.) That’s right. World conquest. Beginning with the United States of America. And how are Christian nationalists to achieve this conquest of America? The vanguard is to be the ﬁrst generation of home schooled children, many of whom are just starting to come of age. Michael Farris, founder and president of evangelical Patrick Henry College, calls them “Generation Joshua” after Moses’ bloody lieutenant and successor, and they are to be the political storm troopers, unscathed by secularism, who will gain power to subject everything in America to their version of Christianity. With the troops ready for battle, Goldberg lays out their strategy. Central to this has been the near-complete takeover of the Republican Party—which could now be more accurately called the American Christian Nationalist Party (ACNP)—by a low-key but effective grassroots organizing campaign. And the nucleus of this effort has been the “megachurches,” loosely deﬁned as churches with more than 2,000 members. Working largely “under the radar,” these organizations operate as de facto tax-exempt auxiliaries of the Republican/ACNP Party, with their pastors serving as party apparatchiks, delivering political harangues in the guise of sermons. The core strategy has been the use of wedge issues, including but not limited to homophobia, anti-evolutionism (dressed up in its new clothes as “intelligent design”) the sexual abstinence industry,
Be Very, Very Scared! by James Burgtorf so-called “faith-based social services,” and of course, the takeover of the courts by right-wing ideologues. Goldberg credits these wedge issues, particularly the gay-rights initiatives on ballots in Ohio and other states, with turning the tide for Bush at the last minute in the 2004 election. And, if her book has any real faults, it is that she ignores the overwhelming evidence for massive election fraud in 2004 in Ohio and elsewhere. To cite just one example, by the ofﬁcial election results, black support for Bush in Ohio managed to increase by several percentage points over 2000, contrary to all polls, and despite every possible means pulled from the bag of dirty tricks by the Ohio Republican machine to suppress the black vote. And there is no mention of the unprecedented and unexplained discrepancy between the Election Day 2004 exit polls, which indicated a solid Kerry victory, and the reported ofﬁcial returns. Did Bush really pick up literally millions of votes under the radar? I suspect that Goldberg, like many progressives, is afraid of being tagged with the “conspiracy theorist” label. So what can be done? In the book’s ﬁnal chapter Goldberg offers some suggestions for those who want to preserve a secular, pluralistic society, though she offers little optimism, especially in the short term, and at one point frankly states, “I’m not sure that we shall overcome.” She does see increasing polarization as secular groups are galvanized, which has the ironic effect of making the fundamentalists even more extreme, and moderate, mainstream denominations will likely continue their decline. While the Christian nationalists are still constrained to some degree by the Constitution and the courts, as well as popular culture, some national crisis, such as an economic meltdown, could provide a breaking point, Goldberg thinks. She believes those who would ﬁght Christian nationalism must dig in for a long-term and multifaceted strategy, including electoral reform, grassroots organizing, and a media campaign to raise public awareness of the movement’s real agenda. Finally, it may be necessary for progressives to eschew ideological purity, focus on issues that really matter, and show a united front in public. The left could take a cue from the right here. We can no longer afford the hair-splitting and squabbling of the past. Atheists may need to learn to work with a nascent “religious left” against a common enemy. And some of the preoccupation with Islam among secularist thinkers since 911 may need to end. The biggest danger is right here at home, and it wears a familiar American face. ❋ James Burgtorf is a chemist and information scientist who has been active in various skeptic and free thought groups for many years. He receives e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org january 2007 — American Atheist
V For Vendetta The Power Of One by Norm Cohen
for Vendetta is a cautionary tale about the struggle for individual power over institutional power. Many have mistakenly accused this ﬁlm of celebrating terrorism and destruction. Actually, only the bad guys get killed. I suspect that the ﬁlm has been libeled because of its ﬁnesse in making people nervous about their own beliefs. This ﬁlm has made the religious right nervous for good reasons. Don Feder of FrontPageMagazine.com complained that “V for Vendetta is the most explicitly anti-Christian movie to date.” Ted Baeher, who is chairman of the Christian Film and Television Commission, accurately described the ﬁlm when he wrote on WorldNetDaily.com, “V for Vendetta not only depicts Christians as evil people who oppress and torture ‘innocent’ people, it also depicts homosexuals as a persecuted, harmless minority of ‘nice’ people.”
making. Young Evey (Natalie Portman) is making herself up to look sexy for Gordon Dietrich (Stephen Fry), an affable talk show host who is a closeted homosexual. The ﬁlm’s heroes are people in different stages of personal transformation: V, whose transformation is just about complete, and Evey, whose transformation is just beginning. Lewis Prothero (Roger Allam) is the rabid Christian TV commentator, who, much like the real-life hypocrite, Rush Limbaugh, wears a mask of Christian self-righteousness. Prothero predictably blames the troubles in the United States on “godlessness.” “No one escapes their past,” he proclaims. “No one escapes judgment.” This is actually a foreshadowing of what will happen to Prothero at the avenging hands of V. It is easy to see how religion can be the prototypical model for a fascist state. Furthermore, religion serves the purposes of a fascist state and the state in turn serves the purposes of religion. The two are so synergistic in controlling people that it is impossible to know one from the other. For convenience, I refer to this merger of government and religion as the “god-state.” The god-state is both a perpetrator and rescuer. It acts both overtly and covertly to instill fear in its people, and it relies on their god to also instill fear. Fear is used by the god-state to get people to comply. Fearing much worse, the people have learned to put up with lots of fear in order, they believe, to avoid V for Vendetta much more fear. The Power of One The government-run mass media is used very capably by the god-state to insure that people know Rated R. and fear both god and the manufactured dangers in Directed by James McTeigue, the world around them. Prothero blathers on, “You Screenplay by Andy and Larry Wachowski. Based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore think He is not up there? You think He is not watching over this country?” The irony is that life in the Britain of this ﬁlm is ﬁlled with disease and suffering. V for Vendetta is the feel-good ﬁlm of the decade for everyone The people look to their High Chancellor (John Hurt) as a who suspects that god is the biggest fascist dictator ever. In this ﬁlm father ﬁgure to relieve them of both their fear and their responsibilinstitutional power originates both from a fear-mongering dictator ity. In exchange, he demands their total submission. “Strength,” and from state-sponsored Christianity, but in the end we are shown they are told, is to be had “through unity,” and “unity” is to be had how an individual has the power to be free nevertheless. A major les- “through faith.” son from the ﬁlm is that the biggest obstacle in the way of freedom Homosexuality is viliﬁed by the god-state because it represents is an individual’s own fear. This existential reality is a very important the personal power of individuals to act differently and according to one for Atheists and would-be Atheists. their own individual nature, as opposed to the reproductive norm The ﬁlm opens with a lone warrior, V (played by Hugo Weav- beneﬁcial to the state. ing), staging his ﬁrst attack against a totalitarian Britain, set in the The ﬁlm is not afraid to use negative Christian imagery. A near future. However, it isn’t just V who is wearing a mask of his own double cross with angel wings is used as an icon by a government 22
American Atheist — january 2007
that has double-crossed its citizens. Liturgical red banners are used for Gestapo-like rallies, just as they are used during Holy Week in Christianity. The hellish vision of V emerging from ﬁre depicts the ﬁlm’s hero as the devil. Children must be sacriﬁced in order to serve the interests of the god-state. V is the superhuman son of a psychotic god-state that sought to sacriﬁce him for a “greater good.” We witness a baby picture of a homosexual daughter being thrown in the trash by her punitive parents, children dying from the state-sponsored outbreak of “St. Mary’s virus,” and the police shooting of a young girl protestor (the girl that is so unlike Evey). Each tragedy is a variation of that old Christian yarn, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” Unfortunately, the screenwriters fell into the same old saviorformula trap seen in those movies about that guy who got nailed to a cross. V is cruciﬁed and reborn in the Larkhill prison camp under mysterious circumstances. He marches in again to overthrow the old world order of hypocritical evildoers. He then chooses to die to save the people from their sins of apathy. Suffering and resurrection, punishment and redemption, revolution and rebirth never seem to go out of style in our collective unconscious. Nevertheless, V symbolizes the power of one individual. He needs no apostles to help him spread his message. He has been mutilated but for some reason has been able to transcend it. V’s impossible superhuman powers and cartoon violence can only be understood as a grand metaphor for the power of the individual to do both good and bad. Critics of the ﬁlm have labeled his extraordinary personal power as terrorism out of fear of what angry individuals might do to our own government. Expressions of unbridled anger make people nervous and drive them to label this power as terrorism. V speaks volumes for our human rights of self-determination and bodily integrity. For violating these rights, V ﬁrst seeks to extract his own personal revenge. “I haven’t come for what you hoped to do,” he tells the remorseful prison camp doctor, “I’ve come for what you did.” He also seeks to destroy the state symbols that have made people afraid. His targets are not innocent civilians, but institutional power. Early on, V becomes a father ﬁgure to Evey. She has been traumatized by the violence in her childhood as she witnessed her parents being blindfolded and dragged away by the state police. Unlike the young girl with the thick glasses who we see openly expressing her discontent, Evey was long ago struck down by her fear and turned into an apathetic member of the social order. Evey suffers from a post-traumatic paralysis commonly seen in victims of violence. Evey will not let go of her desire to be in her government’s good graces. She poses as a child for the pedophile bishop, ironically seeking to redeem herself with the authorities. The bishop is unable to take the child seriously even when she is trying to save his life from the vengeful hands of V. V rescues her once again, but it is the last time he will do so. From now on, it will be Evey who will have to rescue herself. Evey compares V to her own father. Nevertheless, she betrays V to the bishop, perhaps re-enacting the guilt she feels about surviving her father’s death at the hands of the state. Maybe, she thinks, her father really deserved to die. Then she wouldn’t have to feel guilty about surviving him. The god-state will rid her of feelings of guilt and shame in exchange for her complete submission. The god-state will be her father. Evey represents for us every person who is able to acknowledge the pain of their oppression, but, being too afraid to ﬁght it, seeks
Why I Am Not A Muslim by Ibn Warraq A courageous criticism of the dark side of Islam 402 pp. Hard Cover.
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instead to accommodate it. She lacks both the understanding and the resolve that she can make a difference in her world. Before V frees his country, he frees Evey from her own prison camp of paralysis that she had to create for her own survival. He gives her both understanding and resolve in the only way that really works—a visceral experience. Evey’s epiphany occurs when she walks out of V’s prison and has to accept for the ﬁrst time that she, in fact, owns her life. This brings on an existential panic attack while she struggles with the weight of this fact. The scene is breathtaking, and such a crisis in consciousness is rarely captured on ﬁlm. V tells her, “This may be the most important moment of your life. Commit yourself to it.” Once she accepts that her personal power is indeed greater than her fear of death, she is able to ﬁnd peace. Evey can no longer be a mindless servant of the state. She transforms herself into a true individual, able to relate to the world in an authentic way, as symbolized when she stands in the rain with outstretched arms. The goal of a fascist state, like a democratic one, is to win the minds of its people. The ultimate battle against a government or a religion takes place not on the battleﬁeld but in the minds of its people. The apathy and complicity of Evey and of all the people in the god-state are transformed in the end by V’s explosive examples of personal power. His staged explosions are a necessary visceral experience for people too dead inside to feel anything else. Apathy is a breeding ground not only for fascism, but for religion too. We create ourselves by what we believe in and by what we do not believe in. Belief without disbelief does not make a complete person nor does it make a complete participant in a good government. The lessons found in V for Vendetta are not exclusively the domain of Atheists. Nevertheless, as an Atheist, V has made me proud. He is my own Atheist superhero. Once V transformed himself, it was impossible for him not to transform others by his example. His ﬁnal lesson for us is that you cannot change the world unless you change yourself ﬁrst. ❋ Norm Cohen is the organizer of the Michigan Atheists at the Movies and the Director of NOCIRC of Michigan. He can be reached at mail@NormCohen.com.
january 2007 — American Atheist
Veil Or Not To Veil? Islamic Leaders Pushed To Shape Ancient by Brian Murphy AP Religion Writer ATHENS, GREECE (AP)—Earlier this year on an Arabic Web site, a Muslim woman scholar posted an open letter to the Islamic world. “Take off the veil, sister,” began Elham Manea, a professor of Yemeni descent who now works in Switzerland. Her opinion was not new—that head scarves and other coverings for women are not mandated by the Quran or Islamic tradition. But the essay’s impassioned tone quickly grabbed attention. Supporters hailed it as a timely manifesto against Islam’s conservative tide. Traditionalists scorned it as the ramblings of a Muslim blinded by the West. Both sides could agree, however, that despite all its cultural twists, the question of the veil is a religious one, and one that’s stubbornly hard to pin down—just what does Islam demand? With no central Islamic theological authority—such as the Vatican for Roman Catholics—Muslims are left to interpret Quranic passages, sift through stories about the Prophet Muhammad, known as hadiths, and study competing religious edicts over the various coverings. They range from fashionable head scarves to the shroud-like burqa and the full-face veil called a niqab, which may only show a woman’s eyes. “It’s become such a charged topic,” said Manea, a researcher on politics and Islam at the University of Zurich. “I received hate mail and e-mails with very threatening tones. But, on the other side, messages supporting my views also were overwhelming.” In the West—particularly Europe—the veil has been drawn into hot-button debates such as immigrant integration and worries about radical Islam. In many Muslim countries, it can represent a potentially life-shaping decision for women in which the veil is increasingly seen as a political statement against perceived injustices to Islam. 24
American Atheist — january 2007
“There are so many pressures now to decide whether the veil is right or wrong,” said Tarafa Baghajati, a leader of the European Network Against Racism in Brussels, Belgium. “The problem is that it’s an impossible task.” Credible cases have been built in several directions. Those supporting the veil often cite a hadith from Sahih Bukhari, a ninth-century theologian, that urges women to “cover themselves” in public. The Quran, too, contains sections that tell women to seek modesty and “draw their cloaks close around them” (Surah 33, verse 59) and “draw their veils” over their chests and necklines except around their husbands and close relatives (24:31). Some prominent Islamic voices, including Egyptian-born cleric Sheik Yusef el-Qaradawi, say some form of Islamic coverings is supported by Muslim law and customs. But most don’t go beyond advocating some variation of head scarves and bodycovering clothing. Far fewer leaders—outside ultraconservative bastions such as Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan—believe Islam requires veiling a woman’s face and hands, saying that both are exposed during prayer and that a woman’s face should not be covered during the Hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca. But many other Islamic scholars ﬁnd ﬂaws in any demands for the veil, which is often called by the Arabic term “hijab.” They believe the phrasing in the Islamic texts are too vague to make it a religious requirement and reﬂects the cultural norms of the seventhcentury life of Muhammad and later centuries—in the same way that the Bible and Jewish sources offer guidance that is now widely considered a matter of personal choice, such as a passage in I Corinthians that says women should cover her head during prayer. “The hijab these days goes beyond religion into politics, culture and social,” said Ahmed Nazeer, American Institute of Islamic History and Culture in Concord, Calif. “These pressures are all coming down on Muslim women—to make a statement in favor of the one vision of Islam or another.”
Last week, a Turkish court acquitted a 92-year-old archaeologist, Muazzez Ilmiye Cig, who was charged with insulting religious feelings for her book that claimed Islamic-style head scarves were ﬁrst worn more than 5,000 years ago by priestesses initiating young men into sex. Turkey offers a vivid display of the modern interplay of the politics and shifting religious sensibilities. Turkey’s strongly secular laws ban head scarves in schools and public ofﬁces. But growing ranks of Turkish women favor head scarves in daily life—a trend echoed in some Muslim immigrant groups in Europe and elsewhere. “There is powerful symbolism associated with the veil in the West,” said Dogu Ergil, a professor of social and religious trends at Ankara University in Turkey. “It feeds into the insecurities of our globalized world: the threats to the way we look, the way we live and the fears about the stranger in our midst who may be hostile to our way of life.” Tariq Ramadan, a leading scholar on European Islam, told a London conference last week the veil was part of a deepening “them versus us” attitude. “So many people can’t see anything beyond the head scarf,” said Iyman Alzayed, who works with an Islamic education group based in Vienna, Austria, and often lectures about her decision to wear a scarf. “With all the other misunderstandings between Western societies and Muslims, it’s as if nothing matters except a piece of cloth.” Even Iran’s Islamic regime shows the complexity of the hijab. The 1979 Islamic Revolution imposed strict dress codes that allowed either a head scarf and formless coat or the billowing black chador, which covers all but a woman’s face. Since the late 1990s, however, young women have been continually pushing the limits with the so-called “bad hijab.” Now, it’s possible to get by with a body-hugging tunic and a scarf that can reveal more hair than it covers. Iranian religious authorities have been tongue tied. They realize any edict re-enforcing stricter hijab would be likely countered by liberal clerics acknowledging the desires of the young.
Instead, the theocracy has tried a stab at vanity—backing a fashion show in July that displayed their concepts of chic-but-conservative coats, head scarves and chadors. ❋
Haggard sex scandal raises questions about ‘superstar’ megachurch by Rachel Zoll PASTOR TED’S influence was felt everywhere in New Life Church: in the videos shown at worship; in the New Life bookstore, which stocked books he recommended. And in the story of the church itself. He started New Life in his basement, building it into a 14,000-member nationally known megachurch. As the Rev. Ted Haggard’s fortunes rose, so did the church’s. So when Haggard fell spectacularly from grace in a scandal involving drugs and allegations of gay sex, many wondered if New Life, so tied to his public persona, would crash with him. The answer has signiﬁcance far beyond the Haggard tragedy. As evangelical megachurches have sprung up around the country, concerns have grown over whether superstar pastors help or hurt faith communities. “When you get to these top 25 or 50 of the largest or most inﬂuential churches, these pastors are clearly celebrities. They were the founders, they created much of the growth and they are, in some sense, a brand in and of themselves,” said Scott Thumma, a professor at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, who specializes in studying megachurches. “It’s just like a business where the name of the founder is, in fact, a trademark.” America has always had bigname preachers—from Billy Sunday, the pro baseball player turned evangelist, to Billy Graham. But the two were not closely tied to a single church. Among today’s best-known pastors, Rick Warren has Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., Joel Osteen has Lakewood Church in
news Houston, and Bishop T.D. Jakes has The Potter’s House in Dallas. Graham and Sunday also worked in a vastly different media environment. Modern-day celebrity pastors have Web sites, where they promote their books, along with the DVDs, TV shows and ﬁlms they produce, while preaching internationally. With such high proﬁles, word of any wrongdoing will spread quickly, intensifying the damage to them and their congregations. Haggard felt the impact ﬁrsthand last week. On Nov. 2, Mike Jones of Denver came forward saying he had drug-fueled homosexual trysts regularly with Haggard over the last few years. The claims spread through the Internet, where they were placed side-by-side with video and past news articles in which Haggard had condemned gay marriage and had presented his family life, with wife Gayle and their ﬁve children, as a model. Haggard, 50, immediately resigned as president of the National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella group for about 45,000 conservative churches, and within days was ﬁred by New Life in Colorado Springs, Colo. In a letter read Sun-
day at New Life services, he did not address the speciﬁcs of Jones’ claims, but confessed he was guilty of “sexual immorality.” New Life’s reaction was swift— yet most megachurches don’t have such effective oversight. Many have boards stacked with relatives, friends, personal lawyers and hangers-on who wouldn’t dare contradict the pastor, said Bill Martin, a Rice University expert on evangelicals. Nearly all megachurches are independent from a denomination— an asset for their ﬂexibility, but a liability when it comes to checks on power. By contrast, mainline Protestant denominations vet clergy credentials and have elaborate systems of church tribunals, similar to civil courts, that discipline errant ministers. “The pitfall with the megachurches, the personality driven churches, is it’s so easy for a person to consider him- or herself above accountability,” Martin said. “If that accountability is absent or reduced, then trouble is on the way.” Some megachurch pastors are aware of the risk. They allow independent audits of their ﬁnances and have elaborate rules meant to minimize any chance of sex scandal. For
example, some only allow male staff members to counsel women if someone else is in the room or if the door is open. And in a highly unusual practice for pastors, Warren, who has sold millions of copies of his book “The Purpose Driven Life,” gives 90 percent of his income to the church. “Money is a difﬁcult issue with megachurch pastors,” Thumma said. “They’re accused all the time of ﬂeecing their ﬂocks and using that money to buy fancy cars and homes when their members have less.” With Haggard gone and the crisis he created easing, New Life members face a different challenge: They must decide whether they wish to belong to a church without the charismatic leader. Nancy Ammerman, a Boston University sociologist who researches congregational life, said the megachurch might be saved by its extensive programs that create social groups within the church. New Life uses the small group model, where churchgoers meet regularly with just a few others, sometimes based on common interests outside of worship. “That also gives them a forum within which to deal with what happened,” Ammerman said.
Letter to the Editor Doing Good For Goodness Sake In a world where people are separated by geography, culture, individual differences, economics, education, and opportunities, many religions are a threat to humankind. While some religions stress goodness, kindness, charity, and the performance of good deeds, many others teach that only the belief in their savior allows one into heaven. Those religious groups that preach goodness for goodness sake should be encouraged, congratulated, and supported. Those who preach that only people who worship their god will enter into heaven— all others will go to hell for an eternity—should be shunned and ignored. They are a menace to society. The belief that one enters heaven based on good deeds creates a charitable, worthwhile society. The belief that one can only get to heaven by believing in the church’s deity, creates a bigoted, intolerant, cruel society. Human kind would be better without such a belief. Wars are fought over conﬂicts about which god is the “true god.” As Attaturk said when attempting to bring Turkey into a stable democratic government, “All religions should be at the bottom of the sea.” Those religions that teach and tolerate hatred and conﬂict to advance their dogmatic dogmas are a menace to mankind. To believe that man must work to please an all-powerful, all-knowing, supernatural being is illogical, stupid, and a threat to peace. To do good for god rather than for man demeans human kind. Such beliefs should be at the bottom of the sea. John A. Henderson MD Asheville, NC
But Randall Balmer, a Barnard College historian of American religion, said megachurches are so wrapped up with their pastor, that New Life inevitably has hard times ahead. Without any creed or denominational identity for the church to cling to, attendance will eventually drop by half or more, he predicted. “You have a kind of cult of personality that confuses the faith with a particular individual,” said Balmer, author of “Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America.” “I just think it’s very difﬁcult to recover from this sort of thing.” ❋
Belief In “Bad Luck” Part Of Thailand’s Military Government’s Policies BANGKOK, THAILAND, (AP)—Thailand’s new military-appointed government has threatened to shut down an operatic version of the Hindu epic Ramayana, ostensibly over fears one of its scenes may bring bad luck. “Ayodhya” premiered Thursday night and is scheduled for repeat performances on Saturday and Sunday, albeit with the ‘offensive’ scene toned down under pressure from Culture Ministry ofﬁcials. The matter is sensitive because Thailand’s interim government faces criticism for not lifting curbs on freedom of the press and other civil liberties. Composer Somtow Sucharitkul said Friday that ministry ofﬁcials approached him a few days before the show’s opening to complain about a scene involving the on-stage death of a key character, the demon-king, Thotsakan. The ofﬁcials, whom Somtow did not identify, said that portraying Thotsakan’s death on stage was taboo in Thai culture and would be a “bad omen.” Somtow— who also maintains a home in Los Angeles—said the ofﬁcials told him that “if anything happened to anyone in power in Thailand, it would be blamed on this production.” ❋ january 2007 — American Atheist
“Miraculous Recoveries” From Cancer by Dr. Stephen Barrett
ince we tend to believe what others tell us about personal experiences, separating cause and effect from coincidence can be difﬁcult when evaluating anecdotal evidence. Most single episodes of disease end with just the passage of time, and most chronic ailments have symptom-free periods. Establishing medical truths requires careful and repeated investigation with well-designed studies. Never underestimate the extent to which people can be fooled by a worthless remedy. During the early 1940s, many thousands of people became convinced that “glyoxylide” could cure cancer. Yet analysis showed that it was simply distilled water! Many years before that, when arsenic was used as a “tonic,” countless numbers of people swore by it even as it slowly poisoned them. If you hear that an “alternative” method has produced “miraculous” recoveries from cancer, you should be skeptical. There are at least ﬁve reasons why such a report may not be accurate: • The patient never had cancer. The diagnosis was wrong, or the person telling the story may simply be lying. • The cancer was cured or put into remission by proven therapy, but questionable therapy was also used (either before, during or after) and erroneously credited for the beneﬁcial result. • The cancer is still progressing but is erroneously represented as slowed or cured. • The patient who is represented as cured may have died as a result of the cancer or been lost to follow-up. • The patient had a spontaneous remission (very rare) or slowgrowing cancer that was publicized as a cure. Here are four examples of widely publicized reports that turned out to be false: • During the 1980s, Anthony Sattilaro, M.D. wrote books and appeared on talk shows promoting macrobiotics as a cancer cure. In Recalled from Life (1982), he described how he had undergone conventional therapy for prostate cancer but credited macrobiotics for his improvement. In Living Well Naturally (1984), he said that his doctors had pronounced him in a state of permanent remission. However, he died of prostate cancer in 1989. False claims that macrobiotics cured him are still posted to several Web sites.
In Memoriam Lois Dahle – Salt Lake City, Utah 26
American Atheist — january 2007
• Lawrence Burton, Ph.D., who died in 1992, offered “immuno-augmentative therapy (IAT)” at his clinic in the Bahamas. Burton claimed that IAT would cure cancer patients by manipulating and strengthening the immune defense system. In 1979, CBS-TV’s “60 Minutes” gave Burton a tremendous publicity boost when a prominent physician stated that one of his patients appeared to have recovered miraculously with Burton’s treatment. Although the patient died 12 days after the program was shown, “60 Minutes” refused to inform viewers of this fact. • Stanislaw R. Burzynski, M.D., who operates a clinic in Houston, Texas, claims his “antineoplastons” can “normalize” cancer cells and have helped many people with cancer get well. In 1988, talk-show hostess Sally Jesse Raphael featured four “miracles”—patients of Burzynski, who she said were cancer-free. All four stated that Burzynski had cured them when conventional methods had failed. Four years later, investigators from the television program “Inside Edition” found that two of the four patients had died and a third was having a recurrence of her cancer. The fourth patient had bladder cancer, which has a good prognosis. The widow of one of Raphael’s guests stated that her husband and ﬁve others from the same city had sought treatment after learning about Burzynski from a television broadcast, and that all had died of their disease. • Beginning in 1995, Kathy Keeton, wife of Penthouse magazine publisher Bob Guccione, achieved widespread publicity with claims that hydrazine sulfate had cured her of stage IV metastatic cancer after doctors had given her only six weeks to live. However, although she survived until 1997, this was not an unexpected outcome, since the ﬁve-year survival rate with stage IV breast cancer is twelve- to twenty- percent. This means that about one out of six patients with this disease would still be alive ﬁve years later, so a twoyear survival is certainly not unusual. Yet the story of how hydrazine kept her alive for two-and-a-half years was posted on a web site dedicated to her memory. ❋ 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. He can be reached at email@example.com
Foxhole Atheist of the Month
enlisted in the active duty Army in 1985 as a private in the infantry. I served four years and got out. After serving several years in the inactive reserves (IRR) I enlisted in the Ohio National Guard as a Specialist in an armor unit (tanks). I enrolled in Ofﬁcer Candidate School (OCS) and earned a commission as a Second Lieutenant. I graduated ﬁrst in my OCS class and won the award for best ofﬁcer candidate in my brigade. I went to Armor Ofﬁcer Basic Course (AOBC) at Fort Knox and earned the Warrior Spirit Award for leadership. After serving as an armorplatoon leader I volunteered to go to Iraq with a Mobile Public Affairs Detachment (MPAD) that was short on ofﬁcers. I served one year in Iraq with the 1st Infantry Division where I coordinated the “media embed program” for the division. I escorted media on the battleﬁeld, deployed the Digital Video Imagery Distribution System (DVIDS), and occasionally acted as spokesman for the division. I deployed last year as the Task Force Public Affairs Ofﬁcer (PAO) for Task Force Buckeye, a task force composed of seven states’ National Guard assets and active and reserve Marine Corps assets, in response to Hurricane Katrina. I am currently the XO Executive Ofﬁcer for the 196th MPAD. Like the majority of soldiers in Iraq the greatest threats I faced were indirect ﬁre (mortars and rockets) while on base, and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) when traveling. Hearing rockets overhead or mortar rounds impacting on and around the base were routine events. Everyone knew leaving the base meant running the gauntlet of exploding IEDs, which was a daily occurrence. But those things are out of your hands as the insurgents, not you, decide who the target will be. I experienced a number of close calls with mortars, two close calls with IEDs in which the convoy directly ahead of mine was hit instead of mine, and a couple of times when I was working in close proximity to direct ﬁre ﬁghts. Once I was setting up a large satellite dish on the roof of the Blue Dome (provincial government HQ) in Baquba while a ﬁre ﬁght was going on, in the street below. Another time I had a problem with my Hummer and had to convoy from Sammara to Tikrit in the dark with no headlights. I was holding a ﬂashlight out the window and riding on the shoulder to share headlights with another vehicle while on the highway. I knew that if we hit an IED while I was on the shoulder with the ballistic glass open and my arm hanging out I would lose my arm at best and most likely my life. The thing is, being afraid doesn’t equate to being irrational. I don’t believe in God for the same reason I don’t believe in Bigfoot, the Boogieman or Superman. But I don’t avoid the woods just in case I’m wrong about Bigfoot. I don’t avoid the dark just in case I’m wrong about the Boogieman and I don’t call on Superman in a time of crisis just in case I’m wrong and he really exists. There was a time in my life when I was a fundamentalist Christian. I even attended Baptist Bible College for two years in preparation for the ministry. It was there, while studying the Bible intensely, that I realized it was the errant product of primitive men. It wasn’t what I was looking for or expecting to ﬁnd, but once I was exposed to all the problems with the Bible and the whole concept of God, I had to deal with the reality of it. Now going back to a belief in God would be as impossible for me, as going back to a belief in Santa Clause would be for most adults. I am an Atheist on the evidence and being afraid doesn’t change the evidence or create evidence where none exists. I am a divorced father of two. I have a shared parenting plan and have my children 50% of the time. I enjoy writing, motorcycles and scuba diving. I am lead vocalist in a rock cover band.
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