American Atheists Essential Reading List Books on this list have been selected to provide introductory information on topics of interest to Atheists. They address a wide range of important subjects such as: the history of Atheist thought, the origins of modern religion, the role religion plays in modern culture and politics, Atheist parenting, and the ongoing battle for the separation between church and state. While these titles represent only a fraction of the books available from American Atheist Press, collectively they provide a broad overview of Atheist thought. Atheism Advanced: Further Thoughts of a Free Thinker by David Eller
stock# 16010 $22.00
Christianity before Christ by John G. Jackson Christian doctrines are traced to their origins in older religions.
The Case Against Religion by Albert Ellis A psychotherapist’s view of the harmful aspects of religious belief.
Living in the Light by Anne R. Stone stock# 5588 $12.00 157 pp. Subtitled “Freeing Your Child from the Dark Ages,” this book serves as a manual for Atheist parents.
Our Constitution: The Way It Was by Madalyn O’Hair stock# 5400 $6.00 70 pp. stapled American Atheist Radio Series episodes about the myth that our founding fathers created a Christian nation. What on Earth Is an Atheist! by Madalyn O’Hair stock# 5412 $18.00 American Atheist Radio Series episodes on various topics of Atheist philosophy and history.
The Bible Handbook by G. W. Foote, W. P. Ball, et al. stock# 5008 $17.00 A compilation of biblical absurdities, contradictions, atrocities, immoralities and obscenities.
An Atheist Epic by Madalyn O’Hair stock# 5376 $18.00 302 pp. paperback The personal story of the battle to end mandatory prayer and bible recitation in schools in the United States. 65 Press Interviews by Robert G. Ingersoll stock# 5589 $15.00 Ingersoll’s 19th-century newspaper interviews as a Freethinker and opponent of superstition.
An Atheist Primer by Madalyn O’Hair stock# 5372 $6.00 A humorous look at god concepts will help children (and adults) have a clear view of religion.
An Atheist Looks at Women & Religion by Madalyn O’Hair stock# 5419 Why attempts to reconcile religion with civil rights for women are self-defeating.
The Jesus the Jews Never Knew by Frank R. Zindler stock# 7026 $20.00 544 pp. A search of ancient Jewish literature yields no evidence for the existence of any historical Jesus.
The Great Infidels by Robert G. Ingersoll stock# 5197 $7.00 How nonbelievers and Atheists have contributed to civilization and enriched our lives.
The Myth of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus by René Salm
Sex Mythology by Sha Rocco stock# 5440 $8.00 55 pp. A scholarly study explores the sexual origins of religious symbols including the Christian cross.
Jesus Is Dead by Robert M. Price
Please see the order form located in the center of the magazine for member discounts and shipping & handling.
august 2008 Vol 46, No.7
American Atheist ISSN 0516-9623 (Print) ISSN 1935-8369 (Online) Editor, American Atheist Press Frank R. Zindler
Editor, American Atheist Frank R. Zindler Designer Elias Scultori
Cover Design Ann Zindler Editorial Assistants Conrad Goeringer Ann E. Zindler Published monthly (except June & December) by American Atheists Inc.
American Atheists in the Future by Frank R. Zindler
Letter to the Editor
Inside the Yearning for Zion Compound
The Mormon Book of Abraham
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 158 Cranford, NJ 07016 phone — 908.276.7300 FAX — 908.276.7402
From the Acting President
by Andrea Moore-Emmett
firstname.lastname@example.org www.atheists.org ©2008 by American Atheists Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission is prohibited. American Atheist 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. Subscription fees for one year of American Atheist: Print version only: $45 for 1 subscription and $30 for each additional gift subscription Online version only: $35 (Sign up at www.atheists.org/aam.) Print & online: $55 Discounts for multiple-year subscriptions: 10% for two years 20% for three or more years Additional postage fees for foreign addresses: Canada & Mexico: add $15/year All other countries: add $35/year Discount for libraries and institutions: 50% on all magazine subscriptions and book purchases
by Frank R. Zindler
The Varieties of Fundamentalist Experience
Blasphemy Right and Left No Criticism of Any Religion Is Allowed!
by David Eller
by Conrad F. Goeringer
In The News
Genes Don’t Care Random Thoughts on Evolution
Cross-Burning Teacher Fired
by George A. Ricker
Unintelligent Design by John A. Henderson
from the acting president
American Atheists in the Future Frank R. Zindler
s this issue of American Atheist goes to press, replacement of the roof on the American Atheists Center housing the Charles E. Stevens American Atheist Library & Archives (C.E.S.A.A.L.A.) in Cranford, New Jersey, is nearly complete. The precious books, memoirs, publications, and ephemera that illuminate the path that reason has laid down over the centuries are safe — at least from the elements. However, we will have to dip into our normally sacrosanct trust fund in order to pay the roofers the $77 thousand they will demand. Unless we can replace that money quickly, our financial future will be seriously insecure. We depend upon the earnings of the trust fund to support many if not most of the dayto-day operating expenses of the Center. Even a small reduction in that income will seriously impact our ability to function — to do the things you need and want us to do. I ask everyone who can help to do so. Please add something extra to your normal contribution and indicate it is for the roof. With your permission, we will publish your name in an honor roll in the next few issues of this journal. Although the deadline for submitting applications for the position of president of American Atheists, Inc. is August 24, 2008, several absolutely excellent candidates have already applied. I can guarantee that if any one of them is chosen to be my successor in this office the future of American Atheists is more than secure — it glows with promise. I am predicting a flowering of Atheism such as our nation has never witnessed throughout all of its history. The new president will be able to lead an organization that is less cumbersome and more efficient as a result of important projects now in full swing. Most notably, four affiliated American Atheists corporations (including C.E.S.A.A.L.A.) are being merged into the flag-ship corporation American Atheists, Inc. The reorganization will be transparent to members, but it will enormously reduce the numbers of headaches our new president will have to suffer in the line of duty. A complete overhaul of our financial procedures and an integrated computer database will save endless hours of needless effort for my successor — hours that can better be spent representing Atheism in the world at large. American Atheists has always aspired to be a full-service organization for its members and for the cause of reason, separation of government and religion, and Atheist civil liberties. For many and good reasons, we have not always been able to deliver everything we wanted to. With your help, however, our new president will be able to depend upon a Web-site that will be state-of-the-art, a cable TV program Atheist Viewpoint that will be fully professional in its production, and a monthly journal that everyone will be proud of. My successor will, of course, continue with vigor to prosecute law suits in 4
American Atheist — august 2008
defense of the rights of Atheists and to maintain the wall of separation between state and church. In addition to all these things, however, the new president will preside over a fully functioning research library, where authorized scholars will be able to study the history of reason and the monuments left along the path leading to American Atheism. For too long this story has been suppressed, obfuscated, or simply consigned to oblivion. My successor will direct an expanded American Atheist Press, one that will not only be able to publish more new titles such as David Eller’s Atheism Advanced or René Salm’s The Myth of Nazareth, but also finally catch up in the reprinting of Atheist classics that are perennially in demand. An educational outreach will be implemented with the aid of AAP publications. Finally, our new president will be able to depend upon the aid of a host of affiliated organizations — organizations that in turn will look to American Atheists not only for inspiration and leadership but also for help of a more practical sort. For the future of American Atheists, the sky’s the limit. Assuming, of course, that the cost of the new roof doesn’t prevent liftoff! k
Request from José Manuel Fernández Santana I would like to swap some American Atheist issues. I have numbers from May ‘79, Nov ‘80, Nov & Dec ‘81, Jan & Feb ‘82 and would like to exchange or trade them for numbers prior to April ‘64. I am also looking for issues from Jan & Dec ‘76, Jan ‘77, Oct ‘79, July/Aug/Sep & Oct ‘82, Sep ‘83, Jan/Feb/Mar/Apr/May & June ‘84. Please contact me at: AT_OS21@YAHOO.COM.AR THANK YOU VERY MUCH!!
In Memoriam W. Rae Young – Freehold, NJ
Letters to the Editor
Dear Editor: Could you please pass this on to Kathryn Sirls? Dear Kathryn, I read your article entitled “Silent No More” in the May/June edition of American Atheist magazine. My wife and I are card carrying Atheists with American Atheists. The response by your ex -bishop of the LDS Church is not at all surprising. This seems to be a Global problem not only in the LDS Church, but in the other Leading Denominations as well. I am an American, born in a little town Called Delta in Southeastern Pennsylvania. I have lived in The US Territory of American Samoa for the past 22-½ years. American Samoa is the only US Territory which lies 14 .05 deg. South of the Equator. Being a small island community, there are churches on every corner, and in every village. The leading denominations being in this order: Catholic, LDS, LMS (London Missionary Society), Assembly of God, and Pentecostal. These churches are made up of dirt-poor congregations who are bound and forced by their Island cultural leaders, and the church leaders to give every cent that they earn to the church or for church functions. They contribute their meager earnings along with their labor to do the bidding of religious leaders, and village Matais, (Chiefs). The LDS Church is a ring leader in this madness. The bishops run rampant over their wards, mainly their young single female members. These women are sexually abused, and threatened with their lives should they ever think of telling anyone. This is also practiced under the pretense that it is God’s will! The Churches run the local government. Their leaders rip off federal funding by the millions. Though this is a democratic society, it is run like a dictatorship right under the very noses of the US Department of Insular Affairs which is charged with Island operations and oversight. The church members are afraid to come out of their closets in fear of retribution or loss of respect from their peers. The LDS Church is led by slime. It all began when Brigham Young, along with his 27 under-aged wives fled to the land that is now Utah, to practice Polygamy! The only difference is that the bishops no longer need to marry those that they molest. They simply rape them, and then disown them and their bastard children. I am very happy to have met my wife, a Filipina from Lucena City, Philippines. We are both practicing Atheists in a society that is loaded with heathens and hypocrites, who profess to be the mouthpieces of the Lord Jesus Christ! My wife Eleanor and I are organizing an on-line charter for free thinkers and for those who are sitting there in the twilight zone, looking for a nudge in the right direction. Our Charter is called “The New Order of Hawkeyes Divine Deliverance,” dedicated to helping those who are afraid to help themselves. This is a new beginning for these poor people, in that they may express themselves freely for the first time in their lives. We will be the first to attempt an Atheist organization here. Failure however, is not an option for us. Again, your article was superb, and Eleanor and I wish you all the best. I have written a Book entitled, The Fear of Living which covers my religious beliefs, or lack of them, as a result of a neardeath experience suffered by me at the LBJ Tropical Medical Center here in American Samoa. The book is available on Amazon. com, Barnes&noble.com, and xlibris Corp. Tofa Soifua, Doug Harrington – email@example.com
A tribute by David Silverman
Lance Wilhelm, Bart Meltzer, and David Silverman at a convention of American Atheists. (left to right)
ance Wilhelm joined American Atheists in 1984 and immediately became a fixture of the organization. Everyone knew Lance, due to his rather unique ‘Ben Franklin’ looks, and his constant adornment with American Atheists pins, hats, and jackets. Because Lance lived a short half-mile from my house, we easily became friends. When I became New Jersey State Director, I quickly realized that Lance was a reliable attendee at conventions and protests. Because he stood out in a crowd, other members would know they were in the right picket line when they saw Lance – he was a movable landmark. Sometimes, the protests I would organize would be rather large, and sometimes it was just me and Lance. FYI, when you organize a protest and only ONE other person shows up, you’re REALLY happy he did! Atheism was not Lance’s only passion. He also loved Dr. Who (another interest we shared) and delighted in the fact that that Thomas Jefferson, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, and Peter Davidson shared the same birthday. He also loved really loud, ‘death metal’ music (the kind of music that makes your head explode). Groups I’d never heard of, I learned about through Lance. I didn’t like it, but I learned about it! Toward what was to be the end of his life, Lance became more active, taking leadership roles in the New Jersey Humanist Network and taking on the daunting task of National Outreach Director for American Atheists. The last time I saw Lance was at the Minneapolis Convention, which many don’t know marked a major personal victory for Lance. During the awards banquet, he stood up and presented the award for local activism. He returned to his seat (next to me), brimming with pride – it was the first time he’d EVER spoken to a crowd of people. I had dinner with him the next night, and then brunch on Sunday, after which I patted him on the shoulder, and told him I’d see him at home. Lance died in his sleep shortly thereafter. In many ways, Lance was a unique guy. However, he was a very happy guy, and very proud of his accomplishments. He had found personal purpose and growth through activism, as well as some good long-term friends like me. Rock on, Lance! We’ll miss you. k august 2008 — American Atheist
Yearning For Zion Compound by Andrea Moore-Emmett
n following up on an abuse complaint from an anonymous caller, child welfare authorities in Texas entered the YFZ (Yearning For Zion) Ranch late in the afternoon on April 3rd. Within the following days more than 450 children were removed from the property. Several women also left the ranch to accompany the children in the largest child custody case in American history. From the beginning, images of women, clad in pastel prairie dresses begging for the return of their children, have been giving television cameras a sizable serving of voyeuristic grist. The public relations campaign launched by the polygamists has effectively garnered sympathy with accusations against the Texas Child Protective Services for violating their parental rights and for targeting them on account of religion. Due to the nature of juvenile court, very little information about the children has been forthcoming. However, among some of the alarming insights, it was disclosed that the police search of the sect’s temple uncovered “spiritual beds” where, according to an inside informant, men consummated their plural marriages to girls as young as 13. It was also disclosed that 41 children had broken bones and fractures along with children exhibiting “historic physical injuries and fractures.” Still, within weeks, the Third District Court of Appeals ruled that the Texas Department of Child Protective Services failed to prove there was an urgent need to remove the children and that the state did not provide ample evidence in extending the abuse allegations to the entire community. In response, the state of Texas appealed to the Texas Supreme Court who, in a divided opinion, upheld the appeals court, but stipulated provisions for the return of children. As of this writing, court ordered DNA testing is still not completed and the case could still be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Snags over details continue to emerge daily within a legal system that was not structured for such large numbers of children or the convoluted relationships of a polygamous sect. Marci Hamilton, Law professor at Cardozo School of Law and author of Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect its Children, has been watching closely. She writes that the “Republican judges” on 6
American Atheist — august 2008
the court of appeals showed a, “deference to claims of religious and parental ‘rights,’ even though those claims do little more than cloak criminal behavior that puts children at risk.” In essence, the court decided to support an “anything goes in the name of religion” ideology rather than protect the children. Psychologist and cult expert Steve Eichel explains that while testifying in court during such cases as this he has to avoid mentioning religious beliefs — because judges will disallow testimony about cults or the impact of religious coercion on children or adult behavior. He says, “Americans are quick to turn the other way when abusive practices are enthroned in religious dogma and the trappings of religious organization.” It has been only four years since the FLDS (Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints) polygamous group first settled their infamous 1,900 acre compound near the small West Texas town of Eldorado. Before coming to the Texas location, members had thrived — and continue to thrive — within their own isolated towns in Utah, Arizona, Mexico and British Columbia, Canada for more than a century. In addition to the Texas compound, the FLDS have also recently built new compounds in Colorado, Idaho and South Dakota. It is estimated there are now between 10,000 to 15,000 members led by their leader, 52-year-old Warren Jeffs, who, in 2007, was convicted in Utah on two felony counts as an accomplice to rape. Jeffs still faces trial in Arizona on eight charges of sexual conduct with a minor, incest, and conspiracy. The FLDS believe they are commanded by their god to live polygamously as directed by Mormon founder Joseph Smith. In breaking away from the mainstream Mormon Church and society, which made bigamy/polygamy a felony, they believe they are living “God’s law, not man’s law.” Within fundamentalist Mormon polygamy their ‘prophet’ is to be worshiped as God and is not to be questioned. Under him there are a select number of bishops who preside over separate congregations, with 72 year-old Merril Jessop as the bishop in Eldorado. Though their prophet leads the entire group in what is called “One Man Rule,” with bishops second in authority, individual men act as the ‘God of the home.’ The prophet, through the father, controls the family — deciding who will marry whom and when, where the family will live, what education children shall receive, and what work they will do. At any point the leader can arbitrarily remove a child, a father or a mother, and reassign those individuals to a different family. There is also a practice of rotating children between the wives of one husband so as not to cause mothers and children to bond with one another. A mother/child bond would create emotions or feelings in both and are considered to be a sign of weakness just as jealously over a husband taking a new wife is seen as weakness. Women are property, born for the single purpose of bearing children and are expected to have a child per year as “vessels to be worn out in childbirth.” When a wife reaches the age of 40 or is no longer able to bear children, the husband is given permission from the prophet to replace her with two wives under age twenty. Girls are typically married as ‘child brides’ to much older men at young ages, some by age twelve or even younger. Girls are often trafficked to and from the other compounds across state lines and national borders and may or may not know whom they are marrying. Often they are married to a relative due to the belief that as a chosen people they must intermarry to preserve the royal bloodline. Incestuous births within this group have caused numerous defects including the world’s highest prevalence of a rare disease known
as Fumarase Deficiency. The disorder causes severe mental retardation, epileptic seizures, and debilitating muscle control problems.  Birth defects serve several purposes within the FLDS, however, and it is not uncommon to hear a pregnant woman hope for a Down’s Syndrome child. Having such a defect equates to a docile child among the numerous children. Further, the government will pay additional subsidies to families caring for a disabled child, contributing to the FLDS practice of “Bleeding the Beast.” The idea behind this practice is based on using the United States government to subsidize their lifestyle while draining resources in order to bring the government down. In just one year alone the FLDS living along the Utah/Arizona boarder used over $30 million in government subsidies. Indoctrination begins from birth, with babies being “broken” by such means as slapping them until they are too exhausted to cry, thereby “teaching” them not to cry. Other techniques are immersing them in water or holding them under the faucet until they stop crying. Crying is not to be tolerated in anyone as it is viewed as a sign that one has an “evil spirit.” Violence in the FLDS is seen as a strength that men need in order to control women and children. There is no concept of what abuse is. A woman must “submit cheerfully” to her husband and has no right to complain about what is done to her or to her children since a father, “...can all but kill a child for deliberately disobeying.” Anger is the one emotion that is not seen as a weakness, especially when coupled with violence by an authority figure. Children have no individual identity but instead are seen as a herd. Only the father can assign value to individual children. With females as objects owned by men, girls are often sexually groomed and abused by their fathers. Girls also suffer from sexual abuse by other men in the community as well as their own brothers who are often taught to be sexual predators. Both girls and boys live lives of servitude from very young ages, with girls putting in their time in the home and boys in construction and both in the community garden. At puberty the girls become chattel for the men’s harems and boys become the older men’s competition for marriageable girls. Young boys who come from well placed families can look forward to a future of collecting their own harem and rising within the priesthood ranks, but less fortunate boys are thrown out of the FLDS. These “Lost Boys,” as they are called, rove about society trying to create a new life, forever banished by their families and community. Among the adolescent age children taken into custody in Texas, it was disclosed that there was a significant lower ratio of boys to girls. To ensure secrecy and isolation as a means of control over their members, they are taught that the outside world is an evil and fearful place. This fear further complicates existence for boys suddenly thrust into mainstream society as well as for girls and grown women who may escape. Additionally, individuals from the FLDS do not always have a birth certificate, social security number, or driver’s license. Women rarely find the resources within themselves to leave, but when they do, the men will often try to find these women and bring them back. Lack of an education is another hurdle for those who leave. Education is a basic human right the world over, yet most FLDS children are not afforded this right — with the exception of a few select individuals. Salt Lake City psychotherapist, Larry Beall, Ph.D., has helped a number of women and children adjust after escaping from the numerous polygamist cults and families. Beall writes that some forms of education are actually viewed as a crime. Science is one form. A typical polygamous home or church schooled educa-
tion consists of only the basics in mathematics. Health is not taught because talking about the human body is forbidden. The only history that matters is the line of male priesthood authority. Children are taught to read but most literature is forbidden as only the scriptures and lessons from the prophet are necessary. Other cultures have no value and racism is taught as religious doctrine throughout life. Racist rhetoric from Jeffs to his followers leaked out to news media in 2005, compelling the Southern Poverty Law Center to put the FLDS on a list along with the Klu Klux Klan. The members of the FLDS accumulate emotional baggage with each generation, having been emotionally and mentally conditioned by parents who were emotionally and mentally conditioned by theirs. Isolation has included not having access to newspapers, television, radio, magazines, or any contact with people from the outside. For decades, the towns on the Utah/Arizona border have been a law unto themselves while authorities looked the other way. In 1953, Governor George Pyle of Arizona tried to rescue the 263 children living in the twin border towns once called Short Creek. That effort failed as the press, and in turn, public sentiment turned against the governor. Polygamist families were eventually re-united and the governor’s political career ended. As a result, politicians in Utah and Arizona still look at the incident as a lesson learned. One of the biggest lesson’s learned from the 1953 raid is that appealing to the public’s own deep seated fears over parental rights and misdirected sentimentalities about religion can turn the court of public opinion and even justice in one’s favor. k Notes  www.rickross.com/reference/polygmay, Keith Elkins, “Documents showing abuse released In West Texas Polygamist Compound Case,” KEYTV, April 10, 2008.  Brian West, “Texas says 41 FLDS Children Have Broken Bones, Fractures,” Deseret News, May 1, 2008.  That the Texas Child Protective Services Should Not Have Rescued All of the children at the FLDS Compound,” www.FindLaw.com, May 29, 2008.  Steve Eichel, All God’s Children, www.delawareonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/ article, April, 20,2008  MSNBC, Reuters, “Polygamy Fueling Ariz.’s Rate of Genetic Diseases,” June 14, 2007.  Salt Lake Tribune, “Time To Close The Circle,” March 15, 2004, Citing the Utah Dept of Health.  www,rickross.com/reference/polygamy. McClatchy Newspapers, April 20, 2008, “Texas Sect Kicked Out Its Boys As Teens.”  Beall, Larry, The Impact of Polygamy on Women & Children, paper.  Pamela Manson, “FLDS Added To List Of Hate Groups,” Salt Lake Tribune, April 21, 2005
Andrea Moore-Emmett is the author of God’s Brothel: The Extortion of Sex For Salvation in Contemporary Mormon and Christian Fundamentalist Polygamy and the Stories of 18 Women Who Escaped. MooreEmmett is also a member of the Godless American Political Action Committee (GAMPAC).
august 2008 — American Atheist
The Mormon Book of Abraham by Frank R. Zindler
f you happen to have been born with white skin and if you have not lived all your life as a Latter-day Druid nuncio trapped in China since the 1922 reorganization of the Kuomintang, without a doubt you have been visited by pairs of bright-faced, clean-scrubbed, conservatively attired Mormon missionaries, or “elders,” as the eighteen to twenty-year-old boys prefer to be called. If you happen to have been born with black skin, however, you may never have had the opportunity to talk with any elders – unless, of course, you might have had the misfortune to fall on top of a couple by stumbling onto a pit-trap set for them by the Baptists or other fire-breathing Protestant groups that are out to “get the cults.” If this has happened to you, and if you managed to avoid impaling yourself on the pointed sticks at the bottom of the pit, and if at least one of the missionaries avoided the sticks as well, you will have been told that the Mormon church — the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — is one of the most thriving enterprises in America today. That it is a thriving financial enterprise, you might not have been told by the youthful elder. But you will have been told that this marvelous tax shelter was founded in 1830 by a fellow named Joseph Smith. Correction: Joseph Smith Junior. Smith got his new religion going by writing a book known as The Book of Mormon. The book was much too dull to make it as a novel – Mark Twain called the book “chloroform in print” – so it was marketed as a new bible. Having quite a flair for publicity, Smith pretended to have translated The Book of Mormon from a pile of gold plates dug out of a glacial hill in upstate New York — with the help of a resurrected man, no less! The book purports to tell of lost tribes of Israelites and others floating to South America, some in giant barrels, others in a boat. Arriving in America, they all turned into Indians, built cities, fought wars, received a visit from Jesus Christ after he couldn’t make a go of it in Palestine, and finally killed each other off in A.D. 421. Shortly before the fatal fight – a colossal battle allegedly waged at Hill Cumorah, near Palmyra, New York – a person appropriately named Moroni buried the plates for Smith to find. Apparently counting on the gullibility of his believers-to-be, in chapters 7 and 14 of the ‘Book of Ether’ Smith invented an entire ‘Land of Moron’ with a King of the Morons — knowing that none of them would get the joke. (The alert reader will note that Mark Twain was mistaken with regard to the kind of anesthetic to be found in The Book of Mormon.) Although I have already devoted two entire columns to The Book of Mormon, I wish yet to recount an amusing anecdote concerning the birth of the book.
American Atheist — august 2008
When young, Smith claimed he had a magic “seer stone,” a stone with which he could see inside hills and beneath the surface of the ground to inspect for buried treasures and enchantments. The seer stone became transformed into the biblical “urim and thummin” with which he later claimed he could “translate” any language – including “Reformed Egyptian,” the imaginary language in which his Jewish Indians supposedly had written their history. A locked box held what Smith claimed to be the gold plates bearing this Reformed Egyptian Chaldee Jewish American Indian history. Sitting in one half of a room divided into two sections by means of a blanket hung from a rope, Smith would pretend to be translating aloud from the plates and would dictate The Book of Mormon to his secretary Martin Harris. Harris sat on the other side of the blanket, afraid to peek at the plates for fear he would be stricken with the plague, and the scab, and hemorrhoids, and the botch of Egypt. After many days of such inventive labor, 116 pages of manuscript had been written – all of it supposedly translated by divine guidance by means of the magical seer stone. And it came to pass… disaster struck! Martin Harris’ wife, Lucy, stole the precious manuscripture and taunted her gullible husband, “if this be a divine communication, the same being who revealed it to you can easily replace it.” The impostor Smith was trapped. He knew it was impossible for him to reproduce the story exactly, although he should have been able to do so if there had indeed been divine guidance. To redictate it would be to invite disastrous comparison. At this point, surely, a lesser man would have given up the job of bible-writing and have become a used-mule salesman or a whortleberry farmer. But not Joe Smith – no sir! He went right back to work and dictated The Book of Mormon. How did he get away with it? How did he avoid being checkmated by Lucy Harris’ threat to compare the new inspiration with the old? Very simply. He added a preface to the first edition of the book. The preface claimed that the 116 pages had been translated from supposed “Plates of Lehi” and that the devil had caused the translation to be stolen and altered from what Smith had “translated.” So that even if Smith were to produce a new translation word-for-word identical with the first, it nevertheless would appear to differ from the stolen pages because of the changes which had been made in the latter by the cunning of the devil. Therefore, his god had changed the writing assignment so that The Book of Mormon no longer is a translation of The Plates of Lehi; it’s a translation of “The Plates of Nephi”! God’s exact words, according to the preface, were: “I will not suffer that Satan shall accomplish his evil design in this thing. Therefore thou shalt translate from the plates of Nephi.”
As you can see, this god was still speaking King James’ English harder for racist organizations to feed at the federal money-trough. even though it was now the year 1828. The preface did the trick, How did Joseph Smith come to write this book? however, and Lucy Harris was neutralized. Well, it was 1835. The Mormons had moved from New York Encouraged by the success of his first bible, Joseph Smith pro- state to Ohio. Michael Chandler, a traveling showman, came to Kirtceeded to write other ‘scriptures.’ One of these is known as The Book land on July 3, 1835, exhibiting some Egyptian papyri and mumof Abraham and is mies. Smith declared published today as the papyri contained part of a volume the autographic writknown as The Pearl ings of the patriarchs of Great Price. Abraham and Joseph Unlike The of Egypt — and Book of Mormon, that he could read which is merely dull them! The Mormons or silly, depending bought the mummies upon how much and the papyri. coffee one has been When Josiah drinking, The Book Quincy visited Smith of Abraham has a later at Nauvoo, Illirather unpleasant nois, Smith told him, side. Until recent “That is the handwrityears, it was used ing of Abraham… to justify the racist this is the autograph policies of the Morof Moses, and these mon church. Blacks lines were written by formerly were not his brother Aaron.” In allowed to hold the fact, the introduction ‘priesthood.’ Since to The Book of Abraalmost all postham still reads, “The pubertal Mormon writings of Abraham males are priests, and since Mormon while he was in Egypt… written by women can’t amount to anything unhis own hand, upon papyrus.” less they marry a man who does hold Armed with his magic seer the priesthood, this dogma effectivestone, this would-be prophet set to ly kept Blacks out of the “white and work and ‘translated’ The Book of delightsome” Church of Jesus Christ Abraham. Unique among the holy of Latter-Day Saints. books of the world, The Book of AbraThe offensive passages are to ham comes equipped with three illusbe found in Chapter 1, verses 20-–7. trations! Verse 24 ends with a reference to the The first illustration (Fig. 1) is biblical ‘curse of Ham’: “From Ham accompanied by a fantastic interpretasprang that race which preserved the tion given by Joseph Smith. According curse in the land.” to Smith, the “bird” in the upper right Verses 26–27, referring to is “the angel of the Lord” and the man Pharaoh (whom Smith supposed to with the knife is an idolatrous priest be a Negro), say that Noah “cursed” trying to make a sacrifice of Abraham him [Ham and his descendants] as (the guy on the check-out counter, to pertaining to the priesthood. Now the left of the cash register). Pharaoh being of that lineage by Toward the end of the eighFig. 1. Top: The original papyrus from which Smith derives “Facsimile which he could have the right of 1” of the Book of Abraham. Faint traces of pencil lines can be seen teenth century, when more and more priesthood,” and so on. scholars appeared who actually could where he attempted to complete the figures on the mounting paper. Now I must admit, in all fair- Fig. 1. (continued) Bottom: Facsimile 1 as it appears in modern ediread Egyptian – even without the use ness, that these passages are rather tions of the Book of Abraham, with erroneously completed details. of magic stones – this interpretation mild stuff and aren’t as bad as the was challenged. The “bird” was not an bible passages which were used by the Christian clergy to justify slav- angel, but the ba or soul of a deceased person. Furthermore, it was ery. And I must inform the reader that although missionaries still do claimed, its face had been changed. It should have a human face. The not normally go out in search of black converts, Blacks nowadays can reclining figure wasn’t Abraham; it was Osiris being called back to hold the priesthood if they desire. The head of the Mormon church life by Anubis, the god of the dead and of embalming. The so-called – the ‘Prophet, Seer & Revelator’ – thirty years ago (in 1978) got a priest – it was claimed over one hundred years ago – had been altered! message direct from his god to change this policy. The change came He actually should have the head of a jackal and should not have a just in the nick of time, too, since civil rights legislation was making it knife in his hand. august 2008 — American Atheist
glyphic on the left end and cursive on the right end. “Something’s fishy here.” said the experts. The third facsimile (Fig. 3) Smith claimed depicts Abraham upon Pharaoh’s throne, discoursing on astronomy, with Pharaoh behind him. The person standing in the center is a prince, flanked by the king’s waiter, and the black creature on the far right is – you guessed it! – a slave. Experts a hundred years ago said, “Baloney!” The scene actually depicts the judgment of a deceased person, and the characters are, from left to right, Isis (female!), Osiris on the throne, Maat (female!), the deceased, and Anubis the jackal-headed god. Today, of course, the experts still say the same thing. Unfortunately, the writing on the facsimiles was so poorly reproduced (deliberately, I would assert) that Egyptologists could not say for sure just what the writings did say, even though it was certain that Smith’s interpretation was pure blarney. But everything changed in 1966. In that year Jerald and Sandra Tanner, two ex-Mormons who became full-time debunkers of the faith of Brigham Young, obtained a microfilm of a document which had been hidden and suppressed by the Mormon church for over 130 years: Joseph Smith’s notebook entitled Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar. Part of the microfilm contained material in Smith’s own handwriting, with his signature. One such page reads, “Valuable discovery of hidden records that have been obtained from the ancient burying grounds of the Egyptians, (signature) Joseph Smith, Jr.” Other pages are in the handwriting of several of the ‘prophet’s” secretaries. What is the nature of this notebook? It is, I believe, a show Smith put on for the benefit of his secretaries, a pretense of actually being able to decipher Egyptian. Champollion, in France, had just succeeded in deciphering Egyptian, but in the wilds of America no one yet knew this. So Smith was free in this notebook to make up anything he wanted, confident he could get away with it. After a number of pages of absolute word-hash, we see him making up The Book of Abraham. The word-hash is so thigh-slapping mad, however, that I cannot resist quoting a few lines. Smith’s explanation of the meaning of a simple vertical stroke – a single line – is as follows:
Fig. 2. Top: the working version of Facsimile 2, taken from Smith’s Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar. Note use of hieroglyphic, not cursive, characters and incomplete borders and other empty areas. Fig. 2. (continued) Bottom: Facsimile 2 as it appears in modern editions of the Book of Abraham, with cursive characters taken from a different papyrus (see Fig. 4) and inserted upside-down into the spaces and border.
The second facsimile (Fig. 2) is rather different from the first, and Smith claimed it has to do with astronomy. The accompanying explanation is chock-full of nonsense such as “one day to a cubit,” “fixed planets,” and made-up words such as “Jah-oh-eh” and “Olibish.” Although the writing in the illustration was too poorly copied for Egyptologists to make much sense out of it, it was noted a century ago that not everything was kosher. Although the writing along the top border is in hieroglyphics, starting at about one o’clock, the writing becomes cursive (hieratic), continuing to about five o’clock, whereupon it becomes hieroglyphics again! A similar peculiarity is seen in the right-central section of the figure. Here each line is hiero10
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Beth-Ba-eth. This character is from the first degree It has an arbitrary sound or signification which is beth; and also a compound sound which is za and comprise one simple sentence for its signification It is only increased or lessened in its signification by its connection with other characters. one connection with another character, gives it a compound signification, or enlarges the sentence. Two connections increases its signification still: Three increases it still: Four increases still and five still, This is as far as a sentence can be carried in the first degree. [punctuation as in original] Proceeding to the pages containing the characters from which The Book of Abraham was derived, we find Egyptian characters arrayed vertically on the left side of each page, with the verses of scripture allegedly translated from them on the right. At the top left of one such page, we find a character resembling a backward ‘E’ – from which Smith derives the seventy-six words of verses 13 and 14 of Chapter 1! Can it be believed? Seventy-six words from one character? The idea becomes even more preposterous when we find that this charac-
The official story – the hope, as it were – was that the papyri had been burned up in the great Chicago fire, although there is evidence that at least some Mormon officials knew the papyri still existed and thought it best not to dog sleeping lies. Although the plates from which The Book of Mormon had been translated had promptly been taken back to heaven after Smith’s library card expired – conveniently making it impossible to check up on Smith’s claims – the papyri behind the Abraham opus were still on earth, and could be checked! Publication of the papyri dealt what surely must be the death-blow to The Book of Abraham. If we examine the original of Facsimile 1, we see that the head of the so-called priest is missing! The experts said he should have the head Fig. 3. Facsimile 3 as it appears in modern printed editions of the Book of Abraham. of Anubis the jackal-god. Smith, not The original has not yet come to light. See text for details. knowing anything about Egyptian religion, put a man’s head on the figter isn’t even an entire Egyptian word: it’s just a ‘determinative,’ a sign ure. There is no knife in the picture either. Strike two. Smith made it used to give the reader a clue as to the general meaning of the word of up. There is no head on the ba-bird. Strike three. Smith put a bird’s which it is a part. In this case, the sign signifies ‘water.’ The word of head on the ba – not an unreasonable mistake if a man is uninspired which it is a part is the Egyptian word for ‘pool.’ and knows no Egyptology. But for the founder of a religion and a The real find, however, in the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar man who claims divine guidance in his interpretations, this is devwas the discovery of Smith’s working version of Facsimile 2, the cir- astating. cular figure (Fig. 2, p. 10). In exactly every place where the EgyptoloBut the picture wasn’t the only thing Holy Joe filled in out gists had claimed there was something fishy in the published plate, in of his fertile imagination. If we examine Fig. 4 (next page), a picture Holy Joe’s notebook we have empty spaces! Smith filled in the empty of the scrap of papyrus from which Smith derived the entire Book spaces and called it inspiration! The critics could not have been vin- of Abraham, we may note the arrow pointing to the backward ‘E’ dicated more perfectly. discussed previously. Three lines below it, we can see some of the An amusing item: in the notebook version of Facsimile 2, the characters used to fill in the right-central part of Facsimile 2 (sector hieroglyphics are clear enough to be read. At about nine o’clock, we 14, right side of Fig. 2). Unfortunately, Smith inserted these characcan make out a hieroglyph of a bull. Reading from there towards six ters upside-down. How odd of his god to tell Smith what all these o’clock, we apparently can make out the phrase, “great bull who can squiggles meant, but never think to tell him which way was up! copulate without equal…” Can this be a cryptographic prophesy of Continuing our examination of Fig. 4, we note that there is a the second coming of Brigham Young – who had how many wives? deep, triangular cleft in the papyrus, extending from the upper rightThe Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar would have been enough hand corner downward to the fourth line of writing. The characters evidence to convict Joseph Smith of fraud, even if we didn’t have any on both sides of this fissure can be found in Smith’s note book, tofurther evidence. But we do — we do! gether with the corresponding verses of the Book of Abraham. The ‘smoking pistol’ itself has been found – not in the vaults in Guess where in this papyrus Smith got the anti-Negro verses! Salt Lake City, but in the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. The whole hallowed holy business about the ‘curse of Ham’ comes The smoking pistol consists of the actual papyri Smith got from from the hole! As Smith copied the characters from the papyrus into Chandler, the traveling showman – including the papyrus from which his notebook, he made up the curse-of-Ham characters to fill in the the characters in the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar had been cop- cleft in the original. Embarrassingly, he made up too many of them ied, and the papyrus original of Facsimile 1. Although the papyri had to fit in the space available. been discovered in the museum in the same year in which the Tanners Egyptologists have now translated all the Joseph Smith papyri had published the Grammar, it wasn’t until the following year, 1967, – including the parts Joseph Smith said could not yet be revealed – that the papyri were given to the Mormon church by the museum. and we can say without fear of contradiction that the materials have The divine guidance which is supposed to guide the Prophet, nothing to do with Abraham or with Blacks. They are delightfully Seer and Revelator of the church apparently was vacationing on the pagan in nature, and nothing Jewish can be seen in them. They are planet Kolob in 1967, for the church authorities foolishly agreed that part of the “Book of Breathings” – a late abridgment of the Egyptian the papyri were authentic and were indeed the originals from which Book of the Dead. In fact, these papyri date from approximately the Joseph Smith had translated The Book of Abraham. beginning of the Christian era and are about two thousand years too august 2008 — American Atheist
Atheism Advanced Further Thoughts Of a Freethinker By David Eller
Fig. 4. The scrap of papyrus from which Joseph Smith ‘translated’ all 1,125 words of the Book of Abraham and also managed to have enough left over to fill in the blanks in Facsimile 2. Arrow points to the backward ‘E’ determinative signifying water. In Smith’s Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar, this character is made the source of 76 word of English ‘scripture’!
late to contain the autograph of Abraham — assuming there ever was an Abraham! The major religions of the world began too long ago for anthropologists to be able to reconstruct accurately the complex interactions between fraud, delusion, and honest ignorance which went into their manufacture. In the case of Mormonism, however, a very scientific case can be built up to show quite unambiguously the role of chicanery in the formation of this most uniquely American religion. Joseph smith dared to invent a new religion in the age of printing! k Formerly a professor of biology, geology, and psychobiology at a branch of SUNY, for the past 25 years Frank R. Zindler has served as Senior Editor & Linguist for a scientific publishing society in Ohio. He has served as Managing Editor of American Atheist Press since the murder of the Murray-O’Hair family in 1995 and recently became Acting President of American Atheists, Inc. His latest book is The Jesus the Jews Never Knew. It demonstrates that the ancient Jews not only never heard of ‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ they never heard of Nazareth either! He is a veteran of more than 400 radio and TV talk-shows and debates. This article originally appeared in the column “The Probing Mind” in this journal in January of 1985. 12
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An anthropological and philosophical deconstruction of religion, religious language, and the danger of relying on belief or faith instead of knowledge. Atheism is shown to lead to ‘discredism’ — a rejection of belief as well as a rejection of gods. Prof. David Eller is a cultural anthropologist who has conducted field research among Aboriginal societies in Australia and now teaches anthropology in Denver, Colorado. His recent college textbook, Introducing Anthropology Of Religion, is being hailed as the most significant introduction to the scientific study of religion in a decade. Paperback xxii + 468 pp. Index $22.00 – Stock # 16010 (Member discount 10%, S&H $5.00)
The Varieties of Fundamentalist Experience
What Atheists (and Everyone Else) Need to Know about ‘Fundamentalism’ by David Eller
n a classic case of taking words out of context, Sam Harris is often quoted as saying that “the religious moderate is nothing more than a failed fundamentalist.” What he actually writes is: “From the perspective of those seeking to live by the letter of the texts, the religious moderate is nothing more than a failed fundamentalist” (2004:20). In other words, from the perspective of the religious fundamentalist, the non-fundamentalist is a failed fundamentalist. On the other hand, we might also imagine that from the perspective of the moderate, the fundamentalist is a failed moderate. Even worse, we might apply this line of thinking to any and all subjects: perhaps from the perspective of the professional baseball player, the amateur or recreational player is a failed professional (and perhaps from the amateur’s perspective, the professional is a failed amateur!). In short, taken out of context, the claim is merely silly. However, even in context, the claim is not particularly helpful: it amounts to the suggestion that, from the point of view of an X, a non-X is a failed-X. But much more significantly, all this talk of Xs and non-Xs may be totally unenlightening if we have no clear and meaningful notion of what an X is in the first place. I suggest that atheists and theists alike have very little idea what ‘fundamentalist’ or ‘fundamentalism’ actually means. We are all—except for the fundamentalists themselves, certainly—sure that we are against it. It must mean something undesirable, even crazy or dangerous. We toss around terms like Christian fundamentalism or Islamic fundamentalism, or simply fundamentalism (which tacitly means ‘Christian fundamentalism’ and/or ‘Islamic fundamentalism’) without, quite frankly, any real idea of what we are talking about. This article examines the concept—and even more crucially, the diversity—of fundamentalism, demonstrating that fundamentalism is not a ‘thing,’ let alone a ‘religious thing.’ There are many kinds of fundamentalism, and we do ourselves a great disservice by lumping them all into one category. All fundamentalisms are not created equal, and both Atheists and religionists need to understand the differences — or else we are literally talking nonsense. Religion, Fundamentalism, and Religious Fundamentalism Most popular writers and some scholarly writers on fundamentalism explicitly fail to define the term, presumably because they assume that everyone already knows what it means. That is a risky assumption. Harris certainly offers no definition. To his credit, at least he does acknowledge that “people of faith fall on a continuum” from “religious moderates” to “religious fundamentalists” (14) — although he gives moderates a good bashing too. Bishop John Shelby Spong,
the liberal Christian who would “rescue the Bible from fundamentalism,” does not define the word either. All he tells us is that the perceived “enemies” of the fundamentalist are the devil, rival churches, and “religious liberals, secular modernists, God-denying communists, or some other incarnation of evil” (1991:4) — that is, any and all individuals and groups who do not subscribe to their views. Some scholars at least have attempted to define fundamentalism, with various degrees of success and relevance. For instance, George Marsden thinks of a fundamentalist as “an evangelical Protestant who is militantly opposed to modern liberal theologies and to some aspects of secularism in modern culture” (1990: 22). This will clearly not do, however, since it excludes not only all non-Christians but also most Christians: there would be no such thing as Islamic fundamentalism or even Catholic fundamentalism. In a book by the same name, Gabriel Almond, Scott Appleby, and Emmanuel Sivan (2003) call fundamentalism “strong religion” in its refusal to compromise its key principles (its fundamentals) and in its willingness to use firm, even forceful, tactics to reach its goals. This characterization makes the term applicable beyond Christianity and Islam, to the strong version of any religion — and of phenomena besides religion. These and other approaches to fundamentalism echo one key theme, which is its oppositional nature; that is, fundamentalism is not just for something but against something. This something is not only non-religion (secularization and Atheism) but weak or moderate religion. Marsden says as much, and Almond, Appleby, and Sivan repeat it: strong religions “are militant and highly focused antagonists of secularization” (2003:2). Bruce Lawrence argues that the one thing unifying the variety of fundamentalisms is “hatred of the modernist value agenda” (1989:6). They fight for their worldview, their truths, their values which they experience as under attack, and they fight against the forces that threaten them, not just the infidel and Atheist but the liberal “who seeks compromise, middle ground, or a civil ‘agreement to disagree’ ” as well as the member or apostate “who would be moderate, would negotiate with modernity, would adapt the movement” (Marty and Appleby 1991:x). In a word, fundamentalism is “cultural countermodernism” (Meyer 2001:20), if we understand modernism as a competing worldview that values individual autonomy, pluralism, flexibility and change, at least a certain amount of relativism in morality and truth, and the general demotion of religion in everyday life. Many observers have therefore come to regard fundamentalism less as a matter of content (that is, specific creeds or claims) than a matter of style, perhaps even of strategy. So, rather than thinking of fundamentalism as the commitment to particular Christian/Protesaugust 2008 — American Atheist
tant doctrines, Richard Antoun recommends that we think of it as “an orientation to the world, both cognitive and affective” (2001:3). Meyer is most explicit in seeing fundamentalism as one “style of civilization” among others. By styles of civilization he means differing “modes of dealing with a cultural heritage by way of picking out, stressing differences and reinterpreting traditions in the light of new experiences” (2001:29), and the three main alternatives he recognizes are traditionalism, modernism, and fundamentalism. Ultimately, fundamentalism is an ideology, in particular “a novel ideology congruent with the interests of specific groups responding to social tensions generated by the contemporary world” (Lawrence 1989:97). Religious fundamentalism in particular is such an ideology with religious content and religious goals — and the content and goals will vary from religion to religion. So Many Fundamentalisms It should be clear by now that fundamentalism is not a single thing, and it is obviously not merely the familiar Christian and/or Islamic thing. If, as Almond, Appleby, and Sivan assert, fundamentalism “is best understood as a particular configuration of ideology and organizational resources—not, that is, as an ‘essence’ or constitutive trait of any one or all of the host religious traditions” (2003: 14), then it is also clear that there will be many kinds of fundamentalism. Even more, as Antoun reminds us, fundamentalism is not the only potential response to the same challenging conditions of modernity: beyond the obvious options of a full embrace of modernism and a stubborn clinging to tradition, individuals and groups might choose a do-it-yourself syncretistic approach (as evinced in the ‘New Age’ movement), an inclusive type of ecumenism, what he calls “mobile affinity networks” based on ethnic, national, or race identities, or the founding of new groups/identities/movements, including new religious cults or movements or conversion to foreign ones. This improved awareness of the nature and diversity of fundamentalism allows us to recognize three important features of it. First and foremost, it is not exclusively or mainly a Christian or Abrahamic thing, that is, it is certainly not limited to or characteristic of only Christianity or the complex of Christianity-Judaism-Islam. There definitely is such a thing as Christian fundamentalism — or more accurately, Christian fundamentalisms: familiar Protestant-type fundamentalisms have their particular qualities, but Catholic fundamentalism (until recently either unnoticed or considered to be non-existent) has its own qualities and agendas. And of course, the Fundamentalist Mormon movement takes as one of its fundamentals the obstinate endorsement of polygamy. There are certainly diverse Jewish and Muslim fundamentalisms. In Judaism, the haredim (literally, ‘those who tremble’) includes disparate groups like Neturei Karta and Toldot Aharon, which share some ideas and values, like a strict observance of all scriptural laws and a theological opposition to Zionism and the secular state of Israel. On the other hand, Gush Emunim (‘The Bloc of the Faithful’), which emerged in the early 1970s following the Israeli success of the Six-Day War in 1967, are not hostile to the state but rather view it as the fulfillment of prophecy and even seek to expand it beyond its current borders. And while al-Qaeda and the Taliban represent Islamic fundamentalism—and often represent Islam—for most Americans, fundamentalism within Islam, as within Christianity and Judaism, is only one form of the religion and is also internally diverse. Wahhabism, founded by Muhammad Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab in the eighteenth century, is a purist movement characterized by “opposition 14
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to popular superstitions and innovations, his insistence on informed independent judgments over against the role reliance on medieval authorities, and his call for the Islamization of society and the creation of a political order which gives appropriate recognition to Islam” (Voll 1991:351). Naturally and significantly, fundamentalism in the Islamic context has often taken the form not only of anti-modernism but of also anti-Westernism — which were often seen as the same thing. Thus, associations like the Muslim Brotherhood, founded by Hasan al-Banna in the late 1920s, sought to defend Islam against foreign contaminants like alcohol and loose morality. The Muslim Brotherhood spawned other movements in Egypt, like Sayyid Qutb’s takfir approach, which accused all existing Muslim societies of Atheism (takfir literally means ‘branding with Atheism’) and therefore rejected their legitimacy. Outside the Western monotheistic tradition, fundamentalism has also surfaced, for instance, within Hinduism. By 1875 the Arya Samaj or ‘Society of Aryas’ came together as a Vedic fundamentalist organization, observing a strict adherence to the very oldest of Hindu texts (the Vedas) and dismissing “much of later Hindu tradition as degenerate practice that is best forgotten” (Gold 1991:534). Out of such activity rose an ideology known as Hindutva. Meaning essentially ‘Hindu-ness’ or ‘Hindu nationalism,’ its principles include the idea that Hindus are not only a single nation (rashtra) but the true indigenous nation of the subcontinent. All true natives of the land, regardless of their caste or sect or language, are Hindu; the fundamentals of Hindu identity and belief are literally in the blood. Therefore, all of India is not only a home but a sacred home to Hindus. Buddhism has even seen its share of what we might at least call purification efforts if not outright fundamentalism, from the comparatively benign “process of re-orthodoxification” documented in Nepal (Ortner 1989) to the political and militant Buddhism of the Sinhalese majority of Sri Lanka. Even Confucianism (Wei-ming 1991) and Shinto (Davis 1991) have seen recent fundamentalist streaks emerge, and no doubt, as investigators look into more religious traditions, they will find fundamentalist styles within them as well. The second of the three significant features of fundamentalism is that it is not a strictly modern phenomenon. While twentieth- and twenty-first-century fundamentalisms struggle with modern challenges, previous historical fundamentalisms struggled with the challenges of their times. According to the Torah/Old Testament, Jewish authorities periodically purified their religion of foreign influences in ancient times; conquest by Rome generated a new fundamentalist dynamic, with some Jews choosing martyrdom rather than accepting the practices of their pagan overlords. Others became killers for their beliefs, like the sicarii or ‘knife-bearers,’ a sect of religious nationalists who assassinated enemies, especially Jewish collaborators. Even the supposedly pacifist Essenes were pre-modern fundamentalists who insisted that “Jews must separate themselves from such polluting influences and return to strict observance of God’s law” (Pagels 1995:18). Shi‘ites within Islam saw themselves centuries ago, and still see themselves today, as restoring the proper practice and authority to the religion. Sinhalese Buddhists on Sri Lanka fought under their culture-hero Dutthagamani in pre-colonial times to institute a true Buddhist kingdom; according to their sacred text Mahavamsa, “His war-cry was ‘Not for kingdom but for Buddhism’” (quoted in Farmer 1963: 12). There was a revival of Zoroastrianism in Persia in the third century CE, almost a thousand years after the prophet’s life. We could even rightfully think of Martin Luther’s sixteenth-century ‘protestant’ initiatives as a fundamentalist movement to rid Christianity of allegedly false and foreign accretions over the years.
Third, if in fact fundamentalism is more a style than a substance, then it could hypothetically apply to any substance—that is, one could be fundamentalist about anything, not just religion. In other words, not only is fundamentalism not restricted to Christianity or monotheism, nor to modern religion, but it is not restricted to religion at all. One could be fundamentalist about one’s race (and hence be a racist) or about one’s nationality (and hence be a nationalist xenophobe). One could be fundamentalist about language, insisting on the purity of, say, English in the context of contact and borrowing from other languages or about food, insisting on the purity of one’s traditional cuisine, or about music (for instance, combating the ‘corruption’ of classical or rock or rap music) or about baseball (for instance, bemoaning the loss of the good old days of real baseball before rule changes that ruined the game and berating anyone who disagrees with you) or about Star Trek (for instance, getting overheated about the deviation from the original series represented in the latter iterations like Next Generation — say, that Kirk was the only real captain). One could, arguably, even be fundamentalist about Atheism, if one asserted that only Robert Ingersoll or Madalyn Murray O’Hair was a real Atheist and anything else is less. A Typology of Fundamentalist Styles Fundamentalism is actually not even a single style but really more a set of styles. We can and must therefore distinguish several quite different forms of fundamentalism, some more militant and dangerous than others. At the most harmless level are the moral and ideological purists. They are probably also the most common. Like the Southside Gospel Church studied by Ammerman (1987), they merely take their religion particularly seriously and let it pervade and define more or less every aspect of their lives. Like all fundamentalists, the Southsiders were convinced that the world is corrupt and immoral, so they kept to themselves and to their church as much as possible: the church entered into every aspect of the member’s life. The congregation attempted to provide a childhood in which children “rarely step outside the sheltering canopy of the faith. Competing ideas and ways of life are as foreign to them as the native customs they see in missionary slides” (170). For adults, things were not much different: “For many, almost every spare minute is spent on activities
related to the church” (106), including church-sponsored book clubs, craft groups, and sports teams. Some groups and sects take this notion of community further, becoming separatists like the Mennonites or the Amish, whom Larsen (1971) has called “quiet fanatics.” We seldom think of the Amish as fundamentalists, but surely few religionists take their religion more seriously, more strongly, than they do. These groups reject the modern and outside world to greater or lesser degrees and hold to their convictions by not only ideologically but physically detaching themselves from the wider society. Typically, there are certain practices that can only be accomplished in a separatist setting, such as Amish traditional education and values in Pennsylvania Amish towns or Mormon traditional polygamy in towns and compounds in the West and Southwest. Less well known is a contemporary American religious-separatist movement known as Christian Exodus. As they state clearly on their Web-site (www.christianexodus.org), they have explicitly given up on American society. Their express mission, then, is to abandon the irredeemable general society, migrate en masse to a relatively small state (South Carolina is their current selection), vote themselves into office, and inaugurate their own society based on their religious principles— which include prohibition of abortion and gay marriage, institutionalization of prayer and the Christian Bible in schools, the elimination of evolution from the curriculum, the public display of the ten commandments, and the right to own weapons, among others. If the federal government interferes with their effort to build a Christian society, they are prepared to secede from the Union. Such efforts, like the Amish one, are essentially rejectionist — that is, they have forsaken the wider world and withdrawn into their insular reality. Groups or sects that seek to engage the wider society in order to bring that society into line with their own beliefs and values are activists. The Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition represent such a style: they want not only to live their own moral and ideological principles but to urge or impose them on the rest of society and are willing to use political methods to achieve their goals. Thus they use distinctly modern means (including voting and governmental power, as well as media like television, satellites, and the Internet) to achieve their traditional or fundamentalist ends. It would be fair to say that they are as much at peace with some aspects of modernity as they are at war with others. More uncompromising are the reconstructionists who seek a total transformation or reinvention of society in line with their religious convictions. Also known as Dominionism and Theonomy, Christian Reconstructionism advances an agenda that includes the reformulation of civil law in accordance with biblical, specifically Torah/Old Testament standards, including the death penalty for adultery, blasphemy, heresy, homosexuality, idolatry, and witchcraft; the banning of any congregation or religion that does not accept Mosaic law, including of course all non-Christian religions; the return of women’s status to ancient conditions; the criminalization of abortion, punishable by death; and the elimination of income taxes and the prison system (the death penalty presumably rendering jail mostly unnecessary). Their rationale is expressed clearly by R. J. Rushdoony, one of its founders: “The law is therefore the law for Christian man and Christian society. Nothing is more deadly or more derelict than the august 2008 — American Atheist
notion that the Christian is at liberty with respect to the kind of law he can have” (1973: 8–9). And by law, they mean ancient Hebrew law. In other words — and unusually overtly — Christian Reconstructionism seeks to reshape the future in the image of the (ancient) past. However, the Reconstructionists do not use, or so far have not used, coercion and violence to reach their ends. At the extreme, then, are the militants, who are willing to employ force against their perceived enemies, which may include the government and the general population. These are the groups that fly airplanes into towers or drive truckloads of explosives to federal buildings. Interestingly and disturbingly, militant Christian fundamentalism has tended to get entangled with racist and nationalist ideologies. For instance, the Christian Identity movement is a loose affiliation of groups and programs, from Anglo-Israelists to white supremacists to some militia and ‘patriot’ groups. According to the watchdog organization ReligiousTolerance.org, the beliefs of Christian Identity groups, while various, share some common factors, including “a very conservative interpretation of the Bible,” leading to condemnation of homosexuality and members of other religions; the superiority of whites as the ‘Adamic race,’ that is, the real descendants of Adam, who was a white man; derogation of non-whites as “Satanic spawn,” subhumans, and “mud people” who corrupt and threaten God’s true people; racial separation or, in the extreme, racial extermination; an absolute ban on interracial marriage or “racial adultery”; and more or less complex conspiracy theories, often with Jews at the center. From KKK lynchings to the Oklahoma City bombings to murders at abortion clinics, these groups have shown their capacity and willingness to use violence for their cause. Conclusion If there is an obligation for Atheists as rational people it is to make all and only the distinctions that are necessary to make sense of the world. The one thing that we cannot and must not do is to commit the same errors of simplification and overgeneralization as our religionist antagonists. No doubt, there are Christians who would like us to believe that only “those other Christians” are fundamentalists, while they themselves are not; or they might like us to believe that Christians are not fundamentalists at all but rather that “those other religions” are the fundamentalists. Even worse are the informed and high-profile Atheists who write and speak as if particular versions or instances of fundamentalism are fundamentalism itself — that is, who fail to appreciate the real and significant differences within the fundamentalist movement or ideology and therefore basically misunderstand and misinform about it. To take one or a few examples of something as varied as fundamentalism and call them typical or representative is not only intellectually misleading but practically self-defeating, since we are almost certain to adopt the wrong strategies as a result. In truth, there is no such thing as fundamentalism, and if there were, it would not be Christian fundamentalism let alone evangelical Protestant Christian fundamentalism. Rather, we should think of a fundamentalist style which can be applied to any subject, including religion, as one manifestation of it. Not all religions, and not only religions, are fundamentalist. And each religious fundamentalism will be unique in ways, depending on the concerns, creeds, and contexts of the particular religion. So, we must be cautious when saying things like “Fundamentalism is this” or “Fundamentalists think that.” There are not many generalizations we can make about fundamentalism, and like the 16
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natural world, the world of fundamentalism is a complex and evolving one. In thinking and writing and speaking about fundamentalism, Atheists would do well to imitate the careful observational and descriptive methods of the scientist, rather than the rash conventional habits of the theist. Otherwise we, like them, will literally not know what we are talking about, and spread more obscurity than clarity. k References Almond, Gabriel A., R. Scott Appleby, and Emmanuel Sivan. 2003. Strong Religion: The Rise of Fundamentalism around the World. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press. Ammerman, Nancy T. 1987. Bible Believers: Fundamentalists in the Modern World. New Brunswick, NJ and London: Rutgers University Press. Antoun, Richard T. 2001. Understanding Fundamentalism: Christian, Islamic, and Jewish Movements. Walnut Creek CA: AltaMira Press. Barkun, Michael. 1997. Religion and the Racist Right. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Davis, Winston. 1991. “Fundamentalism is Japan: Religious and Political.” In Martin Marty and R. Scott Appleby, eds. Fundamentalisms Observed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, pp. 782–813. Farmer, B. H. 1963. Ceylon: A Divided Nation. London: Oxford University Press. Gold, Daniel. 1991. “Organized Hinduisms: From Vedic Truth to Hindu Nation.” In Martin Marty and R. Scott Appleby, eds. Fundamentalisms Observed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, pp.531–93. Harris, Sam. 2004. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company. Larsen, Egon. 1971. Strange Cults and Sects: A Study of their Origins and Influence. New York: Hart Publishing Company, Inc. Lawrence, Bruce B. 1989. Defenders of God: The Fundamentalist Revolt Against the Modern Age. San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers. Marsden, George M. 1990. “Defining American Fundamentalism.” In Norman J. Cohen, ed. The Fundamentalist Phenomenon: A View from Within, A Response from Without. Grand Rapids MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, pp.22–37. Marty, Martin E. and R. Scott Appleby, eds. 1991. Fundamentalism Observed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Meyer, Thomas. 2001 . Identity Mania: Fundamentalism and the Politicization of Cultural Differences. London and New York: Zed Books. Ortner, Sherry B. 1989. High Religion: A Cultural and Political History of Sherpa Buddhism. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Pagels, Elaine. 1995. The Origin of Satan. New York: Random House. Rushdoony, R. J. 1973. The Institutes of Biblical Law. Nutley NJ: Craig Press. Spong, John Shelby. 1991. Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture. New York: HarperSanFrancisco. Voll, John O. 1991. “Fundamentalism in the Sunni Arab World: Egypt and the Sudan.” In Martin Marty and R. Scott Appleby, eds. Fundamentalisms Observed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, pp.345–402. Wei-ming, Tu. 1991. “The Search for Roots in Industrial East Asia: The Case of the Confucian Revival.” In Martin Marty and R. Scott Appleby, eds. Fundamentalisms Observed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, pp. 740–81.
Dr. David Eller is a cultural anthropologist who has conducted field research among Aboriginal societies in Australia and is the author of an important new college textbook on the anthropology of religion. He is the author of the American Atheist Press book Natural Atheism and its 2008 sequel Atheism Advanced. He receives e-mail at ellerdavid@ onebox.com.
Blasphemy Right and Left
No Criticism of Any Religion Is Allowed! An address given at the June 4, 2008 meeting of the International Liaison Committee of Atheists & Freethinkers, Washington, D.C. by Conrad F. Goeringer Representing American Atheists
hank you very much. It’s just such a privilege and delight to see this kind of international event bringing together Atheists and Freethinkers and Humanists, and other nonbelievers, too, from all over the world. And it is so appropriate that we’re talking about the issue of BLASPHEMY, which is something that our European comrades confront more so than those of us here in the United States. The average American is blissfully unaware of the history of blasphemy legislation, or they believe that such statutes are obsolete since they run counter to the free speech clause of our First Amendment. They are partially right. Maryland and Massachusetts still have blasphemy statutes, specifically aimed at those who profane Jesus or the Holy Ghost. This is despite the fact that in 1972, the case of Maryland v. Irving K. West declared the law unconstitutional. Freethought activist Abner Kneeland was prosecuted for blasphemy in 1838, and was the last person jailed for the offense. When the Congress passed the Fourteenth Amendment, the Bill of Rights finally applied to individual states, and most blasphemy statutes were invalidated by the ubiquity now of the free-speech clause. The last person convicted on a blasphemy statute was Atheist Charles Lee Smith, who had set up a freethought bookstore in Little Rock, Arkansas. At his trial, Smith could not swear a religious oath and thus testify in his own defense. He was fined $25 and sentenced to 26 days in jail. When released he continued to sell Atheist literature, was re-arrested, and served more time. The case was eventually dismissed. And finally, in 1952 the US Supreme Court overturned a NY blasphemy statute in the case of Burstyn v. Wilson, opining that such laws were a prior restraint on free speech. The State of New York argued that a film by the renowned producer Roberto Rossellini that depicted a delusional girl who thought she was the Virgin Mary was “sacrilegious” and treated the Christian faith with “contempt, mockery, scorn and ridicule.” The majority opinion declared: “It is not the business of government in our nation to suppress real or imagined attacks upon a particular religious doctrine whether they appear in publications, speeches or motion pictures.” And I call your attention to the phrase “real or imagined attacks.” Now, people may think that blasphemy statutes are a hoary relic of the past and not an artifact of democratic societies, but I argue that, if anything, popular rule and bias in support of religious sensibilities can fuel the effort to pass such statutes. Many nations
across the world maintain or enact robust statutes on the profaning of religion in general, or specific religions. There are blasphemy prosecutions under way in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan. The Afghan case is particularly troubling because of all of the noise made by the Bush administration regarding human rights. This is a 23-year-old journalist by the name of Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, who reportedly circulated an essay criticizing the Islamic view of women. He happens to be a Muslim. In Britain, the blasphemy statutes were recently lifted in part because of the activism of groups like the National Secular Society. A Baptist minister is threatening to launch a nationwide campaign to put the statute back on the books, and recently told reporters: I am outraged, along with many evangelical Christians, that this government refuses to uphold and protect the Christian faith and the members of the faith within this country. I press, indeed urge you to pass a new law which will maintain respect for God, Jesus Christ and the Bible.” Incidentally, Islamic groups in Britain have demanded over the years that the Blasphemy laws be expanded to cover their religious faith as well. And even here in America and the rest of the world, particularly Europe that has been shaped so much by the Enlightenment Agenda, the temptation to enact blasphemy laws is alive, well, and thriving. I suggest you pick a popular newsreader like GOOGLE, type in blasphemy and you will find dozens of pages of listings from media covering the debate over blasphemy legislation. I’d also argue that the reasons advanced for such statutes are more numerous than, say, a century or more ago, and they even incorporate elements of the secular narrative. Some have proposed that blasphemy restrictions actually advance human rights, preserve public order, and protect the dignity of religious constituencies and ethnicities. As a result, there is growing support for some form of blasphemy regulation coming from both or all sides of the political divide, right or left, conservative and liberal and any other political label you can think of. I became especially interested in the blasphemy wars back in 1989; I was already active in organized Atheism and then, as now, consider myself a “First Amendment voluptuary” and defender of free speech. I was also at that time in the antiquarian book trade, sellaugust 2008 — American Atheist
ing new, used and rare books, and one day the Viking Press published a book by a somewhat obscure but very talented novelist by the name of Salman Rushdie, titled The Satanic Verses. You probably know the rest of this story. Rushdie’s book was censored or condemned in countries throughout the world. Islamists took the streets; bookstores, including a couple here in the US were firebombed; and amidst all of the physical violence were calls for those hoary blasphemy laws which at least in some countries had finally expired from time, the advance of human rights and, yes, a good dose of common sense. In the beginning, the Rushdie affair seemed to be a clear-cut issue of free speech versus religious hyper-sensibilities. The matter was far more complex than this, however, and it was pregnant with implications for the future. In September of 1989, the American Atheist magazine put out what, in my opinion, was one of its most insightful and relevant issues. It dealt almost exclusively with the Rushdie controversy, and it explored this incendiary event far more thoroughly than mainstream publications in the West. Appropriately, the cover had displayed in a stylized Middle-Eastern script the words: “No criticism of any religion is allowed.” It discussed a number of disturbing themes having to do with the call for the banning of Rushdie’s book and similar writings, and the fatwa or death sentence pronounced on Salman Rushdie by Iran’s authoritarian leader the Ayatollah Khomeini. Finally, it identified trends which are coming to fruition today or in the near future, and which have poignant consequences for Atheists and other nonbelievers, and secularists of any flavor who defend the right of freethinking and free expression. The first article was written by Madalyn O’Hair and was titled “Red Herring Rushdie.” She began: “In the attempt to again saddle the world with restraints against reason, any book, any author is a good excuse.” In the future, she could have added movies, cartoons, songs or plays, or just about any other form of human expression to that list. She did what few writers had done, namely, lay out an exacting and detailed time-line, how Rushdie’s book was first banned in India by order of the government following objections by an Indian Moslem who incidentally proudly proclaimed that he had never bothered to read it. Rushdie wrote a letter to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi which was subsequently printed in the New York Times. Riots and calls for censorship of The Satanic Verses then spread to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, South Africa, and Great Britain, where Rushdie’s literary creation was denounced as offensive, abusive, filthy, scurrilous and, of course, a blasphemy and insult to Islamic religion and sensibilities. O’Hair went a step further, though, and noted how Muslims were demanding the resurrection and re-writing of blasphemy statutes in many countries including the UK. More disturbing was how, in many cases, noted Christian and even some Jewish religious bosses were agreeing with them! This was significant. Blasphemy laws have usually been crafted to protect the interest of one religion, or one deity; now, there seemed to be a more – can I use the word — “cosmopolitan” or maybe “ecumenical” attitude — that what was protective of one religion can and should be applied to all. 18
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Some religious sects waffled: The Vatican newspaper openly sympathized with the outrageous and goon-like behavior of the Islamists, citing offenses directed at Roman Catholicism. Jimmy Carter, who once took an oath to protect and defend our secular Constitution, described the book as “a direct insult” to millions of Moslems. The head of a Jewish publishing firm described it as an “inhumane and immoral” book, and the head of the Torah Party declared that his followers, too, would be outraged had Moses been insulted in such a fashion. And down in Florida, a Church of Christ preacher wrote an op-ed piece saying that Rushdie was getting exactly what he deserved. He closed his diatribe by citing Leviticus 24:16 warning: Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death. The whole community shall stone him.” The second article in that issue was written by me, titled “Lessons From The Satanic Verses.” The introductory fly read: “A bookstore owner who dared to sell ‘Rushdie porn’ reflects upon the practical meaning of freedom of speech in the United States. Is the First Amendment nullified because some say a book is obscene, blasphemous, sinful, controversial, and in poor taste?” I described how booksellers and librarians were being intimidated, and how many bookstores actually withdrew copies of Salman Rushdie’s book from their sales counters. Some like the Waldenbooks chain took out ads and issued press releases stating that this was “for the protection of employees” — and maybe they had a point! Meanwhile, I was scrambling to keep the book in stock, and took out ads which urged, in bold-face type, DISOBEY THE AYATOLLAH or DON’T LET THIS GUY TELL YOU WHAT TO READ next to a picture of Khomeini. I also sold the book at cost, a bargain at $14.98. I noted how there was a deep ambivalence over the core ethical and political values under attack by religious fanatics, not just Moslems, but also their associates in other denominations and sects. And I observed: “There was a curious and somewhat chilling silence from the White House and other governmental quarters about the Rushdie affair. Of course, with so many governmentalists busy defending censorship of books, magazines, videos, and other material (to ‘fight drugs’ or ‘combat pornography…’), it was difficult to defend
The Satanic Verses on the basis of so libertarian a notion as freedom of expression. With religionists on both the left and the right picketing convenience stores or movie theaters protesting their own peculiar notion of ‘obscenity’ we are not exactly in a social climate which embraces freedom and tolerance.” The deeper sub-text of all of the rioting and threats of violence – indeed, outright acts of violence – was that “offending” or “insulting” religious teachings or symbols or figures is cause for special legal protection. In fact, we are told that all religion deserves this elevated legal status, that if one is “offended” by critical or intellectually provocative statements, or by humor, or, yes, by outright insult, such expressions must be banned. Religious expression, though, is protected. It can call for the execution of gays, the stoning of witches, the forced conversion of infidels and, yes, the execution of a novelist. In 1993, political scientist Samuel P. Huntington employed the phrase “clash of civilizations” in an article appearing in the journal Foreign Affairs. He published a book of the same title three years later, and gave readers an astonishingly perceptive view of how the bipolar world of the cold war era had been reconfigured. We were, Huntington observed, in a multi-polar, multi-civilizational era where profound centripetal forces of globalization and modernity collided with the atavistic temptations of tradition, nationalist revanchism, language and, yes, religion. Religion, Huntington predicted, would play more of a role in our future than it had in the recent decades of the twentieth century. We see that process in action today; religion is consistently one of the forces contesting modernity, cosmopolitanism, individualism, and a truly robust notion of human rights. We see this in the rise of hard-shell sectarian movements throughout the world – the Christian right in the United States, the invigoration of various Islamic factions and ideologies everywhere, including the Middle East, Africa and Southwest Asia. I like to point out that in the United States, the creationist movement is alive and well and thriving, but there is a comparable trend in Islamic countries. The movement on behalf of gender equality and rights for other groups such as gays constantly encounters religious opposition, so do efforts to empower women not just in respect to their own bodies but their own economic independence. And, I would argue, all of this makes up the bulk of a more diffuse opposition and outright hostility toward “modernity” and everything that term implies. Islamic countries , for instance, may embrace certain technologies and economic policies, but like many religious establishments, they are skeptical or stand in opposition to the social and cultural consequences of this process. Ironically, globalization may be one of the factors providing an impetus for blasphemy statutes. We often assume that despite its perils and technical difficulties, globalization will lead to the emergence of a “universal civilization” reflecting progressive, Enlightenment values based on freedom, dignity, civil liberties and human rights. This is old wine in a new bottle, though. Totalitarian and theocratic regimes have thrived under the ersatz globalization of their respective times. The Roman Empire was essentially based on militarism, a form of state imperialism, slavery, and superstition. Adolph Hitler was intent on uniting European civilization albeit under the banner of German hegemony. The Vatican established the Papal States and tampered in the affairs of every kingdom and state it could. Indeed, after the “fall of the wall” particularly in Eastern Europe, the Vatican rushed to fill the subsequent power vacuum and warn that “too much individualism” was running rampant in the streets of Prague and elsewhere, or that an excess of freedom would, somehow, proves to be as oppressive as the Stalinist regimes of the cold war era.
Another problem with globalization is that, well, it can be a two-edged sword. We want to think that values like tolerance, cosmopolitanism, a commitment to individual rights and other components of the Enlightenment agenda will wash over the planet thanks to the Internet or other instruments of modernity. Maybe it will. But that assumption needs to be questioned. “Necessitarianism” is simply not a “fact” of historical change, and spreading Enlightenment is something we have to actively work at and defend. The upshot is that religious elites are demanding special protection from secular institutions — now more than ever! The claim that religious groups must be protected from insult or questioning seems to coincide with the rising insistence that religious institutions are “under attack” on nearly every front. Take down a Ten Commandments plaque, or stop a prayer in a public school classroom, or question giving money to faith-based groups to operate social welfare programs and, well, you’re “attacking” religion. Listen to these complaints and you’d think that the Atheist Police are raiding every church, mosque, prayer rally, Bible club meeting, and faith-healing session. Indeed, a video promo for Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network terrified viewers by showing a SWAT-Team raid on a meeting of devout Bible students huddled under a lone, hanging light bulb. All it needed was Darth Vader or maybe Hannibal Lechter joining in to take a bite out of things! Blasphemy statutes are not being proposed just because Jesus or Allah or some Hindu deity is supposedly angry. In the era of globalization, we’re told that no religious group should be offended, or insulted, or made to possibly question their faith. Of course these same religious groups must be guaranteed their freedom of expression and, beyond that, special protections like the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act or the Religious Liberty Protection Act which armor them with special rights not enjoyed by private individuals or businesses. They want it both ways – limited rights for those who question religion but expansive and extraordinary rights for those who promote religion. And there’s the uneasy alliance we see where different religious groups rush to each other’s aid when it comes to these special rights. Here in the United States, legislation that would give religious groups of all flavors special rights in our judicial system attracted the support of just about every mainstream and fringe organization in the country. The Baptists, the Presbyterians, the Jews, the Hindus, the Moslems, the Scientologists all supported this. So initially did some of our fellow separationists until they saw this for what it was – a scheme to elevate religion and foster a dual system or laws and judicial process. In his book The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege, Damon Linker discusses how over the past thirty years, the religious right has injected its radical, theocratic ideas into this nation’s politics. Something similar is going on just about everywhere else in the world. So-called moderate religious establishments are loosing ground to energized and even more authoritarian faith-based insurgencies. What’s ironic about Linker is that he worked for one of the house organs of our religious right, the flagship journal First Things. I think the end of his book contains the most succinct observation about what is taking place here in America – and put this in the context that Samuel Huntington wrote about over a decade ago in Clash Of Civilizations. Linker warns us that we are seeing the collapse of the “Liberal Bargain.” It’s not liberal in the sense of our present political vernacular, you know, more taxes or letting guys like Willie Horton out of jail, or handing out condoms to high school girls. It is the Liberal, Enlightenment-Era sensibility that religion should be a private affair, not a policy of state. august 2008 — American Atheist
He writes in a section titled “The Liberal Bargain and Its Enemies”: The privatization of piety creates social space for every American to worship God as he or she wishes, without state interference. In return for this freedom, believers are expected only to give up the ambition to political rule in the name of their faith – that is, the ambition to bring the whole of social life into conformity with their own inevitably partial and sectarian theological convictions. This is the liberal bargain that secures social peace and freedom for all Americans. Linker goes on to point out that the liberal bargain (clearly part of the genius and cosmopolitanism of the Enlightenment-Era movement) has produced an extraordinary degree of stability in the United States. I would argue that is because religion, at least in theory, is privatized and is on what we call “a level playing field” with other elements of civil society. Blasphemy laws change that equalitarian relationship. Blasphemy statutes elevate religion and ecclesiastical institutions above the rest of the body politic; they establish religion; they foster a dual system of rights, responsibilities, and privileges. And in the process of destroying the liberal bargain, they disrupt important elements of the social contract, stifle intellectual freedom, and eventually create resentment and conflict. Many conservatives may hate the liberal bargain because it is too lax in enforcing doctrinal morality. Liberals say they oppose censorship and blasphemy statutes, but may rationalize enacting these types of laws because, they think, it is the job of the State to insulate citizens from insult or so-called “hate speech.” Political leaders like to be sensitive to the clamor of special interest groups especially if there is the hint of retribution come election time or, more ominously, the prospect of violence. How do we respond to all of this? I’ve long thought that Atheists and Freethinkers and Humanists and every other nonbeliever individual or group has to get beyond the label game of squabbling with each other, and recognize what has to be done — especially when it comes to blasphemy. And while we’re at it, if some religious groups want to hop on board and jump into this fray, let’s welcome them. On this issue, we have far more in common than we have differences. I suggest that if one is to oppose blasphemy statutes, one must be a consistent defender of freedom of conscience and freedom of expression. A man by the name of François-Marie Arouet personified this commitment in both his emotional disposition and intellectual inclinations. He lived from 1694–1778, and he was a determined crusader against tyranny, bigotry, obscurantism, dogmatism, and restraints on freethought and free expression. We know him as Voltaire. Now, he is inaccurately cited for the sentiment: “I may disagree with what you say but I defend to the death your right to say it!” He never uttered those words, a biographer did. But it is a sentiment he would have agreed with, and throughout his voluminous writings, he defended that vital principle. He also criticized the religious fashions of his era, including Christianity, Judaism and, yes, Islam. In fact, he foreshadowed Salman Rushdie and Theo Van Gogh in his 1741 play The Fantasy: Or, Mohamoet the Prophet where the founder of the Islamic superstition is portrayed as an intriguer greedy for power. Pope Benedict XIV (unlike the religious leaders of Rushdie’s era) actually read this play — reportedly with much delight. Add to our commitment to Free Thought and Free Expression the vigorous, relentless, and proud defense of The Liberal Bargain. 20
American Atheist — august 2008
The Founder’s Friends... So many of you help American Atheists with donations and other financial support—and we want to find a way to say “Thank You!” We are pleased to announce the re-establishment of an American Atheist tradition—The Founders’ Friends, begun by the Murray O’Hair family. Those contributing $50 or more to American Atheists will have their names and amounts entered in subsequent issues of the American Atheist. Just fill out the blue card with the information requested, include your gift, and mail it back to us in the enclosed envelope. Be sure to check the appropriate box authorizing us to thank you by printing your name and contribution amount in the magazine. Mailing addresses will not be mentioned. This is our way of saying THANK YOU to an extraordinary group of people—those of you who want to “do more” and financially support the critical work of American Atheists! American Atheists thanks the following persons for their generous contributions to our cause.
Ralph B. Shirley, TX – $50 Ralph Eschenbach, CA – $125 Donald Worrell, AL – $50 Tami Elkin, OK – $75 Richard Champagne, LA – $300 Richard B. Hovey, CA – $50 Atheists of Broward County, FL – $50
New Life Members American Atheists Welcomes New Life Members Margaret Downey – West Chester, PA
In France, you call it Laïcité. Here we know it as the Separation of Church and State. And I would go a bit beyond that. I would suggest that we begin talking more about the true “privatization of religious faith,” an affirmation – make that a re-affirmation that the public space, that civil society, be religion-free. In an age of religious jingoism, jihads, and apocalyptic calls to the faithful to institute theocracy in anticipation of the Second Coming, or the return of some Mahdi, civil society needs desperately to be defended from the self-righteous delusions and authoritarian impulses of the faithful. Thank you very much... k Conrad Goeringer is a staff writer for American Atheist magazine. He is also Editor of AANEWS, our electronic newsletter. Mr. Goeringer is a former antiquarian book dealer, reporter and freelance writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
AWAY WITH ALL GODS! UNCHAINING THE MIND AND RADICALLY CHANGING THE WORLD
BOB AVAKIAN “What most distinguishes Avakian’s Away With All Gods from other much publicized books of this kind, such as those by Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens, is the direct connection Avakian makes between combating religious fundamentalism and promoting a radical political agenda. Avakian is also to be commended not only for combining his religious freethinking with an endorsement of the modern Enlightenment tradition, but also for providing a sober warning against ‘the smug arrogance of the enlightened.’ Anyone who has read any of the other books mentioned above should also take the time to read this one.” Allen Wood, author of Karl Marx and Kantian Ethics
CONTENTS Part One: WHERE DID GOD COME FROM...AND WHO SAYS WE NEED GOD?
“God Works in Mysterious Ways” • A Cruel and Truly Monstrous God • The Bible, Taken Literally, Is a Horror • Christian Fundamentalists, Christian Fascists • Seeing Jesus in a True Light • What About the Ten Commandments? • No New Testament Without the Old • Fundamentalist and “Salad Bar” Christianity • Religion and Oppressive Ruling Classes • Evolution, the Scientific Method—and Religious Obscurantism • If Gods Do Not Exist, Why Do People Believe in Them? • Why Do People Believe in Different Gods?
Part Two: CHRISTIANITY, JUDAISM, AND ISLAM—ROOTED IN THE PAST, STANDING IN THE WAY OF THE FUTURE
The Historical Development and Role of Christianity: Doctrines and Power Politics • Christianity as a New Religion: The Pivotal Role and Influence of Paul • Demystifying Jesus and Christianity • Islam Is No Better (and No Worse) Than Christianity • Religious Fundamentalism, Imperialism and the “War on Terror” • Why Is Religious Fundamentalism Growing in Today’s World? • Rejecting the “Smug Arrogance of the Enlightened” • The Growth of Religion and Religious Fundamentalism: A Peculiar Expression of a Fundamental Contradiction
Part Three: RELIGION—A HEAVY, HEAVY CHAIN
Religion, Patriarchy, Male Supremacy and Sexual Repression • The Bible Belt Is the Lynching Belt: Slavery, White Supremacy and Religion in America • Christian Fascism and Genocide • Religion, Fundamentalism, and the Slave Mentality
Part Four: GOD DOES NOT EXIST—WE NEED LIBERATION WITHOUT GODS
The “Left Hand of God”—And the Right Way to Go About Winning Liberation • The Myth of the Truthfulness and Positive Role of Religious Myth • Reason Has Not “Failed Us”—Reason is Absolutely Necessary—Though, In Itself, It Is Not Enough • Religious “Faith”—Let’s Call It What It Is: Irrational • God Does Not Exist—And There Is No Good Reason to Believe In God • Religion as an Opiate of the People— And an Obstacle to Emancipation • There Is No Such Thing As Unchanging, and Unchangeable, Human Nature • Liberation Without Gods
Now Available! Ask for it at your local bookstore or online retailer. [ Not Available Through the AA Press ]
Paperback, 272 pages $14.95
AWAY WITH ALL GODS.com
INSIGHT PRESS, 4064 N. Lincoln Ave. #264, Chicago, IL 60618 • 773-329-1699 • email@example.com august 2008 — American Atheist
in the news
Cross-Burning Teacher Fired
hortly after prayers on his behalf were launched to heaven from the Mount Vernon (Ohio) Middle School parking lot, eighth-grade science teacher John Freshwater was fired by the school board. Supposedly, he had been teaching science there for 21 years. However, ‘science’ does not seem to be the correct word to describe what he actually had been teaching all that time. For at least the last few years, it is alleged, he kept a bible prominently displayed in his classroom and refused to remove it. The board claimed that Freshwater didn’t teach the required science curriculum, and high school science teachers said they had to re-teach scientific concepts to students coming from his class. It is alleged that he preached his personal Christian beliefs about origins and discredited evolution science. An investigation found that he had continued to teach creationism and ‘intelligent design’ after having been ordered to stop. Complaints against Freshwater’s teaching practices have been made by teachers and parents for at least eleven years. Mount Vernon, Ohio (population 15,826) is a very conservative small town located less than an hour’s drive northeast of Columbus, the capital of the state. It is not surprising that Freshwater was able to defy authorities for so many years. After all, his views are shared by a large majority of the small town’s population. (The town is host to Mount Vernon Nazarene College — the education equiva-
lent of a black hole.) So why, just now, was he finally fired? Had a ray of enlightenment belatedly illuminated the school system? The answer is almost too bizarre to be credible. The school board alleges — and television images have confirmed — that Freshwater burned crosses onto the forearms of some of his students. At least one newspaper account related this ritual branding to his telling students that gay people are “sinners.” The branding appears to have been done with the aid of an electrical device used to demonstrate properties of gaseous elements. It is not known how many students have been so scorched over the years, and only one has been photographically documented. Predictably, the cross-burning part of the story has been ignored by creationist apologists and other antiscience advocates who focus on alleged violations of Freshwater’s Constitutional right to practice his religion. R. Kelly Hamilton, his attorney, complained that “They [the board] have to tear him up, beat him up, to distract from the issue of the Bible on the desk.”As though a bible in the classroom would be easily defensible! Alas, in rural Ohio that is exactly the case. Roadside signs now declare that if the school board made Freshwater remove the bible from his classroom, the town was going to remove the school board. k
The 2008 American Atheists Winter Solstice Gala & CESAALA Re-dedication Friday, December 12 Saturday, December 13, 2008 Mark your calendar now for a weekend of exciting events hosted by American Atheists and the Charles E. Stevens American Atheist Library & Archives (CESAALA) Join us Friday afternoon, Dec. 12, 2008 for an Open House at the American Atheists Center in Cranford, NJ, and a tour of the largest private archive of Atheist, Freethought, and related materials in the United States. Included are over 25,000 bound volumes, plus an estimated 500,000 additional items – pamphlets, signed letters, historical ephemera and other materials that tell the story and preserve the legacy of Atheism and Freethought. On Saturday party with us at the luxurious Crowne Plaza Hotel in nearby Clark, NJ for the American Atheists 2008 Gala featuring entertainment, speakers, great food, and company. After the gala travel to the nearby American Atheists Center for a live taping of the Atheist Viewpoint television show in our new Conference Center, with more tours of CESAALA. And make a full weekend of it! We’ve arranged for a special rate at the Crowne Plaza plus ‘shoulder dates’ that allow you to visit the area, including nearby New York City! Rail transportation is available at Cranford and Iselin-Metro Park. So watch for more details in next month’s AMERICAN ATHEIST magazine.
American Atheist — august 2008
The Myth Of Nazareth The Invented Town Of Jesus Scholar’s Edition By René Salm
Don’t you want the religious to see “Atheist” programming when they turn on the TV? You can make that happen. You can get The Atheist Viewpoint on television. It’s simple. Please contact us for more information at 908.276.7300.
Why I Am Not A Muslim by Ibn Warraq
Ibn Warraq examines Islam and the Koran from the point of view of an ex-Muslim. Warraq shows that the Koran evolved over a long period of time and is filled with absurdities and contradictions, just like the Christian Bible. Warraq shows how intolerance and violence have been and continue to be part and parcel of Islam, and these cannot be ascribed to isolated Fundamentalists. 402 pp. Hard Cover.
ISBN 0-87975-984-4 $25.00 – stock # 7011 (Please see order form for member discount and S&H charges)
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Christianity cannot survive unless this book can be refuted. By proving scientifically that Nazareth was uninhabited at the time ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ and his family were supposed to be living there, Salm strikes the Achilles’ heel of a very popular god. We know the Wizard of Oz is not real, since we know there never was a Land of Oz. Because of this exhaustive archaeological investigation, we know that Jesus of Nazareth also is a literary fiction.
There are several important rules to consider: • Only traditional or Roth IRAs may be used for this type of gift; • The amount of your donation is limited to $100,000 and must be made before Dec. 31. • You must be at least 70 1\2 years old as of the date of the gift; • Your gift must be made directly from your Trustee to American Atheists; • Other restrictions may apply.
Requiring 8 years of painstaking research, The Myth Of Nazareth surveys the archaeological record of the Nazareth Basin from the Stone Age until modern times. It guides the reader through a stunning odyssey of discovery — one which exposes not only the true history of the site but also a scandalous history of evidentiary suppression reaching back to Early Christian times.
For more more information and assistance with processing a contribution, check with the IRA Custodian where your account is held. Or if you prefer, American Atheists’ advisor, Tom Chancellor has offered assistance. Call toll free 888-244-1163, direct 817-7598326, or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Paperback xvi + 375 pp. Index $20.00 – Stock # 16014 (Member discount 10%, S&H $5.00)
august 2008 — American Atheist
Genes Don’t Care Random thoughts on evolution by George A. Ricker
et me lay my cards on the table. I’m a reductionist. I think everything that exists can be broken down to constituents of matter or energy and the rules governing their operation. Rules, I must add, that are simply inherent in the nature of matter and energy. Divine rulemakers need not apply. Now reductionism has a number of implications. For example, while human beings are obviously conscious (i.e., self-aware), the reductionist does not believe in some sort of overarching ‘consciousness’ if by that you mean a kind of internal ghost that is the embodiment of personality, etc. To the extent we humans have consciousness, it appears to be very much a jury-rigged affair, a patchwork of loosely connected and overlapping processes that have evolved as we have evolved. Put another way, there is no ‘mind’ that exists apart from the brain, no personality independent of the physiological processes of which it is an expression. At least, that seems to be what science is beginning to tell us. The more we look into things like consciousness and ‘personality,’ the more we see they are simply expressions of our own biology. There is no ghost in the machine after all. It’s just that the nature of the biological organism sometimes makes it appear so. A natural progression Just as we see organisms increasing in general complexity over time, we also see brains evolving from very rudimentary affairs that do little more than regulate primitive bodily functions into increasingly sophisticated structures culminating – on this planet at least – in human brains that develop higher mathematics and conceive great works of art. So too do we see simple awareness of surroundings evolve into awareness of self and, finally, awareness of abstractions like personality and consciousness. There seems to be a natural progression at work. It’s not at all obvious, however, that the progression is planned. It seems far more likely to be a happy accident, the natural result of a natural process called natural selection. The process through which evolution appears to work is mindless and did not intend to produce us or, for that matter, anything else. 24
American Atheist — august 2008
However, the process does appear to lead, generally, to increased complexity. As reproducing populations produce variations and some variations confer advantages over other variations, increased complexity seems to be a natural byproduct of the process — at least, most of the time. It’s a development that is as unavoidable as it is unintentional. So there does seem to be a kind of progress at work. What is lacking is a specific direction or intentionality. At least, that’s my understanding of what many in the scientific community are saying. Only animals after all For some folks, this idea is a real downer. “There must be more to it than that,” they insist. But if you try to probe just why that should be so, the answer seems to be a word salad that ends up sounding like “…just because.” The truth is there is no good reason why there should be more to it than that — and that’s probably the best reason to think there isn’t. Now it’s not difficult to understand why people get hung up on the notion there must be more at work than a natural process that is essentially automatic and ultimately directionless. After all, we are still in our infancy as a species and for most of the time during which we have had sufficient brain power to begin to speculate about these things, we have lacked anything like scientific knowledge or even science itself. Our primitive ancestors sought the answers in dreams and myths, in the stories they told themselves to explain themselves to themselves. It’s not surprising they thought they were especially important in the scheme of things Even now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, there are people who think the statement “well, you think people are just animals” is some sort of argument. They get angry if you suggest that, yes, when all is said and done, we are ‘only’ animals. Think about that for a minute. Then consider that in all the known universe, ours is the only planet we know about that has animals on it. The only one. We may suspect there are others. We may even hope it. But right now this planet is the only one we know contains animals. So animals are unique, as far as we can tell. Being an animal is a rare thing. Being a human animal is even rarer, because we have these oversized brains and can think about things like art and science and philosophy.
We can even think about what it means to be a human being. It seems that saying we are “just animals” isn’t an insult at all, or at least it shouldn’t be. Saying we are just animals is saying we are something that is wonderful. There seems to be lots of resistance to that idea on the part of many people. The word animal itself takes on pejorative connotations. It’s a bad thing to be just an animal. People who behave badly are said to be acting like animals or giving in to their animalistic natures and so on. Those who are so labeled are usually indulging in behavior that involves violence or sex, sometimes both. What gets lost in such characterizations is that people who display kindness or affection, people who feel hope and sorrow, people who strive to improve their own lives and the lives of others also are acting like animals. Human animals. Genes don’t care Some of the most far-reaching and profound scientific discoveries of the latter half of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first have been in the area of genetic research. According to modern biology, genes are the replicators that drive the process of evolution. Of course, the word drive shouldn’t be taken to suggest any sort of intentionality or purpose. Genes simply replicate themselves. Most of the time the copying process is accurate. Once in a while it is not. The variation that occurs when it is not is often harmful, sometimes neutral, and occasionally useful. It’s the accumulation of useful variations over time that allows evolution to take place. This is an important point, one most of us miss when thinking about evolution. The process of natural selection does not produce variation. The process of natural selection acts on variations that already are present. ‘Evolution’ really is just another word for change. Biological evolution is the change in living organisms that is responsible for the development of the tremendous variety of organisms we see all around us. All biological evolution requires is a reproducing population that contains variations, some of which confer advantages that enhance the ability of organisms to survive and reproduce themselves. Those organisms possessing genetic variation that confer some sort of advantage in a given environment will prosper relative to those less advantaged. That’s really all natural selection means. It’s a process that is brutally simple. However, hidden in that brutal simplicity is tremendous power. In Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, philosopher Daniel C. Dennett describes natural selection as an algorithmic process, borrowing a term more familiar to mathematicians and computer programmers. Dennett explains, “An algorithm is a certain sort of formal process that can be counted on—logically—to yield a certain sort of result whenever it is ‘run’ or instantiated.” (Dennett, p. 50) Algorithmic processes, according to Dennett, are mindless and always work when the necessary conditions of the algorithm are met. In the case of natural selection, those conditions are a reproducing population that contains variations, including at least some that confer an advantage in a given environment. Through natural selection those organisms that possess favorable adaptations in a given environment will succeed — i.e. will reproduce in greater numbers — than those which do not. Over time, the changes thus produced can lead to quite remarkable designs that are, when all is said and done, simply the products of a process that is mindless and automatic. (I must pause to note that I have greatly oversimplified Dennett’s argument, and you really should read his book if you are at all
interested in evolutionary biology or in the implications of natural selection for other fields. It is a delightful and thought-provoking piece of work.) Conclusion We have grown accustomed to thinking of natural selection as a process that is directional or aimed at producing a result — but it really isn’t. Genes don’t care about the organisms that carry them. Genes don’t care about the past or future. Genes don’t care about their own success or failure. Genes don’t care about anything at all. While it may be useful to think of “the selfish gene” (as Richard Dawkins did in his marvelous book of the same name) as a way to understand what genes do and how they work, genes really have no capacity for selfishness or selflessness. Of course, this bleak assessment evokes a considerable amount of caterwauling on the part of those who simply cannot let go of the notion that human beings are the intended consequences of a directed process. Faced with such reality, they wail, we might as well throw up our hands at the futility of it all because, in the long run, nothing really matters. I don’t share that view. We are not bound or limited by our constituent parts to meaningless lives in a meaningless universe. We are, after all, animals of great beauty and tremendous capacity. We have it in our power to ask questions and seek answers. We make our lives meaningful by the manner in which we live, by the things we accomplish, the joy we share, the wonder we find in soaring feats of intellect and imagination and the ability to comprehend the awesome majesty of a universe we have only now begun to explore. Although genes don’t care, there is every reason why we should. As the late Dr. Carl Sagan reminded us years ago, “We are star stuff.” We are, in a very real sense, the universe become aware of itself. So while we really are only animals, it’s also true that we are animals who call themselves human beings, animals who have invented language, art, music, literature, science — and much, much more. And that, dear reader, is a marvelous thing to be. k © 2007 by George A. Ricker * Dennett, Daniel C. Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 1995. “Genes don’t care” is excerpted from George A. Ricker’s latest book mere atheism: no gods…no problem.
George Ricker is an author, Atheist activist, and has worked as a full-time journalist as well as done a bit of free-lance writing — including for American Atheist. He has worked as an English teacher, an associate pastor, a purchasing agent, a warehouse manager, a bookkeeper, a paperboy, a yard man, and a truck driver. He is the author of Atheist In America and, most recently, mere atheism. He receives e-mail at email@example.com. George Ricker’s books, mere atheism: no gods…no problem! and Godless in America: conversations with an atheist are available at most book retailers and online book sellers. Go to http://www.godlessinamerica. com for more information. august 2008 — American Atheist
Judging God It Is Time to Judge Religions and Their Gods by John A. Henderson, M.D. and Craig Gurgew
by John A. Henderson
hose who are willing to observe can see the many deficiencies in the ‘design’ of the universe. The term Intelligent Design should no longer be used or tolerated. If the universe and the animal kingdom were designed, they had to have been designed by an idiot or a sadist. No being that is all-knowing and all-powerful could possibly be satisfied with earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, and exploding and colliding stars. In fact, the calamities of nature are so cruel and horrible that theists no longer call them “acts of God.” They fully realize that only a cruel god could be the cause of such catastrophes. They now call them “forces of nature” in the hope that their god will somehow not be blamed. But if their god is not responsible for acts of nature, what is he/she/it responsible for? The deficiencies in design — if there is a design — can be seen in the animal kingdom. Abortions, congenital deformities, and diseases prove there is no Intelligent Designer. Millions of plants and animals were so poorly designed that they could not adapt to the poorly designed earth and thus have become extinct. One does not need to be a physician, physicist, or an engineer to see how the universe is very poorly designed. (Do you suppose that a god poorly designed humans deliberately, so that medical professionals could make a living? After all, “God works in mysterious ways!”) Why be concerned with the myths and superstitions of theists? Knowledgeable, intelligent people usually do not respond to unproven beliefs as those beliefs only hurt the believers and their followers. Thinking people realize that people cannot usually be reasoned out of something they were not reasoned into in the first place. But times are changing. As science discovers and produces additional forms of energy, including weapons of mass destruction, humans with access to these scientific advances are now in a position to use them to further their superstitious, unproven beliefs in gods. With religious leaders telling their followers what their gods desire, there is no end to the harm that can be encouraged by these theists. Beliefs in the supernatural are no longer a harmless superstition. ‘Intelligent Design’ is pseudoscience and can be easily disproven. Any time the term is used it should be criticized and replaced with the term Unintelligent Design. The future of humanity depends upon clear thinking, logic, and reason, not on myth, superstition, and a fear of death. The term ‘Intelligent Design’ is no longer acceptable. k Surgeon John A. Henderson is the author of God.com: A Deity for the New Millennium as well as two other books: Fear Faith Fact Fantasy and Judging God (See accompanying advertisements for details) 26
American Atheist — august 2008
Religions and their gods have been judging us since we created our first gods thousands of years ago. It is now our turn to judge the gods. 2007 Parkway Publishers, Inc. Boone, North Carolina 294 pages, paperback, $19.95
Fear Faith Fact Fantasy by John A. Henderson, M.D. Coming in the aftermath of 9/11, this book can relieve guilt over your failure to live up to others’ beliefs and can help you to find the courage to speak out against religious bigotry and intolerance. 2003 Parkway Publishers, Inc. Boone, North Carolina xii + 235 pages, hard cover, $19.95
god.com a deity for the new millennium by John A. Henderson, M.D. This book can help you to help your religious friends overcome their fear of the vengeful, cruel god they have been made to believe in since childhood. It may help others to speak out when they see religious leaders using their gods to incite cruelty and hatred. Second edition 2005 Parkway Publishers, Inc. Boone, North Carolina vi + 211 pages, paperback, $16.95 These books may be ordered on-line at www.johnhendersongod.com or by e-mail from the author at firstname.lastname@example.org (Not available from American Atheist Press)
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AIMS & PURPOSES American Atheists, Inc. is a nonprofit, nonpolitical, educational organization dedicated to the complete and absolute separation of state and church, accepting the explanation of Thomas Jefferson that the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was meant to create a “wall of separation” between state and church. American Atheists is organized: • To stimulate and promote freedom of thought and inquiry concerning religious beliefs, creeds, dogmas, tenets, rituals, and practices; • To collect and disseminate information, data, and literature on all religions and promote a more thorough understanding of them, their origins, and their histories; • To advocate, labor for, and promote in all lawful ways the complete and absolute separation of state and church; • To act as a “watchdog” to challenge any attempted breach of the wall of separation between state and church; • To advocate, labor for, and promote in all lawful ways the establishment and maintenance of a thoroughly secular system of education available to all; • To encourage the development and public acceptance of a humane ethical system stressing the mutual sympathy, understanding, and interdependence of all people and the corresponding responsibility of each individual in relation to society; • To develop and propagate a social philosophy in which humankind is central and must itself be the source of strength, progress, and ideals for the well-being and happiness of humanity; • To promote the study of the arts and sciences and of all problems affecting the maintenance, perpetuation, and enrichment of human (and other) life; and • To engage in such social, educational, legal, and cultural activity as will be useful and beneficial to the members of American Atheists and to society as a whole.
DEFINITIONS Atheism is the Weltanschauung (comprehensive conception of the world) of persons who are free from theism (free from religion). It is predicated on ancient Greek Materialism. Atheism involves the mental attitude that unreservedly accepts the supremacy of reason and aims at establishing a life-style and ethical outlook verifiable by experience and the scientific method, independent of all arbitrary assumptions of authority and creeds. Materialism declares that the cosmos is devoid of immanent conscious purpose; that it is governed by its own inherent, immutable, and impersonal laws; that there is no supernatural interference in human life; that humankind, finding the resources within themselves, can and must create their own destiny. It teaches that we must prize our life on earth and strive always to improve it. It holds that human beings are capable of creating a social system based on reason and justice. Materialism’s “faith” is in humankind and their ability to transform the world culture by their own efforts. This is a commitment that is, in its very essence, life-asserting. It considers the struggle for progress as a moral obligation that is impossible without noble ideas that inspire us to bold, creative works. Materialism holds that our potential for good and more fulfilling cultural development is, for all practical purposes, unlimited.
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American Atheist — august 2008
state director listing MILITARY DIRECTOR Kathleen Johnson CMR 422, Box 910 APO AE 09067 firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.atheists.org/mil ALABAMA STATE DIRECTOR Blair Scott PO Box 41 Ryland, AL 35767-2000 (256) 701-6265 email@example.com http://www.atheists.org/al/ ALASKA STATE DIRECTOR Clyde Baxley 3713 Deborah Ln. Anchorage, AK 99504 (907) 333-6499 firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.atheists.org/ak/ ARIZONA STATE DIRECTOR Monty Gaither P.O. Box 64702 Phoenix, AZ 85082-4702 email@example.com http://www.atheists.org/az/ CALIFORNIA STATE DIRECTOR Dave Kong (415) 771-9872 firstname.lastname@example.org And CALIFORNIA ASSISTANT STATE DIRECTOR Mark W. Thomas (H) (650) 969-5314 (C) (650) 906-1095 email@example.com 900 Bush Street, Unit 210 San Francisco, CA 94109 http://www.atheists.org/ca/
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