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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

490 pp.

paperback

Christianity before Christ by John G. Jackson Christian doctrines are traced to their origins in older religions.

stock# 5200

$14.00

237 pp.

paperback

The Case Against Religion by Albert Ellis A psychotherapist’s view of the harmful aspects of religious belief.

stock# 5096

$6.00

57 pp.

stapled

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.

paperback

Our Constitution: The Way It Was by Madalyn O’Hair stock# 5400 $6.00 70 pp. American Atheist Radio Series episodes about the myth that our founding fathers created a Christian nation.

stapled

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.

288 pp.

paperback

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.

372 pp.

paperback

An Atheist Epic by Madalyn O’Hair stock# 5376 $18.00 302 pp. The personal story of the battle to end mandatory prayer and bible recitation in schools in the United States.

paperback

65 Press Interviews by Robert G. Ingersoll stock# 5589 $15.00 Ingersoll’s 19th-century newspaper interviews as a Freethinker and opponent of superstition.

262 pp.

paperback

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.

30 pp.

stapled

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.

42 pp.

paperback

$10.00

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.

paperback

The Great Infidels by Robert G. Ingersoll stock# 5197 How nonbelievers and Atheists have contributed to civilization and enriched our lives.

$7.00

80 pp.

paperback

$20.00

401 pp.

paperback

Sex Mythology by Sha Rocco stock# 5440 $8.00 A scholarly study explores the sexual origins of religious symbols including the Christian cross.

55 pp.

stapled

Jesus Is Dead by Robert M. Price

291 pp.

paperback

The Myth of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus by René Salm

stock# 16014

stock# 16005

$18.00

Please see the order form located in the center of the magazine for member discounts and shipping & handling.

www.atheists.org


september 2008 Vol 46, No.8

American Atheist ISSN 0516-9623 (Print) ISSN 1935-8369 (Online) Editor, American Atheist Press Frank R. Zindler

Contents

Editor, American Atheist Frank R. Zindler Designer Elias Scultori

4

From the Acting President

Editorial Assistants Conrad Goeringer Ann E. Zindler

6

Letter to the Editor

Published monthly (except June & December) by American Atheists Inc.

8

Renaissance at CESAALA

Cover Design Ann Zindler

Mailing Address: P.O. Box 158 Cranford, NJ 07016 phone — 908.276.7300 FAX — 908.276.7402 editor@americanatheist.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

Franx Thanx! & What’s In a Word? by Frank R. Zindler

by Conrad F. Goeringer

11

The History Lesson

19

Memo to Messrs. McCain & Obama Concerning a Wall That Needs Mending

by W. E. Gutman

by George A. Ricker

21

Out of the Closet, Under the Dryer

22

In Memoriam

24

Book Reviews

27

How Do You Know There Is No God?

28

The Foxhole Atheist

Mass De-Baptism Performed in Ohio

Dr. John Henderson

I Don’t Believe in Atheists by Christ Hedges Jesus Is Dead by Robert Price

by Frank R. Zindler

What Is a Foxhole Atheist?


from the acting president

Franx Thanx! & What’s In a Word? Frank R. Zindler

T

he new roof on the American Atheist Center in Cranford, New Jersey, is now complete. It has held up through a very heavy rainstorm and the library and archives are safe from the elements. Our Director of Operations, Conrad Goeringer, with the aid of our multitalented Timothy Dicks, is replacing all the inadequate shelving in the library with up-to-code, sturdy structures. The library should be up and ready for inspection by the time of our Winter Solstice Banquet and open-house on December 12 and 13, 2008. Rachel Carroll, our Office Manager, continues to keep us going from hour to hour and has added bookkeeping to the list of her many skills and accomplishments. We could not have survived as an organization without the help of this modest woman. All this has been made possible thanks to our members— to you—especially to those of you who have come to rescue the library with special contributions to help defray the enormous cost of the new roof. As I write this, many people have made special contributions, both large and small. Some of the contributions have arrived with apologies for being so small. In at least a few cases, the stories accompanying some of these ‘small’ contributions have been so poignant that I feel guilty not sending them back to the donors. I recognize, however, that most if not all of the donors have realized the need to preserve and protect—and in time to republish the precious treasures we possess. They wish to rescue our heritage from men and women long dead who could not have hoped for help in a remote future, in a world almost unimaginably different from the world in which they wrote and fought and struggled—a world in which they tried to keep their pages away from fire long enough to bring some modicum of reason to the thinking of their contemporaries. They could not have dreamed that their thoughts and words might be reused centuries later on to rescue reason from the fires of fanaticism that have never ceased to burn from their day until now. To all who have helped, I say FRANX THANX! If the minds that moved the pens that wrote the treasures housed in the Charles E. Stevens American Atheist Library & Archives were still alive today, they would thank you too.

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American Atheist — september 2008

A Capital Offense? Every ten years or so I force myself to plow through the current edition of The Chicago Manual Of Style in order to see how far my writing and editing have drifted away from what arguably might be considered the most authoritative practice. Recently, however, criticism of one of my editorial policies forced me to consult that sacred scripture again, even though it has been much less than a decade since the tome last was opened chez-Zindler. What was the alleged solecism that I had committed? Capitalizing Atheism and Atheist, that’s what! It seems that Webster’s new World dictionary Third College Edition does not capitalize either word, nor do any but one of a dozen other English dictionaries in my library. Since the days of Madalyn Murray O’Hair, however, it has been the policy of American Atheist Press to capitalize both Atheism and Atheist. This has always been justified by the argument that dictionaries are written by Christians and Jews who de-capitalize these words as an act of denigration and disrespect. After all, the Tormont Webster’s Illustrated Encyclopedic Dictionary defines ‘atheism’ as “2. Godlessness; wickedness.” Guess what kind of lexicographer coined that definition? (Perhaps just to throw me off balance, however, the same dictionary capitalizes Atheist— the only dictionary I own that does so!) So what did I find in Chicago to justify decapitalization of Atheist and Atheism? Well, nothing. ‘Atheism’ (as well as ‘Agnosticism’ and ‘Humanism’) is not to be found in the lengthy chapter on capitalization practices—even though many examples of decapitalization are presented. I did, however, find that the American rules for capitalization of English words are so irregular and unpredictable that it is hardly fair to call them rules at all. I long have argued that if words such as Methodism and Methodist are to be capitalized, Atheism and Atheist should be too. I can see no difference apart from the fact that one is religious and the other isn’t. In fact, a deliberate dignifying of religion over non-religion seems to be implied by the rule that “The names of specific racial, linguistic, tribal, religious, and other groupings of people are capitalized.” It does not say “religious or philosophical groupings of people.”


Nevertheless, Chicago isn’t consistent here either. Cynicism (but apparently not Humanism) may be capitalized. Bolshevism and Communism can be capitalized when used in a specific or historical sense, but fascism may not. The logic here is… ? Of course Fundamentalism and Fundamentalist may be capitalized. So why not Atheism and Atheist? American Atheist Press will continue proudly to capitalize both Atheism and Atheist. I see no reason for self-defeating false humility here. As for what to do with the word (A/a)theistic, I am undecided and admittedly inconsistent. Webster’s does capitalize Methodistic… What’s To Be Done With God? During the thirteen years that I have been editor of American Atheist Press it has been my policy to avoid use of the word ‘God’ spelled with a capital-G. This is not a spiteful, petty policy arising from my ‘aggrandizement’ of Atheism by capitalization, with attendant decapitalization of the most important religious word of all. Rather, it has been done for fundamental philosophical reasons that recently have been lucidly explained and expanded on by our own Dr. David Eller in his recent book Atheism Advanced. Almost thirty years ago I wrote an essay entitled “Ethics Without Gods.” The use of the plural was deliberate as I did not want to beg the question as to which particular god (or goddess or spooky coalition!) might or might not be involved with ethics. In David Eller’s terms, I was trying to “avoid speaking Christian.” Last Easter at the American Atheist Convention in Minneapolis I debated radio personality Dennis Prager on the question “Resolved: The Jewish God Exists.” I did not debate “Resolved: God Exists.” It made at least some people understand the need for definition and specification in such debates. What evidence did Prager—or anyone—have that would make the existence of Yahweh any more probable than the existence of Zeus or Isis? Or Huitzilopotchtli? Arguably, the word ‘God’ does not mean the same thing to any two believers—even if they belong to the same ‘faith.’ Even less, then, can the term God mean the same thing to Jews, Christians, or Muslims. (I won’t worry about Hindus here.) Clearly (to me at least) this is due to the simple fact that none of the believers can come even close to defining their gods at all—let alone coming up with identical definitions. There is no way to know if any two people are talking about the same god or not. The endless schisms and fractionations among religions demonstrates the truth of this claim. Thus, functionally, we must conclude that ‘God’ is the logical equivalent of the term gods. God is actually ‘the god of the Catholics,’ ‘the god of the Russian Orthodox,’ ‘the gods of the Mormons,’ ‘the god of the early Christians,’ ‘my god,’ ‘your god,’ ‘her god,’ ‘their god,’ etc. ‘God,’ thus, is actually a whole big bundle of gods.

So, although I faithfully print ‘God’ with a capital-G when quoting someone else (even misguided Atheists if they spelled it that way!), but I avoid doing that myself and I try to get my authors accustomed to avoiding the term. I ask them to speak of ‘Yahweh,’ ‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ ‘Allah,’ ‘the Elohim,’ ‘the god of St. Paul,’ ‘the Christian god,’ etc. As David Eller shows, new gods are being created every year—perhaps even every day somewhere in the world. Most of these deities receive the name ‘God.’ It is wrong, then, to use the word God as though it were the proper name of a single entity. Away, then, with ‘God’! let’s stop speaking Christian. Let’s stop allowing religionists to keep their monopoly on the vocabulary with which we think. David Eller devotes a chapter of his book to “Religion and the Colonization of Experience,” in which he reveals the extent to which the thinking, speaking, and actions even of Atheists are hedged about and determined by prescientific religious habits and misunderstandings. He also discusses cases of de-colonization of experience and gives helpful suggestions on how we can escape the mental straight-jackets religion has supplied to those of us born in the Western World. If you haven’t already read Atheism Advanced, order it today. Read it, and help bring about an important ‘paradigm shift’—perhaps the most fundamental shift ever to be made. Without a shift away from the religious paradigm for thinking toward an objective, reality-based paradigm we cannot hope to survive. k

Letter to the Editor

Competition 2009 The Letter to the Editor Competition 2009 is open only to members of American Atheists. To enter, send the uncut and complete newspaper page containing your published letter to: Neal Cary P.O. Box 828 Glen Allen, VA 23060-0828 Letters must be published between January 1 and December 31, 2008. Entries need to be received on or before January 30, 2009. Include your address and telephone number, and your e-mail address should you have one. Letters can cover any issue of importance that advances the Atheist cause. Letters will be judged by educational content, persuasiveness, and how well they portray Atheism in a positive light. Members of the board, officers, and State and Regional Directors are ineligible to enter. The winner will be announced at the National Convention 2009, receive an American Atheists award plaque, and one free year of membership in American Atheists. All entered letters will be displayed at Convention 2009. september 2008 — American Atheist

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letter to the editor Dear Editor: I completely agree with Massimo Pigliucci in his polite and well-written critique of Richard Dawkins (American Atheist May/June 2008), except for two points that I think deserve some attention. First, Pigliucci criticizes Dawkins for ignoring “traditions of tolerance,” doubt, and debate within Christianity and other major religions. I think perhaps both he and Dawkins overstate their case. Dawkins, for example, evidently took no notice when Michael Zimmerman got ten thousand American clergy members to sign a statement defending science and the separation of church and state in the creation-evolution debate (Deborah Blum, “Putting Faith in Science,” Newsletter of the History of Science Society 36.3 (July 2007): 18-22, cf. p. 21). But contrary to Pigliucci, it is still a valid question why Zimmerman had to do this. When issues are debated in public, it is usually an Atheist vs. a fundamentalist. Why aren’t Christian moderates actively taking on and debating the fundamentalists? Why aren’t they taking action like Zimmerman did (he’s a scientist and a secularist, not a clergyman)? Why aren’t they more actively denouncing the fundamentalists as unrepresentative of their own Christian beliefs? Why aren’t they challenging the fundamentalists on their own turf, in theology or biblical studies, and thus showing they are wrong (as they must be if moderates don’t agree with them)? Dawkins is quite right to chastise the liberal and moderate Christians for a rather alarming scale of disengagement and apathy. In my own first-hand experience, liberal and moderate Christians either deny extremism and fundamentalism exists on any scale worth our attention (and they are shocked when I show them the relevant news stories and books proving the contrary), or claim it isn’t their problem. That kind of ignorance and complacency is dangerous and deserves to be called out. It allows the fundamentalists to claim those who don’t speak up must side with them. And that’s what Dawkins is calling our atten6

American Atheist — september 2008

tion to. That’s how the apathetic masses are providing cover and legitimacy to the religious right. Second, I disagree with Pigliucci when he claims (in effect) that arguments from parsimony and prior probability are not scientific. The God hypothesis can be refuted scientifically the same way faeries, demon possession, gremlins, alchemy, and magic have been refuted scientifically. Just because someone can say “well, invisible demons change the course of all the photons to make it look like the earth is round when it’s really flat” does not render the claim “the earth is not flat” unscientific, nor does it result in science’s inability to refute the theory that the earth is flat. “The earth is flat” remains “a scientific question” even in the face of such absurdist explanations of the evidence against it. And so, too, the ‘God Hypothesis.’ The scientist would rightly say that there is no evidence supporting the addition of photon-bending demons and thus parsimony does away with the theory, and that the existence of such demons (creatures with such amazing and unprecedented interests and powers of stealth) is so improbable given the accumulated database of scientific facts about the contents of the world that it can be dismissed on prior probability alone. Both are scientific arguments. For example, “gremlins cause plane crashes” is scientifically refuted right now by all the scientific evidence to the contrary, and by all the scientific evidence establishing that such things as gremlins either don’t exist or are too rare to posit. To respond that “well, the gremlins always hide, so that’s why you never find anything like them,” is simply an illegitimate argument. Since there can never be any rational ground to believe in gremlins that you can never even in principle have any evidence of, and when even the evidence you claim there to be (plane crashes) already has perfectly sound and unchallengeable explanations, it would be quite wrong of Pigliuci to dismiss the gremlin hypothesis as “not a scientific question” simply because some idiot can

come up with a stupid way to defend the theory. Scientific facts refute any reasonable belief in the gremlin hypothesis, as well as the demons-bending-photons flat earth theory. So, too, the God Hypothesis. You can only go on to maintain these hypotheses by rejecting science and the logic on which it is founded. But only idiots make such arguments anyway. Most defenders of the God Hypothesis would find the God-plantedall-the-evidence defense just as absurd as Pigliucci does. Dawkins is no doubt talking about the hypothesis that is most actually defended, which is not the unfalsifiable nonsense Pigliucci builds a straw man of, but the very hypothesis that the defenders claim is verified by the evidence of ‘design’ in nature. If there is no evidence of design in nature, then their hypothesis is falsified, scientifically. They are the ones who opened themselves up to this: by claiming certain facts would verify their theory, when those facts are scientifically shown not to exist, they must accept defeat. The ether was not found, nor N-Rays, nor psi, and now not even ‘God.’ This is indeed a scientific question. And the God Hypothesis has consistently failed every test its proponents have proposed for it, just as NRays did, or the ether, or psi. Dawkins is not wrong to say so. Richard C. Carrier, Ph.D. www.richardcarrier.info


ATLANTA

MARK YOUR CALENDAR!

GET READY TO PACK YOUR BAGS FOR

35th National Convention The

of

AMERICAN ATHEISTS April 9-12, 2009

The Emory Conference Center Hotel • Atlanta, GA

Join us for the Freethought bash of the year! American Atheists will host its 35th National Convention at the spectacular Emory Conference Center Hotel in Atlanta, Ga. Make plans now for an exciting weekend of social events, outstanding talks by renowned speakers, workshops and so much more. We’ll have a special convention rate at this world-class meeting venue, plus extended ‘shoulder dates’ so you can visit the many tourism attractions in beautiful Atlanta! And don’t forget our Thursday night (April 9) Convention Jump-Start for an evening of fun with fellow Atheists from around the world. Mark your calendar now — and look for more details in future issues of the American Atheist magazine!


Renaissance at CESAALA

A spectacular collection of Atheist, Freethought and related works has a rejuvenated home – and a new opportunity to preserve our history… by Conrad F. Goeringer

Y

ou wouldn’t think this was a library, at least from the sound of things. Instead of hushed and abbreviated conversation and the presence of signs commanding “Quiet Please,” there are the sounds of furniture being moved, spray-painting, and carpentry work. This library is undergoing a major makeover, and the finished project will give a newly refurbished home to tens of thousands of books, pamphlets, periodicals and other items all related to the history of Atheism and Freethought. CESAALA – The Charles E. Stevens American Atheist Library and Archives, is undergoing a renaissance. Housed at the American Atheist Center in Cranford, NJ, CESAALA boasts over 25,000 books, and an estimated one million pamphlets, periodicals, posters, letters and other documents. It includes materials related to the American Atheists organization, the Murray O-Hair family, and the lives of Freethought heroes and heroines including Robert Ingersoll, D.C. Bennett, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and other intellectual titans. CESAALA also preserves the documents and publications of groups like the United Secularists of America and American Gay & Lesbian Atheists. The library boasts original copies of rare Freethought publications including Truthseeker, Lucifer, The Rip Saw, Progressive World, Oracle of Reason, The Philistine and The Freethinker. Also included are thousands of photographs, signed letters, and the archives of The American Atheists Oral History Project, which records the life experiences of hundreds of Atheists. 8

American Atheist — september 2008

There is also an extensive gathering of videos, among them episodes of The American Atheist Viewpoint television program. Humble Beginnings The genesis of CESAALA began when Charles E. Stevens, a stonemason, veteran of the Spanish-American War, and associate of Madalyn Murray O’Hair, saw the need to establish a permanent collection of Atheist material. From his own experience and that of other freethinkers, Stevens knew that even secular academic institutions could not be relied upon to build and safeguard this sort of subject matter. “He had seen too many such collections destroyed under the hand of a single hostile librarian,” recalled Robin Murray O’Hair, the adopted granddaughter of MMO’H who served in the line of CESAALA librarians. Like Charles Stevens, Madalyn O’Hair has been slowly and assiduously gathering the rare and hand-to-find works of Atheist and other freethinking writers. She also had seen entire collections of such work discarded by religion-believing librarians. She frequently recalled the story of one Atheist book collector whose wishes to preserve his personal library for posterity were thwarted by fanatical religious relatives. In a fund-raising appeal for CESAALA, O’Hair recalled: “There was Carl Brown, wealthy Atheist from Kansas. He was an ardent supporter of our cause. He willed his collection of rare Atheist books and collector editions to CESAALA. Well, eventually Carl Brown died. And what did the Library receive? Only pic-

tures! His Christian sister burned the entire library – thousands of books. Some of these books were worth over a thousand dollars each… She sent us pictures of the bonfire she had made of these wonderful books…” Seeing the need for a centralized, state-of-the-art facility to preserve Atheist and Freethought history, Charles Stevens initialized the library that would eventually bear his name with a contribution of $1,000 on February 26, 1965. (The original check from Mr. Stevens is on permanent display in the library, along with a rare photo of him standing next to Madalyn Murray O’Hair.) The first shelving was purchased, and money placed aside dedicated to the purchase of the rare Freethought books and literature Ms. O’Hair had been pursuing. For the next three decades, CESAALA grew as the O’Hair family actively sought out Atheist and Freethought literature. Members contributed book(s) on these topics, or related subjects like history, philosophy, and religion. Every opportunity was taken during road trips to speaking engagements, even vacations, to haunt local used and antiquarian bookstores. Dealers were also enlisted to track down especially rare items. When she took over the job of CESAALA archivist in the early 1980s, Robin Murray O’Hair began a systematic targeting of selected Atheist/Freethought writers like Chapman Cohen, George Jacob Holyoake, D.G.M. Bennett, F.E. Abbot, Abner Kneeland, and Annie Besant. Rare publications were also sought out, and CESAALA soon possessed partial or complete editions of The Boston Investigator, The Liberal, Progressive World, The Truthseeker and The Age of Reason. The Library also acquired complete runs of the famous “Little Blue Books” distributed by Girard, Kansas publisher E. Haldeman-Julius. Emanuel Haldeman-Julius (1889– 1951) ranks among the premier American social reformers and Freethinkers. Raised in Philadelphia, he manifested an early love of reading and politics. He served as editor of the reform paper Appeal to Reason. Beginning in 1919, he opened a printing plant in Girard, Kansas and began massproducing small, inexpensive reprints of classics and political tracts. These “Little Blue Books” were targeted at a working


class audience, and easily recognized by their compact format and plain covers. It is estimated that over 80 million copies of over 1,000 titles found their way to eager readers. In addition, he published a newspaper, The American Freeman, and a quarterly magazine. The latter carried writings by leading Freethought and literary greats including Joseph McCabe, John Cowper Powys and Louis Adamic. The growth of the CESAALA paralleled the fortunes of American Atheists. As the O’Hairs moved the American Atheist Center into more expansive venues in Austin, TX, more space became available for the CESAALA holdings. Soon, CESAALA could lay claim to being the largest private archive of its kind, and rivaling – even surpassing – a number of university collections. Members continued to donate funds, books, publications and other items, and Robin Murray maintained, as best she could, a catalogue inventory of these wondrous materials. In the early 1990s, the Murray O’Hair family was once again looking for a larger facility to house CESAALA and serve as headquarters for the American Atheists. They had simply outgrown the building on Cameron Road and were considering relocation from Texas. Among the possible areas was the East Coast of the United States – somewhere in the Washington, DC–New York City corridor. After all, the whole Murray saga had begun in Baltimore, Maryland where in the early 1960s Madalyn Murray and one of her sons had filed suit to end mandatory prayer and bible verse recitation in the public schools. A modest brick walk-up housed the Freethought Society of America (it is believed that it was through FSA that Mrs. Murray first met Charles Stevens). After nearly two decades in Texas, the family was looking to put down “new roots,” and this would impact both CESAALA and American Atheists. CESAALA was meticulously packed up and put in climate-controlled storage in anticipation of a new home — nearly 600 boxes of precious books, manuscripts, publications, letters, and other materials. No sooner was this difficult task finished, though, when a series of calamitous events unfolded. There were legal problems stemming from O’Hair’s efforts to

save a substantial endowment for Atheism from falling into the hands of religious people, followed by a massive theft by an employee. Rumors and innuendo circulated. Indeed, the CESAALA collection was on a list of assets that would be seized and sold off to another organization had American Atheists not prevailed in court. And in 1995, the family was kidnapped, extorted, and murdered. Decisions by the Board of Directors fortunately salvaged American Atheists and the other related Corporations, including the Charles E. Stevens American Atheist Library and Archives. The decision was made to follow through on the relocation of the Center to Cranford, NJ. The complete library (along with truckloads of furniture, equipment, and other items) was shipped up from Texas. The back portion of the new American Atheist Center was dedicated as the home of CESAALA. Three extensive glass ‘bays’ were built to include a dry-fire suppression system. Margie D. Wait became the new librarian, and the Herculean task of unpacking, sorting, and cataloguing books and the rest of the collection slowly began.

from the Library of Congress to help build a database of books and other inventory, and with time the whole collection will be digitized and searchable on the Web.” “It’s a future librarian’s dream,” Dicks added. Other artifacts are being consolidated into the CESAALA holdings, including thousands of hours of audio and video recordings. These tapes represent a bewildering array of formats, said Dicks, including old mini-cassettes. They cover video of American Atheist conventions and protests, the American Atheist Radio Series hosted by Madalyn O’Hair, and the American Atheists Oral History Project. “Much of this material is on old Mylar tape which degrades with time, so one of our goals is to digitize the entire collection onto computers and DVD,” said Mr. Dicks. “We also will be uploading this content to our Web site where visitors can access everything from our rare books and other library holdings to photographs and video about Atheism and the history of American Atheists.”

A Bright Future

It will be months before the CESAALA facility begins to live up to its mission as a functioning library open to scholars, researchers, and the general public. The contents of hundreds of boxes must be further sorted, indexed, and organized, and the estimated 25,000 books thoroughly arranged in categories. Preservation and conservancy repair of older items – especially the priceless, one-of-a-kind copies of rare newspapers, other publications and pamphlets – remains an ongoing work. On Saturday, December 12, 2008, the American Atheist Center will hold an Open House that will include tours of the newly-resurrected Charles E. Stevens Americana Atheists Library & Archives, followed on Saturday, December by our annual Winter Solstice Gala. These weekend events will mark a turning point, and a new era as well, in the history of an extraordinary collection that preserves and honors the history of Atheism and Freethought in America. k

Thanks to a renewed interest and generous support from members – and the Richard Dawkins Foundation – CESAALA is being reborn and rejuvenated. The new librarian, Timothy Dicks, is optimistic. “We have the largest and in many ways most complete archive of Atheist and Freethought material in the United States,” Dicks says. “We’re doing everything possible to provide a suitable home for this collection.” Those hundreds of boxes which survived the trip from Texas to New Jersey were unpacked, and thousands of books now line the CESAALA shelves. Hundreds of others have been sorted, yielding tens of thousands of copies of rare pamphlets, publications and material. The whole lot – including the contents of dozens of file cabinets – has been re-boxed and has undergone a ‘first sort.’ “We still have a huge quantity of letters, ephemera, and other items that we have to identify and catalogue,” said Mr. Dicks. “We’ll be using on-line resources

Celebration

For more information on this celebratory event, and to register on-line for the Winter Solstice bash, visit http://www.atheists.org/wintersolstice.html september 2008 — American Atheist

9


The

2008

AMERICAN ATHEISTS

Winter Solstice Bash & Open House at the American Atheist Center with tours of Charles E. Stevens American Atheist Library & Archives Imagine an entire extended weekend where you can visit New York City, get together with fellow Atheists, see the nation’s largest private archive of Atheist-Freethought books and other materials, and stay in a magnificent hotel convenient to all of these sites and activities – and more! That’s what we’ve got for you at the 2008 Winter Solstice Bash. • Tour the American Atheist Center and Charles E. Stevens American Atheist Library & Archives on Friday, December 12, 2008 any time from 1:00 – 8:00 PM. The ribbon cutting for the rejuvenated facility, including the Eddie Tabash Conference Room is at 1:30 PM. • Party hearty on Saturday, December 12 with other Atheists at the 2008 WINTER SOLSTICE BASH. The venue is the luxurious Crowne Plaza Hotel, 20 Valley Road in Clark, NJ – just down the Parkway from the American Atheist Center. Join host David Silverman beginning at 11:30 AM for a program of celebration, learning, and entertainment. The event also includes a scrumptious buffet lunch, plus cash bar, all for only $34 per adult, $16.50 for children 12 or under. At 4:00 PM, come over to the Center for the taping of our popular cable show, The Atheist Viewpoint. • See New York City and other regional attractions thanks to a special rate of only $109 plus tax at the Crowne Plaza in effect from Thursday, Dec. 11 through Tuesday night, Dec. 17. On Sunday, Dec. 14, there are other Freethought celebrations in the Area, including one sponsored by the New Jersey Humanist Network.

Register now for this celebratory event! Fill in the coupon inserted in your magazine and mail to: American Atheists PO Box 158 Cranford, NJ 07016 If you plan on staying at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, you must contact the hotel directly at 732-574-0100. Be sure to inform the hotel that you are with American Atheists in order to obtain the special room rates for our Winter Solstice event! Or register on-line! Go to: http://www.atheists.org/wintersolstice.html

It’s just around our Earth’s orbit … The Big Apple, Partying with fellow Atheists, Open House & more…


The History Lesson Lies My Teacher Taught Me by W. E. Gutman

A

famous French pre-revolutionary political cartoon depicts a rakish nobleman and a smiling, overfed member of the clergy riding on the back of an old, exhausted peasant. The metaphor, pithy and painfully real, may have inspired the eminent French philosopher, author and encyclopedist, Denis Diderot (1713–1784) to exclaim, “Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.” Indeed, centuries of oppression by the ruling aristocracy and corruption and debauchery among the privileged ecclesiastical class would inspire equally pungent anti-religious epigrams by several of Diderot’s contemporaries, men celebrated for their intellect and mordant wit, all confirmed Agnostics and Atheists — and at a time when both were punishable by death. “Every sensible man, every honorable man, must hold religion in horror.” —Voltaire. “Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise.” —James Madison. “This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it.” —John Adams. “I have found dogma unintelligible. Lighthouses are more helpful than churches.” —Ben Franklin. “Religion is the most perverted system that ever shone on man.” —Thomas Jefferson. “It is easier to suppose that the universe has existed for all eternity than to conceive a being beyond its limits capable of creating it.” —Percy Bysshe Shelley. “Religion is a system of superstition that produces fanatics and serves the purposes of despotism.” —Thomas Paine. “We have just enough religion to make us hate but not enough religion to make us love one another.” —Jonathan Swift. “Newton’s infinite space is the only eternal reality. Nothing but matter exists. Religion is a device used by the rich to oppress the poor and render them powerless. —Jean Meslier. “There is no Absolute, no Reason, no God, no Spirit at work in the world: nothing but the brute instinctive will to live.” —Arthur Schopenhauer. “Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet.” —Napoleon Bonaparte. “Religions are the cradles of despotism.” —Marquis de Sade.

It was the despotism of religion — and the vapid snobbery of the aristocracy — that aristocrat, Donatien AlphonseFrançois Marquis de Sade railed against in his more serious (less salacious) works. And it was the tyranny of historical falsification — and the baseness of academic dishonesty — that propelled me on a lifelong campaign against absurd beliefs and revisionism. It began in high school. My history teacher routinely disregarded the obligatory French secular curriculum and shamelessly injected his personal prejudices and slanted perceptions. History can be — and often is — subverted and undermined by opinionated educators. Armed with a razor-sharp intellect and a tongue to match, my teacher was a strict disciplinarian, a fount of erudition and a skilled pedagogue who would struggle, for two years, to educate me or, as he put it, “to deposit something of value inside this untidy, dissolute little brain of yours.” The broad knowledge he possessed — he was licensed to teach everything from algebra to zoology — was often overshadowed by an appalling lack of objectivity. It was his very scholarship that enabled him, wherever he could, to skew history or to rewrite it by opining unabashedly about people long dead or editorializing about events exhaustively chronicled in the otherwise unembellished secular French government curriculum. A royalist, as are all devout French Catholics, he steadfastly extenuated the arrogance and cruelty of French monarchs by september 2008 — American Atheist

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insisting that they were, after all, “good Christians.” It is true that many of them spent much time genuflecting in their private gilded chapels on ermine stoles and rich brocades while their vassals lived in squalor, starved, and died of the plague. Distant abstractions, the Crusades and the Inquisition elicited a kind of nostalgic admiration stripped of all misgivings for the horrific crimes committed in their name. I remember learning about the events that took place on the night of August 23, 1572, better known as the SaintBartholomew massacre, during which 3,000 Huguenots were slaughtered in the streets of Paris on orders of Catherine de Medici. Reviewing the incident did not seem to evoke in my teacher any discernible unease. (News of the slaughter had been cheered by Philip II, himself busy purging Spain of Protestants, Jews, and Moors, and Pope Gregory XIII who, for lack of loftier pursuits, reformed the calendar). Injecting personal bias into his instructions, my teacher presided over his own kangaroo court. He openly scorned the

“I wait for the day when only four kings are left: The king of spades, the king of hearts, the king of … you know the rest.” Huguenot Henri of Navarre, but lavished him with praise when, crowned Henri IV and fearful for his neck, he cravenly converted to Catholicism. “Paris is well worth a mass,” the king sardonically remarked. Praise turned to condemnation when the king, now firmly enthroned, issued the Edict of Nantes, a decree restoring religious and political rights to French Protestants. It’s amazing how ideology makes feelings run hot and cold. A few chapters forward, my teacher applauded the edict’s revocation, 87 years later, by the “Sun King,” Louis XIV, the archetype warmongering despot whose conceit was eclipsed only by his thirst for ostentation. Unaware of — or utterly indifferent to — the immense suffering his subjects endured, Louis XVI, who spent his reign tinkering with clocks, and his ditsy wife Marie-Antoinette, who plundered the nation’s coffers to keep the court royally entertained, elicited pity and sympathy from my teacher. “They were very pious and joined in prayer several times a day.” As these enormities were being casually spouted, I would retrieve 12

American Atheist — september 2008

from the depths of childhood memory (I was in France during the German occupation) newsreel images of priests sprinkling holy water on tanks and canons and the fuselage of dive bombers so that Christians of one nation could wreak death and destruction upon Christians of another nation with the full blessings of Almighty God. The French Revolution, my teacher insisted, was “an outrage masterminded by Jewish financiers, Freemasons, degenerate philosophers and other irreligious libertines.” This characterization was nowhere to be found in the history text I had been issued — nor in any history work I have since perused. It is interesting to note that, in reading assigned works by the chief “degenerate” French philosophers Diderot, Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Voltaire students were encouraged to analyze and emulate their elegant literary style but enjoined from embracing their “amoral teachings.” Imagine a student today being told, “Write like Hemingway but take care not to espouse his leftist values….” The reign of terror that followed the fall of the Bastille on July 14, 1789 was summarily blasted as a “grotesque act of barbarism against Christian values.” Yes, many innocent heads rolled during the two–year frenzy. But my teacher could not bring himself to regard the insurrection as the cathartic articulation of centuries-old misery and oppression or as the impetus that would help rid France, for the first time in history, of the yoke of feudalism, a dissolute clergy, and a mercenary absolute monarchy. The assassination, in his bathtub, of Jean-Paul Marat, a populist physician, lawyer, journalist, and legislator in 1793, was flippantly dismissed as the “extirpation of a Jewish scoundrel by a brave Catholic young woman [Charlotte Corday].” Marat was not Jewish — his parents came from Sardinia — but my teacher had a quirky sense of humor that did not prevent him from creating myth where none existed. In contrast, the beheading of two royal idlers who bankrupted France while they wined, dined, gambled, gathered in prayer, made war, and cheered their dogs on helpless foxes, he insisted, was murder. Nor would he consider the notion that revolution, as I perilously argued, is a process, not an incident. Many people tend to judge the French Revolution as a single event rather than a trend whose seeds were sown centuries earlier. The burgeoning concepts of human rights, equality, suffrage and the abolition of monarchy actually took root 100 years before the storming of the Bastille. In 1789 France was a nation of 26 million. ‘Society’ was made up of three distinct and grossly dissimilar groups: (1) the “nobility of the sword,” some 500,000 people (or about two percent of the total population) among them the high aristocracy consisting of 4,000 families close to the throne, hangerson, and inveterate sycophants; (2) the petty nobility, composed of provincial gentlemen of lesser means but matching greed; and (3) the nouveaux-riches, the coarse bourgeois who bought nobility titles and who, despite their wealth, were scorned by the traditional bluebloods for their miserly origins.


There was the clergy, 120,000 strong, that was also divided between high clergy (members of the aristocracy) and the common clergy — both depraved and decadent. Lastly, there was the Third Estate, the masses representing day workers, farmers, peasants, craftsmen, bankers, lawyers and trades people. The king’s power was absolute, limitless, and issued from God himself. The king hired and fired his cabinet at will. All authority was centralized in Paris and in the hands of Louis XVI, a meek and irresolute monarch who would have rather flown kites and repaired clocks than govern. Injustice, ineptitude and corruption were rampant. Instead of addressing the problem, Louis tightened his authority, an act that led to the kind of despotism in vogue in Austria, Prussia, and Russia at the time. A widely circulated caricature dated 1787 (two years before the storming of the Bastille) shows a monkey (the king) asking the fowl in the yard (the people) in what sauce they would like to be cooked. In 1777, with Lafayette and his volunteers, then in 1779 with Rochambeau and the French Royal Expeditionary Corps, France fought alongside the Americans against the British, culminating in the 1781 victory at Yorktown and the surrender of General Cornwallis. This little adventure cost France two billion gold pounds. This was the twilight of the eighteenth century, the dawning of Enlightenment, and France was tired and wary of the ancient and traditional order in which the king is commander in chief, judge, jury, and executioner, an order that called for the nobility to defend the nation with its sword, the clergy to pray for victory while engaging in political intrigue and cavorting with women of ill repute, and the rabble to toil and pay merciless taxes until they dropped. But this king was an inept military strategist. His officers had lapsed into mediocrity and the Church, fat and venal, made a mockery of religion. The clergy paid no taxes but charged tolls on behalf of the crown, and sold indulgences and first-class passages to paradise, with much of the gold they collected diverted and adding to the personal fortunes of many princes of the Church. The commoners — peasants and bourgeois alike — crushed by unfair and exorbitant taxes and levies, were fuming. Soon, they’d open the shutters wide, lean out their windows and shout, “We’re mad as hell and we won’t take it anymore….” Meanwhile, philosophers, writers, scientists — Voltaire, Diderot J.J. Rousseau (author of the Social Contract), SaintSimon (he articulated the principles of socialism) and Lavoisier (he elaborated the first version of the Law of conservation of mass, discovered and named oxygen and hydrogen, introduced the Metric System, invented the first periodic table including 33 elements, and helped reform chemical nomenclature) saw in revolution a weapon against the despotism of absolute monarchy and the clergy’s fanaticism and cupidity. Unlike Louis XIV, the “decider” who kept the aristocracy in check, Louis XVI sheepishly shirked his responsibilities.

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.

Dick Hogan, TX — $200 Helen Posey, OR — $500 Harvey E. Gossard, PA — $50 Shane W. Roper, AZ — $75 Arthur J. Ando, WA — $50 Dan McPeek, AZ — $75 Stan Bradley, OH — $75 Charles Cheves, GA — $50 Greg Lammers, MO — $100 Barry Robertson, CO — $50 D. Fratini, WA — $250

In Memoriam Woody Williams — Belton, MO Sylvia Cantrell — Valley, AL Herbert Schapiro — Tucson, AZ Robert J. O’Connell — San Rafael, CA John A. Henderson, MD — Asheville, NC

New Life Members American Atheists Welcomes New Life Members Ouida Edington — Youngsville, NY september 2008 — American Atheist

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“Oh, what an odious occupation,” he said of his kingly duties. Other kings let their ministers make their mistakes for them, but this Louis insisted on making the important mistakes by himself. The Revolution was less an act of insubordination against royal tyranny than an insurrection against the social order, inequality, favoritism, and discrimination. It was a social, not political movement. Social movements always prevail. A liberal, compassionate bourgeois is atypical. People who have enough to eat generally avert the gaze, let alone sight of the empty belly of the hungry. A greedy bourgeois is more common, with the ambitious go-getters leading the way. These were by and large intelligent and educated people who lived close to but in the shadow of an aristocracy that showered them with contempt. They were bitter and, justifiably upset, they would expediently court the working class. With its support, they would force political decisions and, eventually, smash their way into the Bastille. The Revolution would soon lurch into a free-for-all reign of untold savagery. The economic crisis sweeping France accentuated the inequality between the classes. Quite simply the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. Thousands died of hunger. It was obvious to most that France could not escape revolution. Would it be short or protracted, violent or peaceful? Could needed reforms forestall the inevitable? Only the king, his queen, the blue-bloods, the knights and the princes of the Church could answer that, but they were all opposed to change. Louis wavered. In a rare moment of introspection, he protested against the challenges and responsibilities of his office and told a staff member, Malesherbes, who tendered his resignation, “Oh, how I wish I could join you!” Louis hid behind his neurotic piety (and a bad case of phimosis — a condition in which the foreskin of the penis of an uncircumcised male cannot be fully retracted). He neglected his wife in favor of hunting and tinkering with clocks. He was drawn neither by royal duty, love, sex, politics, nor war, which he entrusted to pompous and inept generals. Deaf to facts, unwilling to heed advice, incapable of making a decision on his own, he took solace in his wife’s opinion of him, “poor man, he is so good.” Goodness in 1789 was apparently not enough. Marie-Antoinette wielded little influence on her husband. A spendthrift with a colossal disregard for the well being of her people, her reputation further sullied by the famous Necklace Affair and allegations of infidelity, she had become not only unpopular but loathed. Contrary to legend, Marie-Antoinette never suggested that “if the people have no bread, let them eat brioches.” She was so out of touch with the lives of her subjects that she had no way of knowing whether they ate bread, escargots, or frogs’ legs. Revisionists of all stripes have attempted to rehabilitate the queen — or at least lend her a “human” visage. She was in fact a pretentious scatterbrain and a squanderer who, with her cuckold husband Louis’ approval, ruined France. Some 14

American Atheist — september 2008

have argued that she was tried on trumped-up charges. Indeed, Marie-Antoinette’s trial had nothing to do with the legal definition of treason and everything to do with treachery, meaning deceitfulness, disloyalty, and duplicity. Her accusers fittingly charged her (and Louis) with unscrupulousness; corruption; embezzlement; cruelty; a perverse disregard for the well being of the people; profligacy; avarice; squandering the national treasury; and when all was lost, flight to avoid prosecution — all of which were legitimate charges and any of which, today, will send someone up river for a very long stretch. I understand the hatred, the seething rage Louis and Marie-Antoinette’s bankrupt, abject, merciless and dehumanizing reign provoked among the people. Everyone is fixated on the royal heads that rolled into the wicker basket, but no one seems to remember the wretched misery of the masses or the thousands of Lettres de Cachet, signed by the King and princes of the Church, which sent innocent people, among them Huguenots, mavericks, dissenters, and iconoclasts to their deaths. I have come to regard royalty as an anachronism, if not an obscenity. I will forever question the means by which royal glory and power are attained and never cease to deplore the imbecility of their highnesses’ subjects. I wait for the day when only four kings are left: The king of spades, the king of hearts, the king of … you know the rest. The French Revolution was an extraordinarily complicated affair, ignited by the antagonisms between the first two Estates – the bloated nobility and a corrupt and gluttonous clergy -and the third Estate – a crushing mass of dirt-poor, uneducated and downtrodden people -- as well as antagonisms rooted in decades of abuse and frustration. Unlike the American Revolution, which has been likened to an act of defiance by a prodigal son against his mother — and much like the Russian Revolution, which had already begun to simmer — the French Revolution was a genuine insurrection born from centuries of colossal mismanagement, corruption, oppression, and exploitation of the masses by small, all-powerful, brutal elites. My history teacher would have none of that. Precocious, inquisitive, and innately skeptical, I survived and outgrew his sinister brand of encoding. It wasn’t until one of my U.S.-born sons came home one day from grammar school crying, “the teacher said that Jews murdered Jesus,” that I knew that encoding is alive and well in America, the enlightened Jefferson and Paine and Franklin and Madison and Adams and a new generation of freethinkers notwithstanding. k About the author: Born in Paris, educated in Europe, Israel, and the U.S., W. E. Gutman is a widely published veteran journalist and author. Since 1991, he has been on assignment in Central America. His beat: politics, the military, human rights, and other socioeconomic themes. He lives in southern California’s “high desert.”


WinterSolstice c a r d s & g i f t s

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American Atheist Lapel Pin

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A handy handout: The Solstitial and Equinoctial Seasons by Frank R. Zindler

Atheist Bling!

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Sending your seasonal greetings to a friend, but unsure of how to explain what the Solstices and Equinoxes are all about? Help has arrived! This small leaflet explains these astronomical events scientifically and poetically. Easy to read, with clear diagrams, The Solstitial and Equinoctial Seasons will tell your friends not only what these events are, but why they should be celebrated. Printed on attractive blue parchment, they are a perfect insert into your seasonal letters and greeting cards. Or pop one in with your presents! They are sold in sets of two dozen. 3-3/4” x 4-3/4”. 4 pp. #2006

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september 2008 — American Atheist

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Tobogganing Penguins

Contrary to Popular Opinion

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Jesus Ski Team

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Remember

Whose Birthday It Is this Season. White on green. Inside all the Solstice deities. 51/2” x 41/4” #7005 $12.00 16

American Atheist — september 2008

Solstice Greetings

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All sets of a dozen cards are in color and include matching envelopes. They may be ordered from American Atheists, Inc. for price indicated. Please see order form for member discount and shipping and handling. Unless otherwise noted, all our Winter Solstice cards carry the following explanation of the Winter Solstice celebration: December 25, by the Julian Calendar, was the winter solstice. This day, originally regarded by the pagans as the day of the nativity of the sun, the shortest day of the year—when the light began its conquering battle against darkness—was celebrated universally in all ages of man. Taken over by the Christians as the birthday of their mythological Christ, this ancient holiday, set by motions of the celestial bodies, survives as a day of rejoicing that good will and love will have a perpetual rebirth in the minds of men—even as the sun has a symbolic rebirth yearly. september 2008 — American Atheist

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A Christmas Sermon and the Controversy It Aroused

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by Robert G. Ingersoll On Dec. 19, 1891, Robert G. Ingersoll’s Christmas Sermon was printed in the Evening Telegram newspaper. It was immediately answered by the Rev. Dr. I. M. Buckley, editor of The Christian Advocate, the recognized organ of the Methodist Church, under the title “Lies That Are Mountainous.” In his reply he suggested that a newspaper which published the words of Ingersoll should not be allowed in the homes of Christians or Jews – thus calling for a boycott of the paper. The Telegram promptly accepted the issue raised by Dr. Buckley and dared him to do his utmost. This set off a fight that was heard around the world. Stapled. 47 pages. #5148 #6.00

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by Frank R. Zindler Each time Christmas rolls around, newspapers carry articles purporting to be factual discussions of the Star of Bethlehem, quoting astronomers and religious writers. How reliable are such proofs of the story of Jesus’ miraculous birth? Not very reliable at all, explains Frank Zindler. He demonstrates that the story of the three Magi and the Star of Bethlehem is not only scientifically impossible, it is biblically implausible. Stapled. 14 pages. #5568 $4.00

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American Atheist — september 2008

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Memo to Messrs.

McCain & Obama

Concerning a Wall That Needs Mending by George A. Ricker

T

o Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama: Since you are the nominees of your respective political parties to the highest office in the land, I wanted to take this opportunity to raise an issue that probably will not get much attention this fall. Each of you wants to be my president. I assume each of you wants my vote. Therefore, each of you should, at least, consider what I am about to tell you. There is a wall that needs mending. It is not a real wall but a metaphorical one. I know both of you have heard of the wall because each of you has, at various times, expressed some support for it. I refer, of course, to the wall of separation between government and religions that the founders of this nation thought they had written into the U.S. Constitution. Thomas Jefferson described it as a “wall of separation between church and state” in his letter to the Danbury Baptists, written after he had become the third president of the United States. I prefer to call it a wall of separation between government and religions because the Constitution does not mention church and state. It does mention government and religion. Each of you has been at great pains to explain the importance of your religious convictions in your own life, both public and private, and that is fine. I am in no position to judge the sincerity of such statements and generally tend to regard them as irrelevant. I certainly do not quarrel with your right to express those sentiments. Some voters may find value in them. For my part, I am more interested in action than utterance. But your religious opinions should have nothing to do with whether or not,

as president, you defend the wall that has allowed American citizens to pursue their own convictions in the matter of religious faith and has protected our society, to some degree at least, from the sectarianism that has proven so destructive in so many places in the world. Your defense of the wall would be a defense of religious freedom. It would protect the rights of conscience of all Americans from either the tyranny of the state or the bullying of the mob. It would protect the rights of the religious and the nonreligious alike. It would ensure that no agency or official of our national government attempted to endorse any religious orthodoxy as a matter of public policy or to make it appear that our nation has an official religion when it does not. Freedom from religion During political campaigns, we often hear politicians insist that “the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion” when in fact it does both. The First Amendment prohibits Congress from passing any law “respecting an establishment of religion.” Note the use of the indefinite article in that clause. It does not just bar the establishment of a national church, as some would have you believe. It prohibits anything that can be regarded as “an establishment of religion.” Clearly, the intent of the founders was to provide us with freedom from any such establishment. The First Amendment also protects the right of each American to follow his or her conscience in matters of religion. If the freedom to practice religions is protected from governmental interference, then so is the freedom to practice none.

Here again, the Constitution provides freedom from religion as well as freedom of religion. Finally, the Constitution declares, in Article Six, that there shall be no religious test for public office. So, while many of the founders of this nation were religious men, it seems clear they intended to create a national government that was secular and nonsectarian. It was to be a government that derived its just powers from the “consent of the governed,” to borrow Jefferson’s language from the Declaration of Independence, and not from the god of any religion. An irreducible minority But even more than the constitutional protection for freedom from religion, it is part and parcel of our legal and governmental system that all Americans, which means each of us if it means anything, stand as equals before their government and are to be treated as equals by that government. Our nation has not always lived up to that promise. A large part of our history has been the story of various struggles as we fought to extend the promise of America to those who were left out at the beginning and to ensure that they, too, had the equal protection under the law and the equal standing before the government that is now held to be the right of every American citizen. Included in the panoply of rights contained in that promise, and perhaps most central to it, is the right to freedom of conscience. Our government may not attempt to impose any orthodoxy on its citizens. It has no right to declare that any notion about gods and religions is superior to any other. It has no right to proclaim that religion is superior to non-religion or to wrap itself in the trappings of any religion. It has no right to spend our taxes in support of any religious denomination, regardless of the good works it may do. We are a diverse people with many opinions about gods and religions. Since religious rights are among the most personal rights, we have rightly insisted that no agent of government may dictate to us on matters of belief. It is precisely because of the principle of noninterference that the wall of separation between government and religions needs to be there. september 2008 — American Atheist

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Our government can protect the rights of conscience of all Americans only when it maintains a position of strict neutrality vis-à-vis either specific religions or religion in general. A government that serves all its people has no business wrapping itself in the trappings of religion. Our Constitution does not require governmental hostility toward religions. However, it does require neutrality. And it must be neutrality that is enforced not with lip-service or a wink and a nod but with a clear understanding of what it requires and why it matters. For your consideration Here is an example of precisely what I mean. Both of you gentlemen are accustomed to ending your stump speeches with the clause, “God bless America,” much of the time. The practice seems required of most politicians and most political statements these days. For you, the statement may be a genuine expression of religious sentiment. For others, it may simply be pandering to the presumed opinions of the audience. But regardless of the motivation, one cannot argue with the right of any political candidate or governmental official to use such language if they choose to do so. People do not lose their religious freedoms because they seek or hold governmental office, whether that office is elected or appointed. However, suppose the clause is put on the side of a government office building or on a government-funded web site and so on. No longer is it a matter of either freedom of religion or freedom of speech. Now a government agency is expressing a religious opinion. It is saying, at a minimum, that a god of some description exists and may confer blessings on our nation. It is, essentially, a public prayer, one that uses government facilities and is paid for with the tax dollars of Americans, who may or may not share the sentiment. And, while such expressions are usually held by the courts to be meaningless, generic indications of our nation’s religiosity, the truth is that no religious believer worships a “generic” god, and even “meaningless” religious expressions may undermine the 20

American Atheist — september 2008

wall of separation between governments and religions. So while senators Barack Obama and John McCain are free, as they should be, to say “God bless America” as part of their own religious expression, they ought not be free to pass a law that funds a memorial that emblazons that language on the side of a government building. The first exercise does not violate the establishment clause. The second does. In conclusion The genius of our system of government was precisely that it was based on the rights of human beings. While Jefferson declared our rights were endowed by a creator, he also insisted the protection of those rights was the business of governments formed by human beings and deriving their just powers from those same human beings. It was, in Lincoln’s majestic phrasing, “government of the people, by the people and for the people….” In such a system, no one’s rights are damaged when the wall of separation between government and religions is kept strong. No one’s religious rights are harmed if our government offers no opinions about gods and endorses no religions. No one’s religious freedom is inhibited if our government does not insert religious language in our Pledge of Allegiance or put religious slogans on our money. No one’s rights of conscience are damaged when government agencies refrain from declaring a National Day of Prayer or public schools are prevented from leading their students in prayer. Indeed, it is only when government does indulge in such practices that the rights of conscience of some of our citizens may be ignored or threatened. In a free society of equals, government has no right to assert a preference for any particular religion or for religion over nonreligion. Senators, both of you believe in a god and follow a religion. I do neither. However, all three of us are American citizens. Just as I support your right to worship whatever god you worship in the manner of your choosing, I assume you support my right to worship no god and follow no religion.

Our government was not based on the Christian religion in general or the dogma of any of the many Christian sects in particular. Those who assert that it was are making a claim based on ignorance and bad history. Anyone who honestly studies our history knows that to be the case. As president, one of you will have the opportunity to reverse the trend of recent years and to establish, once again, that the wall of separation between government and religions is a necessary protection for our rights of conscience and needs to be made stronger to ensure that we can pass the same freedoms on to our children that we hold so dear. This is not a call to drive religions out of the public square. Our society is awash with religions of all sorts, and we are free to discuss, analyze, argue, debate, lampoon, and satirize opinions about gods, religions, and all related subjects. I, for one, welcome the opportunity to engage in such activities. All the wall of separation requires is that religions be excluded from that portion of the public square that is owned and operated by government agencies. Senators McCain and Obama, I urge whichever of you earns the right to be the next president of the United States of America to invest some portion of your administration’s efforts in rebuilding the wall of separation between government and religions. Declare for all to hear and understand that our government is a secular institution, one which respects the rights of conscience of all Americans, whether they be religious or not. Those who value the Constitution and the rights it guarantees will be most grateful. k © 2008 By George A. Ricker About the author: George Ricker is the author of two books, Godless in America: conversations with an atheist and mere atheism: no gods…no problem!, and is the creator of the web site Godless in America.com (http:// www.godlessinamerica.com). George Ricker’s books are available at most book retailers and online book sellers. Go to http://www.godlessinamerica.com for more information. He is a retired journalist and lives with his wife, Judy, in Palm Bay, Florida. The Rickers are both members of American Atheists, Inc.


Out of the Closet, Under the Dryer Mass De-Baptism Performed in Ohio

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n August 2, 2008 CE, in Columbus, Ohio, the first ever— that we know of—Atheist Coming Out Party was held. It was sponsored by American Atheists. Those who attended got, among other goodies, a free T-shirt that said “It’s Okay To Be An Atheist.” Lively talks by Frank Zindler, Hemant Mehta, and Edwin Kagin were followed by a mass De-Baptism—perhaps the first in the history of the world (but probably not)—and over 100 humans were cleansed of religious folly. The event can be best termed Outrageously Successful. It was all over the blogs, complete with photos and video. The

media were rather kind. Our celebrants passed out food and water to protestors. Special thanks goes to the brilliant and beautiful (and single) young activist Ashley Paramore who put this happening together. She has a great future ahead of her. So do many of the others who participated, with special mention going to Allison, the nine-year-old Camp Quest camper who, after being De-Baptized, raised her arms skyward and loudly proclaimed, “I can see!” Frank Zindler, acting President of American Atheists, prepared the crowd for absolution: “Do you agree that the magical potency of today’s ceremony is exactly equal to the magical efficacy of

ceremonial baptism with dihydrogen oxide, and do you agree that the power of all magical ceremonies is nonexistent?’ The celebrants agreed. Then Frank pronounced the wouldbe magical words of absolution: “Te absolvo et te dehydro, dehydratio, et dryibus out-que cum spiritu electricutuis hairdryeris magnis!” The De-Baptism involved the use of a hairdryer wielded by Edwin. It was explained that our ceremony has just as much meaning and ultimate truth about it as any religious baptism has ever had. This observation prompted the inspired comment by one celebrant that the whole thing is just a lot of “hot air.” k september 2008 — American Atheist

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IN MEMORIAM

Dr. John Henderson 4 May 1923—31 August 2008

Dr. John Henderson with his wife Ruth

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ohn Arthur Henderson, M.D., a retired Air Force Flight Surgeon and General Surgeon from Asheville, North Carolina, died recently of cancer (on 31 August 2008). He was 85. Henderson graduated with honors from the University of Illinois College of Medicine in 1945. He interned at the Research and Educational Hospital, Chicago, Illinois; and was surgical resident at Scott and White Clinic, Temple, Texas. During his Air Force career, he served in England, Spain, and Japan. Within the United States, he was stationed in various states from New York to California. Dr. Henderson, well respected in the medical community and even in retirement as a county medical examiner, gained national respect and affection for his powerful freethought and Atheist

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American Atheist — september 2008

words, heard and read by many people across the nation. He had improved steadily as an effective speaker, charming audiences even as he inspired them to think. His wit and easy manner as a speaker, along with his popular constant traveling companion and his wife for 62 years, Ruth, made him in demand as a speaker, with repeat performances at venues where he had spoken earlier increasingly the norm. He had addressed both local freethought and Atheist groups, like the Atlanta Freethought Society and the Secular Humanists of the Low Country (in Charleston), or at Furman University, and at national events like the Freethought Advance in Alabama or at other Atheist conferences. He served on the speaker’s bureau for the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers. Henderson noted, on an Internet

show with Reggie Finley (“The Infidel Guy”), that “many people in Asheville [where Henderson lived] tell me they’re praying for me to be saved. When I ask them ‘saved from what?,’ they generally say, ‘why, from Hell, of course.’ When I ask them follow-ups and show them that what they really mean is saved from their god, they don’t have much to say.” Henderson also called religion “the biggest scam that was ever perpetrated on mankind,” a claim he explained with great clarity and wit in a chapter called “The Big Scam” in Judging God (2007). (His own preferred title for that book was more “direct,” but his wife and typist, Ruth, insisted on a kinder, gentler title, as John Henderson delighted in telling audiences—getting a laugh from Ruth as well as from the rest of us.) He had neatly skewered most of the world’s monotheistic religions in his earlier work, Fear Faith Fact Fantasy (2003), cheerily dismissing “the Jewish, Christian, Muslim (JCM) god” in that one. His talks, his books, and his letters to the editor forced many to think and to laugh, often simultaneously. Henderson’s philosophical reputation grew steadily as well in recent years, with each of his books presenting a deepening complexity without sacrificing his sharp wit. He touched the lives of countless people, first as a doctor, husband, and father, later as a writer and speaker. He will be much missed. He is survived by Ruth and by his three children Robert, Christine, and Jeanne, and by eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren. A service will be conducted at Arlington National Cemetery for Dr. John Henderson at a later date—probably in November. His books included god.com: a deity for the new millennium (Dorrance, 2002; Second edition, Parkway Publishing, 2004), Fear Faith Fact Fantasy (Parkway Publishing, 2003), and Judging God: It Is Time to Judge Religions and Their Gods (Parkway Publishing, 2007; with Craig Gurgew). Condolences can be sent to his wife Ruth at jrh828@webtv.ne k


Letter From William Kelly in Memory of Dr. John Henderson “Define your terms.” This is the most emphatically stressed lesson I learned from John Henderson. He often told me (and anyone else who would listen) that before beginning a conversation with a theist on the question of “God’s” existence I should always get the theist to define the god they are speaking about. (And he admonished me to always define the god that I’m rejecting.) ‘God’ means many different things to many different people, so for us to have a meaningful discussion, we have to know which god theists have in mind when they say “God exists.” And John’s advice works wonders. Just getting theists to actually articulate exactly what they mean by the term god often makes them realize how absurd, irrational, and incoherent the whole god concept is. On this issue, as on so many others, John was right. John had an incredible wit, influenced by—and right up there with—Mark Twain, Robert Ingersoll, and Thomas Paine, etc. Every time I spoke to him, I laughed and learned something. (As laughing and learning are two of the most important things in my life, this is not trivial praise.) He had a talent for distilling difficult, abstract ideas into simple, concrete ideas (without oversimplifying or creating a straw man) so that even simple-minded people like me could understand. Another of the many things I learned from him (which now seems so obvious and self-evident, but took a thinker like John to draw to my attention) is that there is nothing good about ‘faith.’ As John might say, what’s so great about strongly believing something for which there is no evidence, something that you can’t prove? Until I heard John articulate it this way, I tacitly accepted that having faith in something was inherently good. Now, whenever I hear someone proudly proclaiming their faith, this question of John’s is the first thing that leaps to mind. Being an “out-of-the-closet Atheist” (John’s words), John could always be found responding to the silly Christian letters and articles in our local newspaper. He was quick and thorough. Any time such a letter or article would appear, John would be the first to respond, pointing out the inaccuracies and irrationality of the weak arguments made by theists. He would go point-by-point rebutting and refuting ev-

ery theistic piece with impeccable logic. It is difficult to imagine anyone around here being able to fill John’s shoes. However, he has set an amazing example, and I hope we can live up to his standards. Aside from being a teacher, mentor, and intellectual prod for me, John was also just a good person, an amazing friend. I host a small public access TV show (on which John appeared twice; I would have enjoyed having him on every day). John was incredibly supportive of my little show and frequently encouraged me by telling me how good I was at hosting/interviewing people despite the fact that I have no training in this area. When my mother died, John was there for me with comfort, kindness, warmth, and wisdom. He always made it perfectly clear to me that if I ever needed anything, he was there for me. It was this sense of goodness which made John find the concept of the Christian God not only logically incoherent, but fundamentally immoral. John saw the genocidal god of the Bible as a monster and the god of living theists (especially those who thank their god for saving them while letting so many others suffer and die) as capricious and indifferent to human suffering. When I first heard that John had passed away, I was angry and unable to keep myself from breaking down in a sobbing mess. Even now, the pain is all too real, all too deep. To say that I’ll miss John is a gross understatement. He profoundly affected my life, and I always looked forward to any chance to speak with him. It is a rare thing to be in close contact with one’s hero. But John was one of my heroes, and he went out of his way to be accessible to me any time I wanted/needed. Thankfully, we have not only our wonderful memories of a great man, but we also have three books, three treasure-troves of John’s wisdom which allow him a kind of naturalistic immortality. Neither John nor I believe(d) in the existence of any god or any afterlife. However, if it turns out that we’re wrong, I know that John is giving ‘God’ an earful and raising hell in heaven! John, I love you, I miss you, and I’ll never forget about you. Ruth, I love you, and if there’s ever anything I can do for you, please let me know! William Kelly – Asheville, NC

Judging God It Is Time to Judge Religions and Their Gods by John A. Henderson, M.D. and Craig Gurgew

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. johnhenderson-god.com or by e-mail from the author at jrh828@webtv.net (Not available from American Atheist Press) september 2008 — American Atheist

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BOOK REVIEW Reviewed by Don Havis uthor Chris Hedges has written a very challenging book—challenging to the Atheist community. I Don’t Believe In Atheists is much more than your simple-minded rightwing Christian condemnation of Atheists for their “evil” opposition to the faith community. Indeed, as the author of the best-selling book, American Fascists, Hedges is well-known as a severe critic of the fanatical religious right. His criticism of what he calls the “new atheists” should be given careful consideration.

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I Don’t Believe in Atheists by Chris Hedges

Continuum International Publishing Group, 2008. ISBN-10: 184706289X, ISBN-13: 978-1847062895, 224 pages, hardcover. $25.00 Mr. Hedges’ major criticism of Atheism is one that we have heard before. It is, essentially, that we are just as equally “fundamentalist” as are the Christian right. We Atheists project an image of not only having “moral correctness” on our side, but also all logic, evolution, science and reason aligned with us. How could 24

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we possibly be wrong? Obviously, if this assertion is true, there could be a problem here. But, this reviewer’s conclusion is that Mr. Hedges’ criticism is simply not an accurate description of any thoughtful Atheist’s contention. Atheists, new or old, generally endorse—along with Mr. Hedges—the “scientific method,” but we make no claims to infallibility. At the very heart of Mr. Hedges’ criticism is that we “new atheists” have bought into an aspect of “Social Darwinism”—something Charles Darwin did not advocate—that we humans are “morally advancing.” As Mr. Hedges puts it on page 32, “One distorts the scientific theory of evolution to explain the behavior and rules for complex social, economic and political systems. The other insists that the six-day story of creation in Genesis is fact and Jesus will descend from the sky to create the kingdom of God on Earth. These antagonists each claim to have discovered an absolute truth. They trade absurdity for absurdity. They show that the danger is not religion or science. The danger is fundamentalism itself.” [Emphasis in the original.] After Hedges accuses us of having this belief in social evolution, or advancement, he further claims that such a belief is itself an evil. On page 156 he states that “The belief that we can achieve human perfection, that we can advance morally, is itself an evil.” This charge is repeated, in one form or another, throughout the book from page 5 when Hedges refers to the “myth that we can morally progress as a species” to the last page of the book (page 185) when Hedges speaks of “Utopian dreamers, lifting up impossible ideals, [who] plunge us into depravity and violence.” However, any thoughtful reader must ask himself/herself, “Are all so-called ‘new atheists’ really guilty of this charge?” Even if one agrees with Hedges that (1) we do not advance morally, and (2) that this erroneous belief itself is plunging us “into depravity and violence,” Mr. Hedges needs to be reminded that Atheists, in general, don’t have “beliefs,” and

that they do not all reach the same conclusions. On the first point, Atheists tend to agree that they advocate the methods of empirical science and its subsumed strategies of reason and logic. Through these methods and strategies we reach ‘conclusions.’ Admittedly, being fallible human beings, we don’t always reach the ‘correct’ conclusion, or the same conclusion, but we generally agree that this methodology is the best one yet devised to differentiate facts from fantasy. On the subject of the conclusions of some Atheists, Mr. Hedges brings up the apparent conclusion of Sam Harris, whom he quotes on page 20 as saying, “Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them.” He also brings up a similar conclusion of well-known author Christopher Hitchens (page 23) in which Hitchens is quoted as saying that “The enemies of civilization should be beaten and killed and defeated.” I must say that here Mr. Hedges has a legitimate criticism of some of the conclusions of a few of the so-called “new atheists.” The motivation for killing and revenge does seem to lend credence to his thesis that many so-called rational people can justify violence, even mass killing, in order to promote what they believe to be “progress;” but it is unfair to conclude that all, or even a majority of Atheists, endorse such a conclusion. A secondary theme to the main theme of human hubris and the foolish determination to advance mankind morally—even if you have to destroy large sections of the population to do it—is the notion that human beings still need religion. There are the non-rational, emotional needs which lie “beyond the reach of rational deduction, such as, love, beauty, alienation, loneliness, suffering, good, evil and the reality of death.” These are, claims Mr. Hodges, “the domain of religion,” and “address the human need for the sacred.” (p.15). This too is a bit of a tired religionist’s argument and has been extensively addressed by the field of philosophy from


Socrates and Aristotle through John Dewey and several modern philosophers. It is generally referred to as the field of ethics. Yes, we are not entirely rational creatures, but that does not necessarily place the non-rational features of humankind outside the possibility of being investigated by the human mind, and exclusively inside the realm of religion. Indeed, the “common moral decencies” and other moral and ethical questions have been examined and written about extensively by modern Atheist philosopher Dr. Paul Kurtz. Despite the faults and frailties of human nature, we appear to be “stuck with” the most reliable methods we have yet discovered to evaluate our beliefs and actions—the methods of science and reason. Let’s face it. Some of us simply don’t feel—as does Mr. Hedges with his Seminarian training—the “human need for the sacred.” Are we fallible? Yes, certainly; but the scientific methodology still seems far superior to rely on than the ‘revelation’ of scripture and magical thinking. Mr. Hedges has penned a well-written book which describes the failure of empathy of some human beings, the occasional excessive expectations of science, and the supposed “need for the sacred.” However, under careful analysis one finds even though well-expressed, there is nothing new here. k Reviewed by William Harwood esus is Dead is probably Robert Price’s least important book. While he describes the content as, “some of my best writing and thinking on the resurrection and … closely related issues” (p. x), in fact the book is a reprint of excerpts from past writings and lectures that often differ from conclusions reached later. That is not a weakness. Only dogmatists never change their views in the light of additional data. And republishing former conclusions is justifiable, since there is always the possibility that he was right the first time. Let the reader judge such matters for himself.

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Jesus Is Dead by Robert Price

American Atheist Press, Cranford, NJ: 2007. ISBN 978-1-57884-000-7, 290 pp, ppb, $18.00 While my own conclusions parallel Price’s on all major issues, there are minor points on which we disagree— but that does not necessarily mean he is wrong. I leave the conceit of infallibility to brain amputees such as Katie Couric, who has persistently refused to apologize for her Big Lie that there are no Atheists in foxholes; Charlie Sheen, who told Entertainment Tonight that anyone who does not believe in (his) God has never looked into the eyes of a child, but made no mention of the counterclaim that anyone who does believe in Big Daddy in the Sky has never sat on a toilet seat or watched a TV ad for tampons; and Tom Cruise, of whom I will be kind and say nothing. Among other points on which Price does not have unanimous support— among competent scholars; the delusions of theologians do not count—is his declaration (p. 26) that, “Internal data lead me to posit a date of about 100 CE for

Mark, and about 150 for both Matthew and Luke.” But Randel Helms (Who Wrote the Gospels?) offers what I consider compelling evidence that Mark was written between 70 and 74 CE, 74 being the date that Mark, using imagery from Daniel, forecast for the end of the world. Also, the first accusations that Jesus was illegitimate were penned by Shimeown ben Azzai around 100 CE. Since ben Azzai’s imaginative speculation was a response to interpolated Matthew’s declaration that Jesus was not Joseph’s natural son, it could only have been written after Matthew had been written and interpolated. Price seems to view the virgin birth as part of the original Matthew, and that raises the question of why he offers no explanation of why ben Azzai would jump to such a conclusion fifty years before a Christian document gave him a reason to do so. Dr Price offers a speculative explanation of why Luke omitted Mark 6:45 to 8:26. My explanation (Mythology’s Last Gods, pp. 310–311) is, “Since everything in Mark between the two bagelsand-fish stories is missing from Luke, a better explanation is that Luke finished copying the first tale, rerolled the scroll, and later resumed copying from the second such tale in the belief that that was where he left off.” Price also treats Matthew’s “keys of heaven” interpolation (16:17–19) and Trinitarian interpolation (28:19), both better dated three centuries later, as parts of the original gospel (pp. 17, 26). I don’t think so. On the question of whether there was ever a historical Jesus onto whose biography savior-god myths were posthumously grafted, Price has previously leaned toward the conclusion that there was not. The hypothesis in his final paragraph (p. 279) that, “it is quite possible that there was no historical Jesus,” is pragmatic to say the least. I get the impression that his current position is that the conflicting evidence makes it “too close to call.” Perhaps further consideration will tilt him one way or the other. We can only wait and see. september 2008 — American Atheist

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BOOK REVIEW Price justifies the “occasional sarcasm scattered through these pages,” with the explanation (p. xi), “I don’t want to make an outrageous proposition sound like it deserves any respect by speaking of it respectfully.” The sarcasm is, however, kept to a minimum for a logical reason. The primary thrust of Jesus is Dead is the decimation of lightweights whose incredible rationalizations disqualified them from consideration in Price’s more important books, Deconstructing Jesus and The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man. If such apologists were treated as they deserved, this book would be a marathon of sarcasm. The purpose of Jesus is Dead is to annihilate apologists whom Price could not rebut in books with a more serious purpose, because rebutting them would have granted them an undeserved dignity. Now, just as Carl Sagan eventually chose to rebut Immanuel Velikovsky in order to defuse the allegation that he could not be rebutted, Price has written a book to rebut the circular arguments he and other

scholars had previously ignored. And the result is devastating, analogous to using a sledgehammer to swat flies. For example, typical of the desperate rationalizers whose theobabble Price rebuts are two who argue (p. 40), “What about hostile eyewitnesses who would have called the Christians’ bluff? ‘Had there been any tendency to depart from the facts in any material respect, the possible presence of hostile witnesses in the audience would have served as a further corrective.’” In response to such pseudoreasoning, Price cites, among others, the Rastafarians of Jamaica who hailed Haile Selassie as the incarnation of the universe’s alleged One God. When Selassie died, a Jamaican journalist told Sixty Minutes that Selassie’s supposed death was a “premature report engendered by the unbelieving Western media” (p. 41). Of such attempts to uphold religious fairy tales, biblical as well as latter-day, Price explains (p. 44), “Really they are all attempts to get evangelical students and

NOCTURNES

The Amazing Deception

by W. E. Gutman

by Doyle E Duke Exulting in polemic and moral disobedience, unsettling and politically charged, NOCTURNES swings dizzyingly between parody and horror, wry humor and paradox. Denouncing predigested notions of life and death, justice and inequity, sanity and psychosis, this thinly veiled anti-religious allegory casts an acerbic, often savage eye at society’s most cherished convictions.

Bizarre. Troubling. A warning for the ages. This is antireligious allegory in its most disquieting dimension. The ending is meant to shock – and it does, mercilessly. Apocalypse disguised as fiction. Brilliant. Barnes & Noble review. $16.95 234 pp. ISBN 1-4259-5951-2 Published by AuthorHouse, (888) 519-5121. Available from the publisher, Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com and bookstores nationwide. 26

American Atheist — september 2008

seminarians to ‘pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.’” Jesus is Dead has nothing to say to scholars, since no person worthy of such an appellation needs to be told that the earth is not flat, Jesus did not rise from the dead, and anything that cannot happen, such as feeding 5,000 with a picnic basket of bagels and lox, did not happen. But it needed to be written, if only to pull the rug out from under incurables who cite the nonsense peddlers Price crucifies, as if the mental gymnastics that is their substitute for human thought belonged anywhere but in a reeducation asylum. And while the reaction of the woman mentioned on the back cover, who went into a state of catatonic shock on hearing the mere title of Price’s book, was by no means unique, the fact remains that Jesus is indeed dead: totally, permanently, irreversibly DEAD. Subject closed. k (The latest of William Harwood’s 35 books is American Hitler: George W. ShicklBush and the Republicanazi Gestapo.)

The Amazing Deception: A History of Christianity denies the presently accepted history of Christianity. Direct and matterof-fact, this scholarly text reveals the numerous conflicts within Christianity’s teachings and records. For nearly fifteen hundred years, authors and historians have tried to make this information public—against the Church, against the Pope and against the odds. Citing New Testament scriptures to dispute Catholic claims, this book uses deductive reasoning to assert that the stories of Jesus’ birth, deity and resurrection are baseless. It presents scriptural proof that many of our commonly-held beliefs are unsupportable. These premises are based upon one absolute fact—namely, the Jewish belief in the observance of the Law of Moses—a certainty that exposes New Testament fables, contradictions and unfounded statements. www.amazingdeception.com Available at Amazon and most good bookstores


How Do You Know There Is No God? by Frank R. Zindler

Believer: How do you know there is no God? What proof do you have? Atheist: How do you know there is no Easter bunny? How do you know there is no Santa Claus? Have you disproved the existence of Thor and Osiris? Believer: Be serious! Those are just myths made up by men. I’m talking about God! Atheist: Well, the burden of proof is on you to prove that a deity exists. I don’t have to prove a universal negative. The burden of proof is always on the person who alleges the existence of something. Believer: I don’t buy that. You have to prove that my god does not exist. Atheist: Your god? Singular? How do you know there aren’t lots of gods? Have you disproved the existence of goddesses? Believer: Don’t be silly! I’m talking about the existence of God, the creator of the universe. Atheist: Ah! Now we’re getting somewhere! You’re talking about me! Believer: Since when are you God ? Atheist: Since just a bit more than an infinite length of time. Of course, I created you just three minutes ago. Believer: That’s crazy! I’m fifty-seven years old! Atheist: Of course you think you are: I created those memories in you, and I altered everyone else’s memories also, to make it appear that you were around before three minutes ago.

I suppose you created my birth certificate too! What evidence do you have to support such an absurd idea? Atheist: Ah! So you’re beginning to understand that the burden of proof is on the person who makes the claim of a god’s existence. Don’t you think you should try to disprove the claim that I am a god? Believer: Well, maybe. If you’re God, why don’t you perform a miracle? Atheist: Good question. Unfortunately, I don’t do miracles anymore. I could if I wanted to, but I’ve decided that from now on, people have to believe in me through faith. Being a god, I’ve just now read your mind and I see you’re thinking that you might be able to torture me into confessing that I’m not a god. Well, scrap that idea! I might very well decide to pretend to be in pain and “confess” all sorts of silly things. But believe me, I would punish you for eternity after you die! Believer: Hey, that’s not legitimate argumentation. There’s nothing I could ever do to disprove your claim of divinity. You could always wriggle out of it by claiming you’ll show me after I’m dead! Atheist: Very true! You’re learning how impossible it is to prove a universal negative. But you’re learning one even more important lesson. Believer: What’s that? Atheist: You’re learning that it is stupid to argue about propositions that can’t be Believer:

tested even in the imagination. For every test you could imagine to try, I could come up with a way to evade your net – in just the same way as the preachers tell me your god doesn’t want to get involved in my tests. My claim to divinity can’t be tested. Your claims of the divinity of Jehovah or Jesus can’t be tested either. If I call upon your god to strike me with lightning if I’m wrong, I guarantee nothing will happen. Your god won’t get involved any more than I will. Claims that can’t be tested even in the imagination are meaningless. They can’t even be false. We don’t need to waste our time trying to disprove them. You aren’t going to waste your time trying to disprove my claim to divinity, and no sane person will waste time trying to disprove the existence of your untestable god. Of course, when you accidentally make a claim about your divinity nominee that is testable, sane people might take the time to show you how the test results turn out to be negative. But in general, no one is going to waste time trying to prove that Jehovah and I are not gods. So stop worrying about gods and other untestable concepts. Focus your mind on the real world. Unlike gods and gremlins, the real world can affect your life for good or ill. Only the idea of gods can affect you. If gods themselves could affect us, we wouldn’t need to debate their existence! k september 2008 — American Atheist

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The Foxhole Atheist

What Is a Foxhole Atheist?

F

First Sergeant Kathleen Johnson will be contributing “The Foxhole Atheist” as a regular monthly feature of American Atheist.

oxhole Atheists are those individuals who proudly serve their country in the U.S. Armed Forces and who have experiences that firmly rebut the lie that “there are no Atheists in foxholes.” The Foxhole Atheist feature in the American Atheist magazine will continue as a monthly feature under new authorship and will profile a real Foxhole Atheist each month. This feature will be authored by Kathleen Johnson, an Army veteran and Atheist activist. If you are a veteran (or know someone who is) and would like to nominate a veteran for future profiles, please email Kathleen Johnson at milatheist@aol.com. First Sergeant Kathleen Johnson retired from active service with the U.S. Army on 30 June 2008 after 23 years of

service. Kathleen enlisted in 1985 in the U.S. Army as a military police officer and has served in a variety of positions in the Military Police Regiment and as a member of the Criminal Investigation Command (commonly called CID). During her long career, she served in Germany, Korea, Kosovo, Bosnia, Haiti, Afghanistan, several military installations in the United States, and Iraq. In 1997, Kathleen founded the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF) and continues to work to advance Atheist causes and advocate for Foxhole Atheists as a member of MAAF’s speakers bureau and by serving American Atheists as Military Director. 1SG Johnson was also recently appointed to American Atheists’ board of directors. k

Roof Rescue Fund Contributors Thanks to the generosity of the people listed below American Atheists is well on the way to paying for the rescue of the Charles E. Stevens American Atheist Library & Archives. In May of 2008 it was discovered that leaks in the roof of the American Atheist Center in Cranford, New Jersey, had increased to the point that they had damaged books in the stockroom and were threatening even the irreplaceable Atheist library housed in the same building. When the leaks actually reached the library, an urgent appeal for funds went out to help defray the more than $70 thousand being spent from the Trust Fund to replace the roof. The new roof is up; the library is safe. We thank all the donors listed below whose contributions have been received as we go to press. Their help is greatly appreciated. They are truly Atheist heroes! John Sheldon (P.) John Mayo John W. Martinez Lisa Ridge Robert Worth Robert Hooper Helen M. Mitzman Carl Dye John Boenke Harold Stephens Hugo A. Borresen Franco P. Jona Donald Havis Martin Bard Raoul LeBlanc William McNulty Maury Stern 28

American Atheist — september 2008

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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 — september 2008


state director listing

MILITARY DIRECTOR Kathleen Johnson CMR 422, Box 910 APO AE 09067 kjohnson@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/mil ALABAMA STATE DIRECTOR Blair Scott PO Box 41 Ryland, AL 35767-2000 (256) 701-6265 bscott@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/al/ ALASKA STATE DIRECTOR Clyde Baxley 3713 Deborah Ln. Anchorage, AK 99504 (907) 333-6499 cbaxley@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/ak/ ARIZONA STATE DIRECTOR Monty Gaither P.O. Box 64702 Phoenix, AZ 85082-4702 mgaither@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/az/ CALIFORNIA STATE DIRECTOR Dave Kong (415) 771-9872 dksf@atheists.org And CALIFORNIA ASSISTANT STATE DIRECTOR Mark W. Thomas (H) (650) 969-5314 (C) (650) 906-1095 mthomas@atheists.org 900 Bush Street, Unit 210 San Francisco, CA 94109 http://www.atheists.org/ca/

CONNECTICUT STATE DIRECTOR Dennis Paul Himes P.O. Box 9203 Bolton, CT. 06043 (860) 643-2919 dphimes@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/ct/ FLORIDA STATE DIRECTOR Greg McDowell P.O. Box 680741 Orlando, FL 32868-0741 (352) 217-3470 gmcdowell@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/fl/ IDAHO STATE DIRECTOR Susan Harrington P.O. Box 204 Boise, ID 83701-0204 (208) 392-9981 sharrington@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/id/ ILLINOIS STATE DIRECTOR Sandra Van Maren P.O. Box 1770 Chicago, IL 60690-1770 (312) 201-0159 svanmaren@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/il/ KENTUCKY STATE DIRECTOR Edwin Kagin P.O. Box 48 Union, KY 41091 (859) 384-7000 ekagin@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/ky/ MICHIGAN STATE DIRECTOR Arlene-Marie amarie@atheists.org and

MICHIGAN ASSISTANT STATE DIRECTOR George Shiffer gshiffer@atheists.org Both can be reached at: P.O. Box 0025 Allen Park, MI 48101-9998 (313) 388-9594 http://www.atheists.org/mi/ NEW JERSEY STATE DIRECTOR David Silverman 1308 Centennial Ave, Box 101 Piscataway, NJ 08854 (732) 648-9333 dsilverman@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/nj/ NORTH CAROLINA STATE DIRECTOR Wayne Aiken P.O. Box 30904 Raleigh, NC 27622 (919) 602-8529 waiken@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/nc/ OHIO STATE DIRECTOR Michael Allen PMB289 1933 E Dublin-Granville Rd Columbus, OH 43229 (614)-678-6470 mallen@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/oh OKLAHOMA STATE DIRECTOR Ron Pittser P.O. Box 2174 Oklahoma City, OK 73101-2174 (405) 205-8447 rpittser@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/ok/

TEXAS STATE DIRECTOR Joe Zamecki 2707 IH-35 South Austin TX 78741 (512) 462-0572 jzamecki@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/tx/ TEXAS REGIONAL DIRECTOR FOR DALLAS/FORT WORTH Dick Hogan dhogan@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/dfw/ UTAH STATE DIRECTOR Rich Andrews P.O. Box 165103 Salt Lake City, UT 84116-5103 randrews@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/ut/ VIRGINIA STATE DIRECTOR Rick Wingrove P.O. Box 774 Leesburg, VA 20178 (H) (703) 433-2464 (C) (703) 606-7411 rwingrove@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/va/ WASHINGTON STATE DIRECTOR Wendy Britton 12819 SE 38th St. Suite 485 Bellevue, WA 98006 (425) 269-9108 wbritton@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/wa/ WEST VIRGINIA STATE DIRECTOR Charles Pique P.O. Box 7444 Charleston, WV 25356-0444 (304) 776-5377 cpique@atheists.org http://www.atheists.org/wv/

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


American Atheist Center

mailing address

PO Box 158, Cranford, NJ 07016 delivery address

225 Cristiani Street, Cranford, NJ 07016 phone

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www.atheists.org • info@atheists.org


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