Freethought Today · Vol. 25 No. 5 June/July 2008

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Violence in Religion

By Barbara Walker

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Anthropologists and archaeologists have ascertained some general trends in pre-patriarchal societies, worldwide, that show decided contrasts with our own civilization. Dr. James DeMeo sums them up in his book, Saharasia: The 4000 B.C.E. Origins of Child Abuse, Sex-Repression, Warfare and Social Violence in the Deserts of the Old World, pointing out that pre-patriarchal or “matrist” cultures are indulgent toward children, giving them much physical affection and little punishment, tending also to be permissive in various forms of pleasure and sexuality. There are no homosexuality taboos, no concubinage, no prostitution. Women control their own fertility and choice of mates. The sexes have equal social status, though the family usually is matrilocal and matrilineal–that is, married people live in the wife’s home, the property is hers, and descent is reckoned primarily through mothers: exclusively so, among peoples that have not yet understood biological fatherhood. There is a democratic division of labor, no caste system, no full-time military. Religion is some variant of nature worship without strict codes, a Mother Goddess being primary and her consorts secondary. Shamans are both female and male. Sexuality and love between the sexes may be considered a part of religious feeling. Such cultures were generally nonviolent, and valued spontaneity, humor, and sensual enjoyments.

By contrast, the characteristics of the fully developed “patrist” society are given as follows: children are severely treated, with harsh physical punishments, restriction of movement, and painful initiations, including genital mutilation. Sexual attitudes are highly restrictive, ascetic, and fearful. Women’s freedoms are limited and their status inferior. Marriages are arranged by others, are patrilocal and patrilineal, and frequently imply sexual and reproductive slavery for wives and/or concubines. Heavy taboos surround menstruation, childbirth, abortion, birth control, widowhood, and women’s access to spiritual matters. There are full-time male clergies and military organizations, with a mono-theistic father god often depicted as rigidly authoritarian, demanding, and cruel: pain-seeking asceticism and renunciation of sexuality tend to please him. There are tight caste systems and strict codes with sadistic punishments, which may be used as spectacles of public entertainment. Men own property, women, and children, and may regard war as their most honorable calling. Slavery and torture are permitted and freely discussed, whereas physical pleasures and sensuality are viewed with puritanical anxiety and may incur verbal taboos.

Given these typical characteristics at the two extremes of observed human cultures, past and present, one might better understand how it happens that monotheistic, father-worshiping cultures can become distinctly violent and warlike. Experiments with monkeys have shown that individuals raised by gentle, nurturing adults will mature in the same way, while young monkeys deprived of maternal affection grow up with violent tendencies, sexual dysfunctions, and lack of empathy for others.

DeMeo writes: “Early social institutions, which nurtured children emotionally, which venerated heterosexual love and allowed much freedom in sexual matters . . . once persisted across all of Europe, Asia, Africa, and India. In all cases, the arrival of militant armored nomad groups from Central Asia and Arabia initiated cultural transitions which destroyed the male-female and maternal-infant bond, and placed all family matters, including choice of marriage partner, in the hands of dominant males. The early peaceful peoples were either exterminated. . . or they were enslaved, losing their own cultural identity and legal controls over their land, property, and their very lives. . . . Increasingly stratified political hierarchy and despotism were accompanied by changes in family structure toward an increased male dominance over basic life decisions of females and children. Sadistic abuses within the family, in society at large, and in the military appear to have increased in direct proportion to these changes.

“The archaeological and historical survey . . . confirms the past presence of a ubiquitously higher status for women, greater autonomy for children and adolescents, and a much more fluid and pleasure-oriented social fabric. Males had a solid role in the family as help-mates, lovers and partners, but did not dominate the basic life decisions of either the wife or children. . . . Destructive human aggression and sadism in its worst forms, which include despotism, warfare, ritual murder, and the brutal subjugation of females and children for sexual purposes, are a relatively recent development in human history, of less than 6000 years’ duration.”1

Mesopotamia before 4000 B.C.E. was largely matrist and peaceful. The Mother Goddess religion prevailed, and women had high-status positions as priestesses, scribes, diviners, healers, judges, and acknowledged masters of various crafts: fiber arts, weaving, pottery, food preparation, and agriculture. In Crete and pre-Hellenic Greece also, the primary deity was the Great Goddess, whose temples were tended by women, and gender equality was the rule.

Few societies are 100% either matrist or patrist, since human culture is always a continuum of overlapping eddies in the stream of general trends, but we can perceive the stream through archaeological and anthropological studies.

Judaism was one of the most patristic religions of the early middle east, after having won its territories by warfare and having made many rules that subordinated women and children to male control, under a god who claim-ed sole power over everything in the universe. Though this god was supposed to have said, “Thou shalt not kill,” he ordered massive slaughters again and again of various “infidel” peoples, and even commanded the faithful to kill their own family members, neighbors, or friends who did not share their one-and-only religion:

“Neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: but thou shalt surely kill him” (Deuteronomy 13:5—9). And there is that commandment in Exodus 22:18: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” which was directly responsible for twelve centuries of the most hideous persecutions, tortures, and legal murders of an estimated nine million women–and this is said to be a low estimate.2

Christianity became even more patristic than its Judaic forerunner, spending its first eight centuries forcing conversions by the sword or else exterminating Europe’s heathen agriculturalists (the Latin word for a farmer was pagan). After 385 C.E., the church rigorously enforced the death penalty for nonbelievers. New canon laws also took away women’s property rights, subjected children to the absolute rule of fathers with the power of life and death, encouraged frequent beatings of offspring and wives through exhortations from the pulpit, and insisted on the inherent sinfulness of sexual activities, including even marital relations. St. Jerome said a Christian must “regard everything as poison which bears within it the seed of sensual pleasure.” St. Augustine maintained that original sin is transmitted through all generations by means of sex, and the handbooks of the Inquisition explained that the devil governs every sexual act “because of its natural nastiness.”3

The innocent sensuality of children was to be severely repressed with various physical torments, according to church fathers like St. John Chrys-ostom, who also advised terrifying them with stories of child-devouring demons, to keep them still “when they want food or play or anything else unreasonable.” A new holiday was devised, called Childermass, or Holy Innocents Day, when all children were to be whipped to make them remember the story of King Herod.4

In view of the contrasting attitudes of matrist societies toward children and sexuality, it is no surprise to read the disapproving remarks of Father Bourien, a missionary to the Malay Peninsula, where, he said, “a long sojourn among erratic tribes has taught me that from among carnal sins they only exclude one, that is, rape.”5 Naturally, the good father was disinclined to notice the prevalence of this particular sin in his own culture; but the many strictures against natural sexual expressions led to cruelty in this regard, as in many others, among Christian believers.

During Europe’s many wars, crusades, and persecutions, as Susan Brownmiller demonstrated in her book, Against Our Will, rape was considered a rightful reward of the warrior. Old Testament soldiers were told by their god to seize the young daughters of their slain enemies and make them into sex slaves (concubines); see Numbers 16, 21, and 31 in particular. Medieval clergymen claimed a similar privilege. “The Inquisition kept prison harems of young women, who were incarcerated purely because of their good looks; they were subject to repeated prison-rape by inquisitors and other strangers with connections to the Holy See, who threatened them with grotesque tortures if they failed to submit. . . . The Christian Church also engaged in temple prostitution, and kept brothels of young girls who would service only Christian men. The girls were required to say prayers, however. Church coffers overflowed with monies from brothel and &lsqou;sin rent’ payments, which were allowed in lieu of more painful forms of penitence.”6

In such ways, sex was poisoned by patristic inequality between men and women, within a church whose founders called all women “daughters of Satan,” “sacks of dung,” “insatiable beasts,” “unworthy of life,” “imperfect animals,” and many similar epithets.7 When women are so put down as to be forbidden any part in defining the moral code, it seems that violence soon becomes institutionalized. Christian nations were intensely warlike, and during their periods of colonization massacred native populations on all continents, in order to teach the heathen to love the correct god.

The Holy Inquisition was perhaps the most heinous extortion system ever devised; it served as a foundation for the church’s immense wealth, since all whom it accused had their property confiscated at once. Conviction was essentially inevitable, due to the unrestricted use of torture. Each victim was forced by torture to supply the names of many alleged “accomplices,” so that whole villages could be wiped out by a visit from the Hounds of God (Domini canes, the Dominicans), and the church could take over lands and other assets virtually without limit.

Relatives of the accused even had to pay for the ropes, chains, whips, stakes and other materials of execution, and had to contribute food and clothing for the sufferers in inquisitorial dungeons, as acts (so it was written) of “Christian charity.” Property could be taken away from the legal heirs of the dead who were accused of heresy post-mortem. If a victim was forewarned, and committed suicide through fear of the torturers, his or her property was taken anyway, and suicide was declared a mortal sin, consigning the victim to hell forever.

Canon law thus established the rule of property seizure for suicides, which remained in force throughout Europe until the late 19th century, and still contributes to today’s prejudices against euthanasia or suicide even for a sufferer of unbearable pain; yet self-sacrificial suicidal feats in a war situation are commonly viewed as heroic.8

Anthropologists and psychologists have wrestled with the problem of human violence. Some have attributed the problem to basic biology, saying that among social mammals the females generally spend their lives nurturing and teaching the young, whereas the males spend their lives fighting one another for access to females. Therefore, they say, battle is the natural testosterone-induced male role in life, while caring for others is the estrogen-induced female role.

But this view is far too simplistic for anything as complex as human culture. It is evident that both women and men partake of either matrist or patrist values when raised in an environment of one or the other. The picture is never uniform. Whatever the prevailing codes, there are always individuals or smaller groups who resist them and evolve other alternatives.

Still, in our patriarchal culture the conditioning toward violence is seen in sports and entertainment, with overtones of battle, rivalry, and desensitizing spectacles like modern “action” movies and video games aimed at the young. A major enforcer of the values of violence has always been a monotheistic patriarchal religion that condemns alternate beliefs as heresy or devil worship–even when the mainstream religion may have shamelessly taken over formerly “pagan” beliefs and converted them to its own uses. Since the underlying principle of monotheism is that only one god is right, and all others are wrong, every dissenting belief becomes defined as evil, and its practitioners become candidates for extermination, which is called “doing God’s work.” This is what happened during Christianity’s early conquests; the holy wars against pagans, Gnostics, Arians, Paulicians, and 30 or 40 other Christian heresies; the Crusades; the tortures and burnings of the Inquisition; the witch hunts; the pogroms, the ghettoizations, and the 20th century Holocaust–all manifestations of religion-based violence.9

The great unmentionable evil at the center of our culture is monotheism. From a barbaric Bronze Age text known as the Old Testament, three anti-human religions have evolved–Judaism, Christianity and Islam. They are patriarchal–God is the omnipotent father–hence the loathing of women for 2,000 years in those countries afflicted by the sky-god and his male delegates. The sky-god is jealous. He requires total obedience. Those who would reject him must be converted or killed. Totalitarian-ism is the only poultice that can truly serve the sky-god’s purpose.10

Adrienne Rich points out that “It is not from God the Father that we derive the idea of paternal authority; it is out of the struggle for paternal control of the family that God the Father is created.”11 As a consequence, “The absence of respect for women’s lives is written into the heart of male theological doctrine, into the structure of the patriarchal family, and into the very language of patriarchal ethics.”12

Socialization of males in our culture, from their earliest boyhood, involves so much orientation toward violence that it is hardly surprising to see it acted out in adulthood by far too many men. “In 1991, 90% of those arrested for murder were men, who tend to murder for more trivial things than women. Women arrested for murder most often killed their husbands or boyfriends after long-term physical abuse.”13

In the United States, television and movies have largely replaced other conduits of socialization such as parents and other elders in the community. Multicolored screens exert their magnetism of excitement and fantasy, with desensitization and violence-training lurking behind their scenes like fishhooks inside the bait. Even the film “Thelma and Louise” could hardly be understood as a successful feminist statement, since the women paid with their lives for stepping out of line in a patrist society, and for daring to defend themselves with violence against male violence. A posse of men in effect demanded their execution, and got it. The lesson of this film for women was the same old line: fight back, and you will be killed.

We all want a peaceful, warless world but we haven’t the faintest idea of how to achieve it. . . . We don’t approve of killing, yet we train millions to kill, and if one kills sufficiently he becomes a national hero, and we are proud of him. We are proud of our armies and navies, never realizing that if we were civilized there would be no such things. We are proud of the size and efficiency of our police force when this is due only to the number of criminals in our society. We are proud only because we haven’t sense enough to be ashamed.

We would rid the world of religious bigotry and prejudice, then passionately defend their source, religion. This, we’ve been told, is the one great binding force, when it is the most divisive force in the world–Catholic against Protestant, Arab against Israeli, Mohammedan against Hindu. Thus instead of binding us together it makes killers of us. Throughout its history it has caused the death of untold millions.14

In his song “Imagine,” John Lennon proposed the idea that there will never be true peace on earth until there is “no religion,” no heaven or hell, no preachers persuading their followers that they alone know the right way, while others are wrong and deserve only conversion or death. In view of the effects that religions have had on human history, Lennon’s idea has much to recommend it.

Concern for life in the here and now is a major point of difference between the old pagan female-oriented religions and patriarchal religions. The latter frequently denigrate or even despise life in the here and now, in favor of life in the hereafter. Christianity has always been death-centered; its central figure is a man dying in agony. Christian civilization has had a history of almost unremitting violence. For the past 2,000 years it has had hardly a single decade free of war, and hardly a day–not even a single hour–universally free of male violence.

Until violence affects them personally, many women seem relatively unaware of its ubiquity in modern culture. They may avoid watching the bloodier forms of entertainment, or believe that male violence is genetically or hormonally predetermined. Anthropologists have found that matrist societies were quite capable of training men to be nonviolent, without casting any unwarranted aspersions on their masculinity. This indicates that the violence pervading our society is not innate but learned.

Imagine a world where any woman or child could walk alone on any street, lonely road, back alley, or path at any hour of the day or night, and meet a strange man or group of men without any sense of threat. That would be a civilized world. Our world has come to such a pass that all men must be routinely suspected of criminal, sadistic, or homicidal tendencies. It isn’t fair to women; neither is it fair to those men who have no such tendencies and mean no harm to anyone.

Each year in our country, thousands of young girls and children disappear. Whether they are voluntary runaways or abductees, most of them end up in terrible circumstances created by men. Some are even tortured or killed for the entertainment of men. The idea that females are fair game, born to be victimized because they are somewhat less than fully human, is an outgrowth of sexist theology.

Early Christianity was deeply influenced by Zoroastrianism, which insisted that the only women who might escape eternal torture in hell were those who lived lives of abject obedience to men. Psychologically, however, the abjectly obedient do not escape persecution. The pose of a victim only encourages abuse by the bully. As a rule, a bully is a coward who prefers to torment only those who seem incapable of fighting back.

The real demons that we need to exorcise from our world are not the traditional horned devils or fork-tailed imps that theology postulated. They are the human-made demons of violence, exploitation, rape, bullying, and ignorance: the demons that make it impossible for all women and children to live safely, and impossible for all men to be trusted. We need to exorcise war, hatred, bigotry, and the kind of entertainment that presents senseless cruelty as somebody’s fun. We need to understand and exorcise men’s sexual fears, and the social blocks against women’s true power, set up by patriarchal religion.

Then, perhaps, we may look forward to a truly civilized world.

Notes

1. DeMeo, James. Saharasia: The 4000 BCE Origins of Child Abuse, Sex-Repression, Warfare and Social Violence in the Deserts of the Old World. Greensprings, OR: Orgone Biophysical Research Lab., 1998, pp. 367-368
2. Ibid., p. 312
3. Walker, Barbara G. The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. HarperSanFrancisco, 1983, pp. 910-911
4. DeMeo, op. cit., pp. 275, 306
5. Briffault, Robert. The Mothers: A Study of the Origins of Sentiments and Institutions (3 vols). New York: Macmillan, 1927, v. 2, p. 48
6. DeMeo, op. cit., p. 311
7. Walker, op. cit., pp. 921-922
8. Smith, Homer W. Man and His Gods. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1952, p. 418
9. See Carroll, James. Constantine’s Sword. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001
10. Warraq, Ibn. Why I Am Not A Muslim. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 1995, p. 116
11. Rich, Adrienne. Of Woman Born. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1976, p. 67
12. Ibid., p. 270
13. Stephenson, June. Men Are Not Cost-Effective: Male Crime in America. New York: HarperCollins 1995, p. 33
14. Graham, Lloyd M. Deceptions and Myths of the Bible. Carol Publishing Group, 1999, pp. 420-421

Barbara G. Walker is author of the monumental feminist/freethought sourcebook The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets (1983). Her many other books, published by Harper & Row, include The Skeptical Feminist. An atheist, she has also specialized in debunking New Age assertions.


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FFRF Co-Presidents

DAN BARKER and ANNIE LAURIE GAYLOR are co-presidents of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and co-hosts of Freethought Radio. A former minister and evangelist, Dan became a freethinker in 1983. His books, Just Pretend: A Freethought Book for Children and Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher To Atheist (1992) are published by the Foundation. His newest book, The Good Atheist: Living a Purpose-Filled Life Without God, was published by Ullysses Press in January, 2011. His previous book, the autobiographical Godless: How An Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists, was published in 2008. A graduate of Azusa Pacific University with a degree in Religion, Dan now puts his knowledge of Christianity to effective freethought use. A professional pianist and composer, Dan performs freethought concerts and is featured in the Foundation's musical cassettes, "My Thoughts Are Free," "Reason's Greetings," "Dan Barker Salutes Freethought Then And Now," a 2-CD album "Friendly Neighborhood Atheist," and the CD "Beware of Dogma." He joined the Foundation staff in 1987 and served as public relations director. He was first elected co-president in November 2004.

Annie Laurie was also editor of Freethought Today from 1984 to 2009, when she became executive editor. The paper is published 10 times a year. Her book, Woe To The Women: The Bible Tells Me So, first published in 1981, is now in its 4th printing. In 1988, the Foundation published her book, Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children, the first book documenting widespread sexual abuse by clergy. Her 1997 book, Women Without Superstition: 'No Gods, No Masters'is the first collection of the writings of historic and contemporary women freethinkers. A 1980 graduate of the UW-Madison Journalism School, she was an award-winning student reporter and recipient of the Ken Purdy scholarship. After graduation, she founded, edited and published the Feminist Connection,a monthly advocacy newspaper, from 1980-1985. She joined the Foundation staff in 1985. She has been co-president since 2004. She co-founded the original FFRF with Anne Gaylor (see below) as a college student. Photo: Timothy Hughes

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FFRF President emerita

Anne Nicol Gaylor
Photo by Brent Nicastro.

ANNE NICOL GAYLOR is a founder and president emerita of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. She served as executive director from 1978 to 2005, and is now working as a consultant to the Foundation. Born in rural Wisconsin, she is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin in Madison. She owned and managed successful small businesses and was co-owner and editor of an award-winning suburban weekly newspaper. A feminist author, she has done substantial volunteer work for women's rights (including serving as volunteer director of the Women's Medical Fund). Under her leadership the Freedom From Religion Foundation has grown from its initial three Wisconsin members to a national group with representation in every state and Canada.

Slideshow of Anne Gaylor & FFRF activism
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Director of Operations

LISA STRAND is director of operations of FFRF. She has more than 25 years of experience in nonprofit (primarily association) management, including 15 years as executive director of the Wisconsin Library Association. She is married with a daughter, as well as three cats, a guinea pig and an untended garden that will someday be beautiful.

FFRF Legal

REBECCA S. MARKERT attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison and received her B.A. in political science, international relations and German in 1998. After graduating from UW–Madison, Rebecca spent one year working as a legislative fellow at the German Parliament in Bonn, Germany. In the fall 1999, she returned to the United States and began working as a legislative correspondent and assistant to the chief of staff for United States Senator Russ Feingold in Washington, D.C. In 2002, she returned to Madison, Wisconsin, to work on Senator Feingold’s 2004 re-election campaign. After the campaign, Rebecca attended Roger Williams University School of Law and received her Juris Doctor in 2008. She joined the Foundation staff in October 2008.

Rebecca is the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s first staff attorney and primarily works on Establishment Clause cases. She is a member of the State Bar of Wisconsin, Dane County Bar Association, and is admitted to practice in the United States District Court for the Eastern and Western Districts of Wisconsin.

PATRICK ELLIOTT, the Foundation's second staff attorney, hails from St. Paul, Minn. Patrick received a degree in legal studies and political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2005. He attended the University of Wisconsin Law School and received his Juris Doctor in 2009. While in school, Patrick took an interest in the First Amendment and constitutional law. He joined FFRF as a staff attorney in July 2010, after working part-time for the Foundation since February. Patrick is a member of the State Bar of Wisconsin, and is admitted to practice in the United States District Court for the Western and Eastern Districts of Wisconsin.

ANDREW SEIDEL graduated cum laude from Tulane University with a B.S. in neuroscience and environmental science and magna cum laude from Tulane University Law School, where he was awarded the Haber J. McCarthy Award for excellence in environmental law. He studied human rights and international law at the University of Amsterdam and traveled the world on Semester at Sea. In May of 2011, Andrew completed his Master of Laws at Denver University Sturm College of Law with a 4.0 GPA and was awarded the Outstanding L.L.M. Award. He has written a book on International Human Rights Law and his essay on the role of religion in government and the founding of our nation placed second in the FFRF's 2010 graduate student essay contest. Andrew is a former Grand Canyon tour guide and accomplished nature photographer; his work has been displayed in galleries in Colorado, Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and Maryland. He joined the FFRF staff as a constitutional consultant in November 2011.

ELIZABETH CAVELL received her B.A in English from the University of Florida in 2005. After college, Elizabeth spent a year as a full-time volunteer in AmeriCorps*NCCC. She attended Tulane University Law School and received her Juris Doctor in 2009. After law school, she worked as a deputy public defender in southern Colorado. She joined the Foundation as a staff attorney in January 2013, after working for the Foundation part-time since September 2012.

SAM GROVER received his B.A. in philosophy and government from Wesleyan University in 2008. He first worked for FFRF in 2010 as a legal intern while attending Boston University School of Law. In 2011, his article on the religious exemptions in the Affordable Care Act’s individual health insurance mandate was published in the American Journal of Law and Medicine. After receiving his J.D. from Boston University in 2012, Sam worked as a law clerk for the Vermont Office of Legislative Council where he drafted legislation on health care, human services, and tax issues. He returned to work as a constitutional consultant for FFRF in the fall of 2013. Sam has written a paper on counterterrorism and the law that was published by the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism in Oklahoma City and has traveled to southern Africa to work under Justice Unity Dow of Botswana’s High Court.

KATHERINE PAIGE graduated magna cum laude from Wichita State University in 2010 with a B.A. in History, Political Science, and French. She attended law school at the College of William & Mary where she received her Juris Doctor in 2014. Katherine became FFRF’s first Legal Fellow in September 2014, specializing in faith-based government funding.

MADELINE ZIEGLER graduated magna cum laude from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse in 2011 with a B.A. in English Literature and Political Science. She attended the University of Wisconsin Law School and received her Juris Doctor in 2014. She has worked at FFRF since May 2012, starting as a legal intern/extern, and currently works as a law clerk.

FFRF Staff

JACKIE DOUGLAS is the office manager at the Foundation. She graduated in 2002 from the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Human Development and Family Services. Jackie is happily married, owns a home on the east side of Madison, and has a black cat named Lucky.

SCOTT COLSON, technology manager, webmaster and production editor, is a 2007 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who majored in philosophy. Scott joined the Foundation staff in May 2008. He enjoys playing bass, talking politics or economics and brewing beer.

KATIE DANIEL is the bookkeeper/executive assistant/staff baker at FFRF. She was born in California and has lived in Pennsylvania, Alabama and Missouri. She moved to Madison in 2005 to attend UW-Madison and graduated in 2009 with a BA in Gender & Women's Studies and a Certificate in LGBT Studies. She joined the foundation staff as a student clerical employee in September 2008 and started as the full-time bookkeeper in 2009. Unlike many of the Foundation's staff members, Katie is religious and considers herself a practicing Wiivangelical.

BILL DUNN is the editor of Freethought Today. He has a degree in history and mass communications (journalism emphasis) from the University of South Dakota and has worked as a reporter, copy editor and editor in South Dakota and Wisconsin since 1980. Bill joined the Foundation staff in July 2009. He has two daughters, Kaitlin Marie and Jamie Lee.

LAURYN is the publicist & assistant editor at FFRF. She was born in Wausau, Wisconsin and has also lived in Nagasaki, Japan. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Stout in 2012 with her B.S. in Professional Communications and Emerging Media, concentrating in Technical Communication and International Studies. She also received a double minor in Journalism and English. Lauryn moved to Madison in January 2013 and enjoys reading about astrophysics, basking in the sun like a turtle and creating art at coffee shops. Lauryn is a practicing Pastafarian

DAYNA LONG is an administrative assistant at FFRF. Originally from Illinois, she attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she received a degree in English. She has been with FFRF since July 2013. She spends her free time volunteering for the Wisconsin chapter of the National Organization for Women. She also enjoys reading, cooking, and admiring her beautiful cats.

FFRF Volunteers

Phyllis Rose
Foundation officer and volunteer Phyllis Rose.
Photo by Dan Barker

PHYLLIS ROSE is a retired library administrator from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has been volunteering 3 afternoons a week at the FFRF office since 2000. A Lifetime Member, Phyllis provides oversight, clerical and editorial support. Phyllis serves as an officer on the Foundation's governing body.

FFRF Honorary Board

honoraryboardmembers

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is delighted to announce the formation of a new FFRF Honorary Board of distinguished achievers who have made known their dissent from religion.

The FFRF Honorary Board includes Jerry Coyne, Robin Morgan, Richard Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett, Ernie Harburg, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Christopher Hitchens, Susan Jacoby, Mike Newdow, Katha Pollitt, Steven Pinker, Ron Reagan, Oliver Sacks, M.D., Robert Sapolsky, Edward Sorel and Julia Sweeney.

“We are so pleased that these outstanding thinkers and freethinkers have agreed to publicly lend their endorsement to the Foundation, and its two purposes of promoting freethought and the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause,” said Dan Barker, Foundation co-president.

  • Jerry Coyne, Ph.D., professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, is author of the popular book 'Why Evolution is True' and the blog of the same name.
  • Richard Dawkins, probably the world’s most famous contemporary atheist and a distinguished evolutionary biologist, is Oxford professor emeritus. In his blockbuster book, The God Delusion, Dawkins writes: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.”
  • Daniel C. Dennett is Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, Tufts, and author of the bestselling book about religion, Breaking the Spell. In a newspaper article about his nonbelief, Dennett once wrote: “I’ve come to realize it’s time to sound the alarm.”
  • Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of 36 Arguments For the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction and a research associate in Harvard’s psychology department, is FFRF Freethought Heroine of 2011. Goldstein is a 1996 MacArthur Fellow (the “genius” award). She has taught at Barnard and in the Columbia MFA writing program and the Rutgers philosophy department. She’s been a visiting scholar at Brandeis and at Trinity College in Hartford.
  • Ernie Harburg, a retired research scientist, is president of Yip Harburg Foundation and co-author of Who Put the Rainbow in the Wizard of Oz? Ernie has dedicated his retirement to furthering the lyrics, music, memory and progressive views of his freethinking father, the lyricist Yip Harburg, author of classic songs such as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and of Rhymes for the Irreverent, recently republished by FFRF.
  • Jennifer Michael Hecht, poet, historian and author of the acclaimed Doubt: A History and The End of the Soul, told the FFRF 2009 convention audience: “If there is no god — and there isn't — then we [humans] made up morality. And I'm very impressed.”
  • Susan Jacoby, bestselling author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, and program director of the Center for Inquiry-New York City, told FFRF convention-goers in 2004: "[President] Kennedy had to speak about his religion because he was suspected of insufficient dedication to the Constitution's separation of church and state. Today's candidates are suspect if they display too much dedication to secular government."
  • Robin Morgan, feminist pioneer, global activist, author of the groundbreaking "Sisterhood is Powerful" and more than 20 books, was formerly Ms. Magazine editor and consulting editor. She is the co-founder of the Feminist Women's Health Network and Women's Media Center and currently hosts "Women's Media Center Live" the radio "talk-show with a brain."
  • Mike Newdow is working pro bono to challenge such violations as the addition of “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. He told the U.S. Supreme Court during oral arguments: “I am an atheist. I don't believe in God. And every school morning my child is asked to stand up, face that flag, put her hand over her heart, and say that her father is wrong.”
  • Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard, is author of The Blank Slate: “I never outgrew my conversion to atheist at 13.”
  • Katha Pollitt, “Subject to Debate” columnist for The Nation, author and poet, has spoken out regularly and energetically as a freethinker, in such columns as “Freedom From Religion, Sí!”
  • Ron Reagan, media commentator, describes himself in a radio ad he taped for FFRF as: “Unabashed atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.”
  • Oliver Sacks, M.D., the compassionate neurologist and bestselling author, describes himself as “an old Jewish atheist.”
  • Robert Sapolsky, a neurologist, Stanford professor and bestselling author, once suggested FFRF put up a sign at its conventions: “Welcome, hellbound atheists.”
  • Edward Sorel, satiric cartoonist and irreverent illustrator who is a regular contributor to The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and whose caricatures have been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery, has been a Foundation member since the 1980s.
  • Julia Sweeney, comedian and actress, is writer/performer of the play, “Letting Go of God”: “How dare the religious use the term 'born again.' That truly describes freethinkers who've thrown off the shackles of religion so much better!”

In Memoriam 

  • Christopher Hitchens, the iconoclastic journalist, is author of the bestselling God Is Not Great: “Since it is obviously inconceivable that all religions can be right, the most reasonable conclusion is that they are all wrong.”

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