Vol. 21 No. 3 - Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. -
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Agnostic to Nontheist to Lifetime Member
Enclosed is my check for a Lifetime Membership which reflects my gratitude for the voices of reason and intelligence raised by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Around age 8, I was turned into an agnostic by a mean-spirited Sunday School teacher. At 14, I became a full-fledged nontheist, and have remained so for 61 years--not easy in a conservative city!
Maybe this frightening "right-wing" atmosphere should be called "wrong-wing."
Your paper is such a fresh breeze of sanity.
Jeanne G. Kaufmann
Good Friday Victory Reported
There is good news to report in Monona, Wis., this year. Those who wish to use the library or city offices on Good Friday can do so, and those who wish to attend a church service may also do so. Last year only the latter was possible.
When I asked the library director why the library was closed from noon to 3 p.m. I was told that it was a tradition in Monona. The library board responded in the same way. The workers at the library said it was part of their contract to have the afternoon off. No one gave the closing any thought.
I called the Freedom From Religion Foundation and they kindly sent me a copy of Judge Shabaz' 1996 decision making such closures unconstitutional, a denial of First Amendment protection against favoring an established religion. When I showed this to the officials in Monona I was told that municipalities were not covered by this decision. Again the Foundation came to my aid and sent copies to the city officials.
Somehow something worked and the Mayor directed the city offices and library to remain open as usual this year.
As usual means more freedom for everyone. The old "as usual" didn't.
Daniel J. Guilfoil
Editor's note: Congratulations to Prof. Guilfoil for his tenacious activism on this matter. The Freedom From Religion Foundation won FFRF v. Tommy Thompson in federal court in 1996, invalidating Good Friday as a Wisconsin state holiday. Government offices and institutions must now stay open on the afternoon of Good Friday. Workers are supposed to receive a "floating half-holiday." The Foundation continues to monitor frequent violations of this court order throughout Wisconsin.
First, a heartfelt thanks for Freethought Today, without which I don't think I'd be able to maintain sanity in this religion-besotted society of ours. Before becoming acquainted with the Freedom From Religion Foundation, I was totally unaware of how many people had transcended the religious indoctrination to which most of us are subjected. It was gratifying to learn that atheism is not nearly as singular as we are given to believe.
I'm enclosing a couple of newspaper articles documenting the arrests of a pair of local clergymen on charges of cultivating marijuana, possession of criminal tools, illegally performing marriages, receiving stolen property, domestic violence, etc. Also enclosed is a cartoon from the January 26th edition of The New Yorker, which I think you may find amusing. I infer from the cartoon that we freethinkers may not be the only ones who are aware of the degree to which the clergy has a propensity to criminal activity.
I enclose a check to help with FFRF's lawsuit challenging "faith-based" funding of religious groups by federal agencies.
Robert S. Zais
Kent State University, Ohio
"Opium of the People"
David Howard of Oregon (Letterbox, March 04) writes apropos the Farmacia de Dios (God's Pharmacy) in Morelia Mexico, "Could this drugstore have been the inspiration for that old saying that religion is the 'opiate of the people'?"
Karl Marx is popularly thought to have penned a simple condemnation of religion when he maintained that religion is "the opiate of the people." But Marx was concerned with more than simple condemnation. He was trying to understand why people hold religious beliefs in the first place. In his contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right of 1844, he wrote as follows:
"Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."
Marx was nothing if not insightful. His commentary provides a clue to why so many Americans cling so stubbornly to their superstitions.
District of Columbia
Jesus Would Drive Chrysler?
I'd like to share an ad I received in the mail this week. It seems that in Oklahoma City, "progress" includes buying a car, and having the dealer donate $100 to the church of your choice. Then, if the vehicle is involved in an accident (where was the paid-for protection from God?), or needs other repairs, 5% of the cost is donated to your church, too.
What Would Jesus Drive? In Oklahoma City, apparently it's a Chrysler or Jeep!
Thank you for the work you do.
Penn & Teller's "Emperor" Immortalized
On March 21, The Learning Channel showed a Celebrity "While You Were Out" featuring Las Vegas magicians Penn & Teller. "The While You Were Out Show" features a relative bringing in professional designers to re-design someone's room on the sneak. Penn and the designers re-designed the "Green Room" at the Rio Hotel while Teller was away. This is the room where we presented them with the Emperor Has No Clothes Award [the Freedom From Religion Foundation's statuette of the legendary emperor reserved for public figures who identify themselves as nonbelievers].
When they showed the "before" of the room, the Emperor Award was prominently displayed on an end table by a sofa. The "after" shots revealed that they built a two level shelf for awards in the corner of the room. They showed the main designer placing the Emperor Award on the top shelf, while the other trophies and awards went on the bottom shelf! Other ending scenes showed the Emperor Award somewhat prominently.
The cool thing here is that many famous people have seen and will see the Emperor Award--comedians, magicians, musicians, etc. Famous people often see P&T's show while in Vegas and hang out with them after the show in the green room. Also, it shows how much they value the award.
By the way, season 1 of "Penn & Teller's Bullshit!" is now available on DVD and Season 2 of the show will premier April 1 on Showtime. Topics for season 2 include 12 Step Programs and The Bible. Penn joked that it was tough to fit all the b.s. in the bible into a half-hour show.
Boxed In By Religion
Just thought I would drop you a note to thank you for being there.
My wife and I have been married 52 years and are in our 70s. We have spent our whole lives boxed in by religious insanity.
I was raised a Mormon and my wife was Church of Christ, but neither of us ever "believed" any of it and fought it till we could get away from it.
We do not consider ourselves to be "atheist" as that title comes too close to being "anti-God" and how can you be anti something that doesn't exist?
We are not agnostic or superstitious and do not "believe" in anything supernatural.
Rather, we consider ourselves simply "unafflicted."
Religious "belief" is, of course, the worst mental affliction one can have and since we are free from that--we happily go our way as "unafflicted."
We feel this designation is far superior to other labels.
Thanks again for being there and hope you will give some thought to our offering of the "unafflicted" designation for non-believers.
Jesus must be very happy to have Mel Gibson on his public relations team. They even got Freethought Today to mention the "reel" event of "The Passion of the Christ." Do you supposed the Jerusalem newspaper noted the real event of 2000 years ago, especially the part where ". . . the graves opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose. . ."? Open graves! Dead men walking! Now that's headline news.
It's in the bible in the book of Matthew; however, he dismisses it in just one sentence. The other gospels don't even bother to mention it at all.
Jerusalem was on a main trade route. There would have been traders in town from many major cities. Do you suppose that the Cairo, Rome or Athens media mentioned it? They didn't. It wasn't newsworthy? It was simply too implausible?
Speaking of implausible, do you suppose that the Sanhedrin (the Jewish court) would convene a special meeting on the eve of their most holy day, the Passover? Or that the Jew-hating Pilate would hesitate to kill a Jewish rabble-rouser?
Laying the Guilt Trip
"The Passion" is now showing in theaters across the United States. Do you notice anything peculiar about the timing?
To regain public confidence, the Catholic Church promised a complete investigation into the child molestation charges. A report of over 10,000 cases was made to the public at the end of February, an "end" to the cover-ups.
Is the front page of our local newspaper packed with details about the monstrous scandal? Are you hearing about it on the local news program? No! The newspapers are flooded with hype about the Mel Gibson movie, "The Passion."
Catholic businessmen know how to control the news media with their advertising dollars. The newspapers and TV stations are acting like trained monkeys.
There is nothing like a gory, bloody movie to divert attention away from the child molestation scandal. It is bucking up the sagging morale of control freaks for Jesus, a bunch of conformists who want to control every aspect of your life, and tell you what to think. They want to lay the guilt trip on all who refuse to believe and obey.
Arthur M. Davis
Debunking "The Passion"
Eighty-five percent of Christians in the United States have never read the bible, as revealed by national polls. "The Passion of the Christ," produced and directed by Mel Gibson, reveals an absolute proof that he has never read the bible scriptures.
There are listed 20 "official versions" (whatever that means) of the bible; also over 50 other "recognized" versions, plus hundreds more in many other countries in the world. Gibson has merely added one more, to be called the "Mel Gibson Version," since nowhere in the gospels is there any indication of the events he depicts in his movie.
There is no mention of Jesus ever carrying a cross for any distance. See Matthew 27:31, Mark 15:20, and Luke 23:26.
Only in John 19:17: "And he, bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Gol'go-tha."
John's gospel was written about 90 years after the death of Jesus, and seems to be an afterthought, as John had been ranting and raving of an impending apocalypse--doomsday--which is the core and basis of Christian preaching.
Only John mentions this incident, 19:34: "But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water." But Jesus was already dead.
The only mention of "torture" to Jesus is Matthew 27:30: "And they spit upon him, and took the reed and smote him upon the head," and the similar Mark 15:19.
So "The Passion of the Christ" is a fraud and a deception, a fantasy, its intention to vividly present and impose upon unknowing and vulnerable audiences a non-existent version of the gospels, plus additional propaganda for Gibson's Roman Catholic Church.
Within hours of the preview of this mythical film, hucksters had already manufactured for sale iron nail pendants, crosses, crowns of thorns, and other symbolic items of veneration, which the fallible sheep will gobble up, in a surge of bogus religious fervor.
Fred R. Melone
One Unpassionate Experience
I just received the March edition of Freethought Today and among the articles I really appreciated was the collection of blurbs about Mel Gibson's new cruci-fiction film "The Passion." I decided recently to go and see it. An odd thing for an atheist to do, you might say. But I believe in judging things for myself, especially movies and books.
Before the film even started, I found myself offended. The independently owned theater I went to decided to play the national anthem before running the movie. Everyone was expected to stand up and sing along. I just couldn't bring myself to participate. It's certainly not because I have anything against America or our anthem (which is secular in its often-used, abbreviated version). But I just couldn't stand the whole idea of a blatant mixture of politics and religion being shoved down my throat when I least expected it.
Apparently, my decision to remain seated didn't "sit" too well with someone standing behind me, for during the anthem I felt some kind of liquid squirted on the back of my neck! At first I thought it was my imagination, but it happened two more times! I thought about turning around and facing my squirting attacker, but it occurred to me that one of us was going to have to act like an adult and that it was probably going to have to be me. So, I ignored the incident.
After all the hype, I was surprised at how mediocre the production was. The acting was mostly tepid and two-dimensional, with a pace that really "plodded along," to quote one critic. If you've ever sat through a typical passion play at a local church, you have pretty much seen this movie. Except for the blood, that is. The gory special effects were the only real star of this show, along with the guilt that you're supposed to feel as you watch the suffering fleshed out in front of your very eyes because we awful sinners are supposedly the cause of Jesus having to go through all of this. The film actually plays around with the biblical text, adding details and dialogue that aren't even in the four gospels, but without addressing any of the theological implications of the story, like how can you kill someone who's supposedly a god?
In spite of all of the revisions, the movie still managed to retain the New Testament's anti-Semitism. The whole experience was a nauseating disappointment, even for someone who had low expectations like me. In the past, I have mostly enjoyed the professional output of actor Mel Gibson. But my opinion of him has taken a real nosedive, not just because of this turkey of a flick, but because he has shown his true colors in recent interviews and public statements about his beliefs and attitudes.
"The Passion--Christian Pornography"
I just got home from seeing Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ." I left after the nailing of the feet, tired of the relentless, repetitious, pointlessness of it all.
I had tried to clear my mind of all the hype and take the movie as it played. If I hadn't known the story in the depth I do, I would have been totally lost. Who is this guy? Why do they hate him? And then the mayhem begins. Not the tiniest opportunity is missed to show blood, wounds and pain. Horror movie elements are throw in at random. What was that zombie that jumped out at Judas in the alley? Who are those mutant children? Was it necessary for a chunk of Judas' lip to be hanging off? What does that have to do with "experiencing the depth of Jesus' sacrifice?"
There is no context for the violence. We can tell that Jesus accepts his fate, but not why. Why is this a thing to celebrate?
I can sum up "The Passion of the Christ" in one word: pornography.
Without context, the movie is just a two hour fetish film. The level of character and story development in the movie is the equivalent of an XXX movie. But instead of crude, loveless sex, we get torture and degradation. A sad, brutal, gratuitous gore-fest. The showing I saw was at 1 p.m. at the mall downtown. Of the 60 people, about 20 were small children. No child should see this movie.
Mel Gibson has said that this was a personal film and an expression of his faith. I think he needs to sit down and ask himself some hard questions, starting with "Why do I get pleasure from torturing my god to death?"
Michael B. Conway
Hit the History Books
I wish everyone who wants to eliminate the "separation of church and state" would read Edward Rutherfurd's historic novel Sarum (the novel of England.) It seems that every time a new king came to power, he ordered everyone to convert to his religion. Subjects who openly refused usually ended up burnt at the stake.
Our founding fathers were well acquainted with the misuse of religion by kings in Europe, as well as by politicians in the 13 original colonies. That is why we live by the principle of separation of church and state today.
My question: Don't the people who want to merge politics with religion read history?
I am not optimistic. Pat Buchanan may yet have his religious war.
Kelvin's Unique Solution
With all the controversy over same-sex marriage, homosexuality, minority rights, and especially what God has to say, why doesn't anyone quote Matthew 19:12 in which Jesus covers the entire question of sex?
In all my years of attending Sunday School and church, this passage has never been the subject of any Sunday morning, Sunday night, or Wednesday night sermon that I ever attended and I think that its time has come to highlight its relevance to modern day situations, including the problem of an exploding world population. The answer has been right under our hypocritical noses for some 2000 years and we have somehow overlooked it. Perhaps a constitutional amendment could be proposed to include this exposed revolutionary idea that has been around for so long.
A Whiff of Spring
I want to thank all of you for your efforts at the 26th annual Freedom From Religion Foundation convention in DC last October. This was my first conference and the whole atmosphere was like the air that first day when you know winter is over.
Gullible Conned About Unknowable
Humankind is the only species in which the individual knows that it must die. The piglet taking its first and only trip to the slaughterhouse can enjoy the ride in the truck on its way to becoming baby back ribs. It is conscious one second and dead the next, and so it is with all other animals except humans. Even the mighty lioness only knows that she is extremely tired and must lie down, now knowing that her nap will be her last, and shortly the vultures and jackals and hyenas will be fighting for pieces of her carcass.
For young people there is no worse curse than the knowledge that life must end in death. But even among humans, if they live into told age, death is an accepted and often a welcome release from the pains and trials and tribulations of life.
Were it not for the fear of death, no con artists and opportunists would be able to take advantage of gullible people, taking their hard-earned money in payment for lies and half-truths about matters that are unknowable.
David B. Higginbottom
Attorney at Law
Library Acquisition Advice
Having worked in libraries for over 16 years, I can assure you that public libraries do respond to requests from local patrons. University libraries are a little more difficult to persuade, and if you want a university library to add more freethought books, it's worthwhile to approach them with supportive reviews. For example, reviews from Choice or Library Journals are helpful, or you can go to Book Review Index to find reviews in scholarly journals.
If you're unsure where to get a list of good books in print, Amazon.com has several lists available--just do a few searches on "Atheism" and the lists will pop up. There are quite a few lists available online--just make sure the books are available and not out-of-print. Paperback editions are fine, as universities are willing to buy paperbacks when hardcover books are not available.
Collection Development Librarian
Pittsburgh State University
Earl Lee is the author of "Libraries in the Age of Mediocrity and Kiss My Left Behind--a parody of the "Left Behind" series--and an FFRF member.
Hang Ten Privately, Please
While there are many polls showing a majority of Americans support placing the Ten Commandments in public places, there should be a poll of how many of these people display the Ten Commandments in their own homes. Perhaps if they all displayed their religious symbols in their own homes, they would not feel the need to force them on the rest of us. Also, I wonder how much support they would give to displaying the Ten Commandments if they also had to display the penalties, mostly death, for violations.
Correction: California reader John Mark reports "a slight error in the Jan/Feb 2004 issue, namely 'San Diego Evicts Boy Scouts.' 'The Scouts who have occupied the southwest corner. . .' are actually at the northwest corner of Balboa Park."
April 2004 Excerpts