Freethought Today · Vol. 27 No. 7 September 2010

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

In the news: September 2010

Atheist opposing Forbes in Virginia

Dr. Wynne LeGrow, an atheist and retired nephrologist (kidney specialist) from Emporia, Va., is running as the Democratic contender for Congress in Virginia’s 4th District, which is currently represented by GOP Rep. J. Randy Forbes, who heads the evangelical Congressional Prayer Caucus.

LeGrow, a Vermont native, earned his medical degree in 1972 and served as an Army doctor at Fort Rucker, Ala., from 1975-77, reaching the rank of major. Since his retirement in 2008, he and his wife, Marilyn, who is a nurse, have spent time providing humanitarian medical care in Honduras.

“I am a nonbeliever,” LeGrow said in an article for Daily Kos (Aug. 18, 2010), “An Atheist Running for Congress.” “My father was a Protestant minister, and my mother was a schoolteacher. I grew up in the church. I was taught that what was important was how we treat one another. I learned from my parents a strong sense of honesty and integrity. The Golden Rule is something I still try to live by. What I did not accept were the church’s teachings concerning the supernatural.”

Dr. LeGrow was interviewed on FFRF’s Freethought Radio on Aug. 28, 2010.  Listen at ffrf.org/news/radio.

Don’t ‘Get Me to the Church on Time’

The Archdiocese of Boston says 3,727 couples were married in its Catholic churches last year, less than half the 8,343 marriages in 2000. New Hampshire Catholic officials said the 403 weddings in 2009 in the Diocese of Manchester also declined steeply.

Rev. Dennis Nason, pastor at All Saints Parish in Haverhill, told the North Andover Eagle-Tribune that the church is not relevant for many people. “They don’t go to church, so it doesn’t have any meaning to them.”

It’s not just Catholics. Rev. Andrew Gilman has been interim pastor at First Congregational Church in Salem for 10 months without officiating at a single wedding. “There are a lot of people who don’t see the point of going to church, and we have not made our case why this is important,” Gilman said.

Besides lack of relevance, the decline is blamed on “destination weddings,” more unwed couples living together and clergy abuse scandals.

Survey: Czechs likely to sleep in

The European Social Survey conducted in 2008-09 shows 63% of Czech Republic residents “never attend” church except for special occasions, the highest percentage of the 28 countries surveyed. Next were France (53%), Britain (52%), Belgium (51%), Netherlands (49%) and Spain (44%).

The highest regular attendance percentage was reported in Cyprus (97.6%) and Greece (95%), followed by Poland (94%), Croatia (88%) and Italy (85%).

The Austrian daily Der Standard reported in August that 100,000 Austrians will leave the Catholic Church this year, mainly due to abuse scandals. The 2009 total was 53,216. Austria has 8 million people, about two-thirds Catholic.

Poles protest memorial cross

Poles may go to church, but they also like separation of state and church. Several thousand protesters rallied Aug. 10 outside the presidential palace because they want a Latin cross memorial to former President Lech Kaczynski removed. Kacyznski died in an April plane crash.

“We live in a secular state and the place of the cross is in the church, not in front of the presidential palace,” one of the protestors, Krzysztof Nowicki, a sociology student, told Agence France-Presse. A Facebook “Akcja Krzyz” (Cross Action) group drew 43,000 members. Most protesters were young. Some dressed as “Star Wars” characters.

About 100 cross supporters prayed across the street. “They aren’t Catholics, they’re fanatics,” said cross protester Kuba. “We’ve come here to show that we want to live in a normal country.”

God better get on Facebook

Church youth groups are losing members, with only about one in four teens participating, said a new survey by Barna Group, a California evangelical research firm. Other measures — prayer, bible reading and going to church — lag as well, said an Aug. 14 story in USA Today.

“Talking to God may be losing out to Facebook,” said Barna President David Kinnaman.

Chris Palmer, youth pastor at Ironbridge Baptist Church, Chester, Va., said he got attendance up by stressing that real church is hard work. “This involves the Marine Corps of Christianity. Once we communicate that, we see kids say, ‘Hey, I want to be involved in something that’s a little radical and exciting.’ ”

Sam Atkeson, 18, Falls Church, Va., said he left his Episcopal youth group after middle school. “I started to question if it was something I always wanted to do or if I just went because my friends did. It just wasn’t really something I wanted to continue to do. My beliefs changed. I wouldn’t consider myself a Christian anymore.”

Principal: Children born little sinners

A public middle school assistant principal who’s also a pastor took some heat but kept his job in Mattapoisett, Mass., after a video circulated of his church lecture about corporal punishment.

In the video, since taken offline, at Calvary Chapel Cape Cod, Silas Coellner explains the need for spanking at an early age. “I have this little bundle of innocence. When do I start dealing with them? There’s something about when they reach that crawling stage, I have found, in my experience, when you can suddenly see that heart of defiance, of rebellion for the first time. That’s when you begin.”

He told the Boston Herald he spanks his children — ages 6, 8 and 10 — but won’t touch his students.

Coellner also said this on the video: “You are given a child, and that child is born in sin. It’s a little sinner, as beautiful as it is.”

Is it God’s or Demon Country?

Rev. Donald Crosby of Kingdom Builders Church of Jesus Christ in Warner Robins, Ga., rejects the high school’s Demon mascot, even though it stems from an Air Force fighter squadron and not Beelzebub. Crosby, 36, doesn’t like seeing “Welcome to Demon Country” and wants a transfer for his son.

He was arrested Aug. 9 for picketing without a license and Aug. 12 for disorderly conduct for illegal use of a bullhorn.

In demon-related school news, columnist Bill Roberts of the Pahrump Valley [Nev.] Times recalled a 1991 football game the Tonopah High Muckers lost to Laughlin, which had never won a game. To the coach it was the darkest day in Mucker history, so the next year against Laughlin he wanted players to wear black jerseys instead of red and white. A vocal opponent was current U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle, Roberts wrote Aug. 13. “I cannot quote scripture as they did to justify their point, but the gist of their argument was that black as a color was thoroughly evil, invoking the supernatural and especially the devil.”

Angle’s group prevailed, black was banned and the Muckers won in red and white.

In Carolina, one station under God

WIS-TV News reported that one gas station in West Columbia, S.C., has no truck with nonbelievers. The pumps display a digital message that says “ONE NATION UNDER GOD AND IF YOU DONT LIKE IT. LEAVE!”

The station operator refused to be interviewed, but one unidentified customer said, “I think it’s good. I think people should have a choice. If they don’t like it they can leave.”
Science journal retracts biblical case report

Virology Journal published a “study” in January by three Hong Kong medical researchers that was based on biblical references to Jesus curing Simon Peter’s mother-in-law of a high fever. The study’s abstract said: “Infectious diseases continue to be a threat to humanity, and influenza has been with us since the dawn of human history. If the postulation is indeed correct, the woman with fever in the bible is among one of the very early description of human influenza disease.”

Adverse reaction from readers and the scientific community was swift, leading to a retraction from Dr. Robert Garry of Tulane University, the journal’s editor: “I wish to apologize for the publication of the article entitled ‘Influenza or not influenza: Analysis of a case of high fever that happened 2000 years ago in biblical time,’ which clearly does not provide the type of robust supporting data required for a case report and does not meet the high standards expected of a peer-reviewed scientific journal.”

Lead author Ellis Hon also expressed regrets. “I think I will never write this type of article any more ­— not worth the hassles!”

Which magazine has highest circulation?

According to the 2010 New York Review of Magazines, it’s The Watchtower, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses. About 40 million copies a month are printed in 180 languages and distributed in 236 countries.

Last year, the world’s 7.3 million-strong Witnesses spent 1.5 billion hours knocking on doors and handing out The Watchtower free of charge. Its closest competitors are AARP The Magazine (circulation 24.3 million) and Better Homes and Gardens (7.6 million).

Witnesses were originally known as Bible Students. They believed Jesus would return to Earth in 1914 to govern the world and destroy nonbelievers. The name was changed, as was the story, in the 1930s, when it was proclaimed that Jesus had indeed returned but was invisible.

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