I'm confused, because even if you think religion belongs in the classroom, rather than in your local church/mosque/synagogue/ashram/coven, do you really think hanging a sampler [In God We Trust] will convert the faithless? If you follow this logic, you'd have to believe that hanging E=MC2 from the wall amounts to the same thing as teaching physics. . . . There is a lesson here that fits neatly on a sampler: Don't Trust Anyone Who Tries To Tell You Whom To Trust.
Rocky Mountain News, Feb. 27, 2003
Faith-based social services are the latest missile the Bush administration has fired at the wall between church and state. --Adam Cohen New York Times, March 9, 2003
For centuries our nation has referenced God as we have expressed our patriotism and national identity in our Declaration of Independence . . . [The Justice Department will] spare no effort to preserve the rights of all our citizens to pledge allegiance to the American flag. --Attorney General John Ashcroft Statement after 9th Circuit Court upheld 3-judge panel pledge decision
If the United States tries nation building, it's got to [have] at the very top of its agenda a separation of church and state. There has to be a secular state in there [Iraq] and not an Islamic state. . . . So it's going to be absolutely imperative to set up a constitution and safeguards that say we will maintain a secular state. . . --Rev. Pat Robertson "700 Club," March 17, 2003
The challenge of trying to make sense of the biology of some of the really interesting things we do as humans, including invented belief systems, is recognizing us as just another off-the-rack mammal. Some of the time it's just another plain-old mammal using standard physiology in utterly unstandard ways, and some of the time it's built around us being unlike anything that's ever existed before on this planet.
Now, when you put together all these realms of knowledge--people studying the genetics of the brain, the early experience, the hormones and neurotransmitters--what you wind up seeing is, we're getting an amazing amount of insight about all sorts of outposts of our behavior. What one has to be left with is a certain awe at the mechanistic feel of all of it: how we are sort of products of the material bases of our brains.
Let me give you two examples, because they're really quite extraordinary, and both of them come from the realm of neurological disease.
Here's a scenario: 40-year-old guy, 20-year happy marriage, white-collar job, living in the suburbs, utterly colorless, stable life. One day, from out of nowhere, he punches somebody in the face at work, in his office, some guy at the water cooler who had made some comment about a sports team. This guy hasn't had a fight since junior high school. Utterly bizarre, unprecedented. Three months later, his wife of this 20-year marriage discovers he's been having an affair with a 17-year-old kid at the checkout down at the supermarket. Totally bizarre. Three months later, he's arrested for drunken brawling in a bar--and he never even used to drink. Three months later, he embezzles the funds from his workplace, disappears, and is never seen again.
How can we explain this guy?
Explanation number one: the guy is no damned good. [laughter]
Explanation number two: he's having the world's most dramatic and childish midlife crisis.
Explanation number three: it's a neurological disease; he has a single-gene defect that makes him do this.
This, amazingly, is what a particular neurological disease looks like, a disease called Huntington's Disease, Huntington's chorea. Huntington's chorea is most famous for a neuro-muscular disorder: it starts with a tremoring, and by the time it's done with, you have your entire body writhing--absolutely horrendous. It kills you within a decade or so. It gets you in your mid-40s, Woody Guthrie being the most famous Huntington's Disease case. Three or four years before it's a neurological disease, it's a psychiatric disorder. You see precisely the profile that was just described: people become disinhibited. You find Huntington's patients are famed for always showing up in the dayroom in the hospital having forgotten to wear half of their pajamas, and things of that sort. It causes a massive disinhibition of the personality, and initially, it's a psychiatric disorder. It's not a mid-life crisis--it's a single-gene defect.
Prof. Sapolsky accepting his "Emperor" award from Freedom From Religion Foundation staffer Dan Barker
Here's another realm of neurological disorder, lest you think I'm going in a direction of "it's all genetic, genetic determinism" here, an environmental component. There's a part of the brain which, when it gets injured, something very interesting happens to us. I'm willing to bet, every day, everyone of us in this room has some thought that is boastful or lustful or petulant, or something weird, and we would die if anybody knew we were thinking that. Get this part of the brain damaged, and every time you think one of those things, you say it! Or you do it! [laughter] This is the frontal cortex.
The frontal cortex, the most recently evolved part of our brain, the most distinctly human part of our brain, is not of trivial relevance. It's the last part of our brain to fully develop. Not until around age 30 is our frontal cortex completely online, which may explain a whole lot about what was going on about 20 years ago in your life. [laughter] The frontal cortex is the nearest thing we have to a superego. The frontal cortex keeps the rest of your limbic system, your emotional part of the brain, from going out of control.
This was first noted in one of the most famous neurological patients of all time, a man named Phineas Gage. In the 1840s, Phineas Gage worked the railroad lines. That's about where the folk song ends, because he didn't do anything interesting beyond that. He was a foreman, he showed up to work every day, totally reliable, sober.
One day there was a dynamite accident, and a metal rod was blown through his forehead and out the other end, and took his frontal cortex with it, and amazingly, this was such a concussive trauma that it cauterized all his blood vessels. He got knocked on his rear, and stood up again and kind of dusted himself off, and walked to the doctor who examined him. The guy in charge of the worksite said, "Gage, tell you what. Take the rest of the day off, see you tomorrow morning." [laughter]
Gage came back the next morning, literally and metaphorically transformed overnight. And this man was now a drunken, aggressive bully, hypersexual, completely disinhibited. He was never able to hold a stable job again. When the doctor examined him, the doctor looked in the hole there and said, "Geez. No frontal cortex," and thus concluded, "Ah! This part of the brain reins in our animal energies."
And 160 years later, that's as good a description as you can get about what this part of the brain does. Damage the frontal cortex and you disinhibit how the rest of you works. This is a part of the brain that keeps you from burping during the quiet part in the wedding ceremony [laughter], or it keeps you from telling a person exactly what you think of their new outfit, or keeps you from being a serial murderer. Aged individuals have strokes that often damage the frontal cortex, and you get these disinhibitory syndromes. Blow away that part of the brain, and there's a transformed person.
After looking at an extreme, look at the in-between zone and the fact that all of us differ as to how many brain cells we got in that part of the brain, and how well those brain cells work, and all that individual variability stuff. This is so well recognized by neuroscientists that they even use the term "frontal" in an everyday sense. You're in some conference and some poor quivering grad student gets up and gives their first professional talk, a five-minute talk. "Hooray, the kid pulled through it okay," and "Great topic." Then some total jerk big-shot in the field gets up in the back row and savages the kid over some sort of minutiae with the statistics, and chest thumps and attacks his enemy. At some point, somebody's gonna lean over to somebody else and say, "Geez! That guy's getting more frontal every day!" [laughter] That may not just be a metaphor or a figure of speech--we differ in how every part of our brains work, and the frontal cortex is spectacularly sensitive to experience as it develops. Once again, we are the products of this material basis of our brains.
So you then begin to ask, "What do modern neuroscience and psychiatry begin to tell us about how we as a species invent these systems of belief, these systems of organized, shared, ritualized, culture-bound beliefs?" What does this tell us about religion?
It turns out there's a whole bunch of outposts where neuropsychiatry tells us something about the stuff we keep creating in culture after culture. Let me tell you about two very interesting examples of this, amid many.
One of them has to do with one of the great puzzles when people think about the evolution of psychiatric disorders. Ever deal with anybody with one of the most horrendous of all psychiatric diseases, schizophrenia, and you come away just appalled at how a life can be demolished by some biological storm in the brain. Schizophrenia: a disease of disordered thought, disconnected socialization, hallucinations, paranoia, delusions, a 50% rate of attempted suicide. This is a totally disastrous disease, and it's one that we're very, very slowly beginning to understand the neurochemistry of.
Robert Sapolsky at podium
One of the keys about schizophrenia is that it's a disorder with a genetic component. That doesn't mean it is genetically guaranteed. It is not genetically determined. There is a genetic risk for this disease, as is the case with most psychiatric disorders.
The minute you see there's any genetics on the scene, you've got to ask an evolutionary question, which is: "Where did these genes evolve from?" Why do we have schizophrenia in every culture on this planet? From an evolutionary perspective, schizophrenia is not a cool thing to have.
What's evolution about? Evolution is the process by which adaptive traits become more common. Schizophrenia is not an adaptive trait. You can show this formally: schizophrenics have a lower rate of leaving copies of their genes in the next generation than unaffected siblings. By the rules, by the economics of evolution, this is a maladaptive trait. Yet, it chugs along at a one to two percent rate in every culture on this planet.
So what's the adaptive advantage of schizophrenia? It has to do with a classic truism--this business that sometimes you have a genetic trait which in the full-blown version is a disaster, but the partial version is good news.
What's the example we all learned in the textbook case? Sickle-cell anemia: full-blown version, fatal hematological disorder; partial version, you don't get malaria. Tay Sachs disease: full-blown version, your nervous system is destroyed within a couple of months of life; partial version, you're resistant to tuberculosis. Cystic fibrosis: full-blown version, you're typically dead by 20; partial version, you're resistant to cholera. This turns out to be a theme with a lot of human genetics. As long as there's enough folks with the advantageous partial version, you can afford the occasional cousin with the full-blown version.
Evidence suggests this is what the genetics of schizophrenia is about. What's the partial version? It's the disease that got identified about 30 years ago. The first study that found genetic evidence for schizophrenics looked at about 20,000 people adopted in Denmark, looking at patterns of inheritability of schizophrenia; were you likely to share schizophrenic traits with your adopted parents, or your biological parents?
This was a massive multi-year study. Psychiatrists talked to more relatives of schizophrenics than any psychiatrists had ever done before in a career. What they noticed was, there's something kind of weird about relatives of schizophrenics--not every single one of them, but at higher than expected rates. This "kinda weirdness" is now called "schizotypal personality."
What is schizotypal? It's a more subtle version of schizophrenia. This is not somebody who's completely socially crippled; they're just solitary, detached: these are the lighthouse keepers, the projectionists in the movie theaters. These are not people who are thought-disordered to the point of being completely nonfunctional; these are people who just believe in kinda strange stuff. They are into their Star Trek conventions. They're into their astrology, they're into their telepathy and their paranormal beliefs, they're into--and you can see now where I'm heading [laughter]--very, very literal, concrete interpretations of religious events.
Schizophrenics have a whole lot of trouble telling the level of abstraction of a story. They're always biased in the direction of interpreting things more concretely than is actually the case. You would take a schizopohrenic and say, "Okay, what do apples, bananas and oranges have in common?" and they would say, "They all are multi-syllabic words." [laughter] You say "Well, that's true. Do they have anything else in common?" and they say, "Yes, they actually all contain letters that form closed loops." [laughter] This is not seeing the trees instead of the forest, this is seeing the bark on the trees, this very concreteness.
What you find with schizotypals is what is called metamagical thinking, a very strong interest in new-age beliefs, science fiction, fantasy, religion, but in a very concrete, literal form, a very fundamentalist style. Somebody walking on water is not a metaphor. Somebody rising from the dead is not a metaphor; this is reported, literal fact.
Now we have to ask our evolutionary question: "Who are the schizotypals throughout 99% of human history?" And in the 1930s, decades before the word "schizotypal" even existed, anthropologists already had the answer.
It's the shamans. It's the medicine men. It's the medicine women. It's the witch doctors. In the 1930s an anthropologist named Paul Radin first described it as "shamans being half mad," shamans being "healed madmen." This fits exactly. It's the shamans who are moving separate from everyone else, living alone, who talk with the dead, who speak in tongues, who go out with the full moon and turn into a hyena overnight, and that sort of stuff. It's the shamans who have all this metamagical thinking. When you look at traditional human society, they all have shamans. What's very clear, though, is they all have a limit on the number of shamans. That is this classic sort of balanced selection of evolution. There is a need for this subtype--but not too many.
The critical thing with schizotypal shamanism is, it is not uncontrolled the way it is in the schizophrenic. This is not somebody babbling in tongues all the time in the middle of the hunt. This is someone babbling during the right ceremony. This is not somebody hearing voices all the time, this is somebody hearing voices only at the right point. It's a milder, more controlled version.
Shamans are not evolutionarily unfit. Shamans are not leaving fewer copies of their genes. These are some of the most powerful, honored members of society. This is where the selection is coming from. What this shamanistic theory says is, it's not schizophrenia that's evolved, it's schizotypal shamanism that's evolved. In order to have a couple of shamans on hand in your group, you're willing to put up with the occasional third cousin who's schizophrenic. That's the argument; and it's a very convincing one.
If you look at all these 1930s and 1940s anthropologists, there's a certain dead-white-male racism that runs through all of this stuff that anthropology still has not recovered from. If you read their writings, what was between the lines--and often not between the lines--was, this is about "them." This is about the folks with the bones in their noses and no clothes who wind up in the National Geographic nudie pictures. These are them and their subjective paranormal beliefs; thank God we live in objective modern societies. [laughter]
What is perfectly obvious here is that this entire picture applies just as readily to our western cultures. Western religions, all the leading religions, have this schizotypalism shot through them from top to bottom. It's that same exact principle: it's great having one of these guys, but we sure wouldn't want to have three of them in our tribe. Overdo it, and our schizotypalism in the Western religious setting is what we call a "cult," and there you are in the realm of a Charles Manson or a David Koresh or a Jim Jones. You can only do post-hoc forensic psychiatry on Koresh and Jones, but Charles Manson is a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic. But get it just right, and people are gonna get the day off from work on your birthday for millennia to come. [laughter]
This is great! I think this is the first time I've ever said that line without somebody getting up and leaving in a huff from the audience. [laughter] It's very nice being here. Thank you! [applause]
Foundation member Freda von Houten, Ariz., and others line up to get their books autographed by author Robert Sapolsky.
What I've just been considering is the superstructure of religion--the big building blocks: there are multiple deities, there is but one god and he is Allah, "I am who I am," any version of this--is an awful lot like schizotypalism. Who is it that invented the notion that virgins can give birth? Who is it who first came in with the extremely psychiatrically suspect report about hearing a voice in a burning bush? In most of the cases we don't know much about the psychiatric status of these folks. In the more recent historical cases, we certainly do, and schizotypalism is at the heart of non-Western and Westernized large theological systems.
Now the second chunk of neuropsychiatry and religion I want to talk about is one that shifts to a different scale of what religion is about. Certainly a big chunk of religion is these big theological bits of superstructure that you build your whole belief system on. But what religion very often really is about is the daily behaviors. The daily rituals. Insofar as the devil is in the details, god is in the details too. It's in that realm where we can get insight into the roots of this aspect of religiosity: another neuropsychiatric disorder.
Now I will guarantee that just as all of us have those frontal thoughts, fortunately inhibited, probably all of us find ourselves, during some stressful period, not being able to stop from counting the number of steps as you go up a flight of stairs. Or you get some incredibly irritating TV jingle stuck in your head for half the day.
Or: you've got some really important letter that you need to mail off, so you go to the mailbox, you put it in the mailbox, and you make sure it goes down, because this letter's really important. Then you check again, just to make sure [laughter], and you just want to make really sure, and there's nobody else around, so you look underneath. We all do this . . . actually, maybe we don't all do this so I'm embarrassing myself horribly [laughter]--but my guess is, this sort of ritualism is what we do during times of anxiety. It's creating solid ground when the most fundamental ground is like quicksand underneath us.
In the last 30 years we've seen a whole new psychiatric disorder, of people whose rituals take over and destroy their lives. OCD: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. These are people who don't merely find themselves counting when they go up a flight of stairs--these are people whose lives are destroyed by this disorder. They wash their hands eight hours a day. They stop eating most foods because of the conviction of contamination, germs. They get very ritualistic and phobic about entering spaces, leaving spaces. They can't enter a building until they've walked a number of steps that's a prime number. Very mathematical numerology comes through this, and it is an utterly paralyzing disease. This is one of these biological disorders that destroyed people's lives back when, up until 30 or 40 years ago, there wasn't even a word that described this. We can describe it now, and we know a lot about the genetics of this disorder, and the neurochemistry.
Where does this one fit in with religion? There's a remarkable parallelism between religious ritualism and the ritualism of OCD. In OCD, the most common rituals are the rituals of self-cleansing, of food preparation, of entering and leaving holy places of emotional significance, and rituals of numerology. You look in every major religion, and those are the four most common ritual forms that you see.
You could look at any of these organized religions--though we're very accustomed by now that, when we think of religion, it's often interspersed with good works or a sense of community--and see that religion in its orthodoxy is about rules: how you do every single thing all throughout the day. You look at orthodox versions of any of these religions, and there are rules for which direction you face after you defecate, which hand you wash, how many swallowings of water, which nostril you breathe in with, which nostril you breathe out--these are all rules that Brahmans have in order to get into heaven. Numerological rules: how many times you have to say a certain prayer in a lifetime. Orthodox Judaism has this amazing set of rules: everyday there's a bunch of strictures of things you're supposed to do, a bunch you're not supposed to do, and the number you're supposed to do is the same number as the number of bones in the body. The number that you're not supposed to do is the same number as the number of days in the year. The amazing thing is, nobody knows what the rules are! [laughter] Talmudic rabbis have been scratching each others' eyes out for centuries arguing over which rules go into the 613. The numbers are more important than the content. It is sheer numerology.
Then, obviously getting closer to home for most people here, there is the realm of the number of rosaries and the number of Hail Mary's. Religious ritualism is shot through with the exact same obsessive qualities.
Now, when you look at this, what you immediately have to begin to ask is, "Why the similarity?" Outside of the realm of organized religion, shamanism, schizotypalism, is a little bit of a peripheralizing bunch of traits. Outside of the realm of religion, OCD destroys people's lives. It is incompatible with functioning. Not only can you function with those rituals in the religious context: you can make a living doing it. [laughter] People make a living doing rituals ritualistically in the context of religion.
If you are an aged Brahman, and you feel the shadow lengthening, and you haven't done the 2,400,000 versions of a certain mantra you need to do in your lifetime, you can hire a whole bunch of other Brahmans who will come and have this whole big numerology blowout for you [laughter], and they will come and count for you, and you pay them.
Or you can be an orthodox rabbi who spends your time in a slaughterhouse. You don't ritualistically slaughter the animals. Your job is to make sure everybody else is doing it. Your job is to ritualistically make sure they follow the rituals. And you get paid, and you get your health insurance. In the crudest sort of anthopological terms of economics, while the peasants are sweating to produce the bread that they need to consume, they're sweating to produce the bread that the clergy is consuming as well. We are paying, thoughout history, for people who are the best, most avid, psychiatrically-driven performers of ritual.
To get a real insight into this, we have to come back to that question, "Why is there this similarity between religious ritualism and OCD rituals?"
You could say, "It's just by chance."
Or you could say, "There's a biological convergence going on there." It's not random that we're most concerned with rituals about keeping our bodies healthy, our food clean, that sort of stuff.
But another answer in there has got to be, "People with OCD invented a lot of these religious rituals."
Let me give you one example of this. A 16th-century Augustinian monk named Luder for some reason left a very detailed diary. This is a man who grew up with an extremely brutal father, had a very anxious relationship with him, was very psychosomatic-illness-oriented. One day he was out walking in the field. There was a thunderstorm, and he got a panic attack, and vowed, "If I'm allowed to survive this, I will become a monk and devote the rest of my life to God." He survives, becomes a monk, and throws himself into this ritualism with a frenzy. This was an order of monks that was silent 20-some hours a day. Nonetheless, he had four hours worth of confessions to make every day: "I didn't say this prayer as devoutly as I should have. My mind wandered when I was doing this, doing that." The first time he ran a mass, he had to do it over and over because he got the details wrong. He would drive his Father Superior crazy with his hours and hours of confession every day: "God is going to be angry at me for doing this, because I said this, and I didn't think this much, and I didn't do this the right way, and I . . ." until the Father Superior got exasperated with him and came up with a statement that is shockingly modern in its insight. He said, "The problem isn't that God is angry with you. The problem is that you're angry with God." The most telling detail about this monk was, he washed and washed and washed. As he put it in his diary: "The more you wash, the dirtier you get." Classic OCD.
The reason why we know about this man Luder is because we know him by the Anglicized version of his name: Martin Luther. [laughter]
Schizotypalism and OCD are but two examples. There are aspects of brain damage you can get with a certain type of epilepsy, making you fascinated with religious subjects. There's another part of the brain which, when damaged, creates trouble seeing the connections between cause and effect. The formal behaviorist term for it is, you are more subject to superstitious conditioning.
What is it that one winds up concluding from this? Am I saying you gotta be crazy to be religious? No. [laughter]
Am I saying most people who are religious have to be neuropsychiatrically suspect? Not even saying that, either.
It is absolutely fascinating if these hiccups of biological abnormality explain even one single person in all of history who has reached their religious beliefs for those reasons.
Am I saying that the undercurrent of this is trying to pathologize how to think about religion? On a certain level. But as a scientist, what one should find absolutely equally fascinating is how it works in the opposite direction.
I was raised in an Orthodox household, and I was raised devoutly religious up until around age 13 or so. In my adolescent years, one of the defining actions in my life was breaking away from all religious belief whatsoever. What does it say if, in all of history, there was even one religious person whose religiosity was due to some neurotransmitter hiccup, and in all of history there was even one person whose atheism was due to a different type of neurotransmitter hiccup?
What I find, when teaching about this stuff, is it's right around this point that people start getting really nervous and uncomfortable. [laughter] Obviously there are scary political implications. The good side of all that might be if this kind of science teaches us to be more compassionate and recognize neurochemical kinship in ways that we wouldn't otherwise.
What people often get most unnerved about at this point is what this means personally. There's a zillion of these subtle disorders, and none of them existed 30 years ago. None of them had names then, and they all have names now, and we're just going to keep discovering more and more of them. Eventually, every single one of us will have two or three of those labels. [laughter] At some point, that's going to stop being the biology of "them and their diseases," and it's going to be the biology of "what makes us us."
People get nervous because it taps into one of our greatest human pretenses; this notion that lots of us of cherish, which is: every one of us is an individual, and has a vibrant flame of individuality that's never existed before and we're untrappable, indescribable, and "no hunter can trap us, no scholar can map us." Suddenly, as those scientists learn more and more, we turn into a bunch of equations, or a bunch of chemical formulas, and all of the magic will be gone.
There's a wonderful Arthur C. Clarke story that perfectly captures this fear that people have of what scientific knowledge can bring, called "The Nine Billion Names of God" (the traditional Tibetan belief that there are nine billion names of God, which is meant metaphorically to be an unattainable number). A bunch of Tibetan monks have teamed up with the greatest computer scientists, and thanks to the power of this computer, the computer is now doing the impossible--it is going to spit out all nine billion names of God. As the story goes, as each new name comes out, one of the stars in the sky is extinguished. This is the metaphor for what people fear when science is going to describe what makes us human. They're going to learn more and more about less and less and with each new factoid yet another light of our individuality and uniqueness is going to be extinguished.
I don't think anybody needs to worry about that. As a scientist, I don't fear that. I am a reasonably emotional person, and I see no reason why that's incompatible with being a scientist. Even if we learn about how everything works, that doesn't mean anything at all. You can reduce how an impala leaps to a bunch of biomechanical equations. You can turn Bach into contrapuntal equations, and that doesn't reduce in the slightest our capacity to be moved by a gazelle leaping or Bach thundering. There is no reason to be less moved by nature around us simply because it's revealed to have more layers of complexity than we first observed.
The more important reason why people shouldn't be afraid is, we're never going to inadvertently go and explain everything. We may learn everything about something, and we may learn something about everything, but we're never going to learn everything about everything. When you study science, and especially these realms of the biology of what makes us human, what's clear is that every time you find out something, that brings up ten new questions, and half of those are better questions than you started with.
It is perfectly summed by a quote by a geneticist of the 1930s, John Haldane, who once tried to describe this notion: "Life is not only stranger than we imagine; life is stranger than we can imagine."
That's really the most important thing to emphasize. The purpose of science in understanding who we are as humans is not to rob us of our sense of mystery, not to cure us of our sense of mystery. The purpose of science is to constantly reinvent and reinvigorate that mystery. To always use it in a context where we are helping people in trying to resist the forces of ideology that we are all familiar with.
So on that note, thank you very much for this award; it is a tremendous honor.
Robert Sapolsky is a professor of neurology at Stanford University. He received an A.B. in Biological Anthropology from Harvard (Phi Beta Kappa) in 1978 and his Ph.D. in Neuroendocrinology from Rockefeller University in 1984. He did postdoctoral work at the Salk Institute and was a research associate at the Institute of Primate Research, National Museums of Kenya (1985). He is a MacArthur Fellow (1987) and has won many awards for teaching, science investigation and writing. His four books include the bestselling A Primate's Memoir (2001), The Trouble with Testosterone and Other Essays on the Biology of the Human Predicament (1998), and Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers (1994).
It is not uncommon for a president to work to undo the policies of his predecessor. Certainly, George W. Bush surprised no one by systematically undoing the work of Bill Clinton. More unnerving are Bush's recent efforts to undo the work of two other former presidents: Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
Though others, like Thomas Paine, were influential, it was Jefferson and Madison who laid the foundation for our long-held doctrine of the separation of church and state. In recent days, Bush has revealed a comprehensive effort to create his own vision of church-state relations. If successful, Bush may bring about the most fundamental change in American democracy since its creation.
Immediately after taking office, Bush announced that he would transform the relationship between church and state by incorporating religious organizations into public work. Now, in a flurry of recent actions, the Bush administration has started what can only be viewed as a revolutionary change for our government and perhaps his most lasting legacy as president.
Just consider some of the changes being implemented:
creating an office dedicated entirely to assisting faith-based organizations in securing federal funding and playing a direct role in public programs;
expanding school voucher programs in which religious schools will receive public money;
funding faith-based organizations to use proselytizing and prayer to cure drug addiction and other social problems;
guaranteeing the right of religious organizations to openly discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion without losing federal funds;
funding the construction of religious buildings that can be used for religious activities and such public purposes as counseling or food pantries;
stripping federal funding from any school that interferes with or fails to accommodate "prayer or Bible study" by teachers or students.
With these and other initiatives, the wall between church and state would become a mere historical marker where separation was once maintained.
Obviously, this is still a far cry from a theocracy, but it is also a far cry from the secular government envisioned by framers like Jefferson.
In the coming year, we will reap the harvest of such entanglement. Mixing church and state is far more appealing when it is your church, but a rude awakening may be in store. For example, many extreme religious schools can show math and geography scores to qualify for public vouchers. However, many also teach religious views that are anathema for society, such as defining women as chattel or nonbelievers as subhuman. Because the government cannot deny funding to schools on the basis of their faith, we will subsidize such twisted dogma.
Under the new Bush guidelines, a fundamentalist religion with white supremacist or radical Islamic tenets could demand funding for new buildings. Moreover, under the Bush pro-discrimination policy, the government will openly support the refusal to hire Jews--or other people deemed to be nonbelievers--for publicly funded positions.
These initiatives are designed to fund proselytizing. In his State of the Union speech last month, President Bush cited one such program in Louisiana that expressly combats drug abuse with faith. The head of another oft-cited religious program, Teen Challenge, boasted to Congress that he was not only able to get kids to stop using drugs, he also converted Jews into Christians in the process.
Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam is an anti-Semitic and racist organization, but it can also qualify for funds based on its strong anti-drug message. The Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, too, can demonstrate success in convincing drug addicts to go clean. Its followers simply replace a narcotic with a messianic dependence.
By funding religious buildings and programs, Bush is reversing the work of Madison, who, despite his own deep religious beliefs, vetoed efforts by Congress to give federal aid to religious organizations.
Instead, we will follow the alternative model of nations like Saudi Arabia, which offers extensive public support to religious organizations based on the same principle of faith-based solutions to social problems. After the last couple hundred years, it will be hard to set aside the teachings of Madison for those of the mullahs.
At least we will never be Iran. After all, Iran is moving in the opposite direction--toward more secular government.
Jonathan Turley is a law professor at George Washington Law School.
Whether we like it or not, whether we approve of it or not, we have been consigned, through no fault of our own, to spend our life in the world of reality. The dictionary tells us that "reality is neither derivative nor dependent," reality is simply that which exists. It's the given, the actual, the undistorted, the true. Moreover, there is only reality, only nature. There is no such thing as a super nature, no such realm, no such domain, no such pale as the supernatural.
The unreal, the mythical, the fabled, the chimerical exist only in our very fertile, often overactive, imaginations. They are the by-products of our hopes and fears, a way of ameliorating the cold, hard uncertainties of a short and burdensome existence. They are our rejection of things as they are, our musings of how things could have been, should have been, if only we had had the power and the opportunity to fashion a world more to our liking. A world free of pain and suffering, free of disease and death, free of loss and despair and all the other adversities which reality imposes on every life form, but especially on that hapless and hopeless creature we have labeled Homo Sapien. So here we are, stuck in the world of reality, for the plain and simple fact it's the only world we have. There is no other.
Most of us would give a nod of approval to that moving observation made by the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860): "If God made the world I could not be that God, for the misery of the world would break my heart." History makes clear that the human race is basically made up of two kinds of people: those who work timelessly to make the world a better and less threatening place, a more livable, harmonious and productive environment in which humankind can not only survive but thrive and flourish; and those hell bent and determined on keeping humanity forever mired in the misery, the degradation and the abject depravity of the Dark Ages.
In every way imaginable, be it emotionally, psychologically, physically or culturally, "true believers" of every persuasion are committed to the continuation and the perpetuation of the ignorance, terror and bloodletting that has been their calling card since the madness of religion first infected the human psyche. Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) called religious belief "a cultural neurosis . . . an illusion hovering perilously close to delusional madness." Well, Freud was wrong. Religious belief is not a condition close to delusional madness, it is delusional madness.
Western civilization has been consumed by the grotesque insanity of organized religion for over two thousand years now. A critical reading of history, plus the mind-numbing proliferation of sectarian violence during more recent times, gives irrefutable proof that the mortal enemy of humankind has always been and will continue to be organized unreason.
Religion, by its very nature, is an experience based solely on emotions and feelings and to that extent is totally divorced from reason, common sense, logic and knowledge. Religion has been described as a kind of "burka" of the human mind, a prophylactic against rational thought and critical thinking. Subsequently the "true believer" is unconditionally "opposed to reason, hostile to science, adverse to historical evidence and repulsed by truth." It has been said that "people love truth only as long as it does not conflict with their cherished beliefs. When it does conflict they hate the truth."
To better understand this irresponsible, regressive and pernicious mindset, we perhaps need to turn to the neuroscientists, the brain anatomists and researchers to give us a better assessment as to why the righteous are so addicted and strung-out on this "don't confuse me with facts, my mind's already made up" kind of willful blindness.
According to those who study the brain, ours is not a single functioning organ but actually three separate segments, each with the ability to communicate with the others. The oldest, most primitive and dominant portion is the hypothalamus and the limbic lobe, most often referred to as the "reptilian brain." It's from here that moral feelings, primitive passions and elemental emotions emanate. Sex and hunger, rage and anger, fear and aggression, revenge and retaliation, fight or flight, etc., all reside in the "reptilian brain." Next comes the old mammalian brain, and finally the most recent and largest portion, the cerebral cortex and neocortex. This is the most easily recognized segment because it looks like a giant walnut with its many creases, furrows and corrugations. This is the thinking, reasoning, problem-solving segment of the brain, the part that separates us from the rest of the animal world, the part that make us uniquely human.
In order to perpetuate its fraud, every faith, every church, mosque, temple and synagogue has made reason its number one enemy. No more frightening and revealing a statement has ever been made than that chilling dictum by Martin Luther (1483-1546): "Whoever wants to be a Christian must tear the eyes out of reason." Consequently it should come as no surprise that when the savage gods of the Middle East communicate with people, they speak only through that nonthinking, non-reasoning segment of grey matter known as the "reptilian brain."
The sobering realization that the righteous are ruled by powerful emotions percolating in the reptilian portion of their brain should give us all pause for thought and perhaps help us better appreciate why the carnage wrought by the "true believer" throughout history has always been infused with such blind rage, savagery and passion and why their behavior is always so totally devoid of rational thought and sound judgment.
"We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us"
Two views of Norman B. LeClair's Pogo-inspired artistic commentary on religion, now gracing the library at Freethought Hall, the office of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Madison, Wis.
So here we are stuck in the world of reality with a flood of fundamentalist zealots, a horde of religious dipsomaniacs whose contempt and rejection of reason know no bounds. The very recklessness and fanaticism of their belief systems make them a constant threat and neverending danger to all those on space-ship earth and render them incapable of living and functioning, positively and objectively, in the one and only world we have. "True believers," unfortunately, have shown time and time again that they would rather perish and take humanity with them than ever acknowledge the fact that their terrorist gods are but a figmentation of their own reptilian brains, nothing more than a mirror image of the savage beast within.
But whether the believers of the world like it or not, whether they approve of it or not, their own DNA and the science of genetics give positive proof that they and all of humanity are the result of an ongoing evolutionary process, that the human animal is nothing more than a glorified ape over-burdened with a monstrous ego problem, nothing more than an upgraded version of Homo Paniscus, the Pygmy or Bonobo chimpanzee, nothing more than an arrogant anthropoid who possesses the unmitigated gall and bodacious audacity to create gods in his own image and likeness, nothing more than a supercilious troglodyte who can justify spending every coin in the treasury to delude himself and his cabal of dogmatists into believing that "Christ is risen" that "Elvis lives" and that "Jesus saves."
But on one of those bad-hair days when we're standing naked in front of a full-length mirror, it becomes too difficult to maintain the pretense, all but impossible to convince ourselves that the apparition looking back at us is an incarnation of some supposed super being. The unadulterated spectacle before us suddenly brings it all into perspective and makes us realize that it's all been an elaborate con job, a sad and diabolical joke, and that we, much to our chagrin, have been the butt of that sinister joke. In spite of all the hype, hysteria and hullabaloo, all the self-deception and delusional madness, it is now made perfectly clear that in that fanciful hierarchy of apes, angels, gods and extra-terrestrials, we are closer to our fellow primates than we could ever have imagined.
After two thousand years of holy hyperbole, holy books, holy ghosts, holy virgins, holy wars and the endless lies of countless holy men, the truth of the matter is that it's all been a sham, a hoax, nothing but a blivit of pure hokum, of cant, cant and still more cant, and that we pretty much remain what we have always been . . . nothing more than the fatally flawed, reasoning-impaired, fatuous ape with the mirror.
Norman B. LeClair, a Life Member in Florida, is retired from the military. As an artist he has created many "thinking pieces" (see photos at left of one recently donated to the Freedom From Religion Foundation).
It just hit me one day. I was looking at the money in my hands, and I noticed, as if for the first time, the words "In God We Trust" on every coin and every bill of every denomination. "What's this?" I wondered.
I don't trust in God. I'm an atheist. Don't I count as an American? Isn't ours the country that holds itself out to the world as the beacon of religious liberty? Isn't there something in the Constitution that says that the government can't take sides in a religious debate?
To find the answer, I read the Constitution. There they were, the first 10 words of the Bill of Rights: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."
Saying on our coins and currency that Americans trust in God surely didn't seem to be in keeping with the spirit of that establishment clause.
I started doing research and learned that in the middle of the McCarthy era in the 1950s--not a particularly splendid moment in our history--Congress went religiously berserk in its battle against "godless" communism. In 1954, 62 years after the Pledge of Allegiance was written, the words "under God" were added. In 1955, "In God We Trust" was mandated to be placed on all our coins. In 1956, "In God We Trust" was made our national motto.
The United States had done quite well for almost two centuries without that barrage of theistic dogma, yet our legislators felt it reasonable to violate both the spirit and the letter of the establishment clause in order to pander to a religious majority at the height of the Cold War. So in 2000, I decided to make the intrusion of "under God" into the Pledge of Allegiance the target of a legal challenge.
Since then, I have learned some of the history that I regretfully never picked up in school. We had some amazing men--the framers--who literally invented our extraordinary form of government. Fifty-five visionaries set themselves in a building for two months in 1787, and they developed a completely novel set of principles dedicated to forming a truly free society.
They argued, discussed, researched, debated--maybe even prayed--until they came up with one of the most glorious documents of all time: our Constitution.
Unlike the constitutions of the colonies, our federal Constitution has no mention of God. Despite the fact that every colonial preamble referred to "the Almighty," "the Supreme Ruler of the Universe" or some similar divinity, the preamble to the U.S. Constitution contains no such reference. Furthermore, we have a clause that specifically prohibits any religious test as a qualification for public office--a concept that broke strongly with the traditions of the times.
The Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution because people feared that without its specific guarantees, the federal government might trample on their cherished freedoms.
The words of the establishment clause were revised over and over until it was formulated in the broadest and most explicit language imaginable: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."
I read the Supreme Court cases and learned that, despite its frequent use of inspiring rhetoric, the high court has nonetheless ruled that giving tax exemptions to religious organizations doesn't provide them with financial benefits, that it's OK for Congress to begin every session with a chaplain-led prayer and that displays of the birth of Jesus are not religious.
I have also learned how deep is the antipathy toward atheists. According to a 1999 Gallup poll, half the population would refuse to vote for atheists like me.
I learned that politicians are as spineless as we've all been led to believe. Despite the Supreme Court rulings to the contrary, Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas still have clauses in their constitutions that deny atheists the right to hold public office. Similarly, not a single senator--and fewer than 1% of the House members--has been willing to stand up and acknowledge that there is at least a valid constitutional concern underlying the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' decision in my case. The court ruled that having public schools lead children in reciting the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional.
Finally, I've learned that our system of government is remarkable and unique. Although I recently passed the bar, I started with essentially no knowledge of the mechanics of filing a lawsuit. Yet, despite doing my own research, writing my own briefs and appearing in court with no legal counsel, I was treated with the utmost respect by federal judges.
More than anything, I've learned to truly appreciate the genius of the constitutional democracy left to us by the founders. It's still amazing to me that one individual can force the entire nation to at least ponder the ideals upon which our laws rest.
I feel that only one more lesson lies ahead: the one showing that our citizens understand that the security of liberty rests on the adherence to those ideals, even when we don't personally like the results.
Michael Newdow, a Sacramento emergency room doctor, is also an attorney. He was named "Freethinker of 2002" at the last national convention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, after his victory before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Editor's note: Just for the record, when Secretary Benjamin Franklin suggested opening sessions of the Constitutional Convention with prayer, there was so little interest that he recorded himself that the meeting adjourned without a vote on the motion.
(See Max Farrand, ed., Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, New Haven, Yale University, 1911, I, pp. 450-452; E.H. Scott, ed., Journal of the Constitutional Convention of James Madison, Chicago, Scott & Co., 1983, pp. 259-261; Leo Pfeffer, Church State and Freedom, Beacon Press, 1953, p. 122.)
Self-proclaimed polygamist prophet Brian Mitchell, with his wife Wanda Barzee, was arrested on March 18 for the abduction of missing Mormon teenager Elizabeth Smart, who disappeared June 5, 2002, from her home in Salt Lake City.
"We are not dealing with just a religious zealot, we are dealing with a predatory sex offender," said District Attorney David Yocom, in announcing charges of aggravated kidnapping and sexual assault. They are also charged with burglary and attempted aggravated kidnapping in an attempt to abduct Elizabeth's 18-year-old cousin last July.
Mitchell, an excommunicated Mormon, was a religious drifter and panhandler, who apparently became obsessed with the young teen after he was invited by Elizabeth's mother to do odd-jobs one afternoon at their home, seven months before the abduction.
Although the family credited "prayer" with her return, they had also recently turned to "America's Most Wanted" TV show to publicize photos of the suspect, which almost immediately resulted in Mitchell's apprehension.
Mitchell told an attorney, Larry Long, that he was called by God to take Elizabeth as a wife. Mitchell's 27-page manifesto as "David Emmanuel Isaiah" espouses polygamy. Mitchell declares himself a messenger of God, descended from a line of Mormon prophets. He plotted to acquire seven additional "young wives"--because young girls would be more "obedient."
Cult expert Steven Alan Hassan told Associated Press that Mitchell probably made use of their shared Mormon background, using religious indoctrination, after Elizabeth's knife-point abduction, rape and imprisonment, to brainwash her. Elizabeth was renamed "Augustine," was apparently instructed to speak to no one but her abductors, and was hidden by her veils in plain sight, with Barzee as a role model of wifely submission.
Barzee told a friend that Elizabeth's abduction was fulfillment of divine "revelation that the celestial law of polygamy" had returned. Witnesses in San Diego, where the trio went during part of her abduction, recall Mitchell hollering "Jesus Christ is Lord" and telling them he was "God."
The case has refocused attention on the polygamous roots of the Mormon faith. Although the official church disowned the practice of polygamy in 1890 as a condition of Utah statehood, it continues to spawn polygamous colonies. A temple ceremony still permits Mormon men to choose polygamous partners for the "afterlife." Mormon and Old Testament scripture both sanction polygamy.
"The Mormon community is alive with one essential position of faith, that God continues to reveal new things, new doctrines, new words," historian D. Michael Quinn told the Salt Lake Tribune.
Polygamy has figured in several high-profile crime cases in Utah:
Ervil Morel LeBaron executed two rival polygamists to control his "Lamb of God" church in the late 1970s.
John Singer, a German-born convert to the LDS Church, died in a shootout with law enforcement officers at his Utah home following a polygamous marriage.
Addam Swapp, who considered Singer a martyr and married two of his daughters, had a revelation from God to blow up the Marion LDS stake center in 1988 to bring Singer back from the dead. A 13-day siege ended in a shoot-out with Swapp wounded and a corrections officer killed.
Dan Lafferty, after joining a polygamous cult, said God directed him and his brother to slay his sister-in-law and her infant daughter on Pioneer Day, 1984.
Rachal David threw her seven children off the 11th floor balcony of a hotel at 200 South West Temple, Salt Lake City, in 1978, killing all but one. The widow of self-proclaimed polygamist prophet Immanuel David, who had converted to Mormonism in the early 1960s, then jumped to her own death.
The Smart case has also renewed scrutiny of polygamous pockets of the West. At least 6,000 polygamist practitioners live in northern Arizona and Southern Utah, where sexual abuse and incest of young girls is common. Polygamy has been publicly practiced in Hildale, Utah, and the adjacent Arizona town of Colorado City for more than 70 years.
Warren Jeffs leads a renegade branch of the Mormon Church, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, founded in Hildale, by his father Rulon Jeffs, who died last September at 92 and had 70 wives. Jeffs, who has at least 14 wives, is accused of having sex with an underage girl who gave birth to a daughter in 2000.
The State of Arizona filed felony sexual misconduct charges for the first time in 50 years against a polygamist from the Colorado City area in February. Orson William Black Jr, who considers himself an archangel who communicates directly with God, was charged with five felony counts of sexual misconduct with two girls.
The Phoenix New Times reports "hundreds of teenage girls--some younger than the 15-year-old Smart--have been joined with older men in legally unsanctioned 'spiritual' marriages performed by FLDS elders in the Colorado City-Hildale area."
Some breakaway Mormon groups endorse incest. A 16-year-old girl was badly beaten in Idaho after running away from an arranged marriage to her uncle, David Ortell Kingston, 33. Prosecuted polygamist Tom Green married two mother-daughter pairs, and began a sexual relationship with one wife when she was 13.
Most polygamous relationships--and even many practitioners, who often do not have Social Security numbers--are undocumented. Government estimates of polygamists in Utah range from 30,000 to 50,000, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Officials in Oklahoma City removed a 30-foot-high concrete cross from public property on Feb. 26 after an inquiry about its constitutionality, lodged by Foundation Life Member Jim Worrell, followed by a letter of complaint from the national Freedom From Religion Foundation of Madsion, Wis., asking for its removal.
The cross had been displayed for nearly four decades at the city-owned State Fair Grounds, maintained by the Oklahoma State Fair.
Mr. Worrell reminded officials that the city of Edmond lost a costly lawsuit challenging use of a cross on its city seal. Foundation president Anne Gaylor noted in her follow-up complaint that no court has ever ruled in favor of a cross erected permanently on public property.
The Daily Oklahoman reported that no one knows who originally provided the cross or when precisely it was erected.
Following removal of the cross, all but one Oklahoma City Council member, voting in early March, backed City Manager Jim Couch's decision to remove the cross to avoid a lawsuit. That representative, Brent Rinehart, insisted "the cross, Christianity, religion, it's what American stands for, it's what this country was founded on." A state legislator also publicly condemned Couch.
Other council members praised the city manager for avoiding a costly and losing legal battle. Mayor Kirk Humphrey was quoted saying he was "disappointed," but that a lawsuit might be "an exercise in futility."
Mr. Worrell has received several threats since the removal of the cross. "Some are calling me unAmerican, some are saying I'll burn in hell. One guy said he was going to come over to my house and we'd meet face to face." But he told Freethought Today: "I can tell you that this experience made me stronger and more resolute."
He told the Daily Oklahoman: "Let's say somebody else wanted to put a statue of Joseph Smith for the Mormons or a statue of Mohammed for the Muslims at the park. That's another reason the state needs to stay out of religion."
Gaylor, who received some nasty phone calls and emails too (see p. 11), praised city manager James Couch for his timely and responsive action to honor the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state. She also thanked member Jim Worrell for taking action, and for alerting the Foundation about the violation as well.
"It's a pleasure to witness a public body taking responsive steps to uphold the separation of church and state, without having to be sued," she added.
The city planned to put the cross up for bids.
Readers may wish to contact Oklahoma City officials to thank them for honoring the First Amendment and avoiding a legal battle with its waste of taxpayers' dollars.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation condemned the "shallow religious opportunism" of the U.S. Congress in once again passing resolutions supporting the use of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.
The Senate voted 94-0 on March 4 that it "strongly disapproves" of the Feb. 28 decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals not to reconsider the ruling last summer declaring the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance to be unconstitutional. The case was brought by Michael Newdow, M.D., a California father and attorney.
"It is hard to believe that not one United States senator had the integrity to vote against this exercise in religious conformity," commented Foundation president Anne Nicol Gaylor.
The unanimous Senate vote authorized and instructed the Senate Legal Counsel "again to seek to intervene in the case" and to file an animus curiae brief in support of "under God" in the Pledge.
The Foundation praised the integrity of the seven members of the U.S. House who opposed the House vote March 20 on the similar House Resolution 132, also condemning the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision. Sixty-three members of Congress sponsored the resolution.
"The fact that this vote, showing lockstep religious conformity in the House, would be taken on the first day of the U.S. attack against Iraq is not an augur of good times for civil liberties," commented Anne Gaylor.
House Resolution 132 urges the Attorney General to appeal the decision, and indirectly endorses a religious litmus test for judical nominees.
The House vote was 400-7, with 15 voting "present." The seven voting "nay" were: Reps. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY; Robert Scott, D-VA; Jim McDermott, D-WA; Pete Stark and Mike Honda, D-CA; Gary Ackerman, D-NY, and Barney Frank, D-MA.
The 15 members of Congress who simply voted "present" were: Ballance, Berman, Blumenauer, Capuano, Conyers, Delahunt, Hinchey, Lofgren, George Miller, Olver, Payne, Sanchez, Linda T., Schakowsky, Waters, and Watt.
The long resolutation "insults freethinkers, by linking patriotism with piety," Gaylor said.
The Foundation noted how ironic it is that proposals have been introduced before both the U.S. House and Senate to amend the U.S. Constitution to permit references to a deity in the Pledge of Allegiance.
"What an admission that the addition of religion in the Pledge of Allegiance does in fact violate our secular Constitution!" Gaylor pointed out.
The pledge was deliberately written without reference to religion by Baptist minister Frances Bellamy in 1892. The religious tampering with the pledge occurred only in 1954.
U.S. Rep. Lucas, Oklahoma, introduced House Joint Resolution 26 on Feb. 27 to add an amendment to the Constitution, saying it is not "an establishment of religion for teachers in a public school to recite, or to lead willing students in the recitation of" the current pledge.
Senate Resolution 7 to amend the Constitution, introduced on March 3, would also codify the religious motto "In God We Trust."
"Clearly politicians have not caught up with changing demographics showing that more than 14% of the adult population is not religious," said Gaylor. (American Religious Identification Survey 2001, www.gc.cuny.edu/studies/aris_index.htm)
"We know that legislators are fearful of 'gotcha' issues," Gaylor added. "But it is time for the reasoning public to demand some representation.
"Congress took the pledge vote before they even read the briefs."
* * *
House Resolution 153, which passed by a 346-49 vote on March 27, urges the President to issue a proclamation "designating a day for humility, prayer, and fasting for all people of the United States."
It is similar to Senate Res. 91, which had two sponsors and passed by unanimous consent on March 17, declaring March 17 to "be designated a national day of prayer and fasting."
The House version calls on the people of the United States "to observe the day as a time of prayer and fasting," "to seek guidance from God to achieve a greater understanding of our own failings," for the "nation to humble itself before God in repentance for its national sins," and "to gain resolve in meeting the challenges that confront our nation."
"This is offensive not just to nonbelievers, but to practitioners of many diverse beliefs, including Christians who do not follow 'fasting' traditions of supplication," Gaylor added. She quipped, "Of course, I think it might be a good idea if Rep. Sensenbrenner fasted.
"It is insufferable ego to imagine that, if there were a god, it would respond to these demeaning supplications. It is primitive to imagine that the natural laws of the universe could be suspended or altered by group wishful thinking. Ironically, as Congress entertains these meaningless motions, the Iraqi people and their supporters are praying to their God for the opposite result!"
* * *
Voting against the prayer proclamation were: Ackerman, Inslee, Rush, Allen, Jackson (IL), Sabo, Baird, Jones (OH), Sanchez, Linda T., Ballance, Kennedy (RI), Sanders, Berkley, Kilpatrick, Schakowsky, Blumenauer, Kucinich, Scott (VA), Capuano, Lee Smith (WA), Conyers, Lewis (GA), Solis, DeGette, Lofgren, Stark, Delahunt, Majette, Tauscher, Dooley (CA), McDermott, Velazquez, Edwards, McGovern, Waters, Farr, Oberstar, Waxman, Futtah, Olver, Weiner, Frank (MA), Payne, Woolsey, Hastings (FL), Rangel, Hinchey, Roybal-Allard.
The 23 who voted present were: Cardin, Hill, Snyder, Davis (CA), Israel, Thompson (CA) , DeFazio, Kind, Tierney, Dicks, Lantos, Udall (CO), Emanuel, Owens, Van Hollen, Filner, Rothman, Watt, Gutierrez, Schiff, Wexler, Harman, Sherman.
Excellent Argument Against Paid Prison Chaplains. New York officials banned the state's former top Muslim cleric from setting foot in a state prison, hours after Warith Deen Umar, 58, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal praising the 9/11 terrorists and predicting future attacks led by black Muslim converts. He retired in 2000 from his $67,919-a-year public post, which he held since 1975. He was working part-time as a chaplain with the Federal Bureau of Prisons until being fired after his remarks in early February. Source: New York Post, Feb. 7, 2003
Out of Hiding for This? Vice President Dick Cheney was a featured speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference, where exhibition booths hawked virulently anti-Muslim bumperstickers including one that said, "No Muslims - No Terrorists," and others promoted the Confederate flag. Source: Washington Post, Jan. 31, 2003
Gubernatorial Battle Hymn. Bob Riley, sworn in as Alabama's new governor, launched his Inaugural Prayer Breakfast in January "in praise of our lord and savior Jesus Christ." Riley added: "We are the greatest country in the world because we were founded on godly, Christian, Judeo-Christian principles and ethics." Riley requested the crowd to sing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "Holy, Holy, Holy." Source: Montgomery Advertiser, Jan. 20, 2003
This Charity Begins at Home. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia is planning to spend about $384,000 to build a 4,800-square-foot house for bachelor and retiring Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua. He will resign in June, and currently resides in a 16-room mansion. Source: Associated Press, Feb. 6, 2003
Celibate Warns of "Inauthentic Families." Pope John Paul II, a man who by profession has no family, exhorted against divorce, abortion and same-sex marriages, warning they lead to "inauthentic" families. This followed his dire warnings to Catholic politicians worldwide to vote with the church in its opposition to abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage. The pope also preached that condoms shouldn't be used to stop the spread of AIDS, and blamed homosexuality, not church policies, for the unending priest sex scandals. Sources: BBC News, Jan. 8; AP, Jan. 26; New York Times, Jan. 26, 2003
Church Wants 9-Year-Old Mothers? The Roman Catholic Church objected to an abortion performed on Feb. 20 on a 9-year-old rape victim in Nicaragua. The little girl said she did not want to have a baby because she did not want to "share her toys." Source: Associated Press, Feb. 25, 2003
Holy Intimidation. Sacramento Bishop William Weigand told California Gov. Gray Davis to renounce his support of abortion or stop taking Holy Communion. Davis responded: "I'm unapologetically pro-choice, and I'm not changing my position." Source: NewsMax.com, Jan. 23, 2003
We Only Wish. A fundraising campaign by Coral Ridge Ministries is seeking donations to keep Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore out of jail for supporting the Ten Commandments. Moore does not face imprisonment in a civil suit challenging his placement of the decalog in a public building. Source: Montgomery Advertiser, Feb. 18, 2003
Make That 220 Dead, Plus One in Hiding. After Muslims criticized the Miss World contest being hosted by Nigeria, columnist Isioma Daniel suggested in the Nigerian newspaper This Day on Nov. 16 that Muhammad might have liked a Miss World contestant as a wife. Her remark touched off three days of rioting by Muslims resulting in the deaths of more than 220 people. The deputy governor of the state of Zamfara said, "It is binding on all Muslims wherever they are, to consider the killing of the writer as a religious duty." However, Nigeria's government negated the fatwa. Source: BBC News, Nov. 26, 2002
Fatwa for Falwell? Five people were killed in Hindu-Muslim rioting in Bombay after a general strike was called to protest Rev. Jerry Falwell's comment on "60 Minutes" that "I think Muhammad was a terrorist." Iranian cleric Mohsen Mojtahed Shabestari said Falwell is a "mercenary and must be killed." Sources: Associated Press, 10/3, 11/12/02; Washington Post, Oct. 13, 2002
Sex Life Sacred? The Jordan government closed the Crescent, a weekly newspaper, and detained three journalists over an article discussing the sex life of Muhammad and his favorite wife Aisha. The editor and reporters face jailtime and fines. Source: Asociated Press, Jan. 17, 2003
FFRF Convention 2013 - Photo Slideshow by Brent Nicastro
Emperor has no clothes award
Arizona State Representative Juan Mendez
Mendez is a first-generation American and a native Arizonan, human rights advocate and lawyer. Mendez attended Tolleson Union High School. He went on to receive his associate degree from Phoenix College, then graduated with a B.A. in Political Science and a minor in Justice Studies from Arizona State University. Mendez is a lifetime member of the Arizona Democratic Party and has held various positions as an elected precinct and state committee member, chair of the Resolutions Committee on the state level and president of the ASU Young Democrats. Mendez is an avid rock climber, hiker and advocate for the environment. As an atheist, he gained notoriety when he invoked Carl Sagan while leading an Arizona House of Representatives pre-session prayer.
Savage is an American author, media pundit, journalist and newspaper editor. He writes the internationally syndicated relationship and sex advice column "Savage Love." He has clashed with social conservatives and was vocal in his responses to Republican Rick Santorum's disparaging comments about homosexuality. Savage will be receiving our Emperor Has No Clothes Award. Savage graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is married to Terry Miller. He has one son, D.J. Savage and Miller are the founders of the It Gets Better Project, an initiative to prevent gay teen suicide. He currently stars in "Savage You" on MTV, contributes to "This American Life" and Out magazine and acts as a "Real Time Real Reporter" on HBO's "Real Time with Bill Mayer." His most recent book is titled "American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love and Politics" (2013).
Freethought heroine AWARD
Paretsky is an ardent supporter of separation of state and church and women's reproductive rights and creator of the famous V.I. Warshawski detective series, which revolutionized the mystery world. Paretsky will be accepting a Freethought Heroine award. Paretsky has been a contributor to The New York Times and The Guardian and has given talks at the Library of Congress and Oxford University. In 1986 she created "Sister in Crime," a worldwide organization to support women crime writers. Her memoir, "Writing in the Age of Silence," chronicles her journey from Kansas farm girl to New York Times best-selling author, and includes social commentary. Paretsky lives in Chicago with her husband. "Criticial Mass," her 17th V.I. Warshawski book, debutes in late October.
Student activist AWARD
Kopplin is a science and education activist who has appeared on “The Bill Moyers Show.” Kopplin will receive FFRF's first Richard and Beverly Hermsen Student Activist Award of $5,000 for his work to repeal a stealth creationism law in his home state of Louisiana. His repeal effort has been endorsed by 43 Nobel laureates and many other scientists and education experts. He persuaded the New Orleans City Council to vote unanimously to support the repeal of the Louisiana Science Education Act of 2008. Kopplin fights to keep creationism out of public schools and focuses on separation of church and state causes. He has also been involved in school vouchers, science curriculum and textbook policy. Kopplin is a history student at Rice University in Houston.
Bey is a journalist, producer and thought leader. She hosts the weekly radio show “The Sex, Politics and Religion Hour: SPAR with Jamila.” Bey has appeared in publications around the world such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and The New Humanist of London. She's currently writing a book that critically examines the role religion plays in the lives of African-American women. Bey has worked with National Public Radio for a decade, assisting with "Morning Edition," "All Things Considered," "Tell Me More with Michel Martin" and "Talk of the Nation." Bey's areas of expertise include health and family policy and all issues concerning the First Amendment. A sought-after public speaker and stand-up comedienne, Bey says she enjoys the stage because it's a cheaper hobby than scrapbooking.
Aisha Goss joined the Secular Coalition of America in December 2012. A proud Georgia native, Aisha studied Communications at Howard University in Washington, D.C. She brings with her a wealth of fundraising and organizing experience from organizations such as the American Red Cross and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. An amateur chef, Aisha enjoys cooking, party planning, and exploring D.C. in her free time.
McCollum, an FFRF Life Member, was previously named an FFRF "Champion of the First Amendment” for his role in the landmark McCollum v. Board of Education case. This Supreme Court decision (1948) is celebrating its 65th anniversary this year. The case was brought by his mother Vashti McCollum on behalf of Jim, after public schools in Champaign, Ill., began devotional religious instruction. McCollum received his B.S. in Geology and his J.D. in Law from the University of Ill. He served two years' active duty as an officer in the Army and another six in the Active Reserve. McCollum retired as an attorney after 34 years of practice. McCollum lives Arkansas with his wife Betty and is, appropriately, teaching constitutional law. He is an active member of the Arkansas Democratic Party and in the Democratic State Faith Caucus.
Rosenstein is a three-time Emmy-winning independent documentary producer, director, writer and editor whose work has been seen nationally on PBS, ABC, ESPN, and film festivals worldwide, including the Sundance Film Festival. Rosenstein is the director of the Peabody Award-winning documentary "The Lord Is Not on Trial Here Today." He graduated with an M.S. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His previous work includes the documentaries "The Amasong Chorus, Singing Out" and "In Whose Honor? American Indian Mascots in Sports." His documentaries are used as an educational resource in more than 500 colleges and universities in North America and in Canada. Rosenstein has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Paul Robeson Fund for Independent Media and the Independent Television Service. He currently lives in Champaign, Ill., and is on the faculty of the University of Illinois College of Media.
Schempp, an FFRF Lifetime Member, is an accomplished physicist and he was the primary student involved in the landmark 1963 United States Supreme Court case Abington School District v. Schempp, which declared required public school-sanctioned bible readings unconstitutional. This year is the 50th Anniversary of the Schempp ruling. Schempp is a dedicated Unitarian Universalist and strong supporter of the ACLU. He is on the Advisory Board of the Secular Student Alliance and the Secular Coalition for America. He has received a Champion of the First Amendment Award from FFRF. Schempp attended Tufts University where he earned a bachelor degrees in physics and geology. He received his Ph.D. in physics from Brown University. Schempp currently lives in Boston, and teaches a class on the separation of church and state at Tufts' Experimental College.
Jill is a singer-songwriter. She wrote and performed her 1995 single "I Kissed a Girl," was a top hit, and "Supermodel" for the soundtrack of the film "Clueless." Jill has released ten albums, including the four critically acclaimed, “Happy Town," “Pink Pearl," “Underdog Victorious" and "California Years.” She wrote and performed the title song for Julia Sweeney's DVD, "Letting Go of God." Sobule uses both satire and personal experience to sing about issues including sexuality, depression, war, abandonment and greed. Many of her songs incorporate humor into their narrative. In 2008 Sobule met Julia Sweeney and they started performing the "Jill and Julia Show." The show is an autobiographical mix of music, stories and commentary.
Sweeney is an actress, comedian and author. She is an alumni of “Saturday Night Live.” Her autobiographical solo shows, include “God Said Ha!," "In The Family Way" and “Letting Go of God.” "God Said Ha!" moved to Broadway and won the 1996 New York Comedy Festival's Audience Award. A CD recording of the show earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Comedy Album. Sweeney has appeared on the big screen in "Pulp Fiction," "Clockstoppers" and "Whatever It Takes." Sweeney played the voice of Mrs. Keeper in the animated film "Stuart Little." Her newest book is "If It's One Thing, It's Your Mother" (2013). She lives in Chicago with her husband, Michael Blum and her daughter Mulan.
Segal is a singer and songwriter from Australia. Her latest release, "An Atheist Album," embodies her thoughts on religion. Her songs are a passionate response to dogmatic belief, inequality, religious oppression and the idea that only the devout can be grateful and good. She enjoys bringing this unusually controversial topic to the public discourse and feels that music is a great medium for expression and raising awareness. Segal completed a Bachelor of Applied Music from the Box Hill Institute of Tafe. She has many musical ventures under way, including an upcoming jazz album. Segal was also featured on the album "Infidelity" by London socialite Tara Palmer Tomkinson.
ffrf Legal topics presenters
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.
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.
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.