Warning
  • JUser: :_load: Unable to load user with ID: 43

%766 %America/Chicago, %2013

Secular CD Makes History

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is pleased to announce the release of its first musical CD: "Friendly Neighborhood Atheist," featuring Dan Barker, the first CD of its kind. The 2-CD collection of contemporary and some historic freethought music contains 34 songs--more than two hours of secular entertainment!

The listener-requested compact disk set includes 31 digitally remastered favorites from the Foundation's three previously released cassettes: "My Thoughts Are Free" (1987), "Reason's Greetings" (1992) and "Freethought Then & Now" (1999)--plus three new releases. The cassettes will remain in stock for anyone preferring tapes.

Included in the new CD are many of Dan's oft-requested songs, such as the very first freethought song he wrote after leaving the ministry, the bluesy "You Can't Win with Original Sin." Other favorites include: "Nothing Fails Like Prayer," a cha-cha traditionally performed at the Foundation's annual convention during the "nonprayer breakfast;" Dan's touching renditions of Ingersoll prose and poetry in "Love" and "Declaration of the Free"; "The Battle of Church & State" (to the tune of "Jericho"); the "Stay-Away Pope Polka"; and of course, "Friendly Neighborhood Atheist," his conception of what Mr. Rogers might sing to children . . . were he an atheist.

Among the historic songs are a rousing rendition of the feminist anthem of 1912, "Bread & Roses"; Joe Hill's "Preacher & the Slave" performed with Kristin Lems; the German freethought song from the 1500's, "Die Gedanken Sind Frei" ("thoughts are free"), also with Kristin; and Tom Lehrer's ever-popular "Vatican Rag."

Joining the tried and true are three new songs by Dan recorded for this collection. "Freedom From Religion," an energetic rock-ballad a la Elton John, based on Foundation president Anne Gaylor's saying that "there can be no religious freedom without the freedom to dissent," will make you smile. "We, The People," a driving mambo (complete with freethought background vocals), affirms America's secular heritage. "Lucifer's Lament" is a tongue-in-cheek, laid-back hip-hop, complaining that the Man Upstairs is upstaging the devil. Dan begins the song on the lowest note of the piano, and had fun playing the "Onward, Christian Solders" interlude in the locrian mode (the "Devil's mode").

The attractive 2-CD collection is available for $20.00 postpaid (that's 59¢ a song!) from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, PO Box 750, Madison WI 53701. Order it online here.

Also on the album: "Sunday Morning Blues"; "The World Is My Country," waltz based on Thomas Paine; "God's Grandeur," a "showtune," lyrics by Philip Appleman; "I Don't Need Jesus" and "Life Is Good!" in "gospel" style; "Blood Brothers," "Promise of Dawn" and "Higher Mind" ballads; "Freethinker Blues"; "Reincarnation," lyrics by cowboy poet Wallace D. McRae; "Just Say 'NO' To Religion," protest rock; "FFRF," lyrics by Ruth Green; "No Gods, No Masters," tribute to Margaret Sanger; "The World's Need," by Ella Wheeler Wilcox; "The Time To Be Happy Is Now," waltz based on Ingersoll's creed, with children's vocals; "The Trinity," hilarious rendition of Ingersoll; "Vicar of Bray," amusing 18th-century English ballad; "No Hurry To Die," humorous rhumba for kids of all ages; "Solstice Tribute," turning a Christmas carol on its head; and "Benediction," a secular "hymn" by Sherry Matulis.

%764 %America/Chicago, %2013

Darwin Updates the Book of Genesis

In his 1859 book, On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin offered a novel explanation for the earth's diversity of plants and animals. All the myriad forms, he wrote, came into being through "natural selection" much as new varieties of dogs and pigeons are brought into being through artificial selection. Natural selection, at first called a theory, eventually won a place in world thought as an established principle. The transformation of genetic lines through time by means of natural selection came to be known as evolution.

Darwin's idea emerged in a century when leading scientists were beginning to doubt current estimates of the earth's youthfulness (a few thousand years). They were also learning that certain faunas and floras which had been fossilized long ago differ greatly from those still alive. They were beginning to recognize the what of changes in life's patterns but were still unclear as to the how and why. They could only imagine the hidden forces that might have caused some species to vanish from the fossil record while allowing others to survive.

Darwin based his explanation of three known qualities of living organisms. First, no two individuals are identical. (Today, we know the main reasons for variation, including genetic mistakes and genetic drift, the random shuffling of genes during reproduction, and hybridizing in the wild.) Second, every organism produces more offspring than it needs to replace itself. Witness the male rabbit, successfully fertilizing forty females in one day, and the oyster, shedding 60 million eggs in a season. Third, every organism is continuously engaged in what Darwin called the struggle for life--the struggle to find food and shelter; the struggle against pathogens, predators, and competitors; and the struggle against environmental hazards such as drouth, storm, flood, wildfire, and frost.

So, Darwin reasoned that the interplay among these forces brings about "the preservation of favoured races" or (in later editions of The Origin) "survival of the fittest." In this context, the fittest are simply the ones that contributed most to the gene pools of later generations. Fitness can thus be judged only in hindsight, by studying the success or failure of the individual genetic line through geological time. Darwin's conclusion "was essentially statistical and based on population dynamics" (Nobel prize-winning immunologist Sir Peter Medawar).

Natural selection has been proved and its pace has been measured in at least a hundred studies of plants and animals in the wild and in studies of microbes in cultures. For example: English sparrows were brought to eastern North America around 1850. In the next century and a half, their descendents spread rapidly over the entire continent from Canada to Central America, meanwhile evolving into three distinct varieties which are now fully equivalent to wild zoological subspecies. And, in test-tube studies (where bacteria can clock up a new generation every 3.5 hours) scientists recently ran natural selection "fast- forward." The bacteria, which at the start of the run had been randomly divided into three populations, evolved after ten years into three genetically distinct strains.

In certain intellectual backwaters of America, however, Darwin's idea is still rejected by millions who insist that only Almighty God could have created the splendid Circus of Life in which Homo sapiens plays the star performer. These millions--the "creationists"--argue that, because a clear explanation for life's rich diversity was written in the Book of Genesis nearly two thousand years ago, all secular revisions should be ignored or even opposed.

But the creationists' point is rebutted by men and women who hold that the Genesis story is only a myth. They see no need to bring magic into the debate; they choose a natural over a supernatural explanation. As did Darwin himself. He died disillusioned with divine intervention in earthly matters. "There seems to be," he wrote, "no more design in the variability of organic beings and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows."

Curiously, he had written earlier (in the first edition of The Origin) that life had "been breathed into a few forms or into one . . ." In the second (1860) edition he added, to the word "breathed," the words "by the creator." Some believe that the kindly Darwin made this addition to reassure his deeply devout wife that evolution is, after all, the handiwork of a Purposeful Mind.

Harvard University's Stephen Jay Gould points to "the embarrassing paradox of a technological nation [America] entering a new millennium with nearly half its people actively denying the greatest biological discovery ever made." He is referring, I think, to a recent survey of more than 1,200 college freshmen, in ten different schools, which indicated that 45 percent were skeptical of the "theory" of evolution.

Should we condemn those who reject Darwin's grand idea or, rather, should we pity them in their ignorance? Should we condemn American education at elementary and middle-school levels for failing to stimulate intellectual curiosity? Answers to these questions will vary with one's cultural background.

John Maynard Smith, among the greatest of twentieth-century evolutionary scholars, wrote in 1993 that Darwin's idea "is the only workable explanation that has ever been proposed for the remarkable fact of our own existence, indeed the existence of all life wherever it may turn up in the universe."

Natural selection, while deceptively simple at first glance, still poses many problems in its finer machinery. The evolutionary biologists, historians, and philosophers who are searching for solutions are surely reaching levels of spiritual exhilaration that others reach in probing the mysteries of religion.

After earning a Ph.D. in Zoology at the University of Washington, Victor Scheffer entered service in 1937 in the federal Bureau of Biological Survey as a wildlife management biologist. On a National Science Foundation grant, he studied at Cambridge University in 1956-57, where he wrote his first book, Seals, Sea Lions, and Walruses (1958).

Eleven other books, most of them dealing with outdoor values and biology, would follow. The Year of the Whale (1969) helped spark the marine mammal conservation movement of the 1970s.

Dr. Scheffer taught at the University of Washington as a part-time lecturer from 1966 to 1972. He served as chair of the first U.S. Marine Mammal Commission from 1973 to 1976.

His honors include awards from the Department of the Interior, the John Burroughs Memorial Association, the Nature Conservancy, the Society for Conservation Biology, the American Society of Mammalogists, and the Society for Marine Mammalogy.
Norton's Darwin Just Released

The Third Edition of Norton's Darwin (Indiana University), edited by poet and Darwin scholar Philip Appleman, a Foundation member, has just been released.

The critical edition examines the history of ideas preceding and following the watershed of the Origin of Species, Prof. Appleman writes, and "situates the current evolution controversies in their rich and intriguing context."

Although the 1970 Norton Critical Edition served for 30 years as a standard college textbook, the third edition is so radically revised that "it is virtually a brand new book," and of interest to the general reader.

New work is included by Richard Dawkins, Edward O. Wilson, Kevin Padian, Eugenie C. Scott, Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett, Michael Ruse, Frans de Waal, Noretta Koertge, George C. Williams, George Levine, Stephen Jay Gould, Gillian Beer, Ernst Mayr, and many others. A new introduction by Philip Appleman is included.
Celebrate Darwin Day
Born February 12, 1809

". . .For my part I would as soon be descended from [a] baboon . . . as from a savage who delights to torture his enemies . . . treats his wives like slaves . . . and is haunted by the grossest superstitions."--Darwin, Descent of Man

"I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished.

"And this is a damnable doctrine."

". . . The old argument of design in nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection has been discovered. We can no longer argue that, for instance, the beautiful hinge of a bivalve shell must have been made by an intelligent being, like the hinge of a door by a man. There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows. Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws. . .

"The state of mind which grand scenes formerly excited in me, and which was intimately connected with a belief in God, did not essentially differ from that which is often called the sense of sublimity; and however difficult it may be to explain the genesis of this sense, it can hardly be advanced as an argument for the existence of God, any more than the powerful though vague and similar feelings excited by music. . .

. . .The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic.--Darwin, Autobiography (1958 version, restoring the original omissions from Darwin's Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, published posthumously in 1887)

%759 %America/Chicago, %2013

"We Done Good"

Clarence Reinders, a Life Member of the Foundation, was principal plaintiff in the lawsuit by the Freedom From Religion Foundation challenging a shrine to Jesus in a public park in Marshfield, Wisconsin. The city responded to the lawsuit by selling the land under the statue to a group formed to "save" it. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the Foundation's favor, ordering the erection of disclaimers and a fence to differentiate the shrine from the rest of the park.

 

I must admit that I was somewhat disappointed that we were unsuccessful in removing the religious idol from the public park.

However, the more I look at the accompanying picture the more I am convinced that this was the best possible outcome of our efforts.

The Praschak Memorial Group could have moved the idol to another location and the City of Marshfield could have saved itself $60,060.00 of our legal expenses plus other expenses, like the cost of the erection of the fence and the two large disclaimer signs, and that would have been the end of it. Case closed. In a short time nearly everyone would have forgotten all about it.

But now our successful defense of the First Amendment will be long immortalized. We have encaged behind an iron fence for all to see the central figure of a major religion. There are two huge disclaimer signs stating affirmatively the principle of separation of church and state. And this will be ongoing into the distant future.

Whenever anyone looks at the idol in its newly-imprisoned setting he/she will see the fruits of our labors in defense of the First Amendment. With the fence and disclaimer signs we have left our freethought mark of state/church separation for posterity.

The idol cannot now be viewed except through our American secular lens, driving home daily to the viewers their true First Amendment rights. The religious shrine will now be viewed, surrounded and sanitarily confined, by a memorial to the First Amendment.

We done good.

%759 %America/Chicago, %2013

"God Made Them Do It"

God sent attackers. Two Rastafarians who set a cathedral ablaze and killed a nun in St. Lucia in the Caribbean, told police they were sent by God to combat corruption in the Roman Catholic Church. Source: Associated Press/Lincoln [NE] Journal/Star, Jan. 2, 2001

Bible made him do it. A court in Cranbrook, British Columbia, rejected defendant Darryl McDowell's plea that the bible gave him the right to discipline his family with a 30-inch wooden rod, finding him guilty of assault in early November.

God's warrior nabbed. A Pennsylvania man who said God called him to be a "warrior" by killing abortion providers and who claimed "the Lord made me invisible" once when escaping from police was convicted in Illinois of various federal charges. Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dec. 7, 2000

Religion dangerous for mental health. Mississippi mother Sharon Cross Gray told neighbors that Jesus and God told her to stab her 2-year-old daughter on the front steps of her church. The condition of the toddler was not reported. Gray's sister was found innocent by reason of insanity for killing her son, 11, by slitting his throat in 1998. Source: [Macon] Telegraph, Nov. 29, 2000

Muslim tragedy. San Francisco-area police have charged Kenneth Earl Tyson Jr., with killing girlfriend Naima Melody Johnson the day after she removed her traditional Muslim headdress and put on makeup to serve as maid of honor at a friend's wedding. Source: AP/Inland Valley Daily Bulletin [Ontario, CA], Dec. 15, 2000

Couple acquitted. A faith-healing couple was acquitted of child abuse charges for waiting hours to seek medical help after their 2-year-old son died from brain-swelling after being stung 432 times by yellow jackets. Prosecutors were forbidden to tell the jury that Whylie and Kelly Johnson, Melbourne, Fl., belong to a Christian sect equating medicine with sorcery. Source: Los Angeles Times, Aug. 4, 2000

Ouch! Convicted Brazilian rapist Flavio dos Santos Cruz, 23, sliced off his penis and flushed it down the toilet, saying the amputation would bring him closer to God, citing instructions from the Sermon on the Mount. Source: Reuters, Jan. 5, 2001

God is a nudist? An agitated man apprehended by police in Oshkosh, WI, for walking naked down a street explained "I am God," and recommended that "all people should get undressed." Source: Capital Times, May 24, 2000
Ashcroft: "Jesus Is King"

Former Missouri U.S. Senator John Ashcroft, expected as of presstime to be approved as U.S. Attorney General, was handpicked by the Religious Right, according to a news story in the Jan. 7 New York Times. The Times noted that if confirmed, Ashcroft "would reach the highest office ever attained by a leading figure of the Christian right."

In response to media pressure, Bob Jones University, where Ashcroft accepted an honorary degree in 1999, released the video transcript of his remarks there. Ashcroft told the segregationist college:

"Unique among nations, America recognized the source of our character as being godly and eternal, not being civic and temporal. And because we have understood that our source is eternal, America has been different. We have no king but Jesus."

In a statement, the Foundation noted: "The founding fathers who threw off the yokes of kings and monarchies likewise ensured through our founding document that government and citizens would not be yoked by the tyranny of religion. . . .

"Ashcroft's intemperate, inaccurate and inflammatory remarks at Bob Jones University raise a red flag that should alarm any thoughtful individual. Many U.S. citizens are unbelievers, Jews and other nonChristians who do not recognize Jesus as 'king,' nor do the vast majority of nominally religious, unchurched Americans."
BSA, UW Tie Leaves "Sauer" Taste

The Freedom From Religion Foundation contacted the University of Wisconsin-Madison in January over its concerns about UW men's hockey coach Jeff Sauer fundraising for the Boy Scouts of America on UW time. The local Boy Scouts of America, in a news release announcing a $3.5 million fundraising drive, said Sauer would "kick off" the fundraising at a UW hockey game.

"We believe that Mr. Sauer is free to aid the Boy Scouts as much as he likes--but only on his own time and property," Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote Chancellor John Wiley.

The University responded that Sauer would not be allowed do a fundraising pitch at the game. However, officials said any groups that sell group tickets at a discount are introduced before the game. The troop was also given use of a suite where Sauer greeted ticketholders prior to the game.

Gaylor censured the University for failing to join the many cities, public schools and corporations that have have cut off ties with Boy Scouts.

The Union of American Hebrew Congregations, representing the leadership of Reform Judaism, sent a memo in January to Reform Congregations nationwide urging them to sever ties with Boy Scouts because "of values and ethics that conflict with ours."

Churches and rightwing groups are threatening to overturn anti-gay ordinances in Broward County and Miami-Dade County, Florida, in response to cut-offs of public aid to Boy Scouts.

%758 %America/Chicago, %2013

Letter Box

Greetings from the South Pole

Greetings from Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, Antarctica. Jon Emanuel here, member since 1993.

If you're wondering what I'm doing down here, the answer is cooking dinner for our crew of 220+ scientists and the people who support them. This is my second tour proudly supporting science as a contractor to the National Science Foundation.

I'm sending a photo I thought you might enjoy. It was taken on the Solstice.

In it, you'll find the spot marking the Geographic South Pole---the very bottom of the globe. That's me holding a copy of Freethought Today, which I brought all the way down here from my home in Alaska. The copy is wrapped around the actual "South Pole" marker--thereby crossing every time zone and line of longitude on the planet. "Freethought Around the World"---pretty cool, eh?

Hope you're all having a great time up there--I hear it's colder there than it is here! I should be visiting Wisconsin sometime in the spring. I'd love to stop by the Hall and say hello.

Jon Emanuel
Alaska
Let Reason Prevail

Kudos for your placement of the "Winter Solstice" plaque in the Capitol rotunda in Madison, Wisconsin.

I recently showed friends from abroad (Netherlands and Taiwan) the architecture of the Capitol. Both were impressed that such a magnificent structure could be left open to the public without guards or security of any noticeable sort. My explanation was that, as a free nation, trust is placed in the judgment of the people who own the building (that is, the general public) to use and protect their own resources.

When we came across the Winter Solstice plaque, I was struck by the fact that our conversation about freedom was so boldly reflected in your statement. There, amidst the tree and otherwise relatively subdued holiday displays, was the beautiful line, "Let Reason Prevail." It struck a chord in me. I think I shall adopt it as my personal motto.

At home, I found your website and sent the quote to several friends.

Craig Walker
Wisconsin
Kudos for Eric Zorn, Student Essays

I loved "No Graven Images & Other Reflections," by Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn (Dec. 2000). It is total common sense, easy to read. Every word is exactly what I wish I had the talent to formulate and express.

I wonder how long until our rural area will have journalists like Mr. Zorn? Our only paper continues to appall my senses with extreme right-wing opinions from columnists and the editor!

Freethought Today "washes" my mind of the daily pollution I suffer here in Mormon country!

I always am impressed with the student essays you publish. They are wise way beyond their years!

Connie Chabot
Idaho
Proudly, Unequivocally Secular

When I received the December Freethought Today, which I usually read from cover to cover (always a joy), I had to read the back page first, lured by the headline ("The Facts vs. The O'Reilly Factor").

No need to guess how O'Reilly would do on the Foundation's State/ Church Quiz. He is obviously a bully pulpit tactician. His weak-kneed semi-mea culpa, "The Constitution itself is a secular document," is evidence that he got a lot more intelligent flak than he is willing to acknowledge.

As for FFRF & Freethought Today and all you good people involved, I acknowledge and shout with fierce enthusiasm, "Long may you continue in your great work."

As for me, I'm proud to be unequivocally secular--like the Constitution.

Mildred Perpigna
Washingto
Why Didn't I Think of That?

Recently I was in Border's bookstore and came across a book titled A Complete Idiot's Guide to the Bible.

How come I did not think of this title?

T. Hartin
Illinois

Editor's note: In addition to this book, which is for real, there is also one titled "The Complete Idiot's Guide to the World Religions" and another called "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Prayer"!
Counterbalance Welcomed

If the ranks of freethinkers indeed include billionaires, such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, as indicated in "Who's Who in Hell?" (Dec. 2000), one wonders why we do not hear of their contributing significant sums to the cause. Such would be a welcome counterbalance to the many opposing contributions coming from the Wal-Mart, Domino Pizza, and other such fortunes, not to mention the huge amounts raised by televangelists.

Just think what might be accomplished if freethought controlled a media empire comparable to Pat Robertson's!

John G. Fletcher
California
Two Dedicated Members

My daughter is about to turn 18 and I could think of no more appropriate coming-of-age gift than her own membership in the Freedom From Religion Foundation. She has lived vicariously through mine for the six years I've been a member now and has even emailed you about issues that concerned her. She looks forward as much to my copy of Freethought Today as I do, though she waits patiently for me to finish it first. I thought it about time she got her own.

It will be a real pleasure to receive two issues at our address. Rest assured you have two dedicated members here.

Donna Hamel
New York
Visitors Like Freethought Today

I have been enjoying Freethought Today for the past few months. My brother-in-law and his wife, who were visiting from Canada for Thanksgiving, had the same reaction I did when they saw an issue of it--they had to have it!

I would like to purchase a subscription for them.

Thank you! Keep up the great work you are doing for all of us freethinkers!

Colleen A. Zaccaria
Pennsylvania
Thumbs Down on Templeton

After many years of membership in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, I sadly must allow my membership to lapse because of the unfortunate relationship with the Templeton religious organization.

Over 90% of top scientists are nontheists, and should be aware of the terrible history of suppression of science by religion that continues to this day. I do not want any interference with cloning and genetic engineering (it could prolong my life) because the religious think it might be some god's exclusive business.

Until this relationship ends, I cannot continue to support AAAS.

J.B. Osborne Florida
Credit Atheist, Not Miracle

Some need proof that atheists can be good folks:

As I walked down the street, returning from holiday food shopping, I looked down and saw a beautiful wallet. I picked it up. To my surprise it was full! This happened at a bus stop so I was sure it had been dropped as the owner boarded.

At home I went through the wallet and found a name and address but no phone number. The owner lived only a few blocks away, so I decided to deliver it. My knock was answered by a woman who summoned her son, saying, "Your wallet has been miraculously found!"

Both hugged and kissed me, then invited me in and told me the real story. He had been robbed at gunpoint--almost killed! They both had been distraught ever since.

Their appreciation and constant reference to god encouraged me to say I was an atheist. They were astonished! They now have personal experience with the fact that atheists can be good folks and this was a surprise.

June Krebs
Pennsylvania
Bible Belt Time Travel

I recently made a 28-day trip from California to New York and back. Part of what made it pleasant was playing Johnny Appleseed. The only difference was that I did not plant apple seeds, but thought seeds, FFRF "nontracts."

I left nontracts everywhere I went, particularly at public telephones. I found it gratifying that perhaps someone with lingering doubts, especially in the so-called bible belt, would be pulled over to reason if they read it.

Also, when paying for services, I used cash. I offered bills that had the words "In God" from "In God We Trust" obliterated. Altogether I must have distributed over 200 nontracts and bills totaling over $1,000. It's fun and I recommend it to other freethought travelers, no matter what their mode of transportation.

By the way, when traveling east, you will set your clock back one hour as you enter each time zone so that you're in the same time frame as those who live there. When you enter the bible belt, set it back 2,000 years for the same reason.

Niko Theris
California
Uneasy in Religious State

I just wanted to thank you for the work you do. I came upon your website about two years ago, when I was a student at the University of Oklahoma. It had a profound effect on my thinking, as I had been a member of a Southern Baptist Church for my entire life (no big surprises there, coming from Oklahoma).

I was struggling with some doubts that I had about my faith, which can be largely attributed to the philosophy classes I was taking in school. I was feeling a lot of guilt, and was still holding on to my irrational fear of the possible consequences of not believing. Most of my family and friends are extremely religious, and I was concerned about the possible impact that my lack of belief could have on those relationships. Once I read the story of Dan Barker's experience with some of these things, I felt much more confident about my position. I now have a son who is 19 months old, and he will be raised in an environment where he is free to think and decide for himself.

Living in a very religious state, it is not always easy to hold the views that I do. I often visit the Freedom From Religion website, and it helps me gain some perspective. You do really great work.

Courtney Kneifl
Oklahoma
Catholic Component of Supreme Court

It cannot be denied that Justices Scalia, Thomas and Kennedy consider all abortion to be murder. They are bound to do so by the infallible Papal Encyclical of Pope John Paul II, "Evangelium Vitae," which they consider a "higher law" than the U.S. Constitution that they swore to uphold.

Let's face it, they believe that a Bush Presidency will lead to a Supreme Court that will overrule Roe v. Wade and approve parochial school tax vouchers; while a Gore Presidency may not, and that these "higher law ends" justify the means--the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 political intervention in the Florida 2000 election to prevent a full hand count of votes, a fateful precedent to interfere in all future state elections.

Who knows what some future American Mussolini, Stalin or worse, will do some day with such a power?

The tragedy is that such unprincipled opportunism destroys the integrity of the Presidency, the separation of church and state, and the balance of powers that our forefathers gave their all to establish. The Justices' names will live in infamy.

John Tomasin, Esq.
New Jersey
Try Subversive Wording

In his great student essay "One Nation . . ." (Nov. 2000), Eric Breitenstein related how he would get through the choral recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance at school, by substituting subversive words of his own choosing.

I had a similar experience years ago, when I participated in a Twelve-Step program, and each meeting ended with everyone joining hands and reciting the Lord's Prayer. As an atheist, I just couldn't bring myself to say those words, and yet I didn't want to make a fuss or to draw attention to myself. So I composed my own prayer, to sound so much like what everyone else was saying that nobody noticed me, no matter how loudly I "prayed":

Our Powers are within,
Whatever be their name.
What they have done, what still may come,
This Earth can yet be as Heaven.
Live then this day, and without dread,
And forgive your own trespasses
As you forgive those who trespass against you.
And be not led into temptation,
But flee away from evil,
For Time is the Healer,
With power to restore me,
Forever and ever, Amen.

Richard Packham Oregon
Dear Dr. Laura . . .

OK. We capitulate. After being emailed and sent umpteen copies of the below clever, anonymous letter circulating everywhere, we're finally publishing it in Freethought Today for the record. It's worth reading, again!

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's law. I have learned a great deal from you, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind him that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how to best follow them.

When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev. 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. How should I deal with this?

I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as it suggests in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev. 15:19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

Lev. 25:44 states I may buy slaves from the nations that are around us. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans but not Canadians. Can you clarify?

I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

Lev. 20:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Anonymous

%756 %America/Chicago, %2013

Teaching Evolution, State By State

The following article was written for Freethought Today by the author of the famous Fordham Foundation report grading the teaching of evolution state-by-state.

In response to the flurry of public interest in education over the past few years, every state except Iowa has published a set of curriculum standards in every subject studied from kindergarten through high school. These standards usually take the form of a sort of laundry list, specifying what every public-school student should know at specified grade levels. As a scientist, I have taken a particular interest in the science standards.

In 1997 I was asked by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a conservative Washington-based education think tank, to evaluate all the science standards that were current at the time. It took me several months to plow through the stuff, and the results were published by the foundation in March 1998 in a report with the heavy title "State Science Standards: An Appraisal of Science Standards in 36 States." To put it bluntly, a lot of states did not do very well.

By 1999 there had been so much activity in revising old curriculum standards and publishing new ones that the foundation published a re-evaluation. I was again asked to review the science standards and the results were published in The State of State Standards 2000, which covered English, history, geography and mathematics as well as science. By late 1999, 46 states had published science standards. Their quality ranged from excellent to simply awful.

In the course of these reviews, it became clear that a major factor in the variation of quality from state to state was the treatment of evolution, and the Fordham Foundation asked me to make a specific study of the way that evolution is treated in state science standards. The results of this study, which covers 49 states and the District of Columbia, were published in September 2000 in a report entitled "Good Science, Bad Science: Teaching Evolution In The States."

The report addresses three main questions:
In learning about the history of life on earth, and the related histories of the universe and the nonliving earth, what essentials should students learn as they progress from the primary grades through high school?
On what religious and political grounds do creationists (and other less visible groups of anti-evolutionists) object to the learning of science, and what pseudoscientific alternatives do they offer?
How well do various states outline the scientific essentials in their K-12 science standards, and to what extent do they degrade those standards by responding to creationist pressures?

Before giving the results of the state-by-state study, let me expand a little on the nature of the political/religious issues that work against a proper treatment of science, particularly in the biological realm. In the broad sense, almost all of science is the study of the way that various systems evolve over time. The systems can be as large as the universe itself or as small as a neutrino; the relevant time scales can be as long as billions of years or as short as attoseconds. Biology is no exception; its central organizing principle is the evolution of living things. Without evolution, biology is no more than a vast, bewildering array of facts. One can teach a sort of natural history without evolution--"This is a horse and this is a rose"--but one runs into trouble almost immediately when some clever student asks, "Why are horses and roses different from one another?"

The difficulty arises, as most people know, from the conflict between the realities of science and the fanciful world views that arise from certain religious and ideological positions. The best-known anti-evolutionists are the subset of Protestant fundamentalists called young-earth creationists. These are the folks who believe that the first few chapters of Genesis from Adam and Eve to Noah are the basic textbook for all the sciences, and that the genealogies of the Old Testament are the proper foundation for the chronology of the universe.

There are other screwballs as well, with conflicting views. Black Muslims, for instance, believe that the universe is trillions of years old, and some Native American tribes consider that their ancestors have lived in the traditional tribal territories forever. Just as the fundamentalist creationists underestimate the age of the earth by a factor of a million or so, the Black Muslims overestimate by a thousandfold and the Indians are off by a factor of infinity.

Other ideologues object to evolution for different reasons. On the political left, Marxists object to evolution because it implies that human behavior is determined at least in part by our biological history. This conflicts with the Marxian principle that all the ills of society are due to socioeconomic injustice, and that the future will see the emergence of the New Socialist Man who is without vices. On the political right, a general disgust with the current social order (which is seen as grossly immoral) is associated with a yearning for an absolutism that extends from the moral sphere to the objective scientific world. For many if not most absolutists, an eternal, immutable set of moral standards implies the existence of a deity. And what better proof of the deity's existence can one have than the assertion that he/she/it is intimately, continually, and visibly directing the processes of nature? This is the position held by a new group of creationists, called intelligent-design advocates (IDers for short.) They tend to be slick, sophisticated, and free of the redneck image that adheres to the young-earth creationists.

Unfortunately, the desire to inject a deity into natural processes is inconsistent with the operational processes of science. As soon as one explains any natural phenomenon as the result of supernatural action, the path to further explanation is closed, and that is the end of science. Even from the point of view of the more thoughtful religious person, this supernaturalist position is unacceptable. Science progresses in spite of those who are satisfied with the "God did it" explanation. As scientific knowledge expands, the realm of the supernatural shrinks and the deity who manipulates it becomes what theologians call the "God of the gaps"--not a very satisfactory god at all.

All of these ideologies, whether religious or political, are committed to a world-view incompatible with science. The scientist investigates the way nature works; whether the scientist "likes" that way or not is of no consequence. The ideologue, on the other hand, decides how nature must work to fit preconceived notions. This, of course, cannot lead to expansion of knowledge about nature.

As a practical matter, it is the young-earthers who have had by far the greatest influence to date on state science standards. However, I think we will hear much more from the intelligent-design advocates in the future.

Some states have yielded to a greater or lesser extent to creationist pressures. They do this in one or more of several ways. Here are the major tactics used:
The standards may include many of the central principles of evolution--usually briefly--but the word evolution is carefully avoided. Inaccurate and misleading euphemisms such as "change over time" are used instead of the "E-word." Alabama, Florida, Illinois, and Mississippi are among the fifteen states that do this to a greater or lesser extent.
Biological evolution is simply ignored. Geological evolution, the history of the solar system, and cosmology may be treated to some extent, often even employing the word evolution. Fossils are sometimes mentioned, but only in the context of geology, not biology. Only four states (Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and West Virginia) ignore evolution completely but only ten have a completely satisfactory coverage of the subject.
Creationist jargon and misinformation are used. Examples are: "Some scientists believe that life evolved . . ."; "Describe the strengths and weakness of various theories of the history of life"; "Natural selection can maintain or deplete genetic variation but does not add new information to the genetic code." Eight states do this.

A point scale was developed to evaluate the degree to which each of the state standards gave a good account of evolution and avoided creationist pseudoscience. Each state was scored and letter grades A to F-minus were assigned.

The map (shown below) shows the situation as of August 2000. Since then, however, several states have made or are making revisions. In Kansas, the voters kicked out several creationist members of the State Board of Education, and we can expect a set of pretty good standards to replace the F-disaster that is now in place. Alabama seems to be in the continuing process of ridding itself of the influence of former governor and redneck par excellence Fob James, and will likely move up from F. The Pennsylvania Board of Education, sadly, seems determined to degrade a set of draft standards that merit an A to a C; it remains to be seen whether the creationists will prevail there.

The map teaches us an important lesson. Not all the worst-performing states are in the Bible Belt, and many states outside the Bible Belt do badly. For example, North Carolina's standards are among the best in their treatment of evolution and South Carolina's are very good. Maine, New Hampshire, and Illinois do badly. Good science is not simply a matter of geography. This is an important point because it is a snobbish as well as damaging misconception to shrug one's shoulders and write off the inhabitants of this or that region as incorrigible or ineducable.

Good science is not a matter of politics, either. Many political conservatives seem to hold the view that one cannot be a genuine conservative unless one is a creationist, too. This position has often been set forth in such publications as the Wall Street Journal and the American Spectator. In the wake of the publication of my report, the director of the Fordham Foundation, a man of impeccable conservative credentials, has endured a great deal of flak from some of his political associates, especially those who are IDers.

What does the future hold? At the moment, the creationists are probably losing more ground than they are gaining, but that is most likely a temporary situation. As the political situation evolves, creationist claims evolve as well, and the creationists are not going to go away. As the map suggests, local vigilance is essential if we are to give the best education possible to all the members of the next generation. The reports cited in this article may be found at the Fordham Foundation website, http://www.edexcellence.net. For a briefer analysis, see the BioScience Productions, Inc. website at http://www.actionbioscience.org/education/lerner.html.

Lawrence S. Lerner is emeritus professor of physics and astronomy at California State University, Long Beach. He has been a Foundation member since 1985. A briefer version of his official report was published in Nature, September 2000. ("Good and bad science in US Schools: One-third of US states have unsatisfactory standards for teaching evolution.")

Proclaiming itself as the largest Catholic civil rights organization in the US, the Catholic League identifies anti-Catholicism opinions in the media and brands them as bigotry. The league's president, Dr. William Donohue, takes pride in dissuading and intimidating media from airing this rather liberal interpretation of bigotry. Donohue holds a PhD in Sociology, is an adjunct scholar at the Heritage Foundation and sits on the board of directors of the National Association of Scholars. (Additional credentials include a masters in Homophobia and certification as a fully brainwashed believer in creationism.)

Even many mainstream and progressive Catholics are offended by Donohue's reactionary positions and attitude. During a debate against Christopher Hitchens last March, Donohue celebrated the fact that a Catholic priest now occupies the congressional chaplaincy to the chagrin of hypocritical Protestant congressman. Many mainstream and progressive Catholics would prefer to see the end of the chaplaincy as it is a violation of Church/State separation and was always occupied by Protestants until now.

One of the many borderline comments made by Donohue during the debate was: "If we lived in a sane society, we would close down the Department of Education and give every single dime to the Catholic Church to defend the poor."

Pat Robertson would probably disagree although he probably has a similar conviction concerning Southern Baptism.

Clever to call itself a civil rights organization in order to manipulate a media that is often sympathetic to civil rights causes, the league is an organization designed not only to get its wrongful ideas voiced but also to suppress opposition in the media. We, as humanist activists, should not allow the Catholic League to issue wrong-minded propaganda without challenge from our quarter.

The league's research director, Robert Lockwood, constructs reports defending Church positions and activities. He has presented a deeply flawed report titled Pope Pius IX. The report is a defense of Pius--the kidnapper who was beatified and praised by Pope John Paul this past September 3 despite protestation from many progressive and mainstream Catholics.

Pius issued a document titled Syllabus of Errors in 1864. In it, he condemned separation of church and state, freedom of the press, atheism, rationalism, etc. Although Lockwood offers excuses for the positions on church/state and freedom of the press, he writes that atheism and rationalism "remain worthy of condemnation today." This presents a dilemma for the Catholic League. If we condemn Catholicism, the league labels us bigots. If condemnation of Catholicism should be labeled bigotry, then condemnation of rationalism/atheism should be labeled bigotry. Thus Lockwood, and presumably the league, would be labeled bigots. Lockwood's and Donohue's brains reside in a curious world of one-way streets where the only thing that is circular is their reasoning. If we attack what they cherish, we're bigots. If we were to object to their condemnation of atheism/rationalism, they would label us oversensitive atheists demanding political correctness.

Lockwood's defense of Pius' opposition to separation of church and state references Bismarck's Prussia where the church was made subservient to the state. The excuse is that this subservience is what Pius opposed. Lockwood doesn't mention that in the United States, separation of church and state was already protected by the Constitution's establishment clause. Pius' condemnation was aimed at our type of church/state separation as well as Prussia's inferior model.

Regarding condemnation of free press, Lockwood avers that Pius was responding to a "viciously anti-Catholic press and a journalism that had no norms of objectivity or balance." Here, I feel compelled to concede that in the vein of the old adage, "it takes one to know one," the viciously anti-Jewish Pius, as purveyor of the papal states' own biased newspapers and magazines, was eminently qualified to identify abuses of the "free press."

Lockwood fatuously claims that a reason Roman Jews were required to live within walled in ghettos prior to Pius' reign was to "protect Jews from mob attack." He neglects to mention that the Catholic Church, at various times, required Roman Jews to wear emblems when they walked outside the ghettos. If the Church worried over Jews becoming victims of mob attack, it wouldn't have required Jews to wear bulls-eyes.

Pius IX, is the Pope that ordered six-year-old Edgardo Mortara kidnapped in 1858 from his Jewish family in Bologna. Edgardo had been baptized by a Catholic servant without the parent's knowledge. Catholic canon law held that children of Jewish/ Infidel parents should not be baptized without parental consent but if an effective baptism did occur, then the child must not be brought up by the parents. Heads of nations, newspapers, Jews and even many Catholics called for the return of the boy but Pius refused.

Lockwood clearly implies that although Pius ordered the kidnapping, and even though the kidnapping is indefensible, we cannot hold Pius responsible for having committed this immoral act. He states that Pius was "a man of his times in regard to the question of religious tolerance." Lockwood sidesteps the issue of personal responsibility for one's actions.

Ayatollah Khomeni was certainly a man of his times in regard to the question of religious tolerance among his circles within the fundamentalist community. Surely, Khomeni's followers did what they believed was right within Islamic law when they kidnapped infidels. Surely, Usama Bin Laden is a man of his times in regard to the question of religious tolerance among his circles. Or do only saintly Popes qualify for this excuse in the Catholic League's foggy world of one-way streets?

The corollary to Lockwood's claim is that Pius was "a man of his times in regard to the question of religious intolerance." This is one of many disingenuous word manipulations employed by Lockwood in his report.

Lockwood's report indicates that some claimed that the six-year-old Edgardo "showed immediate signs of the desire to live the Catholic faith, eagerly following the guards into church to celebrate Mass. The exact story, of course, will never be known of these early days as it became wrapped up in propaganda from both sides."

This is beyond obnoxious. Lockwood is writing about a six-year-old boy. Six-year-old boys were tricked into walking out into Nazi firing squads because they thought they were going to play soldier. Lockwood knows no shame. Notice how he arrogantly equates the "propaganda" of the pro-kidnappers to the "propaganda" of the anti-kidnappers in an attempt to appear evenhanded.

The report states repeatedly that Pius was not an anti-Semite. One cannot help but note the strategic quality of this assertion. That Hitler's anti-Semitism and the Church's anti-Jewishness were two different and unrelated types of hatred is a tenuous notion at best, false at worst. In Pius' case, the notion becomes downright silly when we consider the quote that the future saint called Jews "dogs" (Some Pius apologists have claimed this quote is not documented but it is. David Kertzer translates and discusses the passage in his new book, which is currently in press, The Popes Against the Jews: The Vatican's Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism (Knopf, 2001). Kertzer found the quote in Pasquale De Francisis(1872), Discorsi del sommo pontefice Pio II, vol.1.)

Pius put the sanctity of a Catholic ritual ahead of the sanctity of the family.

Today's Pope beatified Pius and praised him as someone to be imitated. How does September 3's beatification of a kidnapper tie in with the alleged pro-family stance of Catholicism? Know that Donohue's Catholic League will never answer this question with clarity.

The icing on this reeking cake of sludge is that Donohue's so called Catholic civil rights group's research director saw fit to write a 41-page paper on Pius IX yet never saw fit to express once in that paper any sorrow for the unjust, immoral travesty perpetrated against the Mortara family by an infallible saint to be. Civil rights organization--give me a break!

Steve Hirsch has been a professional investor for the past ten years. A Life Member of the Foundation, he lives in Florida with his wife and children. On behalf of the Sunshine State, he pleads for forgiveness from the ancient god of voting, Electus.

%754 %America/Chicago, %2013

"Black Day at Bad Rock"

"Black day at bad rock" was the headline for The Hill Country Recorder on January 10, 2001.

In an excellent front-page write-up, Newton Renfro recounted the story of the theft of the 32-ton cenotaph from City Park in Comfort, Texas, on December 21, 2000. This memorial, to the German Freidenker founders of the settlement of Comfort in the mid-1800s, was financed almost entirely by present-day Freethinkers, and Freethinker and Atheist organizations, the major of these having been the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The limestone megalith memorial was installed on a concrete foundation in July of 1998, and its presence was soon felt. By September the conservative Christians of the Comfort community realized that Atheists! might have contributed to this project, which meant, of course, that Comfort might well become a "Mecca for Atheists." Newspaper editorials spoke of the "tainted" funding of the rock which was sure to spread a "miasma of atheism" over the community.

During the two-year-plus controversy over this memorial, the rock stood in the park without its historical plaque and without dedication. There were rumors that it was to be removed, but no attempt was made to inform the donors. The rumors of threats came and went without any official notification of plans to remove the rock from Comfort. Those of us who wrote some of the movers(literally!)-and-shakers of Comfort never received replies to our queries.

When the rock was removed, without rumor or notification, the word of its disappearance spread to some of the donors via e-mail, but not until after the holidays. When we did learn that it was gone, we also knew the name of the crane company which had hauled it off, the name of the person who had made the arrangements with the crane company, and the actual location of the limestone cenotaph, thanks to our own Hill Country Nancy Drew, Julie Fisher, and our urban Nancy Drew, Terrellita Maverick.

It is difficult to recount the entire story of the rock's theft with a straight face because it is so Mack Sennett's Keystone Kops from start to not-quite finish. For one thing, the person who made the arrangements for the rock's removal was Gary Lindnor, the former head of the Comfort Chamber of Commerce. It seems he told the crane company that he was the mayor of Comfort. This is interesting largely because Comfort has no mayor; it is an unincorporated community.

Chatting up some folk in Comfort, Julie learned that the rock had been trucked out of town and was seen heading for Center Point. Additionally, she learned that some folk in town were actually speaking of the "theft" of the rock. So off she drove in the direction the 100-ton crane had taken. Sure enough, about two miles out of Comfort, and across the county line, she came upon the Home-of-the-Crane. No mistaking it. It was a Texas version of the Grand Canyon, but filled with much heavy-duty equipment. Julie found the one human being in the vicinity, and proceeded to question him. He obligingly gestured to her to follow his vehicle and he would lead her to the rock.

A short distance from Home-of-the-Crane was a very large, newly built white mansion in the middle of nowhere, which Julie described as more impressive than Tara. Julie's guide motioned her to the rear of the house where there was a small pasture (or large backyard), fencing in two placid cows and a reclining thirty-two-ton limestone rock. Julie whipped out her camera and proceeded to photograph the rock in its new bucolic location.

Our dauntless Nancy Drew then went to the front door of the mansion and rang the bell. Two women appeared, and Julie asked them if they knew where the Comfort rock was. They seemed not to comprehend what she was saying, and to be puzzled by her question.

"Well," said Julie, "it's in your backyard/pasture, and I wanted you to know that . . . just in case the police come looking for stolen property." Were they surprised that a rock the size of a schoolbus was in their backyard/pasture? If so, their demeanor did not betray it, nor did they show signs of fear or guilt.

But surprises were in store for the donors of the cenotaph when reporter Renfro's article hit the newsstand. The picture accompanying the article was taken by a Bill Bourland, whose marriage to Jolene a year earlier had been solemnized in the shadow of the rock. They were sentimentally attached to it and, just happening by the park during the theft, did not hesitate a wink to race for a camera to record the kidnapping of their wedding site.

Meanwhile, our urban Nancy Drew, Terrellita Maverick, was quick to get on the phone, and her results were triumphant. She arranged for us to have an appointment on January 11 with the attorney who is the head of the San Antonio ACLU chapter. Besides that, she learned that a report on the megalith's structure had been made to the rocknapper, and she obtained a copy of this two-page document. It had been sent to the Kendall County Courthouse (constructed of limestone), attention: Judge Bill Goodin.

The report begins, "Gentlepersons:", and ends with the horrific warning that a small child could be injured while climbing on the rock, and that not a day goes by that something of this nature does not occur. (The last account I read of a rock catastrophe, aside from earthquakes and rockslides, was that of a man visiting a gravesite and leaning on the tombstone which instantly self-destructed, breaking the visitor's foot.) The engineers' report ended with the paragraph, "Thus we have no choice but to state that, in our opinion, this megalith is a danger to the public and should be removed immediately. Certainly before the next freeze."

The report had gone into great length about the fissures of the rock filling with water and freezing, which would then cause the rock to break apart. Water in Texas is a rarity in the summer months. Freezing can occur in December. The report was issued on August 21. The rock was removed on Dec. 21. Hmmm. Actually, the closest the rock came to being a danger to anyone was when the crane was trying to wrench it from its 4-feet-deep foundation and the flatbed nearly flipped over as concrete and limestone reluctantly parted company.

The appointment with the SAACLU attorney took place as scheduled, and I wish I could describe that gentleman's face as he raptly absorbed the story of the cenotaph as put into chronological order by our eloquent spokesperson, Howard Thompson.

When Howard had finished, Mr. Pina looked around the table at us--Ruth Lett, Sally Chizek, Terrellita Maverick, Julie Fisher, Howard and me--and said, "I can't tell you how much I admire you people." I went into euphoric shock. Fancy someone admiring atheists!!!

Four days later I am still walking a few feet off the ground, and feeling optimistic about what might come of our case . . . if we have one.

It's a big dream, but I dare to dream that one of President Clinton's and Joseph Lieberman's favorite quotes, "In this country we have freedom of religion, but not freedom from religion," will be revealed to the whole country as the blatant perversion of the U.S. Constitution that it is. It is a thoughtless quote from Stephen L. Carter's book, The Culture of Disbelief, and it is demeaning to the millions of us who dare to think, and know that, as Anne Gaylor has said, "There can be no religious freedom without the freedom to dissent."

Catherine Fahringer is a Foundation officer from Texas.

%754 %America/Chicago, %2013

"Black Day at Bad Rock"

"Black day at bad rock" was the headline for The Hill Country Recorder on January 10, 2001.

In an excellent front-page write-up, Newton Renfro recounted the story of the theft of the 32-ton cenotaph from City Park in Comfort, Texas, on December 21, 2000. This memorial, to the German Freidenker founders of the settlement of Comfort in the mid-1800s, was financed almost entirely by present-day Freethinkers, and Freethinker and Atheist organizations, the major of these having been the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The limestone megalith memorial was installed on a concrete foundation in July of 1998, and its presence was soon felt. By September the conservative Christians of the Comfort community realized that Atheists! might have contributed to this project, which meant, of course, that Comfort might well become a "Mecca for Atheists." Newspaper editorials spoke of the "tainted" funding of the rock which was sure to spread a "miasma of atheism" over the community.

During the two-year-plus controversy over this memorial, the rock stood in the park without its historical plaque and without dedication. There were rumors that it was to be removed, but no attempt was made to inform the donors. The rumors of threats came and went without any official notification of plans to remove the rock from Comfort. Those of us who wrote some of the movers(literally!)-and-shakers of Comfort never received replies to our queries.

When the rock was removed, without rumor or notification, the word of its disappearance spread to some of the donors via e-mail, but not until after the holidays. When we did learn that it was gone, we also knew the name of the crane company which had hauled it off, the name of the person who had made the arrangements with the crane company, and the actual location of the limestone cenotaph, thanks to our own Hill Country Nancy Drew, Julie Fisher, and our urban Nancy Drew, Terrellita Maverick.

It is difficult to recount the entire story of the rock's theft with a straight face because it is so Mack Sennett's Keystone Kops from start to not-quite finish. For one thing, the person who made the arrangements for the rock's removal was Gary Lindnor, the former head of the Comfort Chamber of Commerce. It seems he told the crane company that he was the mayor of Comfort. This is interesting largely because Comfort has no mayor; it is an unincorporated community.

Chatting up some folk in Comfort, Julie learned that the rock had been trucked out of town and was seen heading for Center Point. Additionally, she learned that some folk in town were actually speaking of the "theft" of the rock. So off she drove in the direction the 100-ton crane had taken. Sure enough, about two miles out of Comfort, and across the county line, she came upon the Home-of-the-Crane. No mistaking it. It was a Texas version of the Grand Canyon, but filled with much heavy-duty equipment. Julie found the one human being in the vicinity, and proceeded to question him. He obligingly gestured to her to follow his vehicle and he would lead her to the rock.

A short distance from Home-of-the-Crane was a very large, newly built white mansion in the middle of nowhere, which Julie described as more impressive than Tara. Julie's guide motioned her to the rear of the house where there was a small pasture (or large backyard), fencing in two placid cows and a reclining thirty-two-ton limestone rock. Julie whipped out her camera and proceeded to photograph the rock in its new bucolic location.

Our dauntless Nancy Drew then went to the front door of the mansion and rang the bell. Two women appeared, and Julie asked them if they knew where the Comfort rock was. They seemed not to comprehend what she was saying, and to be puzzled by her question.

"Well," said Julie, "it's in your backyard/pasture, and I wanted you to know that . . . just in case the police come looking for stolen property." Were they surprised that a rock the size of a schoolbus was in their backyard/pasture? If so, their demeanor did not betray it, nor did they show signs of fear or guilt.

But surprises were in store for the donors of the cenotaph when reporter Renfro's article hit the newsstand. The picture accompanying the article was taken by a Bill Bourland, whose marriage to Jolene a year earlier had been solemnized in the shadow of the rock. They were sentimentally attached to it and, just happening by the park during the theft, did not hesitate a wink to race for a camera to record the kidnapping of their wedding site.

Meanwhile, our urban Nancy Drew, Terrellita Maverick, was quick to get on the phone, and her results were triumphant. She arranged for us to have an appointment on January 11 with the attorney who is the head of the San Antonio ACLU chapter. Besides that, she learned that a report on the megalith's structure had been made to the rocknapper, and she obtained a copy of this two-page document. It had been sent to the Kendall County Courthouse (constructed of limestone), attention: Judge Bill Goodin.

The report begins, "Gentlepersons:", and ends with the horrific warning that a small child could be injured while climbing on the rock, and that not a day goes by that something of this nature does not occur. (The last account I read of a rock catastrophe, aside from earthquakes and rockslides, was that of a man visiting a gravesite and leaning on the tombstone which instantly self-destructed, breaking the visitor's foot.) The engineers' report ended with the paragraph, "Thus we have no choice but to state that, in our opinion, this megalith is a danger to the public and should be removed immediately. Certainly before the next freeze."

The report had gone into great length about the fissures of the rock filling with water and freezing, which would then cause the rock to break apart. Water in Texas is a rarity in the summer months. Freezing can occur in December. The report was issued on August 21. The rock was removed on Dec. 21. Hmmm. Actually, the closest the rock came to being a danger to anyone was when the crane was trying to wrench it from its 4-feet-deep foundation and the flatbed nearly flipped over as concrete and limestone reluctantly parted company.

The appointment with the SAACLU attorney took place as scheduled, and I wish I could describe that gentleman's face as he raptly absorbed the story of the cenotaph as put into chronological order by our eloquent spokesperson, Howard Thompson.

When Howard had finished, Mr. Pina looked around the table at us--Ruth Lett, Sally Chizek, Terrellita Maverick, Julie Fisher, Howard and me--and said, "I can't tell you how much I admire you people." I went into euphoric shock. Fancy someone admiring atheists!!!

Four days later I am still walking a few feet off the ground, and feeling optimistic about what might come of our case . . . if we have one.

It's a big dream, but I dare to dream that one of President Clinton's and Joseph Lieberman's favorite quotes, "In this country we have freedom of religion, but not freedom from religion," will be revealed to the whole country as the blatant perversion of the U.S. Constitution that it is. It is a thoughtless quote from Stephen L. Carter's book, The Culture of Disbelief, and it is demeaning to the millions of us who dare to think, and know that, as Anne Gaylor has said, "There can be no religious freedom without the freedom to dissent."

Catherine Fahringer is a Foundation officer from Texas.

%753 %America/Chicago, %2013

Three Flawed U.S. Frauds

The conduct of the founders of the major religions that were birthed in America would not be welcomed by their followers of today. Their extreme drive and genius were accompanied by conduct outside the precepts that undergird the religious institutions they created.

Joseph Smith (1805-1844) was a magnetic leader, carrying his Mormon flock through mass migrations and rebirth in Ohio, Missouri and Illinois.

Setting aside judgment on his constant claim of communication with God, we can be struck by his genius in gathering and maintaining the adulation of thousands in a short and openly self-indulgent life.

His positive attributes of character were marred by obsessions in sexuality, vanity and autocratic control. He may have had as many as fifty wives, according to eminent biographer Fawn M. Brodie in her definitive classic No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (Random House, 1995). The "wives" were almost always episodes of adultery, usually preceded by a ceremonial "seal for eternity," whereas the original primary husband--including many of Smith's associates--was sealed only for life. Smith acquired a new one on average almost monthly during the 1840s. This was the birth of the half-century of officially sanctioned polygamy in the Mormon Church.

The Mormons' diligence, growth and political solidarity under Smith's directives created fears and enmity wherever they were. They also had militia units. Smith was killed by a mob who stormed the jail in Carthage, Illinois, on June 27, 1844. His followers were forced from nearby Nauvoo, and Brigham Young led an epic ordeal to Utah. Brodie states: "And it was the legend of Joseph Smith, from which all evidences of deception, ambition and financial and marital excesses were gradually obliterated, that became the cohesive force within the church."

Vivid examples of the obliteration process are part of the incredible true-crime classic, The Mormon Murders, by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith (Weidenfield & Nicolson, 1988). It also introduces one to many facets of Mormon culture and history.

Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910) lived in a time when faith healers were common and her Christian Science Church was the major survivor.

Among detached or critical biographers of Mrs. Eddy (that is, authors who did not avoid information critical of her) were Georgine Milmine, Frederick Peabody, Edwin Dakin, Ernest Bates/John Dittemore and my source, Julius Silberger Jr., M.D., a psychiatrist.

Mary Baker (twice a widow, once divorced) spent much of the first half of her life bedridden, allegedly using illness to control people and get attention. Her hypochondria brought her acquaintance with mental healer Phineas Quimby, who it has been said was the inventor of her basic teachings--which she denied in her successful years.

Whatever her obviously formidable accomplishments, she dismissed several capable aides, and afterward mobilized followers to mentally ward off the "malicious animal magnetism" she felt that the ex-aides were mentally exerting against her. Her paranoia and vindictiveness triggered deviousness. In one instance, her husband and current chief aide were arrested and charged with conspiring to have the previous chief aide assassinated. They avoided conviction. The Silberger book is replete with a lifetime of manipulations.

L Ron Hubbard (1911-1986) was a pulp fiction writer who became a leader in science fiction until his Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health came out in 1950.

Commercialization of its treatment plan flourished, then floundered, until rescued by Wichita businessman Don Purcell. Hubbard's disregard for expenses and past debts led to lawsuits by Purcell. With the ownership of the Dianetics trademark contested, Hubbard renamed his (refurbished) approach Scientology and then fulfilled an earlier prediction: "If you want to make real money, start a religion." That helped Hubbard avoid taxes and medical practice restraints and to become fabulously wealthy.

Scientology "auditing" involves a multi-step hypno-psychoanalytic procedure based on superficial groundings, having value in some cases but questioned by professional therapists for others. "Auditors" were trained by the Hubbard organization, generating profits.

One cannot briefly portray Hubbard's awesome imaginative talents or his unbelievable history of deceit and arrogance, but let us quote Los Angeles Judge Paul Breckenridge in a denial of sealing Scientology records: "The evidence portrays a man who has been virtually a pathological liar when it comes to his history, background and achievements. The documents in evidence additionally reflect his egotism, greed, avarice, lust for power and vindictiveness and aggressiveness against persons perceived by him to be disloyal or hostile." (This from Bare-Faced Messiah: The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard by Russell Miller [Henry Holt, 1987]. Another source was L. Ron Hubbard: Messiah or Madman by Bent Corydon and L. Ron Hubbard Jr. [Lyle Stuart Inc., 1987].)

Rather than confront an adult daughter who sought to meet him for the first time, Hubbard had an emissary deny his paternity to her face. He tried to erase from history a bigamous marriage with her mother.

Hubbard did not "die," it is alleged. The official revelation to 1,800 followers at the Hollywood Palladium was that he had discarded his body and chosen to move to his next level of research externally. This was in keeping with his many stories of previous lives, including reincarnation from lives millions of years before on other planets.

The late Sidney Harris provided an explanation of such baffling happenings in a 1985 newspaper column headed "Lying to yourself produces [the] most frightening evil of all." Harris was not thinking particularly of religious founders, of course:

"Most people seem to value sincerity as a value more than I do. But sincerity is not an independent value, like truth. If you are wrong, the more sincere you are, the more damage you can do, and the more wrong-minded followers you are able to attract."

Basil Conrad, a member from Michigan, is a retired charitable agency administrator.

See also Joseph Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon (McFarland & Co., 2000), a comprehensive history of the Mormon fraud by longtime Foundation member David Persuitte.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

 

FFRF privacy statement

AAI-LOGO

FFRF is a member of Atheist Alliance International.