Scott's 1946 Broadcast An "Atheist Milestone"

Here is something that deserves a place in a freethought museum of atheist memorabilia--a photograph of Mr. Robert H. Scott, the man who made the first out-and-out atheist broadcast over the air, about one-hour long, on radio station KQW, in San Francisco, on November 17, 1946.

I have an interesting tale to tell about this fine man. When I first found out about this historic-first talk, I wrote Mr. Scott and ordered a set of recordings of his talk. They soon arrived in the form of four old-fashioned, fragile (brittle) 12-inch records ("platters") thickly wrapped up in a big piece of cloth--all cracked!

I wrote Scott to tell him what happened. So he sent me a second set of four platters. These two were improperly packaged and arrived broken. Again I wrote Mr. Scott and advised him to ship them in some sort of stiff container that did not depend on "wrapping" for protection and security. This time they arrived safe and whole, and I would play them over and over again on my small phonograph. But there was one fault: The reproduction was full of static and needle scratch noise. So I carefully transcribed the whole talk to script, word for word, and later had it printed in pamphlet form. Thousands of copies were printed and distributed, including a few thousand that I have been sending in my out-going mail for years.

As a result of the "broken record" episode, Bob Scott and I became pen pals. We never met in person, but we exchanged many letters on the subject of our common interest--atheism--until his death.

Bob Scott, a court stenographer by profession, was a "milestone" in the annals of freethought.

And the big piece of cloth in which I received the first set of broken records? Oh, I took it to my tailor and he made me a nice pair of pants with it.

Andy Vena, in his late eighties, is a Life Member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation living in Pennsylvania. Below follows an excerpt from "An Atheist Speaks" by Robert Harold Scott:

. . . It has been said that there are no Atheists in foxholes. But Howard W. Williams, who, as an Army Signal Corps photographer, was several times in battle, "felt the breath of death many times," and he did so "without any religious feelings." He says: "I was a foxhole Atheist."

It was written more than twenty-five centuries ago that "the fool has said, 'There is no God.' " The man who wrote those words lived in an age devoid of science and in a country in which ignorance and superstition were prevalent. It was but natural, therefore, that he should write as he did. Today, however, there is no excuse for repeating those words by way of scorn or rebuke.

The fact that no deity of any kind has ever, in any way, made himself unmistakably known to everybody in every generation amounts, I submit, to positive proof that there is no such deity. Life and the world being what they are, what sensible reason could any god have for making his existence controversial? Assuredly, life and the world being what they are, no god could reasonably expect any rational person to take his existence "on faith," for that would be expecting one not only to believe without evidence but actually to believe against evidence.

To say that there is no god is also to say, of course, that there is no life beyond the grave; for it goes without saying that only a god could make postmortem survival possible. Certainly, there is no scientific evidence for a life hereafter. Of the many American scientists who, in 1933, answered Professor James H. Leuba's questionnaire, an overwhelming majority of the more eminent, particularly those who deal with the phenomena of life and conscious behavior, did not believe in a life after death, either with or without a body.

Atheism, supported by science, does take away the hope of an afterlife. On the other hand, atheism gives one the great consolation that comes from the knowledge that an everlasting extinction of one's personal self would be equivalent to a dreamless sleep with no awakening. And though it be true that in a death of endless personal annihilation there could be for one no happiness of any kind, we know, with the certainly of those who were once unborn, that it is no evil to have that which cannot be missed.

It is but natural for one to desire to meet again some loved one who has died; but only as a conscious, remembering being can we feel the heartache that is caused by the death of someone we have loved. A death of obliteration would relieve the heartache and even the knowledge that one and one's dead loved one had ever lived.

One of the great benefits that would accrue to [hu]mankind from a general repudiation of the god-idea would be voluntary medical euthanasia, under state supervision, for persons with incurable, painful, and lingering illnesses. And, doubtless, this painless and peaceful release from life would be accorded the helpless aged at their request. . . .

It need not be feared, as Jefferson gave his young nephew clearly to understand, that [hu]mankind would sink into a morass of immorality if atheism should become universal. Ethics, as Darwin said, has its basis in social needs and feelings, not in any supernatural beliefs. Admiral Robert E. Peary discovered a tribe of Eskimos who had no religious beliefs but who were kind, honest and generous.

The Marquis de Sade, we are told, was undeniably wicked, and de Sade was avowedly an atheist. Nathan Leopold participated in a cold-blooded murder and, at the time, Leopold was avowedly an atheist. Alfred Rosenberg, official philosopher for the Nazi party, was hanged for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and Rosenberg was avowedly an atheist. But Adolf Hitler believed in a god, as his writings and speeches testify. Hermann Goering prayed with a clergyman on the Sunday before he swallowed potassium cyanide; and all the other men (with the exception of Rosenberg) who were sentenced with Goering to die on the gallows made professions of religious faith. And Joseph Kramer, "The Beast of Belsen," said at his trial that he believed in god.

Steinmetz and Burroughs were atheists. So were Mark Twain and Robert Ingersoll. So were Sarah Bernhardt and Olive Schreiner. So were Simon Bolivar, Pierre Curie, Jeremy Bentham, and "Lawrence of Arabia." And, certainly, each of these persons lived an exemplary life.

The truly good man or woman is good without thought of recompense or penalties, either here or hereafter. He or she knows right conduct brings its own ample reward. There are for him or for her, as there were for Jefferson, incitements to virtue in the comfort and pleasantness one feels in its exercise, and in the love which it procures us from others.    

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  • byline: By Andrew Vena

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