Letter Box

"A Glorious Moment"

My husband Guy and I were present on April 15 when a wonderful verdict was handed down in Bob Tiernan's roadside memorial case for Rodney Scott in Adams County, Colorado. The judge meticulously researched and laid out every legal argument in state law against these noxious things. His exposition will undoubtedly be used to decide future state cases. It was a glorious moment.

I especially enjoyed two articles in the last issue of Freethought Today: Atheist movie reviews and Calida nightgowns/Sierra Outpost.

We delayed seeing "Chocolat" because of a dreadful review in Time. After seeing it, we realized the reviewer must have been personally offended by the freethought slant; there's no other valid reason for anything but praise. It's now our second-favorite recent movie, after "The Cider House Rules" which, while not openly atheistic, was clearly freethinking.

I nominate last year's foreign movie "Butterfly" for mention in Freethought Today. It takes place in a Spanish village in the 1930s; the plot revolves around the elderly male schoolmaster, who is an atheist, and a small boy whom he takes under his wing and teaches the truly important things of life. The atheist character is clearly shown to be the most kind and ethical person in the village. This movie has a superb plot, acting and atmosphere; it's also a heart-breaker.

I wrote to Sierra in 1998, asking that the John 10:10 be removed from the catalogue. You can see how much impact that had!

Victoria D. McCoy 

You Are Gooder than an Angel

"You are gooder than an angel" is a Southern way of saying thank you to someone for an exceptionally kind act. A nonSoutherner may say, "Those rednecks don't know how to speak good English. 'Gooder' is not even a real word."

Well, Southerners know that too. And Southerners know that a more proper way of speaking would be to say, "You are better than an angel," but would it have the same impact? To say "gooder" makes people perk up and ask themselves, "Did I hear that correctly?"

The answer is "Yes, you did. And I have something to add to that. I ain't never heard of no angel doing a good deed for nobody." That may be grammatically atrocious, but it sure gets the point across.

All this talk about how wonderful angels are, and about having "faith" in angels because they do so much good is sheer unadulterated nonsense, like Santa Claus or the tooth fairy, and grown people should have better sense than to succumb to a belief that has been manufactured by some really slick con artists to make people believe in something that they should know has not even a remote relationship to facts. The writers of nonsense books and the manufacturers of trinket angels have struck gold in the pockets of the gullible and have extracted the gold from those pockets just as slickly as a pick-pocket.

"Enough all ready," to borrow a phrase from New York. Until you find an angel who has done a kind deed for you, forget about angels, because you are gooder than an angel.

David B. Higginbottom 

Dan's "Hymns" Advance Freethought

Dan Barker's "Friendly Neighborhood Atheist" disc set of music and songs constitutes a major contribution to the advancement of freethought ideas. It gives freethinkers an alternative to defend, dispute and debate in sharing their perspectives on the subject of religion. Entertainment and amusement are wonderful methods to advance an idea. Even the most devout will be able to find an area of agreement in some of the songs.

It would seem appropriate to have the words and music available in printed form, i.e., a freethinker's hymn book!

I plan to do my part by making the set a gift of choice for all on my gift list this year and start now with an order of five sets. My prior order has been depleted or spoken for.

Boyd C. Baird 

"Bringing Ingersoll to Life"

I've been enjoying listening to Dan Barker's "Friendly Neighborhood Atheist" CD. My favorites include "The World Is My Country," "Declaration of the Free," "You Can't Win with Original Sin," and "Higher Mind," among others. But the jewel for me is "Love." Thanks for bringing Ingersoll's words to life in song.

Dan Lewandowski 

Greetings from New Zealand

We are in New Zealand until next February. Wanted to stay longer and outwait GW but immigration says we can only stay a year.

You might be interested to know that 27% of the citizens here declared NO RELIGION on the 1996 census. They are doing another this year and it will be interesting to see how that part comes out. With 27% on our side, we have a lot more clout, and the politicians know it!

Even the people who profess to be Xian don't seem to take it very seriously. When there is a column from a preacher in the Auckland paper, the next day there are several letters disagreeing and none agreeing. So different from our Colorado Springs paper which is just the opposite.

Jack Midling & Dean Morgan 
New Zealand

The Gods Within Us

The premise of a recent book titled The "God" Part of the Brain--A Scientific Interpretation of Human Spirituality and God by Matthew Alper (Rogue Press, New York, 2000) is that the spiritual function of the human brain has developed (as have all other functions, such as the senses, language, music, mathematics, etc.) through natural evolutionary processes to act as a sort of safety valve to assist human beings to cope satisfactorily with their certain mortality.

On p. 79 of the book, Alper asserts:

"If what I am suggesting is true, it would imply that God does not exist as something 'out there,' beyond and independent of us, but rather as the product of an inherited perception, the manifestation of a biologically-based evolutionary adaptation that exists exclusively within the human brain.

"If such a hypothesis is correct, it would imply that there is no spiritual reality, no God or gods, no soul, and no afterlife. Such spiritual concepts as these would only exist as manifestations of the particular way our species has been 'wired' to perceive reality.

"In such a light, humankind can no longer be viewed as a product of God, but rather, God must be viewed as a product of human evolution, the perceptual manifestation of our species' inherent cognitive processing."

It appears that this "god-notion" may not necessarily be located in any one specific part of the brain, but perhaps is a general function which acts to restrain other functions. In my opinion, Matthew Alper's proposal is one with which all who are interested in knowing more about the evolutionary approach to spirituality should be familiar. This 185-page paperback book is available in many libraries and on order through any good bookstore.

Glenn M. Hardie 
British Columbia, Canada

"Be Good for Goodness Sake"

Days later, I am still charged up by Dan Barker's excellent talk "How to be good without god" at UC Berkeley, March 21, sponsored by SANE, the famous university's only specifically nonreligious group (they have 37 religious groups!).

Dan is a delight to listen to; with his wit, wisdom and experience from "been there, done that," he held the audience spellbound, responded to numerous questions with additional enlightenment--and deflected with great tact and compassion the expected standard challenges from a few dogmatic souls in the packed auditorium, apparently disturbed by Dan's logic.

The United States is the only industrialized, so-called developed country where religion has such a stranglehold on the populace. Especially in the Scandinavian countries and most of central Europe, the title of Dan's talk would sound ridiculous, as if there ever were any doubt that you can be good without religion.

Religion's own miserable track record as well as a rich assortment of freethinkers having lived good lives and done good deeds throughout centuries of human history, make the opposite question more logical: "How can you be good with god?"

Only in America does the religious crowd claim monopoly on Christmas; in most other countries it is a secular event. The word "Christmas" doesn't exist in other languages. Only the equivalent of "Yuletide" is used. There is no "Christ"-infested name for the event, which, by the way, existed long before the Christian movement got the idea to jump on the already popular solstice bandwagon and subsequently redefined the "birth" of a questionable figure.

Thank you Dan. You have done good.

Jorg Aadahl 

P.S. Dan's book Losing Faith in Faith--From Preacher to Atheist should be required reading in high school!

"Kudos to Dan"

Thank you for sending me the notice of the debate on the existence of god that was held at Arizona State University on April 11, 2001. I attended the debate, and enjoyed it. I was impressed with Dan Barker's aptitude and calm deportment. He convincingly expounded the atheist's side of the issue, and astutely pointed out the implausibility of some of Bob Siegel's egregious claims, such as the ability of a material object to interact with an immaterial object and that the rightness and wrongness of actions depends on god. In short, he cogently argued that the belief in god is simply untenable and unnecessary.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be present at a widely-attended event at which theism was open for debate instead of unthinkingly assumed.

Sandra Woien 

"You Can't Herd Cats

On April 11, 2001, I had the privilege of attending a debate at Arizona State University-Tempe, between Dan Barker and Bob Siegel, a Christian minister. I persuaded my 22-year-old daughter to accompany me, telling her it would be good for developing her skills in argumentation for college English. We brought note pads and pens to jot down the principle arguments and ideas. The main point that occurred to us was that the Christian argument is pretty flimsy. It boils down to the fact that they want to believe there is a god and that they are resistant to reason, historical evidence and science.

The lecture hall was packed with both infidels and believers. Some of us proudly wore our Atheist T-shirts. The crowd was very enthusiastic and pretty well-behaved for such a controversial debate. Arizona is certainly not the Bible Belt, although some of our legislators think it should be. The best part of the evening was having the opportunity to meet Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor. They radiated warmth and intelligence, and were very gracious.

It was wonderful to be able to meet so many other atheists, who, as a rule, are above average in intelligence, nonconformists, and have a great sense of humor. I felt that all of the freethinkers were thrilled to be in a room with other atheists. Usually we can't discuss our position with anyone. It's too bad you can't herd cats or organize atheists on a grand scale.

Karen G. Brown 

Passport to Fundie Land

This past Sunday when I went out to get my newspaper, it was wrapped not in the usual clear plastic cover but one completely immersed in religion! It also had this "so-called" passport to the newest attraction here in Mouseland.

I had to laugh when I read the first paragraph that Marvin Rosenthal wrote, thanking me for my interest in the holy land experience and for requesting my passport visitor's guide.

I did not request anything! It was foisted upon me by happening to subscribe to the Orlando Sentinel. Everybody that subscribes got one whether they wanted it or not. (Same as the Jesus videos mailed every household here in central Florida.)

I would rather put a match to my $17 than spend it on this trash!

Joan Rotenberger 

Camp Fire An Alternative to BSA

As the plaintiff in a current lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America and my local school district, I often hear that I am trying to harm boys by eliminating a "character building" organization from the schools.

I have recently learned that an Ann Arbor, Michigan, BSA pack has disaffiliated itself from the BSA and has joined the Camp Fire Boys and Girls. This organization offers many of the same opportunities as the BSA, but is explicitly non-discriminatory against any group. There are many different ways to defeat the BSA's discriminatory practices, but this to me seems like a particularly effective way.

John Scalise 

"Wanton Idolatry"

In all these attempts to get the Ten Commandments posted, why doesn't anyone ever bring up "Which Ten Commandments?"

The Roman Catholic Commandments are different from the Jewish and Protestant Commandments. The Catholics deleted the second commandment, split the tenth in two, and renumbered them so they would still come out to ten. Why? Because they wanted to keep their idols, and numerous "images of things in heaven," which are forbidden by the original commandments.

This is why, for centuries, Protestants despised Catholics as "Papist idolaters." Before everything got nice, the statement was often made that the Catholics only had Nine Commandments. Think of it--if you can eliminate a Holy Commandment, what integrity do you have left?

Recently, the Town of Lexington, Massachusetts, was embroiled in a creche debate (it was eventually removed). One letter writer pointed out in the Boston Globe that people who were claiming "tradition" were way off the mark. In fact, in the years at the beginning of our nation, Christmas itself was outlawed as pagan, and the residents then would have regarded a creche as wanton idolatry, distinctly Catholic papist paganism.

Ken Falor 

Sleepless in Seattle

I am a chemist working at the Boeing Space Center in Seattle. Also, I am a graduate student at the University of Washington. I mention this to identify myself as a person trained in the methods and practice of critical thinking. Last night I had a bit of insomnia and I saw Dan Barker on television at 3 a.m. The program was a debate at Bellevue Community College from Feb. 29, 2000. I am writing to ask if a recording of this debate is available, or if it will be aired again. I found your discussion extremely interesting.

Rick Morgan 

Editor's note: Videos of the debate, "Does God Exist?" Phil Fernandes vs. Dan Barker, Bellevue Community College, can be ordered for $20 ppd, Sales Dept., FFRF, P.O. Box 750, Madison WI 53701.

"Artistic Folks Are Freethinkers"

While clipping coupons I found this ad for Artistic Checks indicating that "Artistic Folks are Freethinkers"! What a great surprise! I wonder if they really mean it?

Karen Buehlman 

"Can't Afford Not to Renew"

In last month's "Letterbox," a woman wrote that she renewed her subscription, saying she had lots of expenses right now, but decided she couldn't afford to drop her membership.

I feel the same way she does. I can't afford to give up my FFRF newspaper, either!

Doris Edge 

Surrealistic Circle of Time

It seems that I have traversed a surrealistic circle in my life. As a child I lived on a ranch outside of Campwood, Texas. My Uncle managed a ranch in the area also and I was often there playing with my cousins--riding horses, swimming in the creek, chasing goats. They were wonderful, idyllic days of youth, suffused in that golden glow of sunlight drifting through the leaves of oak trees. Days of dust in Texas heat. Sundays at the Baptist Church.

I grew up knowing the name of Madalyn Murray O'Hair. I didn't really understand why she was so hated in Texas, because I didn't really understand what an atheist was. But then I didn't really understand all the hooplah over the bible and religion, even though I went to Baptist Sunday School, Sunday Service, Wednesday Prayer Meeting, Summer Bible School, sang in the choir, went to Baptist summer camp. It was more a social thing for me, but there were times that it made me very uncomfortable and I didn't know why.

It took many years to come to where I am today. Today I am an atheist or nontheist and the Freedom From Religion Foundation was the door to my enlightenment. The journey from my childhood was a long, hard one, and I have arrived in this spot only to find that Madalyn Murray O'Hair's body, and her family's bodies, were found on the ranch I played on so long ago, the ranch my Uncle managed.

I made a journey back to that place several years ago, when my Uncle was dying of cancer. The ranch was still the place of my memories, but the children were all grown and gone. I went into Campwood and stood in the middle of Main Street in the afternoon heat looking up and down the main road. There was not a person to be seen and/or vehicle moving. Everything was as I'd left it in my childhood, as though time had stood still.

And so I come to that surrealistic circle of time; from the place of her death sprang a life that carries on her work and dreams.

Kathy A. Beer 

First Amendment No-Brainer

When I followed up on a recent Oakland Press article about a local school district's debate on sex education, I got a real shock. State law here specifically requires the public schools to include "local clergy" on their sex-ed advisory board!

380.1507(5) ". . . A school district shall not offer this instruction unless an advisory board is established by the district board to periodically review the materials and methods of instruction used, and to make recommendations to the district regarding changes in the materials or methods. The advisory board shall consist of parents having children attending the district's schools, pupils in the district's schools, educators, local clergy, and community health professionals."

Even worse, according to the staff of my state representative, there are no written guidelines to control the selection process. Apparently the method of compliance is completely at the discretion of each school board. Obviously this puts a government body in the business of deciding which religions are acceptable and which aren't!

I've already complained about it to my representative's staff, telling them that eliminating this provision should be a First Amendment no-brainer, but they assure me that there aren't enough legislators who have enough backbone to do the right thing.

Lee Helms 

Skewering Sacred Cows

. . . Benign? Like Mother Teresa?

John Senter Compere ("Is Religion More the Problem than the Answer?" April 2001) has done a monumental job of going from minister to atheist, but I feel his statement, "It was and is genuine and benign like Mother Teresa . . ." must be challenged. From what I have read about Mother Teresa, she was anything but benign.

I have read from many sources about her beliefs, her "care facility," where she got her money, how she spent it, and how she conducted her life. I suggest one particular source:Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice by Christopher Hitchens. He also produced a TV program concerning Mother Teresa's life that was called "Hell's Angel" aired in the United Kingdom. The title was chosen by the network. He preferred "Sacred Cow."

Jan King 

Why a Capital G?

"God" gets a lot of attention in discussions about religion, and all its trappings. I think that using the word in a singular manner gives it far too much credibility. All references to the idea should be made as such: "a god," "your god," "the god" or even "gods," plural. I mean, why one, why not 20? I'd like to see quotes used around the word. I'd like to see the word in lower case only, so as to give it the lack of respect that it deserves; I mean it is only an idea, not a tangible entity. Why a capital "g"?

When I tell someone that I am an atheist (and I had that great pleasure a couple of days ago when a Jehovah's Witness came to my door) I tell them that I don't worship or believe in a god; I have no personal god.

Alan Phenix 
New Hampshire

"Fanatics Have Gone Too Far"

I enjoyed Annie Laurie Gaylor's article ("Calidas, Yoga & the Getting of Wisdom," March 2001) mentioning the religious reference in the Sierra Outpost catalog. I, too, spotted that bible quotation quite some time ago in one of the catalogs I received from them. I wrote to them and expressed my displeasure at being hit upon with bible verses in a mail order catalog for nonreligious products. I told them that I was very much offended at this attempt to impose their brand of religion into my life, and that it was going to result in a loss of my business.

A couple of years ago I had a similar experience when I requested a catalog from a company called "The Model Shop." As I thumbed through the catalog, I quickly found several model car kits that I wanted to order. Upon reaching the centerfold, however, I was very dismayed to find a religious tract stapled into the catalog.

I immediately wrote a letter to the company and told them that their desire to proselytize their customers had cost them my business. I also made it clear to them that they would likely lose many other orders from the other atheists and nonChristian religionists who might receive their catalogs.

It's bad enough that we have to put up with being proselytized by Christians at every turn, via television, radio, newspapers, magazines, tracts left in many public places, not to mention being approached and bothered by "missionaries" and zealots at shopping centers and even on our own doorsteps. But when we have to put up with bible tracts and verses in mail order catalogs, I think these religious fanatics have gone too far.

If any other members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation happen to get catalogs from these religious zealots who think it is their sacred duty to push their religion along with whatever products their company sells, I hope they will let the company know that their merging of religion with business has cost them some money. Furthermore, I hope that my fellow Foundation members will likewise refuse to do business with companies that display the "Jesus fish" in their advertisements and on their company vehicles.

Willard Wheeler 

Secret to Co-existence

My present situation is interesting. I am in a small Spanish evening class with two Mormons and an agnostic who has several atheist friends (including me).

The teacher is a Mormon ex-Catholic Mexican. We all get on wonderfully and have very good-humored discussions, as the textbooks are modern and surprisingly frank.

The secret, I think, is tolerance, that "genial, good-natured tolerance" that Bertrand Russell decided is most lacking in the modern world. If only we could clone these nice people . . .

Sheila Somner 

Religion Equals Legal Extortion?

People's fear of the unknown, especially fear of death, allows them to be willing victims of organized religion. By convincing gullible people to go to church each Sunday, and donate hard-earned money, ministers are nothing more than con men. They make promises they can't keep. How can you promise people they will go to "heaven" when there isn't any such place? Religion is nothing more than legal extortion.

The sad thing is people spend their entire lives living in a world of "make believe," with little to show for it when their lives end. Instead of believing in god, they could accomplish much more by just believing in themselves. Be your own person, make your own decisions, reject religion.

Tom McFarland 

Seeking Secular Currency

Niko Theris ("Letterbox," Jan/Feb. 2001) says he obliterates "In God" from "In God We Trust" on paper money.

I simply add the word "NOT," in underscored block letters after the word "Trust," so it then reads: "In God We Trust NOT."

Andy Vena 

David Briars Not Forgotten

The late David Briars of Craftsbury, Vermont provides us with a good example of what one person can do for the freethought movement. In the early '90s he set out, much on his own, to create a needed freethinker's directory which was first published in 1991. In the small town where he lived, David experienced much opposition to his freethought beliefs, but he never backed down.

In the introduction to the 1993 second edition of Freethinker's Directory, he wrote, "Most of us have felt the debilitating isolation and self doubt that comes from living in a world where religion and mob-thinking define the meaning of contentment, morality and self-worth . . . It is quite an experience to sit in a room full of people who value their freedom from religion. There is a feeling that iron bands have been taken off of the head. Atheists are not necessarily perfect humans, but in some special way they are clean, alive, and determined to find their own answers to life's problems as autonomous thinking beings."

Two publications are making use of Briars' directory. First, it is being continued as The Freethought Directory: An International Guide to Organizations in the Community of Reason, edited by Victoria McCoy and Thomas J. Ebacher. It has over 240 pages in contrast to the 60 pages of Briars' 1996 fourth edition. And his material was used in the new Who's Who in Hell: A Handbook and International Directory for Humanists, Freethinkers, Naturalists, Rationalists, and Non-Theists which was edited by Warren Allen Smith.

Freethinkers who stand up to be counted are not forgotten. Thank you David!

James L. Sanders 

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