Archive for Politics

Merry – Warm, Fake, Fuzzy- Holidays (Baa Humbug!)

Posted in Politics, Religion with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 15, 2012 by RJ Evans

Tis the week before Christmas and all through the world,
people claim peace and happiness, and joy to the world.

A once a year fest of holiday cheer and mythical froth,
born of a myth in a tiny loin cloth.

All proclaim joy, happiness, and love,
peace and tranquility that must come from above.

But after a day, a night and a few too many beers,
a ham and some sweets, begin the post holiday jeers.

Who cares anymore? They’re all evil crap!
The day is gone it’s time to get back…

Get back to the vitriol, violence and grunge.
Get back to the condemnation in the name of tough love.

The prince of peace has only one day,
after that… Fuck it, it’s God’s way or the highway.

scrooge-iconIt’s that time of year again!  The time of year when the masses get all mushy, calling for world peace, love, understanding, and any other meaningless platitude they can think of, in celebration of the birth of a mythical baby god.  Some 85-90% of Americans claim to believe in one of the 44,000 christian versions of a skybaby, skyrat, or skyking.  And December 25th is supposedly the day that the skytyrant was born.  It’s a day when christians don their fake happy faces, yabber an over abundance of “god bless you” ‘s, “merry christmas!”,  and  proclaim that it’s all about peace, love, happiness, “joy to the world…” and  “…let earth receive her king!”  King?  Ah, aren’t we a democratic republic?  I mean, come on now!  Didn’t we declare independence from a monarchy?  And I’ve never seen the skybrat on any ballot that I’ve ever cast.  Well, at least not in name anyway… I’ve come across a few human god-idiots who claim to represent said deity.

Anyway…

Peace, love, happiness, “joy to the world…” It’s really all dribble.  In the end, the only thing the holiday represents is socially acceptable christian bigotry with a cheesy fake smile, wrapped in the Wall Street journal, a nice nativity scene tag, and topped off with the pretty red or black bow of consumerism run amok.  A red bow for when folks don’t purchase enough useless shit, and a black bow when folks purchase way too much useless shit.  And, all of it is delivered by the fastest, most reliable mass freight delivery service in the world… Santa Claus!   A white man in a red suit, driving a sleigh being pulled by eight  American caribou (they HAVE to be American caribou – preferably white caribou –  because it’s all about jesus, and jesus is white,  and America IS ALL about jesus).

Speaking of Santa Claus…  Have you ever noticed the “red” suit?  Red!  Now, I’m not into conspiracy theories, but let’s take a good long look at this choice of color. The color red  “is commonly associated with danger, sacrifice, passion, fire, beauty, blood, anger, socialism and communism.” according to Wikipedia.   And let’s not forget the whole “Red States” thing.  Coincidence? Oh Sure!  Of course, Santa IS a socialist.  That’s a fact.  He gives toys away to anyone who’s nice (toys made in “Red” China).  Nice?  Alright!  Who’s making the decision on who’s naughty or nice?  Santa?  Republican Elves (read tiny minds of Congress)?  It’s obvious that, this year, 47% of Americans are going to get coal in their stockings because they’ve been feeding off the governments tit.   Lazy socialist bastards!  Socialism for those who hate socialism!

The day after Christmas is the tell-all of the holiday.  As the needles of the Christmas tree dry out and start falling from the tree… as stomachs churn in the ever-expanding waistlines of American gluttons… after churches around the country have spewed their fantastic puke about the birth of their king of peace and how important it is to share a universal message of peace, love, happiness and “joy to the world…” (conditional upon unquestioned acceptance of faith over fact)… Americans kick off another 364 days of vitriol, division, hate, bigotry, racism, and violence, in the name of the skyrat , and it’s all OK.  They’ve been forgiven after all.  And after the plastic has been retired to the wallet and removed from the face, the hypocrisy reveals the reason for the season.

Twas the day after Christmas and all across the country,
the bigots, those dregs, and the self-righteous christian punditry…

Bellowed and hollered and threw their fits,
for 364 more days, before their next round of holiday bullshit.

Their next play is Easter, a time for more horse,
Shit of the most vile, a cause for more uncivil discourse.

So prepare yourselves all, who truly care for our world.
Their jesus is coming, and he’s really a turd.

His minions play games of pissing, moaning, and plot,
to hamper the efforts of our secular lot.

They want dominion over you and I
They insist that we’re evil, a dastardly ply.

Bare witness to fact, evidence and reason
Don’t buy into their so-called reason for any season

Stand firm, resolute, and be bold with love
Their hypocrisy always reveals the lie
of the one they claim comes from above.

_________________________________________

Merry – Warm, Fake, Fuzzy – Holidays!  (Baa Humbug)

Ass Scratch Fever!

Posted in Politics, Religion with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2012 by RJ Evans

We’re Born This Way

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 21, 2012 by RJ Evans

(The following commentary is called “Reflections” by John MillJohn is a noted free thought advocate and broadcaster.  This series airs on my American Heathen® internet radio show.  Air Date 04/21/12)

As an atheist and materialist, I sometimes wonder why I don’t feel the love from gay people. This is John Mill and perhaps I should rephrase that: it seems that atheists are perfectly willing to stand up for freedom and liberty for the LGBT community, but the favor is rarely returned. Likewise with the African-American community: we welcome black atheists, but the black civil rights community is not conspicuously supportive of us.

It may be because we are all immoral, hell-bound, baby-eaters… or it may be for another reason – a reason for which they are blameless.

I was listening recently to one of my favorite podcasts, “The Best of the Left,” hosted by Jay Tomlinson. I was pleased to hear a rare voice call in: an atheist who was hoping nonbelievers “are the next group to fight for their rights and come out of the closet and not be afraid to say who they are.” Hear, hear, I said to myself. But the host killed my momentary buzz, saying that “equating the civil rights movements of the LGBT community and racial minorities to the struggle for acceptance by atheists” is “an inappropriate comparison.”

And Jay is an atheist! Maybe he’s not as angry or aggressive as we are, those of us who listen to and comment through “American Heathen” – or maybe it’s because his podcast is called “Best of the Left” and not “Voice of the Godless” – but Jay admits that he shares our disbelief in sky-gods. He just thinks the law is already on our side.

I began to think Jay got it all wrong: there are so many examples of anti-atheist discrimination: an atheist can’t get elected to public office; believers are preferred in child custody; atheists can get fired from at-will employment for any reason or no reason; schools can stifle free association if they don’t approve of an atheist group; atheists are under-represented and misrepresented in the media; atheists are repudiated by their families; many famous people were actually nonbelievers, but history classes never teach this; and have you ever noticed that atheists are not one of the protected groups covered by Hate Crimes laws?*

Given a second look, this list conflates public discrimination, which is discrimination as official policy of state or federal government, with private discrimination, or just not being liked. Sure, atheists, are liked a lot less than almost any other group. But does that raise the cause of anti-atheist discrimination to the level of a civil rights issue?

It is true that there seems to be a kind of institutionalized discrimination against atheists in the military. The Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program spends millions of tax dollars to assert, without scientific evidence, that soldiers must be not just physically fit but spiritually fit. And the spiritual fitness program is biased toward a certain fundamentalist religiosity that critics, myself included, find troubling.

It is also true that in the United States, seven state constitutions (Arkansas, Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and, surprisingly, my own state of Maryland) officially include religious tests that could forbid atheists from holding public office or being a juror or witness at trial. But it is also true that the 1961 Torcaso decision specifically overturned the Maryland religious test, and presumably invalidated all the others.

Yes, it is tougher in life being an atheist. I think we can all agree that discrimination against atheists does exist. But at what point does anti-atheist discrimination become a civil rights violation? And is it on par with discrimination against the LGBT community, women and racial minorities? It is clear that, unlike other rights groups, atheists are not denied equal access to housing, they are not kept from seeing their partners in hospitals, they don’t earn sixty-five cents for every dollar earned by believers, and they are not prevented from voting. And atheists don’t make up 39% of the prison population but only 14% of the general population.

A true civil rights movement is characterized not just by discrimination, but by the politics of some identifiable characteristic. Gays and lesbians have their sexual orientation. African-Americans have their skin color. Women have… well, you get the idea. But the only characteristic atheists have in common is their disbelief.

Atheism is a minority viewpoint and all minority viewpoints are unpopular, if not downright suspicious, among the general public. We atheists can claim to be misunderstood and misrepresented, caricatured and shunned, even painted with the same brush as Hitler – a Roman Catholic who was never excommunicated, by the way. But are we actually oppressed? Now I think that’s going too far.

Like me, everybody is born an atheist. Some of us return to our roots and find out that you can’t go home again. That’s not oppression: that’s inconvenience. The law is on our side.

That is, until the law is changed. And, with more of us coming out of the closet, with government increasingly in the hands of unelected sectarian officials, do I detect a little pushback? Is public vs. private discrimination becoming a distinction without a difference? We are excluded by “In God we Trust” on our coins and currency, by “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Hmm. Maybe I’m agnostic, after all. This is John Mill.

[*] Austin Cline, http://atheism.about.com/od/attacksonatheism/p/AtheistBigotry.htm. Retrieved 4/18/12.

This Week In Freethought History April 15th – 21st

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on April 21, 2012 by RJ Evans

(The following is a transcript of a LIVE broadcast by John Mill. John is a noted free thought advocate and broadcaster. “This Week In Freethought” airs on my American Heathen® internet radio show. Air date of this particular segment: 04/21/12)

Here’s your Week in Freethought History: This is more than just a calendar of events or mini-biographies – it’s an affirmation that we as freethinkers are neither unique nor alone in the world, no matter how isolated and alone we may feel at times.

Last Monday, April 16, was the 168th birthday of French writer, critic and Nobel Laureate Anatole France (1844). The writer began as a journalist and married a mentor wealthy enough to get him noticed by 1881. All of France’s novels were unabashedly pagan, in addition to lampooning clerics and Christianity. In the 1920s his writings were put on the Index of Prohibited Books. It was Anatole France who said, “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” And also (perhaps thinking of religious belief), “If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.”

It was 155 years ago last Wednesday, April 18, that American trial lawyer Clarence Darrow was born (1857). Darrow was 67 years old when he came in direct contact with the conflict between religion and reason in defending Tennessee science teacher John T. Scopes for teaching the theory of evolution rather than fables of gods, snakes and apples. Scopes was convicted, but the world read of and listened (on a scientific novelty called radio) to the famous 1925 “Monkey T rial,” A tireless fighter for the rights of the powerless against the powerful, Darrow once said, “I don’t believe in God because I don’t believe in Mother Goose.”

Coincidentally, or not, it was on April 18, 2008, that the documentary film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed was released in the United States. You can read more about this in my “Reflection” on that film.

Two more anniversaries were marked last Thursday, April 19—

It was on April 19, 1993, that federal government forces with tanks, gas and guns invaded the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. During the 51-day Waco Siege, “Ranch Apocalypse” was burned to the ground and 76 Davidians, twenty of them children, along with their 33-year-old leader, David Koresh, died. The confrontation between the male-dominated, gun-toting government officials and the male-dominated, gun-toting Davidians began on Sunday, February 28. Waco stands today as a massive breach of civil rights and an abuse of government power against a relatively harmless Christian sect. If it can happen to minority Christians, in this nation of churchgoers, are atheists safe?

The Waco Siege inspired Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, two years later to the day, to perpetrate the most destructive act of terrorism on American soil until the September 11, 2001 attacks – the Oklahoma City Bombing (1995).

Last Friday, April 20, brings us two more connected anniversaries—

Last Friday was the 123rd birthday of German Nazi leader Adolf Hitler (1889). While in jail for treason in Germany – he had been plotting to overthrow the Weimar Republic by force – Hitler began dictating Mein Kampf (My Struggle). Hitler’s Catholic upbringing, coupled with a disbelief that a Jew could really be a German (much like George H.W. Bush’s disbelief that an atheist could really be an American), informed his writing. “I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator,” wrote Hitler. He was clearly no atheist. The only major complaints from Rome regarded Hitler’s interference in Church matters, which were largely silenced by a 1933 Concordat with the Vatican. And Hitler could not have been successful without the support of German Catholics.

It was also last Friday, April 20, 13 years ago, that two students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, brought guns and explosives instead of textbooks to school (1999). The bullied and belittled students had planned their massacre for over a month and timed it for Adolph Hitler’s birthday. Perhaps like Hitler, after their rampage, which left 12 students and a teacher dead, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris took their own lives.

We keep returning to this theme, but it was 56 years ago today that Inherit the Wind, a play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee dramatizing the famous Scopes “Monkey Trial” of the summer of 1925, opened at the National Theatre on Broadway (1955). Inherit the Wind was not about a clash between two 1920s pop stars, Clarence Darrow vs. William Jennings Bryan, or a clash of cultures, intellectual vs. religious. The playwrights are really focused on defending freedom of thought in a time of anti-communist hysteria: The 1950s were a time of cultural anxiety and anti-intellectualism in the U.S., inspired by the crusade of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his colleagues on the House Un-American Activities Committee. So Drummond (the Darrow character) says to the jury, “Yes there is something holy to me! The power of the individual human mind. An idea is a greater monument than a cathedral. And the advance of man’s knowledge is more of a miracle than any sticks turned to snakes, or the parting of waters. … Gentlemen, progress has never been a bargain. You’ve got to pay for it. … Darwin moved us forward to a hilltop, where we could look back and see the way from which we came. But for this view, this insight, this knowledge, we must abandon our faith in the pleasant poetry of Genesis.”

We can look back, but the Golden Age of Freethought is now. You can find full versions of these pages in Freethought history at the links in the American Heathen blog, which take you to my blog, FreethoughtAlmanac.com.

Divided We Are Falling

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on April 14, 2012 by RJ Evans

(Editorial Comment from  host RJ Evans on his American Heathen® radio show – Air Date 04/14/12)

The headline read “How The Travon Martin Case Has Divided America”.  Really?  A nation divided over a case of murder?  Another news story caught my eye the same day. “Allen West: I’ve ‘Heard’ 80 House Democrats Are Communist Party Members”.  I mentally repeated my last question.  A nation divided over a case of murder?

United we stand, divided we fall.  And, falling we are.  Divided, broken into millions of pieces and parts.  But, it isn’t the murder of Travon Martin that is dividing us.  Nor is it the rantings of a mental midget like Allen West.  Our free-fall is most likely the result of our obsession with our own nauseating self-centered greed,  and total inability to cope with the fact that freedom and liberty belongs to everyone, not just those who agree with us.

Tonight we talked about atheists communicating better.  But, I have to ask, who do we try to communicate with?  Santa Claus?  The Tooth Fairy?  Because, we stand a better chance of convincing these fantasy characters that our humanistic, godless, and intellectually rigorous viewpoint, is valid and worthy of equal consideration, than the millions of narcissistic, egotistical, tyrannical, jesaholics and skydaddy fearing demigods who have taken their ideological puke to new lows.  And, what of the divisions, the falling apart at the seams politiscape that has turned the temperate equator of compromise into the land that time forgot, and then swallowed in a sea of ignorance?

Really.  Who do we communicate with?  Obviously we can’t even communicate with ourselves, with men and women who actually use their brains and dismiss fantasy.  Wait… Dismiss everyone’s fantasy but their own.  The “Us versus Them” divisions we are not immune.  Fantasies, agendas,  run rampant and deep throughout the atheist community.  Entrenched in illogical ideological shit bogs, every single one soon dries into anti-theistic monoliths that slowly yield to compost on the abrasive winds of change. Really?  Who can we even communicate within our own geography?

Divided we are falling. All of us. One by one.  Don’t be misled into thinking we are falling together as a nation.  We are not falling together.  There isn’t a single group of a single mind to be found.  We are all falling, and we are falling  individually and alone.  The cold, hard reality of our self-imposed isolation from the single most unifying tenet of our existence isn’t even apparent to us.  Nope.  For some reason we think being human is so special that we can say,  “Fuck humanity!”  And, we just keep falling.  In fact, most folks don’t notice it, don’t even feel it.  They didn’t notice the sinking feeling in their stomach when they left their perch, they can’t feel the rush of air as they plummet downward, nor do they see the ground fast coming to meet them.  They are oblivious to the sudden stop that awaits them.  It’s inevitable.  Of course, the fall never kills you.  It’s always the sudden stop at the end.  The stop always wins. I’ve stopped worrying about the fall.  Now I’m worried about the sudden stop.  I’m flapping my arms as fast as I can.  I’m reaching for a rip cord that isn’t there.  I’m screaming at the top of my lungs for help.  Nobody’s listening.  I’m hoping it’s just a nightmare.

Case in point…

From the “Allen West: I’ve ‘Heard’ 80 House Democrats Are Communist Party Members” article:  Some members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus confirmed that they are not, in fact, members of the Communist Party.  “I can confirm that Congresswoman Baldwin is not a communist,” said Jerilyn Goodman, spokeswoman for Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), a vice chair of the caucus.

“Chellie is a Democrat, a farmer and a Lutheran but no, she is not a Communist,” said Willy Ritch, spokesman for Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), also a vice chair of the caucus.

Apparently someone thinks being a Lutheran will cushion their sudden stop.  If they even noticed their fall to begin with.  I’ve got news for them and everyone else… It doesn’t fucking matter.  You really should have paid attention before you fell.  Or, how about this… We collectively need to wake the fuck up before this nightmare comes to a sudden stop in reality.

This Week In Freethought History April 8th – 14th

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on April 14, 2012 by RJ Evans

(The following is a transcript of a LIVE broadcast by John Mill. John is a noted free thought advocate and broadcaster. “This Week In Freethought” airs on my American Heathen® internet radio show. Air date of this particular segment: 04/14/12)

Here’s your Week in Freethought History: This is more than just a calendar of events or mini-biographies – it’s an affirmation that we as freethinkers are neither unique nor alone in the world, no matter how isolated and alone we may feel at times.

It was 2,572 last Sunday, April 8, according to tradition, that Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, was born in what is now modern Nepal (560 BCE). Through introspection and observation, at the age of thirty-five he earned the title Buddha, or “Enlightened One” (Sanskrit सिद्धार्थ गौतम). For the rest of his life, which by some accounts was eighty years, Buddha helped others reach enlightenment. Buddha lived at a time of great spiritual revolution in Asia and Asia Minor: the same centuries saw the arrival of the great Greek-Ionian thinkers, Lao-Tse and Confucius in China, and Mahavira, the founder of modern Jainism, in India. It is dishonest to presume that so “spiritual” a thinker must have believed in a God. In fact, Buddha never mentioned God or gods or souls and it was later generations of Buddhists that morphed his ascetic ethic into a religion.

Last Monday, April 9, was the 84th birthday of the University of California professor of math who made a name for himself in the 1960s as a composer and performer of parody songs: Tom Lehrer (1928). His first public performance was in 1952 at a nightclub near Harvard, but he hit the big time – taking time off from teaching mathematics – between 1953 and 1965 with club performances and LPs featuring his witty, rapid-fire lampoons of social and political issues, including such classics as “The Vatican Rag.” Not generally known about Lehrer is that he is a Freethinker on religion. “I firmly believe all religion is bullshit,” Lehrer said in a 1984 interview. “To say that I am not a ‘fan’ of organized religion is putting it mildly… As for being ‘spiritual,’ … I find enough mystery in mathematics to satisfy my spiritual needs.”

It 146 years ago last Tuesday, April 10, that the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) was chartered under the leadership of Henry Bergh (1866). Bergh (1813-1888) was horrified by the extensive cruelty he observed towards working horses, as well as stray cats and dogs, in New York City. Curiously, despite the depictions of St. Francis of Assisi surrounded by his loving birds, it was Europe under Christianity that was the worst offender against the principle of humane treatment of animals. Since it was Christian doctrine that animals have no souls, there was no Church prohibition against ill-treatment. Cockfights and dog fights, bear-baiting, and other inhumane treatment of animals for sport throughout the Middle Ages, thrived. And this was the period when organized religion was in the strongest position to object with some credibility. So the chartering of the ASPCA came about in amid a long silence from the representatives of God.

It was 237 years ago last Wednesday, April 11, that the last execution for witchcraft took place in Germany (1775). History records that Anna Maria Schwiigel was legally executed in Bavaria for the crime of believing in a competing religion. The craft was so attractive to its medieval adherents that perhaps 300,000 were tortured and executed by Christians for their contrary opinion. The worst persecution of witches occurred in Germany and surrounding countries comprising the Holy Roman Empire. Here and there a voice expressed doubts that there really were witches with supernatural powers. But by the 1700s, coincidentally with the rise and influence of rationalism in Europe, the anti-witch fervor was dying out. Even Joan of Arc, who very possibly was a witch, was declared a saint in 1920. And just 190 years after the last witch was executed in Germany, the comedy “Bewitched” – about a middle-class witch who tried not to cast spells – began an eight-year run (1964-1972) on American television!

It was 2,572 years ago last Thursday, April 12, that by tradition, the most famous leader of Jainism, Mahavira (Sanskrit महावीर) was born (560 BCE). Like his contemporary, Buddha, Mahavira was born a prince. At age 30 Mahavira left his family and royal household, gave away everything he owned, and became a monk. Althought not the founder of Jainism, Mahavira is the only saint of the religion that is historically verifiable. In his travels, Mahavira organized a brotherhood of monks, who took vows of celibacy, nudity, self-mortification, and fasting. Jainism was not, in the beginning, meant to be a religion and the existence of God is irrelevant to Jain doctrine. Mahavira believed that the universe was self-sustaining and did not have a beginning. Instead, he believed the universe endless and that it operates according to natural law. Mahavira was, in fact, an atheist. His philosophical descendants, as often happens, turned this atheistic ethic into the supernaturalist religion we find mostly in India today.

It was 269 years yesterday, April 13, that the author of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, Thomas Jefferson, was born (1743). Jefferson served as third US President, from 1801 to 1809, after serving as Vice President under John Adams. Jefferson and Adams were poles apart politically, but both were advanced skeptics regarding religion. While he was president, Jefferson wrote his most famous statement in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, a religious minority in Connecticut opposed to taxation to support the majority Congregationalist Church: “Believing with you as I do that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their Legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State. Jefferson’s “Act for Establishing Religious Freedom in Virginia” put an end there to the compulsory funding of so-called “established” churches. In this Act he urged, “no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”

It was 63 years ago yesterday that British-born American journalist Christopher Hitchens was born (1949). Hitchens has admitted admiration for and influence from such notables as Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson. His bona fides as not only an atheist, but an “antitheist” were solid: “I’m an atheist. I’m not neutral about religion, I’m hostile to it. I think it is a positively bad idea, not just a false one. And I mean not just organized religion, but religious belief itself.” He described organized religion as “violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children.” Hitchens died on 15 December 2011 at age 62.

Asked if his serious illness has affected his view of the afterlife, in a panel discussion including atheist writer Sam Harris, Hitchens replied, “I would say it fractionally increases my contempt for the false consolation of religion and my dislike for the dictatorial and totalitarian part of it. I presume what I say by the first is self-evident. What I mean by the second is, it’s considered perfectly normal in this society to approach dying people who you don’t know, but who are unbelievers, and say, ‘Now are you going to change your mind?’ In fact, it’s considered almost a polite question. As you know, there’s a long history of fraud about this. People claim that Darwin had a deathbed recantation, they’ve made up lies about Thomas Paine. It goes on all the time. It’s a very nasty little history. But there’s also a horrible undertone of blackmail to it. People write and say, ‘Look, you’ve got about one chance left now. Aren’t you going to take it? I’m writing to you as a friend.’ They’ve even tried it on me when I’ve been very ill, and didn’t have quite the vinegar I’d like to have had, in a hospital bed. I don’t mind. I can take it. But I think there are a lot of people older than myself, iller than myself and, perhaps, at the risk of seeming conceited, less educated than myself, to whom that’s a horrible experience. It’s very depressing and alarming to be spoken to in that way. I mean, if Sam [Harris] and I were to form a corps of people to go around religious hospitals, which is what happens in reverse, and say to people who are lying in pain, ‘Did you say you were Catholic?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Well, look, you may only have a few days left, but you don’t have to live them as a serf, you know. Just recognize that that was all bullshit, that the priests have been cheating you, and I guarantee you you’ll feel better.’ I don’t think that would be very ethical. I think it would be something of a breach of taste. But if it’s in the name of God, it has a social license. Well ‘fuck that,’ is what I say. And will say if it’s my last breath.

It was also yesterday, but 93 years ago on April 13, that American atheist activist, and founder of the organization American Atheists, Madalyn Murray O’Hair was born (1919). Murray never passed the bar exam and never practiced law, but that did not prevent her from bringing one case all the way to the Supreme Court. While living in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1960, Murray filed a lawsuit against the Baltimore City Public School System because her son Bill was required to participate in Bible readings in his public school. When her son refused, he was subjected to bullying, and Murray charged that school policy violated the separation clause of the First Amendment of the US Constitution. In 1963, the Court voted 8-1 for Murray’s argument, effectively banning school-sponsored, coerced prayer and Bible verse recitation in public schools. This court victory rewarded Murray with the epithet, “The Most Hated Woman in America,” a title she relished – and possibly invented.

Said Murray, “But people … don’t even know what atheism is. It’s not a negation of anything. You don’t have to negate what no one can prove exists. No, atheism is a very positive affirmation of man’s ability to think for himself, to do for himself, to find answers to his own problems. I’m thrilled to feel that I can rely on myself totally and absolutely; that my children are being brought up so that when they meet a problem they can’t cop out by foisting it off on God. Madalyn Murray’s going to solve her own problems, and nobody’s going to intervene. It’s about time the world got up off its knees and looked at itself in the mirror and said: ‘Well, we are men. Let’s start acting like it.’”

It was 237 years ago today, April 14, that the world’s first abolitionist society was established (1775). The Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage came to life in Philadelphia with the assistance of the Quakers and the philosophical backing of Benjamin Franklin and his fellow Deist, Thomas Paine. It was Paine who had published in the same year a pamphlet opposing slavery entitled, African Slavery in America. The idea of ending slavery was slowly taking hold among the pagans of Rome when the Empire collapsed in the West. In fact, the transformation of slavery to serfdom, which was slavery without the more humane aspects it had acquired under the pagans, was a Christian innovation. What about Islam? Arab-Muslim dealers sold slaves to eager Spanish and Portuguese (Christian) buyers. The American Baptist, Methodist and Anglican churches owned a total of 600,000 slaves. Nowhere in the Bible is slavery even remotely condemned as a profound evil. When civilization turned against slavery at last – in Britain in 1833; in the US in 1865 – it was with the guidance of thinkers like Paine and Franklin and John Locke. It took the rise of Rationalism and Freethought, and the gradual realization that without a social policy the churches would become irrelevant, to elicit action from people on their knees.

We can look back, but the Golden Age of Freethought is now. You can find full versions of these pages in Freethought history at the links in the American Heathen blog, which take you to my blog, FreethoughtAlmanac.com.

A Little Reflection

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on April 7, 2012 by RJ Evans

The following is a commentary in an ongoing series of “Reflections” by John Mill. John Mill is the radio persona of Ronald Bruce Meyer and can be heard on “American Heathen.” “The American Heathen” Internet radio broadcast is aired, live, on Saturday nights from 7:00pm-10:00pm Central Time (8-11pm Eastern Time) on ShockNetRadio.com.

A bill to make it a federal crime to protest at any event where Secret Service are present was signed into law by President Obama on March 8, 2012. This is   John Mill and the innocuously titled “Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011,” according to the liberal and progressive media – what’s left of it in the US – would theoretically make it a crime to participate in any protest where the President orders Secret Service presence: such as at a G-8 Summit (which, fortunately for the participants, has moved their undemocratic policy-making to Camp David on May 18-19 from their original venue in Chicago).

The law, H.R. 347, also includes major public events, such as the Inauguration and Presidential campaign gatherings, but the insidious part is that it is within the President’s power to delegate Secret Service protection to anyone – the president of Bank of America, for instance – thereby squelching First Amendment rights of free speech and the lawful right of assembly, such as at an Occupy protest.

But is that what the law really says? H.R. 347 was introduced on January 19, 2011, by Florida Republican Representative Tom Rooney, whose spokesman denies any such dire results. Rooney’s communication director says the law, “doesn’t affect anyone’s right to protest anywhere at any time. Ever. ” “… right now it’s not a federal violation to jump the fence and run across the White House lawn, this bill makes it a federal violation.” And the mainstream media didn’t think it dangerous enough to liberty even to cover the signing of the law. The whole debate over the law remained under the radar of the even progressive media for over a year before becoming an issue. So what are we to think?

Well, it’s not my job, or anyone’s job, except maybe that of your religious leader, to tell you what to think. But I may be able to help you on how to think. I’ve read a measured response in the online magazine Salon and got an un-alarming take on the law from the ACLU. Salon says the only real changes are (1) making some instances of criminal trespass a federal crime rather than just a local crime and (2) where the law used to say that the person must have entered a restricted area “knowingly” and “willfully,” H.R. 347 willfully omits the word “willfully.” This means, even if you do not know that it’s illegal for you to be in a place, you can be arrested for remaining there.

The ACLU notes that the original bill passed in 1971 and the current version is a slight rewrite. The omission of “willfully” may make it easier for the Secret Service to overuse or misuse the statute to arrest lawful protesters, because now it is unnecessary to prove intent, but H.R. 347 doesn’t directly apply to Occupy protests.

I keep a small copy of the US Constitution on my desk, just where some people would keep a Bible, and I keep checking the First Amendment when I read about laws like H.R. 347. That Amendment says in part, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech … or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” And the real reason the ACLU promises to keep an eye on this law – and we should, too – pertains to the bigger mosaic of which H.R. 347 is only a tile.

Back when I was first able to read, the ink of the First Amendment looked pretty dark and strong. Today it’s looking faded and weak. H.R. 347 is not an out and out abridgment of our First Amendment rights. Like many other laws – from abortion restrictions to hate crimes laws to voting rights restrictions to gun control laws and so on – the tree of liberty is never torn out at its roots. Only its branches are trimmed. And I think it’s the same excuse those in power in this country have always used, as far back as the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798: national security.

It’s as if liberty is too precious to be trusted in the hands of the people. Like an antique car behind glass, we can look at it and take pictures of it. But the keys are locked up and each year it gets a little more difficult to persuade the keepers to let us take it out for a spin. What’s needed is not a test drive on a closed course by a professional driver: what’s needed is for the rest of us to take freedom and liberty out on the open road. We paid for the roads, after all.

I keep telling my brothers and sisters in the Freethought world the same thing I’m urging in the liberal-progressive world: try to remain calm. Yes, we need to push back against encroachments on our religious liberties, just as we need to push back against encroachments on our civil liberties. But this is not the end of days. We need to challenge laws only when they actually collide with our enumerated rights and nothing – not the threat of terror or the threat of theocracy – should abridge those rights.

I know the Constitution is not a suicide pact*, but neither is it a list of suggestions or guidelines, to be ignored for some illusion of liberty or security. Yet it seems that before you can get people to care that the house has a mouse, you have to blow it up to the size of an elephant!

The moral of the story is restraint, not overkill. We all need to pause for a little reflection.

*Wikipedia says the precise phrase “suicide pact” was first used by Justice Robert H. Jackson in his dissenting opinion in Terminiello v. Chicago, a 1949 free speech case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, although the concept predates Jackson.

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