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Soldiers of Conscience

Posted by dystressed on October 19, 2008

[Author’s note: I debated this topic quite a bit with myself before writing this. I want to remind readers that this post reflects my personal beliefs, not necessarily those of anyone else associated with FreeThought Fort Wayne.]

Please understand that first of all, I support the troops who are serving now and in the past. I don’t agree with the principle of preemptive war, but I was convinced along with the rest of America of the need for it in Iraq. With the revelations about Iraq having no WMDs or a link to Al Queda, and the new politics of the current election, I have been trying to examine some of the aspects of this war and the military overall.

POV on PBS is a documentary film series. This week’s film entitled “Soldiers of Conscience” is all about the factors of why and how people rationalize killing in war. You can watch the video online here until October 23. The filmmakers focus on 4 concientious objectors (COs), one of whom was denied status and court martialed for dessertion.

In making the film the directors started with the thesis that during World War II, only 25 percent of soldiers in combat could fire their weapons at the enemy. This was actually a study commissioned by the military, which launched what a West Point professor calls “reflexive” weapons training. In this practice, soldiers are programmed to kill as a matter of instinct. Fast forward a few years and this new training brings the level of soldiers willing to fire a weapon and kill to around 90 percent in the days of the Vietnam War.

As a freethinker, I am non-religious, but I am also firm in my conviction that killing people is wrong. I am also skeptical of this military program that teaches soldiers to kill as a reflex, an instinct. If we have to teach people to kill, even to save their own lives, should we really be fighting in the first place? I understand the reasons for fighting, and I am eternally grateful for the chance to breathe free, but the methods of our military training seem suspect.

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Posted in FreeThought, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

RadarOnline

Posted by dystressed on October 9, 2008

Radar Magazine has a great interview with Bill Maher.

I’d like to put in a plug for these people because they do a really good job in discussing the problems with Scientology and they profiled the Rational Response Squad. They also take stabs at 9/11 conspiracy cults,  Kabbalah, and tons of other touchy subjects.

I think that this magazine has some great intelligence with it, so I think everyone should at least add it to your bookmarks. I have a charter subscription, but I’m not asking you to go that far.

Posted in FreeThought | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Humanist Symposium #25

Posted by Skeptigator on September 14, 2008

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Welcome to the Humanist Symposium News Channel brought to you by FreeThought Fort Wayne, I’m your host Skeptigator and I want to know, “How are you today?”.

Our top story tonight is the recent announcement that Matter is better than spiritualism coming out of Chromium Oxide Green. Maria Silva asks why the “supposed spiritual world is deeper, and extraordinarily more profound than this mundane world around us, that is composed of matter?”

But first in Technology news Michael Wheeler explores Utopian Neuroscience. He asks, “How happy do you want to be?”

In Education news, we have the recent editorial, Should Social-Emotional Learning Be Part of Academic Curriculum?, from Alvaro Fernandez of Brain Fitness an institute dedicated to creating sharp brains.

On the political front, Canadian talking head, Ian Bushfield of Terahertz, presents Toward Secular Humanistic Politics.

In legal news, the lobbying firm of This humanist is working to expand upon Humanism and Polyamory. Clare, the spokesperson for the group is quoted as saying, “Under law in the UK, polygamy is illegal, but so was homosexual marriage! If we can accept that marriage law concerning homosexuality is outdated and inappropriate, maybe it’s worth taking a second look at the issue of monogamy.”

After the break, we’ll find out what’s happening in Sports and Entertainment news.

Today’s broadcast is brought to you by the word Compassion a service offered by Elliptica, please call Lynet for more information.

Over at the Sports desk, Brian Jay Stanley reports on the latest Olympic news, We Were Gold Medalists in the Sperm Olympics.

Thanks Brian, I feel like a winner already. And now for Entertainment news, PhillyChief brings us the heartwarming story on the positive impact of the movie industry, “Buzz Lightyear got us through”.

Our resident DIY guy, Glowing Face Man, is doing some remodeling, let’s check in and see how he’s doing with A Modernized Version of the Lord’s Prayer.

In Charity news, our broadcast partner, Zach Alexander of the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard tells us about, Humanist Relief Work: Children of the Border. And vjack of Atheist Revolution talks about A Different Kind of Atheist Outreach.

Sorry folks, we have to take another break to pay some bills around here. When we return, how to cut back on the Carbs and another edition of our continuing series called Biography.

For one night only, Dereck of I Will Not Die fame and Aaron Ross Powell are joining together for their blockbuster seminar entitled “Purpose and Growth”. Make sure to get your tickets early, Dereck will be giving his award-winning An Essay on Human Growth and Aaron Powell has been packing theaters from coast-to-coast with his What Atheism Offers: A Sense of Purpose Series. One Night Only, this Sat-Sat-Saturday!!! Two speakers, One low price.

The co-host of our on-going series “Biography”, Greta Christina, brings us the little known story of Del Martin, and What Makes a Life Meaningful. Greta’s co-host, Andy Welfle, explores his tell-all auto-biography in From Altar Boy to Atheist: A coming out story.

And now, “Have you been wanting to shed a few pounds lately?”, well LSG has a new diet strategy called, No Bread for Me, Thanks.

In tonight’s editorial piece, I wonder if Jyunri Kankei might have A Better Answer than Originally Given. Also, I stumbled across this piece from Andrew Bernardin from Evolving Mind, Religion as a Replaceable Raison D’être (Reason for Being): Part II. I have a question, “What happened to Part I”, is this like Leonard Part 6, because that movie is just begging for a series of prequels.

I see our producer, Phil for Humanity is giving me the Time is Our Most Valuable Asset signal. So we’ll leave you tonight with a piece submitted by a viewer, Dale, called Awe Sans God.

Please join us on October 5th where our Canadian sister station (with an amazing broadcast strength), Terahertz, will be bringing the 26th edition of the Humanist Symposium.

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Posted in Events | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

An inside listen to a CFI Camping Retreat

Posted by Andy D. on September 3, 2008

The guys at Reasonable Doubts produced a unique podcast (#20) cut from many conversations and background ambiances from CFI Michigan’s Second Annual Long Lake Retreat.  I am an audio editor and I can hear how it was a massive undertaking to record, edit, and produce.  Hats off to our enlightened Michigan friends!

This is a different program because it touches on the emotional and intellectual concerns we freethinkers face.  It is really all about friendships.  I am not a fan of bugs, but I want to go to one of these next year with all of you.

Posted in FreeThought | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Women and FreeThought

Posted by dystressed on August 31, 2008

One of my heroes is Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Her intellect was stunning for today, let alone the mid to late nineteenth century. Along with Susan B. Anthony, she spearheaded the more agressive and progressive faction of the women’s rights movement, beginning in 1848 at the conference at Seneca Falls, New York.

I read about her a great deal in college, but I never made the connection to her FreeThought stance until yesterday. I was watching “Not for Ourselves Alone” the Ken Burns documentary that paired the lives of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Buy this movie on Amazon

Buy this movie on Amazon

Most people know who Susan B. Anthony is, because in the 1970s, she was the first woman to appear on US Coins. But Stanton was much more provocative, much more of an introspective philosopher, plus she died first. History tends to favor the character who survives longer.

Stanton is arguably the mother of the women’s rights movement because although Anthony gave many of the movements speeches, organized most of the lectures, Stanton wrote most of the text and provided much of the rhetoric. This included the famous Declaration of Rights and Sentiments at the 1848 Seneca Falls conference. Stanton was also stuck at home with her seven children (whom she did not require to attend any church), so this meant that Anthony was essentially the public face of the cause.

According to the documentary, toward the end of her years, Stanton rewrote the Bible with a slant toward feminism, an outright scandalous move that got her censured from the movement she helped to build.

The Womens Bible on Amazon

Today I found even more information archived online from a speech Stanton made about the establishment of religion and the dangers of putting women down with antiquated religious notions.

She encourages the audience to question popular theology, calling the times (about 1870) not much better than the inquisition.

I think it’s important to reflect on the role women have played in the history of FreeThought and in history overall. I have often wondered what Stanton would say were she alive today.

Posted in FreeThought, Politics | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »

We want our Utopia now

Posted by Skeptigator on July 21, 2008

theodorsing recently posted Evangelist = Evil’s Agent?, in which he asks a number of compelling questions. So my post this week has been discarded in favor of my thoughts on the same topic.

The main theme from the post was that atheism, by definition, and often in practice is a negative assertion. It provides no foundation for a positive* belief system, it offers no method, process or framework with which to create a positive* worldview. Perhaps the most you could say is that it provides a framework within which I don’t believe in your (or all) god(s). There is simply nothing there to grab a hold of.

“Suppose we’ve chosen the wrong god. Every time we go to church we’re just making him madder and madder.” – Homer Simpson

theo and I spoke at a local church about a month ago that was exploring other worldviews by actually inviting people who espouse those worldviews to explain for themselves what they believe. This is an excellent idea that should be explored by other organizations as well.

What we were specifically asked to address was Atheism. However in the course of working up materials and notes on the topic I realized that Atheism as a basis of a talk would be pretty bare. The person at the church offered a standard list of topics to address and after going through the list it looked a little like this: Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Evangelist = Evil’s Agent?

Posted by Eye4Cards on July 18, 2008

To spread or not to spread: that is a good question. Here are a few more:

  • Is a proselytizing atheist the equivalent of an evangelical Christian?
  • Are atheists guilty of believing dogmatic, absolutist truths?
  • Is atheist activism effective?

These are a few of the common questions I’ve pondered now for several years concerning the effectiveness of the atheist communities that spend massive amounts of time and energy countering religious activists and apologists. In short, I believe the answers are no, sometimes, and somewhat.

The title of this post may be a little misleading. It’s a great anagram that begs to be used, but it seems a little harsh to me. I don’t believe the majority of evangelical Christians are evil or intend malice, or that spreading your “faith” or lack thereof is necessarily a bad thing. I do wonder how we best go about it.

There are some basic conclusions that I have drawn so far. I don’t think we have enough data to have concrete answers for many of my questions. The nature of the individuality and independence of the typical freethinker makes it difficult at best to attempt a unifying strategy for most effectively communicating our commonalities. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though.

There are some definite, major differences in how atheists “preach” compared to evangelicals.

Here I could go into a rant about how I believe the specific dogmas of each religion and their competing sects are all individual memes vying for your attention psychologically and are analogous to viruses, but I won’t.

I could also talk about how science is comprised of memes known as facts and these factual memes are much more difficult to spread because they are hard to transmit from host to host due to their complexity and specificity and yet they can be very effective and enduring, but that’s not what I want to talk about either.

No, I wonder instead whether we should be focused on relieving the dissolutions of the religious by continuing to focus on questioning dogma, or whether we should spend more time extolling the wonders and virtues of the natural world and science.

There have been some ingenious arguments against the existence of any gods of any organized religions. Yet still the need to believe persists. I’m sure continued education is necessary, but I doubt education is enough; otherwise, religion would have been dead long ago. Many of the answers people seek have been laid out for centuries in science and philosophy books. It is not a simple solution to just give everybody access to all of our collective knowledge.

I also grow tired of religion bashing. It is not that it isn’t easy or fun. It is. But I question the effectiveness of convincing people of the error of their ways. You don’t even have to actively insult believers to turn them away. Simply point out fallacies and contradictions and you will still lose your audience.

I’ve been thinking more about presenting the positives of freethought and science and philosophy. There is still the problem of being unable to reach those who don’t desire real truths or answers or even knowledge, but then those people are unreachable anyway.

All evangelism is simply the desire to spread the truth. Every religion thinks they have it, just as we think we know all the facts we preach are the truth. The obvious difference is that the “truths” of science are verifiable and up for debate and discussion. But this wouldn’t keep me from wanting others to know truth if I were religious and thought I had all the answers. This is why I don’t necessarily disdain Christian evangelicals for attempting to spread what they truly believe is the Gospel truth. They think they are doing you a great deed freeing you from Hell just as we think we are freeing them from error.

Concentrating on showing why non-belief is valuable and worth living for is in great demand nowadays. I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked the same basic questions in one form or another: “What is there to live for without God as a reason for our existing? How can we know right from wrong without divine guidance? Why bother living a good life if this existence is random and meaningless?”

We’ve already done the debunking for centuries with many of our greatest minds spending vast amounts of time and energy telling the religious why they are wrong and how. The religious are pretty familiar with these arguments. But it seems few of them are familiar with where to turn once they’ve decided to turn from the comforting idea of God.

We still run into the problem of falling on deaf ears, but focusing on talking about why and how to live a good life without God is likely to be something refreshing and new to many of the ears that do listen.

My guess is that there will still be a need to debunk as long as there are religions that refuse to be debunked. I just think that the more people understand basic science and critical thinking, the less people will need to be debunked over time. This will take generations if not centuries. Progress never moves as fast as needs and desires. We might not have centuries to do this if some of our current trends continue, but I continue to inject a little optimism in with my skepticism. There is so much we can do and improve in this world, and so much to live for, that it would be foolish to simply give up and leave it in the hands of God and his evangelists.

More later…

Posted in FreeThought | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Conversation with a Friendly Christian

Posted by Skeptigator on June 30, 2008

About 9 months ago, I was introduced to the website FriendlyChristian.com (I believe through FriendlyAtheist.com). Even though I am a fairly committed atheist I still like to keep up on what “the Fundies” are doing. I have a list of these sites in my Google Reader however it became obvious very quickly that the author of FriendlyChristian.com was not your typical Christian. I realized that I would go to my “Fundies” category and the first blog posts I would read would be the latest on FriendlyChristian.com, Bill you’ll be happy to note that your blog has moved to my “Regulars” category.

But don’t take my word for it, check out some of the more memorable posts, IMO:

Bill Cecchini is the man behind the curtain however he has opened his blog to multiple authors including at least one who does not share his faith (or any for that matter). I had an opportunity to interview him recently, enjoy.

Skeptigator: Perhaps the biggest question I have is, “Why are you doing this website? After all, aren’t all Christians supposed to be friendly already?”

Bill: Aren’t all Christians supposed to be friendly? Well, yeah, I’d say so. The fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I’m pretty sure “friendly” is covered in there somewhere. Somewhere along the way, Christianity has evolved from a faith known for these fruits of the spirit into a religion known for book burning, judging, hating, and picketing. I won’t be known for that, nor will I stand for it. I try to live a simple, yet efficient life. In Mark 12:30-31 Jesus tells a religious teacher what life is all about: loving God and loving each other. Christians have done a very good job of turning our faith into a bit of a joke. We judge unbelievers for their sin, then turn around and do the exact same thing. We have public burnings of The Da Vinci Code, as if that’s gonna communicate God’s love to anyone. We use the name GodHatesFags.com for our church’s website name. And we wonder why people look at us like we’re nuts.

A few weeks ago, one commenter wrote that she’d never come back to FriendlyChristian.com if the site ever became evangelistic. It was then that I realized that the site IS evangelistic, just not in an obvious or invasive manner. I love that I am able to allow so many unbelievers to see into my mind and life. I’ve always said that my curse/blessing is that I am very open, honest, and real. I admit my struggles, doubts, insecurities, and questions about the Christian faith. Unfortunately, many Christians paint an “I’ve got it all figured out” or “all is good cuz I’m saved” picture, when the truth is, we DON’T have it all figured out, and sometimes life ISN’T good. I think that my authenticity and transparency are what keep the readers interested and coming. Also, I think my posts give ex-Christians something that they can easily relate to.

I say all that to say this: FriendlyChristian.com is my attempt to bring Christianity back to its roots of love, service, truth, and relationships, without sacrificing the power and authority of the gospels, in an environment where everyone is welcome and conversation is encouraged.

On September 12th, 2006, my pastor said, “The world is changed by passionate people.” On FriendlyChristian.com, countless people have told me that I’m not doing anything unique or special. “It’s all been done before, Bill, and this might be a bit too big for you,” they say. Maybe so, but I’m gonna continue giving it all I have. I’m passionate, and just maybe I can change the world.

Skeptigator: What have been some of the biggest challenges personally for you in running a site like this? You have a mix of Christians and non-Christians. That must lead to interesting discussions?

Bill: Oh, the challenges are plentiful. When I started FC, right off the bat I encountered perhaps the most popular atheist stereotype: they are freakin’ smart! As a 28-year-old who is just now trying to finish up his undergraduate degree, I often struggle with feeling not smart enough to host a site frequented by educationally superior people who very openly disagree with much of what I have to say. I’m not good at debating and I’ve never been a very confrontational person.

Another challenge I have is trying to stay encouraged. It’s tough to put so much prayer, time, effort, and emotion into a blog and watch it get torn to shreds by people who think I’m “nuts,” as one reader put it. I often want to give up as I feel like I’m just one guy trying to take on the world, believers and non-believers alike.

One of my most frustrating challenges is dealing with Christians. I can’t stand when people tell me that I’m wrong for reading the wrong bible translation. It boils my blood when Christians criticize mega churches. I want to scream when Christians argue over things that, in the end JUST DON’T MATTER a whole lot. We’re supposed to be on the same team with a common message: Jesus saves. Instead we’re beating each other up and then wondering why people turn from God. *smacks head*

Lastly, one of the biggest challenges for me is that I just don’t feel like a good enough representative of the Christian faith to be hosting this site. My life is anything but holy and perfect. I am extremely flawed and only human. It wouldn’t be hard for a person to point out the sin in my life. I know this is the wrong way to think, and I often pray against it. But hey, you asked so I’m just gonna give it to you straight.

Skeptigator: Personally, I think “Atheism” has a P.R. problem within the Christian community (perhaps the U.S. in general)? Do you agree? And, if so, what can atheists and freethinkers do to improve on that image, at least open doors to a greater understanding within the Christian community?

Bill: I agree that the word “atheist” has very negative connotations. The word “Christian” also has many negative connotations. My advice to anyone is that you can be the difference. Fight the stereotype. Who knows, maybe it’ll catch on.

Skeptigator: In conversations with Christians perhaps one of the least convincing arguments they will use is, “well, you just don’t have Faith”. As if I’m going to suddenly slap myself on the forehead and exclaim, “Eureka! That’s what I’ve been missing. Can I get that at Wal-Mart?” What is the least effective thing an atheist can say to attempt to convince you of the “error of your ways”?

Bill: Anything. I appreciate and welcome any productive dialog discussing the “errors” of either of our ways, but in the end, it’s the choice of each individual, right? I’m extremely open and honest about my faith. I acknowledge and admit to every struggle or question that I have about Christianity. I provide better arguments to convince myself of the “errors of my ways” than any theological or scientific argument from any atheist ever could. Many people see this as a weakness. I see it as a strength. I also think it makes Christianity much more attractive. People are sick of the “holier than thou/my ‘you know what’ don’t stink/check out my fancy suit/boycott Starbucks cuz they don’t support the troops” Christian. I say we drop the act and tackle the faith like a man. Or a woman 🙂

Skeptigator: You’ve alluded to this earlier but if you were forced to boil the message of Christ down to, oh, 200 words or less what would it be? Go!

Bill: I can do it in six: “Love God and love each other.” This is the theme behind FriendlyChristian.com and my purpose in life. Simple, eh?

Skeptigator: McCain, Obama or Barr?

Bill: “Hey look, it’s Elvis!” Nah, I haven’t decided yet, to be honest with you. I’ll cast my vote based on who I feel will lead our country the best, not on the fact that I’m a Christian and am expected to vote Republican. I’m not overly excited or hopeful about any of the candidates. Can I still vote Ron Paul?

As always, funny, honest and more intelligent than he gives himself credit for. If you get a chance, check out FriendlyChristian.com and participate in the conversation, it’s one worth having.

Posted in Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Future of FreeThought

Posted by Skeptigator on June 10, 2008

I have spent the last few days putting my thoughts to digital paper but they weren’t really my thoughts. They were thoughts that I only think are mine but really have come about from reading Susan Jacoby’s Freethinkers, A History of American Secularism. In my first post on the matter I mentioned how profoundly this book has changed my view. How I feel to some extent a sense of connection with the past.

I liken it very loosely* to what I can imagine perhaps a homosexual in America might feel and may I be so bold as to draw a comparison between FreeThought and Homosexual Rights. The first step in the acceptance of homosexuals was the acknowledgement that “they” exist and that there is a community of them. I suppose step 2 was try not to get killed but then came step 3 begin to discover a shared history. There hasn’t been much of history for the GLBT community to draw on, they sort of sprang out of nowhere as you might be led to believe. Of couse, it’s becoming more and more apparent that there is an extensive “gay history” however it hasn’t been very pleasant and we’ll never know the full extent to which the homosexual community has always been around.

I suppose this is the natural evolution, if you will, of all groups as they struggle for identity.

This brings us to the main point of this article, the Future of FreeThought. What does tomorrow or even 5 years bring. Maybe we should be saying to ourselves, “Forget about the future. What does the present look like?”

Where we stand today

There are plenty of very good reasons to be pessimistic about the future of FreeThought considering the last 20 years in one sense hasn’t been that great. We’ve seen the ascendancy of the Religious Right during the 70’s through such organizations as Falwell’s Moral Majority and their ability to shape the political landscape of today (not to mention their power within the Republican party out of proportion to their numbers). The 80’s brought us the almost laughable Satanic Panic. The 90’s brought us the Republican Revolution and the rise of the Christian Coalition led by Ralph Reed. The 21st century was kicked off with a bang, specifically 4 bangs on 9/11. An event that should have led to soul-searching within religious circles on the power of faith and that without some kind of check or measure like reason and evidence all ideology particularly religious ideology can lead to some of the greatest atrocities of mankind. Instead, in America, the various Christian sects circled the wagons and drew Us vs. Them distinctions while the liberal left called Islam the Religion of Peace and tried to categorize the 19 young men as fundamentalists or extremists. No doubt they don’t represent the mainstream muslim but there are some very basic questions that are not being asked.

Today secularists and skeptics, atheists and agnostics face some of the same recurring issues that have cropped over the decades, nay, centuries. That thing called Intelligent Design (AKA warmed-over creationism) has been making inroads or at least the strategy has changed again to “academic freedom” bills. The broad support for faith-based initiatives and school vouchers is a reincarnated version of the very same kind of bill that was working it’s way through the Virginia Assembly that attempted to get the state of Virginia to fund religious education. The very thing that Madison and Jefferson worked vigorously to oppose and many evangelical groups of the day also opposed.

Susan Jacoby begins the final chapter of her book with a recent speech given by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia [full text here],

… the real underpinnings of Scalia’s support for the death penalty are to be found not in constitutional law but in the justice’s religious convictions. He believes that the state derives its power not from the consent of the governed – “We, the People,” as the [Constitution] plainly states – but from God. God has the power of life and death, and therefore lawful governments also have the right to exact the ultimate penalty. Democracy, with its pernicous idea that citizens are the ultimate arbiters of public policy, is responsible for the rise of opposition to the death penalty in the twentieth century. “Few doubted the morality of the death penalty in the age that believed in the divine right of kings,” Scalia noted in his speech. He would have been just as accurate had he pointed out that most subjects in absolute monarchies also supported the right of kings to torture and to impose the death penalty by drawing and quartering. To bolster his argument, Scalia turned to the perennial favorite of conservative politicians the evangelist Paul: [quotes Romans 13:1-4]

And this is from a Supreme Court justice. What happens when abortion makes it’s way to the SCOTUS? I wonder what a devout Catholic will make his decision based on, clearly not case law or prior precedent or any other impartial manner. I wouldn’t doubt if he quotes Psalms 139:13-16 in his opinion.

Now all of that is kind of a drag and I’m generally an optimistic person.

A Plan for the Future

If you are looking for me to start making predictions of what will happen in the future you can stop reading now. I don’t know and neither does anybody else but I do have some ideas about what we can begin to build today.

1) Identify that non-believers exist, acknowledge that you exist

  • A recent Pew Study shows that approximately 10.3% of the U.S. population identifies itself as either atheist, agnostic or secular-unaffiliated, there’s an additional 5-6% of the U.S. population that is religious-unaffiliated, maybe they just need to be told it’s OK to not believe.
  • Read that again 10% (that’s about 30 million people). We more than exist, we are significant chunk of the population.

2) Recognize that you have a history

  • I hope the last 3 posts have given you a taste of the extremely rich history that secularism and freethought have in America. If you don’t know about the last 3 posts here they are:
  1. Revolutionary FreeThought
  2. The Golden Age of FreeThought
  3. FreeThought in the 20th Century

3) Get involved

  • Join a group or start one. I live in Fort Wayne, Indiana, not exactly a liberal bastion by any stretch. We have a group, you can find us here, freethoughtfortwayne.org. Feel free to contact me if you are interested in starting your own.
  • Groups like CFI On Campus provide excellent resources for starting college campus groups.
  • Write letters to the editor, attend speeches and conferences promoting secular thought, scientific literacy and freethought.
  • Write your story, start a blog, write a book. We don’t live in an age anymore where you have to jump through hoops and sell your soul to get published anymore. You can self-publish. Every piece of literature out there adds to the growing number of freethought voices.

4) Begin Building Bridges

  • Instead of fighting or resisting religious groups, we should be defining where we have common ground. I suppose this goes back to that old adage, “The frontiers that trade won’t cross, armies will”, or something like that. If we won’t engage with religious groups we will only ever exchange volleys and that won’t get us anywhere
  • I’ve said it before and I say it again, we really should promote advocacy for secular government within the religious community.

Let’s do what we can to change the tone and tenor of the nation. If you are unhappy about the invasion of religion into every nook and cranny of our political discourse then speak up. Write your congressman, yours can’t be any worse than mine, Mark Souder (R) – 3rd Dist. IN. He or she works for you, remember that.

I would be interested in your comments. AM I missing something? Am I too optimistic?

* Of course, I’m a heterosexual, middle-class white guy, so what do I really know about being gay or even oppressed for that matter. Like I said “very loosely” based on the recent history of homosexuals.

Posted in FreeThought, Skepticism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

FreeThought in the 20th Century

Posted by Skeptigator on June 9, 2008

This is the 3rd in a series of posts exploring the Past, Present and Future of FreeThought. In this installment I would like to discuss how poorly FreeThought faired in the early parts of the 20th century but I promise to end on a high note. The primary focus will be from the turn of the century to the about the 70’s.

Comstock Laws, Contraception and Catholics

To understand the problems that eventually overwhelmed FreeThought in the first half of the 20th century we must first start with the enacting of the Comstock Laws of 1870’s. These laws essentially allowed the federal government the right to inspect and seize anything moving through the U.S. Postal service deemed “obscene” as determined by the local postmaster. Those things that were deemed obscene were anything from “diatribes against marriage to advertisements for veneral disease remedies”. Ingersoll himself spoke against the government being in the business of censoring and ultimately defining what was obscene.

Until the early 20th century the Catholic church held very little sway and was still considered a suspicious minority religion. However despite their small numbers the Catholic church actively began to crusade against public (and therefore secular and godless) education and contraception. Margaret Sanger, the inventor of the term birth control and it’s biggest crusader was ultimately arrested in New York City at the prompting of the local Catholic clergy. While opposition of contraception didn’t seem to win the Catholics any Protestant fans their eventual embrace of some of the most virulent, anti-communism would finally assuage the mainstream Protestant fears.

Bolshevism and the Red Scare

As the dawn of the Great War approached many freethinkers were imprisoned for sedition (such as Eugene Debs, a socialist, vocal opponent of the America’s entry into the Great War and an Indiana State Representative). After the Great War, the Bolshevik Revolution created a backlash against those that were perceived as godless and therefore un-American. Mainstream Protestantism began to link bolshevism and eventually communism with evolution much like the Catholic church linked communism and atheism. While true the Bolsheviks ostensibly embraced atheism it didn’t prevent them from replacing the State as the new religion. This of course didn’t stop the link from being made.

During the decades preceding the second World War, 2 Catholic personalities emerged on the national stage, Charles Coughlin and Fulton Sheen. Charles Coughlin was,

… dubbed “the father of hate radio” by a recent biographer, was destined to rise no higher in the church than the priesthood: his early populist message of Christian justice for the working man turned in the thirties into an anti-New Deal, pro-Nazi, and anti-Semitic – as well as anticommunist – platform. Coughlin’s diatribes were tolerated by Vatican officials and encouraged by his bishop for much of the thirties, but he was finally muzzled by an embarrassed hierarchy after Pearl Harbor.

Fulton Sheen on the other hand was an unblemished darling of the church hierarchy. His Catholic Hour radio show was broadcast by 106 radio stations throughout the 1940’s to eventually become a television star in the 1950’s with his show, Life is Worth Living, reach an estimated 5.5 million viewers. There is no doubt Sheen was virulently anticommunist as Coughlin even going so far as to advocate for spying on school teachers who might celebrate May Day (a socialist holiday, and one shared by labor unions). A close friend of J. Edgar Hoover, that bastion of free speech, Sheen would often get his personal friends appointed to what would ultimately become the FBI.

What does all of this mean for freethought in the first half of the 20th century? Nothing good. Freethinkers were more often labeled socialist (which many were) or communists. In general, an unpleasant period in freethought history.

Let the good times roll

I will end this section on a high note before I delve into my opinions on the Future of FreeThought. A number of important court cases would be decided in the mid-century. Everson v. Board of Education (1947) and McCollum v. Illinois (1948) would all but prevent public funds (even indirectly) from being used for religious instruction. The McCollum case would directly challenge “released time” when students would be released during the school day to receive religious instruction from local religious groups. Brown v. Board of Education (1954) which desegregated schools. Engel v. Vitale (1962) found that even non-denominational school prayer was unconstitutional. Roe v. Wade (1973) which protected a woman’s right to have an abortion.

Within the political arena a Catholic would be elected president and give a speech clearly stating that, “I do not speak for my church on public matters – and the church does not speak for me”. A clear difference that was lost on Mitt Romney. Of course, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would finally pass The Congress.

I won’t detail the activities of secularist involved in the struggle for civil rights, such as, Andrew Goodman Michael Schwerner and James Chaney (who were eventually killed by racist shitbags), Stanley Levison and W.E.B. Du Bois. And modern day feminism, such as, Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan. I will simply assume you know all about it 😉

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