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Saturday, November 02, 2002


by Jim Heldberg
President, Pacifica Democrats and Coordinator, San Francisco Atheists

It was a beautiful day to make history.

On a crystal clear cool Saturday, Nov. 2, 2002, thousands of non-religious Americans marched into a new future together. Old and young, rich and poor, healthy and frail, locals and travelers from across continents and oceans, we gathered to carry hundreds of signs and bring a single message for a better tomorrow, free from the centuries of foolishness that still threaten American freedoms.

We marched half a mile, from near George Washington's monument to our national Capitol. For the first time, the religionists were on the sidelines heckling us! It was a surprising turn of events, and we loved it.

But the historical day was just beginning.

Speakers from the major American godless organizations united to proclaim the need for unity of effort. Mike Newdow led the crowd in the original Pledge of Allegiance. Atheist veterans were recognized. Candidates past and present spoke. Bands played. Jokes were told. The heartfelt pleas for unity and action were memorable, and the crowd clapped and cheered, almost to exhaustion.

But the brilliant words were eclipsed by the more brilliant image of national godless leaders, standing in front of our Capitol, protected by our national police, speaking to our crowd on our National Mall and on our national TV. It is an image we will treasure the rest of our lives.

The gates had been opened, and the momentum had begun for organized godless activism. The crowd poured out their enthusiasm. They poured money into buckets to back up their enthusiasm with commitment. They poured cards with their names and addresses into more buckets for future actions to bring a godless America to reality.

The day's events came to an end with another surprise. Religionist hecklers, kept in check by police on horseback as they lurked on the sidelines all day, at last turned on their bullhorns, waved their massive signs, and waded into the crowd to provoke fights with departing marchers. But the crowd ignored them and departed for home. We had already won a much more important fight.

It was a shining day of American history.

Jim Heldberg
Coordinator, San Francisco Atheists
National Affiliation Director, American Atheists

Friday, June 28, 2002

“Under God” is Un-American

by Jim Heldberg, Pacifica, 28 June 2002
President, Pacifica Democrats and Coordinator, San Francisco Atheists

We’re all born as Atheists. Many of us stay Atheists. Some choose Atheism after trying something else.

About 1 in 7 Americans are religion-free, according to the latest and most complete survey. If we were a religion, we’d be one of the largest.

About 6 in 7 Americans choose religion, whether brand C, H, I, J or any other major or off-brand.

That’s American freedom of religion. Our Constitution says our government won’t get involved in religion. It says government will govern, not preach. If we had obeyed our Constitution in 1954, we wouldn’t be arguing about the Pledge of Allegiance today.

In all the distracting smoke, we should remember that the Pledge isn’t a legal document. It is a custom. It is powerful poetry, written by a private citizen to express his dedication and pride. Interestingly, the author didn’t think religion belonged in it. Federal bureaucrats have altered it twice, reducing its poetic and universal value, but it has become an American tradition. Surprisingly, it is both embraced and shunned for religious reasons.

America lived without a Pledge for half its life, surviving a civil war that nearly killed our country. During the first half of the Pledge’s life, before “under god” was added, America survived 2 World Wars and a crushing Depression. Obviously, America doesn’t need to be “under” anything, whether kings or gods, real or imaginary.

Thomas Jefferson and the other American founders wanted a fresh start. They knew from their experiences in Europe and their own colonies how church and state could corrupt each other. They said “NO” to religion in the very first item of the Bill of Rights.

Saying “NO” to religion was also done for a very practical reason. The founders wanted to get the new Constitution adopted quickly so they could prepare for war, and they knew that religious arguments never end. If Maryland had pushed for national Catholicism, Pennsylvania held firm for Lutheranism, and Rhode Island insisted on Quakerism, Great Britain would have us tithing to the Church of England.

Saying “NO” to religion has important practical benefits today, too. It encourages science. It attracts worldwide immigrant talent and energy. And it increases our international influence.

Our religion-free government is respected worldwide. Our religious neutrality gives America the capacity to act for human rights in the world, regardless of religions involved. We are strong when we are neutral, and weak when we choose sides in deadly fights over religion. A good referee doesn’t choose sides.

Unfortunately, our ill-informed president has chosen to take sides in the world’s oldest religious war, weakening both our national strength and worldwide respect.

If our government had stayed out of religion, Muslim maniacs might not have “praised allah” by leveling the World Trade Center. If our government had stayed out of religion, Jews might not have leveled Muslim Palestinian refugee camps. If our government had stayed out of religion, China might not have religiously persecuted its citizens. Even Hitler acted for strong religious reasons. Have we forgotten the horrors of the Inquisition, inflicted by governments controlled by religion? We must do better.

In this world of nuclear dangers, we need to minimize religion’s inherent divisiveness.

America must return to our “religiously neutral” position to regain respect at home and abroad. It is the law. It is our most important law. Anything less is illegal, as the court said.

It takes courage to stand for the law, when the public is filled with mindless religious fervor. But calm in the face of fervor is exactly why we have courts. We should applaud their sensible handling of this old mistake.

Atheists are patriots, too. Our dedication to American values is undiluted by religion. I’m a full-fledged American voter and veteran. I want to pledge allegiance to my country, not to someone else’s religion.

America’s pledge should include all Americans. All Americans, especially our younger people, fervently want us to fix this. Let’s make it legal again. Let’s use this opportunity to quickly return the Pledge of Allegiance to its original full-strength version, so all Americans can pledge proudly. Let’s be One Nation Indivisible, not divided factions fighting over illegal foolishness.

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Letter to the Committee on Governmental Organization

June 18, 2002

Committee on Governmental Organization
California State Assembly
1020 "N" Street, Suite 156
Sacramento, California 95814

RE: SB 1577
Redesignation of State Holiday Tree as a Christmas Tree

American Atheists is opposed to SB 1577, which would redesignate the state's December holiday tree as an official Christmas tree. Such action would be a step backwards in recognizing California's diversity, would marginalize Atheists and other non-Christians who do not celebrate Christmas, and could open the state up to a legal challenge based on both state and federal constitutional provisions.

1. SB 1577 is a Step Backwards in Recognizing California's Diversity. When the state designated the December tree as a "holiday tree," it was a symbolic recognition that the winter holiday season is more than just Christmas, that the state's diverse population celebrates in a variety of ways, including Chanukah, Ramadan, Kwanzaa, and the Winter Solstice. The citizens of California recognize and celebrate that diversity, and that spirit of tolerance and acceptance is very much a part of why California is a special place. SB 1577 is insensitive to California's rich diversity, and is simply out of step with the sensibilities of the state's population.

2. An Official State "Christmas Tree" would marginalize and insult Atheists and Others who Celebrate Non-Christian Holidays, particularly the Winter Solstice. As stated previously, the December season is more than just Christmas. Many Californians celebrate with non-Christian holidays, in particular the Winter Solstice.

According to the Julian calendar, December 25th is the Winter Solstice—the shortest day of the year. Pagans considered this day to be the "nativity" of the sun, when light began winning its battle against the increasing darkness. It has been celebrated throughout the history of humanity. While it was adopted by Christians as the birthday of their Christ, the ancient holiday survives to this day.

Many Atheists have embraced the Winter Solstice as a nonreligious celebration of nature and humanity that can be enjoyed by everyone. The Winter Solstice is also celebrated by pagans, Wicca's, Humanists, and others throughout the state.

One Winter Solstice custom dating back to ancient Egyptian and Roman times is the decoration of an evergreen tree, which symbolizes spring's promise to return. The "Solstice tree" was also adopted by Christians, who dubbed it a Christmas tree, but such a display is still recognized by many as a Solstice tree, as it was originally intended.

SB 1577 disregards and disrespects the chosen celebration of millions of Californians. (According to the latest ARIS survey, approximately 17 percent of California's population professes no religious beliefs.)

3. SB 1577 Promotes Christianity in Violation of Federal and State Constitutional Provisions, and Invites Litigation Against the State. Clearly, SB 1577 is intended to promote Christmas and its associated religion Christianity. Such action by the state would lose a legal challenge under both state and federal constitutional provisions.

Renaming the state holiday tree as a Christmas tree creates at a minimum the appearance of preference, and as such would violate the California Constitution's "no preference" clause (Article I, Section IV). Under federal First Amendment provisions, such action would violate at least two of the three prongs of the Supreme Court's Lemon test; such a state action could hardly be construed to have a secular purpose, and it would obviously advance a particular religious creed.

American Atheists is currently involved in two constitutional challenges in federal court, and would consider taking legal action on behalf of our California members if SB 1577 is approved.

For the above reasons, American Atheists is opposed to SB 1577. We strongly urge the Governmental Organization Committee to reject this proposal, which is insensitive to the state's rich diversity, insults celebrants of non-Christian winter holidays, including the winter solstice, and could involve the state in a costly legal challenge.


Dave Kong, State Director
American Atheists, Inc.


Monday, April 08, 2002

German National Public Radio Transcript

April 8th, 2002

–The Atheist Movement in America

Vorschlag zur Anmoderation:

In einem so religiösen Land wie den USA haben es Atheisten nicht leicht. Nach dem 11. September fühlten sich viele noch mehr ausgegrenzt, diskriminiert oder sogar dämonisiert als zuvor. Aber aus der Betroffenheit entstand ein politischer Wille, die Situation zu verändern. In Kalifornien haben sich die Anfänge einer "Atheistenbewegung" formiert.

(The Moderator:

In as religious a country as the USA, Atheists do not have it easily. After September 11 many still felt more marginalized, discriminated against or even demonized than ever before. But out of the distress a political will developed to change the situation. In California the start of an "Atheist Movement " was formed)

O-Ton: Atheistentreffen (frei stehenlassen)

Soundbites from an Atheist Meeting

"I thought it was important and interesting and even more so since Jeb Bush, the governor- President Bush's brother and they're pushing this whole religious – crap – crap, that's the word - on everybody.” Applause

Atheisten-Meeting in San Francisco. Im Hinterzimmer eines alteingesessenen deutschen Restaurants in der Innenstadt treffen sich an jedem letzten Samstag im Monat die 'San Francisco Atheists'. Eine bunte Mischung von Schwarzen, Weißen und Asiaten im Alter von etwa 20 bis 80 Jahren kommt da zusammen. Bei Schnitzel, Fischfilet mit Remouladensauce und Apfelc zum Nachtisch debattieren die Anwesenden über "Gott und die Welt". Nach dem Essen gehen sie zur Tagesordnung über. Meist spricht dann ein Gastredner zu einem aktuellen Thema. Roseanne Allen erklärt, warum gesellige Treffen dieser Art sehr wichtig sind.

(Speaker: An Atheist meeting in San Francisco. In the back room of a long-established German restaurant in the city center ' San Francisco Atheists 'meet every last Saturday in the month. A multicolored mixture of Black, White and Asian from the ages of approximately 20 to 80 years gathers there. Over Schnitzel, fishfilets & mayonnaise, and applestrudel for dessert those present debate "God and the World". After the meal they turn to an agenda. Usually then a guest speaker speaks on a current topic. Roseanne Allen explains why informal meetings of this type are very important:)

O-Ton: Roseanne Allen
"Because we have felt so lonely in the United States. I sat by a woman Saturday night and she was from Japan and she said: 'It’s o.k. in Japan saying that you're an Atheist, but here it's not been.' So it gives us the opportunity to be able to see that there is another really nice person out there that is a non-believer that can be our friend or our associate or help us in business or whatever. Human beings are very clannish. We need friendship and if we feel that we are the only Atheists in this little community, we're going to hesitate to speak up."

Übersetzung Roseanne Allen
"Weil wir uns in den USA so alleingelassen fühlen. Ich saß am Samstag neben einer Japanerin, die mir erzählte: 'In Japan ist es o.k. wenn man sagt, man sei Atheist. Hier ist das nicht so.' Bei so einem Treffen haben wir die Möglichkeit, wirklich nette Menschen kennenzulernen, die nicht gläubig sind und mit denen wir uns anfreunden oder zusammenarbeiten können, oder die uns beruflich weiterhelfen können. Wir Menschen müssen uns immer als Teil einer Gruppe fühlen. Wir brauchen Freundschaften. Wenn wir das Gefühl haben, dass wir in unserer kleinen Gemeinschaft die einzigen Atheisten sind, dann halten wir uns gerne mit unserer Meinung zurück."

Stellung zu nehmen, seinen eigenen Standpunkt zu vertreten, sei in diesen Zeiten jedoch wichtiger denn je, meint Roseanne Allen. Die selbstbewusste Frau hat es gelernt, für ihre Überzeugung einzutreten und zu sich selbst zu stehen. Lange Zeit ist ihr das nicht leicht gefallen. Ihrer Mutter zu Liebe, die überzeugt davon ist, dass ihre Tochter für immer in der Hölle brennen wird, wäre sie gerne gläubig gewesen. Aber das war ihr nicht möglich. In ihrem Berufsleben als Managerin im Verkauf hatte sie oft keine andere Wahl, als sich bedeckt zu halten.

(Speaker: Taking a stand to represent one’s own point of view is in these times however, more importantly ever, Roseanne Allen says. The self-confident woman learned to stand for her convictions and be herself. For a long time it wasn’t easy. She would have loved to be a believer for her Mother’s sake, who thinks that her daughter will burn in hell forever. But that was not possible for her. In her working life as a Sales Manager she often had no other choice, than keeping herself undercover.)

O-Ton: Roseanne Allen
"I can go all over the place talking about being a Christian if I wanted to and people would accept it and I wouldn't get fired. But if I had gone around and just casually dropping to my customers that I was not a Christian or I was a non-believer, I wouldn't have made sales. I knew that I had to some degree keep my mouth shut to keep my customers.

There are actually companies where you have to declare yourself a Christian or you can't work there. Businesses where they will have prayer meetings and everything. Even in Washington- Ashcroft has prayer meetings every single morning and everyone has to go. So Washington is becoming - through the Bush administration - as bad as some of these fundamentalist companies around the country."

Übersetzung Roseanne Allen
"Wenn ich wollte, könnte ich überall hingehen und darüber reden, dass ich Christin bin. Die Leute würden das akzeptieren und mich nicht entlassen. Aber wenn ich meinen Kunden gegenüber nebenbei hätte einfließen lassen, dass ich weder Christin noch gläubig bin, dann hätte ich nichts mehr verkauft. Ich wusste, dass ich zu einem gewissen Grad meinen Mund halten musste. Es gibt auch Firmen, wo man sich als Christ bekennen muss, um dort arbeiten zu dürfen. Es gibt Unternehmen, in denen regelmäßig gebetet wird. Sogar in Washington ist das so – Justizminister Ashcroft hält jeden Tag eine Morgenandacht und alle müssen mitmachen. Mit der Bush-Regierung wird Washington so schlimm wie manche dieser fundamentalistischen Firmen im ganzen Land."

Die Terrorattacken vom 11. September waren für Amerikaner ohne Glaubensbekenntnis genauso traumatisch wie für alle anderen. Viele Atheisten fühlten sich jedoch danach noch mehr ausgegrenzt, diskriminiert oder sogar dämonisiert als vorher. Unter den Rufen nach Einheit und dem patriotischen Flaggenschwenken schien für Andersdenkende jeder Art kein Platz mehr zu sein. "God Bless America" – "Gott schütze Amerika"- tönte es aus allen Lautsprechern und an jeder Straßenecke. Immer wieder forderte Präsident Bush zum Beten auf und rief sogar einen ganzen "Tag des Gebets und der Erinnerung" aus. Atheisten wollten ihre Trauer ebenfalls zum Ausdruck bringen, aber nicht in der Kirche. Auch der Französischlehrer Bill Carpmill fühlte sich gesellschaftlich an den Rand gedrängt.

(Speaker: The terrorist attacks on September 11 were just as traumatic for Americans without a professed faith as for the rest. However, because of it many Atheists felt more marginalized, discriminated against or even demonized than before. Under the call for unity and the patriotic flag waving there seemed to be no place for differing opinion anymore. " God Bless America " sounded from all loudspeakers and at every street corner. President Bush called again and again for prayer and even proclaimed a entire "Day of Prayer and Remembrance". Atheists wanted to likewise express their mourning, but not in the church. French Teacher Bill Carpmill also felt pushed to the margin socially. )

O-Ton: Bill Carpmill
"I felt excluded from the dialogue because you were not welcomed as an individual who looks at things from a secular perspective in that group.

I noticed that in the ceremonies and such: the only people that were involved were people from the faith community. They didn't open it up to non-believers. I felt excluded in the sense that there would be no place to hold a ceremony to honor those people who had perished."

Übersetzung Bill Carpmill
"Ich habe mich vom Dialog ausgeschlossen gefühlt, weil man als Mensch, der die Welt von einer säkulären Perspektive aus betrachtet, nicht willkommen war. Ich habe das bei den Feiern und so festgestellt. Die einzigen, die damit zu tun hatten, waren Leute aus den Glaubensgemeinschaften. Für Nicht-Gläubige war da kein Platz. Ich habe mich in dem Sinn ausgeschlossen gefühlt, dass es für mich keinen Ort gab, um diese Menschen, die umgekommen sind, in einer Feier zu ehren."

Atheisten neigen im allgemeinen nicht dazu, sich zu organisieren. Viele sind Individualisten und tragen ihre Nicht-Gläubigkeit keineswegs zur Schau. Je nachdem, welchen Umfragen man Glauben schenken will, machen sie in den USA zwischen fünf und 14 Prozent der Bevölkerung aus. 35 Prozent der Amerikaner geben jedoch zu, dass sie eine sehr schlechte Meinung von Atheisten haben und etwa die Hälfte sagt, dass sie keinen Atheisten zum Präsidenten wählen würden. George Bush der Ältere konnte es sich daher durchaus erlauben, während seiner Kampagne um die Präsidentschaft 1988 zu erklären, dass Atheisten als Bürger oder als Patrioten einzuordnen seien. In einem solchen Klima ist es nicht verwunderlich, dass Nicht-Gläubige es vorziehen, zu schweigen. Sie fürchten um ihren Job und um Freundschaften oder haben Angst, von der Familie verstoßen zu werden. Selbst im liberalen San Francisco war es für den Versicherungsmakler David Fitzgerald nicht immer einfach, mit der Wahrheit herauszurücken.

(Speaker: Atheists are not generally inclined to organize themselves. Many are individuals and do not show off their Unbelief at all. Depending on which studies one wants to give their faith, Atheists make up between 5% and 14% of the U.S. population. However, 35% of Americans admit that they have a very bad opinion of Atheism and about half say that they would not vote for an Atheist for President. During his campaign for the presidency in 1988 George Bush senior could quite casually question if Atheists were to be considered as citizens or Patriots. In such a climate it is not amazing that Unbelievers prefer to be silent. They are afraid for their job and friendships or fear their family to be offended. Even in liberal San Francisco it was not always easy for Insurance Broker David Fitzgerald to come out with the truth. )

O-Ton: David Fitzgerald
"It's actually very difficult to come out and say you're an Atheist in this country. And that's something I'm getting over right now. It's one thing to not be religious but to actually say, you know, not only do I not go to church, but I don't believe there is a god - people are a little taken aback by that still, here. I'm getting to the point where I maybe don’t bring it out overtly but try not to not bring it out, not to avoid the conversation. A lot of people are surprised when I tell them I'm an Atheist and they say things like: “Oh, but you're so happy.” Or they will be shocked and say: “Oh, you're an Atheist.” And you can tell that they have a mindset that Atheism is something very scary and negative and joyless. I think they picture a lot of people dressed in black with berets, reading J.P. Sartre and being very gloomy about it. Or they think it's some communism tie-in."

Übersetzung David Fitzgerald
"Es ist eigentlich in diesem Land sehr schwer zuzugeben, dass man Atheist ist. Ich bin aber dabei, das zu überwinden. Zu sagen, dass man nicht religiös ist, ist eine Sache. Aber es ist noch einmal etwas ganz anderes, zu sagen, ich gehe nicht nur nicht in die Kirche, ich glaube auch nicht an Gott. Die Leute sind bei sowas immer noch entsetzt. Ich bin inzwischen soweit, dass ich es zwar nicht unbedingt anbringen muss, aber ich versuche auch nicht mehr, es zu verheimlichen oder das Thema zu vermeiden. Viele Leute sind überrascht, wenn ich ihnen sage, dass ich ein Atheist bin und sagen dann: Ach, aber du bist ja so glücklich. Oder sie sind schockiert und sagen: Oh, du bist ein Atheist. Und man weiß sofort, dass in ihrem Denken der Atheismus etwas furchteinflößendes, negatives und freudloses ist. Ich glaube, die stellen sich Menschen in schwarz vor, mit Käppis, die Jean Paul Sartre lesen und sehr bedrückt sind. Oder sie glauben, dass es etwas mit Kommunismus zu tun hat."

David Fitzgerald war bis in seine Studentenzeit ein strenggläubiger Baptist. Es fiel ihm nicht leicht, seinen Eltern mitzuteilen, dass er den Glauben verloren hatte. Aber seitdem er diese Hürde genommen hat, versucht er, auch andere Leute vom Atheismus zu überzeugen und sich dafür zu engagieren. Die Bewegung stecke noch in den Kinderschuhen, meint er. Manche vergleichen die Situation mit der der Schwarzen vor fünzig Jahren, zu Beginn der Bürgerrechtsbewegung Dem Direktor der 'American Atheists' in Kalifornien, David Kong, geht dies etwas zu weit.

(Speaker: Up until his college years, David Fitzgerald was a hardcore Baptist. It was not easy for him to tell his parents that he had lost the faith. But since overcoming this hurdle, he tries to convince others about Atheism and has become an activist. The movement still is in its infancy, He says. Some compare the situation with that the Blacks fifty years ago, at the beginning of the civil rights movement. To the director of the ' American Atheists ' in California, David Kong, this goes a bit too far. )

O-Ton: David Kong
"I liken the Atheist movement really more to the gay movement. One, if you're black and walk down the street, you're obviously black. If you're gay or you're an Atheist, you walk down the street and you look like everybody else. I mean who can tell. And also I think with gay people, much of their oppression and struggle comes from opposition by religions. So I think our two causes are actually very closely tied together. And much as we're doing now they first set up a sense of community for themselves. If you're gay and you come out there are now places where you can go, you can talk to other people about your feelings, get counseling. Traditionally for Atheists there hasn't been anything; as I said, as a kid, I thought I was the only one. Now fortunately with the proliferation of the Internet and the proliferation of the local clubs and things there is much more support for people who come out as Atheists."

Übersetzung David Kong
"Ich sehe eher Ähnlichkeiten mit der Schwulenbewegung. Zum einen, weil es jeder sofort sieht, wenn man schwarz ist. Als Schwuler oder Atheist sieht man aus wie jeder andere. Ich will damit sagen, dass man sieht es einem nicht an. Ausserdem hat die Unterdrückung und der Kampf der Schwulen mit der Opposition der Religionen zu tun. Insofern sind unsere Ausgangspunkte sehr eng miteinander verbunden. Und genauso wie wir das im Moment tun, haben die Schwulen zunächst für sich selbst eine community geschaffen. Wenn man schwul ist und sich outet, dann gibt es heute viele Orte, wo man hingehen und mit anderen reden und sich Rat geben lassen kann. Für Atheisten hat es bisher sowas nicht gegeben. Ich dachte als Kind, ich sei der einzige, der so denkt. Glücklicherweise gibt es jetzt mit dem Internet und den vielen Vereinen und Clubs viel mehr Unterstützung für Leute, die sich als Atheisten outen."

Offensichtlich ist gerade nach den Ereignissen vom 11. September für viele Atheisten das Coming out unumgänglich geworden. Nachdem sie sich zunächst ausgegrenzt gefühlt hatten, griff im Großraum San Francisco ein knappes Dutzend unterschiedlicher Atheisten-, Agnostiker-, Freidenker- und säkularer Humanistenorganisationen zur Selbsthife: Sie organisierten ihre eigene, säkulare Gedenkfeier für die Opfer der Terror-Attacken. In den folgenden Wochen und Monaten hatten die verschiedenen Gruppen einen verstärkten Zulauf und ihre Anführer erkannten die Notwendigkeit, gemeinsam aktiv zu werden. In Alameda, einem Vorort von San Francisco, stimmte der Stadtrat im Oktober einem Vorschlag zu, die Invokation Gottes zu Beginn von Versammlungen abzuschaffen – eine Entwicklung, die konträr zu der in Washington steht, wo die christliche Rechte seit Reagan immer mehr an Einfluss gewonnen hat.

(Speaker: Obviously, for many Atheists, the events of September 11 led to the inevitable Coming Out. After they had felt initially marginalized, a scarce dozen of different Atheist, Agnostic, Freethought and Secular Humanist organizations in the region reached out for self-help: They organized their own secular memorial service for the victims of the terrorist attacks. In the following weeks and months the different groups had a strengthened demand and their leaders sensed the need to become active together. In Alameda, a suburb of San Francisco, the Mayor passed in October a suggestion to abolish the Invocation of God at the beginning of meetings - a development contrary to Washington, where ever since Reagan the Christian Right has won more influence.

O-Ton: David Kong
"It's continuing to get worse and so now it's time for the Atheist and the Separationist community to speak up and I think that's what we've just now started to do. I think people are really now starting to voice their opinion. I have to admit that before I started working with the Atheist community sometimes life could seem a bit pessimistic. And now I'm working with so many good, dedicated people, and they're doing it because they want to do it, they love to do it, they have to do it, they're driven to do it. And that's what amazes me. I'm just riding on the wave of enthusiasm of the California Atheist community."

Übersetzung David Kong
"Es wird immer noch schlimmer und deshalb ist es jetzt Zeit für die Atheisten und für diejenigen, die sich für die Trennung von Kirche und Staat engagieren, dazu Stellung zu nehmen. Damit haben wir begonnen. Ich muss zugeben, dass das Leben manchmal etwas traurig erscheinen konnte, bevor ich meine Arbeit mit der Atheistengemeinde begann. Jetzt arbeite ich mit sovielen guten, engagierten Menschen zusammen. Sie wollen es tun, sie lieben es, sie müssen es tun, sie sind innerlich angetrieben. Das finde ich ganz erstaunlich. Ich reite auf dieser Welle des Enthusiasmus der kalifornischen Atheistengemeinde."

In Kalifornien lebt ein Drittel der 2.500 Mitglieder der American Atheists, sagt David Kong. Er ist überzeugt davon, dass sich die positiven Anzeichen, die von Kalifornien ausgehen, langfristig auch auf andere Bundesstaaten ausdehnen werden. Aber bis dahin ist noch ein sehr langer Weg. Erklärtes Ziel der 'American Atheists' ist es, dafür zu sorgen, dass auch Atheisten in diesem Land voll akzeptiert werden und die strikte und absolute Trennung von Kirche und Staat erfolgt. Die ist eigentlich in der amerikanischen Verfassung verankert. Im ersten Zusatz heißt es, der Staat garantiere Religionsfreiheit, sei aber selbst zur Neutralität verpflichtet. Religionsunterricht wie in Deutschland oder das Kruzifix im Schulzimmer wären in den USA undenkbar. Erzkonservative christliche Gruppen versuchen jedoch immer wieder, die Tennung von Kirche und Staat aufzuweichen und zu unterwandern. Mit Justizminister John Ashcroft ist es einem der ihren gelungen, ein sehr hohes Amt zu besetzen. Seine Ernennung war George W. Bushs Geste des Dankes für die Stimmen der christlichen Rechten. John Ashcroft ist ein engagiertes Mitglied der fundamentalistischen Pfingstkirche und setzt alles daran, nicht nur mit seinem täglichen Morgengebet die Positionen der extremen Rechten durchzusetzen.


A third of the 2,500 members of American Atheists live in California, says David Kong. He is convinced that the positive signs coming out of California will expand over the long term to other states as well. But until then still another very long-term avowed goal of the ' American Atheists ' is to ensure that Atheists in this country are fully accepted and that strict and absolute separation of church and state takes place. This is actually embodied in the American Constitution. In the first Amendment the state guarantees freedom of religion, and is obligated however, to be neutral. Religious education as in Germany or having a crucifix in the classroom would be inconceivable in the USA. However, archconservative Christian groups try again and again to soften and undermine the Tenet of Separation of church and state. With John Ashcroft as Attorney General they have succeeded in filling a very high office with one of their own. His appointment was George W. Bush’s gesture of thanks to the votes of the Christian Right. John Ashcroft is an active member of the fundamentalist Assembly of God church and does everything he can, not only with his daily morning prayer- to foster the positions of the Extreme Right. )

O-Ton: David Kong
"America is one of the most religious countries in the world. I think that's one of the reasons the religionists are kicking up their heels politically these days; they have the freedom to do that and that's part of the American way. But then conversely we Atheists also have to kick up our political heels. The religionists really want to get the kids while they're young suckered into their belief and then it's just so much harder to get out of it at that point. That's why the Creationist battle is a very intense and heated debate. The debate about not only should Evolution be taught, but now should Creationism be brought into schools has been going on ever since the early 20s. These things just have a habit of resurfacing every couple of years just like prayers at city council meetings. So you have to keep vigilant on these things."

Übersetzung David Kong
"Amerika ist eines der frömmsten Länder der Welt. Ich glaube, das ist einer der Gründe, warum die Religiösen dieser Tage politisch ihren Einfluss geltend machen, weil sie die Freiheit haben, es zu tun und das Teil des American way ist. Aber dann müssen wir Atheisten es auch tun. Die Religiösen wollen wirklich die Kinder schnappen und sie in jungen Jahren indoktrinieren, weil es dann viel schwerer ist, wieder davon loszukommen. Aus dem Grund ist auch der Kampf um die Schöpfungslehre im Schulunterricht so erbittert. Die Debatte, ob Evolution und jetzt die Schöpfung unterrichtet werden sollte, wird seit den frühen 20-er Jahren geführt. Diese Dinge kommen alle paar Jahre wieder hoch, genauos wie das Gebet bei Stadtratssitzungen. Deshalb muss man wachsam bleiben."

Die erbitterten Glaubenskriege um Schulgebet und Abtreibung, um die sexuelle Abstinenz von Teenagern, die Stammzellenforschung und die politische Einflussnahme der Kirchen werden auch in den kommenden Jahren ausgetragen werden. David Kong ist auch überzeugt davon, dass sich unter Bush die religiösen Akzente in Washington weiter verstärken werden. Der Tag, an dem Atheisten wirklich anerkannt und nicht mehr diskriminiert werden, liegt in weiter Ferne. David Fitzgerald ist trotzdem zuversichtlich:


The embittered holy wars around school prayer and abortion, around the sexual abstinence of teenagers, stem cell research and the exertion of political influence

from churches have also arrived in the coming years. David Kong is also convinced of the fact that under Bush the religious timbre in Washington will continue to strengthen. The day when Atheists are truly recognized and are no longer discriminated against is still a long way off. David Fitzgerald is nevertheless confident:)

O-Ton: David Fitzgerad
"I'm optimistic about one thing and that's that over time even though there are just as many religions if not more so and they're mutating as fast as they always have, the secular world is getting gentler and more tolerant. And what I mean by that is that even though we still have religion, we don't have the inquisition, people aren't being burnt at the stake, people aren't losing their lives for disagreeing with somebody else. And that is the hope that I have and that's what keeps me going, is to keep pushing and pushing and pushing against these religions. Not because I want everybody to lose the comfort of their religions, but if we keep pointing out the foibles of religion, maybe we can lose the worst excesses of it."

Übersetzung David Fitzgerald
"Eines macht mich optimistisch: obwohl es so viele Religionen gibt, sogar mehr denn je, und obwohl sie sich so rasant wie immer verändern, wird die säkuläre Welt nachsichtiger und toleranter. Damit will ich sagen, dass wir zwar noch immer Religionen haben, aber es gibt keine Inquisition mehr, die Menschen werden nicht mehr auf dem Scheiterhaufen verbrannt oder verlieren ihr Leben, weil sie anderer Meinung sind. Das ist es, was mir Hoffnung macht und mir die Kraft gibt, weiterzumachen und gegen diese Religionen anzukämpfen und immer weiter zu kämpfen. Nicht, weil mir daran liegt, dass alle den Trost, den sie in der Religion finden, aufgeben, sondern weil ich glaube, dass wir deren schlimmsten Exzesse verhindern können, wenn wir weiterhin auf ihre Schwächen hinweisen."

Friday, February 01, 2002

The Goofiest Sect of All: A Rationalist Looks at Mormonism

By Don Havis

With the recent focus on Salt Lake City, Utah as the site of the International Winter Olympics of 2002, the world’s attention has once again been drawn to the Mormon religion. Salt Lake City, the “Zion” of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, as the Mormons call their church, has certainly gloried in the world’s spotlight.

With the advent of this newfound LDS marketing tool, I thought it might be of interest to many rational thinkers to find out a bit more than they perhaps already know about Mormonism. In order for this writing to be an article and not a book, its purpose must be severely limited to simply giving a brief overview of how the Mormon Church itself claims that the Book of Mormon came into existence. I will also mention an archeological problem the Book of Mormon seems to have created for the Mormons. Additionally, I will briefly comment on a portion of each of the other two sacred texts of the LDS Church, those being the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. In this process, I must of necessity make a few observations about the founder of the Church, Joseph Smith.

The LDS church, at approximately 11.5 million adherents, is the fastest growing of the modern religious sects (those founded after 1800), and it seems, the one with the most books written about it, both apologetic and debunking. Obviously, this article can not even begin to cover such areas as the church’s theology, its long history, Joseph Smith’s colorful biography, nor its many controversies and tragedies. Those interested in exploring any of these and other areas related to Mormonism, or in verifying any of the claims made herein, please contact the author via email ( for a list of recommended books which include the source material for this article.

The Book of Mormon (hereafter referred to as the BOM) was first published in 1830. Its author was the then 25 year old Joseph Smith Jr. (He dropped the “Jr.” after his father died.) Of course, young Joseph claimed that he did not “author” the book at all. He simply translated it from an ancient text written in an equally ancient language he referred to as “reformed Egyptian.” This text was written or engraved on some golden plates which Joseph claims to have unearthed in a hill called the “hill Chumorah” on September 21, 1823. This hill is near Manchester, New York. How did Joseph know exactly where to dig for these wondrous golden plates the skeptic might ask? Easy! An angel named Moroni came to him in a “vision” as early as 1820 when the then 14 year-old Joseph claims to have received the “First Vision.” In the “Second Vision” in 1823, Moroni informed Joseph of the precise location of some gold plates which contained the sacred history of some ancient Hebrews (Yes, “Hebrews.” That is not a misprint.) who lived in America from about 2200 BCE to about 421 CE. No, I am not making this up. In case you think I am just kidding, let me quote from the introduction to the current edition of the BOM published by the LDS church itself, to wit:

The book was written by many ancient prophets by the spirit of prophecy and revelation. Their words, written on gold plates, were quoted and abridged by a prophet-historian named Mormon. The record gives an account of two great civilzations. One came from Jerusalem in 600 BC, and afterward separated into two nations, known as the Nephites and the Lamanites. The other came much earlier when the Lord confounded the tongues at the Tower of Babel. This group is known as the Jaredites. After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians.

The Introduction continues to explain to the prospective convert how Jesus Christ came over to the Americas (Don’t ask.) and ministered to the Nephrites, “soon after his resurrection.” The Introduction continues to explain that Jesus taught these ancestral Americans how to “gain peace in this life and eternal salvation in the life to come” through him—Jesus. This is just a side thought, but since, according to the BOM, the Nephrites were “destroyed” by the Lamanites who became the ancestors of our Native Americans, what exactly did J.C. accomplish with his mission to the Nephites? This is never explained. The BOM story would explain, however, why the native Americans whom the early explorers found here seemed to have been completely ignorant of the biblical Jesus. But, as I said, that is only a side point.

The official Introduction continues: “After Mormon completed his writings, he delivered the account to his son Moroni, who added a few words of his own and hid up the plates in the hill Cumorah.” Yes, I assure you, that is an accurate quote from the official, current, BOM Introduction. You can look it up yourself. I just love the phrase, “who added a few words of his own,” don’t you? I can only suppose that the Lord’s original dictation to Mormon was not quite “right” in the angel’s son’s [himself an angel] opinion. Therefore, he took it upon himself to fix it up a bit just as I, as an English teacher, often do with my student’s papers.

In any event, without going into further hilarious detail, the above is the crux of the fabulous tale that young Mormon “missionaries” are peddling in living rooms across America, and indeed throughout dozens of countries over the face of the earth. Freethinkers will probably not be much interested in reading the BOM, even for laughs. It’s dry, King James English style (Isn’t it curious that the ancient “reformed Egyptian” translated into perfect King James style English?) would probably quickly put the active mind to sleep. Mark Twain once aptly described the BOM as “chloroform in print.”

Incidentally, the Mormon Church regards the BOM as a sort of second installment of the Christian Bible—old and new testaments. The BOM is regarded as the document that “restores by God, through Joseph Smith, the only true church.” Therefore, all other Christian churches (Mormon’s refer to their adherents as “gentiles”) are false—no surprise there. It follows, then, that the authenticity of the BOM is no small matter.

To quote Alice while she was in Wonderland, the story gets “curiouser and curiouser.”

When one consults the documents and testimony of Joseph Smith’s contemporaries in the early 1800s as to precisely how the BOM was “translated,” one finds a great deal of agreement from several witnesses that a special “peep stone,” or “seer stone” was used. Now, the modern reader may not be familiar with the use of a “peep stone” to “see” things such as buried treasure, not normally visible to the naked eye. However, their use was apparently well known in the New England states in the early part of the 19th century as a kind of folk conjurer’s device. There was a similar conjurer’s device also commonly used at that time known as a “dowsing rod.” The use of the dowsing rod to magically locate underground water has survived among superstitious peoples to the present time. The “seer stone,” on the other hand, has gone out of fashion. Several acquaintances of the Smith family have testified that Joseph Smith had used a “seer stone”—a small, dark colored, smooth stone with a hole in its center—to seek and dig for buried treasure prior to the angel Moroni’s considerate revelation of the location of the magical golden plates with the Book of Mormon on them. Lucky for Joseph, he already had just the thing for their translation. Many witnesses observed Joseph Smith on several occasions using his seer stone, which he would put into the crown of his hat, then bury his face in the crown. Inside the crown of the hat, he claimed that a sort of luminous “spiritual light” would appear before him enabling him to “see” the golden plates, even though they may not have been right “there” at the time, and to successfully translate them. (Now, stop giggling. This is serious stuff, apparently, to Mormons.) He would normally dictate to a scribe, often seated on the other side of a curtain, who would write down what Smith said. (My research did not reveal whether he sort of hollered through the crown of the hat, or whether he removed his face from time to time to reveal what he had “seen.”)

Joseph’s first scribe was his long suffering first wife, Emma. Later, the gullible Mr. Martin Harris acted as Smith’s scribe. Poor Harris excitedly showed the first 116 pages to his wife who apparently tore them up as the work of the devil. At least to this date, the missing 116 pages have never surfaced. Joseph and Harris had to start all over again. Joseph was furious. Probably out of a feeling of guilt, Harris ended up selling his farm to finance the publication of the BOM. (The Smith family always seemed to have had great difficulty, in the years before Joseph’s church “took off,” in eking out a living.) Thirdly, a Mr. Oliver Cowdry, a young schoolmaster who was boarding with the Smith family, acted as Smith’s secretary/scribe. Despite Mormon claims that the 275,000-word manuscript was completed in a matter of a few months, it probably took about three years to complete.

Interestingly, there is still some controversy among Mormon scholars (Yes, perhaps that phrase is an oxymoron.) concerning exactly how the plates were translated. Despite the testimony alluded to above, Joseph Smith claimed that, actually, he used a special translating device which the angel Moroni was nice enough to leave with the plates—neatly packed in a stone box—in order to successfully reveal their message. This translating device is referred to as the “Urim and Thummin.” What is the “Urim and Thummin” you may ask? Well, no one knows exactly. However, Joseph Smith’s rather suggestible mother was recorded to have said that this device, “consisted of two smooth three-cornered diamonds set in glass, and the glasses were set in silver bows.” Of course, the controversy centers on the following question: Did Joseph exclusively use his rather unholy “seer stone” (a conjurer’s device), or the much more holy “Urim and Thummin,” or a combination of both to translate the plates? Do you care? I didn’t think so.

The golden plates as well as the Urim and Thummin were, according to Mormon history, apparently taken back by the angel Moroni, perhaps to be re-buried at some other location. Those same “Mormon scholars” referred to above believe the likely location of at least some artifacts of ancient Nephites, as well as a possible new burial site of the golden plates, may center around Central America. These same “scholars” now claim that the great battles described in the BOM between the Nephites and the Lamanites may not have taken place around New York, despite the golden plates being found there. The BOM mentions a “narrow neck of land” and an apparently tropical climate. For the past 50 years BYU and other Mormon sponsored organizations such as the New World Archeological Foundation have sponsored archeological trips and “digs” in and around Chiapas and the Yucatan. Smith himself speculated that the Maya might have been the “Book of Mormon peoples.” To this date, not a single shred of evidence has been turned up that would back up this theory. Yale University archeologist, Dr. Michael D. Coe, an expert on the Maya, has stated that, “There is not a whit of evidence that the Nephites ever existed. The whole enterprise is complete rot, root and branch. It’s so racist it hurts. It fits right into the nineteenth-century American idea that only a white man could have built cities and temples, that American Indians didn’t have the brains or the wherewithal to create their own civilization.” Seems clear enough to me!

Above, I have briefly discussed the Book of Mormon, its creation, its tale of ancient Hebrew tribes in America, and its “translation,” and dictation by Joseph Smith. Less familiar to most freethinkers is the fact that the prolific Mr. Smith also wrote, for the most part, the two other sacred texts of the Mormon Church. These are the official Doctrine and Covenants of the church, and another book entitled, A Pearl of Great Price.

Strangely, the BOM as well as these above mentioned two texts are freely passed out to this day by the LDS Church to any prospective converts who ask. In fact, if you ask for a copy of the BOM, you will be given this “triple combination” as the Mormons call it. I said “strangely” because there are portions of both the D & C and the Pearl text that have caused and continue to cause more embarrassment to the church than is caused even by the ludicrousness of the BOM yarn. The “embarrassments” I refer to in the D & C are that Joseph Smith’s official, holy doctrines have had to be “corrected” twice since he originally proclaimed them as the “gospel truth.” The first instance occurred in 1890 when it was necessary for the church to reverse the official sanction and blessing by Joseph Smith of “plural marriage.” (See doctrine 132, still—amazing as it may seem—proudly reprinted in every edition of the triple combination.) The church was literally forced to make this change as a condition for statehood. President and prophet, Spencer W. Kimball, made a second embarrassing change in 1978. (Incidentally, each succeeding president of the church is authorized to make such changes since they are considered just as much of a “prophet, seer, and revelator” as was the original president, Joseph Smith.)

This second change allowed, without mentioning African-Americans, that “all worthy male members of the church” would be “eligible for priesthood and temple blessings.”

The document entitled, A Pearl of Great Price includes three sections entitled the “Book of Mathew,” a “Book of Moses,” and the now infamous, “Book of Abraham.” In what would seem to be—but apparently is not—a church-destroying embarrassment, the entire “Book of Abraham” has been thoroughly proven to be an outright fraud by knowledgeable scholars and Egyptologists, over and over again. The problem was and is that, unlike his prudent “return” of the golden plates to the angel Moroni, Joseph Smith actually kept the original papyri that, according to official Mormon history, “came into the hands of Joseph Smith in 1835.” According to Smith, these papyri were written by the patriarch Abraham himself about 4000 years ago and contained new revelations about God’s will which Smith generously “translated” from the original hieroglyphics and revealed to the world. Obviously Smith was entirely unaware of the discovery in 1799 of the Rosetta Stone, which was not successfully translated until the late 1830’s, and even then was only understood by a few academics. From Smith’s vantage point, it must have seemed perfectly “safe” for him to make up what ever he wanted regarding the “true message” of the ancient hieroglyphics.

In a decision that the LDS church would later surely regret, the church itself put Smith’s “translation” to a scientific test. In 1912, LDS Bishop Spalding submitted facsimiles of the original papyri, made by Smith himself, to a panel of eight recognized expert Egyptologists. Much to the chagrin of the church, the panel’s unanimous opinion was that Smith’s translation had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the material on the copies of the original papyri. At some point the Church announced that Smith’s original papyri conveniently seemed to have “disappeared” and were presumed destroyed in the Chicago fire of 1871. There must have been many a sigh of relief among the church higher-ups for several years after that. But wait…. Oh no! Joseph Smith’s authenticated original papyri were re-discovered in 1967 by a researcher at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where, apparently, some thoughtless Mormon Church official had stored them for safekeeping. Since that time, virtually every competent Egyptologist (non-Mormon) who has studied the papyri have confirmed the original Egyptologists’ opinions that the “Book of Abraham” is a complete and utter fabrication! Of course, all of this is well known to the LDS hierarchy, although it is certainly not eagerly shared with the general membership.

The reader must be wondering by now, just as I have since I began my research into Mormonism, just how in the world is it possible that the LDS church not only continues to survive, but that, incredibly, it is actually rapidly growing in numbers of adherents and in influence. One might understand how many of the early backwoods, largely illiterate, superstitious original converts might have been duped by the apparently charismatic yarn-spinner Joseph Smith. However, one must ask in these modern times, when people are supposedly better educated, how can this continued survival and even growth be accounted for? I must confess that, frankly, I am at a complete loss for a satisfactory answer to that question. The only explanation that comes close for me was well stated by the inimitable H. L. Mencken when he said, “The curse of man, and the cause of nearly all his woes, is his stupendous capacity for believing the incredible.”

February 2002.


Bibliography for
A Rationalist Looks at Mormonism

Brode, Fawn M., No Man Knows My History—the Life of Joseph Smith, Alfred Knopf,
Inc., 1945, Revised Second Edition, 1973.

Persuitte, David, Joseph Smith and the Origin of the Book of Mormon, Second Edition,
McFarland & Co., Inc. Jefferson, North Carolina, 2000.

Peterson, LaMar, The Creation of the Book of Mormon, A Historical Inquiry, Freethinker
Press, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2000.

Tanner, Jerald & Sandra, Archaeology and the Book of Mormon, Utah Lighthouse
Ministry, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1969.

Tanner, Jerald & Sandra, Did Spalding Write the Book of Mormon? Utah Lighthouse
Ministry, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1977.

Tanner, Jerald & Sandra, Joseph Smith’s Plagiarism of the Bible, Utah Lighthouse
Ministry, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1998.

Tanner, Jerald & Sandra, Joseph Smith and Money Digging, Utah Lighthouse Ministry,

Tanner, Jerald & Sandra, Why Egyptologists Reject the Book of Abraham. Note: This
Book is simply a photocopy reprint of two other earlier books, as follows:

(1) Joseph Smith Jr. As a Translator, an Inquiry Conducted by Rt. Rev. F.
Spalding D.D, Bidshop of Utah, 1912, and (2) Joseph Smith as an Interpreter
And Translator of Egyptian, by Samuel A. B. Mercer, Ph.D., 1913.
Utah Lighthouse Ministry, Salt Lake City, Utah, No date given.

Tanner, Jerald & Sandra, Mormonism—Shadow or Reality, Fifth Edition, Utah
Lighthouse Ministry, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1987

Note: Jerald and Sandra Tanner and their Utah Lighthouse Ministry—despite their “mission” to convert adherents away from the “false religion” of Mormonism, and to the “true religion” of mainstream Christianity—have done some of the best research available anywhere to support the conclusion that The Book of Mormon and all of the “sacred writings” of Joseph Smith Jr. are simply early nineteenth century fiction, partly created by Joseph and partly plagiarized from the bible and other sources available to Mr. Smith.

Note II: This article is scheduled for publication in the May/June, 2002 issue of The American Rationalist.

The author can be emailed at

Thursday, January 31, 2002

How much Reality do you want?

by David Fitzgerald

David FitzgeraldShow of hands - How many people here are going to Hell?

(That was to be my opening, but I decided against it when I gave this speech to my Toastmasters group in San Francisco. Instead, I opened with a confession: that “How much Reality do you want” was NOT the real title of my speech, that I was uncertain that the actual topic was 100% appropriate for this particular venue, and that I was afraid I might offend some people. In fact, I admitted part of me was HOPING to step on people’s toes. “How was that for an opener?” I asked. By now the audience was riveted, and I said “Well now that I’m out on that limb, I might as well go for it. The actual title of my speech is “Why I Am an Atheist.” And I went on to give the best speech I ever gave in my life (so far). Here it is:

Like everyone, I was born an Atheist…

However, as I continued to grow, something happened to that young Atheist. I was raised as a Southern Baptist. Now there are a lot of things about being raised a Southern Baptist (or any kind of Baptist, I suppose) that are really nice: You have an entire community to protect & shelter you, an extended family really. And above that you have an omnipotent all-knowing God who loves you, has got it all under control, and has a plan. A special plan --just for YOU! You just can’t beat that kind of certainty. Oh yeah, and you have ALL the answers – to everything - in this wonderful book, the Bible (King James Version only, natch) that (most of) the Protestants know how to interpret correctly to get God’s say-so on any topic you want.

There IS a down side, however. For one thing, sometimes it seemed the whole world didn’t always fit so nicely in the Baptist paradigm. Armed as we were with the truth (the Gospel truth!), it became very easy – necessary, even - to view anyone & anything outside the little Baptist box with suspicion and scorn. This is because Satan, the master of THIS world (for now) was pretty much everywhere, and was always targeting YOU especially, trying to tempt you into sin. Sin was separation from God’s tender love – the kind of separation that could land you in a lake of fire & accompanying eternal torment.

And did I mention that we are all sinners? Oh yes, we are ALL a bunch of miserable sinners from birth; and even after we’ve accepted Jesus as our Personal Savior™ we still will continue to sin, no matter how hard we try, because no Christian is perfect, and in fact it’s only by the grace of God Almighty himself that we are saved, unlike the overwhelmingly vast majority of people created by him in his image of perfect love who are going straight to an everlasting Hell of constant torment after death.

But I digress. We were also scornful of Science. Not so much the good kind, like that of Doctors & Astronauts, but those arrogant, misguided Biologists who ignored the plain facts laid out in the book of Genesis and poisoned people’s minds with their godless Ee-vo-lution nonsense.

You may be surprised to learn I had some struggles with conformity. But for the most part, I managed to keep myself in a heightened state of close-minded religiosity throughout my youth, and the times I did have serious doctrinal difficulties I managed to pull through with some simple re-interpretation of scripture. And that’s how things stayed up until The Day It All Changed.

Like all of the defining moments of my life, there was a woman involved. On The Day It All Changed, that woman was my friend Wendy the Pagan. Wendy the Pagan was the perfect foil to an uptight Baptist boy. A funky groovy Renaissance-Faire type who smoked, frequented new age occult stores, read tarot cards and believed in all manner of interesting and contradictory beliefs. The way we liked to flirt with each best was to argue Theology. Which is what we were doing on The Day It All Changed.

We were in the middle of a juicy deliberation one afternoon. I had just come up with some brilliant and biblically-approved point, when Wendy came up with a saucy rejoinder: “Well, Dave,” this with a raised eyebrow, ”you KNOW the Hindu religion is like, 4000 years older than Christianity.” Well, this line of reasoning of course had no merit whatsoever, and I started to counter with “No, it’s not-“

But I never finished the sentence. That was when it hit me…That I had no idea whether the next thing to leave my mouth was true or not.

Let me say that again: I had

No idea

Whether the next thing to leave my mouth

Was True


And it hit me like a bolt from the blue: I was giving a knee–jerk Pavlovian dog reaction –I was just as bad as those Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses!! I swear, in my mind I could literally hear that Talking Heads song:

Same as it ever was...Same as it ever was...
And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway lead to?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right?...or am I wrong?
And you may tell yourself

The debate was over. I was in a stunned daze for the rest of the day. And that was just the beginning.

I never looked at anything the same way. I began to question everything. In hindsight, loosing my virginity was a breeze. Loosing my religion took me a whole year to get over!

I felt like a trap door had fallen out beneath me, and instead of plummeting to the ground I was suspended in midair 10,000 feet up with the clouds going by beneath me. For a year I kept wondering “what’s keeping me up?” All those years I thought there was an all-powerful invisible god protecting me, and suddenly that was gone… What was keeping me safe?

Well, somehow I survived…

And not only that, but things actually got better! I began to look at people completely differently; I stopped seeing people as Catholics, as Christians, as Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc. etc. and just saw them as People. People just like me, with their own dreams, problems, and thoughts on the universe. Most importantly, I stopped automatically categorizing people as “Saved” and “Hellbound”!

Suddenly Evolution made a lot more sense.

The Universe seemed much bigger, and at the same time closer and more connected to me than it ever did before.

Cue the upbeat music for the closing credits: Now I’m astounded that I could ever have believed all the ridiculous & hateful nonsense even for a minute. Life is free, really free when your mind is free. Even though Life can be an unpredictable all-bets-are-off scary place sometimes, I couldn’t and wouldn’t go back to the spun-sugar sickly-sweet illusionary comforts of Christianity, or any other religion lurking around for that matter either.

I want to tell every religious person out there that when they have doubts, when what they are being told doesn’t seem fair or make sense, to respect that part of them that gives them that gut feeling.

I’m alive. We’re all alive. Go out there and enjoy Life & Love.


Why I am an Atheist, Part II: Common Reactions
(with apologies to the many, many freethinkers whose ideas are presented here)

Today it’s interesting to come across the ideas & stereotypes people have about Atheists. People aren’t upset because I’ve lost my religion, they’re upset because I’ve lost THEIR religion. Here are some of the more common reactions:

1. You don’t believe in anything?

You don’t think Buddha or Allah or Vishnu are real, do you? Well, I only believe in one less of those imaginary gods than you do…

2. But you’re so happy!

Well, yeah! People think we’re all gloomy, black beret-wearing Jean-Paul Sarte-reading existentialist types leading gray, empty, meaningless lives… But how happy can you be always kissing up to an angry god?

3. Where do you get your morals from?

Do you really need anyone else to tell you the killing, stealing, and hurting people is wrong? It’s really not that hard to figure out.

4. But look at all the good Religion has done?

To that, I would say really look at what religion has done. It took 300 years for the Roman Catholic Church to pardon Galileo and longer than that to apologize for burning heretics at the stake. Billy Graham (who it turns out is a rabid anti-Semite) has taken in over $35 million from his ministries and refuses to disclose how it is being spent. And he is very respected – not like most of the more infamous televangelists who have been uncovered as out-and-out scoundrels.

Throughout history, more people have been tortured or killed in the name of religion than any other conflict -hands down. Look what it did on 9-11. Look what it’s doing in Bethlehem this morning. If no one challenged religious authority & the scriptures, there would not be democracies, public education, women’s rights, science & medicine, or the abolition of slavery.

5. Atheists are angry at God!

It’s hard to be angry at someone who you think doesn’t exist. But I admit, I do get angry with the Religious Right when they try to force creationism in schools. I get mad when the Roman Catholic Church spends more energy in protecting pedophile priests than in protecting their victims. I get mad when I see how women are treated in Islamic countries. And I get mad when the Israelis treat the Muslims like it was pre-apartheid South Africa.

6. Why take the chance of going to hell –be a Christian just to be safe

What kind of God would want that kind of follower? What kind of god would create hell for that matter. And what if you go to heaven and everyone there is speaking Arabic or Chinese? Who’s going to hell now, smart guy?

7. Atheists are Arrogant / Communists / Tools of Satan /There are no Atheists in foxholes /

Too ridiculous to even go there, though I will say there’s women, crossdressers, homosexuals, and yes, Atheists in foxholes. Always have been.

8. Well, there’s just too much that’s unexplainable…

There’s always going to be the unexplainable; as Einstein said: "One thing I have learned in a long life: that all our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike -- and yet it is the most precious thing we have."

9. Well, I know God is real because I have a personal relationship with Jesus and he has done this in my life….

I’m happy for you, I really am. But if I told you what a difference Scientology or Allah or Falun Gong has done in my life, would you believe me?

10. But what happens when you die? Is that it?

Death IS big and scary, and it’s natural to be afraid of it. If we didn’t, our species wouldn’t have survived for millions of years. That’s why the idea is so strong. But honestly, I believe that when we die, we go back to where we came from. There was an eternity before you were born when you didn’t exist, if there’s another is it really so bad?

• If there’s one thing to learn from Atheism, it’s Live Now.

Here’s more:

• Hands that help are better than lips that pray.

• It’s nice, but is it true? How much reality do you choose to accept?

• We’re all in the same boat together.

• Science says We’re all related, even the plants and animals.

• I heard Peter Ustinov once say something like: "Our firm beliefs divide us. It’s our doubts that bring us together."

• Don’t take my word for it. Don’t take anybody’s word for it. Think for yourself. Don’t stop asking questions.

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