Archived Issue of the Separationist

You have loaded a back issue of The Separationist, the newsletter of the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry.


ISSUE: September 2000

Edited by Dave Peterson


Contents:

Sunday, September 17 at 4:00 p.m.

Our speaker: James Campbell

Topic: "Basics of the Biotech Century."

James Campbell, our speaker this month, is a retired administrator and educator from the New York school system. A graduate of Morgan State University in Maryland, he also has an M.S. from Bank State Teachers College, a graduate institution. A long-time activist, he is the founder of the Committee of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism.

Since coming to South Carolina in 1991, he has been involved with the state NAACP where he serves as Chair of the Education Committee. He will speak on “Basics of the Biotech Century.” He is also involved with the “Algebra Project”, a tutoring program for children in northern Beaufort County, and with programs at Penn Center, as well.

He intends to take some of the ideas of well known author, Jeremy Rifkin, as a starting point for a discussion of the potential and the problems that new genetic, social, cultural, and scientific issues bring to our new century, a subject to which he has given much thought in the past few years. All SHL members should attend this meeting, not just because it’s our fall kickoff, but because the subject to be presented by Mr. Campbell is of vital interest to us all.

After the meeting, all those who are interested will repair to a local restaurant for further discussion and camaraderie

IT’S CLEANUP TIME AGAIN...

by Gill Krebs.

Time again for our next Adopt-A-Highway pickup on September 30. If it rains on September 30, we’ll pick up on October 7. Our pickup area is Highway 61 starting two miles past Bees Ferry Road and ending two miles beyond that. The start is about at Drayton Hall and ends a little Road and ending two miles beyond that. The start is about at Drayton Hall and ends a little past Magnolia Gardens. The Highway Department supplies everything we need: orange bags for the trash, orange vests and pointy sticks, but no gloves––so bring your own work or garden gloves.

The clean up shouldn't take more than a few hours, and it's a good opportunity for us to carry on our usual interesting conversations while we work. We'll meet at the small parking lot just across the street from the main Drayton Hall parking lot on Hwy 61 at 9:00 AM to pick the supplies and head out. Please call me at 763-4505 if you plan to help with the pickup.

LETTERS TO EDITORS

The following was sent to the Carolina Morning News (pub. by the Savannah Morning News.) Bob Cuttino, retired pastor of the Beaufort (Southern) Baptist Church, writes a weekly column on religion for them.

SHOULD SC RUN A LOTTERY?

Bob Cuttino, in his 8/26 column, tells us that the Bible says we shall not covet. He then goes on to define coveting as having “an inordinate desire to have something for which you have not worked or offered due value of goods in exchange. It is or becomes an obsession. It is the definition of ‘gambling’.”

Now, words change with time and acquire new meanings which may not be the Biblical ones. We need to look at the traditional meaning of the word. The OED tells us that the “usual meaning” of covet, going back at least to 1300, is “to desire culpably. To long for (what belongs to another).” Culpably means in a blameworthy manner. In the notes to the translation and commentaries on the Pentateuch and Halftorahs as edited by J.H. Hertz we read that coveting is “the unlawful, inward desire for something that is another’s.” Culpable, unlawful; strong, serious words.

Cuttino trivializes the tenth commandment of the Decalogue when he has coveting mean simply an excessive feeling for something or an addiction. Yet, that is the only way in which he can equate coveting with gambling. You can’t do it with the meanings I have just cited.

Certainly gambling can become an addiction, but so can many things, including religion. The literature is replete with cases of people whose spending on religion caused their children, and themselves, to go hungry and without proper medical care. What Cuttino says about gambling: “it is enticing and addictive, and big time crime syndicates have always gravitated to [it]....it disrupts the the lives of all sectors of society; it preys mostly on the poor who can least afford to risk their wages.” could as easily be said about religion. Just substitute charlatanic TV preachers for crime syndicates.

For most people, gambling is a form of entertainment. Given the odds against winning in any lottery or casino type game, only the math-impaired or the too wealthy will spend more than a token amount on such entertainment. And therein lie the problems with a state lottery. The state should not be in the entertainment business especially one where telling people a lie is a must; viz., that they can win, when––for all practical purposes––they can not.

If government needs money for education, or any other good cause, then it should raise it by taxing the general populace––who all presumably benefit, and not depend for funds on the ignorance of certain of its citizens.

A Biblical case against gambling per se is hard to make. A moral case against state run gambling can be made. Let’s get on with the latter and forget the theologizing; it only convinces the already convinced.

Dave Peterson

SHOULD UNITED WAY FUND

THE BOY SCOUTS?

Clarece Walker (President, CPO, United Way of Beaufort County), in her letter of 1 September, says, “The United Way of Beaufort County, Inc. does indeed fund the local Boy Scouts and will continue to do so.” This subsidy is wrong for the following reasons:

•The Boy Scouts discriminate on the basis of religion and sexual orientation. Unlike the United Way, which as Walker explains is not beholden to the United Way of America, the local Boy Scouts are obligated to follow the rules set down by their national group. They cannot decide on their own to allow atheists and homosexuals into their troops, at whatever level.

•The recent Supreme Court decision said that, while the Boy Scouts do discriminate against homosexuals in a leadership position, as a private group they could do that as the court found that they did not fall under the state’s public accommodation laws. Does United Way condone discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation?

•Would the United Way fund the Boy Scouts if they did not admit Baptists, even though they “did a lot of great things for the community?” Would it fund a Klan run soup kitchen for needy white Christians? If it would not, then it should not fund the Boy Scouts for excluding atheists. If it would fund either example, it owes us an explanation.

•It is said the Boy Scouts have a deeply held moral position that leads to their exclusion of atheists and homosexuals. The Girl Scouts have not found it necessary to have these exclusions, and who out there is willing to sign a letter saying that they are thus less moral than the Boy Scouts. I also note that homosexuality is not mentioned in the Boy Scout’s various declarations that constitute what a scout is supposed to believe and do. The notion that homosexuality is not “morally straight” is an interpretation by the religious conservatives who took over the national organization some years ago, and, through the self perpetuating rules of directorship, have kept the board membership that way ever since. Also, just saying that one’s beliefs are “deeply moral” means nothing. The Klan has deeply held “moral” beliefs.

•While I have not read United Way’s charter, I cannot believe that it permits the funding of groups that withhold their services to some members of the community on religious grounds as the Boy Scouts do. If it does, it should be changed.

I note that when I was in scouting (as a scoutmaster and a Life scout), these issues did not come up. We were not asked about our religious views. I am almost certain that the scoutmaster of my first troop was gay. It did not diminish the scouting experience nor troop morality one iota. I’m sure Steve Clayton, head of the local Boy Scouts, has no interest in forcing the national group’s prejudices on the Beaufort groups. Nevertheless, he must obey national directives. If United Way defunds the Boy Scouts as decency, and probably its charter, demand, the local scouts will be strapped for cash. This is unfortunate, but it should motivate them to pressure the national administration to follow the Girl Scouts’ example of non-discrimination. They might then be worthy of UW funding.

As the United Way is just starting its annual campaign, with all that implies about budgets being set, etc., no one should refuse to give to UW this year because it funds the undeserving Boy Scouts. Next year is a different matter. I hope it sees a stop in the funding of groups that discriminate on the basis of religion and sexual orientation. Let these groups get their money from those that condone such practices, and not siphon away money from United Way’s participating groups that do not practice discrimination.

Dave Peterson

BOOK CLUB NEWS...

by Sharon Fratepietro

Our Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry book discussion group has moved to Barnes & Noble on Sam Rittenberg Blvd. in West Ashley. We meet from 3 - 5 p.m. on the first Sunday of each month. Barnes & Noble not only lists our meetings and chosen books in their in-store newsletter, they also display and sell the books at a discount (check the “Staff Selections” area).

Eleven people took part in the September discussion on Carl Sagan's The Demon Haunted World--Science as a Candle in the Dark. Not all who attended were members of the SHL, but all are welcome to participate, regardless of belief or membership. A variety of backgrounds leads to a more lively and informative discussion!

Our future book schedule includes:

October 1: The Harlot by the Side of the Road--Forbidden Tales of the Bible by Jonathan Kirsch

November 5: Staying Sane in a Crazy World--A Guide to Rational Living by Rabbi Sherwin T. Wine (founder of Humanistic Judaism)

Call Herb Silverman at 843-577-0637 if you need any further information.

POTLUCK, PICNIC AND POLITICS

THE SHL GETS ORGANIZED...

by Dave Peterson

Last May, a good crowd showed up at Roger Prevost’s house for a potluck picnic and to do some business. As you may recall, last year SHL adopted a set of by laws in order to conform to the requirements of and receive the benefits of membership in several of the national groups with which we are associated. The biggest item was the election of members to the Board of Directors.

Elected were:

Dave Brown

Howard Elgison

Doris Hoten

Wyman Hoten

Gill Krebs

Dave Peterson

Roger Prevost

Herb Silverman

Bill Upshur

Dave Walsh

Too many Daves you say. Maybe we can all get cute nicknames so we can tell our-selves apart.

I agreed to do the newsletter one more year. I do need your input, though, and more of it. If someone would like to be asst. editor this year, and then switch jobs next year, let me know.

We will have a number of activities this year beyond the monthly meetings=2E More about this as the board becomes organized.

One thing you might think about is doing some of your charitable giving through SHL. By giving to us and specifying the ultimate recipient, you get the tax write-off, and SHL gets some recognition in the com-munity as a supporter of charitable causes.

And last, everyone had a good time, and the food was great.

End of the Road...

The following is from Dill Henderson (Freethinker1@cs.com)

The Rev. Pat Robertson, in his latest fundraising letter, wrote, "The mainstream political establishment is determined to use the 2000 election cycle to deal a death blow to religious conservatives. But I believe this brazen attempt to bully Christians into silence is really a sign of their own political desperation!"

In reality, Robertson is the desperate one. With mass defections on every level, and few major donors (Robertson is probably the organization's largest donor), the Christian Coalition is nearly finished. Paul Nagy, the coalition's former Northeast field director, said, "The Christian Coalition is a defunct organization."

"Internal power-grabbing has completely ruined the organization," Nagy added. "It was an internal force that did more damage to us than our worst enemies ever could have done. I have to say this as a Christian: What I saw happening, and why I needed to leave, was not of God."

In April, the Christian Coalition lost its last lobbyist in Washington. Jeffrey K. Taylor, was one of the coalition's four full-time lobbyists in the nation's capital. In a strongly worded resignation letter to Robertson, Taylor wrote that the "Christian Coalition has lost its way." He told reporters that the coalition gets too much of its money from direct mail solicitations, and doesn't approach large funders. Informed sources said that its once-prized mailing list is now almost worthless because by going to the same people time after time they've sucked the well dry.

Today, besides Robertson, Roberta Combs, the former South Carolina chapter head, and the Rev. Billy McCormack, of Louisiana, and Dick Weinhold, of Texas run the coalition. McCormack and Weinhold were cofounders with Robertson. Responding to the coalition's mass defections, McCormack said that almost all of the employees who left were fired because they were "inept."

This fall, the coalition is still planning its annual "Road to Victory" conference in Washington, DC. Christian Coalition observers predict that the conference will be the "End of the Road" conference.

© 2000 Institute for First Amendment Studies, Inc.

THE NEED TO COME OUT OF THE CLOSET...

by Paul Kurtz

As the last repressed minority in America, religious dissenters need to stand up and be counted. We need to wage a campaign to defend our rights. And we need to persuade our fellow citizens that equal protection of the laws should apply to all citizens, believers and unbelievers alike.

There are millions of Americans who do not profess a belief in God. We are a significant minority. Yet our voice is all too rarely heard in the public square. Intolerant attitudes and prejudice against us continue to fester. Heretics and iconoclasts are often considered the pariahs of society.

Who are we? We are your children and your parents, your sisters and your brothers, your friends and your relatives. We are your students and your teachers, your artists and your scientists, your politicians and corporate leaders, your workers and your housewives, your computer experts and your neighbors. We represent all walks of life. We are everywhere. We are an integral part of society. We only ask that we be allowed to proclaim and practice our convictions openly, without fear or recrimination. The ultimate test of a democratic society is: that it will respect and honor honest dissent.

According to various polls, some eight to eleven percent of the American population do not to believe in God. Moreover, 39 percent are not members of any church, synagogue, or mosque, and many who belong to religious denominations do so only nominally. Unbelievers exist throughout the world. A recent poll indicates that 14 percent of the Canadian population does not believe in God. In Norway, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Germany, France, and other Western European countries, the percentages of nonbelief are significantly higher. Indeed, in many European countries the state provides funding for both religious and nonreligious organizations alike. Billions of people on the planet do not profess Christian, Jewish, or Muslim belief systems - yet they have created enduring civilizations and high moral principles, such as Confucianism in China, Buddhism in Asia, and humanism in the democratic world. This is surprising to many religious dogmatists who are convinced that unless you believe in a monotheistic religion you cannot be moral.

Fortunately, the American Constitution includes the First Amendment, which defends the separation of church and state, prohibits the establishment of a religion, guarantees freedom of conscience and the free exercise of religious beliefs or none. Though often quoted in principle the First Amendment is often violated in practice. For example, the Constitution explicitly prohibits any religious test for public office. Yet few candidates are courageous enough to admit that they are religious nonconformists. A quasi-official doctrine of religious piety pervades public life; and most candidates feel it necessary to profess a religious creed and to "God bless" America repeatedly.

Secular humanists - atheists and agnostics - have deep conviction; yet they are often afraid to express them publicly. They are good citizens, many lead exemplary moral lives, and many have contributed significantly to society. Many famous men and women - philosophers and poets, scientists and artists - were freethinkers: Socrates, Epicurus, Hypatia, Spinoza, Voltaire, Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln, Hume, Kant, Shakespeare, Shelly, Einstein, Bertrand Russell, Simone de Beauvoir, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Robert Ingersoll, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Clarence Darrow, Margaret Sanger, John Dewey, and others. And many ordinary men and women have shared their convictions.

In the major institutions of American society - the corporations and unions, the universities and foundations - few leaders will admit to their religious skepticism. In organizations as diverse as the Boy Scouts atheists are explicitly denied membership; they are not considered of sufficient "moral fiber." High school atheist groups need to fight for the right to exist, though there are thousands of Bible clubs. Public meetings, high school and college graduation ceremonies, official breakfast meetings, quasi-public gatherings, and sports contests begin and end with prayers and invocations - without any hesitation of offending nonbelievers in their midst. This occurs, even though we are a Secular Republic and the government is supposed to be neutral about religion, neither favoring nor disfavoring one or another. Moreover, the laws often discriminate against secular humanists. For example, in most of the states of the Union, humanist leaders are not allowed to officiate at marriage ceremonies; whereas religious clergy have the unquestioned right to do so. The media very rarely if ever will portray secular humanists or atheists in positive terms; yet religious leaders from John Paul to Billy Graham are lionized, with nary a word of criticism.

The democratic movement for equal rights has made enormous progress in recent years. It has been made more and more inclusive, applying to racial and religious minorities, feminists, the handicapped, the aged, abused children, and gay people. Is it not time that the rights of religious dissenters also be appreciated. If society deplores anti-Black, anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, or anti-gay talk, why should it not also deplore anti-atheist vilification? Is it not time that we fight back? Let us declare: "We are secular humanists, atheists, and agnostics and proud of it! We demand equal access and equal rights.”

RELIGION & HEALTH:

––NEW REPORTS COVER OLD GROUND...

By Kevin Courcey RN

Two medical reports published this month deserve a more critical view than they will receive in the press. The first, by John A. Astin, et al, was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine and funded by a grant from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. It consists of a literature review of studies on "distant healing," including both remote, intercessory prayer and Therapeutic Touch.

The authors admit that methodological limitations in the research thrived "make it difficult to draw definitive conclusions about the efficacy of distant healing," nevertheless, they assert that since 57%(n=3D13) of these studies showed some positive response to at least one measured variable, the interventions must warrant further study. The studies they reviewed, however, do not support such a conclusion.

Only two of the five reviewed studies on prayer claimed positive results reaching significance: Harris' CCU study and Byrd's cardiac inpatient study. In the Harris study, the authors measured 33 different variables and found no significant difference between the prayer group and the control group. It was only when the researchers imposed an arbitrary global "hospital course" rating scale on the data that they were able to "discover" a small positive response in the prayer group. As reported in the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine, however, five preexisting medical conditions have been shown to have been over-represented in the control group in Harris study.This could easily account for the difference between the groups.

The Byrd study also failed to adequately control for preexisting conditions. Yet, both studies were judged by Astin's review as showing significant positive results for prayer.

Several of the Therapeutic Touch (TT) studies reviewed by Astin claimed positive results, but when taken as a group, they present a clear picture of the randomness of results one would expect to achieve by chance or placebo response alone. In fact, in a series of five studies conducted by a single researcher the conflicting results runthe gamut of significant response to treatment, no response to treatment, and significant response to placebo. This wide variation in results is to be expected when measuring non-efficacious treatments.

The second report being published is yet another "review" of previous studies, this time with a focus on the impact of church attendance,religiosity and personal prayer on health. Despite the lead author's contention that he "approached the analysis with a healthy measure of skepticism," Michael McCullough is a well known supporter of this genre. He is the primary researcher at the National Institute for Healthcare Research, an organization funded by the Templeton Foundation, which is dedicated to documenting only positive links between spirituality and health. The studies, many of which have already been critiqued as using flawed research methods and arriving at unjustified conclusions, do not add up to support for a link between religiosity and health.

A major problem with both Astin's review of distant healing, and McCullough's review of religiosity and health, is that they appear to believe that if they cite enough studies, even if they are flawed,they will eventually build a case for prayer or church attendance having a positive link to health. But if a study is flawed in its methodology, you simply cannot trust its results; even if you have 28 other flawed studies saying something similar.

In summary, there is nothing new in either of these reports. Just are hashing of old material, and a new public relations drive to link religious belief and prayer to better health.

The studies mentioned in this report are: Astin, John A., et al. The Efficacy of "Distant Healing": A Systematic Review of Randomized Trials. Annals of Internal Medicine 2000;132: 903-910.

Byrd, RC. Positive therapeutic effects of intercessory prayer in a coronary care unit population. South Med. J. 1988;81:826-829.

Courcey, Kevin M. An Analysis of "A Randomized, Controlled Trial of the Effects of Remote, Intercessory Prayer on Outcomes in Patients Admitted to the Coronary Care Unit." Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine 2000;in print.

Harris, William S., et al. A Randomized, Controlled Trial of the Effects of Remote, Intercessory Prayer on Outcomes in Patients Admitted to the Coronary Care Unit. Archives of Internal Medicine1999;159:2273-2278.

McCollough, Michael. Religious Involvement and Mortality: AMeta-Analytic Review. Health Psychology. 2000;Vol 19, No. 3:211-222.

For further information:

http://www.americanatheist.org/spr97/T2/faithhealing.html

http://www.americanatheist.org/aut98/T2/courcey.html

Bible's Second Coming

By Craig Timberg,Washington Post

CHILHOWIE, Va.––Derrek Martin's worn black Bible is a source of inspiration to him, God's own word revealed and true. And for a few months at the public high school here in this Southwest Virginia town, it was also his textbook.

Martin, 18, and the 41 other students who have completed Bible history courses at Chilhowie High School are part of a national experiment aimed at returning the Bible to public schools, decades after educators, fearing the wrath of the U.S. Supreme Court, tossed it out.

A growing number of educators and interest groups agree that teaching about the Bible and other religious texts is vital to a well-rounded education. But watchdog groups argue that such courses can tread perilously close to government-sponsored religious indoctrination, which the U.S. Constitution forbids. The line is thin, they say, between teaching about the Bible and teaching from the Bible.

The controversy is a bit of a mystery to Martin and his classmates. This town of 2,000 is square in the Bible Belt. The principal of Chilhowie High says not only are there no Muslims, Hindus or Jews to offend; among 440 students, there is not a single Catholic.

To Martin, who plans to attend a Bible college in the fall, nothing could be more natural than high school classes on the Old and New Testaments. He attended with several friends from his youth group at Chilhowie Baptist Church, and teaching the class was his youth pastor there, added part time to the high school faculty.

"I definitely learned as much in that class as I learned in my whole life about the Bible," Martin said.

The class memorized the names and order of the Bible's books and completed a chart detailing the 36 miracles attributed to Jesus. Students wrote in a journal for 10 minutes a day about the meaning of Bible passages and took exams with such problems as, "List the six proofs that the Bible is God's word." And "God is supreme ruler and has given man free choice. This shows that God is: A. Omniscient, B. Good, C. Sovereign, D. Merciful."

As for the Bible's literal truth -- Jesus walking on water, Moses parting the Red Sea -- there was no disclaimer, no debate.

"I don't think there was anybody in the class who ever questioned it ...whether those things happened or not," Martin said.

If they did, their teacher, Fred Conley, was ready with an answer.

"The Bible says [Jesus] was born of a virgin; that's how we teach that," he explained one recent evening in his office at Chilhowie Baptist. "They [the school board] chose this as the textbook," he added, putting his left hand on his own worn Bible. "So when it comes to teaching what could be debatable issues, you just go with what the textbook says."

The National Bible Association and the Freedom Forum's First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University issued a report on "The Bible and Public Schools" providing guidelines on how to offer "objective, academic" courses about religion without violating the Constitution. Among the conclusions were that public schools should teach about religion but that history courses using the Bible as the main textbook are hard to keep within constitutional bounds.

"Most Bible electives being taught in the South right now are probably unconstitutional," said Charles C. Haynes, of the First Amendment Center. "There hasn't been a strong tradition in most of these states of doing it right.... Evangelicals don't want kids to know there's all this scholarly debate about things that they consider revealed truth."

But the teenagers taking the course in Chilhowie believe there's another reason most public schools in and around cities such as Washington don't teach the Bible.

"The nation has gotten so far away from God that they don't want to hear it," said Mike Martin, also 18 and not a relative of Derrek Martin.

The students and teachers here are wary pioneers, enthusiastic about their program but afraid that outsiders will seek to shut it down. Their fears are not baseless. For in teaching the Bible, Chilhowie High has stepped into one of the nation's most enduring battles, between those who seek to keep religion out of public schools and those who believe no education is complete without it.

Advocates call the Bible a foundational text of Western history, art and literature and say students today routinely miss or misunderstand biblical references. Teachers are reluctant to explain, they say, out of fear of provoking a lawsuit.

Courses on the Bible remain rare but are growing more popular, particularly in southeastern states. The push for them is being led by a North Carolina-based group called the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, which reports there are elective Bible classes in 116 school districts in 29 states, including Maryland and Virginia.

The group, saying it fears unwanted publicity for the schools, refuses to name the districts where courses on the Bible are taught, but Surry County, southeast of Richmond, plans to teach a Bible history and literature class next year, based in part on material provided by the national council.

Carroll County, Md., outside Baltimore, has taught an elective high school course called "The Bible in Literature and in Art" for two decades with little controversy. Watchdog groups say classes on the Bible as literature are more easily kept within constitutional bounds than ones teaching the Bible as history because literary interpretations don't depend on the literal truth of a text.

Smyth County, home to Chilhowie and one other high school teaching Bible classes, has based its one-semester elective history courses on the Old and New Testaments on the curriculum written by the national council.

That curriculum, said Elizabeth Ridenour, president of the national council, is crafted to remain within the law, and she expressed frustration at the controversy that has often dogged her group's efforts.

"We go way beyond the call of duty making sure there's no indoctrination,"she said. "How can anybody be against an elective course teaching the greatest book in all time?"

But First Amendment groups say it's not that simple. In 1997, People For the American Way, based in Washington, and the American Civil Liberties Union successfully sued a Florida school district that was using a curriculum based on the national council's, forcing changes. The Georgia attorney general warned against similar courses in that state.

The Bible classes have met with little controversy in Chilhowie, where a visitor coming off Interstate 81 is greeted by a picture of giant praying hands hanging from a Christian bookstore. The community is so stable that four of five Chilhowie students have at least one parent who attended the high school, says Principal H. Wayne Trivette.

But Christian activists in town trace a broad moral decline to the Supreme Court decisions in 1962 and 1963 abolishing teacher-led prayer and devotional Bible reading in public school. They say those decisions have led to higher crime, growing disrespect for elders and soaring rates of drug abuse and abortions.

"Even here, it's very obvious. You can't keep violence and drugs from even the remotest areas," said Margaret Reasor, who led the effort to bring the Bible courses to Smyth County after learning of similar efforts elsewhere while at a national religious conference several years ago=2E

"We need to equip our kids with the means to distinguish right and wrong."

That seems to have worked, say those who have taken the Bible course. "The purpose was to study it, like you would any other book," said Chilhowie student Justin Grinstead, 18. "But you couldn't help but grow spiritually."

Yet even in Chilhowie, some worry that a Bible class in a public school can easily cross the line, offering too much moral and spiritual guidance.

Trivette, the high school principal, has decided to replace Conley after two years of teaching the Bible courses. Although Conley never crossed the line into preaching, Trivette said, he worried about Conley's dual role as teacher and youth pastor. The new teacher will be a full-time member of the social studies faculty who took some Bible courses in college.

"I don't care how good you are; if you teach history, some of your idealism and beliefs are going to seep in," Trivette said. "I would consider this the middle of the Bible Belt, which is good in some ways because it gives these kids a belief system.

"You have to be careful that someone doesn't lead them," he added. "They're very malleable at this point."

© 2000 The Washington Post Company

Lieberman's Tyranny

of the Majority...

an editorial by Paul Kurtz

To paraphrase Republican Presidential candidate George W. Bush's slogan, “No Child Should Be Left Behind,” I say, “No American should be left behind when it comes to being represented by our national leaders.” But that is what is happening this year to those Americans who are not “religiously correct.”

The millions of Buddhists, Hindus and other religious people of Asian traditions, as well as Native Americans and the 11 percent of us who do not believe in any religion are clearly being left behind in this year's Presidential campaign. Both Gore and Bush are publicly calling for Judeo-Christian views and values to be imposed in America's public schools and government. Both major candidates are calling for the tax dollars of all citizens to be used to fund faith-based service organizations.

But the most vociferous voice of all belongs to Vice-Presidential candidate Joe Lieberman. As he barnstorms across the country he consistently talks about the need to inject Judeo-Christian traditions and values into public life. He told a Detroit crowd during a recent campaign swing through the Midwest that, “As a people, we need to reaffirm our faith and renew the dedication of our nation and ourselves to God and God's purposes.”

Lieberman is honorary chairman of the Center for Jewish and Christian Values, part of an organization that has repeatedly scapegoated those of the left for America's moral shortcomings. Lieberman also has a long history of blaming Hollywood and the media for the nation's family problems. Fixing blame on one small segment of the citizenry is an inherently negative and dangerous political tactic.

Lieberman speaks time and again of the need to officially instill Judeo-Christian values into public school classrooms and our government. It seems to be a popular message in many places. People ask, “What's wrong with a politician expressing his faith on the campaign trail?” That common question shows that we as a people are forgetting the dangers that come from mixing church and state.

When a person's ideology matters as much or more than his qualifications for office, we end up with officeholders who use their positions to serve one segment of society rather than to serve the people. But even if we forget about the history of the Dark Ages, the Inquisition and the Crusades, we Americans only need look at the most religious nations in the world today to make it clear where we might be heading if one's belief system is the criterion for holding office.

In Jerusalem, the city that is home to three major world religions, tyranny of the religious majority is an ugly and deeply rooted part of the culture. In Northern Ireland, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, India and many other nations, the recent rise of religion has been accompanied by a rise in the tyranny of the majority, sometimes in cruel and violent ways.

While every individual in public and private life has the right to his or her own opinion on matters of belief or unbelief when it comes to religion, to consistently inject one's faith into a political campaign brings the danger of moving the nation into a kind of religious McCarthyism that could have people asking candidates directly or indirectly, “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the wrong religious viewpoint?”

This year's campaign is becoming a low water mark for those of us who choose reason over revelation, science over dogma and religious dissent over orthodoxy. Recent polls have borne this out, showing more bigotry against non-religious people than anyone else, including such historical targets of hate messages as African-Americans and gays and lesbians.

At the very least, Lieberman should resign his post as de facto spokesman for a group that has a track record that clearly has been willing to scapegoat those who are not of the religious majority. I challenge him to represent all Americans rather than only those who are in the majority.

(Roder did the following review in the 9/00 Issue of Figleaves, the news-letter of The Free Inquiry Group of Cincinnati.)

DECONSTRUCTING JESUS by Robert M. Price (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2000)

The concept and reality of a first century person Christ is taken apart by a very careful and detailed examination of all the extant writings about his life. The present book covers the same ground.as Who Wrote the New Testament? by Burton Mack . In fact, Price refers to the earlier author’s writings throughout to distinguish his insights from Mack's findings. On the whole I prefer the present book. Price's thoughts are more clearly stated than Mack’s. Price uses many metaphors and examples from later Christianity and from other religions to illustrate brilliantly what he thinks may have happened.

At first there was a collection of sayings of a sage. Later came the revelations of Wisdom; both can be recognized only by inference, or seen in the Gnostic writings found at Nag Hammadi in 1945. Later came a third type of pregospel, a wonder-laden hero biography of great deeds. None of these writings were without precedent among writings of the period, Indeed, Price comments: “The ancient Mediterranean world was hip deep in religions centering on the death and resurrection of a savior god. Usually these religions and their rites measured the yearly renewal of nature....But the myths of each such gods supplied the motivation for the fare and triumph of the savior, one that made sense in the native context. (p. 86) Titus, it is quite credible that writings which referred to a variety of different persons, sages, or prophets became a melange which found its final form in the New Testament only in the fourth century. Price describes the gospels as a mix and match project (p. 42 ff.) in which Christians combined what they liked from the various genre pieces to fashion the gospels we have.

The earliest recorded sayings are ascribed to a wandering sage, a type of Socratic figure, an itinerant cynic. This man may have been not unlike many other Pharisee Rabbis of the last century BCE, and many of his teachings may have entered into rabbinic Judaism after the Jewish War. His followers, the Jewish Jesus people may have fled to Galilee after the destruction of the Temple.

The Christ myth, according to Price, was a development of the diaspora, At issue was the condition under which righteous gentiles could join the synagogue. While many admired the community of Judaism, they felt god’s requirement of circumcision and the dietary laws was an excessive burden. As Price interprets it, Christ sacrificed himself so that these requirements could be lifted. Jesus was crucified in order that Paul and the gentiles could share bread and table.

This “watered down, more marketable version that made conversion too cheap and only a halfway measure” was unacceptable to the Jews of Palestine. In this way, the new cult gradually drifted to a parting of the ways from Judaism into a new religion. Christians then found a need to explain, why the original followers of this god had lost his favor, and why the Hebrew Scriptures should apply to them rather than the Jews.

At the end we are left with a mishmash of stories, a combination of tales, which the author compares to the stories told of other ancient heroes, of a Heracles or a Dionysus. Let me quote the final paragraph of the conclusion. (p260)

“The gospels’ Jesuses are each complex syntheses of various other, earlier, Jesus characters. Same of these may have been reflections of various messianic prophets and revolutionaries, others the fictive counterparts of itinerant charismatics, and still others historicizations of mythical Corn Kings and Gnostic Aions. I think it is an open question whether a historical Jesus had anything to do with these Jesuses, much less the Jesuses of the gospels. Each is.the figurehead, the totem, of a particular kind of Jesus community or Christ cult, and we will never whether and to what extent each community reflects a remembered Jesus opposed to a Jesus who is a concretization of its own beliefs and values.”

Christians insist the gospels tell a historical reality. Price and his fellow historians peel apart the classical literature to examine the various stories. There is no way a historical Jesus can be found behind the legends or even whether one ever existed.

Your editor just finished this book and would like to add a few thoughts to Roder’s perceptive, accurate review.

In his introduction, Price, who is professor of biblical criticism at the Center for Inquiry Institute (an arm of the Council for Secular Humanism) and the token atheist in the Jesus Seminar, says the following about the historicity of Jesus problem.

“The historical Jesus (if there was one) might well have been a messianic king, or a progressive Pharisee, or a Galilean shaman, or a magus, or a Hellenistic sage. But he cannot very well have been all of them at the same time. Attempts, such as [John Dominic] Crossan's, to combine several of these portraits only demonstrate how arbitrary the procedure is. The most even of critical scholars studying Jesus are at least liberal Christians, and one suspects they cannot bring themselves to stop at agnosticism about the historical Jesus. ‘He might have been this, he might have been that. We don't know for sure.’ No, one suspects that even the radicals of the Jesus Seminar still need a single Jesus to function as a religious totem: ‘One Lord, one faith, one baptism’ (Eph. 4:5). Thus they will choose one possible Jesus and promote him as the ideal for the church to follow. Or they will, like Crossan, preserve as many of the newly reconstructed Jesus slices as they can by gluing them into a new pie. But this will not work. And once one accepts that sad conclusion, the implications are striking indeed.

“The Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles... all had in common some form of Docetism, a superspiritual, nakedly mythic view whereby Jesus Christ was a pure spirit, merely sporting the illusion of a fleshly body. This he needed in order to communicate with flesh-bound humans, but actual incarnation was out of the question, since many early Christians viewed the body as far too sinful for Jesus to have had one. So he only seemed to. In this, he was like the Olympian gods who might appear in any of a thousand forms. Zeus appeared as a bull, a shower of gold coins, a swan, an old man, and so on. Athena might appear as a crone or a warrior maid. This meant that the gods were beyond gross bodies of flesh. Even so, in the Acts of John, Jesus appears in different guises to the brothers James and John in the very same moment. One sees him as a beardless youth, while the other beholds a graybeard sage. Then they rub their eyes and see two more different images! To John, Jesus appears differently at different moments. Scholars call this motif ‘the polymorphousness of the savior.’ Again, it is the hallmark of Docetism: to have many forms is to have no true form at all.

“Now, obviously no modern scholar believes Jesus was a bodiless ghost. And yet the theological mytheme of docetic polymorphousness is surprisingly relevant to the contemporary discussion of the historical Jesus. Call it a parable. Because in the same way that a Jesus who could take so many forms so readily had no real form to begin with, we may say that a ‘historical Jesus’ capable of being portrayed with nearly equal plausibility as a magician, a revolutionary, a Cynic sage, an apocalyptic prophet, and so on, has no true and certain form at all! The various scholarly reconstructions of Jesus cancel each other out. Each sounds good until you hear the next one. The inevitable conclusion is that even if there was a historical Jesus who actually walked the earth two thousand years ago, there is no historical Jesus any more! The original is irrecoverable....”

I think Price makes sense. Let me give an example of the metaphors that Christian scholars resort to when asked point blank about Jesus’ historicity. Last June, the guest speaker at the meeting of the Atheists and Other Freethinkers (in Sacramento Cal.) was Dr. Robert Moon, one of Price’s co-participants in the Jesus Seminar and a retired Methodist minister. He said that while there is no proof for a historical Jesus, “it was like looking at a wake on the water and inferring the existence of a ship.” As someone who has spent a fair amount of time on the water, let me say that if you see a wake, you can see the cause. If you can’t, you haven’t any certainty that you’re looking at a wake at all. Perhaps it’s just a confused sea that you are trying to see a pattern in. This latter is I think a good metaphor of what Christian Jesus scholarship is all about.

I found Price’s book fascinating, and wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone with an interest in the subject. Other books on the subject that I found interesting are:

Jesus: One Hundred Years Before Christ by Alvar Ellegard, Overlook Press NY 1999. This argues that if there was a Jesus, he lived many years before the writings of the New Testament.

The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity begin with a Mythical Christ? by Earl Doherty, Canadian Humanist Publications, Ontario 1999. This is an easy to grasp––but scholarly––detailed summary of the evidence against a historical Jesus.

Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium by Bart D. Ehrman, Oxford Univ. Press, NY, 1999. Although the author ends up doing what Price criticizes as reconstructing Jesus to an image of one’s liking, there is much interesting scholarly comment on what we know of the times and people. Ehrman was this year’s invited speaker at the annual conference on religion and public life sponsored by the University of South Carolina.

Groups without shame...

by Dave Peterson

Under the rubric IT IS TIME TO STAND UP AND BE COUNTED! The American Family Association––Donald Wildmon’s right wing religious group––has begun a national campaign “to help preserve our religious freedoms. At the next school football game, immediately following the national anthem, we encourage you to help start a tradition in our community by joining others in praying the Lord's Prayer. At football games at many schools, freedom-loving people are already doing just that!

“We are not asking that the prayer be spoken on the stadium speaker or that any school official be involved in any manner. We are simply asking that fans, students, cheerleaders, team members, and others in attendance––from both teams––join together in a “spontaneous” verbal praying of the Lord's Prayer immediately following the national anthem.

“Please pray in a spirit of humility and understanding.”

I would guess those quotes around spontaneous are the equivalent of wink-wink. I’m always reminded when I see words deliberately misused like this of Humpty Dumpty’s dialogue with Alice:

“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knockdown argument’”, Alice objected.

“When I use a word”, Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean––neither more nor less.”

“The question is, “ said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master––that is all.”

And that’s what matters to these people––power, and being the ones to impose their religion on the public at large. They often complain that those of us who want religion out of the public square are no different. The fact remains, though, that we are not trying to force atheism or humanism on them. No one suggests reading Bertrand Russell over the loudspeaker at a football game. We just want a public square where all the public feels included. One where a certain percent of the populace feels they are the receiving end of a lecture, or being force fed nonsense under government sponsorship is not the sort of public square appropriate for a democracy.

The religious right’s loutish behavior in this matter of public prayer, their ill mannered, in your face religiosity exposes them for what they are. Theocrat wannabes. They need to be constantly reminded that their behavior is inappropriate in a free country, and shows only their boorish side.

BODY OF EVIDENCE SHOWS SHROUD OF TURIN IS A FORGERY... From CSICOP

Amherst, NY (August 16, 2000)––The Shroud of Turin was unveiled for a rare two-month public viewing on Saturday, August 12, in Turin, Italy. Archbishop Severino Poletto has assured reporters that “the church is not afraid of science.” He and other caretakers of the shroud say they are open to a scientific reexamination of the cloth. But will any one test settle the dispute over the shroud's history? Most researchers are eager to test hypotheses that focus on one narrow aspect of the shroud. One promotes the pollen evidence, another questions the radiocarbon dating, a third looks for proofs in the weave of the cloth.

Joe Nickell, Senior Research Fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), points out that even definitive tests are vulnerable to partisan disputes. Scientists insist that the 1988 radiocarbon dating--performed at three independent labs--demonstrates once and for all that the shroud is a 14th century forgery. However, those hoping to buttress the cloth's claim to authenticity have suggested that bacteria or scorching from the 1532 fire may have contaminated the sample.

Nickell believes that examining the preponderance of evidence and demonstrating how each piece supports the other makes the strongest case. He has employed this method in his research and is convinced that the shroud is indeed a medieval forgery. Nickell is author of Inquest on the Shroud of Turin (Prometheus 1998)-a study that relies on evidence from the Catholic Church's own documents and the gospel account of St. John, in addition to the "hard" scientific evidence from chemical, microscopic and radiocarbon analyses . For Nickell, documentary and forensic findings corroborate each other and point to one answer. “The preponderance of evidence” says Nickell “leads to the conclusion that the shroud is the work of a medieval artisan.”

The records of the Turin shroud start abruptly in the 14th century A.D. The earliest document is a bishop's report to Pope Clement VII, dated 1389=2E The report states that the cloth had been created as part of a faith-healing scheme, “the truth being attested by the artist who had painted it.”

Samples of what was claimed to be blood failed a battery of tests in 1973=2E In the late 1970s, forensic microanalyst Walter McCrone, an expert in examining the authenticity of documents and paintings, identified the “blood” of the shroud as red ocher and vermilion tempera paint, and concluded that the entire image was painted.

The 1988 shroud carbon dating--conducted by laboratories in Zurich, Switzerland, Oxford, England, and the University of Arizona--yielded close results, giving a date range of A.D.1260-1390. This range coincides with the forger's confession in the report to Pope Clement. Claims that the carbonating was flawed ignore the fact that the shroud would have to be contaminated with twice its own weight in contaminating material to push the cloth's age back to the first century A.D.

Finally, the Turin shroud contradicts the account of Jesus' burial in the Gospel of John. In the Greek New Testament, Jesus is said to have been wrapped in othonia––strips of linen, not a whole linen sheet. (John 19:40 and 20:6-7). John also says that Jesus' body was buried in a large quantity of aloes and myrrh: no trace of either spice has been found on the shroud.

“Defenders of the shroud typically start with their desired conclusion and work backward to the evidence; science begins with the evidence and proceeds forward to a conclusion,” says Nickell. Together, the facts corroborate each other in rejecting the claim that the shroud dates to the time of Jesus.

Joe Nickell, Ph.D., is CSICOP's Senior Research Fellow and an expert on the Shroud of Turin. He is author of Inquest on the Shroud of Turin (Prometheus 1983, 1998) and numerous articles for Skeptical Inquiry.

QUOTES FROM VOLTAIRE...

“Christianity is the most ridiculous, the most absurd and bloody religion that has ever infected the world.”

letter to Frederick the Great

“Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one.”

letter to Frederick, April 6, 1767

“You seem solicitous about that pretty thing called soul. I do not protest. I know nothing of it, nor whether it is, nor what it is, nor what it shall be. Young scholars and priests know all of that perfectly. For my part, I am but a very ignorant fellow.

letter to James Boswell, February 11, 1765

“The truths of religion are never so well understood as by those who have lost the power of reasoning.”

Philosophical Dictionary, 1764

“Atheism is the vice of a few intelligent people.” ––ibid

“Which is more dangerous, fanaticism or atheism? Fanaticism is certainly a thousand time more deadly; for atheism inspires no bloody passion, whereas fanaticism does.... Fanaticism causes crimes to be committed.” ––ibid

“Nothing can be more contrary to religion and the clergy than reason and common sense.” ––ibid

“With regard to the Christians, assuredly their greatest and most venerable saints were those whose brains had sustained the severest shock.” ––ibid

“Superstition, born of paganism, and adopted by Judaism, invested the Christian Church from earliest times. All the fathers of the Church, without exception, believed in the power of magic.” ––ibid

“Every sensible man, every honest man, must hold the Christian sect in horror. But what shall we substitute in its place? You say. What? A ferocious animal has sucked the blood of my relatives. I tell you to rid yourselves of this beast, and you ask me what you shall put in its place?”

––What Great Men Think of Religion, Ira D. Cardiff

“I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: ‘Oh Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.’ And God granted it.”

––letter to M. Damiliville, May 16, 1767

“I know a man who is firmly persuaded that, at the death of a bee, its buzzing ceases.”

––Views of Religion, Rufus K. Noyes

All of the above from 2000 Years of Disbelief: Famous People with Courage to Doubt, by James A. Haught

Humor...

by Dave Peterson

This is not religiously themed but it’s true, and mildly amusing, if I do say so myself. I wrote it for the Beaufort Gazette.

MOVE OVER TOMY, THE DR. IS IN.

Several weeks ago at the local Belk’s, while going through a 50 percent off rack of shirts, I found a short sleeve seersucker sport shirt suiting my taste that seemed well made. Several days ago, while wearing it for the first time, I noticed a small cloth tape sewn above the sleeve hem with a logo of some sort embroidered on it. Now, I’m not much for wearing clothing with the brand name emblazoned on it. Still, an understated “Eddie Bauer” in a shade of color so close to that of the garment that it’s hard to spot doesn’t bother me. This logo, though, had me not believing my eyes.

I took the shirt off and looked at the label: “Dr. Lucky’s Authentic Clothing”, made in Saudi Arabia. It thus assuaged any fears I might have that the shirt was unauthentic clothing. Be that as it may, it also explained, sort of, the sleeve logo which read simply, “DR UCKYS”. I now wonder how many other Beaufortonians are owners of this unique, conversation piece, marque of clothing. It may never have the cachet of “Polo” or “Izod”, but we proud wearers of Dr. Ucky’s have our own little symbol of where we stand in up-to-date fashion awareness. I think, though, that Dave Barry would have to agree, Dr. Uckys would probably not make a good name for a rock band.


For more information, please visit our Homepage at LOWCOUNTRY.HUMANISTS.NET.