Archived Issue of the Separationist

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


ISSUE: November 2000

Edited by Dave Peterson


Contents:

Sunday, November 19 at 4:00 p.m.

Dr. John Guthrie will discuss his new book

Within the Dragon’s Lair: A Doctor’s Drug War Memoir

For some time, Dr. John Guthrie has been a member of the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry. You may remember meeting him and his wife, Natasha, at the December, 1998 potluck meeting at the Silverman-Fratepietro house. You might have seen him at our meeting last month. But the fact is, none of us has really known John Guthrie.

His fascinating new book, Within the Dragon’s Lair: A Doctor’s Drug War Memoir, relates a horrific ordeal experienced by a respected physician charged with a draconian number of drug infractions. It also offers a compelling reproach to the current U.S. “war” against drugs=2E

Guthrie came under initial scrutiny by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in the early 1990’s after making three trips to Bogota, Colombia to donate used medical equipment to colleagues. Just visiting that country so mired in illegal drug production thrust him into the DEA’s radar screen.

Subsequently, in 1995 a squad of armed police abruptly raided Guthrie’s successful diet clinic in Spartanburg, South Carolina during business hours, terrifying staff and patients. The police seized thousands of medical records and computer files. Although Guthrie cooperated fully with the authorities, at midnight two weeks later another squad of police officers and Army National Guardsmen stormed his house with drawn pistols, arresting him while his wife and toddler trembled in fear.

To find out what happened next, attend the November meeting—one of the most interesting ever presented by the SHL. Join us after the meeting for dinner and discussion at Vickery’s, a nearby restaurant.

Don't Support Intolerance

(In USA Today Oct. 12, 2000, Page 24A)

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) at the College of Charleston in South Carolina unanimously passed the following resolution, requesting the administration to withdraw the college from the United Way campaign:

"The Boy Scouts of America has taken a public stance of discrimination against homosexuals and atheists, prohibiting them from participating in the organization. The AAUP both condemns the Boy Scouts' position, and requests the College of Charleston to withdraw from participation in the United Way campaign until such time as the United Way either withdraws support from the Boy Scouts, or the Boy Scouts of America changes its discriminatory policy."

Though the Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts of America may continue to discriminate against gays and atheists because it is a private organization, I don't think public institutions should accommodate or actively encourage support for private discriminatory organizations. Just as the United Way would never assist the Ku Klux Klan or any other organization that openly discriminates against African-Americans, Catholics or Jews, I feel it should also not endorse discrimination against gays and atheists=2E

I hope the Boy Scouts eventually will become as tolerant as the Girl Scouts, who treat as equals lesbian and atheist girls. Who among you is willing to say that the Girl Scouts are not as morally straight as the Boy Scouts?

Herb Silverman

LIEBERMAN'S REMARKS INSULTING

By Herb Silverman

(In the material below, the italicized portion was published by the Washington Post on 31 Aug. The first paragraph was edited out. Herb's comments follow.

I applauded the nomination of Joe Lieberman for vice-president just as I had the election of Jack Kennedy, the first Catholic president. Both were signs of increased religious tolerance.

I was appalled by the incorrect and insulting statement of Joseph Lieberman as reported in the Aug. 28 Post: "The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion."

It is incorrect because Article 6 of the Constitution states that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust." Article 6 allowed me to successfully challenge in the state Supreme Court of South Carolina the unconstitutional provision that atheists not be allowed to hold public office. After a seven-year battle, I earned the right to become a notary public in South Carolina.

Mr. Lieberman's comments were also insulting to ethical and moral nontheists when he implied the solution to a stagnating moral life would be "as a people to reaffirm our faith." He also expressed the desire for us to discuss our faith in public. Were we all to follow his lead, Mr. Lieberman would quickly discover that there are more secular Jews like me in this country than there are Orthodox Jews like him. We cannot have freedom of religion without also guaranteeing freedom from religion.

The unpublished part of my letter is, in some ways, counter to the published. My applause was for diversity, for ending the unconscious assumption that prerequisites for the oval office must include being (1) white, (2) male, and (3) Protestant. The more counterexamples we begin to see, the more likely we will one day have even an acknowledged atheist as president.

However, there is a sharp contrast between candidate Kennedy in 1960 and candidate Lieberman in 2000. Kennedy assured voters that his religious beliefs would not affect his public policies, that his faith was a private matter. Politically, he was easing the concerns of Protestants who worried about being viewed as second-class citizens.

Lieberman tried to ease the concerns of superstitious voters everywhere when he said, "We'll be a healthier country if there's some discussion of how faith can raise up our values and make us a better country." Of course he was pandering mainly to the Judeo/Christian voters when he went on to say, "We're all children of the same God." He even wrapped himself around George Washington, whom he quoted as warning us "never to indulge in the supposition morality can be maintained without religion."

Lieberman did attempt to show some tolerance for the likes of us when he said, "Religion in my opinion can be, and in my opinion usually is, a source of good behavior. But two things: I know religious people who I consider not to be moral, and I also know people who are not religious who I consider to be extremely moral. So, you know, I'm talking here about probabilities."

Well, thanks, but no thanks, Sen. Lieberman! This is just the latest version of the racist comment, "Some of my best friends are black." How would it look for one of us to say, "Yeah, I've met a few bad atheists and even some good Christians, but most Christians suck?"

So what do we do? Lieberman has called for us to bring our faith (lessness?) into the marketplace of political ideas. I think we should take him up on this opportunity. For us to succeed, our Community of Reason must come out of its closet!

We can learn much from the gay rights movement. Though smaller in numbers than we, they have transformed our culture from one that assumed gays were child perverts to one where mainstream politicians march in gay pride parades. Millions of decent citizens are properly outraged that the Boy Scouts exclude gays, but most are not even aware that they also exclude atheists.

Whenever we hear a politician or anyone else equate faith with morality, we need to speak out--whether through a public forum, a letter to the editor, a request for equal time in the media. We must ask specific questions about why faith is good and whether one faith is better than another.

One of my favorite questions to religionists is what they would do differently if they stopped believing in God. I posed the question to a Southern Baptist minister in South Carolina during a debate in front of 800 mostly Southern Baptist people.

After a little hemming and hawing, he said that he was sometimes tempted by attractive women to cheat on his wife, but refrained because he loved Jesus and didn't want to hurt Him. I responded that I had similar temptations, but refrained because I loved my wife and didn't want to hurt her. The topic of the debate was "Can we be moral without God?" Even some of the Baptists present appreciated the morality of my humanistic approach.

I am amazed by the Biblical illiteracy of so many religionists--both of its history and its content. I have this fantasy of being at a prayer breakfast and saying, "Senator Lieberman, let us begin with Malachi 2:3: Behold, I will corrupt your offspring, and spread dung upon your faces, even the dung of your solemn feasts, and one shall take you away with it." Or "Governor Bush, let's read from 2 Kings 6:28-29: And the king said unto her, what aileth thee? And she answered, this woman said unto me, give thy son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow. So we boiled my son, and did eat him. And I said unto her on the next day, give thy son, that we may eat him: and she hid her son."

Of course we can quote countless immoralities from the "Good Book," but we have to be careful. Our goal should not be to ridicule, but to explain why we do not accept unquestioningly all that was written in a book some 2000 years ago. And to have a beneficial effect, we must also say what we are for, not merely what we are against.

We have a very positive message about our commitment to the application of reason, science and experience in order to better understand the universe and solve human problems. We need to demonstrate that our highest obligations are not to unknown gods, but to our families and communities, and that our morality is based on how our actions affect others. We need to explain why our creeds should not be more important than our deeds, why our dogmas should never override our compassion for others. Our goal should not be to convert (however wonderful a byproduct that might be), but simply to show that our "alternative lifestyle" is reasonable and must not be ignored or slighted.

Homosexuality not about Morality

(Published in the Beaufort Gazette 10/28/00)

The Gazette has published three letters in response to my advocating that the United Way defund the Boy Scouts. [See letter in the Sept. 2000 Separationist.] None address my questions and points, instead relying on a defense of the Scouts’ discrimination against homosexuals, a term none of the authors appears to understand.

Homosexuality is being sexually, romantically attracted to persons of the same sex. It is not, repeat, not a lifestyle, a practice of one or more sexual acts, a way of speaking or dressing, a vocational choice, or, importantly, a disposition to pedophilia. Not one example of any or all of these is common to millions of homosexuals. Further, all examples are found as behavior or disposition in millions of heterosexuals.

Brantley Harvey [once lieutenant governor of SC!] says, “avowed homosexuals do not provide a role model for scouts that is consistent with the Scout Oath and Law.” Harry Smythe says that homosexuals cannot be part of “our common identity.” That’s like saying left-handers can not be proper role models, or left-handers cannot be part of our common identity. Someone is bound to say that homosexuality and left-handedness have little in common, but that is not true.

Consider: Both traits have the following in common (I am indebted to Chandler Burr here): they are stable dimorphisms, expressed behaviorally. They exist in the form of two basic internal, invisible orientations, with 90% of the population accounting for one of these. History suggests that the incidence of the two different orientations has been constant for five millennia. You can’t tell the orientation just by looking at a person.

The trait is not a behavior, but a neurological orientation expressed, at times, behaviorally. Neither orientation is a disease or mental illness, nor are they pathological or chosen.

The orientations are detectable very early in childhood, probably defined by age two, and possibly before birth. Adoption studies show the trait is not environmentally rooted. Identical twins show a higher than average pairing of the same orientation. While there is no direct parent-offspring correlation for the two orientations, the minority one clearly “runs in families.” The minority orientation appears to be handed down by the mother. And, of course, both minority orientations have been the object of prejudice for all of recorded history.

William J. Carlson worries about pedophilia. Most pedophiles are heterosexuals. The Scouts do not bar women from being den mothers, nor does society bar them from teaching young boys because there is a remote chance that they will sexually abuse their charges, as in a well publicized case last year. His argument from anecdote does not hold up against reality.

Carlson also says that boys “learn the lessons of life [in Scouting] and are all the better for it.” Not so. In The New York Times (10/8/00), Kevin M. Cathcart of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund notes that the BSA anti-gay policy hurts all young people. “Having won the right to discriminate, the Boy Scouts teach children that discrimination is acceptable. Even worse, the organization stigmatizes gay youth, who already face widespread harassment and hostility and would benefit from the kind of supportive and welcoming environment the Boy Scouts can provide.”

To a large extent homophobia has religious roots. I must say that after much reading on the subject, I still do not understand why people think relevant whatsoever the views in the Bible of a semi-nomadic tribal group several millennia ago who did not even know that homosexual orientation existed--let alone understand its biological bases.

Homosexuality has nothing to do with being “morally straight.” To think otherwise, as the Scouts and the three letter writers do, is to ignore facts and twist the meaning of words. It is homophobia that is not morally straight, and the United Way should not condone it.

Dave Peterson

The Politicians' Patron

By Elesha Coffman, associate

editor of Christian History

On November 5, just in time for our presidential election, Pope John Paul II is set to propose Thomas More (1477-1535) as the patron saint for politicians, making him "a model and intercessor for all those who consider their political commitment as a choice of life." While exemplary in many respects, More is not quite a model for all seasons.

Aside from being the author of the satire Utopia, More is best known for opposing King Henry VIII's demand to be recognized as head of the English church. But that decision came at the end of a long and brilliant career. In his youth he was a bright student at Oxford, then a promising lawyer at Furnival's Inn, and almost a candidate for the priesthood; his good friend Erasmus wrote that "the one thing that prevented him from giving himself to that kind of life was that he could not shake off the desire of the married state."

More did marry (twice; his first wife died), and he pursued his legal career zealously, gaining royal favor along the way. He hit the top in 1529 when Henry named him chancellor, a position no layman had ever held.

The king greatly enjoyed More's company, often inviting himself over for dinner and taking long walks through More's gardens. He also liked More's theology--initially. When Henry was working on his defense of the seven sacraments, a refutation of Martin Luther, More assisted him as "a sorter-out and placer of the principal matters therein."

Later More was commissioned to respond to Luther's attack on Henry, publishing what one eighteenth-century divine called "the greatest heap of nasty language that perhaps was ever put together." (The Catholic Encyclopedia notes only "a certain amount that tastes unpleasant to the modern reader.") More called Luther an ape, an arse, a drunkard, a lousy little friar, a piece of scurf, a pestilential buffoon, and several other names I can't repeat for fear of tripping your Internet filter. For a time, both king and chancellor were equally alarmed by the encroachment of "evangelycalls" in England.

As chancellor More was charged with upholding religious order through the court system, a job he performed with relish. He gained a reputation for judging fairly and swiftly; in fact, he dispatched cases so quickly that on some days he ran out of work. Also, contrary to Protestant rhetoric of the time, he was not fond of torture and much preferred recantation to execution.

Even so, he ardently enforced heresy laws, often employing a network of spies and informants to track the activities of suspected Protestants. Further, he felt that those he executed were "well and worthily burned," proceeding straight from the pyre to eternal damnation. In his biography The Life of Thomas More Peter Ackroyd writes, "He epitomized, in modern terms, the apparatus of the state using its power to crush those attempting to subvert it. His opponents were genuinely following their consciences, while More considered them the harbinger of the devil's reign on earth."

The irony, of course, is that More was soon crushed as a subversive himself. For while More held a hard line on Protestants and radical reformers, King Henry began to like some of their ideas, especially the right––even the God-given responsi-bility––of a ruler to supervise the Christians in his realm. (At this point, only a tiny minority of Protestants advocated separation of church and state; most generally agreed with Luther's sentiments as expressed in To the Christian Nobility.)

With the 1534 Act of Supremacy, Henry broke with Rome and with More, who immediately resigned as chancellor. More tried to avoid the inevitable, dodging questions about his stance by simply declaring loyalty to the king, but he couldn't escape the charge of treason. Henry's last nod to their friendship was commuting More's sentence from hanging to beheading.

More's associates made much of his fortitude and grace at the end, noting that "his death was of a piece with his life. There was nothing in it new, forced or affected. He did not look upon the severing of his head from his body as a circumstance that ought to produce any change in the disposition of his mind." Earlier Erasmus had written of More that "none are so free of vice," "he seems born and made for friendship," and, "No one is less led by the opinions of the crowd, yet no one departs less from common sense."

Current politicians and observers give only slightly more qualified respect. As Clifford Davies, history fellow at Oxford's Wadham College, said, "In standing up for his principles he did quite a lot of nasty things including torturing heretics. He was a lawyer and he did use every trick in the book to try to avoid the consequences. Actually, he was quite an adept politician. But the fact is, he was executed for his principles, so why not make him a patron saint?"

(I think this is just the latest example of John Paul II's ethical tin ear. Ed.)

OPINION

(This was part of a news item in the PlanetOut daily e-mail (planetout=2Ecom). I thought it made a good guest editorial. Ed.)

Most legislators who oppose[hate crime] legislation, including [US House Speaker Dennis] Hastert, have argued that their reservations are principled. Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush, for example, said, "[A]ll crime is a hate crime. People, when they commit a crime, have hate in their heart. And it's hard to distinguish between one degree and another." According to HCPA [Hate Crimes Protection Act] opponents, the government should not be in the business of trying to discern motivation. A crime is a crime, and to treat one differently because of intent smacks of thought policing.

As good as it sounds in theory, that argument doesn't hold water. The government already is in the business of judging motivation. That's what distinguishes murder from manslaughter. In fact, motivation is the foundation of all our civil rights laws. A supervisor can fire a white woman because he thinks she has a bad attitude, but he can't fire her because she's white or because she's a woman. In either case, she gets fired; the only difference is in the supervisor's motivation.

Furthermore, if legislators actually oppose hate crimes legislation on principle, they should be fighting to take the existing laws off the books. There is already a national hate crimes statute (passed in 1968) that allows federal authorities to investigate and prosecute crimes committed against someone because of race, religion, or national origin. The HCPA would simply add gender, sexual orientation, and disability to the list. It would fly in the face of reason (not to mention statistics) to argue that these latter groups deserve or need less protection than the former ones=2E In fact, data shows that attacks against GLBT people are, on average, more violent than those against any other group.

Hate crimes laws can also be justified by looking at the effects of the acts. An attack motivated by prejudice harms not only the victim, but the entire group with which he or she is affiliated. Consider how many times you have shied away from showing affection with someone of the same sex in a public area because you feared harassment or worse.

But even if we agree that hate crimes are particularly invidious, it is fair to ask whether hate crimes laws actually do any good. There is no definitive data on this. Many jurisdictions do not collect statistics on hate crimes, and those that do use widely varying definitions of the violations that qualify. And underreporting is a huge problem, particularly for anti-gay crimes, since many victims do not want to be "outed" as gay. So trends are hard to track, and it remains unclear whether existing hate crimes laws have done anything to decrease the number of acts.

The fact is that anything that could be prosecuted as a hate crime is already illegal under other laws. (Wyoming doesn't have a hate crimes statute, but Matthew Shepard's killers were still charged with murder.) And it's hard to believe that the threat of extra punishment would deter someone from committing an already irrational crime.

However, hate crimes laws are important symbolically. They send a message that the nation views crimes motivated by homophobia as particularly reprehensible. While this alone is insufficient to significantly improve general attitudes towards GLBT people, it is the first step in doing so. Further, it recognizes in law for the first time that discrimination against gays and lesbians is on a par with discrimination against any other group. Once that principle is more widely accepted, it becomes much easier to argue for employment discrimination protections, adoption privileges, and even the right to marry.

(This last, of course, is the major reason the right wing,––normally the champion of the more stringent the punishments for criminals, the better,––wants no part of hate crime legislation. Ed.)

BOOK REVIEW

Tales of the Rational by Massimo Pigliucci

Reviewed by Herb Silverman

Massimo Pigliucci, the evolutionary biologist from the University of Tennessee who gave a wonderful talk to the SHL last year, has written this fine collection of skeptical essays about nature and science. The book is divided into four parts: philosophical tales, tales of science and reli= gion, creation tales, and personal tales.

In each essay, Massimo tries to fairly present all sides of an issue. He clearly explains his own point of view, and tries to convince the reader with rational and thoughtful arguments. He is a wonderful expositor and can give the non-scientist readers a reasonable feel for scientific concepts that they otherwise might not fully comprehend. He uses frequent interplay between religious, philosophical, and scientific approaches. Only near the end of the book, where he deals with tales at the frontier of science, you might find some abstract ideas a little difficult to appreciate.

Massimo carefully defines terms that many of us humanist/atheist types throw around as if they were interchangeable: rationalism, empiricism, skepticism, naturalism, realism, and materialism. But he knows how to put them in a context that enables us to make distinctions. For example, in espousing his point of view, he says that a reasonable person will approach any problem, not just scientific ones, with a healthy dose of empiricism (you want to know the facts), rationalism, (you want to think about such facts in a logical way), and skepticism (you want to avoid being too gullible).

He insists that skepticism should not simply be a negative position, but one of active investigation: a true skeptic is someone who does not believe until the evidence is favorable enough, but who actively searches for such evidence before rejecting a new idea. He sums up his educational philosophy succinctly: "Our educational system should strive to create a society of skeptics."

Nevertheless, Massimo has no absolutes, not even skepticism. He prefers scientific rationalism to scientific skepticism. The difference? Scientific rationalism goes beyond empirical science to logical philosophy informed by science. In other words, Massimo uses philosophy and logic to expand the scope of his inquiry. He needs this additional step in order to assert with reasonable confidence that no deities exist.

In the chapter entitled "Is religion good for you?", Massimo points out that some of our least pious founding fathers (Franklin, Paine, and Jefferson) still saw religion as necessary in a civil society. Though secular themselves, they felt that only religion could unite the masses and induce their submission to custom and law. Massimo maintains that many leaders view religion as Prozac for the masses-something that can make people happy and content regardless of the objective reality upon which such feelings may rest. He argues effectively that intrinsic to a belief in a supernatural power and its worship is a series of inevitable negative consequences that impact individuals and society.

However, I do think there is something to be said in favor of the "Religion as Prozac" analogy. Massimo is reluctant to concede that some people may indeed be better off with religion. I was amused by his disclaimer of the analogy when he pointed out that Prozac was not intrinsically bad because it can be of tremendous help for sick people. This reminded me of our own state senator Arthur Ravenel, who referred to the NAACP as the national association for the advancement of retarded people-and the next day apologized to retarded people!

Occasionally, Massimo puts religious people into too narrow a box. For instance, I disagree with his statement that, "Most people do not hesitate to believe in a completely self-contradictory God and allow such belief to guide their entire life." While I concede that, when asked, most will claim such beliefs, I hardly think their lives are so guided. Perhaps I am overly optimistic in presuming that many, if not most, theists are functional atheists. They may take some comfort in an imaginary afterlife, but make practical decisions independent of any deities.

Massimo describes what I think to be one of the most effective tools for weaning people away from religion and expanding our base. Though we think of ourselves as independent-minded secular individualists, he asserts that "The rationalist and humanist movement cannot limit itself to debunking and explaining. It has to provide a social network, a connection that people can use as an alternative to the mindless recitation of prayers on Sunday mornings."

Massimo nicely skewers many religious beliefs and other superstitions throughout the book, but he doesn't exempt science from criticism. He points out that many scientists are aware of the contradictions between a rationalist approach and a belief in God, but would rather keep it to themselves in order to avoid conflict and move ahead professionally. He also frequently cautions against the overuse of legitimate theories (like chaos or complexity) within science, as well as of their abuse outside science. Sometimes "applications" wander so far from rigorous intellectual exercise, it becomes downright nonsense.

The section on Massimo's debates with Duane Gish (one of the most prolific writers and debaters of the so-called Institute for Creation Research) and William Lane Craig (one of the most famous and articulate Christian apologists active today) is alone worth the price of the book. Massimo points out why such debates are necessary. If prepared scientists or philosophers don't debate, some unprepared ones will, which means that theists and creationists can have a field day making fun of poor opponents. The most important reason, he says, to hold a debate is to confuse people's minds. Too often people clutch onto absurd ideas simply because they are never challenged. The debate might encourage some to ask more questions, do more readings, and hopefully learn more about themselves and the world. Massimo also does a wonderful job explaining how Creationist arguments can be debunked, and in the process, show important distinctions between science and pseudo-science.

I do have a couple of minor quibbles, as any skeptic should, on this fine book. Massimo states Ockham's Razor as follows: If two explanations for the same phenomenon rely on a different number of assumptions, we should go with the one that requires the least number of hypotheses. In other words, he says, the simplest explanation is more likely to be correct. He needs to be more careful about this. He should point out that the quality, not just the quantity, of assumptions is important. For instance someone might incorrectly use Ockham's razor to say that "God did it!" is the simplest (a single assumption) explanation.

Massimo gives an excellent explanation for Type I and Type II errors that commonly arise in statistics. For any hypothesis, there is a danger of either rejecting a truth (Type I) or accepting a falsehood (Type II). The skeptic, for whom evidence is paramount, is more likely to make a Type I error, while the person of faith is more susceptible to a Type II error. However, he runs into trouble when he applies this to Pascal's Wager. He indicates that the probability of the existence of God is so small as to make such a belief worthless. However, even if there were a positive probability of God's existence, with an infinite payoff, such a belief would be worthwhile. For my take on Pascal's Wager, see the next article.

Overall, I found gems on almost every page of this terrific book and heartily recommend it. The book is available from Freethought Press and is published by the Atlanta Freethought Society, PO Box 813392, Smyrna, GA 30081.

SILVERMAN'S WAGER

by Herb Silverman

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) and Herb Silverman (1942-) have had two common interests: Mathematics, which led to our mutual profession, and Theology, which led to our respective wagers. Though a Christian, Pascal was also a doubter. In Number 233 of his Pensées he says, "If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible, since, having neither parts nor limits, He has no affinity to us. We are then incapable of knowing either what He is or if He is." Pascal later went on to say, "Reason can decide nothing here." He then concluded, in his now famous wager, that belief in God was the only rational choice to make.

Pascal's Wager: If God does not exist, one will lose nothing by believing in him; while if he does exist, one will lose everything by not believing.

Before stating my own wager, let me make a couple of comments about Pascal's. His first conditional statement could just as well refer to the Tooth Fairy or the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Were we to devote our entire life to such fruitless searches, we would be left with an unproductive and wasted life--certainly a loss. The second conditional statement is even more problematic. Pascal assumes the only existing god would be his Christian version--one who rewards believers with eternal bliss and punishes nonbelievers with eternal damnation. Moreover, it would be a god who either could not distinguish genuine from feigned belief or who would simply reward hypocrites for pretending a faith that they lack. I agree with Pascal that no god is comprehensible to us. But suppose, for the sake of argument, I posit the existence of a creator who actually cares about human beings and elects to spend an eternity with a chosen few. What selection criteria would such a Supreme Being adopt? I expect this divine scientist would prefer having a "personal relationship" with the same kind of folks I would––intelligent, honest, rational people who require some evidence before holding a belief. Pascal would undoubtedly agree with me that our most promising students ask provocative questions until convinced by rational arguments, while our dullest students mindlessly accept what they think we want them to believe. Wouldn't a supreme teacher concur? My kind of Supreme Being would favor eternal discourse with a Carl Sagan over a Pat Robertson. Such a superior intellect would presumably be bored by and want little contact with humans who so confidently draw unwarranted conclusions about his unprovable existence. This brilliant designer would be as appalled as I am by those who profess and glorify blind faith. With that kind of deity in mind, I modestly make my own wager. It is almost a plagiarism. I change none of Pascal's words, except that his last "not" now appears earlier in the wager. But what a difference a "not" makes!

Silverman's Wager: If God does not exist, one will lose nothing by not believing in him; while if he does exist, one will lose everything by believing.

HUMOR

Goofs from Church announcements

•Bertha Belch, a missionary from Africa will be speaking tonight at Calvary Memorial Church in Racine. Come tonight and hear Bertha Belch all the way from Africa.

•PRAYER & FASTING Conference. "The cost for attending the Fasting and Prayer conference includes meals".

•Miss Charlene Mason sang "I will not pass this way again" giving obvious pleasure to the congregation. •"Ladies, don't forget the rummage sale. It's a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Don't forget your husbands".

•Next Sunday is the family hayride and bonfire at the Fowlers'. Bring your own hot dogs and guns. Friends are welcome! Everyone come for a fun time.

•Smile at someone who is hard to love. Say "hell" to someone who doesn't care much about you.

•The peacemaking meeting scheduled for today has been canceled due to a conflict. The sermon this morning: "Jesus walks on the water'=2E The sermon tonight: 'Searching for Jesus'.

•Next Thursday there will be tryouts for the choir. They need all the help they can get.

•Barbara remains in the hospital and needs blood donors for more transfusions. She is also having trouble sleeping and requests tapes of Pastor Jack's sermons.

•The "Over 60's Choir" will be disbanded for the summer with our thanks. The outreach committee has enlisted 25 visitors to make calls on people who are afflicted with any church. The Pastor would appreciate it if the ladies of the congregation would lend him their girdles for the pancake breakfast next Sunday morning.

•Remember in prayer those who are sick of our church and community.

•Next Sunday Mrs. Vinson will be soloist for the morning service. The pastor will then speak on "It's a terrible experience"

QUOTE…

"In her eagerness to tell us what's what, Dr. Laura has announced that God makes mistakes. What else could a 'biological error' be? It means that God made everyone, but was distracted by an ice cream truck when He wasworking on Andy Dick and Gertrude Stein and failed to do a Martha Stewart-quality job. In queers, Dr. Laurahas seen His work and she has judged it to be poor."

Miami Herald Columnist Liz Langley


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