ISSUE: March 2002
Edited by Sharon Fratepietro and Sharon Strong
"Jesus the Jew" Topic for March SHL Meeting
Contemporary Biblical study often questions traditional interpretations of the Holy Book. Our speaker at the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry meeting on March 17, Dr. John Huddlestun from the College of Charleston, will make that clear in his talk titled "Jesus, the Law, and Jewish Polemic in the Gospel of Matthew."
Popular readings of the gospel accounts in the New Testament tend to focus on Jesus versus his Jewish opponents (the Pharisees, scribes, etc.). Modern Biblical scholarship, however, sees Jesus, at least as presented in the gospels, as an observant Jew who engages in fierce polemic against fellow Jews—those in authority, whose views are actually closer to views of the early Jewish-Christians themselves. Despite the strong condemnation of his opponents, Jesus' views are easily understood within the context of the Judaism of his day. Dr. Huddleston will examine a number of passages illustrative of Jesus' interpretation of Torah, particularly regarding ritual purity, Sabbath observance, and hypocrisy.
Dr. Huddlestun teaches Religion in the Dept. of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the College of Charleston. He received his M.A. and Ph.D. in Biblical and Near Eastern Studies from the University of Michigan. His Bachelor's Degree is in music history and performance, his first career. He has also studied at universities in Italy, Israel, and Denmark.
The March 17 meeting starts at 4 p.m. at Gage Hall next to the Unitarian Church, 4 Archdale St. in downtown Charleston. After the meeting all are welcome to reconvene for dinner at Vickery's Restaurant nearby.
Bad Laws Alert!!!
By Sharon Fratepietro
You might have read in our local newspaper that the South Carolina legislature may pass bills requiring (or allowing) that the Ten Commandments be displayed in all public schools—and in all public buildings—and "in every entity that has received a charter as an eleemosynary corporation [meaning a 501(c)(3) designation] by the Secretary of State."
The House has unanimously passed a "Homeland Security" bill that includes the requirement for schools to display the motto "In God We Trust" in public school classrooms and at institutions of higher education, along with the Ten Commandments on "real property owned by the State."
As of this writing, the Senate has not voted on this bill.
On Feb. 28, four members of the Senate Judiciary Committee held a rare public hearing in Charleston for citizen commentary on the Homeland Security Bill. Herb Silverman and I attended and spoke our objections to the religious provisions in the bill. Although we left before the hearing was over, I doubt anyone else spoke on this provision. Holding the hearing were Senate Judiciary Committee members Glenn McConnell (Chairman), and James Ritchie, Thomas Moore and Robert Ford.
South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon, who also is a candidate in the Republican primary election for governor, believes these proposed laws are constitutional.
If you object to this proposed legislation, now is the time to let your state senators know! You can be sure that many church congregations will make their voices heard. Don't let voter apathy be the cause of legislation you object to. If you do not know who your legislators are, please phone your editor, Sharon Fratepietro, at 577-0637 or the Charleston County Voter Registration office at 744-8683.
It's easy to find out which bills are under consideration in the South Carolina Legislature. Just go to http://www.scstatehouse.net on the Internet and do a search on pertinent words related to the bills.
An Atheist In Hell
Contributed by Gill Krebs
A good, clean-living atheist died and went to Heaven. St. Peter met him
at the door. "You can’t come in here," St. Peter said. The
atheist asked why not. "You’re an atheist," St. Peter
replied. "Sorry. But Hell isn’t so bad. Your friends are there,
and they say it’s cool." The atheist was depressed but took the
route downstairs anyway, because he was, well, an atheist. So he went to
Hell and was greeted by the sight of a beautiful green field with people
picnicking and having a great time. A man in white came over to him and
presented himself as Satan and told him of all the delights in what
appeared to be a five-star resort. "Wow!" thought the atheist.
"Hell ain’t so bad! I’m happy to be here." Suddenly, the
sky grew black and fire spewed from the ground. A screaming, flaming man
fell from the sky and was swallowed by a crack in the earth. After he
disappeared, everything returned to normal. "What the hell was
that?!" the atheieist asked. Satan replied, "That was a Christian.
They wouldn't have Hell any other way."
Leave God Out of It
By Cristina Odone, deputy editor of the New Statesman.
Published on Sunday, September 23, 2001 in the Observer of London
Editor's note by Sharon Fratepietro: I've admired this commentary and wanted to put it in The Separationist for several months, without room to fit it until this month. I find the essay compelling because it is written by a religious believer, and one who is not American.
I've done my head counts. My family, in Washington DC, is fine…But while the tragedy (on Sept. 11) has spared my family and friends, it has hijacked my God.
The Taliban and bin Laden invoke God as the co-pilot in their jihad. (In a recently recycled interview bin Laden gave to Time Magazine two years ago, the word 'Allah' punctuated his every threat.) Yet talk to any moderate mullah, and he'll tell you that the ethos of the Koran is compassionate and inclusive, and that Islam values the peace lover as highly as the soldiering martyr.
Meanwhile, a distorted Christianity is being megaphoned by public figures like the U.S. televangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson—not to mention President George Bush. In a shameful double-whammy that showed 'compassionate conservatism' had made no inroads into Bible Belt bigotry, Falwell and Robertson worked themselves into a fire and brimstone fury, blaming the present crisis on gays, feminists and the pro-choice movement: these sinners had offended God, and here was his vengeance.
No sooner had the duo delivered their holy-roller sermon than George Bush was telling the American people to get ready for an all-out war on terrorism—and pray.
Presumably the President's Prayer, unlike the Lord's, wastes no breath on forgiveness, but urges the faithful to bomb the hell out of those towel-heads, Amen! Coming in the wake of his talk about launching a 'crusade', the President's message was clear: God's on our side. Beware the infidel—i.e., anyone who does not subscribe to our belief in America the beautiful.
To American ears, this kind of noise is as cozily familiar as Songs of Praise is to British ones. Since President Dwight D. Eisenhower spoke of the 'spiritual weapons' which 'forever will be our citizens' most powerful resource' at the beginning of the Cold War, successive governments have turned Americans' piety into their best defense shield system. Whatever the fight—the pinko commie enemy within, or the Evil Empire of the Soviet Union—the citizens of the world's No 1 superpower can rest easy in the knowledge that, when God's on your team, you've got nothing to fear.
In the sinister, trenchcoat and fog world of the Cold War, when a few too many embarrassing questions (like "Hey, is that a bug in my phone?") were being asked by a few too many ordinary citizens, the powers-that-be were eager to frame any conflict in religious terms. Thinking of themselves as the Godly taking on the ungodly might just convince Americans of the legitimacy of the campaigns being waged in places like Chile, Nicaragua, or—under Joe McCarthy's witch-hunts—Hollywood.
No wonder that, as Frances Stonor Saunders shows in her book about the CIA, Who Paid the Piper?, God was dragged into every aspect of American civic life. In 1954 the words "one nation under God" were added to the Pledge of Allegiance with which every child begins their school day. In 1955, Congress mandated the use of "In God we trust" on all currency; a year later those words became the official national motto.
The same decade saw the emergence of Billy Graham, patriarch of American evangelism, who rushed from sea to shining sea, delivering Bible-thumping sermons that reassured WASPs they were holy (shame about the Jews, the Papists and the "Mohammedans"). His wild-eyed proselytizing was aided by two publishing magnates, William Randolph Hearst and Henry Luce, who puffed the Graham Crusade in their newspapers and magazines.
God was turned into an instrument of national policy, sanctioning every intelligence and military operation. In this way, the murkiest CIA plots and the most senseless military maneuvers could be given the imprimatur; shady dealings were bathed in divine light.
It's a tactic that, in a nation where the overwhelming majority call themselves believers, works wonders—or at least, helps citizens turn a blind eye to phone tapping and other infringements of their civil liberties; and a deaf ear to the faulty logic of invading Vietnam, say, or Kent University campus.
The American patina of God-speak is about as true a religious statement as some tatty plaster saint in church. The paint and the gold leaf inevitably peel to expose a soulless mold. There's nothing Christian about nuking Afghan civilians, nor spying on American students; just as there is nothing Muslim about hijacking planes and flying them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center or the Pentagon.
Yet US history has shown that, by appealing to their Christian identity, Americans will accept much that is contemptible, and confuse the ideological with the theological. With this mindset, "Hallelujah!" amounts to a war cry, and "Onward, Christian Soldiers" to a latter-day crusade. This is bad religion passed off as good.
We should beware Dubya's Bible-thumping. When a U.S. President invokes God, he has something to hide. Bad religion hides dirty politics.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001
Our Numbers Increase!
(Reprinted from the December newsletter of the Freethinkers Association of Central Texas)
The 2001 American Religious Identification Survey by the Graduate Center of the City University of New York shows these results (after randomly surveying 50,000 U.S. adults):
No religion 14.1%
That 14.1% is up from 8% in 1990 and represents 29.4 million adults. This figure may be low, since 5.4% refused to state their preference. The Catholics dropped 2% and the Protestants dropped 8% from 1990. The survey called the 14.1% "a potential sleeping giant waiting to flex its political and cultural influence." Well, let's hope so!
(Editor's note: See the full survey at http://www.gc.cuny.edu on the Web.)
Humanist Book Discussion Group
By Sharon Strong
The next Humanist Book Discussion Group meeting will take place on the fourth Sunday of the month, March 24, at the Barnes and Noble bookstore on Sam Rittenberg Blvd., from 3:00-5:00 p.m. Sharon Fratepietro will be facilitating a conversation about Judge James Gray’s Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It. You’ll find the book in Barnes and Noble’s "Current Affairs" section.
On the fourth Sunday in April, we will be discussing Clash of Civilizations by Samuel Huntington. And remember: even if you haven’t had a chance to read the selection, you are always welcome to join us.
By Herb Silverman
Recall that Dave Munday, Religion Editor of the Charleston Post and Courier, spoke to the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry on November 18 last year and joined us for dinner afterward. He must have left with a favorable impression, because a long and positive article by him about the SHL appeared in the Post and Courier on February 24.
The headline on the Religion page said "Life Without God," followed by "Atheists say morality, good works guide their lives." One paragraph read, "Being atheists, most wouldn't call themselves religious. But they're constantly talking about God and discussing religion. They regularly meet for fellowship, listen to more religious speakers than most Christians, and perform a lot of good works in the community."
Munday quoted many of us, including those who have had difficulty coming out of the closet here in the Bible Belt. There were also photos of us picking up trash in our "Adopt a Highway" stretch on Highway 61.
The article cited portions of our principles and values to further explain why we don't need to believe in God to be moral. The piece closed with comments from Rev. Jacqueline Collins, pastor at the Unitarian Church, who "scoffs at the notion that atheists can't be moral." She said, "Nothing could be further from the truth."
The complete article may also be found on the web at http://www.charleston.net/pub/news/munday/mun0224.htm
Sunday, March 17: Dr. John Huddlestun is guest speaker at SHL monthly meeting. At Gage Hall, 4 Archdale St., downtown Charleston, 4 p.m. Followed by optional dinner at Vickery’s.
Sunday, March 24: Humanist Book Discussion Group, Barnes & Noble, 1812 Sam Rittenberg Blvd. (West Ashley), 3-5 p.m.