ISSUE: October 2002
Edited by Sharon Fratepietro and Sharon Strong
October Speaker Wrote the Book About Jesus
The Gospel of Yeshua is Skip Johnson's fictionalized story of the life and teaching of Jesus the man. Johnson wrote the account as fiction, he says, "because the Bible tells conflicting stories of Jesus' life, making a truly nonfiction story impossible."
Skip Johnson will be our guest speaker at the SHL meeting on Sunday, October 20, at 4 p.m. The meeting will take place at Gage Hall, 4 Archdale St., next to the Unitarian Church in downtown Charleston.
The Gospel of Yeshua is written from a journalist's perspective. "As a journalist," Johnson says, "I spent more than 20 years collecting information from ancient and modern sources about Jesus and the era in which he lived. Then I organized the information into chronological order, tested the precepts in my own life, physically traced Jesus' footsteps through Palestine, and edited the information to its essence. I have presented it as a simple narrative, following the outline in the synoptic Gospels of Mathew, Mark and Luke. My purpose was to get as close as I could to what was important to Jesus at the time he lived, eliminating what the church and writers who did not know him have added to the story. I'll talk about those differences, which are immense."
Johnson was born and reared in South Carolina. Following high school, he
joined the Marine Reserves and spent six months on active duty before
starting college. After being expelled by two colleges in two years, he
began a newspaper career that lasted 30 years and earned him multiple
awards as a reporter, columnist and editor. Highlights of his career
included helping cover the desegregation of Alabama and Mississippi for the
Associated Press. Johnson also has been chief political writer for The
Orlando Sentinel, state capital bureau chief for The Tampa
Tribune, and religion editor and columnist for the Charleston News
and Courier. He resigned from newspapers in 1991 to become an
independent writer. Since then he has written many magazine articles, and
The Gospel of Yeshua is his first published book. The book's Web
site is www.yeshuabooks.com
New Meeting Format on Oct. 20
We've noticed that there never seems to be enough time to chat with old and new friends at our monthly meetings. Therefore, to remedy this complaint, starting on Oct. 20 our Sunday meeting will take on a new format. The meeting will start promptly at 4 p.m. (so take the hunt for a parking space into account). Following a few business announcements, our guest speaker will talk until 5 p.m. Then we'll break for a half-hour of refreshments and socializing. At 5:30 we'll reconvene with the speaker for an informal discussion of the meeting topic, and at 6:00 we'll leave for an optional dinner at nearby Vickery's Restaurant.
Book Review: Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist by Dan Barker
If you have ever wished you had more courage to speak up for freethought or atheism, this 1992 book by Dan Barker may provide the inspiration. Not many people in America could have had more to lose than Barker did by announcing he had become an atheist. From the age of 15 to 35, Barker was a Christian fundamentalist preacher, missionary, and successful composer of Christian music. As a sincere believer, he wrote over 100 Christian songs and musical plays and supported himself and family of five with the royalties and honorariums for his sermons and musical performances.
The first part of the book is autobiographical, describing what it was like to be a true believer, his self-directed journey to atheism, and his public "coming out". What follows is a series of thought provoking and readable essays on topics such as the lack of historical evidence for Jesus, Bible contradictions, dealing with believers who want to diagnose why you are an atheist, and the origin of evil. One particularly memorable essay discusses the extraordinary fact that the word "cross" never appears in the original Greek text of the New Testament.
The third part of the book recounts Barker's experiences as a freethought activist with the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), including reminiscences of radio and television appearances as the atheist guest. This book is packed with well thought-out and compelling arguments for freethought and for speaking out.
There are many books on atheism and freethought, but something that sets this book apart is the insight into the worldview of fundamentalists from someone who has been there and remembers its pull. Barker is now a spokesperson of the FFRF (Madison WI), and a composer of atheist music.
South Carolina Is Not Massachusetts
By Herb Silverman
Our state, deservedly, is being laughed at for yet another reason. Opposed to South Carolina's ban on tattooing, local tattoo artist Ronald White decided to tattoo a man on local TV. That act cost him a criminal conviction, five years' probation and a fine. White has appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Tattooing was found by one court in Massachusetts to be "the most commonly purchased form of original artwork in the United States." This is not the view in South Carolina, or, for that matter, Oklahoma—the only other state that outlaws the practice.
South Carolina state Sen. J.M. Knotts explained that tattoos are against God's will, because "if God wanted you to have a tattoo, He'd have put your name on you."
The South Carolina Supreme Court held that, though a tattoo might be a form of protected expression, the "process" of tattooing was not protected. According to Jonathan Turley, professor of constitutional law at George Washington University, "this is akin to treating the Declaration of Independence as protected speech but not Benjamin Franklin's printing of the document."
Banned Author Dr. Taslima Nasrin to Speak in Charleston
Though living under a fatwa, Bangladeshi writer and physician Taslima Nasrin refuses to be silenced. She will speak publicly at the College of Charleston on Tuesday, Nov. 5, at 3:15 p.m., on the Hindu-Muslim struggle in Bangladesh, and her own response to religious war. The location will be room Maybank 100 at the College of Charleston.
Dr. Nasrin has been living in exile since 1994. At that time Muslim clerics issued a fatwa against her for criticizing Islam's repression of women in her novel, Shame, about Muslim persecution of Hindus in Bangladesh. "She is worse than a prostitute," complained Maulana Azizul Haque, the mullah who called for the execution of Taslima Nasrin. "She demands 'freedom of the vagina.' She says that if a man can have four wives, a woman should have the right to four husbands. Even within marriage, she says a woman should have the right to other men. This is against the Koran and Allah. It is blasphemy!"
In December 1993, 5,000 zealots marched through Dhaka, demanding the death of the 34-year-old Nasrin. In an ensuing general strike, one man was killed and more than 200 people injured. Dr. Nasrin hid with the help of friends for 60 days. The U.S. State Department helped get her out of Bangladesh, and 12 nations of the European Union offered her asylum. She fled to Germany and Sweden, proclaiming that "the fundamentalists are destroying our society. The silent majority is afraid of them. They will do anything in the name of God."
For her writing and her courage, Dr. Nasrin has received awards, including the Human Rights award from the French Government, 1994; Feminist of the Year, USA, 1994; the Monismanien Prize, Sweden, 1995; and the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought from the European Parliament, 1995.
A poet and novelist, Dr. Nasrin has recently published the first volume of her memoirs, entitled Meyebela: My Bengali Girlhood. At the talk on Nov. 5, she will be signing copies of this account of growing up female in a Muslim world. The Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry is among the sponsors of Dr. Nasrin's appearance.
The Web site for Islam Online (http://www.islamonline.net/english/News/2002-08/28/article15.shtml) offers the following different account of Taslima Nasrin's problem in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh Bans Taslima Nasrin Novel
By IOL South Asia Correspondent
NEW DELHI, August 28, (IslamOnline) - Bangladesh banned Tuesday, August 27, the latest novel by the controversial exiled writer Taslima Nasrin. An official announcement in Dhaka said that the novel contains "anti-Islamic remarks that could anger the country's Muslim majority."
Taslima Nasrin's new novel, Utal Haowa (Gusty Wind), was published in the neighboring Indian state of West Bengal last June.
Bangladesh's home ministry said in a statement that the Bengali-language novel "contains anti-Islam sentiments and statements that could destroy the religious harmony in Bangladesh." The novel's "publication, sale, distribution and collection" has been banned within Bangladesh. Police have been asked to confiscate any copy of the book in Bangladesh.
Nasrin, a physician-turned-writer, has been living in self-imposed exile in Europe after she received threats to her life in 1994. She first came to the limelight when an Indian newspaper quoted her as demanding changes in the Qur'an, on the pretext of "giving women more rights."
Instead of facing public opinion and court cases in her country, Taslima chose to flee to India. Later she moved to live in Western Europe.
In 1993, Taslima's book Lajja (Shame) angered many in her country for containing fabricated accounts of attacks on minority Hindus by the majority Muslims in Bangladesh after the destruction of the Babri mosque in India in 1992. The Bangladeshi government banned that book.
Last year, Bangladesh government banned another novel by Taslima - Amar Meyebela (My Girlhood) for similar reasons.
Taslima last visited Bangladesh in 1999 to visit her ailing mother who later died of cancer. Her mother was deeply angered by her blasphemous writings and "unethical life."
Taslima has lived mostly in Sweden and France after she fled her country. Recently she traveled to India and is said to be living in Kolkata and seeking political asylum from the Indian authorities.
Reportedly, India is not keen on giving her asylum or long-term residence visa. Her earlier requests for visas were turned down by India. Since the majority language in West Bengal is Bengali, Taslima finds herself at home there. The state is ruled by Marxists who facilitate her work and help publish her books.
If Taslima chooses to return to Bangladesh, she will face trial on charges of blaspheming Islam and insulting its predominantly Muslim population. If convicted, she could be jailed for up to two years.
In a related development, Bangladeshi police arrested Saturday, August 24, Sambit Saha, a Hindu playwright, on charges of offending the religious sentiments of Muslims after complaints that one of his plays insulted Prophet Muhammad. Allegedly his drama "Katha Krishnakali" has offended Muslims. If found guilty, he could be sentenced to two years in prison. Saha denied the charge, saying his original script has no reference to the Prophet.
Humanist Book Discussion Group
By Sharon Strong
On Sunday, October 27, the Humanist Book Discussion Group will be discussing God's Perfect Child: Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church by Caroline Fraser. The book is available at the West Ashley Barnes and Noble. The author is a former Christian Scientist whose book details the life story of Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy and the troubled history of her church. The discussion will be led by Mike Epstein, himself an erstwhile Christian Scientist. We will be meeting, as usual, in the Barnes and Noble bookstore at 1812 Sam Rittenberg Blvd., 3:00-5:00 p.m.
"Christian Science has killed and maimed and materially damaged people. Their story has not been fully told. I have tried to tell it here."
God's Perfect Child
By Herb Silverman
Letter to the Editor of the Charleston Post and Courier published on September 27, 2002
I found myself in rare agreement with the conclusion of a Post and Courier editorial "Leave religious sign alone," Sept 7, that the Charleston Board of Architectural Review should not prohibit Rev. Parks from displaying his sign on President Street. But when the editorial declares that "No local law or ordinance in this state can infringe upon reasonable religious expression," I have a problem.
It is with the use of the word "reasonable." One person's reasonable speech is another person's outrageous or heretical speech. Should the sign be permitted only because you think it reasonable that Jesus is warning that September 11 was a wake-up call?
I hope you would also defend the right of an individual to display a sign that said, "There is no God, but Allah," or "Man created God."
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not restrict us to reasonable or popular speech. Nor is the right of religious expression any more precious than the right of political expression. I hope the editorial was not implying, to paraphrase George Orwell, "All speech is free, but some speech is more free than others."
Our National Mottos
By Herb Silverman
After our latest SHL board meeting, some of us got into a discussion about what our national motto is. None of us was sure. As the following history shows, our confusion was understandable.
The original motto of the United States was secular. "E Pluribus Unum" is Latin for "One from many." It refers to the welding of a single federal state from a group of individual political units.
On July 4, 1776 the Continental Congress asked a committee to design a national seal. On June 10, 1782 Congress accepted a design for the Great Seal of the United States. It showed an eagle with a heart-shaped shield, holding arrows and an olive branch in its claws. The motto "E Pluribus Unum" appeared on a scroll held in its beak. The seal was first used on Sept. 16, 1782. It was first used on some federal coins in 1795.
In 1863 Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase asked the Director of the Mint, James Pollock, to prepare suitable wording for a motto to be used on Union coins during the Civil War. Pollock suggested "Our Trust Is In God," "Our God And Our Country," "God And Our Country," and "God Our Trust."
Chase chose to have "In God We Trust" used on some of the coins. The phrase was meant to be a subtle reminder that the Union was on the side of God. Congress passed this legislation.
Since an 1837 Act of Congress specified the mottos and devices that were to be placed on U.S. coins, it was necessary to pass another Act to enable the motto to be added. This was done on Apr. 22, 1886. The motto has been in continuous use on one-cent coins since 1909, on quarter-dollar coins since 1908 and on ten-cent coins since 1916.
At the height of the Cold War and the McCarthy communist witch hunt, Congress passed a joint resolution to replace "E Pluribus Unum" with "In God We Trust," which President Eisenhower signed into law on July 30, 1956. The change was partly motivated by a desire to show our patriotism by differentiating between godless communism and Christian capitalism. The House Judiciary Committee did recognize that the phrase "E Pluribus Unum" had also received wide usage in the United States, and the joint resolution did not repeal or prohibit its use as a national motto. In 1963 the Department of State took the following position: "'In God We Trust'" is the motto of the United States. It seemed to the Department, nevertheless,
that there is ample basis both in history and law for calling "E Pluribus Unum" a motto
of the United States." Congress has used both.
"In God We Trust" was first used on paper money in 1957, on the one-dollar silver certificate. By 1966, "In God We Trust" was added to all paper money from $1 to $100 denominations.
During the 1950's, the phrase "under God" was added to the otherwise secular Pledge of Allegiance, and "So help me God" was added as a suffix to the oaths of office for federal judges.
Is the motto constitutional? The "In God We Trust" motto promotes theistic religion at the expense of nontheistic religion and a secular lifestyle. It promotes the belief in a single, male deity. It is foreign to the beliefs of many other religions: Buddhists do not believe in a personal deity; Zoroastrians and Wiccans believe in two deities; Hindus believe in many. It would seem to violate the principle of separation of church and state. Many Agnostics, Atheists, Humanists, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans, and others are offended by the motto. However, this religious motto has been challenged by three lawsuits and found to be constitutional. The courts found that the motto does not endorse religion.
For more complete information, check out ReligiousTolerance.Org.
The following version of "God Bless America" is brought to you compliments of Steve Benson, editorial cartoonist from the Arizona Republic, and Dan Barker, from the Freedom from Religion Foundation.
Land that we love.
Standing by her, we'll guide her,
Living life without help from above.
Free from bible superstitions,
Free from masters on their throne.
My mind's my own,
My home sweet home.
(Copyright Steve Benson and Dan Barker)
For more information, please visit our Homepage at LOWCOUNTRY.HUMANISTS.NET.