Yes, it’s still very early in the year, but it’s not too soon to make plans and to register for FFRF’s fabulous 2020 national convention — taking place the weekend of Nov. 13-15, 2020, at the Hyatt Regency San Antonio on the famed Riverwalk.
Make your room reservations directly at the Hyatt Regency San Antonio, 123 Losoya, by phoning 210-451-6200. Rates are: $205 (single/double occupancy), $215 (triple/quad occupancy), not including state and local taxes. Indicate you’re with the “Freedom From Religion Foundation” bloc or reserve online at ffrf.us/hotel.
The convention opens at 1 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 13, and continues through Saturday, Nov. 14, with membership and State Representative meetings Sunday morning. Plan to come early or stay late if you want to sightsee in this exotic locale. The hotel is less than five minutes from the Alamo and many other attractions.
With two luminaries opening the conference — Gloria Steinem and Margaret Atwood (see story on Page 1) — FFRF expects the convention to be a sell-out. The venue will hold about 900 participants. So, we encourage you to register with FFRF and book your hotel rooms as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.
“A Conversation with Gloria Steinem,” the feminist icon, activist and bestselling author, will take place Friday at 3 p.m. For those purchasing a $500 ticket (part of an FFRF fundraiser) to the 4 p.m. private reception to meet Steinem, she will autograph copies of her charming new book, The Truth Will Set You Free, But First It Will Piss You Off! Thoughts on Life, Love, and Rebellion. (A copy of the book is included with the ticket; there will be no other book-signing opportunity.) A legal Q&A with FFRF attorneys will take place concurrently for those who don’t attend the Steinem event.
“An Evening with Margaret Atwood,” the bestselling novelist whose novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, has become a modern secular parable, will start at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Atwood will do a 45-minute book signing, to be followed by a private reception (also a $500 per person fundraiser for FFRF). The ticket to the reception will include Atwood’s Booker Prize-winning Handmaid’s Tale sequel, The Testaments.
Already confirmed to join that illustrious line-up are:
• Journalist and author Katherine Stewart. In addition to conducting the on-stage interview with Margaret Atwood, Stewart will talk about her new forthcoming book, The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism. She is also the author of The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children. In 2014, she was named Person of the Year by Americans United for her coverage of religion, politics, policy and state/church conflicts.
• Black Skeptics Los Angeles founder, novelist and activist Sikivu Hutchinson, Ph.D, will be receiving FFRF’s Freethought Heroine Award. Hutchinson is an educator, author, playwright and director. Her books include Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars (2011), Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels (2013) and the novel White Nights, Black Paradise (2015) on the Peoples Temple and the 1978 Jonestown massacre. She also wrote, directed and produced a short film of “White Nights, Black Paradise.”
FFRF registration is only $60 per FFRF member, $65 companion accompanying member, $115 nonmember (or save money by joining for $40). Children 12 and under are free and the student rate is $10.
So, register early for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see Steinem, Atwood and many others in San Antonio! Go to ffrf.org/convention2020.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is delighted to announce that legendary activist Gloria Steinem and literary titan Margaret Atwood will be appearing at its upcoming annual national convention in San Antonio in November.
The convention takes place the weekend of Nov. 13-15 at the Hyatt Regency San Antonio on the famed Riverwalk. The convention venue is limited to about 900 attendees, so please plan ahead. For more details and to register for the convention, turn to the back page.
Both will receive FFRF’s “Forward” Award, which is reserved for those who are moving society forward. The award includes a statuette designed by world-renowned sculptor Zenos Frudakis.
Steinem will take part in a conversation with FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor on Friday, Nov. 13, at 3 p.m., breaking for audience questions. She will then sign copies of her newest book, The Truth Will Set You Free, But First It Will Piss You Off! from 4-4:30 p.m. at a private reception, a fundraiser for FFRF. The reception is limited to the first 50 individuals who sign up for the $500 private event, which includes a copy of the book.
Steinem, who’s been billed as “the world’s most famous feminist,” is a journalist who co-founded Ms. Magazine in 1972, helped found the Women’s Action Alliance, the National Women’s Political Caucus, the Women’s Media Center, and was president of Voters for Choice, a political action committee, for 25 years. She is founding president of the Ms. Foundation for Women, Take our Daughters to Work Day, and many other initiatives. Her books include the bestsellers Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, Moving Beyond Words, Marilyn: Norma Jean and My Life on the Road.
A life-long reproductive rights activist, Steinem has said: “Do not hang out any place where they won’t let you laugh, including churches and temples.”
“An Evening with Margaret Atwood” will take place Friday night, to include a conversation with journalist Katherine Stewart, who will be speaking herself on Saturday. Atwood has agreed to sign books after her talk. The book signing will be followed by a private reception. Those signing up, also a $500 fundraiser for FFRF, will receive a copy of Atwood’s new and much-lauded The Testaments, which won the 2019 Booker Prize and is a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale.
Atwood is the author of more than 50 volumes of fiction, poetry, children’s literature and nonfiction. Her best-known novels include The Edible Woman, The Robber Bride, The BlindAssassin, OryxandCrake, which is being adapted into an HBO TV series by filmmaker Darren Aronofsky. A serialized adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale has received 13 Emmy nominations and eight awards including for Best Drama.
“Every totalitarian government on the planet has always taken a very great interest in women’s reproductive rights,” says Atwood. Both women have previously been named Humanists of the Year.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is lauding a victory toward one of its central legislative goals: increasing access to secular recovery programs.
Thanks to advocacy by FFRF on this issue on Capitol Hill, the president on Dec. 31 signed into law an appropriations bill that includes a request that federal tax dollars can be awarded to evidence-based recovery programs that support medication assisted treatment. This includes most secular mutual support recovery providers such as LifeRing and SMART Recovery.
Currently, most mutual support recovery programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, are religious or “spiritual” in nature. Many areas of the country do not have adequate access to secular recovery programs, in large part due to lack of funding and awareness.
FFRF and its governmental affairs director, Mark Dann, based in D.C., have been working alongside a secular coalition to increase the number of recovery options for all Americans.
With this new funding, nonreligious Americans will be able to utilize recovery programs without sacrificing their right of conscience or being subjected to unwanted proselytization. FFRF will continue to fight for the expansion of funding for secular recovery services in the future.
Historian, author and scholar Isaac Kramnick died Dec. 21 in New York City at the age of 81.
He had spoken just two months earlier at FFRF’s national convention in Madison, Wis., along with his writing partner, R. Laurence Moore. They co-authored Godless Citizens in a Godly Republic in 2018 and The Godless Constitution in 1996.
Kramnick was born March 6, 1938, and was adopted into an Orthodox Jewish farming family in Millis, Mass. He graduated from a public school that had only 19 students in his class. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in 1959, studied at Cambridge University from 1959-60 and earned his Ph.D. at Harvard in 1965. He taught at Harvard, Brandeis and Yale before ending up at Cornell.
Kramnick began teaching at Cornell in 1972, then became associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1986-89; led the Department of Government from 1996-2001; and served as the university’s first vice provost for undergraduate education from 2001-05. Kramnick was Cornell University’s Richard J. Schwartz Professor of Government Emeritus.
“I will miss Isaac’s sense of humor as well as his many other qualities,” Cornell President Emeritus Hunter R. Rawlings told the press. “He made the room light up and left us feeling better than when we walked in.”
Kramnick wrote a number of influential books on the history of British and American political thought from the 18th century to the present day. His Bolingbroke and His Circle: The Politics of Nostalgia in the Age of Walpole won the Conference of British Studies Prize for best book on British politics.
Kramnick was a fellow of Britain’s Royal Historical Society and served in 1989 as president of the American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies. In 1998 he was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. At Cornell, he was a recipient of the Clark Distinguished Teaching Award and was named a Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow.
Kramnick retired in 2015 after 43 years at Cornell but remained active, teaching for Cornell’s Adult University.
Kramnick’s speech at FFRF’s convention will be printed in the March issue. Watch that speech or his appearance on “Freethought Matters” on FFRF’s YouTube channel.
FFRF Life Member Martha “Marty” Lentz, 74, died Sept. 25, 2019, following a short battle with cancer. She and her husband Jon Noll were major contributors to the Freethought Hall expansion project. Jon has donated $5,000 to FFRF in Marty’s memory.
Marty was born in Onondaga, Mich. She earned a degree in nursing from Henry Ford Hospital and her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Wayne State University.
She moved to Seattle in 1970. After practicing as a clinical nurse for several years, she returned to school and earned her master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of Washington. She then joined the University of Washington School of Nursing faculty, retiring in 2008 as full professor. She was widely published, with sleep as the focus of her research career. After retirement, she remained active in academia as a consultant and as an instructor to nursing students and faculty around the country.
In 1971, Marty took a class in mountain climbing and met her future husband, Jon Noll. They spent nearly five decades together climbing mountains, running marathons, skiing, kayaking and biking. Marty was a member of Seattle Mountain Rescue Council, and one of the principal authors of Mountaineering First Aid.
The Western Institute of Nursing (WIN) said this about Marty: “The awards WIN bestowed upon Marty are a testament to her many contributions. She provided a voice of logic, vision and wisdom in all deliberations. She was committed to advancing nursing science, the Western Institute of Nursing, and the members thereof. Marty generously shared her vast knowledge of nursing research, with WIN members and students and in the deliberations of WIN committees. She had a keen sense of humor and her laugh will be greatly missed. Marty will be remembered fondly as the clever and humorous emcee of WIN’s annual RIFF-RAFF celebration and for her veracious advice on writing abstracts, ‘Read the instructions, believe the instructions, follow the instructions.’ An incredible, generous and inspiring leader, mentor, researcher and friend, Marty will be missed profoundly by all who had the honor of knowing and working with her.”
Marty is survived by her husband Jon, sister Rebecca Noble, brothers Rod and Riley Lentz, and nieces and nephews.
“Our heartfelt condolences go out to Jon,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.
Where and when I was born: Helena, Mont., in 1987.
Education: University of Idaho (Bachelor of Music in guitar performance), Southern Methodist University (Master of Music in guitar performance), University of Minnesota (juris doctorate).
Family: Father Jeff, mother Beth and stepdad Ed.
How I came to work at FFRF: Constitutional law, particularly First Amendment, was what drew me to the law in the first place. I wanted to answer the big questions and contend with the toughest arguments. I don’t recall the exact moment when I read FFRF’s job listing, but I now fondly imagine that I dropped my iPhone due to the passion with which I clicked “apply.”
What I do here: I’m the Robert G. Ingersoll Legal Fellow.I write whatever type of document the moment requires to protect the increasingly blurred line between religious practice and the state’s coercive power of taxation, as implied by the U.S. Constitution and its amendments.
What I like best about it: I love fighting for what I think is right while bathing in the ire of our opponents.
What gets old about it: Everything should be on the first floor. Y’all can’t seriously expect me to be walking up this many stairs.
I spend a lot of time thinking about: Whether my beliefs — and their supporting arguments — have holes in them.
I spend little if any time thinking about: Curling.
My religious upbringing was: Fantastic.
My doubts about religion started: When I was fairly young. There was no animus towards religion, but neither was there was there any evidence in favor of its truth claims.
Things I like: Music, rock climbing, stand-up comedy, back-country hiking, learning I was wrong about something (and why I was wrong).
Things I smite: Poorly thought-out cultural taboos.
In my golden years: Bionic legs had better be a thing.
Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his 1963 book Why We Can’t Wait: “The truth was revealed that hate is a contagion; that it grows and spreads as a disease; that no society is so healthy that it can automatically maintain its immunity.”
I was a vicious carrier of that disease, marked by the symptoms of fear, hatred and bigotry. I carried and spread it as a contagion for 25 years as a fundamentalist Pentecostal preacher. I took great pride even referring to myself from the pulpit as a “bible bigot,” as if intolerance based on scripture was morally acceptable.
A bigot! What else do you call someone who believes that only he has all the answers — the absolute truth — and condemns everyone who does not fit into his theological box: Buddhists, Muslims, liberal preachers, humanists and homosexuals. It is ironic that I have become what I once condemned — a humanist.
Twenty years ago, while still a fundamentalist, I saw the movie “The Matrix,” which made me stop and think. It was not so much the action, but rather the story that fascinated me. The theme of the movie was that the material world was not reality, but merely an illusion created by artificial intelligence machines. The real world was a ravaged wasteland and most of humanity has been captured by a race of machines. The humans were made to live out their lives in pods that collected their energy and continuously fed sensory stimuli to their brains via plugs attached to their bodies. These sensory stimuli gave them the illusion of leading ordinary lives.
This computer-driven dream world is called the Matrix. There are two main characters: Morpheus (played by Laurence Fishburne) is the leader of the resistance and Neo (played by Keanu Reeves) is a young man who Morpheus was able to release from the Matrix. Neo asks Morpheus, “What is the Matrix?” Morpheus answers: “It is the wool that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you to the truth. Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it yourself.”
In a certain sense, the wool had been pulled over my eyes for the first 50 years of my life, including 25 of those as a minister. The Matrix was my box, my set of beliefs. The Matrix plug that I have lived with since I was a child was that God was an angry old man sitting on a throne way out there, waiting to punish me when I did something wrong. This angry monster-god illusion was the root of my “fire and brimstone” preaching as a fundamentalist. This was my religious box, my Matrix.
Using “The Matrix” is not an exact analogy for my life. Neo was pulled out of the Matrix all at once, but, for me, the change was not immediate. I did not wake up one morning and say, “Well, today, I think I am going to be a liberal,” or “Today, I think I am going to be kind and compassionate to gays.” No, it was a slow process of removing the illusions that clouded my mind, or, to use the image from the movie, of pulling out one Matrix plug at time.
My transformation began when I began to think for myself. That’s when I began to look at my belief system — my box — and question everything. But, understand, for me as for any fundamentalist to think outside the box and to question and doubt one’s beliefs was a frightening experience.
The first Matrix plug I pulled out, the first illusion that I discovered and dealt with, was the teaching of the rapture, which was a source of most of my anxiety and fear in my life. It is not a simple teaching, but a very complex system, a schematic timetable of “last days” events.
But it was in my own personal life that the effects of the rapture belief were clear. I had decided that there was no time for furthering my education, no time for looking at my career, only time for getting souls into the Kingdom of God. Everything took a back seat to the ministry, including my family.
I do not remember why I began to study the rapture, but as a pastor in 1993, I started to look at the biblical references and the history of the doctrine of the rapture. I uncovered two things. First, the bible verses that were used to prove the rapture did not match the context in which the verses were found. Secondly, I learned that the rapture was not as old as Christianity, as I had been led to believe. It only appeared in 1830. I slowly and quietly began to remove references to the rapture from my sermons and altar calls.
I also began to breathe a little easier, realizing this wrathful God was not due yet and that the promised seven-year period of “hell on Earth” was a myth. My life became easier. I began to think about returning to school. I had discovered one of my perceptions was wrong and I removed it. My theological box was beginning to unravel.
In 2000, I went back to school and obtained a bachelor’s degree in business management from Buena Vista University. In 2005, I started a Master’s in theology program at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. The first class I took was “Introduction to the Bible.” It was revolutionary. It introduced me to biblical criticism. In a strange ironic way, I am thankful to that Catholic institution for introducing me to a way of studying the bible that delivered me from reading the bible literally. The basic underlying principle of biblical criticism is that, although God is an absolute being, the bible does not have an absolute value, but is conditioned on the historical and cultural setting in which it was written.
Then I made a terrible mistake as a Catholic theology student. I began reading other scholars: James Barr (Princeton and Oxford bible scholar), Hans Kung (the dissident Catholic scholar) and Paul Tillich. I discovered that education and reading outside one’s theological box was a key to freedom — freedom from religious blindness, anxiety and fear. I came away with a new perspective of the bible. The bible was never meant to be a historical, economic, legal or scientific textbook. But, most importantly, it was not meant to be the defining theological textbook, the final word or the only word about God. In less than three months, I lost my fundamentalist lenses through which I had viewed the world. Another matrix plug removed.
After this class, in 2006, I began to think: “Had I in the past, in my zeal as a fundamentalist preacher, misinterpreted the scriptures about the fundamental moral issues of our time?”
I will limit my comments to one issue that dominated most of my fundamentalist preaching: homosexuality. Almost every fundamentalist preacher focuses on this issue. You cannot tune into a Christian radio station and not hear how this “sin is destroying the foundation of our country.”
The question I asked was: “Is it a sin?” My study covered the seven main bible verses that I had used to condemn homosexuality. I was shocked by my findings. It revealed my ignorance. Some of it was just simple basic grammar. I learned that no ancient text — Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic — contained the word homosexuality. The word “homosexuality” did not appear in any language until the 19th century. I discovered that none of those key verses had anything to do with today’s understanding of committed same-sex relationships. I discovered that I was wrong in judging, that I was a bigot and that I had committed acts of prejudice in the name of God.
It was here that I realized that I needed to change my behavior. I took personal responsibility and stopped what I called the essence of fundamentalism: I stopped being a judging meddler in people’s lives. I stopped being a spiritual vulture, going around looking for the supposed sins of others and gorging myself in condemning them. I stopped being a gnat strainer, a nitpicker or fault finder. I began writing and speaking on gay rights and other social justice issues.
I realized that by thinking and using reason, I could come to ethical decisions without God or a religion. As a matter of fact, religion and God can lead to serious immoral discriminations and atrocities. I had come to the decision that I had a right as a human being to judge a religious text when it conflicted with a human right. It was then I realized that I was moving closer to the atheist view of the world. I no longer believed in the monster-god. I had stopped praying. I could not pray to a god who judges, murders and commands “his people” to murder. I no longer believed in a bloodthirsty god who sent his only begotten son into the world to have him die on a cross as a sacrifice to save humanity.
I began living in freedom. I am no longer living with a god in my mind. I am no longer living according to the authoritarian law of God (religion), but I am living according to the reasoned dictates of my own conscience.
I discovered late in life that my arrogance, the kind of arrogance that I used to live and thrive in — the arrogance of fundamentalism, of putting God in a box and saying “He only works in my box” or “I only have the truth” — was a dangerous extreme religion.Yes, it was a malignancy that I removed little by little from my mind and heart. The final Matrix plug had been pulled.
Edward Kelly Jr., a former Pentecostal minister, is a nurse and lives in Iowa with his wife.
FFRF welcomes and thanks its newest Lifetime, After-Life and Beyond After-Life Members.
The newest Beyond After-Life Member is Gary York. The Beyond After-Life membership is tongue-in-cheek-named membership category of $10,000 for those who want their donation to “live on” after them and beyond.
The five newest After-Life Members are Pete Day, Johnnie Grgurich, Mohan Rao, Saul Rosenthal and Ruth E. Stiehl. After-Life Membership is a membership category of $5,000 for those who want their donation to “live on” after them.
FFRF’s 71 newest $1,000 Lifetime Members are: Alexandra M. Allen, Ted Andrew, Gloria Bachmann, Judith Banister, Josh Benaloh, Laurie Benaloh, Meena Bhat, Michael Brassell, Tyler Bryden, Andy Burgess, Russell Burmester, Robert Butler, Joshua A. Carter, Paul Colucci, Jr., Charles Cowin, Charles Dhyanchand, Karen Dhyanchand, Robert J. Douglas, James Dwyer, Dianne Eardley, Jonathan Eosze, John T. Fournier, Warren Geisler, Thomas M. Goetzl, Mark Goodner, Albert Gouyet, James A. Hamilton, Dr. Richard T. Hamilton, Mark Humenik, Eric Jaggers, Linda Jallings, B. Jane, Nancy Jucius, Rose Ann Keating, Rainbow Koehl-Goetzl, Herb Kulman, Ryan Langford, Richard Lee, Dale Leman, Michael Lichter, Timothy C. McCowan, J.E. McDermott, Harry T. Meredith, Jeff Morrow, Kent Munzer, Forrest Neuswanger, Brian Newell, Rebecca Page, Samir Patel, Dr. Andrew J. Pegoda, Betsy Pfister, Arnold Potosky, Patrick Price, Fietje Ralston (gifted by Robert H. Ralston), Bruce Rockwell, Robert Schlorer, Anne Schneiderman, Thomas Scott, Ryan Sit, Tamara Sloan, Jonathan Smuck, Mark Sobaszko, Theodore Stinson, Charles H. Stroh, Marcia Stutzman, Karen Sulak, Mark Tamagni, Suzanne Tharpe, Philip M. Walsh, Kevin Wasserburger and Alexander Yermolovich.
States represented are Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Washington, D.C., and Wisconsin.
New Zealanders are often wary of religion. The 2018 census revealed that those who said they had no religion — 49 percent of the population — had overtaken Christians, at 38 percent, for the first time.
Reporter Charlotte Graham-McLay, in her article “New Zealand is tackling hot-button liberal issues in one swoop.”
The New York Times, 11-26-19
Mr. Barr has embraced wholesale the “religious liberty” rhetoric of today’s Christian nationalist movement. When religious nationalists invoke “religious freedom,” it is typically code for religious privilege. The freedom they have in mind is the freedom of people of certain conservative and authoritarian varieties of religion to discriminate against those of whom they disapprove or over whom they wish to exert power. . . . The purpose of this “religious liberty” rhetoric is not just to secure a place of privilege, but also to justify public funding for the right kind of religion.
Katherine Stewart and Caroline Fredrickson, in their op-ed “Bill Barr thinks America is going to hell.”
The New York Times, 12-29-19
As an atheist who dealt repeatedly with creationists as they attempted to force their myth into the science curriculum, I can attest that I have never viewed Genesis as “a pack of lies.” Rather, I view it as ancient fiction.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a lie as “a false statement made with intent to deceive.” Those who constructed the Genesis account of creation could not have known that their story was false by the scientific standards we now hold. Modern religious zealots who still promulgate scriptural creation myths as true when they know better are, however, a different matter. They, indeed, are guilty of lying.
Joseph D. McInerney, former president of the National Association of Biology Teachers, writing to The New York Times to respond to Karen Armstrong’s contention that atheists view the bible as “a pack of lies.”
The New York Times, 12-13-19
If the “war on Christmas” didn’t exist, conservatives would have had to invent it. Which pretty much explains why they did.
Editorial, “The phony ‘war on Christmas’ returns.”