Overheard (Oct. 2021)

Nobody really chooses a religion. We’re born with it and then we try to justify it because we get emotionally attached.  

Alaa Al Awwany, renowned Egyptian novelist.

Wall Street Journal, 8-6-21

The end-of-the-world vision at the heart of the new Republican orthodoxy may help explain a further observation: The people who attend these kinds of religious nationalist gatherings — the activist backbone of the Republican Party — are in no mood to back down from the Jan. 6th attempt to subvert the presidential election through a brutal and disgraceful attack on our Capitol. 

Columnist and author Katherine Stewart, in her article, “What’s missing from popular discussions of today’s Christian nationalism?”

Religion Dispatches, 8-9-21

False equivalence is the bread and butter of the post-truth approach, and the upshot, thanks to misguided media insistence on giving “both sides” of any “controversy” a hearing, has been the normalization of extremism and the enabling of America’s surging conspiratorial far Right — especially the Christian Right.

Chrissy Stroop, in her article, “Is being trans a religion? Why the Christian Right wants you to think so.”

Religion Dispatches, 8-6-21

Why are we systematically killing the scientific spirit by instilling in our citizens a body of irrational thought? Let us unite to denounce pseudoscience and promote the scientific spirit and temper.

Partha P. Majumder, writing about the establishment of a Master’s program in astrology at Indira Gandhi National Open University.

The Indian Express, 8-25-21

Many rank-and-file conservative Christians have come to see their faith as a form of identity threatened by the forces of secularism and diversity.

E.J. Dionne Jr., in his column, “Can religion strengthen democracy?”

Washington Post, 8-25-21 

Democrats must not take for granted the increasing number of atheists and agnostics in their coalition. . . . Data indicate that atheists are the most politically active religious group in the United States in recent years. In a 2018 survey, atheists were twice as likely to donate money or work for a political candidate as white evangelicals. Atheists want the Democratic Party to become more progressive and are unlikely to remain silent if they don’t see changes.

Ryan Burge, political science professor at Eastern Illinois University, in his column, “A more secular America is not just a problem for Republicans.”

The New York Times, 8-25-21

I am sure Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who famously spends a good deal of his time composing press releases about religious liberty issues in other states, will be proud to see that Texas’s robust religious liberty laws, which he so vociferously champions, will prevent future abortion rituals from being interrupted by superfluous government restrictions meant only to shame and harass those seeking an abortion.

Lucien Greaves, spokesperson for The Satanic Temple, which is suing Texas for the abortion restrictions “which impede TST’s abortion ritual.”

TheSatanticTemple.com, 9-5-21

Meet a member: After three churches, Brooks Rimes found reason

Brooks Rimes with his wife Brenda.

Name: Brooks Rimes.

Where I live: Grand Island, N.Y.

Where and when I was born: Buffalo, N.Y., 1953.

Family: I live with my wife, Brenda. We celebrated our 40th anniversary in March.  Sons, their spouses and grandchildren live nearby.

Education: I have an associate of applied sciences degree in data processing and professional certifications from Microsoft.

Occupation: I retired in 2015 from software work with a major regional bank headquartered in Buffalo. During my career, I spent many years at Moore Business Forms and Electronic Data Systems (during the Ross Perot years). I also have a sole proprietorship (“The Access Guy”) and continue to do a small amount of paid and pro-bono work.  

How I got where I am today: I was raised Roman Catholic, attended a public school, but once a week was sent to “religious instructions” and made my first communion and confirmation in the Roman Catholic Church. Later, my mother took my brother and me to a Wesleyan Methodist church. Members jumping out of their pews to give personal testimonials in the middle of a sermon were quite a departure from the Catholic Church. Later, I joined a Presbyterian church due to the minister being such a nice fellow and became a deacon and quite involved in that church.  

Where I’m headed: Doing snowbirding throughout the United States in a motorhome with my wife. Later, traveling to a long bucket list of international destinations when the Covid-19 situation improves.

Person in history I admire and why: Carl Sagan, both for his work in astronomy (creator of “Cosmos”) and his freethinking writing.

A quotation I like: “I feel that we should stop wasting our time trying to please the supernatural and concentrate on improving the welfare of human beings.” — Ruth Hurmence Green, American author.

Things I like: Travel, hiking, biking, doing things with our sons and grandchildren, board games, puzzles, writing software, mysteries, science fiction, libraries and Mensa gatherings.

Things I smite: All those who try to force their religion onto others and/or remove the separation between church and state.

My doubts about religion started: The three churches I attended raised many unanswerable questions in my mind. My tipping point came shortly after a family member joined a born-again Christian church and I learned of their beliefs that they were the only ones that would go to heaven. It became apparent that all the major religions have conflicting and ludicrous supernatural beliefs. It was time to stop thinking about which was “correct” and to come to the obvious conclusion that they are all false and based on fables.  

Before I die: I would like to live for one or more months in one or more foreign countries and I would like to see the percent of “Nones” in the USA dramatically increase.

Ways I promote freethought: Belonging to and supporting FFRF, the Center For Inquiry and American Atheists. And writing the book Freethinking Cryptograms (available on Amazon). 

[Editor’s note: His cryptogram puzzles are featured in each issue on Page 4.] 

I wish you had asked me about: Volunteer work. I am a past member of the Lions Club International and Rotary International and currently work with the local chapter of SCORE, an arm of the Small Business Administration that mentors entrepreneurs.

Crankmail (Oct. 2021)

Welcome to this issue’s Crankmail, where we post correspondence received (via snail mail, email or social media) from those who seem to take issue with FFRF’s cause. Printed as received.

Ridiculous: Just read in the local newspaper in Canton Ohio that thanks to you a prayer will no longer be said before the local board meetings. Don’t give me state-religion separation, the Constitution doesn’t and never has mandated that. The person who summoned you from our area won’t even give her name, that takes a lot of courage to stand up for some cock-amaney belief. I would hope when your judgement day comes, the Man upstairs remembers this and you are held accountable. — Robert Feller

The Bible is true: There are no contradictions in the bible, these fools are like many in a church who read the bible and think there are contradictions as well. 1st retarded argument about 8 0r 18, in Hebrew the difference is a tick mark, and he is talking about a translated document to English from 2 different books. I went to court a few years ago and there were mistakes in the police report that would never have been fixed if someone didnt go to court- and that was 5 years ago not 5000. I laugh when she say Liberals are more Rational, roglmao. — Stella Murtaugh

Go away!: Once again you’re are butting your nose into places it does not belong. Stay out of Texas, we do not want you here. You need to stay up there where you are and tend to your own business. So shut the hell up, we do not care about your Freedom from Religion Foundation. You people are freaks. If you don’t believe in God, then why does a cross bother you so much??? Don’t mess w/Texas, we DO NOT WANT YOU HERE and we don’t care about your cause. — Sue Overbeek 

Silly: I find it hard to believe that you can’t find something else to do rather than stir up trouble about a cross in the city park. Just because your foundation doesn’t believe in Christianity doesn’t mean you can impose your disbelief on us. It just makes your foundation look very silly. — Kay Horvath

COWARDS: Thank you so much for posting pictures of your board. I’m going to use them to teach my kids what a coward looks like. — Peter Wolcott

Learn the constitution: Your entire organization is a joke and a waste of time. You attack Christian people like my old coach. The constitution says freedom of religion, meaning you can choose whatever you want or don’t want. It doesn’t say “from”. So preventing a coach or player from practicing his or her religion on or off school campus is UNCONSTITUTIONAL, as well is attacking the people that do. No one has the right to take away my rights or the rights of the tea chers and coaches. You might want to read the constitution a few more times because your entire organization just got torn apart by a 19 year old that knows more than you do about the rights of citizens and the U.S. constitution. — Nolan Ploth

Discrimination: Christians can sue your organization for discriminating against the Christians. Christians has the same amount of freedom of speech like everyone else does. This means you lost this round. You media wanna-be atheist attention can’t win all the time. Makes it unfair! Enough is enough! Also I’m telling the media not to broadcast your protest on radio, tv and news paper worldwide. Make sure you tell your attorneys what I said. — Mike Robinson

Yuck!: You are the scum of the earth…nothing your organization does means a damn thing to intelligent people…you are disgusting but I’m sure you already know that…get a life or a job for CHRIST sakes!! — Bobby Unger

Stay away from us: you need to mind your own business. Your not even from our town. Stick your nose in hell…a warrior for God — Sally Pantages

They Said What? (Oct. 2021)

God does not want us wearing masks. . . . A mask is a symbol of fear. If you have a mask on, it means you actually don’t trust God. You don’t have faith.

DeAnna Lorraine, GOP activist who lost a California primary bid to unseat Rep. Nancy Pelosi in 2020, during a livestream broadcast.

Patheos.com, 7-17-21

The God hypothesis is constantly vindicated by the comprehensibility of the universe, and the capacity of our reason to unlock its many secrets. 

Columnist Ross Douthat, in his piece, “A guide to finding faith.”

The New York Times, 8-22-21

Now is the time for prayer! Mississippi’s official seal bears the words “In God We Trust.” This is the moment for us to put into practice what we say we believe, trusting in God to get us through these difficult days. As a fellow Mississippian, I’m asking you to join me in praying for one another and asking God to bring healing here in Mississippi and across America.

Andy Gipson, Mississippi’s agriculture and commerce commissioner.

Facebook, 8-25-21

When you believe in eternal life — when you believe that living on this Earth is but a blip on the screen, then you don’t have to be so scared of things.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, on why that people in his state were “less scared” of Covid-19.

Yahoo News, 8-29-21

A Christian has no responsibility to obey any government outside of the scope that has been designated by God.

Sam Jones, a pastor at Faith Baptist Church in Hudson, Iowa, in a letter to parishioners stating that he would offer “religious exemption” letters to those seeking to not be vaccinated. 

The New York Times, 9-11-21

We need better parenting . . . We need to restore God in our communities. If we do that, we will be able to reduce crime in this region.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, after signing into law a bill that makes it harder to get out of jail on bail.

AlterNet.com, 9-13-21

Letterbox (Oct. 2021)

Helping to stop a prayer at 50th reunion

A few days before attending a 50th reunion for my public high school class in Menomonee Falls, Wis., a member of the reunion committee sent an email to everyone asking if we should invite a pastor to say a prayer for the departed.

The reunion chair responded: “I’m sure we can request a short moment of silence for our deceased classmates. I’ll also try to find someone to say a grace. Can anyone think of a classmate that I should consider?”

As I read all this, I wasn’t sure what to do. I had attended a public school, yet I did not want to say anything for fear of being ostracized by old friends and acquaintances. 

Fortunately, after that, a classmate wrote: “If we do that, we should keep it real non-denominational, because we had someone in the Optimist’s Club offended by the wording of our prayers at the beginning of our meetings, because she is Jewish.” 

Although I retired from the law practice years ago, that email gave me the courage to put my gloves back on and to fight once more for what is right. I wrote: “Hello, everyone: I agree regarding the need for a public high school-sponsored event to be nondenominational. A moment of silence for the deceased is acceptable, as it is neutral as to religion. I suggest we use the moment of silence for both remembering the deceased and for each individual’s silent thoughts or prayers.”

Although I lost a few “friends,” they heeded my advice, and the reunion conducted just a moment of silence, without a pastor, a prayer or anyone giving any grace at dinner.

Jeff B.

The younger generations are truly less religious

Freethought Today’s articles about increasingly secular attitudes among younger Americans are spot on, and here is an example: I recently handed two $20 bills to a Panera bakery employee to pay for bagels and bread. 

“Did you do this?” the young woman asked, pointing to the bold block lettering: “In Reason We Trust.”

“Yup! I’m an atheist,” I said.

“Cool,” she replied.

“No one asked me if I want religious dogma printed on our money and it is not true or right,” I explained.

“That is true,” she cheerfully agreed, handling me a 25-cent coin celebrating the “flying fox” bats of American Samoa. That quarter’s motto? E pluribus unum!

Jehnana B.

For religious believers, Trumpism an easy leap

People have asked why so many Trump supporters are members of Christian religious sects. I figure if somebody believes in virgin birth, the holy trinity and the resurrection, you can probably get them to believe almost anything. 

Arthur N.

Thank you so much for essay contest award 

Thank you so much for giving me an honorable mention through your essay contest scholarship program. I appreciate the opportunity to not only fund my college, but also to share my experience with how religion is obstructing my daily life by encouraging the distrust of science. Your work to educate society has and will impact many others besides me, and I look forward to seeing the great advancements this organization cultivates.

Libby A.

Jefferson tried to avoid Declaration controversy   

In their attempts to assert that the U.S. is a religious, even Christian nation, proponents point to the Declaration of Independence. The words “all men are created equal . . . endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights,” are used to support the theocratic view.

What I find missing in most debates over the meaning of these words is the context. In the 18th century, much of Europe was ruled by monarchs who claimed “divine right” to occupy their thrones. A religious skeptic, Thomas Jefferson likely believed that human liberty was a natural state of affairs — no need for a deity to grant rights. But in the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson chose not to muddy the waters by asserting that there wasn’t any deity to grant rights to anyone. Instead, his document essentially said to King George III: Whatever rights you claim, we as free men have equal rights. You have not been given the right to rule over us. 

With this interpretation, emphasizing equal rights regardless of whether they come from nature or a creator, Jefferson avoided adding a religious controversy over the primary issue of independence. Mention of a “creator” shielded Jefferson from being branded a godless radical. He simply asserted that “all men are created equal.”    

Thomas K. J.

Church tax breaks are one form of socialism 

Since the year 2000, I’ve lived in four red states (Georgia, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Arizona). In each of these states (as well, as all the other red states), there’s a conspicuous loathing and hostility toward anything considered either communistic and/or socialistic.

But how and why should this be?

After all, as most of us freethinkers already probably know, anyone who considers themselves a practicing Christian has been taught to believe that Jesus can transport them after they die to a Christian heaven. And, in return for such benefits, practicing Christians can deduct whatever they donate to their church from what they are otherwise obligated to pay in income tax. However, such tax breaks are akin to socialism. And anything socialistic, according to actual believing Christians, is not only unpatriotic, un-American, and outright subversive, but also unconstitutional and opposed to everything our founding fathers stood for.

So, if Christians so despise socialism, why do they look forward so enthusiastically to spending their eternity in what is expected to be an authoritarian communist/socialist paradise, where every basic human need is provided by the Christian God, who’s a dictator.

And why don’t GOP Christians consider the tax exemptions the federal government gives to their churches socialistic?

William D.

It’s clear that God wants us to be naked

Oh, how I’d love to attend these city council and school board meetings across this great “Christian” country.

A tweet: “’If God had wanted us to cover our nose and mouth, he would have made us that way,’ said a woman with glasses on.”

Me: We weren’t made with a covering over our bodies either, so obviously we’re not to wear anything. Take off your clothes! Now!

Marian W.

Religion has always been an inherited belief

Here is an excerpt from my book, Finite Human Infinite Humanity:

Billions of people believe they have a soul that will be resurrected into heaven, while millions of other people believe they have a soul that will be reincarnated into a newborn. These somewhat similar beliefs are incompatible. They can’t both be true, otherwise we humans must admit the gods are playing us for fools! 

To resolve this dilemma, sociologists point out that neither is true. These two beliefs are simply cultural norms, useful as a psychological reward to motivate people to act morally and cooperate harmoniously with other members of their in-group. When what you believe depends on where you were born, religion loses all credibility and becomes just another game of chance, and who wants to bet their life on that? 

The 5th century BCE Greek historian Herodotus described this cultural relativism: “Everyone believes . . . the religion he was brought up in is the best.” In other words, religion is an inherited belief – inherited from their parents’ generation, who inherited it from their parents’ generation, going all the way back to hunter-gatherers 11,600 years ago at Gobekli Tepe of southern Turkey.   

Richard B.

Prez needs to know that atheists are here, too

I sent this email to the White House: 

I adore the president and believe he is doing a good job in tough times, but I have to pipe up about the God and bible thing. He needs to be aware that there are now more atheists in this country than Jews and Catholics combined. Less than 37 percent of the population goes to church. More than a third of all millennials are atheists. The church is effectively dead in highly educated Northern and Western Europe. The Anglican Church of Canada went bankrupt. Religion is a dying thing. While we certainly do not begrudge the believers their right to superstitions and imaginary friends in the sky, we consider it inappropriate for the leader of this country to make references to the bible when discussing things like Afghanistan. Please remember that secular Americans are out there when you are at the podium. We will appreciate it. 

Judy E.

Christian Scientists led the way for exemptions

Regarding the letter “Why do some religions object to vaccinations?” in the August issue, here is a brief history.

In the 1860s and 1870s, Mary Baker Eddy came up with a religion called “Christian Science,” in which I was raised. The central idea is that only God is real, and thus everything is good, and evil is an illusion. Thus, medical care is an improper false belief in the reality of evil, and so bad things should be only resisted “spiritually,” and, so, using doctors is a denial that the physical world is unreal, and should be avoided.

The religion became popular in the early 20th century. It set up a committee in every state to lobby for state laws to exempt its members from medical obligations. At the time, Christian Science was about the only one saying this, so every state figured it was no big harm to allow such exemptions, and even to phrase them as being for any religion.

So, for religions that avoid doctors anyway, avoiding vaccinations is an obvious consequence. For others who object to vaccinations, this religious exemption is just an excuse.

One might also note that when Mary Baker Eddy needed to go to the dentist or the optometrist, the church said that we all need to be “humanely wise,” but never laid out when it is appropriate to act like a wise human, and when it is best to deny physical reality. An extremist Christian Scientist would not only avoid vaccination, but they would also avoid going to a hospital if they couldn’t breathe.

Bruce M.

Elected officials use religion to advance goals

Short of going way back to show the impact of religion, or any other form for superstition, let’s just remember how German Catholicism and Protestantism made Hitler’s WWII possible, with “Gott mit uns” (“God with us”) on every soldier’s belt buckle. It has been shown conclusively that WWII would have been impossible if the religious forces had opposed Hitler, rather than going along with him and supported his evil plans, including extermination of the Jews.

Without evangelical support, neither Reagan nor Bush Jr. nor Trump would have been elected to an office they were unqualified for.

Instead of being supported, Bush Jr. should have been laughed out of office when he claimed that “God told me to go into Afghanistan and Iraq.” 

When did we begin to take seriously people hearing voices in their heads?

How many youngsters through hundreds of years would have been saved from sexual abuse by Catholic priests if people hadn’t been superstitious enough to be fooled by such nonsense? And how many boys would have been left intact if it weren’t for the religiously based circumcision nonsense?

Religion has always fought science and common sense throughout human history, and George W. Bush was no exception when he limited stem cell research as soon as he came into office.

We’re better off without religion, and not electing top officials on basis of superstitious claims.

Jorg A.

Hawaiian officials, please stand for women’s rights

Here is a letter I sent to Sen. Mazie Hirono, Sen. Brian Schatz, and Rep. Kaiali‘i Kahele: 

Aloha. In these days of constant attention to health and safety concerning the pandemic, I hope you will join me in also devoting equal attention to the rights of women to determine their own health decisions. Women and men are equal citizens, and legislators should never limit women’s rights to maintain and control their medical choices. 

In the name of fairness, equity and the U.S. Constitution, and as your constituent, I urge you to support the rights of women in every way and to oppose every effort to overturn or undermine the landmark decision of Roe v. Wade. 

As you know, most objections to women’s rights are rooted in religion, and in the United States, that usually means Christianity. The Christian supremacist movements, overt and covert, are a threat to the rights of every American, so we must be vigilant concerning these efforts to undermine our rights to exercise our religions and our efforts to free ourselves from religion. 

I agree fully with John F. Kennedy, who stated, “I believe in an America where the separation between church and state is absolute . . . where no religiousbody seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials.” 

I urge you to stand resolutely for the rights of women, every right, all women, now and in the future, but especially now. Please act to protect and reinforce women’s rights to determine their own health decisions. 

Eric Paul S.

Ohio school board did right thing about prayer

This was sent as a letter to the editor of the Canton Repository newspaper in Ohio:

Regarding the Aug. 3 article “Canton School Board to discontinue use of prayer during meetings,’’ I applaud the Canton School Board for doing the right thing and ending prayer at a public school meeting. No family should feel excluded at a public school meeting, and by keeping things neutral and secular, all will feel welcome to attend and speak out.

As a local resident who is a pro-choice, liberal, atheist activist, people need to know that atheists and nonbelievers are just like everyone else. We believe in helping people and don’t need religion to tell us that it’s the right thing to do. There are resources for nonbelievers such as the Secular Student Alliance and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which offers scholarships to high school and college students. 

As for the Aug. 17 letter complaining about the end of prayer (“School board needs a backbone”), do what you want at your home, but public schools and government must be secular to include everyone. 

Nancy D.

Title of research had negative stereotype 

An “In The News” item from the September issue has me a little confused. To the authors of the study mentioned in the piece, why call your research study “Is There Anything Good About Atheists? Exploring Positive and Negative Stereotypes of the Religious and Nonreligious,” when “Exploring Positive and Negative Stereotypes of the Religious and Nonreligious” would work just as well? Without the first part of the title, a casual observer like me might get the impression the study was unbiased.

The authors included a negative atheist stereotype in the title of their research about negative atheist stereotypes. One doesn’t see that kind of irony every day!

But if being more likely to be thought a serial killer is the price I have to pay to be open-minded, scientific and — especially — fun at parties, well, so be it.

Steve T.
Guerrero, Mexico

In memoriam: Jim and Julie Ede helped educate Alaskans

Jim and Julie Ede relax inside and outside their Wasilla, Alaska, home called the “Ede Den.”

FFRF Lifetime Member James Colin Ede died of natural causes at his homestead property, the Ede Den, on Dec. 9, 2020, one day past his 88th birthday. Just six months later, Julia Alice Ede died of natural causes at her daughter Ella’s home on June 15.

Julie was born Aug. 1, 1931, in Frankfurt, Ind., to Carter Wallace and Verna Wallace. Jim was born on Dec. 8, 1932, in Knox, Ind., to Colin Ede and Ethel Ede.

Jim was an only child and attended Purdue University for a year following high school. From 1952-1955, he served in the U.S. Army and was stationed at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, Alaska, during the Korean War. He returned to Indiana to complete college on the GI bill and met his wife Julie at Indiana University. They married on Aug. 23, 1958. 

In 1959, Jim and Julie set out for an adventure driving up the Alcan in a VW bus with their 9-year-old son, Stephen, to become educators in the new state of Alaska. They arrived at the Anchorage Park Strip on July 4 to see the Alaska state flag raised for the first time. From there, they settled into their first teaching job in Koyukuk. They taught school in five rural Alaska villages, as well as in Wasilla and Anchorage, for many years. Jim was very involved in promoting rural education and was president of the National Education Association-Alaska. Julie went on to teach many more years at Chugiak Elementary School until she retired in 1993.

In 1961, Jim and Julie bought their 50-acre homestead property, later called “The Ede Den” in Wasilla. Originally a two-room homesteader cabin, Jim added on over the years to build their dream home furnished in Alaskan-inspired art, raised their three children (Stephen, Diana and Ella), ran a bed-and-breakfast and an antique business.

In their younger years, they often travelled internationally to Canada, Europe and Asia.

Jim and Julie were both very active in state-wide and community organizations, including arts, education, historical, and political groups. They enjoyed their collectible cars and were involved with the Antique Auto Mushers and the British Car Club. They were active members of the Alaska Democratic Party, Palmer Elks Club, Alaska Pioneer Fruitgrowers Association, the Alaska Hemlock Society, Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PLAG), and the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

Jim shared a passion for reading, antiques, woodworking, beekeeping, gardening, wine making, Dixieland jazz and vintage cars. He was a master tinkerer and could fix almost anything. 

Julie was on the board of the Wasilla Library until 2010. As a longtime teacher, she was passionate about teaching kids to read and promoting literacy. Julie was instrumental in the successful campaign to build a new public library in Wasilla, which she was thrilled to see opened in 2016. Julie visited the library every week to check out books and it was one of her proudest accomplishments to have been part of the campaign for the new library.

If you were family or friends with Julie, she never forgot a birthday and called or visited often. She was known for her generosity and kindness. She once came home from the grocery store with an entire family who needed a place to stay. She was an amazing hostess and threw the best parties and never showed up empty-handed to someone’s home. The Ede Den annual Halloween party was legendary and continues to be an Ede family tradition.

Over the years, Jim and Julie made many friends all over the state. They never knew a stranger and went by the old Alaska practice of paying it forward and always helping a friend or neighbor in need.

In memoriam: Tom Flynn was Free Inquiry editor, secular humanist leader

Tom Flynn gives a presentation on the Freethought Trail at the Center For Inquiry, in Amherst, N.Y., in 2014.
(Photo by Monica Harmsen/Creative Commons)

Tom Flynn, editor of Free Inquiry magazine and former executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, died unexpectedly Aug. 23 at age 66.

Tom was born Aug. 18, 1955, in Erie, Pa. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Xavier University.

Wikipedia details when Tom “converted” to atheism and how he began a lifetime of secular humanism activism: “Acknowledging that he had become an atheist in 1980 while residing in Milwaukee, he visited Milwaukee’s downtown library, looked up ‘atheism’ in the card cataloge, and found the so-called Dresden Edition of The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll on the open stacks. Reading Ingersoll’s florid Gilded Age speeches in defense of agnosticism and atheism confirmed him in his identity as an atheist and kindled his desire to become a public activist for unbelief.”

A statement on Tom’s death from the Center for Inquiry said: “A stark rationalist and staunch atheist if ever there was one, Tom was nonetheless brimming with enthusiasm, curiosity, bold ideas, and perhaps most of all, humor. He had a deep love and encyclopedic knowledge of freethought history and devoted himself to the preservation and rediscovery of American freethought’s great untold stories.”

Flynn also directed the Robert G. Ingersoll Birthplace Museum, which commemorates the 19th-century orator and speaker known as “The Great Agnostic.”

Flynn was also known for his essays on atheism, religion and secular ideals, as well as his satirical science fiction novels, known as the Messiah Trilogy. He wrote The Trouble With Christmas, featuring the Anti-Claus. 

“Tom didn’t believe in magic, but he was magical,” Robyn E. Blumner, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry, said in a statement. “How else to describe this unlikely combination of brilliance, charm, vision, and roll-up-your-sleeves accomplishment?”

Adds Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president, “As well as being a leading expert on Ingersoll, Tom was just plain funny and fun to be around. He and his work will be greatly missed.”

In memoriam: Janet Simmons had intelligence, humor, adventuresome spirit

Family and friends gathered at a neighborhood watering hole on Aug. 29 to raise a glass to Janet Meseroll Simmons, 90, an FFRF member who died in Lakewood, Colo., on Aug. 15 from cardiac arrest.

Janet was born in Metuchen, N.J., on Sept. 2, 1930.  She graduated from Metuchen High School, completed a two-year course in secretarial studies at the Katharine Gibbs School in New York City, and then moved to Washington, D.C.  

In 1952, she crisscrossed the United States in style while working as the assistant press secretary on the Dwight D. Eisenhower presidential campaign.  At the conclusion of the campaign, she moved to Colorado.

Before marrying David L. Simmons, Janet worked various jobs in what were then the small, seasonal mountain towns of Black Hawk and Central City. After marriage, Janet was a stay-at-home mother for 11 years, but was quite active in local Democratic politics, volunteered as a “room mother” when her children were in elementary school, read voraciously, and enjoyed opera, jazz and theater.

When Janet returned to the workforce as the assistant to a C-suite executive in a development firm, her desk was sometimes in a construction trailer and sometimes in a well-appointed office suite. Eventually, the job took her to Los Angeles, where she continued to work until retirement. 

After retirement, she settled in as a dedicated volunteer in the Western History Department of the Denver Public Library. Janet’s gift for organization, making order out of chaos, and careful record keeping were put to good use by the library. Concerned she could no longer move file boxes of documents and not wanting to be a nuisance, she ended her volunteer work when she was 88.

Janet then decided she wanted to live around people her own age, so she sold her condominium and moved into an independent living facility just before Covid-19 hit. The facility locked down and Janet reveled in long days of reading, listening to opera, and frequent phone conversation with family. 

It was during this time she discovered FFRF.  Always a freethinker, Janet delighted in the arrival of Freethought Today, the content of which became a staple in her conversations with daughter Tracy.  

Janet is survived by three children and five grandchildren. Her intelligence, humor and adventuresome spirit are missed by those who knew her. Here’s a toast to a freethinker and a woman ahead of her time!

Janet Simmons

In memoriam: Bobbie Vandegriff was social justice champion

Bobbie Vandegriff

Lifetime Member Roberta “Bobbie” C. Vandegriff, 78, of Tucson, Ariz., died May 21. Roberta was born in Los Angeles on Dec. 8, 1942. She attended public schools in L.A. County before going to La Verne College. She earned a bachelor’s degree in education in 1964 and a master’s degree in teaching science in 1976. From college, she went into teaching physical education for 17 years and then became a financial planner, specializing in annuities. After 14 years in her annuity business, she moved to Tucson and retired from the corporate world to pursue her true passions. During last 27 years, she was a champion for social justice, equality for all genders and stewardship of the environment. 

When remembering Bobbie, family and friends say she was a special person who was always positive, cheerful and shined light into their lives.

She is survived her husband, Don; daughter, Cathy and granddaughter, Lauren and grandson-in-law, Will. She is also survived by sister, Nancy and close cousins, Terry, Lynn and Linda.

Meet a member: Journalist tries to keep politicians honest

Eric Carlson

Name: Eric Carlson.

Where I live: Leelanau County, Mich.

Where and when I was born: Detroit, 1954.

Family: My wife works as a registered nurse. Our daughter, 26, is a graduate of Michigan State University, now living and working in the United Arab Emirates. Our son, 24, is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, now a platoon leader in the 101st Airborne Division. We are all atheists.

Education: I earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University and a master’s degree in communication from the University of Oklahoma.

Occupation: Since 1998, I have been working as a newspaper reporter for a community weekly newspaper that has been named Michigan Newspaper of the Year for the last four years. 

Military service: I retired from the U.S. Marine Corps in 1998 after a 25-year career as a combat correspondent and a public affairs officer. I am a veteran of the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War and the Somali Civil War.

Where I’m headed: We intend to remain in our community here in Michigan. I will throttle down from being a full-time local newspaper reporter eventually.

Person in history I admire and why: I have always enjoyed fantasizing that I am having conversations with Benjamin Franklin. The archetypal American newspaperman, he was a smart guy who made a big difference.

A quotation I like: “Life is tough. But it’s tougher if you’re stupid.” In the Marines, you’d usually see this quotation emblazoned below a picture of John Wayne playing a Marine in the movie “The Sands of Iwo Jima.”

Things I like: Ice cream. Boats.  

Things I smite: Dishonest and unthinking politicians and public officials. I smite them in the newspaper I work for.

My doubts about religion started: When I was about 14 years old and was beginning a four-year stay at a Christian boarding school in Illinois. After four years of serious bible study, prayer and chapel services every day, I finally became ready to call myself an atheist. 

Before I die: I would like to have just a little more fun.

Ways I promote freethought: Lately, I’ve been shining our newspaper’s spotlight on how our county Board of Commissioners wants prayer to be on the agenda of every meeting. In my private life, I am an alcoholic who has remained sober for 38 years with help from an anonymous fellowship of men and women. I am a founding member of a local group known as the Secular Sobriety Group, which is part of a growing worldwide movement within the fellowship.