Letterbox (April 2021)

Joe, 94, gets his Covid-19 vaccine

I just received my first Covid-19 shot, but oh, what a runaround I got because I didn’t have a certain bar code. I felt as though I was asking for a million dollars when I went for my vaccination and had to beg as my papers were not in order.

I said, “Have a heart. My hand shakes so much that I can hardly write my name. I do not have a printer on my computer, so I could not print out the bar code.” Apparently, our county has a short supply of vaccine and has to guard  it as if it is their money in the bank. Ha! I had zero reaction from the shot; just frustrated that there was so much red tape to get into the place.

When I was 17 and entered the Navy, we were given many shots on the same day. We walked down a single line, and doctors on both sides of the line were sticking needles in our arms without even looking at faces. One poor guy staggered backwards, and the pharmacists giving the shots, who looked at nothing except arms, shot him again in both arms. The poor guy then fainted and had to be carried away. 

Our arms were so sore from these shots that we were forced to do pushups to work the fluids on through our bodies. The next day I could hardly move my arms. Nothing like that occurs today as we all sit in our cars, roll down our windows, stick our arms out, and that is that. We didn’t even shut off our motors.

Instead of hoarding the formulas, the vaccine formulas should readily be given to more manufacturers, and the government could reimburse the original developers for their work.

Joe Cunningham

Editor’s note: Joe, who turns 95 in April, is a longtime FFRF member who served on the FFRF Board of Directors for nearly 30 years.

FFRF Member Joseph Cunningham stands next to FFRF’s “Atheists in Foxholes” monument outside its national office in Madison, Wis. (Photo by Andrew L. Seidel)

‘Unity’ Super Bowl ad was too focused on religion

The Super Bowl ad by Jeep, featuring Bruce Springsteen and showing a church in the “center” of the country and promoting unity in the “Re-United States of America” left me flat.

The current religious make-up in America is about 25 percent nonreligious. So even though that church is “open to everyone,” as an avowed atheist, I have never set foot in it despite standing at that very spot. Do you think any other non-Christian is likely to enter that chapel?

A little history. In 1829, the Delawares were the first Indians to sign a treaty giving them land in what was to become Kansas. After 1830, the Cherokee, Chippewa, Delaware, Iowa, Iroquois, Kaskaskia, Kickapoo, Munsee, Ottawa, Peoria, Piankashaw, Potawatomi, Quapaw, Sac and Fox, Shawnee, Stockbridge, Wea and Wyandot lived there. Although these emigrant tribes were assured by the federal government that they would not be moved again, Kansas Territory opened for settlement in 1854 and once again forced the removal of Native peoples. Many more settlers moved into Kansas Territory after the Civil War, accelerating the movement of Indians off the land. This was displacement by white Christians citing a “manifest destiny” – Christian Nationalism. Placing a Christian chapel there has no purpose other than staking a territorial claim to a religious (white) supremacy.

There can be no unity until there has been accountability. As of now, half of us don’t believe the other half. How does wishing for unity without recognizing a common reality work? Ignoring facts and history will only get us further from each other.

Jack Shields
New Hampshire

Editor’s note: This (edited) letter was originally published in the Concord (N.H.) Monitor on Feb. 14.

Christian Nationalism is a threat to all of us

The horrible events at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6 were a grim and frightening illustration of the violent potential inherent in the Christian Nationalist movement. The angry mob was seemingly intent on murder and one police officer was indeed killed during the tumultuous riot. Vice President Mike Pence narrowly escaped.

During the ransacking of the Capitol building, some members of the mob paused to pray to their Christian god. They truly believed that their violence was divinely sanctioned. This was the epitome of insane delusional thinking. Using religion to justify this horrendous violence calls to mind dark chapters of American history, where groups such as the Ku Klux Klan felt that the god of Christianity sanctioned a racist social system and the violence that was used to maintain it.

I once thought that American society had progressed beyond the violent Christian Nationalism of the past. I am no longer so optimistic. A new version of Christian Nationalism and its accompanying violence has arrived, and what we witnessed on Jan. 6 was as terrible as any similar events from history.

What can we do? I’m not sure what the solution is. I would hope that all FFRF members will read Andrew L. Seidel`s brilliant book The Founding Myth and educate themselves concerning the illiberal ideology called Christian Nationalism. It’s violent and it’s a threat to us all.

Robert Hunter

Column on end-of-life options was appreciated

As a member of Compassion & Choices, I appreciated the article on end-of-life options. My father was very ill, and yet he managed to end his life with dignity, but alone. It would have been better if he could have had compassionate help.

On a lighter note: I love reading the very thoughtful student essays. Congratulations to all the entrants. And I enjoyed doing the crossword puzzle.

Kate Retzlaff

Asner portraying Bryan seems counterintuitive

I found it interesting and beyond curious that Ed Asner played the real-life character of William Jennings Bryan, impassioned defender of the bible’s veracity, in the play, “Inherit the Wind,” a drama about the 1925 Scopes “monkey” trial.

The play’s protagonist, Clarence Darrow, in character and real life, defended the teacher who was being prosecuted for teaching evolution. Playwrights Robert E. Lee and Jerome Lawrence laced the Darrow character with brilliant arguments revealing the scientific nonsense of Bryan’s unfailing allegiance to scripture.

With Asner’s well-known political and theological positions, I would love to know how he prepared for a role that is so perfectly opposite of his personal beliefs.

Donald Marine

Editor’s note: For the answer, watch the “Freethought Matters” interview with Asner (on YouTube).

Blog post calls out Biden’s religious moves

I want to thank Annie Laurie Gaylor for her blog post, “Drop the state religion blither-blather — We need ‘a new day.’” I had inwardly (OK, outwardly, too) recoiled when a Christian prayer was spoken at the civic observance at the Lincoln Memorial that millions of us were sharing, only to be confronted the very next day with that dreadful hymn, “Amazing Grace.”

I doubt those will be isolated instances in the Biden presidency. He has been steeped in the Catholic tea for 78 years. And, although we can be grateful that Biden won’t be grabbing women by their nether regions or inciting an insurrection, he will continue to step on that line separating state from church.

Your article brilliantly detailed the problems these religious actions present to a nation not united by Christianity. I’ve read it twice, shared it with others and saved it to read again someday when I need inspiration.

Marian Wiggins

Can we stop Florida’s voucher bill from passing?

Congratulations on the perfect rating from Charity Navigator. I’m not surprised, as I see the evidence of how my donations are used every time I read my Freethought Today (cover to cover). By the way, I love the addition of the crossword puzzle. 

I’m impressed by and grateful for FFRF’s accomplishments, transparency and accountability.    

However, I am concerned about Florida Senate Bill 48. It expands Florida’s school voucher programs to the detriment of public schools and the benefit of charter and private schools. The bill would reduce the frequency of audits, increase the yearly growth rate of the voucher programs, and expand the use of public funds for parents to “shop” for private schools or homeschool services. I believe this bill violates the separation of church and state by using public dollars to pay religious or church-affiliated school tuition. 

Yes, I’m already calling legislators to oppose the bill. I thought this might be worth a look for FFRF, or possible legal challenge if (when) it passes.

Thanks for all you do.

Heidi Juhl

Right-to-die issue has some important caveats

Thank you for the critical article by Lamar Hankins on the right-to-die issue in the January/February Freethought Today.

My late partner took advantage of our state’s Death with Dignity (DwD) program when she was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. I am a promoter of both the DwD program and the Final Exit Network.

Some information in the article was new and welcome. However, a couple of comments are warranted. Outside of Holland and Switzerland, there are no countries that sanction euthanasia. Medical Assistance in Dying is not a euthanasia program in that one must be terminally ill to be eligible. Hopefully, over time, that will change.

Also, the term “state-sponsored suicide” is not applicable to the DwD programs. When my partner was diagnosed, we found there were two doctors, living here on our island in Washington, associated with the program. One helped write the state law.

He told us they went to great extremes to remove any suggestion of suicide from the bill and that the cause of death was listed as that which would have killed the person had they not enrolled in the program. This is critical for such things as insurance policies and other benefits that are usually withheld in the case of suicide. Terminology is important. That’s one reason I use the term “god-free” instead of “godless.”

Jack Pedigo

Ben Bova was inspiration as author and editor

I was saddened to hear of the death of Ben Bova. I was the one who brought him to FFRF’s attention as a possible guest on the Freethought Radio show in 2007. I had met Ben at the 1993 Isaac Asimov seminar in New York. Ben was one of the panelists (who made clear his atheism) at the seminar, which dealt with how space exploration could be used to benefit humanity.

He was a very congenial person. He told me that he was a frequent visitor to New York City and that his favorite restaurant was a place near Union Square called Paulie & Jimmy’s. I subsequently dined there a few times and it became one of my favorites.

As a science fiction buff, I have read a number of Bova’s novels and enjoyed them all. He was truly a major figure in the field of science fiction, both as an author and as an editor.

Dennis Middlebrooks
New York

There is help for those with religious trauma

I came across the Feb. 3 YouTube video from “The Hang Up” with Dr. Darrel Ray, with special guest Andrew L. Seidel. I had no idea about the Freedom From Religion Foundation organization before that.

Anyway, I’m an atheist and I’ve been in 12-step recovery for 36 years. I began an Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) meeting for atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, humanists and those struggling with the concept of a power greater than themselves. ACA is also a critical support need for people with religious trauma (as it often relates directly back to childhood dysfunction).

I’m also working to start ACA Agnostica. The need is real. We started small (two people) but are now up to three meetings a week with many more participants. If you don’t know about ACA, take the time to learn. Childhood trauma, coupled with religious trauma, is tough to recover from and we are here to help. 

Julianne Vered

Carl Sagan story was reminder of ‘Planet’ poem

Hearing that Carl Sagan held his daughter above his head shortly after her birth and told her, “Welcome to the planet Earth” was a delight. I just heard this anecdote in your conversation with Sasha Sagan on the Freethought Radio podcast (Jan. 28), which I listen to every weekend as I prepare submissions of my poetry to various publishers.

I cannot resist sharing my poem “Welcome to the Planet,” written in 1990 and published in 2000 in my third book Portable Planet.

Thank you for all of your excellent work, and I hope you enjoy the poem.

Welcome to the Planet

a greeting to newborn humans

This day, we welcome you.

We teach our ways to greet you.

We are one kind among many the world encircles.

Touch all gently.

Our people are near us always.

Find yourself among the best.

Cities display our inventions and designs.

Watch, wonder, and wander away.

Highways are dark and long, concrete and crowded.

Make your own way.

Birds and beasts bring news of the planet.

Good news for your ears only.

The sea foretells the past and future.

Live now.

Soil is the source of the great and the humble.

See the small creatures close.

Mountains reveal nothing lasts.

Make peace with this.

Rivers flow in the direction of days.

Mark the many courses well.

Woods are where the world breathes.

Breathe deeply.

We greet you as your way begins.

Welcome to the planet.

Welcome home.

Eric Paul Schaffer

Crossword puzzle makes newspaper even better!

I was very pleased to find a crossword puzzle in Freethought Today. I think it makes an already excellent publication even better! Keep up the good work.

Darlene Fouquet

Reading Crankmail offers a gamut of emotions

Count mine as a “yes” vote to keep the Crankmail section in this great publication. Reading those few inches of newsprint every issue, I experience the whole gamut of emotions: laugh-out-loud amusement, of course, and admiration for any public school teacher who keeps trying to teach grammar and spelling and science to such knowledge-resistant students.

Then I read the cranks’ outlandish threats (i.e., “Hopefully all atheists get covid and vanish”) and just feel puzzled. Didn’t these born-again MAGA’s waste the past year insisting that the virus is just a hoax dreamed up by secular politicians to stomp on their “religious freedoms”?

Now, suddenly, a miracle has transformed Covid-19 into a horrifying punishment for us freethinkers?

These are the cautionary lessons each Crankmail column teaches us. Reason and logic are ineffectual protections against religion. We need stringent laws to fortify the wall between state and church.

Jehnana Balzer

Atheists need to be seen as caring and moral

For those frustrated trying to reason with fundamentalist friends and relatives, don’t bother. After years of trying to reason with believers, I got nowhere. When one is taught that nonbelievers are enemies of God, it follows that they must be immoral, and if not hated, at least ignored. So, it occurred to me to try something different and nonthreatening.

Those of us who contribute to secular charities get “thank you” responses. I started a pile of these. Of course, they include the testaments from these organizations (Doctors without Borders, Human Rights Watch, Global Fund for Women, etc.) as to where the money goes and why (i.e., to relieve suffering, empower women, etc.).

I took that pile, put it in a large envelope and sent it to them with “Positive news” written on the envelope so they wouldn’t throw it away. I left out any commentary. My goal was to make it difficult to dismiss atheists as non-caring and/or immoral. We need to be seen as compassionate and moral.

Carl Scheiman

Media failed to tie riot to Christian Nationalism

As member and secular citizen, why is it that the legacy media fails to mention that the insurrection was led by Christian Nationalist zealots? All we hear about are the ties to white supremacy, but not the intersection of these two toxic ideologies. Thank you for the work you do and continue to do in defending the Jeffersonian wall of separation.

Christopher Kendel

FFRF convention in Texas may not be safest place

Since FFRF announced the cancellation of last year’s convention in San Antonio, Texas, I am hoping that the virus conditions will allow for the 2021 conference [in Boston].

However, in the interim, Texas politics have become a national issue. Considering the profile of their gun culture and the ugly rise of Christian Nationalism, it might be a good time to reconsider the venue that might be an attractive target for the radicals in that state. Keep in mind the safety of those who want to participate in these events.

This is just my vote for a safer location, as I am looking forward to the return of in-person events that build consensus opinions and community.

Bette Hammerle Inman
North Carolina

Editor’s note: FFRF is always cognizant of safety issues when hosting its conventions and takes substantial precautions for the safety of its members. The 2021 convention is planned for Boston and then San Antonio in 2022.