Letterbox (March 2020)

The Rationalist House in New Zealand.
This photo of Robert Ingersoll sits in the Rationalist House in Auckland, New Zealand.

Visit Rationalist House in New Zealand

As a member of FFRF, I am glad to have had the opportunity to visit the Rationalist House in Auckland, New Zealand. I was able to meet with the secretary, Judy de Leeuwe, who took the time to give me a tour of the office and library areas. She also gave me, unexpectedly, two books (The Secular Trend in New Zealand and Heathen in Godzone), pamphlets like “What do you know about your school’s religious instruction,” and three issues of its magazine, The Open Society.

We had about a half-hour discussion about secularism in New Zealand and the United States. New Zealand Rationalists have a proud history of fighting the intrusion of religion into its education system and government. I talked about FFRF and its approximately 31,000 members, brought a copy of my book Thoughts of a Freethinker for them, and was glad to add a small donation to their very worthy organization.  Hope other freethinkers from FFRF get the opportunity to visit.

Michael Kaye

Florida


Losing Faith in Faith made me an atheist

My friend gave me a year-old copy of Mother Jones magazine which had your ad in it, and per that ad, I would like to become a Life Member of FFRF!

I love the Ron Reagan ads you have from time to time on MSNBC: “Not afraid of burning in hell.”

Dan Barker’s book Losing Faith in Faith made me an atheist on Dec. 1, 1998. Based on other readings, I made the big step after a friend sent me Dan’s book. I received it Nov. 30, 1998, read half of it that very day and got up the next morning and said: “As of today, I am an atheist.”

When I then went out to my car to drive to work, the Christian radio station came on automatically when I started the car. I thought, “I have to find another radio station. Enough of this nonsense!”

I have been in debt to Dan Barker ever since, so it is about time I send you some of the money that no longer goes to church tithes, about which I had always been very conscientious.

Wanda Shirk
Pennsylvania


Letter to FFRF helped stop prayer breakfast

Last year at about this time, I contacted FFRF about the 45th Annual Arcadia Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, featuring the State of the City Address. I had contacted the city and talked to the assistant city manager. He was dismissive of my concern about mixing public business with a prayer event, which included clergy from three different religions. He told me nobody was forced to attend, people were paying for it, it’s always been done like this, will continue as is in the future, and, if I didn’t like it, I didn’t have to go.

After this response, I reached out to FFRF, knowing full well how busy you are. A short while after that, I was informed that one of your lawyers had sent a letter to the city of Arcadia. Recently, I received the city’s announcement for this year’s City Address. It was under the heading of “46th Annual Mayor’s Community Breakfast,” and no prayers or clergy were on the program. Your letter worked!

William Syth
California


Anti-abortion movement is centered on religion

Understanding the driving force behind the anti-abortion movement may help the fighters for reproductive rights focus more clearly. Anti-abortion arguments are grounded in religious faith, not scientific fact, information or reason. Studies show that the more people are involved with religion, the less they support the right of a woman to have an abortion. Conservative religious institutions are vocal about fiercely held anti-abortion views. Anti-abortion protests are rife with signs about God and Jesus. And anti-abortion laws are driven by religion.

Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, who recently signed an anti-abortion bill, said his view on abortion “comes from my religion.” When Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama signed her state’s new law, she remarked, “Every life is a sacred gift from God.” Identifying the anti-abortion movement for its reality — attempts by religious citizens to impose their beliefs on others — helps clarify the antagonists in the debate.

Ken Lefkowitz
Pennsylvania


Many Christians show their hypocrisy daily

It was disturbing but well within the realm of reality to see that the FFRF sign outside the Washington state Capitol had been vandalized. It’s probably a good thing that most billboards are out of reach, while sending the necessary message of reason.

However, I am not sure that message is getting across after reading your Crankmail section! I have been a merchant seaman in the Army, in Vietnam, etc., and the language that these “Christians” use makes me blush — almost. It is hilarious, and the daily dose of hypocrisy we see around us is very educational, to say the least. Now, I am off to buy some miracle spring water! Ha!

David Ford
New Mexico


FFRF a worthy cause for state-church separation

I’m 52 years old and cannot recall a time in my life when the critically important principle of state-church separation has been more under siege than it is today. I am accordingly pleased and honored to be able to continue donating to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

James W. Bailey
New Jersey


Are the religious more charitable? Unlikely

Phil Zuckerman’s article (“Secularism doesn’t destroy society or moral order”) in the December issue, while defending secularism from the smears of Attorney General William Barr, repeated a claim that I have often heard before: Namely, that in the United States, religious people volunteer more often and contribute more to charity than do the nonreligious.

This assertion originated in a study conducted earlier this century by Arthur C. Brooke, who just happens to be an evangelical Christian with an obvious axe to grind. I have long been skeptical of this claim.

The only way to definitively confirm the alleged disparity with respect to charitable contributions would be to conduct an extensive double-blind study of audited tax returns from a random sample of religious and nonreligious Americans to determine how much they actually contributed as opposed to what they claim to have contributed. Suffice it to say that Brooke did not, and could not, do this, as the IRS does not require taxpayers to indicate religious affiliation on tax returns and certainly does not provide tax returns to researchers in any case.

If Brooke had solicited audited tax statements from religious and nonreligious citizens, he would not have been provided with the necessary random sample, but a self-selected one. Instead, Brooke appeared to rely heavily on anecdotal data, which is notoriously unreliable. I saw him on C-SPAN years ago defending his thesis. He gave the example of two Red Cross donation pails, one placed on a street in secular San Francisco and the other on a street in the more religious Fargo, N.D. He stated that far more people put far more money in the Fargo pail, supporting his argument!  I wonder what the result would have been if instead of two Red Cross pails, Brooke had placed AIDS relief pails in the two cities!

In addition, secular people like me, in stark contrast to the strongly devout, tend to reside in high-tax states like New York and California, which provide needed social services, funded by tax dollars, reducing the need for charitable contributions to the poor. However, I am willing to bet that the secular population contributes far more than do the religious to cultural institutions such as museums, opera houses, the ballet and symphony orchestras. I suspect Brooke had no interest in those types of charitable contributions.

Many leading American philanthropists have been or are atheists or agnostics, such as Andrew Carnegie, Ted Turner, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

Finally, it is no secret that much of the volunteering and charitable contributions among the religious benefit their own houses of worship, where volunteering and tithing is mandated or strongly encouraged. The religious benefit directly from the time and money they devote to their churches, synagogues, mosques and temples, where they spend much of their lives in religious services and social events. How this proves their moral superiority over nonreligious people eludes me.

Dennis Middlebrooks
New York


Nails in hands can’t hold up a body

Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Practically Everything should be required reading for anyone identifying as a freethinker. His newest book The Body (currently on The New York Times bestseller’s list) should also be a good read.

Bryson notes in The Body, “A good deal of what we know about the comparative strengths of the hand . . . comes from a series of improbable experiments (done by a French scientist in the 1930s) to test how well humans would remain on a cross . . . discovered nails driven through the palm of the hand . . . would not support the weight of a body . . . because the hands would literally tear apart.”

So, if you need any more evidence that the crucifixion was simply made-up by Saul (aka Paul), read this for yourself, preferably before “Good Friday.”

And, be reminded, that “Good Friday” is still an official “full-paid” state holiday in New Jersey.

William Dusenberry
Oklahoma


Christmas music, teapot agnostics and perspicuity

A few of my random thoughts for FFRF members.

• If there is one thing I dislike about Christmas the most, it would be the insufferably banal music. Whomever is responsible for “The Little Drummer Boy” should be tried for crimes against music. I would make an exception for “O Holy Night,” not for the cliché words, but it’s a really lovely melody. It could be striking as an instrumental piece.

• Recently, I came across the charming phrase “teapot agnostic,” which is based on something Bertrand Russell said. If he claimed there was a teapot in orbit around the moon, Russell said you could not disprove it. But failure to disprove something is not a good reason to believe in it.

• In general, the word “perspicuity” means freedom from ambiguity or obscurity. In religion, however, “perspicuity” has acquired the specialized meaning that scripture is clear and obvious. By inference, anyone who is capable of reading the bible can understand it. The MacArthur Bible Commentary is 2,040 pages to explain the clear and obvious. Apparently, people who write such things do not see the irony. 

David M. Shea
Maryland


Next time they’ll get my ‘Scroll of 10 Truths’

On occasion, I have well-meaning young members from Christian churches come to my door with leaflets in hand. Of course, they know nothing of my past experiences with a dangerous and radical fundamentalist cult.

To politely say, “No, thanks, I’m not interested,” works for a while, but eventually they reappear. So, for the inevitable next time, I’ve drafted a message page of my own to hand to them, called “Scroll of the 10 Truths.” Basically, I’m just interested in their reactions when they come face-to-face with the truth. I’m not the confrontation type. I prefer education presented with reason and restraint.

Scroll of the 10 Truths

1. Faith in God or the devil is delusion.

2. “In God we trust” is not what we know.

3. Adam and Eve were not the first humans.

4. Religion serves to exploit and subjugate.

5. Forgiving wrongdoing is a complicit wrong.

6. Introduction of religion divides, not unites.

8. “One nation under God” is a nation divided.

9. Religions are deceptions promoted as holy.

10. Creation of all things in six days is a lie.

Paul Wellmer
Missouri


FFRF pushed council to end religious invocations

As an FFRF member, I was overjoyed to see the article in the Feb. 3 Venice (Fla.) Gondolier detailing the organization’s efforts to stop the practice of a religious invocation at the beginning of City Council meetings. Apparently, the new mayor (if only temporarily) agreed that a moment of silence would be more respectful of all in attendance. It will be interesting to see if he will maintain that position, especially as the city is undoubtedly already planning the 11th Annual Bible Read-A-Thon in a public park, where the mayor has historically been the first reader. At least that event is attended voluntarily, and doesn’t subject a captive audience to potentially unwelcome religious indoctrination as do the City Council’s invocations.

Kevin Bobier

Florida


Pastor burning book wants us back in the Dark Ages

I saw the picture of Pastor Locke burning a copy of The Founding Myth in the latest issue of Freethought Today and was sickened by it, but not surprised. The look on his face would be the same evil look if he were watching an innocent woman accused of being a witch being burned alive. He is among many who wish to return society back to the Dark Ages where humanity stagnated for a millennium. People of his same mind are those who also destroyed the classical world in the first few centuries AD. With the relentless efforts by FFRF, reason and science will keep our society moving forward.

Bill Van Scoy

Louisiana


Religion has been worse than pornography

I was driving along I-70 through the interminable flatlands of Kansas when I passed an “adult entertainment store” called The Lion’s Den. In a field immediately adjacent to this establishment, some religious types had erected a sign saying: “Pornography destroys — Jesus heals and saves.” While allowing that pornography (even where only consenting adults are involved) certainly has its dark side, it should be pointed out to whoever put up the sign that religion has done far more harm to humanity than pornography has ever done, or is ever likely to do. Just think of all the countless deaths in the religious wars fought through the centuries! When was the last war fought over pornography? It sounds like the basis for a good Onion article or a Monty Python skit. In parting, let me recommend Tom Lehrer’s song “Smut” —  if you haven’t heard it, check it out.

John Pratt

Kansas