Saturday, January 29, 2011

Missing: the Shoulders of One Giant

Today is Thomas Paine's birthday. The author of Common Sense, Rights of Man and The Age of Reason, he is among those we call "the founding fathers." His writings largely fueled the fire of the American Revolution and inspired many of the bedrock principles of our constitution and bill of rights. John Adams reportedly said, "Without the pen of the author of 'Common Sense,' the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.”

Why am I writing about him in my atheism blog? Because he is not only the patriot's hero, he's also the secular humanist's. Though he believed in God, he was a deist--one who believes in a divine creator who does not interfere in human affairs. His writings on the subject promote reason above revelation, and rail against intitutionalized religion and Christian doctrines. 

I'll be wearing this t-shirt today:

That image is kind of small; it says, "My country is the world. My religion is to do good."

By the end of his life, his views on religion had so ostracized him in the United States that only a handful of people attended his funeral. His obituary in the New York Citizen included the summary, "He lived long, did some good and much harm." Sheesh. 

Things get really hinky at this point. He wanted to be buried in a Quaker churchyard, but none would receive his body for burial so he was laid to rest under a tree on his farm. Ten years later, William Cobbett, who had written a slanderous biography of Paine but became his #1 fan after actually reading his works, exhumed the remains with the intention of giving him a proper burial in England, Paine's native land. 

What happened next? Let me quote Susan Jacoby's Freethinkers: "[F]or no apparent reason, [Cobbett] kept the bones in a box in his house. His heirs failed to keep track of the remains, so they are lost to posterity--something that probably would not have struck the author of The Age of Reason as a catastrophe." 

But yeah, his bones are missing. 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Low-Hanging Fruit in Giles County

Constitutional issues are low-hanging fruit in a small southern town. Most residents are churchgoers, and most know each others' business, and many are happy to pontificate about what others should and should not be doing. As a result, there is a high degree of complicity when it comes to violations of church-state separation.

Exhibit A: the Giles County School Board. In December, the Freedom from Religion Foundation sent a request to the GCS Superintendent asking that framed copies of the 10 Commandments be removed from schools, as the displays violate the establishment clause and clear Supreme Court precedent. The Superintendent (reportedly on advice of counsel) complied. Yay, FFRF! Yay, Superintendent!

Oops. There must have been some sermonizing over this, because about 200 outraged citizens and preachers showed up at last week's School Board meeting and demanded that the decalogue be rehung. The School Board, too cowardly to make an unpopular decision, voted unanimously to hang them right back up.  

The Bill of Rights is designed to protect individuals from majority rule. No matter how many zealots attend a school board meeting, it is the sworn duty of government officials to uphold the Constitution and protect the minority on matters of race, gender and religion.

In my opinion, the school board members just committed Giles County to a huge bill: not only is the County going to have to defend itself in slam-dunk lawsuits threatened by FFRF and the ACLU, they will likely have to pay the plaintiffs' attorneys fees in any such suits because of their blatant disregard of bedrock constitutional protections and clear precedent. FFRF told them as much in a follow-up letter accessible here, adding that the school board members could be held personally liable too. 

On a positive note, in researching this today I ran across a pretty cool organization: The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. Check out this awesome list, "Top 5 Myths of the Separation of Church and State." After reading some outrageously ignorant evangelicals' comments on this news item, it was heartening to discover this page. 

Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

What say you?

I lifted this picture from Facebook.

The sign says:
"Obama is not a brown-
skinned anti-war socialist 
who gives away free healthcare.
You're thinking of Jesus." 

Monday, January 10, 2011


Being raised in a Catholic household does strange things to a person, probably the best known side effect being unwarranted Guilt. 

It can arise, unbidden and unjustifiably, at any moment, as one recalls past events. There is no infraction too minor, nor any statute of limitations. It happened to me this evening. 

I was steeped in the knowledge that the cure for Guilt is to confess and seek absolution, so here goes: 

It was about 12 years ago. We were selling our house in a small town in Georgia. Our agent was motivated to sell our house, as we had a contingency contract to buy another one of her listings. Get it? Big commissions on the line. She scheduled a showing of ours, and let it slip that one of the family members was a minister in a conservative congregation. 

Well, I've mentally run what I did through all the moral and ethical no-no lists I can think of, and I'm pretty sure I have nothing to feel guilty about here, unless you consider targeted home staging wrong.  

Still, I feel a little dirty for using the intel to appeal to the buyers' likely prejudices. I left one lone book in a place of prominence in our living room: Focus on the Family's Complete Book of Baby & Child Care. 

They bought the tableau, and the house. 

Mea culpa. Any suggestions for penance?