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Letterbox (December 2021)

Boston convention was the best one yet

Member prepares to take a photo of the massive “Norm” burger at Cheers bar in Boston.

By chance, I saw Freethought Today Editor PJ Slinger on the streets of Boston during the FFRF convention and we decided on the spot to go to lunch together. We went to Cheers (site of the inspiration for the 1980s TV show), where my eyes were bigger than my stomach and I ordered the giant “Norm” burger. My eyes might as well have been the size of atoms and the burger might as well have been as large as Jupiter.

The next day, while waiting in line to get Christopher Cameron’s book Black Freethinkers signed, I looked around the room and standing behind me was Sasha Sagan! I’m not ashamed to say that I gushed like an unabashed fanboy over her and her book For Small Creatures Such As We. “The primary reason why the universe is expanding is to make room for your talent and more copies of your book!,” I said.

The next day, as she signed her book to me and my brainy, beautiful, blasphemous bride Jana, Sasha said: “Oh, you’re my new friend.” Be still, my heart.

Then, by design, very intelligent design, I might add, I was able to hug FFRFers Lisa Strand, Annie Laurie Gaylor and Kristina Daleiden.

This was the best convention yet!


We need more freethinkers like Ava Bertolotti

Great essay “The prophets of doom have data” by Ava Bertolotti, which won FFRF’s high school essay contest this year. We need more freethinkers like her and I’m sure she’ll do great at whatever she decides to do! 


Can we sue for church’s scam promises?

I recently received an email from an organization asking if I had ever been scammed. I responded: “If a church guaranteed me eternal paradise in Heaven for being a ‘good’ church member, do such eternal afterlife promises constitute a scam? And, if so, what can legally be done about it?”

I recall a similar situation from many decades ago, when a son sued the Catholic Church because his father left his millions to the Catholic Church, which, according to the son, promised his father a glorious heavenly hereafter if he left his money to the church.

The son claimed that unless the Catholic Church could prove the existence of a hereafter, they shouldn’t get his father’s money because such promises were a scam. I thought he should have won, but he didn’t.

I am willing to be a plaintiff in this case if FFRF would like to sue the Catholic Church for its scams. 


Every Vatican ambassador has been Roman Catholic

What is truly outrageous is the fact that ever since Ronald Reagan established formal diplomatic relations with the “Holy See,” every U.S. ambassador to that so-called sovereign entity has been a Roman Catholic. 

This policy has only one purpose: to appease the Vatican and American Catholics, particularly the conservative ones. These appointments, of course, are in direct violation of Article VI, Clause III, of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits any religious tests for public office. Yet the media, academia and both political parties are mute on this issue, just as they are mute on the fact that six of the last seven Supreme Court justices appointed by Republican presidents have been conservative Catholics, while the seventh, Neil Gorsuch, is a former Catholic who is now a Protestant. No Jews, Muslims, Hindus, liberal Protestants, Buddhists, Unitarians, atheists, humanists, pagans, etc. are considered by the GOP for the federal judiciary, the Constitution be damned.

New York

Government can’t decide whose beliefs are sincere

Unfortunately, it has become all too common for otherwise generally applicable federal and state laws to be written allowing exceptions for “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Can there be any greater entanglement between church and state than that created when the government, in an attempt to ascertain whether the religious exception applies in a given case, seeks to determine whether a person’s belief constitutes a religious belief and whether that belief is “sincere”?  Surely this is the polar opposite of what the authors of the Constitution intended.

North Carolina

Westboro Church helped legalize gay marriage 

I just want to tell you what a fantastic job you did organizing this year’s convention. It was wonderful and I’m so glad I attended. I’m just sorry I didn’t get to speak with Megan Phelps-Roper. As a gay man, I would have told her how grateful I was to her gay-bashing family and the Westboro Baptist Church for going so over the top with their public messages of hate. I truly believe it was helpful in turning the tide in favor of legalizing gay marriage in the astonishingly short time it took. Their outrageous and abhorrent “thank god for dead soldiers” protests further exposed how deranged they are, and, by inference, how questionable, no, discardable all of their beliefs are. I considered it an additional gift to the cause. 

Thank you for a great convention. 

New Jersey

End diplomatic relations between U.S., Vatican

This letter was printed in the Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald.

The unconstitutional, inappropriate ambassadorship to the Vatican should be discontinued. The Roman Catholic Church is not a country.

Even though the U.S. Constitution explicitly precludes any religious test for public office, if confirmed, Joe Donnelly would become the 12th Roman Catholic to serve as Vatican ambassador. (Perhaps, if an ambassador is to be named, a pro-choice secular humanist should be selected!)

Official diplomatic relations between our country and the Holy See prefers and favors Roman Catholicism over other religions and religion over nonreligion.

This unprecedented link between the  United States and a head of a world religion seriously politicizes their relationship. One former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See said when opposing the possibility of nominating a pro-choice Catholic to the ambassadorship, “It’s imperative, it’s essential that the person who represents us to the Holy See be a person who has pro-life values.”

The Vatican issues absolutist doctrinal decrees, which include official opposition to many human, civil and constitutional rights, such as gay marriage, birth control, abortion, embryonic stem cell research and euthanasia. The Church’s role in the rape of children is notorious. The Church demands that Roman Catholic citizens and legislators vote en masse, in strict accord with these decrees and in direct contravention of the Constitution.

End our federal government’s unholy alliance with the Roman Catholic Church.


Authoritarian followers are like the religious  

According to John Dean’s Authoritarian Nightmare — Trump and his Followers, there are authoritarian leaders, like preachers, who may very well know what they are doing, and there are authoritarian followers who usually have no idea what they are supporting. Nor do they care, as long as they have someone telling them what to believe, what to do, and how to behave, just like religious movements. They are immune to facts and logic, no matter what. Coherent arguments or scientific studies have no impact, and will actually reinforce their stand. Even if their leader is headed for a cliff, they’ll follow blindly. And upon their leader’s instruction, they are ready to swallow the most ridiculous lies, like Noah’s ark, the story of Adam and Eve, or Trump’s Big Lie, all good examples of authoritarianism. 

As Dean summarizes numerous psychological studies, authoritarian followers are highly compartmentalized in their thinking, using double standards, believing many contradictory and conflicting things, having trouble deciding what is sound evidence and what is not. Their thinking is highly ethnocentric, dogmatic and prejudiced in what they think about others.

We have seen what authoritarianism did to Germany in the 1930s, and eventually to the rest of the world. Catholics (including the pope) and Protestants supported Hitler, while U.S. evangelicals strongly supported Trump, and still do, as unbelievable as that sounds! Have we learned from it? I have my doubts.


Let’s focus on being happy and quit killing

We humans, as we developed consciousness and intelligence, have long wondered how we got here. Since Darwin wasn’t yet here to figure things out, our ancestors kept inventing gods, and certainly some of them and their rituals were quite bizarre. 

To quote Albert Einstein (from Ideas and Opinions): “This intoxicated joy and amazement at the beauty and grandeur of this world is the feeling from which true scientific research draws its spiritual sustenance, but which also seems to find expression in the songs of birds.”

Thus, we all should be happy that we are here and quit killing each other over who’s god is best.

Thank you for your great work.


Fools still object to responsible leaders

Let’s imagine a scenario where thousands of years ago, a leader of a small tribe ordered everyone to keep a fire burning all night at the entrance of their caves, as a defense against dangerous animals. I’m sure no one defied him. 

But if some fool told him to mind his own business and not interfere with his “right” to ignore the edict, it’s likely that soon a wild beast entered the fool’s cave and ate him and his family.

And now here we are:  An advanced nation in the 21st century, where many fools still object to the efforts of responsible leaders who are trying to save them and everyone in the tribe from deadly harm.

At times like these, Puck’s words in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream echo in my ears: “What fools these mortals be.” Well, if we had Puck with us today, I’m sure he’d bluntly say, “These mortals are dying of terminal stupidity.”


Passover, not Easter, reason for spring holiday

Although I would be pleased if the Day of Reason became a New York City holiday, I’d like to point out that the spring holiday is not about Easter. 

Easter is always a Sunday, so it doesn’t require a day off, and is a “moveable feast” that wanders around from March 22 to April 25. If you look more closely, you’ll discover that the week off doesn’t always coincide with Easter or the Christian observances leading up to it, such as Lent, but it always falls exactly during Passover. In Orthodox Jewish communities, Passover is observed for eight days, kicking off with two seder nights and continuing with restrictions against consuming bread and other foods, which makes it challenging for observant individuals to grab lunch in the school cafeteria or local deli.

There was a time when the NYC public school system was so heavily dominated by Jewish teachers, administrators and staff that if school were held during Passover, an army of non-Jewish substitutes would be required. That would create huge expenses and pandemonium. So, not to honor the religion, but just to be pragmatic, it just made sense to schedule the spring break to coincide with Passover. Although the demographics of the NYC educators may have shifted over the years, the traditional timing of the holiday persists. 

I would not want to equate a Day of Reason observance with religion, but rather with secular observances. I’d like to clear out unnecessary holidays, religious or simply obsolete, before adding any more days off. NYC has been increasingly calling off school days for various faiths. If that policy were continued in a city with so many different religions, eventually there would indeed be very few school days left. I’d vote for scaling back all religious or otherwise inappropriate public holidays in favor of secular ones, or ones that just make sense based on the calendar or other practical considerations. But I don’t expect to live long enough to see it. In the meantime, let’s all strive to make every day a day of reason.

New York 

What does the bible say about abortion? Nothing!

On Dec. 1, while listening to the oral arguments at the Supreme Court over Mississippi’s law banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, I called Freedom From Religion Foundation and ordered 200 of its nontracts: “What Does The Bible Say About Abortion?” Well, it says absolutely nothing! However, it says much about children who were routinely massacred and makes clear that an embryo or fetus is not a human being. The bible is not pro-child. Read Numbers 31:17, I Samuel 15:3 and Isaiah 13:18. 

I also read Gloria Steinem’s essay, “If Men Could Menstruate,” from her book Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions. Some examples of what would happen: Men would brag about how long and how much, sanitary supplies would be federally funded and free, and commercial brands would include John Wayne Maxie Pads and Joe Namath Jock Shields. 

Happy New Year! 


Convention was enriching, inspiring, entertaining

Having Just returned from my first FFRF national convention, I want to express my gratitude for an all-around enriching and inspiring experience. The convention was so well planned and impressively organized, especially when it came to Gloria Steinem’s injury and 11th-hour cancellation, whereupon FFRF staff were — amazingly — able to nevertheless begin her remote interview with Annie Laurie Gaylor precisely at the scheduled time.

The speakers, many of them authors of books available for purchase, were entertaining, diverse and thought-provoking (who knew that Margaret Atwood had such a droll wit?), and the addition of visuals and videos provided a stimulating dimension to their presentations. It was truly gratifying to be part of an audience of hundreds of kindred spirits.

And then there was the extraordinary musical talent of Dan Barker to keep us all upbeat. Thanks you, Dan!

Finally, a thank you to PJ Slinger (it was a pleasure meeting you) and his talented and hard-working staff, for a consistently high-quality publication.


en English