Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

Letterbox (Oct. 2021)

Vol. 38 No. 08 October 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.
Wisconsin

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.
Arizona

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.
Wisconsin

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.
Minnesota

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.
California

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.
Oklahoma

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.
Washington

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.
Florida

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.
Florida

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.
Arizona

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.
California

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.
Hawaii

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.
Ohio

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