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Apr 19 2014

Local religion news

Corvallis church associate arrested on child porn charges

An Albany man who was a priest with an Orthodox church in the Lewisburg area was arrested Thursday on child pornography charges. Stanley Brittain, 39, of Albany, was charged in Linn County Circuit Court on Friday with 16 counts of first-degree encouraging child sex abuse. Until last week, Brittain was associated with St. Anne Orthodox Church, near Corvallis.

Judge Thomas McHill set Brittain’s bail at $100,000, and appointed Arnold Poole as his attorney. Prosecutor Michael Wynhausen said Brittain was trafficking in hundreds, possibly thousands, of images and videos of young boys being subjected to what Wynhausen termed “horrific” sexual abuse.


Couple accused in death of daughter, 12, seek to exclude mention of faith healing

Defense attorneys for Travis and Wenona Rossiter, an Albany couple accused of manslaughter for the death of their 12-year-old daughter in February 2013, are seeking to exclude evidence of religious beliefs or practices during their trial. Judge Daniel Murphy made no decision in the matter during Friday’s Circuit Court hearing at the Linn County Courthouse, but said he would do so “as soon as possible.”

The Rossiters are members of the Church of the First Born, a fundamentalist sect that believes traditional medical treatment is sinful, and instead trust in God to heal them through faith, according to police and court documents.

The prosecution intends to show that Syble Rossiter, 12, was deprived of life-saving medical care, and her parents instead resorted to faith-healing rites. “They knew she was in great peril. … They didn’t seek out medical care, and the reason they didn’t do it was their religious beliefs,” Prosecutor Keith Stein said. “This is what the case is about, and in truth, this is what happened.”

Murphy ruled in favor of a defense request to exclude information about the death of Wenona Rossiter’s brother at trial. Anthony Hays, 7, died of leukemia in 1994, after his parents failed to provide medical care for him. Murphy also ruled against allowing evidence of prior bad acts regarding a lack of medical care for Syble Rossiter.

Maybe all evidence should be excluded, and we can declare Travis and Wenona to be Linn County Parents of the Year.

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Apr 18 2014


Corvallis Secular Society meets tomorrow

Our next meeting will be Saturday, April 19, from 2 to 4 pm at Corl House: .


Freethinkers of note: Robert G. Ingersoll (1833-1899)

Robert Green “Bob” Ingersoll (August 11, 1833 – July 21, 1899) was a lawyer, a Civil War veteran, political leader, and orator of United States during the Golden Age of Freethought, noted for his broad range of culture and his defense of agnosticism. He was nicknamed “The Great Agnostic”.

His radical views on religion, slavery, woman’s suffrage, and other issues of the day effectively prevented him from ever pursuing or holding political offices higher than that of state attorney general. Illinois Republicans tried to pressure him into running for governor on the condition that Ingersoll conceal his agnosticism during the campaign, which he refused to do on the basis that concealing information from the public was immoral.

Ingersoll was most noted as an orator, the most popular of the age, when oratory was public entertainment. He spoke on every subject, from Shakespeare to Reconstruction, but his most popular subjects were agnosticism and the sanctity and refuge of the family. He committed his speeches to memory although they were sometimes more than three hours long. His audiences were said never to be restless.

Many of Ingersoll’s speeches advocated freethought and humanism, and often poked fun at religious belief. For this the press often attacked him, but neither his views nor the negative press could stop his rising popularity. At the height of Ingersoll’s fame, audiences would pay $1 or more to hear him speak, a giant sum for his day. (Scroll down on left to “Robert Green Ingersoll” and click thereon.)

If there be an infinite Being, he does not need our help — we need not waste our energies in his defense. — Robert Green Ingersoll, “God in the Constitution” (1870)

Who can over estimate the progress of the world if all the money wasted in superstition could be used to enlighten, elevate and civilize mankind? — Robert Green Ingersoll, “Some Mistakes of Moses”

The notion that faith in Christ is to be rewarded by an eternity of bliss, while a dependence upon reason, observation and experience merits everlasting pain, is too absurd for refutation, and can be relieved only by that unhappy mixture of insanity and ignorance, called “faith.” — Robert Green Ingersoll, The Gods

It may be that ministers really think that their prayers do good and it may be that frogs imagine that their croaking brings spring. — Robert Green Ingersoll, “Which Way?” (1884)



The Skeptic’s Toolbox 2014

The Skeptic’s Toolbox will be held August 7-10 at the University of Oregon in Eugene. This year’s topic will be “Using Model Cases to Deal with Dubious Claims.” Faculty will include Ray Hyman (Professor emeritus of psychology, University of Oregon), James Alcock (Professor of psychology, York University Toronto, Ontario), Loren Pankratz (Forensic psychologist, Oregon Health and Science University), and others.


Issues for possible discussion:

Giving Humanism a voice: An interview with Stephen Fry

Last month, the British Humanist Association (BHA) made waves around the world by launching a new video series, That’s Humanism! For many, the voice addressing those questions was instantly recognizable—it belongs to Golden Globe Award-nominated actor, comedian, author, and activist Stephen Fry, who narrates the video series.

CS: Are these videos targeted at helping Humanists? Educating non-Humanists?

SF: It’s a bit of both. Our original idea was for a campaign that could introduce Humanism to people in an easy and accessible way. We suspect that many people who live as Humanists in their daily lives may not know there is a community of like-minded people in Britain, or even a word for their nonreligious life stance. But at the same time, introducing people to humanism more broadly is also important to us, and we think we’ve managed to do both very well.


Freedom From Religion as a Civil Right

The separation of church and state in the U.S. constitution is more honored in the breach than in the observance. Those who want to escape from organized religion must fight for that freedom against those in power who would foist religious views upon them at every turn. The religious pledge of allegiance continues to be recited in schools despite being clearly unconstitutional.


Atheist leader: ‘Mormonism demonstrates the power of indoctrination’

Mormonism demonstrates the power of indoctrination. Unlike older religions, we know much about how Mormonism was created. … Mormonism has been proven wrong beyond reasonable doubt, yet it persists, due to the power of indoctrination. From this we can learn how strong childhood indoctrination (let’s just call it brainwashing) must be, and can only imagine the power of such indoctrination for the older religions, where such data as criminal records and plagiarized texts cannot be obtained.

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Apr 13 2014

Brandeis University dishonors atheist and Islam critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Brandeis University

Brandeis University is an American private research university with a liberal arts focus. It is located in Waltham, Massachusetts, 9 miles (14 km) west of Boston. The university has an enrollment of approximately 3,600 undergraduate and 2,200 graduate students.

Its motto is: Truth even unto its innermost parts.

American academia bites the dust: Brandeis University’s historic mistake

Ayaan Hirsi Ali has just been dishonored by Brandeis University, which withdrew its offer of a Distinguished Professorship because the Muslim Brotherhood in America mounted a successful campaign against the award. Brandeis simply caved to the lynch mob. This is a terrible moment for academic freedom and critical inquiry on the American campus.

Brandeis students nix Islam critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali. What a pity.,0,7940815.story#axzz2ykraY65p

This year, we have the unfortunate example of a university choosing not to stand for freedom of expression, critical thinking and robust debate and instead folding under pressure. Good going, Brandeis University. You’re setting a terrific example.

The “offending” speaker was Ayaan Hirsi Ali, 44, a feminist and outspoken critic of Islam who is affiliated with Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. After an outcry spearheaded by Muslim students unwilling to share their moment with someone whose views they consider offensive, Ali was disinvited to the May 18 ceremony.

Atheist leader David Silverman drops support for Brandeis University over Ayaan Hirsi Ali controversy

David Silverman, president of American Atheists who graduated from Brandeis in 1988, announced that he is withdrawing his support from Brandeis University and its alumni association because the academic institution rescinded its plans to give an honorary degree to controversial social commentator Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

“Today, that pride is gone as Brandeis has caved to religious intolerance masquerading as political correctness and uninvited a valuable voice in the discussion of religion in public life,” wrote Silverman.

Here’s What I Would Have Said at Brandeis

By Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Violence is escalating in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Libya, in Egypt. And far more than was the case when you were born, organized violence in the world today is disproportionately concentrated in the Muslim world.

Another striking feature of the countries I have just named, and of the Middle East generally, is that violence against women is also increasing. In Saudi Arabia, there has been a noticeable rise in the practice of female genital mutilation. In Egypt, 99% of women report being sexually harassed and up to 80 sexual assaults occur in a single day.

Especially troubling is the way the status of women as second-class citizens is being cemented in legislation. In Iraq, a law is being proposed that lowers to 9 the legal age at which a girl can be forced into marriage. That same law would give a husband the right to deny his wife permission to leave the house.

Sadly, the list could go on. I hope I speak for many when I say that this is not the world that my generation meant to bequeath yours. When you were born, the West was jubilant, having defeated Soviet communism. An international coalition had forced Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. The next mission for American armed forces would be famine relief in my homeland of Somalia. There was no Department of Homeland Security, and few Americans talked about terrorism.

Two decades ago, not even the bleakest pessimist would have anticipated all that has gone wrong in the part of world where I grew up. After so many victories for feminism in the West, no one would have predicted that women’s basic human rights would actually be reduced in so many countries as the 20th century gave way to the 21st.

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Apr 07 2014

Freethought news – 2014-04-07

Saudi Arabia declares all atheists are terrorists

Saudi Arabia has introduced a series of new laws which define atheists as terrorists, according to a report from Human Rights Watch.

Yet last month further regulations were issued by the Saudi interior ministry, identifying a broad list of groups which the government considers to be terrorist organisations – including the Muslim Brotherhood. Article one of the new provisions defines terrorism as “calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based”.


Secular values, not religion, make us a tolerant society

The secular mind is better equipped than religion to reach reasoned and compassionate judgments. That was the argument of Ian McEwan at the Oxford Literary Festival this week. It should not be controversial. Religious belief resolves no moral problem and yields no knowledge. On the contrary, much suffering is caused by people who believe they know the will of God and have a duty to enforce it.

Religions typically have a lethal assumption in common: that faith is a virtue.

It isn’t the Bible or the Koran that has made Western societies democratic and tolerant. It’s the idea, encapsulated in Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, that what people believe is irrelevant to public office. As the Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote: “All men are naturally inclined to obscure the morally ambiguous element in their political cause by investing it with religious sanctity. This is why religion is more frequently a source of confusion than of light in the political realm.”


American Atheists attorney Edwin Kagin dies at 73

Kentucky attorney Edwin Kagin became a leading advocate for atheism as national legal director of the American Atheists, the advocacy group founded by Madalyn Murray O’Hair, whose suit led the Supreme Court to end daily prayer in American public schools. Kagin died Friday at his home in Union, in Northern Kentucky — a non-believer to the end — according to his sister, Mary Kagin Kramer, a churchgoer who lives in Jeffersonville, Ind. He was 73 and had suffered for several years from heart disease.

Kagin founded Camp Quest, a secular summer camp for young nonbelievers, many of whom, he said, had been harassed or hounded for their lack of faith. Amanda Metskas, director of the organization, which now offers camps in 18 states and two foreign countries, said this week on its website that Kagin was “gruff and generous and brilliant and cantankerous — all at once.”

In one of Kagin’s biggest legal victories, in 2010, he persuaded a federal appeals court to rule that the placement of 12-foot high crosses along Utah highways to honor fallen state troopers violated the prohibition of government establishment of religion. The Utah Highway Patrol Association claimed the crosses were not a religious symbol….


‘Cosmos’ host Neil deGrasse Tyson will speak at Omaha Pastafarians conference

Tyson will speak in association with the sixth Apostacon, an annual Omaha conference for “atheists, humanists, agnostics, skeptics, apostates, freethinkers, rationalists and Pastafarians.” The conference, which started in Lincoln in 2009, has a Flying Spaghetti Monster for a logo and bills itself as the “sauciest freethought conference in the Noodle-verse.”

Tyson’s speech will take place Sept. 19 (which is Talk Like a Pirate Day, incidentally) at the DoubleTree Hilton, 1616 Dodge St. “An Evening of Scientific Inquiry” with Tyson is sponsored by the Omaha Coalition of Reason. It’s technically only associated with Apostacon.


Parents concerned after Kentucky schools allow Atheists to distribute literature

Parents of children attending three Kentucky public schools have reportedly expressed concern after an atheist group arrived on the campuses to distribute free books regarding secularism.

Some parents of Casey County, Ky., kept their children home last Friday when the Tri-State Freethinkers atheist group set up a secularist book display at three local public elementary schools, including Liberty, Walnut, and Jones Park. The atheist group was able to set up the displays after the American Civil Liberties Union contacted the Casey County School District, arguing that because administrators allowed the Christian group Gideons International to set up a Christian-themed book display, they should also allow the atheist group to do so.

The Danville Advocate-Messenger reported that some parents did in fact gather in one of the school’s parking lots on Thursday evening to confront Tri-State Freethinkers as they set up their table. One woman, who refused to be identified, told the local media outlet that she and a small number of other parents had gathered to “defend God and His glory.” The parents also demanded to see where the books were going to be displayed.

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Mar 31 2014


Climate change is felt globally and risks are rising, U.N. panel says,0,1584240.story#axzz2xc1hz4Lj

Global warming threatens food and water supplies, security and economic growth, and will worsen many existing problems, including hunger, drought, flooding, wildfires, poverty and war, says the report by hundreds of scientists from 70 countries.

One of the panel’s most striking new conclusions is that rising temperatures are already depressing crop yields, including those of corn and wheat. In the coming decades, farmers may not be able to grow enough food to meet the demands of the world’s growing population, it warns.

My comments as “Oregon Iconoclast”:

Without human population reduction, all other efforts to reduce our destruction of Earth are doomed. Imagine the long-term environmental effect of a family with ten children, who in turn over-reproduce. Your having no more than two children and recycling won’t counter the effects of uncontrolled or deliberate over-reproduction (often due to religious belief) by others.

See also:  

Climate-changing microbes ‘made 90% of species on earth extinct’

An example of nature’s environmental destruction, taking only 30 million years for recovery.

Climate-changing microbes may have caused the biggest mass extinction in history 252 million years ago, scientists believe. Volcanic eruptions had previously been blamed for the sudden loss of 90 per cent of all species on earth at the end of the Permian era. But new research suggests volcanoes played only a bit part in the catastrophe.

The chief perpetrators were a microscopic methane-producing archaea life-form called methanosarcina that bloomed explosively in the oceans. Enormous quantities of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, generated by methanosarcina are thought to have sent temperatures soaring and acidified the seas. Unable to adapt in time, countless species died out and vanished from the earth.

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Mar 27 2014


The art of scientific thinking


Check out “How Do We Know What’s True?” and “How Can I Be Happy?”, both narrated by Stephen Fry.

SkeptiSketch is a project I started to promote secular and scientific thinkers and their ideas.  Many of the brilliant secular and scientific arguments on YouTube are found on shaky camcorder footage of debates and lectures. By illustrating these in a new and interesting way I hope to promote these ideas to a wider audience and hopefully add depth to the ideas themselves.

SkeptiSketch is Mike MacMillan. I am a husband and the father of 2 young boys.  I live near Orillia, Ontario. You can email me at skeptisketch at

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Mar 25 2014

Freethought news – 2014-03-25

Does the Air Force ‘encourage atheism’ and ‘prosecute Christianity’?

[Fox News: masters of misinterpretation and princes of propaganda]

Todd Starnes of Fox News is claiming that a “double-standard at the Air Force Academy” has created an atmosphere that “encourage[s] atheism [and] prosecute[s] Christianity.” In Starnes’s eyes, the fact that the Freethinkers Club’s event was advertised over email and on bulletin screens indicates that the Academy is “[encouraging] atheism.”

And yet Starnes’s own piece quotes a statement from the Academy acknowledging that other groups do host such events: “‘The Academy allows all cadet groups to host information fairs regardless of espoused religious beliefs or no beliefs at all,’ the statement read—noting there were also events scheduled for Christians and Muslims.”


No, Buddhism is not “stupid,” judge tells Louisiana teacher

Excellent news! The parents of a sixth grade student in Louisiana whose teacher made fun of him because he is Buddhist have won their lawsuit against the school district.  In the past, Rita Roark had told her students that the universe was created by God about 6,000 years ago and informed them that both the Big Bang theory and evolution are false. She told her students that, “If evolution was real, it would still be happening: Apes would be turning into humans today.”

This level of ignorance makes me wonder if this woman is actually a credentialed teacher. One test she gave to students asked: “ISN’T IT AMAZING WHAT THE _____________ HAS MADE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” The correct answer was “Lord,” but one child, known simply as “C.C.,” wrote in something else.

When informed that C.C. was a Buddhist and therefore didn’t believe in God, Roark allegedly responded, “you’re stupid if you don’t believe in God.”


The Humanist on the Boat—no mere fishing expedition

I am not a commercial fisherman like Captain Rob or Ronnie; I’m a marine biologist (my official title is “fisheries observer”) with the National Marine Fisheries Service. My job is to collect fisheries data for use in management and policy decisions; however, if you were to pass our vessel while out sport fishing for red drum, you’d most likely assume I was another commercial fisherman. I wear the same clothes, speak the same language, and even have the same untidy facial hair. The one major difference between me and most of the crew I work alongside is not immediately apparent: faith.

The topic always arises at some point during our time on the water and ultimately leads to the question: “Do you believe in God, Phil?” I reply I don’t. The tension becomes palpable but I’ve become adept at diffusing these situations. The fishermen ask me if I have ever been to church. I have a tendency to respond with a stifled chuckle and a nod. I was raised as a pastor’s child.

While I try to explain morality without a deity, they seem less interested in the details of my personal moral philosophy and more interested in how someone like me comes to have a worldview that is, to them, a novel one. This is where I start talking about the wonders of biology.

While promoting humanism is one of my passions, I am just as passionate about promoting ecology and biology. When I view nature in its purest form, I feel an almost religious sense of wonder. When I first gained this understanding, the Christian God became something that got in the way or cheapened the experience.


The destructive myth about religion that Americans disproportionately believe

This week, Pew Research Center published the results of a survey conducted among 40,080 people in 40 countries between 2011 and 2013. The survey asked a simple question: Is belief in God essential to morality?

In 22 of the 40 countries surveyed, the majority says it is necessary to believe in God in order to be a moral person. “This position is highly prevalent, if not universal, in Africa and the Middle East,” says the report.

Interestingly, clear majorities in all highly developed countries do not think belief in god to be necessary for morality, with one exception only: the USA.

Only 15 percent of the French population answered in the affirmative. Spain: 19 percent. Australia: 23 percent. Britain: 20 percent. Italy: 27 percent. Canada: 31 percent. Germany 33 percent. Israel: 37 percent.

So what of the U.S.? A comparatively eye-popping 53 percent of Americans essentially believe atheists and agnostics are living in sin. Despite the fact that a research analyst at the Federal Bureau of Prisons determined that atheists are thoroughly underrepresented in the places where rapists, thieves and murderers invariably end up: prisons. While atheists make upward of 15 percent of the U.S. population, they only make up 0.2 percent of the prison population.


Atheist author leads event about listening to reason

Atheist author Peter Boghossian visited TCU [Texas Christian University] Wednesday to talk to the Freethinking Frogs student organization.

Peter Boghossian, a philosophy instructor at Portland State University, encouraged members of the audience Wednesday to use reason when evaluating their beliefs. Boghossian is currently touring the U.S. to talk about his new book, “A Manual for Creating Atheists.”

Boghossian is advocating that people “confront dangerous ideas and not cower to them.” The purpose of Boghossian’s new book is to help atheists convey their beliefs to convert everyone to atheism, from the common believer to theologians.

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Mar 19 2014

Freethought news – 2014-03-19

Iraqi atheists demand recognition, guarantee of their rights

Atheism and heresy have a long history in Mesopotamia with the renowned Arab philosopher Abul al-Ala al-Ma’arri (973-1058) defending, 1,000 years ago, his nonbelief in religions. Ibn al-Rawandi (837-911) also dedicated sections of his books to countering the Quran in Baghdad. Furthermore, Ikhwan al-Safa, a secret group from the third century Hijri, wrote their books to include a critique of Muslim beliefs in Basra; and contemporary Iraqi researcher and poet Maarouf al-Rasafi disputed the religious aspect of the Prophet Muhammad’s life in his book The Muhamadiyan Personality. Rasafi is a writer from Fallujah, an Iraqi city famous for its mosques and religious fervor.

Finally, and in light of the prevailing atmosphere of religious sectarianism and fundamentalism, protecting atheists, agnostics and secularists becomes a more pressing necessity. They are a minority whose right to freedom of belief must be defended, particularly considering that they are not even recognized as a group and that there are no Iraqi or global entities that protect or defend them, as a result of the lack of interest in mentioning their plight in international human rights reports.


Religions can criticize each other, so why isn’t it OK for atheists to criticize religion?

[D]isagreement about the validity of theological teachings hasn’t stood in the way of increased interfaith cooperation, as witnessed by the recent outreach between the Jewish, Catholic, and Muslim communities.

By contrast, when humanists challenge these very same beliefs they are often viewed by the religious community as disrespectful and even outright hurtful. Why is this? One explanation is that we’re seeing religious people of all stripes on the defensive, circling their wagons around religious belief considering the strides being made by those whose morality doesn’t come from faith.

Another explanation is that religious criticism from the inside preserves religion whereas such criticism from the outside diminishes it. While a given religion’s criticism of competitors is aimed at supporting the critic’s claim of being the one true religion, it isn’t aimed at invalidating religion itself and putting the whole enterprise out of business. In this way, humanists might be seen as exploiting religious conflict for their own ends.

So while this practice of expressing disdain for humanism’s critique of religion while tolerating similar criticism from religious allies is a double standard, the practice is more defensive than malicious. But it divides groups that might otherwise be powerful allies.


Spreading the word on the power of atheism

SEATTLE — The atheist writer S. T. Joshi, 55, born in India, raised in Indiana and now living in Seattle, has written or edited more than 200 books, including a novel of detective fiction, a bibliography of writings about Gore Vidal and numerous works about H. L. Mencken.

He edits four periodicals, including Lovecraft Annual, the major review of scholarship about the horror writer H. P. Lovecraft; The American Rationalist, a journal for unbelievers; and The Weird Fiction Review, which is what it sounds like. He once spent years scanning into his computer — and typing what could not be scanned — every word ever written by Ambrose Bierce, about six million total.

One of the strange, wonderful facts about many atheists is their eccentricity and intellectual omnivorousness. Christopher Hitchens, author of “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” (2007), was a literary critic, a journalist in several war zones and a biographer of George Orwell. Sam Harris, who wrote “The End of Faith” (2004), also writes about free will and about lying; his next book promises to expand on his case for psychedelic drugs. Several professional magicians, like James Randi and the illusionists Penn and Teller, work to promote atheism on the side.

Perhaps because many academic philosophers take atheism to be a given, the only common-sense position, it is left to these quirky, freelance amateurs, with their large cabinets of obsessions, to make the public case against God. And none of them seems to be as quirky, or as obsessive, as Mr. Joshi. On Thursday, he held forth at his kitchen table about the ingredients that went into his own intellectual stew. It began, he said, with his father, an economist.

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Mar 17 2014


Many people would sooner die than think; In fact, they do so. [Bertrand Russell]

Pearls Before Swine

by Stephan Pastis

March 17, 2014


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Mar 14 2014


Corvallis Secular Society meets tomorrow

Our next meeting will be Saturday, March 15, from 2 to 4 pm at Corl House: ;


Freethinkers of note: Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?)

American writer, characterized by his caustic wit and sense of realistic horror. Bierce was an agnostic.

One of Bierce’s most famous works is his much-quoted book, The Devil’s Dictionary, originally an occasional newspaper item which was first published in book form in 1906 as The Cynic’s Word Book. It consists of satirical definitions of English words which lampoon cant and political double-talk.

At least three films have been made of Bierce’s story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”. A silent film version, The Bridge, was made in 1929. A French version called La Rivière du Hibou, directed by Robert Enrico, was released in 1962; this black-and-white film faithfully recounts the original narrative using voice-over. Another version, directed by Brian James Egen, was released in 2005. The French version was aired in 1964 as one of the final episodes of the television series The Twilight Zone: “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”. Author Kurt Vonnegut once stated that he considered “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” the greatest American short story and a work of flawless American genius.

From The Devil’s Dictionary (1911):

Christian, n. One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor. One who follows the teachings of Christ in so far as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin.

Clergyman, n. A man who undertakes the management of our spiritual affairs as a method of bettering his temporal ones.

Faith, n. Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.

Infidel, n. In New York, one who does not believe in the Christian religion; in Constantinople, one who does.

Pray, v. To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner, confessedly unworthy.

Religion, n. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.

Reverence, n. The spiritual attitude of a man to a god and a dog to a man.

Scriptures, n. The sacred books of our holy religion, as distinguished from the false and profane writings on which all other faiths are based.


Issues for possible discussion:

Secularizing public crosses with two cuts

There’s an uptick in legal cases challenging public displays of Christian crosses these days.

If you are on a city council and preside over a public space with a Christian cross on it, save your community money and address it today before you are sued. Instead of taking it down and building expensive new ones, hire a carpenter or a mason to come correct the problem. Yes, I’m suggesting we cut down the arms of the cross and make it into proud column, or consider other even more useful alternatives.

Oh, does that sound offensive? Is this anti-Christian? Not at all. For the moment I’m simply taking religious-right leaders at their word.

Those who defend the existence of crosses on public land emphatically state that they are not religious symbols. Kathy Davis, one of the people organizing to save the Bladensburg cross, appeared to agree with this sentiment when she stated, “It was not put up there as a religious symbol. It was put up there as a memorial to our veterans who died.” Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin concured, claiming that “this monument transcends religion.” Even the notoriously conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, a Catholic, thinks that these cross monuments aren’t religious, stating, “I assume it is erected in honor of all of the war dead. The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of the dead…. I don’t think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead that that cross honors are the Christian war dead.”


Atheism’s radical new heroes: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and an evolving new moral view

In the preface to Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder (1998), Richard Dawkins, then Oxford’s Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, recounted two incidents that in part prompted him to write his new book. One concerned an unnamed foreign publisher who had told him that, after reading his first book The Selfish Gene (1976), he could not sleep for three nights, so troubled was he by its “cold, bleak message.” The other story concerned a teacher “from a distant country” who had written to him reproachfully that a pupil had come to him in tears after reading the same book “because it had persuaded her that life was empty and purposeless. He advised her not to show the book to any of her friends, for fear of contaminating them with the same nihilistic pessimism.”

Dawkins comments: “[S]uch very proper purging of saccharine false purpose; such laudable tough-mindedness in the debunking of cosmic sentimentality must not be confused with the loss of personal hope. Presumably there is indeed no purpose in the ultimate fate of the cosmos, but do any of us really tie our life’s hopes to the ultimate fate of the cosmos anyway? Of course we don’t; not if we are sane. Our lives are ruled by all sorts of closer, warmer, human ambitions and perceptions. To accuse science of robbing life of the warmth that makes it worth living is so preposterously mistaken, so diametrically opposite to my own feelings and those of most working scientists, I am almost driven to the despair of which I am wrongly suspected.” On the contrary, he wanted to convey the sense of awed wonder that science can give us and which makes it “one of the highest experiences of which the human psyche is capable.”

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