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Dealing with Hotel Bibles
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A Journal of Atheist News and Thought
2nd Quarter 2015
Vol. 53, No. 2

ISSN 0516-9623 (Print)

ISSN 1935-8369 (Online)

Pamela Whissel
Rick Wingrove
Karen Rei lly
Gil and Jeanne Gaudia
Shelley Gaudia
Frank R. Zindler
Published by
American Atheists, Inc.
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Cover photo: Greg Hawkins sports his old missionary garb along with his new American
Atheists credentials. His article starts on page 5. Above: Comedians Frank Conniff and
Trace Beaulieu riff on the film Gods Not Dead at out convention in Memphis. Coverage of
AACon 2015 starts on page 14.

In This Issue

The Real Story from an Ex-Mormon Missionary Part II | Greg Hawkins

Dogma Watch: What is Christianity? | Michael B. Paulkovich
Poetry: Mirror, Mirror | Mordavith
Dealing with Unwanted Hotel Bibles | Steve Lowe
Our National Convention in Memphis | J.T. Eberhard
Notable Book: A History of Loneliness by John Boyne
Notable Book: 13:24: A Story of Faith and Obsession
by M. Dolon Hickmon
Notable Book: One Nation Under God: How Corporate America
Invented Christian America by Kevin M. Kruse
Mission Impossible!| Tony Pasquarello
Set List: Stand-Up Without a Net | Becky Garrison
Encounter in a Lincoln | Tracy Jamison
Welcome Back to the Crusades | David Orenstein, Ph.D.
Danthropology: Why I Am An Atheist | Dan Arel

Correction: In our previous issue, we incorrectly identified entertainment reporter Dominick Cross as the entertainment
editor at the Times of Acadiana (Censorship in Louisiana by Gregory Alexander). We apologize for the error.
www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 3


An Atheist, a Nun, and a Duck Walk into a Bar

o joke. It was during American Atheists national

convention. Okay, it was actually four nuns and five
ducks. And it was an elevator, not a bar, and the ducks
walked out before the rest walked in. But there was an Atheist
meand we were all in the Peabody Hotel in Memphis the day
after the convention, when many of us were still in town.
It was a few minutes after 11:00 a.m. The lobby was packed
because at 11:00 every morning, the Duckmaster, a specially
appointed hotel bellman, escorts the Peabodys five resident
ducks from their palatial digs in the penthouse to the elevator,
which they ride to the lobby, where they march down a red carpet
to the marble fountain to spend the day. At 5:00 p.m., the ducks
march back to the penthouse with equal fanfare. You dont have
to be a hotel guest to watch, so its a popular Memphis attraction.
Among the observers that day were four nuns from the
Missionaries of Charity (MCs), the religious order founded by
Mother Teresa of Calcutta. In their blue and white, sari-style
habits, these nuns are instantly recognized by anyone who pays
attention, like I once did, to the story of Mother Teresa. When
she was alive, Mother Teresa was considered by many Catholics
to be a living saint. Not a saint in the way that someone has
the patience of a saint, but a saint saint, in that god is so alive
in you that youre more than a mere human. Many Catholics
correspondingly believe that all MCs are living saints. So there
were several people who gazed at the women and said things like,
Look! Those are Mother Teresas nuns! with such reverent
astonishment that what they were really saying was, Look!
Some living saints!
Years ago, Christopher Hitchens book The Missionary
Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice delivered me from
that misconception, and Mary Johnsons Book, An Unquenchable
Thirst, will keep me emancipated for life. Both books reveal the
gruesome truth that the MCs are not devoted to helping the
poor; they are devoted to perpetuating poverty, because they
believe that poverty and suffering are the only paths to Jesus.
Now, its one thing to choose this lifestyle. Its another to impose
it on someone else, and thats exactly what the MCs do in their
service to vulnerable, helpless people.
The story of someone successfully pulling off a life of utter
selflessness is always just that: a story. But it can be very powerful.
Sometimes its so powerful that it grows into a myth solid
enough to fuel a religion. The myth that the MCs are a source
of relief for the poor, orphaned, sick, homeless, or dying has
been exploited by the Vatican to an extent thats nothing short
of evil. The staggering amount of money donated to the MCs
could fund first-rate hospitals and schools all over the world. But

instead of providing food, clothing, and shelter to those who

desperately need it, the money goes into a Vatican Bank account,
and the MCs never see it again. But even if they did control this
money, it still wouldnt relieve suffering. Anything resembling
charitable outreach is carried out by them with inexcusable,
archaic inefficiency. Dont take my word for it. Read these books,
or go online for plenty of legitimate sources to support all of this.
Back to the lobby. Did I think these women were a band of
scam artists? No. The scam is engineered at the Vatican. An MC
spends most of her day in prayer, and even if she wanted to use
her time helping people, its not her call. Her life is one of total,
unquestioning obedience to her superiors in an organization
whose primary mission is to keep its members in line.
I have no idea why the nuns were at the hotel, and they seemed
about as interested in the ducks as the ducks were in them. But
heres why I was interested: these nuns rarely interact with the
outside world. Just like polygamous families on a Mormon
compound, or the members of an Hasidic Jewish community,
they dont keep up with current events or watch television or use
the internet or read anything not approved by their superiors.
And like women who live under Sharia law, theyre escorted by
at least one other sister when they go out. Because they are very
much each others keepers, I knew this might be the only chance
in their lives to hear what I was about to say to them.
After the Duck March was over, the sisters did not hang
around the lobby. I heard someone say that the Duckmaster
wanted his picture taken with them, but I knew that wouldnt
happen because the MCs shun cameras. They deliberately
dodged one person in the lobby who tried to get a photo as they
were quickly and protectively ushered back to the elevator by the
two lay women accompanying them.
Anyone who recognized them was giving them plenty of
deferential elbow room, so when the elevator doors opened and
the six women got in, no one else tried to slip in with them. Except
me. As soon as the doors closed, I turned to the nun standing
next to me and, with my head slightly tilted, I said in a soft voice,
Can I ask you a question? Do you ever have any doubts about
what youre doing? With a big smile, she replied, By the grace
of God, no. Then I said, Well, if you ever do, please know that
there are people in the world who would understand and accept
you. And then, as if on cue, the elevator doors opened to my floor.
I didnt say anything or even turn around when someone
called out God bless you! as I walked away. If there was the
slightest chance that what I said would linger in that elevator for
even a couple of seconds, I wanted to give the words plenty of
deferential elbow room.

Pamela Whissel

4 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org


The Real Story

from an

Ex-Mormon Missionary

Part Two

by Greg Hawkins

n the previous issue of American Atheist, I introduced

readers to the script that Mormon missionaries
are taught to present to potential converts. In that
article, I described the first of six lessons designed
to recruit members to the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-Day Saints. I defined some key terms, like
missionary (someone who invites others to come
unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through
faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism,
receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end),
lesson (the presentation given by a Mormon missionary), and
investigator, (a non-Mormon who has agreed to sit through at
least one lesson). As I described the content of Lesson One:
The Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I did my best
to provide a side of the story that Mormon missionaries wont
typically share.
In this article, the second of a six-part series, Ill share the
details of Lesson Two: The Plan of Salvation, as prescribed
in the Mormon missionary handbook, Preach My Gospel. My
purpose, again, is to help you make an informed decision
with critical knowledge about the Mormon church and its
teachings. Lesson Two only takes place once you invite the
missionaries back into your home after completing Lesson
One with them. The Plan of Salvation is the Mormon
attempt to answer three commonly asked questions:
Where did we come from, why are we here, and where do
we go after this life?


www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 5

After our resurrection, we will be judged

by God, Jesus, and Joseph Smith, the
founder of the Mormon Church.
Where Did We Come From?

Where Do We Go after this Life?

After we die, our spirits go to spirit paradise (if were good)

or spirit prison (if were bad). Not much is said about what goes
on in either place, but the general consensus is that the spirits
in paradise act as missionaries to the spirits in prison. Once a
spirit in prison accepts the truth (i.e. Mormonism), it moves to
paradise and becomes a missionary to other spirits in prison.
Spirit paradise provides only temporary respite, however.
As part of the plan, every spirit must undergo resurrection to
be reunited with its perfected body. After our resurrection, we
will be judged by God, Jesus, and Joseph Smith, the founder of
the Mormon Church. We will then get sorted into one of Gods
three kingdoms of glory. The top kingdom, where Elohim
lives, is the Celestial Kingdom. Here people become Gods
themselves. Heterosexual Mormon couples who land here will
be able to continue having children to start the entire cycle all
over again for another batch of spirits. The doctrine is fuzzy on
exactly what happens to these spirits, but Mormons are told
that they will be children on a new planet ruled by a brand-new
God and his wives, the Goddesses. (Mormons believe that they
will probably practice polygamy in the Celestial Kingdom.)
The middle kingdom is the Terrestrial Kingdom, which
is the place for inactive Mormons and other good people.
Although it doesnt carry with it the benefits of having children
and being with God the Father, this existence is still a pretty
sweet deal. Everyone in the Terrestrial Kingdom gets to be
visited by Jesus and all of the Celestialized beings. They also
get to visit those below them in the Telestial Kingdom, the place
for prostitutes, liars, murderers, and all those who just love sin
in general. Although it is the lowest of the three, the Telestial
Why are We Here?
Kingdom is still much better than Earth life.
After we get to Earth, we are given the agency to choose to
Theres one more place that we might go. Its called Outer
follow either God or Satan. Because Jesus atoned for our sins Darkness. Its similar to the Christian hell but much more
through his suffering and death on the cross (however
the hell exclusive. Outer Darkness is a place of eternal torment. Satan
In La Fond-Jeannette, Haiti
thats supposed to work), we all have the free gift of eternal and his angels, the Sons of Perdition, live there. How you end
lifeas long as we follow Gods commandments. Mormons up in Outer Darkness isnt spelled out clearly, but youll go here
consider our life on Earth to be one long entrance exam. In order if you obtain a perfect knowledge of the truth and then reject
to get an A, we must perform certain rituals and follow church it. Potential candidates for Outer Darkness include apostates
doctrine. Faith, grace, and works are all essential to passing the who were once prominent in the Mormon Church, as well as
exam, but the emphasis is on works, the details of which are the Pharisees who crucified Jesus.
the topic of Lesson Three. But back to Lesson Two for now.
And that, in a very brief nutshell, is a summary of the Plan

Mormons believe in a pre-Earth life or a pre-mortal
existence. Before we were born, we all lived in the Spirit
World with God the Father, whose name is Elohim, and God
the Son, whose name was Jehovah until he came to Earth. Now
his name is Jesus. In the pre-Earth life, we were all spirit sons
and daughters of Elohim and spirit siblings of Jehovah and
Lucifer (Satan). Mormon doctrine does not provide a lot of
information about what we did in the pre-Earth life, but we are
told that Elohim wanted us to learn and grow. For some reason,
we werent able to do this in our pre-mortal existence, so our
brothers Jehovah and Lucifer each cooked up a plan for our
impending mortal existence.
In Jehovahs plan, we were provided with agency, or the
ability to choose our own actions while on Earth. This would
inevitably lead to sin, which distances us from God the Father.
But Jehovah would go down to Earth to atone for everyones sins,
thus allowing each one of us to choose for ourselves whether
to return to God after this life. Lucifers plan did not include
agency, but it did automatically return everyone to Elohim.
Things got complicated when Lucifer decided he wanted all
the glory for himself. Elohim liked the idea of all of his children
returning to him, but he didnt like the idea of Lucifer getting all
the glory, so he threw his support behind Jehovah. Two thirds of
us in the pre-Earth life chose the plan of Jehovah, and one third
of us chose Lucifers plan. Elohim then punished Lucifer and his
followers by banishing them from pre-Earth life and sending
them to Earth without bodies. Since you and I have bodies, we
are among the good guys.

Mormons consider our life on Earth

to be one long entrance exam.
6 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org



www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 7


Religion has had an enormous impact on the world. In this series, Michael B.
Paulkovich examines dogmas, myths, and religious notions past and present.

by Michael B. Paulkovich

hat is Christianity, and why is it

so popular? In his book Whats So Great about
Christianity, Dinesh DSouza employs the logical
fallacy known as argumentum ad populum when
he says, Our secular culture cannot get enough
of Christ. Two thousand years after his death, he
continues to be a big story as well as the focus of
never-ending controversies. The Da Vinci Code
seems to have inspired a whole host of spinoffs
Well, Dinesh, so did the story of Hercules with
The Ashes of Hercules (1909), Hercules and the Big
Stick (1910), Hercule (1938), Hercules (1953), The
Loves of Hercules (1960), The Fury of Hercules (1962),
Son of Hercules (1964), Hercules the Invincible (1964), Hercules
(1964), Hercules the Avenger (1965), Hercules (1983), Hercules
Returns (1993), Hercules (1997), The Legend of Hercules (2014),
and Im probably missing a few.
Does this list, by virtue of being long, make the Hercules
stories true? Of course not. Now let us examine this big story
of Jesus the Christ.
What It Is

Christianity is the belief that god created his son specifically

for a suicide mission so that he would rule the world and save
us from Adams transgression because the mother of everyone
talked to a serpent who convinced her to eat a fruit that god used
to booby-trap their home so that Jesus could diebecause the
price of sin must be paidand be sent to heaven to be with his
8 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

father, thus changing the very laws that god had created,
by way of a violent and immoral blood sacrifice.
What It Is Not

It is not a very clever plan. God could have simply

changed his own immoral laws and forgiven his people
without having to create a son so that he could have said son
killed and then brought back from the dead.
What It Claims

Christians believe, with zero evidence, that god made a

huge sacrifice for his children: For God so loved the world,
that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth
in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).
But they also believe that Jesus is in heaven for all eternity, at
the right hand of God (Romans 8:34, Mark 16:19). So, really,
Jesus endured a bad Passover weekend, and god sacrificed
What Their Savior Taught

Jesus taught his apostles that spit cures blindness (Mark 8:23,
John 9:6), that his believers are immune to poison and can handle
venomous snakes (Luke 10:10, Mark 16:17-18), that they should
not defend themselves in court (Matthew 5:40), that you should
whip your slaves (Luke 12:47), that you should kill disobedient
children (Mark 7:10), that devils cause illness (Matthew 7:22,
Matthew 8:16, Luke 8:33), and if a man finds a woman attractive
he should pluck his own eyes out (Matthew 5:28-29).

Rampant translation errors created

considerable consequences.
Like the time a virgin got pregnant.
Why It Is Not Believable

Of the thousands of deities that have been invented over

the course of human history, the one that seems least likely is
the Judeo-Christian deity, who drowned his children in a mass
flood, sent his own son to be crucified, and demands that you
cut the penis of your baby boy.

No, really. What is Christianity?

Although over two billion Christians live in the world

today, this religion almost died out in the fourth century C.E.
But a decree from the Roman Emperor Theodosius the Great
elevated its practice to a legal mandate and the penalty for not
being Christian was death.
Christianity is a stunning series of fictions, errors,
coincidences, mendacities, legends, forgeries, and legal
injunctions, both imperial and ex cathedra. Its roots lie in
Babylon and Egypt before 1500 B.C.E., when the ancient
Hebrews cobbled their biblical canon, the Tanakh. When the
Septuagint (the Tanakh plus some related Greek texts) was
translated in Alexandria by Greek-speaking Jews around 300250 B.C.E., the rampant translation errors created considerable
consequences. Like the time a virgin got pregnant.
In the original Hebrew, the words of Isaiah 7:14 say, Hinneh
ha-almah harah ve-yeldeth ben ve-karath shem-o immanuel,
which means, A young woman is with child, and bears a son
naming him Immanuel. Our young woman with child got
lost in translation, and the Greek text became a virgin shall
conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. It
was this erroneous translation of the Hebrew Tanakh that was
later incorporated into the biblical canon.1
Then we have first-century tales by Greek writers who
transformed the Jesus character into the son of god while
incorporating the virgin blunder with a replica of their own
Greek son of god, Attis (a shepherd on Earth, the only begotten
son of god, and born in a cave on December 25 of a virgin
All of this was followed by second- and third-century frauds
and forgeries, including the expanded and nefarious ending to
Mark 16:9-20 (not found in the early scriptures), where Jesus
casts seven devils out of Mary Magdalene, makes a post-execution
appearance, and is received up into heaven. All these were
second-century inventions, but this is not to say that the original
accounts are believable or have been in any way corroborated.
When Theodosius issued his imperial edicts declaring

Christianity to be the only legal religion of the empire under pain

of death, Christians destroyed the great Library of Alexandria
and burned every one of its booksalmost a million of them
in 391 C.E.2,3 Over the next 1,500 years, Christianity would be
spread by lies and murder.
A (Very) Short List of Lies

1. The Abgar Forgeries are letters forged early in the fourth

century, supposedly between first-century King Abgar, Jesus,
and Tiberius, claiming Jesus had healing powers.
2. Apostolic Canons are the fraudulent legislation of Christs
apostles, created by the Church around 400 C.E. to gain power
and wealth.
3. The Symmachian Forgeries are sixth-century fraudulent
texts granting bishops criminal impunity for all time to follow.
When they were endorsed by Pope Symmachus (498-514 C.E.),
the clergy were thus given eternal get-out-of-jail-free cards.
4. The King Pepin Forgery is a letter created by Christians
around 751 C.E. They claimed it was a prophecy written in the
first century by St. Peter for Pepin, King of the Franks, to read
six hundred years later.
5. The Donatio Constantini (Donation of Constantine)
was forged around the eighth century. It claims that Emperor
Constantine the Great had decreed, four centuries earlier, that
much of Italy, as well as many of its riches and possessions,
were to be given to the pope and the Roman Church. The
Catholic Encyclopedia affirms this document is without doubt a
forgery yet it was part of Canon law for centuries. For example,
governance of the City of Rome was not returned to the people
of Italy until the nineteenth century. The Catholic Encyclopedia
notes that on 20 September, 1870, Rome, having been taken by
force of arms, declared its union with the Kingdom of Italy.4,5
6. False Decretals were documents forged in the eighth
and ninth centuries in an attempt to give legal protection to
the clergy: ...the emperor makes a present to the pope and his
successors of the Lateran Palace, of Rome and the provinces,
districts, and towns of Italy and all the Western regions6

A (Very) Short List of MurderMake that Genocide


1. The Donatists were Christians in Northern Africa whose

superstitions differed slightly from official Catholic views. In
317 C.E., Christian military forces wiped the Donatists from
the face of the earth because they could not be converted to

Christianity is a stunning series of fictions,

errors, coincidences, mendacities,
legends, forgeries, and legal injunctions.

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 9

the worship of the Catholic communion. 7,8

2. When King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain
enacted the Inquisition in 1480, they kicked off centuries
of Christian oppression, torture, and executions of all nonChristiansespecially Jews.
3. The people of Stedingen, Germany, refused to pay tithes or
perform forced labor as serfs. In 1233, the Vatican accused them
of collusion withget this!the devil, who, according to Pope
Gregory IX, appears to them in different shapes, sometimes
as a goose or a duck [T]he Devil presides at their Sabbaths.9,
Gregory commanded a crusade against the Stedingers, and
Christian soldiers murdered about 30,000 people.11
4. The Cathars lived in Languedoc, France, during the
eleventh century. Although they were Christian, Pope Innocent
III declared them to be witches, and his forces murdered
anywhere from 500,000 to one million of them. When Abbot
Arnaud, a Cistercian monk and a legate of the pope, was asked
how to tell the authentic Christians from the witches, he
proclaimed, Kill them all, God will recognize his own!12, 13
And thus we have a brief history of Christianity and how it
became so popular over time. The edicts by Theodosius I late
in the fourth century made Christianity the only legal religion
of the Empire, and for the next 1,500 years, Church laws were
enforced by oppression, genocide, forced conversions, frauds,
and forgeries.
Michael B. Paulkovich is an aerospace engineer and freelance
writer who also contributes to Free Inquiry and Humanist
Perspective. He is a contributing editor for The American

Rationalist and author of No Meek Messiah. His next book,

Beyond the Crusades, will be published this year by American
Atheist Press with a foreword by Robert M. Price.

1. Trobisch, David. The First Edition of the New Testament

(New York: Oxford University Press, 2000) p. 62.
2. Pabst, Adrian, et al. Encounter Between Eastern Orthodoxy
and Radical Orthodoxy: Transfiguring the World
through the Word (Surrey: Ashgate, 2009) p. 111.
3. Martin, Thomas R., Barbara H. Rosenwein, and Bonnie G.
Smith. The Making of the West, Combined Volume: Peoples
and Cultures (Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2012) p. 216.
4. Catholic Encyclopedia , first edition, vol. 5 (The
Encyclopedia Press, 1907-1913) p. 118-119.
5. Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 8, p. 234.
6. Guette, Abb. The Papacy: Its Historic Origin and
Primitive Relations (New York: Minos, 1866) p. 258-262.
7. Pharr, Clyde. The Theodosian Code (Union: The
Lawbook Exchange, Ltd., 2001) p. 458.
8. Smith, John Holland. The Death of Classical
Paganism (New York: Scribner, 1976) p. 58.
9. Mackay, Charles. Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the
Madness of Crowds. (New York: Harmony, 1980) p. 474.
10. Gardner, Gerald Brosseau. The Meaning of Witchcraft
(Boston: Red Wheel/Weiser, 2004) p. 248.
11. Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 14, p. 283-284.
12. Brenon, Anne. Les Femmes Cathares
(Paris: Perrin, 1992 & 2004) p. 76.
13. Lea, Henry Charles. A History of the Inquisition of the
Middle Ages, vol. 1 (London: MacMillan, 1906) p. 154.

Damien Lee Thorr

10 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org


Thou hast demeaned me with anthropomorphic traits, yet what is man to me?
Are ye professing I am spirt, essence, nature, substance or body?
Have I walked amongst ye, or am I inside thy mind?
Am I apart from reality, or do I intervene for ye to find?
Hast thou dreams proved me? Have ye a vision of me before?
Is thy bosom burning with personal revelation ?
What manner shall thou prefer to adore?
Be slow to words, less the prejudice of man be shown.
What trait of thee is holy? Hast thou ignorance been steadily grown?
Ye cannot decide among thyself notions as basic as my form,
Yet ye base thy life off my regard with words of bitter scorn.
Who hast given thee wisdom of me? Have ye ever sought to see?
Is thy text simply holy because of age? How can ye be so easily deceived?
What makes thy books inspired? Do ye actually care to study the pages?
Whose word shall ye trust? Thy own, or men from ancient ages?
Even if ye dont care if I am as man or liken to,
Ye give me morals as if I am so, as if ye know tis true.
Yet what is man to me in my abode of all that is so?
Do ye hear the ants cry? Does thy heart pretend to care and know?
Does the amoeba capture thy soul? Yet thou sayest ye caress mine?
Even though thy primitive existence is a mere millisecond of time?
Where hath thy humility fled? What arrogance and pride ye unknowingly ensue!
What doctrine is fact? What ritual is valid? What prayer should I answer to?
Reality to man is a view of imminent sight, an utterly simplistic degree.
Ye know only of what ye observe and perceive, and what thou has chosen to believe;
While thou sermons and preaching of ethnocentrism display ye foolish and nave.
Am I a being of peace or war? Of loving grace or vengefully just?
Can ye rationally believe thy religious authorities? Hast thou proven their word to trust?
How can ye have faith among this capricious and stormy sea?
If I am omniscient and omnipotent, then thy will is useless to decree.
What can ye give me which I cannot have if all is mine to hold?
Why would I desire thy worship and reason to be extolled?
Am I a being of narcissism that I must have thy constant thanks and praise?
Can ye not see my being was created from thy mirrors reflective gaze?
How can barbaric dreams and visions of ancient men remain?
Am I a disease, a volcano, a devastating famine, or perhaps a hurricane?
Ye pick and choose thy followings to match thy life today,
But if my word is complete and unchanging, then thou has blasphemed thy life away.
For ye imitate thy attributes to explain my ways of wonder,
Yet dogma and theology has altered since ye claim I presented myself to thee.
Why then has thou robbed minds of individuality, and the desire to be rightfully free?
Thou has altered my essence for far too long, and thy fables and power must be cast aside.
Thy books shall read, And Man forged god in his own image, after his own likeness and pride .


www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 11

Dealing with Unwanted Hotel Bibles

by Steve Lowe

Are you tired of always finding a Bible in your

hotel room bedside drawer? Its usually the King
James Version of the Old and New Testaments,
provided free to the hotel by the religious
organization The Gideons International. In
exchange for the supply of free Bibles, the hotel
agrees to have their staff place and replace them
as part of their housekeeping duties. The Bibles
are mostly taken for granted, expected by many to
be there, and dont usually provoke a complaint.
But routinely placing them in every room is a
presumptive action by a hotel and an example
of Christian privilege. Its my opinion that if I,
as an Atheist, ignore the Bible in the room, Im
complicit in the practice of religious favoritism.

So I do something about it. When I come across a Bible

or any religious bookin a hotel room, I personally take it to
the front desk. I smile, shake the hand of the person behind
the counter, and compliment them on something (the nice
room, the helpful staff, etc.). If its the case, I mention that
Im a member of their loyalty program. I then ask to speak to
the manager on duty. I do all of this in a friendly way, which
establishes a cordial setting for what I do next, which is to
ask, Is this a hotel only for Christians? or Do you have a
preference for Christians at this hotel? or Do you presume
that I am a Christian? The typical reply is, No, why do you
Well, I say, placing the Bible on the counter, I found this
in my room. The usual reply is, Yes, we put those in all of our
rooms as a matter of company policy.
My response, always delivered politely, is to ask, Why
is there only a Christian religious book in the room? Does
this hotel presume that all guests are Christian? Why not a

When I make a hotel reservation these days,

I request a religion-free roomone with
no religious materials in the room, please.
12 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org


Koran, and a Torah, and the Book of Mormon, and a book on

At this point, they often apologize on behalf of the hotel
and offer to take it off my hands. I give it to them and thank
them, but I continue with the following points:
The policy of placing only a Christian book in the rooms

Placing Bibles
in every room is
a presumptive
action by a hotel
and an example of
Christian privilege.
gives the impression that this hotel assumes that all guests are
Christian, or worse, that it prefers Christian guests, or, even
worse, that it thinks all guests should become Christians.
I do not rant or get angry. I want them to remember me
as a reasonable guest with constructive feedbackthe type of
guest they want to come back.

In closing, I state exactly what actions I want them to

take: Thank you for listening to my feedback (keep smiling).
I would like you to convey to your upper management my
complaint and ask that they consider changing their policy
and put no religious materials in the rooms. A Bible is not
necessary, its off-putting to many guests, and even offensive
to some. If this hotel wants to respond to the needs of some
guests, I suggest having copies of several religious texts at the
front desk, available upon request. I leave on a cordial note by
shaking their hand and thanking them for their time.
If, after my stay, I receive a standard email requesting
feedback about my stay, I make these points again in writing.
If Im not asked for feedback, I go to their website and send
the feedback myself, making sure to include any reference or
confirmation number along with the dates and location of my
stay. If there is no electronic option to do this, I mail a letter to
the company headquarters.
I remember, not so long ago, when anyone who wanted a
non-smoking room had to specifically request this in their
reservation. When I make a hotel reservation these days,
I request a religion-free roomone with no religious
materials in the room, please. If I do find a Bible after
checking in, I take it to the front desk and politely begin the
whole thing over again, this time also asking why my request
wasnt honored.
Some Atheists leave a message inside the Bible for the next
hotel guest. During our national convention in Memphis this year
at the Peabody Hotel, Dan Ellis, American Atheists Regional
Director for Utah, wrote You dont need ancient myths to be a
good person on his business card (see the photo below).
I think our ultimate goal should be to get
hotels to change their policies and not place
Bibles or any other religious book in any
guest room. Sheraton Hotels has already
adopted this practice. This can only be
done by changing corporate policy, which
can only be changed when enough of these
complaints reach the ears of the decisionmakers. We must raise the awareness of
the negative business impact of this policy.
And we must do it in a professional and
constructive manner if we want to succeed.

One short-term solution for dealing with hotel Bibles


Steve Lowe is a former Peace Corps

volunteer and a graduate of the
University of Virginia. He liberated
himself from theophilia around 2001,
when, after retiring, he had time to
read and think about big things. He
currently lives in Washington, D.C., and
is a member of the Board of Directors of
American Atheists.

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 13


Atheists in Memphis
2015 Convention Draws 750 Participants

by J.T. Eberhard
Keynote Speaker Ayaan Hirsi Ali

While Easter weekend is a religious holiday for many, its

also the occasion of the annual American Atheists national
convention. This years host city was Memphis, and from
April 2 to 5, the Peabody Hotel was home to 750 participants.
The convention opened on Thursday, April 2, with several
workshops. They included Grieving Without Faith with Grief
Beyond Belief founder Rebecca Hensler and How NOT to
Talk to Christians, a debate workshop I presented along with
The Atheist Experience host Matt Dillahunty and journalist and
blogger Jamila Bey.
American Atheists President David Silverman kicked off
the first day of speakers with the talk Whats in It for You,
where he spoke to the importance of everyone getting out in
their community to be firebrand Atheists.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali gave the keynote address, Feminism:
Refusing to be Silenced. It captured the horrors of the Middle
14 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

East and of what Islam has wrought in modern times. She is the
author of Infidel and Nomad: From Islam to America. Her latest
book is Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now. In 2004,
she gained international attention following the murder of
Theo van Gogh, who directed her short film, Submission, which
exposes the oppression of women under Islam. The murderer
left a death threat for Hirsi Ali pinned to van Goghs chest. She
is currently a fellow with the Future of Diplomacy Project at the
Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard
Several well-known authors also spoke and signed their
books at the convention. Marshall Brain is the creator and
founder of the websites WhyGodWontHealAmputees.com
and HowStuff Works.com. His new book, How God Works,
uses logic, science, and critical thinking to help readers prove
to themselves that god is imaginary. He spoke about the best

practices for teaching people to think critically.

Susan Blackmores book The Meme Machine has been
translated into sixteen languages. She blogs for The Guardian
and is a visiting professor at the University of Plymouth, U.K.
She talked about the clash of science, religion, and free speech.
Paul Offit, M.D., author of Bad Faith: When Religious
Belief Undermines Modern Medicine, is Chief of the Division of
Infectious Diseases and the Director of the Vaccine Education
Center at the Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia. His talk,
The 1991 Philadelphia Measles Epidemic: Lessons from the
Past, reminded us that accepting things on faith can have real
consequences, not only for ourselves but for those around us.

Atheist of the Year Vyckie Garrison

The convention is also the occasion to recognize

outstanding activists. Chuck Miller of Alabama was named
Regional Director of the Year. He has organized several rallies
in Montgomery and emceed the Rally for Secular Government
at the Alabama State Capitol in May 2014. He has also spoken
at Womens Rights Rallies in the state and has been an active
supporter of LGBTQ allies, including Alabamas Free2Be
Community Center and Rocket City Pride. Chucks email
address is CMiller@Atheists.org.
Twenty-one-year-old Amanda Scott, also of Alabama, was
named Activist of the Year. Besides co-organizing and speaking
at the Alabama Rally for Secular Government, Amanda
testified before the Mobile County Commission to offer a
proposal to open up Mobile Government Plaza as a public
forum and to allow Atheists, pagans, and other groups to put up
plaques next to an existing plaque that includes the words In
Anthony Pinn is a professor of humanities and religious
studies at Rice University and the author of many books. His
most recent is Everyday Humanism. He mixed humor with
serious content in his talk, If JayZ and Richard Dawkins Were
Friends: What Atheists Can Learn From Hip-Hop Culture.
In it, he shared the story of his own upbringing to show how
empathy for minorities would do great things for the Atheist
movement. Pinn said that Atheism has yet to provide a softer
landing point than that which churches already provide for
African Americans. According to Pinn, Atheism needs hip-hop
culture more than it realizes.
It wouldnt be an American Atheists convention if there
werent protests outside the hotel. This year was no exception,
but the bar was raised to a whole new level with Memphis Exalts
Jesus! an organized, revival-like event at Autozone Park, the
minor-league baseball stadium right across the street from the
Peabody Hotel. If Memphis does, in fact, exalt Jesus, they didnt
do it at the rally, which only drew a smattering of attendees.

Our president, Dave Silverman

at the costume party

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 15


God We Trust. She is the founder of Mobile Equality, a
nonprofit organization dedicated to LGBTQ rights. Her
website, AmandaLScott.com, is updated regularly with
details of all of her latest activism. Her Twitter handle is
Dan Arel, author of the Danthropology column in
this magazine, was given the First Amendment Award
for his investigative journalism work uncovering
religious discrimination in hiring at Ark Encounter, a
religious theme park being built in Kentucky by Answers
in Genesis, the organization that owns and operates
the Creation Museum, also in Kentucky. Answers in
Genesis had applied for a sales tax rebate offered by the
Commonwealth of Kentucky to organizations which
bring a certain amount of tourist dollars. One requirement
for the rebate is to not discriminate in hiring based on
religious preference. When Dan found out AIG was
discriminating, he blogged about it. This started a chain
of events that resulted in the rejection of the application.
Dan blogs at Danthropology.net and is on Twitter at
@DanArel. His book, Parenting Without God, was
published last year.
Vyckie Garrison was named Atheist of the Year for
her work as a respected adversary of biblical patriarchy
and the damages in inflicts on its adherents. Garrison was
once a prominent member of the Quiverfull community,
whose most famous members are the Duggar family of
the reality show 19 Kids and Counting. This branch of
Christian fundamentalism bans birth control, demands
total submission of a wife to her husband, and encourages
huge biblical families. Her blog, No Longer Quivering,
provides support to women and children who are escaping
abusive religious communities. Her Twitter account is @
The convention closed with comedians Trace Bealieu
and Frank Conniff, best known for their roles as Crow
T. Robot and TVs Frank in the sci-fi comedy TV show
Mystery Science Theater 3000. Their live riff on the 2014
Christian film Gods Not Dead was delivered with the
same religious reverence and respect that they had for
the B movies they riffed on in the TV seriesmovies like
Invasion of the Neptune Man, The Brain that Wouldnt Die,
and Fire Maidens of Outer Space.
For a complete list of convention speakers and their
topics, go to Atheists.org/File/Program2015.pdf. You
can watch many of the convention presentations on the
American Atheists Channel on YouTube, on the Atheist
Channel on ROKU, and online at Atheists.tv.
J.T. Eberhards blog, What Would J.T. Do?, is at Patheos.com/
Blogs/WWJTD. Hes on Twitter @JTEberhard. He previously
worked for the Secular Student Alliance, where he was
their first high school organizer. He is the co-founder of
the Skepticon conference and served as the events lead
organizer for its first three years.
16 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org



The Dave Silverman card

Cards Against Humanity is, in the words of the games

website, a party game for horrible people. The game is
simple, fun, and as politically incorrect as it gets. When
my local affiliate of American Atheists, the Tri-State
Freethinkers, gathers for a game night theres always a
round of Cards Against Humanity. So when I discovered
that American Atheists had created a limited-edition deck
for the charity tournament for Planned Parenthood Greater
Memphis Region, I immediately signed up. Each participant
received a deck of American Atheists-themed cards, printed
in a limited run exclusively for the tournament.
After the tournament, which raised $1,000 for Planned
Parenthood, I saw several people getting their cards signed
by the convention speakers. I thought this was a great idea
and decided to take it one step further. Besides the speakers, I
had the staff members of American Atheists each sign a card.
Although I barely made it past the first round, I ended
up winning the tournament and was awarded a certificate
declaring me The Most Horrible Person at the Convention.
This was a huge honor, considering how many horrible
people were in attendance. I cant decide which is better: the
award or my autographed cards.
Jim Helton is American Atheists Regional Director for
Kentucky and president and founder of Tri-State Freethinkers,
an American Atheists affiliate in the Greater Cincinnati area.

Fear and Loathing at

AutoZone Park

aking the American Atheists annual convention to the

buckle of the Bible belt is bound to draw a reaction from
local Christians. But thats no reason not to go there. In fact,
it feels like there is a certain constitutional duty to deliver the
message right to the belly of the beast.

Photo by Rick Wingrove

The convention was held in the historic Peabody Hotel in

Memphis, Tennessee. The Peabody actively competed to host
the convention, and the staff was very accommodating and
cordial to all the attendees.
Not everyone, however, was that cool or that eager to see
hundreds of Atheists converge in downtown Memphis. It was a
giant insult to the Creator of the Universe. Or something like
that. When they heard we were coming, someone decided to
stage a display of gods power and presence in Tennessee to show
the world that Atheism doesnt play in gods country. It was their
intent to intimidate us with a massive crowd of believers whose
overwhelming numbers would be testament to Tennesseans
commitment to the gospel of Jesus and to say that Atheists were
unwelcome and should be afraid. They dreamed of 50,000 godfearing people showing up to scare the Atheists.

But thats not exactly what happened. The local evangelical

community put out the call for every good, solid Christian in
the tri-state area to come out to the AutoZone Park, Memphis
brand-new minor league baseball field, directly across the street
from the Peabody Hotel, on Saturday, April 4th, apparently to
scare us enough to either high-tail it out
of town or start believing in Jesus.
Or something like that.
So, on Saturday morning, having
been born without the gene which makes
one careful in such situations, I trotted
across the street, past a single lonely
demonstrator with a sign, and into the
festivities inside AutoZone Park, just to
see how impressive and frightening the
crowd really was.
Long story short, not that impressive
or frightening. There were maybe 500
people thereabout as many as we had
at our Friday night dinner in the Peabody.
The photo shows individuals and small
groups scattered among many empty
seats in the center third of the lower level.
Im sure they were disheartened,
probably even embarrassed, but the
pathetic numbers spoke to a
Dawning Truththat there
are vibrant, growing Atheist
communities in practically every city in America,
while the ability of the most rabid Evangelicals to
throw up numbers against us, to intimidate us,
even in the Bible belt, is diminishing fast enough
to be red-shifted.
If this was a referendum on the constitutional
rights of Atheist versus Christian privilege, then
we won this one. But, perhaps, it was just a sign of
a shrinking church-going demographic. And, having
outlived its taste for blood and tacitly resigned from
the fight, finds itself matched against an Atheist
presence that is becoming so normalized and
ubiquitous that it no longer draws the zealous away
from their Saturday morning trip to Home Depot.
Or something like that.
www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 17

Notable Books


John Boynes latest lovel, A History of Loneliness,

takes an unsparing look at complicity in child
abuse in Catholic Ireland.


I wanted to challenge
myself to find good
where previously
Id only found evil.

he life of Father Odran Yates, a Catholic priest in John Boynes latest novel, A History of
Loneliness, is a metaphor for Irelands complicity in the acts of sexual abuse that thousands of
children suffered at the hands of the Catholic Church. Father Yates recollection of his life,
which shifts back and forth between the past and the present, is an illustration of how these
horrible acts were not just the fault of the priests or even a Church hierarchy that kept the problem
under wraps. These men were thoroughly enabled by parents, teachers, neighbors, and church staff.
Boyne, himself a survivor of physical and sexual abuse by priests, tells a story full of harsh details
about a time and a place where almost no one had even a chance to escape the destructive cycle of
their society.
Though he never molested a child himself, Father Yates was well aware that it happened around him.
Over the years, opportunities presented themselves to him again and againopportunities to speak
out, to say anything, to get just one child out of harms way on just one occasion. Yet his reaction was
always the same: do nothing.
In his interview with American Atheist, Boyne talked about his shift in perspective that came from
writing this book.

My generation and people younger

than me just dont talk about religion
or God. They dont go to mass, and

they dont think about it in any way.

18 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org


I wanted to challenge myself to

find good where previously Id only
found evil. Ive made an effort as Ive
gotten older not to be embittered
by things because if youre bitter,
youre only damaging yourself. Its
best to come to terms with things,
and, in my case as a writer, to write
about things. I was somebody who
felt such vehement anger toward the
Church that it was important to me to
understand that not everybody who
has given their lives to this institution
is bad. There are plenty of people who
have done it and have lived good lives
and helped people.

John Boyne

The books characters never speak up because they

didnt want to cause a scene or because theyd be
outcasts if they ever criticized a priest. A lot of Atheists
in the U.S. are in the closet because theyd be outcasts
in their families or with their friends or among their coworkers if they admitted their non-belief or even any
doubts about religion. What is the tolerance level for
Atheism in Ireland now?

Where I come from, its a subject that nobody my age talks

about at all anymore. Not because anybodys in the closet, its
just that people arent interested. My generation and people
younger than me just dont talk about religion or God. They
dont go to mass, and they dont think about it in any way. I
think one reason for that is the damage done to so many people
in Ireland by the Church. If I was out with a friend for a drink
and somebody brought up religion or asked if I believe in God, I
would be really surprised. Its just not part of our lives.
In the end, it took a convicted sex offender to get Odran
to finally be honest with himself. What would it have
taken for him to shed his denial earlier on?

This story is really the story of Ireland. Its about complicity

and silence and turning away. And it went all the way to the top,
to the pope. Everybody knew what was going on and nobody
did anything. If parents said to a bishop that their childs been
abused, the bishop would move the priest to a different diocese.
Then hed say that the priest can no longer get to the child, but,
of course, hes put with other children. And they would think
this was fine.
But the people who werent prieststhe parents
themselvesalso turned because we have this history of being

enslaved by the Church and being

frightened of them. The authority that
the Church had was enormous. Its
baffling now, but thats what people did.
I started off with the idea that Odran was
going to be a good man, but as the novel
developed, I realized just how complicit
he was because he cant be as naive as he
pretends to be. When Odran recounts
an event, hell often return to it later,
and the second time around hell say,
Did I mention So hes unreliable in
his iteration of things because he knows
what hes done. At one point he says, Id
seen things and Id heard things and Id
suspected things and I turned away and
I did nothing.

When Odran observes the criminal trial of a priest,

some women disrupt the proceedings and yell out,
Dont let them break you, Father, with their filthy
lies! So theyre dragged out of the courtroom saying
their Hail Marys and Odran wonders what could have
inspired such devotion. He says, I wondered why they
would stand behind him even if he was guilty. Four
pages later, someone wonders the same thing about
him. The mother of one young victim asks him, Do you
even care?

In Ireland, even now, if Im on a radio program talking

about this book, immediately people phone in saying, This
is just another person slamming the Church. And they dont
listen. They dont accept at all that there are enormous flaws
and crimes that have taken place. They make blanket statements
like, Youre just jumping on the bandwagon, criticizing the
Church, and trying to bring it down. And they will not engage
in an intellectual discussion at all. They refuse to. Why that is is
hard to know. Is it because they were brought up in such a strict
form of Catholicism that theyre terrified by the idea of going
against the Church?
And then theres the other extreme.

I interviewed a lot of priests who were more than happy to

talk and tell me about their feelings about the Church today.
They were pretty honest about it. A lot of things that happen to
Odran in the contemporary parts of the booklike being afraid
of wearing his collar in public because people would spit on him
or call him a pedophileare the tip of the iceberg of the things
that I heard from priests who are genuinely good people, trying


We have this history of being enslaved by

the Church and being frightened of them.

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 19

Notable Books


Suspense Novel Highlights Facts about Religious Child Abuse

by Sue Cox

Christian childrearing guides

contradict nearly everything that
modern science has taught us about
the emotional and psychological
development of human beings.

s an addiction counselor, survivor of clergy abuse, and a co-founder of

Survivors Voice Europe, I am often asked to review books that highlight
the atrocities of child abuse. Most cite statistics and give some scientific
evidence; the others are usually victims autobiographies. M. Dolon
Hickmons novel, 13:24: A Story of Faith and Obsession, presents the facts about trauma,
religious dogma, and child abuse in the form of a crime thriller. Hickmon blends science
and a powerful humanist message with equally compelling entertainment. The central
characters, Josh, a wounded celebrity, and Chris, a teenage murder suspect, are linked
by a common tragedy. While a murder investigation unfolds, we learn that both have
experienced physical, mental, and emotional abuse, albeit in slightly different forms.
Joshs ordeals are draped in the religious twaddle of his father, a famous minister, while
Chris abuser relies on manipulations that are anything but holy.

This sometimes graphic story unmasks the

hypocrisy, subjugation, and humiliation that
can arise from religious indoctrination.
20 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org


As a small boy, Josh must reconcile experiences of profound

suffering with inherited beliefs about a beneficent, all-powerful
god. Initially, Josh blames himself for his fathers maltreatment.
As he matures, nagging existential questions lead him to search
the Bible for the truth. But the more he searches for god, the
less Josh believes, and his journey turns him into an anti-theist
entertainment icon.
The other skeptics in the book are as plausible as they are
diverse. Some are damaged by their childhoods and typify the
troubled lives and conflicted spirituality that ensue from such
events. But the Atheists who support and care for them are
lively, well-adjusted and morally unconflicted.
In telling this sometimes graphic story, Hickmon unmasks
the hypocrisy, subjugation, and humiliation of human beings
that can arise from religious indoctrination. Yet, along with
despair, disaster, and human tragedy, there are also hope,
compassion, recovery, and triumph.
Of the many lessons subtly woven into this story, I could
especially relate to the compassion displayed by the Atheist
characters toward one another. I experienced something similar
on the day that I made the rallying speech at the Protest the Pope
demonstration in London on September 18, 2010. Until then, I
had for most of my life felt like an alien in the world I so badly
wanted to belong to: singled out and violated as a child, only to be
further isolated by the actions of church leaders toward abused
people like me. My trust barometer destroyed, I spent years
desperately trying to fit into the world. But on that day, as I looked
out at 20,000 Atheist, humanist, and secularist faces, I feltfor
the first time in my lifethat I, too, belonged to the human race.
In my interview with Hickmon, we discussed the realities
reflected in his novel, along with the growing role that secular
communities play in preventing and healing the damage of
child abuse.
Having been raised in a hellfire and damnation
household, I related to so many of your novels characters. Are
there actual events that inspired you to write such an emotional
critique of popular religious parenting manuals?
Like Josh, I struggled to square my childhood faith with
physical abuse I suffered on the advice of a trusted pastor. I
wondered how a loving god could ignore my prayers, spoken
fervently inside of his own house. That dilemma consumed most
of my thoughts when I was in my mid-twenties, and I started
to compare the childrearing advice from the Bible with that of
Christian writers, secular parents, and child-abuse experts. Well,
the Bibles authors knew as little about human development as
they did about electricity and astronomy. I also came to realize
that there is no scriptural basis for most of the parenting advice
that is dispensed on the supposed authority of the Bible.

Take, for instance, J. Richard Fugates What the Bible

Says about Child Training, in print since 1980. The book
rationalizes a process for delivering corporal punishment
to gain unquestioning obedience: Parents do not owe their
child an explanation for their instructions. He does not have
to know why you want him to do it, let alone agree with you.
You are his authority and thereby have the right to direct his
activities. When a child is allowed to make parents justify their
instructions, it undermines their authority and causes them to
answer to the child instead of the child to them. Until a child
learns unquestioning obedience it is better not to justify your
instructions in advance.
To accomplish this, parents must be prepared to inflict
wheals and bruises via the strenuous use of a tree limb or
wooden dowel:
A willow or peach tree branch may be fine for a
rebellious two-year-old, but a small hickory rod
or dowel rod would be more fitting for a wellmuscled teenage boy The rod should be used
on the bare back, preferably on the buttocks
The child who has not yet learned to trust his
parents commitment to his obedience, or who is
exceptionally willful will require more frequent
and more intense whippings. Such a child is likely
to require enough strokes to receive stripes or
even welts. Some children have very sensitive skin
that will welt or even bruise quite easily. Parents
should not be overly concerned if such minor
injuries do result from their chastisement as it is
perfectly normal.
However, few of Fugates highly specific detailsincluding
which actions do or dont merit a whippingare ever mentioned
in the Bible. Christian childrearing guides contradict one another,
they contradict scripture, and, most importantly, they contradict
nearly everything that modern science has taught us about the
emotional and psychological development of human beings.
There are some who claim that traditional parenting
practices, such as faith healing, homeschooling, and corporal
punishment are unfairly targeted by child welfare investigators.
According to the non-profit organization Childrens
Healthcare is a Legal Duty, forty-eight states allow religious
exemptions from vaccinations, thirty-eight have religious
exemptions in their civil codes on child abuse or neglect, and
in five states parents can use a religious defense if accused of
a serious crime against a childthese include capital murder,
manslaughter, and neglect resulting in death.1

In five states parents can use a

religious defense if accused of a
serious crime against a child.

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 21

Clearly, the tension between government and religion is not

due to persecution. Rather, it arises from the fact that Christian
conservatives are staunchly opposed to the notion that children
are human beings with rightsto live to adulthood, to learn
to read, to not be afflicted with trauma-induced psychiatric
illnessthat must be balanced against the religious freedoms
of their parents. In his book, Fugate says, There is no such
thing as child rights sanctioned by the Word of God. The child
has only the God-given right to be raised by his parents without
the intervention of any other institution.

The good news is that for the first time in its history, HSLDA
faces organized opposition. Homeschool Alumni Reaching
Out is an organization that conducts research and develops
resources to equip parents and homeschooling communities
with information about issues such as child abuse, mental
health, self-injury, and the needs of LGBT students. The
Coalition for Responsible Home Education has also emerged
as a powerful counterweight to HSLDA, offering alternative
analysis of pending homeschool and child-abuse legislation,
which focuses on the rights of children.

As children gain legal protections, fundamentalists will often

hide their harmful parenting practices though self-segregation.
In the U.K., this was accomplished by setting up so-called free
schools, which can be run by religious groups, even though
they are funded directly by the government. Your novel points
out a similar American trend, which is the rise of the religious
homeschooling movement. How do your characters represent
some of the real-world links between homeschooling leaders and
American politics?

As the head of SMART UK, an organization which has

trained nearly 13,000 health care workers in the science of
childhood abuse, trauma, and addiction, I appreciated the
novels many revelations about early trauma permanently
altering the body and brain. What prompted you to present
such information?
My goal with this novel was to combine accurate, expertreviewed, technical information about trauma with the
immersive experience of reading fiction. The result is that

The Bibles authors knew as little

about human development as they
did about electricity and astronomy.
My villain is a composite based in part on what Ive
understood from studying public figures like Reverend Michael
Pearl of No Greater Joy Ministries, Bill Gothard of the Institute
for Basic Life Principles, and Michael Farris of the Home
School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), to name a few.
In spite of recurring child-abuse scandals, these leaders wield
considerable political clout.
At its most basic, HSLDA could be compared to a prepaid
legal service with thousands of dues-paying members.
According to a 2013 statement on its Facebook page, HSLDA
receives hundreds of calls each year from parents who are under
investigation by CPS [Child Protection Services]. That same
Facebook post articulates the core benefit that paying members
receive: We help homeschool families navigate the legal
landscape in the early stages of an investigation before all the
facts come to light.2
Beyond providing peace of mind for parents who feel they
have reason to fear a CPS investigation, HSLDA aggressively
lobbies against childrens rights and child protection on the state
and national levels. HSLDA has opposed mandatory child abuse
reporting,3 criminal background checks for youth volunteers4
and state-mandated medical exams for homeschooled children, 5
for example. And Farris reach is not limited to advocating on
behalf of the homeschooling community. He chaired the drafting
committee that wrote the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of
1993, a law that eventually formed the basis for the U.S. Supreme
Courts landmark decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which
affirmed the right of closely held corporations to claim religious
exemptions from portions of federal law.6
22 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

readers come away with the sense of having gained firsthand

knowledge of what living with trauma is like for child victims,
for adult survivors, and for their spouses and families. When
people have that information, then they are able to recognize
the opportunities that exist, from voting for a candidate that
supports better homeschooling laws, to supporting a friend or
colleague who is a survivor, and everything in between.


5. HSLDA.org/cms/?q=bill/assembly-bill-4372-statemandated-annual-medical-exams-homeschoolers
6. DailyCaller.com/2015/03/30/indiana-religious-freedomlaw-is-nothing-new-i-helped-write-the-one-clinton-signed
Sue Cox is an addictions counsellor and teacher, a co-founder
of Survivors Voice Europe, and the head of SMART-UK, an
organization that teaches professionals the neuroscience of
addiction and the science of childhood abuse. The program is
used in U.K.s National Health Service, military health systems,
128 U.K. prisons, and many charities dedicated to combating
substance abuse. She is a member of the Federation of Drug
and Alcohol Professionals, Atheism UK, the British Humanist
Association, and the National Secular Society.


and more

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 23

Notable Books

How Americas God Squad was Mobilized

by Mark Kolsen
A review of Kevin M. Kruses
One Nation Under God: How
Corporate America Invented
Christian America

n One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America,
Princeton University history professor Kevin M. Kruse proves the United States is
indeed a Christian nation. This reality has nothing to do with Americas founding
fathers, who, contrary to conservative assertions, were deists who strongly believed
in the separation of church and state. It was only in the mid 1950s that America
became a Christian nation, as more and more citizens began flocking to church. By 1960,
69% of all Americans attended a church or synagogue, a twenty-point jump since 1940.
And although church attendance has returned to 1940 levels, 70% of all Americans today
call themselves Christian (Americas Changing Religious Landscape, PewForum.org,
May 12, 2015).

The divisive nature of religion itself

could be our best hope to maintain the
separation between church and state.
24 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org


After World War II, Christian America emerged not simply

because Americans feared the threat of Soviet communism and
its evil Atheistic creed. A majority of Americans committed
themselves to Christian libertarianism, thanks to the efforts
of President Dwight Eisenhower, religious leaders, and business
moguls smarting from the anti-corporate thrust of the New
Deal. Convinced that Americans needed to restore their faith
in god and the free enterprise system, this unholy alliance
used a variety of marketing techniques which successfully
Christianized the American public during the 1950s.
To understand this postwar phenomenon, we must recall
that for most of our history, American labor was subservient to
capital. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, capitalists
exploited labor with impunity. In many industries, the wages,
hours, working conditions, and living conditions of workers
during that time would be unimaginable in todays third-world
For a judicial history of this exploitation, read Injustices:
The Supreme Courts History of Comforting the Comfortable and
Afflicting the Afflicted by Ian Millhiser, and count on becoming
sick to your stomach. Millhiser shows that some states, as well
as Congress, did pass laws (e.g. minimum wage and maximum

in their war with Roosevelt. For his Spiritual Mobilization

campaign, Fitfield successfully solicited large donations from
hundreds of corporations. The campaign recruited thousands
of ministers and distributed anti-New Deal propaganda,
including a monthly magazine. When the campaign launched
the radio program Freedom Story in 1951, it was carried by
800 stations. A Freedom Under God Week organized around
Independence Day made a lasting impression on the nation.
Other ministerssuch as Billy Graham and Abraham
Veriedesuccessfully promoted Christian libertarianism
to Washingtons rich and powerful. At his prayer breakfasts,
Veriede was especially adept at recruiting important political
figures to his cause, including Supreme Court Chief Justice
Fred Vinson, who declared that America must adhere to the
ideals of Christianity. Grahams 1952 Washington crusade
team persuaded Congress to authorize the first-ever religious
service on the steps of the Capitol, as well as a National Day of
Prayer on which the people of the United States may to turn
to god in prayer and meditation. But the biggest catch for both
clergy and capitalism was President Dwight Eisenhower, who,
besides believing that our form of government has no sense
unless it is founded in a deeply religious faith also believed that

American religious leaders could

rarely agree when government
actually acted in favor of religion.
workday hours) to shield workers. But the Supreme Court,
citing the Constitutions contract clause, and often making
up other legal justifications, consistently declared these laws
unconstitutional while capitalists continued to exploit workers
and violently crush all resistance. When the Depression began,
the Court blocked most of Roosevelts New Deal measures.
Only after FDRs reelection and threats to dilute the Courts
power did the justices relent. The 1937 decision in West Coast v.
Parrish finally opened the door to the New Deal, to government
intervention in the economy, and to the welfare state as we
know it today.
But, as Kruse shows, American capitalists never accepted the
New Deals expansion of the rights of labor. In that same year,
Republic Steel and Chicago police gunned down ten striking
workers right in front of the Republic plant. But by the time
World War II was over, the American public would no longer
tolerate such overt tactics. So capitalists needed a new means of
combatting the creeping socialism initiated by FDR.
Enter preachers like James Fitfield, the apostle to
millionaires, who viewed the New Deal as violating the
sacredness of individual responsibility preached by Jesus.
Fitfield condemned minimum wages, price controls, Social
Security, unemployment compensation, and progressive
taxation as socialistic laws. He convinced industrialists that
clergymen could be the means of regaining the upper hand

he was elected to help lead this country spiritually.

Part II of One Nation Under God will raise the eyebrows
of Atheists who, like myself, have viewed Eisenhower as an
innocuous, golf-loving Republican and who have viewed
McCarthyism as Americas main scourge during the 1950s. Under
Eisenhowers leadership, religion spread like a virus throughout
all branches of government. Even Supreme Court Chief Justice
Earl Warrenwhose appointment Eisenhower called his
greatest mistakeflatly stated that we are a Christian nation
in an address he gave to government and business leaders in 1954
at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C.
As Kruse presents the sordid history of under God in
the pledge of allegiance, IN GOD WE TRUST on stamps
and currency, and the proliferation of monuments to the Ten
Commandments in public buildings, Atheists may also be
shocked by the tepid resistance offered by the ACLU, the
American Jewish Congress, and other groups who today
advocate for the separation of church and state.
One consolation: contrary to the wishes of his many
corporate benefactors, Eisenhower refused to roll back the
New Deal or cut taxes on the wealthy (92% was the tax rate for
those in the highest bracket). He even increased government
spending. Barry Goldwater dubbed his administration a
dime-store New Deal. Nevertheless, as Kruse persuasively
demonstrates, Eisenhowers administration succeeded in


www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 25

by Tony Pasquarello

Striving to Build a 1st Century Church in a 21st Century

World. Thats what the billboard in front of a local church says.
Whenever I drive by it, I smile and think, Mission impossible!
or Why bother? or a sarcastic Good Luck! To understand
my amusement, imagine a Green Giant commercial declaring,
Striving to Practice 1st Century Farming within 21st Century
Agriculture. Or, better still, suppose that, upon entering a
hospital, you noticed their slogan, Striving to Provide 1st
Century Healthcare in a 21st Century Medical Setting. Would
you have your surgery there?
All major religions are inextricably tied to their time and
place of birthmore precisely, to the cosmology, the picture of
the world in the minds of their creators. For Christianity, what
sort of universe did the New Testament authors have in mind?
Their universe was very, very small. With the exception of the
heavens, the earth was the entire universe. That earththe

modern concept of planet was non-existentwas a flat disc

of, perhaps, a few hundred miles in diameter about the size of
Ohio. The sky was a crystal dome, a mile or so above the earth.
The stars were twinkling, decorative lights placed by the gods,
or holes in the dome through which shone the heavenly rays.
The sun and moongods or abodes or chariots of gods in other
primitive creedswere large lanterns hung by a deity who
thoughtfully adjusted their different luminosities for either
human labor or repose.
Naturally, other demographics dovetailed with this
miniscule cosmology. People, for example, could be found
in various wandering tribes of a few thousand each, or
in similar-sized tiny towns. The idea of a million was
unimaginable. The nether regions, Hades, Limbo, et al.,
were just under the earths surface, but usually accessible
only through certain caves.

Anyone planning an ascension to

heaven takes off from a hilltop,
to shorten the travel time.
26 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org


A worldwide flood becomes

much more plausible when
your world isnt very wide.
When considered in this context, many aspects of scripture
become transparent:
They dream of ladders to the heavens and build towers to
that end because heaven isnt very far.
The gods are usually encountered on hilltops because
those are just an easy step down out of heaven.
By the same token, anyone planning an ascension to heaven
takes off from a hilltop, to shorten the travel time.
It makes sense that a few letters might convert all the Gentiles
because there arent that many of them.
A worldwide flood becomes much more plausible when
your world isnt very wide.
All the necessary animals can handily fit in the Ark because
there just arent that many kinds. (Who knew about
When the distance and brightness of a star is comparable to a
helicopters searchlight, then, obviously, it can be followed
and it can hover over and illuminate a particular stable.
The supreme deity sends his son to earth because there
was nowhere else to go! (Didnt he know about the 56 billion
other planets in our galaxy alone?)
That first-century world, that primitive cosmology, that
parochial picture of the universethose are gone forever.
Most of those ideas were off by factors ranging from tens to
trillions. In our current cosmos, to call the earth a speck
would be far too respectful. (However, first-century ignorance
is certainly not blameworthy.) As I have tried to demonstrate,
virtually every part of the religion originating there and then is
inseparably connected to that obsolete cosmology and therefore
cant be removed from its ancient setting and given a modern
home. It isnt like pilfering a stone from the Colosseum and
using it in your patio dcor. On the contrary, it would be more
like extracting, intact, all the ivy from Harvards oldest building
and expecting it to retain its shape and vitality. It cant be done.
But cant that evangelical, old-time religion be renovated
and modernized? Of course it can! Merely eliminate all
references to the supernatural, including all superbeings. Cut
all mention of spirits or souls. Drop all psychologically harmful
notions like sin, inherited guilt, atonement, blind faith, etc.
Remove all scientifically absurd myths and fantasies. Dispense
with magical thinking and wishful thinking, as exemplified by
miracles, eternal life, etc.
Whatever of value is left will be commonsense, rational
precepts like the Golden Ruleempirically based, secular,
humanistic insights gleaned from observing the activities and
interactions of human beings. It is important to note that there
isnt the slightest reason to call this remainder a religion.

This type of modernization fairly characterizes the evolution

of the mainstream Protestant denominations, and, to a large
extent, Catholicism of the last half-century. Supernaturalism
and biblical literalism were downplayed, while concerts and
art shows, health clinics and lunches, counseling, bingo, and
babysitting were emphasized. These churches became, in
effect, glorified social-service agencies. And what did they get
for their commendable efforts to modernize religion? Massive
losses in membership while fundamentalism thrived.
Such is the strength of the nostalgic desire to re-establish a
simpler eraThe Return to Simpleville. Such is the power of
simple-minded appeals to simplicity coupled with the natural
human aversion to the terrible finality of death. Succumbing to
the gospel hucksters promise of eternal life usually signals the
departure of logic and reasonand your money.
A retired philosophy professor at The Ohio State University, Tony
Pasquarello is the author of The Altar Boy Chronicles, a humorous,
semi-autobiographical account of an artistically gifted child
growing up Catholic and desperately trying to stay Catholic all
the way. The book is available from Amazon or at Atheists.org.

Support American Atheists every

time you shop Amazon.com!
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Atheists will receive a donation from
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www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 27

Connecting with Authentic Truth Through

Set List: Stand-Up Without a Net

by Becky Garrison

When I interviewed Paul Provenza for American Atheist (Third

Quarter 2013), I asked him how his Atheism comes into play
on Set List: Stand-Up Without A Net, a live, improv stand-up
show he co-produces with fellow comic Troy Conrad. He said
that the show is about whats happening in the moment. On
Set List, comics are often put into situations where they have
to deal with the tensions inherent in topics like religion, the
pope, Nazis, Jews, and race. This format puts them in a place
where one of the elements we can deal with is the tension of
the topic alone.
During San Francisco Sketchfest 2015, I had the opportunity
to catch two live sets of the show, with Conrad serving as the
master of ceremonies. During each one-hour set, four comics, one
at a time, grace the stage alongside a screen that projects a series
of random and often ridiculous topics like crucifixion surprise
party and adorable jihad. Both the comic and the audience
enter into an experience where the comic creates material ex
nihlio. Instead of a carefully prepared script, the comic is working
in the moment and responds intuitively from the heart.
During the Sketchfest shows, Conrad relayed what the late
Robin Williams said about performing on Set List. This show
really kicked my ass in the best way. Its going to get me back there
on the road again and doing this stuff. Soon after performing on
Set List, Williams went on tour. According to Conrad, Williams
needed the adrenaline, the rush, and the feeling that he might
28 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

Photo by Troy Conrad

fail that comes from performing improv. Conrad added, The

bigger a comic gets, often their act doesnt feel like the realness of
when they started. But, almost every single time, when a comic
finishes doing a set on Set List, they tell me this feels like they just
did stand-up for the first time.
While Paul Provenza has pushed the political correctness
envelope in the pastthe 2005 documentary The Aristocrats
immediately comes to mindSet List throws that envelope
right out the window. Here, the elephant in the room is visible,
because the words on a screen share the stage with the comic.
When something like why Im anti-female or why we need
more school shootings comes up, its an opportunity to address
an otherwise off-limits topic.
By embracing this opportunity to cross the line and tackle
the elephant, a comic can move from their role of entertaining
the masses to functioning more as a philosopher. In this
capacity, their Jungian commentary becomes a reflection of
their own consciousness.
Conrad is currently working on a book entitled Why I am
a Radical Atheist and Why I Dont Want You to Be One , where
hes taking look at how a persons convictions about their belief
system can be so strong that they rigidly insist that everyone
else adapt to that system as well. Whereas a religion is a tribe
that will impose its views on everyone, he sees more value in
creating smaller tribes that attract people with similar interests.

Robin Williams

Bobcat Goldthwaite

Photo by Dan Dion

Photo by Dan Dion

Moshe Kasher
Photo by MK West

Fortune Feimster
Photo by Dan Dion

Troy Conrad

Photo by Paul Provenza

Reggie Watts

Photo by Cornelius Peter

Religion represents one of the earliest types of tribes, and

Conrad acknowledges that some people and groups still find
this construct useful. But, as weve evolved, weve realized that
religion isnt the only tribe that we need. We used to think that
was it, but we are finding all these [other] things that people are
becoming tribal and passionate about in a good way.
Set List has become its own tribe, with comics at the core.
Conrad recalls a nice woman from Australia named Mel who
came to see almost every Set List show at the Edinburgh Fringe
Festival. Mel had one of the Set List topics tattooed on her leg
as a statement of how much she identifies with this tribe, where

Blaine Capatch

Photo by Cornelius Peter

comics can push their personal boundaries and learn to trust in

whatever they consider to be the truth.
Watch episodes, read the blog, and get the latest news at
SetListShow.com. For live shows and festivals, follow them on
Twitter at @SetListShow.
Becky Garrison is a satirist, storyteller, and the author of eight
books. Her latest, Love, Always: Partners of Trans People on Intimacy,
Challenge & Resilience, is available at TransgressPress.org.
www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 29

Encounter in a Lincoln
by Tracy Jamison

t would not have been a fair fight, so I went very easy on them. The
stark logic of the Atheist argument is usually too much for the irrational
Christian mind. I prefer an oblique, subtle approach which, if successful,
allows a religious person a chance to ponder new ideas. When a zealot feels
like their religion is being threatened, their mind either closes or attacks.
The ancient example would be the burning of heretics at the stake; the
modern example, jihad.

In my work as a chauffeur of private chartered sedans, I met countless individuals from across the entire social spectrum, and a
percentage of them inflict their religiosity on me, as they do on everyone.
I typically have my passengers as prisoners for one hour, the duration of the drive between my city and its airport. The time
trapped in the car with each other provides a unique environment for communication. The passengers know we will probably
never meet again, and this establishes a very relaxed setting for conversation. Sometimes, my passengers are remarkably frank with
mea total strangerlike they would be with a bartender or a psychiatrist.
On one occasion, I was driving three middle-aged, middle-class women. They were pleasant and friendly, so I encouraged
conversation, and they responded. When I inquired about the nature of their recent trip together, they told me it was a religious
30 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org


one. They had been to a small conference of Catholic women

who help out in their parishes.
So, how to proceed? Usually, I would try to draw them out
with a couple of questions about religion and observe the tenor
of their illogical replies. This would give me a chance to get a
better idea of how to further draw them out and possibly place
a couple of wedges or plant a couple of seeds which might take
root. But probably not; the resistance is usually too profound.
The dominant woman in the group, Ill call her The Most
Vocal One, talked and talked about the conference. After
several minutes of this fog, I remembered something that I had
learned listening to religious people in this context: invariably,
they assume that the person to whom they are speaking is of a
like mind. I needed to disabuse her of this assumption; I would
wait for the opportunity.
I asked how they felt when Pope Benedict resigned as CEO
of the Vatican. I said, What are your thoughts about your boss
stepping down? This was bald provocation in the way I said
it, and I smiled. Then it came as expected: Oh, no, The Most
Vocal One replied, Hes not our boss! Our boss is . . . You
know the rest. All three women started to gush about this topic.
The mindless emotion on display was predictable, yet I was still
startled by it.
The Most Vocal One rambled on about this and that
religious subject and bragged to all that she had heard Mother
Teresa speak during a trip the nun had made to this part of the
world. More gushing. I could not let the chance slip by, so I
informed her that my brother had personally met her when he
was in Calcutta some years before.
Because these women assumed my brother and I were
religious, I was asked by The Most Vocal One how the meeting
had impacted my brother. Presumably, she would have liked
to have heard some story of how he had had a deep religious
experience as a result.

As we neared our city, The Most Vocal One then prominently

displayed a religious behavior I hadnt witnessed before, and it
was one which nicely summarized the intellectual limitations
produced by religion, in this case Catholicism.
There was an extensive construction zone on the interstate
with detours, orange barrels, and all that. It was night, as well,
and the site was not lit. I commented to my passengers about the
construction and told them that just ahead I had to decelerate
in order to navigate a tricky, almost unmarked sharp turn where
the highway splits. Because the traffic was confined to one lane
and all the traffic had already slowed to construction-zone
speed, it wasnt a dangerous curve. I was attempting to prepare
my passengers so they wouldnt be alarmed at my having to slow
even more.
The Most Vocal One suddenly began to speak loudly with
the deity, informing same that we needed help here finding the
turn, which was, in fact, not the case. Although I merely needed
to slow the car sufficiently, their deity was very powerful that
night and performed the miracle of enabling me to negotiate the
When we finally arrived at the residence which was their
destination, I discovered I was to drive this quite large vehicle
down a lane designed for a goat herd; there was sufficient space
to do so, but the car needed to be handled slowly and carefully.
I eased the Lincoln into the extremely narrow driveway to the
sound of The Most Vocal One again loudly informing her deity
that we needed help here. Now, as a professional driver I was a
little insulted at this. A miracle, however, was again performed,
and nobody perished. I pulled up to the house, disgorged their
luggage, and received a one-dollar tip from each of the women,
along with a final commercial message advertising their deity.
I was baffled by their repeated asking of the deity for help in
the most idiotically trivial situations. Apparently, these women
think their deity has nothing better to do than attend to their

Apparently, these women think their

deity has nothing better to do than

attend to their petty traffic needs.

I said, Well, nobody in our family is religious. He found her
to have a forceful, businesslike personality. She was a tiny little
salesman. On this they all agreed: Yes, quite to the point; the
nun had a mission.
The new knowledge that I was not religious, however, began
to percolate in their brains. It wasnt long before The Most Vocal
One began waxing poetic about the beauty of the world which
their guy had created. I considered responding with, Does this
include all the beautiful diseases which exist? But I knew that
particular avenue would deteriorate into nonsense about the
devil, and I wasnt in the mood.
So I kept it light. The conversation shifted to something else
and hovered around there for a while.

petty traffic needs.

The stunning smallness of the gratuity indicates a selfishness
incompatible with the stated superiority of brotherly love
claimed by Christianity. If one dollar is all you can truly give
in tip for an hours transport in a luxury car, any chauffeur will
think, Please, keep it!
As I departed, their deity graciously, magnanimously, and
mercifully performed the same miracle in reverse as I navigated
that dreadful goat path one more time. And I, an Atheist, didnt
even have to ask.
Tracy Jamison chauffeurs for a small company in southern New
Mexico to support her true career path as an artist.
www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 31

Welcome Back to the Crusades


ear Everyone Living in 2015,

Welcome back to the eleventh century. It appears that the

war waged by ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant)
against the rest of the world has revived the Crusades, a doozie
of a time when millions of people perished in wars waged by
the Roman Catholic popes from 1096 to 1291 C.E. While the
popes had political power to wage these religious wars, the
organized Muslim world could amass and bring armies into
conflict as well.
Each side considered itself as owning the true religion, while
all other faiths were viewed as heretical and worthy of vanquish.
Sadly, this see-saw religious war raged for generations.
When the European Enlightenment took root in the mid1600s, it unshackled the human mind and rekindled our
scientific, social, legal, economic, and educational disciplines.

It also weakened the Holy Roman Empires control over people

and ideas and gave rise to modernity.
Islam has not been fortunate enough to have an
enlightenment or reformation yet. Although those who
presently live in the Levant region of the Middle East use
technology and enjoy creature comforts, their social systems,
educational practices, and laws are woefully out of date when
compared to secular nations with constitutional democracies.
There is a big difference between being able to buy an iPhone
or a Lexus and supporting a womans right to speak freely or
drive a car.
In todays ISIL-led caliphate, the acts of beheading
Christians and sometimes even burning them alive tells the
world that radical Islamists have no regard for co-existence with

It is almost impossible for me to imagine that radical,

religious zealots ideals will ever stop harming others
in the name of their god, no matter who that god is.
32 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org


The zealotry of those who fight religious wars

essentially comes from the idea that scriptural truth
and subservience to ones god is an act of spiritual love.
other religions. Thanks to social media, ISILs ability to recruit
young people from around the globe to fight their religious war
on many fronts seems to be boundless.
Bluntly stated, ISIL propaganda works. Its why young,
radicalized Muslims leave their homes and travel to Iraq, Syria,
and Libya or stay in their countries to launch surprise attacks in
their own communities. Violent jihad is a form of both localized
and international terrorism which, since 9/11, continues to
spread like a virus across the globe.
In the United States and elsewhere, news organizations have
been reporting on Christians electing to fight as mercenaries in
the Middle East to protect their faith. For these religious soldiers,
their Christian identity and their religious values command
them to take up arms and fight, just as their forefathers did in
the eleventh century.
It is almost impossible for me to imagine that radical,
religious zealots ideals will ever stop harming others in the
name of their god, no matter who that god is.
The zealotry of those who fight religious wars essentially
comes from the idea that scriptural truth and subservience to

ones god is an act of spiritual love and protection of ones faith

community. This truth requires armed protection to ensure
the propagation of the religion, and it requires violence to stand
as a physical barrier to other philosophies and ideas outside of
scripture. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam each believe in some
form of End Times, so its no wonder that becoming a soldier of
god serves an exalted purpose in a community that wishes to
see its faiths final revelation come to pass.
And you certainly dont need to fire a gun to fight for a
religious cause. Any political correctness that blames capitalism
and western imperialism for the actions of violent religious
extremists is as frightening as the political actions of those who
believe that they are the guardians of their faith and scripture,
and that it is their mandate to define marriage, teach nonscience as science, and scale back or eliminate secular laws.
David Orenstein is a professor of anthropology and department
chair at Medgar Evers College (CUNY). His book, Godless Grace,
co-authored with Linda Ford Blaikie, will be out this summer. This
article was adapted from a post on his blog, PaleoLibrarian.info.

Religious assumptions about

human nature, morality, and
free will lie at the foundation
of Americas legal system.
This system incarcerates more criminals
than any country in the world. A better
foundation is found in what science has
revealed about human behavior. Using
evidence instead of assumptions could
dramatically change our system and our

Available in all e-book

formats for $2.99.


www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 33


of Salvation. The point of this second lesson is for missionaries

to help investigators understand how to return to God with
their nuclear, heterosexual families. What happens to worthy
and faithful gay, lesbian, asexual, and transgender people after
Earth life? According to the Mormon Doctrine and Covenants,
they may become angels in heaven to minister for those who
are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal
weight of glory. In other words, they become the servants of
heterosexual families who made it to the Celestial Kingdom.
Missionaries are likely skim over that important detail, as
well as many others, such as the origin of matter. God the Father
does not actually create matter. He merely organizes it. No word
yet on where or how he got it. Mormon doctrine claims that
since humans are necessary and eternal beings, our pre-Earth
life was an infinite existence. Where, you may ask? We were
intelligences in some ethereal non-dimension before Elohim
and one of his many wives brought us into the pre-Earth life.
Mormons dont claim to know anything about Gods wives, other
than one of them is our Heavenly Mother. They also dont know
what role each wife has in bringing forth children on Earth.
The way God the Father became God is equally interesting.
You see, Mormons believe in the doctrine of eternal
progression. A popular phrase among Mormons is, As man
now is, God once was. As God now is, man may become. This
means that God is an exalted man, and other men can also
become Gods. One notable problem is that before 1978, men of
African origin were banned from the Mormon priesthood. Men
must be part of the Mormon priesthood in order to get temple
privileges. Without temple privileges, you cant have a temple
wedding, and without a temple wedding you cant enter the
Celestial Kingdom. So its only been for the past 37 years that
Black men have been able to get into Mormon heaven.

34 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

Most people I taught on my mission in the Philippines had a

lot of questions about every facet of the Plan of Salvation, which
isnt hard to critique. The sheer complexity and large volume
of moving parts make it a difficult and complicated doctrine,
of which I can only provide highlights here. But asking critical
questions is one of the best ways to get missionaries to start
thinking about the veracity of their claims.
As I said in my last article, most missionaries dont know
the full story of Mormonism, and the LDS Church has no plans
to teach it to them. Preach My Gospel offers only whitewashed,
disinfected talking points. Because missionaries are taught
to stick to the script, they are unprepared to deal with any
meaningful or intelligent deviation. This is where you have a
real opportunity to get a missionary to apply critical thinking to
their faith. Its probably the first time in their lives that theyve
ever been asked to do so. I know that a direct, calm, determined,
non-confrontational exchange can change lives.
While you should never be reluctant to question a missionary
about any facet of the lessons they teach, its important that
you ask your questions in a way that will get the missionary to
think and not just defend their claims. Otherwise, youll likely
scare them away. But with some well-placed questions delivered
amiably and with intellectual honesty, you may be someones
catalyst to apostasy. And thats a good thing.
In the next issue: Lesson Three, The Gospel of Jesus Christ
Greg Hawkins served as a full-time missionary in the Philippines
for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints before
renouncing his faith in 2013. He is studying political science and
campaign management at the University of Utah. He is a regular
contributor to BroadClarity.com


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www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 35


to do a good job and are being tarred by the same brush as those
who committed these criminal acts. Theres a tragedy there, too,
for those who genuinely believe in what theyre doing. If you get
to an advanced age and you feel that the institution youve given
your life to has betrayed you, has betrayed your country, and
that people dont respect you even though you have done a good
job, thats a difficult thing, I think.
Writing this book was a cathartic experience. I feel less
anger and I feel more sympathy for people I did not feel
sympathy for in the past. Even for the character who ostensibly
should be the villain in the book, I think you do feel a certain
amount of weird sympathy that his own life has been screwed
up from the startnot to justify anything hes done.
Given Odrans childhood, did he ever have a chance to
become any other kind of person?

No. A teenage boy does not have a vocation to be a priest.

They were just thrust into these lives by their parents, so is it
any wonder that they went crazy? In a country that never talked
about sex, these boys went into the seminary knowing nothing
about the world, having no experience, having never kissed
anyone. After seven years theyre ordained, and theyre only
in their twenties, and now theyre priests, and then suddenly
they wake up and they have urges, and a part of their brain is
suddenly opened to sexuality, but theyve cut it off from their
lives. In the literal sense of the word, their minds had become
perverted from the natural order of things. Its not that they all

36 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

were attracted to children. Its that theyre so damaged, they

looked for the vulnerable person. And who is the vulnerable
person? Its the child.
These men are set up for failure right from the start.

A lot of priests talked to me about being incredibly lonely.

They might spend their day with parishioners, saying mass,
all that stuff, and then they go home to an empty house and
an empty bedmost of the time. I dont understand why the
Church believes that a person who is loved and who loves could
not be better at their job. I think were all better when we love
and when were in love. Were happier and our lives are just better
off. I dont see why the Church thinks a priest cannot be married
and have love. And procreate! Its the single most dominant
urge in our lives. The reason were here is that somebody did it
with somebody else. I dont understand the cutting off of that
part of their lives. Ive never understood celibacy in the Church.
Its a tragedy.
John Boyne is the author of fourteen books, including the
young-adult novel The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, which was
released as a feature film starring Asa Butterfield in 2008.
His first collection of short stories, Beneath the Earth, will be
published in Ireland and the U.K. in August.
Pamela Whissel is the editor-in-chief of this magazine.



sacralizing the state, swiftly implementing a host of religious
ceremonies and symbols and therefore inscribingquite
literally, in many waysan apparently permanent public
religion on the institutions of American government.
Kruses book should be required reading for any American
especially any teacherwho assumes that the Establishment
Clause is an effective barrier against religion in public schools.
By sanctioning religion in government, Eisenhower opened
the door for the Gideons to distribute Bibles in public schools.
New Yorks Board of Regents encouraged school districts to
adopt the Regents Prayer for daily recitation in public schools,
while Pennsylvania passed a law requiring its teachers to
read at least ten verses from the Holy Bible every day or face
dismissal. Congressman Frank Becker of New York sponsored
a Constitutional amendment effectively sanctioning prayer and
Bible readings in public schools and whipped up Congressional
and public support for its passage.
Today, measures like these seem restricted to the Mike
Huckabees on the far right, but fifty years ago, a majority
of Americans appeared to support them. And even though
the Supreme Court decision in Engel v. Vitale finally nixed
government-written prayer in public schools, Kruses account
of that decision made me shuddergiven that lower courts
had overwhelmingly affirmed the constitutionality of school
prayer and given that the Warren Court was so clearly an
historical aberration.
On the other hand, Kruse does demonstrate that the god
squad could not find common ground among its members. In

contrast to Eisenhower, who was largely unconcerned about

theological differences between faiths, American religious
leaders could rarely agree when government actually acted in
favor of religion. For example, during a Congressional hearing on
Beckers proposed amendment, Baptist Edwin Tuller, testifying
on behalf of the National Council of Churches, derided the
Regents Prayer as a rote thing devoid of spirituality. Beckers
proposed amendment was ultimately defeated by one faction
of clergy who argued that any government prayer would favor
one denomination over another. When Richard Nixon began
conducting weekly services in the East Room of the White
House, theologians Daniel Callahan and Harvey Cox criticized
Nixon for linking Christian religion to explicitly national
values and thus dividing the nation.
In the end, Kruse may be showing that the divisive nature
of religion itselfnot the Constitution or the courtscould be
our best hope to maintain the separation between church and
state. But he is also showing us that the decline in American
religion could be reversed not only by a catastrophic, fearinducing event, as Daniel Dennett recently argued in The Wall
Street Journal (Why the Future of Religion is Bleak, April 26,
2015), but also by an Evangelical president who believes his
mission is to restore Americans faith in god.
Mark Kolsen is an American government teacher in suburban
Chicago. He is a big fan of the Four Horsemen and the late
Victor Stenger and strives to understand all facets of scientific
cosmologys standard model.

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eing a minority within a minority was not something

I set out to do. I was raised in a Pentecostal Christian
family where uber religiosity wasas it is with many
Black families in Americathe norm. In such an atmosphere,
the spiritual is so palpable, that it is obviously more real than
any part of our tangible, material reality. As is usually the case,
I assumed this truth claim. But during my adolescent years, I
became rather rambunctious, and my religious principles went
to the back burner. It wasnt until I was 18, during a period of
depression and anxiety over my future that I became reborn
in the blood and dedicated my life to my dormant faith.
From age eighteen to twenty, my confidence as a born-again
Christian only got stronger. Although I was young, people
gravitated toward my lead and sought my advice on matters
of faith. This allowed me to head group prayers and conduct
independent Bible studies. I even sang in the choir! I didnt
aspire to be a clergyman, but I did have passion and oratory
skills, two things that both the minister and congregation
appreciated. Around the time I was offered a couple of church
speaking engagements, I grew more inquisitive about church
doctrine and engulfed myself in historical studies. When
I encountered discrepancies between religious texts and
secular data, I still assumed my churchs point of view was the
correct one. But my curiosity continued to grow, and I started
to research history, mythology, and other religions even more
Fast forward two years: I began a prolonged deconversion

period that was met with

denial, frustration, and
cognitive dissonance. Ultimately, I found that, despite what
I wanted to believe, I could no longer endorse a belief system
grossly incompatible with an empirical reality.
I now have a blog, Notes from an Apostate, on Patheos.
com and Im @sinkirabo on Twitter. I also write occasionally
for TheHumanist.com, LAProgressive.com, and other
websites. I am on the Board of Directors of Black Nonbelievers
(BlackNonbelievers.org), which has meetings in several cities
to bring together like-minded Blacks (and their allies) who
may be shunned by their families and friends. Im also a cofounder of Black Nonbelievers signature program New Turn,
a secular solution to curbing recidivism. The program helps
ex-convicts, at-risk juveniles, and others who are educationally
and economically disadvantaged. We help them develop
critical thinking and life skills.
Ive been known as an Atheism-movement gadf ly
because I dont believe religion and god-beliefs are the central
cause of humanitys ills. There are a host of other issues
negatively affecting society. When I critique our movement,
its with the hope that I can provoke someone to recognize the
complacency and biases in their own comfort zones. Blaming
everything on religion is often the result of conf lation and
generalization, and Im not afraid to call it out.
Contact Sincere at SKirabo@Atheists.org.

From the author of the Dogma Watch

series in this magazine:
Religion, especially Christianity, has enjoyed
unwarranted respect for far too long. Jesus
did say a few nice things, but he was no
humble or wise prophet. How do we know?

Its in the Bible.

Available at


www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 39


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www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 43



merican Atheists, Inc. is a nonprofit, nonpolitical, educational organization dedicated to the complete and
absolute separation of state and church, accepting the explanation of Thomas Jefferson that the First Amendment
to the Constitution of the United States was meant to create a wall of separation between state and church.

American Atheists is organized:

To stimulate and promote freedom of thought and inquiry concerning religious beliefs, creeds, dogmas, tenets,
rituals, and practices;
To collect and disseminate information, data, and literature on all religions and promote a more thorough
understanding of them, their origins, and their histories;
To advocate, labor for, and promote in all lawful ways the complete and absolute separation of state and church;
To act as a watchdog to challenge any attempted breach of the wall of separation between state and church;
To advocate, labor for, and promote in all lawful ways the establishment and maintenance of a thoroughly secular
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theism is the comprehensive world view of persons who are free from theism and have freed themselves of supernatural
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aterialism declares that the cosmos is devoid of immanent conscious purpose; that it is governed by its own inherent,
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the resources within themselves, can and must create their own destiny. It teaches that we must prize our life on earth
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a commitment that is, in its very essence, life-asserting. It considers the struggle for progress as a moral obligation that is
impossible without noble ideas that inspire us to bold, creative works.

aterialism holds that our potential for good and more fulfilling cultural development is, for all practical purposes,

44 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org


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www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 45

Danthropology: A Column by Dan Arel

Why I Am An Atheist

would say I was raised in a typical American fashion.

Born into a Christian family, given a biblical name, and
taken to church often. My mom even worked for our
church. I was a part of youth group and the Royal Rangers, my
churchs own version of the Boy Scouts. I loved the church,
and I loved god. I have very early memories of standing in
front of my grandparents fireplace and preaching to them.
I was so inspired by the pastors and all the people dancing
around and singing in tongues (we were Pentecostal, but not
the snake-handling kind) that I believed at that young age that
I already knew my calling.
Looking back, there were some major red flags, but they
werent obvious at the time. I remember watching a video about
the dangers of rock and roll, where music was played backwards to
show you that these songs were really about worshipping Satan. I
was given cassettes of Christian rock bands, and for far too many
years of my life, this was the hard rock I listened to.
Thankfully, I grew up in a house where asking questions was
encouraged. I was allowed to question any faith-based claim I
wanted, and I would be provided with an answer. This is not to
say I was given the right answer; I may have just been given the
religious answer that further enforced my parents faith position.
Around age twelve, I decided I didnt want to go to church, I
wanted to hang out with my friends. I asked my parents if I could
stay home and, to my surprise, they obliged. I didnt, at that point,
question god or my faith, and I knew almost nothing about other
religions. I had spent my whole life under the teachings that god
created everythinghow was I to know otherwise?
Going to a public high school in a small town in New
Hampshire didnt help much. Not a single class in four years ever
mentioned the name Charles Darwinnot even a history or
biology class. We were not taught anything about the origins or
diversity of life. It was just not mentioned. So through my early
high school years, the only story I knew was what my church and
Christian grade school had told me.
Around age fourteen or fifteen, I had a newer group of high
school friends who were pretty into church, and although I did
not often join them for Sundays services, I did go to youth-group
functions, mostly ice hockey games and bowling, and this is when
I first questioned my faith. The outings began with a cool, hip,
young pastor rapping with the kids about the dangers of music
and the devil. He would always end by inviting people to come
forward to be saved. (We, of course, were encouraged to bring our
friends so they could be saved, too!) On one particular night, they
wanted to save those of us who felt they had maybe fallen away
from the church. At that point in my life, I wasnt thinking much
about god or religion, but I figured I might as well get re-saved to
secure my place in heaven.
I walked up to the front with maybe twenty other kids. We
started to pray, and the pastor kept saying we would feel god
enter our bodies, and people around me were jolting and crying,
and some were speaking in tongues, and I felt nothing. I tried
46 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

so hard to feel something,

and it just didnt happen.
We left the church,
watched a hockey game,
and I went home. But
the nothing feeling stuck with me. Looking back, it is easy
to think that this is where I lost my faith. But at this point, I
still didnt realize that such a thing was even possible. I just felt
rejected by god.
Then I started to get mad at god and looked for a way to turn
against him. I dont remember much about the particular set of events
that brought on this anger, but I do remember the anger itself, and
god was to blame. I decided it was time to research other religions
and see what they had to offer. I bought the Satanic Bible and books
on Scientology, but both failed to offer any answers and, instead, only
showed me that religion was very easy to just make up.
Gradually, it dawned on me that I didnt believe in god. And
that made perfect sense! I wasnt mad at god; there was no god. If
one religion is so easy to discard as a myth, arent they all that easy
to discard? It turns out, they are.
It was not until after high school that I really started to be
combative about my beliefs, or lack thereof. I enthusiastically
engaged others in conversation and started to really hone my
arguments for disbelief. My brother had found god during this
time, and we would debate for hours about it.
Once I started sharing my story and my views, things just took
off. I was quickly offered a writing position at a small blog and then
at a community-based site that covers humanist news. I stayed
with these sites for around six months and then was offered a
contributing writer position at the Richard Dawkins Foundation
for Reason and Science. I have since left the Dawkins Foundation,
but Ive gone on to write for other news organizations, as well as
this magazine.
I love that I have a platform to discuss Atheism, secularism,
and social justice. Being honest with myself and discovering who
I am allowed me to find my place in this world and do what I can
to make it better for everyone. If that involves shining light on
injustices against non-believers, or fighting to save taxpayers
millions of dollars they never agreed to spend on religious theme
parks (go to my blog at Danthropology.net to read about Ark
Encounter), I am happy to do so.
I am also an anti-theist, which means that in addition to not
believing in god, I am of the firm opinion that religion is never a
good thing. I share my story because there are many people in this
country who have a similar story, but, for a number of reasons,
they are closeted Atheists. And to those closeted Atheists, I say:
There is another way to live your life, and, if I am any example, its
a life that is much happier and more fulfilling.

I wasnt mad at god;

there was no god.

Dan Arel is an award-winning journalist and the author of

Parenting Without God. You can read his blog at Danthropology.
net and follow him on Twitter @danarel.

Meet us in Puerto Rico!

Featuring more than a dozen speakers from the atheist
community, the 2015 Puerto Rico Regional Convention will be
the firstever atheist convention in Puerto Rico. With activist
training workshops, community, and special events, this is the
regional convention you wont want to miss!

Learn more at: www.atheists.org/PuertoRico

We hope that you will join us in San Juan for our 2015 Regional Convention. Please register by filling out and returning this form along
with payment for your registration. Please note that the Sunday excursions have limited space. To learn more about the excursions,
please visit our website: www.atheists.org/puertorico/excursions. If you require assistance, please contact us at (908) 276-7300.

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Friday Dinner:

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AUGUST 21-23, 2015

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