January, 2013 Newsletter of the Lake Superior Freethinkers
Facilitators: David Broman - 218-349-7455, Bill Guse - 834-4583, 343-4806
First Sunday - Radisson Hotel – 9:00 AM Social – 9:30 Breakfast
George Erickson, editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
Program - Holly Henry, Communications Manager for The Wildcat Sanctuary provides a safe home in NE MN to felids including cougar, tiger, lynx and other wild cats. The Sanctuary houses more than 120 animals and educates the public about the captive wildlife crisis across the United States. For more Information see http://www.wildcatsanctuary.org.
It Pays to Advertise
Nine new members signed up at our Laughing at Death program.
Notice - Watch the Duluth New Tribune after January 1 for George Erickson’s op-ed on Climate Change
The Freedom to Coerce Religion - By Amanda Marcotte
[The religious interpret Freedom of Religion to mean that they are free to preach their religion, and dissenters are free to shut up and listen. George Erickson]
One of the most disturbing developments in wingnut propaganda is the attempt to define “religious freedom” as expanding the powers of the powerful, specifically with an eye to coercing others to live by your religious rules. Even though the courts usually see religious freedom being best protected by eliminating coercive prayer in schools, for instance, your average wingnut believes these rulings attack their freedom. After all, what’s the point of religion if you can’t impose it on others? Thus, one way they see to protect religious freedom is to give schoolteachers the right to lead their class in prayer (the correct Christian prayer).
Same story with hollering “religious freedom” to justify giving a boss the right to impose his religious beliefs on your medical decision-making. Your insurance benefits are yours! Giving your boss a right to veto contraception coverage because he thinks vaginas are only for baby-making is an imposition on your religious freedom. (And since costs exert a great deal of influence on how someone making $10 an hour working the counter at Hobby Lobby—choose contraception, this boss’s veto of coverage will change her choices.)
The American Humanist Association started a website for kids and teens called Kids Without God. The site could definitely be helpful for young people who have cottoned onto how this “god” thing is just a myth made up by others who want to control you, but feel very alone. (It’s also helpful for kids who aren’t raised with a religion, but I think those kids are less likely to need to find help online.)
Of course, for conservatives, this is seen as an unholy attack on their supposed right to exert complete control over their children’s bodies and minds. (Only Christians have this right, by the way. They’re fully allowed to try to convert other people’s kids! Religious freedom seems super complex, but really, it’s just a matter of privileged people trumping those who aren’t as privileged.) Which is why The Blaze is all up in arms about this website, which they describe as “shocking”. The commenters make it clear what is so shocking about it: They define “religious freedom” as the right to take away their child’s religious freedom…
If we declare a bunch of non-religions religion, we can stifle them in the same way we think we’re stifled! This is about is trying to exert control over your child through censoring any information that would cause them to ask questions. They know in their hearts that their myths aren’t competitive with science so censorship is all they have.
Women have been exposed to dogma about our bodies and we reject it. Thus, the turn to force. Unfortunately, the repetition of the phrase “religious freedom” to mean “the right to restrict the freedom of conscience of those you have power over” has confused the issue. Liberals need to take the phrase back to what it really means, which is freedom of individuals to decide for themselves without being coerced by schools, parents, bosses, or government.
EXCERTS from New Birth of Reason by Susan Jacoby
…Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899), known as the Great Agnostic, once possessed real fame as one of the two important champions of reason and secular government in American history—the other being Thomas Paine. Indeed, one of Ingersoll’s lasting accomplishments as the preeminent American orator of his era was the revival of Paine, the preeminent publicist of the American Revolution, in the historical memory and imagination of the nation.
Ingersoll emerged as the leading figure in the golden age of freethought—an era when immigration, industrialization, and science, especially Darwin’s theory of evolution were challenging religious orthodoxy… Ingersoll spoke before more of his countrymen than even presidents did at a time when lectures were a form of mass entertainment and information….
Known as Robert Injuresoul to his enemies, he asked what role religion ought to play in the public life for the first time since the writing of the Constitution, when the Founders deliberately left out any reference to a deity as the source of governmental power. In one of his most popular lectures, “Individuality,” Ingersoll said of Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin:
They knew that to put God in the Constitution was to put man out. They knew that the recognition of a Deity would be seized upon by zealots as a pretext for destroying the liberty of thought. They knew the terrible history of the church too well to place in her keeping, or in the keeping of her God, the sacred rights of man. They intended to found and frame a government for man, and for man alone. They wished to preserve the individuality and liberty of all; to prevent the few from governing the many, and the many from persecuting and destroying the few.
The marvel of the Framers, he argued, was that they established “the first secular government that was ever founded in this world” when every government in Europe was based on union of church and state. “Our fathers were the first men who had the sense to know that no church should have a sword.” A government that had “retired the gods from politics,” Ingersoll declared on America’s 100th birthday, was a necessary condition of progress.
To 19th-century freethinkers, intellectual and material progress went hand in hand with abandonment of superstition, and ties between government and religion amounted to state-endorsed superstition. … Ingersoll was the most influential voice in a movement that was to forge a secular intellectual bridge into the 20th century for many of his countrymen.
The golden age of freethought, which stretched from 1875 until WW I, divided Americans over many of the same issues as have the recent culture wars. The argument over religion in civil government was part of the larger question of whether the claims of revealed religion deserve deference. The other issues that divided Americans were evolution, race, immigration, women’s rights, sexual behavior, freedom of artistic expression, and vast disparities in wealth...
Asked if these issues should be resolved by appeals to divine authority, Ingersoll said no, and devoted his life to freethought, a term meant to convey devotion to a way of looking at the world based on observation, rather than on “sacred” writings….
Ingersoll was a self-made, self-educated man who, by pursuit of knowledge, rose to fame. The son of an unsuccessful minister, Ingersoll grew up poor. Like Lincoln, he was admitted to the bar not after studying at one of the nation’s law schools but by reading the law in an attorney’s office. Ingersoll spoke out of a past in which self-education was the only route to learning for those without money, on behalf of a future in which education would be available to all.
In his lecture “The Gods,” he proclaimed, “We are not trying to chain the future, but to free the present. We are not forging fetters for our children, we are breaking those our fathers made for us. We advocate inquiry, investigation and thought. This of itself, is an admission that we are not perfectly satisfied with all our conclusions. Philosophy has not the egotism of faith.”
Asked if he enjoyed lecturing, Ingersoll replied, “Of course. It is a great pleasure to drive fear out of the hearts of men women and children. It is a positive joy to put out the fires of hell.”
Look at a partial list of Americans who were influenced by his arguments by contributing to American politics, science, business and law - becoming leaders on behalf of civil liberties and international human rights. These include Clarence Darrow, Luther Burbank, Eugene V. Debs, Frederick Douglass, Mark Twain, H. L. Mencken, Andrew Carnegie, Margaret Sanger, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Walt Whitman, and Thomas Edison....
Ingersoll gave up a promising career in politics to campaign against religious orthodoxy and for the separation of church and state. He elucidated Darwin’s theory of evolution for millions who might otherwise have heard about it only through the attacks of biblical literalists.
When he appeared for the first time in medium-sized cities where religious influence was strong, his reputation as a heretic held down the size of the audience – but not the second time. In Iowa, the Mason City Republican reported that most of those attending an 1885 Ingersoll lecture were orthodox believers who nevertheless appreciated Ingersoll’s wit at the expense of their own faith.
In “Some Mistakes of Moses,”... Ingersoll mocked the theories of a Protestant theologian who, having half-digested Darwin, suggested that the serpent that deceived Eve into eating the forbidden fruit was probably a humanoid ape with the gift of speech....
A man who combined reason with humor and enlightenment was much more dangerous than someone disposed to harangue audiences with the conviction that they were simply wrong about what they had been taught since birth. Everyone who paid to hear Ingersoll speak knew that he or she would go away with the memory of good laughs to accompany unsettling new thoughts.
He told audiences that when he first read On the Origin of Species, his reaction was “how terrible this will be upon the nobility of the Old World. Think of their being forced to trace their ancestry back to the duke Orang Outang…” This demonstrates what a brilliant orator he was, here taking advantage of American hostility to Old World and especially British aristocracy—hostility that was still very much alive in the 19th century. He used the American disdain for hereditary privilege to make the idea of descent from lower animals more accessible and less threatening....
Although Ingersoll opposed organized religion, his specific targets were believers and clerics who wanted to impose their convictions on their fellow citizens and stifle inquiry. If he could not convince his audiences that religion was superstition, he did convince many to seek out a form of religion that admitted the insights of science or real history. Ingersoll preferred to build a bridge between the world of secular freethought and religions….
In 1885, he was asked, “Don’t you think the belief of the Agnostic is more satisfactory to the believer that that of the Atheist?” He replied, “The Agnostic is an Atheist. The Atheist is an Agnostic. The Agnostic says: “I do not know, but I do not believe there is any god.” The Atheist says the same. The orthodox Christian says he knows there is a God, but we know that he does not know. The Atheist [too] cannot know that God does not exist.”
Ingersoll pointed out that the labels “atheist” and “infidel” had generally been applied as epithets to those who refused to accept biblical stories that were scientifically impossible. Among those included were the devout Quaker, suffragist, and abolitionist Lucretia Mott and Thomas Paine.
Ingersoll’s long effort to restore Thomas Paine’s reputation should have earned him a permanent place in American intellectual history. In Theodore Roosevelt’s biography of the Federalist politician Governor Morris, Paine was dismissed as a “filthy little atheist ….” (Morris was Washington’s minister to France when Paine was arrested for opposing the execution of Louis XVI. A fierce critic of Paine, Morris asserted that the U S did not recognize British-born Paine’s American citizenship while telling Washington that he was trying to obtain Paine’s release. Only when James Monroe, a freethinker, succeeded Morris in Paris did our government obtain Paine’s freedom. He had spent nine months in solitary confinement and nearly died.)
Ingersoll subtitled his lecture about Paine, “With His Name Left Out, the History of Liberty Cannot Be Written.” He made it a mission to remind Americans of Paine’s indispensable contributions to the revolutionary cause, but also to link those ideals to Paine’s defense of liberty of conscience and the separation of church and state.
Ingersoll achieved partial success in his attempt to return Paine to the American canon. Paine’s name is better known than Ingersoll’s in the U S because his role as the chief polemicist for the Revolution can be described for the consumption of schoolchildren without mentioning his becoming a scourge of organized religion and a radical economic thinker. The Paine who wrote “These are the times that try men’s souls” in the darkest hour for General Washington’s army is a recognizable name to a considerable number of Americans in the 21st century. But the Paine who wrote The Age of Reason (1794)—which put forth the heretical idea that the sacred books of all religions were written by human beings, not by any deity—is nearly as obscure as Ingersoll to Americans with little knowledge about the secular side of their history.
Some argue that the ephemeral nature of oratory was the reason for Ingersoll’s eclipse—a supposition comparable to the idea that there is no statue of Paine in the U.S. Capitol because Paine never held public office. It seems likelier that both men have been underappreciated because of their outspoken opposition to organized religion. Paine—who was a deist, with views resembling those of Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, never recovered from the damage to his reputation inflicted by the Age of Reason.
Paine was destitute when he died in 1809, and even the Quakers refused to allow him to be buried in one of their cemeteries. Unlike Paine, Ingersoll did not die unmourned.... He also did much better financially because he commanded high fees for his legal services and speeches. That Ingersoll made a good living out of questioning religion enraged his opponents...
Ingersoll had a happy marriage and family life, which did not sit well with believers who thought that questioning the existence of God should be punished in both this life and the next.
The memory of Ingersoll faded swiftly after the famous 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, which pitted William Jennings Bryan, against Clarence Darrow, the famous criminal lawyer and agnostic who had been influenced by Ingersoll. Bryan obtained the conviction of biology teacher John T. Scopes on grounds of having violated a Tennessee law banning the teaching of evolution (although the verdict was reversed on appeal). But Darrow was the real winner after Bryan was forced to admit that even he did not take every word in the Bible literally….
Ingersoll’s belief in the potential of those at every level of society added considerable weight to the message he delivered in towns, where farmers and ball players were likelier to show up than university professors. Herbert Spencer’s [social Darwinism] presentations would not have gone over as well in frontier towns as they did in New York, given that audiences in less sophisticated areas might have suspected that they would not have survived the social fitness test.
As religious literalism declined around the turn of the 19th century, it is easy to see why fundamentalism was declared dead by many intellectuals in the 20s. In 1931, the editor of Harper’s summed up the Scopes trial. “Legislators might go on passing anti-evolution laws, and in the hinterlands the pious might still keep their religion locked in a science-proof compartment of their minds; but civilized opinion everywhere had regarded the Dayton trial with amazement and amusement, and the slow drift away from Fundamentalist certainty continued.”
That is how things would continue to look to secular intellectuals well into the 1980s. The mistaken idea that “science-proof” thinking would disappear in the enlightened 20th century was the main factor in Ingersoll’s disappearance from the consciousness of American intellectuals. Ingersoll’s arguments would come to seem not provocative or dangerous but irrelevant to most in the generation of historians who came of age during the Depression and WW II, and who considered fundamentalism no more than an interesting relic of ages past.
Edgar W. Howe, publisher of The Atchison Daily Globe, assessed Ingersoll’s legacy more positively in a memorial editorial that spoke for freethinkers in the American heartland:
“The death of Robert G. Ingersoll removed one of America’s greatest citizens. His brilliancy, his integrity and patriotism cannot be doubted. Had not Ingersoll been frank enough to express his opinion on religion he would have been President of the United States. Hypocrisy in religion pays. There will come a time when public men may speak their honest convictions in religion without being maligned by the ignorant and superstitious, but not yet.”
Creative and critical thinking, experimentation, exploration and innovation have been anathema to the rigid, inflexible dogma and doctrines of organized religions. Both Martin Luther and St. Paul declared that reason was their enemy… -Rod Sheffer