FFrF Radio: Christopher Hitchens ; Archive: Jim McCollum

Podcast Link.
October 6, 2007Special Guest: Christopher Hitchens

This was the first nationally broadcast episode, so it includes a brief introduction to the hosts of the show. Earlier episodes of the show feature full host interviews (Loosing Faith in Faith & Religion’s Harm to Women)

First billboard unveiled.

Theocracy Alert. 65% of Americans think the US is a christian nation. This is not the case, no matter what presidential candidates might say otherwise.

Jeremy Hall was scheduled to be interviewed for this episode, but was unable to appear. Mikey Weinstein substituted for him, and detailed the events that led up to the filing of the lawsuit at Military Religious Freedom.

Christopher Hitchens (God Is Not Great) brings such a weight of understanding to the subject of religion (like Richard Dawkins) one is almost compelled to agree with him. Or maybe (also like Richard Dawkins) it’s the British accent. In either case, it makes for great listening.

Stay Away from Priests

Verde

2006 Archive episode.
October 7, 2006Vashti McCollum: Champion of the First Amendment

Cambridge Companion to Atheism is referenced concerning the numbers of non-believers.

Theocracy Alert. List of bills before Congress that were of concern. Discussion of the appropriateness of practicing Catholics sitting on the Supreme Court bench, especially when it comes to ruling on the subject of abortion. School shootings in the news.

Jim McCollum’s interview follows the events that lead up to McCollum vs. Board of Education
and the intensified harassment that ensued after the case was filed. Listening to the interview, one wonders what more the devout might have done to insure that the case was filed, and then pursued until won.

All establishment cases since McCollum cite it as the precedent that enables suit to be brought. FFrF has produced a documentary on Vashti McCollum Champions of the First Amendment. Her book, One Woman’s Fight is also available (?) from FFrF.

Dan performs “Freethinker Blues”

Pledging Allegiance is contrary to Freedom

Below is the text of a letter I sent to the local school district (and my state reps) in response to a notice informing me that my children would be required to recite the pledge of allegiance, and observe a minute of silent prayer.

To Whom It May Concern:

I received a flyer amongst several other pieces of documentation sent home from school with my child yesterday; a flyer informing me that Texas has taken another step down the path towards worshiping the omnipotent state (and the christian god that walks hand in hand with it here in the US) and will be requiring all students to mouth the words of the United States pledge of allegiance, as well as the newly revised Texas pledge of allegiance (HB 1034) in addition to observing a moment of silence once each day (SB 83) a practice that is obviously intended to re-introduce morning prayer into the public schools.

I don’t recall ever seeing this particular notice (even though the requirement to recite the pledges has been on the books since 2003) but having noticed it, I now feel compelled to respond to it. Dictators and cult leaders require the slaves under their rule to swear allegiance to them, because power is jealous of rivals. It is far more than mere coincidence that the author of the United States Pledge was a self-proclaimed socialist, and that most pledges currently in existence came into being at about the same time; a time before the discrediting of socialism. They are an outgrowth of socialist sentiment, the elevation of The State above the individual. In a free society, pledges of allegiance should not be required, because individuals are free of any allegiance other than to rational self interest. Additionally, pledges required of the public are contrary to the sentiments of the founders of the United States, as it reverses the role of the subservient state and places it above We The People.

Obviously, from the tone of this letter, you will be able to discern that I am hereby notifying you in writing that my children will be exempted from this practice. They will not be required to recite any pledges, nor will they be required to observe a minute of silence. This notice is given pro forma, because my children have abstained from reciting the pledges for the entire time that they have attended school; and they have done this without asking me or the omnipotent state for permission to do so. They have remained silent during pledges even in my presence, when I have recited the pledge autonomically; and I applaud them for their strength of will.

If it was possible, I would extend this exemption to any student of AISD, of any school district in Texas, or of any state in the United States, who wished to abstain from reciting the pledge, but lacks the permission that the state requires.

Finally, I’d like to add this tidbit of information. The sponsor of HB 1034, when queried on the subject of religion, had this to say (source, Capitol Annex: More HB 1034 Exchanges):

BURNAM: Are you aware that Governor Perry has recently said, “Freedom of religion should not be taken as freedom from religion.” And my question is, do you agree with that statement, Ms. Riddle?
RIDDLE: I would say, Amen.

Which pretty much sums up the intent of the modification of the pledge, and the accompanying minute of silence; a blatant attempt to force religion back into the government schools. It also shows the utter contempt the governor and the majority of the legislature has for anyone who doesn’t share their particular christian beliefs. Freedom of religion is a meaningless concept unless it includes freedom from religion; requiring someone to have a religion places constraints upon the person, negating any freedom that might be present.

Sincerely,
R. Anthony Steele


As I sit here in 2015 looking back on this letter, I wonder how the leadership of the school read this letter when they received it.  I hope they had protective face shields for the spittle-flecked rant they were about to embark on.

The sad thing is that the bogeyman of the omnipotent state has faded away, yet the insistence by the blindly religious that we should all be christian remains.  If anything the Religious Right have simply become more strident over the years, not less.  They do not appear to have learned anything from the many battles they have engaged in and lost when it comes to the subject of making the US a christian nation against the will of the majority who like it just the way it is.

Socialism is not a bad word, and socialists are not bad people as long as they aren’t state socialists.  State socialists like the ones who wanted to get children to say pledges before they understood what pledging really means.  Another bogeyman that really should be retired, since the mindset that inspired the pledges now looks as alien to us as most of the other concepts of the time do. 

PBS airs A Brief History of Disbelief

I’d like to extend a thank you to my local PBS station for airing A Brief History of Disbelief. I generally feel that I am drowning in religious programs, even on cable channels that should not have a religious view. This program was like a breath of fresh air. I look forward to seeing the next two episodes.


I managed to capture and watch all three episodes with the DVR. Very enlightening. I understand that there are 6 additional hours of programming. I would be interested in seeing these as well some time in the future.


h/t to the WaybackMachine

Starting with the teachings of Democritus, Epicurus and Lucretius, and traveling forward in time through the first appearance of truly atheist works in the writings of Baron d’Holbach, and the founding of the United States on Deist thought; to the spreading of disbelief (whether you call it atheism or not) in modern times, it is definitely a ‘rough’ history, but a thought provoking one. I recommend it to anyone who might be curious about the subject.

Penn Jillette on Politics and Religion

The self-described libertarian nut is interviewed concerning his thoughts on Nevada being moved up in the primaries.

[Youtube video “Penn Jillette speaks of his atheism with Wolf Blitzer” could not be found. to re-attach. My apologies.]

Apparently he was on Paula Zahn prior to this, also talking about religion, or his lack of it. I couldn’t find any content on the ‘net with Penn in it; but if these other clips are any example, she should be ashamed of the hatchet job she performed on Atheists everywhere.

YouTube – Paula Zahn – discrimination against atheists part 1
YouTube – Paula Zahn – discrimination against atheists part 2

At least she attempted to make amends by inviting Dawkins on after some viewers protested (YouTube – Richard Dawkins on Paula Zahn Now) but even the average talking head on TV should know that your panel should include people who hold the views under discussion.

…Making Paula Zahn a below average talking head, I guess.

Codes and Jesus the Superstar

I was reading a review of the Da Vinci Code movie over at the Atlasphere (The Da Vinci Code: Fighting Faith and Force) the other day, and noticed one of the links at the bottom of the page labeled the U.S. Catholic Bishops Brown-bashing site” I found the link intriguing, so I clicked on it.

The title of the page was the funny part. Jesus decoded, it proclaims.

That’s a great idea. Maybe they can explain the trick with the fishes and the loaves of bread, or perhaps the walking on water. That would be good to know. The most important trick to know is, of course, changing water into wine. That trick would be very popular at parties.

Too bad this sort of insight wasn’t available to Judas back in the day. Might have saved him a lot of missteps. “Who are you, what have you sacrificed?” One of the most memorable lines of lyrics from Jesus Christ Superstar. Judas, as one of the disciples, should have known how to decode Jesus. Obviously it isn’t as easy as the Catholic Bishops would have us believe.

A fondness for Jesus Christ Superstar is one of the few things that remains constant from my days as a ‘born again’ to my current ascribed atheism. I picked up the DVD recently and watched the movie for the first time. Alamo Drafthouse aired snippets of the movie between showings of The Da Vinci Code (I have written about the movie and the book before) and it intrigued me. I’ve listened to the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack since the early eighties, but I’ve never had the occasion to watch the film made from the play. Little did I know that the soundtrack was in fact the original version, created before the play even took shape.

That makes it all the more interesting to me that they chose to alter some of the lyrics from the soundtrack in making the play and the film. One of the most telling lines, for me, has always been Jesus’ despairing declaration to the lepers “Heal yourselves!” which is the last line in that song on the soundtrack. The movie uses a much more ambiguous “Leave me alone!” to end the song.

I prefer the more empowering declaration, myself. More fitting in describing what is wrong in the world today. The vast majority of people seem to think that what they need to fix themselves is external to their selves; when, obviously, the answers lie within.

Judas fails to comprehend were the answers lie as well. The movie, album, etc. ends with Judas still asking questions of Jesus (which still plays quite well) when the real question is why Judas would turn in the man he professes to love. Jesus Decoded, indeed.

An Atheist Marking the Untimely Passage of a Family Member

Ok, I give up. I don’t know if this is writer’s block or some internal need for catharsis, but I haven’t been able to make myself sit down and write anything of any significance since learning that my father-in-law had passed away four weeks ago.

Well, calling him my ‘father-in-law’ is simplifying things quite a bit, but that is what he was. Grandfather to my children, husband to my wife’s mother. True, the man that my wife called ‘father’ died several years ago, an event that changed all our lives quite a bit. But does that fact make the passing of this man less than her father’s passing?

This was a good man; a man of the earth, and a man of deep faith. A widower who was just as alone as the woman he met at church one Sunday. After a few years of friendship they decided to spend the rest of the time they had together; and they were happy together. My children enjoyed spending time with G-ma and Grampa Henry; would it be wrong to observe “more than when Grandma lived by herself?” Henry reminded me of my own long departed grandfather in many ways. He had a sharp wit and a gentle disposition, someone who was sure of who and what he was in life.

Looking back, I wish “the rest of their time” had been more than it was. Four short years after we witnessed their marriage, Henry was gone from us, taken by a disease that none of us had heard of before. My son, now about the same age as his sister was when she had to say goodbye to her first grandpa, looked at me with the same questioning eyes; what does it mean, where did he go?

Questions I don’t have any answers for. Other people comfort themselves with stories of a beautiful afterlife that is much like this one; fanciful visions of angels and visiting loved ones who are long gone. Though I never spoke to Henry about his beliefs, as a practicing Catholic, I’m sure his views of the afterlife were similar. I hope that his beliefs were comforting to him; in the end, that is the purpose of religion.

The answer I offered my son was similar to the one I offered my daughter, “he’s in a better place”. Since both men were in constant pain when un-medicated, in the time immediately before their deaths, it’s a fairly safe bet that the observation would be true. But what does it mean? I don’t want to delude my children, nor do I want to crush them with the weight of harsh reality. For me, the meaning of “better place” is somewhere between non-experience (the ending of this consciousness that is me) and surfing the cosmic flux, and I don’t really know which end it will favor when the time comes. Nor, after reading some of the weightier reflections on the subject, do I find that I really care. Having decided that spending time in fear of being sentenced to hell by a vengeful god was a waste of time, I instead actually try living my life so that when time’s up rolls around I don’t experience the regret that I’ve seen in so many others in their final years.

Which is perhaps the reason why I’ve been absent for the last month. I’m just making sure that I’m spending my time wisely.


As an afterthought, the other thing that these two wonderful men had in common is they both trusted MDs at the local hospital to diagnose their maladies. And in both cases, the doctors failed them miserably. The Wife’s father was killed by overdoses of radiation used to treat a non-existent tumor. Grandpa Henry was killed by the failure of these same doctors to properly diagnose a disease; a disease that ‘the wife’ correctly identified just using the symptoms and looking it up on the internet, a process that took less than an hour. Not that knowing what it was did any good. Cancer is like that when it is in it’s advanced stages.

The MDs could possibly have averted it if they had done their homework when they were first presented with the problem. I only wish that we had realized that he was going to the same doctors earlier than we had. Perhaps we would still have grandpa Henry with us. Probably not. Cancer is like that.

If You Don’t Like Abortion, Don’t Have One

Sitting in the car listening to three confirmed Christians (if Austin is the liberal island in the center of the conservative ocean of Texas, then why don’t we have any Atheists on the airwaves around here? Sorry, lost track there for a second) sound off endlessly about the rightness of an anti-abortion stance, and listening to these three self-proclaimed conservatives express apparently genuine confusion as to why the Abortion issue is the litmus test for potential judges. From what I’ve seen it’s not a litmus test, as in a piece of paper that is one of two colors based on the acidity of the solution it’s placed in; it is rather a weathervane that shows which way the hot air is blowing during any given political season. That these three talking heads can’t see it just shows their rank in the political game.

This is one of those arguments that I’ve had so many times with so many people that I could convincingly argue both sides in a continuous monologue that looked like a dialogue. I don’t think I’ll do that. It would go on as long as the so-called ‘debate’ (if two sides engaged in endless name calling could be labeled a debate) has gone on already, and none of you would read it.

This is a faith based issue with the devout believing or being instructed to believe in a particular fashion on both sides of the argument. The Fascist Right (what I fondly refer to as the Religious Reich; what is generally mislabeled ‘conservative’) believes that it is the correct stance of the state to confirm their loathing of a waste of potential and to require women to carry pregnancies to term, no matter what. For those on the right, correct thinking is paramount, the resultant unpleasant reality is punishment for incorrect thought. The Socialist Left (Tree huggers if you like, I don’t have a cutesy name of my own for them) believes that it is the correct stance for the state to confirm a woman’s right to choose to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, with funding as necessary. For those on the left, correct actions are paramount. We should always feel good about what we are doing, even if forced to.

What the two sides have in common is the desire to wield force in the form of law, and require others to bow to the whims that they worship. This is, in truth, the common thread of all the political footballs that come into play with each and every election and decision. What the players on the field (or the pawns on the chessboard, take your pick) never seem to understand is that the leaders on either side of the issue don’t have any core disagreements. They are all willing to force others through law to behave or believe whatever they deem correct at any given minute. The issues are simply how they maintain control and distract attention.

“But wait” you say, “The Republicans are poised to reverse Roe v. Wade! How can you be so cavalier about this?” It’s easy. The Republicans have no intention of reversing Roe v. Wade. They would be fools if they did. The reason is constitutional…

[If there really were a “Litmus Test” it ought to be the constitution that forms it. The test (as is fitting) should be in the form of a single question and answer. “What is the meaning of the ninth and tenth amendments to the constitution?” Unenumerated rights. Limited powers. Any potential judge that does not concede the existence of a “right to privacy”, of a limit to state power, does not have a place on the bench within the US court system. Good luck getting a straight answer there.]

…Roe v. Wade establishes a right to privacy. To reverse that is to make us all wards of the state (some would say we already are) and to make all claims to privacy by persons, including the multi-national corporations null and void. I’m sorry, but I just can’t see the Warren Buffett’s and Bill Gates’ of the world signing up for that type of punishment. So excuse me if I don’t take this threat seriously. The Right to Privacy will continue to exist (as it did unenumerated before Roe v. Wade) and with it the availability of unpopular medical procedures, including Abortion. Sorry folks, them’s the breaks.

In libertarian circles there has been an uneasy truce on the issue of abortion for quite some time. Don’t get me wrong, we have believers on both sides of the issue here too. It just doesn’t get contentious (generally) because we don’t acknowledge that the state has the authority to force someone to bear children on the one hand, or the authority to steal money (generally referred to as taxes) to pay for abortions on the other. We’re more than happy to let the individuals involved make decisions for themselves. It’s what tends to work best.

I hear you saying “what about protecting life, dammit?” That’s all fine and good. First prove that there is a life, a life with a conscious mind, a will to live (not just autonomic responses) the presence of brainwaves, preferably; and then show how you will preserve that life without harming the life (and by harm I mean economic as well as physical harm) of the mother-to-be, and you might have a telling argument. Otherwise we are still back at individual choice.

The short version of this is if you don’t like abortion, don’t have one. That should limit the decisions to the individuals with a real stake in it. The women.


Mea culpa review, 2017. Mercifully my libertarian delusions about tax dollars and government health expenditures fell by the wayside of my deeper understanding of what money is and what society is. What good governance entails. It could have happened sooner, but I’ll take the enlightenment anyway I can get it.

The last article I wrote on this subject was this one, in which I come out unambiguously on the side of choice, science having pretty much taken us to the edge of survivability for the fetus outside the womb. What is needed now, if the anti-abortionists want to prevail on this subject, is an artificial womb. With that invention the woman need no longer carry the baby to term herself, it can be implanted in the artificial womb and the lifers who think every sperm is sacred can just foot the bill for raising all those previously aborted children.

I’m sure they’ll jump at the chance to pay for that. 

Christmas lists…

“Dear Buddha, I would like a pony and a plastic rocket…”

Malcolm Reynolds

I have a different kind of list in mind. A list of standard rants that I just want to get off my chest. The opportunity for them occurs nearly every “Holiday Season”. So let’s just get to it, shall we?

First.

Every year, I hear the same thing. “Holiday this” and “Holiday that” and the counter mantra “they’re taking god out of Christmas”. There seems to be some confusion about the origin of ‘Christmas’. Let’s see if we can clear this up, eh?
Christmas is a ‘bastardization’ of “Christ’s Mass”, which is a Catholic celebration. The Catholics, being the earliest example of ‘admen‘ on the planet, realized that they could more easily sell their religion if they simply adopted the holidays in the areas that they wished to convert. When they moved into Northern Europe, they took on the holiday known as Yule and incorporated it into their religion as the day of Christ’s birth (even though it’s considered most likely that the date would have been in spring) ergo, “Christ’s Mass”. (Mass being what a protestant refers to as a ‘sermon’) What I’m getting at is, if you are calling the holiday ‘Christmas’ and you aren’t a Catholic, you are referring to the secularized holiday formerly known as Yule. There is no need to further secularize it by calling it a “Holiday”.

(I was at a charter school the other day that is hosted at a Catholic Church, and they actually used the phrase “Holiday Party” to describe the Christmas Party. If there’s one group that should be using the word “Christmas” it’s the Catholics)

So, if you hear me wish you a “Merry Christmas”, it’s because “May your feast of the Winter Solstice be enjoyable” is too cumbersome to say repeatedly.

Second.

“Jesus is the reason for the season”. See the above rant. Axis tilt (22.5 degrees) is the reason for the season. Lack of sunlight causing depression is the reason for the celebration. Marketing is the reason that Jesus is associated with the season.

Admen everywhere should give thanks for their unique heritage; and I really don’t understand a protestants insistance on associating Jesus and the Holiday formerly known as Yule. I thought they wanted to get away from Papal edict?

Third.

For some reason, the last few Christmas seasons have occasioned messages in my inbox exhorting us to rediscover our ‘Christian roots’, telling us to hold tight to our language and our culture. Most of them have declarative statements similar to the following:

“…Christian men and women, on Christian principles, founded this nation, and this is clearly documented.”

Anyone who has done more than a cursory hours worth of work on the subject KNOWS that this is incorrect. If you are talking about the ‘Founding fathers’, then you are talking about educated men for whom the dogma of organized religion represented the belief system of the past. True men of the enlightenment age (most of them) while they still professed a belief in god, they were not ‘Christians’. Fully half of them were acknowledged ‘Deists‘, which is the belief system of the true ‘father’ of the philosophy that is enshrined in the founding documents, John Locke, who first wrote the famous phrase as life, liberty, and estate (Jefferson changed the last to “Pursuit of Happiness” for various reasons)

But, the basis for this (country and philosophy) is not Christianity!

If, however, you are talking about the average people who founded this country…
…Then you would also be mistaken. From Buddhism to Zoroastrianism America has been host to every religion known to man, and those who came here weren’t told to “check their religion at the door”. We don’t even “Speak English” as some of the posts assert (the British would attest to that quite readily) walk into any major city and see how many languages you run across.

While I despise the word “multiculturalism” as much as the next guy (the next guy probably being blissfully ignorant of Postmodernism and it’s adherent’s dismissal of objective reality and reason. Reason being the basis for Humanism and the Enlightenment, this country’s REAL foundations) the “Melting pot” that is America isn’t something that happens instantaneously; and as with any alloy, the base material is changed by what is added.

Yes, I know, I’ve ruined Christmas for you. I’m sorry but, the world isn’t as simple as you want it to be, it won’t change just because you think it should, and like those toys you bought for the kids, it won’t go back in the !@#$%^&*! box so that you can return it to the pimply clerk that sold it to you so that you can just get the preassembled one that has all the pieces in the right place! The kid will be happy for the gift anyway, he probably won’t notice the missing parts, and the world will continue to spin on it’s (tilted) axis whether we will it or not.

Just relax, sit back, and have some more eggnog (or whatever your beverage of choice is) it’s just a few more weeks and then we’ll have a whole new year of problems to deal with. Now isn’t that a refreshing outlook?

…Oh, and Merry Christmas!