<![CDATA[Freethought House - Foes of Faith]]>Sun, 19 Feb 2017 23:11:02 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[The Top 5 Presidents for the Separation of Church and State]]>Sat, 18 Feb 2017 19:57:17 GMThttp://freethoughthouse.com/foes-of-faith/the-top-5-presidents-for-the-separation-of-church-and-stateby Bill Lehto
​“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...” reads the beginning of the first amendment to the United States Constitution, adopted in 1791. Throughout our relatively short history, American presidents have taken various interests in upholding this part of the first amendment, some holding it with reverence, others interpreting it loosely or wanting to ignore it. In honor of Presidents Day weekend, here are the top five US presidents who were the staunchest advocates for the separation of church and state. Next week will be top five worst presidents on the topic.
5. James A. Garfield (1881)
"The divorce between Church and State ought to be absolute. It ought to be so absolute that no Church property anywhere, in any state or in the nation, should be exempt from equal taxation; for if you exempt the property of any church organization, to that extent you impose a tax upon the whole community." James A. Garfield, Congressional Record, 1874
Garfield was assassinated only 100 days after taking the oath, but in his short time in office he proved to be one of the fiercest advocates of the separation of church and state. A deeply religious man who converted to Christianity in 1850, joining the Disciples of Christ Church, he actively preached until he became a member of Congress in 1863. Upon becoming president, he left his position as an elder in the church. In his inaugural address in 1881, he spoke of the danger the Mormons posed, having established what he felt was a theocracy in the Utah territory: "The Constitution guarantees absolute religious freedom. Congress is prohibited from making any law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The Territories of the United States are subject to the direct legislative authority of Congress, and hence the General Government is responsible for any violation of the Constitution in any of them.”
4. John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)
"It is my firm belief that there should be separation of church and state in the United States–that is, that both church and state should be free to operate, without interference from each other in their respective areas of jurisdiction. We live in a liberal, democratic society which embraces wide varieties of belief and disbelief." John F. Kennedy, Letter, 1959
In 1961, Kennedy became the first Roman Catholic to win the presidency. Due to the controversy around his religion during the presidential campaign, in 1960 he gave a speech in Houston directly addressing the issue: “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.” In 2012, GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum, also Catholic, said Kennedy’s 1960 speech makes him want to throw up. Santorum said on ABC “the idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country.” When your views on church and state make Rick Santorum want to throw up, you earn a spot on this list.
3. Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877)
"Let us labor for the security of free thought, free speech, pure morals, unfettered religious sentiments, and equal rights and privileges for all men, irrespective of nationality, color, or religion;…. leave the matter of religious teaching to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contribution. Keep church and state forever separate." Ulysses S. Grant, Address, 1875
Known primarily as the Union general who won the civil war, during his presidency Grant was a clear and staunch advocate for the separation of church and state. He was also one of the least outwardly religious presidents we’ve had. He was not a member of a church, nor was he baptized. In his youth he had a negative experience with organized religion, and at West Point he got into trouble for missing religious services. During his presidency, Grant argued for a strict separation of church and state. In a speech in 1875 he called, unsuccessfully, for a Constitutional amendment that would mandate free public schools and prohibit the use of public money for religious schools. The failed amendment read: “No State shall make any law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; and no money raised by taxation in any State for the support of public schools, or derived from any public fund therefor, nor any public lands devoted thereto, shall ever be under the control of any religious sect; nor shall any money so raised or lands so devoted be divided between religious sects or denominations.” In the 1870s Grant fought, successfully, against an Evangelical Protestant effort to seek a constitutional amendment that affirmed the existence of God, confessed Christ as savior, and acknowledged true religion as the bases for civil government.
2. James Madison (1809-1817)
"The experience of the United States is a happy disproof of the error so long rooted in the unenlightened minds of well-meaning Christians, as well as in the corrupt hearts of persecuting usurpers, that without a legal incorporation of religious and civil polity, neither could be supported. A mutual independence is found most friendly to practical Religion, to social harmony, and to political prosperity." –James Madison, Letter to F.L. Schaeffer, 1821
No other person did more work to assure religious liberty in the United States than James Madison. A religious man who was baptized in the Anglican Church, Madison was deeply concerned with religious persecution by the state. In Virginia, Madison led the fight for guaranteed religious liberty, making his case in Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments: “We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no man's right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance.” In 1786, due to Madison’s effort, Jefferson's Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom finally passed in Virginia. In 1787 Madison served as the primary architect of the US Constitution, and, following Virginia's model, the Constitution gave the federal government no authority over religion. And after prodding from Jefferson, Madison successfully supported an amendment to the Constitution to guarantee religious freedom.
1. Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)
"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state." Thomas Jefferson, to Danbury Baptists, 1802
While Madison was the workhorse in terms of the separation of church and state, Jefferson was trailblazer, making the defense of religious liberty one of the hallmarks of his career. The term “separation of church and state” can be traced back directly to him. Like many of the “Founding Fathers”, Jefferson was considered a Deist who valued reason over revelation and rejected traditional Christian doctrines, including the virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus. He saw Jesus not as divine, but as a teacher of morals. In 1776 Jefferson he introduced to the Virginia Legislature the Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, and in 1787 he convinced his friend James Madison to amend the US Constitution to include a guarantee of religious freedom. He won the presidency in 1801 after a vicious campaign in which he was vilified as an atheist. Even after his presidency, he continued to be an advocate of religious liberty. From 1814: “In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own. It is error alone that needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself.” A man of contradictions, even today the slaveholding Jefferson is seen as an icon of individual liberty.
Bill Lehto is the publisher at Freethought House and editor of Atheist Voices of Minnesota
<![CDATA[Do Jehovah's Witnesses Vote?]]>Tue, 14 Feb 2017 22:52:27 GMThttp://freethoughthouse.com/foes-of-faith/do-jehovahs-witnesses-voteby James Zimmerman
Jehovah’s Witnesses are politically neutral. Or, at least, they are supposed to be.

Often, when I’ve delivered presentations about my former religion, attendees ask about the political bend of Witnesses. I mention that they don’t vote. Actually, most members of the religion seem to have little knowledge of political candidates, elections, or parties. For example, as an eighth-grader, I once brought home an assignment from American Government class. Among the questions on the worksheet was: Name one of the Representatives for Minnesota? Neither I nor my parents could think of a single one. We looked in our encyclopedias but weren’t sure the information was still current. My dad ultimately called the mother of one of my classmates – also a Witness – and she said her daughter had also struggled with that question. Thankfully, this woman was married to a non-Witness, and he knew the name of our local rep.

But, pressing further, a few people have asked if Witnesses are generally conservative or liberal. This is a frustrating dichotomy regardless, but it’s even more difficult to surmise a guess on behalf of an apolitical group.

Primarily, Witnesses view all governments as evil. They understand them as necessary in our present world – but under the Devil’s control. Though they appreciate the freedoms afforded them in many of the world’s democracies, and though they are swift to take advantage of legal means to protect and advance their causes, they believe that all governments will collectively be dismantled by God in the near future. They pray on behalf of Witnesses living in oppressive regimes and will write to officials in countries where Witnesses are banned. They also celebrate any widening berth a government grants Witnesses, viewing this as fulfillment of bible prophecy.

Like most secularists, Witnesses believe in the complete separation of church and state. In fact, they view any appeals to the supernatural in the public sphere as grossly misplaced. When they hear public prayers – such as those often delivered prior to a town hall meeting – they shake their heads in disgust. The frequent mention of God in George W. Bush’s first inaugural address made several Witnesses – myself included, as I was still a Witness then – wonder if his words were signaling the onset of the final stage of the End Times. High religiosity in political candidates and office-holders causes nervousness among Witnesses because they know they don’t fit in with the nation’s dominant religion, and they know that those who push their religion hardest into the public sphere are the ones most likely to restrict the freedoms of religious minorities, Witnesses included.

With their strong stance on church-state separation, their disdain for armed conflict, and their dismay at our current environmental degradation (unlike most fundamentalists, Witnesses not only accept human-made climate change as real, but perceive it as another sign of Armageddon’s nearness), it might seem like Witnesses, if they were allowed to vote, would largely vote for liberal candidates. Indeed, that is how most of the former Witnesses that I know do vote. Perhaps, if the thousands of Witness Floridians had been allowed to vote back in 2000, that state’s electoral outcome might have been known within hours, instead of devolving into the mess it became. Or perhaps the thousands of Witnesses living in states with close results in our most recent presidential election could have tipped the tally in favor of someone qualified for the office.

However, Witnesses view many of the world’s problems as intractable issues that can only be repaired by God and, hence, don’t believe that any politician – irrespective of their sincerity or intentions – can make any headway regarding climate change, overpopulation, pollution, or other pressing problem. Additionally, Witnesses are against abortion (for any reason), gender equality, and LGBT rights. So I’m not surprised that a sizeable minority of the former Witnesses I know have identified more strongly with conservative mores.

Another aspect to consider is the person’s life prior to becoming a Witness. If they were of a conservative bend prior to joining the Witnesses, they are likely to continue in that mindset if and when they leave. But for many, myself included, membership in the Witness religion came at birth. Thus, the rationale for nearly all of their viewpoints is predicated on the religion. So when I discontinued my life as a Witness, I had to ask myself: Now that I no longer had to abide by Witness-endorsed arguments opposing abortion, was I still opposed to abortion? Now that I no longer saw environmental issues through the lens of bible prophecies, did I still care about the planet? Now that I no longer believed voting was a sin, would I engage in the political process?

James Zimmerman is the author of Deliverance at Hand!: The Redemption of a Devout Jehovah's Witness and a contributor to Atheist Voices of Minnesota: An Anthology of Personal Stories. His writings have also appeared in The 2013 St. Paul Almanac and Breathing In: Stories from the Century College Community, Volume II, and several periodicals including The Humanist, American Atheist, and Free Inquiry. A lifelong Minnesota resident, James currently lives in St. Paul.
<![CDATA[Selections fromĀ Organic Dreams and Pickled Nightmares]]>Sun, 05 Feb 2017 18:26:08 GMThttp://freethoughthouse.com/foes-of-faith/selection-from-organic-dreams-and-pickled-nightmaresby Karen Shragg
​Holy Moses
I tremble at the word
It signals the trampling of rights
and fuels the fire of wars between those
whose god was wronged in ancient worlds
so irrelevant  now, yet kept alive by holy
stories and places deemed sacred by their believers
rituals which should be reserved
for the mentally challenged and the seriously bored
run around in robes and take money from the poor
Only paid up members may enter
the gates where a story is so often told
it becomes the worshipped truth
no matter the price that is paid in the wake of
a story not shared by all.
Holy Moses.

My Karma just
ran over your dogma
so the bumper sticker says
I want to have that kind of strength
I want to be that kind of force
to question the assumptions 
that go unchallenged
to offer an alternate way of living
in a universe full of wonder
needing only the laws of physics
and the deep sense of compassion
as guideposts
the time is
long overdue
for religion to take
a seat on the witness stand 
and confess 
to the pain
their stories
manifest to this day.

Letting Go
Buying in
is always easier than buying out
Because that would come with an admission
that time and money were spent in
the wrong direction.
Buy in to the notion of religion
and spend hours in a pew
Buy in to the idea that we can shop our
way to happiness and our
our hangers fill with yesterday’s fashions
But let go
buy out
and we could lose our friends
and erase our paths
lose a grip on who we are
and where we should go next
unless we can become satisfied
with the strength we gain
by letting go.

The above three poems are from the book Organic Dreams and Pickled Nightmares: A pocket full of political poems for the resistancedue out this spring by Karen I. Shragg. Shragg is a naturalist, writer and overpopulation activist. Her books include, Move Upsteam: A Call to Solve OverpopulationGrieving Outside the Box, and the Nature’s Yucky! children’s series. She lives in Bloomington, Minnesota.
<![CDATA[Madison Weighs In]]>Sat, 28 Jan 2017 22:44:23 GMThttp://freethoughthouse.com/foes-of-faith/january-28th-2017by Bill Lehto
This is a photo I took in October during an excursion into Kentucky to visit the birth site of Abraham Lincoln. I had heard of police departments using the slogan “In God We Trust,” but it was still a bit jarring to see it plastered on the back of a police car. Of course “In God We Trust” is also on our currency via a law signed by Dwight Eisenhower in 1956 officially declaring “In God We Trust” to be the nation’s official motto, two years after he had pushed to have the phrase “under God” inserted into the pledge of allegiance. And this has been in the news over the last few years, as the Freedom From Religion Foundation has bravely and diligently sent letters and filed lawsuits arguing that this violates the first amendment.
But despite having been in the news, and on the money since before I came around, there’s still something jarring and threatening about seeing “In God We Trust” on a government owned car, driven by an officer sworn to indiscriminately serve and protect its community of citizens. That’s my experience at least, as someone who certainly doesn’t trust a god he doesn’t even believe in. And besides any of that, it just seems stupid. What is the point of it? What benefit does it have?
A little research shows that city police departments using this motto are in, at least, the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. If we took out our US maps and colored in those states, the color wouldn’t exactly be spread evenly throughout the country.
But despite my own feelings, it may seem (by itself) not to matter a whole lot. But it's a road we don't want to go down. Hopefully no police are likely using religion as any kind of litmus test for who they help. 
But apparently our country’s federal government will be now.
Donald Trump stated on Friday that (following the four-month hold he has put on allowing any refugees into the United States and temporarily barring travelers from Syria and six other Muslim-majority countries) the US government will give Christians priority over other refugees seeking to enter the United States. That this is a very blatant violation of the separation of church and state—that it is pissing on it and then setting it on fire—is obvious, and others have expounded on this better than I can. But I would like to point to just a few examples of what James Madison, the man known as the "Father of the Constitution" for his central role in drafting and promoting the Bill of Rights and the US Constitution—that same Constitution that Trump and Pence always pledge such allegiance to—had to say about the relationship between religions and government:
We maintain that in matters of Religion, no man's right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance. … Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?” –James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments June 20, 1785
The experience of the United States is a happy disproof of the error so long rooted in the unenlightened minds of well-meaning Christians, as well as in the corrupt hearts of persecuting usurpers, that without a legal incorporation of religious and civil polity, neither could be supported. A mutual independence is found most friendly to practical Religion, to social harmony, and to political prosperity.James Madison, Letter to F.L. Schaeffer, Dec 3, 1821
Madison, I believe, if he were here today would argue that Christians, not just Muslims, secularists, and other non-Christians, should be terrified about the direction the separation of church and state is going in.

Bill Lehto is the publisher at Freethought House and editor of Atheist Voices of Minnesota
<![CDATA[Book Review: The Underground Railroad]]>Sun, 22 Jan 2017 21:01:59 GMThttp://freethoughthouse.com/foes-of-faith/book-review-underground-railroadby Bill Lehto
"I accidentally bought a novel. A book of fiction. Made-up stuff. I’ve been plowing through nonfiction books over the past several years – mostly history – and had pretty much shut fiction out of the loop. I don’t know if it’s the atheist and skeptic in me, but it’s just been difficult to enjoy fiction for a while. I just want the facts, or at least for someone to argue the facts or give their interpretation or analysis. I want to learn. I like being able to discover something new, and then spin off of that and do more research or read more books on the topic.
Lately I’ve especially been focused on American history and biography in the antebellum and civil war eras, with Battle Cry of Freedom and Team of Rivals on that list and two of the best books I’ve ever read. With all of this Civil War era reading I’ve become quite fascinated with Lincoln, and decided to stop by Springfield, Illinois (I had to drive a car from Nashville to Minnesota) to check out the historic Lincoln sites. A gift shop at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site had stacks of the book The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, which I saw had won the 2016 National Book Award and which I had seen on several readings lists, including Obama’s. I didn’t know much about the subject, and thought I should, so I snagged it.
It wasn’t until I got back to Minnesota that I realized it was a novel. Oops. Oh well. My favorite type of fiction is historic fiction, and assuming that’s what it was I still decided to give it a read. 
The book tells the story of Cora, a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia, and her journey following her escape via the Underground Railroad. The description of plantation life is jarring and historically based, but following her escape things start to get a little fantastical. Wait, did the Underground Railroad really include literal underground railroads? I did some internet searching. Hold on – South Carolina relatively progressive in regards to slavery? As I continued to fact-check it finally dawned on me that this was not traditional historical fiction and that I needed to let the skeptic in me go so I could experience the book.
The Underground Railroad is a fantastic, heart-wrenching book. It has gripping language. Here Cora considers the limits of her new-found freedom: "What a world it is, Cora thought, that makes a living prison into your only haven. Was she out of bondage or in its web: how to describe the status of a runaway? Freedom was a thing that shifted as you looked at it, the way a forest is dense with trees up close but from outside, from the empty meadow, you see its true limits."
Here Cora recalls a dream following a harrowing night: "In the night she had dreamed she was at sea and chained belowdecks. Next to her was another captive, and another, hundreds of them crying in terror. The ship bucked on swells, dove and slammed into anvils of water."

As the book follows Cora’s journey, it takes a tour of slavery in the US – its reality, the turns it could have but didn’t take, its legacy, and how it haunts our present. It is a powerful and provocative book.
The Underground Railroad has reminded me of the joy of reading good novels, and how different it is from reading nonfiction. Reading’s not just about the learning, but also the experience of engaging with the author at a different, more emotional level than you can with narrative history. And reading novels may be beneficial in other ways: a recent study suggest that reading novels makes us kinder and more empathetic. Emanuele Castano, the study author, said that fiction “forces you as a reader to contribute your own interpretations, to reconstruct the mind of the character.” This is so true of The Underground Railroad.
So whether you love fiction or, like me, prefer nonfiction, give this book a read.

​​Bill Lehto is the publisher at Freethought House and editor of Atheist Voices of Minnesota
<![CDATA[We Just Lost Our Paddle: The Election in the Overpopulation Context]]>Wed, 28 Dec 2016 14:16:04 GMThttp://freethoughthouse.com/foes-of-faith/we-just-lost-our-paddle-the-election-in-the-overpopulation-contextby Karen I. Shragg
I write this as a devastated overpopulation, social justice, and women’s rights activist. I write it as a free-thinking atheist who is not burdened by ancient doctrine. But, I do not write this from a perspective of shock. I am not surprised by the rise to power of our president elect. I think it is all pretty predictable in an overpopulated world. A world, by the way, that seems clueless that it is exactly that: overpopulated, overshot, over-baked, and way past well done when it comes to using up our planet’s limited and irreplaceable resources.
We may not know intellectually that the US is actually and provably at least 150 million people over its limit to provide long-term resources like water to our citizens, but I believe we know it in our subconscious. Because so many green groups refuse to tell the carrying capacity story, we are uninformed. We know deep inside that we cannot continue to make promises of prosperity to growing millions when that very prosperity is based on dwindling natural capital. We know that prosperity isn’t just being limited because of greedy people at the top; it is also because there isn’t enough to go around forever.
When scarcity is knocking on our door, people behave in new and intolerable ways. They protect their own with racism as their mantra. They point fingers at the innocent and reach for the lowest hanging fruit on which to base their problems. They want strangers to get out of “their” land, and they use a made up version of their religion to justify their abhorrent actions. With God on their side and a fear for their families’ future, they listen with great interest to fascist based speech. They follow these fascists in the sad belief that their battle cry of “Make America Great Again” includes them.
No politician today would dare tell the full truth that the US is already beyond its carrying capacity for its people and has been for decades. So the political landscape becomes divided between those who are kind hearted and want to share our country with everyone and those who spew hatred and want to build walls. One party offers going off the resource cliff with civility and the other offers going off the cliff with violence and evil.
The direction this country must go in is one that strikes a delicate balance between policies that reflect both our current ecological reality and our desire to operate from a place of compassion. We need to see that overpopulation drives climate change and that this is far more critical to our future than foreign threats. Without that insight both sides of the political spectrum will lose. The overpopulation taboo must end. We must change our narrative from one of abundance to one of overshoot. We must tell the full truth that we are 5.5 billion overpopulated relative to our resources and growing by 1 million every 4.5 days. We must not let religious doctrine get in our way, and must instead insist on evidence-based decisions. We must not make the political mistake of suggesting policy decisions before we change our narrative. Many population groups, worried about the detrimental effects of added immigrants, come out sounding like racists because they have done a poor job of changing the narrative first. Imagine if a doctor prescribed brain surgery before you even realized you are really sick.
Overpopulation is compassionately solvable with very small (one child average) families. We need the country and the world to move upstream and see that overpopulation is driving the causes of our angst, but I am afraid we just lost our paddle.

Karen I. Shragg is a naturalist, writer and overpopulation activist. She joined the advisory board of World Population Balance in 2004, and regularly delivers lectures on overpopulation to local, state and national groups. Karen holds an Ed.D. from the University of St. Thomas in critical pedagogy  and is director of the Wood Lake Nature Center in Richfield, Minnesota. Her books include, Move Upsteam: A Call to Solve OverpopulationGrieving Outside the Box, and the Nature’s Yucky! children’s series. She lives in Bloomington, Minnesota.
<![CDATA[Merry Christmas from an Atheist]]>Mon, 19 Dec 2016 13:51:00 GMThttp://freethoughthouse.com/foes-of-faith/merry-christmas-from-an-atheistby Bill Lehto
I love Christmas. I love the music, the TV specials (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer gives me a particular warm, fuzzy feeling), the smell of the pine tree in the house, the outdoor lights. I love my memories around Christmas from childhood, and I love that I’m creating childhood memories around it for my daughter. I even love the whole Santa thing, and that I used to believe in him.
I love all of it. Or most of it at least–I could do without the front-lawn nativity scenes and “Jesus is the reason for the season” and such, but it’s all part of the mix for me.
I’m a little embarrassed to say that I also love opening presents, and even seeing them wrapped up and waiting under the Christmas tree. I love that joyful feeling of anticipation before opening a present–not dissimilar, I must say, from that feeling I love in poker or blackjack of that next card from the deck about to be played. But it’s not that it’s some random item; it’s a gift to you from someone who cares about you. And the flip side of course is that joy in giving, including the anticipation of what someone will think of what you thought to get for them. It’s also a time of being thankful for what you have, and giving what you can (or “are willing” is probably more accurate) to those who are less fortunate.

And, for me, Christmas is entirely secular. Yes, I call it “Christmas”, not “Solstice” or “Holidays.”

The theologically liberal Bishop John Shelby Spong is not a theist, believes that Jesus was a mere human and not divine, and does not believe in the resurrection as an historical event. Nevertheless, he likes to continue to use words like “Christ”, “God”, “Holy Spirit”, and other traditionally conservative religious terms so that the fundamentalists cannot claim them as their own and take them away from him. The terms have meaning to him, and so he takes them back on his own terms, essentially giving the middle finger to the fundies. For me, the fundies can keep “God” and “Christ”, but I’ll keep “Christmas”, although it has nothing to do for me with the mythological and historical-Jesus-perverting word “Christ”. I just have too many warm memories associated with “Christmas” to let them take that from me.

There is no “true meaning of the season.” There is no true meaning to anything, for that matter. The Christians appropriated pagan rituals for their use (indoor trees, gift-giving, mistletoe, even the virgin birth narrative), and I’m appropriating “Christmas” for my use.  As Nietzsche said, the form and the meaning of everything is fluid. From his On the Genealogy of Morals: “Anything in existence … is continually interpreted anew, requisitioned anew, transformed and re-directed to a new purpose by a power superior to it … in the process of which their former ‘meaning’ and ‘purpose’ must necessarily be obscured or completely obliterated.” Indeed.

So Merry Christmas from this atheist. Or Happy Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, or Solstice, or whatever it is you celebrate. Or, as Ringo Starr likes to say, “Peace and love” to you all this holiday season.

Bill Lehto is the publisher at Freethought House and editor of Atheist Voices of Minnesota
<![CDATA[Offensive Goes Both Ways]]>Tue, 06 Dec 2016 01:31:25 GMThttp://freethoughthouse.com/foes-of-faith/offensive-goes-both-waysby Karen I. Shragg
Just in time for the holidays, here is a great gift to you: permission to be offended if you are an atheist and subjected to religious prayers, songs and blessings over meals. Atheists are often warned not to mention to elderly and not-so elderly relatives and friends your firm disbelief in divinity. It may offend them and their religious belief system, you are told. As they bow their heads and sing their praises to a god you don’t believe in, you are expected to follow suit in silence.

I have always wondered why an all-powerful deity would be offended by those who aren’t convinced of ‘his’ existence. There are about 4,200 different religions that worship approximately 21 different gods, unless you count the 320 million forms god can take in Hinduism. With more than 7.5 billion people and growing on our ever crowded planet, each god would get to be offended by nearly 2 million people if followers were distributed evenly throughout the globe.  That’s a lot of pain for an all-powerful, all mighty deity.

If you are a person who likes to live an evidence-based life, it truly can be offensive to keep hearing about having a god-blessed season, that Jesus is the reason for the season, or even hearing ‘Silent Night’ while shopping for groceries.  If we ever do speak up, we are told that we are like the Grinch who tried to steal the beauty of this gift-giving ‘holy’ season. 
On the contrary, I love making homemade gifts and giving them to family and friends this time of year. I think the Winter Solstice, with its lights and cheer, is a fabulous way to counter the doldrums that can accompany the darkest time of the year. With our shockingly unqualified president elect dominating the news, I am especially invested in spreading as much cheer as I can this year.

It’s just that tying up the seasonal activities with religious stories can feel offensive too.  Being ‘offended’ by anyone’s beliefs is childish at best, it’s more like being perpetually annoyed that you have to respect other’s beliefs while never getting to voice your lack of interest in following any god. From angels on trees to late night masses, December’s zeitgeist seems awash with beliefs that easily turn off evidence-based people.

There needs to be space in our culture for those who want to wish people a happy holiday season and a happy new year untethered to biblical stories we outgrew years ago. I think I just did.

Karen I. Shragg is a naturalist, writer and overpopulation activist. She joined the advisory board of World Population Balance in 2004, and regularly delivers lectures on overpopulation to local, state and national groups. Karen holds an Ed.D. from the University of St. Thomas in critical pedagogy  and is director of the Wood Lake Nature Center in Richfield, Minnesota. Her books include, Move Upsteam: A Call to Solve OverpopulationGrieving Outside the Box, and the Nature’s Yucky! children’s series. She lives in Bloomington, Minnesota.
<![CDATA[Pence's America]]>Sun, 13 Nov 2016 14:26:02 GMThttp://freethoughthouse.com/foes-of-faith/pences-americaby Eric Jayne
Many people in the United States and throughout the world were shocked by Tuesday's election results and are still processing it. Even though Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, Donald Trump won the election by the Electoral College system. From the secularist point of view, the most concerning part about the election isn't that Trump will become president. Instead, what is downright scary is that Mike Pence will be the vice president charged with implementing a socially conservative, Christian-based agenda toward public policy.
We don't need to dig deep or look far into the past to understand how truly dangerous Pence can be as a policymaker. During his run for congress in 2000, Pence called for federal funding of AIDS and HIV treatment programs to be tied to conversion therapy. "Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior", Pence wrote on his campaign webpage.
Pence has also been passionate about shutting down Planned Parenthood throughout his political career. In 2011 when the nation was facing a government shutdown over the federal budget, Pence admitted that he would work toward shutting down the federal government if it meant he could prevent patients from accessing services at Planned Parenthood. He explained his anti-Planned Parenthood crusade further during October's vice presidential debate. "I would tell you that for me the sanctity of life proceeds out of the belief...where God says 'before you were formed in the womb, I knew you'", Pence said referring to Jeremiah 1:5 in the Old Testament.
In 2015 Pence infamously signed the "Religious Freedom Act" into law as governor of Indiana. This law expanded religious privilege by allowing Christians to freely act upon their bible-based prejudices. It didn't take long before some conservative Christian business owners refused to serve LGBT people. This was clearly displayed when an Indiana pizza restaurant owner indicated that he would refuse to cater a same-sex wedding. This kind of "religious freedom" is how Kim Davis, a Kentucky county clerk, justified her refusal to provide marriage certificates to same-sex couples.
The Trump administration will likely feature a cabinet with members who, like Pence, will also appeal to religious teachings for their understanding on healthcare, climate change, scientific research, and the general social welfare of the citizenry. While the Bible might contain interesting stories and some limited and questionable guidance on moral behavior, it's simply an inappropriate source for seeking guidance on resolving complicated issues and governing a pluralistic society that values individual liberty.
While Trump has been elected president, it's Pence who holds the knowledge and skill set for political coordination and turning ideas into law. Trump is the big boss but Pence will undoubtedly be advising and guiding him every step of the way. Much like Trump's chauffer, Pence will be at the steering wheel navigating our nation through a system of beliefs that could detour our nation back 2000 years.

Eric Jayne is the former president of Minnesota Atheists, where he still sits on the Board. A contributing editor to Atheist Voices of Minnesota and editor of the Foes of Faith blog, he currently lives and works in the Twin Cities area. 
<![CDATA[Hearing Voices]]>Thu, 03 Nov 2016 00:34:45 GMThttp://freethoughthouse.com/foes-of-faith/hearing-voicesby Jeff C. Stevenso
In 1998, he told them to bomb the Birmingham, Alabama, New Woman, All Women health care clinic. An off-duty police officer was killed and a nurse was critically wounded. “Oh my God,” Lisa Hermes, a counselor for the center, said when she stepped from her car in front of the ruined building.
In 2003, the President of the United States reportedly told the BBC, “I’m driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, ‘George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan,’ and I did, and then God would tell me, ‘George go and end the tyranny in Iraq,’ and I did.” Estimates on the number of people killed in the invasion and occupation of Iraq vary widely and are highly disputed, but they range from hundreds of thousands to more than a million.
God has a lot to answer for. He apparently tells people to blow up clinics, start wars, and even run for office. Any sentence that begins or ends with these four words— “God told me to”—often results in terrifying or embarrassing consequences.
For example, at least nine Republicans indicated that God told them to run for the 2016 nomination, with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker proclaiming, “I needed to be certain that running was God’s calling — not just man’s calling. I am certain.” Walker dropped out of the race within two months of entering the primary.
Although it’s said that religion and politics don’t mix, for decades the religious right sect of the Republican party has been trying to mash them together by any means necessary. In 2016 they thought they had succeeded; they had more than a dozen conservatives whom they thought were all electable, even if their religious right-wing worldview would be considered crazy and dangerous to most voters in a general election.
Convinced that they really, really, really had God on their side this time, they chose Texas Senator Ted Cruz to carry their torch and gain the nomination. But God—or the voters—had other ideas and Ted soon lost traction under the steamroller known as Donald Trump. Once Trump defeated Cruz, the religious Republicans yielded, regrouped, and sheepishly admitted they had misheard God.
It was actually Donald Trump that God wanted to be President. Not only that, they proclaimed that Trump was now a born-again Christian. The internet responded with laughter and mockery, but the GOP said they had proof of the Donald’s conversion.
In June of 2016, Dr. James Dobson, founder and former head of the right-wing religious group Focus on the Family, announced that Trump, “had really made a commitment, but he’s a baby Christian. We all need to be praying for him, especially if there’s a possibility of him being our next chief executive officer.” Of course, no sane Christian believed this, and as the months passed, Trump himself never claimed to have seen the light, only some of his alt-right religious handlers who continued to peddle the story.
Since that point, have we all seen Trump becoming a radically more loving, forgiving and Christ-like person? No, we haven’t. The man who chillingly said in January 2016 that he could “stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” now has a devoted and passionate following that’s in the tens of millions. And their passionate—and at times violent, racist and dangerous—fervor for their candidate is well documented. Those who blindly support him regardless of what he says or does have caused the Trump movement to be likened to a cult by none other than Rick Ross, the executive director of the Cult Education Institute.
Ross, a lifelong Republican, was first alarmed by Trump’s rhetoric at the Republican National Convention. When Trump said, “I alone can fix it,” it was the tipping point for Ross. “That kind of pronouncement is typical of many cult leaders who say that ‘my way is the only way, I am the only one,’” Ross told GQ the end of August. “That was a very defining moment.”
This election—like each one before and after—will be significant, especially for those who insist their candidate is God’s choice or “God” told him or her to run for office. Here’s breaking news for the religious right and their candidates, past, present and future: No, He didn’t tell you to run. You’re listening to what the Bible calls “vain imaginations,” your ego or the voices in your head. And you’re embarrassing yourself and Christians around the world who wonder why you act so crazy and say such bizarre things.
People who state “God told me to” are never to be listened to (or voted for) because the same God could also tell them to blow up a clinic, start a war, or run for president. The stakes only get higher and more dangerous the further they climb the ladder of influence.
Or, as Ross warns: “We’re not talking about a compound with a thousand people. We’re talking about a nation with over 300 million people. So the consequences of Trumpism could affect us in a way Jim Jones never did.”
Regardless of who you vote for, don’t blame God for the outcome. He has nothing to do with it.
Jeff C. Stevenson works as a freelance copywriter for various New York advertising agencies. He is a professional member of Pen America and an active member of the Horror Writers Association. The author of Fortney Road: Life, Death, and Deception in a Christian Cult, Jeff has had more than a dozen articles, novelettes, short stories and flash fiction published in a wide variety of journals and anthologies. Author profile: http://goo.gl/dWEA8N