A program of the Center for Inquiry
The following article is from the Secular Humanist Bulletin, Volume 22, Number 2 (Summer 2006).
For most of us, the editorial or letters page of our local newspaper provides the most accessible forum for fighting the bogus claims of extremist religion while promoting reason and science. A letter to the editor may not carry the prestige of an article in a magazine, but it remains one of the most effective ways for reaching the public.
I started using this outlet thirty-five years ago in Fairbanks, Alaska, then later in Anchorage, and lastly in Tallahassee, Florida. Combating religious and unscientific nonsense has always been my favorite focus. I write most of my letters in reaction to letters from fundamentalists or other misinformed writers. Over the years, I’ve found that many such letters could be loosely classified in the following categories. (I follow each category with an example of one of my published responses.*)
They are doing it again. Two recent letters to the editor have extolled the Bible as a model-guide for disciplining children. And just how would the Bible have us deal with misbehaving children?
Deut. 21:18–21 says that, if a man has a rebellious son who will not obey his parents, the son should be stoned to death by all the men of his city.
2 Kings 2:23–24 tells us how the prophet Elisha, when little children teased him about his bald head, cursed the children, calling on God to punish them. In response, two she-bears came out of the woods and tore the forty-two little children to pieces.
As the famous freethinker Robert Green Ingersoll said: “Everybody talks about the Bible, but no one reads it.” I say, thank goodness that most people only worship by giving lip service to the Bible. If they did seriously read it and followed its precepts and examples, the world would be an even bloodier place than it is.
Syndicated columnist Katherine Parker (April 25) seems to blame the recent school massacres on teens being spiritually adrift. But does religious indoctrination necessarily guarantee good behavior? The actions of the “Rever ends” Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, and others would seem to argue otherwise.
Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin also received religious instruction—even served as choir boys (Hitler in the Benedictine monastery of Lambach, Stalin in the Gori Church School in Tiflis). Together these two men slaughtered enough innocents to people a fair-sized country.
Instead of helping people to get along, religion has too often furnished them with excuses to exclude, rape, pillage, torture, and murder, as in the Inquisition, the Crusades, the burning of the “witches” and endless religious wars. We can even find examples of religious prejudice and savagery in the Bible to match that going on in the Balkans (this was during the Yugoslavian wars and atrocities against the Muslims).
When religions actually emphasize that their followers treat all others as they would be treated, regardless of beliefs, Parker’s theory might work. But so far that has not been the case.
Mr. K.R. is right about true science being in accordance with the Bible. If you don’t believe that, then mount your unicorn (Job 39:9–12) and come with me to the land of the Bible. The talking snake in Genesis 3, being an upright and convincing fellow, can act as our host. In our travels, however, we must watch out for dangerous twelve-fingered giants (2 Sam. 21:20–21) and fiery, flying serpents (Isa. 30:6).
Now this earth of the Bible, unlike present-day earth, was flat (Isa. 11:12 and Matt. 4:8). The sun revolved around the earth, except when the Lord stopped it so the Israelites could slaughter their enemies by daylight (Josh. 10:12–14). So it is not surprising that the biblical world was also different in other respects. For example, some insects back then, like the beetle and the locust, had only four legs instead of the present-day six (Lev. 11:21–23). People grew much older and could father sons at age 500 (Gen. 5:32) and live to be 969 years old (Gen. 5:27). In addition, a person could be swallowed by a large fish and survive in a bath of stomach acid for three days, coming out none the worse for wear (Jon. 1:17 and 2:10).
Well, there’s nothing here to contradict the teachings of science, as far as I can see. Of course, science was never my strong point, so maybe you’d best ask a scientist—just to be sure.
In his recent letter, State Representative R.W. claimed that the framers of the U.S. Constitution encouraged Christian religious instruction during daily school activities as part of character development. This implies that such encouragement appears in the U.S. Constitution. Since Rep. R.W. is a lawmaker, I would assume he knows what he is talking about. Yet, I somehow can’t find such a thing in my copy of the Constitution.
I suspect it is not there because the framers of the Constitution did not deal with education, which was left to the individual states. In fact, there weren’t any statewide public-school systems in those days. Most schools back then were created and supported by various communities.
Nor can I find any mention of Jesus Christ in the Constitution. There is also good reason for this omission. Such influential Founding Fathers as George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Benjamin Franklin, fed up with bickering among Christian sects competing for government favor and support, wisely advocated keeping all religion and government separate. That secular sentiment is reflected in Article VI: “... no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
Those who would make the U.S. government officially Christian have from the beginning struggled against those who have wanted to keep it secular. Fortunately for all of us, no matter what our religious persuasions, our government has remained mostly secular. This result guarantees the most harmony, freedom, and fairness for all of us.
I’ve found over the years that to effectively answer these letters, one needs a good general knowledge of the Old and New Testaments. You need to know not only the more popular or acceptable material that churchgoers hear in Sunday school or from the pulpit, but all the cruel, weird, hilarious, and crazy stuff. This varies from the descendants of Noah’s son Ham getting cursed because he saw his drunken daddy’s bare behind to a besotted Lot impregnating his two daughters and to Abraham getting rich by pimping for his wife Sarah. The Bible is loaded with such ammunition for the skeptic. Not only is much of it fun to read, but, amazingly, you will be learning things about which most fundamentalists are ignorant, despite all their aggressive claims for the Bible’s holiness and inerrancy. In fact, they are often flabbergasted into silence when you hit them with these unknown gems. In my experience, most do not know their touted Holy Book all that well.
Ronald G. Crowe, formerly the editor of the Institute of Social and Economics Research, University of Alaska, left Alaska in 1991 and settled in Monticello, Florida, where he has since been writing poetry, music, and letters to the editor. He is one of the founders of the Freethinkers’ Forum of Tallahassee and is also a member of the recently established CFI/Community at Tallahasse.