In celebration of Freedom of Speech Week (observed October 18-24), I would like to illuminate the life of one of America’s first prominent, outspoken atheists, Charles Chilton Moore, a man who was jailed for blasphemy because the sensitive Bible Belt dwellers of his time just couldn’t stomach a little competition.
When one considers prominent United States atheists, depending on the social circles with which one regularly associates, the list is likely to be rather short. While there are many prominent Americans who consider themselves atheists, very few make their atheism a vocal part of their public dialogue. Such people include authors Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens; entertainers Penn Jillette and Bill Maher; and university professor PZ Myers. Charles Chilton Moore was a trailblazer for all atheists in the United States, though sadly his story is known by few.
Moore was born in 1837, the grandson of prominent Restoration Movement preacher Barton W. Stone. Moore became an ordained minister, but he lost his faith in the Bible over time, in part due to geological evidence that was contrary to the commonly-held belief in a 6,000 year old Earth. In 1884 Moore founded the Blue Grass Blade, a sporadically-published journal containing articles promoting agnosticism, women’s suffrage, old Earth theory and outing illegal distilling operations and the antics of those he considered religious bigots in his community.
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