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Charles Chilton Moore: The father of American atheism

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.

Moore was jailed for five months for blasphemy before his sentence was commuted thanks to a pardon from Republican President William McKinley. As Americans, we often look at blasphemy laws in other nations and scoff at their barbarism. Sadly, many forget the despicable record our own country has with respect to equal treatment of those with different or nonexistent religious beliefs. One need only look at the Salem Witch Trials, the jailing of people for expressing dissenting religious opinions, and the destruction of Mosque construction equipment to catch a small glimpse of our less-than-progressive past.

Moore’s legal battles set many precedents with regards to free speech and the free distribution of publications that contain sentiments contrary to those held by the majority. For those that face hardships today because of their lack of religious belief, it may be comforting to remember the plight of one man who suffered jail time for his lack of belief. Perhaps the next generation of Americans will never experience any form of religious discrimination. We can hope.

To learn more about the life of Charles Chilton Moore, read his biography Kentucky’s Most Hated Man: Charles Chilton Moore and The Bluegrass Blade or his autobiography Behind the Bars (available sparsely).

The Mystery in the Box

I was just looking in my neighbor’s yard. There is a large wooden crate behind his deck that hasn’t been touched in the last 6 months. As far as I can tell, it is there to stay. This got me thinking about people’s belief in god.

If my neighbor told me that inside his crate was $1 billion, I would probably call him crazy. But if he told me that I could have the $1 billion, he might pique my interest for a moment. I’d want to see some sort of proof or obtain some form of collateral, but he would have my attention. Here’s the bombshell: he tells me that to obtain the treasure, I would have to spend an indeterminate amount of time cleaning his house, mowing his lawn, doing other various chores, and finally giving him 10% of my annual income.

Well, screw that. Sure he lets me play basketball on his nice court, gives me a meal once in a while, and takes me on his annual ski trip with his family, but I’d still want some sort of evidence that the $1 billion actually existed before I donated vast amounts of my time and resources to obtaining it.

I know this isn’t a direct parallel to the god belief that so many among us hold, especially considering that the rewards of most modern religions don’t come until after death (if at all). Add in to that the uncertainty of whether our actions are predetermined or based on free will, and you have an even stickier situation which should give more people pause before devoting their livelihoods to the religion of their choice. Unfortunately, it does not.

People, for the most part, tend to carry on the beliefs of their ancestors and hold them dear without ever taking a moment to question them (After all, questioning those beliefs is a sin in itself.) What does it take to actually get someone with such a deeply internalized belief to question it? A traumatic experience? A trip to rock bottom? Too often, these events further entrench beliefs rather than diminish them.

I guess atheists need to start having a ton of babies.

Who Was Not Nice To Whom?

Like many others on Twitter, I track certain keywords in discussion. I saw the following message posted by @nicks_fix on Twitter yesterday.

RT @johnsykes1035 The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful and has nobody to thank. – Dante Gabriel Rossetti

I responded to her with a simple truth. For her, I’m sure “truth” means something else, but for me, it means “representing reality.”

@nicks_fix When does this ever occur? I am thankful most of the time, and I thank those around me that make my life better every day.

Her response:

@godispretend That is wonderful! We all find our own path, & i’m glad you have found joy in yours 🙂 Have a great day!

Nice enough, but my purpose in replying to her wasn’t to point out that I, as an individual, have been able to be thankful. My point was that she was promoting hateful ideas intended to classify atheists as people with no joyful expression in their lives. So I responded.

@nicks_fix I just hope you realize how elitist you sound when you make blanket statements about those with different beliefs than you.

(Yeah, I said elitist.) She got offended and immediately flees to the moral high ground where she is safe and cozy.

@godispretend You know, I answer u back in a kind way & u clog my stream up by calling me elitist #notnice

So apparently, one reply to call her on her bullshit “clogs” her stream. She must not get very many @ replies. And it’s not surprising. If you check out her tweets, it’s nothing but a shitload of retweets from Tea Party assholes and Fox News. Out of curiosity, I headed over to TweetStats to see how many original ideas she actually contributes to the Twitterverse. 88.24% of her tweets (at the time of posting) are ReTweets. 11.76% are @ replies to other users. That leaves… anyone?… ZERO PERCENT of tweets that are not other people’s words or referencing other users. If one of us is doing anything to “clog” Twitter, it is her.

IM Conversation from Long Ago

This may not make that much sense, as this conversation most likely transpired at odd hours of the morning, however, I hope it correctly illustrates the ridiculosity of the nomenclature people insist on using for their time-honored traditions.

Megan: may the lord be with you
Me: wait, do i want the lord or his son
Me: if jesus is the king of kings, does that makes god the king of the king of kings
Megan: or just the father of king of kings
Megan: maybe mary had the royal blood
Megan: maybe she is the queen of king of kings

On a separate note: I have completed my move. The positives include: not living out of boxes and enjoying less stress in my life. The negatives include: I’m still in the Bible Belt so I probably won’t be enjoying less stress in my life.