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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).

Creepy PVC Jesus

I saw this driving to Birmingham, Alabama this morning along Highway 280. I can only imagine what this abomination looks like lit up.

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On an unrelated note, here’s another image to ponder. This is of a box of limes at my old job. The passage referenced reads, “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” Is the sailfish saying that? What if Jesus came back as a sailfish. Would anyone take him seriously? J&J Produce just could help but muddy their packaging by adding an unrelated scripture reference. I mean, if you really going to do that crap, you could put something somewhat related, like Galatians 5:22.

Jesus Limes

Evangelicals Pray the Darndest Things

I hate it when people on Facebook post holier-than-thou prayer requests for people who have done them wrong. It seems like such an obvious cry of “Look how good of a Christian I am! I can forgive and forget!” Either way, I would like to post Matthew 6:5 for your consideration in viewing the following.

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

But then again, it’s sort of hard to be an evangelical without being somewhat of a complete braggart about your godliness.

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North Carolinians Seek to Bar Atheist From Office

cecilbothwellHere’s the gist: North Carolina’s constitution says that no one denying the existence of god can hold public office. The US Constitution says that there shall be no religious test for holding office. Which one trumps the other? I think that should be fairly clear, but to the residents of North Carolina that seem to be stuck in the 1600’s, it is a fight worth fighting. Never mind the fact that Cecil Bothwell was duly elected to the Asheville City Council.

In an article in the Asheville Citizen-Times, H.K. Edgerton, former president of the Asheville NAACP said, “I’m not saying that Cecil Bothwell is not a good man, but if he’s an atheist, he’s not eligible to serve in public office, according to the state constitution.”

Wait wait wait. Someone who is affiliated with the NAACP, an organization that seeks to preserve the rights of a group of people oppressed for generations, is now wanting to deny rights to someone? Who cares if it’s in the state constitution? It’s forbidden in the US Constitution. How hard is this, people? There’s even case law to back this up. In 1961, Maryland’s religious requirement was deemed unconstitutional as it violated the first amendment’s freedom of religion.

I suppose what irks me the most is that Christians never give pause to consider how they would feel if they were the ones being barred from holding office due to their beliefs. But they don’t consider that because they are in a healthy majority and don’t have to.