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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).

Atheists = 1, Kentucky = 0

Nelson-HahaIt’s been almost two weeks, so the most dedicated atheist newshounds out there will already have seen this. A Kentucky circuit judge ruled that the 2006 statute that created the State Office of Homeland Security is in violation of the establishment clauses in both the U.S. and Kentucky Constitutions.

Ten brave Kentucky residents and the American Atheists sued the state and WON! In their case, they successfully argued the following:

“It is clear that the purpose underlying the display of the plaque and the contents of Office of Homeland Security training materials is not to celebrate the historical reasons for our great nation’s survival in the face of terror and war. Its purpose is to declare publicly that the official position of the Commonwealth of Kentucky is that an Almighty God exists and that the function of that God is to protect us from our enemies. Consequently, a reading of the statute’s plain language makes that clear. Effectively, the General Assembly has created an official government position on God.”

Judge Thomas Wingate delivered an 18-page decision in favor of reason stating:

“The statute pronounces very plainly that current citizens of the Commonwealth cannot be safe, neither now, nor in the future, without the aid of Almighty God. Even assuming that most of this nation’s citizens have historically depended upon God, by choice, for their protection, this does not give the General Assembly the right to force citizens to do so now.””This is the very reason the Establishment Clause was created: to protect the minority from the oppression of the majority,” he wrote. “The commonwealth’s history does not exclude God from the statutes, but it had never permitted the General Assembly to demand that its citizens depend on Almighty God.”

I have to admit: I didn’t think Kentucky was going to do the right thing on this one. A tip of my hat to Judge Wingate for proving me wrong.

Glenn Beck is a Douche

First, let me state that Glenn Beck is a worthless blowhard that does not belong on any network. He makes flimsy arguments, and in true one-sided pundit fashion, he only ever has guests on to support his worldview to his sheep-like audience. On the off occasion that someone of a differing opinion joins him on screen, he treats them just like his network’s papa bear, Bill O’Reilly, and never lets them get a sentence out edgewise amid all of the interruptions, sour looks, and instant, fallacious refutations.

Glenn Beck is to logical discourse what the bubonic plague was to medieval longevity. He wouldn’t recognize a concrete argument if it sat on his face. I get douche chills in my spine just watching this short segment.

As with many examples of fundamentalist ideology that I present, this one is also replete with more flaws and fallacies than can reasonably be addressed given my limited time resources and the internet’s limited bandwidth resources. But as always, I’ll touch on a few of the more glaring cases.

“90% of us believe in God yet we seem to be pushed around by 10%”

This type of ignorance can only come from being deeply ethnocentric, as a fair amount of religious folks tend to be. When exactly have Christians been pushed around? It seems to me that when you send your children to a public, government-funded school, it doesn’t really matter what your opinion is on any matter, because in the end, the government will dictate the agenda for said school. Don’t like it? Send your kids to private school. Then they can pray all day long, have Bible study, do stations of the cross, play wholesome Christian sports, and learn to be a bigot in entirely new and creative ways.

“blah blah some people want to remove God from this country altogether. Right here. This nation under God.”

We have only officially been a “nation under God” since 1954, when that phrase was legislated into existence after pressuring from religious groups. To quote the Rev. George Macpherson Docherty:

“These words [‘under God’] will remind Americans that despite our great physical strength we must remain humble. They will help us to keep constantly in our minds and hearts the spiritual and moral principles which alone give dignity to man, and upon which our way of life is founded.”

Riiiight. Or they will be used by religious fanatics to insist that this country has been officially blessed by an all-knowing God, thus making us his second group of chosen people.

“You can’t even use the word ‘prayer’ in school.”

Wrong. You are wrong. The decision of the judge in Illinois did not ban prayer from schools, or ban the use of the word ‘prayer’ in schools. Children can do whatever they like during moments of silence. If they want to pray, that should be something that they would have wanted to do with that time anyway. They should not need to be instructed on the various ways in which 30 seconds can be used. Leave them to their imaginations. I’m sure toddlers can figure it out on their own. If their depth of faith is so great that they want to submerge themselves in prayer, they will do so. If they want to color, they will do so.

“Are the children of atheists so fragile that the idea of prayer could actually warp their minds?”

No they are not. Children of atheists, for the most part, already have a good foundation in logic and critical thinking. However, all children are extremely impressionable, and were it not for their parents dictating to them what they must believe to go to Heaven after death (another concept they probably haven’t even fully come to terms with) they wouldn’t even espouse such beliefs.

That’s it. I’m spent. I’m only 1:17 into this video, and I can’t suffer any more. What is your favorite piece of ‘wisdom’ from Glenn or Jimmy Dobs in this video?

Kentucky Calls Upon God to Protect Homeland

A 2006 piece of homeland security legislation passed by the Kentucky legislature stressed God’s role in protecting the state from evil-doers. The legislation contains a clause the dictates that a plaque be posted in the Office of Homeland Security that states that the state’s safety “cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God.”

American Atheists has filed a lawsuit seeking to remove the offending verbiage. I don’t really care to discuss the actual legislation. What bothers me more are some of the comments posted by viewers of the WKYT website on this particular story.

Check out some of the bits of wisdom from the loving citizens of Kentucky:

This is Proposition 8 all over again. It isn’t a matter of 10% controlling the laws. It’s about 90% remembering that the 10% does, in fact, EXIST. We’ll work on respect for the 10% later. I’ll be satisfied with a recognition of existence for now. (Odd, huh? An atheist seeking recognition of existence.)

I don’t even have words.

Will it?

That’s interesting. I have a quote from Thomas Jefferson that says, “Shake off all fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God, because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.” What about one by James Madison that asks and answers an important question, “What has been Christianity’s fruits? Superstition, Bigotry and Persecution.”

I’ll leave you with that one. Please visit the site and read some more of the comments. Feel free to post a comment with your favorite reader nonsense.