A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S
A A N E W S
#1281 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 10/05/09
A Service of AMERICAN ATHEISTS, a nationwide movement that defends
civil rights for non-believers; works for the total separation of
Church and State; and addresses issues of First Amendment public
"ATHEIST is really a thoroughly honest, unambiguous term, it admits
of no paltering and no evasion, and the need of the world, now as
ever, is for clear-cut issues and unambiguous speech."
-- Chapman Cohen
In This Issue...
* The Other Side of Blasphemy
* Worth Noting -- An Atheist Christmas, Travolta done with
* Dave's blog
* About this list...
THE OTHER SIDE OF "BLASPHEMY" -- WHY ATHEISTS NEED TO DEFEND
FREE SPEECH FOR THE RELIGIOUS, THE IDIOTIC, THE EXTREME --
Regular readers of AANEWS will likely recognize the names of Ray
Comfort and Benny Hinn.
Mr. Comfort is a professional evangelist and minister with a
penchant for debating Atheists and other non-believers. He was
ostensibly raised without religious beliefs, and once declared, "I
went through life without any Christian instruction at all. I went
to church about three times in about twenty years. I hated it.
I found it was an insult top my,your intellect."
Not for long, however. After "finding Jesus," he became a preacher
in his hometown of Christchurch, New Zealand, and embraced an
aggressive proselytizing style he describes as "Biblical Evangelism."
He teamed up former child actor and adolescent heart throb Kirk
Cameron -- a self-proclaimed former Atheist -- to launch and
international ministry which since 2002 has increasingly focused
on proselytizing and converting Atheists, Freethinkers and other
religious skeptics. Indeed, Mr. Comfort was a guest speaker at
the 2001 National Convention of American Atheists in Orlando,
Florida where he debated then-National Spokesperson Ron Barrier.
Comfort and Cameron are also regular headline grabbers for their
latest project which involves distribution of anti-evolution
materials on select college campuses next month during the 150th
anniversary of Charles Darwin's opus, "The Origin of Species."
Mr. Hinn is an even more colorful character, a swashbuckling
televangelist, faith-healer and showman who operates a number of
international outreach programs under the banner of "World Healing
Center Church, Inc." and Benny Hinn Ministries. His daily half-hour
television program, "This is Your Day" reaches over 100 countries,
According to an investigation by the NBC program "Dateline," Mr. Hinn
has not provided credible information attesting to the efficacy
of his faith-healing performances; but reporters did confirm that
Hinn resides in a $10 million "parsonage," and has a disposition
for staying in $10,000-per-night hotel suites during "layover" in
his ministry travels. Hinn's labyrinth of international companies
and the protection afforded to religious corporate entities make it
difficult if not impossible to accurately ascertain just how much
money he is taking in from credulous followers -- but it must be
substantial in order to support his high-profile lifestyle.
We mention Ray Comfort and Benny Hinn because they are not only
regular newsmakers but are also part of the contentious and growing
debate over "blasphemy" and freedom of speech.
With Atheist and other nonbeliever organizations prospering,
Mr. Comfort's bombastic claims about the evils of questioning
the existence of God and the doctrines of religion seem be having
little impact. Secularism is on the rise, and the percentage of
Americans who identify themselves has having no religious beliefs
is growing. Even so, some of our comrades in the struggle for
Reason and secularism are succumbing to the temptation to use
the legal system to circumscribe religious speech, insisting that
criticism -- or outright insult directed at Atheists -- is a form of
"hate speech." One recent example is the threat by a Texas-based
Atheist to sue Mr. Comfort and his ministry for distributing an
unflattering bumper sticker. (The full background can be found in
the links listed below).
As for the flamboyant Mr. Hinn, he is back in the headlines after
being refused entry into Great Britain under laws designed to contain
religious extremism. Thousands of Mr. Hinn's contributors --eh,
make that supporters -- who had flocked to London to take in Hinn's
colorful performance were disappointed according to the Telegraph
newspaper. Hinn was reportedly turned away by border officials
because he failed to produce documents of "sponsorship" by his
church. That explanation, however, ignores the fact that Hinn and his
traveling miracle fest have stumped the British countryside before.
"He's been coming here for years and years," groused one follower.
"I think it is very unfair that they have blocked him now."
Indeed, the action taken against Mr. Hinn is unfair. British
authorities have little to say about the matter; but this incident
suggests that the government remains nervous about the possibility
of religious tensions in a nation where the "official" Church of
England has lost its privileged position, and Islam -- thanks to
mass immigration -- is on the rise. If separationists take the
position that church, mosque and temple must not mingle in the
affairs in the state, the state must not mingle in theirs.
And why exclude Benny Hinn? His sideshow and outrageous claims
pale in comparison to that presented by the Pope Benedict and his
predecessors. Were a mainstream Protestant or Mullah from outside
the country, or the Dali Lama, to seek entry they would likely
be welcomed with open arms. Why pick on Hinn? Are his effusive
claims any less reasonable than those made by mainstream faiths?
Critics of religion, in fact, should welcome Hinn. He is a
useful foil in pointing to the "dark side" of religious passions.
Incursions by American and other evangelicals have failed to reverse
the growing secularization in Britain and throughout most of Europe.
Finally, banning Hinn or other controversial religious figures
simply fuels the credence of fundamentalist groups who might point
to the action of the government and claim that the state has become
"hostile" to religious freedoms and sensibilities.
A similar situation arises when Atheist and other nonbelievers
turn to the government to squelch religious claims and opinions.
In the Texas case, an Atheist argued that materials from Ray
Comfort's ministry were "hateful." They may be; but the First
Amendment protects such remarks, and courts place limit on speech
only under very specific cases such as "fighting words," libel and
slander. Religious groups continue their shrill clamor insisting
that governments enforce or create blasphemy statutes, such as
the recent Durban II international conference where Islamists
backed a wide range of restriction on remarks that criticized or
mocked their beliefs. Should the Freethought movement mimic these
Resorting to courts in the hope that anti-Atheist remarks can
be punished and banned makes us look as if we are defending
"just another religion." It undermines our claim that Reason and
free expression are the most efficacious antidotes to religious
dogmatism. Heading to court or hoping that, we too, can hide
behind restrictions on civil liberties makes us look as intolerant
as religious authoritarians.
Traditionally, Atheists have been in the forefront in the struggle to
defend freedom of thought and freedom of express. Charles Bradlaugh,
for instance, was founder of Britain's National Secular Society,
and led the fight to abolish the religious test for newly-elected
lawmakers in Parliament. In America, Freethinkers like C.B. Reynolds
spearheaded the effort to abolish arcane blasphemy laws which had
lingered on the law books for decades. That effort was part of a
legacy on behalf of freedom of expression which, in 1952, saw the
Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) strike down restrictions
on movies which purportedly had "sacrilegious content." These same
battles continue today in a different forms as nation states flirt
with new versions of blasphemy and censorship statues, or the UN
takes up the matter of giving religious beliefs special protections.
Atheists need to be in this fight. We also need to stake out and
defend a principled position which opposes government restrictions
on legitimate free speech. We have, too often, been the victims
of such legislative experiments, along with minority religions and
theological dissidents. The true alternative to "hate speech" and
"hurtful" remarks clearly remains more (not less) spirited discourse.
-- Conrad Goeringer
Web links used in this article:
"We may have to shut down Atheist Central"
Details about threatened legal action against Ray Comfort
Atheist threatens to sue Ray Comfort over bumper sticker An
articulate response on a proposal to sue on account of alleged
religious "hate speech"
Christian preacher refused entry to Britain under rules intended
to fight extremism Christian evangelist Benny Hinn, from Texas,
has been refused entry to Britain after falling foul of new rules
drawn up to combat hate crimes and extremism.
Wikipedia background on Benny Hinn
WORTH NOTING --
Travolta's Scientology Turning Point? The actor's public
acknowledgement that his son, who died in January, was autistic has
former Scientologists convinced that he will leave the church-which
they say has little tolerance for chronic conditions.
<http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2009/sep/29/atheist-guide-christmas-religionAtheism>s open-door policy On Friday, Cif belief editor Andrew
Brown wrote, "It is entirely possible that Ariane Sherine's book
on enjoying an atheist Christmas will sell this Christmas; but come
the new year, it won't be found on the bookshelf in the toilet but
in lavatories nicely warmed by Agas." His assertion is that atheists
(or "new atheists", as he confusingly calls us - are we the ones who
refuse to stay quiet?) are "educated and professional" snobs, and
that we use our lack of belief as an excuse to look down on people
who are working class: "Obviously, it is no longer done to sneer at
the working classes for being idle, brutish, smelly, and breeding too
much. But it's perfectly OK to sneer at 'faith heads' for all these
things: that shows you're enlightened. It's pure coincidence that
the despicable believers are for the most part lower class as well."
Four-Winged Dino Clinches the Case for Bird Evolution A feathered
dinosaur unearthed in a Chinese quarry has added another solid piece
of evidence to the theory that birds descended from dinosaurs. The
newly uncovered fossil of the species Anchiornis huxleyi dates from
the Late Jurassic period, 151-161 million years ago, and therefore
predates the earliest known bird, the Archaeopteryx. Paleontologists
say this represents the final proof that dinosaurs were ancestral
to birds. "Drawing the tree of life, it's fairly obvious that
feathers arose before Archaeopteryx appears in the fossil record"
[BBC News], says paleontologist Michael Benton.
Atheist reviewer takes on scholar's look at Jesus, Bible minusRusty
is a Faith & Reason regular who likes to stick a pin in conventional
views fairly often. So he's picked an author for the Book Club
who's well matched to his inquisitive ways.
Coalition of atheists puts out call on billboard MORGANTOWN, W.Va. --
Members of Morgantown's recently formed Coalition of Reason have
a simple message: If you don't believe in God, you aren't alone.
Oh, Damn! Blasphemy Day Looks for a Target Today, September 30,
is Blasphemy Day, and if that makes you want to curse, then the
Center for Inquiry may be the place to register your epithet -- or
send a donation. It all depends on your point of view, and whether
you want to complain about an atheist whose beliefs you can't stand
or denounce a divinity you don't believe in.
International Blasphemy Day: from Danish cartoons to Jerry Springer
-The Opera International Blasphemy Day, 30 September, is intended
"to remind the world that religion should never again be beyond
open and honest discussion". It marks the anniversary of the 2005
publication of the 12 Danish cartoons that depicted Mohammed and
led to worldwide riots. Its founders want to "dismantle the wall
which exists between religion and criticism
A struggle for the hearts and minds of "fundamentalist atheists"
Who knew there were "fundamentalist atheists?" In a rebuke of the
group he founded, Center for Inquiry Transnational creator Paul
Kurtz says in an essay that a blasphemy contest sponsored by CFI
"is not dissimilar to the anti-semitic cartoons of the Nazi era."
Oldest "Human" Skeleton Found--Disproves "Missing Link" Scientists
today announced the discovery of the oldest fossil skeleton of a
human ancestor. The find reveals that our forebears underwent a
previously unknown stage of evolution more than a million years
before Lucy, the iconic early human ancestor specimen that walked
the Earth 3.2 million years ago.
Bible Verse Banner Banned From Football Games FORT OGLETHORPE, GA -
A Christian sign is banned from the football field and now hundreds
rally to voice their disapproval. For years Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe
cheerleaders have held a sign with a bible verse up before football
games. But now that has changed and fans, families, and people
of faith are not happy. "It's kind of angered all of us but it's
also upset us just because we work really hard, and we're trying
to encourage the football team, and the community and that's just
been taking away from us," Taylor Guinn, a L.F.O. cheerleader, says.
School district says it erred in allowing church permission slips
After complaints raised by a Muslim group, the school district in
Roseville said today it made a mistake when permission slips were
distributed to elementary school students that would allow them to
attend Bible classes in a Baptist church.
What Christians and Muslims Can Learn From the 'The Saint and the
Sultan' Forget the St. Francis of folklore - or Giotto, for that
matter -- and make way for a chapter of history that longtime Newsday
religion writer Paul Moses says, "in the language of the newsroom
. . . was covered up.'' His new book, "The Saint and the Sultan,''
reveals a Francis so opposed to the Fifth Crusade that he crossed
enemy lines on a peace mission in 1219 - and walked unarmed into
the camp of the sultan of Egypt, Malik al-Kamil.
Is Ricky Gervais' new film really atheist propaganda? The new film
from NSS honorary associate Ricky Gervais, The Invention of Lying,
has been accused of being little more than atheist propaganda. The
film is set in a world where there is no lying, until the character
played by Ricky Gervais tells his dying mother that she will go to
heaven and be with the angels, thereby inventing religion. Before
that, because everyone told the total truth, religion could not
Good Fences Make Good Neighbors In an attempt to blur the lines
between church and state, 33 churches participated in a nationwide
event called "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" in September 2008, prior to the
historic November election. The goal of this event was to trigger a
legal fight and ultimately overturn regulations that prevent places
of worship from supporting or opposing candidates for office.
President Obama Finds Greatest Support Among Atheists and Jews
Gallup's Daily Tracking for the month of September found that 65%
of American atheists, agnostics and non-religious approve of the
job Barack Obama is doing as president. The president finds his
greatest support from non-religious and American Jews.
2012, the end-of-the-world feature film that critics say is a
disaster all by itself. See the hilariously OTT trailer here The
world ravaged by fires, earthquakes, meteor showers and floods and
a heroic struggle for survivors. t sounds like something straight
out of Hollywood - and it is. This is the first glimpse of the
latest U.S. blockbuster, 2012. John Cusack leads an all-star cast,
featuring Danny Glover, Thandie Newton, Woody Harrelson, Chiwetel
Ejiofor and Amanda Peet struggling to stay alive when the Earth is
threatened with the biggest disaster man has ever known.
SILVERMAN BLOG SHAKING UP CYBERSPACE!
It is one of the fastest growing blogs in the
Atheist/Freethought/Secular Humanist community, and you can get in
on the discussion!
Dave Silverman, Communications Director for American Atheists is in
the Blogosphere at http://nogodblog.com. It's filled with insight,
wit, hot news, controversial opinion -- and polite, thoughtful
commentary. So join the conversation! Sign up (it's free) by
visiting http://www.atheists.org and click on the blog navigation
button, or go directly to http://nogodblog.com .
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ABOUT THIS LIST...
AANEWS is a free service from American Atheists, a nationwide
movement founded by Madalyn Murray O'Hair that defends the civil
rights of nonbelievers; works for the total separation of church
and state; and addresses issues of First Amendment public policy.
You may forward, post or quote from this dispatch provided
that appropriate credit is given to both AANEWS and American
Atheists. Please do not post complete editions of this
newsletter indiscriminately to news groups, boards or other
outlets. Edited by Conrad F. Goeringer (cg@). The
Internet Representative for American Atheists is Larry Mundinger
(lmundinger@). The President of American Atheists is
Ed Buckner (ebuckner@).
American Atheists, PO Box 158, Cranford, NJ 07016