The Roots of the War on Christmas

This year, as they do every year, the religious right is engaging in its annual bout of paranoia and conspiracy-mongering over the supposed secular plot to ban Christmas. Fox News, Christian-right groups, and other outlets in the culture war publish TV segments like "Christmas Under Siege", books like John Gibson's The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought, and websites such as Defend Christmas.Judging by their hysteria, one would … [Read more...]

Strange and Curious Sects: The Millerites

Today's edition of "Strange and Curious Sects" concerns a now-defunct religious group, but one which has offshoots that survive to the present day. Like the stories of John Frum and Sabbatai Zevi, it's also a lesson in the almost limitless capacity of the human mind to rationalize away disappointment.William Miller was born in 1782 in Massachusetts. A voracious reader, he converted to deism when he was young, but his belief in an intervening god would be restored in the War of 1812. Miller … [Read more...]

To Bigotry No Sanction

In August 1790, Warden Moses Seixas of the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, wrote an address to the recently elected President George Washington. Jewish congregations were still an unusual phenomenon in America at the time, and Newport's was the new nation's largest. Seixas' letter expressed his congregation's gratitude to President Washington, and to America in general, for their willingness to uphold the separation of church and state and offer shelter and toleration to a minority … [Read more...]

In Praise of Massachusetts Liberals

In the 2004 American presidential campaign, the label "Massachusetts liberal" was used as an epithet by Republican against the Democratic candidate John Kerry. In the argot of conservatives, the term signifies a candidate who is unacceptably far left, out of the mainstream of American politics - as indicated by their association with the prosperous, well-educated, gay-friendly state of Massachusetts. (See Conservapedia, which, as always, is not a parody.)I find it interesting that this term … [Read more...]

Lessons from Niagara

In last month's post on the contributions of freethinkers, I outlined the life of the pioneering civil-rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois. Today, I want to focus on one aspect of Du Bois' life, one that still holds resonance for atheists and others continuing the fight for full equality for all people.In July 1905, Du Bois and some fellow civil-rights activists met at Niagara Falls, on the Canadian side of the border, to found the so-called Niagara Movement. Named not just for the location but for … [Read more...]

The Contributions of Freethinkers: W.E.B. Du Bois

It's often been observed that atheism, or at least outspoken atheism, seems rarer among America's black community than among American society in general. Although I don't know why that's true, I suspect that it may stem from the tendency of a minority group, especially one that's often discriminated against by wider society, to seek to preserve its heritage and uphold its distinctiveness by emphasizing a shared cultural identity.Regardless, it would be unfortunate if the black community in … [Read more...]

The Confederacy: A Christian Theocracy

I've been perusing an issue of CSA News, the newsletter of a Kansas creationist group, written by a charming fellow named Tom Willis who believes that supporters of evolution should be denied the right to vote. Willis also says that "the facts warrant the violent expulsion of all evolutionists from civilized society" and apparently sees nothing strange about believing that evolution inspired both socialism and predatory capitalism, as well as both right-wing fascism and left-wing communism. But … [Read more...]

In Praise of Judicial Activism

In Federalist no.10, James Madison wrote a famous passage about how a democratic republic must watch for the danger of becoming a "dictatorship of the majority":Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to … [Read more...]

Words That Burn

The winter of 1777-1778 was a bad time for the American revolutionary army. General George Washington had encamped his army at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania - an excellent position tactically, but a source of terrible misery and suffering for his weary, poorly equipped troops. The Continental Army was assailed by bitter cold and plagued by chronic shortages of food, shelter and warm clothes. Almost a fifth of the soldiers died of frostbite and disease, and the survivors' morale sank to its lowest … [Read more...]

The Contributions of Freethinkers: Albert Einstein

In 1999, Time magazine named Albert Einstein its "Person of the Century". The choice was understandable: In a global society increasingly underpinned by science and technology, perhaps no one person has had a greater individual impact on humanity's understanding of the cosmos. Among his many scientific contributions, he discovered the special and general theories of relativity, proved light's quantized nature by means of the photoelectric effect, and offered important support to atomic theory … [Read more...]


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