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...]

Strange and Curious Sects: Sabbatai Zevi

Past editions of Strange and Curious Sects have explored religious splinter groups that came into existence relatively recently. Today's edition will focus on an older cult that still has lessons to teach us: the bizarre story of the would-be Jewish messiah, Sabbatai Zevi.Sabbatai Zevi was born in 1626, supposedly on the anniversary of the Roman destruction of the Temple, to a wealthy Sephardic Jewish family in Smyrna, modern-day Turkey. In his youth, he studied the Talmud and especially the … [Read more...]

Respectable Infidels

The Volokh Conspiracy has a fascinating excerpt from the writings of Anthony Comstock (HT, Dispatches from the Culture Wars):The respectable infidel is not even referred to, but simply those who stand in the forefront, zealous to be known as opposed to God and religion, and who by their blasphemous speeches and publications are putting to shame honest infidels. Every person must respect the infidel who says, "I cannot see nor understand these matters of religion as you do; I wish I could." … [Read more...]

Tainted Icons

More than most other belief systems, organized religion emphasizes tradition and continuity with the past. The historical figures who founded today's prominent churches are considered larger-than-life and thought of as possessing uncommon character and virtue. This is probably because religion is widely equated with morality; given this mistaken assumption, it follows that very religious people must also be very moral.But in fact, the opposite is true. Just as with the character of Jesus, many … [Read more...]

The Real Enemies of Christmas

As the holiday season approaches, the partisans of the religious right are ramping up their annual "war on Christmas" rhetoric, which seems to grow more disproportionate with every passing year. The latest example is this absurdly ignorant column, whose author apparently has never heard of separation of church and state (she wonders if the reason government buildings do not display Christian symbols is to punish Christianity for the Inquisition). She seems to think that banning religious … [Read more...]

Deo Vindice!

Deo vindice!Gott mitt uns!Deus vult!Allahu akhbar!Informed readers may recognize some or all of the phrases above. In case there are any you're not familiar with, here's a quick primer on what each of them means:"Deo vindice" is Latin for "God will defend us" or "God is our vindicator". It was the motto of the slaveholding Confederate States of America, and was engraved on their official seal. The CSA firmly believed that the Christian God was on their side in the American Civil … [Read more...]

Open Thread: Christianity and the Enlightenment

This is an open thread to address John's comment regarding Christianity and the origins of the Enlightenment. Comments and replies are welcome. … [Read more...]

America the Paradox

On this Fourth of July, I've been giving careful thought to what this day signifies. For Americans, this is a date that means more than barbecue grills in the backyard or colorful stars blossoming in the night sky, more even than patriotic music and red-white-and-blue flags rippling in the breeze. These are time-tested symbols, but if we do not look closely and remember, we risk seeing the symbols only and not the underlying reality at which they point.America's history is far more than … [Read more...]

Ancient Atheism

In my last post, I wrote about the explosive growth of atheism in recent decades. As the menace of the religious right has become increasingly clear, atheists have been increasingly driven to speak out in response and have become more visible. Viewing this trend, some commentators have erroneously concluded that atheism is a modern movement. But this is not so. Atheism is not a recent innovation. If we travel back into history, we can find clear evidence of atheists in many cultures and many … [Read more...]


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X