Strange and Curious Sects: Koreshanity


Cyrus Reed Teed, a.k.a. the Prophet Koresh. Public-domain image from Wikipedia.It seems that every religion has at least one signature bizarre belief: whether it be that the messiah is an American soldier who will return from across the ocean bringing marvelous cargo, or that human beings are possessed by the ghosts of murdered aliens, or that God wants us to transform him into crackers and consume him each week. But for sheer extravagant, defiant wackiness in the face of obvious … [Read more...]

New on Ebon Musings: Dating the Good News

I've uploaded a new essay to Ebon Musings, "Dating the Good News". This essay attempts to fix a date of composition for the New Testament's four canonical gospels based on documentary evidence, both positive and negative, and draws some conclusions on what this date tells us about the evolution of early Christianity.This is an open thread. Comments and discussion are welcome. … [Read more...]

The Contributions of Freethinkers: Frances Wright

Although the success of the feminist movement has secured equal legal rights for women virtually everywhere in the West - a guarantee de jure, if not always de facto - there are still pockets of institutionalized sexism that survive. The Catholic church is the most obvious example, but other Christian denominations also deny the equality of women, such as when over 100 Southern Baptist bookstores refused to display a magazine about female pastors.By contrast, the freethought movement has … [Read more...]

The Story of Atheism

In my previous post, I wrote some thoughts on the power of storytelling and how atheists can use it to our benefit. In this post, I intend to apply those principles to tell a story: the story of atheism.Because gods are fundamentally human creations, this is also a story of humanity. It opens in the time when the human race was newborn, when we had first come of age as conscious beings who could look around and conceptualize the world. I don't know the exact nature of the beings in whose minds … [Read more...]

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...]