Robert M. Price on Westboro Atheists

For the April issue of Zarathustra Speaks, Robert M. Price has published a well-written essay describing what he calls “Westboro Atheists.” I agree with pretty much everything he writes, especially this:

This is why I cringe every time I hear about the latest attempts of the Freedom from Religion Foundation to scour every expression of faith from the public square.

He then goes on to write this:

Just today I dropped by Town Hall to pay my utility bill, under the wire, I might add, and I was disappointed to find the place closed in observance of Good Friday. But my instinct was not to get on the phone with the ACLU and to start legal proceedings. I believe that the FFRF and like-minded zealots are operating from a basic confusion. They see as a church-state issue what I believe is better understood as a culture-state issue. For local government to allow a manger scene on public property or to allow crosses to adorn veterans’ graves is in no way tantamount to a legal establishment of religion, though making churches tax-exempt probably is. Posting “Thou shalt have no other gods besides me” in public schools is.

That’s an interesting way of looking at things, which I hadn’t considered before. Of course, it’s possible that something can be both a church-state issue and a culture-state issue. In fact, it seems to me that that is the case. But there are church-state issues and then there are church-state issues. Do I think having God on U.S. coins is a church-state issues? Yes. Do I think it would be better if the coins dropped the reference to God? Yes. Do I think it’s a battle worth fighting? Not really; litigating God on coins strikes me as the church-state equivalent of a police officer giving out a speeding ticket to a driver for going 0.5 mph–half of one mph–over the posted speed limit. To put it bluntly, that strikes me as a bit anal retentive.

About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.

  • Keith Parsons

    Good post, Jeff. Yeah, one precious commodity that so often seems missing in these disputes–on both sides–is common sense. The town I live in, Friendswood, Texas was founded by Quakers (hence the “friends:) and is now run by Baptists. All meetings of the City Council begin with emphatically Christian prayer. The Town Hall is filled with goofy pictures giving us the Religious Right/David Barton crackpot version of U.S. history. You know–the one with those devout evangelical Christians the Founding Fathers on their knees beseeching divine guidance, etc. Also posted are lots of quotes about America being a Christian nation, etc. I grind my teeth whenever I go in there. Do I think it is right that a building meant for the use of all citizens of the town should have a tendentious, ax-grinding display representing one set of narrow views? No, but, like Jeff, I don’t see this as something worth creating a ruckus about.

    • Michael Newsham

      Except…while “in God we trust” was placed on coins to suggest that God was on the Union’s side in the Civil War, it was put on paper money at the same time it was adopted as the official motto of the US- instead of the Founders’ wonderful (and totally secular) “e pluribus unum” -in the 1950s specifically to differentiate between God-fearing America and those evil atheist communists (all the same, yes?).

      Just like the addition of “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance.

      On the coins… okay, it’s a slap in the face to the Confederacy, so that’s actually a plus….

      Elsewhere? It’s like the “time-honored tradition” of the Dixie Battle flag, which just happened to pop up at the time of the Civil Rights movement- these mottoes and symbols were specifically adopted to distinguish atheism from true Americanism.

  • ehj1919

    An indisputable historical fact: All nine of the world’s greatest rational thinkers, the grand theorist, quantum and relativity physicists, as confirmed theist wrote extensively about mysticism. When this fact was mentioned to Neil Godfrey he replied: “Rubbish! That a minority of scientist still cling to some form of primitive religious notions is of no significance whatever, except to modern day relics of cave-men superstition found among true religious believers today.” So there!! The official blogosphere reply?

    • g

      Who are these “nine greatest rational thinkers” and who decided that they’re the greatest?

      • ehj1919

        The founders and grand theorists of (modern and relativity) physics: Einstein, Schroedinger, Heisenberg, Bohr, Eddington, Pauli, de Brogue, Jeans, and Plank. Eddington: “Now the great difference between the old and the new physics is both the old and the new physics were dealing with shadows and symbols, but the new physics was forced to be aware of this fact — forced to be aware that it was dealing with shadows and illusions not with reality. The frank realization that physical science is concerned with a world of shadows is one of the most significant of recent advances” Sir Jeans: “The essential fact is simply that all of the pictures which science now draws of nature, and which alone seem capable of according with observational fact, are mathematical pictures . . . They are nothing ore than pictures — fictions if you like, if by fictions you mean that science is not yet in contact with ultimate reality. We are still (physical science) imprisoned in our cave, with our backs to the light, and can only watch the shadows on the wall.” Unable to see the fire at the mouth of the cave, the source of the shadows — The fire: God the source of all that is or ever will be.`

        • g

          (I’m having real trouble with the commenting system here; I submitted a lengthy response to this yesterday and again it vanished. Fortunately I kept a copy. My apologies, once again, if this turns into a duplicate. I’ve removed a couple of hyperlinks in case they were triggering some anti-spam thing. I’ve replaced them with things you can google for.)

          Those were all very very smart people, but they don’t seem at all like a credible list of the nine greatest ever rational thinkers. Einstein might well make that list; I’d be surprised if any of the others did, first-rate scientists though they all were. (In particular, I’ve no idea what Eddington is doing in the list. He was an important popularizer of relativity, but in no way an important theorist.)

          Einstein was not a theist. He used god-language metaphorically, as many physicists do. He wrote this: “The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still
          primitive legends.” (Once source of many: top Google hit for [[cnn einstein letter challenging]].)

          Schroedinger explicitly called himself an atheist, although he took an interest in Hindu mysticism. (For a bunch of quotations, see e.g. the Wikipedia page about him.)

          Bohr was an atheist; see e.g. top Google hit for [[celebatheists bohr]].

          It’s not clear what Pauli’s religious position was; he was probably some sort of deist. (There’s some useful information, not only about Pauli but also about some others on the list, at the top Google hit for [[heisenberg edge religion]].)

          Louis de Broglie (I’m guessing that’s who “de Brogue” is supposed to mean) was from a Roman Catholic family but was not religious.

          Heisenberg was a Lutheran. Eddington was a Quaker. Jeans was a Christian of some sort. So was Planck.

          So, at most five “confirmed theists” (dubiously counting Pauli) from your alleged list of nine actually seem to have been theists. It’s still not clear where the list came from; a list of the founding fathers of quantum physics could as easily have included, e.g., Dirac (atheist) or Born (born Jewish, baptized Lutheran, but apparently no more than nominally attached to any religion), both of whom seem to me like better candidates for inclusion in the list than, e.g., Eddington or de Broglie.

          Whatever your source of “indisputable historical facts”, I think you would do well to start disputing it.

    • g

      Who are these nine “greatest rational thinkers”, and who decided that they’re the greatest?

      (Apologies if this appears twice. I attempted to post something very similar a few minutes ago and it just vanished.)

  • John Hodges

    The reason WHY all this stuff is important and worth fighting over, is the underlying argument of the Theocratic Right: Our rights are a gift from God, therefore non-Christians have no rights. There can never be a right to do something condemned in the Bible. The U.S. is, was at the beginning, and always shall be a Christian Nation, therefore all this talk of “equal rights under law” is nonsense; The Creator of the Universe has ordained male supremacy and all that that entails.

  • Freedom Fighter

    Phelps is a hater.

    And so is Price.

  • ehj1919

    For any who may have missed it: Vridar has fashioned the classic descriptio9n of the human dilemma, the claim to be a THIEST: Neil Godfrey at the mention that some significant scientists as confirmed theists had had expressed their thoughts on mysticism: “Rubbish! That a minority of scientists still cling to some form of primitive religious notions is of no significance whatever, except to modern day relics of cave-man superstition found among true religious believers today.”
    Who are these scientists? See below. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++sts

  • Alex

    Glad to see Price taking such a responsible approach. I think he’s right about the tax issue and right about Atheist over-reaction to religious culture. Most Christians are harmless and much better to live with, than say radical muslims. Personally, I have found most Atheists and Agnostics to be good folks who simply don’t believe in a deity and look to science and reason to be their truth authorities. I don’t know if God exists or not, but I don’t think it’s a prerequisite to be moral and good and to “love your neighbor” etc. I think Price is right, as extremists in the “Christian” camp give Christians a bad name, so do some Atheist groups that over-reach. Now, tax exemption is a whole different ballgame. Much of the church is corrupt and many pastors misuse church funds and make a ton of money and should be taxed. I know, I’m a pastor’s kid and have seen it all. Many shady, corrupt pastors in “church”.