The First Atheist Blogger?

by VorJack

I may have found a new hero.

In a post at Religion in American History, I just learned about an atheist newspaperman who I’d never heard of before. His name was Charles Chilton Moore (1837-1906), an atheist who modeled himself after his contemporary, Robert Ingersoll.

One major difference was region – Moore resided in Lexington, Kentucky, surely one of the holes in the Bible Belt. That’s where Moore started up his paper, The Bluegrass Blade, one of America’s earliest (the earliest?) papers that was explicitly atheist.

Thanks to the Library of Congress, I was able to find a few scans of the Blade online. Having read through a few, I realized that the Blade was very much a personal extension of Moore himself. Articles do not attempt a dispassionate or unbiased voice. Many articles deal directly with Moore’s own experiences.

Then it struck me: Moore was a 19th century blogger.

Consider this selection for the issue dated February 11th, 1900:

Fifteen hundred years ago, Constantine, who murdered his own wife and children, started the Christian religion.

From that day to this that religion has been the greatest curse that ever afflicted the earth.

This religion teaches that 6,000 years ago God made the first man out of dust – not even mud – and the first woman out of a bone; that God cursed the whole human race because a snake made the woman eat an apple; that God had a son by another man’s wife, and that he had this son murdered in order to keep himself from sending all the human race to hell.

This son taught that any man who did not believe that piece of ignorance and priestly lying would go to hell and burn eternally in fire and brimstone.

The Bible, in which these things are taught, favors drunkenness, murder, slavery, lying, stealing and lechery.

So you can see that Moore had mastered that cautious, non-judgmental tone that we bloggers are known for. Incidentally, all of this was just the lead in for his story about the assassination of William Goebel, the Governor of Kentucky.

Under the motto, “Edited by a Heathen in the Interest of Good Morals,” Moore published his paper for over twenty years, despite several stays in jail for blasphemy and related crimes. He advocated atheism, prohibition and women’s rights.

Were he alive today, I’m guessing he’d have a site on blogger that would make PZ Myers say, “You know, maybe you should tone it down a bit…”

The Dome Overhead
Bob Cargill on the Holy Grail
Atheists in the Evangelical Mind
I Cannot Tell a Lie
  • Baconsbud

    Here is proof that those called militant atheist aren’t new.

  • Fearglic

    I must research this historic figure further. Very interesting indeed. And a superb quotation!

  • mikespeir

    It’s a good thing he lived in the days before the Internet. One can only shudder at the monster he might have become! :)

  • The Nihilist

    I wondered whether he was Mac or PC? :P

    • Kalimeros

      PC, obviously, because being Mac user is a religion.

      • Moe Cho

        they attend the IChapel with steve jobs

        • DCtouristsANDlocals

          I think it’s more of a cult

          • Michael

            The Steve Jobs iCult of personality?

          • Revyloution

            Whats the difference between a religion and a cult again?

            I always forget.

            • Yoav

              Religions are the ones with a better PR department.

  • GDad

    This article made my morning. It’s scary that the picture looks like a friend of mine.

  • Colm

    Y’know, he even looks like PZ…

  • JonnyG
    • vorjack

      The full title is Behind the Bars; 31498. He mentions it several times in the Blade. It looks like American Atheist Press re-released it in 1990. Here’s the blurb:

      “Jesus Christ was a man exactly like I am and had a human
      father and mother exactly like I had.”

      Does that sound like a criminal statement? Should a person be
      sent to a federal prison for writing it? A man was _ and not in
      some far-off theocracy or dictatorship, but in the United States,
      a nation which guaranteed freedom of speech and of religion in its
      founding articles.

      Charles C. Moore wrote this account of his growth from
      minister to Atheist publisher while in federal prison in 1899,
      where he had been reduced from being the scion of a prestigious
      Kentucky family to merely prisoner number 31498. His account is a
      witty, chatty, but always compelling story.
      Paperback. 259 pages. Stock #5332

      Your best bet may be something like Albris or another used book site.

  • Yoav

    Being openly atheist in 19 century Kentucky, That takes a huge pair of brass balls.

    • Mike

      Being openly atheist in 21st century Kentucky, THAT takes a huge pair of brass balls.

      • Custador

        Damned right. Big iron-bound brass globes that clang like a death-knell as you walk.

        • DCtouristsANDlocals

          Most people in the south actually have those… dangling off the back of their pick-up truck. I wish I was kidding about this.

          • DCtouristsANDlocals

            Sorry, I should have said “many” instead of “most”

      • Brian

        That’s actually not really true at all. Grew up there openly atheist, never was any kind of deal with anyone.

  • Luke

    Nice find!

  • tea

    This guy is cool.

  • Andy

    In favor of prohibition?!?!?! Proof that Atheists can be evil too.

    • Revyloution

      Ya, that caught my eye too. I wonder what string of logic led him to think booze should be outlawed.

  • Josh

    Living in central KY, it kind of makes me proud of the region to read this.

  • Nathan

    That’s awesome.

  • Sgt Skepper

    The Bluegrass Blade was first published in 1884. G.W. Foote first published ‘The Secularist’, a short-lived publication in 1876, followed by the still published ‘The Freethinker’ in 1881. As such, I think he deserves the mantle of ‘first atheist blogger’, though I’m happy to be proven wrong!

  • Peter Cross

    Are you going to do a piece on Baron d’Holbach some time?

  • Erik

    PZ, tell us what you really think!

  • Proud Kuffar

    Stones big as cars. Yeah!

  • PZ Myers

    I couldn’t ask him to tone it down, I’d be too busy applauding.

  • Ty

    Wow, Daniel. PZ himself is reading your blog. I think that means you’ve won. Or that you’re going to hell. Or some mix of the two.

    • VorJack

      PZ and Ron Jeremy in a week. That means … actually, I don’t know what that means. I probably don’t want to know what that means,

      • Ty

        I think it’s fairly clear that they are the same person.

        • vorjack

          Hmmm. Can’t be. I think PZ only does cephalopod porn.

          • Ty

            You wouldn’t call that thing Ron has a tentacle?

  • PZ Myers

    Wait, what? The Hedgehog reads your blog?

    I am so jealous now.

    • Daniel Florien

      I think it was a drive-by comment; I doubt he’s a regular reader. It was on this post.

      • Roger

        Holy crap! How did I miss this post!

  • Holbach

    A good example of reason and sanity prevailing in spite of insane religion infesting everything with abject madness and misery. We owe a debt of gratitude to these few defenders of rational thought and behavior.

  • Ray

    Showing once again that the South and the US as a whole have regressed towards mindless fundyism in the last century. Read some of H.R. Mencken’s stuff, e.g. his reporting from the Scopes Monkey Trial:

    The meaning of religious freedom, I fear, is sometimes greatly misapprehended. It is taken to be a sort of immunity, not merely from governmental control but also from public opinion. A dunderhead gets himself a long-tailed coat, rises behind the sacred desk, and emits such bilge as would gag a Hottentot. Is it to pass unchallenged? If so, then what we have is not religious freedom at all, but the most intolerable and outrageous variety of religious despotism. Any fool, once he is admitted to holy orders, becomes infallible. Any half-wit, by the simple device of ascribing his delusions to revelation, takes on an authority that is denied to all the rest of us.

    This was published in the Baltimore Evening Sun on September 14, 1925. Can you imagine anything remotely similar being published in a mainstream media outlet today? Dawkins and Hitchens are milquetoasts by comparison. All those bedwetting theologians who are whimpering that Dawkins et al are being mean and nasty to them, should be on their knees thanking Jeezus that Mencken isn’t still around.

  • dweiums

    He couldn’t have been a blogger . . . they had no web. He had to be a plogger, since paper was his medium. :D

  • Flonkbob

    Another to add to my Pantheon of heroic people. He’s going to have to be right there with Robert Ingersoll. I wonder why I’ve never heard of Moore before? You can bet I’ll be digging up what I can now!

    Thanks for the heads-up!!!

  • Phil E. Drifter