Ulterior Motives
And Bush's
Faith-Based Initiative
Phillip Duggan

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Phillip Duggan"
Subject: Re: Positive Atheism Questions
Date: October 29, 2001 7:14 AM Ringold Ringgold

They need not be secret about anything. In case you haven't noticed, the hysteria that they've generated for their "war" has made it open season on the Constitutional protections of our Religious Liberties (as well as the Right to Privacy and our protections against excessive police force). If you remember, Income Tax was originally a war effort, to be abolished once the emergency was over. Right! The only good thing to come of all this is that the draconian War On Some Drugs has finally been put into perspective.

Bush, believe it or not, has been busier implementing his faith-based scheme since the Day of Atrocity than ever before. Crucial to his success are two things: precedent and public opinion. He has been setting unprecedented precedents in the form of his calls to prayer and in the form of Congress okaying the song "God Bless America," now the anthem of the movement, to unravel our Constitutional protections against religious intrusions at the hands of the government.

In doing this, Bush and his supporters will have a much easier time after the "emergency" subsides. What he's doing now is an "investment," so to speak, for when he can get back to the business of overturning the United States Constitution and implementing some variant of the Christian religion in its place.

Bush's call to war against (whoever -- he calls it "the evil one") is guaranteed to whip the public into a frenzy, and Bush knows this. He also knows that he doesn't need to do this in order to gain support for retaliatory moves against the groups responsible for the terrorist attacks: we're behind him one hundred percent on that and he knows it.

What he's doing is sure to bring false loyalty to the United States, as represented by his specific picture of what America is all about. This loyalty would not exist apart from this "state of emergency" that we're currently in. Since he does not need to motivate the American public to support his retaliatory effort, he must have something else in mind, something that has little if anything to do with terrorism. By examining his record as a Governor, his campaign, and his first eight months in office, it is easy to see what this "something else" might be: the unraveling of the Constitutional protections against government-sponsored religion!
 

The McCarthy Era: Similarities and Differences

Senator Joseph McCarthy did the same thing during the 1950s.

By fuelling the people's fear of nuclear attack and generating a vicious "us-versus-them" polarity against the Soviet Union, McCarthy diverted attention from the day-to-day running of America -- including the defense of her Constitutional principles. The Christians moved in and we now have many new laws making life much easier for organized religion than it is for the rest of us.

One key difference between Bush and McCarthy that I must point out: While McCarthy openly admitted that he sought to polarize Christian against Atheist, Bush denies having this as his motive. In 1950, McCarthy said, "Today we are engaged in a final, all-out battle between communistic atheism and Christianity." Bush repeatedly denies that we're fighting any religion in this "war." Although he once described the "tyrants and dictators" of pre-World War II as godless (such people "will accept no other gods before them"), he falls short of waging any moves against Secularist forces. Rather, Bush leaves this rhetoric for his key supporters, and no shortage of anti-Secularist rhetoric is found in their propaganda.

Falling short of going up against "Secularist forces," Bush instead portrays organized religion as the victim of some sort of discrimination plot in the fierce competition for lucrative charity funding contracts: "The days of discriminating against religious institutions simply because they are religious must come to an end."

No, it's not like that, George! We must prevent our government from endorsing religion because that's the one way that we know of that guarantees Religious Liberty for all! Meanwhile, time has shown that the people will support private charitable efforts be they religious or not; even atheists are well known to have contributed generously to religious charities -- even if they make no bones about the fact that they're doing this primarily to propagate religious faith! They'd probably do even better if they stuck to the business of charity, but this is not what is happening. Therefore, if you can assure us, George, that your plan will not dismantle the principles protecting our Religious Liberties -- that is, if you can convince us that we will retain the right not to have to financially back the presentation of a religious message with which we disagree -- then we'd probably go along with your plan. Thus far, though, you fall far short of this; as a result, you've had to use various forms of trickery in order to push your proposals past the watchful eye of the public. That your opponent, Al Gore, expressed a similar contempt for the United States Constitution's protections of our Religious Liberties probably explains the record levels of voter apathy during Election Year 2000.
 

What Hath McCarthy Wrought?

Two famous changes came out of the hysteria of the McCarthy Era: "In God We Trust" and "under God." Slipped into place while the entire nation was buzzing around frantically like a hornet's nest that just fell out of a tree, we have never been able to put these two things back the way they were originally intended. The "Christian Nation" revisionists give much lip service to the notion of the original intent of the Founders, but this is only true when the Founders appear to have agreed with the changes that the "Christian Nation" revisionists seek to implement. Had these powerful forces of organized religion really cared about the original intent of the Founding Fathers, we would have the original Motto and the original Pledge of Allegiance: nobody would be marking our bills, blotting out "In God We Trust," and only the Jehovah's Witnesses would be objecting to the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in the public schools.

The first change was that of our National Motto from "E Pluribus Unum" ("Out of Many, Unity") to the patently divisive "In God We Trust." The Motto "E Pluribus Unum" was devised by a subcommittee consisting of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin, and epitomizes what America used to be all about -- the Great Melting Pot, if you will. In fact, it's not even a melting pot, but rather a place where we should be able to live in peace and equality and still be ourselves, not having to conform to any conventions except to abide by the laws protecting person and property.

Thus, in 1964, our mints were tooled up to print money that said "In God We Trust" on it. Before that you saw "In God We Trust" here and there, mostly on insignificant coins and never on bills, rotated with other innocuous and inane slogans such as "Mind Your Business." Some "Christian Nation" revisionists will point out that the new motto was published on the money in 1957, and this is true, but this only happened on a few presses at a few mints, and only to the $1 bill. 1964 was when the big change occurred, when the Federal Reserve system replaced the Silver-backed Certificates. The joke was that without a storehouse of silver to back our notes, we'd better invoke the protection of God!

The second most famous change to come during the distraction of the McCarthy Era was to insert the words "under God" into our Pledge of Allegiance. By about 1960, this law finally trickled down into reality and began to be practiced in the schools (once we'd realized that they'd actually done this -- that this was not a dream -- that there was no turning back). Before then, before about 1960, the kids had chanted,

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"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all."

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Had I been born a year earlier, I would have been old enough to have chanted the original Pledge in a classroom setting.

Having been made aware of my atheism at an early age (by the second-grade kids who pounced on me for being neither Catholic nor Protestant), I stopped saying the Pledge in about the fourth grade. Even at that young age, I had a sense that the authorities could be wrong, and I had a sense of being willing to accept punishment in the course of standing up for what's right. Interestingly, I never was disciplined for not saying the Pledge, but was for not saying the fourth grade prayer! Go figure! By the seventh grade, I knew very few kids who did recite the Pledge, and by the eighth grade, the schools had stopped making us say it.

For the reader's perspective, I graduated from high school in 1974 and spent all of my school years in San Diego, California.
 

When addressed to me, this is more a question of why I would support such groups at all, plus which criteria I would use in deciding to support one over another.

As you may have read in the letter, "Why Advocate For Individual Activists?" with Argentinean Skeptic Juan De Gennaro (who helped me formulate the response, by the way), I have never been much of a fan of atheist organizations. That is, I don't see any reason for forming an atheists-only alliance. Instead, I see several things that need to be done, and think that none of these needs are exclusive to atheists.

For example, of those Americans who support groups which advocate for the separation of religion from government, I would wager that more of those supporters are theists than are atheists. Even after you compensate for the fact that there are more theists than atheists, I would venture to guess that more theists (per capita of theists) support Separationist organizations than atheists (per capita of the total number of atheists). This is a simple matter of the fact that theists have much more to lose by government intrusion into religion and government support not only of competing religious groups but of their own groups as well. Most atheists realize that the invocation "In God We Trust" has no power beyond the message it sends to the young and the immature among us, pretending that the United States is something that she is not: a government which endorses religion over irreligion.

For this reason, I think that atheists who wish to struggle for the separation of religion from government do well to join the established organizations that have been erected to do this work. My personal taste would be that if all other things were equal, I would choose a group which allows theists over an atheists-only group. This is not always possible: sometimes the atheists-only group is clearly the best choice (for whatever reason: it could be as simple as the atheists-only group meeting across the street versus the other group meeting in the next county, but you don't drive a car). However, all things being even remotely equal, I would choose the open group over the exclusive group.

However, I do recognize that some atheists do feel they benefit from affiliation with atheist groups, so I do not oppose the notion of atheist groups, per se, I simply fail to see a reason for being involved in one myself.

The two atheist-only groups that I consider close allies in my work are American Atheists and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. There are others, but I have worked with these two groups for almost a decade. Although I like the current style of AA better than I do the current style of FFRF, this difference is quite negligible when it comes to how I interact with the two groups.

Long before they found her remains, it had become clear that Madalyn Murray O'Hair was not coming back. At that time, shortly before they moved AA headquarters to New Jersey, some leaders at American Atheists contacted me and asked my opinion on the practice of denouncing religion. This style of atheistic activism had been popularized most recently by O'Hair, but dates back to Robert Green Ingersoll, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mark Twain, Thomas Paine, Voltaire, Anne Newport Royall, Baron d'Holbach, and even Epicurus, Diogenes and a few other ancient Greeks.

My position has always been pretty clear: I have never been one to openly bellyache about religion. I have always needed a reason to complain, and usually limited myself to commenting on specific acts done by religionists in the name of religion. I said that AA would have to work hard to overcome the reputation for the spiteful, vindictive approach to theism for which O'Hair is most known. In one of my first editorial columns, I said that O'Hair "may have taken the public's image of Atheism back to the stone age with her attitude" ("Can Atheism Be Positive?").

Shortly after these discussions, American Atheists came out with a two-point Mission Statement. The purpose of AA is to struggle for the separation of religion from government and to address issues of atheist dignity. No more would American Atheists criticize religion just for being religious. This began a very fruitful alliance between that organization and myself which includes them giving me an honorary membership in AA and me giving their library a lifetime subscription to PAM with back-issues (which I still have yet to print up and send to them, I'm embarrassed to say).

While the Freedom From Religion Foundation has made some wonderful advances toward both the dignity of atheism and the separation of religion from government, they have not taken a stand regarding the gratuitous and indiscriminate castigation of religion. Now, I would say that between the three of us, no one entity does this more or less than any of the others; in fact, I think I've indiscriminately denounced religion at least as much as FFRF has (since I took a stand, anyway). However, I think it is important to recognize this problem and to take a stand even though we may not fulfill our commitment one hundred percent. Perhaps FFRF has made this commitment and I've missed it. I do know that PAM and AA have both made this commitment and I believe we have both done a pretty good job at keeping our word. AA even goes further than I do in that they will not argue with theists who make claims whereas that is one of the more popular features of our Forum. However, with the Forum in place, PAM really has no need to comment on religion beyond our own reaction, in the Forum, to those specific claims which come our way. Occasionally they will trickle over into the monthly column, but these always start out as a real response to a real challenge that had been sent to our Inbox.

I have had unpleasant relationships with a few atheist groups, and I do find the approach of more than a few atheist groups detrimental to our stated goals (and quite disgusting, to say the least). However, this write-up will not become an opportunity to comment any further than to mention that this problem exists.
 

I don't quite understand this question.

I know that the Flag Desecration Amendment is most unpatriotic. If you want to bust people for burning flags, bust them for burning flags that don't belong to them. Most in America who would burn a flag probably stole the flag. If you own a flag, sew an identifying something-or-other into one of the seams near the ring. Then, if somebody steals it and burns it, you'll be first in line for a piece of their sorry little hide.

But don't make the act of burning a flag itself a violation of the law. The American flag symbolizes the very right to burn the American flag, it symbolizes Liberty of Speech, freedom of expression. When the Enlightenment Era philosophers conceptualized Liberty of Speech, what they had in mind, specifically, was the right to criticize one's government without fear of retaliation from that government.

These are the same greedy bastards who have installed all this religious mumbo-jumbo into our public (government) life. We gave them "In God We Trust" and that not only wasn't enough for them, they took our very act of giving them "In God We Trust" and used it as a weapon to get more! They did this by pointing to the fact that we gave them "In God We Trust" and arguing that they therefore had the right to any number of other things that are as sternly forbidden by the Constitution as "In God We Trust" is. If we give these greedy SOBs the flag burning amendment, what's next? My George W. Bush page? Then what? England wants to make it the crime of "hate speech" to criticize religion! What!? You mean to say that "The Life of Brian" might go the way of child porn and snuff films? What have we come to?

But I'm not sure I understand your question, so I'll ramble a bit because I don't feel like going to bed just yet and because somebody's supposed to stop by and I think it might be Daylight Savings Time but I'm not sure and I forgot which way I was supposed to turn the clock even if it is.

I do know that a few extremely vocal Evangelical Christian groups (who are also greedy and patently dishonest) think that everybody ought to endorse and support their very narrow and somewhat immoral expression of religious morality. Thus they continually try to post an abridged rendition of the Protestant listing of the first tables of stone edition of the Hebrew Ten Commandments anywhere they can -- as long as it's posted on public property.

Note that the Three major religions that use the Ten Commandments each have different listings: the Protestants use Exodus 20: 3-17; the Hebrews use verses 2-17, counting verse 2 as a single Commandment; the Roman Catholics and Lutherans use verses 2-3 and 5-17, omitting verse 4 which prohibits carving and adoring images. The Bible, on the other hand, describes only one list as the "ten commandments," and that list is the second set of stone tablets, allegedly replaced after Moses destroyed the first set in a fit of anger. This second list can be found in Exodus 34:10-26. This list is entirely different from the others, and includes such prohibitions as "Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk." Very few people know about this list, for obvious reasons: it essentially destroys the integrity of the Ten Commandments story on the spot! But the main point of bringing this up is that it's almost always the Evangelical wing of the Protestants who wish to inflict their narrow religion upon the rest of us by posting an abridged version of their listing of the Ten Commandments. As a result, kids from the two other sects will see the "wrong" Ten Commandments posted in their classroom and on the lawn of their City Hall. Also, the people from those two other sects will be forced to sponsor and endorse a listing and version that they do not honor as correct.

The current compromise is that as long as it's mixed in with representations of other viewpoints, they can be posted. Other examples include the city of in Somerset, Massachusetts, which supported a rendition of the baby Jesus crèche. Offended atheists and others moved in, and the city included giant candy canes. This wasn't enough so they found one of those old 30-foot-tall statues of Paul Bunyan and decorated it to look like Santa Claus. This was dubbed "Santazilla," and the display was then secularized enough to pass muster with the Constitution. Christian purists, though were outraged. It wasn't enough for them to even be able to put the religious message in at all, they had to have it all: they couldn't even be happy with center stage, but had to be the entire show.

The most recent example of this was in Ringold, Georgia, where, along with two stone monuments, one inscribed with the Protestant rendition of the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) and the other inscribed with some rendition of the Protestant listing of the first tables of stone of the Hebrew Ten Commandments, these Christians erected a stone monument in honor of atheists.

Yes, you read me right: the Christians erected a stone plaque in honor of atheists! They did this to be fair, of course! (Of course!) The also did this mainly because without such diversity in their display, they stood no chance of convincing the government to endorse their narrow religious views by allowing them to erect the Lord's Prayer and the Ten Commandments.

So, now, you're probably asking just what could possibly be an arrogant, exclusiveistic Christian group's idea of dignifying atheists? What could they place on a monument would get their pointed, condescending message across but is something that would probably make the atheists look like complete toads for opposing? Here's what they did: they erected a plaque with nothing inscribed on it!

Why? Because, they insist, the atheist "believe in nothing." These Christians had the audacity to post a blank monument honoring atheists! And they did this on public property, meaning that atheists who live in Ringold have endorsed this offensive message by virtue of their citizenship, this having been done in the citizens' name on public property.

The list goes on almost forever. Some Christians want the kids to be allowed to pray in school. First, the kids may already pray in school! In fact, Muslim kids who want a private place to pray during the specific times that Muslims set aside for prayer usually can obtain use of a private, unused room in the school for that purpose. If I were on the faculty of such a school and the kids couldn't find a room, I'd vacate my office for a few minutes and let them use it! and I'm not even religious, but I believe that firmly in Religious Liberty that I would go to that extreme to make sure all students had what they needed.

This is not what these Christians want, though. They don't want the kids to be allowed to pray in school, as is currently the case, otherwise, they wouldn't be trying to change the laws! What these Christians want is to make it so that all students are required to recite a prayer every morning.

This ritual would be a prayer, a rite highly regarded in the Christian religion but not in many others -- and certainly the height of foolishness and hypocrisy in atheism.

Such a prayer would be rote, done mechanically because the kids are required to do it, not because the kids feel an urge to pray. It would matter not whether some Christians believe that Jesus prohibited public prayer (Matthew 6:5-6) or that many atheists abhor hypocrisy or that many religions do not utilize prayer at all.

Such a prayer would be repetitious, being the same prayer each day, and not a prayer from the heart. It would matter not whether some Christians believe that Jesus prohibited repetitious prayer (Matthew 6:7) or that most atheists consider prayer to be pure foolishness or that many religions do not utilize prayer at all.

Such a prayer would be nonspecific, having been edited down so that it is not addressed to any deity in particular. It would matter not that most Christians believe that all prayer must be recited in Jesus's name or that practically all Jews and Muslims require prayer to directed to G-d and Allah respectively, or that the atheists' question of "To which deity have we been commanded to pray?" is only aggravated by the nonspecificity of the edited-down, politically correct prayer, or that many religions do not utilize prayer at all.

Such a prayer would be recited in "mixed company," so to speak, rather than in the company of one's fellow sect members. A strong case can be made that Jesus only ever prayed in private and that any time he brought up the topic, he always indicated that prayer is a private matter. Christians are also not to break bread (a ritual) with unbelievers or reprobates and are not to be yoked together with unbelievers. I would hope this applies to the most intimate of Christian ritual, the prayer. Other religions (such as Islam) do not consider the ritualistic prayer to be a private, per say, but don't they always pray only with fellow Muslims. Very few (extremely openminded) Muslims would pray, for example, with a Christian or a Jew.

The compromises for the atheist would be tremendous: if she or he is caught not praying, what will be the consequences, either from the authorities or from the other kids? But then, if she or he is seen praying, what will others think? "Ahh! You prayed! See? You really do believe, deep down inside!" We've had several Christians write to us who, if they did this to an atheist, I would not be in the least bit surprised. These are the same Christians who, as "proof" that America has always been a "Christian nation," have pointed to the words "In God We Trust" on our money and the words "under God" in our pledge!

Besides all that, one concept of prayer is shared between Christian and Muslim alike: both sects teach that all of one's thoughts must be focused upon God, directed toward God, and in praise of God. If this is the case, then why would they even need to set aside a special time to pray at the beginning of the class?

But the most important thing about this all is that it violates the Religious Liberties of all involved. The only ones who escape are those who believe that it is good for people to engage in rote, repetitious, heartless, and directionless prayer; those who believe it is good for such prayer to be recited in the mixed company of unwilling participants including members of other religions, people with no religion, and people who disdain anything religious; those who believe it is good for people to be coerced, under threat of law, into participating in such prayer.

Do you know anybody who would consider such prayer, practiced under those conditions, to be moral or good? I have met only a mere handful of humans who are that greedy and that conscienceless that they would even go along with such a scheme, much less endorse it.

And I cannot even fathom a human who is so utterly shark-like that they'd work to implement a program of coerced school prayer in any district or jurisdiction, somebody who would want to even expose a child -- any child -- to such brazen injustice.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
    people with no reason to believe

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