2013.12 Book Report: The Trouble with Christmas, by Tom Flynn

The Trouble with Christmas
by Tom Flynn, editor of Free Inquiry magazine
(Prometheus, 0-87975-848-1, 1993, 244 pages)

Summarized by Richard S. Russell

Where do our Christmas traditions come from?
  • Pre-Christian sources: evergreens (tannenbaum, holly, ivy, mistletoe, Yule log, strenae); candles; giving gifts; feasting; wassailing
  • Christian sources: midnight mass (Yup, that's all, folks!)
  • Post-Christian sources: everything else, almost entirely derived from the 6 DWAMQs (dead white Anglophone males and a queen) — Washington Irving, Charles Dickens, Queen Victoria, Clement C. Moore, Thomas Nast, and Francis Church, from 1830 to 1910. Subsequent, tho lesser, customs include the poinsettia (timed to bloom red on Christmas Day), electric lights for the trees, a national tree (Eisenhower), and innumerable TV specials.
How accurate is the Biblical account of Jesus's birth?
  • Neither unique nor original: Pre-Christian god-men sharing 1 or more of these characteristics — angelic annunciation, peri-solsticial birth; virgin mother; divine father; birth attended by signs and royal visitors; youthful prodigy acts; wonder stories as adult; persecution; grisly, untimely death; return from land of dead; silvan symbolism; solar symbolism — Osiris (Egypt), Horus (also Egypt), Attis (Phrygia), Adonis (Syria), Dionysus (Greece), Perseus (also Greece), Mithra or Mithras (Persia), Krishna (Hindu)
  • Unsupported by historial evidence: No historical record of Caesar Augustus’s great census, star in the east, or Herod’s massacre of the innocents. Also ahistorical is shepherds watching their flocks by night at any time of year other than lambing season, usually around April.
  • Contradictions between gospels: Jesus’s genealogy, whether Joseph and Mary lived in Bethlehem or Nazareth, whether there was a manger, who attended the birth, and where the family went afterward.
  • Contradiction within a gospel: Matthew’s “fulfilled prophecy” that the messiah should be named Emmanuel.
Are Christians generally fond of birthdays?
Actually, no; death is more Christian. Early Christians thot it blasphemous to celebrate birth (entry into the mundane world) and instead marked feast days of the saints on the much better recorded anniversary dates of their deaths (their entry into the divine world of the afterlife), including the biggest of them all, Easter.

Surely all Christians agree on the central importance of Christmas?
No, as usual, they leap at any excuse for a good fight. Puritans, Presbyterians, Quakers, and Baptists tried to squelch Christmas celebrations as unholy and unseemly in England and its colonies thruout the 17th and 18th Centuries. Anglicans, Catholics, and Lutherans, OTOH, reveled in the occasion, which is why George Washington chose Christmas Eve to cross the Delaware River, expecting to find the British and Hessians inebriated via celebration.

Who are those DWAMQs you mentioned?
  • Washington Irving wrote the “Knickerbocker history” of New York, describing a supposed Dutch cult of Saint Nicholas, who would ride a magic horse thru the sky distributing presents on his feast day. Irving later described an “old-fashioned Christmas feast” set in a fictional English manor.
  • Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, with its soppily sentimental conversion of the miser Scrooge. Even so, upon awakening from his dream, “In no time flat, [Scrooge] finds a little boy walking down the street who, on Christmas morning, has nothing better to do than run an errand for a stranger. Scrooge gives the child some money without the slightest worry that the butcher’s shop might be closed. His confidence is justified.”
  • The young Queen Victoria was wildly popular in England and set many social standards. A descendant of the German House of Hanover, she and her family celebrated the holiday with an indoor tree. “In 1847 few English households had trees; by Christmas 1849 trees were everywhere.” The silvacide has continued unabated ever since.
  • Clement Clarke Moore claimed to have written the poem A Visit from Saint Nicholas (AKA ’Twas the Night before Christmas), and Flynn is willing to concede authorship despite considerable doubt, but its influence on the legend of Saint Nicholas — essentially transforming it rapidly into a recognizably modern Santa Claus, complete with “8 tiny reindeer” — is unmistakable. But Claus was rotund, jolly, and secular, not the gaunt, severe Nicholas of the Christian tradition.
  • Thomas Nast was the greatest editorial cartoonist of the 19th Century. If an ordinary picture is worth a thousand words, his depiction of Santa Claus was probably worth a million. It gave form to the somewhat vague word picture of Moore’s poem. His first Claus appeared in an 1862 issue of Harper’s, delivering presents to the “good” Union soldiers. But he kept it up almost every year thereafter for 3 decades. He’s the one responsible for siting Santa at the North Pole.
  • Francis Church, an editorial writer for the New York Sun, was called upon by his publisher in 1897 to pen a response to 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon, who had inquired whether Santa was real. Under the heading “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”, Church opened with the observation that her friends “have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see.” and thence proceeds to lay waste to the scientific method.
  • A fair number of Christmas carols aren't as "traditional" as commonly believed. Jingle Bells (1857), We Three Kings of Orient Are (1859), I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day (1863), Joy to the World (1872), Away in a Manger (1887), Little Drummer Boy (1941), Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1949).
  • The solstice is a holiday magnet. Christmas, Hanukkah, Saturnalia, Festivus, Yule, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, Kwanzaa, Brumalia, Sankranti, boar's head feast, Dongzhi, Soyal, Yalda, Modraniht, Pancha Ganapati, HumanLight, Hogmanay, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day.
  • Should we celebrate any holidays? Flynn himself does not and recommends against doing so for people in general and atheists in particular. He especially disparages the idea of celebrating the solstice (a pagan holiday) or made-up alternative holidays like Festivus, because he says we're fooling nobody; everyone knows we wouldn't be doing it if it weren't for the big fuss being made over Christmas.

Thomas Nast's First Santa Claus Cartoon (1862)

20th Century Sanitized Commercial Santa Claus


2013.12 News: AHA! FSM at the Wisconsin State Capitol

The imaginative folx at the University of Wisconsin's AHA! (Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics) group have added a Flying Spaghetti Monster to the rapidly growing collection of solstice-seasonal observances at the Wisconsin State Capitol.


2013.12 Opinion: Proper Season's Greetings

Have you heard that some people are taking offense at being issued the "wrong" kind of season's greetings? For pity's sake, people, nothing to get all snippy about. It's not that hard. Here's the short course:

 • If you know somebody is a Christian, say "Merry Christmas".
 • If you know that they're Serbian, like my mom's side of the family, say "Khristos se rodi" (or "Joyeux Noël" or "Felíz Navidad" or whatever the appropriate ethnicity is).
 • If you know they're Jewish, go with "Happy Hanukkah".
 • If you know they're Wiccan, say "Blessed Yule".
 • If you know they enjoy Kwanzaa, say "Joyous Kwanzaa".
 • If you know they celebrate Festivus, say "Happy Festivus".
 • If you're talking to me — “Are you talkin' to me?” — “Go, Pack!" gets a big grin all year round.
 • And in all other cases (that is, when you don't know), go with "Happy Holidays" and you can't miss.

Do you detect the common theme here? It’s about spreading cheer to the other person. It’s not all about you.

Now please pick your favorite season's greeting and pretend it came from me. 8^D


2013.11 Action: Promote the Meme "Neo-Theo"

I invite you to join in propagating a new meme: "neo-theo".

Despite its obvious resonance with "neo-con", the term "neo-theo" more closely parallels the rebranding that the creationist movement undertook after getting repeatedly slapped down for making its religious motivations too visible. They went back into their burrows and emerged again as defenders of "academic freedom" (religious zealots have a free-speech right to indoctrinate school children about "evilution") and "intelligent design" (a pseudo-scientific label for the laffably named Discovery Institute, which operates no labs, runs no experiments, publishes no papers, and has never discovered a damn thing). The legal, academic, and scientific false fronts they put up are mere sham, of course, but they help to preserve the legal facade of not being religiously motivated.

It's the same deal with the neo-theos. Instead of being repackaged creationists, they're gussied-up dominionists. In their heart of hearts, they believe the United States should be (and probably all along was intended to be) a theocracy, but they've learned from bitter experience that they can't come right out and honestly say so. Instead, they take refuge behind nominally secular legal concepts, such as the idea that corporations are people (which gained legal credibility after the eye-opening Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC) and thus entitled to "human rights", such as conscientious objection.

There's another case currently headed for the US Supreme Court, in which the newly minted "person" known as Hobby Lobby claims its conscience has been shocked by being required to provide the same kind of health-care coverage for its employees as, say, General Motors or Microsoft. In fact, while the fundamentalist owners of Hobby Lobby may have just such an attitude (the same way that the owners of Chick-fil-A are opposed to gay marriage), the corporation itself, not being a human being, is devoid of opinions on the subject. And the law applies to the corporation.

Just as with the "academic freedom" claims of the creationists, the neo-theos are attempting to put a smiling secular face on their ludicrous claim, wrapping it in shiny colored paper with a ribbon, a bow, and a label reading "religious liberty". Well, "corporate personhood" (either as such or in its guise as "church personhood") is as much an oxymoron as "intelligent design" and deserves to be exposed for what it truly is: dominionist dogma rebranded for secular consumption.

I believe that identifying its proponents as "neo-theos" (which has the added advantage of rhyming) will help to do that.


2013.11 Opinion: Honesty of a Neo-Theo

Today I submitted this letter to the editor of the Cap Times of Madison:

Thanks to Craig Vance for his honesty in revealing the true agenda of the self-proclaimed "right to life" movement. In asserting that his particular favorite flavor of superstition outranks the highest court in the land, he places his lust for a theocracy ahead of the people-ruled, rights-based republic envisioned by America's Founders. His Dominionist advocacy of 2nd-class "your body is ours" status for women exactly parallels his fellow religionists who burned "witches" at the stake during the Middle Ages or who stone them to death in modern-day Saudi Arabia for the "crime" of being raped by somebody not their husband.

His comparison to the Nazis was apt in a way he probably didn't envision, in that those genocidal maniacs also favored keeping women "in their place" with their official policy of Kinder, Küche, Kirche (children, kitchen, church). Yes, Hitler too meant the part about Kirche. It's so easy to oppress others when you have Gott mit uns (God with us).

Fortunately, in America we still have at least lip service toward the 1st Amendment, with its guarantee of separation of church and state, and neo-theos like Craig Vance haven't yet succeeded in undermining it entirely.

I too am particularly unhappy with certain decisions of the US Supreme Court (Bush v. Gore, Citizens United, Kelo v. New London), but the proper way to deal with them is thru the political process or Constitutional amendments, not by denying or undermining the court's legitimacy. If you want to live without the rule of law, try Somalia. If you'd rather live with the civil authority subordinate to a religious supreme leader, Iran's set up exactly that way.


2013.11 News: Graveyard of the Gods

Created by our young friends over at AHA (Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics at the University of Wisconsin – Madison) for Halloween 2013, this Graveyard of the Gods display on Bascom Hill features mock tombstones for many of the thousands of gods once as revered by their respective civilizations as Yahweh is by many in our supposedly modern, enlightened, sophisticated society.

Follow the above link to see more images.


2013.10 Commentary: Are They Friendly Spirits?

With Halloween right around the corner, it's good to see that human beings have almost completely converted this one-time night of literal dancing demons to a fun-filled festival beloved by children all across America. But that's not to say that everybody has given up on the spooky stuff.

One of the scariest things I've heard this century is that Justice Antonin Scalia — 1 of the 9 people who determines what constitutes "justice" in America — seriously, sincerely, truly, devoutly believes that evil spirits are controlling many of his fellow human beings. Not metaphorical bad ideas, mind you, but actual physical demons, working for the literally extant baddest evil spirit of them all, Satan. And this guy helps determine how you have to live your life!

And he's only the one willing to say so in public. We can only guess what his stablemate Clarence Thomas is thinking*, because he never talks.

Grammatical tip: evil should only be used as an adjective, not as a noun.

It's an idea, a judgment, an opinion, a description, not an incarnation or avatar or embodiment thereof.

PS: Old farts like me will recognize the title of this posting as coming from Rocky's conversation with Bullwinkle as they got set to go to commercial break.

*if you'll pardon the unduly generous use of the term "thinking"


2013.09 Feature: Dawkins on Daily Show

Last night evolutionary biologist (and by now probably the world's most famous atheist) Richard Dawkins appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to promote his 12th book, a memoir of his extraordinary life. Needless to say, Stewart spent almost no time at all on the book and went straight into the subject of atheism. The interview segment is normally 7-8 minutes long, but Dawkins was interesting enuf that they kept on going past the end of the show and posted the remainder of it on the internet. You can view it here, on the Friendly Atheist blog of Hemant Mehta, along with erudite comments from Mehta himself and many of his regular readers.


2013.09 News: Voucher School Curricula

As Wisconsin gets set to hand out nearly half a billion dollars to so-called "voucher schools" (90% of which qualify as religiously based "parochial schools"), it's instructive to see what kind of curriculum is being offered therein. Here, for example, is the kind of "science" that some of them are specifically set up to promulgate, lest the tender young minds of their innocent little charges be exposed to the evil Satanic plot of Darwinism.


2013.08 News: Faith Healing vs. Measles

Spoiler alert: Faith healing loses!

Naive Christians continue to believe that childlike faith in Bronze Age superstitions is preferable to the greatest advance in public health in human history, namely routine, universal immunization against common diseases. The latest example of this stubborn refusal to face reality occurred in a fundamentalist evangelical megachurch in Texas, where 16 people came down with measles after being exposed to a carrier who had just returned from an overseas trip and hugged many fellow congregation members in greeting.

Measles is seldom fatal (tho it can be) but it makes you miserable for upwards of a week, and it's totally unnecessary. Other diseases that can be prevented by vaccination are more likely to be lethal (or to have long-term health consequences like shingles or cervical cancer), but even in the absence of a death threat, failing to vaccinate your kids against them is like telling them to take off those heathenish seat belts, which only an atheist — not trusting in God for safety — would ever use.

The pastor at the afflicted church said she has no particular objections to vaccination but that it was important to spend lots and lots of time getting right with God first, then if you felt you had to, go ahead and get the shots. This is akin to the notorious wristband logic:
• "I am a Catholic. In case of medical emergency, please call a priest."
• "I am an atheist. In case of medical emergency, please call a doctor."


2013.08 Opinion: Religion's unbroken record of failure

Name one scientific principle revealed thru prayer.
Name one medical cure discovered by reading the Bible.
Name one work of literature translated from tongue-speakers.
Name one catastrophe averted by a holy amulet.
Name one amputee healed by a miracle.
Name one mountain — or even one grain of sand — moved by faith.

All these claims of religion — all of them, 100% — have been failures.
Each time. Every time. All the time.
Those who made the claims were either deluded fools or outright liars.
Religion is beyond worthless and well into outright harmful.

If you knew of a horse which had lost its previous 999 races, would you still bet on it for #1000?


2013.08 History: I Have a Dream

Not quite half a century ago, on 1963 Aug. 28, Washington DC hosted an event that went down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation. And there was no doubt what the centerpiece and highlight of that demonstration was: Martin Luther King Jr.'s magnificent "I Have a Dream" speech. It was a masterpiece of eloquence, nuance, cadence, metaphor, evocation, and most of all effectiveness. It galvanized a nation and led to the adoption of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

For some unknown reason, this 50th anniversary of the march and Dr. King's speech seems to have crept up on us unnoticed. I've heard of no celebrations or commemorations planned around it. But the absence of public recognition is no bar to each of us individually being able to relive that historic turning point thru the wonders of modern technology:

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1UV1fs8lAbg
Text: http://historywired.si.edu/detail.cfm?ID=501
Context: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Have_a_Dream

As you watch the video, notice that, for the first half of the speech, Dr. King is reading from his prepared text, which concluded with the stirring imagery from the Book of Amos about justice rolling down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. Then he looks up and realizes that his intended conclusion, while speaking to the aspirations of the people before him, was from the head more than the heart, and he begins to improvise. The second half of the speech, where he looks directly at us, was largely composed on the fly, making it all the more astonishing in its power and coherence.

This speech hangs on the wall of my living room, and I recite it aloud at least once a year. It is a family tradition I commend to all — especially to the families of 5 guys in black robes out there in DC, where they seem to have forgotten it.

Incidentally, the speech's concluding lines — taken directly from the funeral services of so many American slaves — are inscribed on Dr. King's tombstone: "Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last."


2013.08 News: Are Atheists Brighter Than Religionists?

Are atheists brighter than religionists? And that's not using the term "Bright" in its organizational sense but rather with the common meaning of "intelligent".

Glad you asked! Yes, as a matter of fact, according to a huge metastudy covering from 1928 to 2012, we are!


2013.08 Feature: Women in Atheism

In an essay in Salon last week, Katie Englehardt asked "Where Are the Women of the New Atheism?".

Among the 150+ comments on it was this one from me (Richard S. Russell):
  • American Atheists — founded by Madalyn Murray O'Hair, carried on by Ellen Johnson
  • Freedom From Religion Foundation — founded by Anne Gaylor, carried on by her dotter Annie Laurie Gaylor
  • Anti-Discrimination Support Network — founded by Margaret Downey
  • Atheist Alliance (originally "Inc.", then "International", now "of America") — originally founded by (among others) Bobbie Kirkhart, Cleo Kocol, Mynga Futrell, and Marie Alena Castle. Castle, Kirkhart, and Downey subsequently served as presidents.
  • Atheist Alliance ("new") International — first president, Tanya Smith
  • Camp Quest — co-founded by Helen Kagin
  • Greta Christina! — say no more!

Anyone who thinks that women haven't been involved — root, trunk, and branch — with organized atheism in America must be on the outside looking in thru a murky window. Quite the contrary, women have long been the go-getters, the organizers, the movers and shakers, the inspirations, the good examples. Those of us on the inside used to occasionally puzzle over where all the men were.
But that was a questioning of the basic premise that there were no women in atheism. A different tack, addressing the question of why women in atheism aren't more visible to the great outer world, was taken by Soraya Chemaly in this week's follow-up essay, the unfortunately titled "5 Reasons There Aren't More Women in Atheism".


2013.07 News: State-Supported Religion's Tentacles Start Groping Wisconsin

In order for a church to get state subsidy for its religious indoctrination of Wisconsin's kids, all it has to do is claim to operate a school and apply for a state grant for each pupil it purports to be "educating". The process has begun in 15 communities across the state, including 2 schools in Madison which proudly proclaim "Christian" as their middle name. A check for $6,500 per kid follows, siphoned away from what would otherwise be state aid to the public schools in the same community.

Of course, the voucher program is limited to "only" 500 kids statewide. This year. 1000 next year, presumably the same 500 from this year plus 500 newbies. No mention of 2015-2016. Probably they'll just shrink the program back to nothing, right?

A longer-range view of this topic is covered by Hank Zumach's essay, "Tax Subsidies for Bigotry", over under our "Essays" tab.

2013.07 Update: 1 Down, 1 to Go

It's been a fairly good summer for LGBT Americans, as the Supreme Court threw out the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8, and the Boy Scouts decided to stop discriminating against gay boys. So what does that leave as the minority group that people in general (and the BSA in particular) are still willing to discriminate against? Guess.

PS: Progress is not uniform. One prominent organization doesn't give a rip about your religion but still irrationally discriminates against gay men.


2013.07 Promo: New! Improved! Now with Essays!

As of today, this blog is launching a new feature: Essays. (Click on the tab of that name to see our first entry.) Unlike this tab ("Posts"), essays will be longer, appear less frequently, and not be tied to current events. We hope that you'll find thot-provokers there worth bookmarking and sharing with your friends.

And we welcome submissions. If you've done some writing on the subjects of atheism, agnosticism, religion, philosophy, ethics, etc. that you'd like to share with a wider audience, please submit it to us for possible publication.


2013.07 Biography: Rachael Slick

The internet has been a boon to atheists, as many of us feel like islands in a vast ocean of theism, with no other castaways in view as far as the eye can see. But, via the web, we can hold conversations with an atheist halfway around the world as easily as with one 2 streets over. This is the ideal environment for blogging, and a number of excellent atheist blogs have sprung up to serve the diverse, diffuse, and often lonely atheists of America, wherever they are.

One of the best is Hemant Mehta's The Friendly Atheist. Hemant is best known for "I Sold My Soul on eBay", a publicity ploy in which he did just what he said and got a winning bid from a devout Christian who wanted a crack at him for a day. But he didn't stop there, and his blog is well worth checking out on a regular basis.

Most recently, for example, he featured a little autobiographical sketch from Rachael Slick.
Rachael is the dotter of evangelist Matt Slick, founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM). He was recently featured on an episode of The Daily Show, explaining how badly people like him were being persecuted by homosexual bullies. (Really!) That interview, and Rachael's story of her upbringing, may be found on Hemant's blog here.


2013.07 News: Outrage in Dubai

Just because this story has what I suppose we'll have to call a happy ending doesn't mean it didn't have a horrifying beginning and a staggeringly atrocious middle. A woman was raped in Dubai and did exactly what any woman should do under those circumstances: promptly reported it to the police.

But those weren't your regular police. Oh, no, they were the police in a fundamentalist Muslim country. So, rather than going after the criminals, the bad guys, the ones who used force on one of their fellow human beings, they arrested the woman for having illegal sex, threw her in jail, and charged her with a crime that could've netted her over a year in prison. A Dubai prison.

And people ask us why we pursue atheism! Religion is a blight on the world, and the fact that one lone woman who had the staunch support of her government (Norway) behind her managed to escape that hellhole with her life, body, and sanity intact tells us nothing about the poor, unnoticed, unsympathized-with women who have to live there silently, day in and day out, putting up with whatever crap their insane religion forces on them.

BTW, yay for Norway, a country that, at last report, was about 30% atheist and 50% agnostic. They know how to treat human beings. So much for the religiotic slander that atheists can't possibly have any morals without some externally imposed absolutism.


2013.07 News: Follow-Up on "6 Types of Atheists"

The researchers from the University of Tennessee who recently published their findings about America's 6 types of atheists were recently interviewed about the reaction they've been getting to it.

The interviewer, with CNN, oversells the study as having "woken a sleeping giant", but it's kind of a refreshing change of pace to see any news coverage at all of serious academic research.


2013.07 News: AAA Convention Labor Day in Boston

Atheists and Agnostics of Wisconsin is a proud Member Society of the Atheist Alliance of America, a coalition of grass-roots, democratic local (and state) atheist organizations. AAA's most public activity is its annual convention, which this year will be held in Boston over Labor Day weekend, August 30 to September 2. The honored guest is Dr. Steven Pinker, who will be receiving the Richard Dawkins Award, probably from the hand of Dr. Dawkins himself. If you've ever felt as if you're the only atheist for 100 kilometres in any direction, this is just the tonic for you. Detailed info here.


2013.07 News: Researchers Identify 6 Types of Atheists

Researchers at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga decided to get down to the grass roots of ordinary American unbelievers — rather than just the outspoken or organized ones — to find out what they really believe and where they're coming from. This article describes the 6 types of infidels they discovered:
  1. Intellectual Atheist/Agnostic
  2. Activist
  3. Seeker-Agnostic
  4. Anti-Theist
  5. Non-Theist
  6. Ritual Atheist/Agnostic


2013.07 Humor: Bill Maher's New Rules on Religion

Satirical comedian and outspoken atheist Bill Maher has a weekly show on HBO (Real Time with Bill Maher), which always closes with a recitation of "New Rules" for whatever loony thing has been in the news recently. Since "loony things" often include religion, Bill has returned to that particular font of levity multiple times. Some enterprising vidiot has assembled a compendium of some of the good ones. It runs 25 minutes total, but it's best digested a little at a time; each original segment runs about 5 minutes.


2013.07 News: "Religious Freedom" Amendment Proposed

The Wisconsin State Journal periodically publishes "At Issue", an update on proposals that are bubbling their way to the top of the legislative agenda. Today's entry was ostensibly about "religious freedom", which is a code phrase for "letting religious zealots get away with bad behavior that sane citizens are prohibited from engaging in".

Here's a synopsis:

Assembly Joint Resolution 43 and Senate Joint Resolution 38 aim to amend the state Constitution, adding a right to act — or refuse to act — based on religious conviction unless the government proves that the action would violate laws, rules or regulations that the state has a “compelling interest” in enforcing. The government would also need to prove it was using the “least-restrictive” means. If enacted in two consecutive Legislative sessions and approved by voters, the amendment would prohibit the state from “burdening the right to conscience” even indirectly, for example by withholding benefits or imposing penalties or excluding someone from facilities.
Dale and Leilani Neumann were undoubtedly acting out of sincere religious conviction when they let their 13-year-old dotter Kara die a lingering and painful death from easily treatable diabetes. If this amendment had been in effect at the time, they would have gotten away with it, too.


2013.07 HowTo: National Secular News Updates

AAW is affiliated with Atheist Alliance of America, which in turn is a founding member of the Secular Coalition for America. SCA represents the atheist, humanist, and freethot community in the nation's capital. As part of that mission, SCA maintains 2-way communications, not only briefing Congresscritters on what atheists are thinking but also reporting back to us on what Congress (and the federal bureaucracy in general) are up to on church-state matters.

If you'd like to get this kind of info delivered directly to your own inbox, SCA has helpfully divided it into categories for you:
  • The Morning Read -- A daily run down of the morning's top secular and movement-related news and opinion stories.
  • The Weekly Wrap Up -- Our easy to digest weekly newsletter with updates on the SCA and the secular movement.
  • National Secular Movement Update Call Agenda -- This information-intensive newsletter is for the real secular insider, with a rundown of politics, lobbying efforts, court cases, news, movement updates and other information affecting all facets of the secular movement. The Call Agenda is accompanied by a 30-minute movement-wide call every Thursday at 12 PM Eastern--open to all!
  • Action Alerts -- Get notified when something is happening on Capitol Hill, with the easy and immediate ability to contact your legislators.
  • Event Notifications -- Updates on local and national Secular Coalition events.
  • Secular News Daily -- News and opinion from a secular perspective, including updates from all of the Secular Coalition's member organizations and much more!
To sign up for as much or as little of this info as you like, visit the SCA website and click on the "Sign Up" link at the upper right. This is all free, and you need not be a member of SCA or any of its member organizations to get any of it.

Good public policy starts with good information. Again, that works in both directions.


2013.07 News: Kid Killer Conviction Stands

As you may be aware, there's a loophole in Wisconsin's law about child neglect and abuse that says, basically, it's OK to abuse and neglect your child if you're doing it out of sincere religious conviction. How far does that exemption go? Does it extend to neglect up to the point that the child dies?

Well, just such a case arose back in 2008, when ardent (tho non-denominational) Christians Dale and Leilani Neumann let their 13-year-old dotter Kara puke her guts out and wither away before their eyes from diabetes, dehydration, and malnutrition without seeking medical care. The condition was easily treatable, and Kara could have led essentially a normal life except for needing regular shots like almost all other diabetics. But noooooo — seeing a doctor would have detracted from the glory due to God, according to her clueless parents, so they let her die — a horrible, lingering, painful death.

The parents stood trial separately, and 2 separate juries said that the legal loophole didn't extend so far as to absolve them from negligent homicide. The judge agreed. And now the Wisconsin Supreme Court has also agreed.

Back to the slammer for the kid killers, who apparently still think they did the right thing.

Christopher Hitchens had it right with the subtitle of his book God Is Not Great: "Religion poisons everything".


2013.07 Action: Creationism Out of School

Do you favor getting religiously based creationism (including under its disguises as "academic freedom", "teaching the controversy", and "intelligent design") out of the classroom? If so, here's your chance to ask the White House to support that position.

Here's the text of the petition:
Since Darwin's groundbreaking theory of Evolution by Natural Selection, scientists all around the world have found monumental amounts of evidence in favor of the theory, now treated as scientific fact by 99.9% of all scientists.

However, even after 150 years after the establishment of evolution, some schools across the US are "teaching the controversy," including Creationism and Intelligent Design. Both of these so-called "theories" have no basis in scientific fact, and have absolutely zero evidence pointing towards these conjectures. These types of loopholes in our education are partially to blame for our dangerously low student performances in math and science.

Therefore, we petition the Obama Adminstration to ban the teachings of these conjectures that contradict Evolution.
This is probably more about "sending a message" than expecting an actual ban, but at 100,000 signatures, there's supposed to be an official response put out by the White House regarding it.

As with all such petitions, you will be required to sign in, and this will undoubtedly result in your contact info going into a database of people who are concerned about SOCAS (separation of church and state) and science issues. That's probably a good thing overall.


2013.06 News: Progress on Gay Rights

With yesterday's Supreme Court decisions striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California's Proposition 8 (which reversed a law permitting gay marriage in that state), America has moved one step closer to freeing itself from the tyranny of mindless religion and superstitious religious prejudice.

Congratulations to all our gay brothers and sisters in the struggle. More work remains to be done, but this is a huge step, and perhaps one day even atheists will be viewed as full-fledged American citizens as well.


In case there was any doubt where opponents of gay marriage are coming from, here's a direct quotation from Wisconsin Republican State Senator Glenn Grothman, appearing on WISC-TV to react to yesterday's rulings:

They’ve [the people of Wisconsin have] spoken and of course our laws aren’t going to change. Nevertheless, I think it does have an impact in that insofar as we want to have a great opinion of America, the fact that our U.S. Supreme Court is outright hostile to and almost mocking the idea that laws that have a religious basis or that are supported by religious people or give negative motivations to religious people [sic] to pass these laws is scary for all of us. You can’t say that because we live in Wisconsin we shouldn’t be worried about this law. We should be scared to death of the type of people we have on our Supreme Court.


2013.06 Feature: Atheist Church

Greg Epstein, the humanist chaplain at Harvard University, thinks that Christians have had at least one good idea: church. He thinks it feeds a natural human hunger for community. CNN.com took a look inside one of their services in this article.


2013.06 Humor: 10 Reasons To Fear Atheists

Being plugged in to several atheist mailing lists is a good way to encounter the occasional little gem of humor, like this posting from the Naked Pastor on 10 Reasons To Be Afraid of Atheists.


2013.06 History: 50 Years after Schempp

Bob Seidensticker, author of the excellent Cross Examined blog, points out in today's essay that it's the 50th anniversary of the US Supreme Court decision in Abington v. Schempp, which prohibited Bible readings in public schools.

The school child in whose name the case was initiated was Ellery Schempp, who was a featured speaker at Madison's inaugural Freethought Festival 2 years ago. He subsequently devoted much of his life to promoting separation of church and state.


2013.06 News: Summer Solstice Potluck

Some of AAW's most active members are also affiliated with SWiFT (Southeastern Wisconsin FreeThinkers, active in the Milwaukee-Racine-Kenosha area), and they have kindly extended this invitation to all atheists and agnostics within sound of this keyboard.

Please join us for a fun afternoon to celebrate the Summer Solstice with food, boat rides, engaging discussion and more.

Summer Solstice Potluck • 2013 June 22 (Saturday) • 1:00 PM
Idle Isle ParkLittle Muskego Lake • Muskego

Look for the SWiFT Sign
Fun for the Entire Family • Children Welcome
$4 per Vehicle for Parking • $7 Launch Fee per Boat

Please bring a picnic dish to share. SWiFT will provide soda, plates, cups, utensils, and charcoal for the barbecue. Don’t forget sunscreen, lawn chairs, frisbees, picnic games, etc.

This is a wonderful opportunity to meet new friends in a relaxed setting Sit back, relax, have engaging dialog with other freethinkers, go for a boat ride, have fun!

Last year was a huge success. Please join us and make this year even better!


2013.06 Tip: Secular Celebrant in Madison

This information was provided by Carol Smith:

Need a Secular Celebrant?

Scott McAndrew is a Court Commissioner for Dane County, Wisconsin, located in Madison. He is authorized under the laws of the State of Wisconsin to perform wedding ceremonies and seeks to afford those without religious affiliation the opportunity to participate in weddings and other formal ceremonies with a format and content of their own choosing.

Scott and his family are enthusiastic supporters of the Center for Inquiry and the secular humanist community. In his spare time, Scott enjoys spending time with his wife and three boys and is an avid distance runner, music fan, and rock musician.

Scott McAndrew
Email: scott549@yahoo.com
Phone: 608-259-0549

source: Find a Secular Celebrant

Shortly thereafter, LaVada Rooks chimed in with this:

My husband, Jerod Luening, is also able to perform secular marriages here in Southeast Wisconsin.
Call 414-477-7206


2013.06 News: Unfriendly Dildoes Coming to Wisconsin Women

At 8 am this morning, Republicans rammed a mandatory ultrasound bill through the Wisconsin Senate, requiring women seeking an abortion to submit to a medically unnecessary vaginal probe. While this would be an outrageous invasion of bodily integrity for any woman, it's particularly egregious for one class of women most inclined to seek abortions in the first place, namely those who've already been raped once.

Make no mistake: This legalized assault on Wisconsin women has its roots in religious superstition — namely the utterly evidence-free doctrine of the human soul — and is a step on the road to theocracy if we let them get away with it.

Open for Business

After over a quarter century of existence, Atheists and Agnostics of Wisconsin finally has its own blog, and you're looking at it. Here we hope to keep up with news of interest to atheists and agnostics in the Badger State. Your attention and participation are invited, regardless of your religious or philosophical leanings.