Reason's Edge

Comments on events of the day, from a secular perspective, that effect The Free Thought Community in particular and society in general. None of the published comments should be construed to support any political party ot anyone running for political office.

  • 03/23/2017 2:06 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By design, US is not a Christian nation
    Knoxville News Sentinel, March 17, 2017
    By Ralph C. Isler, Oak Ridge

    Is the United States a Christian country? A recent letter writer thinks it always has been a Christian nation. However, he fails to distinguish between the self-identification of individuals and the constitutional basis on which the republic rests. His identification of all the Founding Fathers as Christians is a simplistic assertion that disregards the deistic leanings and lack of belief in the divinity of Jesus that informed the outlooks of many. Thomas Jefferson, for example, was attacked vehemently as being an atheist by the Philadelphia clergy.

    But even if we concede that most of these men had at least some nominal Christian affiliation, it only sharpens the distinction they wanted to maintain between individual conscience and a state-imposed religion. Neither the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution contains any reference to Christianity. Even references to a god figure in the Declaration of Independence are couched only in vague, deistic terms. The Constitution explicitly prohibits the establishment of Christianity or any other religion by the government, and it prohibits religious tests for holding public office. Moreover, the original Treaty of Tripoli, signed by John Adams and ratified unanimously by Congress in 1797, explicitly declared that “the Government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.

    So despite the fashionable promotion of “alternative facts” by conservative elements of American society, the United States is not now, and never has been, a Christian nation. Unlike theistic societies such as Iran or Saudi Arabia, we are still free to express our individual religious beliefs or disbeliefs.

  • 01/23/2017 9:04 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By now, it’s clear that religion is fading in America, as it has done in most advanced Western democracies.

    Dozens of surveys find identical evidence: Fewer American adults, especially those under 30, attend church -- or even belong to a church.  They tell interviewers their religion is “none.” They ignore faith.

    Since 1990, the “nones” have exploded rapidly as a sociological phenomenon -- from 10 percent of U.S. adults, to 15 percent, to 20 percent. Now they’ve climbed to 25 percent, according to a 2016 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute.

    That makes them the nation’s largest faith category, outstripping Catholics (21 percent) and white evangelicals (16 percent).  They seem on a trajectory to become an outright majority.   America is following the secular path of Europe, Canada, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and other modern places.  The Secular Age is snowballing.

    Various explanations for the social transformation are postulated:  That the Internet exposes young people to a wide array of ideas and practices that undercut old-time beliefs.  That family breakdown severs traditional participation in congregations.  That the young have grown cynical about authority of all types.  That fundamentalist hostility to gays and abortion has soured tolerant-minded Americans.  That clergy child-molesting scandals have scuttled church claims to moral superiority. That faith-based suicide bombings and other religious murders horrify normal folks.

            All those factors undoubtedly play a role.  But I want to offer a simpler explanation:  In the scientific 21st century, it’s less plausible to believe in invisible gods, devils, heavens, hells, angels, demons -- plus virgin births, resurrections, miracles, messiahs, prophecies, faith-healings, visions, incarnations, divine visitations and other supernatural claims.  Magical thinking is suspect, ludicrous.  It’s not for intelligent, educated people.

            Significantly, the PRRI study found that the foremost reason young people gave for leaving religion is this clincher: They stopped believing miraculous church dogmas.

            For decades, tall-steeple mainline Protestant denominations with university-educated ministers tried to downplay supernaturalism -- to preach just the compassion of Jesus and the social gospel.  It was a noble effort, but disastrous.  The mainline collapsed so badly it is dubbed “flatline Protestantism.”  It has faded to small fringe of American life.

            Now Catholicism and evangelicalism are in the same death spiral.  One-tenth of U.S. adults today are ex-Catholics.  The Southern Baptist Convention lost 200,000 members in 2014 and 200,000 more in 2015.

            I’m a longtime newspaperman in Appalachia’s Bible Belt.  I’ve watched the retreat of religion for six decades.  Back in the 1950s, church-based laws were powerful:

            It was a crime for stores to open on the Sabbath.  All public school classes began with mandatory prayer. It was a crime to buy a cocktail, or look at nude photos in magazines, or buy a lottery ticket.  It was a crime for an unwed couple to share a bedroom.  If a single girl became pregnant, both she and her family were disgraced.  Birth control was unmentionable. Evolution was unmentionable.

            It was a felony to terminate a pregnancy.  It was a felony to be gay.  One homosexual in our town killed himself after police filed charges.  Even writing about sex was illegal.  In 1956, our Republican mayor sent police to raid bookstores selling “Peyton Place.”

            Gradually, all those faith-based taboos vanished from society. Religion lost its power -- even before the upsurge of “nones.”

            Perhaps honesty is a factor in the disappearance of religion.  Maybe young people discern that it’s dishonest to claim to know supernatural things that are unknowable.

            When I was a cub reporter, my city editor was an H.L. Mencken clone who laughed at Bible-thumping hillbilly preachers.  One day, as a young truth-seeker, I asked him:  You’re correct that their explanations are fairy tales -- but what answer can an honest person give about the deep questions:  Why are we here?  Why is the universe here?  Why do we die?  Is there any purpose to life?

            He eyed me and replied:  “You can say:  I don’t know.”  That rang a bell in my head that still echoes.  It’s honest to admit that you cannot explain the unexplainable.

            The church explanation -- that Planet Earth is a testing place to screen humans for a future heaven or hell -- is a silly conjecture with no evidence of any sort, except ancient scriptures.  No wonder that today’s Americans, raised in a scientific-minded era, cannot swallow it.

            Occam’s Razor says the simplest explanation is most accurate.  Why is religion dying?  Because thinking people finally see that it’s untrue, false, dishonest.

            White evangelicals tipped the 2016 presidential election to Donald Trump, giving an astounding 81 percent of their votes to the crass vulgarian who contradicts church values.  But white evangelicals, like most religious groups, face a shrinking future. Their power will dwindle.

            It took humanity several millennia to reach the Secular Age.  Now it’s blossoming spectacularly.

            (Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail.  He can be reached by phone at 304-348-5199 or e-mail at

  • 01/02/2017 12:41 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Poor Greg Johnson. The holiday season is so sad for his fellow American Christians as, in his words, they “lament their own persecution.” However, it’s difficult to generate much empathy for their angst. Christians comprise about 75 percent of the country. They dominate all legislative bodies. But they are totally threatened by anyone who doesn’t subscribe to their tribal beliefs and practices, especially those relating to their obsession to control everyone’s sex and reproduction activities. So when gay people can legally get married or women can receive contraceptives as a component of health care, Christians of Johnson’s ilk claim they are being persecuted. When they can’t teach creationist fairy tales in place of science in public schools they claim discrimination. And enduring the well wishes of a "Happy Holidays" greeting sends them into a frenzy to counter the oppression of the “War on Christmas.”

    As a result, several Christian-controlled state legislatures have voted to institute euphemistically named Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, which are present-day Jim Crow laws directed primarily against the LGBT community. They have consistently whittled away women’s ability to access legal reproductive services by instituting unreasonable constraints on clinics. And despite defeats at insinuating the religious concept of intelligent design into public schools, they persist in trying to circumvent court rulings by promoting vouchers for private schools where Christian mythology can be taught in place of science.  In addition, Donald Trump, the darling of the evangelicals, has threatened that when he is in office, people will say Merry Christmas (or else?). It’s rather clear who is doing the actual persecuting. But 60 million American “nones” will never accept servility in one nation under an imaginary God.

  • 03/30/2016 9:40 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    March 28, 2016

    A recent letter writer advocated the inclusion of “the opposite viewpoint” in the celebration of Darwin Day. He says, “I do not believe in macroevolution, and I don’t believe I am stupid.” There is not enough data in the letter to support or deny this assertion, but there is adequate evidence of the writer’s ignorance of the science involved.

    He begins with the claim that we should doubt evolution because “50 percent of your readers do not believe in ... evolution.” This proves nothing. There was a time when everybody believed the Earth was flat. They were wrong.

    He then lists a number of questions he believes are problems for the theory of evolution. I don’t have room here to answer them individually, but the first three were related to the origin of life. The theory of evolution is an explanation for the diversity of life. It does not address the origin of life.
    His next three questions are just iterations of Michael Bebe’s irreducible complexity hypothesis, an idea popular in the 1990s. It has been repeatedly refuted.

    His last question refers to the Cambrian explosion. There is ongoing research involving the rapid development of species in this period and there are questions about how, but not whether, evolution functioned in the period.

    He then makes the claim again for equal treatment of unsupported creationist viewpoints. I guess we should also teach the stork theory of reproduction. It is at least as valid.

    His final claim is that Darwinism has somehow led to atheism, which, according to him, says that “without God, all things are permissible.” To put this another way, he is saying that the fear of God is the only thing stopping religious people from being rapists and murderers. I like to think religious people, as a whole, are better than that.

  • 10/06/2015 10:33 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Tonight’s meeting of the Blount County Commission was to set the agenda for the regular Commission meeting scheduled for Thursday, October 15. After the role was taken an it was established that a quorum was present, the commissioners voted against setting that agenda. Then there was an immediate motion to adjourn, before there could be any public comment. There were many people in the audience prepared to speak, including some representing the Rationalists of East Tennessee. In fact, the meeting room was filled and as many more waited in the hall and outside during the brief meeting. Those siding against the Karen Miller’s “Nullification of Marriage” Resolution had been advised to wear red and the courthouse crowd was awash in that color.

    The question that remains is how this will now play out regarding the regular meeting scheduled for next week. Perhaps the agenda will be set immediately prior to that meeting, but at some point the commissioners will need to deal with the issue of this ill-conceived resolution.

    In the mean time, a staff attorney from The Freedom from Religion Foundation has sent a letter to the Blount County Commission. Among other things, Grover asked that Commissioner Miller resign from her position if she cannot uphold the law.

  • 10/05/2015 4:41 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    On Tuesday, October 6, 2015 Blount County Commissioner Karen Miller will propose to the County Commission “The Nullification of Marriage” Resolution. This is actually in support of the bigger problem of the State legislature’s Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act (Senate Bill 1437/House Bill 1412).  This bill was filed by two GOP lawmakers from Wilson County on September 17, 2015 in response to the SCOTUS marriage equality ruling of June 26.

    The TN bill states that marriage is between one woman and one man and any other court decision is void. This bill also states that, No state or local agency or official shall give force or effect to any court order that has the effect of violating Tennessee’s laws protecting natural marriage,” and says the state attorney general “shall defend any state or local government official from any lawsuit regarding the official’s recognition of natural marriage.”

    Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet and Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon filed this affront to the Supreme Court and the law of the land. It attempts to intertwine religious “law” with civil law, giving more credence to the former.

    Lawmakers willing to force their religion onto other citizens do so with the imagined “authority” of having a majority of voters supporting them. They never seem to take into consideration that majorities change. They don’t ever contemplate the possibility that a future majority may come from a religion quite different from theirs and they would not want its tenets forced on them just as they are forcing their religion on others. 

    The Constitution protects all of the citizens from just that scenario. One Nation, under the Constitution, with liberty and justice (hopefully) for all.

  • 09/22/2015 1:54 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    This week news came to light about Holly Salzman, from Albuquerque, New Mexico, who is an atheist mother of two. During her divorce process, she was ordered to attend parenting classes as part of the custody case.

    According to Salzman, “I walked into the session and the very first thing she said to me was, ‘I start my sessions by praying,’” Salzman expressed concerns to Mary Pepper about the religious approach, but was told by the counselor, “Well, this is what I do,” who then proceeded to pray. Salman took her concerns to the Family Court, from whom she got no reply. The second session again started with a prayer.

    “We went back to court" Salzman said. "I expressed concerns again about the religious overtones and they stated they hadn’t heard any problems concerning Mary Pepper with religion.”

    At this point, Salzman stopped going to the sessions because of her negative emotional response to the praying. As a result, her children were taken away from her. In order to get them back, she resumed the 10 mandatory sessions.

    Salzman reported that there was religious content in every session, including the handouts.

    The ACLU is now involved with the case.

    The problem with this and the Kim Davis situation, is that those with a religious bent feel no compunction about forcing their views on others. They do not seem to consider how offended they would be if the roles were reversed. In fact, they raise the straw man argument of religious prosecution when the unreligious try to reclaim their Constitutional rights.

    The religious need to be called out each and every time they assume they can deny the First Amendment just because they think they have the one true way to live.

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