January Voice of Sanity

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Editor: Joyce Bates
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P. O. Box 1744
Greenville, SC 29602
January, 2013

The Voice of Sanity

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Second Saturday Brunch, January 12th, 10:00AM to 12:00 noon, at Denny’s restaurant, 2521 Wade Hampton Blvd.


The conversation group (non-theist) get-together for this month is:

1st Sunday (January 6th) at 11:00AM

3rd Sunday (January 20th) at 2:00PM

at the Brew and Ewe; 108 West Broad Street; Greenville


The Free-Thought group meets every other Thursday (January 10th and 24th) 7:000PM at Bailey’s; 2409 Laurens Road; Greenville.


Business meeting and election of officers:

Sunday, January 27th, 2:30PM at the Hughes Main Library, downtown Greenville


For additional local activities see calendars at:




Humanism, Gay Lib and Black Lib

by Tom Bentley


Humanists often use the term ‘coming out’, a term appropriated from the Gay Liberation movement of the late 1960’s and 70’s.  We like to think ourselves in the same tradition of taking a public stance in our moral position, in defiance of the common wisdom and tradition.  Here’s a second look at the validity of taking that stance. And here is also a suggestion to take a cue from an unlikely source: Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

I came out as a gay man in the early 1960’s and was present at the Stone Wall action (only the newspapers called it a ‘riot’ at the time), and was at the front of the first Gay Pride Parade, up Fifth Avenue in New York City. For us, it was a critical moment, a spontaneous release of many years of self-repression, a throwing off of doubt, a surging of real pride.

We thought of ourselves as, and were, a part of the mid-20th century era of liberation; we came right after the pinnacle of the Civil Rights movement, and presumed to be in that great tradition of civil disobedience, rebellion, and self-assertion.

I had friends who had traveled on the Freedom Bus, marched in Selma, protested in Birmingham.  And they said to me, “You have some nerve, equating yourselves to our struggle.”

And they were right. Gays were never enslaved; never beaten, tortured, even killed, at the whim of a ‘master’.  We weren’t lynched, made to ride at the back of the bus, denied access to public places, given the lousiest education, the worst jobs. Blacks were, and still face hardships.

The gay person can easily hide.  We can vote, swim in the pool, watch the show, ride the bus, even get married, and no one will know, so long as she hides herself, doesn’t reveal her emotions, pretends to be the same as the others.  Black Liberation and Gay Liberation are NOT equivalent, nor can they be.

Today, atheists want recognition for our own unique perspective.  We need to stand up and shout out our pride in our beliefs.  Our families, our friends, need to know that good is not the sole property of the religious.  Equal treatment, equal respect, is a human right.

But our cause is not equivalent to the Gay Liberation cause.  When gays used to congregate in bars, the police felt free to storm in with force, break up the meeting, and arrest everyone present; those jack-booted thugs do not break up our meetings.  We haven’t been called nasty names for all our lives (pansy, queer, faggot, dyke…etc., etc.).  We haven’t known the fear of roving gangs of youths out for a fun night of fag-bashing.  No one has recently tied us to a fencepost, beat us bloody, and left us to freeze to death.

But not being ‘equivalent to’ does not mean being nothing like.  We share many of the same goals as the gay and black communities.

In his dissenting opinion to Lawrence v Texas (2003), which ruled unconstitutional so-called sodomy laws (the justification for legal harrassment of gays), Justice Antonin Scalia refers to “…the so-called homosexual agenda, by which I mean the agenda promoted by some homosexual activists directed at eliminating the moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to homosexual conduct.”

He was right. Elimination of moral opprobrium was precisely one of the goals of the gay liberation movement.  And it’s also the atheist’s goal.  Because there is a moral opprobrium attached to atheism, agnosticism, and dissent from the approved orthodoxy.  It’s not equal to that attached to homosexuality, but it’s there just the same.  It’s stifling, spreading ignorance and working against equality for all the people, and we need stand up and demonstrate against it.

“Opprobrium” means ‘disapproval of shameful behavior.’  We can’t do so much about the disapproval itself–except to demonstrate that the behavior is not really ‘shameful’.  But we can and must object to the actions society takes to express its ‘disapproval.’

Employment practices that discriminate against the non-believer:  You shouldn’t have to hide your disbelief from your employer, or feel you could be fired, or passed over for promotion, if you did.

Exclusionary activities, such as public prayer, that make anyone who doesn’t participate a pariah:  There’s nothing to prevent Tim Tebow from making a fool of himself on the football field; but when there’s a prayer on the PA system, that’s excluding anyone who doesn’t agree with the expressed religious belief.

Requirements in government, tests both legal and non-legal:  Who can run for public office without expressing belief in god?

Intrusion of religious belief into the life of civil society: e.g. banning contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage; these are all based upon religious belief, not upon any objective criteria.

Humanists– atheists– have never had a ‘stonewall moment’.  Maybe we need to rebel at some football games.  Perhaps we should ask Pussy Riot to join us for an action at St Patrick’s Cathedral.  Can we bare our souls at a Humanist Pride March, as some gays bare bottoms at Gay Pride marches?

Barring the above, we can at least reveal ourselves, to our neighbors, to our families and friends.  That’s a bare, minimum first step.



There was a letter in the Greenville News not very long ago, in which the writer stated our country was founded on religious values. This is nothing new, since one comes across a statement of this nature every day, either written, in a blog, or on television. However, the letter writer named the Mayflower compact, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the founding charters of our country’s first universities as documents clearly stating faith in God and Christ, divine providence, and divine rights. He followed this list with the familiar declaration: “America was founded as a Christian nation.”

Many of us, as atheists, have already looked at the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and satisfied our curiosity about their religious statements, but let’s look at them again.

The Declaration contains the following significant phrases: “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” and almost immediately after: “…. that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” Both God and Creator are mentioned here, but no reference is made as to which one.

The Constitution mentions religion in two separate places. In Article VI we have: “…but no religious Test shall ever be required as a qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” The one with which we are familiar is in the first of ten amendments comprising the Bill of Rights. In this amendment we have: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibition of the free exercise thereof;” There is no mention of any Creator or God in the whole of the Constitution and no mention of religion anywhere else in the document.

Article VI in the Constitution of the United States and Article VI, section 2 of the South Carolina constitution are in disagreement. The state constitution reads as follows: “No person who denies the existence of the Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution.”  This declaration is definitely a religious test for office qualification. In 1990 atheist Herb Silverman, professor of mathematics at the College of Charleston challenged it by running for governor. He challenged the law a second time by crossing out the phrase “so help me God” on his application to be a notary public. The license was finally granted to him six years later, when the Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court’s decision that the South Carolina constitution violated both the First Amendment and Article VI of the federal constitution. However, the religious requirement remains in the state constitution.

There is a lot of “God” in the Mayflower compact. Here is an extract written in modern English: “Having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; ”. The compact was written in 1620, 170 years before the Constitution and the US came into existence. The pilgrims’ intentions were to advance Christianity in honor of King James of England according to what it says above. True, they were interested in settling in a place where they would remain unmolested in practicing their particular Christian beliefs but were not interested in any religious worship outside of their denomination.

The charters of various universities were more difficult to find. Harvard was initially founded as a college in 1636 and its original charter contains many references to both God and Christianity. Harvard was “re-chartered” by the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1780, but in 1865 the legal relationship between it and the state of Massachusetts was dissolved. As far as this writer can find, the university remains a private corporation. (Further information in this respect would be appreciated.)

The college of Pennsylvania claims to be the first public university. It was chartered in 1750 and its goal was to instruct pupils in “pious, useful and charitable designs” with hope that the school “through the blessing of Almighty God would prove a nursery of wisdom and virtue…. ”. The board gave permission to any minister of gospel to preach on college grounds. The religious language remains in the charter, but when the US constitution went into effect in 1787, a clause was added requiring board members “make rules and statutes not repugnant to the laws and constitution of this state (Pennsylvania) or the United States of America.”

The constitution stands out among the documents above in its exclusion of the word God.

At the time, no other document except the Statute of Religious Freedom passed by the Virginia legislature in 1786 separated church and state so definitively. Further investigation reveals the same disagreements existed then as today regarding religious freedom. On the one hand, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Payne and Ethan Allen were more in tune with the enlightenment and favored reason and materialism over spirituality in their religious philosophies. On the other, Patrick Henry, Sam Adams, and John Jay were happy to accept the Holy Trinity and deification of Jesus. It seems almost like blind luck that reason prevailed when the constitution was written. The result is a nation that can embrace a variety of religions and a contingency of non-believers that the founding fathers could never have imagined.                                               JB


“That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence”

Christopher Hitchens

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