Happy Easter

Church and State

I might have mentioned that Walt Whitman was an enormous fan and a friend of Robert Ingersoll. Ingersoll in fact eulogized Whitman in 1892. I recommend reading the eulogy. These are lovely words.

Understand, Ingersoll was a great reader and a lover of words. Hear what he says about discovering Shakespeare, with the same passion, the same amazement that I might elicit talking about the first time I heard Van Halen perform “Little Guitars” or Led Zeppelin do “Battle of Evermore.”

I was filled with wonder. I had never heard anything like it. I was ashamed to ask him what he was reading; I supposed that an intelligent boy ought to know. So I waited, and when the little bell rang for supper I hung back…I picked up the book; it was Sam Johnston’s edition of Shakespeare. The next day I bought a copy for four dollars. My God! More than the national debt…

That book has been a perpetual joy to me from that day to this; and whenever I read Shakespeare—if it ever happens that I fail to find some new beauty, some new presentation of some wonderful truth, or another word that bursts into blossom, I shall
make up my mind that my mental facilities are failing, that it is not the fault of the book.

Walt Whitman, not his only fan. Mark Twain worshipped Robert Ingersoll. Considered him a vital influence, in fact. More on that here, if you’re interested.

This is a man who left a tremendous, indelible crater on the American cultural landscape. He profoundly influenced the author of Connecticut Yankee and Tom Sawyer for gravity’s sake. So. Why is he not more celebrated?

Because. Even at a time that is considered a boon for enlightened and/or securlarist thinking, the going in America was pretty rocky for a nonbeliever.

Ingersoll was active in politics, but he only held office once, appointed state attorney general of Illinois in 1867. In 1876, he placed into nomination James G. Blaine for the Presidency, though another chap named Rutherford B. Hayes was nominated. Ingersoll had the qualities of a leader, but even in his own life, he knew that his position as a nonbeliever meant that his public life would be limited.

This is why, for example, he was hush-hush about his role in the Haymaker riot affair.

Here’s what happened in a nutshell: Chicago. There’s a demonstration as a protest cops shooting and killing workers in a work strike the previous day. Someone threw a bomb and killed seven policemen. Eight known as “anarchists” were rounded up and tried, though there was little proof they were even there. The attorney wanted Ingersoll on the case. After Ingersoll died, the attorney, William Black, explained in a letter to Ingersoll’s wife Eva:

“…the tocsin has already been sounded by the press and the pulpit that Anarchims is the logical fruit of Ingersollism, and that the doctrine of no God, no accounatbility to a Supreme Power, must ineitably lead to no government, no authority on earth.” Ingersoll was involved in the case, but quietly, and after sentencing, he wrote and urged Gov. Richard Oglesby for clemency, but begged the governor to keep the letter quiet.

Robert Ingersoll lived in his time knowing that his outspoken stance regarding religion was a detriment to what would have likely been a stellar career in public service. The Constitution specifically rules out a religious test for public office. But then, as now, when the current President has to constantly fend off charges that he worships Allah rather than God, we haz them. We do not, I’m afraid, separate church and state very well.

Ingersoll had it straight though, when it came to the “against theocracy” stuff. I leave you on this Easter Sunday with his words about the Founders.

They knew that to put God in the Constitution was to put man out. They knew that the recognition of a Deity would be seized upon by fanatics and zealots as a pretext for destroying the liberty of thought. They knew the terrible history of the church too well to place in her keeping, or in the keeping of her God, the sacred rights of man. They intended that all should have the right to worship, or not to worship; that our laws should make no distinction on account of creed. They intended to found and frame a government for man, and for man alone. They wished to preserve the individuality of all; to prevent the few from governing the many, and the many from persecuting and destroying the few.

Amen.

Dresden, NY, Redux

April 7, 2012
How to travel if you’re me: Find the thruway and begin to get on the thruway. Realize you don’t have any munny. Make an illegal U-turn and go to Wal-Mart and buy that underwear you’ve been needing so you can also get some cash munny. Put on AC/DC’s High Voltage as loud as your radio will go. Drive an hour or so to your destination. Then realize that it’s still closed and does not actually open until Memorial Day.

I was prepared fully to have an awesome blog post for Blog Against Theocracy, about how I made it to the Ingersoll house and learned so much. I mean, I did learn a few things. Such as:

  • There is a kid who lives next-door to the Ingersoll House who may actually be Napoleon Dyanamite, just give him a few years
  • Golfers appreciate a nice car horn blast as you’re driving by
  • Cows appreciate it just as much when you lean out the window and yell “MOO!”
  • There are churches in Geneva, NY, that are so beautiful that they might almost make a guy like me believe in the Lord Jesus Christ

Oh, wait, here’s a picture:

Church in Geneva NY

Did this trip learn me anything about Robert Green Ingersoll? Not really. But the lake is certainly beautiful, so the drive is worth it anyway. But I reckon for today and tomorrow, I will have to stick to sharing with you what’s in Susan Jacoby’s excellent book, have I mentioned this book to you yet? Did you run out and purchase your own copy? Hmmmmmm?

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There is an amazing thing about Mr. Ingersoll: He was a true progressive.

I mean, back in the day, you could be a forward-thinking, progressive, even a “liberal” kind of thinker and still think that Jim Crow laws were just dandy and that women shouldn’t oughtta be anywhere near a polling place.

Not Robert Ingersoll. I know, I know: “But he was a Republican!” Remember, though, the Republican Party of today is not even the Republican Party of the Reagan era. It sure as hell isn’t the Republican Party of Lincoln, which was the political party to which Ingersoll belonged. In fact, Ingersoll was a Republican mainly for two reasons: He was an abolitionist, and he believed in the gold standard. These were both once upon a time planks of the Republican Party, bleev it or not.

Jacoby: “In 1883, when a conservative Supreme Court struck down the Civil Rights Act of 1875…Ingersoll issued a withering blast at the justices. Describing the decision as ‘a disgrace to the age in which we live,’ he declared that the high court’s opinion ‘puts the best people of the colored race at the mercy of the meanest portion of the white race. It allows a contemptible white man to trample upon a good colored man.'” Jacoby notes that it took 80 years hence for Congress to right the wrong Ingersoll spoke of.

To put Ingersoll incredible foresight into a hell of a proper perspective, let’s turn to the fact that this man, who died in 1899, had a position on the highly topical issue of CONTRACEPTION.

“Ingersoll, speaking before there were any reliable methods of contraception, nevertheless envisioned the day when science would ‘make woman the owner, the mistress of herself’ by enabling her ‘to decide for herself whether she will or will not become a mother.’ Effective means of contraception, Ingersoll said, would ut an end to the poverty of families with more children then parents could support. ‘This frees woman,’ he declared. ‘The babes that are then born will be welcome. They will be clasped with glad hands to happy breasts. They will fill homes with light and joy.’

(This from Ingersoll’s last public address, delivered before the American Free Religious association, Boston, June 2, 1899.)

Another thing Ingersoll was: He was funny. Here’s how he recalled his Sundays growing up (his father was a Presbyterian preacher):

After the sermon we had an intermission. Then came the catechism with the chief end of man…We sat in a row with our feet coming within about six inches of the floor…After that we started for home, sad and solemn—overpowered with the wisdom displayed in the scheme of atonement. When we got home, if we had been good boys, and the weather was warm, sometimes they would take us out to the graveyard to cheer us up a little.

King of Late Night. I’m telling ya.

For tomorrow, I’m going to discuss why, perhaps, you have not ever heard of Robert Ingersoll. It was a factor he was aware of in his lifetime and it is indeed why the man never ran for office.

I’ll also include one of the most quotable statements the man made regarding the issue at hand, The separation of church and state.

Dresden, NY

March 19, 2012
I drive alone to Dresden, NY, eager for a road trip, having not had an excuse for one in quite some time. It’s a beautiful day, untimely for upstate New York, with the crisp air just shaking the snow off its boots.

I drive mostly on thruway to the Seneca Lake area and came upon Geneva, New York, a lively little downtown, and I am pleased. I like lively little main streets like this; this is what Candidate Obama was talking about, Main Street versus Wall Street. Little shops and taverns and oh, a little music store I’ll visit on my way back.

I leave Geneva toward Dresden and am pleased to find myself deep in New York winery country. I pass winery after winery and spent grape bushes galore. I let the windows open to let the chilly wind rush around a little, and I’m blasting De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising.

I find Dresden eventually. It’s a crossroads. It’s so little there that you find yourself looking for the rest of it, and then I’m driving down a road ravine with signs warning that there’s actually no way to turn around. I figure I’d better find a way to do so before I’m sucked in to whatever black hole awaits. And then to my right is my destination, the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum.

Within five minutes of peering into the windows, I realize that it is closed to tourists except for on Saturdays and Sundays, information I did not somehow manage to glean from the World Wide Web. I take a few snapshots, stand for a moment to take the whole place in, including the smallest Post Office I have ever seen just across the street, and I get in my car and drive back.

Some might mark this road trip as a failure. No such thing. I will return to Dresden someday. Perhaps even when this place is open.

*

My interest in Robert Ingersoll stems from the writing of Susan Jacoby in Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, an excellent book that any blogger endeavoring on the BAT should have a well-thumbed copy of. Ingersoll is one of her book’s showpieces, and as well he should be. He was known as a Civil War hero, a colonel indeed captured and then paroled by the South; as one of the great orators of his time; and as the “Great Agnostic.” He is the reason you know the name “Thomas Paine.” He was a spirited member of the Republican party and indeed spoke at one of that party’s convention to nominate a candidate to the floor (who was then not nominated).

He was one of the great Americans, a man I am coming to think of as that generation’s King of Late Night. And, as I may allude to here so many times it might become cloying: You’ve probably never heard of him.

One of the biggest things Robert Ingersoll accomplished: He resurrected Thomas Paine, who died broke and screwed. His country had twice turned its back on him, once to let him rot in a French prison. Theodore Roosevelt called Paine a “filthy little atheist…that apparently esteems a bladder of dirty water as the proper weapon with which to assail Christianity.”

Jacoby continues: “Were it not for the unremitting efforts of Ingersoll, who, despite his nineteenth-century fame and notoriety, is ignored in standard American history texts, Paine’s vital contributions to the revolutionary cause might have suffered the same fate. Unfortunately , no champion arose in the twentieth century to do for Ingersoll what Ingersoll did for Paine.

Well. I’m not sure I’d say I’m a “champion,” Susan, but we can sure get started, and what better occasion for this than the world-famous Blog Against Theocracy?
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A few things to know about Ingersoll: Walt Whitman considered him to be the greatest orator of his time.

“It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass,” said Whitman of his friend. “He lives, embodies, the individuality, I preach. I see in Bob [Ingersoll] the noblest specimen—American-flavored—pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light.”

Novelist Sherwood Anderson had Ingersoll as a character in his novel Poor White, so persuasive a speaker that he “…came to [a small Midwest town] to speak . . . , and after he had gone the question of the divinity of Christ for months occupied the minds of the citizens.”

Ingersoll is mentioned in Sinclair Lewis’ novel Elmer Gantry, where Gantry’s friend Jim Lefferts suggests using an Ingersol sermon, “love is the only bow on life’s dark cloud,” but Gantry opts not to credit Ingersoll. “Rats!” exclaims Gantry. “Chances are nobody there tonight has ever read Ingersoll. Agin him. Besides I’ll kind of change it around.”

Colonel Bob Mountain in Washington state was named for Robert Ingersoll.

I kind of throw these facts up there to emphasize the stature of the man in his day. He was, as I’ve come to think of him, the Johnny Carson of his day.

What was mass media then, after all? Books and newspapers. The theater, and, perhaps, the symphony. Or, you went to see a guy give a speech. And the guy who is considered one of the best at the speech-making is Robert Ingersoll. He’s lauded for his monologues, and his ratings are through the roof.

He’s the King of Late Night of the time.

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Programming Note

As you are all probably aware, the high holidays for many faiths are upon us. Jews, Christians, and even Pagans, probably among others, will be celebrating their spring holidays, and mazel tov to them and theirs.

I will once again be observing the annual blogswarm known as Blog Against Theocracy. This is because I believe that the separation of church and state is a rather important issue, and that it is increasingly and more urgently under siege with each and every passing year. I believe it is important not just to those of us who consider ourselves of purely secular minds, but also to the faithful. If you want to pray, you should be with us, not with those who would install crosses and commandments into public institutions. Because the only thing that guarantees your right to choose your own imaginary friend in the sky is a nice, neat, secular public square.

Now. I am certain that many of my colleagues might spend some time discussing some certain people within the ranks of the Republican Party. And what many of them will have to say may not be altogether nice. And I might get in a swipe or two here or there as I go as well.

But. By way of preview. In this space, I intend to spend my efforts for the BAT honoring and feting one of this nation’s great Republican minds. And no, I’m not being ironic, not even Alanis-ironic.

Stay tuned. The BAT starts Friday.

Gravity!

Happy Easter to everyone. Today, I understand, is the celebration of the hallowed day when Jesus Christ himself was resurrected from the dead, and then a bunny rabbit crawled out of his ass and laid eggs that tasted of peanut butter and chocolate. And then Jesus made ham and sweet potatoes out of a single one of those eggs and fed a whole bunch of people.

Right?

What the heck do I know about it? I was reared as a heathen. I mean, try being seven years old and you’re at a friend’s Sunday school class, and this old lady starts talking about some asshole who built this big boat and stuff? Not only do you not care about the story, but you have absolutely no context for it because this is the first time you’ve even learned that there’s this book called The Bible. It is quite an awkward sensation, believe you me. But that’s where I sit.

I mean, since then, I have taken some time to read the thing. I took Bible as Literature in college. Yada yada yada. In 42 years, not much has been able to budge me from a position of I just don’t believe that shit and I don’t think it’s necessary for me to talk to an imaginary force of nature in the sky.

But. I think that if you want to talk to a make-believe friend in the sky, you should be allowed. And, not only do I think that, but there’s this thing called the Constitution that requires that you should be allowed to talk to whatever make-believe friend in the sky that you want to.

So on this occasion, “Easter,” also known as the blogswarm known as “Blog Against Theocracy,” I says what I says every year, that you either keep Jesus Christ and God and Thor and Satan and all the rest of the imaginary friends out of the public square or you have to vote for one of them instead of for your local congressman. The only thing that keeps us allowed to talk to whatever imaginary friend in the sky we want to is the fact that there’s no government telling you which one you gotta talk to. It’s pretty simple.

I would also say this: If freedom to talk to whatever imaginary friend in the sky is a high priority for you, and if you’re voting for the GOOP, then I would like to suggest that you’re voting wrong. It’s we non-believers who give a crap the most about whether or not you get to choose which imaginary friend in the sky you get to talk to. Why? Because when the Fascist Theocracy decides to start cracking heads about which imaginary friend in the sky people get to talk to, who are the people you think they’re going to come after first?

The Jews, of course. Then the queers. Then the heathens. So we rather think that this freedom of religion shit is pretty important. Even if we think it’s all bullshit.

So I have little new to say about this. If they can make you post the Ten Comandments at a courthouse, they can make you post Zabibah and the King or lyrics to Three Dog Night songs. Do not get comfortable and assume that your faith won or is the right one. The minute you do they’ll vote in Mitt Romney and he’ll have us all wearing magical underpants.

Which gets me down to what I think is the really important thing to write about here: Cussing.

I am on a mission to weed the GD word out of my vocabulary. I believe I’ve discussed this here before, but while I’m retreading topics for the blogswarm, what the heck.

If you don’t worship God, why do you blame him for stuff?

If you drop your keys or fall down or if you spill your beer, why in New York are you blaming a Lord you don’t believe in?

I say that when you’re reaching for a cuss word, you ought to blame the real culprit. The nice thing is that it’s a universal force as well, and probably 80 percent of the time it actually is what’s to blame: GRAVITY!

I’m telling you. Gravity as a cuss word. It’s the way to go for us secular humanists. GRAVITY!

Coming Up: Blog Against Theocracy

Coming up April 22-24 is the annual blogswarm, Blog Against Theocracy.

I snapped a picture one afternoon in sunny downtown Rochester that I thought might be useful. I’ve created a slap-dash banner from it in the sidebar, slap-dash because my only computing resource these days is my reliable little netbook that I have yet to try to install Photoshop Elements on. So, this was done at picnik.com. Handy little tool, that.

I’d like the art to be available though to any bloggers who might be able to do better with it. The link to the original art follows. Have at it.

http://ketchupisavegetable.com/images/church_state.jpg

BAT-Man

I am sitting down to a fine plate of Tex-Mex food and am now watching Dook just widen the gap to ten vs. West Virginia with 5:42 in the first half, and I realize that I have yet to do my duly duty by sitting down to Blog Against Theocracy.

God-damnit!

What to write for the blog-swarm…if only there were some dramatic example I could discuss about how this country already has drifted into what Chief Hungry Freak Daddy Frank Zappa once described as a “fascist theocracy.”

Like if, say, a Mormon ran for President of These Untied States, hell, even if he ran as a Republigoat, maybe, and then he had to give a big speech, you know, justifying that he was a Mormon running for President, even though the country in question’s most revered founding document specifically says that there is no religious test for running for said office…

No, that’s a crazy example because, even though they believe that God is a man who lives in outer space, Mormons still worship the Christ and all. So that’d be silly.

Though, what if the candidate happened to be a black guy? Would both he and his opponent, say, a crotchety old white guy who can’t lift his hands over his head, would they be required as a matter of course to stick their noses up the ass of a prominent evangelist minister just to get in the door?

And, let’s say in the most unlikely event that the black guy did get elected, maybe then one of the worst insults people would think they could hurl at him would be to accuse him of being a “Muslim.” Now, THAT might be a theocracy. Maybe. But only, of course, if you factored in that most people don’t understand that Black Islam is actually a movement that is rather independent in its thought and evolution from the Islam that originated in Mecca, so that, even if the black guy was a Muslim, he might not be considered to be one of THOSE Muslims, or even if you factored in that blonde-haired, blue-eyed Christian assholes are just as capable of blowing shit up and killing people as are assholes of the brown-skinned praying faced east variety.

I know what might make you think that we lived in a theocracy. What if a Muslim actually DID get elected to our federal legislature? And then a whole bunch of people started shitting themselves about which BOOK the guy put his hand on when he took his oath?

Even though the Constitution specifically says the following on that very matter:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

?

Or…oh, wait, here’s one that’ll kill ya. This would NEVER happen. Like if a bunch of congressmen rented a house? And they were all big-time Christians and shit? And if the house got a tax exemption as if it were a church? And if they’d been found to be redirecting U.S. foreign policy toward bigoted, hateful policies? And if…oh, hell, I could go on and on, but Rachel does it a lot better than I do.

I dunno, Frank. I think you mighta been onto something there.

Happy Easter

Wishing my Christian friends and neighbors a glorious day today. I for one have always wondered why the whole resurrection business hasn’t seemed to take into account a perfectly logical explanation, that Jesus had a twin brother. But what do I know.

I did want to note that the Blog Against Theocracy blogswarm is an incredible success. Congratulations to its organizers on an event that has inspired terrific participation. It is worth sitting down on this fine Easter Sunday to read some of the posts and to participate in the discussion via comments. And I think I will leave my link to it up for the duration because it is such a good opportunity to learn about other fine blogs out there.

Freedom… IS the Distance

In the course of history there were only a handful of governments I would have been happy to live with. The USA tops the list. Other nations have produced long-standing and free societies… most of them in Northern Europe. No place on the list of good governments will you find a religious state.

I do not know if it is correct to say that there has never been a successful religious state. There is no exact measure of success in these things, and one state which we often consider to have been successful is the Roman Empire. It was largely dominated by religion, although a fairly eclectic one and… that thing about lions and Christians aside…it was fairly tolerant of other views.

One of my favorite passages in the bible is a prescription for a man who believes his wife is unfaithful. You take her to the priest and he gives her a “bitter drought.” If it makes her blow chunks, she is an adulteress. If it does not, she is innocent. I have to think that many wives bent over for the priest in exchange for a little sugar in the punch bowl. Religion is fine left to itself, but put real power in the hands of a holy man and you ask for trouble.

Priests don’t like to be challenged. They are not interested in the facts and hate science. For centuries the Catholic Church persecuted scientists. Moslem culture developed much of what we know about modern mathematics, but modern radical Moslem cultures do not even teach it. American Christians want to control our schools so that they can substitute their priest-controlled mythology for science in our classrooms.

Religions in control of governments manifest the worst of demagoguery. In the Puritan-controlled Massachusetts Colony women were burned as witches. Ann Hutchinson was exiled for contradicting Governor Winthrope. In Taliban-held territory, young girls are flogged for not covering their hair. Lovers are stoned to death. And Buddhist images are destroyed. The Catholic Churches in medieval Europe would throw pogroms to keep the peasants happy. Lutheran churches preached antisemitism and gave Hitler a platform to work from. The Pope still does not think its wrong to appoint a Bishop whose hatred causes him to ignore the plain facts of the historical record and deny the holocaust. Christian preachers justified slavery for centuries and enforced segregation during the long, dark years of Jim Crow. They actually accepted… reinforced… the argument that lynch mob violence was necessary to protect southern white women. In George Busch’s America, global warming was ignored because it is the will of God and stem cell research was forbidden.

When I was young, church was harmless. The nuns loved the Milwaukee Braves and, their habits flying about in the warm spring breeze, played softball with the little kids. The best of the priests had a reputation for bellying up to the bar like manly men. Only wackos thought the Pope would run the country if Kennedy was elected. It was innocent.

Not any longer. Catholic churches have joined forces with evangelical hate mongers in a serious effort to take over our lives and dictate standards of normalcy to us all. The separation of church and state is the first and only defense against religious tyranny. Freedom IS the distance between church and state. We need to keep them many miles apart.

A Curse For The Rest Of Us

The Blog Against Theocracy blogswarm is an excellent excuse for me to address my fellow secular humanists regarding language. This is an eccentric theory I have been working on for quite some time, but it is still under development, so bear with me.

One problem with being a secular humanist is that there’s a lot of language that just shouldn’t make sense to you. For instance, if someone sneezes, and you give them a “Godblessyou,” are you actually helping that person?

And when you slip on the ice or drop your keys under the car, does it really help a non-believer, aside from the obvious release of frustration, to ask God to damn something? If you don’t actually believe in “God,” and you probably don’t believe in “damning,” then what’s in it for you? It certainly isn’t honest or accurate. And it just bows to a universal cultural acceptance of Christian monotheism.

And yet, there is something wildly satisfying about invoking a powerful universal force in curse. Scatological references are useful sometimes too, as are references to fornication and other bodily functions or body parts. Sometimes, though, there’s nothing like an angry beseeching to an almighty.

Which is why, today, I am offering my secular brethren an alternative curse. Instead of cursing God, Jesus, or asking either one of them to send someone or something to a damp, overheated, fiery alternative universe, why not curse the force that is actually most likely the cause of your consternation anyway?

Why not curse gravity?

Probably 80 to 90 percent of the time, gravity is what’s at issue anyway. You drop your keys, you fall on your ass, you drop a dish and it shatters, what did some faceless deity have to do with that? Nothing if you don’t count yourself as a believer. But gravity is often actually the culrpit anyway. Why not yell at it a little?

Besides, you’re not taking any chances by cursing gravity. Gravity has never having smited or damned anyone. It is not a vengeful force, as was once written about this “God” fellow. It’s not going to strike you with a bunch of boils and kill your family and stuff and then be all like, “hah, you got PUNK’D, Job!” Nope, there is no risk of eternal damnation when you curse gravity. Just the ever-present danger that you might break a hip.

Certainly, “gravity!” doesn’t have quite the power of a full-out “god damn it!” I’ve also taken to saying “gravity’s pull!” for extended emphasis, or mixing it up a little with an F-bomb for really dire circumstances. Sure, it lacks power now, but just you wait ’til it catches on. Tomorrow, when you drop that anvil on your foot, give it a try! See how good it feels to utter a curse that makes sense and actually blames the thing that actually caused that to happen to you!

Gravity!