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FreeThought in the 20th Century

This is the 3rd in a series of posts exploring the Past, Present and Future of FreeThought. In this installment I would like to discuss how poorly FreeThought faired in the early parts of the 20th century but I promise to end on a high note. The primary focus will be from the turn of the century to the about the 70’s.

Comstock Laws, Contraception and Catholics

To understand the problems that eventually overwhelmed FreeThought in the first half of the 20th century we must first start with the enacting of the Comstock Laws of 1870’s. These laws essentially allowed the federal government the right to inspect and seize anything moving through the U.S. Postal service deemed “obscene” as determined by the local postmaster. Those things that were deemed obscene were anything from “diatribes against marriage to advertisements for veneral disease remedies”. Ingersoll himself spoke against the government being in the business of censoring and ultimately defining what was obscene.

Until the early 20th century the Catholic church held very little sway and was still considered a suspicious minority religion. However despite their small numbers the Catholic church actively began to crusade against public (and therefore secular and godless) education and contraception. Margaret Sanger, the inventor of the term birth control and it’s biggest crusader was ultimately arrested in New York City at the prompting of the local Catholic clergy. While opposition of contraception didn’t seem to win the Catholics any Protestant fans their eventual embrace of some of the most virulent, anti-communism would finally assuage the mainstream Protestant fears.

Bolshevism and the Red Scare

As the dawn of the Great War approached many freethinkers were imprisoned for sedition (such as Eugene Debs, a socialist, vocal opponent of the America’s entry into the Great War and an Indiana State Representative). After the Great War, the Bolshevik Revolution created a backlash against those that were perceived as godless and therefore un-American. Mainstream Protestantism began to link bolshevism and eventually communism with evolution much like the Catholic church linked communism and atheism. While true the Bolsheviks ostensibly embraced atheism it didn’t prevent them from replacing the State as the new religion. This of course didn’t stop the link from being made.

During the decades preceding the second World War, 2 Catholic personalities emerged on the national stage, Charles Coughlin and Fulton Sheen. Charles Coughlin was,

… dubbed “the father of hate radio” by a recent biographer, was destined to rise no higher in the church than the priesthood: his early populist message of Christian justice for the working man turned in the thirties into an anti-New Deal, pro-Nazi, and anti-Semitic – as well as anticommunist – platform. Coughlin’s diatribes were tolerated by Vatican officials and encouraged by his bishop for much of the thirties, but he was finally muzzled by an embarrassed hierarchy after Pearl Harbor.

Fulton Sheen on the other hand was an unblemished darling of the church hierarchy. His Catholic Hour radio show was broadcast by 106 radio stations throughout the 1940’s to eventually become a television star in the 1950’s with his show, Life is Worth Living, reach an estimated 5.5 million viewers. There is no doubt Sheen was virulently anticommunist as Coughlin even going so far as to advocate for spying on school teachers who might celebrate May Day (a socialist holiday, and one shared by labor unions). A close friend of J. Edgar Hoover, that bastion of free speech, Sheen would often get his personal friends appointed to what would ultimately become the FBI.

What does all of this mean for freethought in the first half of the 20th century? Nothing good. Freethinkers were more often labeled socialist (which many were) or communists. In general, an unpleasant period in freethought history.

Let the good times roll

I will end this section on a high note before I delve into my opinions on the Future of FreeThought. A number of important court cases would be decided in the mid-century. Everson v. Board of Education (1947) and McCollum v. Illinois (1948)  would all but prevent public funds (even indirectly) from being used for religious instruction. The McCollum case would directly challenge “released time” when students would be released during the school day to receive religious instruction from local religious groups. Brown v. Board of Education (1954) which desegregated schools. Engel v. Vitale (1962) found that even non-denominational school prayer was unconstitutional. Roe v. Wade (1973) which protected a woman’s right to have an abortion.

Within the political arena a Catholic would be elected president and give a speech clearly stating that, “I do not speak for my church on public matters – and the church does not speak for me”. A clear difference that was lost on Mitt Romney. Of course, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would finally pass The Congress.

I won’t detail the activities of secularist involved in the struggle for civil rights, such as, Andrew Goodman Michael Schwerner and James Chaney (who were eventually killed by racist shitbags), Stanley Levison and W.E.B. Du Bois. And modern day feminism, such as, Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan. I will simply assume you know all about it 😉

More in this series:

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Pope thinks pedophilia is wrong… at last.

I would like to first congratulate the pope on finally acknowledging in the strongest language possible that the sex abuse by catholic priests was wrong and that it is completely incompatible with catholicism. Sad that it even has to be said but important that he said.

“I am deeply ashamed and we will do what is possible so this cannot happen again in the future,”…

“We will absolutely exclude pedophiles from the sacred ministry,” Benedict said, speaking in English. “It is more important to have good priests than many priests. We will do everything possible to heal this wound.”

Pedophilia is “absolutely incompatible” with the priesthood,” Benedict said.

About freakin’ time. It only took you 7 years after publicly being embarrassed about it. Of course, like any closed group they won’t say what they are doing to stop it, what they are doing to existing priests (read the Philadelphia Grand Jury report if you can stomach it) but a strong condemnation is important. The only complaint (well…) I have is the following comment,

“It is a great suffering for the church in the United States and for the church [in] general and for me personally that this could happen,” Benedict said. “It is difficult for me to understand how it was possible that priests betray in this way their mission … to these children.”

Poor pope and his suffering [please read with as much derision and condescension as possible). Try being a 12 year old boy forced to wear a diaper and chained in a priests bedroom. You Douche Bag!!!

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Don’t be a Dick

I need to rant and since none of my family knows about this blog (except the wife, who will yell at me for posting this) I feel safe in ranting about them. This is specifically about a family member who has become religious and recently joined the Catholic Church.  We’ll call him Dick (seems appropriate).

1) We (and most of my wife’s family) recently attended Dick’s confirmation in the Catholic Church. It was 3 freakin’ hours long but we were there to support him so that’s not my issue. My issue is that at the end of the service (which did I mention was in hour 3 @ 10:00 at night) they were doing communion. Dick’s brother, a practicing Protestant, went forward to take Communion and was BLOCKED from attending communion by Dick, because he wasn’t a Catholic and therefore unable to take communion*.

He was BLOCKED from taking part in a ritual affirming the divinity of Jesus and therefore in some small part BLOCKED from his own god, simply because he was “Them” and not an “Us”. What kind of arrogant, assbaggery is involved in Dick’s thought process. He later justified it by saying he stopped his brother because of how much “reverence the Church has for communion”. Oh, that makes sense… WTF? What does that even fucking mean?

Needless to say Dick’s brother was pissed but he blew if off and chose not to make a scene during Dick’s special day (all 3 freakin’ hours of it, not sure if I mentioned that).

2) Second, another Dick story. Since I’m venting I might as well let it all out. My wife was speaking with Dick on the phone about their father. Somehow in the conversation Dick thought my wife was talking about me (little ole’ heathen Skeptigator) being depressed, instead of their father. Dick proceeds to tell my wife that he can understand why I would be depressed since I don’t believe in God and therefore don’t have any reason for living my life. He actually said that, wait, let me bold that, ok done. Again my question stands, what kind of arrogant, assbaggery is involved in Dick’s thought process?

You know, Dick, if YOU don’t have a reason to live your life without an imaginary dictator in the sky, fine. But don’t tell ME I don’t have a reason for living my life, OK?….Dick. I have a gorgeous loving wife, and 2 of the most beautiful children on the planet (that’s an actual established fact).

You can pin a lot of this arrogance and Dick-ish behavior on Dick but let’s be honest. #1 is built-in to many religions, not the least of which is the Catholic church. So in all honesty Dick was being intellectually honest in his blocking of his brother’s access to their supposedly shared god. #2 is way too common among the masses. I’ve seen this exact statement made in other places but never thought it was more than hyperbole. How naive am I? Oh and to the religious who read this, most of you don’t comment but I do get emails. Before you tell me that this is not “True Christianity” or Dick isn’t living a Christ-like life, at least, read Matthew 15:22-28. I know the apologetics and I don’t buy it for a second, a dog is dog, the translation is correct, even if you take dog = pet approach it’s still an insult showing Jesus preference was to the Jews (or again just the disciples, depending on apologetic).

 * I understand that there are rules for allowing non-Catholics to take communion, some kind of blessing or something, either way, it’s not the point.

ETA: Credit for the updated title goes to hoverFrog.

Filed under: Atheism, Religion, ,

The Ultimate Infallible Cop-Out

As is being reported around the web, The Pope in his infallible wisdom is asking the faithful to pray that the Lord will root out pedophiles from the clergy. I can barely contain the anger I feel at the utter infallible stupidity of this. Gee, I don’t know, you infallible moron, why don’t you listen to your sheeple when they say, “Hey I think my 8 year old is being molested” and when 5 more people come forward and say the same thing. Hmmmmmm….. There might be something to these accusations.

Oh, I know why don’t you read the Philadelphia grand jury report that tells you EXACTLY how the priests did what they did, and the disgusting bishops who let them get away with it. I know what you could do how about punish no one, move around the bishops responsible for allowing this behavior to continue, oh wait, you’re doing that.

 Cardinal Hummes said that the aim was to put a definitive stop to a scandal that had damaged the image of the Church and forced US archdioceses, including Boston and Los Angeles, to pay millions of dollars in compensation to the victims. He said that the scandal was exceptionally serious, although it was probably caused by “no more than 1 per cent” of the 400,000 Catholic priests around the world.

Well I’m glad that it’s only contained to no more than 4,000 priests worldwide by the Catholic Church’s own esimate, I’m sure they aren’t being conservative in their numbers or anything. I’m also glad that the Church’s focus is on limiting their liability for compensating families because it’s really difficult to save face when you keep handing over gobs of cash.

The next thing you know some moron politician in a drought-stricken area will pray for rain. Sorry, this news item hit me at the end of a bad day.

Filed under: Religion, , , ,

I’m not feeling so good

I continue to work my way through Disinformation’s Everything You Know About God Is Wrong. (See more Brain Food). I have come to the following Chapter/Essay, whatever, titled simply, Philadelphia Grand Jury Report: On Abusive Priests and the Cardinals Who Enabled Them. It is just that the full Grand Jury Report from the 2005 investigation into sexual abuse by Catholic priests in the Philadelphia Archdiocese. Here’s the link to the full report, while not terribly long it is something you really need to be prepared to read.

I am normally pretty passive when people talk about their personal beliefs and only draw the line when it turns into proselytizing or begins to impact me and my family (through legislation, intolerance, etc.). I even make the occasional, “watch out for the Catholic priest” jokes. But after reading the grand jury report my stomach is quite literally nauseous and those jokes don’t seem so funny anymore.

63 priests (63!!!) were shuffled over decades (50+ years in one instance) through dozens of parishes (even out of the diocese when they ran out safe places within the diocese) and were (and continue to be) exposed to hundreds of children. These were systematically covered up by the all too willing Cardinals who were clearly more interested in protecting themselves and the image of the church than these children. People were fired for exposing this, children were beaten, ridiculed and suspended for daring to speak out. This was just one archdiocese.

And even worse, this abuse was so well documented even in the parish records yet no one can be convicted because the statute of limitations ran out. Statute of Limitations?!?!?!? Like what? Do the sodomized 8 year-old boys just get over their rape after 10 years or so? A certain Father Mulholland (who was documented by the Grand Jury in a handful of cases to have victims who were subjected to being bound and tortured and the simultaneous rape of 2 boys) is still an active member of the clergy (at the time of the report), yet the “events” took place too long ago and the statute of limitations has run out. WTF?????????

I have to somehow separate the acts of these perverts from the religion itself but how can you? How can you separate the actions of the men in charge of this religion from the obvious depravation with which they are managing their “flock”. And I’m not talking about the priests who did the molesting but the Cardinals in charge of an entire archdiocese, the very men who are but a level below the Pope himself (the supposed infallible heir to Jesus authority until his return). These guys had such overwhelming evidence (including confessions by the priests themselves) that this stuff was happening for decades by the same priests.

;alkdf;aldfjkl;asdjfl;akdj fl;adkjfasdkfjaklfjkl; asdjfkl;awdfjakl;j Sorry, got a little upset. Gotta stop thinking about it.

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