My Old Kentucky Homesite

Archive for February, 2010

You Say You’re an Atheist: Part II

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 02/28/2010

Because I know how carefully everyone in America reads, I’m sure that it isn’t necessry to restate something I’ve already written at the beginning of Part I. But to avoid any misunderstanding, I’m going to make a brief explanatory digression here before I continue with Categories 2 through 4.

In this discussion, I’m attempting to classify those people who describe themselves as atheists. I’m not doctrinaire about who is and who isn’t one; I don’t think like a rigid religionist. It’s not my place — or yours — to say whether these folks are “true” atheists or not.

So keep in mind that I’m not concerned with whether it looks, walks, or quacks like a duck. In this discussion, if it says it’s a duck, it’s a duck.

Category 2 Atheists:
People who oppose theists or theism

Nowadays, many of us refer to Category 2 Atheists as anti-theists. But I’m not sure whether that nomenclature has been widely accepted; not all of us get the memos. Even if it were universally used, though, I’m not convinced that “anti-theist” is appropriate. It doesn’t reflect the differences of attitudes covered by Category 2, which has two subcategories. Once again, please bear in mind that I’m defining terms specifically for the purpose of this discussion.

Contrareligionists are those atheists who are against all practice of religion. These atheists think that any supernatural system of beliefs is harmful to the future of humanity, and that religion should be eradicated as soon as possible. They differ from Category 1 non-believers and dis-believers in that contrareligionists focus on the way religion affects others, rather than themselves.

Anti-theists automatically oppose all theists. However, they don’t concern themselves with beliefs, only with believers. Without thinking, they judge all theists as idiots. Anti-theists fall into the small sub-category that bullies like Bill O’Reilly choose to use when defining all atheists. At their mildest, anti-theists are knee-jerk contrarians; at their extreme, they’re haters.

A Further Note on Category 2 Atheists:
Can a person be both a contrareligionist and an anti-theist? There may be some small number of atheists who do straddle those classifications, but, in general, I don’t think so. It’s a question of focus. Contrareligionists oppose all religions, but are not necessarily antagonistic to everyone who follows a religion. Anti-theists oppose religious people, and might well argue that without religionists, religion couldn’t exist.

Category 3 Atheists:
People who aren’t theists, but …

Ok, now things get curiouser and curiouser as we fall farther down the hole of terminological inadequacy. Before talking about people who aren’t theists, it might be a good idea if we decided what we mean by “theist.” The standard company line is that theists believe in one or more personal, present (although not necessarily omnipresent), currently active, and controlling gods. Actually, I think that’s way too narrow a definition, but let’s start with it. My first subcategory, then, is a no-brainer.

Deists believe that there was a “prime mover,” a big banger, a “something out there.” They can’t say for sure whether their “god” still exists or not, but they claim it doesn’t matter. Their supernatural entity certainly has no interactions with anybody on Earth, including the churchgoers clogging up the roads on Sunday mornings.

I must confess that I’ve read a lot of philosophical nonsense purporting to differentiate theists and deists. As I see it, if you claim to believe in a god, you’re a goddist, whether you call your supernatural obsession “Theo” or “Deo.” I’ve never met a deist who flat-out says, “I’m an atheist.” Still, I haven’t met everybody. So I’ve included “deist” as a subcategory of Category 3 Atheists.

Wooists are the kinds of men and women who talk a lot about “higher spirituality.” Unlike deists, they don’t believe in the existence of an actual entity, so they can — and sometimes do — define themselves as “atheists.” You’ll hear them using words like “essence” or “force” a lot, occasionally even “a higher power.” Many of them are fascinated by Eastern religions, while others subscribe to some form of mysticism. Each of them may even have invented his or her own personal benign questing beast.

Irrationalists are atheists who allow themselves, at least sometimes, to be ruled by superstitions or wild beliefs for which they can offer no solid evidence. In my experience, almost all of us atheists are irrational once in a while: the woman who wears her lucky pin for an important meeting at work, the guy who won’t shave on a day his favorite team is playing a crucial game, the person who unthinkingly puts credence in a political statement just because it was made by a favorite celebrity. I chuckle at avowed atheists with those kinds of superstitions, just as I laugh at myself when I automatically say “g’bleshyu” when someone sneezes. But I wouldn’t classify an atheist as an irrationalist unless a superstition or unreasonable belief took over a major part of his or her life. Irrationalists are atheists who subscribe to conspiracy theories, or who attribute crypto-magical powers to some person or animal, or who nurture any idée fixe that conflicts with available evidence.

A Further Note on Category 3 Atheists:
I’ll confess that I always find it difficult to deal with an atheist who has what I consider to be a completely nutty idea that affects his or her worldview. For me, Category 3 Atheists can be just as exasperating to talk to as Fundamentalists.

Obviously, I’d love all self-proclaimed atheists to think pretty much the way I do. But screw me! They don’t. As I’ve tootled around the Atheosphere and met more and more atheists, I’ve come to accept the fact that we can’t be divided into groups of “true” and “false.”

On the other hand, I don’t need to show any special deference to a wacky notion just because it’s propounded by a fellow atheist. I’ve finally grown comfortable acknowledging that “we,” too, have our share of loonies.

I promise I’ll finish this discussion in Part III, which will be arriving shortly.

Posted in Freedom from Faith, Language & Meaning | 21 Comments »

You Say You’re an Atheist: Part I

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 02/27/2010

Too often, I’ve read or heard some variant of the following statement: “The only thing that all atheists have in common is that we don’t believe in any gods.” I, myself, have made that claim hundreds of times.

But lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “atheist,” and what a person means when he or she self-identifies as one. The truth of the matter is: the old simplistic categorization is false.

“Atheist” means different things to different people. I’m not talking about dictionary definitions here, so don’t trot out your OED. Languages evolve; lexicons get revised. If enough people use a word to carry a certain meaning, then voila!, it does.

It’s obvious that the word “atheist” resonates in different ways with theists than it does with those of us who use it as a self-descriptor. I’m not going to concern myself in this series of posts with what non-atheists (shall we call them “aatheists”?) think an atheist is. I’m only going to address what the word means to a person who proudly declares “I’m an atheist.”

There are areas of overlap, but self-professed “atheists” tend to fall into four different broad categories, each of which has a number of subcategories.

Category 1 Atheists:
People who have no (i.e., don’t believe in any) gods

This is the category that fits the “definition” with which I started this post. Category 1 Atheists share an idea about the universe: there aren’t any supernatural entities that control it.

Actually, these atheists — and I’d count myself as one of them — fall into a number of subcategories. For want of better terminology, I’m going to call them un-believers, non-believers, and dis-believers. Note: These are not exact terms, so don’t start Googling. I’ve merely created a linguistic convenience.

Un-believers are people who simply don’t believe in any gods. Newborn babies, are (obviously) un-believers. If there were a society in which gods had never been invented, the members of that society would be un-believers. Those rare individuals who, without giving the matter any thought, move through their lives blissfully unaffected by religion, are also un-believers. Un-belief is passive; it’s a non-activity. So un-believers would probably not announce, “I’m an atheist.” They’d more likely say, “I guess I’m an atheist.”

Non-believers actively do not believe. They’re the atheists who challenge theists’ god claims by asking for evidence, the ones who most often use logical and scientific refutations of theistic assertions. Non-belief often extends into other areas of existence besides religion: politics, work, education, culture, even relationships with family and friends.

There are various kinds of non-believers, but they all fall somewhere along a continuum. On one side can be found the “mildest” of them, the doubters, who might say: “Let’s see proof.” Farther along the imaginary line are the skeptics: “Let’s see solid proof.” At the extreme end of the range, you’ll find the cynics, whose secret mantra could be: “Let’s see solid proof … but I expect you to lie, so I doubt that you can make it solid enough to convince me.” Cynics are often lapsed idealists, folks whose bubbles of trust have been burst again and again. Although both skeptics and cynics would probably characterize themselves as “rational,” cynics often base their attitudes on negative gut feelings. Those of us who are automatically suspicious of religionists’ motives, have at least a touch of cynicsm. If I were asked to plot myself on the non-believer continuum, I’d say that I sit comfortably somewhere on the cynicism side of skepticism.

Dis-believers are the third variant of Category 1 Atheists. Those atheists who assert with absolute conviction “There are no gods” are dis-believers. In a debate, they may ask theists for evidence, but they know beforehand that none will be forthcoming. When you hear someone say, “I can’t believe that” or “It just doesn’t make any sense,” you’re likely dealing with a dis-believer. They’re the flip-side of unquestioning religionists who are convinced that all the proof for evolution (or the big bang) is a communistic plot.

A Further Note on Category 1 Atheists:
Remember that my classification system is unscientific, even artificial. So none of us Category 1 Atheists is locked into a particular subcategory. To give you my personal example: I’d say that during the first three or four years of my life, I was an un-believer. As I grew older, and I learned that most of my friends and relatives had a magical being in their lives, I jumped forcefully into the dis-believing camp. By the time I was nine or ten, I was telling other kids that they were idiots for believing in a god. As I matured, both physically and intellectually, I became more and more of a non-believer, starting as a complete cynic and slowly moving toward the skeptical position . Today, as I said, I’d identify myself as a cynical-leaning skeptic. But I must confess that I still have knee-jerk dis-belief outbursts now and then.

Watch for Part II of “You Say You’re an Atheist,” coming soon to a computer near you.

Posted in Freedom from Faith, Language & Meaning | 16 Comments »

Son of Googl-oetry

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 02/25/2010

Every day, millions of people enter keywords into Internet search engines, and get pointed to sites that frequently have little or nothing to do with the information they’re seeking. Sometimes, those unfortunate pilgrims wind up reading my drivel. As most bloggers do, I know a couple of methods by which I can track specific phrases that have led the unwary to my weird little corner of the Web. Unlike many others, however, I actually keep a list of those terms.

At first, I did so for my own amusement. At my previous blog, I was extremely flattered that someone, somewhere, would want to hear what I had to say about “tact is overrated.”  I was ecstatic when I learned that “fart sounds and what they mean” brought a knowledge-hungry populace in contact with my ideas. ”  Eagerly, I imagined sharing with the world my insights on “rosebud underwear.”

However, I soon tired of my collection. All those inane word-strings grew dull after a while.

But then, in July of 2007, I invented a new art form: Googl-oetry. At last I found a way to use, verbatim, some of those perplexing key phrases I’d amassed.

Now, I’ve got a new blog, and a new set of intriguing search terms. Each line in the following epic, including both of its alternate titles, was originally typed as a search term by someone who had no idea that he or she was contributing to great art. Crafting these entries carefully, I lovingly created a verse for our times (11:43 p.m. by my New York Airways clock).  As you can see, the work is both beautiful and profound — although perhaps unintelligible.  But then, the Googl-oet works in mysterious ways.

certainty limits freedom
yiddish for grumpy

whats kentucky famous for
ashley judd johnny depp
johnny depp ashley judd
ashley judd and johnny depp
johnny depp and ashley judd
old kentucky overalls
does johnny depp ever go back to kentucky?
i saw johnny depp in lexington
translating the ten commandments to our own language of 2010

can you swallow ky
“tomato brandy” -hybrid -“brandy wine” -sauce -aioli -seed -boy –soup
“de-lovely” jingle soda
authentic chopped liver
coney dog in kentucky
kentucky colonel dog
2 a day
stomach flu 2010 january kentucky
“the great american bathroom book”

how is old kentukey is diffrent from this kentukey
pterodactyl sightings kentucky
creature encounter with driver in kentuc
religious fanatics in kentucky
silly podunk kentuckians
d cup moms
free casual sexual encounters owensboro

thats my homesite
place that is never cloudy
winston churchill homesite
millard fillmore homesite
my old kentucky fa la la
my kentucky bell the poem
yiddish cacamoon
coonskin rotten
my old kentucky wallberg

Posted in From Bad to Verse, Google, Seriously Silly | 12 Comments »

The Atheist Out Campaign

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 02/22/2010

One of my main objections to the various freethinker billboards is that they’re cold, aloof. Atheists, skeptics, freethinkers will get accepted in society only when we have faces, only when theists come to realize that we’re their neighbors, their coworkers, their classmates, maybe even their kids. The friendly woman who held the elevator for you in the lobby of your office building this morning, or the polite guy who slowed down in his car so you could safely merge into his lane on the highway, they could be atheists. The teacher who encouraged your creativity, the doctor who squeezed you in for an emergency visit between others’ appointments, the people down the block who brought you your mail that had been erroneously delivered to them, they, too, might be atheists. Atheists come in all shapes and sizes. We represent the full gamut of ages, social backgrounds, races, and places of origin. Some atheists are funny, others deadly serious; some cheery, others gloomy. There are longwinded atheists and terse atheists, outgoing atheists and shy atheists, atheists who are active and atheists who are sedentary. We’re a cross-section of America and we’re everywhere. But many theists don’t even realize that they know us — because far too many atheists are afraid to talk about their atheism.

So I think we should to start the Atheist Out Campaign. There’s nothing drastic about it. You don’t have to confront those you dread, or jump on any bandwagon. You don’t have to contribute money, or go to meetings, or hand out fliers. In fact, you don’t have to do much. You merely have to help create a geometric progression of acceptance by telling just three people who don’t already know that you’re an atheist, that you are. Pick friends, relatives, casual acquaintances, or even complete strangers. It doesn’t matter. Just put a face to atheism: yours. If you find other frightened, closeted atheists in the process, enourage them to do the same.

Some of you may ask: “What if I lose my job? What if my family disowns me? What if my friends shun me?”

My question: What if they don’t? What if you’ve been squelching part of your intellectual and emotional life all these years — for nothing? Your silence propagates the fear, but your forthrightness breeds freedom. Something has to be done to combat the forces of intellectual darkness that threaten to take over our country; we can all begin by refusing to hide from the light of reason.

Posted in Freedom from Faith | 19 Comments »

Earworm Saturday #2

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 02/20/2010

Be careful how you choose your adjectives. If you’re unthinking, as I was a few days ago, you can wind up with an earworm.

Here’s the story in brief: Because the citizens of Kentucky (an aggregate that now includes me) are constantly besieged by god-pushers, I found myself doing something that’s antithetical to my nature. Looking for like-minded people who are as fed up with our would-be theocracy as I am, I recently attended a few meetings of freethinkers’ organizations. At the last one I went to, the subject of a stupidly innocuous Humanist billboard (e.g., “Are You Good Without God? Millions Are.”) came up. A coalition of Lexington skeptics is planning to erect such a sign, ostensibly to energize the ungodly community in a nice way. I suggested that, if we had to put up a touchy-feely message at all, we should do everything we could to make the unveiling a big media event: knock on doors to collect friends and acquaintances for a gigantic photo op or even a parade, light a fire under the media’s collective ass to get them to show up, and make sure that everyone who attends is prepared to answer questions if a microphone is shoved under his or her nose. The only problem is: some of the people involved in Lexington’s so-called freethinking community are closet atheists, afraid to be seen on TV without their metaphorical crucifixes. Naturally, the expression of that fear sent me into a diatribe about how useless a dumb sign is when there are self-defined atheists who are unwilling to identify themselves as being among the millions referred to on the billboard. I guess that here in the Bluegrass state, it’s bad luck to come out openly against superstition.

One of the sharpest members of the group responded with a resigned smile: “This is not New York; it’s Kentucky.” Most of the others agreed that “we have to go slowly.” And maybe they’re right, assuming that the total of recorded time so far hasn’t been long enough. Perhaps if we freethinkers are patient and accommodating, we’ll have to wait only two or three measly millenia more before we can have a small say in public policy.

Later that night, when my wife asked me how the meeting was, I said — without pausing to notice any warning lights — “It was a little too Kumbaya-ish for my taste.”

Augggggh. The word was scarcely out before that goddamned tune was urging the various parts of my brain to form a circle and hold hands. Talk about a headache.

But why should I reserve this experience strictly for myself. “Kumbaya” must be shared, because it’s the godmother of all earworms, the sine qua non of gaggiosity.

If you don’t know what I mean, check out the song’s true essence, flawlessly captured here.

In this peppy version, the mere singing of the song by a Great White Father magically creates peace and dancing — and the sudden appearance of bikini-clad women — among warring African tribes.

Who could resist a bunch of Polish women in funny hats? Not me! The group doesn’t seem to have learned the exact tune, but it’s close enough to still be annoying.

Christians can co-opt anything and make it specifically about Jesus. This video takes the song, usually interpreted as a plea for universal unity, and turns it into an evangelical message: In the beginning was the word, and the word was “Kumbaya.”

At about this point, you’re probably asking yourself: “Hey, how would that flatulent ditty sound as an instrumental?”

Yes, that shitty song is heard everywhere.

All that Kumbaya-ing may make you worried about having nightmares. Perhaps you’re afraid that the minute you get into bed, the monsters under your mattress will get all New-Agey on you. But that could happen anyplace you try to relax, as this poor victim found out.

Still, I’m not the only person who finds the number offensive. The German chick in this extravaganza definitely has the right idea.

I wish happy psycho-listening to all my readers. But don’t forget: Someone’s retching, my Lord.

Posted in Earworms, Freedom from Faith, Music, New to Kentucky | 31 Comments »

You Call It an Angel, but It Looks Like a Chip to Me

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 02/18/2010

Nine days ago, I wrote about an education bill proposed by three Kentucky theocrats who think that a Biblical Literacy elective should be offered in Kentucky’s schools.

Today, that bill came up for a vote by the Senate Diseducation Committee, and was approved unanimously.

One of the twelve committee members voted “amen,” before adding a quick “yea.” Another complimented the bill’s sponsors, telling them that they must have been inspired when “an angel was sent down to your shoulders.” Still another senator cheered that “preaching” might help public schools.

Senator Julian Carroll, one of the three god-pushers who cobbled the bill from what must have been the true cross, noticed that his colleagues were going too far over the top even for him. Calmly, he pointed out that the bill would not stand up to constitutional challenges unless it makes clear that the bible would be taught as a “historical document” and not as a “faith-based document.” But then, swept up in the revival-meeting fervor, he complained that current problems in the public schools —like shootings — occur because the bible has been taken out of the classroom, and “nothing” put back in.

Here’s what else Carroll said. “When we took the Bible out of the school, we also unfortunately took out that portion of the Bible which relates to life skills and value systems. Our students these days do not have the full opportunity, in my judgment, to be taught those life skills that keep them out of our penitentiaries and make them a productive citizen.”

Tim Shaughnessy, a savvy senator from Louisville, grew nervous because of the repeated hosannas. He warned that it might be difficult for the bill to be perceived as anything other than an attempt to ram religion down the throats of all Kentucky students; “we couldn’t even get it out of committee without the preaching.” Shaughnessy then pointed out that the bible contains some life skills — becoming “ruthless warriors” and having “multiple wives,” for instance — that might not yield such terrific lessons for our young people. Still, he voted to approve.

Now that the bill has made it out of committee, I assume it will soon go to the full Kentucky Synod for a vote. No elected official would confirm or deny the rumor that if the bill passes, some real literature and history books will be burned at the capitol building to release a cloud of white smoke.

[If you care to read further, you can find different versions of the full story here and here.]

Posted in First Amendment, Freedom from Faith, New to Kentucky | 11 Comments »

Three Videos

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 02/15/2010

My friend Srsny told me that Channel 13, the PBS station in New York City, gives viewers an opportunity each week to vote for the short film they’d like to see broadcast on Saturday night.

Since I’m still a New Yawker at heart, I thought I would check out this week’s choices. Obviously, none of the offerings have anything to do with basketball, religion, bourbon, coal-mining, and/or horse-breeding, so I’m fairly certain that a concept like this would not work in Kentucky. But, jaded New Yawker that I still am, I enjoyed all three of these little gems, even though they seemed irrelevant to my new life in Lexington.

Surprisingly, each selection reflects, in some way, my feelings about music-as-life. I won’t reveal which one I voted for, or write anything further about my reactions — right now. Instead, I’m hoping that you’ll leave comments saying which short you would have picked, and why.

Here are the videos, in order from shortest to longest. Have fun watching them.

1) El Pianógrafo

2) Be Like a Duck

3) Comme Un Air

If you’d like to  influence what New Yawkers get to see on their TVs, you can vote here.

Posted in Music, New to Kentucky | 20 Comments »

Indifference Is a Many-Splendored Thing

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 02/13/2010

In case you haven’t already been glutted with ersatz love on TV and at the mall, I want to remind you that tomorrow is Valentine’s Day.

Valentine, as everyone knows, is the patron saint of goo. But you may not realize that there are actually two different canonized martyrs with that name. One, according to legend, was a Roman physician and priest, who was beaten and beheaded on February 14 many years ago along the Flaminian Way. The other was the Bishop of Terni, who, according to conflicting legend, was beaten and beheaded on February 14 many years ago along the Flaminian Way. You might have noticed a certain similarity between these two myths, and jumped to the conclusion that they’re merely variants of the same story. Maybe they are, but it is possible that the same exact thing happened twice, because it’s a well-known fact that bandits in those early days could become pretty violent when travelers refused to part with their Whitman Samplers. Whatever you believe: If I were you, I’d wait until Monday to go for a stroll along the Flaminian Way.

To find the real origin of Lovey-Dovey day, we have to look at February 15, the annual date of an ancient Roman fertility feast called Lupercalia. That’s not to be confused with Lou Percalia, one of the characters from The Godfather,  a sub-capo killed in the early pages when he was overwhelmed by assassins who skipped to him. “Perky” had absolutely nothing to do with St. Valentine’s Day, because, on the morning of the massacre, he arrived at work inappropriately prepared, under the mistaken impression that each killer was supposed to dress as Cupid.

No, Lupercalia was a randy old holiday honoring Lupercus, the god of overpriced flowers. His special day was celebrated by lots of hoo-ha, some of it sexual in nature. Christians realized that there was no way the rabble was going to give up an occasion dedicated specifically to physical fun, so the church fathers stole and adapted the idea. They watered it way down, though, by scrawling it inside a sacred heart on their sacred calendar, and blaming its origin on one or both of the guys who got mugged on the highway. The name change worked out particularly well for Rodgers and (not sacred) Hart, who didn’t have to write a song called “My Funny Lupercalian.”

Despite its impressive background, Valentine’s Day doesn’t appeal to everyone. Some people wonder: Why let the greeting card companies decide that on a given date each year you’ll suddenly be overwhelmed by a desire to send a sweet message to the person who spends a lot of her time criticizing the way you dust?

However, the main objection to the day is that it’s too exclusive for our egalitarian society. What should you do about all those people you merely like. Don’t they deserve a little recognition, too? Is it their fault you can’t get really excited about them? What makes you think you’re such a prize?

But even that kind of holiday would entail too much activity for the kinds of festivals I like: blissing out all day with Sudoku puzzles, and then sitting down at the table for some serious overeating.

So, in the hope of creating an ideal holiday for everyone, I’d like to suggest a sensible alternative to Valentine’s Day. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an occasion each year for acknowledging those people about whom you’re totally apathetic? Just think of how many folks in your life fit into that category! I bet you don’t get too worked up one way or the other over the kid who asks you if you want paper or plastic at the grocery store. When was the last time you had a powerful surge of emotion for, say, your dentist? What about your spouse’s cousin in Cleveland. Or, for that matter, anyone in Cleveland?

We could call the new holiday: I Don’t Care About You and You Don’t Care About Me, But Here’s Some Ridiculously Expensive Roses” Day. I suggest you find someone about whom you have no feelings at all. Take him or her to dinner. But sit at separate tables. If you’re really concerned with observing the true meaing of the day, you and your unloved one could even go to two different restaurants. Synchronize your watches to make sure you don’t arrive at the same time. In absentia, sing each other songs like “What I Did for Apathy” or “You’ve Lost That Unenthusiastic Feeling,” or even “I Didn’t Leave Anything in San Francisco.”

And while we’re on the subject, please accept this candy heart from me that says: “Be Somebody Else’s.”

Posted in Holidays | 10 Comments »

The Atheist Blogroll

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 02/13/2010

I’m not normally a “joiner” because I’m not a “one-of-the-crowd” kind of guy. Mob mentality too often fosters self-righteous stupidity.

But this is just a short note to mention that My Old Kentucky Homesite can now be found on Mojoey’s Atheist Blogroll. Back in December of 2006, I first enrolled in that club about a month after I’d started writing my previous (now defunct) blog. At the time, I became one of fewer than 150 members. Today, thanks to Mojoey’s impressive effort at community-building through his free service, there are nearly 1100 skeptical blogs on the roster. That’s quite an achievement.

Naturally, I don’t necessarily endorse every blog on that list. Some of them are tedious, or poorly written, or just plain dumb. A few of them merely parrot ideas expressed — far better — by others, and a handful even out-and-out plagiarize. But there’s plenty of good reading to be had by meandering through the menu, and, not infrequently, some hearty laughter.

Because it’s important, I think, for all of us atheists to join together in our mutual battles against those who would turn America into a theocracy, I urge all my readers whose blogs touch on freethinking issues to contact Mojoey and add their sites to his list.

Posted in Freedom from Faith | 8 Comments »

Homesite Puzzler #2: Presidents Day Quiz

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 02/11/2010

Nowadays, our elected officials miss no opportunity to spout pieties. It would be a secular miracle, indeed, to find an American politician who had anything negative to say about religion. This situation was not always so, however.

Monday is Presidents Day (and please note that there is no apostrophe anywhere in the holiday’s name). I know I’m four days early with this puzzler, but I want to give you a big head start on your celebrations. I do this as a holiday gift to my readers because you’ll all probably be too busy over the weekend honoring our historic leaders in the traditional American way: by trading pictures of them for sale items at the mall.

Also, you may need a little time to work your way through this quiz on American Presidents and their ideas about religion. Those of you who actually know something about our country’s history may be able to use their knowledge to figure out many of the answers. But I’m confident that, even if you ‘ve seen some of these questions before, you won’t get 100%. Hell, I didn’t — and I created this goddamned quiz.

Give yourself 5 points for every item you get right. [Note: You can find the correct answers appended as the first comment to this post. But no peeking!)

1. Who said:

I do not believe in the divinity of Christ, and there are many other of the postulates of the orthodox creed to which I cannot subscribe.

A. Grover Cleveland
B. Franklin Pierce
C. William Howard Taft
D. Rutherford B. Hayes

2. Which two presidents are quoted here?

[O]f course like every other man of intelligence and education I do believe in organic evolution. It surprises me that at this late date such questions should be raised.

Well, it’s a theory, it is a scientific theory only, and it has in recent years been challenged in the world of science and is not yet believed in the scientific community to be as infallible as it once was believed. But if it was going to be taught in the schools, then I think that also the biblical theory of creation, which is not a theory, but the biblical story of creation, should also be taught.

A. Franklin D. Roosevelt and George W. Bush
B. Woodrow Wilson and Ronald Reagan
C. John F. Kennedy and George H. W. Bush
D. Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter

3. George W. Bush said:

I, in the state of Texas, had heard a lot of discussion about a faith-based initiative eroding the important bridge between church and state.

Two of our previous leaders knew the difference between a bridge and a wall. Which presidents said:

Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church and the private school supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate.

Whatever one’s religion in his private life may be, for the officeholder, nothing takes precedence over his oath to uphold the Constitution and all its parts — including the First Amendment and the strict separation of church and state.

A. Ulysses S. Grant and John F. Kennedy
B. William McKinley and Bill Clinton
C. Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt
D. James Garfield and Calvin Coolidge

4. Which presidents could have had the following debate?

We should live our lives as though Christ were coming this afternoon.

The Christian god is a three-headed monster; cruel, vengeful, and capricious … One only needs to look at the caliber of people who say they serve him. They are always of two classes: fools and hypocrites.

A. George W. Bush and James Madison
B. Jimmy Carter and Thomas Jefferson
C. George H. W. Bush and Abraham Lincoln
D. Ronald Reagan and John Adams

5. Who said:

I have seldom met an intelligent person whose views were not narrowed and distorted by religion.

A. James Buchanan
B. Franklin Pierce
C. Herbert Hoover
D. Martin Van Buren

6. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and The American Crisis were arguably the most important writings of the Revolutionary War period. Yet, two presidents disagreed about Paine’s heritage. Which presidents referred to him in the following ways:

[He] needs no monument made with hands; he has erected a monument in the hearts of all lovers of liberty.

… that filthy little atheist

A. Thomas Jefferson and Richard Nixon
B. James Monroe and Ronald Reagan
C. James Madison and Harry Truman
D. Andrew Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt

7. What president said the following, and what was the occasion?

In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future.

A. George W. Bush on the funding of faith-based initiatives
B. Abraham Lincoln on the words “In God We Trust” being engraved on coins
C. James K. Polk on the spread of Protestantism as a result of our “manifest destiny”
D. Dwight D. Eisenhower on “Under God” being added to the Pledge of Allegiance

8. Who said:

I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered as patriots. This is one nation under God.

A. George W. Bush
B. Franklin D. Roosevelt
C. George H. W. Bush
D. Theodore Roosevelt

9. Which president once told reporters:

I am a Christian, and I am a devout Christian. I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that that faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life.

A. Barack Obama
B. Bill Clinton
C. Jimmy Carter
D. Richard Nixon

10. Which president’s attitude about religion is expressed by:

Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise, every expanded prospect.

A. John Quincy Adams
B. James Monroe
C. Warren G. Harding
D. James Madison

11. Who said:

I am tolerant of all creeds. Yet if any sect suffered itself to be used for political objects I would meet it by political opposition. In my view church and state should be separate, not only in form, but fact. Religion and politics should not be mingled.

A. John Quincy Adams
B. Millard Fillmore
C. Franklin Pierce
D. Martin Van Buren

12. Which two presidents might have had this debate about morality:

The truth is, politics and morality are inseparable. And as morality’s foundation is religion, religion and politics are necessarily related. We need religion as a guide. We need it because we are imperfect.

Twenty times in the course of my late reading, I have been upon the point of breaking out: This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it!

A. George H. W. Bush and James Madison
B. Herbert Hoover and Thomas Jefferson
C. Ronald Reagan and John Adams
D. Lyndon B. Johnson and Abraham Lincoln

13. Which little-known president is responsible for the following amazing quote?

The United States has adventured upon a great and noble experiment, which is believed to have been hazarded in the absence of all previous precedent — that of total separation of Church and State. No religious establishment by law exists among us. The conscience is left free from all restraint and each is permitted to worship his Maker after his own judgment. The offices of the Government are open alike to all. No tithes are levied to support an established Hierarchy, nor is the fallible judgment of man set up as the sure and infallible creed of faith. The Mohammedan, if he will to come among us would have the privilege guaranteed to him by the Constitution to worship according to the Koran; and the East Indian might erect a shrine to Brahma if it so pleased him. Such is the spirit of toleration inculcated by our political institutions… The Hebrew persecuted and down trodden in other regions takes up his abode among us with none to make him afraid… and the Aegis of the government is over him to defend and protect him. Such is the great experiment which we have tried, and such are the happy fruits which have resulted from it; our system of free government would be imperfect without it.

A. John Tyler
B. Chester Alan Arthur
C. James K. Polk
D. Benjamin Harrison

14. Which two presidents of two different parties could have agreed on these ideas?

No matter what other personal desires or crises we have faced, I’ve never forgotten that this is the time to celebrate the birth of the Baby Jesus, and the impact of this event on the history of the world.

It is only when men begin to worship that they begin to grow.

A. George W. Bush and Bill Clinton
B. Warren G. Harding and Woodrow Wilson
C. Franklin D. Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover
D. Jimmy Carter and Calvin Coolidge

15. Who said:

Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither justice nor freedom can be permanently maintained. Its interests are intrusted to the States and the voluntary action of the people. Whatever help the nation can justly afford should be generously given to aid the States in supporting common schools; but it would be unjust to our people and dangerous to our institutions to apply any portion of the revenues of the nation or of the States to the support of sectarian schools. The separation of Church and State in everything relating to taxation should be absolute.

A. Andrew Johnson
B. Rutherford B. Hayes
C. William McKinley
D. James A. Garfield

16. Which two presidents could have had this discussion about education?

I believe God did create the world. And I think we’re finding out more and more and more as to how it actually happened.

There is no need to teach that stars can fall out of the sky and land on a flat Earth in order to defend our religious faith.

A. Richard Nixon and Lyndon B. Johnson
B. John F. Kennedy and Harry Truman
C. George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter
D. Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan

17. Which two presidents had the following different ideas about religious sensitivity?

The Jews, I find are very, very selfish. They care not how many Estonians, Latvians, Finns, Poles, Yugoslavs or Greeks get murdered or mistreated as D[isplaced] P[ersons] as long as the Jews get special treatment. Yet when they have power, physical, financial, or political, neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment to the underdog.

If they are good workmen, they may be of Asia, Africa, or Europe. They may be Mohometans, Jews or Christians of any Sect, or they may be Atheists.

A. Harry Truman and George Washington
B. Franklin D. Roosevelt and James Monroe
C. Dwight D. Eisenhower and Grover Cleveland
D. Richard M. Nixon and Theodore Roosevelt

18. These two presidents would be horrified at all the faith talk in the present-day political arena. Who are they?

Voters … make up their minds for many diverse reasons, good and bad. To submit the candidates to a religious test is unfair enough — to apply it to the voters is divisive, degrading and wholly unwarranted.

If there is one thing for which we stand in this country, it is for complete religious freedom, and it is an emphatic negation of this right to cross-examine a man on his religion before being willing to support him for office.

A. William Howard Taft and William McKinley
B. John F. Kennedy and Theodore Roosevelt
C. Herbert Hoover and Harry Truman
D. Ulysses S. Grant and Abraham Lincoln

19. The country lucked out when neither of these two religious nuts were elected. What two losing candidates said:

If we have to give up either religion or education, we should give up education.

I believe that the purpose of life is to glorify God.

A. Charles Evans Hughes and Alfred E. Smith
B. Alf Landon and Barry Goldwater
C. William Jennings Bryan and Al Gore
D. Bob Dole and George McGovern

20. Who said:

We have the most religious freedom of any country in the world, including the freedom not to believe.

A. Richard M. Nixon
B. Lyndon B. Johnson
C. Barack Obama
D. Bill Clinton

[For these and many other great quotes, I highly recommend that you read 2000 Years of Disbelief by James A. Haught and The Quotable Atheist by Jack Huberman — or simply visit Positive Atheism.]

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