During the Spanish Inquisition, Catholics would find Jews by looking to see who ate pork. They’d offer pork to people they suspected of being Jewish, and if they refused to eat it, they were arrested. Because in the 1400s the only real Spaniard was a Catholic Spaniard. There was a holy war aimed at getting rid of the unwanted.
There was a holy war in the United States, too, in the 1950s. There was a man named Joe McCarthy and he waged a holy war against the atheists. “Today we are engaged in a final, all-out battle between communistic atheism and Christianity,” Joe McCarthy, 1950.
At the start, let me make clear that in my opinion no special credit is due those of us who are making an all-out fight against this Godless force-a force which seeks to destroy all the honesty and decency that every Protestant, Jew and Catholic has been taught at his mother’s knee. It is a task for which we can claim no special credit for doing. It is one which we are obligated to perform. It is one of the tasks for which we were brought into this world-for which we were born. If we fail to use all the powers of mind and body which God gave us, then I am sure our mothers, wherever they are tonight, may well sorrow for the day of our birth…
Government officials were put on trial, torn apart for anything that seemed vaguely related to atheism, communism, homosexuality, or not quite being patriotic enough. Many lost their careers and were unable to find work, some were wrongfully imprisoned on laws that were later overturned as unconstitutional — often on the basis of incredibly flimsy evidence and accusations from people with personal motives.
Perhaps you remember HUAC, the House Un-American Activities Committee, which created lists of people who weren’t considered American enough — American in this case meaning Christian Non-Commies. Over 300 artists were boycotted by Hollywood after being put on HUAC’s blacklist and only 10% of them were able to rebuild careers. HUAC did local witch-hunts to ferret out people they didn’t like, making sure communities could shun them as Un-American. Arthur Miller’s play “The Crucible”, about the Salem Witch Trials, was inspired by the way HUAC treated people. It was truly a witch-hunt and the offenders were Godless.
It is thanks to McCarthyism and HUAC that the phrase “Under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 and the phrase “In God We Trust” was adopted as the national motto in 1956, over the previous, all-inclusive motto “E Pluribus Unum” — Out of Many, One. Before the 1950s, the national motto said that the nation was stronger thanks to the many different kinds of people who made up the country; after the 1950s, the national motto said that the nation was stronger because of a Christian God.
To be clear, God was added to the Pledge and as a motto in the 1950s not because of a strong devotion to religion but out of a desire to find and punish atheists.
The House has just overwhelmingly reaffirmed the phrase “In God We Trust” as the national motto. A completely unnecessary move as George W. Bush signed a law in 2002 reaffirming it as the national motto, along with reaffirming “under God” in the pledge. Congress reaffirmed it as the national motto 5 years ago. 2 years ago, the phrase was added to the Capitol visitor center. And this ridiculous vote in the middle of economic crisis that Congress has repeatedly failed to address effectively? OK, so Congress likes God, now can they please get around to liking their constituents?
What drives me crazy is the refusal of the American people and the political establishment to recognize that the so-called tradition of God as part of these things only dates back to the 50s. Everyone seems to think that they were established at the beginning of the country, not as part of a witch-hunt. And they additionally refuse to recognize that not only is it conflating church and state, it is also endorsing the behavior of McCarthy and HUAC. SCOTUS on this issue:
It is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency ‘In God We Trust’ has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise. – Aronow v. United States, 1970
It has everything to do with establishing atheists as a second-class group of citizens and tacitly endorsing McCarthy’s persecution of those he called “Godless”. If the government is not embarrassed by the blatant disregard of the Establishment Clause, it could at least show the good sense to be embarrassed by Joseph McCarthy.
What a crazy weekend that was. So crazy that I’m writing about it what, on Thursday? Yeah, I was tweeting, hello, busy! In fact, nothing I’m going to say here wasn’t said with worse grammar and lack of access to spell check earlier.
I landed at Ronald Reagan airport (DCA) and took a cab to the Hyatt on Capitol Hill, which has a view of the Capital, assuming you can stand in exactly the right place and lean as far to your left as possible. My cab driver asked me what I was doing in town, and I was a little hesitant to say “CONQUERING THE WORLD WITH ATHEISM” because cab drivers have the power to not drive you anymore, and that would be unfun. So I started in easy, and then discovered that my self-proclaimed religious cabbie was totally on board with secular values and gay rights! Huzzah!
I hadn’t eaten yet, and the conference started at 1:00, which was exactly when I arrived. In the elevator I met Liz Gaston and Omar Rashid, who would become my companions over the course of the event. Because they were also awesome.
The event opened with Sean Faircloth, Woody Kaplan and Amanda Knief taking the podium in turns. I learned a lot of stats that I will now list for you, because you’re apparently reading this:
- Avg # of Staffers per House/Senate member: 18, split between home and DC
- Percent of staffer time spent with constituents: 75%
- Percent of staffers who think constituent visits are VERY persuasive: 97%
We broke down into groups after being given a rather lengthy guide to
sales lobbying for people who don’t know anything about sales lobbying. Being from SC, I got to work with Herb Silverman, who invented the SCA, and Sharon.
The issues we were planning on discussing the following day were the need for Humanist Military Chaplains and HR 1179 2011, a bill which allows medical service providers refuse to provide service if their religion demands it. The first is an easier sell, because everyone likes to help the military, the second is one that requires reframing the debate.
The reason we need Humanist Military Chaplains is not necessarily intuitive for people on the edges of the debate: who needs an atheist chaplain? Well, if the army is going to institutionalize having counselors on the ground and then NOT train them in how to deal with the 20%+ of armed service members with no religious preference, then that’s a problem. Humanism is a life philosophy and not actually synonymous with atheist, there’s just a large overlap. There aren’t any, despite the fact that there are people graduated from places like Harvard with divinity degrees focusing on Humanism.
HR 1179 2011 is more of an issue of patients rights. Doctors, Insurance, Nurses, Pharmacists, Hospitals and so on can not only refuse care that they don’t approve of, they can not tell you that they won’t do those services and not inform you that such services exist. This includes obvious things like abortions and birth control, but also things like living wills and DNRs. A Catholic Hospital can say it offers comprehensive female care and then not tell you most of what’s involved with comprehensive care.
I mean, it just seems to me that if you’re a Scientologist, you don’t become a Psychiatrist; if you’re a Jehovah’s Witness, you don’t become a Doctor; and if you’re someone with a political agenda that puts church in front of saving lives, you stay the hell away from medicine. But what do I know?
Sorry, shaking it off. I got to walk around DC, I wanted to see if maybe I could get into SCOTUS, but I couldn’t. Omar took this very cool picture of me at the Supreme Court. And then it was time for dinner.
Jennifer Michael Hecht, who has been my Facebook friend for a long time, but whose books I’ve never read and who I’ve never hung out with as such but is now my new favorite person, gave a speech at the dinner. She is a proponent of Poetic Atheism, which is like Atheism, but it rhymes. I’ll give you some quotes, grossly paraphrased:
When you know your history, you are powerful. More people in the history of humanity have not believed in God than have. (Atheism began around 600BC)
If I enjoy every day of my life I don’t worry so much about death. I mean, we barely use the life we’ve got — I dunno about you but I walk back and forth between the fridge and the computer a lot, what, I need a thousand years of it?
We were the first country founded as a secular rationalist country but we were also the first country to give the uneducated poor the vote. They worried that the uneducated poor would elect a poor man who would redistribute all the wealth. The uneducated poor won’t vote in a poor man, they’ll elect a stupid rich man. This is why we need free mandatory secular education!
Nothing in science fiction, in religion, in myths is as weird as this: (points to her head) the meat thinks. Nothing is as weird as love.
George Hrab, who is Spider Jerusalem, then performed some of his atheisty songs.
George Hrab is of the belief that James Randi is a garden gnome. This is undeniable.
My favorite zinger was aimed at Hitchens, when Hrab was talking about an event that Hitchens was going to be at but then wasn’t actually there.
Christopher Hitchens was supposed to be there, but I guess he had to go to a scotch festival… But at least that worked out for him.
OH SNAP! Basically what I’m saying is that George Hrab was pretty good, but he talked about his balls a lot.
After Hrab, Sean led trivia. I had talked a rather big game before the conference, so there was some pressure to win. Which I did quite handily, thank you very much. With the help of Omar for “Mumford and Sons” when all I could remember was “Little Lion Man”. We won an extra drink ticket, which I used to buy other people’s love, because people are irrationally in love with drink tickets.
After that, I went to meet George Hrab because I have a friend, Jarrett, who is a big fan. There are all these people who really dig on podcasts and I don’t get it. It’s like NPR but less focused, I know, I’ve been on a podcast. He wrote a note and let me take photos and then I ended up going down and hanging out with him and Liz and some random other people in the bar downstairs. There was an origami velociraptor involved.