In this special Valentine's Day issue:
- Saint Valentine
- What's New on the Secular Web?
- Upcoming Events
- Book of the Month
- Focus: Pro-Family Agenda
- An Unlikely Love Triangle
- What Love Means To Me
- Where Have All the Bookstores Gone?
- FFRF Publishes Atheist Cookbook
- Taslima Nasrin Update
- More E-Mail Threats
- Reader Reply
- In Memoria: Greg Erwin
Happy Birthday Charles Darwin! (Feb. 20th)
Thank God we got the convicts and they got the Puritans. --Letter to the Editor, Sidney Morning Herald, Australia.
Mike Koller wires you into news affecting freethinkers everywhere. Get wired.
In pre-Christian Rome, Valentine's Day was known as Lupercalia, a Roman holiday that took place during the ides of February when the goddess Juno Februata inflicted her "love fever" on the young and unwary. Lupercalia was a festival of orgy and sexual excess. Young Roman men drew small "love notes" from a container composed by eligible young women. The men then socialized with the women and attempted to guess who composed the note they had drawn. In this manner, young men and women were brought together as sexual partners. To this day, despite centuries-long efforts by the Church to suppress it, Valentine's Day has been a holiday devoted to lovers everywhere. Even after the Church replaced Juno Februata with a mythical Saint Valentine and recast Cupid into a harmless cherub, the Lupercalia festival continued much as it had before, although the sexual rituals went underground or took on a Christianized veneer.
To Wang Lun
Li Po takes a boat and is about to depart
When suddenly he hears the sound of footsteps and
singing on the shore.
The water in the Peach Blossom pool is a thousand feet deep
But not as deep as Wang Lun's parting love for me.
Li Bai [Tr. Liu Wu-Chi]
Edward Tabash Contribution
The Secular Web got a big boost from supporter and contributor Edward Tabash last December. Eddie contributed $10,000 to the Internet Infidels to support our continuing efforts to publish the best in atheist, agnostic, humanist, and freethought literature online. He had to overcome a few financial hurdles to do so but Eddie was determined to make it happen. "When I was eighteen my dad took me to a United Jewish Fund fundraiser attended by then Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban," Eddie wrote in his letter accompanying the contribution. Eddie remembered how Ed Sanders, an attorney and local leader, would call out the names of those in the two-thousand member audience that he felt should give more. "I did an Ed Sanders high pressure pitch on myself," Eddie wrote, "and realized that the true culmination of my upbringing as the son of a prominent orthodox rabbi is to walk the extra mile for atheism! Thus was born my contribution." All of us here who volunteer to maintain the Secular Web deeply appreciate Eddie's financial help. He has gone a long way toward making sure that the world's most comprehensive online freethought library is here to stay on the Internet. Eddie is an attorney in Malibu, California and President of the Los Angeles Area Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. He will debate William Lane Craig on February 8, 1999 at Pepperdine University.
Adolf Grünbaum Publishes on Secular Web
We are proud to announce that Professor Adolf Grünbaum, University of Pittsburgh, has allowed us to publish three of his papers on the Secular Web. Without a doubt Professor Grünbaum is the most influential scholar in the philosophy of science today. His contribution to our growing library of philosophical papers is a boon to the freethinking community whose members might otherwise not have access to a university library. We are also attempting to obtain copyright permission from the publishers of three additional papers. When we secure electronic reprint permission for these papers they will be posted as quickly as possible. To read Professor Grünbaum's papers, point your browser to <URL:http://infidels.org/library/modern/adolf_grunbaum/index.html>.
Kumo's David McFadzean Donates Internet Service
David McFadzean, engineer extraordinnaire and owner of Kumo Software Foundation (<URL:http://www.kumo.com/>), Ideosphere Inc., and Infinite Monkeys, Inc., has donated free Internet service to host the Secular Web. David has hosted the Secular Web on his network server for over three years. He decided last month to waive our fee in order to make sure the Secular Web is here to stay in the next century. Thanks David for your generous support!
New Internet Infidel Joins Board
Mike Earl of Reasonworks (<URL:http://www.reasonworks.com/) joins the Board of Directors beginning this month and will take over as editor of the feedback page. Welcome aboard Mike!
Internet Infidels to Sponsor Geivett-Draper Debate on Theism vs. Naturalism
We will be sponsoring an oral debate on theism vs. naturalism between Doug Geivett and Paul Draper. Geivett, a Christian philosopher at Talbott School of Theology, is the author of Evil and the Evidence for God and recently debated Skeptic editor Michael Shermer. Paul Draper, an agnostic philosopher at Florida International University, is the author of many respected articles in the philosophy of religion and recently debated William Lane Craig. The event is scheduled for Tuesday, April 27, at 6:00 p.m. at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and will be moderated by Wes Morriston, a professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder. II will be selling tapes of the debate; watch this column for ordering information.
- Tabash-Craig Debate, "Secular Humanism vs. Christianity: Which One is True?" February 8, 1999, Pepperdine University, Malibu, California, USA
- Darwin Day, University of Tennesee at Knoxville, USA February 20, 1999
- Barker-Horner Debate, "Does God Exist?" February 23, 1999, Shoreline Community College, Seattle, USA
- The Blomberg-Price Debate, February 25, 1999, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA
- The Craig-Price Debate, "Did Jesus of Nazareth Rise from the Dead?" April 16, 1999, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA.
- Conference: "Why Does Religion Persist? Faith, Culture, and the Brain," May 13-16, 1999, Chicago, Illinois, USA
By Irving Singer
Before writing this personal reflection on love as a means of creating meaning in life, MIT philosopher Irving Singer had completed a three volume history of the concept of love in Western thought and art. The result is that the elegant structure of Pursuit rests on a solid foundation, one that you can explore further if you choose to take this book as an introduction to Singer's work. But the book stands on its own as a successful effort to "provoke thought in the reader ... and to sketch a panoramic view that others may use in their own search for affective as well as cognitive significance" (p. xiii).
In prose that is graceful, sometimes poetic, and always clear and easy to read, Singer sketches out a number of categories that enable us to think clearly about our own experiences of love and the elements they hold in common. These categories include love for persons, things and ideals, and within the category of love for persons, such relationships as parental love, love between friends, and romantic and erotic love, among others. He also challenges a number of prevalent ideas about love: for example that love is a merging of the people involved; that because (supposedly) love means merging with the beloved, it is a danger to personal autonomy; that love must be "unconditional"; that loving well means striving for an impossible ideal of disinterested giving like that ascribed to God. Finally, he discusses the experience of loving, considering among other issues the relationship between the needs to give and receive love, "appraisal" of the beloved and "bestowal" of love, the comparison between "falling" in love and remaining in love.
Instead of seeking to define an ideal, Singer analyzes both the ideals that other thinkers have suggested, and the concrete activities and relationships that make up love in everyday life. His "pluralistic and 'self-realizationist'" approach is genuinely liberating in that you can't read his book without questioning his examples, applying his categories to your own experiences, and using his remarks to clarify your own understanding of love. Like any other freedom, the freedom to define love for yourself is demanding. As Singer writes in his closing pages.
If we think of love as in itself the answer to all the problems human beings face, we will constantly be disappointed by it. If we search for perfection in a mate and refuse to be satisfied by anything less than that, we will never really experience sexual or marital love. If we are unwilling to undergo the interpersonal negotiations...we will never be able to give our love to anyone. Since love does not simply happen, as I have been suggesting, it must emerge as the saving remnant of our endless yearning for happy and meaningful lives.(pages 175-176)
Like an old and dear friendship, The Pursuit of Love offers a new insight every time you look again. Yes, I'm saying I've re-read it, and want to do so again, and if you get this book, you'll keep re-reading it too.
[Molleen Matsumura wrote this review.]
- Order the 1995 softcover now for $11.96 from Amazon.com (USA)
- Order the 1995 softcover now for £7.99 from Amazon.co.uk (UK)
Helping you to sip from the information firehose
Each month mathew dredges the bottom of the net to bring to you strange religious claims, flim-flam schemes, pop-culture memes gone awry, and the downright superstitious. Can your browser handle the upgrade to web.scan or will it crash on mathew's bizarre sense of humor? Give it a try at <URL:http://infidels/web.scan/1999/scan02.html>.
"There's a new kind of romance novel in which no bodices get ripped, no breasts heave.... And while a kiss is still a kiss, it no longer sends the hero on an inexorable journey to 'the pulsing flower of her womanhood.'"1 With this press release, Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd. launched its new Steeple Hill division of romance novels in September 1997. The new Christian line features heroines who are always chaste and God is the third figure in every love triangle.
The reviewer's play on words suggests a contrast from the usual love triangle. But perhaps the God-triangle can also represent infidelity.
For most of us, this inference is a stretch, but, for some husbands or wives, the Christian God may represent an unwelcome intruder into the intimacy of marriage.
Current articles and book titles suggest that if a couple is "unequally yoked" (believer married to unbeliever), the Christian is the tormented spouse. In the article, "How God Helps Wives of Unbelieving Husbands," Michael Fanstone writes, "Christian wives whose husbands do not share their faith tend to be unhappy and discontented with things as they are."2 Julia Lieblich, Newshouse News Service, identifies a real concern of Christian wives: "Even more disturbing is a woman's fear that her partner is not saved, and that if he were killed suddenly they would be separated for eternity." She quotes one wife, "I pray constantly about it in my morning devotion. I was so petrified about a certain job [her husband's sheet metal work] that before he left the house I asked him to pray with me for his safety."3 Recognizing that believers are concerned about the situation, Focus on the Family advises Christians that "the focus should be on Christ, not on winning a spouse to the Lord."4
What about the feelings of the unbeliever? Is resentment or fear justified? I suggest three conditions of Christianity that can threaten the intimacy of marriage: (1) Christianity requires fundamental intimacy with God; (2) God is Lord. God is number one above all. What God says goes; and (3) Christianity provides an alternative family. I shall examine each of these conditions.
1. Christianity requires fundamental intimacy with God
Many years ago, a now anonymous conference speaker noted that a threesome forms the least stable social relationship. He suggested that relationships may be strained in balancing the likely attraction between two of the three people. Certainly a wife-husband-lover triad has the potential of creating tension and instability.
The God-triangle can also present problems. Recognizing the threat of a triad, the Bible first asks for undivided loyalty. New Testament passages honor believers who embrace God while denying themselves physical intimacy with humans. Mary "was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit."5 Her husband Joseph also refrained from a sexual relationship. He took Mary to be his wife, as commanded by the angel of the Lord, but had no union with her until she gave birth to Jesus. Barbara Walker describes the Virgin Mary:
"...pure maternity, never distracted from her devotion by sexual desires. Churchmen ... [denied] ... even the evidence of their own Gospels that Jesus had brothers and sisters. St. Ambrose insisted that Mary never conceived again, since God couldn't have chosen for his mother-bride 'a woman who would defile the heavenly chamber with the seed of a man.'"6
The intimacy with God should not be defiled by human sexuality. New Testament passages support the relationship with God over the relationship with family. Jesus required that a disciple hate his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters.7 He also said, "For I have come to turn 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law-a man's enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.'"8 Matthew even suggests that men can castrate themselves for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.9
Like Jesus, Paul did not marry. In Corinthians, Paul tells us that ideally, a man should not touch a woman, singles should only marry if they cannot control themselves, and married men should live as if they have no wives.10 He reasons: "I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord."11
Are today's Christians intimate with God? I suggest that praying and worshiping the Lord (sometimes even speaking in tongues), celebrating communion (eating Jesus' body, drinking His blood), and singing romance songs to Jesus (using phrases interchangeable with love songs) are indeed intimate expressions of love.
2. God is Lord. God is number one above all. What God says goes.
A men's Bible Study entitled "Investing in Your Wife" began with the statement: "There is no more important relationship, apart from a man's personal relationship with Christ, than that relationship between a husband and his wife."12 Support for this conclusion came from 1 Corinthians 3:11-15. A quick check of the verses reveals that the relationship with a wife is not mentioned, only the importance of a life built on the foundation of Jesus Christ.
Focus on the Family, while "dedicated to the preservation of the home," is upfront about its true mission:
Whether we're helping married couples increase intimacy and enhance communication, encouraging a single parent to face another day or urging young teens to stand firm in what they believe, Focus on the Family's primary goal is to win souls for Christ. Indeed, everything we do springs from the following mission statement: To cooperate with the Holy Spirit in disseminating the Gospel of Jesus Christ to as many people as possible, and specifically, to accomplish that objective by helping to preserve traditional values and the institution of the family.13
The first of the seven promises promoted by Bill McCartney's Promise Keepers is to trust in Christ. "In books and speeches, leaders of the Promise Keepers urge the men to go home and tell their wives they are taking back their role as head of the family.... The reason the Promise Keepers addresses men only, [McCartney] said, is because 'Men have a unique, God-given responsibility for the spiritual health of their families.'"14 It all goes back to God being the most important member of the triangle.
If conflict arises between what a believing spouse thinks God wants, as opposed to what the unbelieving spouse wants, God may win. While most churches today support family ministries that interpret God's will to be consistent with what's best for families, the Bible is not so agreeable. The lives of Biblical heroes are less than reassuring. I was unable to find a hero who depicted an outstanding family man. On the contrary, many of the heroes were decidedly poor examples of husbands and fathers-sometimes even in the course of following God's will:
- Adam blamed Eve for disobeying God.
- Noah became drunk and then cursed his son for witnessing his drunkenness and nakedness.
- Abraham gave his wife to become Pharaoh's wife, slept with his wife's handmaiden, and agreed to sacrifice his son Isaac to God.
- Jacob slept with two wives and two maidservants.
- Moses ordered his army officers to kill Midianite men, women and boys but to keep Midianite virgins for themselves.
- Gideon had many wives and a concubine.
- David had wives and concubines, slept with Bathsheba and then sent her husband to the front lines to be killed. Not to worry-unlike his son Solomon-David followed the Lord completely.
- Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines.
Equally unsettling is the biblical role of women. The Promise Keepers's mandate to take control of the family is grounded in Scripture. A woman in a God-triangle is likely to be unempowered. The Bible notes that women, beginning with Eve, have turned their husbands from God (Gen. 3:17; 1 Kgs. 11:1-3). Therefore, women should not teach or have authority over men and can receive sanctification through their husbands (1 Corin. 14:34-35; 1 Tim. 2:11, 14).
3. Christianity provides an alternative family
The New Testament elevates God and fellow Christians to the status of family. Believers are called sisters or brothers, Christians die to their sinful nature in order to belong to Christ, Paul betrothed followers to Christ, God is father, and believers are born again.
In contrast, many passages in the New Testament minimize marital and biological families. Paul views marriage as necessary only for those who cannot control themselves. Jesus required his disciples to hate family. Jesus made light of a man's desire to bury his father: "Let the dead bury their own dead" (Mt. 8:22). He ignored his mother's request to talk to him, saying, "'Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?' Pointing to his disciples, he said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother'" (Mt. 12:47-50).
In the past, various orders of nuns and sisters have taken the concept of being part of God's family to an extreme. Elizabeth Upton writes about the interrogation preceding her Final Vows at St. Joseph's Convent in New York. She admitted to the Reverend Mother that she felt unworthy to be the Bride of Christ. But Bride she was. Two weeks later she pronounced her final vows: "I, Elizabeth Upton, called in religion Sister Roseann, do solemnly take my vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in this Congregation of Social Work Sisters of Immaculate Mary and, with God's grace, I will persevere."15
Marcelle Bernstein studied the lives of nuns. While many rituals have now changed, her descriptions of what has been practiced by various orders support the Bride of Christ analogy: the Bride of Christ presented herself as a virgin; she took a new name, new family, new home; in some orders, she brought a dowry or trousseau; she wore a veil and ring; she vowed faithfulness; she retreated alone with God for three days following final vows. At final vows she repeated, "With this ring has my Lord Jesus Christ betrothed me; and as his bride he has adorned me with a crown."16
Unlike the human family, the relationship with God is eternal. "At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven."17 Eternity puts the God-triangle in perspective.
To be sure, not all Christians live as if the above conditions are important. God is present, but not particularly relevant in many Christian couples' day-to-day life. Even The Holiday Prayer, a Steeple Hill novel, did not describe a love triangle as suggested in the review. God was more of an add-on in the romance between Maddie and Rory-not an intimate third lover.18
As compared to the Maddie-Rory romance, the God-triangle of "unequally yoked" marriages is more complicated. While both the believer and unbeliever may feel anxious, I suggest that the unbeliever has more to lose. In the God-triangle, the faithful believer is the unfaithful spouse. She or he is loyal to God and is compelled to serve Him. The unbeliever is competing with an unaccountable God-partner for the affections of the believer. The situation may be similar to a relationship in which a woman marries a widower who continues to worship the memory of his first wife. But when God is part of the triangle, more than a memory exists. A continuous, if imaginary, presence dominates the relationship.
A marriage unencumbered with God in the middle provides a framework that encourages accountability to oneself and to each other. The marriage is not subject to the capricious or imaginary will and demands of God, but rather is built on a foundation of love and commitment between two people-a duet, not a trio.
[Ruth Prentice is the Internet Infidels' Advertising/Marketing Director.]
1 Associated Press. "Faith Replaces Lust in New Romance Novel." The Gazette. Saturday, October 11, 1997: A1.
2 Fanstone, Michael. How God Helps Wives of Unbelieving Husbands. Real Family Life. September/October 1996:18.
3 Lieblich, Julia. "Marriages Feel Strain When Nonbelievers, Believers Wed." The Gazette. Saturday, October 18, 1997:LIF1
4 Raborn, Susan. "When Church Bells Aren't Ringing: What to Do When Your Spouse Won't go to Church." Focus on the Family. January 1996:4.
5 New International Version of the Bible. Matthew 1:18.
6 Walker, Barbara G. The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. Harper: San Francisco, 1983. P. 1050.
7 Luke 14:26
8 New International Version of the Bible. Matthew 10:35-37.
9 Matthew 19:12
10 1 Corinthians 7:1, 2, 8, 9, 29
11 New International Version of the Bible. 1 Corinthians 7:35.
12 Parker, Winston. Investing in your Wife. Christian Businessmen's Committee Bible Study: Colorado Springs, Colorado, June 23, 1995.
13 Focus on the Family: Our Faith, Values, Mission, and Guiding Principles. Focus on the Family: Colorado Springs, Colorado.
14 Curtin, Dave. As Iron Sharpens Iron. The Gazette. Saturday, October 4, 1997: LIF4.
15 Upton, Elizabeth. Secrets of a Nun: My Own Story. William Morrow:New York, 1985. P 11.
16 Bernstein, Marcelle. The Nuns. J.B. Lippincott:Philadelphia, 1976. P 98
17 New International Version of the Bible. Matthew 22:30.
18 Kastner, Debra. A Holiday Prayer. New York: Steeple Hill, 1998.
February is the time of year when our thoughts begin to turn toward spring, new life, and love. We think of our families and the love we have for our children, parents, siblings, and life partners. Humanists, atheists, agnostics, and freethinkers tend to accept the lifestyle choices of others much more readily than do those in the religious right. Perhaps it is the awareness of our own fringe status within society that causes us to empathize with other marginalized groups. We feel that love and familial bonds have unconditional value on their own terms and cannot be strained through the normative lens of religious intolerance. That's why many of us in the U.S. are appalled by the "family values" movement within the radical religious right and its dogged opposition to feminism, gays, and lesbians.
Historically in Christendom, women were routinely denied access to education, the right to vote, and were considered little more than the legal property of their husbands. The secular foundations of the modern democracy, laid by the U.S. founding fathers, broke religion's patriarchal hold on the state and made rights for women possible. Now, the feminist movement has helped to strengthen the family in the same way that the civil rights movement helped to repair the rips in the moral fabric of society. A society and the families within it suffer when some of its members maintain power through the suppression and denial of the rights of others. Now that the American family is more egalitarian-as husband and wife strive to consider the other an equal partner in the relationship-the family has become stronger. Each partner enjoys equal responsibility and respect as both work out problems in a constructive fashion.
This view is not universally shared, however. Some in the religious right would have us go back to the days when the husband enjoyed absolute control of the marriage. Others seem actually threatened by the new egalitarianism. Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson gave a fiery speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention where he said famously that "feminism encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians." Christian Coalition's Christian American newsletter conducted an interview with Kate O'Beirne, Vice President of Government Relations at the Heritage Foundation. When asked if feminism was "antithetical to the pro-family agenda" she replied:
Radical feminism is profoundly anti-child and anti-family because it is radically individualistic, and that's just irreconcilable with the responsibilities and duties of a wife and mother. That's why we saw in the '60s and '70s such hostility to marriage and to children.
Curiously, when First Lady Hillary Clinton argued that it "takes a village" to raise a child, the religious right rushed to embrace radical individualism. Family Research Council President Gary Bauer recently remarked, "families spending time together is the backbone of our nation. By stepping up the government's role as village nanny, the Clinton Administration is devaluing the irreplaceable roles of moms and dads" . Bauer thinks that Congress can get the "village nanny" off our backs by doubling the $500 per child tax credit, although one is hard pressed to see how a few hundred dollars will make families spend more time together. Further, it is difficult to see how tax credits can possibly compare to the gains women have made in this century.
What is the pro-family agenda? The CC has written a Contract With the American Family, seeking to paint the broad outlines of the religious right's pro-family agenda. A huge priority in this agenda is the revocation of "laws restricting special rights for homosexuals" and the banning of child pornography on the Internet . In the parlance of the Christian Coalition and their supporters, a special right is one in which a gay or lesbian person is legally protected from discrimination at work or in public places. For instance, if a city passed an ordinance to make it illegal for a restaurant to refuse service to gays and lesbians, the religious right would consider the ordinance to be a special right. One wonders what the Coalition thinks of the recent problems that Denny's Restaurant has had with its managers who refuse to seat black customers. While pornography has always made a huge splash among base supporters in the religious right, someone should remind the Coalition that child pornography is already against the law in all fifty states. No new laws are needed to prosecute individuals involved with child pornography on the Internet.
Other priorities on the Christian Coalition's agenda include the dismantling of the Department of Education, cutting the budgets of public broadcasting, and the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities. Also on the agenda is passage of the Religious Freedom Amendment--(H.J. Res. 78; see URL:http://members.xoom.com/oregonau/freedom.html>), which would replace the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution so that "religious liberties" in schools and other public institutions are specifically protected by the state. However, since voluntary school prayer is already protected free speech, this Amendment is unnecessary. Children can freely pray in school so long as they are not coerced to do so. Thus, the goal is to introduce obligatory school prayer, which the First Amendment currently prohibits. The religious right intentionally blurs the distinction between voluntary and obligatory school prayer in order to create the illusion among its supporters that secular humanists have removed prayer from the school. This is completely unfounded, but it has worked to mobilize the religious right's base supporters.
Part and parcel with the desire to return to male-dominated households are the Promise Keepers. Promise Keepers (PK) advocate that the husband should not ask but take back his role as head of the household "for the sake of [his] family and the survival of our [American] culture" . Some feminists worry that the PK movement will reverse gains made for women. Indeed, anytime a group perceives itself as so important that its actions are necessary to protect national culture, persecution cannot be far behind. Or as one WWII-era propagandist crudely put it, "when I hear the word 'culture' I reach for my revolver." In addition to their desire to take back the family, the PK movement is hostile toward relationships among gays and lesbians. At the PK's web site is this statement:
Promise Keepers shares the same historic stance taken by Evangelicals and Catholics: that sex is a good gift from God to be enjoyed in the context of heterosexual marriage. We believe that the Bible clearly teaches that homosexuality violates God's creative design for a husband and a wife and that it is a sin (Leviticus 18:22; Romans 1:24-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
This is a familiar argument. Of course, theologically, the PK's reliance on Scriptural authority in this statement stands on very shaky ground. The Apostle Paul's letters to the churches of Rome and Corinth are just that: letters that communicate his personal opinion on religious matters. A secular society cannot be based on one man's personal opinion. As for the priestly rules of Leviticus, Christianity teaches that the Risen Christ renders observance of the law obsolete. Or as Paul writes, "a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ" (Gal. 2:16). That is why Christians do not sacrifice rams or keep kosher and can cut their hair and enjoy a good bowl of oyster stew. To Leviticus's author, avoiding same-sex relations are no more a breach of purity than are the failure keep kosher or to make required sacrifices. It is very inconsistent for the Promise Keepers to ignore the bulk of these other purity restrictions to focus only on a single prohibition in one passage.
The Internet Infidels reject the religious right's politics of exclusion and intolerance. We believe that love is inclusive and embraces every human being. As Dan Barker remarks below, "love is respect and admiration, compassion and kindness, freely given by a healthy, unafraid human being." That is why the Internet Infidels have joined with the Council for Secular Humanism to support the Declaration on the Preservation of Families, which you can find at <URL:http://www.secularhumanism.org/family/declaration.html>. The Declaration reads in part:
People must be free to choose their own family structure and roles without fear of discrimination. This freedom extends beyond conventional nuclear families to include single-parent families, same-sex partnerships, and child-free families, and those who remain unmarried or free of family attachments.
Consenting adults have the right to marry, without any limitation based on race, nationality, religion, or sex. Inter-racial, inter-faith, and same-sex marriage should be given full respect under the law. Representatives of all religious and nonreligious belief groups, as well as civil authorities, should have equal authority to conduct marriage ceremonies.
Together we have the power to create an inclusive world in which everyone is free from prejudice and condemnation, fully embracing others for who they are rather than who one or other dominant group think they ought to be. We've come a long way but there is still much work to be done.
Love is not obedience, conformity, or submission. It is a counterfeit love that is contingent upon authority, punishment, or reward. True love is respect and admiration, compassion and kindness, freely given by a healthy, unafraid human being.
Love is growing old together, contentedly. Sharing a sunset as you've shared your lives. Happy that your worlds are entwined.
There are many kinds of love, each satisfying in its own way. . .
the love of beginnings and of passion, gradually replaced by the steady knowing that another wants to be by your side year in, year out, come what may. . . the love that you feel when holding your baby in your arms, nuzzling her hair, kissing his neck, knowing it all turned out right when she grows up, when he's taller than you, and being with them all gives you incredible joy. . . the love for the sweet, soft cats who fill your house and your arms when the nest is empty and your heart is heavy. Love is all of that, and more. . .
Never even consider spending the rest of your life with someone who isn't your best friend.
just to touch
to hold you close
to feel your breathing
is all I want
for in those moments
that I am human
Love is more than just a feeling: it's a process requiring continual attention. Loving well takes laughter, loyalty, and wanting more to be able to say, "I understand" than to hear, "You're right."
She has fallen asleep
I cradle her in my arms
And watch the soft rain
Love is like when a person takes a sharp stick and pokes it in your eye, and so you're running around with your hand over your eye, shouting "My eye! My eye!"
According to the American Booksellers Association, whose website carries the news that Tucson's last independent bookstore just closed, we may all be asking this question soon.
Why? If they get their way, the world's largest publisher (Bertelsman), the world's largest book wholesaler (Ingram), and the world's largest book retailer (Barnes and Noble's online sales business) will bring off a mega-merger that would drastically change the book industry. Many commentators argue persuasively that the result of this vertical integration will ultimately be not just fewer places to buy our books, but less diversity of books to buy. Already many publishers hesitate to publish books that don't interest the large chains, and as the industry consolidates further, small publishers and university presses will be hurt by such market driven publishing decisions. There will also be fewer opportunities for new authors, who now can hope to have their books purchased for small print runs whose sales will be helped by enthusiastic owners of small stores. For example, noted author Barbara Kingsolver has said that the support of Bookmarks, the Tucson bookstore that just closed its doors, was crucial to her eventual success.
Online bookseller amazon.com has joined the ABA in opposing the merger. Like most independent retailers, amazon.com uses Ingram as its distributor. Independents fear that sensitive financial information -- not to mention preferential treatment -- would be given to their chief competitor if Barnes and Noble buys Ingram.
Is there anything the reading public can do about this? 88,794 already have. That's the number of people who signed petitions that representatives of the American Booksellers Association delivered to the Federal Trade Commission on January 20. On 12/23, at the end of the initial review period for the merger application, the FTC requested more information about the proposed deal. News reports suggest that decision may have been influenced by a request from Sen. Ron Wyden (D, OR) who, at the urging of constituents, urged the Commission to examine carefully the possibility of a chilling effect on the publishing industry.
For more information, visit the American Bookseller's Association website, www.bookweb.org. Click on the Barnes & Noble updates icon for a history of crucial events, with links to news articles, opinion pieces, and even copies of correspondence with the president of Ingram. For an overview, read William Pedrocelli's "Books on the Brink" located at <URL:http://www.bookweb.org/news/features/1608.html>. If you agree with Pedrocelli's view that the merger would mean fewer books for you to read (especially -- fewer "controversial" books!), consider writing to the Federal Trade Commission:
Robert Pitofsky, Chairman
Federal Trade Commission
Pennsylvania Ave. & 6th S. NW
Washington, DC 20580
or email to antitrust
For "those who prefer to do their frying in the here and now," the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has scaled the ramparts of social respectability by publishing the World Famous Atheist Cookbook. Where else can you find Atheist Apple Crisp or Forbidden Fruit Cobbler?
Other recipes include "Chicken Salad with No Religious Nuts," "Open-Minded Open Faced Sandwich," "Nothing is Forever Bran Muffins" (a large recipe whose dough keeps for 6 weeks in the fridge) and a "Devilishly Good Chocolate Cake" which promises to be "almost as easy as a mix" and which "just may produce the best chocolate cake you've ever tasted." Four or five heads of garlic are the not-so-secret ingredient of a dish called "Chicken to Keep the Gods at Bay." A "heretically simple" dish called "Hungarian Archbishop's Creole," facetiously begins: "Steal two young fryers from the Archbishop's backyard coop," and ends, "Without saying 'Grace,' or permitting anyone else to, serve at table."
In her introduction, editor Anne Gaylor imagines what the Wizard of Oz might advise atheists about their lack of social acceptance in certain quarters because of their intellectual views. "You atheists," he would say, "have so much going for you--intelligence, integrity, courage, erudition. But what you don't have, what you should have, what so many other groups possess is a cookbook!" Noting the recipes are contributed favorites of Foundation members from Maine to California, Gaylor's secular benediction is, "May you enjoy them."
The handsomely-produced and lavishly-illustrated 162-page cookbook, a fundraiser for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, is available directly from FFRF, Inc., PO Box 750, Madison WI 53701 USA, for US $15 plus $2.50 postage and handling (Wis. residents add 83-cents tax). For a review copy of The World Famous Atheist Cookbook, phone +1 (608) 256-8900, FAX +1 (608) 256-1116 or email FFRF Mailbag.
We are pleased to report that women's rights activist and writer Taslima Nasrin has now safely returned to an undisclosed location in Sweden from her native Bangladesh. In her writings, Nasrin has criticized Islamic fundamentalism and has been perceived as an infidel for her creation of a women's association that promotes the rights of women. Nasrin has also tried to educate village women to make them aware of their human rights and freedom from the persecution of fundamentalist dogma. In 1996, Fundamentalists seeking to kill her had located her in Dhaka and, since police have refused to protect her, she was forced to go into hiding.
On January 26, 1999, we got this message from Seth Larsson, a fellow freethinker in Sweden:
I just want to bring the good news to you fellow infidels that the much persecuted writer Taslima Nasrin is now out of danger and has escaped from Bangladesh. She returned to Sweden Monday morning this week and is now resting in an unspecified part of the country where she is safe from fanatic fundamentalists.
Taslima Nasrin escaped to Sweden for the first time in 1994, and it's an honor to have this courageous and brilliant writer, doctor and activist against fundamentalist oppression in our country once more. We welcome her with all our hearts and hope that we can shelter her from further danger.
Dr. Nasrin had asked for political asylum in Australia; however, the Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT) at <URL:http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/other/rrt/home.html> reports that her case was reviewed and set aside.
The Internet Infidels received another in a long line of e-mail death threats from someone calling himself "Saddam Hussein" concerning the fact that we published Ibn Al-Rawandi's review of Ibn Warraq's Why I Am Not a Muslim on the Secular Web:
Date: Mon, 25 Jan 1999 11:18:01 -0700
To: SW Feedback Responders Feedback
Subject: Feedback on http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ibn_al-rawandi/review.html
I'M AMAZED YOUR STILL ALIVE.
GIVE IT A FEW MORE DAYS, YOU'D WISH THAT U WAS DEAD.
USA - Monday, January 25, 1999 at 11:18:01 (MST)
To be fair and to prevent feeding into a stereotype, we receive many more threats from Christian fundamentalists. One Christian writer recently promised "to do any and everything" he can to destroy the Secular Web. Another is "extremely horrified" that the Secular Web even exists. Crudely, another immature Christian wrote to us saying, "keep your crap in your own toliet [sic], don't take it out and show what you are made up of." The lesson here is that ideas still have enormous power to provoke as well as to stimulate. Voltaire's dictum, the pen is mightier than the sword, is as true today for us as it was for him at the beginning of the Enlightenment.
[James Still prepared this report.]
First of all I want to thank you for the fine Internet Infidels Newsletters that I receive by email each month. They prove to be very timely and very interesting. In December, however, I read something in the "Editorial" that troubled me and I wanted to give an opposing view. The editorial concerned how we, as humanists should "respect the family traditions," and to "understand the spiritual needs of others." While agreeing that we should not make ourselves into carping complainers, I also do not think we should respect that which we believe is foolishness or acquiesce in accepting the "spiritual needs of others." I for one do not in any way "respect" irrational religious beliefs. If people believe a foolish and wrong thing, we should point that out to them. They shouldn't take it as a personal attack. If I believe something that someone else thinks is foolish, I would want him to point that out to me; I may even thank him if he can give me sufficient reason for rejecting my original position! As far as the spiritual needs of others, what we should point out to them is that human needs should not be the justification for accepting dubious propositions about external reality. As John Dewey said, "The existence of something is a matter of fact, not desire." This "respecting" of what we consider not only "wrong" but in many cases dangerous is too characteristic of the antirational and antiscience views of postmodernism. Also, treating criticisms of irrational religious beliefs as a taboo only allows those beliefs to perpetuate themselves.
Roy Overmann <reover>
President, Rationalist Society of St. Louis
Last September, we reported that Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) refused to acknowledge Douglas Krueger's book review of Zacharias's A Shattered Visage: The Real Face of Atheism, posted on the Secular Web at <URL:http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/doug_krueger/colossal.html>.
On December 8, 1997, Internet Infidels President Jeffery Jay Lowder had notified RZIM of the book review and asked that, as a return courtesy, they mention Krueger's book review on their web site and provide a reciprocal link to it on the Secular Web. RZIM did not link to Krueger's review but promised to consider the matter. In December 1998, RZIM staffer Paul Copan finally acknowledged Krueger's review with a critique of his own and submitted it to the Secular Web. Copan's rebuttal is now published on the Secular Web at <URL:http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/paul_copan/visage.html>.
While we enthusiastically welcome Copan's constructive and well-written rebuttal, we are still concerned about the underlying problem of Christian ministries refusing to acknowledge opposing views on their own web sites. Lowder had urged RZIM to acknowledge Krueger's review on their site so that readers interested in both sides of the debate could be better served. To date, RZIM's web site has not linked to Copan's rebuttal on the Secular Web nor to Krueger's original book review. Therefore, RZIM visitors are completely unaware of the intellectually stimulating debate swirling around Zacharias's book. We are happy to publish Copan's rebuttal on the Secular Web, but would prefer that RZIM provide a reciprocal link to both Krueger's review and Copan's rebuttal.
The intentional suffocation of opposing viewpoints has been an ongoing problem. The Southern California Center for Christian Studies (SCCCS) has published a web page entitled "Response to Atheists" at <URL:http://www.scccs.org/response.html>, which explicitly states "we welcome these men to respond to our response." Yet, after notifying them of the responses published on the Secular Web, they refused to link to those rebuttals. Hugh Ross's Reasons to Believe (RTB) web site has also refused to acknowlege both the Secular Web and our correspondence to them.
It is the position of the Internet Infidels that the pursuit of truth cannot begin in earnest unless and until an organization makes its readers aware of viewpoints that do not necessarily conform to its own. Intellectual honesty requires that we provide a reciprocal link to any article on the web that critically engages with a paper published on the Secular Web. As soon as we are made aware of such articles, our policy is to link to it so that our readers can see another side of the story. To do anything less is to insult the intelligence of our readers, for the only way to make an informed decision is to consider clashing viewpoints. We want our readers to fashion fully-informed and responsible conclusions about important matters such as theology and science.
We urge RZIM to reconsider its decision and to link to Krueger's book review on the Secular Web.
Humanists everywhere were shocked and deeply saddened by the sudden death of Greg Erwin on January 23 at the age of 51.
Greg had recently retired very early after 26 years in the public service, latterly with the National Parole Board.
Born in California, he moved to Connecticut at an early age, eventually arriving in Canada as a young man in the late 60's. He obtained a degree in Modern Languages at Carleton University. Soon after his arrival in Canada, at a retreat in the Laurentians, he met his beloved wife and devoted friend Paddy with whom he had the good fortune to spend the next 29 years of his life.
For more than a decade Greg stood prominently among Canadian humanists. He served as President of HAO and, later, as 1st Vice President of HAC. Humanism could not have wished for a better ambassador. He was always willing and eager to devote his time and immense talents to spreading the philosophy of humanism to the world through interviews on the radio and TV, and on the internet. His online periodical "The Nullifidian" was a masterpiece of rational humanistic dialogue and polemic. An eloquent speaker, an incisive debater, and a gifted writer, he was able to marshall his extensive knowledge of an amazingly wide variety of social and philosophical issues in a calm, rational, and considerate manner, without arrogance or pretension. And it was always a special pleasure to converse with him.
Greg was among the wisest and most compassionate of men. He spoke out strongly and courageously against bigotry of every kind and was a strong supporter of Amnesty International. A detached intellectual interest in world affairs was not for him. He felt personally the inhuman atrocities and the unbearable suffering, that are the commonplaces of so many parts of the world. Greg's powerful imagination, his rare capacity for compassion and empathy, together with an unsuspected personal vulnerability, was to prove for him an all too deadly combination. We miss him beyond all measure. It will not be possible to replace him.
[Trevor Banks is a local leader in the Humanist Association of Canada.]
Afterword by Bill Schultz
In some sense, Greg's "Nullifidian" newsletter, originally known as "Lucifer's Echo," was a precursor to this very newsletter. Part of what Greg did in that newletter was to republish classic works of freethought from the Bank of Wisdom collection assembled by Emmett Fields. The founding of the Internet Infidels and the inclusion of much of that same material on the Secular Web was one reason cited by Greg when he ceased publishing it. The on-line archives of the "Nullifidian," covering May of 1994 through March of 1996, are available at:
Greg was an early and active supporter of the Internet Infidels, most recently volunteering as the list owner of our Humanism list. You can join that list, and many other lists, as described at:
The Internet Infidels, the members of the Humanism list, and I'm certain many other people from all around the world, all extend our heartfelt condolences to Greg's family and friends.
[Bill Schultz is Vice President of Internet Infidels.]
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Copyright © 1999 Internet Infidels, Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Internet Infidels' newsletter "ii" is a general information publication only. Internet Infidels, Inc. takes no position on the issues expressed herein and all opinions are the sole responsibility of their respective authors.