The monthly newsletter of the Internet Infidels
Newsletters ● 1998 ● October
Newsletter: 1998: October 1998
Internet Infidels Newsletter
In this issue:
What's New on the Secular Web?
We're expanding our bookstore! Over the next few months, the Infidels will be introducing a new section on the Secular Web listing works by freethought authors in all genres, including poetry, science-fiction, novel, short story, and humor. Now a reading list of titles such as Carl Sagan's novel Contact as well as Taslima Nasrin's collection of poems The Game in Reverse will be available in one place. We will also be introducing a new section on Existentialism, listing the essential works in existential philosophy that every interested freethinker should own. Do you have a favorite book by a freethought author that you would like us to list? Send your suggestions to Jeff Lucas at Jeff Lucas.
Book of the Month
Nonbelief and Evil: Two Arguments for the Nonexistence of God By Theodore Drange
Nonbelief and Evil is a fascinating, thorough, and persuasive presentation of two arguments for the non-existence of God: nonbelief and evil. Drange presents his own unique formulation of the Argument from Evil, along with rebuttals to virtually every theistic defense against the argument from evil, including Alvin Plantinga's Free Will Defense, John Hick's Soul-Making Theodicy, the Unknown Purpose Defense, and much more. And the Argument from Nonbelief--the argument that the mere existence of nonbelievers constitutes evidence for the non-existence of God--is an original argument by Drange. I think the book will serve as a major contribution to the philosophy of religion. Nonbelief and Evil also includes some interesting appendices on related issues including the argument from the Bible, the concept of an afterlife, and the fine-tuning argument. I enthusiastically endorse Drange's book. - Jeffery Jay Lowder
We have sent mathew on assignment to Germany to gather information for the next issue of web.scan. As of October 1st, however, he has failed to check in with us here at the editor's desk. Our sources tell us that he was last seen with ne'er-do-wells near Munich at the Oktoberfest, sporting an undercover lederhosen outfit. You will learn of his whereabouts just as soon as we track him down.
Christianity Untrue, Says Teacher
Church Wants to Stop Him from Training Students for Ministry
By Ray Waddle, Religion Editor, The Tennessean
[This article was originally published in The Tennessean, August 29, 1998, pp. 1B-2B.]
Gerd Luedemann no longer believes in Christianity, and he suspects a lot of Christians secretly agree with him.
The difference is that Luedemann, a noted author here and in Europe, is going public with his disbelief. The other difference is he teaches the New Testament in a school in Germany that trains ministers, and he wants to continue there despite threats by the churches to kick him out.
"People know Christianity is not true, but they won't address it publicly," Leudemann, a German who lives part time in Nashville, said last week.
"It's the skeleton in the closet. But I want to get the discussion going. That can only happen if you don't mind being stigmatized."
Luedemann, 52, is a friendly man with a Web site, www.gwdg.de/~gluedem/, and a twinkle in his eye even as he declares traditional Christian belief is no longer possible.
He insists liberal Christianity is dishonest when it does not admit its skepticism about the faith's miraculous claims. He thinks anybody who wants to be a serious Christian ought to take up fundamentalism.
His hunch is that many other churchgoers feel what he feels but don't admit it -- a deep disconnection between the miraculous world of Sunday morning Bible teaching and the daily world of rational laws of nature and social change.
"Liberals are dishonest if they think the Bible is on their side," said Luedemann, who taught at Vanderbilt Divinity School for three years in the early 1980s and still has research privileges there.
"The Bible is against democracy, against tolerance, against equality."
He has come to embrace a private religion that honors the mysteries of nature and the subconscious. He believes his kind of mystical piety is the wave of the future in a post-Christian era.
Luedemann has been called a publicity-monger; he's a scholar who doesn't shy from notoriety. He's written several books that question or attack core Christian beliefs, such as Jesus' Resurrection and his Virgin Birth.
He happily appears as the token religious skeptic on local talk shows and national TV documentaries.
His latest book, however, has gotten him in hot water with the Lutheran churches that underwrite his teaching job at the University of Göttingen in Germany.
The book, The Great Deception, argues the Resurrection was a pious hoax created, intentionally or not, by Jesus' apostles.
"Great Deception - it's an ugly title, but if it's true, why not tell the truth?" said Luedemann, a family man who was a passionate Christian preacher as a teenager and later considered joining a monastery. "Let's not deceive people."
The book opens with a "Letter to Jesus" in which Luedemann bids farewell to the beloved Jesus of his youth, urging the Redeemer to free himself from the confusions and conflicts of the modern church and return to the first century.
"You proclaimed the future kingdom of God, but what came was the church. Luedemann writes. "Your message has been falsified by your supporters for their own advantage, contrary to the historical truth."
The "case of Luedemann" has stirred unease in Germany, triggered debate about the limits of academic freedom and raised questions about the aims of liberal theology.
The historical-critical methods of theology he teaches in Europe are the bread and butter of the most prestigious seminaries in the United States, too, including Vanderbilt Divinity School.
Luedemann argues that liberal theology pretends to affirm belief but is based on skeptical methods of scholarship that deny miracles and strip the Bible of supernatural origins.
"It sucks the blood out of the gods and in the end prays only to symbols," be said.
The Vanderbilt Divinity dean says Luedemann is "marvelously" provocative but guilty of "arrogant presumption" if he thinks people can't be Christian unless they embrace every traditional creed.
"I'm a great believer that the spirit of God is very active in the world today," Dean Joseph Hough said. "What Jesus revealed was an extraordinary sensitivity to the presence of the Spirit. His message is that anxiety is misplaced because God is trying to create loving opportunities for people in the world."
Hough said Luedemann's analysis assumes Christian belief is static and unchanging, but that only puts limits on how God reveals himself to people.
"People are perceiving God in new ways all the time," Hough said. "All those things in the ancient creeds - the Resurrection, the Virgin Birth - are being reaffirmed and reinterpreted all the time. More than 50% of the people I know believe most of that, but they reserve the right to interpret it the way they want to."
Luedemann is also a member of the famous, or infamous, Jesus Seminar, which has declared many of -the New Testament words of Jesus were probably made up by later writers.
Luedemann said the Jesus Seminar vainly tries to "modernize" Jesus, turning him into a wandering philosopher instead of respecting him as a first century figure who is now out of reach.
Luedemann said he still views Jesus as a deeply moving figure, one of the world's great religious teachers. But he argues Jesus' grieving disciples, and then hundreds of others, suffered hallucinations after his death and called it the Resurrection.
One local conservative scholar, Michael Moss of Lipscomb University, applauded Luedemann for saying what conservatives have long suspected, that liberal theology "cuts the guts out of the Gospel itself by jettisoning the miracles from the story."
Moss argued against Luedemann's dismissal of the Resurrection.
"There were so many witnesses," said Moss, associate dean of' Lipscomb's College of Bible and Ministry. "What do you do with those folks? It's wishful thinking to say they all had the same hallucination. That can't explain why they were willing to sacrifice their lives later to tell the Gospel."
Meanwhile, a legal conflict is brewing in Germany between the Protestant church conference and the government over Luedemann's faculty position at Göttingen.
The church conference has a say in who gets to teach on the theology faculty, but Luedemann's tenured salary is paid by the state. In a statement released last month the church organization said Luedemann had in effect disqualified himself from teaching ministers-in-training because of his views against the faith. The churches want him off the faculty. Luedemann would remain a university professor there but would be isolated, without students or classes.
Luedemann said he wants to continue on the theology faculty, teaching the technicalities of ancient languages and Bible text analysis, and challenging students.
"It's a 'scientific' approach to the texts. My beliefs wouldn't matter," he said.
At Vanderbilt, Hough was asked hypothetically if it would be appropriate for such a nonbelieving scholar to teach at Vanderbilt or other modern divinity schools.
"I wouldn't rule it out in principle because he's a fine New Testament scholar, despite some naive personal assumptions," he said. "But we can't have teachers renouncing Christianity in the classroom. If he had no sympathy for our mission to train Christian ministers, he'd have to decide whether he could teach in such a classroom. "
Luedemann said people owe it to their integrity to seek truth and risk abandoning cherished beliefs.
"Why are we educating people?" he asked. "Is it just a hobby? Are we interested in truth? It's cynical to say that society can't tell the truth to itself
"We live only once. We have to have the courage to seek the knowledge of who we are."
II Now Hosts the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (update: II no longer hosts MAAF)
Are you affiliated with the armed forces but feel like an outsider because you are a nonbeliever? There is now an organization just for you. Whether you're a member of the military (active duty, reserves, or guard), a member of a military family, a veteran, a civilian employee of the military, the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF) is for you!
MAAF was started by Kathleen Sullivan, herself a member of the U. S. Army. According to Sullivan, the purpose of MAAF is:
For more information on MAAF, including details on a free membership in MAAF, please visit the MAAF web site at https://militaryatheists.org/.
Tin Drum Controversy Update
The legal dispute over the Oklahoma City ban on a controversial film is set to go to trial on October 13, 1998.
In June 1997, at the behest of religious right group "Oklahomans for Children and Famlies," Oklahoma City District Judge Richard Freeman banned the film The Tin Drum, based on the novel of the same name by Gunter Grass. The Oklahoma City police department subsequently seized all known copies of the film from the city library, video retail outlets, and even in private homes once police gained access to the rental database--in direction violation of the Video Privacy Protection Act--to see who had rented the film.
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) director Michael Camfield, who was aware that Judge Freeman was considering the ban, had rented the film the night of the seizure to see if it was "anti-family" as its opponents alleged. Before Camfield had finished viewing the film, police arrived at his house to confiscate it from him. In the aftermath, ACLU attorney Joann Bell charged that Judge Freeman, the Oklahoma City police department, and the radical religious right had an "unhealthy relationship" together that led to draconian violations of civil liberties. On September 26, 1997, the Board of the Oklahoma Department of Libraries (ODL) authorized the department to take appropriate legal actions in response. The ODL argued that the film is not obscene and has sought redress from the courts to allow citizens once again to borrow the film from the library.
In a related case, both the ACLU and the Video Software Dealers Association have filed suits in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. The suits charge that the police and city officials violated several constitutional rights, including free speech, the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable search and seizures, and due process. The lawsuits also challenge Judge Freeman's initial obscenity ruling. Oklahoma County District Attorney Bob Macy also filed a suit in Oklahoma County court asking for a second ruling on the film. Macy's case was moved to federal court, where U.S. District Judge Ralph Thompson will consider both cases. Interested readers can view the history of the controversy at the Oklahoma Department of Libraries website located at https://state.ok.us/~odl/fyi/ifreedom.htm.
The trial docket date was bumped twice but is now set for October 13th, 1998. The District Attorney representing the police department has attempted to delay the proceedings as long as possible. He argues that the police were "just doing their job" and have immunity from civil penalties. This strategy has successfully delayed the taking of pre-trial depositions from the police officers involved in the case. As the story develops, look for further updates in this newsletter.
[This report was prepared by James Still.]
Answers in Genesis Charges "Humanist Plot"
Christian Right group Answers in Genesis (AiG) recently warned its members that a humanist plot to indoctrinate schoolchildren in evolutionary and humanistic thinking was underway.
In an August 1998 letter entitled "Humanists Plan to Capture The Hearts and Minds of Our Nation's Young People," AiG Outreach Coordinator Kurt Streutker charges that "active anti-God humanist groups" are very "evangelistic in their attempts to gain converts to join them in worship of humanism." Streutker bases his charge on a July 1998 fund-raising letter from the Council for Secular Humanism (CSH), which read in part that the CSH "planned to launch a regular program of critical thinking classes for the young, which could go nationwide as early as 1999." The program Streutker refers to, however, is a pilot program initiated by the CSH for values education at home and not something to be implemented in public schools.
AiG and the Cincinnati Free Inquiry Group (CFIG) have been at loggerheads since 1996 over an attempt by AiG to build a "creation museum" in the town of Florence, about ten miles south of Cincinnati. The proposal was met with stiff opposition from a broad cross-section of the community as well as the CFIG. "What Streutker fails to mention in his letter," says Molleen Matsumura, associate editor of Free Inquiry magazine, is that in addition to opposition from the CFIG, "liberal ministers, scientists, museum curators, and area residents concerned about traffic problems also opposed AiG's creation museum." AiG has since purchased land in a second location for its proposed 30,000 square-foot creation museum. The location is a 47-acre commercially-zoned plot of land adjacent to an Interstate near Cincinnati's commercial airport. The city council, in reaction to continued citizen outcry, has turned down AiG's development plans a second time. AiG is currently appealing the council's decision.
AiG is in the process of launching an outreach program to "counter this frontal attack on the foundation of [Christian] faith." Beginning this August with the new school year, AiG is sponsoring "creation clubs" on private and public school campuses. Pupils are encouraged to expand their existing Bible clubs to organize a creation club in their school. To help the students, AiG has put together free introductory packets of information that will help students to get their club started. AiG promises that the information will counter what children are learning from evolution-biased magazines like Weekly Reader, Scholastic Magazine, and National Geographic. In conflict with the Establishment Clause, AiG has also asked teachers to mentor student-led creation clubs in their schools. This action represents a direct breach of the wall between church and state. The ACLU argues that teachers are "representatives of the state" therefore, cannot encourage, solicit, nor discourage students from engaging in religious activity.
"The creation clubs," Struetker says, "will also have their own website which can be accessed at https://AnswersInGenesis.org/." However, as of this writing no creation club web pages could be found at AiG's web site and a search engine on their site found nothing on the term "creation clubs." We'll keep you updated as this story progresses.
[Thanks to Molleen Matsumura for alerting us to this information. James Still prepared this report.]
Two New Independent-Press Books Published
Cogan, Robert. (1998): Critical Thinking Step by Step. 4720 Boston Way, Lanham, MD, 20706: University Press of America. 1-800-462-6420. 383 pages. $39.50.
Critical Thinking Step by Step introduces the fundamental concepts of syllogistic logic and philosophy in a readable and highly engaging style. Cogan touches on issues ranging from humanism, pseudoscience, the scientific method, philosophy and law with an eye toward analytical reasoning and the building of solid critical thinking skills. With over 60 entertaining and useful illustrations, Cogan's book would make a fine gift for any young freethinker who could stand to benefit from the sort of reasoning and rigorous critical thinking skills not often emphasized in public schools. There is much in Cogan's book to recommend to the college-level student in need of review and quick reference as well.
Smith, Lee Eric. (1998): Is There Sex in Heaven? And Other Hard Questions for the Man Upstairs. 2172 Bruton Blvd. #203, Orlando, FL, 32808: Mind's Eye Publications. 1-407-888-4684. 28 pages (1st Ed.), 192 pages (2nd Ed. forthcoming). $12.00.
Is There Sex in Heaven? is one of those small gems that come along from time to time. Smith does not pretend to craft a detailed exposition on the meaning of life, but rather presents to the reader over 170 simple, childlike questions that nonetheless have deep implications for religious faith. Militant atheists will be pleased by such questions as, "Does God hate homosexuals so much because he's in the closet himself?" and "What if [Jesus] were fat and butt-ugly?" However, most questions, while simplistic on their surface, reveal deep problems in Christian theism:
Smith's book would make a perfect conversation piece to be placed on your coffee table just before your fundamentalist friends come to visit.
Boy Scouts of America Reorganize to Protect God
It is important that the atheist community be aware that the Boy Scouts of America National Executive Board officially adopted changes to their program on Feb. 12 which they presented at their May annual meeting of the National Councils. These changes, which took effect Aug. 1, were defended by Jere Radcliff, the Chief Scout Executive, in a letter to the Council Scout Executives as helping to "... protect our core traditional program from legal challenges". This is presumably a reference to the success of some lawsuits in challenging BSA's implementation of its restrictive membership policies, particularly when the chartering organization is a government agency.
BSA is organized into two divisions: The Boy Scout division and the newer Learning for Life (LFL) division. Although participation in the Learning for Life program has always been unrestricted, the adult leadership requirements were identical to the Boy Scout division. Thus, all adult leaders had to sign a Declaration of Religious Principles which claimed that belief in God was requisite to the best kind of citizenship. Exploring was a program introduced into the Boy Scout division in 1950 which was divided into different specialties including Career Exploring. Exploring was for older youth ages 14-20 who completed the 8th grade.
Under the reorganization this has changed. Career Exploring has been moved to the Learning for Life subsidiary and all other Exploring Posts have been renamed Venturing Crews. The leadership criteria for Learning for Life units are now decided by the chartering organization. This means that it will be the responsibility of citizens to ensure that their local public schools are not discriminating in accordance with local, state and federal laws. Please speak with your local school officials and make sure that they are aware that subscribing to the DRP is no longer required and should not be enforced. Also, the new Venturers oath drops the aggressively sectarian "I believe that American's strength lies in her trust in God ..." from the Explorers oath. The Venturers oath is now as follows: "As a Venturer, I promise to help strengthen America, to be faithful to my religious duties, to help others, and to seek truth, fitness, and adventure in our world". Unfortunately, no substitution for religious duties will be allowed. Finally, Scouting advancement will no longer be allowed in LFL Career Explorer posts. This eliminates the anomaly of male Explorers earning the Eagle award while their female Explorer counterparts could not because they did not have an opportunity to earn the prerequisites in all male Scouting troops.
Overall these are positive changes that should be acknowledged and applauded by the anti-discrimination community. The reorganization goes a significant way towards eliminating the more egregious discrimination problems resulting from the religious mandates component of Scouting mixing with career training and government. Several problems remain, however. Units in the Scouting division continue to be chartered to government agencies. These units continue to mandate expression which is inconsistent with non-theistic worldviews. Also, units chartered to Parent Teachers Associations continue to recruit inside schools with the assistance of public school personnel. Furthermore, the Boy Scout division remains closed to atheistic expression and therefore, by implication, it remains antagonistic to atheistic worldviews which are not comfortable or not compatible with public theistic self-identification.
[Matthew Goldstein of the Nonbeliever Antidiscrimination Project at Contact prepared this report.]
Followup on Nonbeliever's "Hired Gun"
On August 9, 1998, I posted on the Secular Web my article, " William Lane Craig: Christian Theism's Hired Gun", in which I called upon various national organizations to form a coalition and collectively fund a "nonbeliever's hired gun" who would represent nonbelievers in oral debates.
All of the Secular Web readers who responded to my article unanimously supported the idea. Many said that they would gladly contribute an extra $25-30 per year to help fund a full-time, professional debater.
Regrettably, the reaction from various national organizations was mixed. Only two national organizations -- the American Humanist Association and the Atheist Alliance -- expressed a willingness to work with the Infidels on this project. Out of the remaining national organizations, one did not even acknowledge our e-mail message, one said that they liked the idea but they did not have any spare money to contribute, and one said that they liked the idea but were not willing to work with other organizations.
While I am grateful that four out of the five organizations I contacted endorsed the concept, I am disappointed that only two expressed an interest in working with us on actually supporting this project. It is my sincere conviction that if (American) freethinkers wish to achieve the same sort of success that other groups, say gays and lesbians, have achieved, we are going to have to become unified in our "freethinking", just as gays and lesbians had to unite on certain core issues. I believe that one of the core issues freethinkers need to be united on is the endorsement and funding of a "hired gun" debater. I would like to see a coalition formed which will support this and other causes, and I hope that someday all national organizations will support it.
However, we cannot wait until the remaining national organizations come around. At this point, I would like to see how many individuals would be tentatively willing to financially support this project. If you would be willing to support our proposal -- even if you have already said so in the past -- we'd like to hear from you. Please send a message to Internet Infidels with the subject line, "Funding a Nonbelievers Hired Gun", along with an estimate of how much money you would be willing to contribute on an annual basis. We'll use your messages to determine if there would be adequate funding to move forward with the proposal, and report the results in a future issue of this newsletter.
[Jeffery Jay Lowder is President of Internet Infidels.]
The Internet Infidels have a new editorial policy regarding humor files archived on the Secular Web. In the past, the humor section was archived in the Modern Library. However, by archiving the material in the library, this gave the false impression that we were treating humorous material seriously and many readers confused the humorous files with the serious ones. As they browsed the Modern Library, theists and nontheists alike complained. Particularly offensive was a file entitled "50 Fun Things for Non-Christians To Do in Church." Believers felt that "50 Fun Things" ridiculed the sacred nature of communal worship, while nonbelievers argued that it was juvenile and portrayed freethinkers as disrespectful of religious beliefs. To prevent confusion, we have moved the humor section out of the Modern Library and into the Miscellaneous Section. We hope that by clearly separating the serious papers from the humor material, no one will accidentally bump into one while looking for the other.
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Is there a particular issue or topic you want to see addressed in a nontheist publication? Now's your chance to do something about it. Please send your suggestion to us at Internet Infidels with the subject line, "What I Would Like to See on the Secular Web". We will carefully consider your suggestion. If we like it, we will request a paper on that topic in our Call for Papers and give you the credit for the idea.
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Correction: In the September issue's Zacharias and Ross story, we mistakenly wrote that Jeffery Jay Lowder had convinced William Lane Craig to publish his debates electronically on the Internet. It was really Helen Mildenhall, not Lowder, who talked Craig into changing his mind.