Freethought In Comfort (1999)
by John Patrick Michael Murphy
In the 1850's a group of German intellectuals fled their homeland to escape political and religious persecution only to find both in America. 0thers sought freedom to practice their religion but this group sought freedom from religion. They traveled across America to the hill country of Texas, north of San Antonio. Here, on the banks of the Guadalupe River, they built a town without steeples. They were freethinkers who wanted to pursue happiness in this world, and not fight about the next. The town was called Comfort and it was - for a while.
They were part of the German Rationalists that Friedrich Munch brought to America a decade earlier. They had a secular credo that included the following: All men have a right, and it is their duty, to think for themselves, and live according to their own candid convictions; there ought to be no compulsion in religious matters, no hatred, no denunciation, not even violent disputes; truth must eventually triumph by its intrinsic superiority and strength. They accepted the rational teachings of Jesus but laughed at his 'miracles' and the lion and snake stories of the Bible.
The hard-working community thrived until the War of the Great Rebellion. The Confederacy came to draft the men. It was a town of abolitionists surrounded by a culture that thrived on slavery. The recruiters heard that they wouldn't get a man to enlist in Comfort Texas, for it was reported that the men were going north to join the Union Army. Some may have made it, but most were killed by marauders who thought it their patriotic duty to hunt them down. Their town and properties passed to those who thought steeples and pulpits were necessary for morality. The true founders of Comfort have not been honored in Comfort to this day. That may or may not change.
A Texas freethinker, Ed Scharf, asked the Chamber of Commerce of Comfort if he could erect a monument to the founders, on the grounds that the chamber leased from Kendall County. It approved, no doubt rationally deducing that their town could have a Lourdes like attraction to the irreligious if they only had a monument to honor. The Internet (www.infidels.org) carried the news of it for over a year and Ed raised more money than he expected from all over the country. The local and state historical societies approved the project and affirmed the significant history of Comfort. Ed thought the town would treat visiting pilgrims of freethought with respect and smiles once the Carrington House B&B and other businesses saw the dedication parade reservations come in. He wanted an annual festival of good will and understanding.
All went well until a few months ago when a large crane moved the massive limestone cenotaph to the park where it was to be dedicated. The religious element panicked. The word traveled that freethinkers are nothing but atheists, agnostics, evolutionists, materalists, rationalists, naturalists, and secular humanists who think they only have one life to live and they are not afraid of hell. They called it a "monolithic monstrosity" and a "monument to atheism" and acclaimed it is "against religion." Six-hundred-fifty, of the unincorporated town's 1500 population signed a petition against the memorial and asked the County Commissioners to revoke the permission they had granted. Even the chamber has forgotten lucre and turned its eyes heavenward. They want Ed, who is now stone-faced, to move it out. Fat chance he'll move it again. It is in the park- naked and mute, but ponderously patient. The Texas State Historical Commission has suspended work on the wording of the marker until all this is sorted out.
Should we laugh or cry when we are confronted with the invincible ignorance of bigotry? We can't honor freedom of religion by dishonoring freedom from it. How little we have changed-while the ancient Cypress along the Guadalupe grew from plants to towers - freethought still seeks a home in Comfort.
"Freethought In Comfort" is copyright © 1999 by John Patrick Michael Murphy.
The electronic version is copyright © 1999 Internet Infidels with the written permission of John Patrick Michael Murphy.