Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Langston Hughes: Goodbye Christ, Hello Persecution

Langston Hughes caught a lot of grief for his poem "Goodbye Christ", written in 1932 during Hughes' most radical period. Subject to censorship by others and by Hughes, this poem can now be found all over the Internet, along with commentary by people who defend it and attack it, or defend it with qualifications (Christians who lament the exploitation of Christianity).

A good place to start is The Successful Censorship of Langston Hughes’s Poem “Goodbye Christ” by Joshua B. Good (Saturday, Feb. 17, 2007). Here you will find the text of the poem along with a history of the consequences of publishing it, including being banned, censored, hounded, subject to government surveillance, and being treated as a subversive. The poem excoriates the gamut of obscurantists from huckster preachers to popes to robber barons, and sends corrupted Christianity on its way, because it's now revolution time. Hughes was ultimately forced to back down to people and forces he attacked, e.g. powerful megachurch leader Aimee Semple McPherson. The FBI got on his case and surreptitiously worked to undermine his career. In 1953, during the McCarthy era, Hughes was hauled before HUAC, and took the trouble to explain his poem as a reaction against the abuse of Christianity, insisting that it was not anti-religious and denying he was an atheist. Hughes was forced to downplay his poem and mute re-publication in order to stay on the good side of his patron and others.

Ronald Bruce Meyer also contextualizes the poem, with some additional information and excerpts from Hughes' other mentions of religion. See also Hughes’ "Goodbye, Christ”: Controversy and Communism. Cited here is the important anthology you should seek out, Faith Berry’s Good Morning Revolution: Uncollected Writing of Langston Hughes. Red Flags reproduces the poem and notes its omission from Hughes anthologies.

See the web page On "Goodbye Christ" for brief passages on this poem by Christopher C. DeSantis, Faith Berry, and James A. Emanuel.

As for Christians' online reactions to the poem, here are a couple specimens. Adult Christianity's Poppy Dixon defends Hughes for indicting the hypocrisy of professed Christians. An airhead by the name of John Piper proclaims The Tragedy of Langston Hughes and a Warning I Will Heed, claiming this to be Hughes' "most lamentable" poem and a tragic "loss of this talent to the service of Christ." But don't despair, Piper is praying.

Last but least, let's not forget right-wing reactions, which continue to the present day. For example, note these specimens of the red-baiting of presidential candidate John Kerry for adopting a slogan from Hughes, "Let America be America again": John Kerry's Stalinist Campaign Slogan, These Last Days Ministries, and the late right-wing archvillain, William F. Buckley.

Don't you just love white Christian America?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Religion, economic insecurity & social inequality

Very interesting commentary and interchange on the Pharyngula blog:

The trends, IF they continue, are in our favor

Commentators debate the causes of the differences in religiosity between Americans and West Europeans and the correlation because economic security, social equlity, and the decline of religion. Even the name of Karl Marx is brought up, though he is anathema in the USA and perhaps in other parts of the English-speaking world as well.

Monday, June 16, 2008

George Eliot, novelist, translator, nonbeliever

George Eliot may be most famous for her novels, but I think of her as the translator of Ludwig Feuerbach's epochal The Essence of Christianity.

Here is a summary of her life and work:

Frome, Susan. "The Sage of Unbelief: George Eliot and Unorthodox Choices," The Philosopher, Volume LXXXXIIII, No. 1.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Sherwin Wine: Laughter not worship

From a CD of podcast highlights of the Humanist Network News I acquired at the World Humanist Congress last week:

Rabbi Sherwin Wine on humanism and spirituality:
"One of the things that you do in the celebration of humanism is you talk about the human condition, and what we all know is that the human condition is absurd. . . You celebrate the absurdity of the human condition. So . . . people often ask me, what's your substitute for worshipping God—you worship people. Never. Never! And the alternative to worship for me has always been something I treasure; it's laughter."
You can't beat Jewish humor for perspective! The official podcast of the American Humanist Association can be located at HumanistStudies.org/podcast or AmericanHumanist.org/podcast.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Martin Luther King, Jr. as secular humanist

Jeff Nall,
“Remembering the Humanism of Martin Luther King.”
Toward Freedom,
July 12, 2005. Feature article (alternative version of Humanist piece);
Reprint: Theocracy Alert, Online Journal, July 16, 2005.

Those invoking the name of MLK in the cause of left/liberal theocracy had better reconsider.

Another source with some information on MLK and the religious issue in the civil rights movement (including defamation of secular Jews) is:

Jacoby, Susan. Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004.

On the role of existentialism in black thought and the civil rights movement, see:

Cotkin, George. Existential America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.

For further background, see:

Allen, Norm R., Jr. “Religion and the New African American Intellectuals,” Nature, Society, and Thought, vol. 9, no. 2 (1996), pp. 159-87.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Marriage of Bette and Boo

The Marriage of Bette and Boo by Christopher Durang, directed by Perry T. Schwartz and offered by my favorite theater company in the Washington DC metropolitan area, Spooky Action Theater, is described as “Thirty years of divorce, alcoholism, madness and death in a wacky family world turned inside out.” It is also a tale of thirty years of serial pregnancy, psychological abuse, and Catholic ignorance, told in a series of flashbacks by Bette and Boo’s surviving son and a student of English literature, Matt. The play begins with the wedding ceremony of Bette and Boo, and what at first glance seems to be just another vapid middle class family scenario quickly morphs into a tactless farcical display worthy of an episode of South Park or Family Guy. In 1985 Durang was ahead of the curve. At first I had my doubts, but when Karl Hudlocke (Boo’s dad) referred to his wife Soot (no kidding) as “the dumbest white woman alive,” I knew I would love this play.

Bette begins her nightmare marriage as an airheaded Catholic girl, void of knowledge of the real world, dreaming about all the babies she wants to have. Decades of bitter experience that follow do not dissuade her from her illusions, i.e. her Catholic brainwashing. She is also unable to break Boo’s addiction to alcohol, itself propelled by her incessant urge to breed. Her sister Emily is a basket case constantly apologizing for her existence. Her other sister Joan is bitter and cynical . . . and seemingly always pregnant. Her father, Paul Brennan, has a speech impediment that will have you rolling in the aisles. Her matronly mother Margaret attempts to manage this menagerie. As for the in-laws, Soot Hudlocke is an addled doormat. Her husband Karl—my favorite character—is callous, cynical, tactless and totally outspoken in every situation without a tinge of self-consciousness. Then there is the doctor who keeps delivering Bette’s stillborn babies, and the pièce de resistance, the priest Father Donnally.

Time and hardship have a way of wearing down the naïveté of even the most clueless and wiping the forced smiles off the faces of even the most vapid. But the inability to learn anything from bitter experience takes a lot of effort, unless one’s faculties are disconnected from reality at the onset. This is where Catholicism comes in.

Father Donnally is an obtuse jackass, indifferently pushing the Church’s party line on these families without engaging them as real human beings, which they have been discouraged from becoming in the first place by their upbringing. One of the most hilarious, and perhaps the key scene in the play occurs at a marriage counseling retreat attended by both families in toto and conducted by Donnally. This moment reveals the disconnect between ideology and reality like no other. Donnally alternates between regurgitating the platitudes of church doctrine sans conviction and more convincingly imitating a slice of sizzling bacon. His audience listens without conviction. No birth control, no divorce, but also no thought is allowed by the Catholic Church. All resent and hate their lives and one another, but they are mentally and psychologically numbed and hence have no place to go. This is what happens to you when you’re not allowed to feel your own pain.

Father Donnally nevertheless has one moment of truth, which nevertheless fails to induce him to reflect on his theocratic propaganda. Donnally screams: why don’t people get to know the people they are marrying; why don’t they think about what they really have in common with the person they plan to spend the rest of their lives with? Why are people so stupid? He has posed the question of questions, but he will not stay for an answer.

You know, as comic as this play is, it’s not far removed from reality. I wasn’t raised like this, thank goodness, but I’ve known more dysfunctional Catholics than I can count. This dehumanization, this disconnect of one’s own emotions and thoughts from one’s reality, is one of the innumerable crimes the blood-drenched Catholic Church can never recompense.

The actors all did a superb job. How they could keep from breaking character while I and others howled in the audience is a miracle of the acting craft I will never understand. The set too was marvelous; I don’t know how this company does it without money. This is not establishment bourgeois theater for the upper crust; it’s always on the edge, and you should show up to support it.

The Marriage of Bette and Boo
by Christopher Durang,
directed by Perry T. Schwartz,
with Katie Atkinson, Gerald B. Browning, William C. Cook, Joe Cronin, Mary C. Davis, Bill Gordon, Martha Karl, Ellen Mansueto, David Rothman and Mundy Spears.

The Black Box Theatre at Montgomery College, Corner of Philadelphia (East-West Hwy) & Chicago Ave., Takoma Park, MD.
June 5 – 29, 2008. Performances Thu – Sat at 8 PM and Sun at 7 PM.

My reviews of other Spooky Action productions:
Alice in Washington

Away With All Gods! (1)

I'm not accustomed to sober, measured argumentation from Maoists, but the 21st century holds many surprises:

Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World by Bob Avakian (Chicago: Insight Press, 2008).

That's right, Bob Avakian, chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party. Regardless of what you think of the party line in general or on various matters, there is much material on this web site of interest, under the rubrics:

Atheism & Religion

Christian Fascism

I'll cite two specific pieces which appear in the book's bibliography:

"A Leap of Faith" and a Leap to Rational Knowledge: Two Very Different Kinds of Leaps, Two Radically Different Worldviews and Methods by Bob Avakian

God the Original Fascist Series by A. Brooks.

Note also this debate on YouTube:

Atheism, God and Morality in a Time of Imperialism and Rising Fundamentalism, An Exchange Between Chris Hedges and Sunsara Taylor (23 April 2008).

Barack Obama on the Nature of Religious Faith

Barack Obama on the Nature of Religious Faith, on Austin Cline's About.com: Agnosticism/Atheism site, highlights the contradictions in Obama's vapid plea for Christian tolerance and provides links to the various presidential candidates' positions on religion and secularism.

Emmett Fields' Bank of Wisdom

Emmett F. Fields has for many years provided an incredible service by digitizing and compiling dozens of old and rare volumes of freethought literature to preserve this legacy and make it available to future generations:

Bank of Wisdom (rare freethought classics on CD-ROM)

Fields also sells posters and busts, but I will limit myself to listing his CDs for sale to date, with boldface added by for works of special interest:

#1 - The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll, 2nd Edition
#2 - An Introduction to Freethought - The Religion of Freedom
#3 - An Appreciation of Thomas Paine
#4 - Facts of Freethought
#5 - Freethought and the Bible
#6 - History of Woman Suffrage
#7 - America - The Historic Facts
#8 - The Un-Holy Inquisition
#9 - The Writings of Thomas Jefferson
#10 - The Vatican - World's Oldest Political Machine
#11 - ATHEISM, The Struggle Against Superstition
#12 - The Jesuits
#13 - Woman: Her Story
#14 - The Lost Treasures of M.M. Mangasarian
#15 - An Introduction to REALITY
#16 - EVOLUTION A FACT Beyond Honest Doubt!

I have the first 13 of these, excepting #4 & #10. Just to give examples of the content of these CDs:

#2 - An Introduction to Freethought - The Religion of Freedom

1. 400 Years of Freethought, by Samuel P. Putnam -- Freethought's finest History.
2. A Biographical Dictionary of Freethinkers, by J.M. Wheeler.
3. The Age of Reason, by Thomas Paine.
4. My Beliefs, by Luther Burbank.
5. The Origin and Nature of Secularism, by George Jacob Holyoake.
6 & 7. The Jesus Problem, and The Historical Jesus by J.M. Robertson.
8 & 9. The Worlds Sixteen Crucified Saviors and Sixteen Saviors or None by Kersey Graves
10-12. The Four Gospels, I Don't Know Do You?, I Am Not Afrain Are You? all three by
Marilla M. Risckr.
13 & 14. Analysis of Religious Belief, Vols. I & II by Viscount Amberley
15. Flowers of Freethought by G.W. Foote.
16. The Origin of the Christian Church by Investigator.
17. The Bible a Dangerous Guide, by Marshall J. Gauvin.
18. Essence of Religion, by Ludwig Feuerbach.
19. An Open Letter To Jesus Christ, by D.M. Bennett.
20. The Non-Religion of the Future, by Marie Jean Guyau.
21. The Religion of Science (1860)
22. The Struggle Between Science and Religion, by Arthur M. Lewis.
23. The Christ, by John E. Remsburg.
24. Views of An Agnostic, by Ross E. Browne.
25. Eight Lectures, by L.K. Washburn.
26. The Establishment Case by Emmett F. Fields.
27. A full color plaque of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States before it was perverted in 1954.

#11 - ATHEISM, The Struggle Against Superstition

Joseph Lewis:
The Ten Commandments
The Bible Unmasked
The Tyranny of God
An Atheist Manifesto
ATHEISM and Other Addresses
Joseph Wheless:
Is It God’s Word?
Forgery in Christianity
History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science, by John William Draper
The Atheism of Astronomy by Woolsey Teller
Penalties Upon Opinion by Hypatia Bradlaugh Bonner
Our Rationalist Heritage by Walter Hoops
Satires and Profanities, by James Thompson
George E. Macdonald:
Fifty Years of Freethought, Vol. 1
Fifty Years of Freethought, Vol. 2
REPORT of the International Congress for Progressive Thought, 1904.
31 Sermons by M.M. Mangasarian.
The Martyrdom of Man by Winwood Reade
Superstition in All Ages by Jean Meslier
Candid Examination of Theism by Physicus
Ancient Pagan and Modern Christian Symbolism by Thomas Inman
The American Rationalist Magazine, Sept.-Oct. 1962 – Atheism by Madalyn Murray (O’Hair)
The Pillars of Priestcraft, 4 Vols. (A collection of earlier works published in 1768.)
Henry M. Tichenor:
The Life and Exploits of Jehovah
The Creed of Constantine
Tales of Theology
The Science of Materialism by Charles T. Spalding
The Biography of Satan by Kersey Graves
FAITH or FACT by Henry M. Taber
Heroes and Martyrs by G.W. Foote and Charles Watts
ATHEISM; An Affirmative View, by Emmett F. Fields

On the question of the accessibility of freethought literature, see:

Prahl, Frank. "Getting Better Access to Freethought Literature: Is the Library of Congress Censoring Our Libraries?", Essays in the Philosophy of Humanism, Volume 7, 1999.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Lenni Brenner vs Hitchens & Lerner

Oldies but goodies from Counterpunch: Brenner takes on Christopher Hitchens' claims about Thomas Jefferson's religious attitudes:

July 26, 2005
Biography as Wish-Fulfillment
Jefferson, Hitchens and Atheism

. . . and the pompous gasbag Michael Lerner, characterizing him, coincidentally as I have done countless times, as a narcissist:.

February 19, 2003
Michael Lerner and the Workers World Party
The Ranting Rabbi Doesn't Speak for All Anti-War Jews


Lenni Brenner on Obama's Theology & Heaven's Census

I previously mentioned this hilarious essay by Lenni Brenner circulated on 7 April 2008, but I've finally located it on the Counterpunch site:

Obama's Constitution, His Pastor, & His Unbelieving Mom In Heaven
By Lenni Brenner

This is old stuff, but you can be sure Obama's religious problems will return to haunt him in this presidential campaign time and time again.

Jeff Nall, Condorcet, & Perpetual Revolt

It's a pleasure to discover more activists and public intellectuals of a progressive nature in atheist/freethought/humanist circles. Over the weekend I learned of this enterprising young fellow:

Jeff Nall: Writer, Speaker, Activist

Note his new book:

Perpetual Revolt: Essays on Peace & Justice and The Shared Values of Secular, Spiritual, and Religious Progressives
Publisher: Howling Dog Press, 250 pages.
Cost: $20.00 ($15.95 + $4.05 shipping and handling)

Jeff has some other web sites of interest. My point of entry was his site on French Enlightenment philosopher Concordet:

Condorcet: Male Prophet of Feminism, by Jeff Nall

Note Jeff's writings on political activism and alliances with those elements of the religious left who oppose theocracy and uphold separation of religion and government. Hopefully here one can find elements of the religious left who refrain from defaming atheists and reject the introjection of obscurantism and theocracy into the public sphere in the manner of Michael Lerner, Chris Hedges, and Jim Wallis.

The Humanist Institute, Michael Shermer & Baloney Detection

The Humanist Institute " is a leadership training program created by the North American Committee for Humanism." Leadership training involves both the practical and intellectual sides of humanist education. I have my doubts that "humanism" is the all-encompassing philosophy it purports to be, and its conception of intellectual history seems to be limited by the lingering consequences of McCarthyism, but still, there is a resource here to be drawn upon.

I followed through a number of links, but for the moment I'll just single this out:

(AHA) 66th annual conference, "Blazing a Humanist Trail," in Portland Oregon on Thursday, June 7th, 2007. Preconference - The Humanist Institute.

One of the preconference seminars, for which materials are available online, is:

Science: Methods and Uses
Warren Wolf

It is always of interest to me what expositions of the scientific method include and exclude. I note with some amusement this set of guidelines:


Unfortunately, only Shermer's own guidelines are to be found here, nothing about detection of Shermer's own baloney. Shermer, after all, is a devotee of Ayn Rand and is now peddling his own pseudoscience of "evolutionary economics". Many pop intellectuals today, extending themselves beyond their legitimate scientific credentials, are wont to translate their allegedly scientifically based insights directly into political and economic generalizations and prescriptions, innocent of the intervening factors of history and social organization. Whether libertarians like Shermer or "liberal" shills for the Democratic Party like George Lakoff, these ideologues parade about on the public stage pimping their half-baked ideas on the authority of science. Social theory has been disappeared out of the intellectual repertoire of organized American humanism and atheism. These folks are quite convinced—the upscale liberals especially—that they are the very embodiment of reason. Delusional thinking in a decaying society knows no bounds.