December 28, 2005

The Company We Keep, Part 2

In part two you'll find a whole mess of philosophers, authors, human rights activists, politians and some pop culture references. Some have questioned those I chose to put on the list citing some of their less-than-perfect deeds as proof. My intention here is not to present the (false) idea that all atheists are paragons of virture. Unlike theists, I harbor no delusions that my people are inherently "better" than any others. Rather, my intention is to show how atheists/agnostics/non-believers are now, will be and always have been major players on the stage of world history, not a passive, invisible minority. And, as stated in part one - the list isn't populated by atheists alone.

First up- Founding Fathers (for those who think non-true xtians(tm) would not/could not be elected president):

Benjamin Franklin - Inventor, Foundating Father
"The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason."
"Lighthouses are more helpful than churches."

Thomas Jefferson - American president, author, scientist, architect, educator, and diplomat.
Deist, avid separationist.
"Religions are all alike - founded upon fables and mythologies."
"Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the
homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear."
"Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burned, tortured, fined, and imprisoned, yet we have not advanced one inch toward uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half of the world fools and the other half hypocrites." [Notes on Virginia]

Abraham Lincoln - American president
John T. Stuart, Lincoln's first law partner: "He was an avowed and open infidel, and sometimes bordered on Atheism...He went further against Christian beliefs and doctrines and principles than any man I ever heard."

Joseph Lewis quoting Lincoln in a 1924 speech in New York: " The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession. I could never give assent to the long, complicated statements of Christian dogma."

William Howard Taft - American President and Chief Justice
"I do not believe in the divinity of Christ and there are many other of the postulates of the orthodox creed to which I cannot subscribe."

Ulysses S. Grant -18th President of the United States
"Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private schools, supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and the state forever separated."

James Madison - 4th American president and political theorist.
"In no instance have . . . the churches been guardians of the liberties of the people."

John Adams - 2nd President of the United States
"The divinity of Jesus is made a convenient cover for absurdity."

Now for some contentious "real estate":

Charles Robert Darwin - English naturalist
He professed himself an Agnostic, regarding the problem of the universe as beyond our solution, "For myself," he wrote, "I do not believe in any revelation. As for a future life, every man must judge for himself between conflicting vague probabilities. (no, he didn't "repent" on his death bed)

Clarence Seward Darrow - American lawyer
"I believe that religion is the belief in future life and in God. I don't believe in either. I don't believe in God as I don't believe in Mother Goose." quoted in Manual of a Perfect Atheist.

Next, a whole mess of authors and philosopers:

Epicurus - Ancient Greek philosopher who was the founder of Epicureanism, one of the most popular schools of Hellenistic Philosophy.
"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?"

Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) - American Author
"Faith is believing something you know ain't true."
"Religion consists in a set of things which the average man thinks he believes and wishes he was certain

Carl Sagan - American astronomer and author
"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

John Stuart Mill - English philosopher and economist
"The time appears to me to have come when it is the duty of all to make their dissent from religion known."

(Mill also said: " Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives. (can't argue with that!)

Arthur C. Clarke - British author and inventor
"It may be that our role on this planet is not to worship God, but to create him." Quoted from Clarke's autobiography.

Friedrich Nietzsche - German philosopher
"Which is it, is man one of God's blunders or is God one of man's?"

Ambrose Bierce - American writer
Author of The Devil's Dictionary. Here are some entries:
"PRAY: To ask the laws of the universe to be annulled on behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy."
"FAITH: Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel."
"RELIGION: A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable."
"OCEAN: A body of water occupying about two thirds of a world made for man- who has no gills."
"SAINT: A dead sinner revised and edited."

Dan Barker - Former clergyman, author of 'Losing Faith in Faith'
"You are an intelligent human being. Your life is valuable for its own sake. You are not second-class in the universe, deriving meaning and purpose from some other mind. You are not inherently evil -- you are inherently human, possessing the positive rational potential to help make this a world of morality, peace and joy. Trust yourself."

Lucius Annaeus Seneca "the Younger," - Roman stoic philosopher, writer, and politician
"Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful."

Gallus Petronius - Roman courtier and wit .
"It is fear that first brought Gods into the world."

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe - German author
"This occupation with ideas of immortality is for people of rank, and especially for ladies who have nothing to do. But a man of real worth who has something to do here, and must toil and struggle to produce day by day, leaves the future world to itself, and is active and useful in this."

Arthur Schopenhauer - German philosopher
There was, Schopenhauer believed, no Absolute, no Reason, no God, no Spirit at work in the world: nothing but brute instinctive will to live. [A History of God]

Herbert George "H.G." Wells - English author
"I do not believe I have any immortality. The greatest evil in the world today is the Christian religion."

Marcel Proust- French author

Ezra Loomis Pound - American poet, critic
"Religion, oh, just another of those numerous failures resulting from an attempt to popularize art."

Robert Frost - American poet
Forgive, O Lord, my little jokes on Thee
And I'll forgive Thy great big one on me.

E. M. Forster - English novelist
"Faith, to my mind, is a stiffening process, a sort of mental starch, which ought to be applied as sparingly as possible.... I do not believe in it for its own sake at all."

James Joyce - Irish Author
"There is no heresy or no philosophy which is so abhorrent to the church as a human being."

Virginia Woolf - British Author and Feminist
"I read the book of Job last night, I don't think God comes out well in it. "

DH Lawrence - British writer
"God is only a great imaginative experience."

H. P. Lovecraft - American author
"We all know that any emotional bias -- irrespective of truth or falsity -- can be implanted by suggestion in the emotions of the young, hence the inherited traditions of an orthodox community are absolutely without evidential value.... If religion were true, its followers would not try to bludgeon their young into an artificial conformity; but would merely insist on their unbending quest for truth, irrespective of artificial backgrounds or practical consequences. With such an honest and inflexible openness to evidence, they could not fail to receive any real truth which might be manifesting itself around them. The fact that religionists do not follow this honourable course, but cheat at their game by invoking juvenile quasi-hypnosis, is enough to destroy their pretensions in my eyes even if their absurdity were not manifest in every other direction."

Pearl S. Buck - American author
"I feel no need for any other faith than my faith in human beings."

George Orwell - British author
From A Clergyman's Daughter, 1935:
"When I eat my dinner I don't do it to the greater glory of God; I do it because I enjoy it. The world's full of amusing things - books, wine, travel, friends - everything. I've never seen any meaning in it all, and I don't want to see one. Why not take life as you find it?."

Ayn Rand - Russian born American author
"Ask yourself whether the dream of heaven and greatness should be waiting for us in our graves -- or whether it should be ours here and now and on this Earth."

Jean Paul Sartre- French philosopher and author
"Dostoievsky said, ‘If God didn’t exist, everything would be possible.’ That is the very starting point of existentialism. Indeed, everything is permissible if God does not exist, and as a result man is forlorn, because neither within him nor without does he find anything to cling to. He can’t start making excuses for himself.”

Robert A. Heinlein - American science-fiction author
"History does not record anywhere or at any time a religion that has any rational basis. Religion is a crutch for people not strong enough to stand up to the unknown without help. But, like dandruff, most people do have a religion and spend time and money on it and seem to derive considerable pleasure from fiddling with it." [Lazarus Long in Time Enough for Love]

Simone de Beauvoir- French author, feminist, and philosopher
"I cannot be angry at God, in whom I do not believe."

Douglas Adams - British author 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy'
"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?"

Albert Camus - French author
Preached a heroic atheism. People should reject God defiantly in order to pour out all their loving solicitude upon mankind. [A History of God]

Activists, Politians, Revolutionaries:

Jesse Ventura - the 38th Governor of Minnesota
"Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people" -

Gloria Steinem -women's rights activist
"By the year 2000, we will, I hope, raise our children to believe in human potential, not God."
"It's an incredible con job when you think about it, to believe something now in exchange for something after death. Even corporations with their reward systems don't try to make it posthumous."

Simon Bolivar - Venezuelan soldier and South American liberator atheist. Excommunicated by the Catholic Church.

Matilda Joslyn Gage - American feminist
"From Augustine down, theologians have tried to compel people to accept their special interpretation of the Scripture, and the tortures of the inquisition, the rack, the thumb-screw, the stake, the persecutions of witchcraft, the whipping of naked women through the streets of Boston, banishment, trials of heresy, the halter about Garrison's neck, Lovejoy's death, the branding of Captain Walker, shouts of infidel and atheist, have all been for this purpose."

Marilla Ricker - American feminist and activist
"“A religious person is a dangerous person. He may not become a thief or a murderer, but he is liable to become a nuisance. He carries with him many foolish and harmful superstitions, and he is possessed with the notion that it is his duty to give these superstitions to others. That is what makes trouble. Nothing is so worthless as superstition. . . .”

Olive Shreiner - Peace and Anti-Apartheid campaigner

Joseph McCabe - English anti-religion campaigner
The epitaph he requested was "He was a rebel to his last day." [The Secular Web]

Fenner Brockway - peace campaigner
Brockway was a labor leader who opposed British imperialism and advocated giving freedom to its colonies.

Ferdinand Magellan - Explorer
"The church says the earth is flat, but I know that it is round, for I have seen the shadow on the moon, and I have more faith in a shadow than in the church."

"Oh-So-Typical" Scientists reference:

Richard Dawkins - British ethologist and popular science writer.
"We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further."

Thomas Henry Huxley - English biologist
Huxley coined the term "agnostic."

Burrhus Frederick "B. F." Skinner- American Psychologist
In an interview with CBS radio a few weeks before his death, Skinner was asked if he feared death. He replied, "I don't believe in God, so I'm not afraid of dying."

Composers, Artists, General Eccentrics:

Irving Berlin - American composer and lyricist
In her biography of her father, Irving Berlin: A Daughter's Memoir, Mary Ellin Barrett mentions her father's "agnosticism," (p.123) and refers to him as a "nonbeliever," (p.124)

Howard Hughes- American manufacturer, film producer, and recluse

Vincent Van Gogh - Dutch painter
"I can very well do without God both in my life and in my painting, but I cannot, suffering as I am, do without something which is greater than I am, which is my life, the power to create."

And in case those don't float your fancy, here's more pop-culture-friendly examples:

Sir Charles Spencer "Charlie" Chaplin - British born actor, director, and producer
"By simple common sense I don't believe in God, in none."

W. C. Fields - American entertainer
An acquaintance of Field's recounts the story of Fields, an atheist, having once been found reading the Bible. When asked what he was doing reading the Bible, Fields responded, "I'm looking for loopholes." [Movie W. C. Fields: Striaght Up]

Gypsy Rose Lee - stripper
"Praying is like a rocking chair - it'll give you something to do, but it won't get you anywhere."

John Lennon - English Rock Icon
"Imagine there's no heaven,
It's easy if you try,
No hell below us,
Above us only sky,
Imagine all the people
living for today"

From the song, "God,"
"God is a concept
By which we measure
Our pain
I don't believe in magic
I don't believe in I-Ching
I don't believe in Bible
I don't believe in Tarot
I don't believe in Hitler
I don't believe in Jesus
And, from the song, "I Found Out,"
There ain't no Jesus gonna come from the sky
Now that I found out I know I can cry
I found out!"

Frank Zappa- American composer, guitarist, singer and satirist.
"If you want to get together in any exclusive situation and have people love you, fine -- but to hang all this desperate sociology on the idea of The Cloud-Guy who has The Big Book, who knows if you've been bad or good -- and CARES about any of it -- to hang it all on that, folks, is the chimpanzee part of the brain working." [The Real Frank Zappa Book, ("Church and State" chapter) by Frank Zappa and Peter Occhiogrosso, p. 301]

Barry White - American Singer
"Referring to religion, Barry told Reuters in 1999 interview, "I don't like stories, things I can't prove."

Dave Matthews - South African rock musician
"I'm glad some people have that faith. I don't have that faith. If there is a God, a caring God, then we have to figure he's done an extraordinary job of making a very cruel world."

Lance Armstrong - American professional road racing cyclist. Seven time winner of the Tour de France race.

Interviewer: "For a miracleman, you're not very religious."
Armstrong: "I don't have anything against organized religion per se. We all need something in our lives. I personally just have not accepted that belief. But I'm one of the few."

George Carlin - comedian
"Religion is just mind control."

Angelina Jolie - Actor
"There doesn't need to be a God for me. There's something in people that's spiritual, that's godlike."

Neil Jordan - Irish Film Director
"Because God is the greatest imaginary being of all time. Along with Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, the invention of God is probably the greatest creation of human thought."

Jodie Foster- Actor
"“I absolutely believe what Ellie [Arroway, the atheist astronomer in the movie "Contact"] believes--that there is no direct evidence, so how could you ask me to believe in God when there's absolutely no evidence that I can see? I do believe in the beauty and the awe-inspiring mystery of the science that's out there that we haven't discovered yet, that there are scientific explanations for phenomena that we call mystical because we don't know any better.”

Seth Green - actor
"The Onion: Is there a God?
Seth Green: Is there a God? It really depends on what religion you subscribe to.
O: Oh, man, that's cheap. Everyone else was like, "I don't know. Maybe."
SG: God is, to me, pretty much an idea. God is, to me, pretty much a myth created over time to deny the idea that we're all responsible for our own actions.

Barry Manilow - Singer
"Q: Do you believe in God?
A: Yes. His name is Clive Davis, and he's the head of my record company.
Q: How important is your Judaism to you?
A: It isn't. My humanism is. "

Todd McFarlane - Comic Artist/Writer
"In the letters page of his comic book Spawn, a Christian writer criticised McFarlane's heavily satire-laden portrayal of religion and God. In the following response, McFarlane went on to explain his religious beliefs. "I go on record by stating that I do not believe in God," he wrote at one point."

Jack Nicholson- Actor
"In an 1992 interview in Vanity Fair, Nicholson said, "I don't believe in God now," but he added that "I can still work up an envy for someone who has a faith. I can see how that could be a deeply soothing experience."

Homer Simpson - Animiated American Icon
"I'm normally not a praying man, but if you're up there, please save me Superman!"

Christopher Reeve - Actor
"Even though I don't personally believe in the Lord, I try to behave as though He was watching”

And last to be listed, though #1 on the list: Pat Tillman
I'm sure you've heard the charge that atheists are not or cannot be patriots. I'm sure you've heard the charge that "there are no atheists in foxholes."

And I'm sure you've seen countless professional atheletes thank god for their victories at every turn. Funny that they never mention him when they lose.

Pat Tillman was a safety for the Arizona Cardinals. Instead of signing a three-year, $3.6 million contract, he enlisted in the Army when the Afghan war began. He was killed on April 22 at the age of 27. He was an atheist. His eulogy by his brother Kevin

(You never see the ones thank god leaving their posh lives behind to join up and defend the country, do you.)

Sources (in addition to those cited in part one):