WILLIAM EDELEN: 2000 Years of Disbelief



The Contrary Minister

I ask this question raised by Carl Jung: “Why are so many millions of people willing and eager to turn their lives over to outside authorities?” Why are so many today willing to turn their mind/brain… soul/spirit over to outside individuals, institutions and ideologies, whether it be Jewish, Muslim or Christian “authorities” of dogma? Or whatever the outside authority might be that is telling you what to think, what to believe and how to live your life.

I ask then, how do we withdraw from such a childish dependency if we want to reclaim our mind/brain and our very own life? I answer this by saying that first you must begin by taking a long, hard critical look at all so called religious authorities wanting to control your life, and be willing to accept the risk that goes with such courage and independence.

Our first six presidents had the courage to do that. American history scholars, writing for the Encyclopedia Britannica, have stated that our first six presidents were Deists and not Christian. I quote: “One of the most embarrassing problems for the nineteenth-century champions of the Christian faith was the fact that not one of the first six presidents of the United States was a Christian. They were Deists.” (1968, vol 2 p. 420, Mortimer J. Adler, editor in chief. The Annals of America: Great issues in American Life: A Conspectus).

Thomas Jefferson used these words to express his view: “On the dogmas of religion, all mankind, from the beginning of the world to this day, have been quarreling, fighting, burning and torturing one another, for abstractions unintelligible to themselves and to all others, and absolutely beyond the comprehension of the human mind.” (Jefferson to Carey in 1816, ms 1V).

One of the most valuable books in my library, and one I have reviewed many times, that will make a monumental contribution toward historical and religious literacy is 2000 Years of Disbelief, Famous People With The Courage to Doubt by James Haught, published by Prometheus Books. James Haught is the Executive Editor of the Charleston Gazette. He has received many honors and awards from the National Press Club, the American Bar Association, and People For The American Way.

The book profiles the giants of history, in many vocations and disciplines, and their challenge to the religious “authorities” of their day and to Christianism in general. They took charge of their own mind/brains and of their own lives. With every quote in the book revealing their beliefs, you are told exactly where you can find the statement if you doubt the accuracy of it. You can look it up yourself.

Those with constipated minds, of course, will never take the time to pursue the subject and become accurately informed. Our first six presidents, as well as many others, are well covered in the book. It brings together the words of the great minds of both East and West, from antiquity to the present. It is an anthology of outstanding philosophers, scientists, poets, scholars and politicians, as well as giants of the arts.

As a sourcebook of those who took charge of their own mind/brain and challenged the Christian and religious tyranny of their day, it is priceless. The book will lead the open and enlightened mind into a greater depth of study. The book will bring to your attention, once more, the myth and fantasy of the religious and political right wing stating that this nation was founded by Christians and the bible. That brainwashing propaganda will be seen for the fallacy it is.

Thomas Jefferson put in one succinct sentence what they all believed: “The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by a supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.” (Letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823).

In how many ways do we let outside “authorities” take over our mind/brain to the total exclusion of facts? How many, without question, accept moss-covered clichés fed to us by religiously and historically illiterate speakers and columnists on local and national levels? A perfect example is a national column by Kathleen Parker, writing in her USA Today essay. She proclaimed, in her most ignorant and authoritative way, that, “There were no atheists in the World Trade Center on September 11, even as there are never any atheists in foxholes.”

What hogwash! What nonsense! In my twelve years of flying as a U.S. Marine Corps pilot in both WWII and Korea, I knew many, I repeat MANY, Marines who were atheists and had nothing to do with God talk, Jesus talk or Bible talk.

Easily, one of the most valuable two weeks of my time spent at the University of Colorado had nothing to do with Anthropology, but was when Dr. John Greenway used two weeks to teach critical reading and thinking.

Of course, everything we have been thinking about in this column was the major emphases with the Buddha 2,500 years ago. He said again and again, “Be ye lamps unto yourselves.” Do not accept tradition or any outside authority, for these are the chains that bind the human mind and spirit.

For those wanting such a freedom and the joys that go with that freedom, I think you will find this book 2000 Years of Disbelief a treasure that you will read again and again. It will give you the latitude and longitude of the courage it takes to free the mind.

The advance of Western Civilization has been the story of the gradual victory of free thought over the dogma and tyranny of religion.

See also: Atheists in Foxholes, in Cockpits, and on Ships