William Edelen Blog – The Contrary Minister

WILLIAM EDELEN: Mark Twain and Religion



The Contrary Minister

Ernest Hemingway paid tribute to Mark Twain in these words: “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain, called Huckleberry Finn.” T. S. Eliot called it “one of the permanent symbolic figures of fiction.” Willliam Dean Howells has called Mark Twain “The Abraham Lincoln of American literature.”

The word brilliant may be overused, but surely in the case of Mark Twain it applies. He seems forever contemporary. His linguistic needles are as sharp, his observations on the human race as precise, and his sarcasm and humor as glittering today as they were when he originally placed pen to paper.

I guess that everybody has read Huckleberry Finn, but I find few who have read Twain’s Letters From the Earth, a book that is filled with his observations on something that we call “religion.” That book made my summer a few years back.

For several glorious and wondrous weeks I lived in a teepee high on an alpine meadow in the mountains of Montana.

WILLIAM EDELEN: Women Without Superstition

 Elizabeth Cady Stantonw2
The Contrary Minister

Women Without Superstition: No Gods — No Masters, by Annie Laurie Gaylor, is a very moving, educational and inspirational book. Ninety women are portrayed, women who had virtually no status or respect as individuals. And yet, what a tremendous difference thy made in the life of our nation as they challenged the Christian church, the clergy and organized, orthodox religion.

Two women in the book are such inspiring examples of courage, guts, intelligence and integrity.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote: “We need the courage to go to the source and strike the blow at the fountain of all tyranny, religious superstition, priestly power and canon law. I can tell you that the happiest period of my life has been since I emerged from the shadows and superstitions of the old theologies.”

She was the author of the Nineteenth Amendment guaranteeing women’s right to vote. She was the first to call for women’s suffrage in the United States. She fought tirelessly to free women from legal constraints and from the blight of religious superstition.

‘Bible’ Christians…


rOral Robert’s son, Richard

The Contrary Minister

I don’t know of any phrase that is more meaningless and nonsensical than “a bible Christian.” You constantly hear it or else read it in letters to the editor.

To illustrate the point, I used to invite representatives from ten different Christian groups to speak to my university class about their beliefs.

Usually I would start with a Christian Science practitioner (who was always the best prepared). Next would be the Jehovah Witnesses (who always came in threes). Then: Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons, Pentecostals, a Roman Catholic priest, a Unity minister, Greek Orthodox, a Unitarian minister, Missouri Synod Lutheran and Methodist and/or Presbyterian. They all quoted from the bible to affirm and justify their positions. The students soon realized they were listening to ten totally different religions, all calling themselves “Christian” and all reading from the same book, to prove their beliefs.

No other religion studied by historians has been — or is — so completely fragmented and splintered as the one we call Christianity. Protestantism alone has disintegrated into more than 400 different denominations, all quoting from the bible to prove or validate their beliefs. Can you see why the phrase “bible Christian” is nonsensical?

WILLIAM EDELEN: Jesus Was a Great Humanist

The Contrary Minister

The fact that Jesus was one of civilization’s greatest humanists must be like a burr under the saddle blanket for those who spend mindless hours blabbing about the “evils” of humanism.

In religious humanism, people are the first and primary consideration. People are more important than authoritarian, dogmatic, brittle, religious laws, creeds, rules, theologies, beliefs and man-made doctrines. In a very blunt and direct attack on such absurdities, Jesus placed humans front and foremost.

Nothing so infuriated him as to see religious doctrine become more important than people. It was against the religious law to feed or heal a person on the Sabbath. With scathing words.Jesus let them know that “the sabbath was made for people… people were NOT made for the sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)

Religious laws and institutions are not sacred. Creeds are not sacred. Theological dogma is not sacred. Man-made doctrines are not sacred. Jesus attacked authoritarian religion at every turn, replacing it with a humanitarian, humanistic religion.

WILLIAM EDELEN: Earth Day — A Love Affair With Nature…


The Contrary Minister

“…we have come to know what it means to be custodians of the future of the Earth — to know that unless we care, unless we check the rapacious exploitations of our Earth and protect it, we are endangering the future of our children and our children’s children. We did not know this before, except in little pieces. People knew that they had to take care of their own… but it was not until we saw the picture of the Earth, from the Moon, that we realized how small and how helpless this planet is — something that we must hold into our arms and care for.” -Margaret Mead

Earth Day is fast approaching, and for some strange cosmic reason, it is always “nature” that fills me with the most poetic love.

I realize that the writers and thinkers, the philosophers and mystics, who have most inspired me gave been those who brought me closer to nature and the natural world. Thomas Paine wrote “men and books lie… only Nature never lies.” And so it is. I have absorbed the thoughts of Annie Dillard… Loren Eiseley… Lauren van der Post… Goethe on “nature”… and Joseph Wood Krutch among many other men and women who have reminded me that I am a part of the natural world and the animal kingdom as Homo sapiens, but so human and animal.

WILLIAM EDELEN: Robert Ingersoll

The Contrary Minister

What is surprising is that Robert Ingersoll is so little known in our time. He lived from 1833 to 1899 and was internationally known as the “great Agnostic,” one of the most brilliant thinkers, lawyers, orators, debaters and authors of his day, or any day. Twelve volumes of his works are still available and are a collector’s treasure. He lectured all over the United States and abroad to standing-room-only audiences.

He spoke on many subjects, but thousands upon thousands turned out to hear him demolish the absurdities of orthodox religious dogmas. He found them repugnant due to the damage they did to the human mind and spirit. He and Thomas Jefferson shared similar views regarding organized religion. And yet, on a deep and profound level he had a sense of the mystery that was breathtaking.

I can tell you that without exception his funeral eulogies are the most beautiful that I have read in the English language. The poet laureate of the universe, Walt Whitman, said that only one man could speak at his funeral, and that man was Robert Ingersoll.

Carl Sandburg said of Ingersoll’s eulogy of Whitman, “It was a most precious treasure.”

Mark Twain literally idolized Ingersoll. Twain wrote: “I heard four speeches which I can never forget by that splendid soul Bob Ingersoll. It was just the most supreme combination of words ever put together since the world began. His words will sing through my memory always as the divinest that ever enchanted my ears. America will never again see his equal. Of all men, living and dead, I love Ingersoll the most. Except for my daughter, I have not grieved for any death as I have grieved for his.”

William Edelen: Easter Mythology


From William Edelen
The Contrary Minister

The image of a god, buried in a tomb, being withdrawn and said to live again, is thousands of years older than the Jesus stories.

Of all the resurrected savior gods that were worshipped before — and at the beginning of the Christian story — none contributed so much to the mythology developing around Jesus as the Egyptian, Osiris. Osiris was called “Lord of Lords,” “King of Kings” and “God of Gods.” He was called “the good shepherd,” “the resurrection and the life,” the god who made “men and women to be born again.” He was the Egyptians’ “god man” who suffered, died, rose again and lived eternally in heaven.

The Egyptians thought that by believing in Osiris and participating in various rituals they would share eternal life with Osiris. Egyptian scripture says: “As true as Osiris lives, so truly shall his followers live.”

The coming of Osiris was announced by Three Wise Men. His flesh was eaten in the form of communion cakes of wheat. And finally, Egyptians came to believe that only through Osiris could one obtain eternal life.

William Edelen: Moon Plays Role in Primal Afterlife Concepts


The Contrary Minister

“On the third day he rose again from the dead”… You may think I am quoting the Apostles Creed still recited in so many churches, but actually I am quoting from primal religious liturgies that are referring to the resurrection of the moon after the third night of darkness.

“As the moon dieth and cometh to life again, so we also, having to die, will again rise,” declared the Juan Capistrano Indians in ceremonies celebrating the resurrection of the new moon, after three nights of darkness and death. Basically the moon was “she,” but in some cases “he.”

For more than 100,000 years it has been believed that death had no finality and that there was more.

A boon to archaeologists has been the discovery of graves in the Neanderthal period with both artifacts and flower remains, combined with the sensitivity of the burial.

What phenomenon played a vital part of their imagining a life after death? It was quite simply… observing the moon. The sun is always the same. The moon, on the other hand, is born new, grows to maturity, dies and is then resurrected. The period of the new moon, the resurrection of the moon, became one of the most important religious celebrations in many cultures.

William Edelen: The Tyranny of God

The Contrary Minister

The debris of something called “god”: cosmic bellhop….. celestial hitman…. divine windowpeeker. Thinking human beings everywhere now are clearing the cobwebs of their, so called, minds and finally setting themselves free of the archaic and superstitious “biblical god.”

A major article in the LA TIMES for the week of Nov. 10, 2013 had this heading “ATHEIST ‘MEGA-CHURCHES’ TAKE ROOT” documenting how large groups of non-believers are spreading all over the United States in major cities. They are all saying what I wrote in one of my columns ten years ago:

“Blessed are the Atheists, Agnostics, Deists, Mystics, Humanists, Free Thinkers, Taoists, Buddhists and all others who do not have an archaic, primitive God in their mind-brains.

Blessed are they who do not believe that ‘God’ is on their side.

Blessed are they who do not participate in Holy wars, jihads or Crusades.

Blessed are they for they would never be martyrs for the ‘Glory of God.’

Blessed are they for they do not condemn others as heretics or infidels.

Blessed are they for they do not conduct inquisitions nor slaughter millions of women as witches.

Blessed are they who do not participate in sectarian violence.

Blessed are they who do not twist biblical words to condemn homosexuality as a sin, nor condemn a woman’s right to choose abortion.

Blessed are they who would never say that a terrorist act is God’s punishment against those who do not believe or think as they do.

Blessed are they who know that the only hell that exists is right here on earth created by man. And that it is in man’s hands alone to create a heaven here on earth through intelligence, empathy and love.”

William Edelen: The Future Requires Courage…


The Contrary Minister

We live in an exciting and stimulating period of history. One age is dying… and the new age is not quite born.

We see radical changes in sexual patterns, lifestyles, marriage styles, women’s roles, family structures, education, energy, religion, the Christian church and in almost every conceivable aspect of life. We can withdraw in anxiety, or we can become negative and pessimistic. If we choose either of these paths, we forfeit our chance to participate in the creation of the future.

To live in this age, or any age, requires an enormous amount of courage, faith and willingness to take risks. But to participate in the forming of a future is to create. And courage, risk-taking, creativity and faith are the attributes that have continually reformed the structure of civilization.

What is creative courage? It is the willingness to pursue new forms, new symbols and new patterns of truth. The alternative is stagnation.

William Edelen: My Friend, Justice William O. Douglas, Where Are You Now?


The Contrary Minister

We are perched on a precipice in the history of our Democracy when it comes to the role of the Supreme Court today. I contemplate OFTEN nowadays… how my old friend Justice William O. Douglas would interpret these current maneuverings.

If Douglas was alive and on the court TODAY, he would be appalled at the very notion of the “Citizens United” opinion narrowing the definition of “corruption” to “quid-pro-quo” (money for political favors) AND giving the rights of “person-hood” to “corporations.” As stated so emphatically by Mitt Romney during the 2010 Presidential Campaign, “Corporations are people, my friend!”


“The purpose of the Bill of Rights is to keep the government off the backs of the people,” Douglas wrote. Further he wrote: “The New York Stock Exchange is a cross between a casino and a private club, filled with termites.” President Franklin Roosevelt was a good friend of many on the Stock Exchange, and yet he told Douglas, “Go ahead and charge them.” Douglas went ahead full speed and charged Richard Whitney, the President of the Exchange, who was indicted for the embezzlement of his clients’ securities. Whitney was convicted and sent to prison. Douglas zeroed in on the other members of the Exchange to make reforms that would be totally and truly responsive to security holders.

William Edelen: My Reading List…


2000 Years of Disbelief 

by James A. Haught 

Society rarely acknowledges the many and varied gifts that
disbelievers give to the world. Churchmen generally contend that
great figures in history, such as America’s founders, were
conventional believers. That isn’t true, and this insightful, witty
collection sets the record straight! This collection chronicles dozens of
famous people such as Isaac Asimov, W.E.B. DuBois, Thomas
Edison, Albert Einstein, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Benjamin Franklin,
Omar Khayyam, Abraham Lincoln, James Madison, John Stuart Mill,
Ayn Rand, Gene Roddenberry, Margaret Sanger, George Bernard
Shaw, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Voltaire, with many quotes that
reveal their rejection of the supernatural.

William Edelen: Christian History 101

The Contrary Minister

President Obama is receiving hard criticism about his “prayer breakfast” remarks regarding “Christian” history and violence. Truth and Facts are always upsetting to those with the constipated minds of fantasy, myth and falsehoods. Obama was absolutely CORRECT with the TRUTH about “Christian” history and violence. Consider the following TRUTH, all of which can be CONFIRMED in any public library.

When Alfred North Whitehead was the Chair of Philosophy at Harvard University he made this observation: “Christian theology has been the greatest disaster in the history of the human race.” Was he correct?

A brief review: 

William Edelen:  Music — The Cathedral of the Human Spirit

wMorten Lauridsen

The Contrary Minister

MUSIC is the language of the soul and the cathedral of the human spirit. More human beings have been moved, healed, inspired, up-lifted, redeemed and transformed by music than by all of the philosophies and contradictory theologies ever written. If a “God” is beyond human comprehension, then “theology” is a pseudo-science without a subject matter and the theologian is one who does not know what he is talking about. But, through music, joy, love, sorrow, tears, lamentation, laughter and meditations find a voice that fills our hearts.

To relax in the evening, it is often my custom to put on the glorious DVD, “SHINING NIGHT” A portrait of composer MORTEN LAURIDSEN. It includes his master works “Lux Aeterna” and “Magnum Mysterium” and it always ends my days on a high plane.

William Edelen: The Pulpit Needs Agnostics


The Contrary Minister

For more than 25 years the beloved Senior Minister of the famed City Temple of London (Methodist) was Leslie Weatherhead. His books have been read by millions.

In The Christian Agnostic he opens with this: Not for much longer will the world put up with the lies, the superstitions and the distortions with which the simple message of Jesus has been overlaid. The message of Galilee has been so overlaid with creeds, ceremonies and doctrines, that one can hardly catch the essential message.”

He goes on to say that any minister, standing in a pulpit, who is not an agnostic is dangerous. Why is he (she) dangerous? Because he pretends to have positive and absolute answers, that he does not have. He lives in the 20th [and 21st] century, parroting back a third century biblical mentality, as though nothing had been learned, thought or discovered in the last 2000 years.

William Edelen: Can Prayer Requests Change God’s Will?


The Contrary Minister

I would like to ask, “Can something called God’s will really be changed by requests from the earth?” And, if so, “What kind of a capricious, chaotic universe would this be?”

The Encyclopedia Britannica says that belief in an unchangeable God or unchangeable force is to be found in all of the higher religions.

William Edelen: Pulpits and Courtrooms…


The Contrary Minister

Think about this: The typical church service in a typical sanctuary on a typical Sunday morning bears a striking resemblance to a court of law. The minister has on a similar gown, most often black, the pews and pulpit closely resemble the furniture of a courtroom. The minister is elevated above the audience.

The minister preaches law from that idol that has replaced God, called the bible. The audience (subjects) are supposed to symbolically prostrate themselves before all of this. The judge (minister) interprets the law.

No wonder it is so difficult, if not almost impossible, to think your way beyond all of these trappings to the enlightenment of a higher spiritual consciousness, especially if you have been subjected to this kind of an authoritarian atmosphere since early childhood.

William Edelen: Surprised By Joy


The Contrary Minister

Many people have asked me where I find my JOY in daily living. I have a routine before rising each morning that fills my mind with thoughts of JOY. When I first awake I STAY IN BED and fill my mind with the following before I throw my legs over the side and put my feet on the floor.

Before experiencing the miracles of JOY that await me, I bask in the words of a recent editorial from the NEW YORK TIMES about the great gift I have been given at my advanced age. That gift is FREEDOM from public opinion, gossip, bigotry, prejudices, personal hang ups. Older people approaching the final exit can freely and finally say… “I don’t really give a damn any longer about what you think about me, my ideas, my life, or my attitudes. I am living my own life as I will and as I choose until the final curtain, as I always have, fulfilling my own unique destiny.”

William Edelen: Feathers — The Breath of Life

The Contrary Minister

An article in the ‘DESERT SUN” OF Palm Springs, for Saturday January 3 was about how “feathers” have now “taken flight as a decor trend” and moved into the world of chandeliers with brass feathers, to shower curtains. My immediate reaction and response was that the plains Indians, Lakota and Cheyenne, would be quivering at such a profane use of one of their most SACRED objects, symbolic of the ‘BREATH OF LIFE,”, the breath that sustains our very existence.

William Edelen: Desert Dawn… A Celebration


The Contrary Minister

These thoughts could easily by a part of your NEW YEARS RESOLUTIONS… to more fully enjoy and appreciate the miracle of the DAWN HOURS.

A number of years ago, when my home was not surrounded by development, but by virgin desert, I would take my dogs walking at that time in the desert spaces. Dawn, on the desert was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. It was like the music of some old chant, delicate and exquisite. I cherished the sense of great peace the scene gave. I felt like wandering off into the blue, violet and orange-pink planes that hung in transparent sheets from the top of the sky to within a few yards of my feet.


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