Steel City November Birthdays, Part 2


A number of freethinkers were born in November, including Scott Joplin (1868), Charles Schulz (1922), Randy Newman (1943) and Bill Nye (1955). Several freethinkers with ties to Pittsburgh were discussed last week. It is worth noting at least one more individual, while not born in Pittsburgh, he is well-known for his contributions to western PA.

Andrew Carnegie was born in Dumfermline, Scotland, on November 25, 1835. In 1848, his family emigrated to Pennsylvania, settling in Allegheny City, which existed as an independent municipality from 1788 until it was annexed by Pittsburgh in 1907. Located across the Allegheny River from downtown Pittsburgh, it is known today as the North Side neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

As noted in Wikipedia, Carnegie kept his distance from organized religion and theism. Carnegie instead preferred to see things through naturalistic and scientific terms stating, “not only had I got rid of the theology and the supernatural, but I had found the truth of evolution.

As pointed out in FFRF’s Freethought of the Day, in a 1905 letter to Sir James Donaldson of St. Andrews, Carnegie wrote:

The whole scheme of Christian Salvation is diabolical as revealed by the creeds. An angry God, imagine such a creator of the universe. Angry at what he knew was coming and was himself responsible for. Then he sets himself about to beget a son, in order that the child should beg him to forgive the Sinner. This however he cannot or will not do. He must punish somebody — so the son offers himself up & our creator punishes the innocent youth, never heard of before — for the guilty and became reconciled to us. … I decline to accept Salvation from such a fiend.”

It is not surprising that Carnegie’s wealth went to libraries and museums, which has enriched Pittsburgh in many ways, even today.

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Steel City November Birthdays, Part 1


It is good month to honor a host of atheist/humanists with ties to Pittsburgh.

Chambers Roberts (1910-2005), born in Pittsburgh on Nov. 18, was the chief diplomatic correspondent of the Washington Post from 1953-1971, where he wrote several influential articles about the Pentagon Papers, detailing deceptions during the Vietnam War. As a result, Roberts was named as a defendant in the case that made it to the U.S. Supreme Court for publishing the documents.

George Seldes (1890-1995), born on Nov. 16 in NJ, became a cub reporter for the Pittsburgh Leader in 1909, earning $3.50 a week. He became night editor of the Pittsburgh Post five years later and was hired by United Press to report in London in 1916. Seldes was the first to report the link between cancer and cigarette smoking. He wrote 21 books, including You Can’t Print That! (1929), Can These Things Be! (1931), The Vatican: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow (1934), Lord of the Press (1938), The Catholic Crisis (examining church ties to fascism, 1940) and Witch Hunt (1940), about red-baiting. Until his death at 104 in 1995, he was the oldest member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The 1996 documentary film “Tell the Truth and Run” featured interviews with Seldes and was nominated for an Academy Award.

Chalmers Roberts (1910-2005) born in Pittsburgh, PA, Nov. 18, earned a degree from Amherst College in 1933 and later became a journalist for seven newspapers, including the Japan Times in Tokyo in 1938 and the Washington Post in 1949. Roberts was chief diplomatic correspondent of the Post from 1953-71, often with front-page bylines. In Aug 2004, he wrote “I do want to add a final word about the hereafter. I do not believe in it. I think that the religions which promise various after-life scenarios basically invented them to meet the longing for an answer to life’s mysteries.”

Thanks to ffrf.org for details about these Pittsburgh notables.

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Disaster for the Supreme Court


The presumed nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett is the most dangerous step in a long chain of actions by President Trump.  In particular, it would be an absolute disaster for the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.

In a recent TV interview on ABC News, https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/supreme-court-favorite-judge-amy-coney-barrett-faces/story?id=73206743  the Director of Strategic Response for the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) Andrew L. Seidel reported

“There are serious and deep concerns about Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s affiliation with People of Praise and her past comments about the conflict between faith and law. Not only is her connection to this community and her previous writings fair to ask about, but senators have a duty to the Constitution to ask those questions.”

Seidel went on to says “any statement of loyalty to the organization — and possible covenant with its members — could threaten to supersede her oath to uphold the Constitution. How does the covenant interact with the oath that all justices take to uphold the constitution as the supreme law of the land? We need to know that.”

It has also been reported (https://www.vox.com/21456044/amy-coney-barrett-supreme-court-roe-abortion)  that Barrett has made a number of public statements on Roe v. Wade and abortion over the years. As a Catholic and member of the religious group People of Praise, she has said that she personally believes life begins at conception, and that Roe “ignited a national controversy” by deciding the issue of abortion by court order rather than leaving it to the states.

The Nation (https://www.thenation.com/article/politics/amy-coney-barrett-extremist/) cited numerous other cases  that put her at the far right end of the spectrum when it comes to judicial decisions. For example, she stepped up to review cases that were not on her desk, most notably with regard to legal issues regarding fetal remains and, as well as the requirements of parental consent on abortion. In both cases her rulings were overturned by the Supreme Court.   

If Barrett ruled like a devout Catholic all the time, that would be one thing. But she doesn’t. She rules like an extremist conservative all the time, and just uses religion to justify those extremist positions when it is convenient for her to do so. She ignores the moral and ethical underpinnings of her faith when they conflict with the cruel requirements of conservative dogma.”

Putting it another way, it appears that for Judge Barrett her personal religion comes first and the laws of her country come last. We do not live in a theocracy and our ability to worship or not worship, as one wishes, is a unique American right. It is particularly egregious to think that the most thoughtful, fair-minded, Justice that the court had with the Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg, would be replaced by the least qualified candidate for the court that we have seen in our lifetime, if not longer.

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Deep into Chopra


This past weekend I happened to turned on WQED to see what might be playing as PBS is known for providing thoughtful and informative shows. I did not realize that they were in the middle of their fall fundraiser and to my dismay the show they were promoting was by the New Age charlatan author, Deepak Chopra.

For those not familiar with his brand of snake oil, it well worth a visit to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deepak_Chopra, which highlights is misuse of scientific terminology and focus on untenable theories.

Chopra’s “nonsensical references to quantum physics” are placed in a lineage of American religious pseudoscience for which Chopra attempts to “legitimize these ideas that have no scientific basis at all, and makes them sound scientific. He really is a fountain of meaningless jargon” (Wikipedia).

There was a time when PBS was the provider of a rich source of informative programs. To this day, they offer high quality educational programming, including Wild Kratts, Odd Squad, Sid the Science Kid and other informative programs.

As for fundraisers aimed at adults, it is time to remove the scientific nonsense, beginning with Chopra, who has written that “No skeptic, to my knowledge, ever made a major scientific discovery or advanced the welfare of others.”

Astronomer Phil Plait said this statement trembled “on the very edge of being a blatant and gross lie”, listing Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, Stephen Jay Gould, and Edward Jenner among the “thousands of scientists [who] are skeptics”, who he said were counterexamples to Chopra’s statement.” (Wikipedia)

“Research has shown that the best way to be happy is make each day happy”, Deepak Chopra. Source: Iamfearlesssoul.com.




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Pence to speak near Pittsburgh


The anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List is bringing Mike Pence to the Pittsburgh area on Wednesday, September 9, 2020.

The event, Life Wins!, will be hosted at Cornerstone Ministries located in Export, PA (Westmoreland County), and will feature Vice President Pence, along with SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser. The format will be a roundtable meeting with pregnancy center leaders, as well as women and men who have been served by the Women’s Choice Network.

The organization apparently has money to burn, as they announced a

… six-figure newspaper ad-buy covering the state. The ad urges Pennsylvanians to “consider their own position on abortion and question whether their conscience will allow them to accept the Democratic Party position on the issue”. The targeted ads will run in nine papers ahead of and on the day of the event, including: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Friday, Sunday), The Philadelphia Inquirer (Wednesday), The Erie Times-News (Sunday), The Scranton Times-Tribune (Sunday), Allentown’s The Morning Call (Sunday), Lower Bucks Times (Tuesday), Delaware County Daily Times (Sunday), The Tribune-Review (Sunday, Wednesday), and Valley News Dispatch (Sunday, Wednesday).

One has to ask if this is best use of the “six-figure” bank account and if they might instead help women in need, rather than attacking the choice of women that has been guaranteed by the courts through multiple rulings.

Even more troublesome is that it is yet another event that reiterates Mike Pence’s claim that he is “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order,” when he should be saying he is first and foremost “I am Vice-President to all Americans, even those I disagree with.” We did not elect Pence as pastor-in-chief, but rather upholder of the Constitution, which includes even those parts he may disagree with.

 

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Behind the Times


In one of those “Good News, Bad News” stories, the Mississippi state legislature has finally decide to remove the confederate insignia from their state flag, which had been adopted way back in 1894.  That is the good news, even if it comes a 126 years later than it should have.

So what is the bad news?  The replacement, yet to be decided, must include the phrase “In God We Trust”.  This johnny-come-lately phrase, which was adopted in 1956, has no place on the flag. The flag of Pennsylvania has the words “Virtue, Liberty and Independence”, Rhode Island has “Hope”, and Nebraska has “Equality Before the Law”, all of which are positive and encouraging thoughts.  Eleven states have no words on their flag, while a have handful just have the state name.

Flag_of_Pennsylvania.svg

Flag of Pennsylvania

Georgia in 2003 and Florida in 1985  also added “In God We Trust,” long after it was adopted by Congress as the National Motto in 1956, but good luck trying to to find it on their flags:

     

The motto has been protected from Establishment Clause scrutiny, given the very odd 1984 Supreme Court’s ruling in Lynch v. Donnelly  that claimed acts of “ceremonial deism” are “protected from Establishment Clause scrutiny chiefly because they have lost through rote repetition any significant religious content [LYNCH v. DONNELLY, 465 U.S. 668 (1984)].

So here we have Mississippi removing the Confederate emblem 126 years after the Civil War, only to adopt a flag that with meaningless religious content.

It is time to stop dividing the state along ideological lines.  With national statistics showing that  22.8% of the U.S. population is  now religiously unaffiliated, including a sizable number of atheists, agnositics, humanists, and others who follow no religious dogma.  Mississippi residents the new flag should honor both believers and non-believers alike.

For more details see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irreligion_in_the_United_States

 

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National Day of Reason


It was great to see Representative Jamie Raskin (MD-8th) propose a National Day of Reason in US House:

Introduced in House (05/01/2020) – – H. Res. 947 Introduced in House

Expressing support for the designation of May 7, 2020, as a “National Day of Reason” and recognizing the central importance of reason in the betterment of humanity. _________________________________________________
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES May 1, 2020
Mr. Raskin (for himself, Mr. Huffman, Ms. Norton, and Mr. McNerney) submitted the following resolution; ___________________________________________________
RESOLUTION

Expressing support for the designation of May 7, 2020, as a “National Day of Reason” and recognizing the central importance of reason in the betterment of humanity.

– Whereas the application of reason has been the essential precondition for humanity’s extraordinary scientific, medical, technological, and social progress since the modern Enlightenment;

– Whereas reason provides vital hope today for confronting the environmental crises of our day, including the civilizational emergency of climate change, and for cultivating the rule of law, democratic institutions, justice, and peace among nations;

– Whereas irrationality, magical thinking, and superstition have undermined the national effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, and reason is fundamental to creating an effective coordinated response to beat the virus involving the Federal Government, the States, and the scientific and medical communities;

– Whereas America’s Founders insisted upon the primacy of reason and knowledge in public life, and drafted the Constitution to prevent official establishment of religion and to protect freedom of thought, speech, and inquiry in civil society;

– Whereas James Madison, author of the First Amendment and fourth President of the United States, stated that “The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty”, and “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives”; and

– Whereas, May 7, 2020, would be an appropriate date to designate as a “National Day of Reason”: _________________________________________________

Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the House of Representatives—

(1) supports the designation of a “National Day of Reason”; and

(2) encourages all citizens, residents, and visitors to join in observing this day and focusing on the central importance of reason, critical thought, the scientific method, and free inquiry to resolving social problems and promoting the welfare of humankind.

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Science Denial at the “Pete”


On May 8th and 9th, Pittsburgh will be hosting the religious zealot, Joyce Meyer. Meyer, whose net worth is estimated to be $8 million, is one of the 10 richest pastors in the county. She regularly travels in her private $10 million jet, leaving her silver Mercedes back home in St. Louis, Missouri, to spread her message which, not surprisingly. is focused on division and hate.

To make matters worse, the event will be held in the Peterson Event Center on the University of Pittsburgh campus. The ‘Pete’ often has non-academic outside speakers and concerts, including artists, such as Ashanti, Bow Wow, Deftones, who will be performing in the coming weeks. However, there is no reason to permit evangelist Joyce Meyer to speak on campus, as it is an affront to science and reason, which are the bedrock principles of any university.

In addition, the financial corruption of Meyer is well-documented. As far back as November 2003, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a four-part special report detailing:

Meyer’s “$10 million corporate jet, her husband’s $107,000 silver-gray Mercedes sedan, her $2 million home and houses worth another $2 million for her four children,” a $20 million headquarters, furnished with “$5.7 million worth of furniture, artwork, glassware, and the latest equipment and machinery,” including a “$30,000 malachite round table, a $23,000 marble-topped antique commode, a $14,000 custom office bookcase, a $7,000 Stations of the Cross in Dresden porcelain, a $6,300 eagle sculpture on a pedestal, another eagle made of silver bought for $5,000, and numerous paintings purchased for $1,000 to $4,000 each,” among many other expensive items – all paid for by the ministry [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joyce_Meyer]

As an premier educational institution in the City of Pittsburgh, it is disheartening to see Pitt sponsoring an event that is antithetical to the mission of the university.

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Pittsburgh among the Post-Christians


This week, Christianity Today featured a recent survey by the Barna Group, which identified places “where the fewest people follow Christian beliefs and practices, as measured by a list of more than a dozen factors.”  The most post-Christian cities were in New England, with Santa Barbara and Seattle not far behind.  As Don Loomer observed “People hardly think about [God]…If the sun’s out and the surf’s up, you say goodbye!”

The article goes rank 100 metropolitan areas in terms of whether they attend church, have read the Christian bible recently, or “made a commitment to Jesus”.  While Pittsburgh was not in top 10 of “post-Christian cities”, it come in a respectable 36 out of 100, well ahead of Johnstown-Altoona-State College (53), Cleveland-Akron-Canton (67), and other nearby cities.

Of course, the authors try to look for the brighter side of the survey, as when Eliezer Perez made the rather odd statement that “Post-Christian doesn’t mean anti-Christian.  If it’s post-Christian, then that means there is Christian.”

In reality, it seems to confirm to what we know about religion in the US, as well as in Canada and western Europe.  The numbers of citizens who find solace in religion is shrinking and that time enjoying friends, reading an engaging book, exercising and socializing will do more for the mind and body.  It will be interesting to see how much a drop the next edition of the survey will report in regard to religion in America.  We won’t be surfing in the sun in Pittsburgh, but I am sure the numbers will continue to fall.

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It’s That Time Of The Year


Summer has officially arrived. And that means that it’s time to start preparing for the premier event of the summer – PFC’s annual Canoe Trip and Shrimp Boil Picnic. This will be the 13th year for the Canoe Trip and the 11th year for the Shrimp Boil. The date has been set for Sunday, August 25th; the pavilions have been rented, and reservations have been made with the Outfitter. All that is left is for you to make the appropriate reservations at http://www.pghfreethought.org

For those who have not participated before, let me describe it. Those going on the water meet at Youghiogheny Outfitters in West Newton at 9:30am and are transported upriver to Smithton where the group will “put in”. This is a relatively leisurely float down the middle Youghiogheny River, from Smithton to West Newton, a distance of approximately seven miles. Depending on the current, time on the water is about four hours. (Last year’s went a little quicker because with all the rain, the current was a little faster.) There are no real “rapids” on this section of the river, just some navigable shallows, so it is very newbie- and beginner- friendly. If you have a child who wants to learn to canoe or kayak, this is an excellent opportunity for them to learn under your supervision, with gentle waters, and a large group of fellow travelers.

About halfway along the river journey on a wide sweeping curve to the right, there is a boat ramp on the left bank for Cedar Creek Park. If you are joining in the shrimp boil, or just want to join everybody for lunch, pull your watercraft out there and set it out of the way. Turn left and walk back upriver about 150 hundred yards and you will find the PFC picnic. Of course, no one is required to participate in the shrimp boil to enjoy the camaraderie of the group, but it sure is a lot of fun – and quite tasty. The menu consists of shrimp, andouille sausage, redskin potatoes, corn-on-the-cob, and French bread. Dessert is Cajun-style bread pudding with rum sauce. (Since everything is cooked in one pot, there is unfortunately no way to offer a vegan option. But you are welcome to bring your own food and eat with the group at no cost.) Food should be ready sometime between 12:30 and 1:00. After lunch, those kayaking/canoeing get back on the water and continue downriver to the outfitter’s boat ramp in West Newton where your car is waiting for you.

For those not going on the water and just coming to the picnic, Cedar Creek Park is located off of PA Rte 51 near I-70 in Rostraver. After you pass the Rostraver Township Municipal Bldg, you will pass three houses and come to the Park entrance. There are TWO entrances, about 50ft apart. Take the second entrance and follow that road as it meanders through the park, about a mile. When you get to the bottom of a relatively long hill, the road will make a quick zig-zag right then left as it crosses over the bike trail. Continue on between the bike trail on the left and pavilions on the right until you come to pavilions number 18 and 19. That is where you will find us. For those who would like to ride bikes instead of canoeing or kayaking, that bike path that you crossed over is part of the Great Allegheny Passage that goes from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC.

Prices are the same as last year: $32 for a single kayak, $53 for a 2-person canoe or tandem kayak, $14 for transport of your own canoe upriver, $12 per adult (12 and older) for the shrimp boil, $8 per child (6-12), 5 and under are free. For those with small children, a canoe can accommodate two adults with one small child under 60 lbs. The sooner that we know who and how many are planning on participating in what activities, the better we can be at organizing and making this event happen as smoothly as possible. So let us know as soon as possible if you can.

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