July 31, 2015 - 8:42 am

My friend and fellow secular humanist, Judge Tommy Hughston, invited me to attend the Unitarian Church in Charleston on July 19. He would be coordinating the service for his visiting minister friend, Dr. J. William Harris (Doctor of Divinity). The intriguing sermon title was "God Must be Proud of Atheists." Tommy asked me to bring a copy of my book, Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt, for Dr. Harris.

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July 20, 2015 - 11:00 pm

 

South Carolina finally did the right thing by removing the Confederate battle flag from capitol grounds. The state had been bitterly divided about whether the flag represents heritage or hate, while I believe it represents heritage and hate. There is nothing in the South Carolina or U.S. Constitutions that prohibits flying the Confederate flag on public property, but the court of public opinion changed after a Confederate flag-promoting racist murdered nine African Americans recently in a Charleston church.

 

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July 1, 2015 - 10:28 am

After living in the Northeast my entire life, I moved to Charleston, South Carolina in 1976 to teach at the College of Charleston. I came with stereotypical ideas about the South, but was certainly open to changing my mind and hoped I would. Charleston is a lovely city, known for its gracious living. I'd never been known as a gracious liver.

My first week there, I saw a notice about a duplicate bridge game open to the public at the Christian Family Y and thought this would be an opportunity to meet people with common interests. Since I didn't have a partner, the organizer found a pleasant woman who agreed to be my partner.

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June 19, 2015 - 9:39 am

Many of us in Charleston, South Carolina began grieving on Wednesday night when we heard that a white gunman had killed nine innocent black people gathered at the historic Emanuel AME Church, three blocks from where I live. This church, with a primarily black membership, once was a secret meeting place for African-Americans who wanted to end slavery at a time when laws in Charleston banned all-black church gatherings.

My grieving turned to anger on Thursday morning when I listened to national television commentary about the slayings. A caller on C-SPAN blamed it on tolerance for homosexuality, which caused God's wrath. Fox News spun this racially motivated crime into an attack on Christianity, and one guest suggested that pastors arm themselves during services. I also disliked hearing people on both left and right say how much worse the crime was because it happened in a church. Killing nine people is horrendous, regardless of where it happens.

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June 4, 2015 - 11:00 pm

When I heard that a Christian Renewal prayer rally called "The Response" would be coming to the largest auditorium in my hometown of Charleston on June 13, I mostly said to myself, "Ho-hum, here we go again with another unproductive prayerfest." But my interest piqued when I learned that South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley endorsed the event and is heavily promoting it. She will be the only celebrity on stage as she welcome attendees and begins the prayer. While Governor Haley is inviting people of all faiths (perhaps even atheists?) to attend, I expect many would be uncomfortable at a prayer rally led only by evangelical Christians whose stated purpose is to exalt the name of Jesus (and nobody else).

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May 25, 2015 - 11:00 pm

I give two cheers for the NBC/WSJ poll that shows Americans would prefer a gay presidential candidate to an evangelical one. That, to me, is a twofer — acceptance of gays and discomfort with evangelicals. But I don’t yet give three cheers because Americans would still prefer an evangelical president to an atheist.

Since 1937, Gallup has been asking people whether they wouldvote for a generally well-qualified presidential candidate nominated by their party if the nominee happened to be a Catholic, Mormon, black, female, atheist, etc.

Gays were not even included in the survey until 1978, and they ranked last. Today atheists are at the bottom. The good news is that there is now less discrimination against all minorities — and in 2012 for the first time a poll indicated that a slim majority (54 percent) would consider voting for an atheist...

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April 28, 2015 - 11:00 pm

First there were the Jews, with their holy book; then there were the Christians, with their holy book; and then there were the Muslims, with their holy book. Together they formed the three major monotheistic religions, with lots in common and lots not.

Christianity, a cult of Judaism that eventually had enough members to rise to the status of sect, became a separate religion when they added their own holy book, the New Testament. For some Christians, this superseded the Old Testament (which Jews call the Hebrew Bible), though Christians also consider the Old Testament holy. Jesus said he did not come to change one jot or tittle from the old law. Subsequent bibles actually contain anywhere from 24 to 66 books, depending on sect. Muslims much later added their own holy book (the Quran), but also consider the Jewish and Christian bibles holy...

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April 16, 2015 - 10:01 am

When South Carolina leads a national story, it's usually because of a horrible hurricane or racial incident. There hasn't been a major hurricane lately in my hometown of Charleston, but North Charleston recently became the focus of national and international attention when a white police officer named Michael Slager shot an unarmed black man, Walter Scott, five times in the back as he fled after being stopped for a broken taillight.

Since police investigations in South Carolina and many other states almost always exonerate the officer in a questionable situation, it was almost unprecedented for Slager to be arrested and charged with murder shortly after the shooting. However, because of the now-famous video taken by a passerby, I don't credit South Carolina law enforcement for their prompt action. The video appears to show Slager taking target practice on a black man's back, turning the "smoking gun" cliché into something literal. Were it not for the video, an internal police investigation might have exonerated Slager because he initially claimed to fear for his life during a struggle with Scott.

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April 7, 2015 - 4:07 pm

"In Indiana, Using Religion as a Cover for Bigotry," an editorial in the March 31 New York Times, reminded me of a line by Captain Renault in the movie Casablanca as he accepted a bribe: "I'm shocked, shocked to learn that gambling is going on in here." I'm also reminded of lyrics in "National Brotherhood Week," Tom Lehrer's satirical song: "The Protestants hate the Catholics, and the Catholics hate the Protestants, and the Hindus hate the Muslims, and everybody hates the Jews." Conclusion: Religious bigotry is as old as religion, itself.

Although it might not ring as true as in previous generations, religious hate is protected by freedom of religion. We have the right to hate anyone, but not the right to commit crimes. It's OK to hate gays, but not to kill them. Perhaps that's why Bob Jones III, former president of Bob Jones University, a fundamentalist Christian institution in my home state of South Carolina, recently apologized for his 1980 remark that we should follow the biblical injunction of stoning gays to death.

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March 17, 2015 - 4:31 pm

My family shed "tears of joy" on May 14, 1948, when the Jewish State of Israel was established as a safe haven for Jews. I was five at the time and didn't quite understand its significance, but I had been taught that an integral part of Judaism was anti anti-Semitism. A number of Jewish displaced persons (DPs) lived in my neighborhood, some of whom had been in concentration camps. I also had relatives who had died in the Holocaust, and my parents warned me to never trust the Goyim (Gentiles).

When I grew up and evolved from Orthodox to secular Jew, I still felt a non-religious affinity to my Jewish "homeland." I had no desire to make Israel my home, but I viewed it as a prophylactic against future Holocausts. I later learned that the establishment of Israel was not a day of unadulterated joy for everyone -- because Jews settled in a country inhabited by other people and forced many of them to leave. In other words, Israel created Palestinian DPs. Nevertheless, I continued to support Israel, focusing mostly on the anti-Semitism of countries in the Middle East that denied Israel's right to exist. However, I had a more nuanced view that required balancing security for Israelis with human rights for Palestinians.

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