Thursday, September 29, 2011

The GNU Atheists

I love this cartoon, but not because it's good by modern standards:

It was created by American atheist Watson Heston. Here's another, which I think richly captures the irony of Christ's teachings, not to mention his death (see update):

For more of his cartoons, I'd suggest visiting No Beliefs and Magellan's Blog.

Heston was one of many uppity atheists of the 19th Century. As this little detail of fellow 19th Century atheist C.C. Moore's life should illustrate, speaking one's mind had its hazards:
Moore, born in 1837, was the grandson of religious reformer Barton W. Stone, and was himself a minister in Versailles, Kentucky, before he left the church, passing through deism and agnosticism to eventually declare himself an atheist.

Moore founded the Blue Grass Blade newspaper in 1884 in Lexington. He was only able to publish sporadically due to financial and legal problems originating mostly because of the paper’s editorial content--- attacks on citizens that Moore considered to be bigots (including Bible-thumpers and whiskey distillers) and his advocacy of unpopular positions such as agnosticism and women's suffrage.

Moore’s belligerence and opposition to religion and the Bible eventually earned him time in prison for blasphemy. After five months behind bars and commutation of his sentence by president William McKinley, he returned to Lexington, now somewhat a celebrity. While incarcerated he wrote his autobiography, Behind the Bars.

Kentucky's Most Hated Man Charles Chilton Moore & The Bluegrass Blade
Blasphemy, of course, is a fancy way of saying "you insulted my beliefs by questioning them, therefore you [lose the argument|deserve to go to jail|deserve to die]". It's the label of people who have no rational argument to draw on. It was heard a lot in 19th Century America, and is still heard in modified form today.

To me, the obvious answer to that argument is that the idea that questioning, or even mocking, someone else's beliefs deserves some form of punishment is a mockery of rational thought. That offends me. Where do I go to have you thrown in jail?

According to Wikipedia, what Moore was actually accused of was discussing the concept of "free love":
Though he was indicted for mailing obscene literature, it was his blasphemy that led the jury to deliberate for five minutes before returning with a guilty verdict. Moore was tried, convicted, and sentenced in the span of one day. Before Moore's friends at the Ohio Liberal Society could file his appeal, he was whisked away that night to the Ohio State Penitentiary to serve two years. The Ohio Liberal Society continued to fight for Moore's freedom and was successful in getting him pardoned by Ohio's former governor, President William McKinley. Moore was released from prison in July of 1899.

Wikipedia: Charles Chilton Moore
People like C.C. Moore, Watson Heston, and Robert Ingersoll are the reason I chuckle whenever I see or hear the phrase "new (or GNU) atheists", as though people just started talking about it a couple of years ago. Atheists have been speaking their minds for a long time, and it used to be much more costly to speak out than it is today.

UPDATE: It's probably worth pointing out here that Christ was supposedly sentenced to death after causing a ruckus with moneychangers in a temple.

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