Explore the American identity, "What should it mean...TO BE AN AMERICAN?" Ken traveled from Florida to Alaska, from Maine to Hawaii, asking this question to people in all 50 states, getting hundreds of amazing interviews. No one knew the question before appearing on camera. The result is a newsworthy, informative, provocative, entertaining, 73-minute documentary that explores our American challenges, problems, hopes, dreams, and aspirations. This is an American story, told by Americans.
"TO BE AN AMERICAN" was shown in London, England in February under the Best Feature Documentary category at the International Filmmaker Festival of World Cinema. And you can see this full-length documentary film absolutely free at the March 20 meeting of the First Coast Freethought Society! For more info and to view trailer: http://thedocumentarytobeanamerican.com/
Meet the Film Creator
Ken Hurley is the Director of Civication, Inc., a 501(c)(3), nonprofit, charitable, educational organization dedicated to promoting civic learning and civil responsibility. He is a long-time friend and member of the First Coast Freethought Society and one of its most popular presenters.
Ken enjoys the freedom to pursue effecting positive differences in the lives of others. Ken created and hosted a public-interest television show entitled, Civil Discourse, where controversial issues are discussed in a civil manner. Ken also was the Executive Producer and head writer for a unique television program entitled, ACCESS News, where public-policy issues are discussed in American Sign Language, English, and captioned.
Ken recently completed a 100,000-mile Capitals Tour where he went to each state capital and points of interest in between, to interview and film responses to his provocative question, “What should it mean to be an American?” The surprising results became an internationally-acclaimed feature-length documentary entitled, TO BE AN AMERICAN.
Ken is a resident of Jacksonville, Florida and still enjoys traveling with a purpose.
Renew Your Membership!
Thank you to those who have, but many of you have not yet renewed! Membership dues are the life blood of nonprofits, providing operating expenses that enable us to exist. Fund drives can then be used for projects we could not otherwise afford, such as our NPR announcements or special programs. Let's see if we can increase our membership this year. If you haven't been a member for several years, we miss you, and we hope you'll come back!
All membership dues and donations are tax-deductible; you'll receive a letter to that effect for IRS purposes.
President's Message - March 2017
To Boldly Go
Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.
Most of us have heard these famous words as the title sequence at the beginning of each episode of the original Star Trek television series.
I think most of us have our hands full with this strange world we call earth. I have rewritten the Star Trek title sequence to reflect the views of everyone, not just the crew of the starship Enterprise.
Life: the only frontier. These are the voyages of humanity. Its life-long mission: to explore the inner and outer reaches of mind, matter, and intelligence, to seek out a good life and good friends, to boldly come and go, live and let live, and boldly die with dignity, where all life has gone before.
Dying has been creeping into my mind more and more these days—probably because I had a brush with death two years ago, and perhaps because I am turning 61 years old this summer. These thoughts concerning my mortality have compelled me to change my will to include the First Coast Freethought Society as a beneficiary to my life insurance policy.
I think it is something all of us need to consider. Funding a grassroots organization such as the First Coast Freethought Society after death is a way to have a lasting impact on your local community and American society. Most local organizations are underfunded, and by underfunded I mean there is no funding for very much beyond newsletters, radio ads, and speakers who require an honorarium. Annual dues rarely make ends meet.
This president’s message is not about merely paying the bills. Donating after death leaves behind more than just money. It sends a message to future First Coast Freethought Society members of the importance of a local, secular, freethought presence within our community, along with a need to support and fund it into perpetuity.
One huge goal of the First Coast Freethought Society when it was founded in 1998 was to create something that could be handed off to the next generation—so the First Coast Freethought Society can boldly go where we cannot go because of our mortality.
As much as I loathe imperialism, there are two ideas I feel strongly must be disseminated around the world and to other worlds, should humanity get the chance to visit another world in our solar system or beyond. Those ideas are freedom of conscience and critical thinking. Those two ideas, when combined, form the essence of freethinking, ideas that should accompany any sentient beings adventurous enough to boldly go where no one has gone before.
Including the First Coast Freethought Society in your will ensures that the next generation of freethinkers will not only go boldly into the future, they will go well funded into the future. Please give this idea careful consideration. (More information in "Bequests" box below and forthcoming articles.)
WHEN: Tuesday, March 28, 2017. Come any time between 6:00 and 7:00 for socializing. We'll order from the menu at 7:00 p.m. WHERE: The OLIVE GARDEN Italian Restaurant, 10144 Philips Highway, across from the Avenues Mall. Ask for us at the desk. The hostesses will show you to our room.
RSVP: E-mail CarrieRen@att.net, call 904-268-8826, or RSVP on the FCFS Meetup, by Tuesday morning, if you plan to join us. This is a great way to learn more about the FCFS and meet members and friends. You do not need to be an FCFS member to attend!
Invisible Gods, Angels, and Microbes
Fred W. Hill
One fine sunny day, as I took a walk around the county courthouse during my lunch break, I twice passed by a man whose face was haloed by a thick mat of brown hair and beard and who appeared to be engaging in a heated argument with himself about god. During our second passing, he urgently asked, “Have you met God, sir?” As he continued walking past me, I concluded his question was not directed at me. Perhaps he was yet another troubled wanderer of downtown Jacksonville debating with one of multiple personalities. Or maybe he had a cell phone headset I just couldn’t see and was discussing theology with an actual person.
Had that question been aimed at me, however, my spoken answer would have been, “No.” Being disinclined to further engage with him, I most likely would have continued on my way, although my unspoken addendum would have been, “and neither have you.” He may have met a kangaroo, shaken hands with Tom Cruise or Ted Cruz on a boat, or been face to face with Kim Jung-un or (pardon the profanity) Donald J. Trump in a dump. Even knowing nothing about the man, however, I must rate his chances of having met God as the same as his having met Godzilla, Superman, Moses, or Vlad Dracula. Nil. Outside of fantasy, and not counting costumed pretenders, it is impossible to meet fictional characters or anyone who died before your birth. There should be no need to write such an obvious statement, but as observant atheists know all too well, there are still billions of people who believe in the reality of god, multitudes who believe God speaks directly to them, and others who are certain God or his alleged son or one of his angels has appeared before them. If theists weren’t so dominant in our culture, there would be little need for a freethought society. Most strangers we encounter would assume we are atheists or agnostics; and asking, "What church do you go to?" would seem as bizarre a query as, “Where do you sacrifice bulls to Zeus?”
My own mother, now three years deceased, expressed belief in guardian angels during the last years of her life, perhaps in response to her increased physical frailty due to heart disease and other ailments, as well as accepting the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church to which she had converted 13 years prior to her death. Catholic doctrine, as explained by Brian Kelly on http://catholicism.org/ website, holds that, “the existence of guardian angels is clear from holy scripture and tradition; but whether or not every human being is given a guardian angel is a question that lies in the realm of opinion...Saint Thomas affirmed that every man receives a guardian angel in his Summa Theologica (First Part, Question 113) and he provides irrefutable arguments why this must be so. It was the common teaching in his time and no doctor ever questioned it since the thirteenth century. Therefore, if we look to the ordinary teaching of the Church, it would be rash and certainly offensive to pious ears to deny it.”
Well, there, that settles it. Aside from the fact the Kelly’s and Thomas of Aquinas' arguments are very much refutable, based as they are entirely on fallacious arguments from authority and circular reasoning, rather than actual evidence that can be scientifically verified. Whatever intellect Thomas of Aquinas had was perverted and warped by his religious mania, such that to his mind, I have committed a capital offense solely by disbelieving in god and angels, guardian or otherwise, and hence deserve to be arrested and executed. In reality, Thomas’ knowledge of the supernatural was no more rationally sound than that of Joseph Smith, L. Ron Hubbard, and that man I passed by outside the courthouse. Bertrand Russell, in A History of Western Philosophy, disparages Thomas as a philosopher, “not engaged in an inquiry, the result of which it is impossible to know in advance. Before he begins to philosophize, he already knows the truth; it is declared in the Catholic faith. If he can find apparently rational arguments for some parts of the faith, so much the better; if he cannot, he need only fall back on revelation. The finding of arguments for a conclusion given in advance is not philosophy, but special pleading.” Believing Thomas was a pious fraud as a philosopher.
Over seven centuries since Thomas of Aquinas' death in 1274, his baseless musings remain dogma in Catholic Church theology. Plenty of other baseless and contradictory fancies far more ancient, as well as many more recent ones, are taught as absolute truth by the thousands of religious factions around the world, many of which would like their fantasies taught as fact in history and science courses in public schools and universities, just as they were in Thomas' day. Among their notions are that mere human senses are unable to perceive god or his angels, and so we must accept them on faith or be eternally damned. Faith, however, is a horribly poor instrument on which to put trust in anything and remains so even when paired with arguments from authority and other fallacies.
Thomas died centuries before anyone knew about micro-organisms. Yet, those microbes represented the earliest forms of life, with evidence of their existence possibly dating as far back as 3.7 to 4.3 billion years ago, as reported by Rae Ellen Bichell for NPR on March 1, 2017, (see http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/03/01/517915868/tiny-fossils-could-be-oldest-evidence-of-life-on-earth). Scientific evidence requiring no act of faith also shows that all forms of life known to have existed on Earth evolved from micro-organisms that lived billions of years ago—they are our most ancient ancestors. The microbes have been in our bodies, on our skins, in every environment where any form of life can subsist, all along despite no one having known about them until Antonie van Leeuwenhoek observed them in the 1670s with a microscope. He crafted this himself to magnify items under the lens to 500 times their actual size, with the original intent of more closely studying the weave of the drapes he manufactured. Only incidentally did he find living things far smaller than previously imaginable; and, despite a lack of more than rudimentary education, he was intellectually gifted enough to recognize the significance of what he saw, engage in further studies, and take notes. He reported his discoveries, some of which are illustrated in the graphic on the right, to the Royal Society of London in 1675 and despite initial skepticism, no one had to take Leeuwenhoek solely at his word—all anyone had to do was look into his or any other microscope with sufficient magnification. The one-celled organisms had always been all around, on and within us, despite no holy book making any reference to them, despite no highly educated Doctor of the Church or anyone else having any revelation about their existence. All it took was one curious man with an invention who wanted to take a much closer look at things that really exist, finding far more than he could have expected and sharing his discoveries.
Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632 - 1723)
Font of far greater knowledge about reality discovered through his microscope and accurate reports of what he saw than Thomas of Aquinas' scrutiny and analysis of biblical text.
It took nearly another two centuries before further scientific studies verified that bacteria and viruses were responsible for many of the illnesses that had plagued humanity and other life throughout history. Illnesses such as the bubonic plague, leprosy, small pox, malaria, and many more that religious authorities had long erroneously blamed on witches, demons, and other supernatural forces. Further study discovered that our very lives are dependent on other bacteria. As reported by Molika Ashford for the website Life Science, “Could Humans Live without Bacteria?” August 12, 2010, (http://www.livescience.com/32761-good-bacteria-boost-immune-system.html), bacteria in our digestive system break down foods, such as “plant fibers, that we're not so good a handling ourselves…Bacteria in the digestive system also supply us with needed vitamins like biotin and vitamin K, and are our primary source for some of these nutrients…” Bacteria in the oceans and soils are also necessary to the decomposition of organic matter, and “scientists from Louisiana State University have found evidence that bacteria represent many, if not most, of the tiny particles that cause clouds to precipitate into falling snow and rain.” The microbes could be good or evil, to the human perception, just like the little angels and devils that tried to influence protagonists in many old cartoons, except that although invisible to our unaided perceptions the microbes were very real.
Though unseen by most people, microbes play a prominent role in all lives, regardless of what anyone believes. Guardian angels? My mother’s faith in them did not prevent or cure the various ailments that took her life at the age of 70; maybe they were derelict in their duties, been reprimanded by God and re-assigned to other duties. But then I have not met God and he cannot be found with the help of any microscope or telescope or other invention, and the rumors of his existence do not hold up to close objective scrutiny. That man I passed by outside the Courthouse may have met God, but I must be skeptical as there are no valid means to verify such an assertion even if he put his hand on a Bible and swore to that same god. No, I have not met God; nor has he, Moses or anyone else.
AmazonSmile is a program offered by Amazon whereby you select a nonprofit, and at no cost to you, Amazon automatically donates 0.5% of the cost of your purchases to your selected nonprofit. It’s very easy to set up your AmazonSmile account.
When you visit https://smile.amazon.com/ for the first time (assuming you want to select the FCFS), after signing in, type "First Coast Freethought Society Inc" in the search box. It will come right up. Confirm your choice.
Thereafter, whenever you shop at Amazon, you will log onto "smile.amazon.com" (instead of "amazon.com"), and you are ready to shop! Amazon will remember your nonprofit of choice whenever you log on to shop.
In this feature, you will be kept apprised of the actions of the local AU chapters which include AU of Northeast Florida and the Clay County Chapter, as well as AU on the national level. If separation of state and church issues are important to you, we encourage you to join the First Coast Freethought Society and AU!
Merrill Shapiro, Trustee, National Board of Trustees, Americans United for Separation of Church and State
February 2, 2017: “The president said he would 'totally destroy' the federal tax law from 1945 that prevents tax-exempt groups, like churches, from endorsing or opposing political candidates.”
It comes as no surprise that we have government officials who are unaware of the fact that “tax-exempt groups, like churches” are protected under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution when it comes to “endorsing or opposing political candidates!” They have always had these protections. No one has ever threatened to take away these protections.
Our Federal Tax Code provides a wonderful and important benefit to nonprofit organizations, such as our own First Coast Freethought Society, and houses of worship throughout our great land. As you know, when you make a donation to the First Coast Freethought Society (and I hope you will, and be generous at the same time), you can, generally (yes, there are exceptions) deduct the amount of such a donation on your Internal Revenue Service Form 1040, Schedule A. This is a powerful incentive to be generous to nonprofits who do, after all, provide important services to our community and our country.
In return for the status of being able to receive those donations that are, in most cases, deducted from the donor’s tax computation, nonprofit organizations must follow several rules. One of those rules is that they cannot engage in partisan political activity.
Nonprofit organizations are in no way required to participate in this program. They can solicit donations and tell their donors that the donations are not tax deductible. (By the way, your contribution to political campaigns and organizations is also not deductible.) Then the organization is free to engage in partisan political activity, endorse candidates, support those aspiring to public office, and no holds are barred!
So the real issue is not whether or not Houses of Worship and other religious organizations can endorse and support political candidates and engage in partisan political activities. The issue is whether they can do so and still make use of the powerful incentive to have people make donations by having those donations be tax deductible.
So, this is not about any limitation of rights, free speech rights or otherwise. This is about money, Mammon, personified in Medieval Christian lore as a deity and sometimes included in the seven princes of Hell!
Let’s keep our religious communities honest. Let’s remind them that the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew has Jesus telling those assembled, "No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”.
Mail a check to the First Coast Freethought Society, PO Box 550591, Jacksonville, Florida 32255. If you are renewing and your contact info has changed, please include your new information.
To Donate on a Monthly Basis
Click http://firstcoastfreethoughtsociety.org to go to the FCFS home page, click "Join, Renew, Donate" where you will find a PayPal button to make automatic monthly donations. Automatic monthly donations via PayPal require you to have a PayPal account; or
Set it up through your online banking system.
All membership dues and donations are tax-deductible, and you will receive a letter from the treasurer to that effect for IRS purposes.
WHEN: The first Sunday of each month. For time, visit Meetup group.
WHERE: Different locations in Jacksonville. To learn where, visit Meetup group (see link below)
WHAT: Planned for discussion:
April 2, 2017 - This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein
May 7, 2017 - Strangers in their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild
On April 2, we will be meeting at the Pablo Creek Regional Library on Beach Blvd. Please join the Meetup at http://www.meetup.com/humanistbookgroup/ so you can RSVP to attend. That way, we can be sure to accommodate all attendees.
We are delighted to announce that Professor David Jaffee will be leading the book discussion on This Changes Everything. Dr. Jaffee currently serves as Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, and Faculty Research Fellow, Northeast Center for Community Initiatives, at the University of North Florida. For more on David Jaffee, visit: https://www.unf.edu/~djaffee/ .
Blair's Review: "Believing is Not Enough"
Naomi Klein believes that the inequality of wealth and power in the world is unjust and that it should be redistributed more fairly. The problem with this book is not that she wants redistribution; it is that she believes in it too much. She filters all her information about the world through this moral lens, which results in simplistic and misleading conclusions.
She describes this clearly when talking about other believers. She explains the tendency of some conservatives to reject the scientific understanding of climate change with perhaps the most insightful statement in her book: “The tight correlation between ‘worldview’ and acceptance of climate science is due to ‘cultural cognition’, the process by which all of us, regardless of political leanings, filter new information in ways that will protect our ‘preferred vision of the good society’.” Read more...
WHEN: 7:00 - 8:30 p.m., the second Thursday of each month.
WHERE: Clubhouse at a private condominium in St. Augustine (Anastasia Island).
WHAT: Planned for discussion:
April 13, 2017 - David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell
May 11, 2017 - To be announced
Book Review: In his #1 bestselling books The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell has explored the ways we understand and change our world. Now he looks at the complex and surprising ways the weak can defeat the strong, the small can match up against the giant, and how our goals (often culturally determined) can make a huge difference in our ultimate sense of success. Drawing upon examples from the world of business, sports, culture, cutting-edge psychology, and an array of unforgettable characters around the world, David and Goliath is in many ways the most practical and provocative book Malcolm Gladwell has ever written.
More Info: Contact Charlie West at firstname.lastname@example.org for location, directions, and gate code. We hope you can join us!
NOTE TO ALL! Books may be found in the library, purchased from local book stores or online. The First Coast Freethought Society will receive a small remuneration from your purchase (at no additional cost to you) if you purchase through AmazonSmilehttps://smile.amazon.com. See artice, above.
Now, our Correspondent in Thailand...
Reflections on the U.S. Electoral System
Steven Lance Stoll
[Sociologist Lance Stoll, long-time member and friend of the First Coast Freethought Society, is currently living and teaching in Thailand. He shares his views from afar. —Editor's Note]
I've been listening to so many pundits talking about a rework of the Democratic party. Many talk about how the party is not in sync with the people, about Sanders' people, about those angry white people who voted for Orange Hitler. What I don't understand is how anyone can make these points despite the fact that the democratic candidate won the popular vote by 3 million votes; despite the fact that America is becoming less and less white, and those ethnic populations favor the Democratic positions on issues; despite the fact that more and more Americans are becoming more secular, and the humanists, feminists, LGBT people, and other liberal-minded people favor the Democrats; and of course, despite the fact that less than 25% of the American population supported Orange Hitler. The problem is neither the Democratic party nor their platform. It is in the corruption of the electoral system, the involvement of Russian hacking and propaganda, and the idiotic hatred expressed by white American Christians, and the illegal politicking of their churches and ministers.
It seems to me that more freedom and fairness is the solution, not moving the Democratic party further to the left. The fact of American politics for decades, if not centuries, is that it is centrist politicians Americans want and changes that are incremental and not drastic except for in very desperate times as with FDR.
Since the Courts' position that money is free speech, the balance has been changed and corruption has become legal. Overturn Citizens United, bring back the fairness doctrine on the public airwaves, and let civil discourse based on reality and facts prevail, and strengthen the separation of church and state, and you save America.
The First Coast FreeThinker is published for all freethinkers and potential freethinkers. Non-members and members may receive the e-mail version indefinitely. Non-members may receive three hard-copy issues free, after which they must join the FCFS to continue to receive hard copy. Members are entitled to receive hard-copy should they prefer. The e-mail version is encouraged, as the newsletter is optimized for on-screen reading.
Readers are invited and encouraged to share our original materials provided they give credit to this publication. The officials of the FCFS are not responsible for opinions or other statements expressed in this newsletter. The FreeThinker is intended to convey ideas that stimulate thought and promote discussion on a variety of subjects.
2017 Submission Deadlines
MARCH issue - Submission date: FEB 26, 2017
APRIL issue - Submission date: MARCH 26, 2017
MAY issue - Submission date: APRIL 23, 2017
JUNE issue - Submission date: MAY 28, 2017
JULY issue - Submission date: JUNE 25, 2017
AUGUST issue - Submission date: JULY 30, 2017
SEPTEMBER issue - Submission date: AUG 27, 2017
OCTOBER issue - Submission date: SEPT 24, 2017
NOVEMBER issue - Submission date: OCT 29, 2017
DECEMBER issue - Submission date: NOV 26, 2017
More Information for Contributors
We welcome submissions. Articles, poetry, etc. should be e-mailed to Editor@firstcoastfreethoughtsociety.org. Material must be submitted ELECTRONICALLY. Submissions may be formatted in MS Word, in a text file, or in an e-mail.
Articles no longer than 1,000 words are recommended. Longer articles will be evaluated in terms of whether their importance and degree of interest to our readers warrant publication.
Subject matter must tie in with freethought or with the Affirmations of Humanism: A Statement of Principles (found on our website). All accepted submissions are subject to editorial modification (copy editing). Our style guide is The Chicago Manual of Style. Authors, not the First Coast Freethought Society, are responsible for the accuracy of all quotations and for supplying complete references where applicable.
I have been asked, "I am already a member of FCFS. Do I still need to register for Meetup?"
The answer is, "NO." Joining our Meetup will not impact your FCFS membership. We recommend that FCFS members join Meetup to learn of activities that might be posted there and not anywhere else. Also, Meetup makes RSVPing very easy.
For the present, our e-mail announcements and reminders will continue. E-mail distribution of the FreeThinker will continue. And members preferring to receive hard copy, snail-mail newsletters may continue to do so, as well.
Humanist Book Discussion Group Meetup
To attend the FCFS Humanist Book Discussion Group - Jacksonville, you DO need to join the meetup. For meeting details (times, locations, etc., to suggest books or articles for discussion, and to RSVP to attend), you need to join our Humanist Book Group Meetup. Click: http://www.meetup.com/humanistbookgroup/
Joining these meetups is not only convenient and free, it provides for easy social networking with like-minded people. Additionally, high meetup membership numbers reflect a strong presence of freethinkers (including atheists, humanists, etc.) in our community, always a desirable goal.
The First Coast Freethought Society, Inc. is an educational, nonprofit, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization dedicated to supporting nonreligious persons in the Northeast Florida area and promoting a nontheistic approach to everyday life.
If you share our world view and would like to be a part of the FCFS, we encourage you to join. If you are new, or if you are renewing and your contact info has changed, you can pick up an application or a brochure at a meeting, or you can download and print an application on our website: http://firstcoastfreethoughtsociety.org/cms/app and mail it in.
For information on all these activities, please visit http://firstcoastfreethoughtsociety.org, or see the calendar of events at the end of each newsletter and on the website. You need not be a member to attend these activities!
FCFS 2017 Board Members
President - Earl Coggins: 904-521-5039
Vice President - Carrie Renwick: 904-268-8826
Secretary - Liz DuClose: 352-260-2880
Treasurer - Stephen Peek: 904-742-5390
At-Large - Herb Gerson: 904-363-6446
At-Large - Fred Hill: 904-887-3880
A-Large - John Ruskuski: 904-586-7892
On Monday, April 17, our speaker will be Jenny Kalmanson, Vice President of the American Humanist Association, and President of the Institute for Humanist Studies. Her talk is titled, "What Has AHA Done for Me Lately?"
You can make a lasting impact on the future of
freethought and secular humanism in this community
…if you provide for the First Coast Freethought Society in your Will.
Your bequest will ensure that the FCFS continues to be a beacon for freethinkers
on the First Coast and remains a vital Voice of Reason in Northeast Florida.
Several options for planned giving are available: specific, general, percentage,
or residual. Details available on request, or check with your attorney.
You will need to provide our EIN which is 20-1462737.