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Western intellectual leaders discuss Christianity

Special Issue | The One Immortal Blemish

Issue: "Osama bin Ashcroft?," April 27, 2002

1925

The 12-day "Scopes Monkey Trial" in Dayton, Tenn., which concerns a new Tennessee law prohibiting the teaching of evolution as scientific truth in public schools, results in a flood of anti-Christian rhetoric. A trial about parental control over school curricula is portrayed as religious bigotry vs. scientific truth. "On the one side," writes H.L. Mencken, "was bigotry, ignorance, hatred, superstition, every sort of blackness that the human mind is capable of. On the other side was sense." Before Mencken even sets foot in town, he calls Dayton creationists "local primates ... yokels ... morons ... half-wits."

1927

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"You find as you look around the world that ... every moral progress that there has been in the world, has been consistently opposed by the organized churches of the world. I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized by its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world," opines Bertrand Russell in Why I Am Not a Christian. Also this year, in The Future of an Illusion, Sigmund Freud calls religion the "universal obsessional neurosis" and religious teaching "neurotic relics."

1933

Shortly after assuming power in 1933, German leader Adolf Hitler says that he intends "to stamp out Christianity root and branch," for "One is either a Christian or a German-you cannot be both." Christianity should be destroyed by force or "left to rot like a gangrenous limb," he argues, so that most Germans will be Christian "never again. That tale is finished ... but we can hasten matters. The parsons will be made to dig their own graves. They will betray their God to us."

1965

"But the most heinous crime of the Church has been perpetrated not against churchmen but against churchgoers. With its poisonous concepts of sin and divine punishment, it's warped and brainwashed countless millions. It would be impossible to calculate the psychic damage this has inflicted on generations of children who might have grown up into healthy, happy, productive, zestful human beings but for the burden of antisexual fear and guilt ingrained in them by the Church. This alone is enough to condemn religion." -American Atheists founder Madalyn Murray O'Hair

1966

"Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue with that; I'm right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first-rock and roll or Christianity." -Beatle John Lennon in the March 4 London Evening Standard

1980

In an article in Ms., feminist Gloria Steinem tries to associate the mostly Christian pro-life movement with Nazism, asking, "If Hitler Were Alive, Whose Side Would He Be On?" The following year, in a column in Mother Jones, feminist and atheist Barbara Ehrenreich explains why saving the world from nuclear war requires that Christianity be marginalized: "The need to divest ourselves of all invisible Others, eternal spirits, afterlives and other comforting delusions becomes all the greater as we inch toward nuclear destruction. The spokespeople of today's Christian Right, such as Jerry Falwell of the Moral Majority, do not flinch at the idea of nuclear confrontation, either because (in the spirit of the Old Testament) they believe Americans are the 'chosen people' who can 'win' or because (in the spirit of the New Testament) they don't believe this earthly life is worth that much-certainly not worth losing face to the Communists."

1988

Andres Serrano's 60-by-40-inch Cibachrome photograph of a crucifix in a jar of his own urine tours three American cities and later sparks an outcry over National Endowment for the Arts funding. The photo's title: "Piss Christ." The Los Angeles Times describes the photo as having "a lush, soft-edged romanticism that suggests a larger-than-life version of the surreally golden portrayals of Christ in children's Bibles."

1992

Heretical Anglican bishop John Shelby Spong publishes his explanation for Why Christianity Must Change or Die: "Theism, as a way of conceiving God, has become demonstrably inadequate, and the God of theism not only is dying but is probably not revivable. If the religion of the future depends on keeping alive the definitions of theism, then the human phenomenon that we call religion will have come to an end. If Christianity depends on a theistic definition of God, then we must face the fact that we are watching this noble religious system enter the rigor mortis of its own death throes."

1993

In a Feb. 1 Washington Post article about how Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell mobilized grass-roots opposition to President Bill Clinton's plan to lift the ban on gays in the military, staff writer Michael Weisskopf writes: "Corporations pay public relations firms millions of dollars to contrive the kind of grass-roots response that Falwell or Pat Robertson can galvanize in a televised sermon. Their followers are largely poor, uneducated, and easy to command." After protests, the Post concedes that "there is no factual basis for that statement."

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