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Alamogordo, New Mexico, has gotten itself in the news by putting the motto, “In God We Trust” on its city hall.  The mayor has been shown on television saying, “It was affirmed as a national motto by Congress in 2011,” as if that standing was the only reason the city leaders chose to use it.

The atheists are offended, as of course they should be.  The posting of this motto in a public place implies that if you don’t trust in God (some God, any God) you are not one of the “we”―the “we” who are running the town, the “we” who “belong” in it.

Christians should also be offended.  Posting this motto in a City Hall (in spite of its traditional use in American society) cheapens the idea of trust in God.  Those who actually put their trust in God are likely to be found on the fringes: to be poor, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, or to be busy feeding the poor or working for environmental justice.  Or perhaps they are taking a big risk for some hope for themselves or their community.

People who are trusting in God are not trusting in politics, or a bank account.  Most people who succeed in those terms are like the rich young man in the Gospels: it is very hard to let go of dependence on what one has and turn one’s trust to God.  I know my strongest lessons in trust (call it God, or spirit, karma or the universe) have come when other things weren’t working out.  And then, somehow, they did, though often not as I expected.

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What do freethinkers celebrate?

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There seem to be a shortage of atheist/freethought holidays. A recent blog comment suggested that there is nothing between April Fool’s Day and Be a Pirate Day in September. 

While the word “holiday” has unfortunate origins, now largely ignored, I do think atheists, agnostics and freethinkers should find occasions to celebrate during the year.  One hundred years ago, gatherings were held on January 29, Thomas Paine’s birthday.  I don’t know how many still honor this occasion.

Robert Ingersoll, the most successful freethought lecturer of the nineteenth century, was immediately raised to “sainthood” beside Thomas Paine upon his death in 1899.  No miracles were needed.  January 29 was often celebrated as a “Paine-Ingersoll” event. 

Ingersoll declared himself to be agnostic, but he was in fact a humanist before the word came into popular usage.  The following quotation is typical:

“Reason, Observation, and Experience―the Holy Trinity of Science―have taught us that happiness is the only good, that the time to be happy is now, and the way to be happy is to make others so.”
(From “On the Gods”)

Why not honor Ingersoll on his own birthday, August 11?  Perhaps in those pre-airconditioning days of the early twentieth century August was an off time to hold a celebration.  Now, I think, an August “holiday” would be a good idea.

Another option would be to establish “Atheist Family Day” on July 17.  When Ingersoll died on that date in 1899 his wife and daughters took immediate action to preventthe  fraudulent claims of deathbed conversion which plagued every freethinking hero.  Ingersoll’s family was united in supporting the cause of freethought.

If these options don’t appeal to you, perhaps you have other ideas about what and when freethinkers should hold celebrations.