Believers Kill Skeptics

by | October 24, 2019

By James Haught

James Haught is editor of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette, and a senior editor of Free Inquiry. He is 87-years-old and would like to help secular causes more. This series is a way of giving back.

Throughout history, a clear pattern is visible: Religious believers sometimes kill doubters or throw them into prison as criminals.

It began in Ancient Greece, the first known place where scientific-minded thinkers questioned supernatural claims. Socrates was sentenced to death for “refusing to recognize the gods” of Athens. Aspasia, beloved mistress of Pericles, was tried for “impiety.” Stilpo of Megara, charged with saying that Athena was “not a god,” joked at his trial that she was a goddess instead. He was exiled. Even the mighty Aristotle was accused, and fled Athens. Others charged included Protagoras, Anaxagoras, Theophrastos, Alcibiades, Andocides and Diagoras.

The Bible demands execution of anyone who criticizes the holies. Leviticus 24 commands: “He that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him.” Jesus taught that blasphemers must never be forgiven.

As Christianity grew, so did killing of nonconformists. Hypatia, brilliant director of the famed Alexandria library, was beaten to death by followers of St. Cyril in 415 C.E.

Under Catholicism, the Holy Inquisition tortured and burned “heretics” – and Protestants later did likewise. Physician Michael Servetus, who discovered that blood flows from the heart to the lungs and back, was burned in John Calvin’s Geneva in 1553 for doubting the Trinity and other dogmas. (Each year, youths at my Unitarian congregation hold a Michael Servetus Weenie Roast in his memory.)

In 1600, Italian thinker Giordano Bruno was burned for teaching heresies such as the infinity of the universe and that Planet Earth circles the sun. Italian thinker Galileo barely escaped the same fate.

In Great Britain, the last person hanged for blasphemy was a 20-year-old Scot named Thomas Aikenhead, who was convicted in 1697 of doubting Christ’s miracles and other parts of the Bible.

In 1766 at Abbeville, France, rebellious adolescent Francois-Jean de La Barre was charged with marring a crucifix, singing irreverent songs and wearing his hat as a church procession passed. He was sentenced to have his tongue cut out, be beheaded and burned. Voltaire tried to prevent the hideous punishment, but failed. A copy of Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary was nailed to the youth’s body.

The rise of the Enlightenment gradually erased the power of believers to kill doubters in the West. But blasphemy laws continued sending them to prison. In the early 1800s, poet Percy Shelley was expelled from Oxford and denied custody of his two children because he wrote a pamphlet, The Necessity of Atheism. American preacher Abner Kneeland, who grew disenchanted with supernatural dogmas, was jailed in 1838 by a judge who called him “an inflexible heretic.” As a young rebel, flamboyant P.T. Barnum printed a weekly paper that denounced religious “blue laws.” He was jailed for libeling church leaders. Upon release, the future circus king staged a homecoming parade for himself.Although killing skeptics faded in the West, no such relief occurred in Muslim lands, where slaughter remains common. Currently, 13 Islamic nations decree death for atheism. Any allegation of blasphemy can bring horror – if not by courts, then by mobs of enraged believers.

Bangladesh is notorious for Muslim assassinations of skeptic bloggers. Secular writer Shahzahan Bachehu was shot to death in 2018. Popular secularist Avijit Roy was hacked to death in 2015. That same year, two other anticlerical bloggers, Faisal Dipan and Niloy Neel, were murdered. Authorities say an Islamic extremist group had a “hit list” of skeptics to be killed.

Pakistan suffers recurring blasphemy horrors. Lawyers or others who help blasphemy suspects risk murder.

A Pakistani university student, Mashal Khan, was lynched by classmates in 2017 because he wrote vaguely agnostic thoughts on social media.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights – drafted by world figures led by Eleanor Roosevelt and adopted by the United Nations in 1948 – guarantees everyone everywhere “freedom to change his religion or belief.” But this guarantee is contradicted horribly by national laws decreeing death for doubt and by believer mobs who murder skeptics.

Around the world today, thousands of freethought groups oppose supernaturalism. In the West, their members generally are safe – although some laws criminalize “defamation of religion.” For example, an Austrian woman was convicted of “publicly disparaging religious doctrines” because she said in a forum that Muhammad’s marriage to a six-year-old girl constituted pedophilia. In 2018, the European Court of Human Rights upheld her conviction.

And in some Islamic lands, it’s still grotesquely true that believers kill skeptics.

(Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail. This essay appeared in Free Inquiry, October-November 2019.)

Link here at Daylight Atheism.

Canadian Atheist Associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular AllianceCentre for Inquiry CanadaKelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.

Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du QuébecAtheist FreethinkersCentral Ontario Humanist AssociationComox Valley HumanistsGrey Bruce HumanistsHalton-Peel Humanist CommunityHamilton HumanistsHumanist Association of LondonHumanist Association of OttawaHumanist Association of TorontoHumanists, Atheists and Agnostics of ManitobaOntario Humanist SocietySecular Connextions SeculaireSecular Humanists in CalgarySociety of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph)Thunder Bay HumanistsToronto OasisVictoria Secular Humanist Association.

Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an AgnostikerAmerican Atheists,American Humanist AssociationAssociação Brasileira de Ateus e Agnósticos/Brazilian Association of Atheists and AgnosticsAtheist Alliance InternationalAtheist Alliance of AmericaAtheist CentreAtheist Foundation of AustraliaThe Brights MovementCenter for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist IrelandCamp Quest, Inc.Council for Secular HumanismDe Vrije GedachteEuropean Humanist FederationFederation of Indian Rationalist AssociationsFoundation Beyond BeliefFreedom From Religion FoundationHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist InternationalHumanist Association of GermanyHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist Society of ScotlandHumanists UKHumanisterna/Humanists SwedenInternet InfidelsInternational League of Non-Religious and AtheistsJames Randi Educational FoundationLeague of Militant AtheistsMilitary Association of Atheists and FreethinkersNational Secular SocietyRationalist InternationalRecovering From ReligionReligion News ServiceSecular Coalition for AmericaSecular Student AllianceThe Clergy ProjectThe Rational Response SquadThe Satanic TempleThe Sunday AssemblyUnited Coalition of ReasonUnion of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

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About Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. Jacobsen works for science and human rights, especially women’s and children’s rights. He considers the modern scientific and technological world the foundation for the provision of the basics of human life throughout the world and advancement of human rights as the universal movement among peoples everywhere. You can contact Scott via email, his website, or Twitter.

5 thoughts on “Believers Kill Skeptics

  1. Tim Underwood

    Very good reasons to support Quebec’s secular requirements for public service.

    1. Shawn the Humanist

      It seems to me that this highlights exactly why we shouldn’t. Not only atheists have been discriminated and killed over stuff like that, but people of the wrong sect or religion. You think we should act like oppressors? What does that make us?

      1. Tim Underwood

        Just imagine if atheists or Ex-Religionists had a recognizable patch, symbol or haircut. How many religionists would let their children anywhere near a civil servant banishing such provocative attire. Remember, we don’t respect their superstitions!

        Canadian Civil servants have to appear completely neutral to all divisive cultural divides, even ours.

  2. John Barker

    Even if many or even most religionists would not tolerate civil servants openly displaying symbols of their atheism, this intolerance would be something to be abhorred, and not reciprocally imitated. Most believers in the supernatural are victims and dupes for whom we should have some sympathetic compassion. It is counter productive to turn them into martyrs and immoral to punish people for having incorrect beliefs unrelated to their job by eliminating their source of income.

  3. True Tech

    Hi, I can’t prove it, though someone 5 miles from my rural sw Ontario fixerupper home decided to pick me to tell that he buried a body in his backyard, and he smiled and nodded at me as we stood in his driveway after he called me to drive over there to help him unload some building supplies from his small towable trailer. That was about a year after i relocated from Toronto to put distance between my atheist self and a older brother who violently treated me even going back to my single digit years. I mentioned that i moved to get away from a marginalizing older brother to that person i first met across the road from his rental home, about a couple months after relocating here, where he was selling used furniture from a store he ran that is now closed, and has his store shelving kept in a metal barn on my property for free. One day he pulled his van into my driveway, to check on his shelving/display cases that are in that metal barn, and while walking towards the door of the barn, he smiled and said that bad people can become good, and he said that while his new girlfriend who is now his wife was walking beside him. I don’t know if she remembers him saying that, but it certainly creeped me out, because he was reminding me of what he said years earlier back in 2008 in his own driveway..
    I ended up helping him rebuild a bathroom and a bedroom prior to his new girlfriend moving in, and i helped her move into his place for free as well. Shortly after meeting him, he told me i should invest in a wood stove, so i did, and he told me the buy a through wall kit for that stove, so i did, because he had me believing that he was going to install it, though he never got around to it. The last time i asked about it, he responded with saying that it’s awfully high up that ladder. I could hear him smiling over the phone when he said that, and it was saddening really, knowing that he was messing with my quality of life, even while he knew i had a rough go at growing up around a older brother who did things such as punch me in the face repeatedly in my own bedroom at age 7, while whispering to me to shut up in between those repeat punches, and shock gave me the strength to comply with his demands. Broken nose at 17 even, and many examples of being walked on over the years, as i kinda got used to that up until i moved 4 hours away after our our arts and sciences loving atheist parents passed away back in Toronto. The month before i moved away, my brothers drinking friend called me as she did a few times while she was going through a messy divorce with some wealthy exec type who i once observed him punching a complete stranger in the face on a cottage road, after asking that person in a tshirt around 11pm, if he had the time. That was the type of friends my older brother had, and i never expected to see that violent side of that executive type who always seemed friendly and the life of the party prior to that event. He even tried to blame me for scratching up the car he was driving when he backed it into the rental cottage my parents had for a few weeks that summer. I knew that his soon to be divorced wife was probably having had a rough go at married living with him, though we never talked about that when she called. I mentioned to her that my chuck Norris fan for an older brother was amping up the being meaner and standoffish since our parents passed away, and she decided to tell me that my brother told her that he wished i wasn’t around anymore..
    That hurt really, even though he was always that in charge pushy take it or leave it type of older brother, it still hurt. So i moved out of that cold feeling illegal basement apartment and sold him my half of the house that he wanted more than family it seems.
    He was frauding me for over half my ODSP pension cheques for years, as his new girlfriend he chose to claim as only a roommate on paper, because he makes to much as a small business owner for her to receive extra income, because the month after they met, she moved in, and she was nice up till a month after she moved in, and then the heel dropping on the floor suddenly began. Nicely asking her to not do that, was met with her blankly staring at me and saying she didn’t know what i was talking about..
    On my moving out day, her tall 20 something son who threatened to fight me previously, stole my car key and a box of expensive electronic stuff while i was loading things onto that rental uhaul truck. He used to steal everyones car keys. He even threatened to arson the place i was told over the phone after i moved away..
    He told me that he used to spy on me through the edges of the basement window blinds, and he laughed and ran off through the house after saying that..
    I tried to get my brother to do something about correcting my very noticeably reduced monthly pension for years prior to my moving out, and he kept denying that it had anything to do with him. I could have him arrested and he’d probably end up losing our parents home in the process, but, he has some scary friends..
    The person he plays poker with every Monday night for years, that person nearly killed someone over a game of pool at the local bar that that he was banned from returning to after that. My brother described the bathroom of that bar as being a bloodbath..
    Prior to our stepfather passing away (mom was an optician who passed away 6 months prior to our stepfather passing away, pretty much from a broken heart as he missed mom a lot too, based on hearing him crying through the floor), i went along with my brother to a donut shop, and that violent class A mechanic that flipped out over a simple game of pool, he showed up there at that donut shop, and i plainly told him that what he did was wrong. He said what? And him and my brother returned to the conversation they were having about something that mechanic was bragging about unrelated to that pool game fight.
    At the wake for our stepfather, that mechanic showed up, and he made sure to not shake my hand after he shook my brothers hand, as everyone in attendance there was offering condolences to us, so ya, he doesn’t like me it seems..
    I can’t prove anything other than if i went and reported the older brother for years of fraud, but if i did, things might end up very grim for me really..its frustrating not having teamplayers..

    I shake inside with a Parkinsons/MS variant since age 22 as the result of a high-rise construction employer who only had 2 proper breathing apparatus’s, and 3 people applying DOW FireStop D2000 day in day out, and i can’t prove that either..

    I’m about to turn 52 in a few days though, and its a isolating experience i lead, in this rural fixer upper.
    a little over 3 years ago, i returned home to this fixerupper after being away for a few months during a record cold winter (i wear a winter coat indoors, used to it now though, and have a greater respect for homeless people and refugees really), and i came home and turned on the 11pm news and sat down and ate my drivethrough meal that is a bit of a luxury for me being 20 miles from chatham, and at a commercial break, i noticed that there was a finger smudge on my tv screen, so i stood up and looked at it, and that fingersmudge spells “Cry”..
    It worked, that sociopath got his wish, and i stopped eating and cried. 🙁
    Last year, two valve stems on my car’s tires were tampered with in the same manner, and noticed that also one tire on my riding mower was tampered with too..

    I just want to move at this point, i smoke profusely, and dont know what the future holds for me..
    my elderly farmer next door neighbor a mile away from here told me that he too has had problems with that ex store owner creeper, and said that he would vouch for me should i end up going the legal route.
    I need more than only a peacebond put on that creeper though, i wont even bother if its only going to be a peacebond, as i’m much as if a sitting duck without wings, and he is a hunter gatherer type who knows i only own guitars and no guns..

    Wish i could’ve said something pleasant on this website here, though ever since finding that fingersmudge, I’ve pretty much been somewhat studying about sociology by reading youtube comments sections, and it’s been super creepy on youtube too, and you know that too if you’ve been following the US election that resembles a long running mafia movie..

    I went to the local cop shop one morning about a year after finding that fingersmudge, as i wanted to create a file on that creeper that resides 5 miles from here, and i asked the cop at the front desk if i could be fitted with a hidden listening device, to try to see if i could get that creeper to mention anything that would validate my claims about him, and that cop said no, and so i said that he has a gun collection, and that cop said that he has one too, and he said i watch too much tv, and that i should stay off the internet..

    frustrating really.

    I know that bullets bombs bonesaws toxic nerve agents ‘nor’ hijacked 9/11 jets produce any afterlives. It’s saddening that there are so many people who exhibit the elements of Stockholm syndrome who think i’m gonna burn in hell for mentioning that violence doesn’t produce afterlives.
    If i was murdered, there would be foolish types of people standing around my open coffin saying that i went off to a better place..

    I just found this website, after typing atheist lawyer into a googlesearch, and just finished reading ONTARIO HUMAN RIGHTS TRIBUNAL RULES THAT ATHEISM IS PROTECTED AS A ‘CREED’ on another website.

    I experience shadowbanning on youtube for using that swearword, atheism, and have proof of CBC shadowbanning me, and them also ‘selectively shadowbanning’ banning me within a comment thread i created on their CBC DOCS channel, for a presentation that is about the real estate mafia back in Toronto involving the high-rise condo industry being so expensive now, Towers of trouble, is the name of that upload, and CBC deleted about 4 comments i made in that thread i created because i happened to mention that i was an atheist..
    I can prove that too, I’ve been saving everything i type on youtube as text files, and even took pictures of the screen after noticing my print screen button seems nonfunctional for some unknown reason..
    I cant seem to view the photos on my android phone though, and noticed there are strange arrows that replaced images. That seems creepy to me, as if there is more going on with social media platforms than ever.

    I wanted to speak with a atheist lawyer, as perhaps they would be more willing to want to help look into the concern of atheists being shadowbanned on youtube channels owned by mainstream media, that definitely affects political votes.

    Thankyou for reading this, if you made it this far.
    Please be safe, and healthy, because i find its a bit creepy outside that front door..


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