Did you know that writer Barbara Ehrenreich, who died on Aug. 30 at age 81, coined the term “none” to refer to us irreverent ones and nonbelievers? Today, Pew and other researchers commonly refer to “atheists, agnostics and nothing in particular” as “Nones,” a term FFRF is so pleased with, we even capitalize it.
Ehrenreich used the term in a 1992 piece called “Cultural Baggage” for the New York Times Magazine, in which she wrote that her family members “are the kind of people . . . who do not believe, who do not carry on traditions, who do not do things just because someone has done them before.” She added, “In my parents’ general view, new things were better than old, and the very fact that some ritual had been performed in the past was a good reason for abandoning it now. Because, what was the past, as our forebears knew it? Nothing but poverty, superstition and grief. ‘Think for yourself, Dad used to say. ‘Always ask why.’”
She added that “skepticism, curiosity and wide-eyed ecumenical tolerance are also worthy elements of the human tradition.” She once asked her mostly grown children whether they ever felt any sense that ethnic or religious identity was “insufficiently nourished” at home. “‘None,’ they said, adding firmly, ‘and the world would be a better place if nobody else did, either.’” She concluded, “My chest swelled with pride, as would my mother’s, to know that the race of ‘none’ marches on.”
Barbara was included in the anthology of women freethinkers of the 19th and 20th centuries that I edited in 1997. As someone born in 1941, she was the third youngest contributor in that volume! Ehrenreich was FFRF’s 1999 Freethought Heroine, whose excellent acceptance speech was titled “My Family Values Atheism.”
It’s hard to realize this thinker and writer with an outsized resumé of iconoclastic books and views is no more. Who didn’t read her classic Nickel and Dimed exposé in 2001? She came to view that the working class who were “nickeled and dimed” should tell their own stories and created the Economic Hardship Reporting Project to encourage just that. I applauded her book Bright-Sided (also known as “Smile or Die”) in which she, as a breast cancer survivor, rebelled against the “mass delusion that is positive thinking.” Led to its logical conclusion, the psychology would seem to blame those who got cancer or didn’t survive it, she noted. As someone who studied physics as an undergrad and earned a Ph.D. in immunology, Ehrenreich had the scientist’s insistence on following the facts and evidence.
Her booklet with Deirdre English, “Witches, Midwives & Nurses,” first published by the Feminist Press in 1973, exposed the medical establishment’s complicity with witch hunters and raised consciousness on childbirth and midwifery. She wrote books about “the hearts of men,” the inner life of the middle class, greed, war, the American dream. I haven’t read her most recent book, published in 2020, called Had I Known, compiling four decades of articles on religion, health, sexism, inequality, poverty, but plan to read it soon.
In the anthology “Women Without Superstition” that I edited and FFRF published (still in print), I reprinted her classic and thorough survey of America’s secular roots, “U.S. Patriots: Without God on Their Side,” first published by Mother Jones Magazine in 1981 and still just as relevant. In the second sentence of that article, she wrote, “I am an atheist, by family tradition as well as by personal conviction, and I am frankly alarmed.” Ehrenreich was early, like FFRF, in sounding the alarm against Christian nationalists and theocrats intent on subverting our secular government.
The freethought and secular movement has lost a “None” who spoke out proudly, repeatedly, irreverently and did so at a time when very few public figures so identified. A fond farewell to Barbara Enrenreich, who lives on in her clear-sighted writings.
From the sublime to the ridiculous: Michele Bachmann’s Christian nationalism
Speaking of Christian nationalists, Right Wing Watch informs us that former Rep. Michele Bachmann gave a talk in August at a Minnesota conference in which she claimed that the bible was “the number one book that was referenced” by the Founders in creating the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
“There’s no question, it isn’t even debatable,” she said. “The number one book that was referenced by the founders, across the board, when they’re putting this nation together, was the bible . . . In fact, you can take the Declaration of Independence apart and you can find scripture for almost every portion, the Constitution, scripture, for almost every portion. Because these were some of the most brilliant geniuses ever assembled, and they wanted to get it right, they weren’t perfect, but they wanted to get it right and they sought the Lord, and this is the document they came up with.”
My first reaction is that if “these were some of the most brilliant geniuses ever assembled,” they’d hardly turn to the bible for advice on how to create a new nation to be “instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” as the declaration asserts. There’s nothing about consent being required to be governed by the biblical deity, to put it lightly.
Of course, my second and obvious reaction is that Bachmann clearly has never read the Constitution she once swore to uphold, or she’d realize it is entirely godless. No gods, devils, bibles, Ten Commandments, or references to religion — except to exclude it from government, such as barring any religious test for public office. We roll our eyes over this inane Christian nation myth, but it is the Big Lie, repeatedly so constantly and audaciously, and unfortunately accepted by so many.
And, by the way, even in 2022 you can still get censored for saying “godless Constitution.” FFRF is taking a series of full-page newspaper ads featuring secular values voters in time for Constitution Day (Sept. 17), in which the caption notes they are celebrating the 235th anniversary of our “godless Constitution.” This was too plain-spoken for the Albuquerque Tribune, which is making us change “godless” to “secular.”As I told them, “It’s not an opinion, it’s a fact.”
Bachmann’s revered bible: a manual for rape
That bible that Bachmann so ignorantly credits with founding our secular republic unfortunately has indeed had an influence on many others, from sanctifying chattel slavery to precipitating the witch burnings, Crusades, pogroms and inquisitions. But its pernicious influence is not just historic; it continues today.
A case in point: The sickening revelation that a chaplain in a federal women’s prison in California told the literal captives he exploited that “everyone in the bible had sex and that God wanted them to be together,” according to prosecutors.
Army veteran and man of God James Theodore Highhouse pleaded guilty in February and was sentenced last Wednesday to 84 months in prison, for repeatedly sexually abusing an incarcerated woman, then lying to federal agents about it. Prosecutors said there were at least six victims. One woman who wrote a statement for the court sentencing, said, “I don’t trust anyone because of what he did. He told his victims that “no one will believe you because you’re an inmate, and I’m a chaplain.”
Good argument for evicting full-time paid chaplains from our federal prisons.