Letters April/May 2023 Nicole Scott Free Inquiry

The Truth Matters …

In the December 2022/January 2023 issue of Free Inquiry, Robyn E. Blumner made the case that secular humanists should value and defend truth. However, her arguments fell short of being entirely persuasive. To make my case, I would like to submit some observations made by Friedrich Nietzsche and Siddhartha Gotama.

Nietzsche, who was a very consistent atheist, questioned why humanity has sacrificed so much before the altar of truth. “Why not untruth?,” he asked. He argued that truth should only be held in such high esteem if it were divine in origin. Nietzsche therefore put forth an alternative way of evaluating propositions, and I would like to do the same thing using Buddhism as an example.

The Buddha taught that we are all trapped in a cycle of death and rebirth that has been taking place for eons. If this view is accepted, then it follows that any sentient creature you encounter may well have been your father, mother, or some other loved one during a past incarnation. This view encourages one to engage in loving-kindness toward all sentient beings. What better reason might a secular humanist have for accepting a proposition?

Maybe we should only accept claims that make us better human beings. A secular humanist can take this view and still consistently reject monotheism, as many doctrines found in the so-called “three great monotheistic religions” are so unethical as to be called monstrous on many occasions. I do understand that some might argue I am deviating from the principles of secular humanism, but an argument can be made that Buddhism is a secular philosophy and not a religion. Buddhism does not require any belief in gods or goddesses and is therefore consistent with atheism and secular humanism.

John Kelley

Deatsville, Alabama

I agree with Robyn E. Blumner’s sentiments but think some of her language is inappropriate and unhelpful.

I especially dislike her use of the term social justice police, whom she defines as “those who seek to impose their own view of social justice at the expense of free inquiry and the open-ended search for the truth.” The definition encompasses huge numbers of people toward the extremities of every religious and political grouping on the planet, but Blumner reserves it as a piece of tar to be thrown at a small minority of first-world people whom she labels “progressive” and “the political Left,” who espouse “progressive gospel.”

“Social justice police” invites a comparison with the actual Morality Police of religious states, but none of the misguided people whom she labels as social justice police have that kind of power and can’t rightly be put into the category of police at all. The phrase “progressive gospel” invites a comparison with the limited dogmatic scriptures of fundamentalists of every religious persuasion, but the people she opposes have no such limited scriptures but a whole cloud of poorly and vaguely described ideas.

The effect of her editorial is to make progressive a dirty word when it has always been a description of those who value democracy, civil liberties, and human rights. Let’s try to reserve our vitriol for enemies and treat our friends, however misguided, as allies.

Don Martin

Toronto, Ontario


I was encouraged on reading the column “The Truth Matters and Secular Humanists Should Defend It,” because I haven’t seen many articles in FI with that theme and conclusion recently. The bad news is, I didn’t get to it until now, otherwise this would be a letter-to-editor attempt. Now it will have to be a mere “thank you.”

Two immediately good things came out of this column. The first: got a copy of The Constitution of Knowledge. The second is that I decided to resubscribe to FI after all, and my check (card) is in the mail to CFI.

Vaughn Stelzenmuller

Rochester, New York



Pens and Swords

Re: “Pens and Swords, Sticks and Stones, Chickens and Eggs,” by Paul Fidalgo, FI, December 2022/January 2023. Superlative and perspicacious. It elicited the following personal ruminations. A poster on a bulletin board outside an office at a local college Psychology Department reads: The Essence of Destiny: Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Choose your words, for they become actions. Understand your actions, for they become habits. Study your habits, for they will become your character. Develop your character, for it becomes your destiny. President Lincoln said: The ultimate test of character is to give a person power. Voltaire: Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. Salmon Rushdie: A poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it from going to sleep. Political satirist P. J. O’Rourke said: Why God is a Republican and Santa Claus is a Democrat. Santa Claus is preferable to God in every way but one: There is no such thing as Santa Claus.

Dave Hancock

Chesterland, Ohio

The great words of wisdom and truth in Paul Fidalgo’s December 2022/January 2023 editorial “Pens and Swords” were truly inspirational. It is so true that human society can progress and advance upward only with freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas. Excellent publications are printed, but the best and most important is Free Inquiry magazine. Free Inquiry is a world-changing force defending truth and advancing the great secular ideals of reason and humanity.

Fred Oplinger

Berea, Ohio



Fake Populism

In her article “Fake Populism Fans the Flames of Populism” (Free Inquiry, December 2022/January 2023), Shadia B. Drury says that agriculture exploits illegal immigration when, according to a 2016 study by the Pew Research Center, unauthorized immigrants make up 26 percent of U.S. farm workers but only 4 percent of unauthorized immigrants work on farms. Drury implies that the United States is spending too much on weapons sent to Ukraine. Would she also criticize the United States for fighting Adolf Hitler, who, like Vladimir Putin, thought that other countries should be part of Germany? She states that Joe Biden sells “billions of dollars in military equipment to support the war in Yemen” when Biden ended support in February 2021, fulfilling a campaign promise.

Drury then states that America has “unfettered capitalism,” ignoring antitrust and child labor laws and all the health and environmental regulations. She ends the article by stating “America is like Ahab, going around the world looking for evil regimes to destroy” but doesn’t acknowledge that the United States lives in peace with all but one evil regime. Why is this article in Free Inquiry, which prides itself on fact-based information? This is a whale of a tale.

Gwendolyn Elliott

Magnolia, Delaware


Rushdie’s Long War

I am enjoying the December 2022/January 2023 edition of FI, as usual. Dennis E. Curry, in his fine article “Rushdie’s Long War,” quotes Rushdie as saying, “The moment somebody says ‘yes, I believe in free speech, but’, I stop listening.” Curry agrees: “There are no buts.” This made me wonder if a fatwa such as the one issued by Grand Ayatollah Khomeinicalling on all Muslims to take Rushdie’s life, is free speech. Should free speech calling for someone’s murder really be condoned without buts?

Imre G. Toth, MD

Bolton, Massachusetts




I was disheartened to read the article “In the Pursuit of Utopia: The Ultimate Hell” by Justin Allen Rose in the December 2022/January 2023 issue of Free Inquiry.

It offered a view that when humans try to make the world better, they end up creating a hell on earth. Isn’t this exactly the view put forth by Jehovah’s Witnesses? As a secular humanist, I value the ideals of humanism that humans can work together to make the world ever better.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a humanist declaration that there are universal principles of what a “better world” looks like. Socialist principles have been used very well in many countries to guarantee housing, health care, and nutrition without creating gulags or limiting freedom.

As humanists, shouldn’t we see utopia as something to work for rather than as something to fear?

Robert Bernstein

Santa Barbara, California



Hello, Mr. Death

Re: “Hello, Mr. Death,” by Hank Fox, FI, December 2022/January 2023: Right on, Mr. Fox. Mr. Death is scary. This is particularly so for young people if they do not believe in an afterlife. But age brings the wisdom that it is useless to fret about the inevitable. But it also brings the knowledge that some of our actions have lasting meaning in all we have communicated with. Fox’s list of the types of communications range from writing books to a flash of an unnoted smile. Some of our meaning then rubs off on others and so forth.

This ongoingness of parts of us, and parts of others embedded in us, is analogous to the propagation of parts of our DNA in the gene pool. These fragmentary parts of you are ongoing to the extent that humanity as a whole is. Of course, these biologic and mental fragments are not the totality of you. But this is much more than a naively nihilistic interpretation of our existence. Our existence does have long-lasting meaning of this kind.

Michael Mallary

Worcester, Massachusetts

I’m really enjoying the visit to Hank Fox’s lair in your December 2022/January 2023 issue. Let me suggest at least an alternative way of addressing that inevitability we all face: death.

Fox gives a wise and detailed exploration of that common end. But let me be more upbeat about this tragic fact and suggest at least a more productive alternative: Philip Larkin’s body of poetry explores it at great length. In “Next, Please” (that telling title, refers to a typical post-office service), he seems to commend the fact that we are “Always eager for the future.” But our eagerness leads us to “pick up bad habits of expectancy,” and the truth is that “something is always approaching.” What is that “something”? The answer is devastating:

Only one ship is seeking us, a black-
Sailed unfamiliar, towing at her back
A huge and birdless silence. In her wake
No waters breed or break.

About death, he’s just as pessimistic as Fox, but he’s delightfully scary. That’s because he can appeal to our imagination. That’s the human gift we can bring to these sad absolute truths.

Jamie Spencer

St. Louis, Missouri


Re: “Lacktheism and the Burden of Proof,” by George Williamson, FI, December 2022/January 2023. I agree with George Williamson that the burden of proof is on the theist to give evidence for claims, not on the atheist to show why there are no gods. While I can’t disagree with him that an atheist lacks a belief in a theistic god, I dislike such terminology. I prefer saying that an atheist is without a belief in any gods. Dictionary definitions of lack include wanting or missing, showing a deficiency, not having something you need, or having less than a desirable quantity of something. I view not believing in any gods as a gain rather than a lack or a loss. I’ve gained freedom from religious superstition.

I also don’t like it when someone tells me I’ve abandoned religion as one abandons a child. I matured and put aside my childhood religious beliefs. Another term I don’t like is nonbeliever. I believe in many things. I just don’t believe in any gods.

Herb Silverman

Charleston, South Carolina


I would like to critique communism as addressed in the December 2022/January 2023 issue of Free Inquiry.

First, Russell Blackford’s “Marx Was (Almost) Right.” I don’t think that Marx and Engels should be criticized too heavily for not foreseeing the future from 1848 to our time. I recently saw a YouTube interview with Neil DeGrass Tyson (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jnfTN5c41Ug) where he stated that it was not possible to predict even thirty years into the future.

The basis for Marx and Engels’s analysis of economics of capitalism was class: the bourgeoisie based on ownership of the means of production, and the proletariat who sold their labor to the bourgeoisie. Alienation from the results of their labor was a condition of the laboring class. I don’t see that has changed much, especially for today’s youths in this country. Youth in foreign countries are either caught in the sale of their labor at the lowest price that the foreign capitalist can buy or they are simply striving to find enough calories to live another day to seek calories.

The second, Justin Allen Rose’s “In the Pursuit of Utopia: The Ultimate Hell’” was basically an anti-communist rant without back checking for facts. Communism is not an approach to utopia as Marx and Engels proposed in the Communist Manifesto. In fact, the manifesto contained a critique of utopian socialism. They were pursuing a classless society. That would be better for the proletariat but not necessarily a utopia. Rose’s accusation of Marx and Engel’s attempt at a power grab entirely lacks any evidence basis. The two attempts at scientific socialism (a step in the goal of reaching the classless society of communism) by Lenin and Mao Tse Tung were indeed attempts at a power grab by the proletariat but not for themselves. I was a bit amazed that Rose included criticism of Lenin for seizing control of production and redistributing land to the peasants, but I should not have been. That is the difference between capitalism and feudalism and a classless society. I was also a bit shocked that Rose had praise for Jim Jones for his attempts at social welfare and none for Lenin. A sociopath ranks higher than a communist. Rose’s penultimate paragraph knocks down most humanist’s belief in humans.

If Marx and Engels did not see the future as it evolved, then yes, they were almost right. They did not see the steps that the capitalist class could bend to without breaking. They did understand “turning in to their opposites.” So they might not have been shocked but certainly dismayed at the Republican party going from the most progressive party in its infancy to a fascist party today, both attempts at a road to communism turning back to capitalist parties, the ouster of unionism in the United States, the overturning of Roe v. Wade … just take anything progressive that no longer exists. Capitalism has used tools of progressivism and turned them into their opposites. Look at our education system that was progressive and now is a tool to teach that capitalism is the best system that can be, and we must constantly fight foreign wars to protect our status as top dog. That was why Marx knew that revolution was necessary to overthrow capitalism, but that it was not sufficient.

W. C. “Rusty” Lyon

via email


Oops. Your December 2022/January 2023 issue of Free Inquiry has a pretty funny typo in it. By now I’m sure some of your readers will have pointed it out, but just in case: It’s on page 54, in the article “Robert Green Ingersoll’s Practical Definition of Spirituality.” Author Mark Kolsen wrote: “In 1896, he also refused to say all mediums were imposters, especially regarding their claims to converse with the living.”

Not such a great feat: even I can converse with the living! (Though I often regret it, residing as I do in a Bible-sodden red state.) Perhaps “their claims to converse with the dead” would have been more accurate.

Leo Miletich

El Paso, Texas

The Truth Matters … In the December 2022/January 2023 issue of Free Inquiry, Robyn E. Blumner made the case that secular humanists should value and defend truth. However, her arguments fell short of being entirely persuasive. To make my case, I would like to submit some observations made by Friedrich Nietzsche and Siddhartha Gotama. Nietzsche, who was …