A Call for Justice

The determination of guilt in the homicide of Trayvon Martin now rests with the jury.  It does not rest with the rest of us.  It does not matter if we watched the trial all the way through on cable TV, which I did.  It does not matter what we may believe or conclude.  Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence is not up to us, but to the six jurors chosen to judge evidence in this matter.

I could sit here and tell you what I believe, based on that evidence.  But it’s not my responsibility to do that.  It is only my responsibility to live with and accept the conclusions of the six who are sequestered, and who now pour over the statements, the videos, the recordings, the charts and graphs, and most of all the instructions of the court as to their duty.

If found guilty in either charge, let it be a stark reminder to all gun owners and those with a concealed carry permit that you carry with you not just a lethal weapon but a heavy responsibility to reserve the use of that weapon until it is absolutely necessary to use it.  And that the choice to use it comes with a very heavy personal cost, not just to your victim, but to you, to the families of your victim and yourself, and to the community at large.

If found innocent of the charges, let’s remember that it is our right –everyone’s–  to be presumed innocent until proven guilty by a preponderance of the evidence.  It is not a sign that justice was not served for Trayvon Martin.  Justice can still serve Trayvon if we move forward to end gun violence, and to rid ourselves of ridiculous laws like the “stand your ground” law that only gives us permission to escalate a situation and relieves us of the responsibility to act civil toward one another.  Trayvon had a right to stand his ground that night also.  And in doing so –in confronting Zimmerman with a 17 year old’s sense of justice– he helped to bring about the events that led to his own death.

Let’s seek peace, love and community.  Let’s follow the example of the victim’s mother, who with grace and poise, stands strong in the belief that, regardless the outcome, justice for her son will be served.

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Science and it’s Deniers

As many of you may have gathered by now, I happen to be an atheist.  Let me explain what that means.  It means very simply that I do not have gods.  That includes your god, the Christian gods, the Jewish god, the Muslim god, the Hindu gods, Norse gods, Greek gods, Roman gods, Zoroastrian gods, Native American gods or any other gods I’ve failed to mention.  The word “atheism” comes from the Greek word “άθεος” [atheos] which means “godless.”

Atheism is not a religion.  It has no doctrine, no scriptures, no dogma, no traditions nor rituals. It does not require a belief in supernatural apparitions like devils, angels, souls, ghosts, spirits, demigods, dragons, unicorns, faeries, elves, talking snakes and talking donkeys.  Atheism does not rule out the “possibility” of gods, but only their “probability.”  If you could “objectively prove” the existence of you particular god, then I will believe in it willingly.  But then, if you could objectively prove your god, none of us would need faith to believe in their god.  That’s what faith is; a belief held without objective evidence or proof.  Atheism is not a faith or held by faith.  It is the opposite of faith.  It is the absence of faith or belief; it is disbelief.

Atheists do not “hate” god. To say that “atheists hate god” would be like saying “you hate Santa” because you don’t believe he’s real.  Neither do atheists hate believers in god.  To misquote an oft used cliché thrown in my face by theists: “I love the believer, but hate their beliefs.”  A few atheists attack a believer’s belief in god.  I’m not one of them; such an argument is an exercise in futility.  My arguments always revolve around science fact and law.  Each person is entitled to his or her own beliefs and opinions, but not his or her own separate set of facts.

Modern science facts always trump 3,000 year old superstitions and holy tales.  We aren’t goat herders living in tents and driving camels.  We drive modern conveyances created by the science of internal combustion engineering, and communicate, not by shouting across the desert floor, but with contraptions created by the science of electronics; cell phones and computers.  But one of my biggest pet peeves has to do with the denial of science as truth, especially biological evolution, that many theists employ as part of their belief system.

Evolution — the change in the inherited characteristics of biological populations over successive generations — is both a “fact” and a “theory.”  To further explain, a “scientific theory” is “an overall explanation based on facts we already know to be true and correct for a real phenomenon or effects that have been observed in the natural universe.”  It is not “a guess”, not even an educated one.  It is an actually reality defined by all we know about it.  And the more we know about it, the better that explanation gets.

Science is not a “baseless assumption” about a thing.  Science is a structured unbiased effort, not only to understand the natural universe, but to harness nature and natural laws for our use and betterment.  The very fact that we can use these scientific theories to fly, to communicate across miles, to manipulate genes and manufacture medicines that save lives are all daily proofs of the accuracy and veracity of those scientific theories.

Every time you place your trust in your family doctor, you are placing your trust in the Theory of Evolution; the basis of all biological study which includes medicine, the biology of human health.  Every time you board a plane, you are putting your trust in the Theory of Fixed Wing Flight.  When you protect yourself from falling it is because you trust the Theory of Gravity is factual reality.

I understand the reason these theists deny science.  They cling with faith to an untenable belief that their god actually wrote their holy scriptures “perfectly” through imperfect human vessels, and that their god told them no lies.  That everything from the first word to the last is a literal truth. It’s unfortunate for them that some of these “truths” happen to address beliefs about the origin of the cosmos and the origin of life, of the many species of plants and animals that populate our world, and physical laws and properties of our world; the very realms of scientific inquiry and understanding.

Science, unfortunately for them, proves these “truths” of theirs to be false.  In the literalist’s mind that makes their god out to be a liar; or worse, it proves that their god –as they have defined him– isn’t real.  They want desperately to believe, but rather than change the definition of their god to fit the facts as we now know them to be today –to make their god the relevant creator of the Nature that science discovers– they would rather deny those damning facts to cling to their faith and their errant definition of god.

It’s not enough to point out to them that they don’t actually worship a “real” god –an infinite being of spirit that is beyond their ability to define and greater than their minds can comprehend– but that they worship a book.  They worship a false idol of ancient human invention; made of bound leather, thread, glue and pages of wood pulp decorated with letters made with mineral-based ink.  They also worship and venerate the technologically ignorant human authors who wrote those words in that book. They have made themselves the very idolaters their second divine moral law rebukes.

So if you are one of these theists who find their god too small to encompass the facts of science, then maybe you need a bigger god, a greater god; a god that can’t be denied by reality.

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The Effect of Sand on a Gun


I grieve with the families who lost a loved one to the violence visited in Newtown, CT, last week.  My heart goes out to all of you and I hope you will find the strength to carry on.

I’m an atheist.  That’s someone who disbelieves the existence of gods.  It doesn’t mean I hate God, or religion.  It simply means that I’m not persuaded by the evidence for god to believe such a being is real.  So like leprechauns and faeries, I don’t believe gods are real either.  But don’t get me wrong.  I recognize the possibility that I could be wrong.  There are many things we believed didn’t exist that have since been proven to be a reality…like black holes in space, dark matter, and the Higgs Boson. (Sorry….science geek here.)

Like most of you I have been reading everyone’s reactions to the gruesome murders of 20 children and 6 school employees at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.  I share in their shock, and their grief.

But I have also watched people like Mike Huckabee declare with a straight face,

“[we] ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools.  Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”

Children still pray in school, Mike.  God has not been banned from schools.  Instead, it’s religious zealots, who think schools are a place for them to preach their views of god in exclusion to others, who think children should be led in organized prayer to their god, that have been banned from our public schools.  And that’s a good thing.  After all, if we allowed Christian zealots into the schools to preach their beliefs, then we would also have to let Satanist zealots into the schools to preach about their god as well.  That’s what our first amendment means….all religions are equal and have equal rights to the same privileges.  And I sure don’t want my grandkids being preached to about the Satanist’s god.  Do you, Mr. Huckabee?

James Dobson put his own spin on the narrative of this crime.

“I think we have turned our back on the scripture and on God almighty and I think he has allowed judgment to fall upon us. I think that’s what’s going on.” 

Dobson’s god sounds like a psychopath that kills kids because He isn’t getting enough attention. That’s a god not worth worshipping, James, and I would have to question the mental state of anyone who would worship such a monster. A singular Christian like James Dobson does far more damage to belief in his God and his religion than a thousand militant atheists ever could.

My father was a gun smith for the US Government.  He was also a member of the NRA.  He was the sole gunsmith who made the General Officer sidearm – a modified Colt 45 ACP M1911A1 – from 1980 until his retirement in 1986.  I was raised on gun culture.  I believed in my right to keep and bear arms per the 2nd Amendment.  But Sandy Hook has made me look at that right.  I have to ask, “is my right to bear arms more important than the lives of these children.”  The correct direct answer, by the way, is “no.”

When our forefathers crafted the words we find in the Bill of Rights, the supreme single operator “arm” of the age was a rifled barrel flintlock; a Kentucky long rifle.  They could not envision the cartridge bullet, the rotating drum of a revolver, or a gun that loads its own bullets drawn from a magazine clip.  They couldn’t envision grenade launchers, machine guns or pistols, missiles, or the atomic bomb.  These are all “arms” but they are not what our forefathers had in mind when they wrote, “[a] well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

But let’s examine this Amendment carefully.  “A well regulated Militia,…”  United States law, under Title 10 Chapter 3, clearly defines a “Militia” as,

“… all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard.

So, that first part identifies whose “right to bear arms will not be infringed.”  Thus, a better rendering of the second Amendment would read “The National Guard, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people, who are from 17 to 45 years of age, to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

But these days the National Guard have their own weapons and armories.  There is no longer a need for the individual members of the militia to keep and maintain their own flintlocks should they be called upon to defend the state.  The state provides for them.  And that renders the second Amendment moot in this modern age.  There is no right to keep and bear arms outside of the militia and its necessity to protect the state.  I think it’s time we stopped looking past the first clause to focus on the last.

Sandy Hook is becoming the watershed event of gun rights.  Retailers have voluntarily removed assault weapons from their shelves.  The owners of the manufacturers of the Bushmaster, the assault rifle used to gun down those 20 children and 6 educators, are going to sell that manufacturer.  Pro-second Amendment politicians have refused to be interviewed by the media.   Too scared are they all to offer even their condolences to the families who lost a child on Friday, the 14th of December 2012.

I think they know what’s coming…the end of the 2nd Amendment, or at the very least, a critical revision of our gun laws.  Let’s make our memorial to these victims a drastic change to our nation’s gun culture.

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Fixing the Economy

DISCLAIMER:  I am not a CPA.  However, that doesn’t mean I don’t understand how the economy works, or that I don’t know how to fix it.

The economy is like a machine.  It has a bunch of component parts that together, in their proper arrangement and fine tuning, allows the machine to operate.  So why is our “machine” sputtering like a car running on fumes?  Because it IS running on fumes.

All machines have to have a power source; a “fuel” that powers the engine and turns the gears.  That “fuel”, in the case of the economy, is demand….demand for goods and services…and the money to demand them. Demand for goods and services drives factories to produce and companies to provide, creating a need for more jobs to meet that demand.  And when more people have jobs, and money to spend, demand increases, thereby revving up the machine toward maximum speed.

The problem with our economy is that the fuel is weak.  It has been watered down by greed at the top of our economic system that sucks up 95% of the nation’s wealth into the hands of the top 5%.  And a person at the top does not generate that much more demand on the economy than a person at the low end of the economy.  Pretty much the cost of basic subsistence doesn’t vary that much.

So what do the wealthy do with all that surplus wealth?  They invest it, not in new business, but in tax shelters and savings accounts.  And that takes all that money they hold in savings out of the economy.  Our giant economic engine is sputtering along on a fuel mix that is only 5% combustible.

So how do we fix the problem?  Well, first thing we have to do is get the water out of the fuel; get the greed out of our system, or use their greed as an incentive to get the wealthy to put their money back into the economy.  One way to do this is to tax the earnings income and interest income of the wealthy –those making $250K  and more — at a higher rate.  The revenue from higher taxes on the wealthy can then be redistributed to those who haven’t the money to create demand –the poor, the infirm, the elderly –and to incentive programs that create new demand and new markets for demand.  And there are many ways, many tax credits and liens we can use to induce corporations and companies to more fairly distribute their profit shares among all their employees, so as to increase their collective power to demand, or to use their wealth to create more jobs rather than savings.

Another way is to increase the minimum wage and penalize employers who could hire full time employees but don’t.  The more workers earn, the more money they have to spend, thus increasing demand on the system for products and services.

And … we need to regrow the middle class.  A large middle class ensures that the majority of the wealth of the nation stays with the largest block of demand generators. And as the majority of the wealth of this country gets back into the hands of the majority of its people, the economy will heal and run like a well tuned machine again.

Demand fuels the economy.

Less Than a Citizen

When people ask me, “why are you so against ‘In God We Trust’ on our money and ‘under God’ in the pledge,” I usually tell them that it’s because these things violate our 1st Amendment to the Constitution. But there is more to it than just that. It is because such things like these –these little encroachments upon the 1st Amendment– give many the opinion, like that mentioned in an October 4th, 2012, Washington Post article, that if you don’t believe in “God” then you aren’t really an American, or that you are less than a full citizen of this country, or that you can’t be a patriot who loves America.1

Sally Quinn is not alone in this belief. George H. W. Bush has been quoted saying much the same thing.

Rob Sherman, a reporter for American Atheists, once asked Mr. Bush in an interview back in 1987, “What are you going to do to win the votes of Americans who are atheists?”2

Mr. Bush replied, “I guess I’m pretty weak in the atheist community. Faith in God is important to me.”

Sherman followed up: “Do you support the equal citizenship and patriotism of Americans who are atheists?”

Mr. Bush replied, “I don’t know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation under God.”

I imagine some of you might agree with Ms Quinn and Mr Bush. And I’m sorry you feel that way. But I was born in the United States, and that one fact alone is the only fact that makes any of us citizens of this country, per the 14th Amendment. And no other part of the constitution denies me or anyone else citizenship for a lack of faith.

How about my patriotism? Does my lack of faith undo my 30 years of service to this country in the Armed Forces? Does it take away my honors and medals? Does it mop away the blood I spilled in Iraq for the American cause? Does it make my scars disappear?

For 180 years the de facto motto of our nation was “E PLURIBUS UNUM” –“From Many, One.”3 But in 1956, when America was made afraid of the Communist boogeyman by people like then Senator Joseph McCarthy (WI), Congress decided that that motto should reflect the belief that “in God we trust,” as a counter to the atheism of the Communist regime in the USSR.

That same congress also decided two years earlier to rewrite the flag pledge, originally composed by Francis Bellamy in 1892 and formally adopted by Congress as the pledge in 1942, to read, “…one nation, under God….”

True, these things are small inconveniences to our rights. But they are tiny seeds of much larger inconveniences. Inconveniences that would make people of faith think, somehow, that my (or any other atheist’s) citizenship and love of country is somehow less than their own just because I (we) don’t believe in leprechauns, faeries, and gods; that my (our) morals are somehow less than theirs because mine (ours) conform to public laws, and not those found in a book of desert mythology.  The reason I refer to these encroachments as “small inconveniences” or “issues” is because I am rarely called upon to say the pledge and my money has the same spending power for me regardless what motto graces its face.  These are, after all, just words, and words, unlike sticks and stones, won’t break my back, as the childhood cliché goes.  It’s the actions they inspire in others, the intolerance and prejudice they invoke, that does the real harm.

So, how does the motto “In God We Trust” and the inclusion of “one nation, under God” violate the first Amendment? Because it “favors,” not just “an establishment of religion;” it favors all those establishments of religion that believe in the existence of Gods at the exclusion of those that do not. Atheism and Buddhism do NOT adhere to such a belief. Many Americans are atheists or Buddhists. They are excluded by the pledge of allegiance and scorned by the national motto. These are small issues, but they bolster bigger issues of exclusion and intolerance.

It has been argued that removing these things would be an insult to the faithful.  But I would put it to them that a pledge of allegiance that reads “one nation, indivisible” is far less an insult to a theist’s faith than a pledge that reads, “One nation, NOT under God.” Why should I, or anyone who doesn’t believe in gods, have to pledge my allegiance to a God to feel a part of that nation I was born to? Why does the money in my wallet have to insult my beliefs when I look at it?

I’m a secularist. I will defend the right of those of faith to worship whatever version of the Divine they choose; even if their God is Mickey Mouse. It matters not how I feel about their faith.  It only matters that I recognize their right to believe it.  But I have watched for a long time as the Religious Right has tried little bit by little bit to whittle away at the 1st Amendment.  I have watched as they have tried to erase the basis of our Nation’s secular heritage; rewriting our nation’s secular history, putting Christian beliefs into the mouths of our most outspoken founders who were themselves unbelievers of the Christian faith.  I get angry about it, but it seems that my past silence about it has only allowed it to grow, and to imbue a Christian complexion upon our national skin.  Consider this my first in a long series of loud shouts.

Vin Rohm


1. http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-faith/romney-captures-the-god-vote-at-first-debate/2012/10/04/e897f44c-0de3-11e2-bb5e-492c0d30bff6_allComments.html?ctab=all_
2. http://www.robsherman.com/information/liberalnews/2004/0204.htm
3. http://www.nonbeliever.org/images/CR102-13917.pdf

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