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Legionnaires attended services Sunday in the Salt Lake LDS Tabernacle (Ryan Miller / The Salt Lake Tribune)
BY BRENT ISRAELSEN
THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
A solemn Gordon B. Hinckley honored U.S. war veterans Sunday, but warned that their sacrifices may be in vain unless the nation turns itself again to God.
Hinckley, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said the United States has prospered because of its dependence on God.
In recent years, however, that dependence has diminished, he said.
``Our people are forsaking the Almighty, and I fear he may forsake us,'' said Hinckley, the keynote speaker in the American Legion's ``patriotic religious service,'' held Sunday morning in the Mormon Tabernacle on Temple Square.
The event was part of the American Legion's 78th national convention, which is being held this year in Salt Lake City. Thousands of military veterans and members of their families filled the tabernacle to pay tribute to those who have served in wartime.
Hinckley praised the men and women who served their country. ``You have been the defenders of our liberty at great cost and great sacrifice. We are grateful to you that we are not the slaves of a foreign dictator.''
The church president said U.S. military men and women have fought battles on a thousand fronts to preserve ``principles and values which have made this the greatest nation on earth.''
``Fortunately, those battles are over and another battle goes on,'' he said.
The new battle is one against atheism.
``As you once knew so well, there are no atheists in foxholes,'' Hinckley said. ``In times of extremity, we plead for and put our trust in a power mightier than ourselves.''
Evoking images of the Mayflower pilgrims and of George Washington at Valley Forge, Hinckley said the United States was founded on ``an unequivocal trust in the power of the Almighty to guide and defend us.''
Revered as a prophet by members of the Mormon Church, Hinckley decried the disappearance of family prayer and attempts to remove reference to deity from society.
At times seeming to suppress tears, Hinckley recalled his visits to the American military cemetery in France, where his brother is buried.
``As I have stood before the cross that marks his grave, I have thanked God for the cause for which he died, for the great and eternal concepts'' of human dignity, liberty and freedom to worship, speak and assemble.
Those concepts were handed down by God to the framers of the U.S. Constitution, Hinckley said.
``I pray that America may always be worthy of [God's] blessing. There is no place for arrogance among us. There is no place for conceit or egotism. As we look to God, we will grow in strength.''
Also speaking at Sunday's service was the Rev. Joseph E. Reynolds, a Catholic priest from Texas, who used the occasion to lobby for a constitutional amendment to protect the American flag from desecration.
``We will prevail . . . because it is the right thing to do,'' Reynolds said.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir provided music at the service, and members of youth groups affiliated with the American Legion posted dozens of U.S. flags throughout the building.
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The atheist's response to Hinckley
An Open Letter to Mr. Gordon B. Hinckley President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Mr. Hinckley: As the National Spokesperson for American Atheists, Inc., the country's leading Atheist organization, I must express outrage and disgust at your comments during the Patriotic Religious Service of the American Legions's 78th national convention, this past Sunday Sept. 1, 1996. I also demand a complete and thorough retraction of your biased slurs against that 10 to 13% of Americans who call themselves Atheists, agnostics, or other freethinkers. Your disingenuous comments about "Atheists in foxholes" and your self-aggrandizing remarks towards Atheists in particular clearly demonstrate your ignorance and bigotry toward Atheists and their families. You conveniently omit that our fathers and grandfathers fought alongside your ancestry in the same battles to protect the same freedoms we both enjoy. Freedoms guaranteed by our constitution, not inherited from some vague, ethereal being and his offspring. Yes, Virginia, there are Atheists in foxholes and our division of American Atheist Veterans proves it. The number of war dead who were believers further illustrates the futility of your statements. While I wholeheartedly concur that there exist vast problems within our society that must be addressed, I fail to envision how the scapegoating of Atheists is an honest attempt at solving them. Oh, that's right. I forgot. Atheists are responsible for all the world's problems. Atheists are responsible for the attacks on women and doctors. Atheists are responsible for the attacks on libraries, science, and our freedom to learn. Atheists are responsible because priests can't keep their hands off little boys. Atheists are responsible because insane militia groups are grounded in biblical fantasy. Atheists are responsible for terrorist attacks and bombings such as Oklahoma, the Olympics, and the tragedy of TWA Flight 800. And of course, Atheists are responsible for all the filth, poverty, crime and corruption in South American and the Philippines, all staunchly Christian nations. In fact, your own words confirm your inability to offer real solutions other than to recommend more frequent, elaborately choreographed conjuring rituals within the family home. I kindly ask to whom should these rituals be directed? Your God, you say? Would that be the God of Heaven, the God of Valhalla, or the God of the planet Kobol? Likewise, to praise the Boy Scouts of America, another arm of organized bigotry, as a service to young people further perpetuates your bias and discrimination towards all unbelievers, and is a work of pure deceit. While posing as a man of ethics, your poor choice of words belies your motives. Atheists are pacifists and do not condone war or violence in any form. Violence solves nothing and this has been proven over and over again. But, dear sir, if its war you want, war you will get. But let it be known that this is an intellectual war not a physical one. Atheists are simply plain sick and tired of being the currently fashionable "niggers of the nineties", to be tossed back and forth like volley balls between competing religious cults. As Rosa Parks bravely demonstrated, we are not about to give up our place on the bus of equal accommodation and freedom. But if you wish to draw the battle lines, then so be it. And I shall gladly cross that line and meet you head to head. I would be more than willing to pit my unbelief against your metal plates anytime, anywhere. I will continue to demand justice until you retract and apologize for your scurrilous and degrading remarks. Respectfully, Ronald J. Barrier National Media Coordinator American Atheists, Inc. P.O. Box 140195 Austin, TX 78714 Tel (512)458-1244 Voice/Fax(718)356-8658
SALT LAKE ATHEIST DIRECTOR RESPONDS TO HINCKLEY
(The following press release was issued this morning by Chris Allen, Utah
Director for American Atheists and the Society of Separationists.)
In his attack on secularism and in his image of a war with atheism,
Hinckley has picked up where Pat Buchanan left off four years ago at the
Republican convention. Both are using religion to divide our society. Both
are vilifying Americans whose only crime is not believing in their idea of a
It's an old ploy of religious demogogues -- blame a scapegoat and you can
kill two birds with one stone. Just blame the people who disagree with you
for the ills of the world and you can denigrate them at the same time as you
inspire your followers to give you more support. This is particularly
upsetting for those of us who really are atheists. We get enough
discrimination against us from the Utah theocracy as it is.
Hinckley views every effort to achieve separation of state and church as
an atheist attack. As he sees it, a government that is neutral with respect
to religion is atheistic and actually hostile to religion. He certainly gets
his way in Utah -- no danger of religious neutrality springing up here.
As an example of government hostility to religion, Hinckley points to a
new law in New Jersey removing "so help me God" from courtroom oaths. I
invite him to look into the U.S. Constitution for guidance as to our founding
fathers' intent. Article II section 1 specifies the exact oath of office to
be given to the President, and it does not contain "so help me God." In
fact, aside from a reference to "the year of our Lord" in the date, the
Constitution makes no reference to a god at all. If there's a war being waged
here, it's a war by Hinckley and his kind against historical truth.
I charge that religion itself, and Christianity in particular, is
responsible for the ills of this world. James Madison noted as much in 1784
in his famous "Memorial and Remonstrance" (Section 7):
"During almost fifteen centuries, has the legal establishment of
Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? ... superstition,
bigotry and persecution."
Bigotry is a core value of Christianity. You can see it in the First
Commandment. It is the opposite of the First Amendment. The First
Commandment demands intolerance to the worship of other gods, and the First
Amendment demands that government be tolerant of religious diversity. The
fruits of the First Commandment are visible today in Belfast, Beirut and
MORMON HOSTILITY TO NON-BELIEF, SECULARISM ROOTED IN DOGMA
Our Right To Question Is A "Secondary Target" In Hinckley's Attack...
Opinion by Conrad F. Goeringer
While many Americans know about groups such as the Christian Coalition, or
the political activities of the Roman Catholic Church, few are familiar with
the doctrines and practices of the Church of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons.
Based upon the fabricated tales of Joseph Smith (1805-1844), the Saints or
LDS have prospered to become one of the world's fastest growing religions,
and already exercise considerable economic and political power in the western
U.S. Indeed, the Mormon presence in Utah has resulted in an on-going series
of First Amendment violations -- everything from government aid to Mormon
schools and seminaries, to scams involving church businesses.
The religion is a variant of Christianity, in that it accepts the divine
status of Jesus Christ. But where Christian sects rely to varying degrees on
the authority of the New and Old Testament along with conveniently-timed
"revelations" from above, LDS doctrine fuses those texts with the Book of
Mormon, a fantasy-tale concocted by Smith as a young man. In his essay, "The
Mormon Book of Abraham," linguistic scholar Frank Zindler wrote:
"When young, Smith claimed he had a magic 'seer stone,'a stone with which
he could see inside hills and beneath the surface of the ground to inspect
for buried treasures and enchantments. The seer stone became transformed
into the biblical "urim and thummin" with which he later claimed he could
'translate' any language -- including 'reformed Egyptian', the imaginary
language in which his Jewish Indians supposedly had written their history. A
locked box held what Smith claimed to be the gold plates bearing this
reformed Egyptian Chaldee Jewish American Indian history."
Smith dictated his "sacred revelations" to a man named Martin Harris, a
"secretary" to was either a delusion fool or a con-artist. Smith sat in a
small room divided into two sections by means of a blanket hung from a rope.
Notes Zindler: "Smith would pretend to be translating aloud from the plates
and would dictate The Book of Mormon to his secretary...Harris sat on the
other side of the blanket, afraid to peek at the plates for fear he would be
stricken with the plague, and the scab, and hemorrhoids, and the botch of
Egypt. After many days of such inventive labor, 116 pages of manuscript had
been written -- all of it supposedly translated by divine guidance by means
of the magical seer stone."
The tale of the "revealed manuscript" and "gold plates" becomes even more
incredible and convoluted, but Smith had put to paper a combination of
folklore, yarns, tall-tales, quasi Masonic doctrine, and scraps of embellished
ancient history, including metaphors and themes from other religious rantings
including the Christian Bible. In 1830 the book was published at Palmyra, New
York, and in a few short years Smith had a following of credulous believers
-- his own home-brewed religious cult.
Mormon hostility to Atheism, secularism and doubt of any kind is rooted in
a number of theological texts, including the story of a Smith-invented
character from his pseudo-history named Korihor.
Korihor is a non-believer and intellectual skeptic who poses questions
such as "How do you know what is true?" Some of his doubts resemble the
epistemological questions in other writings, including those of Lucretius
Carus (?96-55 bce) who authored "De Rerum Natura" (The Nature of Things);
indeed, Korihor remarks that "ye cannot know of things which ye do not see."
In LDS doctrine, Korihor is not only epistemologically incorrect in
accepting reason and rejecting faith and divine revelation -- he is, more
importantly, a tool of the devil. In this respect, the Mormon view of
Atheism and skepticism resembles the position of many Christian writers, who
see non-belief as simply a "trick" or "deception" by satan. What for Atheists
is a matter of philosophical disagreement becomes, for many religionists, a
kind of epistemological "conspiracy theory." Believers are assured that any
doubts concerning religious doctrine, including the existence of supernatural
entities ("god", "angels", "devils", "hell") should not be considered on
their own merits, but as artifacts of diabolical manipulation. It is the
doubt which is the illusion, not that which is doubted.
A July 1992 article in an official LDS publication called "Ensign" by
Gerald Lund titled "Countering Korihor's Philosophy" warns Mormon faithful
against the temptations of intellectual skepticism. Korihor "rejects
prophecy because prophecy deals with the future, and you cannot 'see', or
experience, the future with the physical senses." Lund then assets that
"There are a number of corollaries, or inferences, that flow out of Korihor's
Among these "corollaries" is the belief that epistemological doubts
concerning religious teaching serve as a tool for Satan to "destroy the
children of God."
"Why would Satan care about such things as our view of metaphysics and
epistemology?", asks Lund.
"If we accept the assumption (sic) that there is no super-natural reality,
then it logically follows that there is no God. If that is the case, then
man is the supreme being. It also follows that if there are no eternal
realities, then there are no eternal consequences for man's actions..."
While Atheists and non-believer ethicists may disagree with how Lund
extrapolates his conclusions, it is easy to miss his central thesis and
interpretation of Korihor -- namely, than manifestations of doubt (and
certainly Atheism) are not legitimate intellectual predispositions, but
merely reflections of "deception" and "trickery" by god's supernatural
counterpart and bad-guy rival, satan. While Lund does not specifically
mention Atheism, the "Ensign" piece does refer to the "Humanist Manifesto II"
and its declaration that: "We believe that traditional dogmatic or
authoritarian religions that place revelation, God, ritual, or creed above
human needs and experience do a disservice to the human species..." Lund goes
on to cite another "Humanist" paragraph: "Science affirms that the human
species is an emergence from natural evolutionary forces. As far as we know,
the total personality is a function of the biological organism transacting in
a social and cultural context."
Lund also echoes Church admonitions about even debating with
non-believers: in the story of Korihor, for instance, the skeptic is
physically seized and dragged before officials who then call upon the prophet
Alma. Writes Lund:
"The first thing to note is that Alma does not get into philosophical
debate with Korihor. He doesn't allow himself to be pulled onto the ground
that Korihor tries to define as the area of debate. There is a great lesson
in that. We combat false philosophies with revelation and true doctrine, not
Even more chilling is the contention that Korihor -- the symbolic icon of
skepticism and inquiry -- is both a tool of the devil, and something worse.
"In effect, Alma says to Korihor: 'You know that we don't profit from our
service in the Church, but you say we glut ourselves on the labor of the
people. Therefore I say you deliberately twist the truth.' It all comes
down to one irrefutable conclusion: Korihor is a liar."
Smith's incredible tale about Korhior has shaped LDS perceptions about
doubt, Atheism, and even the validity of secular institutions. It is also a
tale which has striking parallels with stories in the Old Testament
concerning those who "doubt" prophetic figures such as Moses, or even Jehovah
himself. In Smith's account, the "Zoramites" -- the object of missionary
endeavor by the believer Alma and his sons -- end up killing Korihor, and
bask in their new found faith and religiosity. Lund notes that prior to
their proselytization by Alma:
"They 'had fallen into great errors.'
"They had rejected the traditions that they felt were 'handed down...by the
childishness of their fathers.'
"They refused to 'believe in things to come, which they knew nothing about.'
"They did not want to be 'led away after the foolish traditions of our
brethren,' which they believed did 'bind them down to a belief in Christ'."
The "demonization" of non-belief, skepticism and Atheism in Mormon
doctrine seems to reflect a tendency found in other religious systems as
well. Historians and writers have noted the disturbing penchant of
Christianity to "demonize" groups such as Jews, gays and women. Even
modern-day Muslims must confront the notion that non-Islamists are
"infidels." And within certain Christian sects like the Reform Church, there
is an on-going debate on the status of "non-believers" and the problematic
question of whether or not they may be "saved." Groups such as the Southern
Baptist Convention seem to be shunning the ecumenical call for diversity and
tolerance, and embarking on an aggressive proselytization of Jews and others
whose souls are considered to be in need of immediate salvation.
For Atheists -- indeed, even a wider constituency of doubters, skeptics
and possibly "honest" religious seekers -- the issue involves far more than
"trickery" and "deception" by satan. The right to question (and, ultimately,
accept or reject) religious belief or any other supernatural claims involves
a fundamental perception of how society does and should operate. It is an
ominous sign when religious authorities seek to reduce honest disagreement
and differences of lifestyle and opinions to a level of simplistic and
dogmatic metaphors based upon the tales of Joseph Smith -- or any other
"source." It is also disturbing when critics -- both outside of the church
and, potentially, within it as well -- are dismissed as mere victims of
trickery, or, worse, "liars" in the tradition of Korihor.
Secularism and the right to doubt and "secondary targets" in the recent
attacks launched by President Hinckley in his address before the American
Legion. It is a chilling prospect when he attacks not only millions of
Americans who profess no religious belief, but their very right to do so and
their intellectual integrity.
>From guest Tue Sep 3 00:49:54 1996 Date: Mon, 02 Sep 1996 23:01:00 -0600 From: Tony Semerad
Organization: Salt Lake Tribune To: Nowsc@yahoo.com Subject: Re: HINCKLEY WARNS VETS OF NEW WAR References: <19960902233401.AAA15420@LOCALNAME> Delano wrote: ] I would like permission to post your story at ] http://www.sltrib.com/96/sep/02/tci/04274318.htm, ] en toto, at the Utah athesit web page at URL ] http://nowscape.com/atheist0.htm ] Please reply to THIS email address: ] Nowsc@yahoo.com ] ------------------------------------------------- ] Thank you kindly in advance for your reply. ] --Nowsc@yahoo.com We rotate our URLs/stories out of bookmark access for archiving purposes-- i.e., charging. So you're welcome to download a copy of Hinckly Warns Vets of New Wars, SLTrib, Sept. 2, 1996, and keep one at your location, incl., as you mention, attribution to The Salt Lake Tribune. It should be accessible for at least a week. We're pleased you find it useful. Yours sincerely, Tony Semerad, editor of Utah Online