Tag Archives: Atheist

Celebrating a Hero’s Birthday

By Jim Bennett
Daily Review Atlas

Six percent of U.S. residents refuse to believe that American astronauts have ever landed on the Moon. If you happen to be one of them, now would be a good time for you to put down the newspaper, don your Reynolds Wrap shower cap and go search for Sasquatch, or maybe watch a Michael Moore film. This column is devoted to celebrating Neil Armstrong. Today, Aug. 5, this giant among the ever-dwindling pantheon of living American heroes turns 80.

Sadly, the Apollo 11 mission was such a stunning leap forward in human achievement that Armstrong’s other accomplishments are seldom mentioned, and they are certainly worthy of review. For instance, he became a licensed pilot at just 16; three years later, at the tender age of 19, he was in the U.S. Navy, flying from, and landing on, aircraft carriers.
At 21, Armstrong was handling dangerous combat runs over China and North Korea. In September of 1951, while on a low-altitude bombing mission, anti-aircraft fire struck his Grumman Panther and sent it plummeting. At just 500 feet off the ground his plane struck a cable, clipping off about six feet of its right wing. Somehow the young ensign managed to regain control of the F9F-2 long enough to fly it out of enemy airspace, but the wing damage made landing it out of the question. The treacherous and unpredictable prospect of ejection was a gamble, but he took it. He would go on to rack up a total of 78 missions in the Korean War.

Many have also forgotten that later, as a civilian, Neil Armstrong would make a career of cheating death daily as a research pilot of experimental aircraft. And the spectacle of the Moon landing also eclipses his earlier space journey, serving as command pilot of Gemini VIII. The mission was the first of its kind: Docking one orbiting spacecraft with another. Mere moments after the risky, historic rendezvous had been completed, however, the capsule and target vehicle began to spin dangerously and the trip had to be cut short. Nevertheless, the Moon shot would have remained just a hopeful dream if Gemini VIII hadn’t proven that two vessels in orbit could link up together.

Apollo 11, of course, was the realization of that dream, and it is wholly understandable why it would be the Neil Armstrong highlight we all remember. Not that it went perfectly, mind you: Alarms were sounding frantically as the Lunar Module “Eagle” carried Armstrong and LM pilot Buzz Aldrin down to the Moon’s surface; reportedly the stream of radar data was coming in to the craft’s computers at a rate much faster than they could handle (That mobile phone in your shirt pocket actually has more processing power than they had). The intended landing area was significantly overshot as well, and there was less than a minute’s worth of propellant remaining when they finally touched down.

Yet before the “giant leap for mankind” took place, Armstrong was part of one other seldom-mentioned event, if only as a witness. A few days before the launch, Aldrin, a church elder, had asked his pastor to help him plan a meaningful way to claim that historic occasion for God. Once the Eagle had landed, Aldrin revealed to Armstrong that he intended to take communion on the Moon.

Though he had hoped to broadcast it to the world, NASA demurred; they were already being sued by atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair (she objected to the Apollo 8 astronauts reading from Genesis when they orbited the moon at Christmas). Privately, with Armstrong looking on, Aldrin read a Bible verse, ate the bread, drank the wine and gave thanks.

Incidentally, the verse was John 15:5, where Jesus says, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.”


I don’t believe Neil Armstrong has commented much on this particular moment from Apollo 11, and I frankly have no idea what spiritual beliefs, if any, he holds. But I do so hope this courageous American has placed his own trust in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. One who has ascended to the heights he has should know that “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.”

Jim Bennett is the pastor of Rozetta Baptist Church in rural Henderson County.

Copyright 2010 Daily Review Atlas. Some rights reserved

“September 30th Is Blasphemy Day” By Jim Bennett (Updated: Dana Ellyn “responds”)

            Before I begin this week’s strident indictment of whatever and stuff, I think I should establish my expertise in the general subject matter, which is art.  I’m not one of those Philistines who says, “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.”  The arts are my consuming passion, and I spend every free moment immersed in the classics. My obsessive love for the works of C.M. Coolidge, for example, has become my raison d’être; I can name – from memory – every breed of dog that sits at that poker table.  And after years of scouring every tent-canopy sale in every Shopko parking lot within 500 miles, my personal art collection now boasts the most extensive assemblage of American Indian wolf tapestries, Robert Kinkaid knock-offs, and framed Dale Earnhardt memorial lithographs anywhere. 
            I think I’ve made my point. 
            While I, like you, had my life changed forever when Christo wrapped Berlin’s Reichstag building in polypropylene fabric, I find that most modern art is not nearly that lucid and relevant.  Case in point:  An exhibit opening Wednesday in Washington D.C.; it is part of something called “International Blasphemy Day.”  The idea is that artists and so-called “free-speech advocates” around the globe will stage exhibitions that mock and criticize all things religious.  The goal is to somehow promote freedom of expression through all the condemnation and ridicule.
            The work of painter Dana Ellyn will be featured at the D.C. observance.  In a Religion News Service article about Blasphemy Day, Ellyn told reporter Leanne Larmondin, “My point is not to offend, but I realize it can offend, because religion is such a polarizing topic.”  That’s an interesting statement, especially when we consider some of her work.
            I give you Dana Ellyn’s “Silly Rabbit, Myths Are for Kids.”  Jesus Christ, God the Son, is pictured dressed in an Easter Bunny costume with an egg beneath his chair.  A small girl is laughing at him. 
            “Bottled at the Source” is evidently supposed to mimic a booze label.  “Divine Wine” is the name of the product, and the Savior of all mankind is shown on the cross; angels float nearby, holding out empty bottles to be filled by the streams of blood that are spouting from His pierced side and hand. 
            In “Jesus Performs at Young Darwin’s Birthday Party,” the Lord of the Universe is in a clown suit levitating a few inches off the floor, dancing on a cloud for the young evolutionist’s amusement. 
            But Ellyn’s magnum opus is “Jesus Does His Nails.” Christ is seated, with His crucifixion spikes still protruding.  He is dabbing nail polish on the head of the nail that has been driven through His left hand. 
            I emailed some questions and observations to Dana Ellyn, but she didn’t respond.  I understand, of course.  If anyone knows how time-consuming it is to conceive predictable, hackneyed, sophomoric puns, it’s me.  And I only have to type mine; she, on the other hand, has got to get one of those palette thingies, cover it with color puddles, put on a smock and beret, and then paint hers.  So, I’ll just include a few of those questions here:

(See update after the column.  Dana stated she emailed a response promising to answer my questions once she received my email.  Though I didn’t receive it before posting the article, I have no reason to disbelieve her. A more charitable and gracious characterization would have been, “Dana Ellyn has yet to respond to my questions.” – Ed.)

            1. The article states, “Artist Dana Ellyn says her ‘Blasphemy’ paintings are a tongue-in-cheek expression of her lack of belief in God and religion.”  Isn’t your artwork actually an expression of your hostility toward religion rather than your lack of religious belief?
            2. The date of Blasphemy Day was specifically chosen to commemorate a Danish newspaper’s publication in 2005 of cartoons that were unfavorable toward Islam and Muhammad.  Muslims around the world rioted.  Yet I notice that you, like virtually all atheist artists I have encountered, express your disdain for religion by blaspheming Jesus almost exclusively.  I’ve looked at all your paintings, but nothing in your work is aimed at Islam.  Why do you and so many of your anti-religion colleagues give Islam a “free pass” but roast Christ mercilessly?  You’re afraid of Muslim reprisals, of course, and that’s just good sense.  But clearly you’re holding yourself out as an iconoclast, and your bold iconoclastic principles evaporate before you cross the threshold of the Mosque.
            3. Artists want to be seen as edgy rebels who do provocative work.  Yet the cost for that kind of street cred is public outrage, and you all invariably protest when subjected to such backlash.  Conversely, without the public outrage and backlash, you’ll never be seen as an edgy rebel who does provocative work.  Aren’t you caught in a vicious cycle?
            Anyhoo, friends, I think I’ll pass on International Blasphemy Day and just spend September 30th loving the Lord Jesus instead.  I pray you’ll join me.  To be honest, I’m really not much of an art connoisseur.  The way I see it, art died with Bob Ross anyway.  But as far as Jesus is concerned, “I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.”


UPDATE:  Dana Ellyn responds (sort of):

Thank you for your posting. I did receive your email yesterday with all of your questions. And I did respond with the following email 10 minutes after I received your note (I initially requested the interview mid-afternoon on September 27.  I received this response from Dana almost a full day after sending my initial inquiry to her. Newspaper columnists have deadlines, Ma’am.  I’ll amend the post to reflect accordingly, however.  – Ed.) :
Dear Jim,
Thank you very much for your email. I can not tell you how much I appreciate your taking the time to write – and for the thoughtful nature of your questions. I welcome the opportunity to answer every question you have posed. As of yet, I haven’t responded to any of the 100 or so comments that are posted to the original article on the Religion News Service site. So thank you for compiling all of the issues/questions that have been raised and giving me a forum to answer.

I will sit down tonight and/or tomorrow and respond. I just wanted to get back to you quickly to let you know that I will be responding since it will take me a bit of time to answer your questions thoroughly.

My best,
Dana Ellyn

I spent several hours last night and this morning writing up very in depth answers to your questions – because I was so pleased at your willingness to discuss and have an open and honest dialogue. I am sorry to see that you already posted this article and didn’t wait for my response – nor did you acknowledge my honest intentions to respond. In fact, you say that I didn’t respond and go on with your continued assumptions and accusations claiming to know who I am and all that I stand for. (Again, at post time on Monday, I had waited what in journalism circles is considered a generous amount of time for a response.  When I didn’t receive one, I gave a truthful, accurate account of the situation as it stood.  You very well may have sent me a response “within 10 minutes,” but I didn’t receive it.  While I won’t apologize for the nature of the bid’ness, I do acknowledge that a more charitable and gracious characterization would have been, “Dana Ellyn has yet to respond to my questions.” – Ed.)

In brief, to treat this very serious topic of religion via a few short quotes from me and a handful of paintings I have created that are a very small subset of my entire body of work does not do either side of the conversation justice.  (I maintain that the “handful of paintings” I cited are thematically consistent with all your other works which address the same subject matter.  If you’ve done some other paintings which portray Jesus Christ in anything other than an insulting and, in my view, blasphemous manner, I’d love to see them.  Once I do, I will cheerfully withdraw my critical comments. – Ed.)

And as I responded to each and every one of your questions last night, I realized that if I was too brief it left much of my message up for too much potential misinterpretation.   (Hmmm.  Well, I encourage you to go ahead and send your responses to me anyway.  I won’t misinterpret them.  I have an Adderall prescription.  Logically speaking, it seems that the potential for misinterpretation is heighted, rather than mitigated, by withholding the clarifying responses you wrote.  I’m just sayin’… -Ed.)  To go to the necessary depth would mean me spending the majority of my time focusing on this topic and this topic alone. My atheist/agnostic views are not what define me or my art on the whole.  (Agreed, and I didn’t state otherwise.  The column, however, is devoted to your involvement in International Blasphemy Day, so naturally, my questions and my column will focus on that. – Ed.)

Now I see from your posting here that you are not as open to discussion as I had hoped from your email.  (Ahem.  Talk about “assumptions and accusations claiming to know who I am and all that I stand for”!   I’m as open as you please, but do as you see fit.  – Ed.)

I do not ‘disdain’ religion (as you suggested in your email question). (Uh, come on, Dana.  I mean, seriously.  That’s an almost laughably disingenuous statement.  -Ed.) I think religion has played a vital role in the course of human history. I do not practice any religion or believe in any god and I don’t have anything against those who do. To each his own. I would never tell someone “you are wrong to believe in god” or “you should not believe in god” or “you should stop believing in god”. But those questions are always directed to me in the reverse. (Always?  By whom?  – Ed.)  I do have the right to say “I disagree with you” and you can tell me the same in return.  (You certainly do, Dana.  Every right.  Nothing I have written to you or about this matter conflicts with that.  But the original concern remains unanswered by you:   My perception is that you, like the overwhelming majority of atheist artists, musicians, commentators, and writers I encounter, focus inordinately on mocking Christ, yet seemingly leave Islam and Muhammad alone for the most part.  I again encourage you to email the responses you wrote and set me straight.  – Ed.)

I wish you all well.
My best,

“FWD: Don’t Be a Dope”

I believe that few things have drained more credibility from the evangelical community than the willingness of some of us to jump on any bandwagon that comes down the pike, just so long as it hits our e-mail inboxes with “FWD:” in the subject line. While I strongly disagree with the media’s portrayal of all theologically conservative believers as provincial rubes, I must admit that I feel like I’m swimming against a current of Christian fingers that are clicking “send” faster than a deacon dashing for the dessert table at a potluck.

When I was growing up, if you wanted to start an urban legend that duped large numbers of people, you had to do it the old fashioned way — word of mouth. How did a generation of Americans unquestionably accept the notion that mixing Pop Rocks and Pepsi caused a lethal atomic mushroom cloud to burst from the belly of Mikey, the kid from the cereal commercial? Word of mouth. Back in my day, you sassy little jackanapes, we didn’t have Outlook Express! 

How did the news get around that Proctor & Gamble’s “Man in the Moon” symbol was a satanic emblem, personally confirmed by P & G’s CEO himself, when he appeared on the Phil Donahue show to sacrifice a goat and predict the future by gazing into its entrails? We didn’t have your fancy Blackberry textification phone e-mail dealies! We had to do it the old-fashioned way: Word of mouth! We had to concoct a bizarre chain of relationships linking us directly to the source: “My cousin dates a girl whose sister’s roommate was maid of honor at the wedding of the manicurist who does Marlo Thomas’s nails, and Marlo Thomas told her that Phil Donahue himself says Crest is the only toothpaste Beelzebub will use.”

And in my day, how do you suppose we nearly killed the travel industry? Why, it was with dramatic accounts of drugged tourists waking up in ice-filled hotel bathtubs, only to realize that black-market organ brokers had not only harvested their kidneys, but had also racked up over 75 dollars in mini-bar charges! And we didn’t have us any of those new-fangled, dot-com, rumor-mongerin’ Web sites you young punks use! It took years of verbally repeating the same unfounded, ridiculous tall tales, over and over again, with diehard conviction! Word of mouth, I say!

In 1999, I first witnessed how easily and powerfully an e-mail hoax can trigger a torrent of evangelical fury. I was working as the news director of a Christian radio station in Blue Earth, Minn., and my inbox was suddenly filled by dozens of desperate listeners, each begging me to alert church-goers everywhere that the only decent television show since Michael Landon died – “Touched by an Angel” – was about to be cancelled because atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair had filed “Petition 2493” with the FCC, calling for an end to all T.V. shows that mention God. Of course, this was an old urban legend, dating back to the mid-1970’s, so I double-checked with an FCC spokesman and then ran a news story debunking the rumor. One woman called me to say she was going to start a petition anyway, “just to be on the safe side.” (Incidentally, “Touched by an Angel” was, in fact, cancelled in 2003. However, the show wasn’t killed by the legal machinations of Madalyn Murray O’Hair, but rather by the titanic overacting of Della Reese.)

Since then, I’ve seen dozens of celebrity conversion whoppers: “Steve Irwin answered an altar call two weeks before that sting ray killed him. In fact, he was witnessing to the creature when it attacked.”

I’ve seen far too many sentimental charity rip-offs. Most recently, there was Rebeccah Beushausen, whose blog featured tearjerker pictures of “April Rose,” her disabled daughter. Well-meaning Christians started sending money and gifts. Later it was revealed that “April Rose” was actually a lifelike “Reborn Doll” whose only disability was “batteries not included.” 

And of course, there’s the passionate “Onward Christian Soldiers” call-to-arms. I recently received another breathless warning about that old chestnut Petition 2493, this time it had been updated with names like Dr. James Dobson.

I know we need to be salt and light, but may I suggest checking the story out before forwarding it? Try consulting the archives at Snopes.com – that’s a good place to start. Jesus said in Matthew 10:16: “Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”

I’m glad we settled that. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to e-mail my bank account information to the widow of Nigeria’s former treasury secretary so she and I can divide the seven million American dollars her late husband deposited in a Grand Cayman off-shore bank account.

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