Jim Haught


“Jim Haught” <haught@wvgazette.com>: Sep 01 01:02PM -0400 August 28, 2017 Gazette-Mail editor emeritus named UnitedCoR writer in residence Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The Gazette-Mail’s editor emeritus has been named writer in residence for a national organization, the United Coalition of Reason, based in Washington, D.C.  James A. Haught won’t be in residence in Washington, though. He will remain with the Gazette-Mail and contribute to the group online. UnitedCoR is an umbrella operation serving 5,000 local skeptic and free-thought groups across America and is now extending its reach overseas.

In a similar writing role, Haught has been a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine, based in Amherst, New York, for three decades.   During his 66 years at the Gazette-Mail, he has written 11 books, 120 magazine essays and 50 columns syndicated nationally. A library at West Virginia University is compiling his writings in an archive. More information about the coalition is available at unitedcor.org.

Religious Horrors (Part 1 of 3)   James A. Haught Writer-in-Residence-United Coalition of Reason   Many people think religion causes believers to be compassionate and brotherly. But the record of history-from human sacrifice to Crusades, to Inquisitions, to witch-hunts, to jihads, to pogroms against Jews, to Catholic-Protestant Reformation wars, to slaughter of Anabaptists, to slaughter of Baha’is, to Muslim suicide bombers, etc.-tells an uglier story.

Did you know that a Catholic-Protestant cannon battle occurred in Philadelphia in 1844? A Catholic bishop complained about Protestant worship in public schools, so Protestant mobs stormed Catholic neighborhoods, burning homes and churches. Martial law was declared. Federal troops with cannons arrived to keep peace. Protestants took cannons from sailing ships at the wharf and loaded them with bolts and nails. Ensuing barrages killed two dozen.   Did you know that one of history’s worst wars, the Taiping Rebellion, erupted in the 1850s because a Chinese man read Christian pamphlets and had a vision that he was a second divine son after Jesus? In the vision, God told him to “destroy demons,” so he roused a million follower-warriors to seize territory from the emperor. Taipings conquered a huge part of China before they were defeated by defense armies-including one led by British adventurer “Chinese” Gordon. The death toll is estimated around 20 million.   Poor Gordon faced religious horror twice. Later, he led defense forces against a Muslim holy war in the Nile valley, and was killed when the fanatics overran Khartoum.   Did you know that Mexico’s Cristero War in the 1920s killed 90,000? It happened because the government tried to halt church control over society. Bishops retaliated by stopping worship services-which sent ardent Catholics and a few priests, into armed rebellion. Slaughter was horrendous. U.S. diplomats finally negotiated a cease-fire. In 2000, the Vatican conferred sainthood on 23 Cristero figures, and later beatified 13 more.   Currently, a Netflix series, “Lovebird,” tells of a past Turkish doctor who was sentenced to death by Muslim holy men because he saved his father’s life with a forbidden blood transfusion.

On and on it goes. The record of holy cruelties and atrocities is too vast to count. Here are a few:   SACRIFICE   Ancient Greeks sacrificed thousands of animals-and occasional people-to a fanciful array of invisible gods who supposedly lived atop Mount Olympus. Legend says that King Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia to induce the goddess Artemis to provide wind so his fleet could sail to the Trojan War.   In the 1500s, Aztec priests sacrificed an estimated 20,000 victims per year to many gods, including an invisible feathered serpent.       In the 1800s, India’s Thugs strangled about 20,000 victims yearly for the many-armed goddess Kali, before British rulers found 3,689 stranglers and hanged many of them. Supposedly, Thugs believed that Brahma the creator was making lives faster than Shiva the destroyer could end them, so they killed on behalf of Shiva’s consort Kali.   Pre-Inca priests of Peru burned as many as 200 children in great ceremonies to appease bizarre gods. Druids of Gaul allegedly put victims into human-shaped wicker constructions and burned them. In Borneo, builders of pile houses drove the first pile though a maiden’s body to placate the earth goddess. In Tibet, Bon shamans performed ritual killing. In Africa, Ashanti priests sacrificed about 100 yearly to bring a good yam harvest. In 1838 a Pawnee Indian girl was cut into pieces to fertilize newly sown crops.   CRUSADES   Many people think the Crusades were romantic quests by shining knights wearing crimson crosses, but they actually were a nightmare of slaughter, rape, looting and magic tales.   After Pope Urban II launched the First Crusade in 1095 to wrest the Holy Land from infidels-declaring Deus vult (God wills it)-volunteer armies arose like mobs around Europe. Some in the Rhine Valley followed a goose they thought had been enchanted by God to guide them.       Other groups decided they should first kill “the infidels among us,” so they stormed Jewish ghettos and slaughtered inhabitants, giving some a chance to save themselves by converting to Christianity at swordpoint.       As the peasant armies traveled through the Balkans, they pillaged farms and towns for food, provoking battles with local peoples. In one clash, an army led by Peter the Hermit killed 4,000 Christian residents of Zemun, Yugoslavia, and then burned nearby Christian Belgrade.   As crusaders reached the eastern end of the Mediterranean, they decapitated hundreds of Muslims and carried the heads as trophies. During the siege of Antioch, 200 Muslim heads were catapulted over the walls into the city. Muslim defenders inside decapitated the city’s Christians and catapulted their heads outward.   When Jerusalem fell, almost every resident was slaughtered. Chronicler Raymond of Aguilers wrote proudly: “The horses waded in blood up to their knees, nay, up to the bridle. It was a just and wonderful judgment of God.”   However, Muslims regrouped and eventually drove out crusaders. So a Second Crusade was launched, then a Third, and several more. During the Third Crusade, in 1191, Richard the Lion-Hearted ordered 3,000 captives at Acre to be cut open to retrieve swallowed gems. St. Bernard of Clairvaux declared: “The Christian glories in the death of a pagan, because thereby Christ Himself is glorified.”       In the Fourth Crusade, cross-wearing soldiers became sidetracked and sacked Christian Constantinople. Other crusades fizzled.   The seventh and final crusade was the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, when a papal fleet defeated a Muslim fleet. A crusader named Miguel de Cervantes suffered a maimed arm. He later wrote “Don Quixote.”   Incidentally, the Seventh Crusade was ordered by Pope Pius V, who espoused slaughter. As Grand Inquisitor, he sent troops to kill 2,000 deviant Waldensians, followers of preacher Peter Waldo, in southern Italy. After becoming pope, he sent troops to fight Huguenot Protestants in France, telling commanders to kill all prisoners. And he revived the Inquisition to torture and burn Christian “heretics.” After his death, Pius V was canonized a saint.

Check back in the next UnitedCoR newsletter for a continuation of Jim’s article “Religious Horrors” when we’ll visit the darker side of religion on the European Continent.

Interview with James A. Haught: UnitedCoR’s new Writer-in-Residence   Susan Education Officer and National Coordinator-United Coalition of Reason   James A. Haught was born on Feb. 20, 1932, in a small West Virginia farm town that had no electricity or paved streets. He graduated from a rural high school with 13 students in the senior class. He came to Charleston, worked as a delivery boy, then became a teen-age apprentice printer at the Charleston Daily Mail in 1951. Developing a yen to be a reporter, he volunteered to work without pay in the Daily Mail newsroom on his days off to learn the trade. This arrangement continued several months, until The Charleston Gazette offered a full-time news job in 1953. He has been at the Gazette ever since-except for a few months in 1959 when he was press aide to Sen. Robert Byrd.   During his six decades in newspaper life, he has been police reporter, religion columnist, feature writer and night city editor; then he was investigative reporter for 13 years, and his work led to several corruption convictions. In 1983 he was named associate editor, and in 1992 he became editor. In 2015, as The Gazette combined with the Daily Mail, he assumed the title of editor emeritus, but still works full-time. He writes nearly 400 Gazette editorials a year, plus personal columns and news articles.     (Jim Haught with former acquaintances)   Haught has won two dozen national newswriting awards, and is author of 11 books and 120 magazine essays. About 50 of his columns have been distributed by national syndicates. He also is a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He is listed in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in the World, Contemporary Authors and 2000 Outstanding Intellectuals of the 21st Century. He has four children, 12 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.   For years, Jim has enjoyed hiking with Kanawha Trail Club, participating in a philosophy group, and taking grandchildren swimming off his old sailboat. He is a longtime member of Charleston’s Unitarian Universalist Congregation.   Haught continues working full-time at 85.   UnitedCoR: Please tell us a little more about the role of religion in your life. What experiences and thoughts brought you to the place where you are today?

Jim Haught (JH): When I was a little kid, I went to Sunday school and tried to pray. But when I became a teen, religion seemed like silly fairy tales, old nonsense. I remember wondering how Noah got to the Arctic to get two polar bears.and to Australia to get two kangaroos.and to Antarctica to get two penguins.and to America to get two bison, etc.

UnitedCoR: You’ve been covering religion in the media for many years. Looking back on your career, what are some of the trends that you’ve noticed?   JH: In my long newspaper career, one of my assignments was to attend a different church each Sunday and write a Monday report. I felt like an impostor, because it all seemed absurd to me. In 1974, our community suffered a fundamentalist uprising against “godless textbooks” that caused shootings, bombing of schools, beatings of school board members, and criminal trials-all of these drew national attention. The Charleston Daily Mail editor won a Pulitzer Prize for his editorials about the nightmare. Mostly, I think news reporters see religion as fluky, a carnival. Generally, religion news is a bore unless it’s another prosecution of a priest for child-molesting, or an evangelist caught in a swindle. Every month, Freethought Today prints a long list of “black-collar crimes” citing such news.

UnitedCoR: What were some of the largest stories you covered? What role did religious belief play in how those stories were either portrayed or received?   JH: I discovered a serpent-handler sect in the mountains, and printed photos of believers waving rattlesnakes.all believing they were following Christ’s command in the Great Commission that believers shall “take up serpents.” Actually, I rather liked the snake-handlers, because they’re simple and sincere. Some of them die from rattler bites, or have paralyzed arms. I also covered an Episcopal heresy trial of Bishop James Pike at Wheeling (but it was quietly sidetracked to avoid a laughable replay of the Scopes Monkey Trial). Pike ignored fellow bishops and hung out with us news-hounds: he was under attack because he doubted the Virgin Birth, Resurrection, etc. Time magazine’s headline about it was “Pike’s Pique.” I once visited Jim & Tammy Bakker’s Pentecostal park in the Carolinas and wrote a series about million-dollar evangelists. Some of Bakker’s leaders spoke in “the unknown tongue,” and one even sang in it. My series led to a Penthouse article titled “The God Biz.”     (Jim’s friends always joked that he’s been reporting for a long time.)   UnitedCoR: From a media perspective, what advice and tips could you give to local non-theistic groups when it comes to how their outreach and programs are covered by the press? What are some ways that they can ensure a positive reception and public image?

JH: I think skeptic groups should send announcements of their projects to news media, so the public will see freethinkers as a legitimate social movement. The more items are printed about skeptic events, the more it will seem to be a regular part of America. If a school board tries to impose school prayer or ban evolution, or if religious displays are put on government property (right now, there’s a push to put “In God We Trust” on government buildings), skeptics should fight, or file lawsuits, but do so without sneering insults. We should present a friendly image.

UnitedCoR: You’ve mentioned Unitarian Universalism in one of your essays. What changes have you seen within the UUA that has made it more friendly and cooperative towards non-theists?

JH: When I joined UU in the 1950s, our congregation consisted almost entirely of chemists, professors, social workers and other educated people who were highly irreligious. (I felt like I was the only member without a Ph.D.) Later, the national UUA turned more “churchy” and began using god-talk. I protested and wrote a couple of magazine essays against this trend. I wound up in a debate with UUA President William Sinkford at our Charleston congregation. I proposed that the denomination adopt a statement saying: “The UUA takes no position on the existence, or nonexistence, of God. Members are free to reach their own conclusions about this profound question.” Actually, that statement expresses the UU reality, but leaders were afraid to put it into writing.


About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to Amazon.com to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (wvhighlands.org), and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation (ksff.org). I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at martinjul@aol.com or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
This entry was posted in religion, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s