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Free Inquiry

by Matt Cherry

The following articles are from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 19, Number 1.

Atheist Celebrates 250th Birthday

Old philosophers never die, they just get stranded in seminars. This seems to be true of Jeremy Bentham, the founder of my alma mater, University College London (UCL) - known as "the ungodly hole on Gower Street." The great utilitarian philosopher helped establish the college as a secular alternative to the Christian universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Bentham famously declared that ethics should aim to produce "the greatest happiness for the greatest number." I was pleased to learn that on his 250th birthday, in 1998, Bentham took part in a University of Houston conference on his life and legacy. Of course Bentham, who died in 1832, wasn't there in person. Instead he joined proceedings by videophone.

Bentham ordered his body preserved after his death. He believed it could be a thought-provoking presence at philosophy meetings. His mortal remains are now on display at UCL, from where his image was transmitted to Houston.

Auspicious Deliveries

The Indian obsession with astrology is creating a "Cęsarian epidemic" in New Delhi. "Three out of every four deliveries at the hundreds of privately run maternity homes in this city are by Cęsarian section," Dr. Ruchira Gupta told RomeÕs Inter Press Service. "And not all of them are medically justified." More and more prospective parents are insisting on Cęsareans to ensure delivery at precisely determined auspicious moments calculated by the family astrologer.

Jesus, Mary and Donuts

This October, while 100,000 believers flocked to Conyers, Georgia, to hear homemaker Nancy Fowler read a supposed public message from the Blessed Virgin Mary, in faraway Bras D'Or, Novia Scotia, a rather more skeptical response was given to a similar "miraculous" appearance. An image appeared on the side of a Tim Horton Donuts shop that many took to be the face of Jesus. Hundreds of people came by to take a look, causing - much like in Conyers - massive traffic jams. With many of the pilgrims purchasing coffee and muffins while viewing the apparition, the company went against its own pecuniary interest and came up with a rational explanation: the image was caused by faulty light bulbs. "We kinda felt a little bit of responsibility to make sure that, if that was just a reflection from one of our lights, that we should probably change them just to see what kind of difference it would make," said company spokesperson Rob Forbes. Tim Horton Donuts should be commended for its willingness to face reality and encourage people to wake up and smell the coffee.

Send interesting news items and tidbits to Sidelines, Free Inquiry, POB 664, Amherst, NY 14226-0644, or e-mail to: aszalanski@centerforinquiry.net

Matt Cherry is the former Executive Director of the Council for Secular Humanism.

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