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Atheist Benefactor / Christian Benefactor

I have a longer version of this article in pamphlet form which I would be happy to mail to any who request it. It may be reprinted and passed out or you have my permission to copy and pass out this version.
Notice: In accordance with Title 17, Sec. 107, this is a clipping provided to interested persons
Peter Huff 05/31/2000
To: Ed.Babinski
Subject: Re: Cross Currents

Dear Ed:
Thank you for your message. Iʼve seen the title of your book but have not had the chance to take a close look at it. I will definitely spend some time with it in the next few months. Your experience with the Lionʼs Den sounds fascinating. It would represent the sort of experimentation that needs to happen much more frequently. And probably it was as successful as any such dialogue could ever hope to be. My main concern is not dialogue as such but rather the revision of what goes under the label of pluralism in theological circles. As a non-theist I am not primarily concerned with questions of truth (as are fundamentalists and religious liberals). For me the key issue is the way an anti-fundamentalist bias distorts the study of religion. Recognizing fundamentalisms as genuine forms of religious consciousness in the contemporary world is something few scholars of religion are willing to do.

This weekend I will give a paper at the College Theology Society meeting at Villanova. It will deal with my experiences at the Parliament of the Worldʼs Religions (where I delivered the Cross Currents piece); Iʼm eager to see what the reactions will be.
It was a pleasure to hear from you. Hope to hear from you again.


Here are two stories about two rich California benefactors, one a generous and compassionate atheist, the other, a supporter of conservative reconstructionist Christianity. Which one do you think is more likely to wind up in hell and which in heaven and why? Best, Ed

Atheist Benefactor

“James Lick, San Franciscoʼs Atheist Benefactor”
By Jim Heldberg, San Francisco Atheists, March 2000

James Lick is a pivotal figure in San Franciscoʼs past and present. From humble beginnings, he became the richest man in California. Without a wife or children, he gave his huge estate away to share with San Franciscoʼs people. He is memorialized by a freeway, 3 schools, a world-class telescope, a national historic landmark, and more.

He was an Atheist, but not a great Atheistic speaker or writer. Like many of us, James Lickʼs Atheism was simply a part of him, and he supported Atheist causes throughout his amazing 80-year life.

James Lick was born of German immigrants in Pennsylvania, August 25, 1796, when America was just 20 years old.

After an ordinary education, he moved to Baltimore to become an apprentice carpenter and organ maker. He apparently learned quickly. At age 24, he went into the piano making business, but he was unsuccessful. He took his piano-business skills to South America where he became very successful.

In 1847, at age 51, he came to the new city of San Francisco, with $30,000 to invest. He liked the new city, and bought land where he thought the city might grow. When the Gold Rush came 2 years later, James Lickʼs property values soared. He built the “Lick House” hotel on an entire square block of Montgomery Street, of which nothing survives today. James Lick lived simply in a plain room of the hotel.

In 1876, members of the American Centennial Committee refused to carry a painting of Thomas Paine in the Centennial parade. The artist appealed to James Lick, who said, “If they will not march with Paine, they shall march under him.” He hung the large Tom Paine painting on a rope stretched from his Lick House to the building across the street, forcing the parade to march under it.

Like many wealthy San Francisco businessmen, James Lick also built an expensive home on the peninsula. He added a “high-tech” water-powered flour mill. The James Lick Mansion is a nationally registered historical landmark, one of only 2 in the City of Santa Clara. It is located next to the Guadalupe River, at 554 Mansion Park Drive, Santa Clara, and marked with a historical sign facing the street. James Lick was a master builder and woodworking craftsman, and his 24-room home, with a fireplace in every room, showed off his skills. But it was so elegant that James Lick was actually disliked it. He lived in it only briefly, and then moved into one of the plain workerʼs cottages on the mansion grounds. The mansion and mill were often called “Lickʼs Folly” for the large investment Lick made in his fine house and flour mill, but Lick Flour was well known as one of the best in California. Equally famous grounds and gardens surrounded the mansion, with exotic plants James Lick imported from South America and around the world. In 1872, he directed the mill to be sold, and the proceeds used to build Thomas Paine Memorial Hall in Boston. Today, the James Lick Mansion is surrounded by “Mansion Grove,” a modern upscale apartment complex with swimming pool and clubhouse, built on the previous mansion grounds. The Lick Mansion and circular redbrick Granary are owned and maintained by Santa Clara County. It is home to a non-profit health care agency.

James Lick wanted an impressive burial monument, and proposed a pyramid tomb in downtown San Francisco. Fortunately, friends persuaded him instead to increase human knowledge by building the worldʼs biggest telescope. Lick Observatory, on top of 4,209-foot Mount Hamilton southeast of San Jose, is world-famous for historical and scientific reasons. Endowed by James Lick with a massive $700,000 grant, it is now owned by the University of California of Santa Cruz (UCSC). Built a century and a quarter ago to be the most powerful telescope in the world, it still works fine today. The 54-foot long telescope carries a 36-inch lens, and despite its size and weight, it still pivots smoothly. It is suspended in the middle by a large concrete pylon base, which entombs the remains of James Lick and display a suitable plaque mounted near the telescopeʼs pivot point. The rotating telescope dome roof sits on sturdy walls whose interior surface is decorated with elegant redwood paneling suitable to James Lickʼs carpentry skills. Many famous astronomers have used this telescope to make significant discoveries. A modern 120-inch telescope was recently built nearby on the same peak, but astronomers still like to use the old 36-incher to get a big picture of an area of the sky before boring in on the details with the big 120-incher. Interesting to Atheists is the fact that Atheist James Lickʼs lifetime monument sits on a peak named in a brief outing by a Methodist minister; Rev. Hamiltonʼs bust shares the Lick Observatory site, but heʼs out in the back yard! Additional information about tours, a map and more are on the website James Lick would be proud to know his monument is on the Internet.

—More of James Lickʼs Legacy —

James Lick Freeway, 5 miles long and 8 lanes wide, is the main highway US-101 coming into San Francisco from the south, connecting Silicon Valley and the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to downtown San Francisco.

Lick-Wilmerding High School at 755 Ocean, adjacent to the I-280 freeway, is a combination of the former James Lick Mechanical Arts School and another similar school named Wilmerding. James Lickʼs personal workbench, brought from South America in 1847, is displayed in the hallway right inside the front door of the school.

James Lick Middle School at 1220 Noe Avenue is a well-maintained white concrete structure covering an entire city block. It has also served as a high school.

James Lick High School at 57 N. White Road, San Jose, CA is the newest Lick site. Built in the 1950s, it is about 7 miles from the Lick Mansion, on a site adjoining Alum Rock Road, on the way to the James Lick Observatory. Posted prominently in the main entry is a bronze plaque extolling James Lickʼs concern for freedom and education. The large school serves a diverse 1400-student body, drawn partly from the wealthy foothills, but mostly from the poor flatlands of San Jose. A nearby golf course in the foothills allows student teams to practice there, so James Lick is one of the few schools where poor Hispanic students can compete on a high school golf team. More info is at . Famous JLHS alumni include:

  • Jean Wakatsuki Houston, author of “Farewell to Manzanar: A True Story of Japanese American Experience During and After the World War II Internment,” recounting internment of Japanese Americans in California prison camps during WW2
  • Willie T. Ribbs, the only African American ever to drive in the Indianapolis 500, now racing under the sponsorship of entertainer Bill Cosby
  • Gary Ilman, Olympic swimmer
  • Jim Plunkett, famous football player with SF 49ers

The Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park is an ornate, Victorian-style, glass-enclosed building built to display rare plants of the world. Initially endowed by James Lick, it was undoubtedly supplied in part by rare plants from his Lick Mansion. Although the Conservatory of Flowers is now closed for restoration, it is still worthwhile to visit. Large beautiful flower gardens surround it, as well.

Francis Scott Key, author of “The Star Spangled Banner,” is remembered by a large, ornate statue patriotically commissioned by James Lick for $60,000 in Golden Gate Park, adjacent to the California Academy of Sciences, which was also partially funded by James Lick.

The Lick Old Ladies Home at 350 University Street was built in 1884 with a $100,000 grant from the Lick estate. Renamed the University Mound Ladies Home, it is located in the University Mound neighborhood, in the southeast corner of the City, not far from the James Lick Freeway and Candlestick baseball park. The original wooden building has been replaced with a large elegant brick home, which is home to several hundred women. It operates “on a non-discriminatory basis,” but even James Lick couldnʼt live there, because it excludes men.

The Pioneer Monument at Fulton & Hyde in San Francisco is an ornate, massive complex group of 5 bronze and stone statues, commemorating pioneers who built San Francisco, including the early Native Americans, Spanish missions, pioneers, Gold Rush miners, and James Lick, of course. The sculptor was Frank Happersberger, 1859-1932, who created many famous statues throughout San Francisco. It is apparently considered to be one of the most significant statues in the City, because it has been given 3 different prominent locations. It is now displayed beside the new library, directly between the City Hall and the United Nations Plaza, the site of the signing of the UN Charter. James Lick would be proud to know that his name now stands in company with world leaders spanning 3 centuries. A bronze plaque at the statue reads as follows:

“Dedicated to the City of San Francisco on November 29, 1894, the Pioneer Monument was a gift of philanthropist James Lick. Lick, who died in 1876, left $100,000 to the city for the creation of “statuary emblematic of the significant epochs in California history” dating back to the missionsʼ early settlement. The monument stood in Marshall Square, facing Market Street in front of the Old City Hall that was completed in 1887 but destroyed in the 1906 earthquake. When the City was rebuilt after the earthquake, Grove and Hyde Streets were extended to meet Market Street, creating a new intersection. The Pioneer Monument stood at this intersection until it was moved to its present location in 1993.”

Note: Additional James Lick information is available at the American Atheists website , and in a recently updated book by Madalyn Murray OʼHair which is sold through American Atheists Press.

Christian Benefactor

Frontiers Magazine
San Francisco and LA Editions
Vol. 18 Issue 21 - 10 February 2000

The Man Behind Knight
By Jerry Sloan

Multimillionaire Howard Ahmanson Is Working to Bring Back Biblical Law

Since 1988 Howard Fieldstead Jr., heir to the giant Southern Californian H.F. Ahmanson Company, the former parent company of Home Savings and Loan, has been a major player in California politics by financing political, religious-extremist candidates for the state legislature and constitutional officers. He also has been a major source of financing for wedge-issue initiatives that have pitted one segment of California citizens against another - such initiatives as school vouchers, immigrant rights, affirmative action, unions and now the highly divisive Proposition 22, known as The Knight Initiative, The Limit of Marriage Act, which will appear on the ballot on March 7.

Ahmanson, reported to have an annual income of over $20 million, contributed $210,000 or 35 percent of the money raised to put Proposition 22 on the ballot.

He was helped by two close political associates in the California Independent Business Political Action Committee (PAC), Edward G. Atsinger III and Roland Hinz, the total contributed by just these three men is 65 percent and they have continued to give large amounts of money to the campaign.

In the past 15 years there have been few local or state anti-gay initiatives in California that have not received Ahmansonʼs financial backing. In 1994 his contributions were a major factor in helping the Republicans win a majority in the state Assembly. Overall,, he made contributions to almost one third of the members of the legislature that year. He also has been a major contributor to Focus on the Familyʼs California political front, the Capitol Resource Institute, which for over a decade has been the leading anti-gay lobby at the Capitol. Other records on file at the Office of Political Reform confirm that since 1990 Ahmanson has personally contributed over $1 million each year to political causes in California. In addition, he contributed $25,000 to the Amendment 2 initiative in Colorado that would have prevented anti-discrimination laws for gay citizens.

Most Californians know little about Ahmanson, and the California media have been most cooperative in keeping the public ignorant about him and his political activities.

So why should citizens be concerned about what most would consider a personal matter of religion, however extreme, or the eccentricities of a fabulously wealthy man?

How are Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson, Jr., and his associates of the California Independent Business PAC different from any other of the many political special-interest influence Californiaʼs public policy?

To answer these questions one must look at Ahmansonʼs quarter of a century association with the Rev. Dr. Rousas John Rushdoony and Chalcedon, Inc., an extremist religious organization.

Although Ahmanson is now the most prominent member of the Board of the conservative Claremont Institute, few know that he has for he has been on the Board of Chalcedon for 23 years. Public Records at the Registry Charitable Trusts show he contributed over a million dollars to Rushdoonyʼs organization. He also has given money to Christian Reconstructionist cause which do not require public disclosure.

Since he is not yet 50 years old, this means he has devoted almost half his life to Chalcedon and to Presbyterian minister Rev. Dr. Rushdoony. The reverend is known as the “Father of Christian Reconstructionism” a form of Dominion Theology whose goal is to put the world and the United States in particular under Biblical Law. Biblical Law is defined as the 600-some laws that are found in the Old Testament Book of Leviticus. These laws cover everything from the punishment for murder to setting aside a special chair during her menstrual period.

In a 1985 interview with the Orange County Register, Ahmanson stated, “My purpose is total integration of Biblical law into our lives.” And in fact, his every action indicates this is his goal for the 21st Century.

What would it mean to totally integrate Biblical law into our lives?

A look at the philosophy of Rushdoonyʼs Institutes of Biblical Law (see sidebar) and a contemplation of the millions of dollars Ahmanson has contributed to Chalcedon and the years he spent on the Board of Directors, can only lead to the conclusion that he supports and believes in the teaching of Christian Reconstructionism.

Ahmansonʼs political ally and former minority leader in the California State Senate, Rob Hurtt, Jr., in a Los Angeles Times article stated he would like to send gays to jail for 20 years. But Rushdoony — and Ahmanson if he subscribes to all of Rushdoonyʼs tenets, which by saying he supports “total integration of Biblical Law” apparently he does — would instead demand the “death penalty for homosexuals.”

He doesnʼt just want to prevent gays and lesbians from marrying or having any kind of social equality, he wants to see us dead!

He also doesnʼt want to see women, minorities or working people have rights nor does he want to tolerate other peopleʼs religious beliefs.

Regardless of oneʼs views on same-sex marriage, Proposition 22 only promotes religious bigotry and intolerance. it is disguised as a law to “protect marriage but would ultimately be only a step in the battle to establish one groupsʼ religious beliefs as public policy in violation of our nationʼs historic doctrine of separation of church and state.

Ahmansonʼs devotion to Christian Reconstructionism explains his zeal for using his fortune to quash the rights of gays, women, labor and ethnic and racial groups. Californians should not be deceived by lies and distortions — what-ever the facade. We must look behind the mask to the true motive — or risk being beguiled into a return to the dark ages of religious fanaticism.


While Jesus took only a few words to sum up the Law and the Prophets — love God and your neighbor as yourself — Rev. Dr. Rousas John Rushdoony takes 1,600 pages in The Institutes of Biblical Law to give his interpretation of Biblical Law. Hereʼs some of what he says:

Gays today should be put to death

The Bible is without reservation in its condemnation of homosexuality… “If a man also lie with mankind… they shall be put to death.” (Lev. 20:13)… This is certainly clear enough and there is not a single text in all of the New Testament to indicate that this penalty has been altered or removed… (pp 422-25)… We find that St. Paul far from setting aside the law and its penalties appeals to the death penalty against homo-sexuals as an established and continuing fact. (Rom 1:32) (p735)

Democracy Is An Enemy of Christianity

One faith, one law and one standard of justice did not mean democracy/The heresy of democracy has since then worked havoc in church and state… Christianity and democracy are inevitably enemies. (p 100)

Woman Should Not Have Equal Rights

In the name of equal rights, women are being stripped of the protections of the family and given no place except the perverse competition of a sexual market in which increasingly shock, deviation, and aggressiveness command a premium… (p. 2O8)

Black Civil Rights Are Based on Voodoo

The ‘civil rights’ revolutionary groups are a case in point. Their goal is not equality but power. The background of Negro culture is African and magic, and the purposes of magic are control and power… Voodoo or magic was the religion and life of American Negroes. Voodoo songs underlie jazz, and old voodoo, with its power goal, has been merely replaced with revolutionary voodoo, a modernized power drive.” (p. 61)

Slavery is appropriate for today

Biblical law permits voluntary slavery because it recognizes that some people are not able to maintain a position of independence… The law is humane and also unsentimental. It recognizes that some people are by nature slaves and will always be so. (pp. 286, 251)

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