Nel's New Day

October 21, 2018

Why Atheism

Filed under: Religion — trp2011 @ 7:45 PM
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Author Greta Christina has an excellent blog about questions that people ask of atheists.  Many people ask routine questions of minorities that reveal offensive assumptions or simple ignorance. They may not intend to be rude, but the inquiries may reflect a bigoted marginalization—or just bad manners. They may ask blacks if they can touch their hair or Latinx if they are in the U.S. legally. “Where do you come from” can be questions of other people of color. LGB people are asked, “How do you have sex?” and transgender people suffer even more abusive questions about biology.

Christina lists nine of these offensive questions to atheists—and provides answers.

1: “How can you be moral without believing in God?”

Answer: Atheists have the same compassion and sense of justice as Christians—or at least as Christians are characterized as having. As social animals, humans evolved with core moral values hardwired in the brain—fairness, loyalty, concern for others who are harmed. Christina asks the question of religious believers whether they would lose all sense of morality without a sense in a god. She points out that these same believers often reject some parts of their holy book while accepting other parts. How many Christians support the stoning of adulterers—for example, the man sitting in the Oval Office—or not planting different crops in the same field? God is not responsible for whether people are good. Take Pat Robertson, for example, who doesn’t mind that a U.S. reporter was killed in a Saudi embassy in Turkey and wants to sell arms to Saudi Arabia so that they can kill more people. Being moral is a fundamental part of being human; saying that it comes from fear of punishment and desire for reward insults religious believers.

2: “How do you have any meaning in your life?” Or, “Don’t you feel sad or hopeless?” Or even, “If you don’t believe in God or heaven, why don’t you just kill yourself?”

Answer: All people find joy and meaning in the same things—family, friendship, work, nature, art, learning, love, kittens, cookies. Religious believers just tack on “making my god or gods happy and getting a good deal in the afterlife.” A belief that life is finite gives it more meaning, not less, because every moment must matter.

3: “Doesn’t it take just as much/even more faith to be an atheist as it does to be a believer?”

Answer: No. Atheism is not “100% certainty that God does not exist, with no willingness to question and no room for doubt.” It means “being reasonably certain that there are no gods,” or, “having reached the provisional conclusion, based on the evidence we’ve seen and the arguments we’ve considered, that there are no gods.” The question makes the assumptions that atheists don’t bother to think about their beliefs and that people are unable to come to conclusions by evidence, reason, and thinking instead of the “faith” in believing what someone else says.

4: “Isn’t atheism just a religion?”

Answer: No. Unless a definition of “religious” is “any conclusion people come to about the world,” or, “any community organized around a shared idea.” A belief of religion that includes atheism will also include Amnesty International, the Audubon Society, heliocentrism, the acceptance of the theory of evolution, the Justin Bieber Fan Club, and the Democratic Party. Claiming atheism as a religion changes it to a “faith-based” belief, not one from rational thought.

5: “What’s the point of atheist groups? How can you have a community and a movement for something you don’t believe in?”

Answer: Back to humans being social animals. People enjoy time with others who share interests, values, and goals. Like LGBTQ people, atheists sometimes lose friend and family support, which causes the creation of other communities. Then religious believers sometimes accuse atheism as being just another religion. See #4 above.

6: “Why do you hate God?” Or, “Aren’t you just angry at God?”

Answer: People cannot be angry with something that they believe does not exist—like gods and Santa Claus. This question comes from an assumption that non-belief is insincere, an emotional trauma, and/or rebellion. It’s just non-belief by people who see the world differently from religious believers.

7: “But have you [read the Bible or some other holy book; heard about some supposed miracle; heard about a religious experience]?”

Answer: Most likely. Atheists tend to be better educated about religion and its tenets than most religious believers. Reading the Bible may have led atheists to a decision in non-belief. Religion is so pervasive that it’s impossible to ignore; religious privilege permeates the culture through the arts, economic and political life, the media—everywhere.

8: “What if you’re wrong?” Or, “Doesn’t it make logical sense to believe in God? If you believe and you’re wrong, nothing terrible happens, but if you don’t believe and you’re wrong, you could go to Hell!”

Answer: Or that if believers are wrong about Allah? Or Vishnu? Or Zeus? Or whether God is the wrathful jerk who hates gay people, or the loving god who hates homophobes? What if you’re wrong about whether God wants you to celebrate the Sabbath on Saturday or Sunday? What if you’re wrong about whether God really does care about whether you eat bacon? As Homer Simpson put it, “What if we picked the wrong religion? Every week we’re just making God madder and madder!” Climate disasters bring out religious believers who blame anyone not supporting their personal religion. What if God isn’t personally managing nature to attack atheists, LGBTQ people, and other minorities? Religious believers who bet on their personal god or gods are betting against the thousands of other gods. Is that safe? The assumption behind this question also wants atheists to fake believe in a god against their personal intelligence and values to take on a convenient idea. Is that belief?

9: “Why are you atheists so angry?”

Answer: In Christina’s book Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, she writes that not all atheists are angry about religion—and those of us who are angry aren’t in a constant state of rage. She pointed out that some anger comes from the terrible harm being done by religion to both atheists and religious believers. The question assumes that atheists are “bitter, selfish, whiny, unhappy, because we lack joy and meaning in our lives, because we have a God-shaped hole in our hearts. The people asking it seem to have never even considered the possibility that atheists are angry because we have legitimate things to be angry about.” Christina continues:

“This reflexive dismissal of our anger’s legitimacy does two things. It treats atheists as flawed, broken, incomplete. And it defangs the power of our anger. (Or it tries to, anyway.) Anger is a hugely powerful motivating force—it has been a major motivating force for every social change movement in history—and when people try to dismiss or trivialize atheists’ anger, they are, essentially, trying to take that power away.

“And finally: The people asking this question never seem to notice just how much atheist anger is directed, not at harm done to atheists, but at harm done to believers. A huge amount of our anger about religion is aimed at the oppression and brutality and misery created by religion, not in the lives of atheists, but in the lives of believers. Our anger about religion comes from compassion, from a sense of justice, from a vivid awareness of terrible damage being done in the world and a driving motivation to do something about it. Atheists aren’t angry because there’s something wrong with us. Atheists are angry because there’s something right with us. And it is messed-up beyond recognition to treat one of our greatest strengths, one of our most powerful motivating forces and one of the clearest signs of our decency, as a sign that we’re flawed or broken.”

In a recent example of religious harms, the “prayer of the day” email that Tony Perkins, leader of the Family Research Council, sent to his millions of followers begs God to elect people who will harm LGBTQ children by trying to make them straight. He wants to reinstate “conversion therapy” that causes suicidal thoughts and psychologically damaging guilt from prayer and other quack rituals.

Christina adds other questions that people shouldn’t ask atheists:

  •  “How can you believe in nothing?”
  • “Doesn’t atheism take the mystery out of life?”
  • “Even though you don’t believe, shouldn’t you bring up your children with religion?”
  • “Can you prove there isn’t a god?”
  • “Did something terrible happen to you to turn you away from religion?”
  • “Are you just doing this to rebel?”
  • “Are you just doing this so you don’t have to obey God’s rules?”
  • “If you’re atheist, why do you celebrate Christmas/ say ‘Bless you’ when people sneeze/ spend money with ‘In God We Trust’ on it/ etc.?”
  • “Have you sincerely tried to believe?”
  • “Can’t you see God everywhere around you?”
  • “Do you worship Satan?”
  • “Isn’t atheism awfully arrogant?”
  • “Can you really not conceive of anything bigger than yourself?”
  • “Why do you care what other people believe?”

She—and I—urge people to research questions that reflect dehumanization and religious privilege. And people should do the same to avoid bigotry and a sense of superiority when asking questions of other minorities.

Factoid: Ten percent of people in the United States don’t believe in God—that’s ten times as many as in 1944.

June 4, 2017

Is This the Direction for People in the United States?

 

On his visit to the Middle East, Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) told the world that the United States shared values with Saudi Arabia. Now its King Abdullah will define atheists as terrorists to continue the nation’s repressive laws on political dissent and protests that it claims can “harm public order.” Royal Decree 44 criminalizes “participating in hostilities outside the kingdom” with prison sentences of between three and 20 years. Article One of the new provisions defines terrorism as “calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.”

Saudi money is being sent to Europe to create its fanatical version of Islam throughout Germany. Instead of moderate Islamism, the push is toward the Wahhabi supremacy of Sharia law and use of violent jihad and takfirism to kill Muslims not following the Saudi interpretation of Islam. Almost all terrorist attacks in the West are connected to Saudi Arabia with almost none to Iran, excoriated by DDT.

Those who think that this idea can never move to the United States need to realize that DDT will do anything to pander to his base of evangelicals and VP Mike Pence is a “Christian” first. One of his leaders, Pat Robertson, has called for parents to beat non-Christian children if they don’t respect Christian beliefs. On his television program he told a woman upset because her grandchildren don’t follow her beliefs to “take that kid to the woodshed and let him understand the blessings of discipline.” He further told the women that the grandson would go to prison if a “strong male figure” doesn’t give him that “discipline.”  Robertson advised before predicting that the kid would end up in prison if a strong male figure didn’t start beating him right away.

Robertson’s form of child abuse follows Glenn Beck’s call four years ago to physically abuse children until they believe in God. Two years before that, fundamentalist Christian parents beat their nine children in the name of God and killed one of them. Across the country “Christians” are following the advice of Robertson and Beck. Robertson’s solution of child abuse is against the law if it results in physical harm or death–at least for now.

Religious Right activist “Coach” Dave Daubenmire (right) is calling for “a more violent Christianity” and gave DDT and Greg Gianforte as examples of men who are properly “walking in authority.” Gianforte is the new Montana U.S. representative who threw a reporter to the floor and continued to attack him the night before his successful election. Daubenmire played a clip of DDT shoving another world leader aside at the NATO summit to show that DDT “is large and in charge.” He added about DDT, “He just spanked them all.” Daubenmire said, “That should be the heart cry of Christian men. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of God has suffered violence and violent men take it by force.”

Kentucky’s governor, Matt Bevin thinks he can solve the problem of community violence in Louisville through prayer. His plan is to send roaming prayer groups to needy areas that will walk around and pray with people two or three times a week for the next year. Bevin thinks that prayer can take away the need for investment in housing, education, and health care.

In Michigan, Rep. Tim Walberg told his constituents that God would “take care of” the climate crisis.

In late May, Mike Huckabee, former presidential candidate and father of White House communication staffer Sarah Sanders, joined 5,000 Israeli settlers with an armed guard to perform religious rituals at Joseph’s Tomb in Palestine’s West Bank. With him was Israeli Parliament member Bezalel Smotrich who wants to murder all Palestinians who refuse to admit their inferior status. Later Huckabee met with parliament member Yehudah Glick, called “the most dangerous man in the Middle East” by Israeli police. Glick’s goal is to bulldoze an Islamic holy site and build a Jewish temple in its place before creating a theocracy over all residents in the Holy Land.

According to Calvinist evangelicals, wealth is a sign of God’s approval, a reason that they consider DDT to be God’s anointed. Some people are just destined to accumulate material things, at the expense of others, while others are simply relegated to a far lower place. Combined with fundamentalist reverence for authoritarianism, DDT had the characteristics for the evangelical leader.

In his campaigning, DDT promised Christians that they would not be persecuted if he became president. The GOP has used the persecution myth for decades, but DDT sold it to them to get elected. Now women are being persecuted with the Christian law of the United States. DDT appointed Charmaine Yoest, the former president of an anti-abortion group, to lead public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services. He followed that egrigious choice a few weeks later by naming another anti-abortion advocate to oversee the Title X program with the responsibility of allocating $300 million a year in family planning funds for low-income people. Teresa Manning is also in charge of shaping policy and regulation about contraception and teen pregnancy. Her philosophy that family planning is only among “a husband and a wife and God.” She also thinks that contraception doesn’t prevent pregnancy but instead increases the number of abortions. She said, “The prospect that contraception would always prevent the conception of a child is preposterous.”

The past decade has seen increasingly abusive laws for women seeking abortions, and DDT has moved on to controlling contraception for women. DDT’s executive order about eliminating the health care birth control mandate hasn’t appeared yet, but leaks have provided an idea of its direction. If he signs the existing draft, any employee can declare a “belief” reason to stop providing free contraception through their insurance plans. Because of “Obamacare,” teen pregnancy has hit an historic low.

DDT claims that women can get contraceptives from a family member’s health plan, buy separate insurance for them, or use “multiple other federal programs that provide free or subsidized contraceptives.” He didn’t specify which ones because he also wants to close down Planned Parenthood in exchange for “crisis pregnancy centers” that don’t provide contraceptives. Losing Planned Parenthood will leave almost 1.6 million low-income patients with no family planning care—and maybe no insurance if employees deny them. DDT also wants to largely defund Medicaid, another source for contraception for low-income women. Any DDT order would be immediate with no public comment because he would declare it an interim final rule because employers need immediate relief. Any DDT order would be immediate with no public comment because he would declare it an interim final rule because employers need immediate relief.

Before the removal of contraception came DDT’s executive order protection of “religious liberty,” removing constitutional rights of others. An example is hospitals which can deny services, fire people on a Christian basis, and refuse federally-mandated retirement regulations and disclosures through the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. An example of religious firing was an employee at a faith-based addition center in Missoula (MT) because she didn’t pray hard enough.

The U.S. is already one of the most extreme fundamentalist religious countries in the world, according to scholar Noam Chomsky. Over 42 percent of the people in this country think that the world was created 10,000 years ago by the hand of God, and these people are a political force, controlling others with their beliefs and fear-mongering. The problems of the nation come from income inequality inculcated by huge corporations, but the DDT supporters blame anyone who isn’t white. Yes, the United States shares values with Saudi Arabia, basing its laws on religion and calling for physical punishment. The question is how far the pendulum will swing to the right before it returns—if it ever does.

May 31, 2015

The ‘Christian’ Approach to Religious Freedom

Filed under: Religion — trp2011 @ 8:43 PM
Tags: , , , ,

Last Friday night, 250 armed people congregated outside of the Islamic Community Center in Phoenix, to “protest” the existence of Muslims and hold another cartoon contest depicting the Prophet Muhammed (عليه السلام).” Jon Ritzheimer, the organizer of the event, said it was meant to be a peaceful protest, but his Facebook post asked people to come armed. These persecuted Christians, as conservatives call themselves, wore shirts that said “F**K Islam and shouted insults. Others yelled about the United States being a “Christian nation.” The Muslims refused to engage, and the event dwindled down after four hours. The question is whether the protesters would have been called “terrorists” if Muslims had behaved this way outside a Christian church. How can young people in the U.S. respect anyone if they have people like this for role models?

gunnuts

Conservative Christians who want freedom from caring for the poor are reinterpreting Matthew 25:40: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Historically, the verse champions the needs of the poor, but Glenn Beck’s website, The Blaze, claims that the “least of these” refers to those poor beleaguered Christians who struggle to share their faith. Denny Burk, professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College (Louisville, KY), explanation shows how the phrase applies to Indiana’s Memories Pizza:

“This text is not about poor people generally. It’s about Christians getting the door slammed in their face while sharing the gospel with a neighbor. It’s about the baker/florist/photographer who is being mistreated for bearing faithful witness to Christ. It’s about disciples of Jesus having their heads cut off by Islamic radicals.”

Conservative “least of these” Christians pushing for extremist, discriminatory,“religious freedom” laws and—in Louisiana—an executive order will be unhappy to discover that they have energized the Wiccans, atheists, and Satanists.

Michael Newdow, who lost his 2005 battle to remove “under god” from the Pledge of Allegiance, is arguing that his religious freedom is violated by carrying money with the statement “In God We Trust.” He compares it to forcing a Christian to carry something that says, “Jesus is a lie.” People who mock Newdow should look at their ridiculous argument that baking a wedding cake for a gay couple means that the baker is participating in the wedding. Newdow wrote, “There is obviously no compelling government interest in having ‘In god we trust’ on our money.”

Currently the question of whether atheism is a “religion” is being determined case by case across the country, but two recent cases have come out on the side of yes. Warren (MI) was fined $100,000 for excluding an atheist from the city’s nativity display, and Madison (WI) voted “to add non-religion as a protected class” under its equal opportunity ordinances, the ones targeted by “religious freedom” laws. President Obama included “atheists” in his Religious Freedom Day address in 2014.

The Satanists have declared that the Supreme Court ruling in Hobby Lobby allows pregnant women to sue Missouri for its 72-hour waiting period for abortions. The case comes from a Satanist who lives hours away from the nearest clinic and works for hourly wages, making two trips over three days apart “imposes an unwanted and substantial burden on my sincerely held religious beliefs.” The Satanic Temple has already stopped a Florida school from its Religious Freedom Day in January after its proposal to participate in the event.

Wiccans claim that the religious freedom laws would allow them to use marijuana and currently banned psychotropic drugs. Those following the Wiccan religion could also refuse blood, DNA, urine, and Breathalyzer tests. Dancing naked in the street for celebration would also have to be allowed. Religious freedom would also allow schoolchildren to wear pentangle symbols.

Kenneth Smith from Harpers Ferry (WV) has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of his daughter claiming that evolution is a religion. According to Smith, teaching about evolution violates the separation of church and state. The daughter plans to be a veterinarian, and Smith also claims that the school is jeopardizing her ability to get into a good college to get her degree because her grades are contingent on learning about evolution “that doesn’t exist and has no math to back it.” Smith has also written a book, The True Origin of Man, to represent “the truth of man’s origins confirmed by D.N.A. mathematical and scientific facts.” You can get it on amazon.com.

Blocking a legal marriage in Alabama shows how the conservatives’ desire for “religious freedom” is a sham. Last February, the Rev. Anne Susan DiPrizio, a Unitarian minister, was at the Autauga County Probate Office when a State Probate Judge Al Booth refused to marry a lesbian couple with a legal marriage license. Booth had halted compliance with the federal court’s marriage equality order the day before. DiPrizio offered to marry the women, and Booth ordered her out of the building. He called six sheriff’s deputies, who arrested her and charged her with disorderly conduct. Last week she pled guilty and received a 30-day suspended sentence, 6 months of probation, and a $250 fine.

The last week goes down in the chronicles of conservative Christianity as the defense of the Duggars. Last Sunday I wrote about how 27-year-old Josh, the oldest of 19 Kids and Counting, sexually molested five females, four of them his sisters when he was 14 years old. Many in the Christian community rose in defense of Josh:

Jessa Duggar’s father-in-law:  The Duggar parents should be “commended” for the way they handled the situation. (Josh’s father concealed the crime for over a year before going to the police and lying to them about what had happened.)

Carrie Hurd, wife of Heritage Covenant Church Pastor Patrick Hurd: Josh was just “playing doctor” and it was no big deal.

“Creationist Activist” Eric Hovind, son of creationist theme park creator Kent Hovind in prison for conspiracy and mail fraud:  “If evolution is true, then there is no absolute right and wrong. If evolution is true Josh should not have admitted his faults over a decade ago because what one evolved bag of molecules does to another bag of molecules just doesn’t really matter.”

Mike Huckabee, GOP presidential candidate: “Good people make mistakes” and “being a minor means that one’s judgment is not mature.”

Blaze Blogger Matt Walsh, Blaze blogger: “[Progressives] are moral opportunists. They are the actual hypocrites.”

A few Duggar revelations during the past week:

Fox News spent less than two minutes covering the Duggar story between May 21 and May 25, with some of that time devoted to criticizing other networks for pointing out Josh’s connections with prominent politicians. Fox network Megyn Kelly will interview Josh’s parents, Jim Bob and Michelle, on Wednesday, and air the piece on Friday, June 5.

At least 20 advertisers have pulled commercials from the program including General Mills, Payless, Crayola, Pizza Hut, Choice Hotels, ConAgra Foods, Behr Paint, ACE Hardware, H&R Block, CVS, Party City, Keurig, Walgreens, Sherwin Williams, Jimmy Dean, Pure Leaf, Allstate Insurance, Ricola, HauteLook, and King’s Hawaiian. Continuing advertisers include Minute Maid, Arm & Hammer, Listerine, Oscar Mayer, Macy’s, McDonald’s, Panera Bread, Philadelphia Cream Cheese, Firehouse Subs, and Lowes.

Jim Bob and Josh Duggar told Arkansas state trooper Joseph Hutchens that the abuse happened only once, through the girl’s clothing. Hutchens used that as the reason he only gave Josh a “stern talk.”

Josh sued the Arkansas Department of Human Services in 2007, nine months after a planned Oprah appearance led to an investigation into his crimes, to appeal the DHS decision from its investigation.

One of Josh’s victims was five years old or younger at the time of the molestation.

While campaigning for U.S. Senate, Josh’s father, Jim Bob, said, “Rape and incest represent heinous crimes and as such should be treated as capital crimes.” Knowing what he did about his son, he still said that Josh should be executed.

While TLC hasn’t said that it’s dropping 19 Kids and Counting, the Duggars’ adult and married daughters, Jessa and Jill, are talking about a spinoff series with their husbands Ben Seewald and Derick Dillard.

January 12, 2014

Entitled Christians Need to Adapt

Flying SpaghettiAlmost 50 years ago, religious conservatives started taking over the nation by stealth, getting elected to school boards and town councils before moving into higher office. Progressives may be taking a page out of their plan book. This week, Christopher Schaeffer, a Pastafarian minister, was sworn into office and joined the Pomfret (NY) town council. Those familiar with his “religion” know that he belongs to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster with a spaghetti strainer as its symbol.

330px-Touched_by_His_Noodly_AppendageThe group was founded in 2005 to highlight the absurdities of religious fundamentalism in a protest to the Kansas State Board of Education permitting instruction of “intelligent design” as an alternative to evolution. According to Wiki, Bobby Henderson’s letter to the board stated that “whenever a scientist carbon dates an object, a supernatural creator that closely resembles spaghetti and meatballs is there ‘changing the results with His Noodly Appendage.’” Henderson asked for equal time with intelligent design for his theory in public science classrooms .

Local Pastafarians added a Flying Spaghetti Monster display in Florida’s state capitol. Pomfret is the first municipality to elect a Pastafarian.

The overwhelming sense of Christian entitlement in the United States has been described by a man who is “coming out” as an atheist. After Ryan J. Bell, adjunct professor at Azusa Pacific University and Fuller Theological Seminary, fell out with his life-long church, he was fired. The former pastor of a Seventh-day Adventist church criticized the way his faith treated women and LGBT members. Since last March, he stopped regular church attendance and took up the company of skeptics. Then he decided to become an atheist for a year. It’s reminiscent of John Howard Griffin’s Black like Me when he masqueraded as an African American in the South for six weeks.

Bell said:

“I will read atheist sacred texts—from Hobbes and Spinoza to Russell and Nietzsche to the trinity of New Atheists, Hitchens, Dawkins and Dennett. I will explore the various ways of being atheist, from naturalism (Voltaire, Dewey, et al) to the new ‘religious atheists’ (Alain de Botton and Ronald Dworkin). I will also attempt to speak to as many actual atheists as possible—scholars, writers and ordinary unbelievers—to learn how they have come to their non-faith and what it means to them. I will visit atheist gatherings and try it on.”

Within four days of his experiment, Bell had lost two teaching jobs and a consulting position with a California Seventh-day Adventist church. He learned more in that four days than through all his reading—how open atheists are marginalized in this country where Christians are privileged and others are considered deviants.

South Carolina wants to marginalize all school children and teachers who would prefer not to pray at schools—even public school. Last year a bill for mandatory silence didn’t make it through legislature so this year a lawmaker strengthened the bill to add the option of a teacher delivering a prayer if students are allowed to leave the classroom. That’s two kinds of pressure: peer pressure if teachers don’t want to deliver prayers; and ostracism if students don’t want to declare themselves “different” but don’t want to take part in a religious activity. “The important part is putting prayer back in school,” said a sponsor and Democrat, Rep. Wendell Gilliard. Next door, North Carolina allows public funding in private religious schools that discriminate according to religion.

Catholic schools involved with public funding are firing teachers who marry their same-sex partners. The most recent case to gain notoriety is that of Mark Zamuda, fired from his position as vice-principal of Eastside Catholic School (Bellevue, WA) last month after the administration learned he had married his same-sex partner in July. In his lawsuit, Zamuda said that he was told he could keep his job if he got divorced and then have a commitment ceremony. His firing was followed by student rallies and protests.

MerrowJennyAlthough Eastside doesn’t directly receive public funding, it is part of a religious system that benefits annually from $71 billion in tax exemptions. Last week, Eastside’s dance instructor/drama teacher, Stephanie Merrow (right), got engaged to her female partner of three years, Jenny Frazier.  The school is offering Merrow a contract as an “independent contractor” so that she can continue to work at the school. The school’s website claims it does not discriminate on the basis of an employee’s sexual orientation and marital status on their career page.

Catholics are also wielding their power on Capitol Hill again. Last week, another all-male committee hearing met to decide the fate of women’s reproductive rights with Catholic bishops front and center. The anti-choice bill adds tax penalties for women who exercise their constitutional right to end pregnancies. Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), the man who thinks that the rate of pregnancy is quite low among raped women, selected two witnesses for the H.R. 7, No Taxpayer Funding of Abortion Act–Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, and Helen M. Alvaré, professor of law at George Mason University, and former spokesperson for the same USCCB secretariat.

When the Democrat’s one witness, Susan Wood, addressed the high cost of abortions,  Rep. Steve King (R-IA) snidely wondered how many abortions a woman needed a month. The religiously-inspired bill is obviously designed to discourage private insurance companies from even offering policies for abortions as well as preventing women from using pre-tax dollars in their health savings accounts for abortions. Lott explained that he “chose those witnesses because of their knowledge on the issue.” He evidently thinks that the celibate bishops know the most about women’s reproductive rights.

Is there a need for religion to adapt? Valerie Talrico writes:

“Christians see themselves as a light shining on a hill—a moral beacon to the world—and the faithful love to say that they have taken the lead in humanity’s moral growth, in the abolition of slavery, for example. Indeed many great abolitionists were inspired in part by their faith. But the darker reality was that Christian texts and teachings had been used for centuries to justify slavery and less extreme forms of economic servitude, and the Christian abolition movement emerged only in concert with broader cultural and economic changes. A close look at history suggests that moral and spiritual changes occur independent of religion, and then religion gives voice, organizational structure and moral authority to those changes—and often claims the credit.

“Why do churches so often have to be forced to admit what has become obvious on the outside—that slavery is wrong, that no skin color or bloodline is spiritually superior, that love can grow between two people of any gender, that women and children are fully persons and not possessions of men, that the pleasure and pain of other species matter profoundly, or that bringing babies into the world with thoughtful intention helps families to flourish?

“Religion, by its very nature, is change-averse. Each religion explains and sanctifies a specific set of cultural agreements—a worldview that is a snapshot of human history. Most of today’s largest religions emerged during what is called the Axial Age—a time in which male superiority was assumed, the wheelbarrow had yet to be invented, and nobody knew that the other side of the planet existed. People at the time were doing the best they could to understand what was real and what was good, what caused what, and, especially, why there was so much suffering and death. They fused what they knew about the way things worked with their understanding of human power hierarchies, and they made gods in the image of men, both literally and psychologically. They turned rules into Rules.

“At the time the original agreements emerged, many of them served human wellbeing. But what is adaptive in one context can be maladaptive in another—and what is moral in one context can become immoral in another. When rules become Rules, when they become sacred, people forget why they existed in the first place.”

The French Cardinal Panafieu said that Islam must adapt to secularity. The Christians of the United States need to follow the cardinal’s advice. U.S. Christian fundamentalists need to heed his warning.

 

May 26, 2013

Tornadoes, Atheism, Bigotry, Tolerance Plus the Supreme Court

Religion during the past week has presented a mixed bag of news. Pat Robertson seems to be mellowing. Three years ago, he told his viewers on the 700 Club that tornadoes are a sign of the End Times, and he traditionally blames LGBT people for any disaster. This week, however, he just asked the victims, “Why did you build houses where tornadoes were apt to happen?” He did move on to theology: “If enough people were praying, He would’ve intervened, you could pray, Jesus stilled the storm, you can still storms.”  So it’s the victims’ fault. 

Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka (KS) did stick to his hate script by blaming gay Jason Collins for the tornadoes. His website inadvertently helped tornado victims, however. Anonymous hacked WBC website, GodHatesOklahoma.org, and automatically directed viewers to a Red Cross donation site. People gave over $8,000 before the website was taken down.

Wolf Blitzer, too, struggled with theology surrounding the recent Oklahoma tornadoes. On live television, Blitzer referred to the survival as “blessed” three times before he asked, “You’ve gotta thank the Lord, right? Do you thank the Lord for that split-second decision?”

Holding her 18-month-son, Rebecca Vitsmun politely replied, “I’m actually an atheist.”

Blitzer stuttered, “You are. All right. But you made the right call.”

Still gracious, Vitsmun replied, “We are here, and I don’t blame anyone for thanking the Lord.”

Vitsmun’s honesty has  a benefit. Stand-up comic Doug Stanhope started an Indiegogo fundraising campaign titled “Atheists Unite” to help rebuild her home. People have already donated over $85,000 with almost two months remaining in the campaign. FreeOK is also selling t-shirts to benefit Vitsmun.

Glenn Beck attacked Blitzer’s interview with Vitsmun as a setup. According to Beck, a television producer “who is sympathetic to the atheist plight or just doesn’t like Christians” handpicked Vitsmun to be interviewed to “point out that in the middle of heartland in America, where most people are God-fearing, there are atheists there too.” Beck’s conclusion:

“We are not fighting against flesh and bone. We are fighting the forces of spiritual darkness and it doesn’t matter what people’s intent are, but I will tell you that that was there for a reason.”

Another atheist also made great news last week. When it was his turn to lead the opening prayer for the House session, Arizona state Rep. Juan Mendez changed the format:

“Most prayers in this room begin with a request to bow your heads. I would like to ask that you not bow your heads. I would like to ask that you take a moment to look around the room at all of the men and women here, in this moment, sharing together this extraordinary experience of being alive and of dedicating ourselves to working toward improving the lives of the people in our state.”

Mendez also quoted legendary astronomer Carl Sagan: “For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.” He concluded his address by saying he hoped “Arizona’s non-believers can feel as welcome and valued here as believers.” After Mendez introduced members of the Secular Coalition for Arizona sitting in the gallery, a member said she was “witnessing history.” Mendez then called himself one of just 1.3 million Arizonans not affiliated with a religious tradition or organization. That’s almost 20 percent, the same percentage for the rest of the United States.

If you want a scholarship to college, you might want to break the law by wandering around with guns.  After Liberty University Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. learned that David Cole Withrow was arrested for taking guns onto school grounds, the North Carolina high school senior was offered a scholarship to Falwell’s school. Despite his first claim that he didn’t know the guns were in his car, he changed his story later.

Michele Bachmann has a solution for her giant GOP problem of repealing Obamacare. After the House passed its 37th repeal still knowing that their votes would go nowhere, she said:

“I think the President will ultimately be forced to repudiate his own signature piece of legislation because the American people will demand it. And I think before his second term is over, we’re going to see a miracle before our eyes, I believe God is going to answer our prayers and we’ll be freed from the yoke of Obamacare. I believe that’s going to happen and we saw step one last week with the repeal of Obamacare in the House. We have two more steps. We serve a mighty God and I believe it can happen.”

Bachmann gets two points, unlike Sarah Palin, for knowing the word “repudiate.” And she does blame God for the 9/11 and Benghazi attacks.

The new pope gets lots of points for his openness to all people who do good. In last Wednesday’s message on Vatican radio, he described the apostles as “a little intolerant” and disagreed with the idea that non-Catholics cannot do good. He said:

“If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter. We need that so much.”

This isn’t the first time that Pope Francis has used this message. In March,  he declared that the faithful and atheists can be “precious allies to defend the dignity of man, in the building of a peaceful coexistence between peoples and in the careful protection of creation.”

This speech makes an amazing change from the former pope who made all non-Catholics into second-class citizens in the same way that fundamental evangelical Christians do. This could be the first step toward peace.

More attention will be paid to the separation of church and state next year when the Supreme Court takes on a case about predominantly Christian prayers in public meetings.

Eight years ago, in an opinion warning of the “violent consequences of the assumption of religious authority by government,” retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor challenged her fellow conservative justices eager to weaken the wall of separation between church and state:

“Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: Why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?”

With the loss on the bench of O’Connor (originally a conservative), the Supreme Court has five justices who sometimes desert the system devised over 200 years ago. O’Connor supported the position that government cannot endorse a particularly religious belief or take action that might convey such a “message of endorsement to the reasonable observer.”

Since her departure, the Roberts’ court has taken pieces out of the wall between church and state one at a time. In Hein v. Freedom from Religion Foundation, SCOTUS ruled that the president could provide money to faith-based groups with immunity. In Arizona Christian School v. Winn, SCOTUS allowed religious groups to receive taxpayer funding as long as these were structured as tax benefits and not as direct spending.

Next year’s case determines whether the government can “demonstrate . . . allegiance to a particular sect or creed.” In Town of Greece v. Galloway, the issue is whether a municipal legislature violated the Constitution’s ban on separation of church and state by beginning its meetings with overtly Christian prayers roughly two-thirds of the time. This case addresses the question of whether the constitution permits a government “endorsement” of religion of the kind rejected by O’Connor.

As usual, conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy will most likely be the swing vote in this case. He has said that “government may not coerce anyone to support or participate in religion or its exercise.” The question is whether he will forbid anything in the Constitution’s ban on government establishment of religion.

December 2, 2012

Christians Deal with Christmas, Demons, Oil

Usually on Sunday when I write about the ignorance of religious folks who want to suppress freedom for everyone else, I’s the one who gets riled. This Sunday, I’m betting that millions of Christians are equally upset with Fox News. Last Wednesday night, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly insisted that Christianity is not a religion, trying to protect Christmas from American Atheists president David Silverman. O’Reilly also accused the organization of being “fascists” who, O’Reilly claimed, want to banish Christmas from the United States.

After calling Silverman “insane,” O’Reilly finished his oration about religion versus philosophy by saying, “Again if you are stone-cold dumb and don’t understand the difference between an organized church and a philosophy, I cannot help you.” The conservative host added that those who believe Christianity is a religion “are so stupid, it’s painful.”

Christmas trees are a secular symbol, according to O’Reilly. Actually they are  pagan symbols, worshiped before Christianity in Druidic ceremonies and also during the Roman Saturnalia. For a very funny perspective on Christmas and Christianity, check out this blog on Addicting Information.   

Like O’Reilly, Kentucky hates atheism, so much that the state made it illegal. A state homeland security law requires residents to acknowledge the security provided by the Almighty God–or risk 12 months in prison. Since the law went into effect in 2006, the state’s Supreme Court has refused to review its constitutionality.

Because “the safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God,” plaques celebrating God’s power must be installed outside the state Homeland Security Building. Law mandates that these plaques state “The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God.” Tom Riner, a Baptist minister and the long-time Democratic state representative, sponsored the law.

Pat Robertson doesn’t believe in separation of church and state although he claims religious exemptions for political activity, and he thinks that people who believe in evolution are atheists, “… contrary to the First Amendment.” But he does think that the world is older than 6,000 years, contrary to The Annals of the World written in 1650 by Archbishop of Ireland James Ussher. Yet 46 percent of pastors insist that Ussher is right. So does Sarah Palin. And probably so does GOP presidential hopeful Marco Rubio, putting Robertson to the left of all these politicians.

Robertson hasn’t said what he thinks about a theory espoused by the Christian magazine Charisma: people are gay because they have sex with demons. Demons have become a popular part of far-right Christianity. The New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) is a global network of Charismatic Christian ministries devoted to Dominionism, the idea that they must take over public institutions in order to save America and the world from demons and gays.

Bruce Wilson, who’s reported on the movement for years, said,

“For the apostles and prophets of the New Apostolic Reformation, demon powers, and also divine curses — incurred by human unfaithfulness to God’s plan, are at the root of virtually any and all conceivable misfortunes, from crime trends, drops in the stock market, and declining SAT scores, to headaches and dandruff. I mean that literally.”

Followers of and others with strong relationships to NAR include several presidential candidates and wannabes: Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, and Rick Perry to name a few. Heads of state in Uganda who want to legalize the murder of LGBT people also belong to NAR. Detroit, the financial markets, and Native Americans are all controlled by demons, according to NAR, as is your own head. Demons are the source of migraine headaches and probably impure thoughts.

For those who wish to help the world and worship God, the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation has a solution: extravagantly waste the Earth’s resources. They claim that there is no global warming and that restricting use of energy hurts the poor. Therefore they proclaim the following—and a lot more: “We call on political leaders to adopt policies that protect human liberty, make energy more affordable, and free the poor to rise out of poverty, while abandoning fruitless, indeed harmful policies to control global temperature.” As the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer said, using fewer fossil fuels is an insult to God.

The final jewel in this Sunday’s sermon is the work that ex-presidential candidate Rick Santorum is doing on Capitol Hill. He and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) are lobbying Senate to reject the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This human rights treaty was negotiated during George W. Bush’s administration and ratified by 126 nations, including China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. (This might not be “religious,” but it’s certainly “anti-Christian”!)

Both Santorum and Lee have pronounced “grave concerns” about the treaty, which forbids discrimination against people with AIDS, the blind, those in wheelchairs, etc. “This is a direct assault on us,” Santorum declared. The treaty directs the other signatories to update their laws to closely match the Americans with Disabilities Act. It would extend American values worldwide and guarantee disabled people equal treatment and freedom from torture and exploitation.

Far from being sinister, the treaty has the support of disabilities and veterans groups; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Republican senators such as John McCain (AZ) and John Barrasso (WY); and conservative legal minds such as Boyden Gray and Dick Thornburgh.

Santorum claims that he has 36 senators who will oppose signing the treaty; treaties require a two-thirds vote in the Senate. It is well-known that his daughter, Bella, has a severe birth defect. He even brought Bella to a Senate hearing to show them why they should vote against a treaty that will help people with disabilities.

Santorum justified his opposition by saying that other countries wouldn’t actually enforce the provisions. “It does not provide any moral leadership,” he said. This is the man who fought to lead our country into the medieval ages. ,

 

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