Nel's New Day

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.



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