Nel's New Day

January 24, 2016

Christians Entitled, Not Victimized

Cries for free expression inundate the media amid complaints about “political correctness,” but where is the free expression in the fundamentalist Christian religion?

Academia is denigrated by conservatives as a liberal environment brainwashing students’ minds, yet evangelical and Catholic schools are praised for controlling female clothing, dating and social life, and even behavior of faculty members in their own homes that are subject to unannounced inspections. One teacher reported that her vanilla extract was confiscated for its alcohol content. Heaven forbid that any students are openly LGBT, transgender professors transition, women get pregnant out of wedlock, and couples divorce. At least 35 schools received federal waivers allowing them to discriminate against LGBT, female, and pregnant students and faculty while taxpayers continue to send funding to the colleges.

Student clubs for nonbelievers can be restricted, and Liberty University banned the student Democratic club. Katha Pollitt wrote that she was required to sign a statement promising that she wouldn’t offend Catholic doctrine before her speech at two Catholic colleges. Larycia Hawkins was suspended from Wheaton College for stating on Facebook that Christians and Muslims “worship the same god.” The school also requires that faculty sign a faith statement declaring their belief in the literal Adam in Genesis. John Schneider, professor of theology at Calvin College, was forced into retirement after he published an article questioning the story of Adam and Eve.

The response to any of these complaints is that people cannot hold religious beliefs to normal scholarly standards. Religious colleges are also private, which means that they can do anything they want and employers and enrollees know what they’re getting. Ramesh Ponnuru, a right-wing critic of academic-speech restrictions, stated that “PC threatens the robust exchange of ideas” but defended Wheaton’s treatment of Hawkins because “no serious person argued that the college had violated a principle of free speech.”

All the GOP presidential candidates express opposition to Sharia law but want to mandate Christian law. The worst of these candidates may be Ted Cruz, as he continues to pick up endorsements from religious right activists. The most recent is Mike Bickle, founder of the International House of Prayer labeled by some as a cult and known for its nonstop 24-hour-a-day prayer in preparation for the End Times and its anti-gay activism in Uganda. According to Bickle, LGBT marriage is “rooted in the depths of hell,” homosexuality “opens the door to the demonic realm,” and Oprah Winfrey is a forerunner of the Antichrist. He called her “one of the clear pastors, forerunners, to the harlot movement.” Earlier in his campaign, Cruz shared a state with Kevin Swanson, who demands the death penalty for homosexuality.

Marco Rubio, accused of being a flip-flopper in his political views has been a Mormon, a Catholic, and most recently a member of the extremist pro-exorcist Christ Fellowship. He has put out a television ad having nothing to do with politics and everything to do with “His Christian Faith.” His opening statement:

“Our goal is eternity, the ability to live alongside our Creator and for all time, to accept the free gift of salvation offered to us by Jesus Christ.”

He claims that “the purpose of our life is to cooperate with God’s plan” and closes with “I try to allow [his religious belief] to influence me in everything that I do.” In between, he says much more about how Christianity should lead the country. There was once a time when a president’s religious views were personal and private—even a time when a presidential candate’s religion made voters question whether they should vote for him. No more. It’s all on the table now: vote for [fill in the blank] because he’s the most Christian.

The recent accusation of Christian victimization comes from their sense of extreme entitlement and their fundamentalist creed “do as I believe.” For example, in a case before the Supreme Court a church claims that Missouri illegally excluded their playground from a state program that provided safer play surfaces.

Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia wants state funding to replace the pea gravel in its day-care center’s playground with recycled tires. The letter of refusal stated a section of the state constitution that  “no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, or denomination of religion.” A judge agreed with the state position, and the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals panel split 2-1 on its decision after the church appealed.

The church’s attorney claimed the case is about “religious hostility.” He said, “This case [Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley] has huge implications for state constitutional provisions across the nation that treat religious Americans and organizations as inferiors solely because of their religious identity.” In 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that states offering college scholarships can deny them to students majoring in theology. Churches want “equality” but pay no taxes while demanding handouts.

Washington State Rep. Mary Dye decided that her religion gave her the right to ask a group of high school students whether they were virgins. On Teen Lobbying Day, the teenagers, chaperoned by Planned Parenthood Rachel Todd, went to Dye’s office to advocate for expanding insurance to cover birth control where Dye gave them an unwanted lecture about marriage and sex advice. Fortunately, the stunned young people received a different reception from the GOP Senate Majority Leader, Mark Schoesler. Eleanor Loewus, 18, called him very respectful. Schoesler said, “I handled it like a normal meeting.”

While Kansas suffers from disastrous financial problems, one GOP legislator is more concerned with what women are wearing. Mitch Holmes, chair of the state Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, has announced a dress code for women who come to testify. Not men, just women because women’s dress can be “distracting.” His 11-point code of conduct includes inappropriateness of “low-cut necklines and miniskirts” because he says there are “provocatively clad women” at the Capitol. According to Holmes, men don’t need fashion guidance.

Even other Republicans were appalled at Holmes’ mandates, saying that they haven’t noticed any problems. Sen. Vicki Schmidt said, “Who’s going to define low-cut? Does it apply to senators?” Sen. Carolyn McGinn said that people without clothes that meet Holmes standards might e deterred from testifying.

Mesa Valley School District 51, a public school district, used its email system to advertise a Christian event using Bible lessons to encourage girls as young as 11 to stay “pure” while looking for husbands. Announcing “Wake Up Sleeping Beauty: Worship At His Feet,” the flier includes the silhouette of a girl’s face with a Bible verse from Luke 7:38.

“As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.”

A video posted to the Wake Up Sleeping Beauty Facebook page encourages fathers to “protect her purity” and shows a father watching over his daughter as she puts on makeup. Promotional videos on the website of the sponsoring group, Wake Up Ministries, includes warnings for girls about the “gag reflex” caused by kissing with your tongue. A parent’s complaint about the flier’s imagery of a girl using her hair to wash a man’s feet before kissing them, was quickly dismissed by the school district. District 51 Communications Specialist responded:

“Having reviewed the flyer and KHB-R per your request, we do not find that the flyer promotes a religious organization or demeans a person or group on the basis of gender.”

Right-wing Christians believe that they know the only path for people to follow and they should be able to pass laws to force everyone in the United States to follow them. That’s the supreme form of entitlement.

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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