Nel's New Day

August 4, 2013

Religion Continues to Invade Lives

ew_jackson-620x412For a state that should be the cradle of religious freedom, Virginia looks pretty far off the mark as its Republican candidates are firing up for their election in three months. E.W. Jackson, candidate for lieutenant governor, has gone farther off the rails with his statement that people can’t both believe in God and vote Democratic. When pressed by WLEE host Jack Gravely, Jackson said, “I believe that the Democrat Party has become an anti-God party.” The GOP party is getting increasingly embarrassed by Jackson. Pat Mullins, Virginia Republican Party chair, said, “I do not agree with that statement. My parents were Democrats, and I’ve got a lot of Democratic friends in Christian churches all around Virginia.” I guess Jackson is even too extreme for far-right Republicans.

simonecampbellOn the other side  is Sister Simone Campbell. The executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby, who gained disfavor with the Vatican because she only wants to help poor people, testified before a House Budget Committee hearing last week about the importance of government-subsidized welfare programs. She talked about the foundational nature of charity and economic justice to the Catholic Church and explained the difference that federal assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), the Earned Income Tax Credit, and Head Start initiatives have made in the lives of America’s most vulnerable.

Catholics like Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) understand that directly confronting a nun, even one who seems as gentle as Sister Simone, is not safe. But his colleague, Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI), decided to tackle her head on. The good Baptist accused both Campbell and the Catholic Church of not fixing poverty by themselves.  “What is the church doing wrong that they have to come to the government to get so much help?” he asked her.

Calmly and firmly, she responded, “Justice comes before charity… Everyone has a right to eat, and therefore there is a governmental responsibility to ensure everyone’s capacity to eat. Love and care makes a difference, but the issues are so big there isn’t sufficient charitable dollars there.” Ribble ignored the nation’s history of working with faith groups to provide assistance for the vulnerable, particularly since George W. Bush, of Ribble’s political party, started handing out great amounts of money to churches. He also ignored the fact that 80 percent of the people in the country are now struggling with joblessness, near-poverty, or relying on welfare for at least parts of their lives.

Ryan got in his licks earlier when he introduced the meeting when he said, “If you work hard and play by the rules, you can get ahead.” Ryan ignored the fact that 68 percent of children who receive SNAP benefits have working parents, and 8.9 million Americans who work full time still live below the poverty line. Both Ribble and Ryan also skipped over the fact that minimum wage is now three-fourths of what it was almost 50 years ago and that wages have shrunk for everyone except the top layer of people in the United States within the past decade. In addition, each one of them receives annual salaries of over $140,000 but work less than half the year.

Pope Francis caused a buzz in the media when he was quoted as saying “If someone is gay, who searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?” Most of the reporters took this as a statement that the Catholic Church is softening toward LGBT people. But not true. He continued by paraphrasing the Catechism that homosexual orientation is not sinful but homosexual acts are against the Church. Bottom line in the pope’s statement: celibate gays are not to be judged or excluded from the church.

The media had less to say about the pope’s comments about another disenfranchised and marginalized population within the church—the women. Although “women in the church are more important than bishops and priests,” there is no possibility that they can be a part of the ordained ministry.”That door is closed,” Francis told reporters. Diane Winston wrote about the media’s neglect of the pope’s comments about women in a Los Angeles Times op-ed:

“In the current media ecology of religion and public life, sex sells and gender gets a nod. (Forget religious leaders opining on violence, materialism or climate change. Unless Jesus himself appeared in a ‘Remember Sandy Hook’ T-shirt to buy sunscreen at Wal-Mart, there’s no story.) … But [the pope] kept in place [the church’s] bar to women. And the import of that bar — its global reverberations in unwanted pregnancies, female poverty and sexual slavery — remains hidden in plain sight.”

The Catholic Church had one temporary victory this past week. Federal Judge Rudolph T Randa ruled that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee can continue to shield $57 million of its assets so that it won’t be used for settlements in sexual abuse lawsuits. When Cardinal Timothy Dolan, then Archbishop of the diocese, realized that the sexual abuse was going public, he got permission from the Vatican to move the $57 million into a trust fund connected with the Milwaukee Catholic cemeteries. In his letter of request, he explained that the transfer would lead to “an improved protection of these funds from any legal claim and liability.” Dolan is also the president of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Forty-five individual priests within that one diocese sexually assaulted an estimated 570 people; one priest was accused of molesting almost 200 deaf boys. The abuse was well-known within diocese leadership, and Dolan informed the Vatican of the problem in the early 2000s before he transferred the funds. If the judge’s ruling holds, the cemetery graves will be safe even if the abused victims receive none of the help that the $57 million could give them.

While the acceptance of different religions is shrinking in the United States, other countries are expanding their tolerance. Lukas Novy has declared for years that he is a Pastaferian of the “Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster,” his own satirical faith with the belief that a creature composed of pasta and meatballs “created the world much as it exists today.” The resident of the Czech Republic wanted to wear a pasta sieve on his head while being photographed for an official government ID, and officials agreed.

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People in the U.S. might ridicule this satire, but this U.S. allows people to escape responsibilities because they declare a false religious belief. For example, Eden Foods is one of several for-profit corporations that have gone to court to avoid providing health plans that cover birth control.  After owner Michael Potter claimed an exemption based on his religious objections to contraception, a judge ruled in his favor. But Potter gave the press a different story when he spoke with Salon’s Irin Carmon:

“I’ve got more interest in good quality long underwear than I have in birth control pills… Because I’m a man, number one and it’s really none of my business what women do …  I don’t care if the federal government is telling me to buy my employees Jack Daniel’s or birth control. What gives them the right to tell me that I have to do that? That’s my issue, that’s what I object to, and that’s the beginning and end of the story.”

Potter probably won’t mind if the government in Washington state mandates GMO labeling so that he can sell more of his product. He fakes religion because he doesn’t care about women but wants government to help his sales.

The Kentucky chapter of the American Family Association is arguing that government-sponsored religion in public schools will “boost student test scores, lower the crime rate and even decrease the rate of HIV infection.” They can’t use Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church for proof in raising test scores. When four church members went to Rhode Island to protest the start of marriage equality in the state, they carried a flier with the following:

 “Is the United States population illerate? Can’t you read? The Lord Jesus Christ said marriage Is between 1 man and 1 woman for life.”

The four of them were outnumbered by the police and far outnumbered by people supporting same-sex weddings.

And so the craziness continues.

June 23, 2013

Religion, Hate, and Hope

“Because issues like segregated schools and housing, lack of jobs and opportunity — symbols of history that are a source of pride for some and pain for others — these are not tangential to peace; they’re essential to it. If towns remain divided — if Catholics have their schools and buildings, and Protestants have theirs — if we can’t see ourselves in one another, if fear or resentment are allowed to harden, that encourages division. It discourages cooperation.

“Ultimately, peace is just not about politics. It’s about attitudes; about a sense of empathy; about breaking down the divisions that we create for ourselves in our own minds and our own hearts that don’t exist in any objective reality, but that we carry with us generation after generation.”

This is what President Obama said on his visit to Northern Ireland. And this is what the conservative media translated his words into because they know that conservatives won’t bother to read exactly what the president said:

Drudge: President Obama made an “alarming call” for an “end to Catholic education.”

The Washington Times: An 800-word article began with this statement: “The backlash, which has grown steadily since Mr. Obama made the comments Monday, once again has put the commander in chief at odds with the Roman Catholic Church.”

Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter: The president’s remarks are proof of the president “attacking America while he’s abroad.”

David Limbaugh (Rush’s younger brother):  It was “unbelievable” to see the president “attacking Catholic schools.” He added, “How much evidence do people need to understand the breadth and depth of Obama’s radicalism?”

As Michael McGough, a Roman Catholic, wrote in the LA Tmes:

“Northern Ireland Society in Northern Ireland is much more stratified, and the role of religiously defined schools more problematic. You can be perfectly comfortable with the role of Catholic schools in the American context and worry about their contribution to estrangement between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland.”

The hate just keeps coming toward the president. From American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer:

“The thrill is gone from Barack Obama. What you’re about to see is Barack Obama is going to be kicked to the back of the Democratic bus. This guy has now become a liability … and the Democratic Party is going to tell him to sit in the back of the bus; the front of the Democratic bus belongs to the white person, Hillary Clinton.”

From another fundamentalist Christian corner, End Times radio host David Wiles complained about the responses he received to the clips that Rachel Maddow replayed describing radical views supported by some GOP congressional leaders. In Conservative Land, Wiles is known for having called the president a “foreign plant,” a “manufactured person,” and a “devil from Hell.” Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) agreed with Wiles that Congress should look into Obama’s “validity.” Wiles said that emails sent him were from “people who are demon-possessed” and serve as further proof that an anti-Christian holocaust is coming to America. He continued:

“The people who do watch [The Maddow Show] have a visceral hate for Jesus Christ and Christians.  In fifteen years of full-time ministry, I have never read or heard such ugly, hateful, threatening, vulgar, obscene, blasphemous messages in my life. Ever.

“The spirit of Antichrist is loose in America …. It is the same spirit that rose up in the Nazis in Germany towards the Jews. This time it will be the Christians in America who are locked up or put to death.”

In Oklahoma, Keith Cressman, a Methodist pastor, is suing the state because the license plate carries the image of a Native American shooting an arrow into the sky. According to Cressman,  it violates his religious liberty because it makes him be a “mobile billboard” for a religion that promotes pantheism and animism. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, 2-1, that his case can proceed.

The statue called “Sacred Rain Arrow,” part of the state’s heritage and sculpted by the late Oklahoma artist Allan Houser, was used for the image. The case was dismissed two years ago, but the 10th Circuit Court reinstated it.

Another lawsuit regarding religion this week was against Grace University, a conservative Christian college in Nebraska. After it expelled Danielle Powell for being a lesbian, the school charged her $6,300 for what they said were federal loans and grants before they would forward her transcripts to another school.

Ralph Reed’s shindig last weekend indicates that the far-right Christians are losing their grip on politics. Media made it appear that his annual Faith & Freedom Coalition conference, “Road to the Majority,” had thousands in attendance, but here were actually fewer than 400 in attendance, a fraction of those who, years ago, thronged to Pat Robertson’s  annual Christian Coalition “Road the White House.” Of the top tier of 2016 presidential hopefuls–Sens. Rand Paul (KY), Ted Cruz (TX), and Marco Rubio (FL) and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker—only two even spoke. Walker didn’t even bother to attend, and Cruz was only at a reception.

There were the usual suspects, however. Friday banquet keynoter Donald Trump lambasted not only the Dems but also Karl Rove, Mitt Romney, and Rubio. Sarah Palin’s solution to the Middle East crisis is  “let Allah sort it out,” and her description of immigration reform was “a pandering, rewarding-the-rule-breakers, still-no-border-security, special-interest-written amnesty bill.”  Herman Cain had his “ETA” plan, “enthusiasm, targeted races and activists” but nothing about helping the country.  No ideas for improving the country—just get rid of the opposition. Texas Gov. Rick Perry    confused Lebanon with Libya when he referenced the assault at the U.S. consulate.

A new figure at the conference was E.W. Jackson, top Virginia bigot and GOP candidate for lieutenant governor. He redefined freedom for the “freedom coalition”:

“Freedom doesn’t mean ‘Do whatever you want.’ It’s the pursuit of character, integrity, decency, honor. Now we’re being told freedom is license.”

Jackson has said that the government is worse for black families than slavery. He said that his ancestors were born into slavery and that their families were more intact than black families are today.

The happy ending for the next story may be the bad publicity that immigration authorities received. A 64-year-old atheist and permanent U.S. resident for over three decades, Margaret Doughty, was told that her application for naturalized citizenship would not be accepted until she officially joined a church. Doughty stated on her application that she objected to the pledge to bear arms in defense of the nation due to her moral opposition to war. Immigration authorities originally said that she could object to war only because of religious beliefs.

Thirty-seven years ago, a Christian-based organization called Exodus started its mission to “cure” homosexuals of their sexual orientation. After a unanimous board decision this week, it closed its doors and its president, Alan Chambers, apologized to gays and lesbians for the group’s abuse. Last year California became the first state to ban “ex-gay” therapy. Chambers admits that he is still attracted to men and now  “accept[s] these feelings as parts of my life that will likely always be there.”

Because far-right Christians are busy putting up monuments about their religion on public land across the country, Florida members of American Atheists got permission to build a 1,500 granite display in Bradford, a small town in the northern part of the state. Placed next to the year-old display of the Ten Commandments, it will feature secular quotes from Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Madalyn Murray O’Hair on a four-foot-high panel next to a bench opposite the five-foot Christian monument. It also has a quote from the Treaty of Tripoli, a 1796 peace treaty between the U.S. and North African Muslims.

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The county attorney said that the Ten Commandments monument was not intended to sponsor any religion. County requirements for monuments are non-permanent commemorations of “people, events and ideas which played a significant role in the development, origins or foundations of United States of America or Florida law, or Bradford County” that are not “libelous, pornographic or obscene.”

To finish off the religion portion of my blog, I want to provide two beautiful photographs from my wonderful partner Sue. Whether you think that they came from a god or science—or both—they are magnificent.

Poppy%20002

Poppy%20004

May 23, 2013

Virginia Sets Tone for GOP Crisis

The Virginia election for governor is over five months away on November 5, and the Democratic primary for their candidate is set for June 11. Yet the race is worth watching not only because of GOP stupidity but also because of the dissention between the conservatives who don’t  hide their anger and bigotry and the ones who know that showing this behavior might lose them elections.

In the case of the Virginia GOP selection for governor and lieutenant governor 2013 candidates, the stupidity comes from the Republicans decision to select these candidates through a convention of GOP activists, sure to pick an extreme-right winter, rather than letting people select candidates in a primary.

And what picks they are. People  shook their heads about Republican gubernatorial candidate, Ken Cuccinelli with his  extreme record for anti women’s and LGBT rights. He even challenged a court decision that ruled Virginia’s anti-sodomy law unconstitutional. Until last weekend, he represented the extreme right wing of the party. The selection of E.W. Jackson for  lieutenant governor, however, moves Cuccinelli toward the center.

Scott Keyes wrote:

“If you were to put the dregs of conservative Internet comment sections into a pot, boil them down to their essence, then run the resulting product through a sieve to get it to its rawest, most pure form of vitriol, it would probably look something like E.W. Jackson’s Twitter feed.”

Keyes also picked 20 of Jackson’s 662 tweets to show the man’s nature. One of them said that LGBT people make him feel “ikky.”

Jackson

Jackson is notorious for his off-the-wall—one might say unhinged–statements:

Gays and lesbians: Jackson said that they have “perverted” minds, are “very sick people psychologically, mentally and emotionally,” and are bigoted against African Americans and Christians. […]”

Homosexuality: “It attempts to poison our children, divide them from their parents and the teaching of the church and basically turn them into pawns for that movement so that they can sexualize them at the earliest possible age.”

Gays and lesbians in the military: The “repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ law is a disaster of historic proportions and it must be reinstated.”

President Obama: He has “Muslim sensibilities” and sees the world “from a Muslim perspective.” Also he “seems to have a lot of sympathy for even radical Islam” and “certainly does have a lot of affection and favor for Islam, that seems to be his priority…Christianity, I don’t really think about that with him, I really don’t, that’s a joke.”

President and Michelle Obama: President Obama and the First Lady “don’t understand our country, I don’t think they even like it,” warning that the Obamas are “the intellectual cousins and heirs of a Communist, collectivist way of thinking which is anathema to what this country is all about.”

Democrats: The party embraces a policy agenda “worthy of the Antichrist.” He’s argued that the “repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ law is a disaster of historic proportions and it must be reinstated.”

Democratic leaders: They are like “slave masters” who make sure that black people who disagree with them are “punished.”

Liberals: Those who support gay rights “have done more to kill black folks” than the “Ku Klux Klan.”

Planned Parenthood: “The Democrat Party has created an unholy alliance between certain so-called civil rights leaders and Planned Parenthood, which has killed unborn black babies by the tens of millions. Planned Parenthood has been far more lethal to black lives than the KKK ever was.”

While he was running for Senate in 2011, Jackson called the Constitution’s original clause to count blacks as three-fifths of a person an “anti-slavery amendment.” The purpose of the clause was to increase voting and political power in the South while not giving slaves any rights. Jackson’s statement was directed against President Obama because of a sermon in the church that he attended. Arguing that it was inappropriate for the president to remain in a church where the pastor would bring up slavery, Jackson said, “This is 2011. The issue of slavery was settled 146 years ago.”

During his campaign last year, he said that God would turn the blacks “overwhelmingly” against the president. That’s the election in which President Obama received 95 percent of the black vote.

While a minister and attorney in Boston 25 years ago, he opposed desegregating public housing developments, calling it “social engineering.” After the federal government discovered that the city had prevented blacks from moving into this low-income housing, it ordered Boston to have a plan that would allow them into these developments. In a speech, Jackson said that he believed people should be allowed to live apart from other races and that he, too, didn’t like being told what to do.

When the interviewer asked Jackson if he felt he was being “used” by white politicians, Jackson said, “Well, the scripture says it’s a good thing to be used in a good cause.” With the GOP desperately searching for minorities, Jackson is again useful.

Jackson didn’t get the nod from the GOP conference until the fourth ballot. Last year, he came in fourth in his U.S. Senate campaign and received about 5 percent of the vote.

How do the less extreme Republicans feel about Jackson’s pick? Virginia Lt. Gov Bill Bolling said that the surprise GOP pick to succeed him had made “simply indefensible” comments in the past that would only serve to reinforce negative perceptions about the party.

Asked if Jackson was trouble, another senior Virginia Republican responded, “Oh. My. God. Yes.” The danger, the Republican said, is that Jackson will bring Democrats to the polls who might otherwise stay home. “You just don’t want one candidate to rile up the base of the other side. That’s what you’re trying to avoid.”

Cuccinelli can’t afford to alienate the people who put Jackson into his running-mate position, but he also can’t afford to be so extreme that he loses the more moderate vote. To effectively separate himself from Jackson, Cuccinelli issued this statement:

“We are not going to be defending our running mates’ statements, now or in the future. The people of Virginia need to get comfortable with each candidate individually, and that’s what this process is all about.”

Cuccinelli can afford to separate himself: in Virginia, the two top positions are decided separately so he still has a chance even if Jackson loses. Twenty years ago, Republican George Allen kept his distance from conservative homeschooling Mike Farris and won the governor’s position while Farris lost to a Democrat for lieutenant governor. The same kind of ticket splitting happened in 2005.

When questioned about his extreme views, Jackson said, “I say the things that I say because I’m a Christian, not because I hate anybody, but because I have religious values that matter to me.” He also calls himself “Virginia’s Hermann Cain.”

The Virginia election this fall is the symbol of the GOP crisis—the more common-sense Republicans working toward rebranding while the extremist Tea Partiers just let it all hang out. Virginia GOP spokesman Garren Shipley said, “The race for lieutenant governor will be fought on economic ground as opposed to social policy.” Time will tell.

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