Nel's New Day

October 11, 2015

State May Be Separating from Church

FILE - In this Tuesday, June 30, 2015 file photo, the Ten Commandments Monument is pictured at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City, Okla. The Oklahoma Supreme Court’s June 30 decision to order the monument removed from the state Capitol grounds has so angered conservatives in the Legislature that some Republicans are calling for justices to be impeached. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

In another failure for Oklahoma conservatives, after they didn’t execute Richard Glossip at the end of September, is the removal of a one-ton granite monument with the text of the bible’s Ten Commandments. Afraid that protesters would obstruct their actions, a “large Oklahoma Highway Patrol presence” guarded the workers late at night. The behemoth isn’t gone; it’s just moved a few blocks away where it doesn’t violate Section II-5 of the Oklahoma Constitution mandating that public property can’t be used to benefit or support any “sect, church, denomination, or system of religion,” either directly or indirectly. Gov. Mary Fallin has asked voters to amend the state constitution so that the monument can return to the capitol grounds. Oklahomans might want to note the Sixth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” when considering future state executions.

 

Teaching evolution in public schools does not violate the First Amendment, a federal district court has reaffirmed. Kenneth Smith of Harpers Ferry (WV) had filed suit, stating that his religious freedom rights were violated because his daughter learns about evolution in public school. She plans to be a veterinarian, and her father claims that evolution is teaching her “a faith base (evolutionary ideology) that just doesn’t exist.” Judge Gina M.Groh ruled that he couldn’t prove that state agencies had committed any wrongdoing. Last year, the creationist group Citizens for Objective Public Education (COPE) sued to stop the state of Kansas from implementing new science education standards that included the teaching of evolution. COPE argued that by teaching evolution, public schools had effectively endorsed atheism as a religious viewpoint. They lost too.

Forced to find money elsewhere after her older brother’s sexual crimes, Jill (Duggar) Dillard, of 19 Kids and Counting, decided to collect money with her husband,Derick Dillard, for a mission to El Salvador. Disillusioned fans after the experience seemed to be more a vacation than actual work were  right: the Dillards had applied for missionary status to the Southern Baptist Convention that decided the couple lacked enough education. Fortunately for them, they still have the money from the “Dillard Family Ministries,” a tax-exempt religious organization that keeps them from having to declare how much money they have or where it is.

This tax-exempt status of religious groups may someday run into legal trouble. Pope Francis has already taken potshots at churches that “worship the God of money” instead of helping the sick and the poor as Jesus commands. Televangelists and preachers who run their “churches” like businesses or political organizations may want to take notice. As in the U.S., Italian churches act as umbrellas for its property and businesses to avoid taxation. Religious groups operate churches as hotels and still don’t pay taxes. One famous example of tax dodging in the U.S. is John Hagee, who reorganized his TV station in 2001 as a church to shelter tax records for his income of over $1 million. Hagee’s personally-owned 8,000 acre ranch is covered through the Cornerstone Church.

In one segment on his HBO show, John Oliver satirized U.S. churches and preachers such as Pat Robertson who run ponzi-like schemes in begging money in return for God’s favor. After the first episode of “Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption,” the IRS was skewered for conducting only three audits of churches in 2013-14 and non for the four years before that. Any designated “church,” including the Church of Scientology, is tax exempt. Oliver didn’t reveal how much money he received, but the thousands of responses indicated quite of bit of loot. (Oliver gave all the donations to Doctors without Borders.)

john oliver

Luckily for the Duggar family, they are getting financial assistance from GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee through partnership in the sales of a political DVD series. The company markets the series with an initial “free” item, available for only shipping and processing. Ordering it automatically enrolls the “purchaser” into future sales. The “Learn Our History” series supposedly teaches “historical facts without bias” and American pride as the videos  “…recognize and celebrate faith, religion and the role of God in America’s founding…,” and “…correct the ‘blame America first’ attitude prevalent in today’s teaching.” We can assume that many tax-funded charter schools will be showing the videos.

Pope Francis seems to suffer from ambivalence when regarding LGBT people. Progressives praised him when he seemed to support LGBT families before they were disturbed with a supposed meeting with Rowan County (KY) clerk, Kim Davis, who had refused to issue marriage licenses to same-gender couples. The Vatican explained that she was just part of a crowd, and the pope met for 20 minutes with a former student and his male partner while in the United States. Now The Vatican has fired Monsignor Krzysztof Charamsa after he said he was proud to be a gay priest and in love with his boyfriend. Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombard, said that Charamsa could remain a priest but could not work at the Vatican.

Charamsa made his announcement just before the Vatican hosted bishops from around the world in a synod discussing families. The reports issued indicate confusion. One of the four groups spoke of a need to reach out to families while another claimed there is a need to point out the sins of current attitudes. Another question is whether the documents are to be distributed publicly or given to the pope as advice.

GOP presidential candidates take great pride in claiming their religious beliefs, but their anti-Christian positions may cause difficulties for them. In a townhall meeting, New Jersey Chris Christie was heard to provide too much information about his use of contraception with his wife. Concentrating on Christie’s sex life, the media failed to publicize the question that led to Christie’s humor. In his audience, a man had cited three biblical verses to argue that Christians should oppose foreign wars and support environmental conservation. Basically, the man was echoing the position of Pope Francis, who the GOP also opposes.

Purporting to be Christians, the GOP candidates oppose curbing global warming, raising the minimum wage, and providing a path to citizenship for undocumented people in the U.S. Jeb Bush said, “I don’t get my economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope,” and Rick Santorum accused the pope of not being a scientist although pontiff has a degree in chemistry. Marco Rubio said that protecting the economy might be more important than protecting the planet.

Both anti-marriage equality GOP candidates Rand Paul and Donald Trump are affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, which supports same-gender marriage, and Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz use Christianity to oppose marriage equality and help for undocumented immigrants, a pathway that conservative Christian groups endorsed in 2013. Huckabee tried to work his way out of trouble at the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) in April by emphasizing the need for border security. That was the day after the head of the NHCLC had said that “Republicans must cross the Jordan of immigration reform to step into the promised land of the Hispanic faith electorate.”

It’s a difficult time for conservatives in a changing landscape.

December 21, 2014

Hope for Freedom from Religion

Congress gave the country several lumps of coal in the holiday stockings—loss of pensions, threatened taxpayer bailouts of banks, more government peering into everyone’s private life, 10 times more campaign donations, environmental cuts, etc. Those who want a separation of church and state in the United States have received  a few goodies at the end of 2014.

In the House, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) “introduced a resolution to protect the symbols and traditions of Christmas for those who celebrate the holiday. The resolution also disapproves of efforts to ban references to Christmas. We must not allow those who chose to take offense to shut down the religious celebration of every other American.” Americans United for Separation of Church and State gave an excellent rebuttal to Lamborn’s resolution. Lamborn didn’t say how much money he wanted from the federal government to enter the “War on Christmas.” This is the third year that Lamborn has done this and the third year that the resolution went nowhere.

A Kansas organization, Citizens for Objective Public Education (COPE), claims that evolutionary biology should be prohibited in public-school science classes because evolution is part of a “non-theistic” religious agenda. Fortunately, U.S. District Daniel Crabtree threw their illogic out of court. COPE disapproves of the new science standards, teaching both evolution and climate change as key scientific concepts, because such education leads “impressionable” students “into the religious sphere by leading them to ask ultimate questions like what is the cause and nature of life in the universe – ‘where do we come from?’”

After decades of blaming sexual assault victims for their abuse, officials at Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC) is now considered wrong for its “blaming and disparaging” attitude, in reports from 56 percent of 381 current and former students and employees who said they knew how the school dealt with these cases. Victims who reported incidents or sought treatment have been penalized in the past and told not to report the assaults to the police, an illegal action by the university. University officials told those who were children when people in their church assaulted them that speaking out would hurt the Christian cause.

Two years ago Bob Jones hired Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) to complete the investigation but fired them after the school disagreed with the investigation’s direction. Criticism led the school to rehire GRACE. The new president, Steve Pettit, acknowledged that “we failed to uphold and honor our own core values.” He is the first person outside the Jones family to head the university since it was founded in 1927.

In addition, the investigators recommended taking action against the university’s chancellor from 1971 to 2005, Bob Jones III and removing James Berg from his position as head of the counseling programs. GRACE also recommended overhauling the university’s policies on sexual assault, outsourcing victim counseling, offering assistance to past victims, reviewing old complaints to find those that should have been reported to law enforcement, and halting the use of counseling booklets and videos developed by some university officials.

The Kennesaw (GA) City Council has decided to approve a mosque after trying to stop it from opening in a shopping center storefront. The reversal came after a 150-minute with the city attorney and mayor. No reasons were given for the shift in votes, but they may have anticipated an expensive lawsuit. Protesters to the mosque said they were afraid of Muslims’ using the mosque as a center for violent acts of terrorism against Kennesaw residents.

Thanks to a conservative Supreme Court, states may be required to allow a wild variety of displays—including ones from the Pastafarians (who wear colanders on their heads) and the Satanic Temple—beside Christmas nativity scenes endorsing Christianity. Last year, Florida refused a Satanic Temple request to show an angel falling into a pit of fire at the capitol next to Christian displays, but this year the organization is back with its lawyers.

Thirty years ago five conservatives on the Supreme Court held that cities can finance religious displays when Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote that Christ in a manger served “legitimate secular purposes.” He disagreed with dissenting justices who claimed that he had equated holy figures with “Santa’s house or reindeer.” Five years later, six justices ruled that a menorah doesn’t endorse religion, that it is just a celebration of “the winter-holiday season, which has attained a secular status in our society.”

The message has been that religious displays are legal if the government doesn’t favor one religion over another. The position was made even clearer in Rosenberger v. University of Virginia, which ruled that the school must fund all student publications because it funded a Christian one. Government institutions aren’t allowed to stop some groups or individuals from expression if they open a forum for a specific category. In short, officials who don’t want Satanic Temple displays shouldn’t allow any religious displays.

The Supreme Court went even farther in last year’s Hobby Lobby case when it ruled that beliefs, such as IUDs causing abortions, don’t have to be factual—or even sincere. Plaintiffs just need to claim that this is their belief. That ruling leaves the state of Florida with no legal argument to stop the Satanic Temple’s display or the Pastafarians or any other group that professes a religious belief. Even secular humanism is a religion because secular humanists say it is. Ho! ho! ho!

Last year Adam Fraley was pressured to leave his position as choir director at the First United Methodist Church in Alexandria because he is gay. A new pastor was hired with the provision that he would reinstate Fraley, but he reneged after he took over as minister. David Steele, a former lay leader who had attended the church for 60 years, asked Mantor to reconsider his position on Fraley, and Mantor relieved Steele of his position. The Methodist church does not allow LGBT people to be ordained as ministers, but church leadership is authorized to make decisions about their participation in other roles. The Alexandria church, founded in the late 1800s with its current location built in 1901, will close on December 31. Mantor said that the membership had been declining, but 80 percent of the congregation, most of them over the age of 60, left in support of Fraley.

After Pope Benedict attacked the U.S. nuns six years ago because they only took care of the poor and needy, the 50,000 nuns in 341 religious orders may have come out on top. The former pope wanted them to attack abortionists and LGBT people, but the nuns continued with its focus to actually help people, particularly the poor. Benedict assigned a Seattle bishop to control them while the nuns continued their good works.

A new report from Pope Francis praises the women for their social and educational work while asking them to keep to the Church teachings. There was no specific criticism, however, and the report largely skipped over the investigation’s controversy. Another positive part of the report was its statement that women have more input into decisions that affect them.

Two years ago, Michigan GOP legislators set out to destroy the state in its lame duck session, causing a great deal of anguish to many people. This year, the state House passed a law allowing anyone with “sincerely held religious beliefs” to discriminate against LGBT people in any way that they wanted. Fifteen senators, including one Democrat, asked the Senate Majority Leader to take up the bill that passed the House, but passing it requires 20 votes. The bill is now dead–at least for this year.

Elizabeth Sheppard won a scholarship after she stood up for her beliefs. When her high school economics teacher compared atheism to smoking cigarettes, she recorded him. He claimed that atheism was against human nature and that “the mind rejects the concept of atheism” just like the body rejects smoking. The following week he taught a lesson advocating prayer for a positive state of mind. Her essay for the scholarship application stated, “His actions were unconstitutional and were not related to economics at all. This was economics class, not Sunday school.”

Her message, like the other stories, is that people should not be able to force their personal religion on everyone else. Thanks for all the people who support this position.

November 16, 2014

Pope Francis Flips the Church’s Attitude

Who knew when a mild-manner cardinal from Argentina became the leader 1.2 billion and renamed himself Francis that he would throw his followers—and the conservatives in the United States—into such a turmoil?! His attacks on climate-change deniers, unfettered capitalism, and bigotry against LGBT people have become legendary. While committee Senate leaders such as James Inhofe (R-OK) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) will take the country back to the 19th century in environment, public works, commerce, science, and transportation, the pope continues his speeches about how science, rational thought, and data are important parts of present and future human goals.

Last month, the pope said to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences that the Catholic Church evolution and the Big Bang theory of the universe fit with biblical teachings. “God was [not] a magician, complete with an all-powerful magic wand.” At the same time, Congress will be controlled by people who link Darwinism with eternal damnation. Inhofe, who wrote The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, said:

“God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is, to me, outrageous.”

During the times of the Founding Fathers, people revered intellectual achievement. It was the Age of Enlightenment that used the scientific method of independent inquiry and the study of objective data to reach conclusions after repeated experiments that were carefully analyzed. Even presidents in the 20th century sought advice from people in the opposing parties. Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Vannevar Bush, an opponent of the New Deal, to head up of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, and Democrat Jerome Wiesner sat on the Science Advisory Committee to Dwight D. Eisenhower. The pope moves ahead; the Congress has gone into reverse.

Last week, the pope officially demoted Cardinal Raymond Burke, the U.S. cardinal who attacked Francis on his progressive expressions. In 2004, Burke said that voting for a pro-choice candidate is a “serious sin” and said last year the Church “can never talk enough” about the “massacre of the unborn.” After Francis said about gay priests, “who am I to judge?” Burke told said that homosexual acts are “always and everywhere wrong, evil.”

Pope Benedict XVI elevated Burke to the head of the Apostolic Signatura—the Vatican’s highest court. Benedict resigned, and Francis sent Burke to a ceremonial role as the Patron of the Order of the Knights of Malta. The tipping point leading to the reassignment may have been Burke’s participation with conservative bishops who protested the pope’s discussion of “family issues” such as homosexuality. In his attack, Burke said that the pope did “a lot of harm” and compared his leadership to “a ship without a rudder.” Last month, Burke called homosexuality “profoundly disordered and harmful” and told people that they should keep their children away from LGBT people and cut ties with LGBT relatives. This is the pope’s second demotion of Burke: in 2013, Burke was removed from the Congregation for Bishops.

Francis had already irritated cardinals by elevating many bishops from countries outside the West to cardinal. Before removing Burke, the pope replaced Cardinal Francis George, the conservative who compared organizers of the Chicago Pride Parade to the Ku Klux Klan, with moderate Bishop Blasé Cupich, who condemns anti-LGBT bullying and asked priests and seminarians not to pray in front of Planned Parenthood clinics as a protest.

The pope also diverges from U.S. conservatives in the excesses of capitalism. Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh have both called him a Marxist, and other pundits have called him a Communist and Socialist. At the World Meeting of Popular Movements, a three day conference attended by farmers, fishermen, miners, and Argentine “cartoneros,” who sift through garbage for recyclable goods, Francis said:

“Let’s say together with our heart: no family without a roof, no peasant farmer without land, no worker without rights, no person without dignified labour!”

He explained this statement:

“Land, housing and work are increasingly unavailable to the majority of the world’s population. If I talk about this, some will think that the Pope is communist. They don’t understand that love for the poor is at the center of the Gospel. Demanding this isn’t unusual, it’s the social doctrine of the church.”

Ken Ham, infamous for his religious museum that puts humans and dinosaurs in the same time period, said, “Pope Francis has compromised biblical authority in favor of man’s ideas in the area of origins.” Ham was offended by the pope’s statements that “God is not afraid of new things.” This declaration fails to defer to the bible, according to Ham, which was literally written by God. Ham protested:

“If God and His Word are open to change, then God’s Word is not an authority on anything—man becomes the authority because he gets to decide when and how God’s Word applies.”

Ham asked his followers to pray for the pope. “I encourage you to pray that church leaders like these will realize that they are placing man’s opinions above God’s Word and that they will repent and trust God’s Word, beginning in Genesis.” Unfortunately for Ham, his god failed to translate his words into other languages; therefore his bible is written by human beings.

Conservatives such as Catholic John Ransom are going so far as to say the pope claimed that “God is not a divine being.” It’s another problem of mistranslating because the pope did not speak in English. Ransom’s column about the pope is titled “Can the pope shut up too?” which lacks a sense of reverence for his Church’s leader.

Creationist Ray Comfort didn’t attack the pope but approached the him in a patronizing manner. Comfort said that any self-described Christian might “think that they are siding with science, [but] they don’t realize that the theory has no scientific basis—that it’s unproven, and that it has to be received on blind faith.” People who believe in evolution “don’t believe in Jesus.”

It is possible that The pope’s comments could lead to a schism in the Catholic Church. Australian Cardinal George Pell wrote that Pope Francis was the 266th pope “and history has seen 37 false or antipopes.” The insinuation is that Francis may be the 38th, possibly sent by the devil.

Conservative American journalist Ross Douthat wrote that “[Conservative Catholics] might want to consider the possibility that they have a role to play, and that this pope may be preserved from error only if the church itself resists him.” He also argued that the pope is “stacking the synod’s ranks with supporters of a sweeping change”—as if this were unusual.

U.S. bishops may have decided their approach to Pope Francis last week at the annual General Assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Part of the business was to pick four representatives to send to the October 2015 synod on marriage and the family. The first synod on the subject was last month when the Vatican riled up conservatives by seeming to recognize loving and committed same-sex partnerships. Cardinals Timothy Dolan and Donald Wuerl will also attend the synod because they are the highest-ranking Catholic clergy in the country.

The highly conservative website, Breitbart.com, describes the selection as a “conservative ‘dream team.’ “  Those chosen were Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Archbishop Charles Chaput, and Archbishop Jose Gomez. Alternates are Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone and Archibishop-designate Blasé Cupich. Of the six, only Cupich is moderate; the rest are solidly right-wing.  For example, Chaput argued against giving communion to Catholic politicians who support pro-choice and condemned Notre Dame for giving President Obama an honorary degree. Gomez is his protégé.

Times are going to be rocky for the Catholic Church, and this will reflect on the Church’s influence in the United States.

January 5, 2014

Religious Shifts in 2014

What’s up for 2014 in the world of religion? Luckily for us, Pat Robertson has a direct pipeline to God as long as the televangelist shows up at a special mountain retreat. He missed last year’s predictions because the weather kept him away—Robertson, not God. The year before, God’s messages led Robertson astray, especially the one in which Mitt Romney would defeat President Obama and be a two-term president.

God’s predictions at this year’s retreat:

  • Severe economic problems that will devastate the global economy;
  • An non-unified world;
  • Emergence of a nuclear Iran;
  • Islam in retreat while “people in the pews” are blessed;
  • GOP takeover of the Senate but not veto-proof majority;
  • Leadership of China;
  • “Greatest year in the history of the church”;
  • President Obama withdrawing and becoming a Hawaii surfer. (Yes, Robertson really said that!)

Mayor Tom Hayden has further shredded the thin veil between church and state when he proclaimed 2014 as “The Year of the Bible” in Flower Mound (TX). Not everyone is happy. Resident Curt Orton said, “He was elected mayor. Not as the spiritual leader of Flower Mound.”

The Dallas chapter of the Anti-Defamation League said:

“As a public official, he [Mayor Hayden] has both a moral and legal duty to equally serve his constituents of all faiths or no faith. Regardless of his benign intent, the Mayor’s action is highly inappropriate, not to mention likely unconstitutional. It can only serve to divide residents along religious lines and conveys a message of exclusion to constituents whose faith tradition does not include the Bible. We urge the Mayor to reconsider the issuance of his proclamation.”

Hayden’s idea is on a website thebible2014.com that gives a different scripture each day. By the end of the year, readers will supposedly finish reading the Bible, according to Jon Bell of Calvary Chapel. The “Comments” section has been disabled because of too many responses. It might be interesting to know what kind of responses. Hayden did point out that no one voted on this proclamation. He thinks that it’s just the sort of announcement that all elected leaders make.

A further move to destroy the First Amendment comes from Bryan Fischer, of the American Family Association, who wants to eliminate all public office holders who believe in evolution. Because people who believe in evolution don’t know that all our rights come from God, they are unable to uphold people’s rights.

“We don’t share ancestors with apes and baboons. In fact, I would suggest to you if a politician, if somebody wants to be, wants to exercise political power, and he is an evolutionist, he is disqualified from holding political office in the United States of America because he does not share the political worldview that established the United States of America, and made it the greatest nation in the history of the planet.”

If Fischer goes to pieces at the idea of his relationship to “apes and baboons,” can you imagine his reaction to being related to a banana. In fact (scientific fact, at least), human DNA is about 50 percent identical to banana sequences. Think about that the next time you eat a banana.

The anti-science position growing among Republicans is damaging the level of education in this country. U.S. 15-year-olds place 21st in the world in science, four places lower than in 2009. Vietnam, which participated this year for the first time, scored better than the U.S., and students in East Asian countries and provinces took seven of the top ten places. Shanghai, China’s largest city, is #1 in the world in science testing.  

Of three states that increased its participation in testing, both Connecticut and Massachusetts scored higher than the international average. Florida scored lower. The two states above average are considered blue states whereas the one below average is controlled by Republicans. It would be interesting to see how the other red and blue states compared.

Fischer and other literalists (fundamentalists who think that everyone must believe how each of them personally interprets the Bible) may have increasing trouble with Pope Francis. Last November the pope struck out at Christian fundamentalism as “not healthy”:

“It is not a good strategy to be at the center of a sphere. To understand we ought to move around, to see reality from various viewpoints. We ought to get used to thinking.”

Thinking is a concept that doesn’t fit with extremists’ Christian culture. Perception from a different point of view is also not in Christian fundamentalist realms.

The pope thinks that “some time of real contact with the poor is necessary.” It may make people more understanding of their plight instead of seeing them as lazy users. Pope Francis does follow his own directions: he is known to dress as a regular priest at night and go out on the streets to minister to the poor.

Pope Francis supports other beliefs that Christian fundamentalists don’t: environmentalism; assistance for immigrants and the marginalized; and respect, kindness, and understanding for atheists and Muslims. He calls on his flock to be more in line with the teachings of Jesus. Fundamentalists twist their own Bible to oppose the New Testament and turn Jesus into a capitalist warrior.

Pope Francis preached:

“In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements. The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens, ideology chases away the people, distances, distances the people and distances of the Church of the people. But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians. It is an illness, but it is not new, eh?”

Another of his teachings is also offensive to Christian fundamentalists:

“God reveals himself not as one who stands above and who dominates the universe, but as He who lowers himself. It means that to be like Him, we do not have to place ourselves above the others, but come down, come down and serve them, become small among the small, and poor among the poor.”

 Pope Francis has company in opposing the stranglehold of extremist Christians. People are beginning to react more against fundamentalist Christian attitudes:

  • Atheists are more willing to declare their non-religious beliefs, for example, atheist, Rebecca Vitsmun, when CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked her if she thanked the Lord for living through the Oklahoma tornado.
  • A new generation is more willing to express their personal beliefs.
  • Human rights are expanding, for example the number of states legalizing marriage equality and the demands to end the rape culture and lack of women’s rights allowed in the Bible.
  • Cognitive scientists are beginning to openly explore the relationship between religion and mental illness such as anxiety disorders, panic, and depression.
  • Communities are building outside religion to bring together those with like beliefs to provide support through community service, lectures, and recreation.
  • Giving, once led by faith communities, is now being taken over by those outside the religious structure.
  • Texas, a state that controls the content of textbooks, will teach biological science after publishers refused to include creationism in the books.
  • Organizations such as Freedom from Religion are beginning to chart wins in their work to bring back more separation of church and state, and many of the leaders are young people.
  • Young people who were isolated in homeschooling now have a network, Homeschoolers Anonymous, to lend support for each other. Others in church schools are starting to protest the bigotry, for example when hundreds of them walked out after a Bellevue (WA) school fired a gay teacher.

Between Pope Francis’s teachings and the changing demographics of the United States, the country may move away from a militaristic country of unfettered capitalism toward more compassion and acceptance for others.

August 18, 2013

Fundamentalist Christians’ Creativity

Catholic leaders seem to oppose the rights of women much of the time, but Bishop Robert Lynch has attacked the “pro-life” Population Research Institute (PRI) because of the lies it spreads about Catholic Relief Services (CRS).  In addressing PRI’s accusations that the CRS fails to adhere to Church policy by actively promoting contraception, Lynch wrote:

“From time to time, I suspect when these organizations need money, they try to stir up a hornet’s nest or storm by attacking a Catholic organization, usually falsely accusing them of being anti-life, pro-contraception, either pro or soft on abortion, etc., etc., etc. The storms start small enough and then occasionally grow in size. It’s simply a money-raising scheme with little regard for the human lives which they allege they seek to protect–-well maybe it is only pre-born human life in which they are interested.”

After all this time, a Catholic bishop is complaining about fake “pro-life” organizations that are not opposed to the execution of a severely schizophrenic man on Florida’s death row for 34 years! In addition to ignoring capital punishment, these same organizations oppose avoid immigration reform and food aid.

Lynch also points out the lack of transparency in PRI which refuses to identify both the sources of its allegations and the members of its Board of Directors. He concludes by stating, “Keep on doing the good work of Christ and be an instrument of mercy to the world.”

The courts have come out in favor of “We the People” instead of “We the Christian People.” After issuing a temporary restraining order on Oklahoma’s proposed anti-Sharia constitutional amendment in 2010, Chief District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange of the Western District of Oklahoma, struck it down, preventing state courts from considering Islamic and international law. Her ruling stated that targeting a specific religion is unconstitutional and that the law attempts to fix a non-existent problem.

Educators are also winning in Kentucky where creationists and climate change deniers tried to put their stamp on school curriculum.  Despite the complaints that called members of the Kentucky Board of Education as “facist” and “atheistic,” the board approved new science standards to reinforce the teaching of evolution and climate science. Despite being told that they promoted “socialistic” thinking that leads to “genocide” and “murder,” the board declared that evolution is the “fundamental, unifying theory that underlies all the life sciences.” Scientific thought in Kentucky is not home free yet, however, because the board’s changes much at approved by the legislature’s education committees.

Fundamentalist Christians are concerned that children raised in a literal belief of the Bible will be marginalized, leading to physiological harm in the classroom and then on to the genocide and murder. There seems to be no concern about marginalization of children who believe in facts. Baptist minister Matt Singleton told the board that the lie of evolution has led to drug abuse, suicide and other social afflictions. He referred to the curriculum as “the rich man’s elitist religion of evolution.”

After kids learn about evolution in school, they will be confused when they go to the Creation Museum, partially funded by $40 million from the state of Kentucky.  There may be pleas for further funding because the Kentucky museum, opened in 2007 by the Australian-founded Answers in Genesis, has started losing attendance, down 40 percent last year from the year it opened.

For those unfamiliar with this “museum,” it purports to prove that the Bible is correct, that Earth was created as is 6,000 years ago and that people lived here at the same time as dinosaurs. (Fact check: dinosaurs died about 65 million years ago, and humans as we know them didn’t appear until 250,000 to 400,000 years ago.)

creation museum

 

Because of religious indoctrination, about 46 percent of Americans think God created humans in their present form while 32 percent say God helped humans evolve. Only 15 percent think that evolution is a natural process. According to the museum, “God made Adam and Eve on the same day as land animals” and “Before man’s Fall, animals were vegetarians.” Kids’ T-shirts say “On the Sixth Day, God Created Dinosaurs!”

Both the museum and creationist author and filmmaker Darek Isaacs believe that dragons actually lived thousands of years ago. Dragons are compared to Satan in the Book of Revelations, and according to Isaacs, God wouldn’t include them without factual basis. Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis-U.S., added that dinosaurs were with humans on Noah’s Ark.

With Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) leaving the Senate, Georgia Republicans are distressed about the crop of GOP candidates, including Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), who might lose the seat to the Democrats in an increasingly Democratic state with a fast-growing youth and minority voting population. Broun is known for declaring in his church that evolution and the big bang theory “lies straight from the pit of hell” and common refers to Obama as a socialist.

Broun’s beliefs may force his opponents into a hard right position where the winner will be stuck for the general election. Two days after he introduced a “no amnesty” bill barring any legal status for undocumented immigrants, his opponent, Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) sent a campaign email with the subject line “stopping tax credits for illegal immigrants.” A leading opponent, Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA), claimed that Rep. Todd Akin’s (R-MO) horrific remarks about rape and abortion were “partly right.” The Georgia politician/obstetrician apparently believes that women cannot get pregnant without “legitimate rape.” Gingrey later apologized for this statement, but the Internet never forgets.

The GOP hopes to pick up six Republican seats to take over the Senate; losing the Senate seat in Georgia would give them a severe blow.

In less than three months, Virginia will elect a new governor. One of their choices wants to change the commonwealth constitution to let religious schools get taxpayer funding. Currently Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli argues that this current ban on funding for religious schools is the result of “anti-Catholic bigotry in American politics in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.” Virginia won’t have to write its own legislation: Cuccinelli is taking the wording from over 1,000 right-wing ALEC-developed models that also promoted voter suppression and “Stand Your Ground” laws. Another of Cuccinelli’s plans is to reinstate an anti-sodomy law.

In a decision regarding city ordinances, San Antonio (TX) will decide whether it will add protections for sexual orientation, gender identity, and veteran status in a vote on September 5, 2013. The religiously-inspired crowd of over 200 people led by several pastors repeatedly booed Eric Alva, a gay veteran who was the first Marine seriously injured in the Iraq War, when he spoke in favor of these changes. Alva lost his right leg when stepping on a landmine.

ModernFamilyFundamentalist Doug Sehorne of South Carolina suffered a great shock when he discovered that the cover of his most recent book, presenting literal lessons from the King James Bible, has a photo taken from Modern Family.  One of the quotes in Bible Principles of Child Discipline (from the Book of Proverbs) provides the instruction from Proverbs 23:13-14:  “Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.”

For those who don’t follow sit-coms on television, Modern Family follows three families, one of them a gay couple—Mitch and Cameron—with an adopted daughter, Lily. None of the characters in the series has shown any proclivity toward beating children, and Sehorne has written on his Facebook page that the program is a “wicked TV show involving a gay couple.” Although he has pulled the book from amazon.com where he was selling e-copies, the cover exists on the never-forgetting Internet.

Bryan Fischer, American Family Association spokesman, has moved redder than Republican states into the red of Russia. On a Voice of Russia interview, he praised the country for their violence toward LGBT people. In his Christian approach, Fischer said, “Homosexual behavior damages the body and soul. We love homosexuals enough to tell them the truth.” Russia has a new law that imprisons anyone who faintly supports the LGBT community, endangering the lives of athletes and others from the United States who attend the Olympics.

Fischer also accused President Obama being absent from the Situation Room during the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound and had his image Photoshopped into the picture only after he knew the mission was a success.

Situation-Room

It takes a lot of creativity to make this stuff up! The people who fabricate supporting statements for their falsehoods could probably make a fortune in advertising—unless they’re already paid well by the churches’ money from taxpayers.

May 5, 2013

Some Science Teachers Fail Students

Students throughout the nation are being taught Bible fiction instead of scientific fact thanks to fundamentalists conservatives. Louisiana seems to be the current leader in its faulty education; at least they’re recently getting the most publicity. Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, who decried the GOP for being crazy and stupid, seems to have changed his mind, perhaps building up his creds for GOP presidential candidate in 2016. .

When an attempt was made in April to overturn the 5-year-old Louisiana Science Education Act allows science teachers to provide instruction in creationism and belief that climate change is a myth, Jindal pushed to retain the law, asking “What are we afraid of?” Most rational, intelligent people in the United States are afraid of an ignorant generation of people who are taught falsehoods in schools that taxpayers fund.

Jindal should be afraid of something else—loss of state funding. As Louisiana State University’s former graduate dean of science, Kevin Carman, pointed out, “Pseudo-science drives scientists away.”  Students with training in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) can earn the most, but they won’t get jobs in cutting-edge scientific fields with biblical information.

Despite the urging of over 70 Nobel Prize-winning scientists, the state’s Senate Educational Committee voted 3-2 to retain the law to tech biblical information in science class as fact. Jindal joined conservatives in claiming that teaching this false information strengthens education through promoting critical thinking, claiming that students should be allowed to  “make up their own minds.” Maybe about whether the earth is flat?

Jindal has proved himself even farther right than 700 Club televangelist Pat Robertson, who opposes teaching creationism as science. Recently Robertson said that science is right and “if you fight science, you’re going to lose your children.”

Claude Bouchard, a former executive director of the top-notch Pennington Research Center, talked about the loss to students by maintaining the Science Education Act:

“[Students] will continue to believe that the laws of chemistry, physics and biology are optional when addressing the big issues of our time. Unfortunately, this is also not without economic consequences. If you are an employer in a high-tech industry, in the biotechnology sector or in a business that depends heavily on science, would you prefer to hire a graduate from a state where the legislature has in a sense declared that the laws of chemistry, physics or biology can be suspended at times or someone from a state with a rigorous science curriculum for its sons and daughters?”

Peter Kulakowsky, a biotech entrepreneur in Louisiana, recently wrote this to the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

“As the director of a biological laboratory in Louisiana, I need enlightened staff. Distracting the state’s students in their formative training [through the Louisiana Science Education Act] only cripples them.”

Scientists and entrepreneurs have pointed out that the present is as disastrous as the students’ futures. Louisiana State University’s former graduate dean of science, Kevin Carman, testified before the state legislature in 2012 that top scientists who left the university cited the Louisiana Science Education Act as a reason. He added that other scientists accepted jobs elsewhere, because they didn’t want to come to a state with a creationism law. “Teaching pseudo-science drives scientists away,” Carman said.

After the passage of the bogus science education law, the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology cancelled a scheduled convention in New Orleans in 2011, costing the city an estimated $2.9 million. The organization also launched a boycott of Louisiana, causing the state to become less competitive at attracting conventions.

The boycott for New Orleans was called off after its city council endorsed a repeal of the Louisiana Science Education Act and the Orleans Parish School Board banned the teaching of creationism in its schools. With the creationism being taught in the rest of the state, however, New Orleans is having difficulty finding qualified employees in science. Kristin Gisleson Palmer, a member of the city council, said:

“With the New Orleans Medical Corridor poised for tremendous growth, this law also profoundly impacts our ability to fill jobs in the cutting-edge science fields with students educated in our state’s public schools.”

Tennessee has passed a copycat bill, and other states introduce creationism bills every year. The Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that advocates for intelligent design, is circulating a model bill nationwide with similar bills introduced in Arizona, Montana, Missouri, Kansas, Indiana, Oklahoma, and Colorado. Although the Supreme Court has ruled against teaching religion in public school science classes, teachers still use actual science textbooks and then “supplement” these with biblical fiction.

Private schools are not bound by the SCOTUS ruling which is why a South Carolina private school can get away with this little quiz for fourth graders.

4th-Grade-test

This looks too far-fetched to be true, but fact-checkers have discovered that kids were actually given this test.

protest at teaching fiction as fact in the Blue Ridge Christian Academy in the Greenville area has brought out the rage from the Christian right, as shown by a column from Ken Ham, Answers in Genesis president. He probably feels that he needs to attack the protesters as “atheists” because he sells the DVD used as the basis for the test.

It’s hard to know what else is being taught in the thousands of the nation’s private schools, many of them funded by taxpayers because of the religious right pushing against separation of church and state. They may be showing this video, created by the fundamentalist Faith 2 Action group, that states, “Being gay is three times more dangerous than smoking.”

The video begins with bizarre parodies of Heather Has Two Mommies and Daddy’s Roommate called  Heather has Two Cigarettes and Daddy’s Roommate has Lung Cancer. During the reading, the narrator, Janet Porter, compares smoking with homosexuality as health dangers with the latter being far more dangerous.

Pennsylvania is another state where students are being denied a good education, even in advanced placement classes, because 20 percent of science teachers believe in evolution. One of these teachers is Joe Sohmer (Altoona Area High School) who tells students that radiocarbon dating is wrong because the world is less than 10,000 years old. A national survey of 900 science teachers shows that 13 percent agree with Sohmer.

Teachers identifying themselves as creationists, according to the national survey, spend at least an hour of classroom time teaching that creationism is a valid scientific alternative. An unnamed Indiana County science teacher said that he teaches evolution principles “but modified to explain that data can be interpreted differently dependent upon one’s world view.” Duquesne University biology professor David Lampe, who organizes the university’s Darwin Day celebration each February, found that between 25 and 30 percent of freshman biology students have had no instruction on evolution.

Forty-six percent percent of people in the United States believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years, a percentage the same as 30 years ago. One-third of the respondents think that humans evolved with God’s guidance, and 15 percent say that human evolution is not connected with God.

Apparently the United States is currently not evolving.

December 23, 2012

Exorcism, Pentagrams, Climate Change–Sunday Bits

It’s Sunday again, and there’s so much news! We’ll start with a ray of sunshine. Earlier this month, the Orleans Parish School Board [Louisiana] amended their textbook selection with a caveat:  “No history textbook shall be approved which has been adjusted in accordance with the State of Texas revisionist guidelines nor shall any science textbook be approved which presents creationism or intelligent design as science or scientific theories.”

For people not aware of Texas textbooks, the state is such a huge purchaser that publishers often kowtow to that state’s demands—such as “revising” science and history to match what the Tea Party believes. (I almost said “thinks,” but they don’t.)

The pope, who described marriage equality as destroying the very “essence of the human creature,” has given his former butler an early Christmas present. After Pope Benedict XVI visited the jail where Paolo Gabriele was incarcerated following his conviction of aggravated theft in stealing and leaking documents that alleged the Holy See’s corruption, the pope pardoned him. Catholic policy: theft, okay; marriage equality, not okay.

Other parts of Catholic beliefs can be hard to understand. Bill O’Reilly of Fox News fame thinks that Caroline Kennedy, who spoke at the Democratic National Convention about women’s rights, should have had an exorcism for daring to be Catholic and pro-choice. He may have trouble finding a priest to do this. In 2010, the American Catholic bishops met to figure out a way to prepare more priests and bishops to respond to the demand. Part of the training is to figure out who really needs an exorcism and who just needs a psychiatrist or pastoral care.

“Not everyone who thinks they need an exorcism actually does need one,” said Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield (IL) who organized the conference. “It’s only used in those cases where the Devil is involved in an extraordinary sort of way in terms of actually being in possession of the person.” Pope Benedict XVI has emphasized a return to traditional rituals and practices.

Catholics are not alone in their peculiar beliefs. In a “celebration” of 12/12/12, Brent Troy Bartel carved a large pentagram on the back of his 6-year-old son, claiming he do so “because it is a holy day.” Some people saw the date as significant because it appears only once in every century; the pentagram, a five-pointed star, can be connected to Satanism. Bartel didn’t explain what was going through his mind when he did this.

Two-thirds of white evangelical Protestants think that disasters such as Superstorm Sandy means that the end of the world is near, as predicted by the Bible. The survey from Public Religion Research found others who agree: almost 40 percent of everyone in this country believes this. Even over one-third of Catholics and white non-evangelical Protestants agree. According to 15 percent of the people in the survey, the end of time will occur during their lifetimes, and 2 percent think it will be before the end of 2012. (There’s only eight days left!)

Some of the respondents are hedging their bets. Seventy-five percent of non-white Protestants think that the disasters come from both climate change and the evidence of the Bible’s “end time.”

Over 50 percent of the people in the United States voted for Barack Obama, which may jeopardize their claim to be Christians. According to Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, leader of the Brotherhood Organization of a New Density, during a radio interview on 12/12/12, anyone who voted for the president cannot be a Christian. According to its website, BOND is a nationally recognized nonprofit organization dedicated to “Rebuilding the Family by Rebuilding the Man.”

The fundamentalists who want a literal reading of the Bible—at least the parts that they like—have possibly found a leader in Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2016. He may not know about the end of the world, but he’s not sure when it was created. First, he said that it could have been 6,000 years ago, but then he changed his mind for a more scientific approach.

Rubio does know, however, that kids should believe their parents over their teachers. Teaching students about evolution if their parents don’t believe it is like the strategy of the Communist Party in Cuba, according to Rubio until he decided that some people might not like this analogy. He backpedaled again: “Of course, I’m not equating the evolution people with Fidel Castro.” Letting up on the brakes, he moved back to his other position, saying, “We should do nothing in government that undermines that relationship [between parent and child].” Rubio added, “And for me, personally, I don’t want a school system that teaches kids that what they’re learning at home is wrong.”

Rubio has also talked about how his religious views shaped his policy positions. Homosexuality is a sin, he thinks, but nobody is free from sin. He still opposes marriage equality. Then the science side won out when he said that it has proved that life begins at conception. In his first statement, the one in which he said he couldn’t say anything about how old the planet is because he isn’t a scientist, should have him removed from his position on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

And let us not forget the plethora of religious leaders blaming the recent shooting at Newtown (CT) on those who “take God out of the schools,” the atheists, and the LGBT community.

Notice that there’s nothing about the War on Christmas? That’s a whole blog tomorrow!

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