Nel's New Day

February 25, 2018

Billy Graham Leaves a Devastating Legacy

Billy Graham, evangelical advisor to presidents for over a half century, died at the age of 99 this past week and will be buried on March 2. People are showering the dead Christian evangelist with tributes, but some of his beliefs are far from what Jesus preached.

Women: Graham criticized feminism and created the Mike Pence rule which advocates men avoid meeting, travelling or eating with a woman, other than one’s wife, alone, to prevent infidelity. At Boston Garden, he told women not to nag their husbands, keep their houses clean, and read a great deal to keep up with their husbands. Graham said that women should wear enough makeup to be pretty and not so much that husbands notice.

Graham’s Wife: When Graham’s wife felt the call to proselytize in Tibet, he told her that the Bible makes the husband the head of the wife: “Then I’ll do the leading and you do the following.” He moved on to harvest fields “more white” while she stayed in the U.S. to get pregnant and raise children according to a dog-training manual before they were sent off to boarding schools.

Civil Rights: Activists, not laws, should change hearts because personal conversions, not federal policies, change behaviors. His 1971 book, The Jesus Generation, praises people who reject government as a way to correct injustices. Of the 1963 March on Washington speech, “I Have a Dream,” by Martin Luther King, Jr., Graham said, “Only when Christ comes again will the little white children of Alabama walk hand in hand with little black children.” “There wasn’t a major Protestant leader in America who obstructed King’s Beloved Community more than Billy Graham did,” says Michael E. Long, author of Billy Graham and the Beloved Community: America’s Evangelist and the Dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/22/us/billy-graham-mlk-civil-rights/index.html

Global Warming: In his 1992 book about signs that the end of the world was near, Graham suggested that businesses reduce pollution, but his 2010 version eliminated the term “global warming.” Government had no right passing laws to save the world for posterity, he claimed.

New Deal: Graham believed that helping people through government, a godless competition for churches, was going to take Christians’ rights and liberties.

Wealth: With a net worth of $25 million, Graham normalized ultra-rich pastors and the focus on riches earth for the clergy.

Pro-War: Graham urged President Richard Nixon to use nuclear weapons that would destroy the dikes managing North Vietnam’s flooding and kill over one million people. Even Henry Kissinger considered this war crime “just too much.” George H.W. Bush said that Graham’s presence on the eve of the Persian Gulf War helped him avoid doubt, “even for a second … (about) the moral clarity of our mission that January night.” With the next Bush, Graham blessed the next Christian “crusade” into the Middle East.

Anti-LGBTQ: Graham preached that AIDS is the judgment of God. Saying later that he didn’t believe that statement didn’t stop other pastors from repeating it. He claimed that homosexuality is a “sinister form of perversion” that contributes to the decay of civilization. He promoted conversion therapy that uses Graham’s rhetoric. In 2012, he paid for 14 full-page ads in newspapers across North Carolina to support the state’s Amendment 1 prohibiting marriage equality. In the ads, Graham wrote, “At 93, I never thought we would have to debate the definition of marriage. The Bible is clear—God’s definition of marriage is between a man and a woman.”

Anti-Semitism: Jews control the media and that was dangerous, Graham told Nixon. “This stranglehold has got to be broken or this country’s going down the drain.” Nixon agreed, and Graham suggested that if he got elected to a second term “we might be able to do something.” In White House audio tapes released in 2002, Graham also refers to Jews as pornographers.

Graham was used as a pawn by both business and conservative government leaders:

Publishing magnates William Randolph Hearst and Henry Luce helped make him famous, and financial and business leaders used him to fight the “socialistic” politics of Franklin D. Roosevelt that brought people out of poverty and starvation.

To elect Richard Nixon, Graham promised President Lyndon B. Johnson that Nixon, if elected, would give Johnson “a major share of the credit” for Nixon’s ending the war and “do everything to make you … a place in history.” Johnson promised Nixon full cooperation if he took the White House. Johnson’s Defense Secretary Clark Clifford thought that LBJ wanted Nixon to become president. Nixon sent Graham as an emissary to Johnson because he knew about their closeness. Graham didn’t know that Nixon was undermining a peace initiative during the last days of Johnson’s presidency.

About his anti-Semitic comments with Nixon, Graham said, “If it wasn’t on tape, I would not have believed it. I guess I was trying to please.” He always gave Nixon a pass, saying that “mistakes and blunders have been made.” The disclosure of Nixon’s wealth, however, and especially the small amount he donated to charity “surprised” Graham. The racist, foul, maniacal rantings on tape that made Graham physically ill, according to Marshall Frady’s 2006 biography of Graham, but Graham continued to make excuses for Nixon and claimed that he had become “deeply religious.” Graham blamed Nixon’s advisers because he was “just trying to protect” them. Frady reported that Graham eventually blamed “all those sleeping pills [that] just let a demon-power come in and play over him.”

Cecil Bothwell wrote about Graham as the father of modern evangelism:

“Graham’s message was principally one of fear: fear of a wrathful god; fear of temptation; fear of communists and socialists; fear of unions; fear of Catholics; fear of homosexuals; fear of racial integration and above all, fear of death. But as a balm for such fears, he promised listeners eternal life, which he said was readily claimed through acceptance of Jesus Christ as one’s savior.”

Theolorigan Dorothee Sölle called white evangelical religion “Christofascism.”  Rev. Broderick Greer’s definition:

 “The perpetuation of a societal status quo in which Christians maintain power, frame the aim of Christianity as a ‘personal relationship with Jesus Christ’ and retain all the ills of white Christian society like patriarchy, colonization, and heterosexism.”

Greer added that the religion “has evolved into a hyper-nationalistic, militaristic and xenophobic corner of American Christianity” instead of a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Almost 20 years ago, Graham wrote:

“If I had to do it all over again, I would also avoid any semblance of involvement in partisan politics… there have been times when I undoubtedly stepped over the line between politics and my calling as an evangelist.”

He was too late in this decision. His son Franklin Graham, who controls the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the group legitimizing Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) to evangelicals, has moved to the far right of Billy Graham. About DDT, Franklin tells his 6.3 million followers to “hold your nose and go vote.” He ridicules rights for non-Christians and LGBTQ people, spews hate speech, and calls for discrimination while raising funds for “persecuted Christians.” Franklin Graham claims to “love Muslim people” but adds that Islam “can’t keep you from the doors of hell.”

Sarah Jones described how Franklin changed Billy’s evangelicalism:

“As the father waned, the son waxed: first as a spokesman for his elder, then as an evangelical figure in his own right. Franklin, using the platform he inherited from his father, has defended Trump’s Muslim bans, promoted Russia’s campaign to outlaw ‘homosexual propaganda,’ and once accused gay people of trying to ‘recruit children.’ Franklin, not Billy, represents the evangelical mainstream now.”

The father wanted change by “politeness”; the son follows the style of DDT who “offended everybody! And he became president of the United States.” Franklin crowed, “Only God could do that.” Or maybe Vladimir Putin.

Billy Graham was a handsome man with a powerful voice who was said to have brought more people to Jesus than any other evangelist, a Jesus and a population filled with hatred, bigotry, war-mongering, and domination.

 

April 11, 2016

April 12: Equal Pay Day

Pay women less for doing the same job? There must be good reasons. Charge men more for cupcakes at a bake sale? Outrageous! That was the response to a fund-raiser at the University of Queensland of Australia for the women’s charity Share the Dignity to the point of death threats. The hosting organizations, Women’s Collective and women’s department of the student union, announced:

“Each baked good will only cost you the proportion of $1.00 that you earn comparative to men (or, if you identify as a man, all baked goods [will] cost you $1.00!).”

Facebook posts included missing the “good ole days” when you could “beat a woman with a stick.” Reading the vile statements, some students responded, “I didn’t believe feminism was still relevant until I started reading all the comments.”

Australian women make 17.3 percent less than their male peers for the same work; in the U.S. women are paid about 22 percent less than men. Each year, Equal Pay Day, this year April 12, commemorates the gender gap to demonstrate how much longer women must work in the year to make as much as men do in the former year. The event is always on a Tuesday because that day represents how far into the next work week that women must work to earn what men earned the previous week.

The GOP and Fox network deny any pay disparity between the genders, claiming that women are not as smart or hardworking and that women are too emotional. Researchers, however, have discovered a cultural factor that shapes workplace gender roles—and gender salaries: religiosity. A three-percent increase in a state’s religiosity relates to a one-percent increase in gender wage-gap. In traditional Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—women are the family caregivers, meaning that they should be in the home, giving care. Religion conditions employers to believe that women should not work outside the home, affecting hiring, layoffs, and wages.

Presidential candidates follow the conservative pattern of gender pay gap. The “religiosity” test holds true for presidential candidate campaign workers. Joanna Rothkopf published an analysis of pay and discovered significant gender wage disparities in four of them. Bernie Sanders’ campaign had no women among the top highest-paid staffers during her research. Rothkopf used year-end finance reports for the last quarter of 2015 to answer these questions:

  • Do presidential campaigns employ a comparable number of women to men?
  • Do they pay female employees equitably?
  • Are an equal number of women given leadership roles and salaries to match?

She included only employees who received at least four paychecks and made a minimum projected annual salary of $24,000 during the quarter.

Hillary Clinton is the only presidential candidate who provides equal gender pay for equal work. The Cruz campaign pays men an average of $20,000 more than women. John Kasich had one woman among the top ten staffers. He paid men about $5,000 more on the overall average and $15,000 more on a median salary. Trump’s male employees receive an average of $3,000 more than the women. Details are available here.

A large diversity between male and female pay hit the news on April Fool’s Day, the day after five members of the U.S. national women’s soccer team filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) accusing the U.S. Soccer Federation, the sport’s national governing body, of wage discrimination. The team earned $23.5 million in U.S. games during the first quarter, more than the men’s national soccer team earned in the same time period, and the Federation projects a $5 million profit for women and a $1 million loss for the men’s games. Yet the Federation pays female players almost four times less than male players.

The women soccer team’s players aren’t really equal to men—they’re superior. Entering their third year without a major trophy, men are ranked #30. The women’s win in the 2015 World Cup set the television record for the highest rated soccer match in U.S. history and the most-watched soccer event U.S. people ever watched. Yet they also earn less than men for sponsorship appearances, have a smaller per diem while with the national team, and get a smaller share of ticket revenue bonuses. On top of that, they have substandard working conditions, forced to play on physically-damaging artificial turf while men get natural grass.

Jim Tankersley pointed out that this disparity exists throughout culture in the nation, hurting the economy:

“If talented women are paid arbitrarily less than similarly talented or less-talented men, the market is telling those women to work less than they optimally would….  Fewer women are working, as a share of the workforce, than they used to, even though women are more likely than men to graduate college and gain the skills that are in the highest demand in our increasingly service-based economy. At the same time, American productivity growth has slowed. One way to speed it up would be encouraging more highly productive women to do the work they’re best at.”

An analysis debunks the excuse that the pay gap is from comparing different jobs. In a new study of 505,000 salaries, women still make less even if they work for the same company and have the same job title: men make 5.4 percent more in base pay and get 7.4 percent more in overall compensation. These gaps are less than the almost 25 percent more that men make than women, but they are still significant especially because they are controlled for several variables, including age, education, years of experience, industry, occupation, state, and company size.

Glassdoor will host a 60-minute roundtable on pay equality featuring Hillary Clinton and other leaders, experts and advocates tomorrow, April 12, 2016, to be broadcast live at 6:30 PDT on Glassdoor.com.

New research has found that women are paid less because employers value their work less. A study from Cornell University shows that the pay drops significantly—an average of 20 percent—when women enter male-dominated fields. The field of recreation went from predominantly male to female in the second half of the 20th century, and median hourly wages dropped 57 percent. When many ticket agents were changed from male to female, the decrease in wages was 43 percent. In fields where men comprise the majority, the media pay is 21 percent higher than in occupations with a majority of women. Differences in the type of work that men and women account for 51 percent of the pay gap, greater than in 1980. Of the 30 highest-paying jobs, 26 are male-dominated.

Younger women may not notice the gender pay gap because they are paid $.88 for every dollar man is paid. Women over 65, however, are paid only $.40 for a man’s dollar, a reason that twice as many older women as men live in poverty. The inequality for women leads to lower pensions and lower Social Security, according to a new report released by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). She said:

“We’ve moved twenty cents in the right direction since 1963, but we have 21 cents more to go, and at the rate we’re going, the pay gap will not close until the year 2059. That’s a long time to wait, so I feel that we should get serious about this.”

GOP women in Congress front the party’s failure to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, introduced almost two decades ago, that would update the Equal Pay Act of 1963. It includes preventing employers from retaliating against workers who discuss pay, requiring employers to explain why wage gaps between their male and female employees exist, and strengthening penalties for equal pay violations. Two years ago, two GOP women were the face of a committee that accused Democrats of “politicizing” the issue, and a year ago, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), facing a tough election this year, cast her fourth vote against the bill.

Both Democratic candidates and GOP candidate Donald Trump support equal pay for women. Clinton introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act three separate times, and Sanders co-sponsored it. Throughout her campaign, Hillary Clinton has argued that paying women an equal wage for equal work would give an economic boost to the nation. Last October she sent this tweet when a GOP senator blocked a measure urging equal pay for the women’s and men’s national teams.

“Whether you’re a teacher, an executive, or a world-champion soccer player, you deserve equal pay.”

John Kasich has not taken a clear stance on equal pay, but he talked about the relationship of gender wage gap to skill and experience before he backpedalled by saying, “I understand that if you exclude women, you’re not as effective.” Ted Cruz’ website does not address the issue, but he voted against the act three times during his one term as senator.

Women comprise two-thirds of the nation’s 20 million low-wage workers. Nearly one-fourth of the low-wage workforce are female; only 12 percent of men are in the same category.

Working full-time, year-round, a woman earns $10,800 less per year than a man according to the Pay Inequality report. That’s a difference of almost one-half million dollars for a lifetime that also affect Social Security and any other pensions. The gender pay gap is larger in the U.S. than 22 of 34 developed countries. Equal pay would cut the number of women who live in poverty by one-half and boost the GDP by 2.9 percent.

Happy (Un)Equal Pay Day!

February 8, 2015

President Obama Calls for Humility, Gets Slammed

The National Prayer Breakfast, organized by the far-right congressional religious group called the Fellowship Foundation usually passes by with little notice from mainstream media. When prominent evangelical members from “The Family” supporting this annual event connected with people who pushed the Ugandan “kill the gays” bill to criminalize homosexuality, mainstream media said almost nothing. This year, however, legislators and media figures across the country are atwitter after President Obama tried to explain that violence in the name of religion is a global problem across all religions.

Syria’s war, Nigeria’s killings, Europe’s resurgence of anti-Semitism, India’s violence were some of the issues that he brought up. Where Christians in the United States objected, however, was his comparison of the Muslims’ attacks to “terrible deeds in the name of Christ,” including the Crusades. He explained, “In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

Jonah Goldberg’s attack on the president in the National Review was inelegantly entitled “Horse Pucky from Obama.” According to Goldberg, the Crusades were justified because of Muslim aggression: it was a “defensive war.” In reality, the Roman Catholic Church paid people from Europe to try to take over Jerusalem—900 years before the United States paid people to take over the Middle East for its own selfish gain. To Goldberg, the Inquisition was a way to stop lynchings. He missed the point that anyone who didn’t declare themselves part of mainstream Christianity, usually after extreme torture, were killed—frequently burned.

In the past, the U.S. has used Christianity as an excuse for colonizing, slavery, discrimination, and cultural destruction. African slaves in the United States were murdered, lynched, burned, and beheaded, and the practice went on for a large part of a century after their emancipation. In the present, the name of Christ is still being used to torment, torture, and kill people in the United States and around the world.

A bizarre part of the argument is that only the Crusades have been referenced, perhaps because the current Christian bigotry in the U.S. is too uncomfortable to discuss. On Meet the Press, conservative Jon Meacham stated that the Crusades was an exception to the rule, as if Christians have not used religion to persecute others outside the eleventh century. Sometimes liberal, but less so as time passes, Andrea Mitchell said that the prayer breakfast was not a place to bring up the issue. To her, “the word Crusade” is “too fraught.” Because “you have to deal with issues that are in front of you,” mentioning anything else is too “nuanced.”

Even more bizarre, however, was David Brooks’ defense of Obama on the same program.

“I am pro Obama. I am totally pro Obama on this. I think he said the right thing. It was a gospel of humility. What sorts of people need a little gospel of humility? People in Washington, pundits, religious believers, — I happen to be all three of those things — and so we are told to walk humbly in the path, that the Lord’s paths are mysterious. And so he was saying we are prone to zealotry. As Jon said we are fallen. So to underline that, that’s useful in Washington today. That’s useful always.”

Earlier this week, the Fox network used the president’s religious speech to attack him by claiming that President Obama is attacking Christianity. According to Eric Bolling, only Muslims kill people in the name of religion:

“Reports say radical Muslim jihadists killed thousands of people in the past few months alone. And yet when you take Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, whatever, their combined killings in the name of religion––well, that would be zero.”

If al-Quaeda had sent death threats to a Christian doctor and then killed him, far-right Christians would be outraged. Yet Dr. George Tiller was killed in his church by anti-abortionist terrorist Scott Roeder on May 31, 2009 after decades of threats and an earlier shooting. Far-right Christians cheered at their victory.

Middle East historian Juan Cole determined that Muslims had killed about 2 million people in the 20th century. His 2013 study revealed that during the same time Christians killed almost 100 million people in the name of Christ. Adolf Hitler’s killings were done in the name of Christianity as were the colonial wars in Southeast Asia and Africa. Although some claim that this violence was not Christian-based, combatants used their religion as part of the military campaigns just as today’s Islamist militants organize around groups sharing a common religious and cultural background.

The 1990 sectarian warfare in the Balkans culminated in genocide against Muslim Bosnians by Serbian Orthodox Christians. Balkans researcher Keith Doubt explained in a 2007 paper that the “role of the Church as protector of the Serbian nation gave the Church increasing social control, and with this power clergy fermented a xenophobic and bigoted attitude towards Muslims in former-Yugoslavia.” The Church dispatched Orthodox chaplains to bless “Serbian forces, such as the elite Panthers commando unit, which has been accused of committing numerous atrocities, before they set off on operations.” The Church would offer “Serb warriors communion without requiring confession,” giving them absolution for the crimes they were committing to create a “Greater Serbia.”

During Rwanda’s genocide, “Churches became sites of slaughter, carried out even at the altar.” Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka wore a gun and colluded with a Hutu militia who massacred hundreds of people seeking shelter in his church. After the genocide, Catholic clergy helped church ministers who were guilty of murder flee the country and re-settle elsewhere.

A Christian militia in the Central African Republic beheaded a young Muslim man, the same thing that ISIL is doing to groups determined to be the enemy. Christian-led Mexican cartels had beheaded and killed journalists in other ways. The cartel organizations have deep financial links to Mexican churches.

After the Fox network had its worst ratings last year in 13 years, it changed a policy of not airing violent propaganda videos from terrorists. It is the only U.S. news organization to air the entire video of Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaebeth who was burned in his cage. Fox anchor Bret Baier claimed that the reason was to show “the reality of Islamic terrorism.” Even Fox’s national security reporter, Catherine Herridge, admitted that the video is a recruiting tool for ISIL. Malcolm Nance, an expert on counter-terrorism and radical extremism, said, “[Fox News] are literally – literally – working for al-Qaida and ISIS’ media arm.” Before President Obama was elected, Fox frequently criticized other media outlets for airing “terrorist propaganda” because it would threaten national security and U.S. troops. They were right then; they’re wrong now. Nance said, “The whole value of terror is using the media to spread terror.”

Less than 100 years ago, the Ku Klux Klan lynched and burned a young black man, 18-year-old Jesse Washington. Afterward the body was torn into parts that were sold for souvenirs. A photograph shows white farmers, shopkeepers, and laborers from local churches in and near Waco (TX) standing behind the body. The crowd may have been as large as 15,000. A witness who sent home the photo on a postcard wrote, “This is the barbeque we had last night. My picture is to the left with a cross over it. Your son, Joe.” Between 1882 and 1968 were 4,743 recorded lynchings in the U.S., one-fourth of them white people who sympathized with blacks. No one knows how many recorded lynchings happened.

Kid-Setting-Barack-Obama-on-Fire-84399-e1423171421131Some of the people enraged by the president’s statement that religious people can use their beliefs in a “twisted” manner may be the same people who pass along this photo of the President of the United States. Or this lynching on the lawn of Terry Jones’ church. He is the Florida pastor who burned the Quran.

obama lynch

In his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama decried ISIL’s actions and celebrated U.S. missionary Kenneth Bae’s release from North Korea. He talked about faith as a force for good, giving as an example Kent Brantly, the doctor who lived after contracting Ebola in Liberia and donated plasma to fight the virus. He praised former NASCAR driver Darrell Waltrip as an example of people who speak freely about the role of faith in their lives. Referring to his personal faith,  President Obama said he has sought God’s guidance “not just in my own life but in the life of our nation.” The mainstream media, however, is only concerned about his talking about the Crusades. Maybe it was because he concentrated on humility.

March 16, 2014

Religion Turning People Off

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Over one-fifth of the people in the United States report that religion does not play an important role in their lives. The 21 percent is up 50 percent from the 14 percent in 1997, the first year that the poll asked this question. Least religious people tend to be males under the age of 35 with an income over $75,000 and living in the Northeast or West. Millennials, those born between 1977 and 1992, are the least religious, possibly because they are better at looking through the problems perceive around them.

Maybe some of the following stories turn younger, more thoughtful people off the religious fanaticism throughout the country. For example, religious fundamentalists have long fought popular culture for youths. The latest rant is the accusation that the new movie Frozen will cause young girls to be lesbian.

The film is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen about Anna, who tries to rescue the kingdom, and her sister, Queen Elsa, from a freeze. Catholic film blogger Steven Greydanus found a “gay” message because Elsa has no romantic longings. The blogger also found bestiality because the song Fixer-Upper lyrics state: “His [Kristoff’s] thing with the reindeer, that’s a little outside of nature’s laws!”  Greydanus also called the abominable snowman Marshmallow a transvestite because he put on Elsa’s tiara.  Kevin Swanson, a religious right talk show host, is convinced that Satan is using Frozen “to indoctrinate my 5-year-old to be a lesbian.” He also claims not to be a “tinfoil hat conspiratorialist.”

[I never cease to be amused by people who think that becoming LGBT can be done that easily!]

Criticizing children’s media is not unusual for conservatives. Fox network Eric Bolling was upset about the Muppets, Lou Dobbs was bothered by The Lorax, and Jerry Falwell hated Tinky Winky the Teletubby. Other groups attacked Shrek, Shark Tale, SpongeBob SquarePants, Happy Feet, and, of course, all the Harry Potter books and movies.

The same religion that thinks Satan causes lesbianism believes that God deliberately responds to people who believe in climate change. According to televangelist Pat Robertson, the high wind that shut down the exterior lights on the U.S. Capitol was to ridicule Democrats for their late night talk about climate change on the floor of the Senate.

In a belief that it is punishing LGBT people, the Kentucky Baptist Convention is purposely blocking funding to one charitable organization.  to punish LGBT people. As a result, Sunrise Children’s Services, which shelters and feeds more than 2,000 abused and neglected children every year, has a $7-million budget shortfall after Sunrise CEO Bill Smithwick suggested hiring LGBT people. He knew that discrimination could lose public funding, about 85 percent of Sunrise’s budget. In a fit of pique, the state’s Baptist community encouraged its affiliates to blacklist Sunrise until it re-established its policy of LGBT discrimination.

The board caved and shamed Smithwick into resigning after 17 years leading the organization. He has devoted his life to helping abused and neglected children. The Baptists told affiliate churches to once again donate, but it may be a case of too little, too late. And then there’s that taxpayer funding that requires no discrimination.

While Kentucky Baptists are willing to allow child abuse in the name of religion, Idaho lawmakers are willing to let religious groups kill their children, again in the name of religion. House Speaker Scott Bedke has refused to allow a bill on the floor that would protect children from deaths from faith healing. Oregon removed this protection after it found that the infant mortality in the religious groups was 26 times higher than in the general population. Children will continue to die in Idaho, however, because the state’s law permits Followers of Christ to reject medical assistance for their children. Idaho law sends people guilty of felony injury to a child—great bodily harm of death—to prison for about a decade, but believers in faith healing get a walk.  Oregon has a state law that removes religious belief as an affirmative defense for homicide. The United States needs the same law.

One way to get religious news out is through the New York Times bestseller list. That’s what Mark Driscoll, founding pastor of The Mars Hill Church in Seattle wants to do. Church funds of at least $210,000 in 2011 and 2012 went to getting Real Marriage, authored by Driscoll and his wife Grace, onto the list. It does make me look differently at the books considered “best sellers.”

Another form of Christian publicity is posting the Ten Commandments at state capitols, even if it’s unconstitutional. The latest state to order this is Georgia. I’m convinced that conservative legislators lie awake at night trying to figure out ways to waste taxpayer money through building the coffers of lawyers.

No matter how often religious conservatives are told that the constitution includes separation of church and state, they forget, ignore, or reject the facts.

 

  • Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay claims that God, instead of James Madison, wrote the U.S. Constitution.
  • David Barton, pseudo-historian revisionist, claims that the three branches of U.S. government were created in the Old Testament. That’s the document full of kings. The passage that Barton quotes as proof?  Isaiah 33:22: “For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; he will save us.”
  • Bryan Fischer wants to limit voting to property owners like the U.S. did in the 18th century. He claims that renters don’t care about their community.
  • Pat Robertson, like many others who want this country to be a theocracy under fundamentalist Christian control, says that there’s nothing in the Constitution about separation of church and state. With a law degree from Yale, Robertson claims that this concept comes from “the constitution of the communist Soviet Union.” He compares the “wall of separation between church and state”—a metaphor used by Thomas Jefferson—to the Berlin Wall.
  • Jay Sekulow, Robertson’s attorney, claims that the Ten Commandments symbolize American law, including the one that forbids worshipping “false gods,” to Sekulow any except the Trinity. There’s also no attempt by most people—even religious ones—to “keep holy the Sabbath. In a 2003 Alabama case, scholars provided that the Founding Fathers relied on English common and statutory law, Roman law, the civil law of continental Europe, and strains of international law. Nothing about the Ten Commandments.
  • Ben Carson, a surgeon who has shown a yen for being a presidential candidate, claims that divine intervention created America. Like most fundamentalist, Carson believes that God loves the United States best and will protect it against any other country. Like former Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), Carson tells the false story of Benjamin Franklin leading the delegates in prayer.

 

The most bizarre religion story this month comes out of Edmond (OK). Dr. John Michael Lonergan, a former federal prison inmate convicted of mail fraud, tax evasion and insurance fraud in Ohio and debarred by that state, is now permitted to practice medicine under Oklahoma supervision, thanks to the Oklahoma Medical Board. According to a receptionist at the clinic where he works, Dr. Lonergan is injecting people with the “Jesus shot.” His employer, Barbie Schrick, doesn’t know what’s in the $300 injection which will supposedly take away pain for life.

One Oklahoma resident reported that Lonergan claims to be a Former Special Forces Doctor and developed a serum for the military called Jesus Juice that “cures any ailment.” She also stated that oilfield companies have allowed Lonergan to explain the shot to their workers and then charge them for injections. There’s no new news about Lonergan within the last ten days which may mean that he’s still shooting people up with Jesus Juice.

When it comes to religion, comments and actions from the faithful are stranger than fiction.

February 2, 2014

Super Bowl – Expensive, Deadly

The highest annual worship of football started at 3:30 pm today in New Jersey, as the Seahawks battle the Broncos in New Jersey. Lest you wonder about my use of the word “worship,”  the event represents religion for many of its fans. A national survey from Public Religion Research reveals that about half of the people from the United States who watch sports are under the impression that supernatural forces are at work in the games’ outcomes which are susceptible to prayer, curses, and/or rituals.

“As Americans tune in to the Super Bowl this year, fully half of fans–as many as 70 million Americans–believe there may be a twelfth man on the field influencing the outcome,” said Public Religion Research Institute CEO Robert Jones. “Significant numbers of American sports fans believe in invoking assistance from God on behalf of their favorite team, or believe the divine may be playing out its own purpose in the game.”

Football fans are most likely to resort to prayer; 33 percent of them ask God to give them the winning team. They are also more likely to think their teams were cursed (31 percent compared to 18 percent) and to take part in rituals before or during games (25 percent to compared to 18 percent). The same survey found that a plurality of Americans (48%) believe religious athletes are rewarded with good health and success.

Team members join the fans in these religious beliefs, holding prayer circles before, during, and after games. After the Super Bowl, as any other football game, expect players to say “God was with me” or “I give thanks to God.” As for health, the average life expectancy for NFL players is 58 years, compared to 78 for the general male population in the U.S. The suicide rate of NFL players is six times the national average.

The NFL is the real winner of the Super Bowl and pro football. Host cities of the annual event see less than a $60 million increase in their economies while the NFL rakes in big bucks from NFL-generated events and NFL-branded memorabilia. The NFL makes $9 billion each year and pays no taxes because it is declared a non-profit organization.

One person is fighting NFL’s extortion. When New Jersey resident Josh Finkelman found that the cheapest price for a $500 seat is $2,000, he filed a class-action complaint in federal court. According to New Jersey law, tickets can be sold for only 5 percent more than “all available seating for the event.”  Only 1 percent of the 80,000 seats are directly available to the public; 75 percent are distributed among the NFL’s 32 teams, and the NFL keeps the others for officials, media, and important corporate sponsors. Last week seats cost between $2,900 and $962,000 for corporate suites. New Jersey law would dictate that 95 percent of the tickets would be directly available to the public for the tickets’ face value. A class-action suit could involve tens of thousands of people.

The biggest problem with football, however, are the brain injuries. For over a century, there have been whispers about the physical dangers of playing football. In November 1905, 17-year-old Vernon Wise was buried on the field by a number of Hyde Park opponents. The fourth casualty of the game happened when Wise’s replacement was kicked in the head. Wise regained consciousness, told his mother he would give up the game, and died two hours later of a broken back.

Alarmed by the large number of deaths from football that year, President Theodore Roosevelt worked to make the game safer. Over 50 years later, significant equipment and rule changes tried to make the game safer again after an increasing number of head injuries. Greater safety from these changes was short-lived because regulations provide little protection against concussions. The skull may not fracture, but the brain bounces around and hits bone, a worse impact than fracturing.

The NFL makes money on spectacular high-impact play. As players became bigger, stronger, and faster, the danger of concussion grew worse. It is common for players to endure hits that are the same as a 25-mph car crash. Although individual hits cause injuries, the biggest problem is the quantity. Concussions come from a totality of blows, according to a Purdue study.

The danger isn’t only at pro-football level. Neurologists surveyed several hundred high school football players in 2002 and concluded that athletes with three or more concussions were almost ten times more likely to experience persistent amnesia. A 2004 study revealed that football players with multiple concussions were 7.7 times more likely to experience a “major drop in memory performance” and that three months after a concussion they continued to experience “persistent deficits in processing complex visual stimuli.” Athletes with two or more brain injuries demonstrate statistically significant lower grade-point averages than students without concussions.

The damage to the three-pound organ in the skull isn’t determined by the severity of the hit: players can walk away from vicious hits while getting felled by incidental impact. No one knows the length of time the brain requires to heal although the latest surmise is 10 days for adults. Adolescents need longer. During restoration, the brain damage’s side effects are painful bright lights, fragile memory full of holes, and impossible focus. With even a secondary impact during this time, the damage to the brain can be permanent. Teenagers are far more susceptible to these problems because their brains are still developing, particularly in the frontal lobes responsible for self-control and abstract reasoning.

The biggest danger from frequently smashing the brain into the skull is chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Symptoms can be indistinguishable from Alzheimer’s—memory loss, mood disorders, and depression. CTE can be definitely diagnosed only after death through dissection of the cortex. A 2009 study, however, found that former players between 30 and 49 have severe memory-related diseases nineteen times the rate of the general population. Ann McKee of Boston University autopsied 15 former players who suffered from various mental conditions, including memory loss and depression, and found CTE in fourteen of them. She also found the irreversible CTE in a multiple-concussed 18-year-old football player, the earliest evidence of CTE ever recorded.

Although more than 60,000 concussions are diagnosed among precollegiate players every year, the true incidence may be approximately 50 percent higher. According to a 2009 study, more than 40 percent of athletes go back on the field too quickly. Sixteen percent of high school football players who lost consciousness went back on the field the same day.

Current equipment can’t stop concussions. Jeffrey Kutcher, chair of the American Academy of Neurology’s sports section, told U.S. Senators, “No current helmet, mouth guard, headband, or other piece of equipment can significantly prevent concussions from occurring … It is extremely unlikely that helmets can prevent concussions the way they prevent skull fractures.” He criticize claims by helmet manufacturers suggesting otherwise, noting that even Riddell’s specialized anti-concussion helmet has only been shown to reduce the rate of concussions by 2.6 percent. Even with better helmets, players would respond with even riskier behavior.

The past whispers of brain injuries from football are developing into a muted shout. The Fox network is broadcasting today’s Super Bowl to a possible 110 million people, but two of their leading athlete/employees, Troy Aikman (Dallas Cowboys) and Terry Bradshaw (Pittsburgh Steelers), have gone on record about the game’s dangers. Bradshaw concluded he wouldn’t let a son of his play football, and Aikman said he wouldn’t “be real inclined to encourage” a 10-year-old boy to participate. Boxing faded after people noted its dangers.

Tony Dorsett, Cowboys Hall of Fame running back, was diagnosed with CTE last November. He is 59 and has the same buildup of the protein consistent with what dissection reveals in the brains of players with CTE. Former player Dave Duerson committed suicide, leaving a note asking that his brain be examined. He was 50 and had CTE. The same thing happened with linebacker Junior Seau. He was 43 and had CTE. Offensive tackle Rayfield Wright told the New York Times that he is suffering from dementia. He is 68. A year ago, Truth-Out published an article profiling Duerson, Seau, and seven other victims of football CTE.

Dorsett and Wright are among 4,500 plaintiffs suing the NFL for not revealing what it knows about the dangers of repeated head hits. The NFL agreed to settle for $765 million, but a federal judge put the settlement on hold, for fear that it won’t be enough to settle all claims.

Pop Warner football membership is down almost ten percent from 2010., and head injuries are the top reason for decline in participation. Patrick Johnson II, 12, is still playing. His father, president of the North Texas Pop Warner program, said, “Kids are kids. They can get hurt anywhere.” NFL rookie Ryan Swope, 22, has far more sense than Patrick’s father. After three concussions he retired, citing his history with head injuries.

While the NFL tries to get information about CTE quashed, the Major League Baseball (MLB) is working to reduce the number of collisions between catchers and base-runners at home plate. Fans aren’t happy about trying to reduce CTE: 61 percent of voters in an ESPN.com poll said that they are “not OK with” these reforms.

The sports fans of the United States are part of a violent culture.They aren’t interested in the skill of sports and will be satisfied with nothing less than violence. For more information about the result of football violence, check out these Frontline reports.

Now I’m hoping for a roar about the unwarranted deaths of football players.

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.

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Poppy%20004

June 2, 2013

Religion Needs Fusion to Avoid Mental Illness

Raised as a Catholic, my partner sometimes tells people that she’s “in recovery” from the religion. She may be right, according to Kathleen Taylor, an Oxford University researcher and author specializing in neuroscience, who suggests that in the future religious fundamentalism may be treated as a curable mental illness. In a presentation on brain research at the Hay Literary Festival in Wales, Taylor said that becoming radicalized to a cult ideology might be perceived as a mental disturbance instead of a free will choice.

Although many people might think that she was talking about radical Islam, Taylor said that she also meant such beliefs as the idea that beating children is acceptable. Her 2006 book is Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control. In a YouTube video, Taylor said:

“We all change our beliefs of course. We all persuade each other to do things; we all watch advertising; we all get educated and experience [religions.] Brainwashing, if you like, is the extreme end of that; it’s the coercive, forceful, psychological torture type.”

Examples of fundamentalist Christian mental illness:

Hundreds of children die across the United States because of “faith healing”: In a report about children who died in the Faith Tabernacle Congregation in North Philadelphia and First Century Gospel Church in Juniata Park, one of the members said, “God promised us that if we do his will, that there’s no infection; all these diseases that you name, would not come to you.” And these are just two denominations across the U.S.

Fundamentalists preach hate and violence: Matt Trewhella, founder of Missionaries to the Preborn, announced on In Focus, a broadcast on the Voice of Christian Youth America networks, to damn parents who don’t teach their children that homosexuals are vile people:

“I have no respect for people who are parents, who actually have children, and have no problem with homosexuality or homosexual marriage. They are the most base people on the planet to have totally abandoned every God-given vestige to protect your child from the filth of homosexuality; to blatantly go along with it is disgusting.”

Trewhalla does have a few other problems: he is a convicted arsonist, investigated by the FBI in connection with the murder of a doctor, and signed the “Justifiable Homicide” petition defending the murder of two doctors. He openly called for arming children, saying: “This Christmas I want you to do the most loving thing, and I want you to buy each of your children an SKS rifle and 500 rounds of ammunition.”

Fundamentalist Christians violate individual privacy: Part of the training for Trewhalla’s millitant organization, Missionaries to the Preborn, is  to “sidewalk counsel.” In Georgia, Daryl Banther has taken sidewalk counseling seriously. During the 1890s Day Jamboree in Ringgold, he took his 8-year-old son to accost children in the parking lot, talking about Jesus and handing them religious pamphlets and questionnaires.  Parents called the police to stop him, and he plans to sue if city officials don’t let him continue. None of the parents knew Banther because he is from Cleveland (GA), over 100 miles away.

Fundamentalists also try to indoctrinate through public schools: Although the wall between church and state has kept public schools from teaching religion in the past, the Springboro Community City School District (OH) is considering a “controversial issues policy” so that students can “think critically, learn to identify important issues, explore fully and fairly all sides of an issue, weigh carefully the values and factors involved, and develop techniques for formulating and evaluating positions.” To religious people, such topics as evolution, sustainable development, and sex education are considered “controversial.” In the real world, scientific study has made these issues non-controversial.

Agenda 21 is one of those issues religious people consider wrong. A program supported by the United Nations, Agenda 21 encourages nations to consider environmental factors when developing resources, land, transportation, etc. Even the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation does not consider Agenda 21 a threat “in and of itself.” Glenn Beck has an hysterical book showing a dystopian future because of Agenda 21, and the public school wants make the book required reading for all students.

Parents, teachers, and students were at the well-attended board meeting to oppose uneducating students. The board tabled the issue for another month.

Religious leaders control message of priests: Nine violent hate crimes against the LGBT community in New York brought the year’s total to 27 in that city, and the highest ranking Catholic in the United States, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, told members of the LGBT community to “wash” their hands before they enter the Catholic Churches. In answer to this tension, Dolan told all Catholic dioceses to focus sermons on “traditional marriages” for the next month. He has also told the parishioners to join anti-LGBT events, fast, and pray to stop marriage from becoming a reality.

His church bulletin reads:

“The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has joined with many other organizations in urging the Supreme Court to uphold both DOMA and Proposition 8 and thereby to recognize the essential, irreplaceable contribution that husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, make to society, and especially to children.”

These coercive statements lead up to July 4, the day to celebrate religious freedom. Even the usual hate groups, National Organization for Marriage and the Family Research Council, have denounced the violence against LGBT people. 

In her book, Create Your Own Religion: A How-To Book without Instructions, Daniele Bolelli has an answer for these religions that purport “that they alone possess the Only Truth revealed to them by the deity of their choosing.” She suggests that people determine individual religions based on what is best for humanity.

Religious people already read selectively, cherry picking what they like and throwing out the rest. Groups use the same book—usually the Bible—to support opposing views, for example, about slavery before and during the Civil War: “It was in this same time period … that Christians used the Bible to argue for the abolition of slavery while just as many Christians found in the Bible the ideological ammuni­tion to support slavery as a divinely ordained institution.” A century later, both the Ku Klux Klan and Martin Luther King, Jr. called themselves Christians.

Early in the development of Christianity, Saint Paul pushed celibacy whereas Christian teacher Carpocrates urged sexual orgies.  Centuries later conservatives praise wealth as a divine blessing while liberals might find sin in unfettered capitalism.

With over 30,000 different Christian denominations, Bolelli describes most established religions as “based on shaky sources.”  She compares divine revelations to playing the game of “Telephone” as one person whispers something into another’s ear who then moves what is heard on down the line. Comparing the original statement and the distorted one at the end always results in laughter at the misunderstandings.

In the case of religious texts, several decades can pass, and the message passes through thousands of people before anyone writes down what they think was said. Another group then tries to determine the “accurate” version. Religious leaders have an easy job persuading people of “the truth” because the prophets are dead and no one knows anything about them. As Bolelli wrote:

“Like demented kids hugging a puppy too tight and crushing him to death out of ‘love,’ followers destroy their founders’ teachings with blind devotion. The freshness, beauty, and vital energy of the original message dies a miserable death when the message is turned into dogma. And what followers are left to worship is the dried-up, mummified corpse of what was maybe once a wonderful idea.”

The solution to working together is creating our own religions. A recent buzz word is “fusion”—music, food, dress, ethnic makeup—and certainly religion. Without this fusion, the world will be a disaster.

“The most conservative, fundamentalist branches see the global world as a threat. To them, more choices mean more opportunity to fall in error and stray from the One True Way. In their worldview, choice is the Devil’s tool to lead us away from the truth. Confronted with a world offering greater chances for choosing one’s own way, their answer is to dig deeper trenches and become even more radi­cally rigid. The more freedoms human history offers us, the more fundamentalists will fight them. Despite their mutual hatred for one another, Jerry Falwell and the Taliban are twins separated at birth—modernity makes both of them recoil in horror.”

Religious figures best at religious fusion are the “nuns on the bus.” Led by Sister Simone Campbell, the same group of Catholic nuns that traveled across the country to protest Republican budget cuts leaves this week from Ellis Island for a 15-state tour about immigration reform. Campbell said:

“Immigration is at the heart of our Catholic faith. It’s about community. We need to welcome the stranger, and treat the stranger as yourself.”

Right on, Sister Campbell!

May 19, 2013

Religion, Our Country’s Culture Crisis

As I grew up, politics and religion seemed to be separate, unlike the last few decades. My partner (a very smart person!) and I pondered about when and how the fundamental evangelical Protestants became the power in the United States.

After the rigid Puritans settled the New World during the seventeenth century, other persecuted religious groups coming to America diluted the Puritans’ power. Although evangelicals, Baptists, and Methodists proselytized the colonies in the eighteenth century, thinkers behind the organization of the new country were largely Deists who, in their rejection of the Christ’s divinity, were comparable to today’s Unitarians. They were the ones who cemented the “wall of separation” between church and state. At the same time, the American Revolution strengthened the view that God was “partial” to this country.

During the nineteenth century, revivals crossed the country in spurts, and new religions such as the Mormon Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Church of Christ, Scientist gained their footings. The revivals of the early twentieth century established fundamentalist Christian religions such as that of the Foursquare Church from Aimee Semple McPherson, immortalized in the Elmer Gantry, a book by Sinclair Lewis made into a movie starring Burt Lancaster and Jean Simmons. During its early popularity, this religious approach occurred primarily within poorer populations and in the South. After the 21st Amendment overturned prohibition in 1933, Protestants seemed to be a religion that didn’t try to control people in the United States through the government.

John F. Kennedy’s election started that included eight years of Democratic presidents. This was the time when the conservative Southern Democrats left the party for the GOP and when conservatives laid the groundwork for later domination. During the next 24 years, the only Democratic president, Jimmy Carter, was a Southern Baptist who served just one term. 

Ironically, Tea Party that claimed to have no concern for social issues ultimately gave fundamentalist Christians the power that they craved. These conservative factions gained control through the organization of savvy politicians such as Dick Armey (formerly of FreedomWorks) and funding from corporations that found their ideology useful in adding to corporate wealth.

As the growing Tea Party was co-opted by fundamentalist Christians, it changed from the party for smaller government and no taxes into one that worked to change the United States into a theocracy. The result was a larger, controlling government because of restrictive laws to force people into their morality and their obsession to investigate anything they thought could damage the opposition. The corporations continued to financially support them because the Tea Party members support laws that increased corporate wealth. 

Now the dichotomy between fundamental and mainstream Protestantism is causing a crisis of identity within the nation. In Clash!: 8 Cultural Conflicts That Make Us Who We Are, Hazel Rose Markus and Alana Connor address the acrimony between the two parts of Protestantism.

Moderate Protestants believe in science as part of their religion, and the history of their persecution in Europe showed them the importance of the wall between religion and government. Fundamentalists don’t agree. Former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), a Southern Baptist, calls evolution a mere “theory,” and Texas Gov. Rick Perry agrees. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), an evangelical Lutheran, dismisses both evolution and climate change, calling it “voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax.”  Other Republican leaders—Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, etc.—go along with the non-belief in science.

The country’s only Catholic president, John F. Kennedy, said, “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” Santorum, a Catholic who ran for president last year, reported that when he first read these words, he “almost threw up.”

Conservative Protestants want clear social hierarchies, traditional moral codes, and more God in their lives. Their God is their best friend while moderate Protestants have a more distant God. Although warmer, the conservatives’ God is more wrathful, angrier, and more punishing while moderate Protestants see their deity as more benevolent and forgiving.   

An example of this punishment comes from a Texas judge, John Roach Jr., who invoked his “morality clause” and punished Carolyn Compton for living with her partner out of wedlock. If the partner doesn’t move out within 30 days, Compton will lose her two children. Because Texas does not recognize same-sex marriage, Compton cannot marry, Page Price, her partner of three years. Therefore she loses her loving partner or her children to an abusive man.

Fundamentalists also perceive God’s punishing the entire country. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) recently claimed that the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Benghazi attack were judgments by God as a way to punish America.

Pat Robertson’s recent marriage advice to a woman who called his program and asked how to forgive her cheating husband shows the fundamentalist perspective of hierarchy.

As the woman was talking, Robertson interrupted her:

“Stop talking about the cheating. He cheated on you. Well, he’s a man, okay. What you do is begin to focus on why you married him in the first place, on what he does good.” 

“Does he provide a home for you to live in? Does he provide food for you to eat? Does he provide clothes for you to wear? Is he nice to the children, do you have a happy family? Does he take the kids to sporting events? Does he go out and watch their Little League games? Does he share with you stuff that is going on? 

“And…uh…is he handsome, or is he, you know, what is it? Start focusing on those things and essentially fall in love with him all over again, and I recommend that you reach out and touch him. Touch his face! Hold his hand. Look into his eyes. Talk to him…”

“He must have some good points, or you wouldn’t have married him. So, give him honor, instead of trying to worry about it…but recognize, like it or not, that males have a tendency to wander a little bit. What you want to do is make a home so wonderful that he doesn’t want to wander.

“Reach out and think of the good stuff, then begin to thank God that you have a marriage that is together and that you live in America and that good things are happening…” 

Thus the Seventh Commandment applies only to women. 

Will Robertson continues his belief about LGBT people, who he equals with murderers and rapists and thieves? Or continue to believe in Bachmann’s theory of punishment about the 9/11 attacks being caused by feminism, ”a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians”? When pigs fly?

The Arizona government has established the same anti-LGBT punishment policy. After Phoenix included LGBT and disabled citizens in its anti-discrimination law to give them rights in housing and employment, religious leaders, including the Roman Catholics, said that the new law could “trample on religious liberties.” To save religion, Rep. Eddie Farnsworth and Sen. Steve Yarbrough reintroduced a tweaked, already-defeated bill as an amendment to an unrelated bill in order to skip a second public hearing. 

Language for the bill written by a conservative group, Center for Arizona Policy, states that no government entity can “burden” religious freedom, a “stand your ground” law for the religious. It allows people to discriminate against anyone they want if they claim religious grounds as an excuse—discrimination based on personal belief. The bill passed the Arizona House by a vote of 32-24.  

The Christian News calls it a way “to expand protections for the free exercise of religion.” The bill now goes to the Senate which has 17 Republicans of 30 members. At least one Republican representative had a bit of sense. “Can I create a religion and then claim infringement?” asked Kate Brophy McGee. 

What an interesting idea! Would that happen if we have a theocracy or do we have to follow just one religion,  that of the fundamental evangelical Protestants. 

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.

November 4, 2012

Genetics Shape Religious Beliefs

Why are some people religious and others non-believers? A special report in Scientific American earlier this year addresses the question: “Why does God exists for some of us but not for others?” A study of of people’s religious beliefs shows “that certain personality types are predisposed to land on different spots of the religiosity spectrum.” According to this study, “genetic factors account for more than half of the variability among people on the core dimensions of their character, which implies that a person’s feelings regarding religion also contain a genetic component.”

This study uses the same personality characteristics that have been used to determine the level of conservatism in personality: extroversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness. These remain stable through a person’s life and are independent of each other.

“Extroverts are dynamic, gregarious and socially warm, whereas introverts are timid and reserved.

“Neuroticism refers to a person’s tendency to be anxious, depressed, and generally emotionally vulnerable, as opposed to emotionally stable and positive.

“A third facet is agreeableness, which captures whether a person is empathetic, helpful and trusting of others, as opposed to mean, individualistic and arrogant.

“Conscientiousness individuals are methodical, self-controlled, and willing to establish goals and work toward achieving them, whereas those low in conscientiousness tend to be impulsive and disorganized.

“Finally we can differ in openness: whether we like novel, challenging and complex ideas, experiences and feelings. Less open individuals prefer to stay within their comfort zone.”

An analysis of studies shows that religious people score higher on agreeableness and conscientious. They end to volunteer more and show more self-control in areas such as low alcohol, drug, and tobacco use. People who  assume that these traits come from their religious beliefs need to understand that personality traits are present in early childhood and then heavily shape social attitudes, values, and identities in later life.

Scholars have long suggested that religion fosters social bonds within large groups of people. Agreeableness and conscientiousness indicate preference for social harmony and personal order—a type of stability.

Another characteristic of religious people is that they are less likely to use humor. They are also more likely to be in education, medical services, health, and humanities fields whereas nonbelievers go into engineering, science, and mathematics.

Individuals low on openness tend to be drawn to fundamental religions. When presented with choices, people in these religions are willing to help familiar people but not strangers. Other tests show the highly religious people are not willing to help people who they perceive as threatening to their personal values. In other words, “those viewed as outsiders were least likely to receive a helping hand from more conservative beliefs.”

Shared environment may play a great role in childhood and adolescence, but the genetic influence kicks in between ages 18 to 25. For adolescents, genetics counts for only 12 percent of religious identity with the environment counting for 56 percent of the outcome. The remainder of the percentage comes from unique characteristics that shape adolescents. In adults, genetics determine 44 percent toward religiosity and 18 percent, environment. The farther they go from the influence of early years, the more idiosyncratic factors determine attitudes.

The report concludes: “Does God call us? For some of us, the answer is yes: through our genes, parents, acquaintances, and life events.

The far-right, religious people tend to accuse the “liberal education” in universities of turning their children away from the church. According to these studies, the young people are just turning to their genetic makeup to make decisions.

The studies also show why more religious people are unwilling to give rights to people who they don’t know, such as marriage equality, and are less likely to care about people in poverty who have starving children. Unless they know the people who need help, they don’t want to provide assistance.

Another interesting part of religion comes from a new poll revealing that more than 68 percent of registered Republican voters believe that people can be possessed by demons. Only 48 percent of self-identified Republicans believe in climate change. The poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling, described by NPR as “one of the most prolific polling outfits in the country.” Yet only 37 percent of registered voters–both Democrat and Republican–believe in ghosts. According to the poll, zombies are considered to be the scariest monster, another issue that has not been raised at all on the campaign trail.

Asides:  Newt Gingrich’s newsletter, Human Events, included the following last week: The truth is, the next election has already been decided. Obama is going to win. It’s nearly impossible to beat an incumbent president. What’s actually at stake right now is whether or not he will have a third-term. Once again, politicians prey on the ignorant. According to the 22nd Amendment, ratified in 1951, presidents cannot run for more than two terms.

Mitt Romney has spent much of his campaigning trying to convince listeners that people are worse off since President Obama was inaugurated. Gallup’s “U.S. Economic Confidence Index” keeps refuting Romney’s claim. At -22 almost five years ago during George W. Bush’s last year, it has climbed to -8 this past week, up 12 points in the past month.

My praises to the sturdy people who are willing to stand in long lines to vote, lines that would be shorter if Republicans were willing to extend early voting. An example is Florida, where one man stood in line for eight hours. Other people lasted until 1:00 am after the lines were cut off at 8:00: that’s another five hours.

What I liked best about today was the extra hour that I gained from ending Daylight Savings Time. And VP Joe Biden’s comment: “It’s Mitt Romney’s favorite time of the year because he gets to turn the clock back.”

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