Nel's New 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.

September 15, 2013

Religious Views Can Remove Rational Thought

Imagine how the conservative Christians in the United States would react if a Muslim decided to burn almost 3,000 Bibles. Yet one Christian almost burned 2,998 Qurans, supposedly one for every victim of the 9/11/01 attacks. Fortunately, Polk County (FL) sheriff’s deputies arrested 61-year-old Terry Jones and his 34-year-old associate pastor, Marvin Sapp, Jr., as they were towing a large barbecue-style grill filled with kerosene-soaked Qurans to a park.

Last year Jones planned to burn one Quran on 9/11, although he changed his mind. His congregation burned a Quran in March 2011, and last year Jones promoted an anti-Muslim film. All three events brought violence in the Middle East. After the Quran burning, hundreds of protesters stormed a U.N. compound in northern Afghanistan and killed seven foreigners, including four Nepalese guards. Military officials told Jones that his actions put U.S. service members in danger.

Another book controversy occurred last week in Texas, a state known for revising the social studies curriculum—and the history of the United States—because of demands from conservatives. Now a group of creationists on the review panel want to adopt biology textbooks with the conservatives’ version of science.

Reviewers claim that evolution is only a theory. One of them, a dietician, wrote, “I feel very firmly that ‘creation science’ based on Biblical principles should be incorporated into every Biology book that is up for adoption.” Jimmy Gollihar, of the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Systems and Synthetic Biology, noted that the panel features anti-science activists who “not only lack any credentials but seem not to understand basic science.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that creationist pseudo-science is legally impermissible in public school science classes because it violates the separation of church and state. But the reviewers will, no doubt, persevere. The next public hearing is in two days, followed by a decision in November. The Texas Education Agency refuses to tell what changes, if any, the publishers have agreed to make in response to the reviews from the panel. 

Texas’ decision impacts textbooks in the entire nation. Because the state purchases so many textbooks, publishers tend to print what they want and sell the same ones to the rest of the country.

Bible literalists understand that if people learn and grow, that they will abandon their childlike beliefs and learn more complex ideas. One of these people is Ed Suominen, raised in a small Lutheran sect called Laestadianism, one of the most conservative of all 32,000 Christian denominations. After Suominen went to the University of Washington and became an engineer, he discovered the power of natural selection through computer work with electrical and digital systems. He chronicled his journey away from Biblical literalism  in An Examination of the Pearl and followed that with Evolving Out of Eden.  

J.K. Rowling has finished writing her Harry Potter series, but three young women from Arizona, under the tutelage of Rev. Bob Larson, are convinced that the spells are real. They have gone to London, “the center of witchcraft,” to exorcise the demons. They have vowed never to read the novels and want to help UK teenagers defend themselves “by reciting the spells in the Harry Potter books.”

A radically conservative Catholic group called “Fix the Family”  are following fundamentalist evangelical Christians in their attempt to turn the clock back at least six centuries. In a self-identified desire to strengthen the family and thereby create a stronger society, they have determined males and females should follow strict gender roles. For example, Raylan Alleman has written an article called “6 Reasons (+2) to NOT Send Your Daughter to College”:

  • “She will attract the wrong types of men.” Going to college will force women to be the primary breadwinner, supporting the man who won’t work.
  • “She will be in a near occasion of sin.” Sex releases hormones that keep the woman from seeing the man’s faults; couples should have sex only during marriage when women won’t criticize husbands because sex keeps them from seeing the men’s faults.
  •  “She will not learn to be a wife and mother.” Colleges don’t teach homemaking skills.
  • “The cost of a degree is becoming more difficult to recoup.” Only males should be allowed to accrue debts.
  • “You don’t have to prove anything to the world.” Women shouldn’t need to give in to societal pressures, just to the religion’s pressures.
  • “It could be a near occasion of sin for the parents.” Because college is expensive, parents might try to restrict the number of their children through the “sinful” approach of contraception of sterilization.
  • “She will regret it.” But maybe she won’t!
  • “It could interfere with a religious vocation.” Alleman writes that many seminaries and religious orders don’t take people with large, unpaid debts.

Alleman did get upset about the criticism and tried to justify his statements:

  • Education: College has nothing to do with education although college is necessary for the family provider depending on the vocation.
  • Female oppression: “Husbands and wives are of equal dignity, but with different roles…. Since the purpose of a college degree is for a job, it becomes unnecessary for our daughters to have such a credential.  My personal impression is that the day-to-day grind of a job is below the dignity of women.
  • Women’s opportunities: Getting a college degree often makes a young lady feel an “obligation” to use it, to make money.  Often her husband doesn’t want to see it go to “waste.”
  • Help if a husband dies or leaves: A  woman needs to have something to provide income in case her husband dies, becomes disabled or leaves her. The first 2 issues can and should be resolved with insurance, which is very affordable for young couples who may be vulnerable to these VERY remote possibilities, which is why it is so affordable.  …  As for the husband leaving her, the possibility of being left in such a state would make a woman MUCH more careful about the man she decides to marry.

Alleman would be disturbed about studies showing that atheists are more likely to stay married, be honest, and  evangelical Christians are more likely to divorce than those with no religion. The Northeast region has the lowest divorce rate whereas the Bible Belt has the highest. According to Federal Bureau of Prisons numbers, Christians commit more crimes per person than atheists, who commit fewer than the followers of any religion. In the U.S., the “more religious a state’s population, the higher the crime, STD and teen pregnancy rates.” The same results come from a comparison of countries: more religious people means more crime, more sexually transmitted diseases and higher teen pregnancy rates.

Personality-wise, science indicates that atheists are “less authoritarian and suggestible, less dogmatic, less prejudiced, more tolerant of others, law-abiding, compassionate, conscientious, and well-educated.” In a word, based on scientific research, atheists are moral. The truth is that adherence to a belief in right and wrong doesn’t require a belief in God, and the admirable lives of countless non-believers proves it.

I do have trouble understanding the Christian morality in which religious leaders rape children and are then freed. For example, the Iowa pastor and youth counselor Brent Girouex, 31, claimed that he was trying to “cure” teenage boys of their “homosexual urges” by having sex with them. His plea must have worked in court because his sentence was reduced from 17 years in prison to sex offender treatment and probation. After he confessed to having sex with four underage boys, eight more have said Girouex sexually violated them.

Girouex claimed he could rape away the gay by “praying while he had sexual contact” with the boys, all in an effort to keep them “sexually pure” for God. He told police that “when they would ejaculate, they would be getting rid of the evil thoughts in their mind.”

At least his wife didn’t swallow his excuses. Erin Girouex said,”I don’t want [my children] anywhere near him.” She wants to divorce him, but her husband wants to see his four children. At this time, the court has ordered a twice-per-month visitation schedule, supervised by his own mother.

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