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When You’re Privileged, the Irony Is Hard to Catch

November 9th, 2014 4 comments

In Tracy, CA (about 50 miles east of San Francisco), a couple of kids are in danger of failing a high school speech class because, in a school assignment to recite the pledge to the school, they left out the words “under God.”

In one sense, the kids are out of line: they were told that they were required to read the pledge as presented, and if they felt uncomfortable with the assignment, they could get an alternate one. Instead, they chose to lead the recitation, and violated the rules given. While one of the students claimed he felt he would not be graded fairly with the alternative assignment, one kind of gets the feeling that they in fact wanted to make a statement.

And that is where they are not out of line; instead, the pledge, or more specifically, those who feel it must be forced upon the student populace, are out of line. I focused last month on the idea that the pledge itself is inane, but that was a more general assessment based on the fact that it requires young people to take an oath they do not understand. The inclusion of the words “under God” is another very solid reason the pledge is not a good idea.

Aside from the fact that the inclusion of “under God” is a late addition (the pledge was introduced in 1892, and the “under God” was tacked on in 1954), it is a clear violation of the First Amendment separation of church and state. Like making the national motto “In God We Trust” and slapping it on every piece of currency, it not only deviates from the original intention (the national motto was, even if not codified by law, “E Pluribus Unum” since the time of the founders), but it foists religion, indeed a specific religion (we all know which God is being referred to, after all), upon the people by government fiat, in stark contradiction to the establishment rule. In fact, the addition of “so help me God” to official pledges is expressly forbidden not by the Bill of Rights, but by the main body of the constitution itself, forbidding religious tests for public office. If you don’t think it’s a religious test, imagine what would have happened to Obama, or any other president, had they specifically omitted those two words from their inaugural oaths.

And yet, these illegal incursions are allowed to persist, usually under the spurious excuse that it’s not important, just a “little thing,” why are you even making a deal out of this at all? And then a Supreme Court justice attempts to overturn the First Amendment on the very basis that these incursions have become accepted in everyday government and social business.

And this is highlighted beautifully in the Tracy Unified School District’s public response to the two students’ actions:

“When you’re leading the pledge, you’re representing the school,” Strube said in an interview Monday . “I would say it’s not appropriate to leave it out when you are leading it for 2,000 people.”

This perfectly shows up the fallacy of the inclusion of religious text. How is it appropriate to direct a diverse group of students to make a religious statement on the direction of a government agency, but somehow inappropriate to not direct them to make a religious statement? If you are harming the religious students by leaving out the religious statement once or twice, how are you not harming the non-religious students every other time?

To say that it’s tradition or even law only makes it worse.

Seriously, it is time to retire this rather silly and, frankly, unconstitutional ritual.

Categories: Religion Tags:

No, It’s Not Religion That Gets You Dragged Off to Jail

October 19th, 2014 1 comment

For a while now, there has been paranoid claims from the religious right that society is becoming so hostile to religion that Christians could be arrested for their beliefs. Much of this is over Christians who condemn homosexuality and see hate laws and anti-discriminatory measures as direct legal attacks on their faith. Back in 2009, some Christians fretted that they could face “legal sanctions” for merely expressing their God-given beliefs.

Earlier this year, three congregations were shocked when actual city police officers marched into their churches and arrested three pastors. The police officers and the pastors all claimed in the video of the event that the arrests were for “defending the faith.” The congregations later learned that the entire event was staged, the arrests mock ones, intended to show how difficult it had become to preach one’s beliefs in current times.

Recently we have seen a series of movies showing Christians being persecuted for their beliefs, from a ridiculous movie about a college Philosophy professor forcing his class to admit God doesn’t exist, to a movie literally titled “Persecuted,” about a government conspiracy to create laws to, apparently, mute Christianity by mixing it with all other religions, or something. I haven’t seen the movie, so I don’t know if the reviews or the movie itself is bizarrely unclear. The main character is framed for a crime he did not commit, and stands to be imprisoned.

And just now, Texas Senator Ted Cruz stated that he believes there is a “real risk” that clergy will literally be arrested and imprisoned for advocating “traditional marriage.”

All this despite the fact that, not only are Christians not being arrested and imprisoned, but the law is trending very strongly against any such eventuality. While others are being granted legal rights that these religious conservatives deplore and wish to stop, any law which even seems to infringe on religious freedoms, even tangentially, is being struck down—even if it means limiting the freedoms of people who believe differently.

Indeed, if you want to find anyone being sent to prison for their beliefs, you’r going to have to look at atheists. In California, in 2004, Barry A. Hazle, Jr. was arrested for meth possession. California law, in the wake of Prop 36, states that you have to be given three chances to remain sober. Hazle was in the process of being served with his second warning when police serving him found an unopened bottle of Whiskey in his apartment; that liquor got him sent to prison. The sentence was later overturned, as a court decided Hazle was arrested for a third offense which was committed before he was informed he had expended his second one.

In the meantime, Hazle went to prison for a year. After one year, he was offered a chance at parole—but only if he agreed to enter a rehab program. Hazle agreed, and was released on parole. However, a problem soon turned up: the rehab program demanded that all its members “recognize a higher power,” i.e., God. Hazle, an atheist, had problems with that. According to records, he “congenially” stated his concerns and requested a different program. Since no secular program was found, his parole officer sent him back to jail for another 100 days.

He sued and won a sizable settlement, and California has since changed its laws not to so discriminate.

However, Hazel essentially served 100 days in prison for being an atheist; a Christian would have been allowed to go free.

In a society where Christians win national news coverage for their alleged “persecution” just because a business refuses to print religious material for copyright reasons, can you imagine what the reaction would be if a Christian were sentenced to jail because they refused to renounce God? Holy Crap, the Internet would explode and there would be weeks of non-stop coverage on Fox. Hazle’s story barely made the news, mostly just local reports.

And although California changed its laws, there are many states which have not; and in many other ways, atheists are marginalized and given second-class citizenship—something Antonin Scalia (who calls atheists “irrational,” believers “worldly wise,” and believes that atheism “certainly favors the devil’s desires”) recently claimed was completely constitutional.

No, it’s not religion that is being persecuted in the United States.

Categories: Religion Tags:

Religion Is Only the Cause When It’s Those Guys

October 11th, 2014 1 comment

How is it that whenever a Christian attacks, maims, or kills someone based upon hateful scripture, it’s not really Christianity that’s at issue—the guy is obviously mentally unstable! Has nothing to do with the actual religion!

But when a Muslim beheaded someone? That’s definitely Islam, a religion of hatred.

Slight double standard here?

Categories: Religion Tags:

Question What You Agree With

September 8th, 2014 No comments

The Dish just cited a recent survey which says that 34% of Americans support removing “under God” from the pledge. I have always supported this point of view, so of course I want to check if this is a legit survey, or somehow slanted. You always have to do that: check the legitimacy of any fact you hear, but especially those that agree with your worldview. Not to mention that one-third sounds a bit high for such an idea in the United States as it is right now.

Sure enough, the survey was commissioned by a Humanist organization—not enough to negate it, but enough to arouse suspicion. Interestingly, the report begins by citing another such survey, in which an “evangelical research firm” found only 8% support for the same idea. That survey reportedly only asked the question about removing the words “under God” without context.

In contrast, the poll commissioned by the Humanist organization had the question presented within a fairly specific context:

For its first 62 years, the Pledge of Allegiance did not include the phrase “under God.” During the Cold War, in 1954, the phrase “one nation indivisible” was changed to read “one nation, under God, indivisible.” Some people feel this phrase in our national pledge should focus on unity rather than religion.

And that got the 34% positive response.

Both polls were clearly biased. The first poll, by the religious organization, asked the stark question without context, “if they believed ‘under God’ should be removed from the Pledge.” Given without context, it has the sense of asking the respondent to make a choice against religion. Otherwise, it is up to the listener to apply a context, and many, having heard so much of the “war on Christianity” in the media, doubtlessly allowed that to influence their answer.

The Humanist take on it, however, was even more biased. It provided not only a very specific context, but a justification as well. It noted that the original pledge did not have the words “under God,” and that pressures from the now-defunct Cold War caused the new inclusion (thus providing the justification for removal), and then set the context for removal as one which promotes national unity. Essentially, it became a question about whether or not you support unity.

So it would appear that both are not accurate, and the actual range of support is somewhere between the two.

A context does need to be provided, but the tricky part is, what context? If people are asked if they approve of the “new health care law,” about 50% don’t like it; if asked about “Obamacare,” the disapproval is likely to be higher. However, if you ask people about the specific contents of the law, supports increases dramatically.

So, what context to provide for removing “under God” from the pledge? Probably one which presents the two primary arguments for and against. For example:

Many believe that the words ‘under God’ should remain in the pledge to demonstrate the religious nature of the country; others believe that the words, added during the Cold War, violate the separation of church and state and actively exclude non-theists. Do you believe the words should be removed from the pledge?

When polling, the two views should be swapped in order of presentation half the time, and the question should also be worded, “should be kept in the pledge” half the time.

I’d like to see what that wording gets in response. My guess would be about 20% in favor of removing it—about the number of non-theists in the country, give or take fence-crossers on either side.

Of course, the response should be 100% for removal; I believe strongly in the principle that any inclusion of religion, especially in a pledge so closely associated with citizenship and national fealty, is a threat to the freedom of belief—and indeed, Supreme Court “Justice” Antonin Scalia has used exactly this camel’s nose to justify the negation of separation and church—in his words, “manifesting a purpose to favor . . . adherence to religion generally.”

Nevertheless, when I see evidence presented which supports my point of view, my first reaction is to embrace it—but my considered response is to question it.

Categories: Religion, Social Issues Tags:

Jesus Is to Save Christians, Not Guide Them

August 11th, 2014 1 comment

One element of Christianity that I have discovered over the years is that, for many Christians (in America, at least), Jesus is most emphatically not a role model. He is a savior, a rescuer, a hero image. Christians are to worship him as they would a hero—and like a hero, they leave the saving and rescuing to him, and otherwise adopt a “don’t try this at home” attitude.

Have you ever heard Christians say, “When it comes to turning the other cheek, I’m more of an old-testament kind of Christian”? Have you noted so many Americans who have plenty for themselves coldly shouting to turn refugee children away at the border? Have you noted a preponderance of Christian values claimed by people who clearly prefer money over morality?

It crystallized for me when I read about reactions from Christians in a neighborhood where a sculpture of Jesus as a homeless man on a bench had been placed:

Jesus is not a vagrant, Jesus is not a helpless person who needs our help. We need someone who is capable of meeting our needs, not someone who is also needy.

To this woman, Jesus was not someone who you emulate. You do not have to actually follow his teachings, because, I assume, they’re just evidence of how great Jesus was. It’s not like Christians are supposed to do those things.

No, Jesus is more like Superman: he flies around and rescues people, not you. You admire him, and depend on him to help you. But you don’t try to go around flying or stopping crime yourself.

For such people, Christianity is not about becoming a better person. Instead, it’s mostly about the perks.

This understanding clears up a lot.

Categories: Religion Tags:

Do Unto Others As You Would Not Have Them Do Unto You

May 14th, 2014 6 comments

Schools in Kentucky have been allowing the Gideons to distribute bibles to elementary school children. Noting that the schools are prohibited from favoring one set of beliefs over another, a Humanist organization decided to go to the same schools and offer free books on Humanism.

The parents’ reaction? Some of them pulled their kids from school rather than allow them to be exposed to such horrors. Others hovered menacingly over the Humanists as they put their books out for any interested students to pick up—also presumably to intimidate any students who dared show any interest:

A small group of adults and children followed Freethinkers Jim G. Helton and Torey Glassmeyer to Walnut Hill and Jones Park, glowering at them from the parking lot as they delivered the books after 5 p.m. Thursday.

Before they arrived at Jones Park, parents walked into the school and demanded to see the table where the books were going to be displayed. Local media were barred from entering the schools and were politely asked to leave when they entered the building.

“We’re here to defend God and his glory,” said one woman, who declined to be named. A male companion muttered to himself as he scanned the parking lot for their car.

One can imagine what these people’s reactions would have been if Humanists had acted the same way when Christians distributed bibles to students.

I do have one question, however: aren’t these angry bible folk the same people who insist that in Science classes, students should be exposed to “both sides of the controversy,” and then be allowed to “decide for themselves”?

I think this is called “situational discrepancy.” Or “hypocrisy” for short.

Categories: Religion Tags:

More Christian Persecution!

April 12th, 2014 Comments off

You see stories like this all the time in the conservative media: child does something related to religion, intolerant school teacher punishes the crying child, the War on Christianity goes on….

Unsurprisingly, these stories seem to appear only in the conservative media—especially Fox, WDN, and a variety of right-wing Christian publications—and other than that, just the local press where the story happened.

Just as usually, the story is more of a press release by the aggrieved parents’ attorneys, with the story too fresh to contain any meaningful comments by school administrators, often too bound by rules to make statements about students’ cases.

In this particular story, it is told that a first-grade class was filling out Valentine’s Day cards, an age-old stupid activity where children are forced to write something nice to every other child in the class. I remember having to do this. It is kind of on par with having to recite the pledge of allegiance: the kids do it only because they’re told to, not because they want to or really understand what they’re doing. These students were allowed to add stickers to their messages on the cards; some put Star Wars or Despicable Me stickers on theirs, others had various common designs, like one student who affixed a sticker with a skull saying, “You’re a Rock Star!”

But this one child was putting a message about Jesus on his cards, so, reportedly, the teacher “confiscated” them and made the boy cry. And naturally, the parents sued. Their child’s First Amendment rights were being violated! And look at the other cards! Skulls! Guns! That’s allowed, but a loving message from Jesus is not?

Sounds open-and-shut, doesn’t it? If you read the Fox News version, it sounds even worse. You have to apply critical thinking skills to realize that the narrative is told completely by the plaintiffs (actually, their attorneys), and there is nothing from the defendants—in other words, the story, as told, is essentially as biased as you’re going to get. Most readers will not pick up on this, however, and will accept the narrative as straight reporting of facts.

Here’s the real heart of the story in my opinion: the message the child “wrote” on the cards:

Happy Valentine’s Day!

St. Valentine was imprisoned and martyred for presiding over marriages and for spreading the news of God’s love. In honor of St. Valentine’s Day, I want you to know that God loves YOU!!!!

“…God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

…And that’s where the card becomes objectionable: the message was not from the child. The message was from the parents. And it was a message of proselytization.

I mean, really, I can understand a 7-year-old choosing stickers of cute skulls or Lego Star Wars figures (examples chosen by the parents/attorneys to highlight what horrible stuff was allowed)… but I do not think any 7-year-old is going to write a message about martyrdom and then print it out along with a Bible verse.

Clearly what happened was that the parents saw an opportunity to spread the word of God and gave their child the message to hand out to other students. Their child obviously had no idea what the card said, without doubt not understanding words like “imprisoned,” “martyred,” or “presiding,” nor what “giving his only son” or “not perishing” is all about.

In essence, the child was only a conduit for the parents’ religious message.

I’ll bet you this: if the child wrote a message about “Jesus loves you” which was clearly written by a 7-year-old, I think the teacher would not have taken the cards. The fact is, the child’s First Amendment rights are not at the center of the case.

If and when the school eventually releases an opinion, I do not expect stories explaining such to be so widely distributed. Only if the case wins, or if it is shut down and so counted as evidence of the persecution of Christians, that’s when we’ll hear about it again.

In the meantime, it is yet another “example” of the “persecution” of Christians in the ongoing “War on Christianity” proving America’s “intolerance” for religion.

Categories: Religion, Right-Wing Lies Tags:

Recently, In Fundie Land…

March 23rd, 2014 1 comment

Creationists are demanding equal time on TV to refute Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos episodes which discuss evolution.

I find it fascinating that people like this make demands of this sort. It highlights a common conservative shortcoming: they rail and scream about how bad something is, then they try to do the thing they railed against but even more so, and then they freak out when they meet any resistance to it.

You see, these are the same kind of people who detest the very idea of “equal time,” especially in the context of the Fairness Doctrine. They spend a great amount of time decrying the very concept, acting like it is some kind of socialist fascism, and just an excuse for liberals to take over Fox News and conservative radio. (This is interesting on another level, because it shows up how they know that the media is in fact conservative, else the Fairness Doctrine would benefit them!)

But when they see some documentary or news report that says something they don’t like, their knee-jerk reaction is—naturally—to demand equal time.

They don’t call it the “Fairness Doctrine,” which they hate, but that is exactly what they are asking for. What we call the “equal time rule” is limited to political candidates in a campaign (not to mention, documentaries were exempt from the rule). The Fairness Doctrine is about allowing equal time in the media for opposing views on important issues—which is exactly what is being called for now. Neither the rule nor the doctrine is still in force, though; equal time was done away with not too long ago, and the Fairness Doctrine was scrapped in 1987.

Another aspect to the creationist demand is the idea that somehow, creationists aren’t getting equal time in the media. Which, of course, is laughable—there are all kinds of fundamentalist religious TV shows and even whole networks running 24-7; should scientists be able to demand equal time on their channels? Again, the hypocrisy and double-standard are thick and deep.


The Westboro Baptist Church remains clueless after the death of their former pastor, Fred Phelps. As the church members protested a music concert, a group of people across the street held up a banner that read, “Sorry for Your Loss.” Poignant, and to the point—it expressed sorrow for anyone’s death, sympathy for those in grieving, and served as an example of how one reacts properly to those who have lost a loved one.

A member of the Westboro group responded, “I don’t even know what they’re saying.”

That response speaks volumes.


And, for the really low-hanging fruit, let’s just note that Sarah Palin recently chastised women who wear a “symbol of death around their neck.” She was referring to women who wear a necklace with a tiny coat hanger in protest of the campaign to criminalize abortion. As usual, she did not think two inches beyond her immediate words, or else she would have realized that she herself has worn a symbol of death around her neck all of her adult life.

How about chastising anyone who wears the cross as a symbol for the love of Jesus and yet consistently campaigns against that which Jesus actually stood for?

Christians Not of Christ

March 2nd, 2014 1 comment

A sculpture was set up outside a church in Davidson, North Carolina, a replica of a work that can be seen in various places. The sculpture portrays a man wrapped in a blanket on a bench, clearly homeless. His feet stick out the end of the blanket, where one can see stigmata, and understand that this is supposed to be Jesus.

Jesus

Some residents in the area were not happy. One woman called the police to report a vagrant man in her upscale neighborhood, and then seemed more offended when she found out it was a statue of Jesus. “Jesus is not a vagrant, Jesus is not a helpless person who needs our help. We need someone who is capable of meeting our needs, not someone who is also needy.”

Another resident was “creeped out”:

My complaint is not about the art-worthiness or the meaning behind the sculpture. It is about people driving into our beautiful, reasonably upscale neighborhood and seeing an ugly homeless person sleeping on a park bench. It is also about walking by this sculpture at night and passing within inches of the grim reaper. These are the impressions that this sculpture gives. I have stepped over actual homeless people sleeping on a sidewalk in New York City and not been as creeped out as I am walking past this sculpture.

You know, I’m not a Christian, and I’m often not the sharpest appreciator of art that you’ll find, but I got this one immediately.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

In that sense, the sculpture is a thing of beauty, and this is coming from someone who is not a big fan of religious art, to be honest. You should consider, approach, and treat any homeless person with the same love and respect you would to someone like Jesus Christ. Thus, Christ wrapped in a blanket on a bench is not saying Christ is weak; it’s saying that homeless people are people. I would think that Christ would love this sculpture.

Unfortunately, many Christians are not actually Christians.

Here we have two people whose first reaction to a homeless person is to call the police or else just walk over them and feel creeped out. I would say that this sculpture is a good test; even if you don’t “get” the reference, if your reaction to the sculpture is to want to get this thing out of sight, then you did not pass the test.

It’s kind of like when you hear people say, “When it comes to turning the other cheek, I’m more of an Old-Testament Christian.”

Again, I am not a big fan of the church, but I am a big fan of a lot of the New Testament teachings attributed to Christ. And it seems to me that if you are going to call yourself a Christian, you kind of have to at least try to adhere to the teachings of Christ.

If you are a Christian, it should not be all about making yourself feel better, and it should not be because someone else is taking care of you. It’s not about joining a club and being comfortably select. It should not be easy. Being a Christian should be about becoming a better person.

Or do I have it wrong?

Categories: Religion Tags:

My Right to Deny Yours

February 26th, 2014 2 comments

There’s a very simple rule: your right to swing your arm ends where my nose begins. Your rights, freedoms, and liberties are not to be used as a license to abridge the rights, freedoms, and liberties of others. It’s not hard to figure out.

There’s a whole new strategy amongst the Religious Right: to deny those rights, freedoms, and liberties to groups and classes of people, and to restrict a range of activities, against which religious conservatives are prejudiced, all in the name of their own “religious freedom.”

You want access to birth control? Well, so long as I am even peripherally involved as a taxpayer or an employer, my freedom trumps your right: I can deny you access, either by restricting what insurance you receive, or even by being a pharmacist.

You want equal rights as a human being? Well, not if I have to interact with you. I have the right to treat you like a non-person if I happen to be any random person doing business with you, even as a doctor or law enforcement officer.

You know what? That’s not only wrong, it’s asinine. It’s so clearly wrong that it should be obvious to anyone and everyone. If any such law is passed, it is an embarrassment; if any such law is upheld, it will be a violation of the most essential principles of our society.

The Religious Right is on a new kick: I get to use my religion to harm others.

No you don’t. You have no such right. Period.

Late note: when even religious bigot Newt Gingrich says you’re going too far, take that as a hint.

Categories: Religion, Right-Wing Extremism Tags:

God’s Subjective Morality

August 22nd, 2013 1 comment

This is the kind of thing that is truly frightening to hear people say:

It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases. God gives life and he takes life. Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die.

God is taking life every day. He will take 50,000 lives today. Life is in God’s hand. God decides when your last heartbeat will be, and whether it ends through cancer or a bullet wound. God governs.

So God is God! He rules and governs everything. And everything he does is just and right and good. God owes us nothing. …

The Bible says, “Thou shalt not murder,” yet God says to Joshua, “Go in and clean house, and don’t leave anything breathing! Don’t leave a donkey, child, woman, old man or old woman breathing. Wipe out Jericho.” …

So I would vindicate Joshua by saying that in that setting, with that relationship between God and his people, it was right for Joshua to do what God told him to do, which was to annihilate the people. …

An example of this right now is that God has given the sword to the government (Romans 13:4). Therefore I believe the government has a right to take a rapist and a murderer and to put him in jail. Or to kill him.

Essentially: God created all, and so He can do anything He pleases with his creations. There is no higher morality for God, no accountability; whatever He does is, by definition, good. He says commit genocide, therefore that act of genocide is right.

Already I have problems with that. God can literally make anything right by saying so, without regard to consistency or, for that matter, any restraint of any kind. God has no responsibility for tending to his creations. Or, at the very least, He is supposed to have Really Good Reasons for doing apparently horrific things and we are simply to trust Him on it.

Beyond the specter of an omnipotent being of that nature, the real worry is that this is not just about God. God serves as a model for many. The relationships to fatherhood are virtually countless, both literal and subtle. And the model which says “Whatever I say goes, and I don’t have to explain myself” is as frightening as authoritarianism often is.

However, that’s far from the greatest worry. Far more horrifying is the combination of two facts:

Fact #1: Anything God commands is moral, right, and good; and
Fact #2: People decide what God commands by reading scripture and interpreting what it means.

Take, for instance, the quoted author’s justification for the death penalty: Romans 13 states that God has given His seal of approval to the governing authorities—so whatever a government does is equal to God’s will, and is moral, right, and just. Go ahead, read it. There are no exceptions; presumably, it means any government. How this applied to the Soviet Union, for example, I am not sure, but I am certain there was some explanation which got around that apparent contradiction, there always is.

Not scared yet? Just remember that while Romans 13 is pretty straightforward, there is so much in the Bible which can be construed as meaning virtually anything a person wishes it to mean.

What this comes down to is that, ultimately, Christian morality is meaningless, as it is whatever one decides it to be.

That is not to say that in any given setting or situation, it means anything goes. What it means is that, like the quoted author’s submission to governmental authority, whoever is in charge gets to decide what the rules are.

Again, authoritarianism.

And in case you disagree, well, just remember that not only is God (meaning whoever speaks in God’s name) the source of all good, but there is no possibility of any good from any other source. No matter how good it seems, no matter how kind, generous, fair, or just someone or something appears to be, if they do not bow to God (meaning representatives of God, specifically our God), then they are simply without good.

Naturally, not all Christians feel this way. But it’s the ones who do who scare me.

Categories: Religion Tags:

He IS the Messiah! Or At Least One of Them

August 13th, 2013 Comments off

A few days ago, a child support judge in Newport, Tennessee decided a case from two parents disagreeing over their child’s surname.

The mother, Jaleesa Martin, wanted to name the boy Messiah DeShawn Martin, using her surname only. The boy’s father wanted the boy to have his surname, McCullough. The reports make it unclear whether the couple is married or not.

The case should have been simple, but the judge did something unexpected: not only did she decide in favor of the father, but she decided in favor of herself: in addition to giving the boy the surname “McCullough,” she also struck down the baby’s first name as well, replacing it with the mother’s surname, making his full name Martin DeShawn McCullough.

The reasoning the judge gave was even more problematic:

The word Messiah is a title and it’s a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ.

The judge gave other rationales as well, in particular that they lived in a heavily Christian community and that bearing a name like that would create difficulties for the child. Perhaps—but that’s not for the judge to decide.

Making such a change because you worship Jesus Christ is, without question, unconstitutional. The judge cannot force her own beliefs on the parents or the child.

Not to mention, this would not be the first time a baby has been named “Messiah” in the country:

In 2012, 762 other Messiahs were born in the U.S., making it the 387th most popular name for U.S. boys in the U.S., according to the Social Security Administration. And because only 368 Messiahs were born in the U.S. in 2011, it’s also the fourth-fastest-growing boys’ name in America.

Not to mention that an another acceptable baby name is “Salvador.” Meaning: “savior.”

And that’s what “Messiah” can mean as well—both specifically and generally. “Messiah” is defined not only as the deliverer of the Jewish nation (Jews do not see Jesus Christ as the Messiah), but also as “a leader or savior of a particular group or cause.”

In short, the baby’s name was perfectly fine, and the judge screwed up. The question is, why did she screw up?

The apparent cause was that she allowed her religious beliefs to sway her decision; this is a teachable moment, as many people are likely not aware that such religious bias is not uncommon in supposedly objective legal decisions. In child custody cases, for example, judges often side with a religious parent over one who is an atheist. And then we have Anthony Scalia attempting to force his own religious beliefs on the entire country by essentially trying to nullify the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

However, there is a difference possibility, or perhaps a contributing element: this happened in the South. The judge is white. The baby is black. There’s certainly no direct evidence, but when you have an arsonists’ convention and the building next door bursts into flames, it is perhaps unwise to ignore the arsonists as suspects. Had the baby been white, would the judge have done the same?

Categories: Religion, Social Issues Tags:

Scientists Do the Work, God Takes the Credit

May 23rd, 2013 4 comments

From a news report that caught my eye:

Timing, faith, heroics, preparation and a bit of luck spared thousands.
Local, state and federal officials credit luck, happenstance, timing, faith, heroics, preparation and the seasoned experience that comes with living in the heart of Tornado Alley for the relatively low victim count.

Really? Faith was one of the elements? How did that work?

Of the elements listed, “luck,” “happenstance,” and “timing” all pretty much mean the same thing, and are true. Some people survived simply due to chance.

“Heroics” I get as well—for example, teachers risking their lives to save their students.

“Preparation” definitely—storm shelters no doubt saved many lives. Related to that would be “seasoned experience,” which both led to the preparation and informed people what to do in cases like these.

But “faith”? Where did that come in? I mean, let’s say we’re assuming God controls everything, at least as far as nature is concerned (people have free will). Okay, but then that means that he sent the tornado. I don’t see how faith helps you there. And if it means that praying saved people, then that must also be applied to those who did not survive: did they fail to pray? And if so, did God kill them for it? What if they did pray but died anyway; how would faith have helped them there? Surely there must be many among the survivors who did not pray; why were they left alive?

So, really, I don’t see how faith could possibly be included in that list. Maybe as a coping mechanism afterwards, but in terms of keeping people from harm? Hardly. So why force that into the list? Read the article, and you will see no evidence whatsoever to support the inclusion.

Eventually, the “news media” was also credited, albeit only near the end of the article; acknowledgment of the communication system for warnings is appropriate, surely more than faith was.

However, something far more relevant was pretty much ignored: science. You know how all those people got warned so quickly? Scientists studied how weather works. Scientists, some of whom risk their lives chasing these storms to get the data required, worked out the mechanics of tornado prediction. And scientists developed the technology which brought the message to these people. Not to mention that engineers designed the building structures and shelters that saved so many lives.

So, really, the biggest thanks of all should go to scientists, who probably were #1 on the list of life savers.

How many thanks did they get? How many were mentioned in stories like these?

None.

But faith gets a big “thank you.” Not as big as God himself, though; see the video at top, in which Wolf Blitzer awkwardly tries to actually press a “thanks” to the Lord for the woman and her child surviving the storm. It’s not just that she was an atheist, but rather that Blitzer seemed so eager to get a “Thanks be to Jesus!” out of her.

Next time, Wolf, ask someone if they might want to say a word of thanks to the nameless scientists who did most of the work. But then, if he did that instead of trying to praise Jesus, then he’d be part of the War on Christianity™.

Categories: Religion, Science Tags:

Mandatory Religious Deference

April 2nd, 2013 5 comments

In the United States, we live under the protection of religious freedom. This means that, as far as government and the law are concerned, we may believe, or not believe, as we wish.

However, this is a legal protection, not a cultural one. Culturally, there can be all sorts of religious discrimination. More than that, there can be religious bullying.

Think of it in terms of working at an office where most of the people there are, let’s say, die-hard Dodgers fans. They not only hang Dodgers pennants and other paraphernalia up, they get offended when you put up a banner for any other team (especially if it’s bigger than their pennant). In fact, they get upset if you don’t put up a Dodgers pennant in your cubicle or office. They get downright pissy about it, in fact. A coworker emails everyone:

Can I just say how disappointed I am that the Dodgers won yesterday, but Linda chooses to celebrate by hanging her daughter’s artwork instead.

And you know you’re going to catch all kinds of dirty looks and snide remarks all day.

You would probably dread working in an environment like that. Not just because you’re the outsider, but because the majority of people there are such asses about the fact that you’re not—and that you’re not praising or worshipping them or their favorite things.

Well, welcome to the United States of America. Today, Google did not choose to represent the mainstream holiday or event (as is often the case) and instead chose to post something out of the mainstream—Caesar Chavez’s birthday, in this case.

Conservative Christians across the nation were offended. Some were livid. A few representative tweets:

Google thinks Cesar Chavez is more important than Easter. #whoareyou #happyeaster

Why is Jesus not on google but Cesar Chavez and his 86th birthday is ???

Wow. Congrats Google, youve managed to alienate all Christians in America today: instead of celebrating Christ, they celebrate Cesar Chavez.

That last one has just about the right ring to it: fail to put us above and before everyone else, and you risk our wrath. Many reported their intent to move exclusively to Bing.

Seriously, you would think that Google is a church or something, in that not recognizing Easter is completely out of character, a slap in the face. Since when has it become a requirement for businesses to genuflect? Why expect them to celebrate Easter with a special graphic? Why on earth would you get upset if they don’t?

“You said ‘happy birthday’ to Mark on his birthday, but not to me on mine? Well, don’t expect me to give you the time of day from now on!”

Yes, it is just that petty and pissy.

Not that it is anything new. You know about the infamous “War on Christmas,” right? Same thing. It consists mostly of Christians whining about how a few people are saying “Happy Holidays” instead of joining the popular chorus of “Merry Christmas.”

“Happy Holidays” is inclusive: it includes Christmas, but also everyone else. It’s perfect when you are speaking to a large number of people or are unsure of what holiday a particular person celebrates.

“Merry Christmas,” on the other hand, while perfectly fine for addressing someone you know celebrates the holiday, happens to exclude anyone who is not a Christian.

Demanding that retailers say “Merry Christmas” and forbidding them to say “Happy Holidays” is like men demanding that crowds be addressed as “Gentlemen” only, and getting all offended when “Ladies and Gentlemen” is used instead.

Seriously, if you hear “Merry Christmas” two dozens times a day, hear Christmas carols on nearly every radio station, see special Christmas episodes of most of your favorite TV shows, are bombarded with Christmas decorations and jingles everywhere you go… is it really going to put you out that much to hear the occasional business cheerfully wishing you a happy holiday?

If you can’t be satisfied with hogging 99% of the pie and then sharing the last sliver with others, then you’re a whiny, selfish, self-centered ass.

And you’re giving Christianity a bad name.

Honestly, would you want to be a Dodgers fan if all their followers were dicks?

Categories: Religion, Right-Wing Hypocrisy Tags:

White, But With a Tan

March 15th, 2013 1 comment

There’s a lot of excitement:

Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony cheered the selection of Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina as the new pope.

“This is unimaginable,” Mahony told KCBS-TV Channel 2 anchor Sylvia Lopez in an interview in Rome. “The impact this is going to have have. Particularly, of course, in Latin America. It’s the first time we ever had a Southern Hemisphere pope. It’s just extraordinary.”

“Unimaginable.” “Extraordinary.”

It’s hard to think of another example of anyone being so excited at their symbolically overcoming their own bigotry to such a minor degree.

That a non-European Pope be elected for the first time in 1,200 years (some of the early popes were born in the Middle East or Roman Africa) is more a sign of how the church disrespects and disregards the rest of the world, where the great bulk of their believers reside.

It is only symbolic, however, to a minor degree, because Jorge Mario Bergoglio is not even part Indie; he is of full Italian descent, the child of immigrants.

So, it’s just his nationality that has people excited.

God forbid they select someone of non-European ethnicity. Or, some day, not male.

In the meantime, they elected yet another white European-descent male who is vigorously anti-gay. But he lived in South America! Wheee! What a breakthrough!

If doing that is “unimaginable” for the church leadership, then this church is decidedly backwards.

There is also excitement that this man chose to live in a modest apartment among the poor rather than to move into a luxurious, stately church residence.

Um, let’s see, this church is supposed focus on Christ, yes? And we’re supposed to be impressed by the fact that, for the first time in a very long time, the leader of that church actually respected the core teachings of their savior in his own lifestyle? Before moving into the most extravagant opulence, of course.

A step in the right direction, perhaps. But “extraordinary”? Wow.

Categories: Religion Tags:

The Last Acceptable Prejudice

February 18th, 2013 1 comment

Confronting prejudice seems to be a matter of not just social norms, but of visibility, psychology, and choice.

On visibility, race and gender cannot be hidden, so they were confronted much earlier.

Homosexuality is easier to conceal, but hardly easy altogether; it came next.

Belief, however, can be the easiest thing to conceal, making it less necessary to confront.

Then there is how these prejudices tie into our psychology. Race was perhaps the easiest to confront on the grounds that it was justified partly a false scientific claim (that we are significantly different physiologically and psychologically), which was not too difficult to debunk, leading to the exposure of the fact that we are simply xenophobic. Our shared similarities across groups and differences within them helped to cancel much of this out.

Gender is more difficult to confront not just because there are physiological and psychological differences, but also because of the sharp duality most people see, not to mention historical and traditional roles and assumptions—many accepted or even embraced by many women themselves—making it harder to break through.

Homosexuality is tied to any number of sexual mores and bugaboos we still wade neck-deep in, and like gender, is tied to issues of control and self-identity, thus making it more difficult for some to break through.

Atheism, however, confronts some of our deepest fears: that of meaning, purpose—and oblivion. This connects to levels of suppressed horror and despair for some, which, even if subconscious (especially if subconscious!) are most difficult to confront.

Race, gender, and sexual orientation do have something in common, however, which sets them apart from atheism: choice. This is one thing that also delayed acceptance of homosexuality, that it was seen as a lifestyle rather than a permanent, set state of being. This still persists as a way for people to discriminate, because when it comes down to it, one of the best ways to justify a difference in human society is to demonstrate that the difference cannot be chosen or avoided, and thus demands equality on the basis of humanity.

Atheism, however, is in fact, a choice—mostly. Here, it is possible for one to truly convert as one cannot with race, gender, or orientation. I say “mostly,” however, because it is not always easy or even possible to change one’s convictions. For some, it is, but for others, it is so deeply tied to their self-identity that it is pretty much impossible.

All of these reasons explain why outright prejudice against atheists is still accepted.

Think about it: if Newt Gingrich had come out and said he would not accept non-whites in his cabinet, there would have been an outrage. Same for if he had said he would exclude women. Both may have been acceptable—or perhaps, politically survivable—statements more than half a century ago, but are utterly unacceptable today.

Had Newt Gingrich said he would not have any gays serving in government, there would also be public outcry against him. We still hear things like this, but they are now socially unacceptable; as gays come out of the closet, homophobes go in, to join racists and sexists.

But Gingrich did not say any of these things. He said, instead, that he would not accept any atheists serving in his administration.

Nobody even seemed to notice that he had said anything wrong.

And here, Gingrich even noted how it is easier to discriminate against atheists than it is to reject members of other religions:

Now, I happen to think that none of us should rush in judgment of others in the way in which they approach God. And I think that all of us up here I believe would agree. But I think all of us would also agree that there’s a very central part of your faith in how you approach public life. And I, frankly, would be really worried if somebody assured me that nothing in their faith would affect their judgments, because then I’d wonder, where’s your judgment—how can you have judgment if you have no faith? And how can I trust you with power if you don’t pray? Who you pray to, how you pray, how you come close to God is between you and God. But the notion that you’re endowed by your creator sets a certain boundary on what we mean by America.

In short, I can accept you if you’re a Mormon (he was speaking to Mitt Romney’s religion, ironically defining himself as tolerant), or if you’re Jewish, and even potentially if you’re a Hindu or a Muslim (though he would very likely escort such people quietly out the back door).

But if you’re an atheist? You’re damaged goods and have no place in our society. If you think I exaggerate, go back and read what he said again.

Following is a snippet of a discussion on this topic, which prompted this post.

Categories: Religion, Social Issues Tags:

Evangelicals and the Double Standard of Religious Freedom

January 30th, 2013 Comments off

It should be no surprise when a poll finds that Christian Evangelicals have a double standard on religious freedom. Even when it is an evangelical polling organization.

More than any other group in the poll—Non-evangelical born-agains, “Notional” Christians (apparently Chistians who do not live up to the standards of the evangelical pollsters), Other Faiths, and “Skeptics”—evangelicals religious freedom has diminished because America has moved away from traditional Christian values, and that gays are chiefly at fault for it. And—here’s the hypocritical part—although they believe as heartily as anyone else that “true religious freedom” means citizens are able to “believe and practice the core commitments and values” of their faith, they also believe that one set of values—theirs—should be given preference, and indeed “dominate” the country.

In other words, everyone should be free to believe what they want, so long as it is what the evangelicals proscribe.

This is exactly in line with what I have noted before: that not only is the “war on Christianity” an imaginary phantom, it is Christians themselves who oppress the freedom of belief of others:

What is truly hypocritical is the fact that Christianists are the only ones who actually try to deny others the right to freedom of belief and legal expression. They openly discriminate against people who believe differently from them. They refuse to serve atheists or Muslims in their businesses. They clamor to take down atheist billboards and actually fight to prevent Islamic mosques from being opened, even in remote rural areas with no one else around. They’re the ones that howl in protest when any other religion aside from Christianity gets to deliver an invocation or inaugural prayer. They vote down anyone who is not Cristian from getting into public office. Even Gingrich himself has said he would not allow anyone who is non-religious to even serve in government, and you know he would shut out most non-Christians in the same way.

And the Christian claim to persecution? Despite being the dominant religion with their beliefs almost everywhere, including on the currency, in prayers before public sessions, in the Pledge of Allegiance and nearly all other public oaths, etc. etc.–the persecution against them is horrific because they don’t get to slather their religion in every last nook and cranny of society. Not because they’re actually being shut out, but because they are not allowed to dominate everywhere.

These people do not desire religious freedom for anyone but themselves. What they desire would be more accurately described as “religious primacy.” I have said before that they do not recognize the fact that the policy of separation of church and state is to protect religious freedom, but more and more I realize that they recognize this, and oppose the wall of separation precisely because it prevents them from asserting religious control over the country.

Precisely what the founders feared, and precisely the reason many of the original colonists came to America in the first place:

The very Pilgrims who came across on the Mayflower, the ones celebrated by Christians in America to this day (with a public national holiday, no less), came seeking relief and respite from religious laws in England, such as the Act of Uniformity which required everyone in the country to attend government-mandated prayers–this the result of the marriage of church and state. The exact same type of marriage that Santorum and others protest is their God-given right.

I would wager that these self-same evangelicals celebrate the Pilgrims as symbols of their own “persecution,” whilst campaigning to create the same religious authority that caused the Pilgrims to flee in the first place.

Categories: Religion Tags:

First Reaction from the Right: Secularism Caused the Shootings

December 17th, 2012 1 comment

Huckabee has the whole answer to the school shootings. I knew some loon would come up with this, but did not expect it to come from Huckabee:

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee attributed the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in part to restrictions on school prayer and religious materials in the classroom.

“We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools,” Huckabee said on Fox News, discussing the murder spree that took the lives of 20 children and 6 adults in Newtown, CT that morning. “Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”

Yes, that’s right. If only had those children been praying, that man would not have murdered them.

This statement is rather demented, in a couple of ways. Aside from his apparent lack of understanding that the attack came from outside the school, not from within it, he is essentially concluding that “removing God from our schools” resulted in horrific violence being done. Because religious people are all non-violent pacifists, of course. Unlike those mass-murdering atheists.

Huckabee then went into detail about his reasoning:

“[W]e’ve made it a place where we don’t want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability — that we’re not just going to have be accountable to the police if they catch us, but one day we stand before, you know, a holy God in judgment,” Huckabee said. “If we don’t believe that, then we don’t fear that.”

This statement seems to move Huckabee more towards the rationale that acts like this happen because we aren’t a religious enough society, which, in my opinion, is not much better. It makes the old, conceited presumption that if you don’t fear God’s wrath, you are more likely just to do any damned thing you want, thus we have a violent society. You can’t be good without God.

That’s essentially what other fundie notables are saying, like Eric Hovind:

Are you happy now that the shooter grew up in a school without God?

Christian talk show personality Bryan Fischer had this even more twisted point of view:

The question’s gonna come up, where was God? I thought that God cared about the little children? God protected the little children? Where was God when all this went down? And here’s the bottom line: God is not going to go where he’s not wanted.

He elaborates, saying essentially that God would have stopped the shootings if only we had not forsaken him in public schools. This is particularly reprehensible; he is saying, directly, that if we do not make our public schools religious, God is going to allow anyone to enter these schools and massacre the children.

Wow.

OK, first, let’s set a few things straight. At the top of that list, prayer is not forbidden in schools. Only prayers led by school representatives is banned. But prayer is not. Kids can pray anywhere and everywhere they like, so long as it does not interrupt class proceedings. They can (and do) pray outside the school (e.g., around flagpoles), they can pray in clubs on school property, they can pray in the hallways, the schoolyards, the cafeteria, whatever. Personally, to themselves, they can pray practically all day long. The only prohibition is one that prevents religious discrimination.

Second: There is no evidence I have ever heard of that correlates religious education with lower crime rates or greater ethical behavior, even if one ignores the vast oversimplification concerning such a statement. As I pointed out above, this belief is simply a conceit by religious people who see their morality and behavior as superior, often helped along by the belief that only religious people can be truly moral. Many in fact believe that if you do not have religion, and in particular fear of judgment by your creator, then there is nothing holding you back from doing anything immoral. Millions upon millions of atheists beg to differ.

Third: Even if there were some pacifying effect given by a specific sort of religious study, why assume that public education is the vital missing factor? If children are raised to be religious at home, and if they attend church, and if they pray privately in school, then why do they not have these morals instilled from all that exposure to religion and religious teaching? This is similar to the Wall Street Journal editorial which assumed that so long as one small corner of society is not expressly 100% religious, then things fall apart.

In fact, you may have heard that the guns—several handguns and rifles—belonged to Adam Lanza’s mother. So the first thing you ask is, why was this woman so heavily armed, with not just handguns but semi-automatic rifles as well? Some reports now have that she was a survivalist, a “prepper,” and that her son was home-schooled—meaning that there is a likelihood that the family was religious, in which case Adam had received that education.

Lastly, and most important: are these people—Huckabee, Hovind, Fischer, and likely many others—not aware of how sickeningly offensive their statements are? Do they imagine that the parents of the slaughtered children will not be horrifically enraged by the suggestion that God killed their children as a punishment for secular schools?


So, what is the solution? How do we fix this?

Naturally, the sad truth is, there are no easy or sure-fire fixes. In this particular case, gun control probably would not have made a difference. Lanza was turned away by a background check and waiting period—but he instead simply took his mother’s guns, which were legally purchased. If Lanza took a semi-automatic rifle into the school, that may have contributed, but in all likelihood, the other guns he had would probably have been enough to do the same damage. Certainly, not having a semi-automatic assault rifle in an elementary school is better than having one. Better mental health treatment probably could have done some good, but recognition and intercession are less than perfect. We supposedly became more sensitive to this after Columbine—but little seems to have changed.

We will find out more as time goes on, but it is likely that the details of this case will show us how hard it would have been to screen in any and all ways to prevent it.

That said, something is obviously happening in our society, as is evidenced by the alarming increase in gun massacres.

There is no magic solution, no silver bullet that will fix everything. However, there are steps we can take that will alleviate problems in specific areas that will help society in general, and hopefully at least slow cases such as the one we are now witnessing.

Gun control is one of them. Our gun laws are stupid, as is the paranoia of those who rush to gun stores when a tragedy occurs or if Obama is elected. Currently, we have very little in the way of comprehensive gun control. Background checks and waiting periods have helped, but there are too many loopholes, too many places where these things make no difference. We need to eliminate all loopholes like those at gun shows. All gun sales, public and private, must be subject to the same scrutiny. It is insane that an 80-year-old grandmother should be forced to go through intense scrutiny when she buys Sudafed, but a convicted felon can easily buy dozens of weapons at a gun show. We need limits on the number of guns people can buy per month/year; we need bans on weapons and features designed to kill but which have no relationship to self-defense; we need laws concerning the storage of guns; we need better training and licensing; we need universal registration of both weapons and ammunition. There is so much that can be done, such as all of the above, and still allow every law-abiding citizen to be armed more than sufficiently for home defense and sports usage. And yet people wet their pants if any of the above are even suggested at a serious level.

Better mental illness diagnosis and treatment is needed. I know little about this, so I cannot go into detail. But I think few would argue with this point. Nevertheless, much needs to be done—not just talked about and then nothing happens.

There is much more than even that, however. To a certain extent, we as a nation have to change our attitudes. Our attitudes about a broad range of things, from basic civility to the way we value life. This cannot be legislated; it must be decided. We cannot be a nation which passionately shouts in approval when it is suggested that a poor man be allowed to die in the street before his community raises even a finger to help him. We cannot be a nation which is so strongly opposed to basic humanity. It has now become popular among the right to refuse to give a shit about others, to dismiss and reject others, to treat them as less than human. We can no longer afford this selfish disregard.

Categories: Religion, Social Issues Tags:

Merry War on Christmas!

November 22nd, 2012 1 comment

Yes, it’s that time. Halloween is over and Thanksgiving is yet to come, so it’s time for Fox News to put up the decorative articles of outrage and sing carols of victimization. It has become a tradition unto itself, in a way; it is now years old, as certain to come as death and tax revolts, and has a central theme: to establish the dominance of Christianity and integrate as much as possible the institutions of Church and State.

What’s the latest outrage that allows the ruling class with the most power and privilege to feel like they are discriminated against and trampled upon? What else? A fight over a public nativity display! Did those nasty Grinch-like Atheists wage a war to bar them again? Well, no, it is established law that you can have nativity displays on public grounds—but only if all belief groups are also allowed similar displays! What’s this? Equality of expression? In the two months preceding Christmas? How vile!

The evil Atheists did not take down the Nativity in Palisades Park in the city of Santa Monica, but they did something even worse: they displayed their own holiday message. The message of spite and hate? “Religions are all alike – founded on fables and mythologies.” What an outrage! A quote from Thomas Jefferson, here in America? Jefferson is supposed to stand in the background and pretend to be a fundamentalist!

The real problem came when nasty secularists submitted more than one proposal for a spot in the park’s display, and the rules of the lottery system granted them 18 of the 21 spaces (or 11 of 14, reports vary). Well, random chance (or possibly the lack of submissions by Christians, but let’s not focus on that) is obviously at war with Christianity! Christians among the Santa Monica officials, in the meantime, decided that if the Mean Evil Nasty Atheists got more than they did for one year, they would scrap the whole game and take the ball home with them. So, under the excuse of turf erosion and obstructed views, which were never problems for the 60 previous years when Christian messages dominated, they shut down the whole display.

The Atheists did it! By expressing themselves!! To the point where Christians couldn’t stand it and shut down everything!! How dare they!!! As Fox nobly reminds us:

“It’s a sad, sad commentary on the attitudes of the day that a nearly 60-year-old Christmas tradition is now having to hunt for a home, something like our savior had to hunt for a place to be born because the world was not interested,” said Hunter Jameson, head of the nonprofit Santa Monica Nativity Scene Committee that is suing.

Yes, religious groups have no choice but to “hunt for a home” for their nativity displays. But where? Where could these poor, down-and-out, rich and powerful victims possibly move their displays? After all, they are limited to ONLY 12 other parks in the city, or on the front lawns of dozens of churches in the immediate area, or in any of tens of thousands of private lawns or open spaces. Or even in the same park where the nativity displays have traditionally been, so long as the park is open and the displays are attended. But not in that one park, at least when it is closed! Christian voices are being STRANGLED!! Atheists are killing CHRISTMAS!!

Coming up next on Fox’s hit series War on Christmas: “We find something to bitch about in the Obama White House ‘Holiday’ cards!” There are only wrapped presents, a poinsettia, and a Christmas wreath! No tree! And they don’t use the word “Christmas”! And they don’t write “We hate Muslims and Atheists!” on the card!

Don’t they know that the whole idea of Christmas Spirit is to exclude everyone else?!?

Categories: People Can Be Idiots, Religion Tags:

On the Practicality of Reason

November 21st, 2012 3 comments

Marco Rubio has been in the news recently for equivocating on the age of the Earth:

I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.

Translation: “I can’t have science which contradicts fundie beliefs! I’m running for president, for Pete’s sake!”

A lot of apologists for this kind of young-earth creationism try to make it seem like there is no real-world impact for denying the science on this. A lot of people who know science disagree, saying that, for example, believing evolution is false will have a real impact on a student’s understanding of biology and other aspects of science.

However, it is sometimes hard to see exactly how that works. After all, most people don’t learn enough about biology or science in general for the difference between believing or not believing in science to have any real impact on their lives. As a result, the effects of fundamentalist denial of science remains distant.

One conservative, not necessarily religious, form of science denial is starting to break through to people’s lives: the denial of climate change. Seeing Rhode Island-sized chunks of ice break off the polar caps every other month are one thing, but storms the size of Hurricane Sandy now pounding our shores on a regular basis have made things even more plainly obvious.

But what about the age of the universe? The age of the Earth? How does that effect us on a daily basis? Paul Krugman took a stab at it recently, noting: “If you’re going to ignore what geologists say if you don’t like its implications, what are the chances that you’ll take sensible advice on monetary and fiscal policy? After all, we’ve just seen how Republicans deal with research reports that undermine their faith in the magic of tax cuts: they try to suppress the reports.” In essence, denying science begets denying facts, an excellent point in light of current and recent conservative beliefs, policies, and actions.

However, that is still indirect, and therefore relatively difficult for many taken in by the fundie narrative to internalize. How can we state in more concrete terms that denying the science on the age of the Earth as well as a variety of fossil life consistent with that age has real-world impacts? How can we show in better kick-to-the-gut terms that accepting evolution is in fact an important thing?

One attempt was antibiotics, and how the microorganisms we fight with them are rapidly evolving, making more and more of our medicines ineffective. However, fundamentalists have a workaround: that kind of evolution, the kind we can observe in real life, we’ll call that “micro-evolution,” which yields only small changes in organisms over short periods of time, and accept it because it can be consistent with a young earth; but it is different from “macro-evolution,” the kind which says all life evolved over billions of years. Have you ever seen a giraffe evolve into a hippo in a laboratory? No? Then I will smugly not believe in this “macro-evolution” kick you’re on because you have no evidence that is easily digestible in sound bites a layman can discern without trying too hard.

Now, don’t get me wrong, all of these arguments are dead wrong, in any number of ways. But you have to remember that the problem lies in getting non-scientists to understand, and answers like the one above, as clearly wrong and flawed to a scientist as it is, is nevertheless more than enough to assure a fundie who, after all, wants to believe in whatever supports their religious beliefs.

What we need is an argument which is not too technical, but which shows clearly that young-Earth creationism simply can’t be right.

Just today, I found a great example of just that. Alex Knapp at Forbes does it:

Now, Marco Rubio’s Republican colleague Representative Paul Broun, who sits on the House Committee on Science and Technology, recently stated that it was his belief that the Universe is only 9,000 years old. Well, if Broun is right and physicists are wrong, then we have a real problem. Virtually all modern technology relies on optics in some way, shape or form. And in the science of optics, the fact that the speed of light is constant in a vacuum is taken for granted. But the speed of light must not be constant if the universe is only 9,000 years old. It must be capable of being much, much faster. That means that the fundamental physics underlying the Internet, DVDs, laser surgery, and many many more critical parts of the economy are based on bad science. The consequences of that could be drastic, given our dependence on optics for our economic growth.

Here’s an even more disturbing thought – scientists currently believe that the Earth is about 4.54 billion years old because radioactive substances decay at generally stable rates. Accordingly, by observing how much of a radioactive substance has decayed, scientists are able to determine how old that substance is. However, if the Earth is only 9,000 years old, then radioactive decay rates are unstable and subject to rapid acceleration under completely unknown circumstances. This poses an enormous danger to the country’s nuclear power plants, which could undergo an unanticipated meltdown at any time due to currently unpredictable circumstances. Likewise, accelerated decay could lead to the detonation of our nuclear weapons, and cause injuries and death to people undergoing radioactive treatments in hospitals. Any of these circumstances would obviously have a large economic impact.

If the Earth is really 9,000 years old, as Paul Broun believes and Rubio is willing to remain ignorant about, it becomes imperative to shut down our nuclear plants and dismantle our nuclear stockpiles now until such time as scientists are able to ascertain what circumstances exist that could cause deadly acceleration of radioactive decay and determine how to prevent it from happening.

That is an excellent point. Dating techniques are based upon the science of understanding the decay of atoms. This decay is directly linked to both the measured age of objects far older than the supposed creationist age of the universe and to the stability of nuclear power and weapons. If it is unreliable, then so is everything based on atomic decay.

Atomic decay is used to regulate time, for crying out loud; the time you set your watch by is determined by atomic clocks. The chemotherapy for cancer treatments someone in your family is bound to have undergone, or is undergoing, is also directly related to this—that person could die if the science on radioactive decay is wrong.

So! Hearing this, fundamentalists will give up and concede the earth is 4.54 billion years old, right?

Yeah, I know. That’s the thing—if a person wants to believe something without having to pay the price for it in some other way, they’ll always find a way. One way is what a lot of these fundies do: simply ignore the effective arguments and facts. Pretend they don’t exist. They already do this, relying on a host of bogus arguments “proving” “evil-ution” is wrong, despite a mountain of science, collected here, for instance, proving their arguments are rubbish.

Other forms of denial exist, up to and including the “nuclear option” of denialism: God created the universe to seem like it’s old so as to test our faith. Yeah, that must be it. God created a vast universe full of carefully crafted and fully-consistent deception all for the benefit of our tiny race on on our tiny planet, to see if our love of Him is great enough that we will believe more in the science gleaned from an ancient, error-filled, inconsistent philosophy text written by people who did not know about and were not writing about science than we will believe in the actual universe in front of our eyes. Yes, that’s reasonable.

Aside from the fact that this supposition is ludicrous, there is another key flaw: it presumes that virtually all of creation is a lie intended to deceive us. It assumes that God created us flawed so we could be deceived, then deceived us, and then punishes the deceived with an eternity of pain and horror.

Again… yeah, I know. Making these arguments won’t shift the beliefs of the deeply committed.

So, why argue any of this?

Because there are many on the fringes, especially the young ones who have not heard these arguments before, the ones whose “hearts have not been hardened,” who will hear the arguments and will perhaps succumb to reason. Reason, which Martin Luther himself identified as “the greatest enemy faith has.”

And it is working. The number of those not affiliated with an established religion is growing. As Rick Santorum pointed out recently, many young people going to college and learning this satanic “critical thinking” hogwash are coming out of college less convinced about fundamentalist denialism than they were going in.

He called it “indoctrination.” Which is the opposite of the truth, of course. “The indoctrinated person is expected not to question or critically examine the doctrine they have learned.” That kind of goes against the entire idea of critical thinking—but “indoctrination” describes perfectly what fundamentalists want their kids to stick with.

What we need is more exposure to the idea that, in Genesis, the Hebrew word “yom”—as in, the six yom of creation—can mean “era” just as legitimately as it can mean “day.” Once people realize that they can believe in the Bible and in science, things will go a lot smoother.

The problem: organized religion. You see, it has been insisting for quite some time that the translation of that word is a 24-hour “day.” And these people claim to directly represent God. They claim that they are the dispensers of High Truth.

Realizing that Genesis could refer to “eras” makes a lot of sense and would allow for believers to believe that the Bible was never in error on that point.

But it would mean that the church which pushed the 24-hour day interpretation was in error, and we can’t have that.

But there is hope. It took the Catholic Church just four centuries to “forgive” Galileo for being right. So, all we have to do is wait several hundred years. Maybe they’ll come around on this, too.

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