September 09, 2008

Sarah Palin's Church Politics  Religion

Wasilla Assembly of God was Sarah Palin's church from 1974 to 2002. The video below mixes footage from Wasilla AoG and Morning Star Ministries. In October, Wasilla Assembly of God will host a "Prophetic Conference" with Steve Thompson of Morning Star Ministries, as you can see on Wasilla AoG's website.

To see more of what Morning Star Ministries is into, go up on YouTube and search for Holy Spirit Breakout. There is a whole series of videos, starting with this one:

Not exactly the home of rational thought.

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January 15, 2008

American Taliban Extremism  Politics  Religion

Digby points to this, in which Mike Huckabee shows his true colors:

"I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution," Huckabee told a Michigan audience on Monday. "But I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living god. And that's what we need to do — to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards so it lines up with some contemporary view."

That's the GOP front runner, and he's not joking. Theocracy here we come.

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December 27, 2007

Wrapped In The Flag, Carrying A Cross Extremism  Politics  Religion

Mike Huckabee says he doesn't believe in evolution. If only that were all there is to it. Excerpts from an excellent piece by Chris Hedges:

George Bush is a happy stooge of his corporate handlers. He blithely enriches the oligarchy, defends a war that is the worst foreign policy blunder in American history and callously denies medical benefits to children. Huckabee is different. He has tapped into the rage and fury of the working class, dispossessed and abandoned by the mainstream Democrats and Republicans. And he refuses to make the ideology of the Christian right, with its dark contempt for democratic traditions and intolerance of nonbelievers, a handmaiden of the corporate establishment. This makes him a much more lethal and radical political force.

The Christian right is the most potent and dangerous mass movement in American history. It has been controlled and led, until now, by those who submit to the demands of the corporate state. But the grass roots are tired of being taken for rubes. They are tired of candidates, like Bush or Bill Clinton, who roll out the same clichés about working men and women every four years and then spend their terms enriching their corporate backers. The majority of American citizens have spent the last two decades watching their government services and benefits vanish. They have seen their jobs go overseas and are watching as their communities crumble and their houses are foreclosed. It is their kids who are in Iraq and Afghanistan. The old guard in the Christian right, the Pat Robertsons, who used their pulpits to deliver the votes of naive followers to the corporatists, is a spent force. Huckabee’s Christian populism represents the maturation of the movement. It signals the rise of a truly radical, even revolutionary force in American politics, of which Huckabee may be one of the tamer and less frightening examples. [...]

Huckabee has close ties with the Christian Reconstructionist or Dominionist branch of the Christian right. The Dominionist movement, which seeks to cloak itself in the mantle of the Christian faith and American patriotism, is small in numbers but influential. It departs from traditional evangelicalism. It seeks to redefine traditional democratic and Christian terms and concepts to fit an ideology that calls on the radical church to take political power. It shares many prominent features with classical fascist movements, at least as such movements are defined by the scholar Robert O. Paxton, who sees fascism as "a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cultures of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion."

Dominionism, born out of Christian Reconstructionism, seeks to politicize faith. It has, like all fascist movements, a belief in magic along with leadership adoration and a strident call for moral and physical supremacy of a master race, in this case American Christians. [...]

Dominionism teaches that American Christians have been mandated by God to make America a Christian state. A decades-long refusal by most American fundamentalists to engage in politics at all following the Scopes trial has been replaced by a call for Christian "dominion" over the nation and, eventually, over the Earth itself. Dominionism preaches that Jesus has called on Christians to actively build the kingdom of God on Earth. America becomes, in this militant Biblicism, an agent of God, and all political and intellectual opponents of America’s Christian leaders are viewed, quite simply, as agents of Satan. Under Christian dominion, America will no longer be a sinful and fallen nation but one in which the Ten Commandments form the basis of our legal system, in which creationism and "Christian values" form the basis of our educational system, and the media and the government proclaim the Good News to one and all. Labor unions, civil rights laws and public schools will be abolished. Women will be removed from the work force to stay at home, and all those deemed insufficiently Christian will be denied citizenship.

Baptist minister Rick Scarborough, founder of Vision America and a self-described "Christocrat,"...has endorsed Huckabee. Scarborough, along with holding other bizarre stances, opposes the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine on grounds that it interferes with God’s punishment of sexual license. And Huckabee, who once advocated isolating AIDS patients from the general public and opposed increased federal funding in the search for a cure, comes out of this frightening mold. He justified his call to quarantine those with AIDS because they could "pose a dangerous public health risk."

"If the federal government is truly serious about doing something with the AIDS virus, we need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague," Huckabee wrote. "It is difficult to understand the public policy towards AIDS. It is the first time in the history of civilization in which the carriers of a genuine plague have not been isolated from the general population, and in which this deadly disease for which there is no cure is being treated as a civil rights issue instead of the true health crisis it represents."

Huckabee has publicly backed off from this extreme position, but he remains deeply hostile to gays. He has used wit and humor to deflect reporters from his radical views about marriage, abortion, damnation, biblical law, creationism and the holy war he believes we are fighting with Islam. But his stances represent a huge step, should they ever become policy, toward a theocratic state and the death of our open society. In the end, however, I do not blame Huckabee or the tens of millions of hapless Christians — 40 percent of the Republican electorate — who hear his words and rejoice. I blame the corporate state, those who thought they could disempower and abuse the working class, rape the country, build a rapacious oligarchy and never pay a political price.

We keep moving further and further into uncharted territory. Each new election cycle, things that would have seemed unimaginably grotesque in the not too distant past suddenly become mainstream. Then they, too, are surpassed. Like the proverbial boiling frog, we fail to act as things change by gradual degrees.

Resentment builds and is fed by people skilled in exploiting it. The bursting credit bubble, imploding dollar, and skyrocketing energy costs may yet push the US economy over the cliff. Then, look out.

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December 25, 2007

What The Christian Right Forgets Religion

This being Christmas, let's remember what Jesus said:

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. Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, my brethren, you did it to me. — Matthew 25

And yet Republicans are viewed as the party of Jesus. Weird.

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October 26, 2007

Creationist Math Humor & Fun  Religion

Mwahahaha.

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July 25, 2007

Messin' With Texas Extremism  Politics  Religion

Texas governor Rick Perry has appointed a creationist dentist named Don McLeroy to head the State Board of Education. The Austin American-Statesman (via Pharyngula) tells us:

In 2001, McLeroy and a majority of the board rejected the only Advanced Placement textbook for high school environmental science because its views on global warming and other events didn't comport with the beliefs of the board majority. The book wasn't factual and was anti-American and anti-Christian, the majority claimed. Meanwhile, dozens of colleges and universities were using the textbook, including Baylor University, the nation's largest Baptist college.

In 2003, McLeroy voted against approving biology textbooks that included a full-scale scientific account of evolutionary theory. The books were approved.

Just the guy to put in charge of public education.

Need I add, both Perry and McLeroy are Republicans.

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June 15, 2007

The Atheist's Nightmare Religion

And pineapples?

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June 14, 2007

God Speaks, And Speaks, And Speaks... Religion

Via Pharyngula, here (scroll down) is a transcript of a conversation Young Earth Creationist preacher and convict Kent Hovind says he had with God. Fascinating, in a I-can't-help-but-look-at-the-car-wreck kind of way. The comments, too. These people sure inhabit a different mental universe from mine.

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April 27, 2007

Unevolved Extremism  Politics  Religion  Science/Technology

This is disheartening, putting it mildly. The graph below shows public acceptance of human evolution in 2005. You'll find the US at second-to-last.

From National Geographic's description:

Adults were asked to respond to the statement: "Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals." The percentage of respondents who believed this to be true is marked in blue; those who believed it to be false, in red; and those who were not sure, in yellow.

A study of several such surveys taken since 1985 has found that the United States ranks next to last in acceptance of evolution theory among nations polled. Researchers point out that the number of Americans who are uncertain about the theory's validity has increased over the past 20 years. [Emphasis added]

Note that the question was just whether humans evolved from earlier animals. It said nothing about evolution being by purely natural means, via natural selection, or without participation by a deity. It's just: "did humans evolve?"

It would be hard to overstate how clueless you have to be to say no.

The study also found — no surprise here — that evolution deniers in the US tend to be Republicans:

The team found that individuals with anti-abortion, pro-life views associated with the conservative wing of the Republican Party were significantly more likely to reject evolution than people with pro-choice views.

The team adds that in Europe having pro-life or right-wing political views had little correlation with a person's attitude toward evolution.

The researchers say this reflects the politicization of the evolution issue in the U.S. "in a manner never seen in Europe or Japan."

"In the second half of the 20th century, the conservative wing of the Republican Party has adopted creationism as part of a platform designed to consolidate their support in Southern and Midwestern states," the study authors write.

Miller says that when Ronald Reagan was running for President of the U.S., for example, he gave speeches in these states where he would slip in the sentence, "I have no chimpanzees in my family," poking fun at the idea that apes could be the ancestors of humans. [Emphasis added]

It would be funny, in a sick sort of way, if it weren't so downright scary, considering the belligerence and military power of the US. People who have flipped the mental switch that lets them ignore the evidence of physical reality so they can be accepted by the herd are people who can be led into all sorts of mischief. And they're armed to the teeth. Superstitious primates with guns.

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April 23, 2007

Dawkins On O'Reilly Religion

Richard Dawkins went on Bill O'Reilly's show tonight on Fox. Video here.

I was hoping for a longer segment with a little more substance. Silly me. O'Reilly was actually civil, maybe because he knew he was completely overmatched. But still, the inane non sequiturs that come out of O'Reilly's mouth...

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March 24, 2007

Global Warming: WWJD? Environment  Ethics  Religion

Is denial of global warming a Christian thing to do?

Here's what Al Gore told the Senate in reference to Senator Inhofe, who often cites the Bible as the source for his political views:

I say to Senator Inhofe, I don't prostelytize my own beliefs, but all religious traditions hold to the same teachings: That the Earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof. That the purpose of life is to glorify God, and you cannot do it while heaping contempt on God's creation.

Not to mention the enormous suffering, especially among the world's poor, that global warming will cause. As Jesus himself said:

What you did to the least of these, you did to Me, and...whatever you neglected to do for the least of these, you neglected to do it for Me.

Jesus wept.

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March 14, 2007

In A Nutshell Religion




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December 27, 2006

In The Name Of Jesus Extremism  Religion

The inimitable Matt Taibbi on the Left Behind video game that lets you slaughter nonbelievers in the name of Jesus (aka, the Prince of Peace):

Left Behind: Eternal Forces allows you to command the tribulation force, uncover the truth about worldwide disappearances and save as many people as possible from the Antichrist.

Lead the Tribulation Force from the book series, including Rayford, Chloe, Buck and Bruce, against Nicolae Carpathia — the Antichrist.

Defend yourselves from the forces of the Antichrist. Engage in physical and spiritual warfare!

Use Prayer and Special Abilities to boost the Spirit of your forces! Command over 30 unit types through dozens of missions and online player action!

Defend against the spiritual influences and physical warfare of the Antichrist's army through the power of prayer and worship!

Left Behind: Eternal Forces game synopsis

It's been a long time coming, but this week I finally received the Christmas gift I've been waiting for for what seems like ages — my Left Behind: Eternal Forces video game.

This is the first Christmas gift I've ever bought for myself. Normally, I hate Christmas. In fact, I make it a point each year to search out and print out all the news stories from around the world involving thefts from/desecrations of nativity scenes. When I'm finished, I plaster my office area with all the photos of the glum Yuletiders standing around the now-headless Josephs and Marys, and I make this news-mural my private sanctuary, the place I run to when the holidays (and particularly the holiday commercials) get to be too much to take. [...]

Anyway, back to the Left Behind game, which is the first gift I've ever gotten that actually fills me with Holiday Spirit. For those of you who are not familiar with Left Behind, it is an enormously popular Christian book series which depicts an Armageddon scenario in which the true believers are whisked up to heaven at the Second Coming, literally vanishing out of thin air even as they do things like pilot commercial jet-liners, leaving the rest of us amoral nihilists on earth to bathe in our own blood and generally massacre each other. In the video game, the Believers roam a desecrated New York City landscape (it is highly amusing that both al-Qaeda and the makers of Left Behind: Eternal Forces chose to make their masterpiece against a canvas of a burning Manhattan) wasting the forces of the Antichrist, leaving huge piles of bodies everywhere they go. It is hard to imagine a product that better encapsulates, in one package, the spirit of both modern American capitalism and modern American Christianity. If you have a serious gore jones, it's also not a bad video game. The soundtrack (especially the "Street Fight, Main Theme") kicks ass.

Those of you who were not on the original Left Behind mailing list really missed out, as the e-mails the company sent out in anticipation of this video game launch are easily some of the greatest examples of unintentional comedy ever to grace the Internet. From the start, the company asked its customers to assist them with prayer, and as such sent out regular "prayer requests," for instance this letter asking us to pray for a good reception at a Christian retail convention:

Left Behind: Eternal Forces for the PC is getting closer to completion every day, and we appreciate your prayers! We would ask that you keep the Left Behind Games staff in your continued prayers as we get closer to our release date, from spiritual warfare, and protection for our families.

We will be attending the 2006 International Christian Retail Show in Colorado on April 10th to the 13th, please pray that God will bless our presence at his show.

The company was a little quiet after that, but as the release neared and it began focusing on the inevitably problematic marketing campaign, it increasingly asked for prayer help with its promotional efforts. Here's one from October:

Left Behind Prayer Requests:
1. Wisdom as we prepare our promotional strategies
2. Travel safety as our team attends meetings and interviews
3. Unity as a team and that our efforts bring glory to our Lord

Thank you for keeping us in your prayers. God bless you!

As the launch neared, the requests began to be directed towards the reviewers:

Left Behind: Eternal Forces will be available at stores this weekend!

Thank you for helping to make this happen. We are praising God! Please keep the game in your prayers.

1. Critics and reviewers will give positive feedback on the game.

2. Church and youth leaders will see the potential of using the game as an outreach tool.

3. Players will multiply as they invite their friends to play with them online.

4. God will bless this game and it will honor Him.

But when the date arrived, the company's "Prayer Team leader," Annette Brown, began to get more and more specific in her corporate prayer goals:

1. Pray God will put it on the heart of the consumers to purchase our product at select Walamart [sic] Stores (top 100 stores) that have our invetory [sic].
2. Next weekend is the biggest shopping weekend of the year, pray the game hits record sales for PC Games.
3. The press is still reviewing the game, pray they will be kind in their reviews.

I mean, how twisted do you have to be to pray that consumers will buy your product at select Wal-Mart stores? Wouldn't you hesitate and call a psychiatrist before sending that out into cyberspace?

The requests from Thanksgiving week:

Please pray that our sales will skyrocket this weekend. We have a big God that promises to surpass all that we could ask of Him.

Once reviewers got hold of the game, and started to point out the odd dichotomy between its supposedly Christian message and its corpse-strewn video landscape, the company began to pray for good media appearances:

Prayer requests:
1. God will give Troy, Robilyn and Jeff wisdom during their many interviews.
2. God will use these interviews to open the hearts and minds of the listeners to the true intentions and purpose of the game.
3. God will bless us as we develop and choose our sales force.

Anyway, if you haven't bought it already, I strongly advise everyone reading this to log on to leftbehind.com and buy the game. It is the perfect American holiday gift. Celebrate the birth of Jesus by wasting dozens of people at a time, using a provocative variety of Christ-sanctioned weapons! You can even operate tanks to destroy whole areas of New York City! Who knows, you might even get to kill Ethan Hawke ("slumming" in a ball cap and dirty jeans) in a Marxist bookstore-coffeeshop on Eighth Street! Kill, kill, kill!

Merry Christmas, America.

Funny in a twisted sort of way, but it would be a lot funnier were it not for the fact that the US military is being led, more and more, by people with this same nightmare vision of what constitutes reality. Video game weapons are one thing...

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December 15, 2006

Pentecostalgon Extremism  Religion

Former Air Force JAG and Air Force Academy grad Mikey Weinstein is speaking out about evangelical Christians in the US military who are, he says, "trying to turn the Pentagon into a frickin' faith-based initiative". Here are excerpts from what Weinstein told an interviewer at Salon. He refers to a video that was shot inside the Pentagon by a group called Christian Embassy that featured very senior officers, in uniform, talking about the evangelical faith. Weinstein:

You sound like you're too young to remember Robert Redford in "Three Days of the Condor," but the premise of that movie was that there was a CIA within the CIA. We have a virulently dominionist, fundamentalist evangelical Christian element within the Pentagon. They would prefer this to be the "Pentecostalgon," not the Pentagon. That's what they would prefer. They're trying to turn the Pentagon into a frickin' faith-based initiative, and that is not what our military is about.

These are the people who, when I talk to senior members of the military at the flag-level rank [admiral or general]...that have looked at me and said, "Come on, Mikey, what's your problem? We have the cure to cancer. If you had the cure to cancer, wouldn't you want to spread the word?" They don't realize when they say it, they don't have the mental wherewithal to understand that to a person who isn't an evangelical Christian, you're calling our faith a cancer. [...]

This, to me, constitutes as much of a national security threat to this country as al-Qaida. In fact, the video itself, to me, would be the No. 1 recruiting tool...to get angry young Islamic men and women in Iran, Syria and Lebanon to join the insurrection and jihadi terrorist activities. This would be a perfect accelerant to create even further conflagration.

Now, I was a JAG [judge advocate general, the lawyers who act as prosecutors and defense attorneys within the military] in the Air Force. I spent three and a half years as a lawyer for President Ronald Reagan in the West Wing, I've been Ross Perot's general counsel. I know the religious right would love to vilify me as a tree-hugging Northern California Sierra Club membership chardonnay-sipping liberal...but I'm not. I'm a Republican...We have 115 years of combined active-duty military service to this country in my immediate family...

[T]hese people can pray all they want to themselves, like kids in school can pray to themselves, but when you're in the military, and you're coming in like that one person, [Air Force Maj. Gen.] Catton, whom I knew when I was a kid at the [Air Force] Academy, and he goes, "I share my faith, that's who I am, and let me tell you right now, the hierarchy as an old-fashioned American is that your first duty is to the Lord, second to your family and your third is to your country." That is the exact opposite of what is taught, and for anyone who understands anything about the military, it is always the country first. When you're told, "Troopers, we're going to go take that hill," you can't stop, fall to your knees and see what your particular version of Moses, Vishnu, Satan, Jesus, Mohammed, Allah, whatever they're going to say, and then quickly make a cellphone call to your family. So it is beyond-the-pale egregious, it is a national security threat every bit as bad as al-Qaida, and these people should be court-martialed.

...I get calls 24/7 from the soldiers, Marines and airmen...They're being tormented. And 96 percent of those who come flooding in, on fire with torment, are Christians, three-fourths of whom would be traditional Protestants: Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians. The other one-fourth are Roman Catholics. These are Christians being preyed upon by evangelical Christians...and being told that you're not Christian enough, therefore you're going to burn in a hell of fire. [...]

The U.S. military, which I consider a noble and honorable institution, is technologically the most lethal organization ever created by Homo sapiens. When you have the leadership believing that to be a good soldier, good Marine, good airman or sailor you have to be not just a Christian but the right type of Christian, we're no better than al-Qaida. And it's hideous, beyond belief. My kids were called "fucking Jews" and accused of total complicity, they and their people, in the execution of Jesus Christ, by superiors up and down the chain of command at the Air Force Academy.

But like I've said before, most of the people who've come to me are Christians. That's been the big sea change here. Look, Sinclair Lewis said it best, in [the 1930s]. He came back from Germany, he was observing it for a number of months ... and he [said] that he had now seen fascism up close and personal, and he knew that when it came to America it would be wrapped in the American flag, carrying a cross. And you know what? He's right. [...]

I've had nine death threats since about 10 o'clock last night. I usually get about two or three a week. They're very grotesque, everything from wanting to gas all the Jews in America and send the corpses back to Israel to threatening to blow me up, threatening my house will be blown up, raping my wife, blowing up my house. We've had our tires slashed, we've had feces and beer bottles thrown at the house, we've had dead animals placed on the front door of the house.

I was in Topeka, on a book tour, and the local Episcopal priest came out to support me and five hours later his church was burned down. And the local synagogue in Topeka, where I was to speak that night, was desecrated with spray paint saying, "Fuck you, Jews" and "KKK," all that stuff. [...]

My response is I've given the new secretary of defense 20 days to answer the Freedom of Information Act request, which the law gives him, and at the end we intend to get as much information as we can, fashion it into a dagger and then stab at the heart of this unconstitutional, wretched, vile, darkness at the Pentagon. This unconstitutional darkness, we will stab at it with our dagger until we kill it. [Emphasis added]

Somebody should give these people a copy of the Sermon on the Mount. I don't know what Jesus they think they're following, but it's surely not the Jesus of the Gospels.

Scary stuff. Very, very scary.

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November 19, 2006

Prospering By Promoting Conflict Religion

Various blogs have linked to the latest outrage from Pat Robertson:

A viewer wrote in to ask Pat Robertson a question:
Why [do] evangelical Christians tell non-Christians that Jesus (God) is the only way to Heaven? Those who are Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, etc. already know and have a relationship with God. Why is this? It seems disrespectful.

Robertson replied that it is not all disrespectful because all other religions really just worship "demonic powers."

No. They don't have a relationship. There is the god of the Bible, who is Jehovah. When you see L-O-R-D in caps, that is the name. It's not Allah, it's not Brahma, it's not Shiva, it's not Vishnu, it's not Buddha. It is Jehovah God. They don't have a relationship with him. He is the God of all Gods. These others are mostly demonic powers. Sure they're demons. There are many demons in the world. [Emphasis in the original]

(Video here.)

Yes, Pat Robertson is an asshole. And yes, we're right to recoil from his primitive, small-minded atavism. But he's hardly alone.

Everywhere we look, some religious leader or other is promoting conflict against another religious group. Sunnis and Shiites, Jews and Muslims, Muslims and Hindus, etc., etc. And now this (Time):

When [Pope] Benedict XVI travels to Turkey next week on his first visit to a Muslim country since becoming pope last year, he is unlikely to cloak himself in the downy banner of brotherhood, the way Pope John Paul II did during his sojourn there 27 years ago.

Instead, Benedict, 79, will arrive carrying a much different reputation: that of a hard-knuckle intellect with a taste for blunt talk and interreligious confrontation. Just 19 months into his tenure, the pope has become as much a lightning rod as a moral leader; suddenly, when he speaks, the whole world listens.

And what takes place over four days in three Turkish cities has the potential to define his papacy — and a good deal more. [...]

[T]his year he has emerged as a far more compelling and complex figure than anyone had imagined. And much of that has to do with his willingness to take on what some people feel is today's equivalent of the communist scourge — the threat of Islamic violence.

The topic is extraordinarily fraught: there are, after all, a billion or so nonviolent Muslims on the globe; the Roman Catholic church's own record in the religious-mayhem department is hardly pristine; and even the most naive of observers understands that the Vicar of Christ might harbor an institutional prejudice against one of Christianity's main global competitors.

But by speaking out last September in Regensburg, Germany, about the possible intrinsic connection between Islam and violence and refusing to retract its essence — even when Islamic extremists destroyed several churches and murdered a nun in Somalia — the pontiff suddenly became a lot more interesting.

In one imperfect but powerful stroke, he departed from his predecessor's largely benign approach to Islam, discovered an issue that might attract even the most religiously jaded and managed (for better or worse) to reanimate the clash-of-civilizations discussion by focusing scrutiny on the core question of whether Islam, as a religion, sanctions violence.

He was hailed by cultural conservatives worldwide. Says Helen Hull Hitchcock, a St. Louis, Missouri, lay leader who heads the conservative Catholic organization Women for Faith & Family: "He has said what needed to be said." [Emphasis added]

By slandering Islam, one of "Christianity's main global competitors," Benedict made himself, Time says, "a lot more interesting." Now, "when he speaks, the whole world listens."

Sociologists Rodney Stark and Roger Finke have studied religions from the perspective of rational choice theory — people adhere to religions because they believe the benefits they get from religion justify the costs. Their analysis has led to a number of propostions about religious "firms" that must compete for adherents. To wit:

Proposition 76. Even where competition is limited, religious firms can generate high levels of participation to the extent that the firms serve as the primary organizational vehicles for social conflict. (Conversely, if religious firms become significantly less important as vehicles for social conflict, they will be correspondingly less able to generate commitment.)

Or, as Danial Dennett puts it in his book Breaking the Spell,

In other words, expect religious "firms" to exploit and exacerbate social conflict whenever possible, since it is a way of generating business.

I leave it to you to decide if Robertson, Benedict, et al, act out of instinct or calculated manipulation. Either way, the result is the same. In what should be an increasingly interconnected world, religion has emerged (or, re-emerged) as a deliberate, active sower of discord, giving people something we really don't need: yet another reason to hate one another, a reason supposedly bearing a stamp of approval from one god or another.

The great thing about Robertson's outburst is that it is so nakedly primitive, so anachronistic, so superstitious that it lets us see clearly what's going on. Now let's apply that insight to all religious pronouncements that seek to divide us. They're all equally bogus, even if they're stated with more finesse.

Must we, at this late date, persist in believing that our Invisible Avenger in the Sky (George Carlin's phrase) wants us to hate and kill people who believe in a differnt Invisible Avenger? Time to grow up and stop letting ourselves be played for such suckers.

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November 09, 2006

Jesus Camp Shutting Down Religion

Seattle Times:

The summer camp featured in the documentary "Jesus Camp," which includes scenes with disgraced preacher Ted Haggard, will shut down for at least several years because of negative reaction sparked by the film, according to the camp's director.

"Right now we're just not a safe ministry," Becky Fischer, the fiery Pentecostal pastor featured in "Jesus Camp," said Tuesday.

The documentary, which hit select U.S. theaters during the summer, portrays Fischer, 55, as drill instructor to a group of young evangelical children steeling themselves for spiritual and political warfare.

Led by Fischer, the children pray in tongues, as is common in charismatic strains of Pentecostalism; tearfully beg God to end abortion; and bless President Bush at a weeklong camp in Devils Lake, N.D.

Fischer has drawn fire from some corners for "brainwashing" the children. After vandals damaged the campground last month and critics besieged Fischer with negative e-mails, phone calls and letters, the pastor said she's shutting down the camp for at least several years.

"I don't think we'll be doing it for a while," she said.

Fischer lives in Bismarck, N.D., and is chief pastor at The Fire Center, a church devoted to children's ministry there. She has run the weeklong "Kids on Fire" summer camp, which is featured in the film, since 2002, with 75 to 100 children attending each year.

The documentary also includes scenes of Haggard, the evangelical leader accused of gay sex and drug use.

In one scene, directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady visit Haggard's 14,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo. He tells the vast audience, "We don't have to debate about what we should think about homosexual activity. It's written in the Bible."

Then Haggard looks into the camera and says kiddingly: "I think I know what you did last night," drawing laughs from the crowd. "If you send me a thousand dollars, I won't tell your wife." [Emphasis added]

Guess he had it coming.

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October 02, 2006

Letter To A Christian Nation Religion

This is excellent. Go read it.

I just ordered my copy of Harris' book. Only 10 bucks at Amazon.

[Thanks, Miles]

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July 14, 2006

Marriage In Massachusetts Religion  Rights, Law

A story you won't hear on Fox News.

Liberalism and same-sex marriage lead to high divorce rates. Right? Well, no. The exact opposite is true. The facts (Talk to Action):

Over two years have passed now since same sex marriage was legalized in Massachusetts, and data from all of 2004 and the first 11 months of 2005 are now available. [...]

[F]or several years now the Commonwealth [of Massachusetts] has had the lowest divorce rate of any state in the union.

In 2004 the Massachusetts divorce rate, at 2.2 per 1,000 residents per year, was considerably lower than the US national average rate for that year, 3.8 per 1,000. Indeed, it was lower than the national average rate for 1950 (2.6 per 1,000) and even approached the national rate of 1940 (2 per 1,000).

In 2003, total divorces in Massachusetts declined 2.1% relative to 2002. But in the first two years of legal same sex marriage in the Bay State, Massachusetts showed a more rapid decline and will very likely hold on to its title as the US state with the lowest divorce rate in the nation. [...]

[T]he group of US states...which have passed both state laws and also state constitutional amendments prohibiting same sex marriage, lag dramatically in terms of divorce rate improvement when compared to same sex marriage friendly states.

Among those US states that are most opposed to same sex marriage which have also provided divorce data for the time period...the average divorce rate (unadjusted for population changes) for 2004 and the first 11 months of 2005 increased 1.75%. This group contains 4 of the 5 states with the highest divorce rate increases in the US during 2004 and the first 11 months of 2005. [...]

Meanwhile, the one state in the United States Of America that has legal same sex marriage, Massachusetts, will be among the top ten states — or better — with the largest drop in divorce rates in America during 2004 and 2005. [Emphasis added]

So, to summarize. Massachusetts, widely regarded as the most liberal state in the union, the only state where same-sex marriage is legal, has the nation's lowest divorce rate and its divorce rate continues to decline rapidly. Indeed, the divorce rate in Massachusetts today is lower than the US rate back in the era of "Father Knows Best." Meanwhile, in states where people banned same-sex marriage, divorce rates are high and climbing.

Facts have a way of getting between us and our prejudices.

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June 06, 2006

Blastocysts Are Not People Ethics  Religion

I happened to catch The Daily Show the other night when the guest was one Ramesh Ponnuru (video), author of a nasty little tome called The Party of Death. The party in question, in case you were wondering, is the Democratic Party. "Of Death" because of abortion, on which this Ponnuru takes an absolutist all-abortion-is-murder-from-the-moment-of-conception position. Ditto for using 5-day-old embryos for stem cell research.

The American Prospect, however, points out that even The Wall Street Journal's reviewer finds Ponnuru's position extreme. Quoting the WSJ review:

It doesn't matter to Mr. Ponnuru that this argument flies in the face of a complex intuition that seems to underlie the American ambivalence: Invisible to the naked eye, lacking body or brain, feeling neither pleasure nor pain, radically dependent for life support, the early embryo, though surely part of the human family, is distant and different enough from a flesh-and-blood newborn that when the early embryo's life comes into conflict with other precious human goods or claims, the embryo's life may need to give way. [Emphasis added]

Wow. I never thought I'd say it, but good for the Wall Street Journal.

As I watched Jon Stewart's interview with Ponnuru, here's the question I was dying for him to ask:

Imagine you are walking by a stem cell laboratory and you see that a fire is raging inside. You see a person lying unconscious on the floor inside and, nearby, a tank containing some number of five-day-old embryos (blastocysts). Which do you save, the person or the embryos?

Or, to make the scenario even more clear-cut. Suppose what you see are a dozen trapped children and a petri dish containing 13 five-day-old embryos. There are more embryos than children. Which do you save, the children or the embryos?

I would have loved to watch Ponnuru stammer his way through that one. People who haven't surrendered their basic common sense understand that a fully developed human being and a nearly microscopic flyspeck are simply not equivalent. What could be more obvious?

And, as I pointed out in an earlier post, when it comes to stem cell research the which-do-you-save question is more than just hypothetical, since it "illustrates exactly the choice that faces us. I.e., there are living human beings with a variety of maladies who could be saved by research and therapy utilizing stem cells. Do we save them, or do we save the five-day-old embryos?"

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April 20, 2006

Where Did People Come From? Religion

From PollingReport:

CBS News Poll. April 6-9, 2006. Adults nationwide.

"Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin of human beings? (1) Human beings evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years, and God did not directly guide this process. (2) Human beings evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years, but God guided this process. (3) God created human beings in their present form."

Not directly guided by God17%
Guided by God23%
God created in present form53%

"Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin of human beings? (1) Human beings evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years, and God did not directly guide this process. (2) Human beings evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years, but God guided this process. (3) God created human beings in their present form within the last ten thousand years."

Not directly guided by God17%
Guided by God30%
Created by God within the last 10,000 years44%

I'm guessing that a lot of people who say God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years are giving the answer that they think puts them on God's team. I.e., it's not that they've thought about it all that much; they just know what answer a "good" person is supposed to give. And they probably have a superstitious fear of pissing God off. But still, you either have to be deeply ignorant, or have never developed a mental habit of noticing logical inconsistencies, to be able to profess something that so flies in the face of all the evidence in the real world. I really wonder what that's like, to be inside their heads.

Meanwhile, as Lewis Black says, "Our side has fossils. We win."

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April 08, 2006

Elvis Didn't Do No Drugs! Humor & Fun  Religion

Penn & Teller take on the Bible (via The Atheist Jew):

Hilarious.

Fair warning: contains rational thought and, uh, profane language.

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April 07, 2006

Moving The Goalposts Religion  Science/Technology

You may have seen the reports yesterday of the discovery of a rather spectacular fossil: a transitional form intermediate between a fish and the first four-legged land-dwelling vertebrates. Scientific American:

Paleontologists working in the Canadian Arctic have discovered the fossilized remains of an animal that elucidates one of evolution's most dramatic transformations: that which produced land-going vertebrates from fish. Dubbed Tiktaalik roseae, the large, predatory fish bears a number of features found in four-limbed creatures, a group known as tetrapods. [...]

Like all fish, Tiktaalik possesses fins and scales. But it also has a number of distinctly un-piscine characteristics, including a neck, a flat, crocodilelike skull, and robust ribs. As such Tiktaalik neatly fills the gap between previously known tetrapodlike fish such as Panderichthys, which lived some 385 million years ago, and the earliest tetrapods, Ichthyostega and Acanthostega, which lived about 365 million years ago. "Tiktaalik blurs the boundary between fish and land animals," Shubin observes. "This animal is both fish and tetrapod; we jokingly call it a 'fishapod.'"

Especially significant is the anatomy of Tiktaalik's pectoral fin, which contains the makings of a proper tetrapod arm...."Most of the major joints of the fin are functional in this fish," Shubin notes. "The shoulder, elbow and even parts of the wrist are already there and working in ways similar to the earliest land-living animals." [...]

Tiktaalik is already drawing comparisons to the iconic early bird, Archaeopteryx, for its explanatory power as a transitional fossil. But it certainly leaves room for more discoveries, especially those bridging the new gap between it and the first tetrapods, along with those that contain clues to the origin of the tetrapod hindlimb. [Emphasis added]

Creationists have long pointed to the scarcity of such "missing links" in the fossil record as (allegedly) evidence against evolution. So how do they react when such fossils are found? Here's what Robert Crowther had to say on a blog of the anti-evolution Discovery Institute (via Pharyngula):

"This latest fossil find poses no threat to intelligent design." So says Discovery Institute senior fellow and leading intelligent design theorist Dr. William Dembski, adding:

"Intelligent design does not so much challenge whether evolution occurred but how it occurred. In particular, it questions whether purposeless material processes — as opposed to intelligence — can create biological complexity and diversity."

The fossil poses no threat to Intelligent Design because nothing can pose a threat to ID. There is no conceivable finding that can disprove ID, because ID proponents can always say that whatever evolution did it did because the Intelligent Designer designed it that way. Which is why ID is not science. As Karl Popper pointed out long ago, the hallmark of a scientific theory is that it can be tested and disproved. Claims that cannot be falsified are necessarily unscientific.

Crowther goes on to say:

Even though this find does not challenge intelligent design, there may be good reasons to be skeptical about it.

These fish are not neccesarily intermediates, explain Discovery Institute scientists I queried about the find. Tiktaalik roseae is one of a set of lobe-finned fishes that include very curious mosaics — these fishes have advanced fully formed characteristics of several different groups. They are not intermediates in the sense that have half-fish/half-tetrapod characteristics. Rather, they have a combination of tetrapod-like features and fish-like features. Paleontologists refer to such organisms as mosaics rather than intermediates. [...]

According to DI Fellows a number of these fishes — Ichthyostega, Elpistostege, Panderichthys — have been hailed in the past as the "missing link." Maybe one is a missing link; maybe none are. What remains unexplained is how natural selection and random mutation could produce the many novel physiological characteristics that arise in true tetrapods. [Emphasis added]

This is just plain dumb. First of all, transitional forms should be mosaics. That's what evolutionary theory predicts. Second, scientists don't talk about "missing links", Creationists do. Scientists certainly don't talk about the missing link. What would that even mean? There are any number of transitional forms — indeed, one could argue that all species are transitional forms, since species are constantly in flux — and the idea of the missing anything is absurd.

But, that aside, the whole response shows how intellectually dishonest the Creationist position is. They decry the lack of "missing links," but whenever a transitional form is found they move the goalposts and say, you may have found that one, but there are still others you haven't found. But of course the fossil record will forever be incomplete. Only an infinitesimal fraction of creatures are fossilized when they die. Even so, the fossil record is constantly being added to and refined. You'd have to be a Creationist not to see that.

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February 21, 2006

Deranged Religion

Rabid anti-gay crusader Rev. Fred Phelps and his followers have switched from picketing funerals of AIDS victims to staging protests at military funerals. AP:

Phelps believes American deaths in Iraq are divine punishment for a country that he says harbors homosexuals. His protesters carry signs thanking God for so-called IEDs — explosives that are a major killer of soldiers in Iraq. [...]

Shirley Phelps-Roper, a daughter of Fred Phelps and an attorney for the Topeka, Kansas-based church, said [nothing] can silence their message that God killed the soldiers because they fought for a country that embraces homosexuals.

"The scriptures are crystal clear that when God sets out to punish a nation, it is with the sword. An IED is just a broken-up sword," Phelps-Roper said. "Since that is his weapon of choice, our forum of choice has got to be a dead soldier's funeral." [...]

During the 1990s, church members were known mostly for picketing the funerals of AIDS victims... [Emphasis added]

Jesus wept.

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February 05, 2006

Why The Outrage Now Over Cartoons Published Last September? Religion

The cartoons of Mohammed that have angered many Muslims were published last September. Why the outrage now? A post at EuroTrib offers what seems like a plausible explanation.

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January 09, 2006

Falwell: Alito Would Be Biggest Win In 30 Years Politics  Religion

As the Alito hearings open, Jerry Falwell tells us what's at stake:

Christian conservative leader Rev. Jerry Falwell said on Sunday that confirming Federal Appeals Court judge Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court U.S. Supreme Court would be the biggest victory for his constituency in three decades.

"What we‘ve worked on for 30 years, to mobilize people of faith and value in this country, what we've done through these years is coming to culmination right now," Falwell said at a rally on the eve of Alito's confirmation hearing.

"Now we're looking at what we really started on 30 years ago, reconstruction of a court system gone awry," Falwell said at a rally at a Baptist church in Philadelphia and broadcast on Christian radio and television.

"There could be a reconstruction of the U.S. Supreme Court in our immediate lifetime," said Falwell. [...]

"Go to the telephone, write your letter, get to your U.S. senators. Let's confirm this man, Judge Alito, to the U.S. Supreme Court," Falwell said. "And let's make one more step toward bringing America back to one nation under God." [Emphasis added]

Let's hope the Dems are listening.

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January 08, 2006

Ministers Apply "Holy Oil" To Alito Hearing Seats Politics  Religion

Three evangelical ministers says they applied "holy oil" to the seats in the hearing room for Alito's confirmation hearings. WSJ (via AmericaBlog):

Insisting that God "certainly needs to be involved" in the Supreme Court confirmation process, three Christian ministers today blessed the doors of the hearing room where Senate Judiciary Committee members will begin considering the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito on Monday.

Capitol Hill police barred them from entering the room to continue what they called a consecration service. But in a bit of one-upsmanship, the three announced that they had let themselves in a day earlier, touching holy oil to the seats where Judge Alito, the senators, witnesses, Senate staffers and the press will sit, and praying for each of the 13 committee members by name.

"We did adequately apply oil to all the seats," said the Rev. Rob Schenck, who identified himself as an evangelical Christian and as president of the National Clergy Council in Washington.

Rev. Schenck called the consecration service the kick-off in a series of prayer meetings that will continue throughout the confirmation hearing.

Capitol Hill police said they weren't aware that the three had entered the hearing room earlier, but added that hearing rooms typically aren't locked because "they're not of interest to anyone." [...]

The three ministers insisted they weren't taking sides in the Alito debate. "This is not a pro-Alito prayer," insisted the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition. With abortion, public prayer, gay marriage and right-to-life issues among those topping public debate, however, "God...is interested in what goes on" in the nomination hearing, Rev. Schenck said. [Emphasis added]

Simpletons.

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November 03, 2005

Evolution Deniers Politics  Religion

In spite of everything that's happened (Osama still at-large, nonexistent WMD, the disaster that is Iraq, letting Katrina ruin a major American city, investigations and indictments galore, John Bolton, Karen Hughes, Harriet Miers, etc. etc.), 35% of Americans say they still approve of the job Bush is doing. Who are these people?

Another CBS poll may shed some light: a majority (51%) of Americans believe God created humans in their present form. Which makes you want to ask, "Dude, um, fossils?" I mean, it's one thing to question the neo-Darwinist explanation for evolution. But to say evolution did not occur at all?

A mere 15% of Americans take the scientific view: humans evolved without God's intervention.

God created humans in present form51%
Humans evolved, God guided the process30%
Humans evolved, God did not guide process15%

In addition, the poll asked, "Is it possible to believe in both God and evolution?"

 YesNo
All67%29%
Believe in evolution90%8%
Believe God created humans48%48%

There are just a lot of people out there who think they have to choose between God and science, that being religious means shutting one's eyes and one's mind to enormous quantities of objective data and scientific inference. If your intellectual world is one where evolution never occurred, evidence about things like WMD are unlikely to make much of a dent.

CBS didn't ask, but I think we can safely assume that the people who believe God created humans in their present form are many of the same people who believe — based on what actual evidence, one has to wonder — that Bush is a "Godly" man and therefore doing a job that by definition is worthy of approval.

Somehow, it doesn't seem to bother educated Republicans (they do exist) that their base is disproportionately made up of people untouched by the last century and a half of progress in science.

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October 07, 2005

Hearing Voices Politics  Religion  War and Peace

Bush says God speaks to him. He calls him George. Guardian:

George Bush has claimed he was on a mission from God when he launched the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, according to a senior Palestinian politician in an interview to be broadcast by the BBC later this month.

Mr Bush revealed the extent of his religious fervour when he met a Palestinian delegation during the Israeli-Palestinian summit at the Egpytian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, four months after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

One of the delegates, Nabil Shaath, who was Palestinian foreign minister at the time, said: "President Bush said to all of us: 'I am driven with a mission from God'. God would tell me, 'George go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan'. And I did. And then God would tell me 'George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq'. And I did." [My emphasis]

This is not just a person who believes God speaks to him. This is a person who believe God speaks to him, who also happens to command enough nuclear and conventional weapons to destroy the world many times over.

There is something unbelievably archaic and reckless about putting that much power in the hands of a single human being. It's like we think we're still a small band of primates living in the forest somewhere. The alpha male calls the shots.

Nobody should have that much power. Nobody. Human beings are highly fallible creatures. Sometimes, they're just flat out crazy. The only reason we accept the current state of affairs is that we are completely and foolishly in denial about its implications. But down here in the real world, not all stories have happy endings.

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September 28, 2005

Religiosity And Societal Health Culture  Ethics  Religion

It's axiomatic among American conservatives — and many other Americans, too — that religion (in the conventional sense of the word) is a force for social good. The less religious a society, the greater will be the incidence of crime, abortion, sexual promiscuity, sexually transmitted diseases, suicide, and so on.

Sounds plausible. But if you actually look at the data, it turns out to be the opposite of the truth. Excerpts from a new study published in the Journal of Religion and Society:

In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion in the prosperous democracies...The most theistic prosperous democracy, the U.S.,...is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so, and almost always scores poorly. The view of the U.S. as a "shining city on the hill" to the rest of the world is falsified when it comes to basic measures of societal health...No democracy is known to have combined strong religiosity and popular denial of evolution with high rates of societal health. Higher rates of non-theism and acceptance of human evolution usually correlate with lower rates of dysfunction, and the least theistic nations are usually the least dysfunctional. None of the strongly secularized, pro-evolution democracies is experiencing high levels of measurable dysfunction. [...]

Indeed, the data examined in this study demonstrates that only the more secular, pro-evolution democracies have, for the first time in history, come closest to achieving practical "cultures of life" that feature low rates of lethal crime, juvenile-adult mortality, sex related dysfunction, and even abortion. The least theistic secular developing democracies such as Japan, France, and Scandinavia have been most successful in these regards. The non-religious, pro-evolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator. The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted. [My emphasis]

The exceptional nature of US society is seen most dramatically in the graphs that accompany the paper, some of which are reproduced below. It is shocking, in fact, what an extreme outlier the US turns out to be, the mark of a society in real trouble. Look for the U's:

(Legend: A = Australia, C = Canada, D = Denmark, E = Great Britain, F = France, G = Germany, H = Holland, I = Ireland, J = Japan, L = Switzerland, N = Norway, P = Portugal, R = Austria, S = Spain, T = Italy, U = United States, W = Sweden, Z = New Zealand)






Americans are so clueless, by and large, about the rest of the world that they will continue to believe that the US is Number One in all things good, even as we fall further and further behind other First World democracies. When an individual person's self-image is wildly divergent from his/her behavior, we recognize it as being symptomatic of psychological and/or moral pathology. What this study shows is an analogous situation on a national scale.

Small wonder, then, that our national political leaders are a bunch of self-styled Fundamentalist Christians who conduct their affairs like gangsters and thieves.

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August 25, 2005

¡Viva Chávez! Politics  Religion

Pat Robertson, supposed follower of Jesus "love your neighbor as yourself" Christ, called, as you know, for the assassination of Venezuela's popularly elected President Hugo Chávez. Robertson, at least, was forthright about the reason: Chávez controls "a huge pool of oil" and insists that his country has the right to control its own resources.

Besides the oil, there's also the fact that Chávez represents what Noam Chomsky has called "the threat of a good example." He uses his country's oil revenue to provide for its poor. He offers oil to other Latin American countries at below-market prices in exchange for barter in goods and services. He shows by his example that there is another way, a better way, for nations to conduct their affairs.

And you've got to love his sense of humor. In the face of attacks by the Bush administration and its allies like Pat Roberston, Chávez has responded by offering to sell half-price oil to poor Americans and by offering them Venezuela's free health care as well. America can strut about on the world stage all it wants, Chávez implies, but even lowly Venezuela does a far better job of providing for its own people. Take that! Guardian:

President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela hit back vigorously at calls by an ally of President George Bush for his assassination by offering cheap petrol to the poor of the US at a time of soaring fuel prices. [...]

"We want to sell gasoline and heating fuel directly to poor communities in the United States," he said. [...]

Venezuela, the world's fifth largest crude exporter, supplies 1.3m barrels of oil a day to the US. It remains unclear how poor Americans might benefit from the cheap petrol offer, but Mr Chávez has set up arrangements with other countries for swapping services in exchange for oil. Cuban doctors are working in the poorer areas of Venezuela in exchange for cheap oil going to Cuba.

Jamaica yesterday became the first Caribbean country to reach an agreement with Venezuela for oil at below-market terms. The Petrocaribe initiative is a plan to offer oil at flexible rates to 13 Caribbean countries. Jamaica will pay $40 a barrel, against a market rate of more than $60. [My emphasis]

All of which makes Chávez Public Enemy Number One here at the center of the empire of greed.

Who is the more authentic follower of Jesus? Chávez, who champions the welfare of the poor and powerless, or Pat Robertson, who sits on hundreds of millions of dollars and issues his lunatic fatwas? When will right-wing Christians in America wake up to the sort of "Christians" they are following?

Jesus was their exact opposite, as is obvious to anyone who takes the trouble to read what Jesus actually said and did. For example, Jesus said this:

If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.

Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.

And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. — Matthew 19:21-24

What could be clearer?

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August 23, 2005

Grooming Fundamentalist Fanatics For Political Power Politics  Religion

Here's a disturbing report from the LA Times on fundamentalist Christian efforts to train future political leaders and place them in positions of influence and power. Excerpts:

In the blue and gold elegance of the House speaker's private dining room, Jeremy Bouma bowed his head before eight young men and women who hope to one day lead the nation. He prayed that they might find wisdom in the Bible — and govern by its word.

"Holy Father, we thank you for providing us with guidance," said Bouma, who works for an influential televangelist. "Thank you, Lord, for these students. Build them up as your warriors and your ambassadors on Capitol Hill."

"Amen," the students murmured. Then they picked up their pens expectantly.

Nearly every Monday for six months, as many as a dozen congressional aides — many of them aspiring politicians — have gathered over takeout dinners to mine the Bible for ancient wisdom on modern policy debates about tax rates, foreign aid, education, cloning and the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

Through seminars taught by conservative college professors and devout members of Congress, the students learn that serving country means first and always serving Christ.

They learn to view every vote as a religious duty, and to consider compromise a sin.

That puts them at the vanguard of a bold effort by evangelical conservatives to mold a new generation of leaders who will answer not to voters, but to God.

"We help them understand God's purpose for society," said Bouma, who coordinates the program, known as the Statesmanship Institute, for the Rev. D. James Kennedy. [...]

The center sponsors Bible studies, prayer meetings and free "Politics and Principle" lunches for members of Congress and their staffs, often drawing crowds in the hundreds. [...]

It's one of half a dozen evangelical leadership programs making steady inroads into Washington.

The most prominent is Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va., an hour's drive from the capital. The college was founded five years ago with the goal of turning out "Christian men and women who will lead our nation with timeless biblical values." Nearly every graduate works in government or with a conservative advocacy group.

The Witherspoon Fellowship has had similar success, placing its graduates in the White House, Congress, the State Department and legislatures nationwide. The fellowship brings 42 college students to Washington each year to study theology and politics — and to work at the conservative Family Research Council, which lobbies on such social issues as abortion and same-sex marriage.

Such programs share a commitment to developing leaders who read the Bible as a blueprint.

As Kennedy put it: "If we leave it to man to decide what's good and evil, there will be chaos." [...]

Now the director of the Eagle Forum, a conservative lobbying group founded by Phyllis Schlafly, [23-year-old Jessica] Echard says Jesus would approve of a call for lower taxes: "God calls on us to be stewards of our [own] money."

She dips into the Bible to explain her opposition to most global treaties, reasoning that Americans have a holy obligation to protect their God-given freedom by avoiding foreign entanglements. [...]

Kennedy offers a similar take on education policy in the gilt-edged, leather-bound Bible his staff delivers to each new member of Congress. In an introductory essay, Kennedy quotes Scripture to explain God's views on taxes, capital punishment, gay rights and a dozen other issues. Most of the policy prescriptions he finds in the Bible dovetail neatly with the Republican agenda. [My emphasis]

It takes a member of a cult, really, to have the unthinking, unquestioning arrogance to believe he or she knows what the purported Creator of the Universe's positions are on taxes, science instruction, gay marriage, and everything else. People who have so completely surrendered their (God-given, if you like) faculties for critical thinking about the real world all around them are dangerous people to have in power.

When people think they directly and literally represent the side of Good in a Cosmic struggle between Good and Evil, when they believe compromise is a sin, they become capable of an extremism that knows no bounds. What wouldn't you be willing to do if you believed your adversary was the Antichrist and the fate of the universe hung in the balance?

We have no difficulty recognizing the danger of religious fundamentalist extremism when it involves somebody else's religion. Well, guess what. It applies to your religion, too.

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June 22, 2005

Air Force Academy As Christian Cult Culture  Religion  War and Peace

If this doesn't scare you, maybe it should. Time reports that evangelical Christianity has all but taken over at the Air Force Academy. Excerpts:

It was with happy anticipation that retired Air Force Colonel David Antoon and his son Ryan, 18, arrived last year at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., for an orientation for accepted students. But their pride soon turned to perplexity. On the schedule was a visit to the school chapel. A loyal alumnus, Antoon remembered academy chaplains as a low-key group who made no attempt to press their brand of faith on others. But that day, before a crowd that probably included future cadets of all creeds, the chaplain at the microphone boasted about the huge popularity of Christian Bible studies, and several of his colleagues, Antoon recalls, responded, "Amen" and "Hallelujah."

"My jaw just dropped," says Antoon. "I thought, Is this the Air Force Academy or Rocky Mountain Bible College?" For this and other reasons, Ryan passed up his all-expenses-paid congressional appointment to the academy and enrolled elsewhere.

The Antoons' experience was not an aberration. This week, after a six-week barrage of allegations, the Air Force is expected to release a report based on more than 300 interviews, addressing charges that the academy is rife with an officially encouraged religious evangelization. Critics say the behaviors violated the Constitution and Department of Defense regulations — and threatened troop unity by teaching future commanders overt religious favoritism. [...]

The first stories appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette. They gained traction thanks to a July 2004 memo by a Yale Divinity School team that advised academy chaplains on rape counseling but made note of "stridently evangelical themes" in Protestant services and warned that this could "encourage religious divisions." The letter was co-signed by Captain MeLinda Morton, a Lutheran chaplain at the academy. She has been reassigned to Okinawa — punishment, she claims, for speaking out, although the Air Force denies it. She has questioned the influence on the school of the many powerful Christian groups headquartered in Colorado Springs, sometimes called "Evangelical mecca." Some groups, she says, "have Bible studies and classes in which faculty members can learn how to evangelize in their opening statements to students each year." [...]

Taken together, the complaints suggest evangelical saturation. They claim that mandatory gatherings often opened with prayers and that some professors actively recruited cadets to join evangelical churches. At Christmastime some senior faculty members would sign religious ads in the base paper, including this 2003 message: "We believe that Jesus Christ is the only real hope for the world. If you would like to discuss Jesus, feel free to contact one of us!" Revered football coach Fisher DeBerry once hung a banner in his locker room reading I AM A MEMBER OF TEAM JESUS CHRIST. He allegedly led game-day prayer "in Jesus' name." DeBerry has said he actually prayed to a "Master Coach."

The ranking evangelizer was the academy's second in command, Brigadier General Johnny Weida, a deeply religious former Thunderbirds pilot who was brought in to help restore dignity to the school after a 2003 sexual-abuse scandal. Promoting the National Day of Prayer on May 1, 2003, Weida sent a mass e-mail urging participation and noting that "the Lord is in control." He established a call-and-response routine at campus events. When he shouted "Airpower!" evangelical cadets would yell "Rock, sir!" The cheer was allegedly a reference to Jesus' words that his house is built on rock, intended to provoke curiosity among non-Evangelicals and start conversations about Christ. If so, it also verbally erased any distinction between loyalty to the Air Force and to Weida's God. [...]

As a cadet last year, Patrick Kucera, an atheist, tried filing a complaint about Christian proselytizing with the academy's Military Equal Opportunity (MEO) office. The MEO officer, says Kucera, not only discouraged the filing on technical grounds but also said he felt obliged, as a believer, "to try to bring you back to the flock." [My emphasis]

It's hard to be comfortable with the idea that a branch of the service that controls thousands of thermonuclear weapons is being turned into a cult for a Rapture-addled strain of Christianity preoccupied with apocalyptic predictions of The Second Coming. When people are convinced that they are taking their orders from God, they are capable of anything.

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June 04, 2005

Give 'Em That Old-Time Religion Politics  Religion

Texas Governor Rick Perry plans to go to Calvary Cathedral in Fort Worth Sunday to sign two bills related to abortion and gay marriage. The point is obvious: Perry and the GOP are doing God's work, which means their opponents — well, you get the picture.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has asked Perry to reconsider. AUSCS (via BuzzFlash):

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today urged Texas Gov. Rick Perry to drop a plan to sign two controversial bills into law at a Fort Worth church.

In a letter to Perry sent today, Americans United warned that the proposed event is a blatant example of exploiting a house of worship for partisan political purposes and could jeopardize the congregation's tax-exempt status.

Perry plans to sign the bills this Sunday at an event at Calvary Cathedral in Fort Worth. One bill will require minor girls to have written parental consent before they can get an abortion; another certifies a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage that will be on the ballot in November.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that a letter and e-mail from Perry's campaign said that Perry backers "want to completely fill this location with pro-family Christian friends who can celebrate with us" and said they might film the event for TV political advertising later. [My emphasis]

When we look at the Middle East and elsewhere, we have no trouble seeing that to mix religious fundamentalism and politics is to play with dynamite. When it comes to looking at similar trends and similar dangers here at home, though, too many of us suddenly become blind. What they're doing is dangerous extremism; what we're doing is Godliness. A good time to recall the words of Jesus:

You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye.

Meanwhile, that faint vibration you may feel is Thomas Jefferson spinning in his grave.

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May 04, 2005

Pat Robertson Is An Idiot Religion  Rights, Law

As noted Monday, Pat Robertson says Muslims should be banned from high office and judgeships in the US. As Juan Cole points out, one of the things Robertson said in that interview was:

Well, you know, Thomas Jefferson, who was the author of the Declaration of Independence said he wouldn't have any atheists in his cabinet because atheists wouldn't swear an oath to God. That was Jefferson...

Quoting Cole again, here is what Jefferson actually wrote, in his 1777 Draft of a Bill for Religious Freedom:

...that our civil rights have no dependance on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy [of] the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right...

Which is, of course, the exact opposite of what know-nothing Robertson ascribed to him. Rather than barring Muslims from high office, how about we bar idiots like Robertson.

I'm being a smart-ass, but there's nothing funny about what Robertson says. The man should be shunned by all decent people. Anyone who treats him like a respectable member of society after pronouncements like these should be shunned as well.

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May 02, 2005

Pat Robertson: Muslims Unfit For High Office Politics  Religion

Proving once again how little he has in common with the Christ he professes to follow, Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson said yesterday that Muslims should not be appointed to high government office or judgeships. LA Times:

Appearing on ABC's "This Week," [Pat] Robertson — who founded the Christian Coalition — ... said he would be wary of appointing Muslims to top positions in the U.S. government, including judgeships. [...]

Robertson, who launched a brief presidential bid in 1988, said that if he were president he would not appoint Muslims to serve in his Cabinet and that he was not in favor of Muslims serving as judges.

"They have said in the Koran there's a war against all the infidels," he said. "Do you want somebody like that sitting as a judge? I wouldn't."

There are probably many Americans now who equate Muslims with terrorists and view all Muslims as potential enemies. Which is, of course, exactly the way many Germans felt about Jews. What does that make Robertson?

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April 26, 2005

God's Official Party Politics  Religion

As you probably know, James Dobson and others organized an event they called "Justice Sunday: Stopping the Filibuster Against People of Faith". The event, which took place this past Sunday, was broadcast to churches across the country and to 61 million households. Its purpose was to position Democrats' opposition (via filibuster) to a handful of far-right judicial nominations as Democratic opposition to "people of faith" generally. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist spoke via videotape.

Today, Democracy Now's Amy Goodman interviews Jim Wallis, himself an evangelical Christian and author of God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It, to get his reaction. Wallis is also founder of Sojourners Community and editor of Sojourners magazine. Excerpt:

AMY GOODMAN: [L]et's talk about this event that took place on Sunday called "Justice Sunday," and Senator Frist's participation, the Senate Majority Leader.

JIM WALLIS: It was pretty amazing. You know, I have looked through my Bible, and I can't find filibuster anywhere. I really looked hard. But it's not there. A bit of historical perspective. After he was arrested once, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote a very famous letter from a Birmingham jail to white clergy who opposed him, and it was about racial segregation and violence against black people. Never once did he say they weren't people of faith. He challenged their faith. He wanted them to go deeper with their faith, but he never said my opponents are not people of faith. That's what [the organizers of "Justice Sunday" are] saying. Now, if King wouldn't say his opponents weren't people of faith over racial segregation and violence, how can the right do this over a filibuster? There's something crossing a lot of boundaries here.

AMY GOODMAN: What really is the big deal? It's their opinion versus yours.

JIM WALLIS: Well, I think it's fine for people to bring their moral conviction, even their religious conviction in the public life. King did that. I do that. The religious right does that, but when you say those who oppose us, who have a different view, are not people of faith, or Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson said during the campaign, you can only vote for George W. Bush. Now they're saying you must also agree with all of his judicial nominees. Now this is really the hijacking of religion. It's making it into a partisan wedge and a weapon to divide us, not a bridge to bring us together. This is really the abuse and misuse of religion. We're having these town meetings across the country disguised as book signings. And what I'm learning is people are tired of the monologue of the religious right. And the good news, having been to the East and the Mid-West and the South and even Texas and the West, is the monologue of the religious right is now over. And a new dialogue has finally begun.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, isn't it at the height of their power?

JIM WALLIS: Well, it's interesting because they're in the White House now. So you can say, yes, it's at the height of their power. But more than ever before, it's almost like the rise of the non-religious right, which isn't much of a name for a movement, but that's what I’m sensing and feeling all over the country. So a lot of people are saying, wait a minute, the way faith is portrayed in the election, in the media, and invoked in the White House isn't my faith. I've got faith, too. I’ve got moral values, too. They don't speak for me. So, a lot of other people are saying, I want my voice to be heard, as well. [My emphasis]

Read or watch the rest here.

I keep waiting for the moment when the Right's overreach becomes so blatant, so shocking, so patently un-American that the great mass of ordinary Americans recoil in horror. What will it finally take?

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April 22, 2005

An End To Checks And Balances Politics  Religion  Rights, Law

The right-wing is looking at various options for stacking the judiciary with far-right judges. The "nuclear" option that would allow a simple majority to close off debate in the Senate has received a lot of publicity. A different tactic is being discussed, however, that is far more radical and has, until now, been flying under the radar.

The LA Times reports on a private conference hosted in Washington last month by conservative evangelicals who urge Congress to use its power of the purse to starve selected courts of funding or shut them down altogether. Tom DeLay has indicated sympathy with the approach, and some other Republicans in Congress are said to be on board. Excerpt:

An audio recording obtained by the Los Angeles Times features two of the nation's most influential evangelical leaders, at a private conference with supporters, laying out strategies to rein in judges, such as stripping funding from their courts in an effort to hinder their work.

The discussion took place during a Washington conference last month that included addresses by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who discussed efforts to bring a more conservative cast to the courts. [...]

"There's more than one way to skin a cat, and there's more than one way to take a black robe off the bench," said Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, according to an audiotape of a March 17 session. [...]

DeLay has spoken generally about one of the ideas the leaders discussed in greater detail: using legislative tactics to withhold money from courts.

"We set up the courts. We can unset the courts. We have the power of the purse," DeLay said at an April 13 question-and-answer session with reporters. [...]

The leaders present at the March conference, including Perkins and James C. Dobson, founder of the influential group Focus on the Family, have been working with Frist to eliminate the filibuster for judicial nominations... Frist is scheduled to appear, via a taped statement, during a satellite broadcast to churches nationwide Sunday that the Family Research Council has organized to build support for the Bush nominees.

The March conference featuring Dobson and Perkins showed that the evangelical leaders, in addition to working to place conservative nominees on the bench, have been trying to find ways to remove certain judges.

Perkins said that he had attended a meeting with congressional leaders a week earlier where the strategy of stripping funding from certain courts was "prominently" discussed. "What they're thinking of is not only the fact of just making these courts go away and re-creating them the next day but also defunding them," Perkins said.

He said that instead of undertaking the long process of trying to impeach judges, Congress could use its appropriations authority to "just take away the bench, all of his staff, and he's just sitting out there with nothing to do."

These curbs on courts are "on the radar screen, especially of conservatives here in Congress," he said.

Dobson, who emerged last year as one of the evangelical movement's most important political leaders, named one potential target: the California-based U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

"Very few people know this, that the Congress can simply disenfranchise a court," Dobson said. "They don't have to fire anybody or impeach them or go through that battle. All they have to do is say the 9th Circuit doesn't exist anymore, and it's gone." [...]

Perkins and Dobson laid out a history of court rulings they found offensive, singling out the recent finding by the Supreme Court that executing minors was unconstitutional. [My emphasis]

These people are Brownshirts. There's no other way to put it. Their ideas are so far beyond the pale in what is purportedly still a Consitutional democracy that it's astonishing, and more than a little telling, that they are not universally condemned as dangerous fanatics.

There is nothing conservative about such a bald-faced program to undo the separation of powers, the fundamental principle of the US Constitution. Only a thuggish totalitarian mind would even entertain the notion. Everlasting shame on all conservatives who stand silently on the sidelines while this goes on.

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Miracles And Wonders Religion

Contributing Editor Peggy Noonan writes in yesterday's Wall Street Journal [via DC Media Girl]:

We are living in a time of supernatural occurrences. The old pope gives us his suffering as a parting gift, says his final goodbye on Easter Sunday; dies on the vigil of Feast of the Divine Mercy, the day that marks the messages received by the Polish nun, now a saint, who had written that a spark out of Poland would light the world and lead the way to the coming of Christ. The mourning period for the old pope ends on the day that celebrates St. Stanislas, hero of Poland, whose name John Paul had thought about taking when he became pope. We learned this week from a former secretary that John Paul I, the good man who was pope just a month, had told everyone the day he was chosen that he wanted to be called John Paul I. You can't be called "the first" until there is a second, he was told. There will be a second soon, he replied.

It is an age of miracles and wonders, of sightings of Mary and warnings, of prophecy, graces and gifts.

Daft, even by Noonan standards.

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April 21, 2005

Ratzinger On Peace And "Preventive" War Activism  Religion  War and Peace

Whatever else may be true of the new pope, Catholic Peace Fellowship reports that as a cardinal he was a forceful critic of the Iraq war and Bush's doctrine of "preventive" war, and he intends to continue such criticism as pope. That intention, in fact, motivated his choice of the name Benedict XVI. Excerpt:

The election of Benedict XVI as pope brings hope for the continuation of peacemaking as central to the papacy. Just as John Paul II cried out again and again to the world, "War never again!" the new pope has taken the name of the one who first made that cry, Benedict XV, commonly known as "the peace pope."

The name is no coincidence. In fact, Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia said Tuesday that the new pope told the cardinals he was selecting Benedict because "he is desirous to continue the efforts of Benedict XV on behalf of peace ... throughout the world."

As a Cardinal, the new pope was a staunch critic of the U.S. led invasion of Iraq. On one occasion before the war, he was asked whether it would be just. "Certainly not," he said, and explained that the situation led him to conclude that "the damage would be greater than the values one hopes to save."

"All I can do is invite you to read the Catechism, and the conclusion seems obvious to me..." The conclusion is one he gave many times: "the concept of preventive war does not appear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church."

Even after the war [sic], Ratzinger did not cease criticism of U.S. violence and imperialism: "it was right to resist the war and its threats of destruction...It should never be the responsibility of just one nation to make decisions for the world."

Yet perhaps the most important insight of Ratzinger came during a press conference on May 2, 2003. After suggesting that perhaps it would be necessary to revise the Catechism section on just war (perhaps because it had been used by George Weigel and others to endorse a war the Church opposed), Ratzinger offered a deep insight that included but went beyond the issue of war Iraq:

"There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq. To say nothing of the fact that, given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a 'just war'." [My emphasis]

Doubtless this aspect of the pope's message will go pretty much unmentioned in US media, unlike his stands against abortion or gay marriage. Liberal media, blah blah blah.

[Thanks, Kent]

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April 20, 2005

Underpass Stain Miracle Religion

Whatever.

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April 10, 2005

Thought For Today Religion

Sunday Sermonette, courtesy of James Wolcott:

"I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.

"All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

"I do not mean by this declaration to condemn those who believe otherwise. They have the same right to their belief as I have to mine. But it is necessary to the happiness of man, that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving: it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe."

— Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason

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March 11, 2005

A Parable Musings  Religion

Kent sent me a link to this page of 101 Zen stories. Here's one I especially like:

Buddha told a parable in a sutra:

A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.

Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!

Go explore.

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January 30, 2005

Sauce For The Goose Culture  Humor & Fun  Religion

Eric Olson at Deep Blade Journal turned me on to Bob Park's weekly blog. Park is a physicist who posts a handful of items each week on science and technology in the news, together with his own sardonic commentary. Recommended.

Here's something from Park's blog this week. As you probably know, Cobb County, Georgia, wants disclaimer labels to be required on high school biology textbooks:

This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.

Fair enough, says Park. After all, "[s]cience is open. If someone comes up with a better theory, the textbooks will be rewritten." But, fair's fair: let's put warning labels on Cobb County Bibles as well. Park suggests:

This book contains religious stories regarding the origin of living things. The stories are theories, not facts. They are unproven, unprovable and in some cases totally impossible. This material should be approached with an open mind, and a critical eye towards logic and believability.

Amen, Brothers and Sisters. Amen.

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January 13, 2005

Religious Ignorance Among "Religious" Americans Religion

In a country where more than 75% of the population identifies itself as Christian, and in many cases rather militantly so (picking a President on that basis, for example), this [via Kevin Drum] is jaw-dropping:

[A]ccording to a 1997 poll, only one out of three U.S. citizens is able to name the most basic of Christian texts, the four Gospels, and 12% think Noah's wife was Joan of Arc. That paints a picture of a nation that believes God speaks in Scripture but that can't be bothered to read what he has to say. [My emphasis]

Uh, that's Joan of Arc, people, not Ark.

If "Christians" can't name the four Gospels, they've obviously never bothered to read for themselves what the Bible (which many of them claim to believe is the literal word of God Himself and therefore, you'd think, worth dipping into) actually says — at least, not on the subject of Jesus, whom they supposedly follow and revere. So they believe what they are told the Bible says: that God is a Republican who hates abortion rights and gay marriage — or whatever. And they're willing to drive national policy and go to war based on these second-hand beliefs (yes, I'm generalizing) and feel like good Christians for so doing.

What's equally alarming is that American Christians who are this deeply ignorant about their own religion can be expected to be utterly clueless about Islam, Buddhism, etc. Nature abhors a vacuum. Where there is ignorance, prejudice rushes in to fill the void, and ignorant, prejudiced people are easy pickings for demagogues.

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January 10, 2005

Hidden In Plain Sight Politics  Religion

From an article by Chris Hedges (NYT, via ICH):

Fritz Stern, a refugee from Hitler's Germany and a leading scholar of European history, startled several of his listeners when he warned in a speech about the danger posed in this country by the rise of the Christian right. In his address in November, just after he received a prize presented by the German foreign minister, he told his audience that Hitler saw himself as "the instrument of providence" and fused his "racial dogma with a Germanic Christianity."

"Some people recognized the moral perils of mixing religion and politics," he said of prewar Germany, "but many more were seduced by it. It was the pseudo-religious transfiguration of politics that largely ensured his success, notably in Protestant areas."

Dr. Stern's speech, given during a ceremony at which he got the prize from the Leo Baeck Institute, a center focused on German Jewish history, was certainly provocative. The fascism of Nazi Germany belongs to a world so horrendous it often seems to defy the possibility of repetition or analogy. But Dr. Stern, 78, the author of books like "The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study in the Rise of the Germanic Ideology" and university professor emeritus at Columbia University, has devoted a lifetime to analyzing how the Nazi barbarity became possible. He stops short of calling the Christian right fascist but his decision to draw parallels, especially in the uses of propaganda, was controversial.

"When I saw the speech my eyes lit up," said John R. MacArthur, whose book "Second Front" examines wartime propaganda. "The comparison between the propagandistic manipulation and uses of Christianity, then and now, is hidden in plain sight. No one will talk about it. No one wants to look at it." [My emphasis]

When opportunistic politicians try to exploit religious zealotry and stir up deep collective emotional currents to serve their own short-term purposes, it usually ends badly. The beast they thought they'd control turns out to be quite untamed; the lion turns on the would-be lion-tamer, tearing him, and everyone else within reach, to shreds.

As Jung emphasized, the danger of psychological contagion at such times should not be underestimated. Before you know it, millions of people can be swept up in something like a mob delirium, creating a collective moment of extraordinary peril. One is almost tempted to invoke tsunami imagery.

Remember that after Hitler's ascent to power it took a mere dozen years to reduce Germany, one of the world's most advanced and civilized nations, and much of the rest of the world besides, to smoking rubble. Such is the destructive potential of the psychological forces being toyed with by our right-wing Sorcerer's Apprentices. What fools.

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December 09, 2004

Right On Cue Politics  Religion

Last night's post about, among other things, the curious way right-wing Christians prefer the Ten Commandments to the sayings of Jesus, is followed this morning, as if on cue, by a story that the Bush administration filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to permit the Ten Commandments to be displayed in US courthouses and government buildings. Oy.

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Wrathful Deities Essays  Religion

A marked and decidedly peculiar feature of the rising tide of neo-Puritan right-wing "Christian" religiosity in America today is how little Christ actually seems to figure into it. Right-wing "Christianity" seems rather to consist of Old Testament judgment and vengeance blended with fevered interpretations of The Book of Revelations.

Consider how right-wing "Christians" are forever agitating to get the Old Testament's Ten Commandments placed in courtrooms, classrooms, etc. Never does one hear them advocate similar prominence for the New Testament sayings of Jesus, whom they profess to follow. It's as if the words of the Sermon on the Mount, in particular, — Blessed are the poor, Blessed are the meek, Blessed are the peacemakers, Love thy enemies, Turn the other cheek — were never spoken.

On the theory that you can learn a lot about people by what they worship, it's worth considering what a cruel, wrathful, powder keg of a deity the Old Testament God really is. As James Wolcott tells us, when an interviewer put it to Noam Chomsky that the moral codes embedded in the world's religions are a benefit to humankind, this was Chomsky's reply:

You can find things in the traditional religions which are very benign and decent and wonderful and so on, but I mean, the Bible is probably the most genocidal book in the literary canon. The God of the Bible — not only did he order His chosen people to carry out literal genocide — ...but was ready to destroy every living creature on earth because humans irritated Him. That's the story of Noah. I mean, that's beyond genocide — you don't know how to describe this creature. Somebody offended Him, and He was going to destroy every living being on earth? And then He was talked into allowing two of each species to stay alive — that's supposed to be gentle and wonderful.

For the right-wing neo-Puritans, even Jesus adopts this vengeful aspect. Consider, for example, the enormously popular "Left Behind" novels that portray events leading up to Jesus' Second Coming and the imminent end of this world. These novels, which have sold tens of millions of copies, were described by Nicholas Kristof as follows:

The "Left Behind" series, bestselling novels for adults in the United States, enthusiastically depicts Jesus returning to slaughter everyone who is not a born-again Christian. The world's Hindus, Muslims, Jews and agnostics, along with many Roman Catholics and Unitarians, are heaved into everlasting fire: "Jesus merely raised one hand a few inches and ... they tumbled in, howling and screeching."

Politically correct notions of religious tolerance enjoin us to treat all religions as equally valid, equally deserving of our indulgence. In a world beset by escalating religious and tribal warfare, however, we are entitled to question these wrathful and bloodthirsty notions of Divinity. People (be they Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, or Sikh) who choose to live in a lurid nightmare fantasy of a final cosmic battle between Good and Evil — and to act on that fantasy — are a real and present danger to the rest of us.

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December 01, 2004

Missing The Point On Free Speech Media  Religion  Rights, Law

The Center for American Progress reports that CBS and NBC are suppressing an ad they say is "unacceptable" and "too controversial":

CBS and NBC are refusing to air an ad produced by the United Church of Christ (UCC) because it advocates religious inclusion. The ad shows bouncers turning away a variety of people at the door of a church — including ethnic minorities and two men who may be a homosexual couple. The announcer says, "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we. No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey you're welcome here."... In a letter to the UCC, CBS is refusing to air the advertisement because the commercial "touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations." Also, CBS found the ad "unacceptable" because "the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman." NBC similarly declared the ad "too controversial." The ad has been accepted and will air on a number of [other] networks..." [My emphasis]

Watch the ad here. It's a positive, affirming message that most Americans would support.

CBS denies UCC access to the public airwaves because UCC's viewpoint conflicts with that of the Executive Branch. NBC denies it because it's "too controversial." Isn't the whole point of Free Speech to protect controversial speech that challenges the government? (Not that the ad is all that controversial.) Does only the Executive Branch have free speech anymore?

Yes, CBS and NBC are private corporations, but they are licensed to use the public airwaves, and they therefore have a responsibility to the public. Email CBS and NBC and tell them what you think.

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November 18, 2004

End Times Religion

On a recent trip back from Seattle, I noticed two different people at the airport reading one of the LaHaye/Jenkins Left Behind novels, lurid dramatizations of the mythology of the Antichrist, Armageddon, and The Rapture. These books have sold tens of millions of copies, and they're just one of many indicators of the hold that eschatological ideas have on the minds of many Americans. As Time reported in 2002:

A TIME/CNN poll finds that more than one-third of Americans say they are paying more attention now to how the news might relate to the end of the world, and have talked about what the Bible has to say on the subject. Fully 59% say they believe the events in Revelation are going to come true, and nearly one-quarter think the Bible predicted the Sept. 11 attack.

Having a spiritual life is one thing. Being delusional is another. What makes these particular delusions so dangerous is that once people believe they are participating in the final battle between God and Satan, Cosmic Good and Ultimate Evil, they can justify any amount of ruthlessness and treachery. What wouldn't you be willing to do if you believed your adversary was the Antichrist and the fate of the universe hung in the balance?

Why can't people get it through their heads that myths are metaphors?

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November 17, 2004

NZ Scientist Warns Of Human Extinction Energy  Environment  Religion

Professor Peter Barrett, recipient of New Zealand's Marsden Award for lifetime achievement in the sciences, believes global climate change may threaten the very survival of the human species, and much sooner than we think:

A top New Zealand researcher is using a prestigious award ceremony in Christchurch to warn that humans face extinction by the end of the century.

Professor Peter Barrett will be presented with the Marsden Medal tonight for his 40-year contribution to Antarctic research, latterly focusing on climate change.

The director of Victoria University's Antarctic Research Centre expects to use his acceptance speech to warn climate change was a major threat to the planet.

"After 40 years, I'm part of a huge community of scientists who have become alarmed with our discovery, that we know from our knowledge of the ancient past, that if we continue our present growth path, we are facing extinction," Barrett said. "Not in millions of years, or even millennia, but by the end of this century." [My emphasis]

One of the truly remarkable and, to me, inexplicable characteristics of the Bush administration is its complete unwillingness to face facts and begin to tackle even one of the really large-scale issues confronting humanity: climate change, diminishing energy supplies, increasing shortages of fresh water, etc.

Take energy. I understand that the focus of this White House is on rewarding its supporters, so I fully expect them to push projects like opening the ANWR to oil exploration. But how would it hurt them politically if they were simultaneously to embark on a crash technology program for greater energy efficiency, development of alternative fuels, and so on? Even if we got started today, it would take a long time for any new solutions to come on-line on anything like the required scale, so the administration's oil cronies are still going to get to pump every last drop of oil. And there will be plenty of other opportunities to make money developing and exploiting the new technologies. But the White House seems incapable of envisioning anything except more drilling and more invasions of the world's oil-producing regions.

There's this weird determination generally on the part of the Bush White House to be on the wrong side of every issue that's in any way related to science. Maybe their crackpot brand of Apocalyptic Christianity is behind it. Maybe it's a simple unwillingness to admit their opponents have ever been right about anything. It's baffling, but it's going to get a lot of people killed. If Barrett's right, it just may get us all killed. Talk about your issues of morality.

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November 11, 2004

"Pull Out All The Stops" Politics  Religion

From a letter sent November 3rd by Bob Jones, President of Bob Jones University, BJU, to President Bush:

In your re-election, God has graciously granted America — though she doesn't deserve it — a reprieve from the agenda of paganism. You have been given a mandate. We the people expect your voice to be like the clear and certain sound of a trumpet. Because you seek the Lord daily, we who know the Lord will follow that kind of voice eagerly.

Don't equivocate. Put your agenda on the front burner and let it boil. You owe the liberals nothing. They despise you because they despise your Christ. Honor the Lord, and He will honor you. [...]

The student body, faculty, and staff at Bob Jones University commit ourselves to pray for you — that you would do right and honor the Savior. Pull out all the stops and make a difference. If you have weaklings around you who do not share your biblical values, shed yourself of them. Conservative Americans would love to see one president who doesn't care whether he is liked, but cares infinitely that he does right. [My emphasis]

Our homegrown Christian Taliban sharpen their knives.

I have a multitude of reasons for despising Bush, and none of them has anything to do with my despising Christ. On the other hand, Jones did say "your Christ," so maybe he's onto something, since it's clear that Bush's Christ bears little resemblance to my own, the Jesus of Nazareth who proclaimed the Sermon on the Mount.

(For more on the profound moral import of the Sermon on the Mount, I invite you to read this (Part 1) and this (Part 2).)

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November 07, 2004

Ultra-Right-Wing Origins Of US E-Voting Politics  Religion  Vote Fraud

When you look into the background of the two US companies that supply 80% of the electronic voting machines in use here, what you find is, to put it mildly, shocking: an incestuous web of ultra-right-wing connections.

The following are excerpts from an article in the Columbus (Ohio) Free Press. Prepare to be outraged:

The electronic voting industry is dominated by only a few corporations — Diebold, Election Systems & Software (ES&S) and Sequoia. Diebold and ES&S combined count an estimated 80% of U.S. black box electronic votes.

In the early 1980s, brothers Bob and Todd Urosevich founded ES&S's originator, Data Mark. The brothers Urosevich obtained financing from the far-Right Ahmanson family in 1984, which purchased a 68% ownership stake, according to the Omaha World Herald. After brothers William and Robert Ahmanson infused Data Mark with new capital, the name was changed to American Information Systems (AIS). California newspapers have long documented the Ahmanson family’s ties to right-wing evangelical Christian and Republican circles.

[For example, in] 2001, the Los Angeles Times reported, "... primarily funded by evangelical Christians — particularly the wealthy Ahmanson family of Irvine — the [Discovery] institute’s $1-million annual program has produced 25 books, a stream of conferences and more than 100 fellowships for doctoral and postdoctoral research." The chief philanthropists of the Discovery Institute, that pushes creationist science and education in California, are Howard and Roberta Ahmanson.

According to Group Watch, in the 1980s Howard F. Ahmanson, Jr. was a member of the highly secretive far-Right Council for National Policy, an organization that included Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, Major General John K. Singlaub and other Iran-Contra scandal notables, as well as former Klan members like Richard Shoff. Ahmanson, heir to a savings and loan fortune, is little reported on in the mainstream U.S. press. But, English papers like The Independent are a bit more forthcoming on Ahmanson’s politics.

"On the right, figures such as Richard Mellon Scaife and Howard Ahmanson have given hundreds of millions of dollars over several decades to political projects both high (setting up the Heritage Foundation think-tank, the driving engine of the Reagan presidency) and low (bankrolling investigations into President Clinton’s sexual indiscretions and the suicide of the White House insider Vincent Foster)," wrote The Independent last November.

The Sunday Mail described an individual as, "... a fundamentalist Christian more in the mould of U.S. multi-millionaire Howard Ahmanson, Jr., who uses his fortune to promote so-called traditional family values ... by waving fortunes under their noses, Ahmanson has the ability to cajole candidates into backing his right-wing Christian agenda.

Ahmanson is also a chief contributor to the Chalcedon Institute that supports the Christian reconstruction movement. The movement’s philosophy advocates, among other things, "mandating the death penalty for homosexuals and drunkards."

The Ahmanson family sold their shares in American Information Systems to the McCarthy Group and the World Herald Company, Inc. Republican Senator Chuck Hagel disclosed in public documents that he was the Chairman of American Information Systems and claimed between a $1 to 5 million investment in the McCarthy Group. In 1997, American Information Systems purchased Business Records Corp. (BRC), formerly Texas-based election company Cronus Industries, to become ES&S. One of the BRC owners was [Caroline] Hunt of the right-wing Hunt oil family, which supplied much of the original money for the Council on National Policy.

In 1996, Hagel became the first elected Republican Nebraska senator in 24 years when he did surprisingly well in an election where the votes were verified by the company he served as chairman and maintained a financial investment. In both the 1996 and 2002 elections, Hagel's ES&S counted an estimated 80% of his winning votes. Due to the contracting out of services, confidentiality agreements between the State of Nebraska and the company kept this matter out of the public eye. Hagel's first election victory was described as a "stunning upset" by one Nebraska newspaper. [...]

Bob Urosevich was the Programmer and CEO at AIS, before being replaced by Hagel. Bob now heads Diebold Election Systems and his brother Todd is a top executive at ES&S. Bob created Diebold’s original electronic voting machine software. Thus, the brothers Urosevich, originally funded by the far Right, figure in the counting of approximately 80% of electronic voting in the United States.

Like Ohio, the State of Maryland was disturbed by the potential for massive electronic voter fraud. The voters of that state were reassured when the state hired SAIC to monitor Diebold’s system. SAIC's former CEO is Admiral Bill Owens. Owens served as a military aide to both Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci, who now works with George H.W. Bush at the controversial Carlyle Group. Robert Gates, former CIA Director and close friend of the Bush family, also served on the SAIC Board.

Wherever Diebold and ES&S go, irregularities and historic Republican upsets follow. Alastair Thompson, writing for scoop.co of New Zealand, explored whether or not the 2002 U.S. mid-term elections were "fixed by electronic voting machines supplied by Republican-affiliated companies." The scoop investigation concluded that: "The state where the biggest upset occurred, Georgia, is also the state that ran its election with the most electronic voting machines." Those machines were supplied by Diebold.

Wired News reported that "... a former worker in Diebold's Georgia warehouse says the company installed patches on its machine before the state's 2002 gubernatorial election that were never certified by independent testing authorities or cleared with Georgia election officials." Questions were raised in Texas when three Republican candidates in Comal County each received exactly the same number of votes — 18,181.

Following the 2003 California election, an audit of the company revealed that Diebold Election Systems voting machines installed uncertified software in all 17 counties using its equipment.

Former CIA Station Chief John Stockwell writes that one of the favorite tactics of the CIA during the Reagan-Bush administration in the 1980s was to control countries by manipulating the election process. ... Documents illustrate that the Reagan and Bush administration supported computer manipulation in both Noriega's rise to power in Panama and in Marcos' attempt to retain power in the Philippines. Many of the Reagan administration’s staunchest supporters were members of the Council on National Policy. [My emphasis]

You may not be familiar with some of the people named. Here are some links: Howard Ahmanson, John Singlaub, Richard Shoff, Hunt family, Chuck Hagel.

To summarize: One pair of brothers, long backed by ultra-right-wing Christian Reconstructionist money, are the technical principals behind the two companies that supply 80% of our e-voting machines. Chuck Hagel is elected in a "stunning upset" when the votes are counted by the company whose chairman is... Chuck Hagel. In Georgia, another shocking upset occurs on Diebold machines using uncertified software patches secretly installed by Diebold. In California, Diebold machines are found to be running uncertified software secretly installed by Diebold.

Nothing to worry about America. Go back to sleep.

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November 02, 2004

Pray For President Bush — Day 1507 (Election Day) Politics  Religion

Today's prayer for President Bush. Excerpt:

We lift up to You our President, George W. Bush, knowing that You hold him in the palm of Your hand. Father, fill his mind with Your wisdom and discernment and fill his soul with ever-growing faith and peace. Keep him humble enough to know that his strength comes from You and not from within himself. Watch over him and his family and let no harm come to them.

We pray for those working at the polls this day; let them stay refreshed and alert that they may carry out their duties well. Stay the hand of those who would cause mischief and violence. Speak to the hearts of those who are voting, making Your will known to them as they cast their ballots, pricking their consciences on matters such as the unborn; the sanctity of marriage; the rule of law; the nobility of the fight against terrorists for the sake of all mankind; and values such as integrity, honesty, and forthrightness.

Lord, we pray for our nation; we desire a return to times when Your name was hallowed throughout our land and when Your commandments were on the lips and in the hearts of all. Forgive us, O Lord, and revive us that we may once again be that shining city on a hill, casting our beacon light for all the world to see the goodness, fairness, and honor that come from a nation that serves You and seeks to please You.

I don't know, but I'm guessing that if there is a God, She's had just about enough of these sanctimonious, self-satisfied hypocrites.

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October 31, 2004

Psychological Pollution Politics  Religion

On Salon, a report from a Bush rally in Ohio on Friday. It's not pretty. Excerpts:

Dave, a 54-year-old electronic technician, said that if Kerry wins, "I'm going to leave the country and go to a Third World nation and start a ranch." His wife, Jenny, laughed and accused him of hyperbole, but he insisted he's been studying Portuguese, the language of Brazil, "so we'll have an escape route." Sitting near him was Greg Swalley, a blond electrical contractor. "I think Kerry is the anti-Christ," he said, only half-joking. "He scares me." [...]

When the crowd came pouring out of the arena, the vitriol only increased. One clean-cut man, holding his son by the hand, yelled "coward!" at one of the [pro-Kerry] protesters. I asked him what made him say that, and he said, "Because he's demeaning our troops by saying they are fighting a lost cause."

"Jesus! Jesus!" screamed 26-year-old Joe Robles, pointing to his Bush-Cheney sign. "The man stands for God," he said of the president. "We want somebody who stands for Jesus. I always vote my Christian morals." Robles, a student at Ohio State University, told me that Kerry's daughter is a lesbian. I said I thought that was Dick Cheney's daughter, but he shook his head no with confidence.

Robles said that Kerry would make it illegal for preachers to say that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. In California, he informed me gravely, such preaching has been deemed a hate crime, and pastors who indulge in it are fined $25,000, which "goes to lesbians."

A few of the protesters, meanwhile, were red-faced from yelling at their antagonists about homophobia and budget deficits and a senseless war. Republicans were incensed. A blond woman dragged her young redheaded son toward the protesters, pointed to them, and said, "These are the Democrats," speaking as if she was revealing an awful reality that he was finally old enough to face. As she walked away with a group of other mothers and children, she was so angry she could barely speak. A friend consoled her by promising her that Bush would win. After all, she pointed out, "Look how many more Bush supporters there were on the street!"

That calmed the angry blond woman down a little. But she was still mad. "We," she said, stammering and gesturing contemptuously at the [pro-Kerry] demonstrators, "we are the way it should be!" [My emphasis]

A lot of people are deeply afraid, and that's making them increasingly irrational. As Frank Herbert wrote, "Fear is the mind-killer." The Bush regime has fed that fear for the past four years.

Bush, who has the worst record of any modern president on pollution of the physical environment, is, perhaps more importantly and more dangerously, a profound polluter of the psychological environment. This psychological pollution is going to take a long time to clean up. One more dark legacy of the Bush years.

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October 30, 2004

The Rise Of Christian Fascism Politics  Religion

A commenter on an earlier post, writing from Norway, voices the fear (which I share) that there is a broad-based effort underway to create a kind of Christian fascism here in the US and elsewhere. On that topic, I'd like to recommend several excellent sermons/articles by progressive Methodist minister Rich Lang, of Seattle. This is enormously important material. See especially:

Christian Fascism (audio)

George Bush and the Rise of Christian Fascism (text)

War and the Rise Of Christian Fascism (text)

Lang believes:

Whoever controls the interpretation of Scripture will control the future of this nation. In other words it's the vision of Pat Robertson or Martin Luther King.

Which vision will prevail: Apocalypse and The Rapture, or the Sermon on the Mount? We already know where George Bush stands.

See more of Lang's work here. Highly recommended.

[Thanks, Kent]

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October 27, 2004

Phone Bankin' Politics  Religion

Just spent most of the afternoon working a phone bank for Kerry here in Madison. They had us calling folks in communities 45-60 minutes from Madison, 1) encouraging them to attend Kerry's rally in Madison tomorrow, featuring Bruce Springsteen, and 2) soliciting them to volunteer some of their time for GOTV activities between now and November 2nd.

I'm no salesman, so I find this kind of thing a bit stressful, but it was interesting in it's way. Early in the afternoon, I got lots of answering machines and elderly folks. Got hung up on, too, a half dozen times or so. Wisconsin's a swing state, so people are getting real sick of being contacted by one campaign or another. Probably got a half dozen people who said they couldn't volunteer because they were going into surgery, were recovering from surgery, or some family member was. Got the feeling surgery's a lot of people's standard way to blow off callers like me. Or else there's a whole lot of surgery going on.

Later in the afternoon, more people starting answering the phone. Got hung up on a few more times, got one "Kerry's an asshole!", but also talked to a number of very nice people and got into real conversations with a few of them.

The longest conversation was with a man (let's call him Jerry) who was voting for Bush. The reason: his teen-aged daughter was killed two years ago, and the boy who was responsible got out of jail after just a few weeks. The problem with America, in Jerry's view, was liberal judges who fail to mete out hard-core justice. A narrow focus, but who can blame him? Kerry was a prosecutor, I offered, so he understands these issues. No sale. Kerry being a prosecutor just makes him a lawyer and, hence, one of the enemy.

One of the things Jerry likes about Bush, he said, was that Bush had been a working man. Well, no, I suggested, he'd been a rich kid who used family connections to become CEO of a series of failed companies where his Daddy or the Saudis bailed him out. No sale. Bush comes across like a working man, and that's good enough for Jerry.

Somehow we got onto energy policy and oil. The problem, Jerry explained, is that liberals prevent drilling in Alaska. But, I offered, the oil in Alaska would only satisfy the world's needs for about three months, so that's not really the solution. No sale. Where does oil come from, he asked. From plant matter deposited in the earth millions of years ago, I said. But the world's not million of years old, he replied. Don't I know about The Man Upstairs? Oil comes from God, so He can make more oil any time He wants. Well, I asked, when you cross the street, do you look both ways first? Yes. Because you realize certain physical laws apply, right? If a truck hits you you'll get squashed. Cause and effect. Yeah, he said, but still nobody knows how much oil there is because it comes from God. It may last forever for all we know.

This may sound like an argument, but it wasn't really. It was more like friendly sparring, with a subtext that we can talk even if we disagree so completely, that we're just two human beings, and perhaps most of all that I respected and commiserated with his grief. Jerry wasn't a bad guy, I liked him, and he was no dummy, but he clearly wasn't a member of the reality-based community. There was nothing I could say, in the end, except that I was sorry about his daughter and, having two daughters myself, I could imagine what a heartbreak it must have been. We connected to some degree on that kind of human level, but we were living in two entirely different realities. A strange and, in it's way, intimate interaction with a being from another world.

Bottom line: 80 calls, 0 people signed up to come to the rally, 1 person signed up to volunteer. If it takes one volunteer three hours to get one other volunteer to sign up to do three hours, no headway's made. It was hard not to feel there must be a better way, but I'm not sure what it is.

Tomorrow, I'm signed up to solicit people at the Kerry rally to volunteer for GOTV activities over the next five days. That should be more fruitful. Meanwhile, I've got to log off. Time to go to training for tomorrow.

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October 25, 2004

What They Have In Mind Politics  Religion

We all know that a hard core of evangelical Christians have played a pivotal role in moving the Republican Party way to the right in recent years. We sometimes forget, though, that extreme as their actions have been to date, their goals for the future are more radical still. They mean to establish a Christian theocracy if they can.

To get an inkling of what they have in mind, consider these excerpts from the platform of the Republican Party of Texas, home state of Bush, Rove, Hughes, et al. These excerpts were taken from the 2002 platform, but the 2004 platform is largely identical. This is just a small sampling:

The Republican Party of Texas reaffirms the United States of America is a Christian nation, which was founded on fundamental Judeo-Christian principles based on the Holy Bible.

Our Party pledges to do everything within its power to restore the original intent of the First Amendment of the United States and dispel the myth of the separation of Church and State. We support the right of individuals and state and local governments to display the Ten Commandments on public property subject to their control.

Our Founding Fathers based the premise of this nation on God–given rights endowed by our Creator. The Party affirms President Lincoln’s quote: "It is the duty of nations, as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God and to recognize the sublime truth announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord." The Party urges school administrators and officials to inform Texas school students specifically of their First Amendment rights to pray and engage in religious speech, individually or in groups, on school property without government interference. We support and strongly urge Congress to pass a Religious Freedom Amendment which provides: "Neither the United States nor any State shall prohibit student–sponsored prayer in public schools, nor compose any official student prayer or compel joining therein." ... We support the return of Bibles and other religious books to the shelves of all public schools and libraries.

Since Secular Humanism is recognized by the United States Supreme Court as a religion, and our government–funded schools are prohibited from teaching any religion, the Party believes that Secular Humanism and New Age Religion in any form should be subjected to the same state and federal laws as any other recognized religion.

The Party believes that scientific topics, such as the question of universe and life origins and environmental theories, should not be constrained to one opinion or viewpoint. We support the teaching equally of scientific strengths and weaknesses of all scientific theories...in public school science course standards. We urge revising all environmental education standards to require this also. We support individual teachers’ right to teach creation science in Texas public schools.

The Party supports the traditional definition of marriage as a God–ordained, legal and moral commitment only between a man and a woman, which is the foundational unit of a healthy society. ... The primary family unit consists of those related by blood, heterosexual marriage, or adoption. The family is responsible for its own welfare, education, moral training, conduct, and property.

The Party believes that the practice of sodomy tears at the fabric of society, contributes to the breakdown of the family unit, and leads to the spread of dangerous, communicable diseases. Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God, recognized by our country’s founders, and shared by the majority of Texans. ... We oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values.

All innocent human life must be respected and safeguarded from conception to natural death; therefore, the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. The Party affirms its support for a human life amendment to the Constitution and we endorse making clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protection applies to unborn children.

The Party supports the termination of bilingual education programs in Texas.

The Party believes it is in the best interest of the citizens of the United States that we immediately rescind our membership in, as well as all financial and military contributions to, the United Nations. ... The Party urges Congress to evict the United Nations from the United States and eliminate any further participation. [My emphasis]

"America is a Christian nation, which was founded on fundamental Judeo-Christian principles based on the Holy Bible" and which needs to "dispel the myth of the separation of Church and State."

This is what they were willing to put down on paper for public consumption. One shudders to think what they say behind closed doors.

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October 23, 2004

Voter Fraud In God's Name Politics  Religion  Vote Fraud

Clearly, the Republicans are working an organized program of voter fraud in battleground states to disrupt Democratic voter registration and, come election day, their voting. See, for example, this, this, this, this, and this.

Rick Perlstein reports in The Village Voice that skittish Democratic consultants don't view the voter fraud story as something Democrats should publicize. One consultant told him, "People will think you're whining." Another said, "Their eyes glaze over when you deal with process kind of issues."

Meanwhile, what does the other side think? Perlstein interviewed an anonymous Evangelical Christian who sheds light on what we're up against:

"Evangelicals are trained to recruit from the cradle," observes one witheringly astute expert on Christian conservative culture. Call this informant Deep Faith: A Ph.D. student in divinity, he grew up in the rural South in an intensely pious Pentecostal community and still believes its creeds after five years at an Ivy League university. He has not, however, kept faith with his ministers' injunction that evangelicals must devote themselves to building a Republican America. The notion, in fact, horrifies him. In college, the first time he spent extended periods outside evangelical circles, he says, "I realized the main thing that separated us evangelicals from them was that they believed in dialogue and compromise. And we believed in taking no prisoners.... Democracy can't function in an environment where one party will not sit down and play by the rules."

He uses a saying of the apostle Paul, beloved of evangelicals, to drive home the point: "Be all things to all people." A missionary, he says, might interpret that to mean that it's OK to swear on a visa application that she's not a missionary: "Technically, it's illegal and you're lying. But if you honestly believe that you're going to save somebody from eternal torture and damnation, and deliver them into a life of eternal bliss, then you're going to do what you have to do." So, he thinks, might people who claim to be "registering" voters—for such means-justifies-the-ends thinking now also marks evangelicals' political attitudes.

"Whenever you think that there are eternal, apocalyptic stakes, and that you can make a difference, you can rationalize a whole lot of stuff to yourself," he says. "I think evangelicals really don't like democracy much at all, especially when it's not going their way." [My emphasis]

Perlstein believes George Bush isn't a fascist. But, he asks:

[W]hat if he were? The people who run Democratic campaigns might dismiss his suspension of constitutional provisions as yet another boring old "process story," not fit to upset the voters with. [...]

Many among our Republican rank and file would have a hard time noticing anything amiss. These are the people who can say, as Richard Viguerie told the Voice, "If there's vote suppressing, nine times out of 10 it's going to be Democrats."

A coup? Deep Faith is convinced some might even welcome it. "It makes me wonder, if something really bad happened, and the Bush administration was able to have a coup and be in permanent charge," he tells me, sinking into his living-room couch, scaring the hell out of me, "who among my folk would seriously protest, if they could get a slice of the pie? 'We could go in there and reverse all this judicial precedent we don't like!'"

That Kingdom of God they keep talking about, he reminds us, the hunger for which is now the fuel of the Republican engine, "is not a democracy."

Is there anything more dangerous than people who believe they're doing God's work, especially those who believe they're playing for eternal stakes in a temporal world? As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once wrote, "To do evil, a human being must first of all be convinced he is doing good."

Many, many evangelical Christians seem to have lost sight of the notion that the Christian life consists in the imitation of Christ. I.e., to be a Christian, one should live as Jesus would. But, who would Jesus defraud?

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October 21, 2004

Pro-Life Economics Politics  Religion

Pro-life Christian ethicist Dr. Glen Stassen makes some very important connections regarding abortion trends. First, he notes that abortion rates were down before Bush took office:

When President Bush took office, the nation's abortion rates were at a 24-year low, after a 17.4% decline during the 1990s. This was an average decrease of 1.7% per year, mostly during the latter part of the decade.

Next, Stassen examined the 16 states for which abortion statistics are available for the Bush years. He found that abortion rates are rising again. Why?

First, two thirds of women who abort say they cannot afford a child (Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life Web site). In the past three years, unemployment rates increased half again. Not since Hoover had there been a net loss of jobs during a presidency until the current administration. Average real incomes decreased, and for seven years the minimum wage has not been raised to match inflation. With less income, many prospective mothers fear another mouth to feed.

Second, half of all women who abort say they do not have a reliable mate (Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life). Men who are jobless usually do not marry. Only three of the 16 states had more marriages in 2002 than in 2001, and in those states abortion rates decreased. In the 16 states overall, there were 16,392 fewer marriages than the year before, and 7,869 more abortions. As male unemployment increases, marriages fall and abortion rises.

Third, women worry about health care for themselves and their children. Since 5.2 million more people have no health insurance now than before this presidency - with women of childbearing age overrepresented in those 5.2 million - abortion increases. [...]

What does this tell us? Economic policy and abortion are not separate issues; they form one moral imperative. Rhetoric is hollow, mere tinkling brass, without health care, health insurance, jobs, child care, and a living wage. Pro-life in deed, not merely in word, means we need policies that provide jobs and health insurance and support for prospective mothers. [My emphasis]

It's time for "pro-life" advocates to decide if they are truly "pro-life" or simply want a wedge issue to exploit. If the former, the implications of Stassen's findings are clear: work for economic justice.

[Via The Talent Show]

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October 16, 2004

The Fuhrer Principle Politics  Religion

Ron Suskind has an enormously important article in the Sunday NYT Magazine. It explains so many things...

Excerpts (emphasis added):

Bruce Bartlett, a domestic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan and a treasury official for the first President Bush, told me recently that "if Bush wins, there will be a civil war in the Republican Party starting on Nov. 3." The nature of that conflict, as Bartlett sees it? Essentially, the same as the one raging across much of the world: a battle between modernists and fundamentalists, pragmatists and true believers, reason and religion.

"Just in the past few months," Bartlett said, "I think a light has gone off for people who've spent time up close to Bush: that this instinct he's always talking about is this sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do." Bartlett, a 53-year-old columnist and self-described libertarian Republican who has lately been a champion for traditional Republicans concerned about Bush's governance, went on to say: "This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. They can't be persuaded, that they're extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he's just like them....

"This is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts," Bartlett went on to say. "He truly believes he's on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence." Bartlett paused, then said, "But you can't run the world on faith."

Forty democratic senators were gathered for a lunch in March just off the Senate floor. I was there as a guest speaker. Joe Biden was telling a story, a story about the president. "I was in the Oval Office a few months after we swept into Baghdad," he began, "and I was telling the president of my many concerns" — concerns about growing problems winning the peace, the explosive mix of Shiite and Sunni, the disbanding of the Iraqi Army and problems securing the oil fields. Bush, Biden recalled, just looked at him, unflappably sure that the United States was on the right course and that all was well. "'Mr. President,' I finally said, 'How can you be so sure when you know you don't know the facts?'"

Biden said that Bush stood up and put his hand on the senator's shoulder. "My instincts," he said. "My instincts."

Biden paused and shook his head, recalling it all as the room grew quiet. "I said, 'Mr. President, your instincts aren't good enough!"
[...]

The Delaware senator was, in fact, hearing what Bush's top deputies — from cabinet members like Paul O'Neill, Christine Todd Whitman and Colin Powell to generals fighting in Iraq — have been told for years when they requested explanations for many of the president's decisions, policies that often seemed to collide with accepted facts. The president would say that he relied on his "gut" or his "instinct" to guide the ship of state, and then he "prayed over it." The old pro Bartlett, a deliberative, fact-based wonk, is finally hearing a tune that has been hummed quietly by evangelicals (so as not to trouble the secular) for years as they gazed upon President George W. Bush. This evangelical group — the core of the energetic "base" that may well usher Bush to victory — believes that their leader is a messenger from God. And in the first presidential debate, many Americans heard the discursive John Kerry succinctly raise, for the first time, the issue of Bush's certainty — the issue being, as Kerry put it, that "you can be certain and be wrong."

What underlies Bush's certainty? And can it be assessed in the temporal realm of informed consent?

[...]

The president has demanded unquestioning faith from his followers, his staff, his senior aides and his kindred in the Republican Party. Once he makes a decision — often swiftly, based on a creed or moral position — he expects complete faith in its rightness.

The disdainful smirks and grimaces that many viewers were surprised to see in the first presidential debate are familiar expressions to those in the administration or in Congress who have simply asked the president to explain his positions. Since 9/11, those requests have grown scarce; Bush's intolerance of doubters has, if anything, increased, and few dare to question him now. A writ of infallibility — a premise beneath the powerful Bushian certainty that has, in many ways, moved mountains — is not just for public consumption: it has guided the inner life of the White House. As Whitman told me on the day in May 2003 that she announced her resignation as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency: "In meetings, I'd ask if there were any facts to support our case. And for that, I was accused of disloyalty!"

This all makes the way the White House treats Bush as The Boy in the Bubble, never facing questions or hearing criticisms, particularly significant and alarming: everything Bush experiences reinforces his deepening mental instability. A person who believes he's infallible is halfway around the bend to start with. Add to that a belief that you're God's special representative on earth, and throw in the power of the Presidency and a retinue of sycophants, so that your delusion of omnipotence and infallibility never butts up against solid reality — no wonder the guy's nuts.

All of which is scary enough in itself, but consider this. If Bush believes he is God's instrument, here to establish the Christian God's dominion on earth, answering only to that God, he will never compromise, he will never bend, he will never see himself as subject to earthly laws and limits. What is the Constitution compared to God's Will?

Beware the rise of Christian fascism.

Posted by Jonathan at 05:07 PM | Comments (2) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

September 11, 2004

Jihadist Extremism 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics  Religion  War and Peace

From The Bushes: Portrait of a Dynasty (a book sympathetic to the Bush family) comes this profoundly shocking quote about George W's view of the "War on Terror":

"George see this as a religious war," one family member told us. "He doesn't have a p.c. view of this war. His view of this is that they are trying to kill the Christians. And we the Christians will strike back with more force and more ferocity than they will ever know." [My emphasis]

Could anything possibly be less Christ-like? How have we let this dangerous, ignorant, savage little man hijack our country? Are we, finally, just superstitious primates with guns?

I didn't sign up for this.

Gandhi: "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." A-men.

Update: [Sep 11, 1:04 PM] Shortly after I posted the above, I happened to open Arundhati Roy's War Talk to the following passage:

The more the two sides try and call attention to their religious differences by slaughtering each other, the less there is to distinguish them from one another. They worship at the same altar. They're both apostles of the same murderous god, whoever he is.

She's writing about Hindus and Muslims in India, but she might as well be writing about Christians and Muslims in the "War on Terror." Each side thinks it's merely retaliating for the others' transgressions. Each side thinks God's on its side. Superstitious primates with guns.

Posted by Jonathan at 01:43 AM | Comments (2) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

August 29, 2004

Bonhoeffer, Part 2 Activism  Essays  Film  Religion

[Continued from Part 1]

The Church had long since ducked the moral challenge of the Sermon on the Mount by taking the position that it set an unattainable standard for the purpose merely of making us see our sinful natures. Bonhoeffer, however, came to realize that Jesus' message was far more radical in its import: Jesus intends us actually to live the Sermon on the Mount, to put its precepts into practice and apply them to the moral challenges that come our way.

Bonhoeffer had no illusions about the difficulty of so doing. In Discipleship, he wrote about the difference between cheap grace and costly grace:

Cheap grace is grace without the Cross, grace without the living, incarnate Jesus Christ. Costly grace is the Gospel. It costs people their lives. It cost the life of God’s Son. And nothing can be cheap to us which is costly to God.

To me, a non-believer, those are electrifying words, as powerful as anything I have ever read along these lines. They reveal in a lightning flash a whole new dimension of the Crucifixion story: the Crucifixion is a moral demonstration of the profoundest possible sort. The radical principles Jesus enunciated in the Sermon on the Mount (blessed are the poor, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the peacemakers, love thy enemies, and all the rest) are principles that worldly powers will resist even unto death. Putting those principles into practice can get you killed — even if you are the Son of God.

They are radical principles. But Jesus, the ultimate embodiment of human godliness, shows us by his self-sacrifice how seriously he himself takes those principles and how seriously he means for us to take them. They are not just noble sentiments. They are not just pie in the sky. They are principles one must be prepared to die for. They are principles the Son of God was prepared to die for. They are principles God Himself was prepared to sacrifice his Son for.

Notice that Bonhoeffer says costly grace — authentic grace — involves "the living, incarnate Jesus Christ." That is, it must be lived, it must be incarnated here on Earth, it is inseparable from what one does in this world. As Bonhoeffer wrote to his fellow conspirators after ten years of Nazi rule:

We have for once learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcasts, the suspects, the maltreated — in short, from the perspective of those who suffer. Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior. Christians are called to compassion and to action.

Notice also that Bonhoeffer says costly grace involves the Cross. I.e., it involves a willingness to take onto oneself struggle, self-sacrifice, and even death. Indeed, Bonhoeffer wrote, "Whenever Christ calls us, his call leads us to death." Costly grace is earned the hard way.

Let’s read those words again:

Cheap grace is grace without the Cross, grace without the living, incarnate Jesus Christ. Costly grace is the Gospel. It costs people their lives. It cost the life of God’s Son. And nothing can be cheap to us which is costly to God.

Bonhoeffer’s grace was costly indeed, and therefore authentic indeed. His moral struggle unto death was a modern crucifixion; he lived the drama of the Crucifixion in his own life. For Bonhoeffer, to be a Christian was to follow Christ by being in this world, as Christ was, acting on behalf of those who suffer, as Christ did, and being prepared, as Christ was, to sacrifice everything.

Compare that with the decidedly cheap grace claimed by many born-again Christians in present day America. The belief that all one has to do is accept Christ and one is thereby automatically Saved, that Christ died for our sins and saved us by His death, lets one escape paying any real cost at all. It is as if one is standing on the sidelines cheering for Jesus as he goes to his crucifixion, when what Jesus wants is for us to take up our own cross and follow him. That is, we are to follow Jesus’ radical moral example and not let even death deter us.

"Nothing can be cheap to us which is costly to God."

[Click here to view a photo of Bonhoeffer]

Posted by Jonathan at 11:16 AM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

August 28, 2004

Bonhoeffer, Part 1 Activism  Essays  Film  Religion

In an earlier post, I wrote about religion as metaphor, and the considerable mischief that ensues when people insist on taking it as literal, factual truth. To say the metaphors are not to be taken literally, however, is not to say one cannot take them seriously. That is, one can choose to take them to heart and to allow them to resonate powerfully in one’s psyche (or soul, if you prefer) in a sort of willing suspension of unbelief, while remaining aware of their status as metaphors, and remembering that the finger pointing at the moon is not the moon. All of which is meant as prelude to suggest what I, a non-believer, can mean by the following.

I've recently watched the excellent documentary film Bonhoeffer, the story of the Protestant theologian, teacher, and activist Dietrich Bonhoeffer of Germany. Bonhoeffer steadfastly and publicly criticized Hitler, then joined in the anti-Hitler Resistance, and finally plotted with others to assassinate Hitler. He and his co-conspirators were discovered by the Nazis and hanged.

It’s a remarkable film that I recommend highly, not least because of its relevance to us in these dark times. Bonhoeffer was one of those rare individuals who refuse to absolve themselves in any way from the responsibility to confront the injustices of this world. He wrestled with the deep moral questions of his day with every fiber of his being, in a struggle that continued until his death. You can see it in his magnetic young face and you can hear it in his words, and his example is profoundly instructive, inspiring, and moving.

A variety of influences made their mark on Bonhoeffer, from the Christ-centered theology of Karl Barth, to the nonviolent activism of Gandhi, to the heartfelt immediacy of African-American worship and spirituals. The bedrock of Bonhoeffer’s moral vision, though, was the Sermon on the Mount. As he wrote:

I think I am right in saying that I [will] only achieve true inner clarity and sincerity by really starting to take the Sermon on the Mount seriously. This is the only source of strength that can blow all this [Nazi] nonsense sky-high.

[Part 2 tomorrow]

Posted by Jonathan at 11:01 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

August 18, 2004

God Save Us From Religion Musings  Religion

I've heard Bill Maher call religion a "neurological disorder." Stuff like this (the "Rapture Index") makes me inclined to agree with him.

I guess some people find it exciting to live in a universe that's unfolding according to the ultimate lurid nightmare, where empirical reality and scientific understanding count for absolutely nothing, where you get to be an actor in the supreme cosmic drama of all time, and where you basically get to just make shit up, but the only thing that distinguishes this kind of thing from the hallucinations of a psychotic is the fact that it's a shared hallucination.

The problem is that people insist on taking everything literally. As Joseph Campbell said, religious stories — virgin birth, water into wine, crucifixion and resurrection, etc., etc. — are metaphors. As metaphors, they have great value. As literal truths, well, they'll have you believing for example that anything that hastens the literal end of the world is a good thing. Crazy stuff — and increasingly dangerous.

[Thanks, Dave]

Update: More literal-minded idiocy here. So dumb it's funny. Is this what Jesus had in mind?

Update 2: And more here. Alan Keyes thinks God caused 9/11 because of abortions.

Update 3: And still more.

Posted by Jonathan at 12:23 AM | Comments (4) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

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