Archive for December, 2008

Speaking of lawsuits, an atheist soldier is suing the military over its promotion of religion in the ranks and among civilians it encounters:

An atheist soldier suing over prayers at military formations claims a larger pattern of religious discrimination exists in the military, citing attempts to convert Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan and an evangelical bias in a suicide prevention manual. …

The revised lawsuit criticizes the Army’s 2008 manual on suicide prevention, quoting it as promoting “religiosity” as a necessary part of prevention and describing “connectivity to the divine” as “fundamental.”

The lawsuit cites comments from a chaplain and a second soldier in Christian missionary publications about attempts to convert Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the two soldiers’ desire to distribute Bibles.

Way to go, Pentagon. Tell a soldier who’s suicidal that s/he just needs to “get religion.” That’s so helpful. Oh, and while you’re in a country where a lot of people don’t like you or the US, by all means, proselytize them! That does wonders.

Not!

Proselytizing in the military even reached a point of absurdity, according to the suit:

The lawsuit also notes that in 2007, the Air Force sponsored “Team Faith,” which performs motocross stunt shows to “lead extreme sports athletes to Christ.”

I’m not clear as to exactly how motocross stunts have anything to do with Jesus … but I guess that’s not something the Pentagon is concerned about.

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The Washington Post reports that the widely-derided-by-religionazis Michael Newdow — backed by groups such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation — is suing in federal court to keep two pastors off the podium when Barack Obama is sworn into office as president, and to keep him from having to say “so help me God” at the end of his oath:

A group of atheists, led by a California man known for challenging “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools, plan to file a lawsuit today to bar prayer at the swearing-in of President-elect Barack Obama.

Michael A. Newdow, 17 other individuals and 10 groups representing atheists sued Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., several officials in charge of inaugural festivities and Rev. Joseph E. Lowery and pastor Rick Warren.

Somehow, America’s religious folk are not clear on this, and need to be reminded (as I blogged earlier): They aren’t going to see a bishop crown a king in a medieval rite, they’re going to see a US president sworn into office. In case anyone sees no problem with that practice, keep in mind that the author of the First Amendment, James Madison, said that the hiring of Congressional chaplains violated that Amendment (all spellings original):

Is the appointment of Chaplains to the two Houses of Congress consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom?

In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the U. S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion. The law appointing Chaplains establishes a religious worship for the national representatives, to be performed by Ministers of religion, elected by a majority of them; and these are to be paid out of the national taxes.

So … if the man who wrote the First Amendment didn’t think Congressional sessions should be opened by chaplains, what the hell business does a president have being sworn in under the watchful eye of clergy?

Any questions from the so-called “strict constructionists” out there (who are almost universally all of the Religious Right persuasion), who always seem to foam at the mouth over what they claim is “the Founders’ intent”? You now know what the Founders’ intent was — from the pen of that very Founder who wrote the First Amendment! Read it, learn it, understand it.

P.S. Did I mention that “so help me God” is also not part of the Constitutional oath that presidents swear to? Oh, that’s right … it’s OK to add stuff into the Constitution, so long as it’s God you’re adding in. There’s a word for that, you know … hypocrisy!)

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One of the pitfalls inherent in setting public policy according to metaphysical beliefs, is that not only can you screw things up unintentionally, you can thereafter be unable to correct that screw-up, because doing so would run afoul of the metaphysics itself. A great example of this that was recently exposed, was reported recently by CNN:

s many as one in eight teens in the United States may take a virginity pledge at some point, vowing to wait until they’re married before having sex. But do such pledges work? Are pledge takers more likely than other teens to delay sexual activity?

According to a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, pledge takers are as likely to have sex before marriage as other teens who are also religious, but don’t take the pledge. However, pledge takers are less likely than other religious or conservative teens to use condoms or birth control when they do start having sex.

While it’s great to teach that abstinence is the best way to avoid pregnancy — because, in fact, it is! — robbing kids of any knowledge of contraception hamstrings them in the event they choose to violate that principle … and that appears to be as likely among pledge-takers as among others. You end up, ironically, with more unintended pregnancies than you would have otherwise!

The problem is that the hyperreligious fundamentalist Christian beliefs that are the foundation of “abstinence-only” sex education, prevents this failing from being corrected. It is taken as axiomatic that teaching contraception is never acceptable … and this remains the case even if not teaching it turns out to be counter-productive!

I can think of few clearer examples of religionazi lunacy, than this.

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The Pew Forum recently released the results of a follow-up survey to one they’d released earlier this year, on how Americans view salvation. The first survey had been controversial among evangelicals who were shocked to hear that so many Americans did not view Jesus as the exclusive arbiter of salvation. Reporting on both survey results continues to center on what it shows about evangelical Christians; for example, this appeared in the New York Times (WebCite cached article):

In June, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published a controversial survey in which 70 percent of Americans said that they believed religions other than theirs could lead to eternal life. …

The evangelicals complained that people must not have understood the question. The respondents couldn’t actually believe what they were saying, could they?

This second survey’s main conclusion is:

A majority of all American Christians (52%) think that at least some non-Christian faiths can lead to eternal life. Indeed, among Christians who believe many religions can lead to eternal life, 80% name at least one non-Christian faith that can do so.

Predictably, evangelical Christians are disturbed a second time over these results. They claim exclusivity of salvation through Jesus, based on one Bible verse, that being John 14:6 (“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me’”).

After reading this reaction I found myself wondering, “Where is the problem here?” What is not credible aout 52% of American Christians believing there’s more than one path to salvation? Many of these American Christians belong to denominations that do not claim exclusivity. For instance, a large number are Roman Catholics; in RC doctrine, many non-Catholics are referred to as “separated brethren”; it is assumed that it is possible for them to be saved, despite not being Catholic. There is also a Catholic doctrine of salvation for those who were never presented with the message of Jesus. Many other denominations have similar views — that members of rival denominations, or those ignorant of Jesus, may face a higher hurdle to salvation, but might still be saved nevertheless. Moreover, prior surveys typically peg evangelical Christians at around 25% of the US population, or about 30% of US Christians.

It’s quite reasonable that most Americans would believe that their religion and/or denomination is not the exclusive arbiter of salvation. I simply could not see how this very-reasonable result could be problematic.

After reviewing more articles on this survey, and some evangelicals’s responses to this survey, I finally noticed a subtle clue in a few places. For instance, Baptist theologian Albert Mohler is cited in a USA Today story (cached):

Mohler sees behind the statistics the impact of pluralism and secularism in U.S. society and the challenge of facing family and friends with “an uncomfortable truth.”

(Mohler has more to say on his own blog, if you’re curious.)

You see, that’s what it’s all about, folks. The fabled creeping advance of secularism into American society. It’s an evil that must be curbed at all costs!

The unstated presumption here is not merely that everyone in the US ought to be Christian, it’s that we must all be uniformly Christian, and claim exclusivity of salvation for our own faith. In short, folks, it’s an implicit argument for dominionism — a movement among Christian evangelicals, to remake the US into an Old Testament-style theocracy, in which everyone is forced to become a Christian fundamentalist. Under dominionism, being anything else would amount to a death sentence, and death would be the prescribed penalty for many other transgressions, such as working on the Sabbath.

Do not be fooled, folks. These people are playing for keeps, and they’re clamoring for rulership over the US.

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There’s nothing like Christmas to bring out the lunacy of the religionazis. A small daily newspaper here in northwestern Connecticut published a letter-to-the-editor today which exemplifies all the fallacies and false beliefs of the religionists. This guy (Thomas Latina) uses Christmas as an excuse to complain about things ranging from the ancient Romans (who are long dead), to separation of church and state, to Black Baptist churches, to Kwanzaa, the atheist sign in Washington state, to Darwin and evolution, and more … along the way he comes up with the idea that atheists should not have Christmas off with pay, they should be forced to work. Here are a few excerpts from this hyperreligious nonsense, along with some notes by me:

believe what our founding fathers had in mind is where King James broke with the Catholic church and started his own religion that was a state sponsored religion that you had to follow. Christians were given the choice of to convert to Anglicism, or be killed.

Mr Latina is mixing up King James with Henry VIII, who launched the Anglican schism; as for people being killed if they did not “convert,” at first this was a non-issue since the entire Church presence in England came under Henry’s control, initially. There was no conversion since everyone was assumed, then, to be an Anglican. Strife came later as people within Britain returned to Catholicism or joined other sects.

And politicians? Why do you always see them in Black Baptist churches, but never preaching from a Catholic church? Double standard?

No Mr Latina, it’s called “facing your audience where they can be found,” and is what politicians do.

Then there’s Darwin’s theory. Does anyone wonder why it’s called Darwin’s theory, and not Darwin’s rule? Because, the same as God, you can’t prove it.

Mr Latina is having trouble understanding the meaning of “theory” as a scientific term, and is purposely confusing it with its colloquial, and technically incorrect, meaning of “estimate” or “guess.”

Now let’s get to the real world. If all those state employees (like teachers for instance) don’t believe in God, or Christmas, they should have to work that day for straight pay, no Christmas bonuses, no Holiday pay. Just another day at school.

Hmm, just another day? With the majority of kids out for Christmas? Really?

In sum, if there’s any crazy religionist idea that somebody obsessed with Christianity could come up with — and whose grasp of basic facts is poor or non-existent — it’s in this letter. Read more of this fact-deprived crap and laugh … or perhaps cry, knowing there are actually people in the world who think this way, and there are publishers willing to give them a platform from which they can ramble incoherently for Jesus.

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I saw one of those standard stories that comes out every year, in which some whiny Christian dares claim to have been persecuted for his/her faith. (Sorry, but this just does not happen in a country which is somewhere in the 80s percentile Christian.) The crap about having to say “Merry Christmas” was the focus of a story about a woman in Florida who claims to have been fired from her job over it:

A Christian woman claims she was fired from her job because she greeted callers with “Merry Christmas,” but the vacation rental company says it’s no Scrooge and the woman is just a disgruntled employee. …

It’s the same bilge O’Reilly’s been spewing for over a month now. Wah, wah, wah. What made this story stand out over the rest of the bellyaching, though, was this interesting quote; quite simply, it’s an obvious lie:

“I hold my core Christian values to a high standard and I absolutely refuse to give in on the basis of values. All I wanted was to be able to say ‘Merry Christmas’ or to acknowledge no holidays,” she said Tuesday. “As a Christian, I don’t recognize any other holidays.”

It cannot be true that she celebrates no other holidays than Christmas. You see, there’s a much more important holiday on the Christian calendar — one which, unlike Christmas, has been important to the faith since it started — and that’s Easter.

You know, Easter … the Christian holiday that celebrates Jesus’ resurrection after his crucifixion … the central event in Christian doctrine? Yeah, that holiday.

I truly doubt this woman doesn’t celebrate Easter. Do you?

In fact, she is misrepresenting Christianity and lying about her own worship practices. She must be desperate, if she needs to lie in order to rationalize her persecution complex. I wonder if her own Jesus would approve of her lying in his name?

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Every year it comes up, the contention over the nature of Christmas. It’s an argument that seems never to end … unfortunately.

On the one hand there are religionazis who claim there’s a war on Christmas (something I’ve blogged about already). On the other hand, there are people who claim it’s really “a pagan holiday in disguise.”

The truth of the matter is that Christmas is an assuredly Christian holiday … one which has developed over time, and in different places, in a variety of ways and has any number of different features depending on where you are, and some of those features resemble pagan practices. In other words, it’s a complicated matter with no easy, simple, quick answers.

It should not be surprising that this is the case, however, because we’re talking about a holiday now celebrated around the world with many centuries of history behind it. It’s simply not possible for something that old, and that stretched out demographically, to be a simple matter. This idea is alluded to in this piece in the New York Times:

Every Christmas, I re-read C .S. Lewis’s novel “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” The holiday seems like the ideal time for an excursion into my imaginative past, and so I return to the paperback boxed set of “The Chronicles of Narnia” that my parents gave me for Christmas when I was 10. For me, Narnia is intimately linked with the season.

I’m not alone. In Britain, stage productions of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” are a holiday staple, for good reason. The book rests on a foundation of Christian imagery; its most famous scene is of a little girl standing under a lamppost in a snowy wood; and Father Christmas himself makes an appearance, after the lion god Aslan frees Narnia from an evil witch who decreed that it be “always winter, and never Christmas.”

That I’m not a Christian doesn’t much hinder my enjoyment of either the holiday or the book, but the presence of Father Christmas bothered many of Lewis’s friends, including J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien, whose Middle-earth was free of the legends and religions of our world, objected to Narnia’s hodgepodge of motifs: the fauns and dryads lifted from classic mythology, the Germanic dwarfs and contemporary schoolboy slang lumped in with the obvious Christian symbolism.

But Lewis embraced the Middle Ages’ indiscriminate mixing of stories and motifs from seemingly incompatible sources. The medievals, he once wrote, enthusiastically adopted a habit from late antiquity of “gathering together and harmonizing views of very different origin: building a syncretistic model not only out of Platonic, Aristotelian and Stoical, but out of pagan and Christian elements.”

Lewis had a point about medieval Europeans. They assimilated things into their worldview, without regard to their origins, and reinterpreted them as part of their own world and in their own way. For instance, some of the medieval romances spoke of Jesus Christ has having been “the first knight” — this is, of course, a ridiculous notion, since the knighthood did not exist until centuries after Jesus’ time, meaning there is no way he could have been one; moreover, nothing in the gospels suggested he was a warrior in service to a lord (which is what a knight is). Nonetheless, medieval people had no trouble envisioning him that way.

Christmas is very much the same thing … it’s an amalgamation of local practices and Christian legend, nothing more, and nothing less. It contains a bit of this, a bit of that, and is ever-changing. Early in Christian history, it was not observed at all; for the first several centuries the only major Christian holiday was Easter. Sometime in the 4th century, Christmas became a solemnity — a day upon which a specific Mass was said — but it was not a holiday that Christians celebrated in their homes, just a special day for the clergy to gather for a particular Mass. Private Christmas celebrations, in fact, are not documented to have happened until the early Middle Ages (8th century perhaps).

Lots of Christians say they’d like to celebrate Christmas as it was originally. Well, bully for them … I hope they like spending all day in church, because that was the first manner in which it was celebrated, beginning in the 4th century! If they prefer to go back even further, then they must not celebrate Christmas at all, because in its first few centuries, Christianity did not really care about that holiday.

Complaints that people have forgotten “the Reason for the Season” are common among Christians, but honestly, all this means is that they’d prefer Christmas was celebrated as it was in their youth — however that was. The truth is they know very little about the holiday itself, or how it was celebrated historically.

As for Christmas being “a pagan holiday,” history suggests otherwise … as I said, the very first manner in which Christmas was observed, was in the saying of a Mass. (In fact, holding a church service on Christmas remains the only thing Christian denominations around the world have in common, about that day.) There is nothing pagan, however, about saying a Mass. Some Christmas customs have a similarity to pagan practices, but there is no substantive, firm linkage, merely an association. For instance, decorating Christmas trees supposedly derives from Celtic tree-worship, or the belief that spirits inhabit trees. There is, however, no connection between the ancient Celts (who may or may not be correctly characterized as having “worshipped” trees) and the modern Christmas tree custom, which dates back no earlier than the Renaissance in Germany. There is, instead, a gap of many centuries between the two.

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