Archive for the “Religion” Category

Posts concerned specifically with religion

My home state of Connecticut is one of the most secular and progressive in the country, sometimes running far ahead of the rest of the US, as for example when — just this October — it became only the second state to legalize gay marriage. But Connecticut began as a primarily-Puritan colony (actually as three, one based in Hartford and the other two being New Haven and Saybrook). As such Connecticut has a history of religious prudery like none other, and a tendency remains here to revere religion in spite of all else. There are a lot of Catholics here, for example; the archdiocese of Hartford and dioceses of Bridgeport and Norwich have become militant, activist, and more parochial over the last few years, a trend of questionable legality I blogged about earlier.

The Hartford Courant reports, today, on one religious effort which has Hartford’s government sanction, and is an overtly proselytizing operation:

The men who live at Taste-N-See Outreach Ministry in Bridgeport have been praising God in song and scripture for a good hour when Pastor James Jennings urges them to their feet shortly after 7:30 a.m. …

Taste-N-See, which is named from Psalms 34:8, “Taste and see that the Lord is good, Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him” — is one of about 20 faith-based agencies receiving federal funds through the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

Connecticut has embraced faith-based services, one of the initiatives to come out of the Bush administration after it created the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in 2001. Eleven federal agencies took up the charge, making federal money and support more accessible to faith-based and community organizations.

Way to go Connecticut, throw money at churches and allow them to use people in prison — whose options are limited and to whom access is restricted by necessity — to indulge their missionary impulses. Of course, it’s not as though no one knows this is wrong:

“A lot of these programs contain a significant amount of evangelizing or proselytizing, and from our position that type of outreach should never be funded with taxpayer dollars,” says Rob Boston, senior policy analyst for Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

“There should be no taxpayer-funded evangelizing, period.&dquo;

But Jennings, a former drug addict himself who found healing in his faith, sees a distinction between using taxpayer money to evangelize and using it to show people, through mercy and kindness, a better path.

While I am sure that a lot of addicts like the program, and one could claim it works so let’s keep doing it even if it’s unconstitutional, as I said the fact remains that the options of prisoners are limited at any given moment and programs like this may be the only reasonable choices available to them. Hence, they end up being forced into religion, when they should not be. Oh, but not to worry — Connecticut officials are equipped with a rationale for why this is acceptable:

Thomas Kirk, commissioner of the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, says he understands why people get skittish about this, but insists there is a fundamental misunderstanding among the public about what faith-based programs do.

“We don’t pay for prayer,” Kirk says flatly.

That means that while Taste-N-See Outreach Ministry might offer prayer as part of its program — and an unabashedly Christian perspective as well — the state isn’t paying for that particular element of the program.

Instead, the government funds the housing and case management services offered by the program.

Sorry to break it to Commissioner Kirk, but giving money to a religious operation that proselytizes, does in fact — and in all cases — fund the proselytizing as much as it does anything else. Merely giving an overtly-religious program exclusive access to prisoners, which other programs do not get, is wrong. Prisoners in the program who are trying to prove themselves, are going to go along with all of that program — including prayers — because not doing so will reflect badly on themselves … not to mention it might earn the derision of their praying peers (and as one might imagine, prisoners have ways of coercing each other into doing things they might not otherwise do). The idea that participants in Taste-N-See are truly “free” to opt out of praying, is simply not true.

The Courant story goes on to mention that the efficacy of these programs is not known with certainty (even if the faith-based providers themselves claim they are). Kirk and other officials behind this admit the statistics aren’t in yet … but they quite frankly don’t care. They’re going with them anyway.

The religiosity of these programs aside, I wonder how smart it is for officials to be spending public money on programs they don’t know will work! Seriously … why throw money at unproven things? Everyone in Connecticut, religious or not, should be concerned about this cavalier and casual attitude toward public expenditures by Commissioner Kirk and our other elected and appointed officials.

Tags: , , , , ,

Comments Comments Off on Connecticut’s Faith-Based Prisons

Fox News has been all over this one for a couple days, and they claim — falsely — to have been the only outlet reporting on it (the Seattle Post Intelligencer had mentioned it by November 29, i.e. last Friday). So you may well have heard about the atheist sign that had been put on display in the Washington state capitol in Olympia, next to a nativity scene and a menorah. America’s religionazis went berserk, as one might expect, and it’s been the talk of the country for a while. Today (Friday Dec. 5), the sign was found to have been missing. It has since been found under mysterious circumstances, as CNN reports:

An atheist sign criticizing Christianity that was erected alongside a Nativity scene was taken from the Legislative Building in Olympia, Washington, on Friday and later found in a ditch.

An employee from country radio station KMPS-FM in Seattle told CNN the sign was dropped off at the station by someone who found it in a ditch. …

The sign, which was at the Legislative Building at 6:30 a.m. PT, was gone by 7:30 a.m., [Freedom From Religion Foundation co-founder Annie Laurie] Gaylor said. …

Gaylor said that police are checking security cameras pointed at the building’s entrances and exits to see if they can see anyone stealing the sign.

“It’s probably about 50 pounds,” Gaylor said. “My brother-in-law was huffing and puffing carrying it up the stairs. It’s definitely not something you can stick under your arm or conceal.”

I suspect the “investigation” will be minimal and not lead anywhere. As for the radio station’s possible involvement … who knows? Country stations are one of the three radio abodes for the Religious Right (the other two being talk-radio and gospel), so the station cannot be ruled out.

Curiously, the Republican (yes, Republican!) attorney general of Washington had declared that the atheist sign — no matter how repugnant it may be to Christians — was legal and should remain in the state capitol:

[Governor Christine] Gregoire, a Democrat, and Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna put out a joint statement Wednesday noting that [a prior] federal lawsuit led the state to create a policy allowing groups to sponsor a display “regardless of that individual’s or group’s views.”

The sign may be offensive to Christians, but it is a statement of belief (or rather, of non-belief) which is exactly what nativities and menorahs are, so I cannot see how it could be precluded.

As for whichever Christian (they are, after all, the only likely thieves) briefly stole the sign, may I remind you of a couple of things:

You shall not steal. (Ex 20:15)

You shall not steal … (Lv 19:11a)

You shall not steal. (Dt 5:19)

Was there anything about these that you missed? They’re your own scripture; if you won’t obey these words, who will?

Better yet, religionazis, why not try growing the hell up and keeping your outrage to yourself?

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Comments Comments Off on The Evil Atheist Sign

Religiosity has cost another life, this time that of an infant, as Fox News reports:

A young East Texas couple was arraigned Wednesday on capital murder charges accusing them of beating the woman’s 1-year-old daughter to get rid of “the demons.”

Authorities said that the child was also bitten more than 20 times.

Blaine Milam, 19, and Jessica Carson, 18, remained jailed Wednesday in lieu of a $2 million bond for each.

They were arrested Tuesday after Rusk County Sheriff’s deputies responding to a 911 call found 13-month-old Amora Bain Carson beaten. Investigators think the couple used a hammer to “beat the demons out” of Amora, Carson’s daughter.

It’s unfortunate this happened in Texas, because as I blogged back in June, that state has a “religious exemption” notion in its laws that permit people to harm others, so long as it’s done during a religious ceremony. The court in this case asked for a very high bond, however, this does not mean this case will not somehow “go away” once the hubbub dies down and the Texas authorities can cook up some excuse about how “religious freedom” must be preserved at all costs — even that of a baby’s life! — and after all, the haven’t the parents suffered enough already?

Let’s hear it for Texas, the Buckle of the Bobble Bayelt.

Tags: , , , , ,

Comments Comments Off on The Deadly Cost Of Religiosity

Back in July I blogged about the possibility of a schism within the Episcopal Church (i.e. the Anglican Church within the United States). It looks as if that schism is underway as reported here by the Los Angeles Times:

Split in Episcopal Church hits new level

Conservatives who fled liberal views of Scripture have formed a breakaway church in North America

Hundreds of conservative Episcopal congregations in North America, rejecting liberal biblical views of others in the denomination, formed a breakaway church Wednesday that threatened to further divide a global Anglican body already torn by the ordination of an openly gay bishop.

Leaders of the new Anglican Church in North America said they took the extraordinary step to unify congregations and dioceses that had fled the American Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada over issues of Scripture.

Folks, don’t let the claims of this breakaway faction fool you — the problem that has driven them off is not merely “issues of Scripture,” it is homophobia, plain and simple. The seeds of this schism were planted several years ago when openly-gay Episcopal priest V. Gene Robinson was elevated to the rank of bishop. There is no other issue at stake here, since this schism would not have happened, had Robinson never been elevated.

Someday the religionazis of the world — such as these breakaway Episcopalians — are going to be honest about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. But apparently today is not that day.

Tags: , , ,

Comments Comments Off on Episcopal Schism Underway!

The new Visitors’ Center in the US Capitol just opened. Normally such occasions are when Congressmen congratulate each other over the completion of yet another massive boondoggle project and make long speeches about how great they are the country is. But Jim DeMint, Theocrat GOP Senator from Bibleland South Carolina, chose this grand occasion instead to whine and pout like a brat:

Delete Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) from the list of admirers of the new Capitol Visitor Center.

DeMint issued a statement Tuesday criticizing the new facility for “omitting the history of faith.” DeMint noted that the new tourist spot ignored his request to include the phrase “In God We Trust” and the Pledge of Allegiance.

Waah waah waah. Grow the hell up, Senator, and stop using your office to proselytize. Didn’t anyone tell you that it’s undignified for a US Senator to whine?

What DeMint and other theocrats do not understand — or else they understand, but choose to deny — is that the oft-said crap about the United States being “a Christian nation” is simply not true. And no amount of motto-izing or bellyaching over the Pledge of Allegiance can change that. The historical record is clear; continued denial by the forces of the Religious Right only make them look more juvenile than they already do.

Enough already.

Tags: , , , ,

Comments Comments Off on Want Some Cheese With That Whine?

The Disney company is a worldwide corporation which is highly visible, and thus subject to condemnation … in the same way that other large, visible companies like McDonald’s and Wal-Mart are also constantly attacked. So I suppose this latest hue and cry against Disney is not unexpected, but it did seem a bit odd to me:

A British Catholic cleric says the Walt Disney Co. is corrupting the minds of children by making its products irresistible.

Abbot of Worth Christopher Jamison said Disney has created a child pilgrimage site out of Disney World and used spirituality to market its various products, The [UK] Daily Telegraph reported. …

The cleric said by using a marketing campaign that alludes to some higher meaning to the Disney brand, the global company is misusing spirituality.

“This is basically the commercial exploitation of spirituality,” Jamison told the Telegraph.

Disney has been attacked on religious grounds before, but not usually because of its influence over kids. For example, 10 years ago, Marion “Pat” Robertson famously condemned Disney for having a gay-pride day at Disney World, and issued a stark warning to the people of Orlando Florida (the closest large city to Disney World) that God would assail them over it:

“I would warn Orlando that you’re right in the way of some serious hurricanes, and I don’t think I’d be waving those [gay-pride] flags in God’s face if I were you,” Robertson said Monday on his TV show, “The 700 Club.”

Robertson also said the widespread practice of homosexuality “will bring about terrorist bombs, it’ll bring earthquakes, tornadoes and possibly a meteor.”

(Of course, I need not point out that none of Patty’s promised calamities ever materialized. Not one.)

Many Catholic clerics have become rather strident in the last few words, involving themselves in politics and becoming more and more outspoken on many issues (such as the pro-life movement) at the expense of others (the Iraq War, which the Vatican has consistently condemned, but which the American Catholic Church — curiously — refuses ever to mention). So I thought, perhaps this abbot is getting worked up because of this growing Catholic political activism.

But then I read on, to the end of the story, which revealed his true motive:

The newspaper said Jamison offers families advice on how to live a simpler life in his new book, “Finding Happiness.”

The abbot is selling a book, that’s what this is all about … he’s trying to get a little bit of PR and maybe some additional sales.

How utterly cheap of a Catholic cleric, to be shilling for his own book and grubbing for sales.

Tags: , , , ,

Comments Comments Off on Disney Corrupts Children!

The widely-exalted Dalai Lama, considered one of the wisest people in the world, has come up with a solution to human ills. It’s a solution one might expect of him — given his personal history and vocation — but I’m not sure how realistic this advice is. If everyone followed the Dalai Lama’s advice, humanity would be doomed — not saved — because that advice is not to have sex:

The Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual and temporal leader, on Friday said sex spelt fleeting satisfaction and trouble later, while chastity offered a better life and “more freedom.”

“Sexual pressure, sexual desire, actually I think is short period satisfaction and often, that leads to more complication,” the Dalai Lama told reporters in a Lagos hotel, speaking in English without a translator.

He said conjugal life caused “too much ups and downs.

“Naturally as a human being … some kind of desire for sex comes, but then you use human intelligence to make comprehension that those couples always full of trouble. And in some cases there is suicide, murder cases,” the Dalai Lama said.

He said the “consolation” in celibacy is that although “we miss something, but at the same time, compare whole life, it’s better, more independence, more freedom.”

Celibacy as a spiritual ideal is widely observed, and in more places than just in Tibetan Buddhism … many Greco-Roman mystics, such as the Pythagoreans, had ascetic and celibate lifestyles. Christianity itself adopted something of a celibacy ethic early in its history, as found in the New Testament:

For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it. (Matthew 19:12)

Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. (1 Corinthians 1:7)

However, becoming a eunuch or remaining celibate was never an expectation of all Christians, as Paul acknowledges later, himself:

But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Corinthians 7:7-8)

So celibacy — while still viewed as a kind of ideal spiritual state — has never been a requirement, even in otherwise-furiously doctrinaire Christianity.

Yet the Dalai Lama never acknowledges this, and happily declares it to be a universal goal.

As I said, this is not unexpected, since the Dalai Lama was raised a monk from the age of 2 and knows no other life. For him, sex perhaps truly is optional. Aside from his travels and public-speaking, he was raised in, and remains in, isolation. Which only exemplifies how “out-of-touch” with reality he is — through no fault of his own.

As an aside, the manner in which he was selected for his exalted spiritual (and political) office is a curious and somewhat hilarious tale. After the death of the 13th Dalai Lama (Thubten Gyatso) in 1933, monks followed various omens throughout the land, in search of his successor. (The Dalai Lama at any given moment is believed to be the reincarnation of the first Dalai Lama, Gendun Drup, who was the reincarnation of Chenresig, a bodhisattva or an “enlightened” soul who could ascend to Nirvana but chooses, out of compassion for others, to reincarnate and guide the unascended masses). These monks found a house in a village which matched one that a monk had seen in a vision; inside was a two-year-old Lhamo Thondup, who — upon seeing some of the most recent Dalai Lama’s things that the monks had brought with them — exclaimed “That’s mine!”

The rest, as they say, is history.

When I first heard this story, I found it difficult not to laugh. This is no way to select a nation’s sovereign (which the Dalai Lama was, prior to the PRC’s invasion and annexation of Tibet in the 1950s)! It reminds me far too much of this scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. (Can you imagine a similar dialog being played out in Tibet? Instead of, “Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government,” you’d have, “Little kids claiming ownership of trinkets is no basis for choosing the Fount of All Buddhist Wisdom!”) If by chance you’ve never seen it before, this movie scene is available on YouTube.

At any rate, if everyone followed the Dalai Lama’s advice, I suppose contention among human beings would end … because within a generation there would be no more human beings to contend with one another! It’s not a solution to a problem, any more than amputating a limb is the way to heal one if it breaks.

Tags: , , , ,

Comments Comments Off on The Answer To All The World’s Ills Is …