As has happened a number of times this campaign season, the Left is openly appealing to religiosity. I suppose this is inevitable, since the vast majority of Americans are religious. But Barack Obama today went far beyond what’s usual for the Left, treading overtly into Religious Right™ territory:

Reaching out to evangelical voters, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is announcing plans to expand President Bush’s program steering federal social service dollars to religious groups and — in a move sure to cause controversy — support some ability to hire and fire based on faith. …

Obama does not support requiring religious tests for recipients of aid nor using federal money to proselytize, according to a campaign fact sheet. He also only supports letting religious institutions hire and fire based on faith in the non-taxypayer funded portions of their activities, said a senior adviser to the campaign, who spoke on condition of anonymity to more freely describe the new policy. …

Obama proposes to elevate the program to a “moral center” of his administration, by renaming it the Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and changing training from occasional huge conferences to empowering larger religious charities to mentor smaller ones in their communities.

Senator Obama is being purposely naïve if he thinks religious charities are going to segregate their money and maintain separate operations in order to comply with this. He’s also wrong if he thinks they will never use their status as hired social-service operators for the government, in order to proselytize — of course they will! They can hardly avoid doing so!

And the idea that renaming this agency can prevent abuses of this kind, is beyond stupid! Names don’t matter, money does. And once these religious outfits start scooping up government cash, the name of the agency that’s paying them won’t matter one bit.

What this country needs less of, not more of, is religion gaining authority over people via governmental relationships. While I do not object per se to religious groups contracting with the government to perform services (just like any other entity), the fact is that I do not trust them to do so in a way that does not end up propagating the religion — and that is precisely what the First Amendment “establishment clause” forbids.

If Obama really wants to “change” the country, he will need to jettison the appeals to religiosity of the Religious Right™, and actually engage in different political behavior than what we’ve been getting.

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Earlier I blogged about what I suspected to be an effort, in Texas anyway, to establish “religious exceptions” to child-abuse laws. Sadly, it turns out not to have been paranoid “slippery-slope” thinking, after all. The Texas Supreme Court has, in fact, ruled that there is indeed a right to harm others in the course of religious practices (WebCite cached article):

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday threw out a jury award over injuries a 17-year-old girl suffered in an exorcism conducted by members of her old church, ruling that the case unconstitutionally entangled the court in religious matters.

The Court’s logic is bizarre:

Justice David Medina wrote that finding the church liable “would have an unconstitutional ‘chilling effect’ by compelling the church to abandon core principles of its religious beliefs.”

Yes folks, this Texas justice actually believes it’s wrong to expect that religious folk shouldn’t harm others! This principle boggles the mind, and leads to all sorts of horrible results … what if my religion calls upon me to kill heretics? Do I then have permission to do so? According to Justice Medina, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” A sure defense to any crime in Texas would be, “My religion told me to do it!” and they would have to let you go.

Way to go, Texans, just add to the pile of reasons I should never set foot in your state.

At any rate, my earlier supposition is vindicated, and things are every bit as bad as I’d feared.

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I already blogged about the psychic tip that launched a child-abuse investigation. As if the mindless credulity of Barrie, ON school officials weren’t bad enough, there are actually people who are defending their actions! Here is one example:

Under section 72 of Ontario’s Child and Family Services Act, the school had a duty to report if they had “reasonable” grounds to believe that a child was being sexually abused or exploited. While we can laugh and say that a psychic’s ramblings about a girl named “V” and a male in his late 20s is not reasonable grounds to believe that Victoria had been sexually abused, the school officials merely erred on the side of caution.

The school did not, in fact, “err on the side of caution.” They had absolutely no reason whatsoever to “err on the side” of anything! A psychic’s tip is not the least bit “reasonable” as instigation for an investigation. Not in any way, not ever.

It just is not. No matter how one slices it.

I cannot imagine how any rational mind could possibly defend this, because there is no defense for it. None. Zero. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Nichts.

I can only assume that people who feel inclined to assume the Barrie schools “erred on the side of caution” probably are just trying to justify their own beliefs in the validity of psychics. Most know better, but they are compulsively unable to admit it … so they end up defending the indefensible and looking like clowns and morons as a result.

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I continue to be amazed by efforts to merge religion and science. Of course, one expects religionists to attempt to bring science into the fold of religion — being religionists, they don’t know any better — but over the past couple of years, scientists have attempted to encompass religion within their own realm. Scientific American recently published an article about one of the latest of these efforts:

Sacred Science: Using Faith to Explain Anomalies in Physics

In Stuart Kauffman’s emergent universe, reductionism is not wrong so much as incomplete. It has done much of the heavy lifting in the history of science, but reductionism cannot explain a host of as yet unsolved mysteries, such as the origin of life, the biosphere, consciousness, evolution, ethics and economics.

It has become fashionable over the past few years to whine and complain about “reductionism,” or science’s tendency to break things down to minimal bites so as to analyze them specifically. While reductionism has its faults, and does not in fact explain many of the things cited in this quotation, it remains largely a virtue, because until reductionism became common, we did not really understand the universe very well. Physics advanced during the Enlightenment when Kepler and Newton (among others) examined the motions of celestial objects specifically and in isolation. Without their reductionism there would have been no Principia Mathematica, probably no calculus, and very little technological advance. Complaints that “reductionism” goes too far, also fails to account for the fact that scientists engaging in reductionist analyses generally know and acknowledge that they are looking specifically at isolated components of systems; they are not confusing the part with the whole and are up-front about their analytical approach. Critics’ claims that they do confuse the part with the whole, are dishonest and misrepresent scientists.

A good working definition of “science” is “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment” (courtesy of Compact Oxford English Dictionary). Nothing about this definition has the slightest thing to do with religion or with any metaphysical notions at all. It deals solely with “the physical and natural world” and not with “emergent entities” or whatever euphemism someone might come up with for “God.” Science began working when it branched away from religion and stopped meddling in the metaphysical. To twist it back around to embracing metaphysics, will serve no one and only make science non-functional.

The desire to “explain” things at all costs, must be resisted. Refashioning science so as to embrace metaphysics, is not the way to explain these things. It may well be that (reductionist) science will explain those things one day … but just not now, this moment, immediately. Impatience it not a virtue.

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James Dobson, founder and ruler of Focus On The Family, and the current reigning prince of the Religious Right™ in the US, complained about presumed Democratic nominee Barack Obama and his knowledge of the Bible. In the process, however, he reveals his own ignorance of the Bible rather than Obama’s:

As Barack Obama broadens his outreach to evangelical voters, one of the movement’s biggest names, James Dobson, accuses the likely Democratic presidential nominee of distorting the Bible and pushing a “fruitcake interpretation” of the Constitution. …

“Even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools?” Obama said. “Would we go with James Dobson’s or Al Sharpton’s?” referring to the civil rights leader.

Dobson took aim at examples Obama cited in asking which Biblical passages should guide public policy — chapters like Leviticus, which Obama said suggests slavery is OK and eating shellfish is an abomination, or Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, “a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application.”

“Folks haven’t been reading their Bibles,” Obama said [according to Dobson].

Dobson and Minnery accused Obama of wrongly equating Old Testament texts and dietary codes that no longer apply to Jesus’ teachings in the New Testament.

Gee, that’s funny. If Old Testament rules no longer apply to Christians, why then does Dobson base his hatred of homosexuals on Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13? Dobson is being disingenuous, then, and obviously so. Furthermore, Dobson’s whine comes nowhere near addressing Obama’s comments about the Sermon on the Mount — which is, in fact — and was even in Jesus’ time — fairly “radical.” (Seriously … “turn the other cheek”? Who really does that? No one I know of. So yes, on its face it is and was a radical instruction! Dobson thus denies the obvious.)

In this and many other ways, Dobson and his crew reveal their own ignorance of the Bible, their dishonesty, and their unwillingness actually to follow Christ’s own teachings as Jesus delivered them. Dobson is at war with homosexuals, but Jesus’ injunction against fighting back means he should not be; he is required instead always to “turn the other cheek.” This means he must go so far as to allow himself to be destroyed by the homosexual agenda (which does not actually exist except in the delusional fantasies of evangelical Christians) if needed.

As for Obama’s “fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution,” Dobson again — like many in the Religious Right — forgets a few things. First, the Founding Fathers who wrote the Constitution were not fundamentalist Christians like themselves. Far from it. Second, the Constitution as it was originally written permitted slavery, and under it only white landowning males could vote. We literally cannot now go back to the time when the Constitution was penned. Trying to do so is a fool’s errand; basing one’s views of how the US ought to be on one’s (erroneous) assumptions about its authors — and based on the Constitution’s original, un-amended contents — is the real “fruitcake interpretation” here. Third, and most obviously, Christianity as Jesus taught it is overtly and specifically apolitical. He spoke to his followers of “the kingdom of heaven” or “the kingdom of God,” not about any earthly kingdoms. In fact, he very clearly said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mt 22:21, Mk 12:17, & Lk 20:25). This means that creating or remaking a government in the name of Christ, amounts to blasphemy of the highest order.

If Dobson is truly the reverent Christian he claims to be, he ought to know that … and stop trying to rule the US as its theocrat-in-chief.

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Believers tend to thank “God” for all sorts of things, when in fact, it’s human beings who are responsible. One example is when, during a stressful period (e.g. a natural disaster has occurred, someone is missing or recently died, etc.) people flock to their churches to pray over it. Here’s one such event, reported by CNN:

Praying for a flood’s end as water crests

The faithful gathered for church services Sunday in towns hard-hit by flooding along the Mississippi River, and many found comfort in word that the swollen waterway had apparently started to hit its high point.

Dozens of parishioners filled the dry Centenary United Methodist Church in Louisiana, a few blocks from floodwaters that still cover about 15 percent of the town’s neighborhoods.

What’s bizarre about this is that any relief these people have received, has not come from God (who — depending upon whose doctrines you listen to — either ordained the flooding, or created the conditions which have allowed it to happen), but from emergency workers … i.e. people. Just plain folks. OK, so they did manage to work in a little gratefulness to the workers:

They prayed for aid and gave thanks for the volunteers, National Guard soldiers and prison inmates who helped the community of nearly 4,000 in recent days.

I concede that they “thanked” people. Even so, they did it in a church devoted to God. Not in a firehouse (for example) where emergency workers are actually found and who can be thanked in person. Really … what has God done for any of them? It’s nonsensical to go into a church to thank fellow human beings.

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People often ask me what harm there is in believing in psychics. They can offer comfort, it’s often said. Mediums who claim to speak to the dead, for example, can reassure the bereaved, regardless of whether or not they are actually in touch with “the Other Side,” so why worry about it? Unfortunately, faith in the power of psychics is not harmless, as at least one Canadian mother and daughter can attest:

Psychic’s vision sets off sex-abuse probe

A Barrie mother of an autistic girl is considering legal action against her local school board after a psychic’s prediction to a special educational assistant sparked a sexual abuse report to the Children’s Aid Society.

“I’m in shock,” said Colleen Leduc, 38. “They reported me to Children’s Aid because of a psychic. Can you imagine?”

It seems an educational assistant at Victoria Leduc’s school had visited a psychic. The psychic told the EA that a child she works with whose name begins with “V” was being sexually abused. School officials are citing “zero-tolerance” policies as the reason the report of abuse was submitted to CAS … but I wasn’t aware that the ambiguous ramblings of a psychic constituted a sufficient trigger. The fact is that the reason for this is not “zero-tolerance,” but the deluded credulity of an EA and school officials who actually considered this “tip” enough of a reason to call in the authorities.

Thankfully, in this case, CAS quickly dismissed the case and all is now well … but it might easily have blown up into a serious matter and caused a lot of trouble and expense. Ms Leduc is still waiting for an apology from the hypercredulous EA and school officials, and offered this amusing quip:

She can only assume that the closing of the file by CAS ends the school’s concerns, said Ms. Leduc.

“Unless they take out a Ouija board and decide to do something else. They might want to take out a Ouija board or hold a seance, I’m not sure.”

Hopefully those involved will mature to the point where they can find it in themselves to say “I’m sorry” to this family … but somehow I doubt it.

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