Among the litany of stories on Senator Obama’s faith, I saw an interesting little tidbit in Newsweek, which no doubt many will see, but few will realize how wrong it is:

Obama calls his mother “an agnostic.” “I think she believed in a higher power,” he says. “She believed in the fundamental order and goodness of the universe. She would have been very comfortable with Einstein’s idea that God doesn’t play dice. But I think she was very suspicious of the notion that one particular organized religion offered one truth.”

Obama seems to think that “agnostic” means “lukewarm believer,” however that’s not what it means at all. Someone who truly “believes in a higher power” cannot be an agnostic. An agnostic takes the position that the existence of a deity cannot be known. Such a person cannot “believe” in a deity (or “higher power” or whatever euphemism one may apply).

Obama also misuses Einstein’s comment about dice and the universe, which was not an admission by Einstein of religious belief, but rather a disparagement of quantum mechanics — an area of science he later would accept, if grudgingly, meaning that he eventually changed his mind on the matter.

Lastly Obama refers to “organized religion,” as though his mother’s objection had been merely to “organized religion” rather than “religion” generally. This does not, however, make her an agnostic or any other kind of non-believer. It just means she was a believer in non-organized religion. Creating a distinction between “organized religion” and other things (such as “spirituality”) is common, often used to separate the objectionable aspects of religion from more acceptable parts. Unfortunately, such a distinction does not actually exist. Religion can be organized or not. All “spirituality,” or whatever alternative term one uses, is still “religion.” There is no difference!

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Yep, those creationist types in Kansas just aren’t going to let the matter of teaching their religion in Kansas public-school classes die. The Wichita Eagle reports on a renewed effort to water down teaching of evolution in that state:

With five seats on the State Board of Education up for grabs this year, education advocates say how children learn about evolution hangs in the balance — and who voters choose could affect Kansas’ national reputation.

A frequent flip-flop between moderate and conservative majorities on the 10-member board has resulted in the state changing its science standards four times in the past eight years.

Conservatives have pushed for standards casting doubt on evolution, and moderates have said intelligent design does not belong in the science classroom. …

This year, none of the three moderates whose seats are up for election are running again. Only one of the two conservative incumbents is running for re-election.

It’s funny to note that these creationist-types haven’t yet figured out a way to process the ruling in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, in which a conservative evangelical Christian appellate-court judge — appointed by George W. Bush himself! — declared the “intelligent design” movement a ruse designed to drive religion into public schools in violation of the law and Constitution. It seems they’re ignoring that and pressing the matter … having done so successfully in Louisiana they’re resuming the same battle in Kansas (where they’ve lost several times already). It’s bad enough these people are willing to break the law in order to proselytize … but now that their lie has been exposed, and everyone knows them for the liars they are, they continue it! Just how desperate can they be?

Two words leap to mind … “childish” and “asinine.” When are these people going to grow the hell up and stop imposing their religion on others?

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This post isn’t about religion or atheism. It is, however, about the twisted thinking that many people engage in. Illogic in the U.S. is so pervasive and insidious, that you can find it in even the most innocuous “celebrity news” items. Since this is such a brilliant example of the phenomenon, I thought it worth remarking on. Hopefully you will be able to use this example to see other kinds of illogic in other places.

Perhaps Jerry Lewis was on his way to Dennis Farina’s house.

The original Nutty Professor was briefly detained Friday at Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport after trying to board a flight to Detroit with an unloaded gun in his carry-on luggage.

Police confiscated the .22-caliber Beretta, and Lewis was cited for carrying a concealed weapon without a permit. …

[A]ccording to his manager, the so-called weapon was actually a hollowed-out prop gun that wasn’t capable of firing.

Las Vegas Metropolitan Police spokesman Officer Bill Cassell said, however, if it had really been a shell of a gun, “it wouldn’t be a weapon, and we couldn’t cite him for carrying a weapon.”

There, did you catch it? The illogic here comes in the form of circular reasoning and is in the police spokesman’s comment. He’s denying the gun could have been a non-functional prop, since if it had been one, it wouldn’t have been an actionable offense; since action had been taken, we know it cannot have been a prop gun.

Casell’s comment is so stunningly asinine that I find it difficult to believe a professional spokesman said it — but there it is, a shining example of brazen illogic and fallacy.

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Every copy of the U.S. Constitution that I’ve ever seen has had the following as part of Article VI section 3:

no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States

This clause is famous enough to have its own moniker, that being the “no religious test clause.” Oddly, however, the Justice Department under former A.G. Alberto Gonzales appears not to have known about its existence. The New York Times reports on Justice hirings based on prospect’s attitudes toward God and other religious notions (such as having to be anti-abortion):

In forwarding a résumé in 2006 from a lawyer who was working for the Federalist Society, [Gonzales deputy Monica] Goodling sent an e-mail message to the head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Steven Bradbury, saying: “Am attaching a résumé for a young, conservative female lawyer.” Ms. Goodling interviewed the woman and wrote in her notes such phrases as “pro-God in public life,” and “pro-marriage, anti-civil union.” The woman was eventually hired as a career prosecutor.

Gee, and here I thought that the Justice Department, which should be run by lawyers, would know that the Constitution doesn’t permit this sort of qualification. This revelation comes from the Justice Department itself, under the same presidential administration, so this report cannot easily be dismissed as “partisan” — since it’s not!

Just another example of how sufficiently-ardent Christians will stop at nothing to bend the country to their will — they’re willing to violate the explicit terms of the Constitution in Jesus’ name!

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The shooting that took place yesterday in a Knoxville, TN church is, by now, well known. Initially folks of the Rightward persuasion declared it must have been a “hate crime” against Christians by a raging atheist. Unfortunately that turns out not to have been true. Here are the facts which weigh against this belief:

  1. The shooting took place in a Unitarian-Universalist church. The UUC is not exactly a Christian church, however; it embraces multiple doctrines (that’s what the “Universalist” in its name means — it views spiritual truths as being universal to all religions). It’s likely many Christians were there, but chances are, not all were. If Jim Adkisson, the shooter, were trying to gun down Christians, he picked the wrong place to do it.

  2. He wrote a letter explicitly stating who his targets were, and they were not “Christians” — he was targeting, instead, “gays” and “liberal views,” blaming them for things which had gone wrong in his life. While some Christians are politically liberal and some denominations accept gays, not all do, and in fact, most denominations decry both gays and political liberalism.

  3. That he chose a UU church shows that he was, in fact, more interested in targeting gays and liberals, since the UU as an organization tends to be much more politically liberal than Christian denominations, and accepts gays as members. Had he gone to — say — a Baptist church, it would have been very unlikely he’d have encountered any liberals or gays.

Early reports had pointed out that Adkisson complained about Christians, for instance railing against a woman who told him his daughter had attended a Bible college. This fits, of course, with most Christians’ inherent compulsion to feel persecuted, and the story was told according to this angle — until Adkisson’s letter surfaced, showing his motivation to be much more personal and not a philosophically-driven effort to wipe out Christians just because they’re Christians.

So it turns out this was not a “hate crime” against Christians … it was against people of two classes that Adkisson had a personal grudge against.

Folks on the Right were — and possibly still are — railing about this being a “hate crime” because largely they despise the very notion of “hate crime.” They fear that any crime by a Christian against, say, a gay person — regardless of whether or not religion or sexual orientation played a part in the particular event — would have “hate crime” charges tacked on for added measure. Some go further, claiming that all “hate crime” legislation is, by definition, an attempt to “silence” all Christians everywhere. This sort of paranoia is, of course, yet another example of the Christian Martyr Complex, which I already mentioned. While I consider “hate crime” laws to be dubious at best — after all, aren’t all violent crimes “hate” crimes? — this fear is completely irrational.

At any rate, hopefully the Right will stop claiming this crime is an anti-Christian massacre, because truthfully, it wasn’t — and they know it.

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A wrestling coach at a high school in Dearborn, MI — which has a relatively high Arab population — has lost his job due to his assistant who tried to convert kids to Christianity:

A veteran wrestling coach at Fordson High School lost his job amid concerns that his one-time assistant, who is a local minister and parent of a wrestler, attempts to convert local Muslim youths to Christianity.

The decision not to renew the contract of Jerry Marszalek, a coach for 35 years at Fordson, sparked a firestorm of controversy, with 200-300 parents packing a Board of Education meeting Tuesday night to support the decision of the school’s principal, Imad Fadlallah. The board directed administrators to consider reviewing the source of complaints against Fadlallah.

The developments occurred as officials and parents grapple with conflicts over faith, education and the future of a predominantly Muslim school, amid one of the largest Arab populations in the country. …

According to Marszalek, parents and community leaders, Fadlallah and other parents have long been concerned about contacts between the wrestling team and a local clergyman, the Rev. Trey Hancock of the Dearborn Assembly of God.

Hancock, who helped Marszalek with the team for 10 years, and whose son, Paul, is now a member, confirmed that he attempts to convert Muslim youths to Christianity and that he baptized a 15-year-old Muslim student in Port Huron a few years ago.

The resulting outrage among the Religious Right™ (of the Christian variety, of course) has been palpable. Principal Fadlallah has been accused of hitting a student, apparently as part of an effort to get him fired.

I’m always amazed at the lengths Christians go to in order to express themselves religiously; in this case:

  1. By breaking the law (kids are not supposed to be proselytized to in public schools)
  2. Engaging in behavior that got someone else fired (Hancock’s missionizing made Marszalek lose his job)
  3. Trumping up accusations against someone in retaliation

This is supposed to be an example of righteous, exemplary behavior on the part of Christians? Really?

Christians, see if you can get this: Leave other people alone, especially kids in public schools whom you are not allowed to proselytize to. Is there some part of this which is not clear to you?

Oh, and spare me the sanctimonious responses about having “religious freedom.” First of all, your freedom ends where other peoples’ begins; Muslims who want to remain Muslim are just as entitled to do so, as you are to remain Christian. Second, this is not part of an effort to stamp out Christianity. No such movement exists and in fact it could never happen since c. 80% of the country is Christian. That you think it’s happening is solely a figment of your hyperreligious imagination and is the natural product of your own religion. You cannot help but feel this way — nevertheless you have no right to force your own theological delusions on the rest of the world.

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For me this item is big news. Most other people won’t really be interested — unfortunately. Hopefully you will be. It seems a Bible from classical times, the Codex Sinaiticus, will soon be made available online. This codex is a nearly-complete Bible of the 4th century. It has a lot to tell us about early Christianity, if we take the time to listen.

It contains most of the Old Testament in Greek, known as the Septuagint, and almost all of the modern New Testament, along with two additional books, the Epistle of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas. It is very likely that whoever penned this codex considered these two additional books to be “canon” (even though, at that time, no decisive canon existed). Among the many other differences between modern Bibles and the Codex, in this ancient collection the gospel of Mark ends abruptly with the three women who found Jesus’ empty tomb running off in fear. (As it turns out, all the earliest copies of Mark end at this point, so in this the Codex is not unique.)

What’s remarkable is that it is being assembled and placed online at all. The Codex is actually no longer a single book; it’s in pieces around the world as a result of its strange history. The German scholar Constantin von Tischendorf found some loose vellum pages, in Greek, which had once been part of a larger codex, in the monastery of St Catherine in the Sinai region in the 19th century.

The full story of how the monks found the rest of it, and it ended up in pieces, scattered around, is a convoluted one and not a tale I can tell very well here; see the Answers.Com entry on the Codex for more information.

I had never thought the pieces could ever be assembled in one place — even if only online and not physically — but apparently it’s being done. But the British Museum is doing it, and the world will be a better place for it, if only to shed light on the textual history of the Bible books. If nothing else this will debunk the common myth among Christians that the Bible books have been unchanged since they were first written … this is, of course, quite untrue.

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