Posts Tagged “prayer”

What part of 'When you pray, go into your inner room' did you not understand? (from Mt 6:6, NASB) / PsiCop original graphicBy now most of my readers have heard of the case now before the U.S. Supreme Court, Town of Greece v. Galloway, in which arguments have been heard, and which will be decided in the middle of next year. Lots of ink has been spilled … and bits transmitted … about it. And there will, no doubt, be much more to come. Religionists rail and fume at the insolence of the plaintiffs for having dared sue in court over the town of Greece, NY opening its council meetings by leading everyone present in Christian prayers. Non-believers laugh at the insipidity of many people publicly mouthing words up at a being that may or may not even exist to hear them.

But what no one is saying — at least, not that I’ve yet heard — is that this case should, by all rights, never have even seen a courtroom, because public prayers of the sort being proclaimed in Greece, NY are thoroughly, demonstrably, and undeniably un-Christian.

You read that right: they’re un-Christian.

As I’ve blogged many times before, and described in my page cataloging Bible verses that nearly all Christians staunchly refuse to obey, Jesus unambiguously condemned any and all forms of public piety. His words on the subject, as recorded in the gospels, are clear and explicit. There are no caveats, and no wriggle-room. Read for yourself what Jesus said about public piety:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1-6)

On another occasion, Jesus condemned public piety using this brief story as an example:

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10-14)

The scriptural evidence is in, and it’s clear: Jesus didn’t want his followers trying to impress others with their righteousness. This has many implications, some of which Christians will find inconvenient. Among them, is that they shouldn’t be praying in public. Now, I fully understand … having been a Christian myself … why they feel compelled to do it. What good is it, after all, to be a Christian, but not let others know it? Since Christianity is the majority faith in Greece, NY and nearly all of the U.S., what better way to make it known you “belong,” than to be seen praying to the same Christian God that most everyone else prays to?

I honestly get it. Really, I do. The emotional satisfaction — and personal pride — that come from publicly expressing one’s piety is seductive and compelling. It’s a natural manifestation of human nature. Even so … Jesus did expressly forbid this kind of behavior. No matter how normal it may be for Christians to engage in expressions of public piety, it contradicts Christ’s own teachings. Christians shouldn’t be in the position of defending public piety — not before the Supreme Court, and not anywhere else. Instead, they should just not be doing it. At all.

I’m left asking myself, “What part of ‘go into your inner room’ do Christians not understand?”

Photo credit: PsiCop original, based on Mt 6:6.

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Depression-loss of loved oneFor some reason, any discussion of mental illness tends to get caught up with religion. This was inevitable, I suppose, when Pastor Rick Warren — founder of the “Purpose-Driven” publishing empire — and his wife were interviewed a few days ago by Piers Morgan on CNN about their son’s suicide earlier this year (WebCite cached article). But the idea that religion is an effective remedy for mental illness, has been around for ages. The Christian Post reports that a majority of Christians in the US believe that their religion can cure it, and brags about this (cached):

Nearly 50 percent of American Christians believe that prayer and Bible study alone can cure mental illness, according to a recent survey by LifeWay Research.

Dr. Tim Clinton, president of the American Association of Christian Counselors, credited this response to Christians’ faith in God.

“I applaud those out there who really believe in the power of God,” Clinton told Moody Radio show host Chris Fabry on Thursday. “It’s an encouraging time. People continually look for out for God spiritually for hope, for help.”

Clinton and the CP might be proud of American Christians’ refusal to let medicine get in the way of their hyperreligiosity, but those of us who are capable of actually thinking about the problem of mental illness, know better. Any given mental illness is precisely that — an illness — which requires valid, effective, clinically-supported treatment. Praying and reading the Bible are not valid, effective, or clinically-supported — no matter how vehemently anyone may insist they are.

Despite his ardent belief in the primacy of prayer and Bible-reading as treatments for mental illness, Clinton says he’s not completely averse to medication:

One of the first steps the church must take is to avoid stigmatizing Christians taking medication for their mental illnesses, said Clinton.

At the end of the article, the CP tosses in an obligatory link to recent massacres, no doubt in order to scare up interest:

Nationally, mental illness has dominated discussions about the possible motives of the gunmen in last year’s mass shootings in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, as well as a first-grade class in Sandy Hook, Conn., and also more recently in this week’s mass shooting in the Washington D.C. navy yard.

Unfortunately for the CP, they are wrong about the Sandy Hook killings. The shooter there was never, so far as anyone knows, diagnosed with any mental illness, and there were absolutely no drugs in his system … no illicit drugs, no alcohol, no prescription drugs (cached). So he was not on any medications. It’s true that the Sandy Hook massacre has brought up talk about mental illness, but until we find out differently (cached), it’s not reasonable to believe mental illness played any role in it.

At any rate, mental illness poses a particular problem, in that a lot of the valid medical treatments for it are, unfortunately, not all that effective. Psychotherapy and antidepressants for depression, for example, work only about 60-65% of the time. This is enough to show that they’re effective for a majority of people, but it means there’s a significant number of folks who aren’t helped, sadly, and are often left twisting in the breeze of psychiatry. This means there are people whose needs aren’t being met by valid medicine, who become prey to proselytizers, who gladly use this as a “hook” to rope them into their religion. In the realm of addiction, this is precisely how many substance-abuse treatments work, as I’ve blogged already. That it’s unethical at best to use a vulnerability like this in order to gain converts, doesn’t seem to matter to these believers. They just go ahead and do it anyway.

The solution is for psychiatry to step up to the plate and really work on new, more effective, treatments for common mental illnesses like depression. Treatments are needed which are over 80% effective, if not over 90%. Leaving things as they are — which is what’s been done for decades — is just not working. It’s time psychiatry admitted it. In the meantime, prayer and Bible-reading is just bullshit and will do nothing for these folks. If you have a mental illness, run — do not walk! — away from anyone who suggests that his/her God is all you need to get over your ailment. It’s a scam, and you need to avoid being taken in.

This is the United States, and it’s the 21st century, for fuck’s sake. It’s time to get the hell out of the “Dark Ages” already. Gimme a fucking break.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Susan Silverman, center, a reform rabbi, sits on the ground and prays with her daughter, left, after being asked by Israeli police to remove their prayer shawls at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City February 11, 2013. (STRINGER, REUTERS / February 11, 2013)I’ve blogged a number of times about ultra-conservative Jews in Israel targeting women as sub-human. They appear to believe — as do a lot of conservative Muslims, and Christians — that women are to be neither seen nor heard, and are not to be treated as human beings.

What’s remarkable is that ultra-conservatives have commandeered the government of Israel to do their bidding in order to keep “the Weaker Sex” in its place. The Hartford Courant reports on some arrests of women who insolently dared to thwart ultra-conservative sensibilities (WebCite cached article):

Israeli police detained 10 women, including a rabbi from Bloomfield, at one of Judaism’s most sacred sites on Monday for wearing prayer shawls, which Orthodox tradition sees as solely for men, a spokesman said.

The incident at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City highlighted the divisions between the more liberal streams of Judaism and politically powerful Orthodox groups that traditionally limit the role of women in prayer.

The Western Wall is administered under strict Orthodox ritual law, which bars women from wearing prayer shawls or publicly reading from the holy scriptures.

Among those held was Debra Cantor, rabbi of B’nai Tikvoh-Sholom in Bloomfield, and Susan Silverman, a reform rabbi who is a sister of American comedian Sarah Silverman.

I’m curious as to precisely what awful thing the ultra-conservative Jews think will befall their country, if some people with two “X” chromosomes stand before the Western Wall. I really don’t get it. It’d be nice if someone could explain it to me — but somehow I doubt it will ever happen. Seriously, what is the problem with women wearing prayer shawls, and praying, on that spot? Anyone?

This just goes to show that it’s not just Christians or Muslims who think poorly of women and want to repress them. Most religions, in fact, don’t seem to want women around — in spite of the fact that they’re 50% of the population.

Photo credit: Reuters, via the Hartford Courant.

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Crush the Godless Liberals: All of America's Problems are Due to Godlessness and Godless Liberals / Image © Austin Cline, Licensed to About; Original Poster: National ArchivesThe number of Christians using the Newtown massacre (which happened only two days ago) to promote their fierce, dour religionism, is growing by leaps and bounds. I’ve chronicled a few examples of this already, but there are more. And I expect they will continue to come in. Here’s a selection:

  • Charisma News (cached):
    Rather than waiting until the aftermath of a Columbine, Virginia Tech or Newtown school shooting to pray, can we please put prayer back into schools on Monday morning?

  • Theologian John Piper (cached):
    Which means that the murders of Newtown are a warning to me — and you. Not a warning to see our schools as defenseless, but to see our souls as depraved. To see our need for a Savior. To humble ourselves in repentance for the God-diminishing bitterness of our hearts. To turn to Christ in desperate need, and to treasure his forgiveness, his transforming, and his friendship.

  • Theologian R. Albert Mohler (cached):
    The sinfulness of sin is never more clearly revealed than when we look into the heart of a crime like this and see the hatred toward God that precedes the murderous hatred he poured out on his little victims.

    The twentieth century forced us to see the ovens of the Nazi death camps, the killing fields of Cambodia, the inhumanity of the Soviet gulags, and the failure of the world to stop such atrocities before they happened. We cannot talk of our times without reference to Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin, Pol Pot and Charles Manson, Idi Amin and Ted Bundy.

  • CBN’s David Brody (cached):
    Guess what folks? Huckabee and Fischer are not alone. There are millions of evangelicals who believe the same thing. This is not heartless. It’s based on the biblical principle of reaping and sowing. Not that these little children sowed anything but are our schools left unprotected because of the past actions of our nation when it comes to removing God from our public schools?

I particularly love how Mohler found it necessary to throw in references to Hitler, Stalin, Manson and Pol Pot. What a lovely, compassionate touch!

Photo credit: Austin Cline, Licensed to About.

Hat tip: Friendly Atheist (re: Piper & Mohler); Religion Dispatches (Re: Brody).

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'One Nation, Under God: Remember, if you don't believe in God, you're not a REAL American. Keep prayer and God in school, where they belong!' / Image © Austin Cline, Licensed to About; Original Poster: University of GeorgiaThe massacre that happened here in my home state of Connecticut — nearly the worst school shooting in the country’s history — occurred only 10 hours ago as I type this (WebCite cached version). Police and medical examiners are still on the scene, and not all the bodies have even been removed from the building. Yet the wing-nut Christofascist Bryan Fischer, one of the gauleiters of the militant Christianist American Family Association, saw fit to declare why 28 people (at the latest count), including 20 small children, had to die. Would you believe, it’s because Newtown’s public schools don’t begin their days with prayer?

Yes folks, that’s right. God allowed 28 people to be slaughtered in one school, because its denizens don’t pray to him every morning. I’m sure you don’t believe me, but it’s true. Right Wing Watch reports — based on primary source material — what Fischer said (cached):

Bryan Fischer spent the first hour of his radio program today discussing this morning’s truly horrific shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut, which he, of course, blamed on the fact that prayer, the Bible, and the Ten Commandments are not taught in public schools.

Fischer said that God could have protected the victims of this massacre, but didn’t because “God is not going to go where he is not wanted” and so if school administrators really want to protect students, they will start every school day with prayer

I’m not asking you to believe either Right Wing Watch, or me. Go ahead and see it for yourself, the Youtube video is available right here:

I won’t bother waiting for the movement of “good” Christians outraged enough by Fischer’s vile, putrid stench to rise up and drive him off the air and force him into obscurity. There aren’t enough “good” Christians in the US with the fortitude to take him on. What few of them remain, will take the cowards’ way out, and whine, “Well, he doesn’t speak for me,” as though that settles it.

But it doesn’t.

Christians, your religion belongs to you. And Bryan Fischer claims to speak for it. If you object to vicious, hateful pricks like him claiming to be your religion’s spokesmen, then it’s up to you to do something about it. If you won’t respect your own religion enough to police it and shut down asshats like Fischer, then you can’t expect outside observers such as myself to respect it, or you for believing in it. It just won’t work.

My guess is, none of you will do anything about him. And sadly, that’s all I need to know.

Update 1: Fischer isn’t the only Christofascist who won’t even wait until the bodies are cold, to use this horrific event as a bludgeon to pound their fierce, unrelenting religionism into people. As the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports, Mike Huckabee spewed the same bile on Fox News (cached):

Americans should blame their schools, and removal of God from the classroom, for Friday’s murders of schoolchildren in Connecticut, according to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a 2008 Republican presidential candidate who is now a pundit and host on Fox News. …

“We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be surprised that schools would become places of carnage?” …

“We’ve made it (school) a place where we don’t talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability — that we’re not going to have to be accountable to the police if they catch us, but one day we stand before, you know holy God in judgment,” said Huckabee.

Expect more, not less, of this kind of ridiculous chatter in the days to come.

Update 2: It turns out I was right, when in my last update on this, I said we should expect more of this kind of crap. Eric Hovind, the Creationism-spewing son of militant Creationist Kent Hovind, posted this little gem on Twitter yesterday (cached):

Are you happy now that the shooter grew up in a school without God?

We can add Hovind to the list of “Jerks for Jesus” using this event to promote their Christofascism.

Photo credit: Austin Cline, Licensed to About; Original Poster: University of Georgia

Hat tip: Friendly Atheist.

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One Nation, Under God: America is a Christian Nation, You Aren't a Real American if you Don't Believe in God / Image © Austin Cline, Licensed to About; Original Poster: University of Georgia (http://fax.libs.uga.edu/wwpost/)Religionists love to look for easy targets to indoctrinate and/or convert. One group of people they’ve traditionally gone after, is your basic captive audience: School children. Toward that end, a bipartisan cadre of religionist lawmakers in Florida have cooked up yet another bill that — if it became law — would put prayer into public schools in Florida, and end up forcing public school kids to pray, whether or not they or their parents wish it. The Miami Herald reports on this militant Christianist effort (WebCite cached article):

A bill that would allow voluntary, student-led prayer in secondary schools sailed through the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday – but not before meeting resistance from Anti-Defamation League officials, who called the bill “unnecessary, divisive and unconstitutional.”

Said sponsor Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando: “All I’m trying to do is allow those School Boards and those students who want to partake in this type of activity [the opportunity] to do that.”

Siplin and the bill’s other sponsors have fallen for the myth that it’s currently impossible for anyone to pray in public schools. At the moment, anyone — students, faculty, employees, visitors, etc. — in any public school in the country can, in fact, pray any time s/he wants to. It is not illegal to do so, and there’s no need for any law to be passed to enable it. I expect a lot of praying goes on in schools all over the country … especially around exam time.

What’s not permitted is when school staff lead students in prayer. This was established by the US Supreme Court in a number of decisions, most especially Engel v. Vitale (1962) and Abington School Dist. v. Schempp (1963), among others. This means that FL Senate Bill 98 and House Bill 317 would be unconstitutional, even if they were to become law. The Herald even points this out by citing a related precedent:

Passing the legislation may not be that easy. In 2009, a federal court struck down school prayer in Santa Rosa County in northwest Florida.

The law seems to have been written with a wink and a nod in the direction of trying to skirt Constitutional limitations:

Student volunteers would have to lead the prayers or benedictions, and school personnel would not be permitted to partake.

This is transparent, however; if the principal were to stick a child in front of an assembly or a microphone, s/he would effectively be directing the prayer. Using the child as an agent would, moreover, be cowardly in the extreme.

Also, the maneuver of merely “enabling” school boards to lead students in prayer, rather than directing them to do so, is likewise transparent. If you think for a moment that a lot of Florida’s schools won’t leap at the chance to ram religion down the throats of kids, you’re sorely mistaken; I already blogged about the godly folk in Cross City FL who’ve stated they were willing to defy court orders to remove a Decalogue idol from their courthouse steps.

The article ended with this precious little tidbit:

“God bless y’all,” [Siplin] told senators after the vote. “I’m praying for you.”

I hope Siplin realizes that, in saying this, he violated Jesus’ explicit and unmistakable command never to engage in public piety (see Matthew 6:1-6 among other gospel passages). These militant Christianists really need to stop disobeying their own Jesus.

But of course, we all know damned well they won’t!

Hat tip: Friendly Atheist.

Photo credit: Austin Cline/About Atheism.

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The Binding of Isaac glassIt’s one thing to have nutty metaphysical beliefs. It’s another to have beliefs so nutty that they jeopardize one’s health. But it’s another thing entirely to have beliefs that jeopardize other people’s lives. Dale and Shannon Hickman of Oregon City, Oregon are two such people. Their newborn son died because they refused to take him to a doctor, and as the Washington Post reports, they were recently convicted of manslaughter over it (WebCite cached article):

A jury on Thursday (Sept. 29) unanimously convicted an Oregon couple, Dale and Shannon Hickman, in the faith-healing death of their infant son.

Both parents were found guilty of second-degree manslaughter, a Class B felony that requires a sentence of at least six years and three months in prison under Oregon’s mandatory sentencing law. However, because of a religious exemption that was eliminated after the Hickmans were indicted, they could face less than 18 months in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The story of how the infant died, is chilling:

David Hickman was born on Sept. 26, 2009, and lived less than nine hours.

His mother, Shannon Hickman, went into labor two months before her due date. Instead of going to a hospital, she and her husband opted to have the baby in her mother’s home. At birth, he weighed 3 pounds, 7 ounces.

The Hickmans testified that David appeared healthy then took a sudden dire turn. Dale Hickman responded by holding his newborn son, praying for him and anointing him with olive oil. The parents said they never considered calling a doctor, and the baby died quickly.

Their defense attorney claimed that medical help “could not” have saved little David:

In closing arguments, defense attorney Mark Cogan maintained it is unfair to fault the Hickmans for failing to call 911. “What opportunity was there?” he asked. “What benefit would there have been?”

It’s true that medical care might not have saved David, but then again, it might have. We just don’t know — and thanks to Cogan’s clients’ actions, we never will.

The Hickmans, as the Post explains, are part of a weird church that has seen this happen all too often:

The Hickmans are members of Oregon City’s Followers of Christ church, which has a long history of children dying from treatable conditions because their parents relied on faith healing rather than taking them to doctors. In response to such cases, legislators this year removed religious exemptions from Oregon’s criminal statutes.

In the case of the little, late David Hickman, this change to the law does nothing. It’s a classic case of the horses and the barn door.

The Hickmans, of course, insist they had no choice:

When asked why he didn’t call 911 once he realized his infant son was failing, Dale Hickman responded, “Because I was praying.”

He did this, because — of course — it’s not possible both to pray and call 911 at the same time. I guess. According to him. I don’t know how that works, but then, what could I know about such important matters? The coldest response to this came from little David’s mother:

Shannon Hickman said that as a woman in the church, she must defer to her husband. “That’s not my decision anyway,” she said. “I think it’s God’s will whatever happens.”

She stood by and let her own son die, because her husband told her to and because he’s the man, so his word is law. Also, she alludes to the old “life is cheap in God’s eyes” principle espoused by many religionists, wherein anyone and everyone’s lives can be freely sacrificed, if God decides it must be so.

Another thing: Lots of people love to say that prayer is an effective way to treat illnesses. I’d love for any of those people to explain, then, why it didn’t work in the case of David Hickman? Aside from the old “It wasn’t God’s will that he live” … because after all, the idea of prayer is to change God’s mind about such things, is it not?

Hat tip: Mark at Skeptics & Heretics Forum on Delphi Forums.

Photo credit: Lawrence OP.

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