Archive for the “Christianity” Category

Christians and their religion

The New York Times recently reported on the mild controversy surrounding a tablet (known as “Gabriel’s Revelation”) containing Hebrew text from the pre-Christian period which suggests the Jesus story had an earlier Judaic ancestor. While I’m certainly amenable to the idea that the messianic story of Jesus was not original to the gospels — there are, after all, antecedents to gospel events in Hellenistic literature and tradition going back centuries — I hesitate to place too much faith in this discovery. The reason for my reservations and skepticism (aside from being a generally-skeptical person in the first place!) can be found here:

[The “Gabriel’s Revelation” tablet] was found about a decade ago and bought from a Jordanian antiquities dealer by an Israeli-Swiss collector who kept it in his Zurich home.

In archaeology, one must be wary of objects whose origins are not documented. We do not know where this tablet was when it was found, its position, location, what was found with it, or anything else. It was hanging around in a collector’s home for an unknown amount of time, as well, which means its patina (the coating of dust, corrosion, debris, etc. which generally collects on ancient objects) may have been compromised, as well.

Therefore I urge a great deal of caution when it comes to claiming that “Gabriel’s Revelation” is “proof” of anything about Christianity’s origins. Until we know more about this tablet we cannot take it at face value.

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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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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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This is one of those “what in hell was he thinking?” moments. It seems an Ohio teacher, who is a Christian, branded his students with a cross and may be fired for it:

The school board of a small central Ohio community voted unanimously Friday to fire a teacher accused of preaching his Christian beliefs despite staff complaints and using a device to burn the image of a cross on students’ arms. …

[Teacher John] Freshwater used a science tool known as a high-frequency generator to burn images of a cross on students’ arms in December, the report said. Freshwater told investigators he simply was trying to demonstrate the device on several students and described the images as an “X,” not a cross. But pictures show a cross, the report said.

This teacher has also, — for quite some time now — been teaching creationism in his science classroom, which violates local, state and Constitutional standards. The article I linked to clearly shows a picture of a cross, not an “X.” So not only did he brand his students, he’s also lying about it. How special!

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I guess it should be expected — since Lousiana lies in the Deep South where God is feared, Jesus is Lorduh, and the Bible is worshipped — but it looks as if public schools in that state will begin teaching religion. That’s right … Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal is about to sign a bill forcing schools to teach “intelligent design” — better known to the thinking world as the religion of “creationism.” He said on Face the Nation:

As a parent, when my kids go to schools, when they go to public schools, I want them to be presented with the best thinking. I want them to be able to make decisions for themselves. I want them to see the best data. I personally think that the life, human life and the world we live in wasn’t created accidentally. I do think that there’s a creator. I’m a Christian. I do think that God played a role in creating not only earth, but mankind. Now, the way that he did it, I’d certainly want my kids to be exposed to the very best science. I don’t want them to be — I don’t want any facts or theories or explanations to be withheld from them because of political correctness.

This standard religionist spew amounts to the “teach the controversy” argument. Unfortunately it’s wrong, because it makes the following assumptions, all of them wrong:

  1. Evolution is somehow scientifically equivalent to creationism (it’s not, they aren’t even close)
  2. “Intelligent design” is science and belongs in science classes (it doesn’t; — an evangelical Christian judge even ruled that “intelligent design” is a religionists’ charade)
  3. Children of Christian parents can only learn creationism in public-school science classes (it isn’t the only place)

It’s odd that Jindal would complain about “political correctness” keeping his religion out of public schools: Political correctness has nothing to do with it; rather, it’s because creationism is not science that keeps it out of science classrooms! Since the Kitzmiller decision exposed them as disingenuous proselytizers, creationists have adopted the “teach the controversy” mantra, closely related to their “academic freedom” whine.

But the fact is that the very First Amendment which keeps religion out of public schools, also happens to give these God-fearing Christian folk the right to teach their kids all the backward creationism they want … in their own homes and churches! No one is stopping them from doing so.

So why do they claim someone is? I suspect it has more than a little to do with the “Christian martyr complex” — they aren’t happy unless they feel persecuted, and they will invent persecution when there is none, in order to satisfy this compulsion. They’re all in desperate need of growing the hell up.

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The California Supreme Court recently declared that gay couples have a right to marry. As that declaration goes into effect, religionists have found ways to prevent it from actually happening. Some officials have decided to perform no weddings at all! If they marry no one, they cannot be forced to marry gays, according to the Los Angeles Times:

Kern County Clerk Ann Barnett has announced that her office will stop performing all weddings a few days before June 17, the date that same-sex couples can legally apply for marriage licenses.

Barnett’s staff processes marriage licenses for hundreds of Kern County residents each year and it will continue to do, for both straight and gay couples, beginning June 17 as required by law, she said in a written statement. But as of June 13, the staff will no longer officiate at civil ceremonies for an extra $30 fee.

But wait … there’s more to it than just this little bit of irrationality:

Officials cited financial reasons for the decision. But internal memos between a high-ranking official in Barnett’s office and a conservative Christian legal defense fund, published in the Bakersfield Californian this week, indicate that Barnett may have acted on principle rather than for financial reasons.

So we not only have an obstructionist religionist deciding to perform no weddings at all in order to keep from having to marry gays, but she is also demonstrably lying about her motives! Wow, I wonder what Jesus would think of one of his followers who lies in his cause? (Not much, I expect.)

Really, how immature … to cook up this legalistic dodge — which affects all couples, not just gays — in order to get around the law of the state. Grow up, Ms Barnett!

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