Christian

Christian leaders condemn overturning of Prop 8

As most people who follow the news likely know, California’s Proposition 8 (the ban against same-sex marriage in that state) was just overturned last week in federal court. There will of course be appeals, but this is a major step towards the legalization of same-sex marriage not only in California, but if it survives appeal, possibly at the national level.

Since Christianity is all about love, they are throwing their full support towards gay marriage, right? (Did you detect a note of sarcasm there?)

Here is a link to an article by Christianity Today (which I saw posted in a few freethought-friendly places) which provides some reactions from the Christian community. To be fair, there are some quotes that are fairly neutral or even supportive of LGBT community, but here are a few gems to give you an idea of the other side of the coin.

Majorities are unstable, and while traditional marriage has the upper hand now, it may not in 20 years. [What is going to happen, LGBT people will suddenly become a majority in the next 20 years? Now that's what I call evolution! Or will they just corrupt the rest of God-fearing people by then?]

Because gay marriage is less than God’s best for relationship, we need to equip ourselves to minister to those who will choose it and later realize it might not have been the best decision. [Will they also equip themselves to minister to those who will choose and later realize it was the best decision of their life?]

At stake in the debate is the very nature of marriage itself. Thinking biblically does not allow us to regard marriage as merely prudential or preferential (I like strawberry, you like pistachio), but as a covenantal union of one man and one woman established by God for a purpose that transcends itself. [Comparing the love and devotion of two adults committing to spend the rest of their lives together...to liking pistachios. It'd be hard to make a more ignorant or belittling comparison. Although  "my cute little strawberry" does sound like a nice pet name.]

The Bible makes clear that marriage is God’s idea rather than a social contract that we are free to renegotiate based on changing social trends. [So if we have to follow God's ideas on marriage, does this mean we're sticking with the whole you-must-marry-your-rapist thing dictated in the Bible, then? (Deuteronomy 22:28). If we mustn't follow social trends when it comes to marriage, should we also wear BC-era wedding attire?]

The gospel is deeply serious while Judge Walker’s decision is a jumbled mess of sloppy thinking [...] [That's funny; I would have said the exact opposite.]

Hopefully this ruling will lead society towards understanding of those who are not in the mainstream, instead of the continuing legacy of bigotry towards the “Other” that religions too often help perpetuate.

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This is why I blog about religion

Sometimes I wonder why I bother blogging about religion and atheism. Does it really matter if I read and talk about religions I don’t even believe in anyway? I used to believe in God, after all, so why I don’t just let bygones be bygones, leave religion alone, and post about something a little more entertaining, like funny animal videos on YouTube! It’d be a lot cheerier, and I’m sure I’d get a lot more traffic on my blog.

Then I see something like this letter to the editor, and I remember why I blog.

This letter to the editor is why I write my blog. I saw this posted on the site of fellow atheist blogger Jason Mosler. Sure, it’d be easy to laugh this letter off as just the rantings of some religious nut. But reading it a second time, it disturbed me on a number of levels.

This is a real person, Alice, writing to a real small-town newspaper in Alaska just a few years ago (January 2007). Alice honestly thinks that:

  • People who don’t believe in God should be “kicked [out] of the country“.
  • The United States is based on the principle that you “must believe” in God.
  • You can believe in God “any way you want“, but Alice only cites mainstream Christian denominations as examples of acceptable beliefs
  • Atheists practice “evil“, although it is not explained what this means
  • Atheists are responsible for the “ruin” of America and for crime being “rampant“, even “if they have never committed a crime“.

People like Alice are the reason I write this blog. Her religion has closed her mind so much that I’m sure she doesn’t even realize how hate-filled and out-of-touch with reality her letter is. For all we know, Alice is like many Christians: a kind-hearted, generous person in her day-to-day life who truly wants to do what’s right. But because her religion has taught her that people who don’t believe in her god are “evil”, all critical thought stops. She says and thinks the most horrible things because she knows she is right. Crime is up, atheists are in America, my faith says atheists are bad, so atheists are to blame and must be kicked out of society.

If Alice is like most people, she did not choose her religion growing up, but was brought up in a community that is largely if not exclusively Christian. She may never have met an open atheist in her life, but her faith has her so convinced that atheists are the cause of society’s ills that everything she sees (from currency to crime reports) serves to prove it to her. It would likely be difficult if not impossible to convince her otherwise.

We should feel sorry for Alice, for her head being filled with such hateful nonsense based on a book of fairy tales written thousands of years ago. But at the same time, I think we should also have a healthy dose of fear. We live in a society where it is still perfectly acceptable in many circles to openly hate and wish harm on people who don’t believe in God. And that is scary. There are unfortunately still people who think that Jews or Blacks, for example, should be kicked out of the country, but would a letter to the editor blaming Jews for America’s problems saying they should all be sent to Israel be published in a newspaper? Thankfully, there is very little chance of that happening. It’s no longer acceptable to openly say such things in society about most minority groups. But for some reason, it’s still okay to say just about anything you want about atheists, no matter how bigoted or unsupported it is. Many readers I’m sure said or thought “Amen” upon reading Alice’s letter.

Anti-atheist sentiment is what is “rampant” in our country these days. As long as there are people who believe that non-believers are evil and don’t deserve to be citizens, then my blog has a purpose. People need to know that religion is brainwashing good people into believing nonsense and spreading hate. There are people who strongly believe that atheists don’t deserve the same rights as everyone else, some of whom are actively trying to push their bigoted beliefs onto the country as a whole.

If even one believer sees this post and thinks about their belief, or one non-believer realizes how important it is to help change minds about atheists, then writing this blog is definitely worth it.

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The Onion admits Christian bias

Here is the cover of the most recent print edition of The Onion. I scanned and uploaded it since it doesn’t appear to be in the online version. I think it pretty much sums up the situation for all major media outlets in the US (but ironically enough, not The Onion itself since they often publish irreligious stories).

UPDATE: I figured it said Merry Christmas, but it looks like I was wrong. According to a discussion on Reddit, the Arabic text here means “Happy Eid”, but there’s a mistake in the Arabic apparently, either intentionally or not. Thanks to Jason Mosler for submitting the post to Reddit.

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More festive tunes — 4 songs by Weird Al

For my second installment of holiday songs, I’ve decided to feature not one, not two, but count ‘em — FOUR “Weird Al” Yankovic songs. As far as I know, Weird Al has never come out as being irreligious or a freethinker, and he may be Christian (in fact, a question from 1995 in the Ask Al archive from his site includes only a very brief answer to the question of whether he “would consider himself a Christian”. His response to the questioner is simply “Yes”). But nothing is sacred in Weird Al’s universe of songwriting, and I’m including four examples of this.

* “Christmas at Ground Zero” is one of my favorite Christmas songs because it definitely desacrilizes the Christmas season and has an anti-war message. It describes a “jolly” Christmas during a nuclear holocaust and includes vintage 50s and 60s video clips from the good old days when they used to scare kids by practicing for nuclear fallout by ducking and covering, as if that would really help if your city is hit by a nuke. (The song was written long before 9-11 occurred, in case you’re curious, so no relation to that Ground Zero). EDIT: click here to view in a new window if clicking on the embed doesn’t work.

* “The Night Santa Went Crazy” is a (slightly) less macabre and funnier take on the Christmas holiday. As the title might suggest, a “disgruntled” Saint Nick finally snaps and goes postal in the North Pole. The video I’ve embedded below is a claymation-type take on the song that someone apparently did for their thesis. An “extra gory” alternate live version of the song can be seen here. With his two Christmas songs being so violent and laughingly depressing, you get the impression that it must not have been his favorite holiday growing up. (Rumor has it, he got notebook paper as a present one Christmas!)

* “Weasel Stomping Day” is perhaps the least obvious choice to include here, but it actually may come the close to criticizing religion of the bunch. As you might guess, people go around stomping weasels in the song, but if you listen more closely to the lyrics, you’ll hear several subtle freethought-like messages (“Bash their weasely skulls right in / It’s tradition, that makes it okay”), and a few nods to Christmas in the video that suggest that he had religious holidays on his mind

* “Amish Paradise” is one of Weird Al’s best-known songs. It’s a parody of Ganga’s Paradise by Coolio (the other three are Weird Al originals). The song isn’t specifically about a holiday, so I’m bending the definition of “festive” tunes here, but it is the only one that openly pokes fun at religious extremism, that of the “crazy Mennonites” (isn’t that redundant?) the Amish are. It’s also the only video I know of that features both Florence Henderson (the mom from the Brady Bunch) and a depiction of hell!

I wonder what Weird Al, who pokes fun at the Amish for “shunning fancy things like electricity”, would think of the recent stories of extremist orthodox Jews attacking a journalist using an electronic device on the Sabbath, or complaining about electric lights turning on at their apartments on the Sabbath.

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Churches denounce children as ‘witches’; 1000s of kids maimed and killed

Image: Accused child witches in Nigeria

“Accused child witches Jane, left, and Mary, right [...] Jane’s mother tried to saw off the top of her skull after a pastor denounced her and Mary.” Source : AP, MSNBC

With Halloween just around the corner, many kids in the US will soon be joyfully donning witch costumes and visiting haunted houses at their local churches. In many parts of Africa, however, the subject of witches is no laughing matter at church.

MSNBC reports that, according to an investigation by the Associated Press, an increasing number of children are being maimed or killed because churches are accusing them of witchcraft. According to MSNBC,

“Pastors were involved in half of 200 cases of “witch children” reviewed by the AP, and 13 churches were named in the case files.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t limited to a couple hundred cases. Over the last ten years, in just two states in Nigeria,

“around 15,000 children have been accused [of witchcraft] and around 1,000 have been murdered. In the past month alone, three Nigerian children accused of witchcraft were killed and another three were set on fire.”

In many cases, the churches involved are affiliated with churches in the US, who defend themselves by saying that they are unaware of what’s going on. And more local churches are reportedly turning to the practicing of finding witches because it is profitable to them. According to a member of the Children’s Rights and Rehabilitation Network,

“Even churches who didn’t use to ‘find’ child witches are being forced into it by the competition. They are seen as spiritually powerful because they can detect witchcraft and the parents may even pay them money for an exorcism.”

So if anything, the situation seems to have worsened since I last posted about a couple of months ago. It’s good that this crisis is starting to get into the public light a little more, but that isn’t enough since at least some of these people believe they are doing what God wants them to. Churches in the US, whether directly linked to the congregations that are conducting these literal witch hunts, or just sending missionaries over to Africa, need to spread the message that witch burning and mutilation is not okay.

My hunch is that some church leaders may be shying away from a public campaign against these horrible attacks on children because the Bible actually does say that witches shouldn’t be allowed to live. (Unfortunately for these children, it doesn’t say how to tell when someone is or isn’t a witch.) I would think it’s hard for Christians to tell people to disregard something that is right there in the Bible, without worrying about throwing the whole thing into question. But with thousands of children suffering and dying, I don’t know how they can remain silent.

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Memphis council ready to go to court over prayers

Official city emblem on the Memphis City Council website. The Council gives cufflinks with this official emblem to Chaplains of the Day.

The Memphis City Council, under fire for allowing prayers “in Jesus’ name” and giving gifts to preachers at its public meetings, would be willing to take the matter to court if challenged, according to an article in Memphis’ top-selling daily newspaper, The Commercial Appeal .

The Commercial Appeal article fills in some of the details of the situation, including the fact that these invocations have been occurring for “almost 18 years” and that the goody bags given to each officially- appointed Chaplain of the Day includes “city emblem cufflinks and necklace pendants for spiritual leaders”.

On the one side is the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), whose co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said “They’re not separating their personal faith with their governmental duty. It’s really crossing the line.”

On the other side is Memphis City Council chairman Harold Collins, who defended the practice, saying “It does not alienate people who are not of faith [...] They don’t have to participate in the prayer.” He states that the reason invited chaplains are Christians is because council members are Christian. If FFRF challenges the practice and threatens to sue them, Collins said “We’d have to see them in court.”

The Pro Tem Mayor, Myron Lowery, who is also a former council chairman, has decided not to step into the fray except to say that “I am not going to stop the council from doing what it’s been doing for years and to which I feel is to their benefit.”

I believe the case is even more clear-cut than I originally thought. In addition to the fact that most of the prayers are clearly Christian in nature, and the councilman admits that they invite mostly Christians, it also appears the Council gives these Chaplains cufflinks with the city’s emblem on them. This certainly could be interpreted as city approval of these chaplains, unless they give the cufflinks to anyone who comes by. There are also the “necklace pendants”. I wonder what these “necklace pendants” look like. A cross is a type of pendant, but no mention is made of this in the article.

In any case, it sounds like these gifts are specially given to the chaplains. The Council is using city money to reward preachers from one religion, Christianity. If that isn’t government endorsement of religion, what is?

In general, FFRF diligently pursues cities who make illegal sectarian prayers at town meetings. As I mentioned earlier , such official endorsement of religion has been found to unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court. The initial reaction of the council chairman does not sound like they are willing to find a compromise or re-evaluate the council’s practice in light of the allegations. If they’re unwilling to even attempt to fall into constitutional guidelines, it looks like they’re headed for a lawsuit.

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Memphis does work “in Jesus’ name”, in violation of Constitution


Image Source: Tennessee Department of Tourism Development

Memphis, TN is the latest city to come under scrutiny for invocations “in Jesus’ name” at City Council sessions. The Memphis City Council joins a growing list of institutions which the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) has sent complaints to due to their unconstitutional endorsement of religion during official government business.

It is fairly common practice for city councils in the United States to open their sessions with an “invocation”. The Supreme Court has held that such invocations must non-denominational in nature. In other words, a government institution is not supposed to pray to Jesus or Mohammad, or favor one congregation or another, since this would appear to be supporting one religion over another and promoting belief over unbelief.

In practice, invocations at government meetings all too often turn into openly Christian prayers. Such practices clearly go against the Establishment Clause of the Constitution (which Thomas Jefferson described as “a wall of separation between Church and State”). As a resident of the Mid-South, I am sad to say that Memphis is unfortunately no exception.

Here are some examples of objectionable quotes and occurrences at Memphis City Council meetings this year which clearly seem to show the city choosing sides in religion. From FFRF’s News Release and letter of complaint ,

  • The Memphis City Council, at each of its general meetings, names an official “Chaplain of the Day”, giving them a certificate and a “goody bag” of gifts that includes cuff links.
  • Repeated references to praying “Jesus’ name” during and at the end of invocations, clearly showing a preference for Christianity.
  • A call by one Chaplain of the Day on June 2nd saying that “These legislative leaders you have allowed to sit at the table of decision now acknowledge the inability within themselves to fix these ills of society and they now recognize and depend on your sufficiency,” followed later by the Lord’s Prayer.
  • A quote from Psalms saying that “The Lord knows the ways of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish,” ending the invocation by saying “in the name of Jesus Christ we pray”.

These examples, among many others like them, clearly show that the Memphis City Council is not only preferring religion over non-religion, but Christianity over other faiths. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that invocational prayers at government meetings cannot be “exploited to proselytize or advance any one, or to disparage any other, faith, or belief” (Marsh v. Chambers , as quoted by FFRF). Under this ruling, the invocations cited by FFRF clearly seem to violate the Constitution.

I also have looked into this somewhat (audio archives of all Memphis City Council meetings can be found at http://memphis.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=2 ), and it’s clear that city council members are not only aware of these unconstitutional appeals to Christianity made by the Chaplains of the Day (who the City Council officially names), but council members sometimes even praise the Chaplains after making such statements.

The message is clear: as far as the council is concerned, Memphis is a Christian city. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that Memphis, or any other city, should not be pushing anyone’s religion on city time and on the city’s dime. Just as churchgoers would not want council members to go into churches to make sermons about city ordinances, why should civic-minded Jews, Buddhists, or atheists be subjected to Christian dogma at city council meetings?

Memphis City Council joins the list of other government bodies (The Wisconsin Assembly and the city councils of Toledo, OH and Lodi, CA , among others) caught mixing religion with official business. It will be interesting to see what Memphis’ response to these clear violations will be. I’ll be sure to post any updates to this story as I find out about them.

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All good cars don’t go to heaven

http://z.about.com/d/webclipart/1/0/N/h/1/cloud5.jpg - 18.8 K Clip art by Bobby Peachey .

It’s been an incredibly busy two weeks due to work and other issues. In particular, I’ve been dealing with one heart-wrenching personal issue… I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that cars, just like humans, do not live eternally.

Our decade-old car recently drove its last mile. He was a good car, chugging along until the very end. He was a reliable car overall, but he did have his little quirks we had come to love: the increasingly loud purr/growl his engine made; his overhead light that would only intermittently help us find things in the dark; his air conditioning that only had two working settings: full-blast and off. He sputtered his last about a week ago, in a puff of white smoke as he pulled into the driveway.

Perhaps because of being raised a Christian, I briefly considered the fact that our car might be in a better place right now. He could be doing a victory lap in that big racetrack in the sky, with a pit crew to attend to his every need.

But are there free oil changes and tuneups forever in the great beyond for our dearly-departed cars? Although there is no way to prove it, and I doubt we’ll ever know for sure whether or not there is a car heaven, I have a sneaking suspicion that this isn’t the case.

I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no need for car heaven. Our car gave his all here on Earth and had a long and full experience, traveling over 120,000 miles of this great land we call America. Some of his parts will be used to keep other cars going. (Our car never signed a donor card, but we know he wouldn’t want it any other way.) And he will give way to a new generation of cars that inspire hope, evolving to become more and more fuel efficient as the years go by.

What matters is that he made a difference in our lives while he was still running. There’s no need for a car heaven. And there’s no need for us to mourn his death. And no time, either—we need to find a new car, and fast!

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Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) comes out as an atheist

It is heartening news for 'nerds' everywhere. Daniel Radcliffe, star of Harry Potter, has disclosed that he endured years of bullying by classmates who considered him 'uncool' - but is now having the last laugh. Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe Photo: Alan Clarke courtesy of Esquire

I’m not a huge Harry Potter fan, but I know several people who are. This news may be shocking to many fans, but according to the UK newspaper The Telegraph , actor Daniel Radcliffe has admitted in an interview that he’s an atheist. I saw this on American Freethought and it doesn’t appear to have hit the main headlines in the US as of writing.

In an interview with Esquire magazine, Radcliffe risked the US box office prospects of the new Harry Potter film by declaring himself to be an atheist. [...]

Radcliffe has been reticent on the subject of religion in the past, but in an interview to promote the latest instalment in the film franchise, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, released on July 15, he said: "I’m an atheist, but I’m very relaxed about it. I don’t preach my atheism, but I have a huge amount of respect for people like Richard Dawkins who do. Anything he does on television, I will watch."

He joked: "There we go, Dan, that’s half of America that’s not going to see the next Harry Potter film on the back of that comment."

There is no way that a comment like this from the actor who plays Harry Potter, a book and film series which has been strongly criticized by some on the Religious Right (for witchcraft, of course), will not have some effect on ticket sales right before the latest installment of the series is about to hit theatres! Not to mention future DVD and book sales in the US. It’s admirable that he is being open about his atheism, but I’m sure the studios and publishers must be furious and/or scared out of their seats right now.

Maybe his announcing he’s an atheist will help some Harry Potter fans consider religion in a light they may not have already. Especially since studies have shown that the younger generation is the least likely to find religion to be important and that the trend in the US is away from organized religion (the only group to gain in the recent ARIS survey was non-religious, who are now at 15% of the US), having a very-well known celebrity like Daniel Radcliffe openly declaring he’s an atheist could really open up some minds.

I think the more celebrities and scientists who "come out" as atheists, the more it will be an acceptable viewpoint, and the more people will examine their own beliefs. A debate of ideas is a good thing. Assuming the news does hit the radar in the US, I just hope that any protests by Christians or other believers are peaceful.

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Fourth of July — Celebrate true freedom

When I was out and about recently, I saw this church marquee.

As with many church marquees, I assume it’s meant to be a clever reference to both God and a topical issue, in this case Independence Day / The 4th of July in the US and being Jesus freeing us from sin, or something similar I would guess.

But is being a Christian really about celebrating freedom? If you actually read the Bible, it talks a lot about slavery, going as far as to say that we should serve God as a slave!

Ephesians 6:6Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. (Scripture quotation taken from the New American Standard Bible, NASB . )

This is the New Testament we’re talking about here, not the endless rules about what you can and can’t due to slaves in the Old Testament. We are to be "slaves of Christ ", according to the Bible.

The King James Version would have you believe it’s "servant", but if you check nearly all more modern versions, you will see "slave" as the translation. It seems clear to me from this and other contexts that it means "slave." You’re not just supposed to serve God, you’re are a slave unto the Lord. You must serve him! "Down on your knees! ", as proclaims the song "O Holy Night."

Can one find "true freedom" in being a slave?? Slavery is freedom apparently, according to this church; sounds Orwellian to me.

To me, freedom means making up your own mind about what you believe or don’t believe, what religion if any you will choose, who you love or don’t love, who you marry or don’t marry (and whether or not you can get divorced if the need arises), without the threat of eternal punishment looming over you.

Some more liberal Christians would argue that God is love and grants us all these things because he loves us; and some may say that hell doesn’t even exist, or is only for truly evil people (even some non-believers and pets can come along). But that’s the thing: the United States doesn’t have freedom of religion (and from it ) because some god gave it to us.

We, just like many other nations around the world, created our own government. We are only truly free when we take our lives into our own hands and decide for ourselves what our destiny will be. For me, that means breaking away from the chains of religious dogma and being a freethinker.

On the 4th of July I will celebrate true freedom: the freedom to not be a slave to any god or government, the freedom to think and say what I believe. Now that’s something worth celebrating this 4th of July.

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