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Monday, September 25, 2006

Religion Gone Bad

I don't usually read a lot of books by Christian evangelicals, but I just happened to finish one such book by Mel White, actually, the Rev. Dr. Mel White's book Religion Gone Bad: The Hidden Dangers of the Christian Right. Now, if you generally think of Christian evangelicals as conservative fundamentalists (as I know I do), then you are in for a bit of a shock because Mel White is about as progressive and liberal as they come. He wasn't always so enlightened. He spent the majority of his life denying his homosexuality and using every Christian trick in the book to overcome it ("prayer, psychotherapy, exorcism, electric shock, marriage and family"). And he had access to the major players in the growing fundamentalist movement as he was a ghost writer for such evangelists as Billy Graham (who White actually does not consider a true Christian right fundamentalist because Graham apparently never spoke negatively about homosexuality, he just avoided the issue altogether), Pat Robertson, Jim Bakker and Jerry Falwell.

But in the early 90s, White finally accepted his homosexuality as "a gift from God" and came out in a sermon where he announced publicly for the first time "I am gay. I am proud. And God loves me without reservation." And since that time, along with his partner, he has run the GLBT activist group Soulforce ("soul force" is the term Gandhi used to describe his nonviolent liberation movement, I'll have more to say about Gandhi later), whose mission statement reads "The purpose of Soulforce is freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance." And White is at the front lines of this battle. In 2003, he and his partner moved to a four-room cottage across the street from Falwell's church in Lynchburg, Virginia in order

"to be an eyewitness on the front lines of the war Jerry and his fundamentalist Christian friends are waging not just against gay and lesbian Americans but against women's rights, against the rights of Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, agnostic, and atheist Americans, against national and internation measures that would preserve and protect the environment, against sex education that includes safe-sex information, against stem-cell research, against affirmative action, against entitlement programs even if designed to help the poor, the homeless, and the retired".

He has been arrested several times while protesting outside the offices of Falwell and Robertson and also on the White House steps during a hunger protest over the "Defense of Marriage Act". Yes sir, Mel White is a true progressive liberal who puts his money (and body) where his mouth is and he now considers people who were once his role-models and friends to be his enemies (in fact, part one of his book is titled "My Friends, The Enemy"). And he does not hold back on his distaste for the fundamentalist religious right and their war on the GLBT community. He uses Laurence Britt's 14 Characteristics of Fascism to demonstrate how the Christian right is quickly becoming a fascist movement. He uses the post-WWII study The Authoritarian Personality to demonstrate how Falwell (and others as well) appeal to people who are susceptible to authoritarianism. And he compares the language used by fundamentalists to the Nazi propaganda film The Eternal Jew to demonstrate how the Christian right is attempting to demonize the GLBT community.

As a Secular Humanist (that's the best term I have found for my philosophy on life), I have a feeling that Mel White and I would agree on 99% of the important social and political issues facing us today. In his chapter on "Reclaiming Our Progressive Political Values", his big three values are:

We value the US Constitution as the bedrock of our democracy: therefore we will resist all efforts to put the Bible in its place.

We value our religious freedom: therefore we will resist all efforts to make this a "Christian nation".

We value the separation of church and state: therefore we will resist all efforts to bring down the "wall of separation".

This is definitely one Christian who understands the importance of the first amendment and that the "wall of separation" is something that all religious people should support because it ultimately protects everyone's right to religious freedom.

But of course, the one thing we don't see eye to eye on is God, which in itself is really no big deal because the arguments in support of equal rights for the GLBT community are not religious in nature. And the first half of the book (the "enemies" list and the history of the fundamentalist movement) has very little proselytizing at all. The second half of the book however is much heavier on God's role in the GLBT movement, which I guess is to be expected from a book written by an evangelical Christian. In fact, the God-talk was so heavy at one point, I remember asking myself if I thought I was going to make it to the end of the book. White does attempt to make us non-believers feel welcome in his Soulforce movement (and I have no doubt that we would be), but the second half of his book is clearly targetted to Christians (which is not necessarily a bad thing, since Christians do have a responsibility to rid their religion of bigotry). Unfortunately, White's evangelical Christian heritage shows itself just a little too much as he plays the Christian card of moral superiority while discussing Gandhi's influence on his own moral values:

There are many reasons that Gandhi saw faith in God as necessary and not just for the person involved in a nonviolent liberation movement. Gandhi saw faith as a powerful and positive force in our daily lives. His personal faith was hammered out of blood and tears when his nation was on fire, the arsonists were Anglican Christians, and faith in any God was rapidly giving way to faith in the weapons of violence and destruction. His call to "Reclaim faith" then seems appropriate for our call to reclaim faith today.
"We have become atheists for all practical purposes," Gandhi laments, "and therefore we believe that in the long run we must rely upon physical force for our protection".
"Without faith in God," Gandhi says, "man can have faith neither in himself nor in others.... The finite cannot be understood unless we know it is rooted in the Infinite."
Without faith in God, a personal value becomes "a lifeless thing and exists only while it is a paying proposition. So are all morals," he says. "If they are to live in us they must be considered and cultivated in their relation to God. We try to become good [keep our moral values] because we want to reach and realize God."
Without faith in God, our values are "likely to break down at the critical moment."
"God is a living Force," says Gandhi, "and our life is of that force. That Force resides in us, but is not the body. He who denies the existence of that great Force, denies to himself the use of that inexhaustible Power and thus remains impotent...like a rudderless ship which tossed about here and there perishes without making any headway."
Without faith in God "we won't have the courage to die without anger, without fear and without retaliation. Such courage comes from the belief that God sits in the hearts of all and that there should be no fear in the presence of God.".

I have great respect for Gandhi and what he did with his life, but unless I'm interpreting the above quotes incorrectly, according to Gandhi (and thus Mel White) non-believers not only are not as "good" as believers but can never be as "good" as believers. It is hard not to be offended by such rhetoric.

I have no doubt that I would like Mel White if I ever had the chance to meet him and that we could possibly become great friends over time. But apparently only if we never discussed religion. I'm sure there are other books out there that discuss the threat of the Christian right just as well as this book (such as Kingdom Coming, which I am currently third in line on the request list at my local library) but without the religious bias. But I'm glad that I read this book for several reasons. Mel White is a good writer and he has some very interesting stories about certain fundamentalists (such as a hidden homosexual relationship at a young age) since he had access to these people and their personal writings and such. He is an inspirational leader in the fight for equality for the GLBT community and you can't help but route for him as he relates his life story and work toward this goal (the story of how his father overcame the advice of church elders and openly supported White in a gay pride parade is very touching). His disgust for the Christian right rivals any non-believer and at times you may even forget that he goes by Reverend. And it is refreshing to read a progressive and liberal Christian viewpoint. Let's face it, religion ain't going anywhere anytime soon, so it is comforting to know that there are progressive Christian leaders out there (since they don't seem to get as much exposure in the media as the Christian right).

But at the same time, I am also reminded of the inherent prejudice built into religion, even for a very liberal Christian. And this is one reason why I will probably never be convinced that religion has a predominantly positive effect on society. Even when religion is used for very noble purposes, it still acts to divide people based on the "truth" of its claims. And as history has shown, when you believe you have the truth, you want people to know it, whether they want to or not.
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Friday, September 22, 2006

Jerry and Me

You know, I most likely agree with Jerry Falwell on very few things, but I think he and I have finally reached some common ground. In a very recent Sunday sermon, Jerry reminded his flock that "Enemies of the Cross" abound throughout. But while ranting against "liberalism", he made a very insightful point that I couldn't agree with more:

Who are our enemies of the cross today? Well let me list but a few. Liberalism. Liberalism which says not all the Bible is inspired and inerrant. When you find someone who doesn’t believe the Bible is the infallible word of God, you’ve found an enemy of the cross. Because if you can't take God at his word, then how do we know there was a cross? How do we know there was a virgin birth? How do we know there was a glorious ressurection? Either this book is God's word, or there's no grounds, no intellectual grounds for Christianity.

Precisely! If we can find just one falsehood in "God's word", then the whole book is called into question. If the Bible is not inerrant, then how do we know which parts are true and which parts need further clarification/re-interpretation? And if this is the case, then religion basically comes down to an individual interpretation of what one believes the Bible to say. It is no longer the word of God but rather what someone thinks God intended to say (and interesting how those sentiments change over time). And in the competition for "the truth", not everyone is a winner (but it sure helps to be really charismatic or have a good marketing team). Considering all the different sects that have emerged based on their own unique biblical interpretation, it is easy to see that this is exactly what has always been and what will always be with bible-based religion (or any religion in general).

I'm not going to present a bunch of examples of contradictions and errors in "God's word" because they are easy enough to find through a quick Google search. What I find much more interesting is the response to such criticism. I'll let the good people at GotQuestions.org explain their reasoning:

So, what are we to do when someone approaches us with an alleged Bible error? (1) Prayerfully study the problem and see if there is a simple solution. 2) Do some research using some of the fine Bible commentaries, "Bible defense" books, and Biblical research websites that are available. (3) Ask the helpful servants at www.gotquestions.org or your pastor to see if they can find a solution. (4) If there is still no clear answer after steps (1), (2), and (3) are followed - trust God that His Word is truth and that there is a solution that just simply has not been realized yet (2 Timothy 2:15; 3:16-17).

Yep, even errors are proof of God's divine inspiration. Which is why Jerry can never be wrong. And neither can any other Christian for that matter.
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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Fight Fire with Fire

Want an insight into what theocracy looks like? Read this.

The author asks at the end of the story:

Moral of the story?......

Well, quite frankly I don’t know, it seems that there is no moral to the story other than morality clauses fucking suck.

Let me suggest a few morals.

Women need complete and unfettered access to all forms of birth control. It is unconscionable what this woman had to go through in order to get the morning-after pill and it is immoral for any doctor to deny her the pill for any reason (other than what better be a damn good medical reason). Granted, the pill will soon be over-the-counter, but will every pharmacy stock it? Will moralizing pharmacists try their best to throw up whatever road blocks they can in order to keep women from getting the pill? The moral here is that we need to fight every effort to block, restrict or limit womens' access to all forms of birth control. There will always be people out there, primarily religious people, many in powerful positions in this country, who will do everything thing they can to see to it that women are denied accesss. The fight will never end and thus we can't become complacent in the struggle.

Let's be honest, the overwhelming majority of these moralizing doctors and pharmacists justify their discrimination based on their religious beliefs. "But what harm does religion do? Religion is a positive influence on people." Bullshit! Religion may have made all these moralizing doctors feel good about themselves because they were "doing the Lord's work" but they made this woman a nervous wreck, feel like an "unworthy dirty whore" and possibly subjected her to (or rather, forced upon her) an unwanted pregnancy. It's time to stop giving religion a free pass. It's time to stop bending over backwards with "religious correctness" in order to be respectful to other people's religious beliefs. No more! A spade is a spade and a moralizing-woman-hating-doctor is an asshole. We can respect a person's right to believe but we don't have to respect their religious beliefs any more than we have to respect the beliefs of a white supremacist. I know we all want to try and get along, but the more we bite our tongues and allow people to use their religion as an excuse to discriminate against and control others, the more they'll take advantage of our good will.
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Monday, September 18, 2006

Fine Line

So a guy crashes through a security barrier and enters the US Capital.

"He was unstable. He apparently thought the devil or the demons were chasing him," a Capitol law enforcement official said.

On the other hand, the Catholic Church continues to believe that demons possess people and apparently even Pope John Paul II had performed exorcisms while wearing the pointy hat.

So one guy is unstable and probably needs psychiatric care while the other guy was(is) revered as a moral leader by what could be up to a billion people throughout the world?

Yes sir, it is indeed a fine line between religion and insanity.
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Saturday, September 16, 2006

Carnival of the Godless #49

Welcome to another installment of the Carnival of the Godless. Enough idle chatter. Let's get to the posts.

This post by Alonzo over at the Atheist Ethicist reminds us that the struggle to raise the next generation of "Intellectually Responsibile" adults can't begin early enough and we should not be afraid to "Talk to the kids" and plant the seeds of doubt early on. And while we are on the subject of kids, Cassandra over at The Atheist Mama offers a nice alternative to the bedtime prayers that so many parents force upon their children.

So why all the fuss about children? Is brainwashing children with religion really that harmful? Adam over at Daylight Atheism answers this question with his post "Nightime is for Dreaming. Daylight is for Action." in which he explains that faith in an afterlife can be hazardous to this life (and also that Mother Teresa is a Masochist for Jesus). And Carl over at Hot Cup of Joe offers his two cents worth on whether religion is truly "evil".

With the 5th anniversary of 9/11 having just passed by, it seems appropriate that we have at least one post on the subject, and Matt (aka "olly") over at 10,000 Reasons to Doubt the Fish has written a nice little post about his reflections on the event, and also on how the theocrats in this country have exploited it in a cynical attempt to strengthen their own powerbase and destroy the secular underpinnings of our government.

Speaking of significant dates, did you know that 8/22 was supposedly another important date of apparently apocalyptic proportions? Well, The Hippo over at Hippo Campy appears to have come out of it unscathed.

And now let's turn to the epic struggle between science and religion. Ever been accused of having "faith" in science? Are the “Dogmatic Darwinists” keeping “Intelligent Design” under wrap? Well, Stuart over at Daily Irreverence wants the faith-based community to know that "Science is not Dogmatic". Speaking of dogma, according to the senile old man in the pointy white hat, we are losing our souls to scientific rationality, and according to BigHeathenMike over at Mike's Weekly Skeptic Rant, it's about damn time!

And now to play a little Devil's advocate. Stuart, yes the same Stuart above of Daily Irreverence, wonders out loud as to whether we need to speak out against every public display of religious symbolism and if we aren't wasting valuable resources and destroying what little public sympathy we have in waging a war against "a historical artifact in a veterans memorial." And Phil over at Phil for Humanity wonders whether Christians should even be putting up crosses in the first place?

And what Godless celebration would be complete without a little "sacrificial lamb"? Can a religious society under a secular government truly succeed for a continuous period of time? This is the question that Aisha E responds to over at Eteraz. Unfortunately, while trying to maintain a seemingly tolerant stance toward us ungodly heathens, the article turns into one big Bingo party.

Is your atheist blog about as popular as a Hare Krishna at an airport? Does your blog see less action than a night out with the Virgin Mary? Good News! NonProphet over at beware of the dogma has some helpful suggestions for increasing your blog traffic.

And now for the lighter side of godlessness. Mark over at the skwib entertains us with the ongoing adventures of that precocious prehistoric caveman Thag and how he found religion at the bottom of a bottle. And the Atheist Comedian has just returned from "The Hood" and he's got some Yo Mama jokes of the religious variety to share with you.

It has been a pleasure hosting this installment of the Carnival of the Godless. Next up is Martin over at Salto Sobrius on Oct 1.
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Sunday, September 03, 2006

My Turn

OK boys and girls, I get the privilege of hosting the next installment of the Carnival of the Godless (or as I like to call it, Cirque de Soulless). This will be the 49th installment. 4 + 9 = 13. 1 + 3 = 4. According to one random numerology web site, the number 4 represents "Practicality, application, loyalty, rigidity, repression". Thus, while I will try to be practical about which posts to include, I will demand strict obedience to the rules and any deviation will be dealt with harshly.

Submission guidelines:

In addition to writing "COTG Submission" in the subject of the email, please include the following information:

  • The name of the blog where the post is from
  • The post title.
  • The post author's name or handle.
  • The post's permanent link.
  • A short description of the post.
  • A small kickback to ensure that your post is included.
You can send your submissions to cotg-submission@brentrasmussen.com or you can cut out the middle-man and send them directly to brucesreality@gmail.com (besides, I never get any email because my blog has less traffic than a Starbucks in Utah).
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