Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day: What the U.S. Supreme Court Says About Not Standing for the National Anthem

colin kaepernick

But we know there’s always going to be a trickle-down effect [from his tweets about NFL players refusing to stand for the National Anthem] with Trump – and indeed, now students are paying the price. Within the last two weeks, a high school football coach in Tennessee told his players they have to stand for the national anthem, a Louisiana principal threatened to remove student athletes from their teams if they didn’t stand during the national anthem and the superintendent of the entire parish, who supervises almost three dozen schools, then said he supported this policy and suggested it would apply to all of his schools.

Before more students’ rights are threatened, this needs to stop. Not only does it go against basic American principles to threaten students about speaking up – it’s also blatantly unconstitutional for a public school to do this. The Supreme Court made this clear in 1943 when it decided the landmark case of West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. In that case, school children who were Jehovah’s Witnesses refused to salute the flag because it was against their religion to do so, and as a result they were expelled or threatened with expulsion.

The Supreme Court very forcefully declared that punishing students for not participating in the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional. The decision had nothing to do with the students’ religion and everything to do with their constitutional right to freedom of speech. As the Court wrote, in language that has become one of the most important principles of modern free speech law:

“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.”

Whether for students in homeroom being forced to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, or student athletes being forced to stand for the national anthem, the principle remains the same: Public schools cannot force them to participate. As is clear at the end of the above quote, there are no exceptions. (Private schools are different, as the Constitution doesn’t apply to them.)

Other parts of the opinion are worth noting as well. The Court did not ignore the fact that the pledge incites deep emotions, especially during wartime (when the case was decided). To the justices, that just meant that the students’ free speech rights mattered even more: “Freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.”

The Court also explained that true patriots welcome dissent and protest, even when it touches the flag. To the Court, true patriots recognize that the U.S. is strong enough to appeal to people on its own, without mandates from above: “To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous, instead of a compulsory routine, is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds.”

Often in the law, especially constitutional law, rules are unclear and there is a lot of wiggle room. That’s what makes my day job teaching these issues interesting. But here, the answer is stunningly simple. Public schools cannot force students to participate in the flag salute or national anthem. Schools doing so in the wake of the current national conversation about NFL players are inviting an expensive lawsuit, a lawsuit they will lose.

— David S. Cohen, Rolling Stone, What the Supreme Court Says About Sitting Out the National Anthem, October 6, 2017

Quote of the Day: There Are No Rules of the Universe That Say “People Can’t Rise From the Dead”

creationism vs science

Fundamentalist Christian:

Everything from the creation to the resurrection became possible once the sciences took on their true form and place, as mere human experience writ large.…Once the people built a tower to the sky; it did little for their spiritual well being. So my reading of the Bible is painfully literalistic. When I see it read that Jesus Christ has physically risen from the dead, I take it as teaching what it is saying. I don’t have a poetry that can carry that event without some real blood and asphyxiation. Without a real death and resurrection I could not be a Christian, the way some cannot be a Christian with it. I don’t, contrary to many, have any good reasons to think that something like that cannot happen, even if I have good reason to understand that it does not usually happen.

There are no rules of the universe that say, “people can’t rise from the dead.” Those kinds of rules are limitations drawn from the narrow breadth of human experience and common habit. There is no evidence for them.

Gary:

If we follow this line of thinking, no claim, regardless of how fantastical, should be dismissed by modern, educated people if the claim comes from someone’s holy book. Anything is possible, so nothing can be ruled out. If the literal interpretation of a passage in the Christian Bible says that the universe was created in six days, it was created in six literal days, regardless of what science says on that issue.

Science states that the earth revolves around the sun, but that isn’t what Joshua seemed to believe in the Old Testament. If we follow our Christian’s thinking above, it is perfectly rational to believe that the sun DOES revolve around the earth; the apparent evidence suggesting heliocentricity is simply a mirage, created by God to humble and confuse the wise. So maybe we should force NASA and other governmental space and science agencies to abandon heliocentricity based on the literal reading of this biblical text.

How can a modern society function with such a mindset? Imagine if all US government agencies were forced to yield to those who hold a literal interpretation of every statement in the Old and New Testaments as historical fact. What a disaster! Life would be chaos! We would revert to a primitive people, afraid of our shadows for fear of conniving devils and demons.

No one can claim that science, and the scientific method used by science, is the one and only source of truth. But we can claim that the scientific method, to date, has proven to be the most reliable method of discovering how our universe operates; far better than the literal interpretation of the Bible or any other ancient holy book.

As for me and my house, we will stick with science!

— Gary, Escaping Christian Fundamentalism, Should Christians Believe Biblical Claims Which Contradict Scientific Evidence?, October 2, 2017

 

Quote of the Day: It’s Time to Politicize the Terror Attack in Las Vegas by Tim Dickenson

gun violence

Cartoon by Clay Jones

On Sunday night, a domestic terrorist, using weapons suited for battle, took aim from the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas hotel and rained bullets down on a country music festival – killing at least 58 people, wounding more than 500 others and sending a crowd of 22,000 fleeing in panic.

The headlines scream “worst gun massacre in modern history” – and indeed, the massacre surpasses the death toll at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando just last year.

But Las Vegas was also the third deadliest modern terror attack on American soil, trailing only 9/11 and the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.

America needs to confront this terrorism – and the forces that enable it.

Some definitions of terrorism hold that the violence must be perpetrated toward a political end. We do not yet know the motive behind the targeting of defenseless civilians at a music festival. The alleged gunman, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, is dead, and the logic of his attack may have died with him. But if a man who brings more than a dozen weapons into a hotel room for the express purpose of exterminating innocent civilians – and prompting tens of thousands of others to flee for their lives – does not qualify not a “terrorist,” then the word has lost any functional meaning.

Mark Kelly – the retired Navy captain and astronaut and husband of former Rep. Gabby Giffords – underscored this idea on Monday. “This is the worst-case scenario. It’s haunted our dreams, that we would wake up to the news of a massacre like this: weapons of war, in the hands of a determined killer, with a tactical advantage. This was an ambush if there ever was one,” he said. “This was domestic terrorism.”

The Las Vegas massacre also plainly qualifies as an “act of terrorism” as defined by Nevada law – encompassing “any act that involves the use … [of] violence which is intended to: Cause great bodily harm or death to the general population.”

The category error – labeling terrorism as “gun violence” – has dire consequences. America is at war with terrorism. We have made peace with gun violence.

In this country, we move heaven and earth to root out terrorism. We’ve launched trillion-dollar wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Our Congress passed the the USA Patriot Act, and we have curtailed our Fourth Amendment rights – trading freedom for FISA warrants and other encroachments of a surveillance state. We endure the indignities of airport scanners and pat-downs, and perform the security ritual of removing our shoes and belts at TSA checkpoints.

But when terrorists attack with high-capacity rifles, our moral clarity – and our national will to action – falters. Part of this category error is driven by racism. We call white shooters “lone wolves” and not “terrorists.” Regardless, we are enduring terrorist attacks on our own soil. They are hitting soft targets: schools, nightclubs and now music festivals.

Despite the carnage, we have done nothing at the federal level to restrict access to war-bred assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. This is a political problem, not a Second Amendment question. Despite what the NRA claims, U.S. courts have repeatedly held that these weapons are not constitutionally protected.

….

America’s national inaction comes in the face of our enemies laughing at us. Al Qaeda and other Islamist groups have openly called on would-be jihadists to build an arsenal by exploiting America’s lax gun laws, as I detailed after the Orlando attack:

“A terrorist manual discovered in Afghanistan in the early 2000s titled ‘How can I train myself for Jihad’ encourages would-be terrorists to obtain military-grade weapons in America: In ‘some states of USA,’ it reads, ‘it is perfectly legal for members of the public to own certain types of firearms. If you live in such a country, obtain an assault rifle legally….’

“A 2011 Al Qaeda recruitment video included similar advice: ‘America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with [an] assault rifle, without a background check, and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?'”

America’s soft underbelly is vulnerable to terrorist attack because of the political power of the National Rifle Association. Full stop.

And we have never had a president more indebted to the NRA than Donald Trump. Trump took office thanks to more than $30 million in NRA spending on his behalf. Appearing at the gun lobby’s national convention earlier this year, Trump thanked the NRA and promised to advance its agenda. “You came through for me, and I am going to come through for you,” he said.

On Monday, President Trump piously quoted the Bible and condemned an “act of pure evil.” But he made no promise of federal action or intention to prevent future bloodshed. The president only directed that “our great flag” be flown at half mast. In the War on Terror – as prosecuted at home, against those who would commit atrocities with guns – the president might as well be waving a white flag of surrender.

— Tim Dickenson, Rolling Stone Magazine, It’s Time to Politicize the Terror Attack in Las Vegas, October 2, 2017

Quote of the Day: The Danger of Constitutional Absolutism by Sam Grover and Andrew L. Seidel

gun control

Cartoon by David Granlund

All of us at the Freedom From Religion Foundation fall somewhere between being fearful and constantly mindful that a disgruntled maniac with an assault weapon could come into our office building and murder us. In our line of work we regularly come up against angry religious extremists who wish death upon us and all others who advocate for the constitutional separation of religion and government. As the recent lone gunman in Las Vegas—who singlehandedly murdered more than 50 people and injured hundreds more—has reminded us, in the United States this type of mass shooting is far more common than it needs to be.

Believe it or not, as a constitutional issue this debate has a lot in common with the attempts to redefine religious freedom.

Data that predates the shootings in Orlando and Las Vegas shows that the United States is home to more mass shooting events than any other country. With only 5 percent of the world’s population, we were home to 31 percent of all mass shootings between 1966 and 2012. And the rate of mass shootings in our country has tripled since 2011, even as the overall rate of gun violence has declined.

There is compelling evidence suggesting that common-sense gun control laws would go a long way toward preventing mass shooting events in the United States. They worked in Australia, which passed a law to remove semi-automatic weapons from civilian possession in 1996, after 35 people died in a mass shooting in Tasmania. In the 18 years before the gun law reforms, there were 13 mass shootings in Australia. In the 11 years after? None. Australia has also enjoyed an accelerated decline in firearm homicides over that same period.

While one could quibble about how best to interpret the complex data coming out of Australia—and gun lobbyists do—the more fundamental question is: “Why not try this in the United States?” Why won’t Congress take steps to ban the sale of assault-style weapons—a step that could dramatically reduce the number of mass shootings? What are the “cons?” Why, instead, do politicians limit themselves to tweeting out their “thoughts and prayers” while taking no action?

The answer to these questions lies in how the “gun rights” lobby has pushed a particular view of the Second Amendment. That transformation is the reason FFRF is talking about this, the reason it’s relevant to state-church separation. “Religious freedom” advocates are currently trying to do to the First Amendment what the gun lobby did to the Second.

In 1977, the National Rifle Association experienced the “Revolt in Cincinnati,” where extreme gun rights advocates took over the NRA and converted it from an organization that primarily advocated for firearm safety education, marksmanship training and recreational shooting into a lobbying powerhouse focused nearly exclusively on Second Amendment advocacy. One excellent summary of this transformation includes this note: “The NRA’s new leadership was dramatic, dogmatic and overtly ideological. For the first time, the organization formally embraced the idea that the sacred Second Amendment was at the heart of its concerns.” Sound familiar?

Since the Revolt in Cincinnati, the gun rights lobby has successfully pushed an absolute right to gun ownership in courts and legislatures, culminating in the 2008 Supreme Court decision District of Columbia v. Heller, which established for the first time a dramatic reimagining of the Second Amendment as creating an individual right to own a gun. This dramatic reimagining is exactly what groups like Liberty Institute are trying to do with the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause. They are trying to turn free exercise into an absolute right that must be protected even when it infringes on the rights of others.

To hear those seeking to redefine religious freedom tell it, any action motivated by religion is permissible, no matter what its impact. If they deny an LGBTQ citizen a cake because of sexual orientation, that’s their god-given right. Logically, that means they could deny atheists, Jews or even discriminate on the basis of race, though they would be unlikely to say so out loud.

People can believe whatever they like. They are free to believe the voices they’re hearing are God, that thetans and evil spirits make us sad, or that the Earth is only a few thousand years old. But the right to act on those beliefs is by no means absolute. This is best illustrated with the example that the Supreme Court used more than 130 years ago: human sacrifice.

Hearing a command for human sacrifice is fairly common in the bible and the story of Abraham almost sacrificing his son Isaac is often held up as a measuring stick for how deep one’s faith should be. But people who, like Abraham, hear God ordering them to kill their children do not have a right to do so. Once someone is committing murder, religious freedom is irrelevant.

Somewhere on the spectrum of religiously motivated action, civil law can step in. That line should be drawn where the rights of others begin. As Thomas Jefferson put it, “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” But if religion mandates picking pockets and breaking legs, it comes under the purview of our secular law. And no belief, no matter how fervent, should change that.

Second Amendment rights are not absolute: You can’t bring your gun on a plane or into a school, felons can’t own them, and some states regulate concealed carry or unlicensed gun sales. (Incidentally, the states that regulate guns more strictly have lower incidents of gun-related homicides.) The reason common-sense, data-driven gun laws cannot make it through Congress is because the idea that Second Amendment rights are absolute has been deliberately foisted on American legislatures and courts.

“Religious freedom” advocates are working to achieve the same sleight of hand with the First Amendment and their claimed right to act on their religious beliefs. It began with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, made a huge gain with the Hobby Lobby case, and is set to be decided by the Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop very soon.

The absolutist view of the Second Amendment is killing Americans. To adopt that same absolutist view for the Free Exercise Clause “would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and, in effect, to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself. Government could exist only in name under such circumstances,” as the Supreme Court wrote in 1879.

There is no constitutional right to act out one’s religious beliefs in a manner that infringes on others’ rights, including the right to equal protection under the law. Discrimination in the name of religion is still discrimination. We cannot accept an absolutist interpretation of the Constitution. Instead, we must look at how the First and Second Amendments are being used—and abused—to amass power and to achieve results that range from nonsensical to lethal. (And yes, an absolutist view of the Free Exercise of religion will lead to lethal consequences too).

The political nonresponse to mass shootings in this country has become a tragic pattern, ripe for parody. We cannot continue to accept inaction based on a vague appeal to an absolute constitutional right. At the Freedom From Religion Foundation, we fight every day against political overreach by “religious freedom” advocates, who cloak their discrimination in constitutional language. We must reject their attempts to take a page from the NRA playbook by foisting an absolutist reimagining of the Free Exercise Clause onto the legal landscape. The right to act out one’s religious beliefs must end where the rights of others begins.

— Sam Grover and Andrew L. Seidel, Constitutional Attorneys, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Gun Control and Religious Freedom: How Thinking in Constitutional Absolutes is Killing People

Quote of the Day: Becoming an Emotional Ninja by Mark Manson

ninja turtles

The first step in achieving greater emotional diversity: simple self-awareness. Noticing and accepting what you feel when you feel it.

This sounds so simple as to be stupid. But what you’ll likely find is that if you’ve denied a certain emotion in yourself for long enough, you’ll actually stop realizing when you’re feeling it.

I’ve talked before about identifying and unfusing from your emotions as one way to become more self-aware and to understand your emotions better. This is the next step. Learning to identify the emotion and then separating your decision-making from the emotion.

It’s the difference between wanting to punch that fucker in the face, and actually doing it. Doing it is unacceptable. Feeling like you want to is a natural human reaction (sometimes).

Once you unfuse your emotions from your decisions, it often causes you to experience greater depth and complexity in your emotions. For example, you might feel depressed at some point, but if you unfuse from your depression and examine it more closely, you might find that you’re also angry about the thing that’s making you depressed. Now we’re getting somewhere.

Instead of just being a depressed schlub on the couch and resigning to the fact that life is meaningless—and oh, what’s the point anyway?—that anger can motivate you to do something about your situation, to not withdraw from life but rather to engage with it.

This is what being an emotionally well-adjusted person is all about. Not being happy or having some bubbling feeling of contentment all the time. It’s about recognizing the layers of feeling going on inside you and utilizing them in ways that are helpful. Anger can lead to action. Sadness can lead to acceptance. Guilt can lead to change. Excitement can lead to motivation.

Life is not about controlling our emotions. That’s impossible. Emotions come and they go whether we want them to or not.

Life is about channeling emotions. And each emotion is almost its own skill. Like learning to fight with nunchucks and sweet ass bo staffs and samurai swords are different skill sets within the realm of fighting, channeling each of our emotions for productive action is its own skill to be practiced and mastered through the experience of life.

And once you master them all, you become an emotional ninja, able to adapt and silently slice through any adversity life throws at you. And then maybe you skateboard through the sewers and eat a lot of pizza too.

You thought the Ninja Turtles were just a kid’s show? Come on, man. There’s a deeper lesson there. They represent the mastery of each class of life’s emotions — Raphael is anger, Donatello is curiosity, Leonardo is insecurity, Michaelangelo is pizza.

Master them all and master yourself (hence, “Master Splinter.”) Dude, where are you going? I’m serious here. Don’t hit the “back” button just yet. I’m just getting started. The pizza is a metaphor for the multilayered consumption of our own existential meaning and existence, and each emotion (read: Ninja Turtle) consumes it differently.

Fine, I’m done. Cowabunga, dude. And namaste, fuckface.

— Mark Manson, Mark Manson: Author. Thinker. Life Enthusiast, Happiness is not Enough, September 14, 2017

I heartily recommend Mark Manson’s book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life.

Quote of the Day: Usefulness by Robert G. Ingersoll

robert g ingersollLet us be honest. Let us preserve the veracity of our souls. Let education commence in the cradle—in the lap of the loving mother. This is the first school. The teacher, the mother, should be absolutely honest.

The nursery should not be an asylum for lies.

Parents should be modest enough to be truthful, honest enough to admit their ignorance. Nothing should be taught as true that cannot be demonstrated.

Every child should be taught to doubt, to inquire, to demand reasons. Every soul should defend itself—should be on its guard against falsehood, deceit, and mistake, and should beware of all kinds of confidence men, including those in the pulpit.

Children should be taught to express their doubts—to demand reasons. The object of education should be to develop the brain, to quicken the senses. Every school should be a mental gymnasium. The child should be equipped for the battle of life.

Credulity, implicit obedience, are the virtues of slaves and the enslavers of the free. All should be taught that there is nothing too sacred to be investigated—too holy to be understood.

Each mind has the right to lift all curtains, withdraw all veils, scale all walls, explore all recesses, all heights, all depths for itself, in spite of church or priest, or creed or book.

The great volume of Nature should be open to all. None but the intelligent and honest can really read this book. Prejudice clouds and darkens every page. Hypocrisy reads and misquotes, and credulity accepts the quotation. Superstition cannot read a line or spell the shortest word. And yet this volume holds all knowledge, all truth, and is the only source of thought. Mental liberty means the right of all to read this book. Here the Pope and Peasant are equal. Each must read for himself—and each ought honestly and fearlessly to give to his fellow-men what he learns.

There is no authority in churches or priests—no authority in numbers or majorities. The only authority is Nature—the facts we know. Facts are the masters, the enemies of the ignorant, the servants and friends of the intelligent.

Ignorance is the mother of mystery and misery, of superstition and sorrow, of waste and want.

Intelligence is the only light. It enables us to keep the highway, to avoid the obstructions, and to take advantage of the forces of nature. It is the only lever capable of raising mankind. To develop the brain is to civilize the world. Intelligence reaves the heavens of winged and frightful monsters—drives ghosts and leering fiends from the darkness, and floods with light the dungeons of fear.

All should be taught that there is no evidence of the existence of the supernatural—that the man who bows before an idol of wood or stone is just as foolish as the one who prays to an imagined God,—that all worship has for its foundation the same mistake—the same ignorance, the same fear—that it is just as foolish to believe in a personal god as in a personal devil—just as foolish to believe in great ghosts as little ones.

So, all should be taught that the forces, the facts in Nature, cannot be controlled or changed by prayer or praise, by supplication, ceremony, or sacrifice; that there is no magic, no miracle; that force can be overcome only by force, and that the whole world is natural.

All should be taught that man must protect himself—that there is no power superior to Nature that cares for man—that Nature has neither pity nor hatred—that her forces act without the slightest regard for man—that she produces without intention and destroys without regret.

All should be taught that usefulness is the bud and flower and fruit of real religion. The popes and cardinals, the bishops, priests and parsons are all useless. They produce nothing. They live on the labor of others. They are parasites that feed on the frightened. They are vampires that suck the blood of honest toil. Every church is an organized beggar. Every one lives on alms—on alms collected by force and fear. Every orthodox church promises heaven and threatens hell, and these promises and threats are made for the sake of alms, for revenue. Every church cries: “Believe and give.”

A new era is dawning on the world. We are beginning to believe in the religion of usefulness.

The men who felled the forests, cultivated the earth, spanned the rivers with bridges of steel, built the railways and canals, the great ships, invented the locomotives and engines, supplying the countless wants of man; the men who invented the telegraphs and cables, and freighted the electric spark with thought and love; the men who invented the looms and spindles that clothe the world, the inventors of printing and the great presses that fill the earth with poetry, fiction and fact, that save and keep all knowledge for the children yet to be; the inventors of all the wonderful machines that deftly mould from wood and steel the things we use; the men who have explored the heavens and traced the orbits of the stars—who have read the story of the world in mountain range and billowed sea; the men who have lengthened life and conquered pain; the great philosophers and naturalists who have filled the world with light; the great poets whose thoughts have charmed the souls, the great painters and sculptors who have made the canvas speak, the marble live; the great orators who have swayed the world, the composers who have given their souls to sound, the captains of industry, the producers, the soldiers who have battled for the right, the vast host of useful men—these are our Christs, our apostles and our saints. The triumphs of science are our miracles. The books filled with the facts of Nature are our sacred scriptures, and the force that is in every atom and in every star—in everything that lives and grows and thinks, that hopes and suffers, is the only possible god.

The absolute we cannot know—beyond the horizon of the Natural we cannot go. All our duties are within our reach—all our obligations must be discharged here, in this world. Let us love and labor. Let us wait and work. Let us cultivate courage and cheerfulness—open our hearts to the good—our minds to the true. Let us live free lives. Let us hope that the future will bring peace and joy to all the children of men, and above all, let us preserve the veracity of our souls.

— Robert G. Ingersoll (1833-1899),  Why I am an Agnostic, Page 106, 107

HT: The Mendocino Humanist

Quote of the Day: We Deserve Donald Trump by Matt Taibbi

trump rally ontario ohio june 3 2017 (13)

We deserve Trump, though. God, do we deserve him. We Americans have some good qualities, too, don’t get me wrong. But we’re also a bloodthirsty Mr. Hyde nation that subsists on massacres and slave labor and leaves victims half-alive and crawling over deserts and jungles, while we sit stuffing ourselves on couches and blathering about our “American exceptionalism.” We dumped 20 million gallons of toxic herbicide on Vietnam from the air, just to make the shooting easier without all those trees, an insane plan to win “hearts and minds” that has left about a million still disabled from defects and disease – including about 100,000 children, even decades later, little kids with misshapen heads, webbed hands and fused eyelids writhing on cots, our real American legacy, well out of view, of course.

Nowadays we use flying robots and missiles to kill so many civilians and women and children in places like Mosul and Raqqa and Damadola, Pakistan, in our countless ongoing undeclared wars that the incidents scarcely make the news anymore. Our next innovation is “automation,” AI-powered drones that can identify and shoot targets, so human beings don’t have to pull triggers and feel bad anymore. If you want to look in our rearview, it’s lynchings and race war and genocide all the way back, from Hispaniola to Jolo Island in the Philippines to Mendocino County, California, where we nearly wiped out the Yuki people once upon a time.

This is who we’ve always been, a nation of madmen and sociopaths, for whom murder is a line item, kept hidden via a long list of semantic self-deceptions, from “manifest destiny” to “collateral damage.” We’re used to presidents being the soul of probity, kind Dads and struggling Atlases, humbled by the terrible responsibility, proof to ourselves of our goodness. Now, the mask of respectability is gone, and we feel sorry for ourselves, because the sickness is showing.

So much of the Trump phenomenon is about history. Fueling the divide between pro- and anti-Trump camps is exactly the fact that we’ve never had a real reckoning with either our terrible past or our similarly bloody present. The Trump movement culturally represents an absolute denial of our sins from slavery on – hence the intense reaction to the removal of Confederate statues, the bizarre paranoia about the Washington Monument being next, and so on. But #resistance is also a denial mechanism. It makes Trump the root of all evil, and is powered by an intense desire to not have to look at the ugliness, to go back to the way things were. We see this hideous clown in the White House and feel our dignity outraged, but when you really think about it, what should America’s president look like?

Trump is no malfunction. He’s a perfect representation of who, as a country, we are and always have been: an insane monster. Frankly, we’re lucky he’s not walking around using a child’s femur as a toothpick.

— Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone Magazine, The Madness of Donald Trump, September 19, 2017

Quote of the Day: Evangelicals Have a Sexual Abuse Problem Says Boz Tchividjian

josh duggar

Excerpt from VICE interview with Basyle “Boz” Tchividjian. Tchividjian operates GRACE: Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment.

How big of a problem is child sexual abuse for Protestant churches?

It’s hard to answer that with any degree of certainty, because the research out there is pretty minimal. If you accept the general statistic that one in four women and one in six men will have been sexually victimized before they turn 18, then you have to acknowledge that those same people are inside of our churches and faith communities. So if you had 100 men and 100 women in your church, 20.5 percent of your church would be survivors of child sexual abuse.

How does the issue of sexual predators within Protestant churches compare with the massive scandal the Catholic Church as endured?

A few years ago, data was gathered from some of the top insurance providers for Protestant churches. It was found that they received 260 reports a year of minors being sexually abused by church leaders or church members. Similarly, the John Jay Report on the Catholic Church came up with 228 credible accusations by priests.

Again, sexual abuse is one of the most underreported criminal offenses. But if you just look at these numbers, they tell us that more children are being abused within Protestant churches than in the Catholic Church. One aspect of that is that there are way more Protestants and Protestant churches than there are Catholics. But for me, it’s important to share that statistic when speaking with Protestant audiences so that they stop pointing their fingers at the Catholic Church and engage more with their own church.

I have a friend who is a pastor in a Presbyterian church, and when she started at a new church, she preached six or seven sermons about abuse. She told me that since then, “I’ve had ten women approach me and tell me that they had been sexually abused as children, and that I was the very first person they ever told.” And this is a small church.

I think the reason they approached her was that in preaching about it from the pulpit, she created a safe space for them to talk about it. It’s a great example about how most of our churches aren’t creating safe spaces. Too often victims are afraid to say anything because they’re afraid of how people will respond.

How do the church leaders typically respond?

It’s such a spectrum. There are some that respond very well. The younger generation of pastors seem to get this issue more and are willing to talk about it. But we, unfortunately, do have a lot of pastors who don’t think it happens, and prefer to embrace a false narrative that makes them more comfortable.

It’s common to see a desire to protect the institution at the expense of the individual. Yet the gospel that Christians proclaim with their lips is all about a God who sacrifices himself in order to save [others], but when it comes to abuse, we often do the opposite.

So we have to educate our church leaders about this issue so we can try and eliminate victim blaming when disclosures are made. Telling the victim it was their fault because of how they were dressed or were acting, or forcing them to forgive the offender, just compounds the shame they are already going through.

Shame is a big issue with male victims of sexual abuse. They’re often the most silent of survivors inside the church. I’ve had male survivors tell me they didn’t want anyone in the church to know because they thought that they would be labeled a future offender and everyone would keep their kids away, or they would be accused of being gay.

….

Should there be any kind of support for potential abusers seeking help before they harm anyone?

We’ve intentionally focused on victims, because I’ve found that the perpetrators are often the ones with the most support from the church. Having said that, there are people who are earnestly struggling with this issue and are deathly afraid of telling anyone about it because of how they’ll respond. There should be resources for those who haven’t acted on those impulses to come forward and get help. But it’s tricky, because you see a lot of lying, manipulation, and narcissism with abusers. It’s difficult to know if they’re telling the truth when they say they’ve never acted on their impulses.

How has this line of work impacted you as a parent, and as someone who teaches at one of the largest Christian institutions in the US?

You don’t want to be paranoid and lock your kids in a room. But we also don’t let our kids do sleepovers, because I’ve met with too many victims who were victimized by a friend’s parent at a sleepover. I don’t tell other parents not to do that, but it’s our policy. Also, we talk about this issue a lot with our children. In many, ways it’s been good for them, and hopefully it will shape them when they become parents.

The years of doing this line of work has given me a pretty low view of the church. It has also given me a much higher view of Jesus, and that’s what allows me to go another day and keep my faith.

When you grow up as an evangelical Christian, you have this nice neat view of God and the world. And when you start doing this work, that all gets shattered. Because how do you answer when someone asks you, “Where was God when my dad was coming into my room every night and molesting me? Was he watching? Why didn’t he stop him?” Those are questions I don’t have answers to. All I can do is grieve with them and maybe get a little angry.

But studying who Jesus was while he lived on this Earth has given me a greater appreciation for who he was in relation to this issue. There was no greater defender of children than Jesus.

You can read the entire interview here.

Quote of the Day: Reason vs. Faith, Hitchens vs. Luther

dan barker quote on faith vs reason

Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, open mindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.

— Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great

The anabaptists pretend that children, not as yet having reason, ought not yet to receive baptism. I answer: That reason in no way contributes to faith. Nay, in that children are destitute of reason, they are all the more fit and proper recipients of baptism. For reason is the greatest enemy that faith has: it never comes to the aid of spiritual things but — more frequently than not — struggles against the Divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.

— Martin Luther, Tabletalk (Page 120)

Quote of the Day: We Are Living in a Post-Christian America by Jason Isbell

jason isbell

The Trump presidency has convinced me that we are living in a post-Christian America. I could see how a lot of conservative right-wing Christian Americans would vote for someone like Mitt Romney, who seems like a stand-up guy. But Trump is obviously not a good Christian person. I think the fact that so many people voted for him means that there aren’t that many good Christian people left in rural America. God is gone from those people.

Jason Isbell, Rolling Stone interview, Issue 1293, August 10, 2017

Quote of the Day: The Kind of Suffering That is a Problem by Bart Ehrman

bart ehrmanI’m not completely sure when I first started realizing that the enormous amount of suffering in the world, so much of it completely gratuitous, is a problem for anyone who believes that there is a loving and powerful God who is in control of what happens.   Before reflecting on the evolution of my own thinking on the problem from years ago, let me stress a couple of points.

First I am talking about enormous suffering.   I am not talking about the small and even not so small aches and pains of daily life – the broken wrists or torn ligaments, the fender-benders, the shattered relationships, the worries about the mortgage, or the loss of a loved one.  Such things, in my view, do not call into question the existence of God, because they could well be explained if there is a loving and powerful God in charge of the world.  They could, for example, be “teaching us something,” or molding our character, or making us more grateful for the (other) good things we have (no pleasure without pain), etc.

No, I’m talking about suffering in extremis, enormous suffering that helps no one, least of all the sufferer.   Every seven seconds in our world a child dies of starvation.  An innocent victim, suffering horribly of hunger and then dying, often abandoned and forsaken.  Who does that help?  It doesn’t help her.  Does it help me?  Does it make me appreciate all the more that nice filet mignon I had last night, with that fine bottle of Bordeaux?

And that’s just one kind of suffering – children starving to death.  What about others?  The birth defects, the disfiguring and debilitating accidents, the cancers and strokes, the brain tumors, the epidemics, the accidental deaths of children, the tsunamis that kill 300,000 people who were just trying to eke out an existence – and I haven’t even started on the tragedies humans create: millions of people displaced from their homes (it’s relatively easy to pass over that one when we just read it on p. 3 of the paper; but think about yourself being removed from your home, forced to wander and find sustenance for you and your family with nowhere to go and no idea of what to do.  And having millions of your neighbors in the same boat), innocent casualties of war, millions tortured to death, six million Jews killed for being Jews.  And so on.

My experience in my years now of talking about this kind of suffering is that people who hear such comments are all too ready to write and tell me “the answer.”  They have a way of explaining why it happens that satisfies their thinking, and they can’t believe that I don’t find their explanations satisfying.   I find that with simple uneducated folk and with highly trained professional philosophers.

I had a radio debate some years ago when I was in London with a rather famous professor of philosophy from Oxford University on whether the problem of suffering should cause problems for anyone who believes in God.  He thought he had the answers to why there is suffering when there is a good and all powerful God in charge of the world (he himself is  committed Christian).  The suffering of others benefits those of us who are not experiencing their suffering, as it helps us recognize that grace that we receive and appreciate our own situations all the more.  The suffering of others makes us “more noble.”

He wanted to stress this point specifically with respect to the Holocaust.  It had an upside.  It makes us more reflective and ennobles our lives today.

I have to say, I get rather roused up when someone tells me such things – especially when they do so with the smugness of an armchair observer of suffering.  I got pretty angry in our back and forth.  I simply couldn’t *believe* that he thought that innocent children were gassed for the sake of my personal nobility.  It’s all about *me*.  God allows such horrible and massive suffering because if he didn’t, I myself would be less noble.   I simply lost my cool.  It’s all fine that this fellow in his comfy confines of his cushy Oxford position felt ennobled.  I (in my equally comfy confines) felt completely repulsed.

….

— Bart Ehrman, The Kind of Suffering That is a Problem, June 27, 2017

You can read the entire quote here if you are a member of Dr. Ehrman’s blog. $24.99 a year. Well worth the investment. All membership fees go to charity.

Quote of the Day: Number of American Atheists More Than Polls Suggest

atheists dont exist

Americans express a considerable degree of intolerance toward atheists. More than half of Americans believe atheists should not be allowed to put up public displays that celebrate their beliefs (for example, a banner highlighting Americans’ freedom from religion under the Bill of Rights). More than one-third believe atheists should be banned from becoming president, and similar numbers believe they should be denied the opportunity to teach in public schools or the right to hold a rally.

And therein lies the problem: The stigma attached to the atheist label may prevent Americans from claiming it or sharing their beliefs with others. In certain parts of the country, pressure to conform to prevailing religious practices and beliefs is strong. A reporter with The Telegraph writing from rural Virginia, for example, found that for many atheists, being closeted makes a lot of sense. “The stakes are high,” said a Virginia Tech graduate who was raised Christian but is now an atheist. “Do I want to be supported by my friends and family, or am I going to risk being kicked out of clubs and organizations? It’s tempting just to avoid the whole issue.”

The fear of coming out shows up in polling too. A 2016 PRRI survey found that more than one-third of atheists reported hiding their religious identity or beliefs from friends and family members out of concerns that they would disapprove.

But if atheists are hiding their identity and beliefs from close friends and family members, how many might also refuse to divulge this information to a stranger? This is a potentially significant problem for pollsters trying to get an accurate read on the number of atheists in the U.S. It is well documented that survey respondents tend to overreport their participation in socially desirable behavior, such as voting or attending religious services. But at least when it comes to religious behavior, the problem is not that people who occasionally attend are claiming to be in the pews every week, but that those who never attend often refuse to say so. Americans who do not believe in God might be exhibiting a similar reticence and thus go uncounted.

Another challenge is that many questions about religious identity require respondents to select a single description from a list. This method, followed by most polling firms including PRRI (where I work as research director), does not allow Americans to identify simultaneously as Catholic and atheist. Or Jewish and atheist. But there are Catholics, Jews and Muslims who do not believe in God — their connection to religion is largely cultural or based on their ethnic background. When PRRI ran an experiment in 2014 that asked about atheist identity in a standalone question that did not ask about affiliation with any other religious group, we found that 7 percent of the American public claimed to be atheist.

Asking people about God in a multiple-choice format is self-evidently problematic. Conceptions of God vary substantially and are inherently subjective. Does a belief in mystical energy, for example, constitute a belief in God? When Gallup recently asked a yes-or-no question about belief in God, 89 percent of Americans reported that they do believe. But, in a separate poll, only slightly more than half (53 percent) of Americans said they have an anthropomorphic God in mind, while for other believers it’s something far more abstract. Many survey questions also do not leave much room for expressions of doubt. When PRRI probed those feelings of uncertainty, we found that 27 percent of the public — including nearly 40 percent of young adults — said they sometimes have doubts about the existence of God.

Attitudes about atheists are quickly changing, driven by the same powerful force that transformed opinion on gay rights: More and more people know an atheist personally, just as the number of people who report having a gay friend or family member has more than doubled over the past 25 years or so. Despite the fears that some nonbelievers have about coming out, 60 percent of Americans report knowing an atheist. Ten years ago, less than half the public reported knowing an atheist. Today, young adults are actually more likely to know an atheist than an evangelical Christian. These personal connections play a crucial role in reducing negative feelings. A decline in stigma may also encourage more atheists to come out. This would allow us to provide a more accurate estimate of atheists in the U.S. — is it 3 percent, 10 percent, or 26 percent? — and could fundamentally change our understanding of the American religious landscape.

— Daniel Cox, FIveThirtyEight, Way More Americans May Be Atheists Than We Thought, May 18, 2017