Quote of the Day

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

Quote of the Day: The Worst Reality Show on TV, ‘Duck Dynasty,’ Ends Tonight by Rob Sheffield

duck dynasty

These days it’s tough to find reasons to be cheerful about the state of the nation – but an America without Duck Dynasty is a good place to start. No show in television history has ever sucked quite like this one. And if the TV gods are willing, no show ever will.

A&E’s massive hit became a cultural presence in 2012 for its down-home charm – the zany adventures of a real-life Lousiana clan who kept their country manners and backwoods habits, with Phil, Miss Kay, their bearded sons and loopy Vietnam vet Uncle Si. Tonight, after five seasons of shenanigans running the family duck-call business, the Robertsons sign off tonight with their series finale, the last gasp of their barely noticed farewell go-round. The decline and fall of Duck Dynasty seems like it should have been a big-deal event, but it’s a surprisingly meek exit for a hit that loomed so large just a couple of years ago. This is the way the dynasty ends – not with a quack but with a whimper.

It’s poetic justice that 2017 is the year the Robertson family is finally heading off to the duck pond in the sky. The show represented the pre-Trump Christian right’s fantasy of itself – a family of hairy but God-fearing bootstrappers bowing their heads in prayer over the dinner table. Just a year ago, this was the most feared demographic in American politics – the bloc that couldn’t be bought or sold. But when the Christian right fell in line behind the most flamboyantly secular presidential candidate of the past century – a pussy-grabbing New Yorker who didn’t pretend to owe Jesus a damn thing – they sold themselves out, ensuring it’ll be a cold day in heck before they get another chance to vote for one of their own. The right is a whole new bird hunt now, as the godless white nationalists take over from the church ladies. And that makes Duck Dynasty look pitifully dated, in addition to everything else that blows about it.

The Robertsons weren’t even fun to watch on a reality-trash level, because they were too phony to believe – so artificial in their micro-scripted dialogue, so cynical in their piety, so bone-headed in their recycled sitcom plots. Hell, even their beards looked fake. So their family values always came across as a made-for-TV shuck; however sincere they may or may not have been in real life, the Robertsons never failed to turn into show-biz frauds onscreen. In one episode, Miss Kay confides that Phil never remembers their wedding anniversary – the only dates he can remember are Christmas and Easter. Aaaaawww.

Yet as any viewer with any kind of Christian background could have informed the writers, Easter isn’t a date – it’s a moveable feast that bounces between various Sundays. (This year it’s on April 17th.) A church lady like Miss Kay should know that, right? Except either she didn’t know, or she didn’t care, or the writers felt it was such a clever button-pushing line they made her say it anyway.

….

Duck Dynasty always had plenty of those cynical moments. In one episode, Phil refuses to bathe for hunting season, while Miss Kay wants him to wash up, so they read Bible verses to each other to defend their positions. Miss Kay wins the argument by reading the proverb, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” Except that isn’t in the Bible. (It dates back to John Wesley in 1778.) Either Miss Kay and Phil don’t really know their family Good Book, or they’re just obediently reciting any old half-assed banter the writers feed them.

….

A typically phony gag, from this phoniest of reality franchises. Farewell, Duck Dynasty. The end of your era is a rare reason to celebrate in 2017 – but we’ll take it.

— Rob Sheffield, Rolling Stone, Fowl Play: Saying Goodbye to ‘Duck Dynasty,’ TV’s Worst Show, March 29, 2017

Let me end this post with a photographic reminder of how these frauds looked BEFORE their Duck Dynasty Days and a few quotes from anal sex obsessed Robertson patriarch Phil.

robertson family before

“God says, ‘One woman, one man,’ and everyone says, ‘Oh, that’s old hat, that’s that old Bible stuff. But I’m thinking, well, let’s see now. A clean guy — a disease-free guy and a disease-free woman — they marry and they keep their sex between the two of them. They’re not going to get chlamydia, and gonorrhea, and syphilis, and AIDS. It’s safe.”

“Men should use the men’s bathroom and women should use the women’s bathroom. Just because a man may ‘feel’ like a woman doesn’t mean he should be able to share a bathroom with my daughter, or yours. That used to be called common sense. Now it’s called bigoted.”

“In this case, you either have to convert them[ISIS], which I think would be next to impossible. I’m not giving up on them, but I’m just saying either convert them or kill them. I’d much rather have a Bible study with all of them and show them the error of their ways and point them to Jesus Christ… However, if it’s a gunfight and a gunfight alone, if that’s what they’re looking for, me personally, I am prepared for either one.”

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men. Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

“Women with women. Men with men. They committed indecent acts with one another. And they received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. They’re full of murder, envy, strife, hatred. They are insolent, arrogant God haters. They are heartless. They are faithless. They are senseless. They are ruthless. They invent ways of doing evil.”

“I’ll make a bet with you. Two guys break into an atheist’s home. He has a little atheist wife and two little atheist daughters. Two guys break into his home and tie him up in a chair and gag him. And then they take his two daughters in front of him and rape both of them and then shoot them and they take his wife and then decapitate her head off in front of him. And then they can look at him and say, ‘Isn’t it great that I don’t have to worry about being judged? Isn’t it great that there’s nothing wrong with this? There’s no right or wrong, now is it dude? Then you take a sharp knife and take his manhood and hold it in front of him and say, ‘Wouldn’t it be something if this was something wrong with this? But you’re the one who says there is no God, there’s no right, there’s no wrong, so we’re just having fun. We’re sick in the head, have a nice day.If it happened to them,” Robertson continued, “they probably would say, ‘something about this just ain’t right.”

“I tell people, ‘You are a sinner, we all are. Do you want to hear my story before I give you the bottom line on your story? We murder each other and we steal from one another, sex and immorality goes ballistic. All the diseases that just so happen to follow sexual mischief. So what is your safest course of action? If you’re a man, find yourself a woman, marry them and keep your sex right there. … You can have fun, but one thing is for sure, as long as you are both healthy in the first place, you are not going to catch some debilitating illness. There is safety there. Commonsense says we are not going to procreate the human race unless we have a man and a woman. From the beginning Jesus said, ‘It is a man and a woman.’ Adam was made and Eve was made for this reason.”

“Look, you wait ’til they get to be 20 years old, the only picking that’s going to take place is your pocket. You got to marry these girls when they are about 15 [Robertson’s wife was 15 when they married] or 16. They’ll pick your ducks. You need to check with mom and dad about that, of course. Make sure that she can cook a meal. You need to eat some meals that she cooks. Check that out. Make sure she carries her Bible. That’ll save you a lot of trouble down the road. And if she picks your ducks, now that’s a woman!”

“Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers — they won’t inherit the kingdom of God … Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

“Sin becomes fine. Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there — bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.”

“It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”

“We murder each other and we steal from one another, sex and immorality goes ballistic. All the diseases that just so happen to follow sexual mischief… boy there are some microbes running around now.”

“Jesus will take sins away, if you’re a homosexual he’ll take it away, if you’re an adulterer, if you’re a liar, what’s the difference? If you break one sin you may as well break them all.”

“Temporary is all you’re going to get with any kind of health care, except the health care I’m telling you about. That’s eternal health care, and it’s free… I’ve opted to go with eternal health care instead of blowing money on these insurance schemes.”

“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

“There is a penalty to be paid from what the beatniks and had morphed into the hippies, you say ?what do you call the hundred and ten-million people who have sexually transmitted illnesses?? It’s the revenge of the hippies. Sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll have come back to haunt us. In a bad way.”

“Why do they murder and why do they hate us? Because all of them … 80 years of history, they all want to conquer the world, they all rejected Jesus and they’re all famous for murder. Nazis, Shintoists, Communists and the Mohammedists. Every one of them the same way.”

“I am a God loving, Bible believing, gun-toting, capitalist!”

Quote of the Day: Does Evangelicalism Promote Self-Harm?

go and sin no more

The mind-rape called fundy evangelical belief, leads the follower down a ritualistic path of self-harm. It begins with admitting that you are a hopeless sinner and unworthy. That is an important first step necessary to start the foundation for the royal heart-rape of Salvation. It is based, or was in my experience, on feeling the truth in things. As a child I was made to understand that I was unworthy by being human, born in sin. That became my world as it was given to me in love from my parents, in a fashion similar to their own childhoods. I knew I was evil because I knew I was evil, as it were. It was my beginning. I thought bad words in my head for no reason whatsoever than that I was clearly evil. How else could the word ‘shit’ or the evil ‘fuck’ appear to me? The path was laid out long before my time, churches were built on every corner and nobody much questioned this reality. I have thought and expressed every word Allison says above here and I have believed that I was right. Trouble is, the human body, the mortal life of a person does not just go-along like a follower. It protests with feelings and ideas, with dreams and daily LIFE! The cycle of belief always left me needing to be ‘saved’ again by Jesus, forgiven or whatever, and the cycle persisted no matter what sort of maturity I had in my faith. You know, I still remember just weeping like a helpless lump when I realized I actually had a choice in the matter. I had heard and ingested all the preaching about free choosing and so forth but I did not get it because, well, I never did have a choice, did I…. not from the get-go. It took me over a quarter of a century to realize I could choose…. Both Allison and me as young people should have been wearing warning labels so that others would know how truly we believed! When I actually realized I had a choice to say, No, it floored me. I had to practice it secretly, whisper it, keep No in a closet. But I knew I could not let No go because, you know what, I could really breathe when it came to me. I could feel my chest fill fully and the air was mine to use. I sensed freedom in my body long before my heart and mind could even see it from the church basement they lived in… I did not even dare think that one day my heart and mind would come home with me, so to speak. They never did for much of my family. We still produce many preacher teachers and missionaries for the cause…. they pray for me and I am sure would not mind at all if I agreed to wear a warning label myself: Fallen, ungrateful backslider! Beware!

— Brian, The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser, Evangelical Writer Allison Barron Says None of Us Deserves Happiness, March 17, 2017

Note

Please see the series Do Evangelical Beliefs Cause Psychological Damage?

Quote of the Day: Why I am Not a Christian by Bart Ehrman

bart ehrman quote

I just now – fifteen minutes ago – came to realize with the most crystal clarity I have ever had why I cannot call myself a Christian.   Of course, as most of you know, I have not called myself a Christian publicly for a very long time, twenty years or so I suppose.  But a number of people tell me that they think at heart I’m a Christian, and I sometimes think of myself as a Christian agnostic/atheist.  Their thinking, and mine, has been that if I do my best to follow the teachings of Jesus, in some respect I’m a Christian, even if I don’t believe that Jesus was the son of God, or that he was raised from the dead, or that… or even that God exists.  In fact I don’t believe all these things.  But can’t I be a Christian in a different sense, one who follows Jesus’ teachings?

Fifteen minutes ago I realized with startling clarity why I don’t think so.

This afternoon in my undergraduate course on the New Testament I was lecturing on the mission and message of Jesus.

….

In today’s lecture I wanted to introduce, explain, and argue for the view that has been dominant among critical scholars studying Jesus for the past century, that Jesus is best understood as a Jewish apocalypticist.  I warned the students that this is not a view they will have encountered in church or in Sunday school.  But there are solid reasons for thinking it is right.  I tried to explain at some length what those reasons were.

But first I gave an extended account of what Jewish apocalypticists believed.  The entire cosmos was divided into forces of good and evil, and everything and everyone sided with one or the other.  This cosmic dualism worked itself out in a historical dualism, between the current age of this world, controlled by forces of evil, and the coming age, controlled by the forces of good.  This age would not advance to be a better world, on the contrary, apocalypticists thought this world was going to get worse and worse, until literally, at the end, all hell breaks out.

But then God would intervene in an act of cosmic judgment in which he destroyed the forces of evil and set up a good kingdom here on earth, an actual physical kingdom ruled by his representative.  This cataclysmic judgment would affect all people.  Those who had sided with evil (and prospered as a result) would be destroyed, and those who had sided with God (and been persecuted and harmed as a result) would be rewarded.

Moreover, this future judgment applied not only to the living but also to the dead.  At the end of this age God would raise everyone from the dead to face either eternal reward or eternal punishment.  And so, no one should think they could side with the forces of evil, prosper as a result, become rich, powerful, and influential, and then die and get away with it.  No one could get away with it.  God would raise everyone from the dead for judgment, and there was not a sweet thing anyone could do to stop him.

And when would this happen?  When would the judgment come?  When would this new rule, the Kingdom of God, begin?  “Truly I tell you, some of you standing here will not taste before you see the kingdom of God come in power.”  The words of Jesus (Mark 9:1).  Jesus was not talking about a kingdom you would enter when you died and went to heaven: he was referring to a kingdom here on earth, to be ruled by God .  Or as he says later, when asked when the end of the age would come, “Truly I tell you, This generation will not pass away before all these things take place.”

….

When I finished laying it all out in my lecture, stressing that Jesus thought this all was going to happen within his own generation, I had about two minutes left, and I had a final point to make (on my PowerPoint outline): “Jesus Now and Then.”  Today the idea that Jesus expected the imminent end of the age to be brought in a cataclysmic act of judgment leading to a world of peace and universal happiness is no longer preached or taught in churches (well, the vast majority of churches).  But it does appear to be who Jesus really was.

I told my students they had to decide for themselves if they agreed with this scholarly view or not, after looking at all the evidence.  But I stressed that they should not reject the view (historically) simply because they thought it was wrong religiously (since Jesus then would have been wrong about when the end would come).  I then explained why, and it was when I gave this explanation – impromptu, off the top of my head – that I realized why it was that I was not and could not be a follower of Jesus’ teachings.

I told my students that the apocalyptic Jesus realized that ultimate reality and true meaning do not reside in this world.  Following Jesus means to realize that ultimate reality resides outside this world, in a higher world, above this mundane existence that we live in the here and now.   I stated this as emphatically as I could.  Students surely thought I was preaching, that I was affirming this message.  I made the statement as rhetorically effective as I could.

And I’m not sure I’ve ever said it this way before in my 32 years of teaching.  When I said it I had two immediate mental reactions to what I had just said: (a) I realized that I really do think this is Jesus’ ultimate (apocalyptic point) and, even more graphically, (b) I don’t agree with that view at all.

My personal view is just the opposite.  My view is that there *is* no realm above or outside of this one that provides meaning to life in our world.  In my view this world is all there is.  Yes, I know there are aspects of physical reality that are extremely odd and  completely inaccessible to me.  But I don’t think there is anything outside our material existence.  Meaning comes from what we can value, cherish, prize, aspire to, hopeful, achieve, attain, and … love in this world.  There is no transcendent truth that can make sense of our reality.  Our reality is the only reality.  It can either be (very) good for us or (very) bad for us.  But however we experience it, it’s all there is.

That’s what I really think.  I never push this view on anyone else.  It’s simply my view.  And I think it is diametrically (not just tangentially) different from the view of Jesus.  It is completely at odds with his view.  That’s why I don’t think I do subscribe to his teachings, his views, or his message (in some metaphorical way).

For lots of personal reasons I do find that sad, but I’m afraid it appears to be the case.

Bart Ehrman, The Bart Ehrman Blog, Why I am Not a Christian, March 6, 2017

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