Tag Archive: Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day: The Limits of Religious Freedom

torah bontrager

Freedom of religion and freedom of speech allow people to believe and say what they want in this country. But I know from firsthand experience that religiously driven myths reinforced by leaders can harm children’s lives and thwart their potential.

Like many Christian children, my Amish upbringing instilled in me the belief that Jesus’ return would be preceded by devastating conditions including floods, earthquakes, droughts, tornadoes, crop failures and fires — basically all the things climate change is unleashing. With no adequate education to temper these beliefs, fear of the coming apocalypse traumatized me. Had I stayed in the religion, recent weather patterns would no doubt have had me praying doubly hard.
When I escaped my community in Michigan in the middle of the night at age 15, I arrived in mainstream society laden with fears that had been reinforced through a limited Amish education that ended at the eighth grade. I’d acquired little secular knowledge thanks to a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court case Wisconsin vs. Yoder, which found that Wisconsin’s compulsory school attendance law was unconstitutional because it violated Amish parents’ rights to exercise their religion. As a result, I had no knowledge of science, sex education, or any subject contrary to Amish religious views. Had I not escaped, the Supreme Court ruling would have sealed my fate: becoming an ignorant Amish housewife.

My hunger for empirical answers to allay my fear of hell drove me to earn a high school equivalency diploma and eventually apply to America’s top schools. Upon entering Columbia University, I was shocked to learn that many of my professors weren’t aware that the highest court in the country had set a precedent in favor of extremist religion over my basic rights. Over and over, I’ve seen how the system regularly protects religious sects as they harm children –– from a failure to educate them to a failure to physically protect them.

For example, in New York City, Mayor de Blasio has failed forcefully to stand up to ultra-Orthodox yeshivas to ensure that these schools provide Hasidic children with a state-mandated secular education. Most recently, 30 members of the New York City Council signed a letter spearheaded by Council Members Chaim Deutsch and Kalman Yeger in opposition to regulations proposed by the New York State Education Department to provide the bare minimum general education to which they are entitled under state law.

And last month, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals denied a motion by congressional leaders to defend the constitutionality of a ban on female genital mutilation after a doctor from a Muslim community was charged with cutting the clitoral hoods of nine 7-year-old girls who cried and bled as a woman restrained them.

Whether fundamentalist Islam, ultra-Orthodox Jewish, Amish, or any other religion, all insular religious communities use a range of tactics to exert power and control over their members, starting at birth. Many of those tactics are steeped in utter fictions that serve to keep children from fulfilling their potential.

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Yes, religious leaders can say what they want. But society must help minimize the harm. While [Robert] Jeffress has the right to make outlandish claims about [global climate change] rainbows, children should have the right to a federally-mandated adequate education that would give them the tools to assess the veracity of those claims.

Torah Bontrager, New York Daily News, The Limits of Religious Freedom: America Must Come to Grips with When Faith Groups Limit Personal Liberty, October 22, 2019

Books by Torah Bontrager

An Amish Girl in Manhattan

Quote of the Day: Do Born-Again Christians Have a Moral Conscience?

john stoehr

I am going to say something that I have never before said in public. I have professed my faith in Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.

More than once, actually.

I don’t remember how many times. Maybe half a dozen? I do remember each time had the same empirical result, which is to say no empirical result. I was the same after as I was before. I knew nothing had changed because my Christian upbringing taught the importance of the truth. What I didn’t know then, and what seems obvious now, is that the truth isn’t The Truth.

Years later my dad asked if I was saved. It was important to him. I said yes, and I felt like a liar. Then I realized there’s no way he could prove I wasn’t. Faith, after all, isn’t falsifiable. Telling him I was “saved” had the same small-T truth to it as saying I accepted Jesus, which is to say, no truth at all. Saying the words of the profession of faith in Christ did not actuate my inner moral conscience anymore than saying abracadabra.

To born-again Christians, the event I describe here, in which you profess your faith in God who gave His only Begotten Son to be sacrificed on the Cross of Calvary so that Man might be forgiven his Sins, is seminal. The revelation of God’s Power and Glory is supposed to be a turning point one reflects on in old age in search of wisdom to pass on to youngsters embarking on their own walk with the Lord. It is the implicit or explicit lesson to every Sunday school class, every Bible story, and every sermon. Everything about born-again Christianity is bent toward the goal of your being born again. The only thing missing is how to be a good person.

For me to say that the words of profession of my faith in Jesus did not actuate my moral conscience any more than saying abracadabra did isn’t merely offensive to born-again Christians. It’s also confounding. I mean, the point of being born again is to avoid burning for an eternity in a Lake of Fire. What’s morality got to do with that? (The people I’m describing, by the way, are all white. I have no unique insight into African-American evangelical religion or culture.)

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I’m no historian but it seems to me, as someone who has strayed (badly but gladly) from my born-again Christian beginnings, that many of today’s believers have turned the Reformation on its head in a way. Whole lifetimes can pass by without having to think seriously about what a good person is or how to put virtue into action—why, when, and how. And such apathy is made possible by the deep-seated belief that morality is the same as obedience to authority, especially obedience to God the Father. In other words, I am good because people in authority tell me I am good for obeying their authority. Take the believer out of the shadow of authority, however, and what do you have? A person who’s never developed a moral core. An empty vessel, sadly. Donald Trump and his white evangelical supporters have more in common than most people think. (Caveat: I developed a moral core, but it wasn’t easy on my own. Others often do the same.)

John Stoehr, Rewire.News, Are White Evangelicals as Concerned About Middle Eastern Christians as We’re Meant to Believe? October 21, 2019

Stoehr poses this question in the context of Evangelicalism’s professed love for Middle Eastern Christians. You can read the rest of his article here.

Quote of the Day: The Problem With Evangelical Apologetics

As a field, apologetics bears quite a few problems. It’s actually not easy to say exactly which might be its worst. But I see this one as a big problem: apologists’ processes never actually land where apologists insist they do. Almost every apologetics argument can be negated right out of the gate through the identification of its logical fallacies, manipulation attempts, or basic cognitive biases. Of the few remaining, they don’t whisk us away to the Happy Realm of Jesus-is-Real. Instead, apologists land themselves in the Iffy Realm of SOMEONE-Might-Be-Real and then simply declare they’ve reached their destination.

In the past, I’ve called this the Unicorn Test: any given apologetics argument not knocked out of the running through illogical reasoning accidentally demonstrates the validity of not just Jesus, but also of Santa Claus, Zeus, Space Princess Cassidy, Thor, Wonder Woman, leprechauns, Harry Potter, the state of Wyoming, and Russell’s Teapot. Substituting other names for “Jesus” in their arguments reveals the truth.

Christians have a really tough time moving from the claim that gods are not, in the main, logically ridiculous to demonstrating that their particular god simply must exist–while simultaneously demonstrating that these thousands of other deities absolutely do not. Apologists take as a given that once they demonstrate that gods in general might exist, they’ve already conclusively demonstrated those other points–and thus clinched their sale.

— Captain Cassidy, Roll to Disbelieve, Christian Evangelists Keep Asking the Wrong Question, October 10, 2019

Quote of the Day: Reason Disproves the Existence of a Benevolent, Merciful God

james haught

Reason – logical thinking by intelligent minds – proves clearly that the compassionate, all-powerful god of religion cannot exist. Simple logic clinches it, as follows:

When a woman is dying of breast cancer, or a child is dying of leukemia – and relatives pray desperately – why does the alleged god let most victims die? If the god cannot save them, he isn’t all-powerful. If he could, but doesn’t want to save them, he’s heartless, not all-loving. He’s a monster.

The same logical conclusion applies to tsunamis, hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, plagues, epidemics, famines, floods, and other horrors that kill multitudes. If a god could stop the tragedies, but won’t, he’s evil.

And the logic applies to cruelties of nature. Why would a loving god design hawks to tear rabbits apart, boas to crush pigs, cobras to kill children, etc.? Only a fiend would devise a system of ruthless predator-killers.

Reason cannot disprove the existence of an evil god, but it wipes out the benevolent father-creator claimed by most churches. The only intelligent conclusion is that such a loving god cannot exist.

— James Haught, Daylight Atheism, Logic Disproves All-Merciful God, October 3, 2018

Quote of the Day: “True Believers”

love slave of jesus

Valerie Tarico: Many people seem to walk away from their religion easily, without really looking back. What is different about the clientele you work with?

Marlene Winell: Religious groups that are highly controlling, teach fear about the world, and keep members sheltered and ill-equipped to function in society are harder to leave easily. The difficulty seems to be greater if the person was born and raised in the religion rather than joining as an adult convert. This is because they have no frame of reference – no other “self” or way of “being in the world.” A common personality type is a person who is deeply emotional and thoughtful and who tends to throw themselves wholeheartedly into their endeavors. “True believers” who then lose their faith feel more anger and depression and grief than those who simply went to church on Sunday.

Tarico: Aren’t these just people who would be depressed, anxious, or obsessive anyway?

Winell: Not at all. If my observation is correct, these are people who are intense and involved and caring. They hang on to the religion longer than those who simply “walk away” because they try to make it work even when they have doubts. Sometimes this is out of fear, but often it is out of devotion. These are people for whom ethics, integrity, and compassion matter a great deal. I find that when they get better and rebuild their lives, they are wonderfully creative and energetic about new things.

Valerie Tarico and Marlene Winell, Raw Story, Religious Trauma Syndrome: Psychologist reveals how organized religion can lead to mental health problems, September 9, 2019

 

Books by Valerie Tarico

Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light (2nd Ed.)

The Dark Side: How Evangelical Teachings Corrupt Love and Truth

Books by Marlene Winell

Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion

Quote of the Day: What Has Organized Religion Been Up To?

The last few decades sure have been bad ones for organized religion. Conservative Christians have decided that the sum total of the Bible is about reestablishing the sex and gender mores of the 19th century. Liberal protestantism is so unassuming that hardly anyone even remembers it exists. The Catholic Church has been responsible for the deaths of millions in Africa thanks to its mindless belief that God hates condoms. Much of Islam has been taken over by the toxic Saudi strain. Israel has turned into an apartheid state. Hindus in India are apparently now dedicated to creating a religiously pure state. And even Buddhists have been acting badly lately.

Meanwhile, science keeps churning out new wonders. Cell phones. The internet. Cures for cancer. Robotic prosthetics. Solar panels on rooftops. Talking computers. Antidepressants. Google Maps. Cheap genome sequencing. Virtual reality. Machine learning. Meatless meat. Missions to Mars. Electric cars. Fiber optics.

Seems like no contest to me. But who’s winning?

— Kevin Drum, Mother Jones, Organized Religion Is Having a Bad Few Decades, August 18, 2019

Quote of the Day: “The Family”

A secretive organization that has courted political leaders and built international influence while undermining the constitutional division of the church and the state in the process is at the center of a new five-episode documentary series called “The Family.”

Since 1953, the National Prayer Breakfast has remained a fixture in American politics that has boasted attendance by every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower on the first Thursday of every February. It has been hyped as an opportunity for the political elite of Washington, D.C., and visiting international dignitaries to put aside partisan differences and reflect on a higher purpose.

While the annual event is purportedly hosted by members of Congress, it is actually organized and run by an evangelical Christian organization called The Fellowship Foundation, or “The Family,” as it is referred to internally by its members.

The series, which debuts on Netflix on Friday, takes a look at the group that operates with its own higher purpose — quietly building its influence on global politics “in the name of Jesus.”

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“The Fellowship isn’t about faith and it spreads very little. It’s about power,” said Jeff Sharlet, whose books, “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power,” and “C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy,” inspired the Netflix series.

“Internally, it is spoken of primarily as a ‘recruiting device’ with which to draw ‘key men’ into smaller prayer cells to ‘meet Jesus man to man,’” according to Sharlet. “Practically, the Prayer Breakfast has functioned from the very beginning as an unregistered lobbying festival.”

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Citing 2006 documents, Sharlet estimates the number of dedicated organizers who handle recruitment at just 350. Those organizers, however, have built a network of prayer cells that the late Christian Right leader Chuck Colson pegged at 20,000-strong, calling it, “a veritable underground of Christ’s men all through government.”

Sometimes that has meant aligning with politicians who stray from Jesus’ example. In 2009, former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford gave a press conference outside of C Street emphasizing his religious pedigree upon resurfacing after disappearing from his state for days to visit a mistress in Argentina.

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So, while President Donald Trump may not have the most pious of track records, Sharlet says the Family has embraced the unique opportunity provided by the most fundamentalist Cabinet in recent American history to advocate evangelical policy.

“The Fellowship believes God uses who He wants, and that power itself is an indicator of who He has chosen — it’s a theology of more power for the powerful,” Sharlet explained.

“The fact that Trump, with his “art of the deal,” is especially well-prepared to embrace this transactional theology — Trump puts the Christian Right’s people in power in return of their support — seals the deal.”

— Ethan Sacks, NBC News, Secretive Christian group at heart of D.C. politics ready for its close-up in Netflix docuseries, August 10, 2019

Purchase Books by Jeff Sharlet

The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power

C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy

Quote of the Day: Bart Ehrman Asks, “Why am I an Enemy?’

bart ehrman

And so the personal question that I struggle with a good deal.  OK, this is really highly personal, it’s just me.   But I often feel sad about being seen as an “enemy” of the Christian faith.   People tell me I am all the time – both people who despise me and people who are rooting me on.   Yet the views I put out there for public scrutiny are almost NEVER things that I’ve come up with myself, that I’ve dreamt up, that I’m trying to push on others with no evidence or argument – just crazy liberal ideas I’ve come up with to lead people away from the faith.

So why am I an enemy?

Of course I know why, and my views were given additional support last week, at the international meeting of New Testament scholars I attended in Marburg.  I was talking with a German scholar about advanced training in biblical studies in Germany these days, and he told me that in German theological schools (in his experience), students simply are not as a rule very interested in the historical study of the New Testament per.  The kinds of historical issues we deal with on the blog are simply not pressing matters for them.  These are not why they are in theological training, either to teach or to minister in churches.

Instead, he indicated, the ONE question / issue that most of these students have is:  “How can I be Christian in this increasingly secular world?”

Of course they are interested in historical knowledge – but it’s not what’s driving them.  Instead it is an existential question about faith.  That makes so much sense.  It is what was driving me at that stage too.   But when this fellow scholar told me that, I realized even more clearly why I get so much opposition, even in some learned circles.

Most of the people who are in the business of studying the Bible are committed to faith.  That’s what generates their interest.  And these days it is very hard.  Christians are under attack.   From science, from philosophy, from the neo-atheists, from a society/culture that increasingly doesn’t care.   And the problem with someone like me is that I’m not helping the cause.  On the contrary, I’m not just someone from the outside taking potshots at this faith.  I’m someone who came from within it, and left it, with good reasons, and who argues views that are taken by people in the wider culture to be “evidence” that the faith has no good rational basis.  Even though I disagree with that assessment (since I know full well that people can be devout believers but still agree with everything I say) (not that anyone agrees with everything I say) (sometimes *I* don’t agree with everything I say…) – even though I disagree with that assessment, I get it.

Christians – even Christian scholars – want to cling on to their faith, to cherish it, and promote it, and what they see as negative assaults on the basis of their faith is threatening, especially – this is the key point – if it comes from someone who is *outside* the community of faith but who used to be inside it and understands the views of those who are still inside it extremely well, but who now rejects these views.  And says things that can lead others to reject them as well.

— Dr. Bart Ehrman, Who is the Enemy?, August 9, 2019

Quote of the Day: Baptist Preachers Instrumental in Turning the South Red

Crediting the Nixon campaign with the flight of Southern conservatives from the Democratic Party dismisses the role Southerners themselves played in that transformation. In fact, Republicans had very little organizational infrastructure on the ground in the South before 1980, and never quite figured out how to build a persuasive appeal to voters there. Every cynical strategy cooked up in a Washington boardroom withered under local conditions. The flight of the Dixiecrats was ultimately conceived, planned, and executed by Southerners themselves, largely independent of, and sometimes at odds with, existing Republican leadership. It was a move that had less to do with politicos than with pastors.

Southern churches, warped by generations of theological evolution necessary to accommodate slavery and segregation, were all too willing to offer their political assistance to a white nationalist program. Southern religious institutions would lead a wave of political activism that helped keep white nationalism alive inside an increasingly unfriendly national climate. Forget about Goldwater, Nixon or Reagan. No one played as much of a role in turning the South red as the leaders of the Southern Baptist Church. …

It was religious leaders in the South who solved the puzzle on Republicans’ behalf, converting white angst over lost cultural supremacy into a fresh language of piety and “religious liberty.” Southern conservatives discovered that they could preserve white nationalism through a proxy fight for Christian Nationalism. They came to recognize that a weak, largely empty Republican grassroots structure in the South was ripe for takeover and colonization.

— Chris Ladd, Forbes, Pastors, Not Politicians, Turned Dixie Republican, March 27, 2017

Quote of the Day: What Atheists Want

bertrand russell quote 2

We want to stand upon our own feet and look fair and square at the world – its good facts, its bad facts, its beauties, and its ugliness; see the world as it is, and be not afraid of it. Conquer the world by intelligence, and not merely by being slavishly subdued by the terror that comes from it.

— Bertrand Russell, Why I am Not a Christian

Purchase Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion

Quote of the Day: The Material Basis of Religious Belief

If you investigate the material basis of religious belief, you immediately confront a phenomenon that operates on many different levels. In particular circumstances and particular settings a faith may function as a guide to morality, or an aesthetic, or a social network, or a collection of cultural practices, or a political identity, or a historical tradition, or some combination of any or all of those things.

You don’t have to be a believer to see that religion genuinely offers something to its adherents (often when nothing else is available) and that what it provides is neither inconsequential nor silly.

— Jeff Sparrow, The Guardian, We can save atheism from the New Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, November 29, 2015

Quote of the Day: Why the Phrase “Separation of Church and State” is Not in the Constitution

separation of church and state 2

What these persons fail to understand is that it would have been redundant to include such a phrase [separation of church and state] in the Constitution. The document as a whole embodies the view that government is not to meddle in religious matters. The federal government is given very specific, limited powers only over various secular matters. It has no powers relating to religion. The government is secular both in its origin (the consent of the governed) and its function. The government and religious institutions are completely separate and have nothing to do with each other. To insist that the Constitution doesn’t mandate separation of church and state because it doesn’t contain that phrase is more preposterous than a person who is not named as a beneficiary in a will insisting he has a claim on the estate because the will does not specifically exclude him by name.

Dr. Ronald Lindsay, The Necessity of Secularism: Why God Can’t Tell Us What to Do, December 2014

Purchase The Necessity of Secularism: Why God Can’t Tell Us What to Do