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Friday: On Religious Freedom

Gosh, it’s tough to be a high school atheist these days. No wonder Brooke wants to homeschool. Jessica Ahlquist of Cranston, R.I. is catching Hell for speaking up at school board meetings about the, well, there’s no other way to say this, offensive prayer that hung in the lobby of her high school for 49 years. It’s hard to believe that Cranston got away with it for that long. One suspects that it was some kind of “in your face, asshole” response to Madelyn Murray O’Hare’s 60′s crusade against prayer in public school. Here’s the text of the prayer:

Our Heavenly Father,
Grant us each day the desire to do our best,
To grow mentally and morally as well as physically,
To be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers,
To be honest with ourselves as well as with others,
Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win,
Teach us the value of true friendship,
Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West.
Amen

What’s so wrong with that, you might ask? Several things. First, there’s a presumption that there is a God. You can believe what you want. I’m not an atheist but I also don’t believe in the God of the Bible. Secondly, that non-existant Biblical God doesn’t have a gender. Not only is this prayer offensive to atheists, it’s offensive to women and girls. The minute you walk into Cranston West H.S., you already know where you are in the cosmic pecking order. Starting the day as the lowliest of the low does not make for an affirming academic experience.  The majority of Cranston’s residents are Catholic and Catholics don’t really have a place in their theology for women except as virgins, martyred virgins, virgin mothers, cloistered virgins and babymakers.  It’s a very binary world for Catholic women.

The rest of the prayer presumes that students can’t be moral, kind, supportive or friendly if they don’t believe in the non-existent, male, Biblical God.  This puts the atheist in an awkward position.  If they want to stay on the school community’s good side, they have to conform and keep their atheism a secret.  We can see by Jessica’s example what happens when they don’t.  Whenever someone proclaims that creationism is as good as evolution or that it’s Ok to ostracize someone who’s gay or call girls sluts if they have sex because that’s what it says in the Bible and it’s moral, the atheist can’t really challenge that ignorance and hurtful behavior without revealing themselves to be an UNBELIEVER.  I’m not quite sure why it is that believers can’t tolerate the unbelief of others.  It’s a mystery.

The prayer has a way of squashing dissent. Keeping the unbelievers quiet means that biblical “morality” and Fox induced Acquired Stupidity Syndrome goes unchecked and propagates, and we as a nation go further down the rabbit hole because unquestioned obedience to an authoritarian power trumps reason.   I’m sure that Rupert Murdoch and our financial industry overlords are fine with this but there’s no reason why any American should be complacent about it.  Unleashing the power of the faithful in a country that has been encouraged to embrace fundamentalism is leading to our own destruction.  Fundamentalists are trained to not trust their own understanding but allow others to interpret scripture and events for them.  This has the potential to empower dangerous people who will take advantage of that faith and unquestioning obedience.  We are now living in a country where citizens bully school girls who won’t comply with the indoctrination.  In this country, the majority presents us with the choice of letting the authoritarians and their useful idiots run the country or keeping silent.  If I were religious, I’d call that a sin.

Then there are the other students who attend Cranston West who are not from a Judeo-Christian background.  What about Buddhists?  They don’t have a God either, do they?  What about Muslims?  How would the good burghers of Cranston R.I. feel if the prayer started with “Allahu Akbar”?  What about the pagans?  I particularly like this pagan prayer:

Oh Goddess Mother

Let me act in wisdom

Conquer my fear and doubt

Discover my own hidden gifts

Meet others with compassion

Be a source of healing energies

And face each day with hope and joy

Short and sweet.  It says everything the first one does but doesn’t say anything about morality.  Of course, you do have to ascribe to a non-Judeo-Christian female entity but if Cranston’s going to complain about that then it might be a violating civil rights law, not just the first amendment, by creating a hostile learning environment for girls.

In the meantime, Jessica has had to put up with a lot of, ahem, disapproval from Cranston residents:

In the weeks since, residents have crowded school board meetings to demand an appeal, Jessica has received online threats and the police have escorted her at school, and Cranston, a dense city of 80,000 just south of Providence, has throbbed with raw emotion.

State Representative Peter G. Palumbo, a Democrat from Cranston, called Jessica “an evil little thing” on a popular talk radio show. Three separate florists refused to deliver her roses sent from a national atheist group.

WTF??  They won’t even deliver her roses? It sounds like Cranston’s citizens have never read the prayer they’re fighting so hard to preserve, especially the parts that ask for assistance being “kind and helpful”, “To be honest with ourselves as well as with others”,
“to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win”, “teach us the value of true friendship”, and “help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West”.  Maybe they think all that morality only applies to high school students.  I have to wonder if Cranston parents are being faithful to God if they are telling their kids to obey this prayer but are acting completely differently at home and in front of the school board.  Shouldn’t they be setting a good example for their kids?

Oh, the poor Judeo-Christians of Cranston, persecuted for their beliefs.  Doesn’t this 16 year old godless heathen know that the majority of Cranston’s residents are Judeo-Christians?  Why does she have to bring her intrusive governmental regulations into their quiet, peaceful, little village full of moral, upright citizens?  She’s probably a drug taking, low life, lazy, potential drop out who sleeps with the entire football team- all at one time. Or not.

No, Jessica is simply a minority in her school.  Well, as far as anyone will ‘fess up to she’s a minority.  I suspect that the whole honors level segment of her class, as well as the sleeper kids in the regular CP level courses, have already made the leap from “literally” true to “metaphorically” true.  It would be nice if they all had a “I am Spartacus!” moment in support of their ostracized classmate.  It would be nice, but knowing high school like I do, I wouldn’t count on it.  Minorities are minorities because there aren’t many of them.  That’s why the writers of the constitution took special care to protect them.

When it comes to matters of conscience, the first amendment was not written to protect the religious freedom of the vast majority of citizens of Cranston.  They already have that protection by virtue of their numbers.  The first amendment was meant to protect the religious freedom of the Jessicas.  And Suresh.  And Chengua.  And Rhiannon.  And Alia.  And who was it meant to protect them from?

The people of Cranston.

For more information on Jessica standing up for the First Amendment right of the minority to have religious freedom (or freedom *from* religion), check out the Freedom From Religion Foundation.  They have several podcasts about Jessica.  The latest one can be found here.

One final thing:  Honestly?  I don’t have any problem with people believing whatever they want.  I do have a problem with them proselytizing.  When you tell a religious person that you’re not interested, they need to leave you alone about it- permanently.  Yes, you can cross us off your cosmic checklist. But people who knew me on the school board know that when I was a member, I was actually quite protective of the religious Christians.  I felt that sometimes the school administration and teachers were trying to teach values to children and I don’t think that belongs in school coming from the teacher.  (Remind me to tell the story about the AIDS activist and the giant purple dildo) Values should be taught at home. If Christians want to teach their children that abstinence is the only birth control allowed, homosexuality is a sin and Darwin was wrong, that’s their business.  I happen to think they’re whacked but as long as those kids come to school exercising good behavior and respect towards their peers, I don’t think the school can credibly ask for more.  It is good citizenship that schools have the right to enforce, not values.  Yes, you might legitimately argue that the right beliefs and values lead to good citizenship but you may be intruding on someone else’s conscience in this regard and at some point, we have to agree to hold people accountable for their actions, not their thoughts.

What I have found, from personal experience, is that even if a kid is raised in the strictest household where God’s word is law, once they are exposed to other ideas, the smart ones will figure it all out for themselves.  For the rest, school officials should content themselves with compliance and tolerance and that is what they should ask of religious parents and no more than that.  Their kids are just as constrained by a system that requires their attentive presence as the more liberal parents’ children.

When it comes to changing people’s behavior and attitudes, leading by example and modeling good citizenship is much better than teaching kids values.  And it keeps the fundamentalists out of your classroom in school.


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67 Responses

  1. I hope your daughter goes through with homeschooling if that’s what she wants she’s a smart kid and knows exactly what she needs to succeed. The public classroom is a highly restrictive place for intelligent kids. And it’s only getting worse as is showcased with stories like this incident.

  2. did you get your house put back together RD? :)

  3. “Not only is this prayer offensive to atheists, it’s offensive to women and girls.” Odd, I didn’t see a single mention of gender in the prayer.

    Your interpretation of the Bible does you little credit. Continue living in your fantasy world, and keep us entertained.

    • Except for “Heavenly Father” — a shame you feel so negatively about that role.

      • Bob, you’re not helping. You don’t speak for me.

        RD was raised in a wacky fundamentalist cult, (the Jehovah’s Witnesses) so naturally she has a harsher opinion of Christianity than I do, since I was raised and still belong to a sensible, moderate denomination (United Methodist).

      • Bob do you have a problem if I call God “Your heavenly Mother”?

        • Seriously, I didn’t realize how much it bothered me until I went to yet another family dinner where one of the make relatives gave the blessing calling upon ‘our heavenly father’. You know the drill. They always ramble on too long, making it up on the spot and acting like they’ve got some pearl of wisdom to impart to everyone there. And suddenly I thought, why is it this guy is saying grace again? How come it’s not aunt so-and-so? And what would happen if someone just said “oh great spirit” or “that which exists beyond time and space and has better things to do than listen to these silly begging noises from people on earth who grew their own damn food in spite of the unpredictable weather patterns and pests”?
          The next time we ask for some dude to say grace, I’m objecting. Enough is enough.

          • There is a hymn I love and I get lots of requests for it for funerals. It’s “His eye is on the Sparrow”. What I love about it is that it is about gratitude “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free”…and gratitude is such a powerful drug. It is so much more powerful that the self pity that paralyzes so many people I know right now.
            Anyhow, the point is, I love that song, but I do not think God is a micro manager. I think there are such things as miracles but they come mostly through people and that is why we do not see them.
            Don’t let it get to you, it’s not important. Refer to God as her. It makes people stop and think for a minute.

        • Do you do it (or would you do it) because you think you’re poking a stick in my eye, or because that’s what you truly believe? If the former, that’s rather mean-spirited, but if that latter, that’s your sincere belief, and I respect sincere beliefs. Being angry or offended for God being male does very little. If there are issues in one’s life that is more generally a problem with males (bad role models, etc., — and there are plenty of bad role models and examples), then addressing that is appropriate. Bad role models do damage people — that’s apparent when looking at society, sometimes unfortunately at neighbors, or worse at family.

          Religion is a hot-button topic, and folk’s experiences (especially with negative examples) influence how they respond to the topic. Personally, I believe in a Heavenly Father. But, as a father, in order to have offspring, there must be a mother. As a wise parent, a perfect parent, he’d certainly have a certain unity with his dear spouse. That there are so many corruptions of his religion is readily apparent when one looks around, and in these pages, one sees a lot of anger at the misrepresentations of God here on earth. However, the response to that of inventing yet another religion doesn’t solve much, and remaining angry at the idiocy of those that have gone before and who are still around that corrupt the message does little for one’s peace of mind. When Christ said, “Oh Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets”, he was sad that then, as in many times in history (and since), people would choose a corrupt form of worship over true worship, and corrupt practices over practices that build people, and not only that, actually kill God’s messengers.

          The only reason Christ came was for us — that’s how important we are, how important people are. People will slice and dice the Bible all sorts of ways, and make rules for interpreting it. To the extent that that further confuse people is rather sad. The approach to God is an individual one — bringing a crowd of angry people with you will not help the search. There are promises extended to the true seekers, and he promises help.

          I like your later comment on the transformative power of gratitude. Also forgiveness.

      • Reading is fundamental, Bob, why not try it before you type your screeds?

        Let me guess, you found out about this posting The Confluence from one of those chain e-mails your kind is so fond of passing around.

        Here in Pennsylvania there are things I can’t do on a Sunday like buy a car or visit a state government office. Until recently I couldn’t go out for a drink and at one point of time go shopping on Sunday. What reason is there for those prohibitions other than obeisance to some Bronze Age deity?

        • I have noticed a tendency among some to respond to items by making assumptions or trying to “mind read” a poster. I won’t respond, as previous experience shows little can be gained.

          As far as what can be done or not done on Sunday — Christ said that the Sabbath was made for man (humans, all of us). We need a day of rest, even from shopping, recreation, whatever. I observe friends who are quite tired because their weekends are non-stop — they don’t rest — and so their Mondays are hard. So a little planning can go a long way in taking advantage of a quiet day. That it was made into an ordinance in your state — change it if you want. Regardless of city ordinances, people need a day of rest periodically.

    • I know quite a bit about the bible and one thing is for certain: it is crazy to use a 3000 year old text from a tribe in the middle east as some sort of guidance today. Not only is it crazy, it’s extremely unfair to those of us who don’t think the scriptures are divinely inspired. Women, in particular, should not be expected to bow down to these anachronistic, judgemental texts.
      You can believe whatever you like in the privacy of your own home and church. But when you’re in public I expect you to behave like a good citizen towards everyone even people you don’t like. Like 16 year old girls who are atheists.

      • Hmm. “it is crazy to use a 3000 year old text” — interesting. Old texts teach us many things — one thing is that in spite of the thousands of years, people haven’t changed much. Certainly with the advent of more knowledge about the world and the universe that has allowed us to be more sophisticated. The point of the Bible, however unclearly there, seems to be that it pointed to Christ. A Christ is a very unusual deity. If you are more knowledgeable about the Bible than I am (and that would be moderately easy), I will bow to that, but one of the aspects of the old testament that is rather curious is how references to the future Messiah kept getting trounced, and that it is only more elliptically that it’s survived there (Isaiah at the very least). A lot of the record is of the peoples’ troubles and the messes they got into, and very little about peaceable and prosperous times. A lot of the O.T. also about their rebellion against God. I’m curious, though, how Anna and Simeon could recognize the boy Jesus as the Messiah. Throughout all that troubled history (of the O.T.), there were still individuals who were sensitive enough to the Holy Spirit that they were guided in their lives, and were close enough to God to be informed that they would see the Messiah before they died. Very interesting, but very little said about them in the Bible.

        What hasn’t helped Christianity has been the corruption in the doctrine that even the early apostles complained about. That the Nicene creed is actually at some variance with the early texts goes by the by. However, that’s more than can be addressed here. The issue seems to be your dissatisfaction with Biblical religions (all of them?), and as it’s your blog, and I’m here as your guest, I appreciate the space and time to respond. I also apologize for responding rudely earlier.

    • Bob, I am a deeply Christian woman who uses the non-gender specific name “God” when I’m talking about the Creator. I don’t believe that God has a gender and I see a real problem with endorsing the patricarchy of the men who wrote their position of power into the Bible.

      • sing it, sister!

      • The idea that God lacks physicality or physical being was an early corruption of Christianity by Greek thought — the Greeks had trouble with the idea of a “personal” god — a god that had being or physicality, and that made it into the various creeds of Christianity (Athanasian, Nicene). It’s interesting that you regard “endorsement” of patriarchy with difficulty, but that there are bad examples around — that certainly is true.

        • So, you’re a Mormon. I know of no other sect that claims to be Christian but insists that God once existed in human form.

          Of course, you would think that my rejection of a patriarchal God “interesting”. Gender equality is anathema to Mormonism.

          • That was quite a good guess. Yes, I am.

            Well-executed pass on the “claim to be Christian”. (For those who might be following this it does seem to be that because Mormonism doesn’t follow the Nicene or any of the other creeds it can be “claimed” that we’re not Christian, but it doesn’t take much reading of the Book of Mormon to read quite a bit about Christ.) However, it does remain that the differences between original Christianity and the forms after the Nicene council existed, and the disdain for a body did come from Greek thought.

            “Gender equality is anathema to a Mormonism.”? Hmm. That’s a common interpolation and accusation, but erroneous. There are those who can probably respond to that better than I can, but in the realm of spiritual experience and revelation, in my experience (as a Mormon bishop) there is no difference between men and women in their ability to receive such. As far as overly-narrow focuses on roles and pointing at such and claiming “inequality”, I suggest that plugging an “equals” sign between the adjectives “male” and “female” to cause gender differences to disappear won’t make it so, and is a poor distraction from more important issues. Of all the states in the union, Wyoming (with a large population of Mormons) and Utah were among the first to enfranchise women with the vote. The women’s organization in the LDS church is one of the oldest women’s organization in the country.

            You can certainly believe what you want as far a un-gendered or neutered God. But to state it is fact lacks for any scriptural base. However, I grant it is a popular idea. In LDS doctrine, another thing that seems to offend many Christians is the idea of gods and goddesses. However, Christ offended the Pharisees in his time with like statements. And, with gracious thanks to Riverdaughter for her time and space on this blog, I will end here, as there is much more that is interesting to cover, but perhaps not the time, nor the space.

          • Come back any time. But be warned that this isn’t really a religious blog. It only looks that way because the right has dragged the religion into politics.

            Oh and by the way, there are so many exceptions to the gender rule that it’s not really a rule. People should do what their temperaments are most suited to. The gender line is artificial and transient. Any attempt to solidify it just ends up making people miserable. And then there are the cases of one sex trapped in the body of another. Why lock people into boxes where they don’t belong? Shouldn’t people choose their lifestyles instead of having one imposed on them? I’d rather be around someone who opted in instead of someone who is suffering because they were sorted by whether or not they had dangly bits. Dangly bits are a poor indicator of preference and ability, IMHO.

          • Riverdaugher, I appreciate your welcome, and yes, I understand that this is not really a religious blog.

            As far as “exceptions to the gender rule”, I won’t comment, other than to recognize that your view has some popularity, and that there is a “wide range of normal”, but using that as a launching pad for some justifications or assumptions runs the risk of committing the logical fallacy of generalizing from the specific. Thanks for your time.

          • Speaking as one of the talking apes who bear dangly bits, and thus allegedly benefit from patriarchy, I loathe it, and would not insult God by claiming it was God’s idea.

            To misquote Jefferson, I tremble for my gender when I reflect that God is just.

        • Unless I’m mistaken, in the Christian Trinity, God the Father lacks physical being. God the Son, at least since the Incarnation, has physical being. Indeed, as it was explained to me, God the Son must have physical being, in order for humanity (and the entire universe, according to the Orthodox) to be redeemed/saved.

          • Yes, as far as I understand it from my other Christian friends, and from my understanding of the Nicene creed (though I am far less familiar with it than others). Certainly the whole idea of resurrection makes little sense unless there is a body to be reunited with.

          • Jeez, as if all that hair splitting actually matters. How much time has been wasted by human beings trying to figure out something as obscure and pointless as the Trinity?

            I heartily approve of Jesus, the great teacher, healer and revolutionary. But I don’t believe for a moment that whole redemption story. It never did make any damn sense and trivializes his greatest achievements.

          • “I don’t believe for a moment that whole redemption story. It never did make any damn sense and trivializes his greatest achievements.”

            Unfortunately, Riverdaughter has fallen into a not uncommon and popular pitfall that C.S. Lewis has previously commented on. “Jesus was a wonderful teacher, and all that, but this claim of divinity is just too much.” Just as well call him a madman for him to claim what he did, as he claimed that the reason for his existence was the atonement and nothing else.

          • I’m familiar with that “pitfall” Lewis mentioned, but it depends on an assumption that cannot be proven–that the Gospels give perfectly accurate accounts of what Jesus said and did, even though they were written down well after Jesus lived.

            Did Jesus claim what Lewis said he claimed, or was he merely recorded as having claimed that? Also, if Jesus did claim what Lewis said he claimed, did Jesus mean the same things by those claims that later, orthodox Christianity assumed he meant?

            I forget where, but I read that in 1st-Century Judaism, the phrase “Son of God” merely referred to a special understanding of God that was like a son to a father–NOT to a literal biological relationship, like those of the silly pagan gods, always running around siring demigods with mortal women. :roll:

            Also, other Gospels existed that were rejected as unorthodox. How do we know they were all wrong, or that the canonical four Gospels were always accurate?

          • Those are good points. However, answering at the courtesy of Riverdaughter (as this is not a religious blog), I will try to be brief. One of the interesting things said in the early Acts was that Christ was seen of 500 people after his death, and with all those witnesses around, a written record that wasn’t accurate would have been heavily disputed. Also, bear in mind that the earliest writings actually date from the lifetime of those eye-witnesses, before Christianity was an “established” religion. As far as doubting what is in the written record, once you go down that path, you can doubt anything, which can be hazardous. However, when numbers of concurring documents are counted, there are far more records of early Christianity than there are of other notable events in Roman and Greek history, of which there only single authors who wrote of events. There’s lots more written on this elsewhere (but I don’t have references to give you), but they are there. There’s “revisionist” viewing of early Christianity and the writings, but the modern consensus has many who hold that the early writers were, in fact, writing accurately.

          • It’s a bit different between CS Lewis and myself. Lewis was raised in a standard religious church. Attendance was a formality, not a lifestyle. As far as I can tell, he wasn’t raised in a devout family so it’s no wonder that he felt that way about Jesus.
            I was raised in a fundy, obsessive over-the-top religious sect (when I wasn’t attending mass with my Grandparents). I got exposed to two different versions of Jesus and you know what? The only Jesus that makes sense from a historical point of view and explains the spread of christianity is the one where Jesus is a great teacher and political revolutionary.
            I’ve gotten the smug, superior, “Oh, well, she just has a spiritually immature view of the meaning of the Christ and his resurrection and our redemption by his blood.”crap before. This attitude is not new.
            What may be new to you is that I don’t really care what you think. In fact, I don’t think you have the slightest clue what made Jesus special. I do and you don’t. It doesn’t matter if 20 million Christians think like you do. That just goes to show how 20 million people can be wrong.
            Jesus was not any more divine than you and me. He did not die for our sins because that doesn’t make any logical sense. I know people keep saying it like some kind of mantra but saying it a billion times doesn’t make it any more sensible. And although we weren’t there to see it, it is extremely unlikely he was resurrected. His followers probably saw visions.
            But even if you take all of that supernatural stuff away, that doesn’t make Jesus any less special. He’s simply not who you think he is. And if you only focus on his resurrection, you are missing the most important thing about him.
            If Jesus were alive today, he would have been hanging out at Zuccotti park because his whole schtick was protesting economic injustice. That’s why the Romans killed him.

          • Lewis left the Church for quite some time, and only later came back, and his writing date from after that.

            Re: Jesus et al. It’s your blog, etc. I’m not offended and you’re not the first to not agree with me. Actually, you’ve tweaked my interest as to what you think Jesus’s real mission was.

            Sorry to hear your youthful experience was difficult that way. You are not the first person I’ve conversed with whose religious upbringing left more than it gave. As far as why I think Jesus was important? I’ve observed change, spiritual change. There’s physical bondage, and there’s emotional and spiritual bondage, where people are tied into knots because of terrible things either that have been done to them, or because of what they’ve done to others (sometimes even the not-so-terrible things that are done, but still tie folks into knots). The spiritual healing and change I’ve seen is very real. Political revolutions tend to get people killed, and it would seem that from a deistic viewpoint, politics on this orb are short-lived from that perspective. A peaceful society comes best from internal change and internal peace. In “Our Improbable Universe”, the author (a physicist) puts together a remarkable view of the universe from a non-religious viewpoint, and however it came about, in this universe, protons are destined to turn into self-aware sentient beings. Is it planned or un-planned? — he doesn’t want to get into that. However, were there a designer, it makes some sense that there’d be an interest by the designer in guidance to help those sentient beings live well. However, there’s the rub: we have a remarkable ability and freedom to believe as we wish, and consequences to us for behavior are not as immediate as the consequences from the law of gravity. However it is done, that’s pretty remarkable.

          • Yeah, but that assumes those 500 witnesses weren’t just a rumor written down as an honest mistake (I don’t believe the Gospel writers were lying in any deliberate fashion, but no human account of anything is perfectly accurate).

            In the end, I do believe in Jesus as my Savior, although I wonder if the Adoptionist heresy didn’t get closer to the truth than orthodoxy did.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adoptionism

            The reason I believe is that I have a psychological need to do so. I accept that I can’t prove it. I know it’s hard to believe, which is one reason I don’t think God becomes angry with anyone for mere unbelief. (Another is that God is above and beyond such all-too-human pettiness.)

          • M_from_Id.
            I think anyone who can organize a universe that can support people has a broad enough mind to not be upset too much about people who don’t believe, though I think that when people get destructive, the waste that’s observed from that position will be disturbing, especially when he knows just how much it cost to put all this together, and most of all the cost in human lives, and human spirits.

          • WARNING: RANT AHEAD

            I do not believe the good and loving God had anything to do with making–or “organizing”–this horrid world.

            Humans have the capacity for the set of aggressive behaviors collectively called “sin” because sometimes, in the amoral and pitiless natural environment in which we had the misfortune to evolve, those behaviors sometimes worked–and still sometimes work in our allegedly more civilized environment–to increase odds of survival and reproduction, hence the capacity for those nasty traits is perpetuated. If God had been running that show, would S/He not have rigged things so that cooperative behaviors would always work and aggressive behaviors would always fail?

            I would not insult God by saying S/He had anything to do with this hellworld. And by hell, I do not mean a realm of stupid, sadistic punishments invented by amoral human elites (on second thought, when one uses the phrase “human elites”, the word “amoral” is redundant) to frighten exploited lower-class men and women of all classes into obeying an unjust human social order (on second thought, when one uses the phrase “human social order”, the word “unjust” is redundant–why no, I DON’T like or respect my species very much. Why do you ask? :twisted:)
            I mean, by hell, a place of utter, irremediable moral anarchy, which describes Mommie Dearest Nature.

            I am so disenchanted with Mommie Dearest Nature that I prefer to believe the hardcore materialists among the scientific community are correct, and there is NO intelligent design for the universe or the DNA-perpetuation machines inhabiting it. I prefer to believe God found us, coming here from some absolute Elsewhere, and took pity on us and adopted us as Hir children. (Unmerited grace–there’s my Protestantism talking.) :)

            I have too strong an animal self-preservation drive, and too strong a drive to avoid pain, ever to kill myself. However, I look forward to my deliverance from this hellworld into a realm of absolute, perfect safety–and I would prefer the new body NOT be saddled with icky urges to stick certain body parts into other people, thank you very much. :)

  4. The kindest thing I can say of the authoritarian kind of “Christians” is “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.” For authoritarian believers of any faith, religion becomes less a matter of one’s individual relationship with the Deity and more of a badge of tribal identity.

    God knows how hard it can be to believe–I was agnostic myself for roughly 9 years (ages 15-24, more or less). I don’t believe S/He will be angry with Jessica, or anyone else, for mere unbelief. S/he doesn’t have an ego like we talking apes do.

    As a non-authoritarian Christian, I think my religion really started to be corrupted when it became the official religion of the Roman Empire, and so acquired vested interests in the maintenance of an unjust social order. Such fusion of religion and state encourages the clergy to propagate the doctrine of a harsh and wrathful God, as a truly loving, forgiving God is not very useful for frightening slaves, peasants, women of all classes, and other exploited people into obeying an unrighteous social order.

    The Founders recognized that separation of church and state was the best thing for the church as well as the state. A church that is established, and thus beholden to the state for a portion of its income, will find it difficult to criticize that state when it sins. Also, when clerics hold earthly power, prestige, and vast wealth, people will seek to enter the clergy in order to obtain those things, rather than to serve God.

  5. As an a-religious person myself, this subtle observation by British author/ scholar Karen Armstrong – who, besides being way ‘above my paygrade’ is not – resonates with me:

    Very often people hear about God when they’re little […] at the time they first learn about Santa Claus. And over the years, their ideas about Santa Claus have changed and developed. But their ideas of God have got stuck in this rather infantile mode, which mistakes the symbol that God is supposed to be for hard fact.

    • Exactly, Pip. No human being, not even the writers of Scripture, could fully understand the reality of God. Only God fully understands God. All human understandings of God are misunderstandings, to one degree or another. Authoritarian religion forgets this, perhaps deliberately–as I noted above, non-authoritarian religion does not serve well for propping up an unjust social order.

      • Well, all I’ll say is that it leaves out the prophetic experience. Moses saw the face of God, and spoke with him as one speaks with a friend. Moses was also described as “the meekest” of men. However, a prophet would probably say that he didn’t understand “everything” of God, but in the experience of receiving revelation, the prophet would certainly gain some understanding of God.

        • Did Moses really lead thousands of Israelites out of Egypt? Archaeology suggests that he didn’t. At most, only a handful of Jews left Egypt at the time of exodus. The real action was already going on in Canaan where the subjects and slaves of cities under Egypts control rebelled, got the Hell out of Dodge and headed for the hills, literally. The actual history of what happened at the end of the bronze age is much more interesting than the bible mythology.
          Moses was at best a bit player.

        • Some understanding, not complete understanding. Only God completely understands God.

  6. What the Altarian said. O/T slightly– “Gingrich Family Values: Using daughters from your first wife to convince everyone that your second wife is lying about your third wife.”

    • I had to look up “Altarian”. Of which one of us were you speaking (well, posting)?

      • I was endorsing Monster from the Id’s (your) position. The obtuse reference, of course, is to Altair IV (re: Forbidden Planet, one of the all-time great movies) and the Krell’s Instrumentality, which accidentally produced the Monster from the Id.

        • You left out the first “i” in “Altairian”, or else I might have gotten the reference. :roll:

          The search I ran turned up a fictional species called “Altarians”, without the “i” before the “r”, so I thought you were referring to that fictional species.

  7. Also, I actually prefer to live in a secular but tolerant society than in an overtly Christian one–because when there is no political, legal, or social pressure to pay lip service to Christianity, then my choice to profess that faith means something. :)

    • Absolutely!

    • Now that I’ve been “outed” as a Mormon, I might as add to Susan’s “Absolutely!” and note that Mormons are glad that this country is a (nominally) secular society. It was hard enough being Mormon in the country in the 1800s, and all would have been executed for heresy had the LDS church tried to start in Britain or France or Germany.

      • I doubt they would have been executed in the 1800s. The 1500s or 1600s , yes, but not the 1800s.

        • Actually, many died during the 1800s, in Missouri and Illinois from mob actions. The governor of Missouri actually issued an “extermination order” that was on the books until it was rescinded in the 1970s. It was “legal” to kill Mormons, though I don’t think many took advantage of it after the Mormons left in the 1840s. A bad time for all back then, and much better that everyone has moved on.

        • I meant in the European countries you mentioned; I knew some Mormons were murdered by mobs in the USA. I should have been more specific.

          I also meant formal trial and execution by the State, not mob homicide. I should have been more specific about THAT as well.

          • Yes. If Wycliff and others were executed merely for translating the Bible into English, then new canon (such as the Book of Mormon) wouldn’t have had a chance. Even now, it’s too controversial for some, though not a death sentence.

  8. Good for her. The nail that sticks up gets hammered down, but in this case it seems that the nail is shattering the hammer. This has been one of my favorite Onion stories for a long time:

    JERUSALEM—In a surprise announcement with far-reaching theological implications, Jesus Christ The Nazarene, founder of Christianity and spiritual leader of nearly two billion people, revealed Monday that He has converted to “the one true religion” of Islam.

    As part of His conversion, Christ said He has taken a new name, Isa Ibn Maryam al-Salaam Christ Shabazz.

    Christ, 33, is urging Christians worldwide to renounce His former religion of Christianity and join Him in embracing the Muslim way of life.

    According to Christ, the beauty and perfection of the Qur’an’s Surahs are without equal in all creation, encompassing and surpassing both the Judaic Torah and the New Testament Gospels of His apostles. The former Christian messiah went on to cite Surah Aal’imraan 3:67, which reads, “This day I have perfected your religion for you, completed My favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.”

    “What could be more clear?” Christ said.

    “I was wrong, and I know that now,” He added. “I deeply regret any problems or confusion I may have caused.”

    Read it all; it only gets better….

  9. State Representative Peter G. Palumbo, a Democrat from Cranston

    Shouldn’t that be State Representative Peter G. Palumbo, a Dildo from Cranston?

  10. What about Buddhists? They don’t have a God either, do they?

    Buddhists don’t have a “God” in the Jewish, Christian, Muslim sense, because such a “God” is eternal and unchanging, and the Buddha taught that such a being is not possible. There are, of course, gods of all kinds, who because of their good karma, enjoy extremely long life-spans and a very good life in the heavenly realms. Even so, if they do not take that opportunity to become Enlightened, then they will eventually pass away and be re-born into another form, even a human one. It is possible that Jesus of Nazareth was such a person.

  11. I think about our country’s so called “founding fathers” and note the most enlightened of the lot was Thomas Paine. Thomas Paine was an atheist. Thomas Paine was against slavery, believed in women’s full equality with men, saw the evils of the class system, the danger of religion imposed by a state on it’s people, etc… It’s stunning how modern a lot of his writing sounds.

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