Friday, October 10, 2008

Question from Greg

Here's an interesting question posed by Jeffrey Luhn, one of our new members:

"My sister-in-law just passed away from cancer at age 57. We have some young people in our family and they want to know why it happened to her and not to someone bad (Dick Cheney for instance). They also ask me where she went after her heart stopped beating.

I've always thought life is a crap shoot and some people don't get a fair shot. If there was a god, he'd be a better judge of character, no? Heaven? As I get older I can't help hoping, but my brain tells me it ain't so.

But these aren't the things to say to a 9-year-old. I've been wrestling with this. Does anyone have a simple answer or concept to these questions that a child could understand - and their parents would not be upset at me for saying?"

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Sam on Sarah

Here are some interesting comments from Sam Harris about Sarah Palin and her religious views.

"I care even more about the many things Palin thinks she knows but doesn't: like her conviction that the Biblical God consciously directs world events. Needless to say, she shares this belief with mil-lions of Americans—but we shouldn't be eager to give these people our nuclear codes, either. There is no question that if President McCain chokes on a spare rib and Palin becomes the first woman president, she and her supporters will believe that God, in all his majesty and wisdom, has brought it to pass. Why would God give Sarah Palin a job she isn't ready for? He wouldn't. Everything happens for a reason. Palin seems perfectly willing to stake the welfare of our country—even the welfare of our species—as collateral in her own personal journey of faith. Of course, McCain has made the same unconscionable wager on his personal journey to the White House.

In speaking before her church about her son going to war in Iraq, Palin urged the congregation to pray "that our national leaders are sending them out on a task that is from God; that's what we have to make sure we are praying for, that there is a plan, and that plan is God's plan." When asked about these remarks in her interview with Gibson, Palin successfully dodged the issue of her religious beliefs by claiming that she had been merely echoing the words of Abraham Lincoln. The New York Times later dubbed her response "absurd." It was worse than absurd; it was a lie calculated to conceal the true character of her religious infatuations. Every detail that has emerged about Palin's life in Alaska suggests that she is as devout and literal-minded in her Christian dogmatism as any man or woman in the land. Given her long affiliation with the Assemblies of God church, Palin very likely believes that Biblical prophecy is an infallible guide to future events and that we are living in the "end times." Which is to say she very likely thinks that human history will soon unravel in a foreordained cataclysm of war and bad weather. Undoubtedly Palin believes that this will be a good thing—as all true Christians will be lifted bodily into the sky to make merry with Jesus, while all nonbelievers, Jews, Methodists and other rabble will be punished for eternity in a lake of fire. Like many Pentecostals, Palin may even imagine that she and her fellow parishioners enjoy the power of prophecy themselves. Otherwise, what could she have meant when declaring to her congregation that "God's going to tell you what is going on, and what is going to go on, and you guys are going to have that within you"?

You can learn something about a person by the company she keeps. In the churches where Palin has worshiped for decades, parishioners enjoy "baptism in the Holy Spirit," "miraculous healings" and "the gift of tongues." Invariably, they offer astonishingly irrational accounts of this behavior and of its significance for the entire cosmos. Palin's spiritual colleagues describe themselves as part of "the final generation," engaged in "spiritual warfare" to purge the earth of "demonic strongholds." Palin has spent her entire adult life immersed in this apocalyptic hysteria. Ask yourself: Is it a good idea to place the most powerful military on earth at her disposal? Do we actually want our leaders thinking about the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy when it comes time to say to the Iranians, or to the North Koreans, or to the Pakistanis, or to the Russians or to the Chinese: "All options remain on the table"?"

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Bill Maher's New Film

Bill Maher's new film "Religulous" is now playing at the Del Mar theatre in downtown Santa Cruz. It is at once funny, wickedly to the point, and often quite perceptive. Maher goes after all the religions of the book and ends by saying that if we don't soon throw off the suffocating shackles of religion...well, go see for yourself.

The night I went there was a good crowd, but I don't imagine the film will be there for long.

Reviews have been quite good from top media. Variety hails "Religulous" as "brilliant, incendiary," while Entertainment Weekly adds, "It's a film that's destined to make a lot of people mad, but Maher, for all his showy atheistic 'doubt,' isn't just trying to crucify religion — he truly wants to know what makes it tick. He leaves no stone tablet unturned." Other raves come from the New York Times, USA Today, Hollywood Reporter and from Roger Ebert at the Chicago Sun-Times. Among the pans is the Washington Post.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Is John McCain Bigoted Against Atheists?

I'm not trying to take political sides, but here are some comments by Austin Cline about McCain's attitude toward atheists.

Atheists are the most despised minority in America; this is demonstrated most clearly by the fact that more people would be willing to vote for any other minority - Muslim, gay, female - than vote for an atheist for president. This discrimination is fueled by bigoted prejudices about atheists' values and morality, and you can tell a lot about a person's character based on whether they promote or oppose this bigotry.

Sadly, John McCain is on record as supporting anti-atheist bigotry. According to John McCain, the most important thing which voters must take into consideration is whether a candidate will carry on "in the Judeo-Christian principled tradition."

Has the candidates’ personal faith become too big an issue in the presidential race? Questions about that are very legitimate.... And it's also appropriate for me at certain points in the conversation to say, look, that's sort of a private matter between me and my Creator.... But I think the number one issue people should make [in the] selection of the President of the United States is, 'Will this person carry on in the Judeo Christian principled tradition that has made this nation the greatest experiment in the history of mankind?'" Source: Beliefnet,

What, exactly, does "carry on in the Judeo-Christian principled tradition" even mean? It sounds like a phrase that was designed by marketing experts to hit all the right emotional buttons among Christians without saying anything substantive enough to be considered meaningful.

Just for the sake of comparison, let's look at some of the issues which evidently rank lower on the list of important questions for John McCain:
· Is the candidate honest or a liar?
· Is the candidate sane or completely crazy?
· Is the candidate the least bit competent or a total dunce?
· Is the candidate experienced and professional, or a dilettante?
· Is the candidate bigoted, racist, or otherwise prejudiced?
· Will this candidate be cynically manipulative or a straight talker?
· Will this candidate work for the best interests of the people or a few cronies?
· Will this candidate use lies to lead us into an unnecessary war?
· Will this candidate subvert the Constitution and help create a surveillance, police state?

And what of Americans who aren't Christian or Jewish — does John McCain think that they are qualified to be president? Beliefnet only asked about Muslims and while McCain allowed for the possibility that he could support a Muslim candidate, he reiterated that "since this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles.... personally, I prefer someone who I know who has a solid grounding in my faith." Apparently he realized later just how bigoted that is and contacted Beliefnet later to say: “I would vote for a Muslim if he or she was the candidate best able to lead the country and defend our political values.”

Apparently that wasn't quite enough backtracking, so his campaign released a "clarification":
The senator did not intend to assert that members of one religious faith or another have a greater claim to American citizenship over another. Read in context, his interview with beliefnet makes clear that people of all faiths are entitled to all the rights protected by the Constitution, including the right to practice their religion freely. In the interview he also observed that the values protected by the Constitution, by which he meant values such as respect for human life and dignity, are rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition. That is all he intended to say to the question, America is a Christian nation, and it is hardly a controversial claim. Source: Huffington Post

If John McCain only intended to say that "America is a Christian Nation," why did he say so many other and separate things? Besides, it is very controversial to say that "America is a Christian Nation." First, there is a big question as to what specifically he means — merely that most Americans are Christian, or rather than America exists as a nation to further Christian interests, Christian beliefs, Christian traditions, Christian institutions, etc.? Based on his other statements, it sounds like he means the latter and that is most definitely controversial — not to mention flat-out wrong, theocratic, and bigoted.

I do not think that John McCain would give the same consideration towards atheists, freethinkers, or even many non-Christian religious systems. I don't think we'll be hearing McCain say that he would vote for an atheist, a Buddhist, a freethinker, a Hindu, or just about anyone else — I honestly suspect that he only grudgingly included Muslims in his club out of political expediency. John McCain's opposition to nonbelievers as president is no less bigoted than being opposed to Jews, Catholics, blacks, or Latinos as president.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Hillary Clinton on the Pledge of Allegiance: Clinton's Anti-Atheist Bigotry

Hillary Clinton on the Pledge of Allegiance: Clinton's Anti-Atheist Bigotry

Why Does Hillary Clinton Treat Atheists as Unpatriotic Outsiders?

The Pledge of Allegiance tells us whether a politician truly believes in political equality for all or if they only believe in equality for those who believe in God like they do. We won't have a national politician oppose the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance any time soon because anti-atheist bigotry is so strong, but the degree to which a politician defends it says a lot about how bigoted they are. Hillary Clinton seems to be very, very bigoted against atheists. We can't expect strong support from her for our equality, but we shouldn't see her repeating the Christian Right's major talking points and acting like a Christian Nationalist who would sees atheists as inferior outsiders.

On June 28, 2002, Hillary Clinton posted this statement on her Senate web site in response to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision striking down the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance:

I am surprised and offended by the decision of the Appeals Court of the 9th Circuit and hope that it will be promptly appealed and overturned.
What is "offensive" about ruling that a 1950s addition to the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional? One might find it legally dubious or ill-reasoned, but offensive? Only the most inveterate bigot is offended at minorities being treated as equals.
Imagine how a gay person feels when a straight person whines about being "offended" at gay marriage, or how a black person feels when a white person whines about being "offended" at blacks being promoted to management.

That's a little like how I feel when Hillary Clinton uses her official government web site to declare that she is "offended" when atheists are treated as equals alongside monotheists like herself. Perhaps Clinton should spend a little time examining her own prejudices to determine why it offensive to her when people who disagree with her theism are treated like political equals.
I believe that the Court has misinterpreted the intent of the framers of the Constitution and has sought to undermine one of the bedrock values of our democracy -- that we are indeed "one nation under God," as embodied in the pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.

There is no evidence that the authors of the Constitution had any "intent" that citizens or politicians swear a religious oath or hold particular religious beliefs in order to be patriotic. On the contrary, the fact that the Constitution has a prohibition against religious tests for public office demonstrates that it was their intent that religion and religious belief play no role in such matters.

Does Hillary Clinton really think that being "one nation under God" is a "bedrock value" of American democracy? If swearing an oath to or just believing that we are "one nation under God" were fundamental to democracy, the framers of the Constitution would have included this somewhere - yet America survived for most of its history without it. Does Hillary Clinton agree with Christian Nationalists that American democracy won't survive unless Christians remain a majority and retain power over non-Christians?

To suggest that people who don't submit to or believe in the Christian god don't subscribe to a necessary value of American democracy is not only unambiguous bigotry, but it also suggests that atheists can never truly be a part of American politics, government, culture, or society. It sends the message that atheists aren't just outsiders, but should also be treated with suspicion and distrust.

And the children of America, who share a bond with each other and with our nation by reciting the pledge each day -- what effect will a decision like this have on them? It will cause them to wonder about the ways in which our beliefs can be stretched, our heritage can be assaulted.

Is Hillary Clinton worried that Christian children will get upset when they stop reciting an oath which promotes their beliefs and their own superiority over atheists? It's more likely that parents than children would get upset, but only a bigot would be concerned about other bigots not liking it when the government stops telling them how special and superior they are.
How is it an "assault" on America's heritage to be more inclusive? This implies that Clinton believes it is contrary to America's heritage for the government to treat atheists as equals to theists like herself. That's as vile and bigoted as saying that Jews shouldn't be equal to Christians or blacks shouldn't equal to whites.

It's interesting that Clinton isn't able to cite a single legal argument against the decision - she obviously couldn't find a way to argue that it is wrong legally. Instead, she can only find ways to rail against it as being against America's "heritage" and "traditions.." Isn't that the same sort of argument used by men against women's suffrage and by whites against segregation?
But ours is the most faith-filled nation on Earth, and there is no moral or Constitutional argument why our pledge of allegiance cannot acknowledge our commonly held belief that ours is one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Actually, there is a good reason why the Pledge of Allegiance cannot endorse or promote the belief that America is "one nation under God," and it's the same reason why it cannot endorse or promote the belief that America is "one nation, under Jesus" or "one white nation, under God." It doesn’t matter how popular such beliefs are, or how common such beliefs have been through history. The government has no authority to promote such religious beliefs or to endorse bigotry.

A nation under the leadership of Hillary Clinton, however, might endorse and promote such religious bigotry because Hillary Clinton herself is an anti-atheist bigot who doesn't believe that atheists should be treated as political equals. Hillary Clinton is as bigoted against atheists as white person who wants the Pledge of Allegiance to state that America is "One White Nation under God."

Monday, January 7, 2008

Questions for Candidates

Here is a list of interesting questions for political candidates courtesy of the American Humanist Association.

Pointed Questions for Presidential Candidates Over the past seven years we've watched as the president and congress have repeatedly breached Thomas Jefferson's wall of separation between church and state. But now you can act to prevent a continuation of this process. At every opportunity you have, ask the candidates pointed questions on this issue. Or call on your local media to ask such questions. Write letters to the editor expressing church-state concerns. Request that your friends ask such questions. Let's make 2008 the year we begin to set things right as we publicly hold the feet of all presidential candidates to the proverbial fire. Here are ten questions to draw from or to modify in your own words.
1. Leaders of the religious right often say that America is a "Christian Nation." Do you agree with this statement?
2. Do you think houses of worship should be allowed to endorse political candidates and retain their tax exempt status?
3. Do you think public schools should sponsor school prayer or, as a parent, should this choice be left to me?
4. Would you support a law that mandates teaching creationism in my child's public school science classes?
5. Do you think my pharmacist should be allowed to deny me doctor-prescribed medications based on his or her religious beliefs?
6. Will you respect the rights of those in our diverse communities of faith who deem same-gender marriage to be consistent with their religious creed?
7. Should "faith-based" charities that receive public funds be allowed to discriminate against employees or applicants based on religious beliefs?
8. Do you think one's right to disbelieve in God is protected by the same laws that protect someone else's right to believe?
9. Do you think everyone's religious freedom needs to be protected by what Thomas Jefferson called "a wall of separation" between church and state?
10. What should guide our policies on public health and medical research: science or religion?

These suggested questions were developed by First Freedom First, a joint project of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Interfaith Alliance Foundation. First Freedom First is cosponsored by the American Humanist Association and its allies in the community of reason. So we urge you to use one or more of these questions if you attend a Town Hall meeting or another event where candidates for office will be gathering. You may also want to copy and paste these questions into an e-mail message to the candidates, an e-mail message to your friends, or a posting on an Internet discussion group or blog.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Golden Compass Flap

The new movie "The Golden Compass" is currently playing in four Santa Cruz area theaters. Some fundamental Christians as well as the Catholic League is appealing to all good Christains to boycott the film. What this does, of course, is that it creates enough additional publicity that more tickets are sold than might otherwise have been the case.

Anyway, I saw the film last week, and can't quite see what all the flap is about. Check it out for yourself.

Here's a link to an interesting article abou the issue: