Why Do Christian Right-Wingers Pretend America’s Laws Don’t Apply to Them?

Source: AlterNet

Author: Amanda Marcotte

The situation with Cliven Bundy of Nevada should be a no-brainer for people from both the left and the right. Bundy has been stealing from the taxpayers for years, illegally grazing his cattle on federal lands while refusing to pay for the privilege. Both liberals and conservatives pay taxes, so such blatant theft should outrage everyone equally. Indeed, conservative media claims to take theft from taxpayers very seriously, with Fox News spending so much time on the miniscule problem of food stamp cheats that the number of minutes spent on it has likely long ago exceeded the number of pennies lost to this non-problem.

Bundy has stolen far more than any hypothetical food stamp cheat ever did, but when the government tried to show up and take what was theirs, he met them with armed resistance, pushing him from the “ordinary fraud” category to the “violent criminal” column.

And yet, for some reason, Bundy’s outrageous theft of services from the taxpayers is not being taken seriously by the right-wing press. As Roy Edroso of Village Voice and Eric Boehlert of Media Matters have chronicled, the conservative response to the whole incident has ranged from minimizing the seriousness of the crime to outright cheering Bundy on in his efforts to use the threat of violence to continue stealing from the taxpayers.

It’s tempting to write this reaction off as a matter of idiocy married to identity politics. Bundy is a white guy in a cowboy hat wielding guns, which reads as “one of us” to many on the right, so they refuse to accept that he’s a bad guy no matter how much he threatens violence against federal officers simply for enforcing a law that applies to everyone. And no doubt that is part of what’s going on here. But really, what’s going on runs deeper than a knee-jerk desire on the part of the right to believe every white guy in a cowboy hat is a good guy. This is the logical extension of a push that’s grown in recent years from conservatives to argue that they, and only they, have special rights to simply disregard any law they don’t want to follow. And unfortunately that’s an argument that may be making headway this year in the Supreme Court.

The past couple of years have seen a surge in conservatives demanding special rights to disobey universally applicable federal laws on the grounds that they don’t believe in them. This argument has largely been treated favorably by right-wing media that would definitely not extend that courtesy to anyone else. The Hobby Lobby case is simply the most prominent. To recap,Hobby Lobby is arguing before the Supreme Court that because they don’t believe certain forms of contraception are allowed by their god, they shouldn’t be required to meet federal minimum standards requiring that contraception for healthcare plans offered to employees as part of their compensation package, even if the employees don’t believe in a birth control-hating god.

It’s alarming to think that Hobby Lobby is arguing that anyone should be able to ignore any law they want just by stating they don’t “believe” in it, but reading between the lines of their lawyer Paul Clemente’s arguments before the Supreme Court, it’s clear they think this right to exempt yourself from federal regulations should be exclusive to Christian conservatives.

When Justices Kagan and Sotomayor pressed Clemente to explain how being able to opt out of the contraception mandate wouldn’t lead to being able to opt out of offering insurance that covers vaccines or blood transfusions, Clemente waved their concerns off, saying that contraception was “so religiously sensitive, so fraught with religious controversy” in a way those other things aren’t. But, of course, there are religious groups that do think vaccines or blood transfusions are just as “fraught” as contraception, if not more so. The only difference is those groups don’t have the backing of the Christian right. Even without stating so explicitly, therefore, Clemente’s arguments rested on the assumption that the opt-out opportunities he’s pushing for would be for Christian conservatives and only them. The rest of you can go hang.

Similar logic was in play with the push in various states to pass laws giving rights to businesses to discriminate against customers or employees on the basis of gender or sexual orientation, as long as they ascribed their desire to do so on the grounds of “sincere religious belief.” Being allowed a special exemption to universally applicable laws doesn’t get any more blatant than that. There wasn’t even an attempt at propping up the illusion of fairness by, say, allowing gay or  female business owners to discriminate against religious bigots. Being a religious conservatives was the only way to be eligible for this special privilege of treating customers and employees like dirt if you want to.

While that spate of bills was defeated after public outcry, the narrative that conservatives have a special right—privilege, really—that no one else should have to defy any laws they happen not to like had rooted itself into right-wing media, which enthusiastically championed the idea that conservatives should be able to opt out of all sorts of laws as long as they wielded “religious belief” as an excuse.

Cliven Bundy doesn’t use religion as his excuse, but he still insists that since he doesn’t believe in the “United States government as even existing,” then he shouldn’t have to follow its laws. It’s a logical extension of the anti-gay and anti-contraception “opt out” arguments, rooted as it is in a belief that conservatives have a unique claim to simply reject any laws they don’t want to follow, even as they, like Bundy, take advantage of the amenities of citizenship.

No wonder conservative media is so warm to the guy. To be clear, none of these actions should be confused with civil disobedience, though some have tried. Civil disobedience is about changing unjust laws, not trying to get a special exception from the law for you and people like you. The only reason right-wing media is giving sympathetic coverage to Bundy is that he’s identifiable as a conservative and therefore his desire to make money off the backs of taxpayers without paying his fair share gets sympathetic treatment. But if he was black or female and got away with even a dollar more food stamps than he was owed, he would be treated like public enemy #1 by Fox News. Being able to shrug off laws you don’t like is a privilege reserved for the few in the world of conservative media.

Amanda Marcotte co-writes the blog Pandagon. She is the author of “It’s a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments.” 

Emphasis Mine

See: http://www.alternet.org/belief/why-do-christian-right-wingers-pretend-americas-laws-dont-apply-them?utm_source=Amanda+Marcotte%27s+Subscribers&utm_campaign=3c380f498a-RSS_AUTHOR_EMAIL&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_f2b9a8ae81-3c380f498a-79824733

The Internet Is Not Killing Religion, Religion is Killing Religion

Source: Religion Dispatches

Author: Elizabeth Drescher

“In the first decade of the seventeenth century in England, with the break with the Roman Catholic Church fully encoded into law and a bevy of scholars working to complete a new translation of the Bible under the sponsorship of the Protestant King James the VI of Scotland, a Lancaster minister, William Harrison, complained that “for one person which we have in the church to hear divine service, sermons and catechism, every piper (there be many in the parish) should at the same instant have many hundred on the greens.”

The comparative success of the piper over the preacher in gathering locals was possible even though church attendance at the time was a matter of law, punishable by fines, public shaming, and even imprisonment.

“Pipers are Killing Religion,” the town crier might well have declared, offering data on the correlation between the number of pipers in a village and the number of butts in local church pews.

Across the pond in the American colonies, religion was not faring much better. In his masterful reconstruction of American religious history, Awash in a Sea of Faith (from which the previous anecdote is drawn), Jon Butler reports that Christianity was “in crisis” in the New World:

Pennsylvania aside, the Restoration colonies of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and North and South Carolina exhibited extraordinary spiritual discord and sectarianism as well as a remarkable but all too familiar indifference to things spiritual. In America’s first European century, then, traditionally thought of as exclusively Puritan, Christian practice not only proved insecure but showed dangerous signs of declining rather than rising.

Colonialism, against its own Christianizing designs was, it seems, killing religion.

It didn’t get much better well after the Revolution, either, as the United States grew in population, global prestige, and wealth. Writing in 1910 about The Spiritual Unrest that characterized the country, muckraking journalist Ray Stannard Baker lamented:

Not only have the working classes become alienated from the churches, especially from the Protestant churches, but a very large proportion of well-to-do men and women who belong to the so-called cultured class have lost touch with church work. Some retain a membership, but the church plays no vital or important part in their lives. Thousands of men and women who contribute to the support of the churches, yet allow no church duty to interfere with the work or pleasures of their daily lives. They are neither inspired nor commanded. And what is more, this indifferentism is by no means confined to the “wicked city” but prevails throughout the country in small towns and villages as well as in large cities—except possibly in a few localities where “revivals” have recently stirred the people.

This “indifferentism,” Baker argued, was killing religion in America.

Pipers, colonialist debauchery, industrial age indifferentism—thank goodness, religionists might be forgiven for thinking, they didn’t have the internet! We’d have no religion at all by now!

This is clearly the gist of a now relatively steady stream of research and commentary that has formed itself into something of an exurban legend. One more time with feeling: The Internet is Killing Religion. I’ve talked about the absurdity of this claim so many times that I hardly had the energy to bang my head on my desk more than a few times when I saw the Google alerts replaying it in my inbox this week.

A new report from Allen Downey, a computer scientist at the Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts, published in the Journal of Things Allen Downey Felt Like Publishing (by way of an open-access article database hosted by Cornell University), has once again fanned the flames of this mythology by showing a “statistical association” between religious affiliation, level of college education, and internet use. This latter phenomenon Downey claims accounts for about25% of the decline in religious affiliation.

It should be noted that Downey kind of, sort of makes clear that the statistical association between internet use and affiliation “does not prove causation,” because he knows that people like me—“Someone who has taken an introductory statistics class” (But, ha!, some of us had to take it twice! So there!)—“might insist that correlation does not imply causation.”

My statistically muddled insistence be damned, however, because Downey doubles down by arguing that “correlation does provide evidence in favor of causation, especially when we can eliminate alternative explanations.” Like pipers, for instance.

What is missed, however, in the churning of this internet-killed-religion yarn is, first of all, that changes in complex phenomena—like being human or practicing religion in institutionalized membership-based groups—cannot be reduced to one factor or even a set of factors, no matter how diverse. Because I was a humanities major (I just had that one statistics class. Twice.), I turn to the novelist Margaret Drabble to explain what I’m getting at here:

You can’t learn everything from the laboratory, that’s what he used to say. The whole is more than the sum of its parts, he told us. The whole behaves differently from the parts, and has different properties. That’s what he taught us, and he was right. It’s out of fashion to say these days, when we spend our time scrutinizing the interactions of eukaryotic microbes, but it’s true, nevertheless. It’s still true. (The Sea Lady)

More significantly, the trouble with efforts that seek some root cause for what we have come to think of as an increasing decline in religious affiliation but which, when considered across a wider historical time span, turns out to be something of a normalization in affiliation patterns, is that it gets the question backwards.

That is, instead of asking why people aren’t religiously affiliated anymore, we might ask why they ever were. This question, which brings with it questions about what constitutes “religion” and “religious affiliation,” opens enquiry into the social and political construction of religious groups and the pressures borne upon ordinary people, often violently, to attend worship rather than, say, sitting in the park with family and friends enjoying the warmth of the sun, the smell of the grass, and perhaps the otherwise unlanguagable sigh of the human heart in certain moments of connection, contentedness, and wonder as a sweet piper’s tune sings into the air. It allows us, following Talal Asad’s critique of William Cantwell Smith’s conception of “faith,” to consider what elements of human experience are deliberately and incidentally left out of whatever it is we might understand as “religion” in its institutionalized forms, and why. Who is served by the various exclusions and inclusions of institutional religion? To what ends? And who is harmed?

What we might consider, then, with much more nuance and complexity than mere data manipulation can possibly tell us, is whether the idea of religion along with the institutional and ideological structures this idea has sponsored, has begun to run its course in Western culture. At the least, we might look at they ways in which other social platforms—coffee shops, cycling groups, drop-in yoga classes, and, yes, online social networking sites—have begun to reconfigure and redistribute benefits traditionally correlated with (but not necessarily caused by) religion and to mitigate its associated harms (even if also accruing harms of its own).

No—alas, I must say it again—the internet is not killing religion. But it does seem to more and more people that, cries of its own victimization notwithstanding, religion has killed off more than its share of pipers over time. How about we look into that?

Emphasis Mine


Why Americans Are Losing Their Religion at a Startling Rate

Source: Salon via AlterNet

Author: Sarah Grey

(N.B.: IMHA, this is a good trend)

New research from Allen Downey, a computer scientist at Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts, shows a startling correlation between the rise of the Internet and the decline of religious affiliation in the United States.

According to MIT Technology Review [3], back in 1990 only eight percent of the U.S. population did not have a religious affiliation. Twenty years later in 2010 that number was up to 18 percent. That is a jump of 25 million people. Americans seem to be losing their religion, and from Downey’s research we may have an answer.

The data Downey looked at is from the General Social Survey, which according to MIT Technology Review is “a widely respected sociological survey carried out by the University of Chicago.” Since 1972, the survey has been measuring the population’s demographics and attitudes.

The approach to looking at the survey material was to see how socioeconomic status, education, religious upbringing and other factors correlated with the drop in religious affiliation. This is a good time to talk about the difference between correlation and causation. The data from the survey shows a relationship between these factors and decreased religious affiliation, but not direct causation.

Downey’s findings show that religious upbringing is the largest influence on religious affiliation. However a drop in religious upbringing starting in 1990, does not account for the entire drop of religious affiliation. According to the analysis, religious upbringing was important, but only explicated 25 percent of the drop.

Higher education at the college level also has a relationship with the drop in religiosity. But the study shows that rates of the college education from the 1980s to 2000s only went up a little under 10 percent (from 17.4 to 27.2). Statistically, this can only account for five percent of the drop.

The internet, if you can believe it, has a much higher correlation than college education. According to the study, Internet use went from near zero percent in the 1980s, to 53 percent of the population spending up to two hours a week online in the 2000s. MIT Technology Review reports:

“This increase closely matches the decrease in religious affiliation. In fact, Downey calculates that it can account for about 25 percent of the drop.”

Twenty-five percent — the same percent correlation as religious upbringing. And while this is only a correlation (X might cause Y, Y might cause X, W and X might cause Y, etc.) and not a direct causation (X causes Y), Downy says, “Correlation does provide evidence in favor of causation, especially when we can eliminate alternative explanations or have reason to believe that they are less likely.”

The way to eliminate the “Y maybe causing X” possibility is looking at the inverseFrom MIT Technology Review [3]:

“For example, it’s easy to imagine that a religious upbringing causes religious affiliation later in life. However, it’s impossible for the correlation to work the other way round. Religious affiliation later in life cannot cause a religious upbringing (although it may color a person’s view of their upbringing).

It’s also straightforward to imagine how spending time on the Internet can lead to religious disaffiliation. ‘For people living in homogeneous communities, the Internet provides opportunities to find information about people of other religions (and none), and to interact with them personally,’ says Downey. ‘Conversely, it is harder (but not impossible) to imagine plausible reasons why disaffiliation might cause increased Internet use.’”

Of course we still have to contend with W and X causing Y — or a third factor that is causing both increased internet use and decreased religious affiliation. Thus far however, Downey has controlled most of the possible factors including income, environment, socioeconomic status, etc.

This still leaves us with nearly half of why religious affiliation is dropping in the United States unknown. One quarter going to religious upbringing, the other to the internet, and a small portion to higher education. A factor that was ruled out is date of birth, because that cannot alone cause why you are or are not religious. So what could this mystery factor be?

h/t MIT Technology Review [3]


Emphasis Mine


[1] http://www.salon.com
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/sarah-gray
[3] http://www.technologyreview.com/view/526111/how-the-internet-is-taking-away-americas-religion/
[4] http://www.alternet.org/tags/religion-0
[5] http://www.alternet.org/tags/internet-0
[6] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

Neil deGrasse Tyson Under Attack from Christians Who Want More Biblical Creationism on His Show

Source: AlterNet

Author: Amanda Marcotte

“Conservative Christians are really mad about the reboot of the legendary science series Cosmos, starring Neil deGrasse Tyson. The complaint? That an ancient myth about creation invented by Hebrews thousands of years ago is not being included in a show that is there to teach science. Christian conservatives have been taking to the airwaves complaining about the non-inclusion of ancient myths in a science program, with Danny Faulkner of Answers in Genesis whining, “Creationists aren’t even on the radar screen for them,” and Elizabeth Mitchell of the same organization decrying the show for having “blind faith in evolution.” (She’s just straight up lying here. Evolution is well-established by evidence, something Cosmos covers in its second episode.)

While it’s tempting to laugh off the idea that a creation myth should be injected into what is supposed to be a science program, maybe it’s not as zany as it initially seems. After all, anthropology is a science, and a creation myth segment could be a great way to introduce the way scientists study ancient cultures. But there’s no reason it has to be the one in the Bible, which everyone knows already. There’s been thousands of creation stories throughout time, so in the interest of fair-and-balanced, why not given one of these others a chance? Here are some potential creation stories, and the pros and cons for telling each one.

1. The ancient Greeks. Chaos, a goddess who also happens to be the entire universe, gave birth to Gaia, the Earth, and Uranus, the sky. Brother and sister married and gave birth to a bunch of Titans. One of those Titans, named Cronus, had a bad habit of eating his children, but Gaia was able to hide one of those babies, named Zeus, away from him. Zeus’ wife managed to get Cronus to barf up all his eaten children, and those children ended up, alongside Zeus, defeating their father in battle to become the Greek gods we all know and love. The invention of people is something of an afterthought in this legend, but a big deal is made out of how one gentle Titan, Prometheus, gave the people fire. This irritated Zeus, because he just really didn’t like people for some reason, and so he chained Prometheus to a mountain and made a bird steal his liver on the daily. He then punished people for fire-stealing by giving them a woman named Pandora who opened a box that released sin into the world.

Pros: The image of the sky copulating with the earth is pretty cool. The animations you could come up with for Cronus vomiting up his children would also be entertaining.

Cons: Just as with the story of Eve and the apple, this is a misogynist creation myth that blames all the misery and sin in the world on women.

2. Ancient Japanese creation myth. The gods, kicking around in the formlessness of space, decided to stir Earth into being so they had something to occupy their time. Two of them, a man and woman, do this little stirring dance-like routine, but the lady steps on the man’s lines, speaking before he does. This causes their babies to be rejects they have to throw out. So the couple redoes their little stirring routine and she acts more submissive this time around. Female submission, being magic, means that this time around, she is way better at producing usable children. Those children end up being a bunch of islands, because Japan, as you know, is a bunch of islands.

Pros: Many creation myths show the gods copulating the world into being, but few really spend much time on their pre-child dating life. This story has the appeal of a rom-com, complete with a dance scene.

Cons: Misogyny, just like in the Bible and the Greek creation myth. For some reason, men the world over were fond of making up creation stories that concluded with a lesson about how women are always screwing things up and therefore should not be allowed to have power.

3. Ancient Egyptian creation myth. The first god to emerge from chaos is named Atum. He, um, spits–okay, let’s be honest, he masturbates–and out shoot his two children, Shu, the god of air, and Tefnut, the goddess of moisture. (That, or he masturbates into his own mouth, rolls it around, and spits out his kids. I mean, it’s not, objectively speaking, any grosser than the methods we use today.) They commit incest, which is common in creation stories, making a god of earth and a goddess of sky. More incest results in more godly grandchildren, who get into ugly power struggles that result in the creation of the underworld, which was a big deal to ancient Egyptians.

Pros: This one is a winner for fans of body fluid. Not just because of Atum’s baby-making strategies, but because Tefnut’s name actually invokes body fluids in ancient Egyptian. Not particularly misogynist, either, suggesting that you can have a creation story without making “and women are terrible” the kicker.

Cons: People seem really unimportant to this story, so the narcissists in the audience might get bored. Also, as entertaining as Atum’s baby-making methods are, showing it on prime time TV would be impossible to get past the censors, even with Seth McFarlane’s support as a producer.

4. Ancient Norse creation myth. Fire and ice meet in the middle of nowhere to create Ymir, a large and sweaty giant who produced other giants by sweating them out. There was also a giant cow who licked salt licks until gods emerged from them. A salt lick god and a giant-sweat giantess got it on and produced Odin, who is their major god. Odin killed Ymir, the sweat creator, and built the earth out of his body, which means that if you’re taking a dip in the ocean, you’re swimming in sweat giant blood. The gods made people out of trees, which is a little nicer than the Bible’s God making people out of mud and ribs.

Pros: For one thing, the Avengers movies have made Norse mythology a little more familiar with their use of the god Thor as a character. More importantly, you can show giants emerging from another giant’s armpit while the gods bust out of salt licks. What’s not to love?

Cons: While watching a giant sweat out other beings is safer for broadcast television than watching an Egyptian god ejaculate out his children, it’s also not nearly as entertaining. Also, while you have to give points to the Norse for the loopiness of the image of a cow licking a salt lick until it ejects gods, cows just don’t make for good TV.

No one wants to hear the same old snake-and-apple routine we’ve all heard a thousand times before, but Cosmos could definitely give “equal time” to a creation myth while making it entertaining and educational. Just pick one of these four, or any of the thousands of others anthropologists have gathered over the years. Not that this would placate the conservatives demanding that ancient mythology be given a spot on a science education program. After all, a segment on creation myths would only serve to show that the myth in the Bible is just one of many, and lead many viewers to conclude that there was no more an Eve eating an apple than there was a Pandora opening her box.

Emphasis Mine


Why Religious Fundamentalists Are So Excited About Charter Schools

Source: AlterNet

Author: Dan Arel

(N.B.: it might also be noted that public school teachers are usually organized in collective bargaining units – anathema to conservative thinkers.) 

“It is no secret that Republicans dislike public education. They view it as a burden on the taxpayer and do not believe paying for someone else’s kid’s education should be their responsibility. Just this month Senator Paul Ryan (R-WI) was quoted at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) saying that kids who receive free school lunches have parents who do not care about them at home.

Ryan, like the rest of the Republican Party, sees public schools as a free handout, a program used by poor people who cannot afford private school and a secular institution that removes God from kids’ lives. They also know that everyone’s tax dollars pay for this and they have a plan to stop it.

Enter school vouchers. Not a new idea by any means, school vouchers came into being nearly 140 years ago in Vermont and Maine, but not how we know them today. In 1955, economist Milton Friedman brought them into the national spotlight in a paper titled, “The Role of Government in Education.” The whole plan was a way to fund private schools and tuitions with taxpayer dollars. Though the program introduced by Friedman gained little steam at the time, the ideas sat around the Republican Party think tanks for some time, and starting in 1989, the idea started to take off.

In 2012 Louisiana Republican Governor Bobby Jindal introduced legislation allowing parents to use vouchers to send their children to private schools. These vouchers work something like scholarships where poor students may be taken out of the “failing” public school and placed into a private religious school.

Jindal only placed about 8,000 poor students in the entire state into these private schools and the data from the LEAP testing done each year showed that those students in the private schools scored drastically lower (40% at or slightly above grade level) than the state average (69%)1.

Blogger Lamar White looked into the discrimination that goes into the private schools benefiting from the voucher system:

Private schools, after all, are prohibited from using race as a factor in admissions. But they’re not prohibited from using religion or sexual orientation. And Louisiana’s voucher program is funding schools that actively and purposely discriminate against children who are not members of their sponsoring church. In fact, in some cases, we’re actually being asked to pay more to schools for tuition for students who don’t belong to the school’s sponsoring church than we pay for a student who does. We’re subsidizing a parallel system of schools that discriminates against kids for being gay or being physically or mentally disabled (because private schools are not subject to the same standards with respect to disabled students as public schools are).

White showed that taxpayer dollars, through the voucher system, are paying for educational institutions to discriminate based on religion and sexual orientation. Though the Unites States Constitution strictly prohibits this discrimination, these religious schools have learned to exploit loopholes through church and state separation.

The private schools do not have to teach science in the same way public schools do. Louisiana private schools are known for teaching that Darwin was wrong, and that the answer to how life came to be on earth is not evolution but creationism. They have also taught that the Great Depression was overblown by liberal propaganda.

This voucher project has not been deemed successful in Louisiana. Failing test scores and the butchery of science education on taxpayer dollars has left the state with subpar educational standards, money diverted from public schools to religious institutions and rampant discrimination.

After looking at this experiment, the Republican Party must be ready to shelve this idea, right? Not exactly.

On In January 2014 Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) introduced a bill to the Senate titled Scholarships for Kids (S. 1968 /H.R. 4000). The bill is a nationwide voucher program that would turn 63 percent of public school education funds into private school vouchers. Now, Alexander’s bill does not touch federal education money for subsidized school lunches, students with disabilities, and students in schools on federally impacted land or military bases, but the Republicans have that covered too. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) introduced his bill, the Opportunity for Individuals and Communities through Education (CHOICE) Act, to expand educational opportunities for children with disabilities, children living on military bases, and children living in impoverished areas.

If you think that sounds too good to be true, it is. Scott’s bill is a voucher system for those who need the funding most. Alexander’s and Scott’s bills combined would devastate the public school system. Together these two bills would turn all federal educational funding into vouchers and students living in poor, rural areas and students with disabilities would lose out.

The private school system, which is predominantly comprised of Catholic or Christian religious schools, would benefit greatly by not only receiving tuition fees, but also government funding. They would be free to teach whatever religious-based education they please while taxpayers pick up the tab.

As seen in Louisiana, students are not benefiting from vouchers. Regarding another city, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which is also using a voucher system, Politico reported that, “Just 13 percent of voucher students scored proficient in math and 11 percent made the bar in reading this spring. That’s worse on both counts than students in the city’s public schools.”

Politico went on to report about the standards of scientific education in these schools and that Zach Kopplin, a student activist fighting for a proper scientific education in the US, found that in more than 300 voucher schools teaching biblical creation, some are even going so far as to teach young earth creationism—the belief that the earth is only 6,000 to 10,000 years old.

Despite its failures, the Republican Party has been able to sell vouchers as saving taxpayers’ money while also giving them a choice in their children’s education. The idea has become a rallying cry of the Tea Party members and Libertarians inside the Republican Party. Libertarians see this as a step toward the privatization of education, removing government from the equation completely, and putting your child’s education on the free market. Former New Mexico governor and 2012 presidential candidate Gary Johnson was known for his voucher program launch for childcare in New Mexico, which resulted in a large boom in business for unregulated religious childcare institutions.

Many parents fall victim to this propaganda because they are unable to afford to send their children to fancy private schools and believe voucher programs will give them access to an education better than what’s available at public schools. Sadly, what these parents are left with are kids who get rejected from the school voucher scholarships and are made to return to their now more poorly funded public school, if they are lucky. Why lucky? Because overfunding private schools with vouchers will mean closing many public schools in the poorest of communities and forcing parents to drive one to two towns over to get their children to school.

Dan Arel is a freelance writer, speaker and secular advocate who lives in San Diego, CA. Follow him on Twitter @danarel.

Emphasis Mine

See: http://www.alternet.org/belief/why-religious-fundamentalists-are-some-biggest-beneficiaries-charter-schools?akid=11639.123424.KDdpVA&rd=1&src=newsletter974344&t=13

Christian Right Has Major Role in Hastening Decline of Religion in America

Source: Alternet

Author: CJ Werleman

Of those aged 18 to 35, three in 10 say they are not affiliated with any religion, while only half are “absolutely certain” a god exists. These are at or near the highest levels of religious disaffiliation recorded for any generation in the 25 years the Pew Research Center has been polling on these topics.

As encouraging as this data is for secular humanists, the actual numbers may be significantly higher, as columnist Tina Dupuy observes. “When it comes to self-reporting religious devotion Americans cannot be trusted. We under-estimate our calories, over-state our height, under-report our weight and when it comes to piety—we lie like a prayer rug.”

Every piece of social data suggests that those who favor faith and superstition over fact-based evidence will become the minority in this country by or before the end of this century. In fact, the number of Americans who do not believe in a deity doubled in the last decade of the previous century according to both the census of 2004 and the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) of 2008, with religious non-belief in the U.S. rising from 8.2 percent in 1990 to 14.2 percent in 2001. In 2013, that number is now above 16 percent.

If current trends continue, the crossing point, whereby atheists, agnostics, and “nones” equals the number of Christians in this country, will be in the year 2062. If that gives you reason to celebrate, consider this: by the year 2130, the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as Christian will equal a little more than 1 percent. To put that into perspective, today roughly 1 percent of the population is Muslim.

The fastest growing religious faith in the United States is the group collectively labeled “Nones,” who spurn organized religion in favor of non-defined skepticism about faith. About two-thirds of Nones say they are former believers. This is hugely significant. The trend is very much that Americans raised in Christian households are shunning the religion of their parents for any number of reasons: the advancement of human understanding; greater access to information; the scandals of the Catholic Church; and the over-zealousness of the Christian Right.

Political scientists Robert Putman and David Campbell, the authors of American Grace, argue that the Christian Right’s politicization of faith in the 1990s turned younger, socially liberal Christians away from churches, even as conservatives became more zealous. “While the Republican base has become ever more committed to mixing religion and politics, the rest of the country has been moving in the opposite direction.”

Ironically, the rise of the Christian Right over the course of the past three decades may well end up being the catalyst for Christianity’s rapid decline. From the moment Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority helped elect Ronald Reagan in 1980, evangelical Christians, who account for roughly 30 percent of the U.S. population, identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. Michael Spencer, a writer who describes himself as a post-evangelical reform Christian, says, “Evangelicals fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith. Evangelicals will be seen increasingly as a threat to cultural progress. Public leaders will consider us bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society.”

In light of the recent backlash against Republicans who supported the right-to-discriminate bills across 11 states, Spencer’s words seem prophetic. Republican lawmakers had expected evangelicals to mobilize in the aftermath of Arizona governor Jan Brewer’s veto of SB1062. Instead, legislatures in states like Mississippi, Kansas, and Oklahoma have largely backed down from attempts to protect “religious freedom” after a national outcry branded the proposed bills discriminatory. 

Every denomination in the U.S. is losing both affiliation and church attendance. In some ways the country is a half-generation behind the declining rate of Christianity in other western countries like the U.K., Australia, Germany, Sweden, Norway, France, and the Netherlands. In those countries, what were once churches are now art galleries, cafes and pubs. In Germany more than 50 percent say they do not believe in any god, and this number is declining rapidly. In the U.K., church attendances have halved since the 1970s.

A recent study into the beliefs of people living in 137 countries concludes that religious people will be a minority in many developed countries by 2041. Nigel Barber, an Irish bio-psychologist, based his book, Why Atheism Will Replace Religion, on the findings. His book also debunks the popular belief that religious groups will dominate atheistic ones because they collectively have more children. “Noisy as they can be, such groups are tiny minorities of the global population and they will become even more marginalized as global prosperity increases and standards of living improve,” writes Barber.

Anthropologists have often stated that religion evolved to help early man cope with anxiety and insecurity. Barber contends that supernatural belief is in decline everywhere for the fact that ordinary people enjoy a decent standard of living and are secure in their health and finances. “The market for formal religion is also being squeezed by modern substitutes such as sports and entertainment. Even Facebook is killing religion because it provides answers for peculiarly modern narcissistic anxieties for which religion has no answer,” observes Barber.

While some polls show roughly 9 in 10 Americans still maintain belief in a god or gods, the trend of religious young Americans is toward a mish-mash of varied religious beliefs. A 2010 USA Today survey revealed that 72 percent of the nation’s young people identify as “more spiritual than religious.”

With an increasingly majority of younger Americans accepting evolution as fact, Christianity for many under 35 is becoming a watered-down hybrid of eastern philosophy and biblical teachings. “The turn towards being ‘spiritual but not religious’ points at the decreasing observation of doctrine and strict rules and a broader relationship to sentiment and ‘Jesus and me’ on the one hand alongside the rise of yoga, Buddhism, Hinduism and a blend or smorgasbord of eastern practices with the idea of being loosely/broadly spiritual—yet not in any specific context or foundation of the Trinity, Seven Deadly Sins, Karma, Nirvana or any of the pillars or branches of belief,” writes Alan Miller, moderator of a “spiritual but not religious” event.

Young people are turning away from the church and from basic Christian beliefs. While a number of non-denominational mega-churches continue to thrive, their teachings are less dogma and more self-help. Eventually, Christianity-Lite will be replaced with Spirituality-Full Strength.

Certainly, pro-secular groups have been largely successful in removing Jesus from the public square, workplace and classroom.

All of which leaves only one self-evident conclusion: that despite the Christian Right’s well-funded and well-organized effort to transform America’s secular state into a tyrannical theocracy, Christianity will inevitably mirror the days of its origins i.e. something that is only whispered about in secretly guarded places. And that may happen sooner than you think.

Emphasis Mine


3 Reasons Science Deniers Are Freaking Out About Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Cosmos”

Source: AlterNet

Author: Chris Mooney

The following post first appeared on Mother Jones. For more great content, subscribe to Mother Jones here. 

If you think the first episode of the new Fox Cosmos series was  controversial (with its relatively minor mentions of climate change, evolution, and the Big Bang),  Sunday night’s show (16 March) threw down the gauntlet. Pretty much the entire episode was devoted to the topic of evolution, and the vast profusion of evidence (especially  genetic evidence) showing that it is indeed the explanation behind all life on Earth. At one point, host Neil deGrasse Tyson stated it as plainly as you possibly can: “The theory of evolution, like the theory of gravity, is a scientific fact.” (You can watch the full episode  here.)

Not surprisingly, those who deny the theory of evolution were not happy with this. Indeed, the science denial crowd hasn’t been happy with Cosmos in general. Here are some principal lines of attack:

1. Denying the Big Bang: In the first episode of Cosmos, titled “Standing Up in the Milky Way,” Tyson dons shades just before witnessing the Big Bang. You know, the start of everything. Some creationists, though, don’t like the Big Bang; at Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis, a  critique of Cosmos asserts that “the big bang model is unable to explain many scientific observations, but this is of course not mentioned.”

Alas, this creationist critique seems very poorly timed: A  major new scientific discovery, just described in detail in the New York Times, has now provided  “smoking gun” evidence for ” inflation,” a crucial component of our understanding of the stunning happenings just after the Big Bang. Using a special telescope to examine the cosmic microwave background radiation (which has been dubbed the ” afterglow” of the Big Bang), researchers at the South Pole detected ” direct evidence” of the previously theoretical  gravitational waves that are believed to have originated in the Big Bang and caused an incredibly sudden and dramatic inflation of the universe. (For an easy to digest discussion, Phil Plait  has more.)

2. Denying evolution: Sunday’s (16 March) episode of Cosmos was all about evolution. It closely followed the rhetorical strategy of Charles Darwin’s world-changing 1859 book, On the Origin of Species, beginning with an example of “artificial selection” by breeders (Darwin used pigeons, Cosmos used domestic dogs) to get us ready to appreciate the far vaster power of natural selection. It employed Darwin’s favorite metaphor: the “tree of life,” an analogy that helps us see how all organisms are living on different branches of the same hereditary tree. In the episode, Tyson also refuted one of the creationist’s  favorite canards: the idea that complex organs, like the eye, could not have been produced through evolution.

3. Denying climate change: Thus far, Cosmos has referred to climate change in each of its two opening episodes, but has not gone into any depth on the matter. Perhaps that’s for a later episode. But in the meantime, it seems some conservatives are already bashing Tyson as a global warming proponent.  Writing at the Media Research Center’s Newsbusters blog, Jeffrey Meyer critiques a recent Tyson appearance on Late Night With Seth Myers. “Meyers and deGrasse Tyson chose to take a cheap shot at religious people and claim they don’t believe in science i.e. liberal causes like global warming,” writes Meyer.  Over at the pro-”intelligent design” Discovery Institute, they’re not happy. Senior fellow David Klinghoffer  writes that the latest Cosmos episode “[extrapolated] shamelessly, promiscuously from artificial selection (dogs from wolves) to minor stuff like the color of a polar bear’s fur to the development of the human eye.” In a much more elaborate  attempted takedown, meanwhile, the institute’s Casey Luskin accuses Tyson and Cosmos of engaging in “attempts to persuade people of both evolutionary scientific views and larger materialistic evolutionary beliefs, not just by the force of the evidence, but by rhetoric and emotion, and especially by leaving out important contrary arguments and evidence.” Luskin goes on to contend that there is something wrong with the idea of the “tree of life.” Tell that to the scientists involved in the Open Tree of Life project, which plans to produce “the first online, comprehensive first-draft tree of all 1.8 million named species, accessible to both the public and scientific communities.” Precisely how to reconstruct every last evolutionary relationship may still be an open scientific question, but the idea of common ancestry, the core of evolution (represented conceptually by a tree of life), is not.

Actually, as Tyson explained on our  Inquiring Minds podcast, Cosmos is certainly not anti-religion. As for characterizing global warming as simply a “liberal cause”: In a  now famous study finding that 97 percent of scientific studies (that bother to take a position on the matter) agree with the idea of human-caused global warming, researchers reviewed 12,000 scientific abstracts published between the years 1991 and 2011. In other words, this is a field in which a very large volume of science is being published. That hardly sounds like an advocacy endeavor.

On our most recent episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast, Tyson explains why he doesn’t debate science deniers; you can listen here (interview starts around minute 13):

Emphasis Mine