Tag: AlterNet

10 Signs Religious Fundamentalism Is in Decline

Source: AlterNet

Author: Valerie Tarico

“Days may be dark right now—after all, as the memes proclaim, axial tilt is the reason for the season. But things are looking bright for those who would like to see humanity more grounded in science and reason. If you are a nonbeliever in the mood for a party, here are 10 reasons to celebrate.

1. Coming out atheist is up and coming. In May 2013, after a deadly tornado destroyed her home, young mother Rebecca Vitsmun gave an unexpected answer when CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked whether she thanked the Lord for her decision to flee. Vitsmun tells the story in a sometimes-tearfulinterview with Seth Andrews, host of the Thinking Atheist. “I had this moment in which I realized you either lie or tell the truth, and I’m not a liar.” In that moment, Vitsmun outed herself not only to a national media audience but also to her Christian parents and friends.

Vitsmun’s situation was extraordinary, but candor about nonbelief is becoming more and more commonplace. From Hollywood celebs like Angelina Jolie to high school students, skeptics are opening up about their beliefs and values—or simply declining to lie when asked. (A quick-read book, Mom, Dad, I’m an Atheist, offers tips for those who are contemplating when, where and how best to come out.)

2. The cutting edge of freethought is less cutting and edgy. In generations past, coming out as an atheist required a devil-may-care attitude. The social and even financial costs were so high that most admitted atheists were also unflinching social activists, people who had a high degree of zeal and high tolerance for conflict. Most were also white males who were comparatively safe taking on the religious establishment. Until recently, then, atheism was virtually synonymous with anti-theism, and even today people complain that pioneers of the New Atheist movement like DawkinsHarris, Dennett, and the late great Hitchens are unnecessarily antagonistic.

But thanks in part to their courage and flame-throwing, a new generation is emerging, one that sees atheism not as an end point, but as a beginning. Alain de Botton’s TED talk and book, Atheism 2.0, simply posits the nonexistence of God and then goes on to discuss what humanity can glean from the rubble of religious traditions. Many younger people are casting aside labels and adopting what fits from religious holidays and traditions, in the same way that they mix and match cultural, racial or sexual identities. As boundaries soften, more women, Hispanics andblacks are joining or even leading the conversations.

3. Biblical sexuality is getting binned. Finally. In the last part of December, marriage equality became law in two more states: New Mexico, and—drumroll—Utah! Even more exciting is the fact that legal changes can barely keep up with shifting attitudes about queer sexuality. Things are changing when it comes to straight sex, too, and not in keeping with biblical priorities. Perhaps the most consistent sexual theme in the Bible is that a woman’s consent is not needed or even preferred before sex. By demanding an end to rape culture, today’s young women and men are making the Bible writers look as if they were members of a tribal, Iron Age culture in which women were property like livestock and children—to be traded, sold and won in battle. Small wonder the culture warriors have ramped up their fight against contraception and abortion. Imagine if, on top of everything else, all women got access to expensive top-tier contraceptives and the power to end ill-conceived childbearing.

4. Recovering believers are reclaiming their lives. Most atheists and agnostics are former believers, which means that many carry old psychological baggage from childhood beliefs or some post-childhood cycle of conversion and deconversion. While many former believers slip out of religion unscathed, some do not, and believers in recovery now have a name: reclaimers. A small but growing number of cognitive scientists are exploring the relationship between religion and mental illnesses like depression, anxiety disorders and panic. Marlene Winell, a California consultant who works full time with recovering fundamentalists, has brought attention to a pattern she calls Religious Trauma Syndrome. Darrel Ray has created a matching service for secular clients and therapists, while Kathleen Taylor at Oxford has raised the question of whether religious fundamentalism itself may one day be treatable.

5. Communities are coming together. When two British comedians, Pippa Evans and Sanderson Jones, launched a “sort-of church” for nonbelievers last January, their Sunday Assembly got media attention around the world. By December, they were on a 40-day tour of 40 cities from Auckland to Portland helping local groups launch assemblies of their own.

Their quirky effort is part of a much broader movement among atheists who are exploring how to build communities that provide mutual assistance, outlets for wonder and delight, rituals to mark holidays, and organized volunteering. Some, like the Sunday Assembly or Jerry DeWitt’s Community Mission Chapel, deliberately draw on the structure of the traditional church service, with music and a brief lecture followed by tea and coffee. Others, like Seattle Atheists, use social media to organize a broad array of lectures, community service opportunities and recreation. Harvard’s Humanist Community opened doors on a new Humanist Hub for both students and locals on December 8. Even clergy who have lost their faith are banding together for mutual support and friendship.

6. Secular giving is growing. In times of crisis, faith communities often step in to provide emergency assistance or to help those who are most poor and desperate. Proselytizing aside, churches are able to provide real service because they have both the will and the necessary infrastructure. Increasingly, atheists and humanists are saying, we need to do the same. Since 2010, the Foundation Beyond Belief has given away almost $1.5 million raised from nonbelievers who can give as little as $5 a month, and is now turning attention to building a corps of humanist volunteers, which is also a focus of the Harvard community. In July, the Foundation Beyond Belief will host its first conference, Humanism at Work.

7. The Religious Right is licking wounds. Bets are still out on whether the Catholic Bishops and the Southern Baptists are retreating or simply rebranding, but either one is good for people who care about science, reason, compassion, or the common good. What’s clear is that the two most powerful hierarchies in the Religious Right have realized that they can’t simply seize the reins of power and remake secular institutions along theological lines. Pope Francis has given a mixture of signals on how much evidence and compassion will guide church priorities—mostly along the lines of yes if you’re poor, no if you’re female. Russell Moore, new head of the Southern Baptist Convention, has warned that Baptists shouldn’t be “mascots for any political faction.” The takeaway for all of us? Fearful, authoritarian conservatives have been smacked back in their patriarchal power plays, and they know it. Shining a light on cruelty, bigotry and ignorance works.

8. Texas is evolving! The State of Texas is such a large textbook market that Texas standards can influence content across the nation. This means that a handful of well-placed wingnuts in Texas can reshape the next generation’s understanding of science or history. Thanks to the hard work of the Texas Freedom Network and young activists, public school texts in Texas will be teaching biological science rather than creationism. This fall, reviewers appointed by the Texas Board of Education pushed to include creationism in the texts, but publishers pushed back. Acceptance of evolution is growingacross the country. As Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” Ultimately, the review panel itself rejected creationist arguments. Now that’s evolution!

9. Millennials are taking up the torch. When it comes to separation of church and state, young people are teaming up with established players like the Freedom From Religion Foundation for some real wins. Many of the most hopeful, inspiring freethought stories of 2013 had young protagonists, and we can expect more of the same moving forward. Zack Kopplin was still in high school when he took on the state of Louisiana over creationism in schools. Now he is a full-time science advocate and columnist for the Guardian. “Evil little thing” Jessica Ahlquist, whose lawsuit forced removal of a prayer banner at her high school in 2012, has continued a path of secular activism. Inspiring stories of other young church-state activists can be found here.

10. Rebuilding the wall of separation isn’t the only place Millennials are leading the way. Young adults who grew up isolated in abusive homeschooling situations have created a network, Homeschoolers Anonymous, so that they can lend each other support and fight for change. When a Catholic school in Bellevue, Washington fired a gay teacher, hundreds of students walked out chanting, “Change the church.” Their protest was picked up by students at other schools and Catholic alumni. A new documentary movie with a millennial production crew, The Unbelievers, has been described as a rock concert love-fest between biologist Richard Dawkins and physicist Larry Krause and their young fan base of science lovers.

For those who want to find secular inspiration rather than to join a fight for rights and reason, young photographer Chris Johnson has created a coffee table book that challenges readers to grab hold of this one precious life: A Better Life—100 Atheists Speak Out About Joy and Meaning in a World Without GodThe title says it all.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington and the founder of Wisdom Commons. She is the author of “Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light” and “Deas and Other Imaginings.” Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.

Emphasis Mine

See: http://www.alternet.org/belief/10-signs-religious-fundamentalism-decline?akid=11356.123424.Av3M9t&rd=1&src=newsletter942324&t=3

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Right-Wing Is Filled with Biblical Illiterates: They’d Be Shocked by Jesus’ Teachings if They Ever Picked Up a Bible

Source: AlterNet

Author: CJ Werleman

“Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly defended the Republican Party’s spending cuts for SNAP by effectively declaring Jesus would not support food stamps for the poor because most them are drug addicts. If his insensitive remark is inconsistent with Scripture, which it is, then the question becomes why do talking heads on the right get away with proclaiming what Jesus would or wouldn’t support?

The answer is simple: Conservatives have not read the Bible.

The Right has successfully rebranded the brown-skinned liberal Jew, who gave away free healthcare and was pro-redistributing wealth, into a white-skinned, trickledown, union-busting conservative, for the very fact that an overwhelming number of Americans are astonishingly illiterate when it comes to understanding the Bible. On hot-button social issues, from same-sex marriage to abortion, biblical passages are invoked without any real understanding of the context or true meaning. It’s surprising how little Christians know of what is still the most popular book to ever grace the American continent.

More than 95 percent of U.S. households own at least one copy of the Bible. So how much do Americans know of the book that one-third of the country believes to be literally true? Apparently, very little, according to data from the Barna Research group. Surveys show that 60 percent can’t name more than five of the Ten Commandments; 12 percent of adults think Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife; and nearly 50 percent of high school seniors think Sodom and Gomorrah were a married couple. A Gallup poll shows 50 percent of Americans can’t name the first book of the Bible, while roughly 82 percent believe “God helps those who help themselves” is a biblical verse.

So, if Americans get an F in the basic fundamentals of the Bible, what hope do they have in knowing what Jesus would say about labor unions, taxes on the rich, universal healthcare, and food stamps? It becomes easy to spread a lie when no one knows what the truth is.

The truth, whether Republicans like it or not, is not only that Jesus a meek and mild liberal Jew who spoke softly in parables and metaphors, but conservatives were the ones who had him killed. American conservatives, however, have morphed Jesus into a muscular masculine warrior, in much the same way the Nazis did, as a means of combating what they see as the modernization of society.

Author Thom Hartmann writes, “A significant impetus behind the assault on women and modernity was the feeling that women had encroached upon traditional male spheres like the workplace and colleges. Furthermore, women’s leadership in the churches had harmed Christianity by creating an effeminate clergy and a weak sense of self. All of this was associated with liberalism, feminism, women, and modernity.”

It’s almost absurd to speculate what Jesus’ positions would be on any single issue, given we know so little about who Jesus was. Knowing the New Testament is not simply a matter of reading the Bible cover to cover, or memorizing a handful of verses. Knowing the Bible requires a scholarly contextual understanding of authorship, history and interpretation.

For instance, when Republicans were justifying their cuts to the food stamp program, they quoted 2 Thessalonians: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” One poll showed that more than 90 percent of Christians believe this New Testament quote is attributed to Jesus. It’s not. This was taken from a letter written by Paul to his church in Thessalonica. Paul wrote to this specific congregation to remind them that if they didn’t help build the church in Thessalonica, they wouldn’t be paid. The letter also happens to be a fraud. Surprise! Biblical scholars agree it’s a forgery written by someone pretending to be Paul.

What often comes as a surprise to your average Sunday wine-and-cracker Christian is the New Testament did not fall from the sky the day Jesus’ ghost is said to have ascended to Heaven. The New Testament is a collection of writings, 27 in total, of which 12 are credited to the authorship of Paul, five to the Gospels (whomever wrote Luke also wrote Acts), and the balance remain open for debate i.e. authorship unknown. Jesus himself wrote not a single word of the New Testament. Not a single poem, much less an op-ed article on why, upon reflection, killing your daughter for backchat is probably not sound parenting.

The best argument against a historical Jesus is the fact that none of his disciples left us with a single record or document regarding Jesus or his teachings. So, who were the gospel writers? The short answer is we don’t know. What we do know is that not only had none of them met Jesus, but also they never met the people who had allegedly met Jesus. All we have is a bunch of campfire stories from people who were born generations after Jesus’ supposed crucifixion. In other words, numerous unidentified authors, each with his own theological and ideological motives for writing what they wrote. Thus we have not a single independently verifiable eyewitness account of Jesus—but this doesn’t stop Republicans from speaking on his behalf.

What we do know about Jesus, at least according to the respective gospels, is that Jesus’ sentiments closely echoed the social and economic policies of the political left. The Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount read like the mission statement of the ACLU: “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is kingdom of heaven,” “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” and “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Jesus also said, “Judge not he who shall not be judged,” and “Sell what you have and give it to the poor.”

So, when Republicans accuse Obama of being a brown-skinned socialist who wants to redistribute the wealth, they’re thinking of Jesus. Stephen Colbert joked, “Jesus was always flapping his gums about the poor but never once did he call for a tax cut for the wealthiest 2 percent of Romans.”

  • Biblical illiteracy is what has allowed the Republican Party to get away with shaping Jesus into their image. That’s why politicians on the right can get away with saying the Lord commands that our healthcare, prisons, schools, retirement, transport, and all the rest should be run by corporations for profit. Ironically, the Republican Jesus was actually a devout atheist—Ayn Rand—who called the Christian religion “monstrous.” Rand advocated selfishness over charity, and she divided the world into makers versus takers. She also stated that followers of her philosophy had to chose between Jesus and her teachings. When the Christian Right believes it’s channeling Jesus when they say it’s immoral for government to tax billionaires to help pay for healthcare, education and the poor, they’re actually channeling Ayn Rand. When Bill O’Reilly claims the poor are immoral and lazy, that’s not Jesus, it’s Ayn Rand.

The price this country has paid for biblical illiteracy is measured by how far we’ve moved toward Ayn Rand’s utopia. In the past three decades, we’ve slashed taxes on corporations and the wealthy, destroyed labor unions, deregulated financial markets, eroded public safety nets, and committed to one globalist corporate free-trade agreement after another. Rand would be smiling down from the heaven she didn’t believe in.

With the far-right, Republican-appointed majority on the Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Koch brothers’ Citizens United, the flow of billions of dollars from anonymous donors to the most reliable voting bloc of the Republican Party—the Christian Right—will continue to perpetuate the biblically incompatible, anti-government, pro-deregulation-of-business, anti-healthcare-for-all, Tea Party American version of Christianity.

Emphasis Mine

See: http://admin.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/right-wing-filled-biblical-illiterates?akid=11309.123424.yYuy3C&rd=1&src=newsletter940206&t=3

 

5 Christian Right Delusions and Lies About History

Source: AlterNet

Author: Amanda Marcotte

“The Christian right is most known for their denial of inconvenient science, but in many respects, they’re just as bad when it comes to the facts of history. After all, no matter what the topic, they know they can just make stuff up and their people will believe it. So why not do the same when it comes to political history? Here are five examples.

1. Joe McCarthy was a good guy. A new and extremely toxic myth is beginning to percolate in on the Christian right: Insisting that Sen. Joseph McCarthy, a paranoid alcoholic who saw communist subversives in every corner, was actually an upstanding guy fighting for God and country. In 2003, Ann Coulter published a book she claims vindicates McCarthy, but its impact wasn’t felt until 2010 when the Christian right members who stack the Texas State School Board tried to get the pro-McCarthy theories into Texas school books.

Christian right fanatics attempted to claim that McCarthy had been vindicated by something (wrongly) called the “Verona papers” (they’re actually named the “Venona papers”). There is a Venona project that has reputed historians who show that the Soviets did have spies in the country, but saying that means McCarthy was right is like saying I’m right to call your mother a serial killer because there are serial killers in America. Harvey Klehr, one of the experts working on the Venona project, denounced Christian right efforts to exploit his work to vindicate McCarthy, noting that McCarthy mostly just fingered innocent people in his paranoid haze.

The new information from Russian and American archives does not vindicate McCarthy. He remains a demagogue, whose wild charges actually made the fight against communism more difficult. Like Gresham’s Law, McCarthy’s allegations marginalized the accurate claims. Because his facts were so often wrong, real spies were able to hide behind the cover of being one of his victims and even persuade well-meaning but naïve people that the whole anti-communist cause was based on inaccuracies and hysteria.

That the Soviets spied on the U.S. is neither surprising—not even to liberals—nor indicative that the communist witch hunts were an appropriate response. The Christian right’s interest in rehabilitating McCarthy probably has less to do with readjudicating the anti-communist cause and more to do with their modern-day obsession with promoting paranoid liars in the McCarthy mold to leadership positions. If they can instill the idea that McCarthy was vindicated by history, it will be easier to argue that the current crop of politically powerful right-wing nuts such as Michele Bachmann and Ted Cruz will actually “be proven right by history.” But McCarthy wasn’t and neither will they be.

2. What the Founding Fathers believed. For people who downright deify our Founding Fathers, the religious right is really hostile to accepting them as they actually were, which is not particularly religious, especially by the standards of their time. But David Barton, a revisionist “historian” whose name comes up again and again in these kinds of discussions, has spread the belief far and wide in the Christian right that the Founders were, in fact, fundamentalist Christians who are quite like the ones we have today. Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas confirms this, saying that Barton “provides the philosophical underpinning for a lot of the Republican effort in the country today.”

Barton has convinced the right to believe in their fervent wish that the Founders were religious and even theocratic with quote-mining and outright lying. He likes to whip out this John Adams quote: “There is no authority, civil or religious — there can be no legitimate government — but what is administered by this Holy Ghost.” Problem? Adams was summarizing the opinion of his opponents; that wasn’t Adams’ view at all.

Barton’s reputation took a hit recently. His most recent book, which tried to portray Thomas Jefferson as a “conventional Christian” who wanted a religious government, was so bad that even his Christian publisher decided to reject it.  But according to Politico, that’s just a small setback and Barton is quickly being restored to his position as an authority on history for gullible right-wingers. So that means his lies continue to grow and spread in right-wing circles—such as the completely made-up claim that the Constitution (which only mentions religion to insist the government stay out of it) is based on the Bible.

3. God’s protection. If you believe the lie that the Founders intended this to be a religious nation and that secularism is only a recent development, it’s not much of a leap to decide next that God, in his anger, has turned his back on the United States. And therefore that bad things are happening to us because he doesn’t protect us anymore.

You see this belief throughout the Christian right all the time. Every bad thing that happens is blamed on God removing his “hedge of protection” from the U.S. to punish us for turning our back on God in recent decades.School shootingsGlobal warmingHurricanes9/11.

The problem with this theory should be obvious: If God is turning away from America because we’re supposedly becoming more secular, then things were better back in the day. But when was this supposed Eden of American life supposed to have happened? During the Civil War? The Gilded Age of abusive labor practices? The Great Depression? WWI? WWII? Bad things are always happening, so the notion that they can only be blamed on God’s irritation with us sinners now makes no sense at all.

4. Roman civilization. The Christian right doesn’t just like to lie about our own history; they lie about other nations, too. A popular theory on the right is that the Roman Empire “collapsed” because growing decadence and liberalism caused people to, I don’t know, be too busy screwing to govern. It’s always a little hazy, but the formula is standard: Romans started having a bunch of sex, stuff fell apart, warning for America. Not a day goes by that you don’t hear this theory floated.

The problem with that theory is it makes no kind of sense. It’s not really right to suggest there was some kind decline in “moral values,” by which the Christian right means sexual prudishness, at all. Romans were pretty uptight.The rumors that they turned all perverted and debauched were made up by Christians trying to smear pagan culture. Rome didn’t really “fall” in the sense the Christian pundits mean, anyway. It was more a gradual decline of centralized power.

Anyway, the decline coincided with the rise of Christianity, which under the “God’s protection” theory means that God was punishing Rome for dropping paganism and adopting monotheism.

5. French revolution. One problem with characterizing the American revolution as Christian instead of secular is that there was another one shortly thereafter, built on the same basic ideals, that was undeniably secular due to the aggressive attacks on Catholic power. If the French were so secular, how could the Americans not be? The answer to the conundrum is to lie and claim there was some kind of gulf between the ideals of the French Revolution and the American Revolution.

Rick Santorum floated this theory at the 2013 Values Voters Summit, where he claimed the French revolutionaries were bad because they believed that rights and democracy stem from the social contract, instead of being handed down from God. Fair enough, though really the “reason” is probably closer to how they would have described it at the time, but where he goes off the rails is to insinuate that they were rejecting the values laid out by their fellow revolutionaries in America when they did this. In reality, the arguments of French and American revolutionaries are nearly identical, echoing philosophers like John Locke who were trying to construct an ideal of rights and freedoms that is frankly secularist in nature. “

Emphasis Mine

see: http://www.alternet.org/belief/5-christian-right-delusions-and-lies-about-history?akid=11177.123424.GM743e&rd=1&src=newsletter928098&t=3&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

 

America Is Not a Christian Nation and Never Has Been: Why Is the Right Obsessed With Pushing a Revisionist History?

Source: AlterNet

(N.B.: It might be noted that the first four of the ten commandments directly contradict the First Amendment.)

Author:  Amanda Marcotte

“It’s common to hear conservatives say things like Paul Ryan did during the campaign: “Our rights come from nature and God, not from government.” Liberals shrug most of the time when they hear such rhetoric. It sounds like an empty platitude, much like praising the troops or waving the flag, that makes audiences feel good but doesn’t actually have any real-world importance. What liberals don’t understand, however, is that what sounds like an empty platitude actually signifies an elaborate, paranoid theory on the right about sneaky liberals trying to destroy America, a theory that is being used to justify all manner of incursions against religious freedom and separation of church and state.

The Christian right theory goes something like this: Once upon a time, a bunch of deeply religious Christian men revolted against the king of England and started a new nation with a Constitution based on the Bible. Being deeply religious fundamentalist Christians, they intended for their new society to reflect Christian values and the idea that rights come from God. But then a bunch of evil liberals with a secularist agenda decided to deny that our country is a Christian nation. Insisting that rights come from the government/the social contract/rational thinking, these secularists set out to dismantle our Christian nation and replace it with an unholy secularist democracy with atheists running amok and women getting abortions and gays getting married and civilization collapse. For some reason, the theory always ends with civilization collapse. The moral of the story is that we better get right with God and agree that he totally gave us our rights before the world ends. Insert dramatic music here.

None of this actually went down that way, but there are Christian right revisionist historians who are pushing this claim hard. David Barton is a major advisor to all sorts of Christian right figures and he has long promoted the completely false theory that the Founders wanted something very close to a Christian theocracy. Indeed, in their desperation to make people believe what simply isn’t true, activists on the right have even gone so far as to try to push Barton’s lies about the Founders into public school textbooks. The notion that America’s founders believed rights come “from God” goes straight back to Barton’s making-stuff-up style of “history.”

Despite the fact that liberals rarely engage them on this point, Christian right thinkers are forever ranting on about it. Rick Santorum’s speech at the Values Voter Summit this past weekend is an excellent example of the form. He delivered an inane, inaccurate lecture about the French revolution, describing it as doomed from the get-go because the revolutionaries believed in “equality, liberty, and fraternity,” which he contrasted with the Americans who supposedly believed in “paternity,” i.e. the theory that rights come from God. Rick Santorum debated the long-dead French revolutionaries, assuming that the word “fraternity” was an attempt to avoid admitting there was a God and then blaming everything bad that happened to France since then on its secularist government.

Glenn Beck is forever fired up about the debates he has in his head with imaginary liberals about where rights come from. On a recent rant emphasizing the importance of the “rights come from God” narrative, Beck got so wound up he recommended screaming at and even pushing your kids in order to get them to agree that rights come from God.

What’s weird about all this is that, in the real world, liberals don’t really spend much, if any, time thinking about this supposedly world-shatteringly important question of where rights come from. The debates conservatives are having on this point are occurring mainly with imaginary liberals hiding in their heads (or dead French revolutionaries). If pressed, most liberals would probably agree rights stem from a combination of the social contract and a general understanding of what’s fair and not because God wrote down our rights on some stone tablet somewhere. We might even note that as much as right-wingers wish otherwise, our secular vision is what the Founders originally imagined. But for liberals, the very idea that we’re having a “debate” about this is asinine. Most of us are less worried about trying to figure out where rights come from than we are focused on defending human rights, usually from attacks from conservatives.

So why do conservative Christians care so much? Why is it so important to them to establish that rights come from God that they will make up imaginary liberals to argue the point with, rather than just move on?

Two reasons: One, this argument makes it easier for the right to actually restrict the number of rights they will accept that people have, all while pretending to be pro-rights. Two, it gives them an excuse to ignore the First Amendment and the well-established fact that the U.S. is, like France, a secular democracy and not a Christian theocracy.

What’s nice about the “rights come from God” theory is that it makes it easier to deny that new rights can be established. Since the 18th century, a lot of rights have been granted that didn’t exist back then: The right not to be enslaved, the right of all adults to vote, the right to have some time off from your job. Conservatives resisted each of these rights and continue on that path today, resisting more recently established rights, such as the right to be free from discrimination based on race, gender, or sexual orientation. By saying that God informed the Founding Fathers what rights there were, conservatives can claim that any rights that have been developed since then are illegitimate. Sure, it’s a lie, but it’s an awfully convenient one.

Second of all, by claiming that rights come from the god of fundamentalist Christians, conservatives can simply dismiss the idea that the rest of us have a right not to have their religion imposed on us. Santorum was very clear on this point, angrily railing that the secular view of rights meant that while Christians are allowed to go to church, they are prevented from imposing their views on others. Since rights come “from God,” in his view, an employer who believes in that God has a right to toy with a woman’s insurance benefits to try to stop her from using contraception. The “rights come from God” argument is used to distort the very idea of religious freedom.

In the right-wing view, “religious freedom” becomes the “right”—given to you by God—to force fundamentalist Christianity on others. That’s how they can claim it’s “religious freedom” to force their religion on others by government-sponsored prayer, teaching creationism in schools, restricting access to abortion and contraception, and banning gay marriage.

What are liberals to do? Well, as tempting as it is to take conservative bait and try to argue a secular version of where rights come from, the smarter move is to refocus the conversation. Where rights come from is less important than emphasizing how important rights are for people’s lives. The right to vote, to get an abortion, to have food on the table and access to a doctor, to marry whom you like: These aren’t rights because your version of God whispered it in your ear. We respect these rights because we know that people’s lives are made worse if they don’t have them. At the end of the day, distracting from real people’s lives is what conservatives are trying to do with all this talk about rights coming from God. Liberals shouldn’t allow that to happen.

Emphasis Mine

see: http://www.alternet.org/belief/america-not-christian-nation-and-never-has-been-why-right-obsessed-pushing-revisionist?akid=11049.123424.sF_rCS&rd=1&src=newsletter911096&t=9

 

Are Religious People More Depressed?

Source: AlterNet

Author: Amanda Marcotte

N.B: An interesting perspective!

“While non-religious people tend to reject religion because they find the evidence for a supernatural deity unconvincing, a new study shows that rejecting religion can be good not just logically, but emotionally.

While previous studies had suggested some emotional and social value to being religious, a new study that examined a huge number of people from around the world discovered that being religious is a risk factor for depressionAs explained by the Huffington Post, over 8,000 people from different countries from the UK to Chile, had their levels of religiosity measured. The study covered various economic and social groups and looked at the relationship between religiosity and depression.

The researchers found that religious people were more prone to depression, with rates of developing depression in places like the United Kingdom being three times as high for believers than non-believers. Studies like this are merely measuring risk factors and not necessarily suggesting a causal relationship so much as suggesting to clinicians traits to look out for when determining a patient’s chances of developing depression. However, the fact that the finding was both cross- and intra-cultural suggests that there may be more going on here than a simple correlation.

Is there anything about religion that might make people more prone to depression? Or is it that people who are prone to depression are more likely to be religious?

The latter is certainly an intriguing possibility. It would make a lot of sense if people who are prone to depression find themselves drawn to religion, precisely because it offers the kind of hope depressed people often find difficult to muster by themselves. This is particularly true when one considers how religion imagines hope as a thing external to the believer. All the believer is required to do is believe and follow a set of rules, religions like Christianity promise, and they will go to heaven.

Depression is described as a state where the sufferer experiences “feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and worthlessness and of being out of control.” Depressed people have a hard time looking on the bright side of life, and muscling up that optimism that allows non-depressed people to feel confident in their ability to go out and conquer the world. It’s not a coincidence that religion offers exactly what is missing in a depressed person’s life.

Take Christianity, for instance. It promises that God loves you, that he has a unique plan for you, that you can exert control over your life through prayer and good works, and that even if things are bleak now, there is a promise of another life beyond where things are perfect. If you can work yourself into believing it, that might sound very much like a cure, especially if you’re not aware the feelings you’re suffering are clinical depression—which is a common dilemma for people suffering it.

Certainly there’s some reason to believe that if society protects people against some of the worst causes of depression, such as the fear of falling into poverty, that society will have more atheists in it. Stable, egalitarian societies repeatedly prove to be places where the atheist message takes off really well. We know that on a national level, if people feel like they have control over their lives and there’s hope in the here and now, those nations tend to have more atheists. So why wouldn’t that be true on an individual level?

Most atheists, including myself, like to believe we came to the conclusion that religion is not true and that there are no gods simply through rigor and logic. What this study may suggest, however, is that we’re underestimating the role our emotional states play in making us at least willing to hear atheist arguments. When you feel good about yourself, you’re less likely to need to hear there’s a God who does the loving of you for you. If you feel hope about tomorrow, the promise of heaven isn’t quite as tempting—or you’re less likely to be perturbed at the idea of death being forever if the life you’re living today is pretty good. If you feel you have some control over your life, you’re not going to see any need to beg a supernatural being to intercede on your behalf.

For those of us who want to both help people leave religion and improve the public image of atheists, this understanding of why religion so often appeals to people is critical. Instead of being angry with religious people for believing, it’s useful to consider that the hope that religion offers might seem like a lifeline to people who are hurting badly, and ask if there’s anything atheists can do to offer similar kinds of hope.

Indeed, one major advantage atheists have on their side is that there’s no reason to believe that religion alone is actually helping people. After all, religious people have higher rates of depression, suggesting that while they may hope religion will make them feel better, it’s often not working.

Luckily, more atheists are beginning to take seriously the idea that atheist activists need to be talking more about mental health, and reaching out to people who have mental health issues and getting them the evidence-based help they need. Some atheists, like Greta Christina and JT Eberhard have opened up about their own struggles with mental illness. Instead of offering prayer and heaven as answers, they point their audiences to more proven methods for getting help, such as therapy and the use of medication under a doctor’s supervision. Indeed, atheists are uniquely able to speak to the issue of getting help for depression, because they can speak directly about the environmental and biological causes without getting bogged down in talking about spirituality.”

Emphasis Mine

see: http://www.alternet.org/are-religious-people-more-depressed?akid=10955.123424.udQPK9&rd=1&src=newsletter898915&t=9&paging=off

20 Vile Quotes Against Women By Religious Leaders From St. Augustine to Pat Robertson

Source: AlterNet

Author: Valerie Talico

With diatribes about entertainers who invite rape and moms who are destroying America by supporting their families…with ignorant arguments about fetuses that masturbate, and females who might as well if they use contraception, and fetal personhood that trumps the personhood of females…it’s tempting to think that Christian conservatives have reached some new pinnacle of hating women and sexuality. But the sad reality is that even the media’s most unabashed misogynists like Michele Bachmann, Michael Burgess, Lou Dobbs and Juan Williams are actually tame compared to their ideological ancestors, including some of the biggest names in Christian history.

In past centuries, men who were hailed as church fathers, patriarchs, doctors, and even saints boldly expressed their view that females are inferior and loathsome, and they explained at length why God shared their perspective. Lest we fall into the conservative trap of thinking that the past was somehow better than the nasty messes we face today, it’s worth pondering some of the lovely tidbits the Church has thought fit to preserve and promote in the centuries since Christianity was founded. Here are some of the most savory. “FatThey come from three waves of religious leaders: “Fathers” of the Catholic Church, Protestant reformers, and American patriarchs who inherited the mantle of both.

Church Doctors and Fathers

·         [For women] the very consciousness of their own nature must evoke feelings of shame.–Saint Clement of Alexandria, Christian theologian (c150-215) Pedagogues II, 33, 2

·         In pain shall you bring forth children, woman, and you shall turn to your husband and he shall rule over you. And do you not know that you are Eve? God’s sentence hangs still over all your sex and His punishment weighs down upon you. You are the devil’s gateway; you are she who first violated the forbidden tree and broke the law of God. It was you who coaxed your way around him whom the devil had not the force to attack. With what ease you shattered that image of God: Man! Because of the death you merited, even the Son of God had to die… Woman, you are the gate to hell. Tertullian, “the father of Latin Christianity” (c160-225)

·         Woman is a temple built over a sewer. –Tertullian, “the father of Latin Christianity” (c160-225)

·         Woman was merely man’s helpmate, a function which pertains to her alone. She is not the image of God but as far as man is concerned, he is by himself the image of God. – Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo Regius (354-430)

·         Woman does not possess the image of God in herself but only when taken together with the male who is her head, so that the whole substance is one image. But when she is assigned the role as helpmate, a function that pertains to her alone, then she is not the image of God. But as far as the man is concerned, he is by himself alone the image of God just as fully and completely as when he and the woman are joined together into one. –Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo Regius (354-430)

·         Woman is a misbegotten man and has a faulty and defective nature in comparison to his. Therefore she is unsure in herself. What she cannot get, she seeks to obtain through lying and diabolical deceptions. And so, to put it briefly, one must be on one’s guard with every woman, as if she were a poisonous snake and the horned devil. … Thus in evil and perverse doings woman is cleverer, that is, slyer, than man. Her feelings drive woman toward every evil, just as reason impels man toward all good. Saint Albertus Magnus, Dominican theologian, 13th century

·         As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from a defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church, 13th century

Protestant Reformers

·         The word and works of God is quite clear, that women were made either to be wives or prostitutes. – Martin Luther, Reformer (1483-1546)

·         No gown worse becomes a woman than the desire to be wise. – Martin Luther, Reformer (1483-1546)

·         Men have broad and large chests, and small narrow hips, and more understanding than women, who have but small and narrow breasts, and broad hips, to the end they should remain at home, sit still, keep house, and bear and bring up children. – Martin Luther, Reformer (1483-1546)

·         Thus the woman, who had perversely exceeded her proper bounds, is forced back to her own position. She had, indeed, previously been subject to her husband, but that was a liberal and gentle subjection; now, however, she is cast into servitude. John Calvin, Reformer (1509-1564)

·         Do not any longer contend for mastery, for power, money, or praise. Be content to be a private, insignificant person, known and loved by God and me. . . . of what importance is your character to mankind, if you was buried just now Or if you had never lived, what loss would it be to the cause of God.  –John Wesley, founder of Methodist movement (1703-1791),  letter to his wife, July 15, 1774

American Patriarchs (Puritan, Mormon, Baptist, Evangelical)

·         Even as the church must fear Christ Jesus, so must the wives also fear their husbands. And this inward fear must be shewed by an outward meekness and lowliness in her speeches and carriage to her husband. . . . For if there be not fear and reverence in the inferior, there can be no sound nor constant honor yielded to the superior. – John Dod, A Plaine and Familiar Exposition ofthe Ten CommandementsPuritan guidebook first published in 1603

·         The second duty of the wife is constant obedience and subjection. – John Dod, A Plaine and Familiar Exposition ofthe Ten CommandementsPuritan guidebook first published in 1603

·         The root of masculine is stronger, and of feminine weaker. The sun is a governing planet to certain planets, while the moon borrows her light from the sun, and is less or weaker. –Joseph Smith, founder of LDS movement (1805-1844)

·         Women are made to be led, and counseled, and directed. . . . And if I am not a good man, I have no just right in this Church to a wife or wives, or the power to propagate my species. What then should be done with me? Make a eunuch of me, and stop my propagation. –Heber C. Kimball, venerated early LDS apostle (1801-1868)

·         A wife is to submit graciously to the servant leadership of her husband, even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. –Official statement of Southern Baptist Convention, Summer 1998, (15.7 million members)

·         The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians. — Pat Robertson, Southern Baptist leader (1930–)

·         The Holiness of God is not evidenced in women when they are brash, brassy, boisterous, brazen, head-strong, strong-willed, loud-mouthed, overly-talkative, having to have the last word, challenging, controlling, manipulative, critical, conceited, arrogant, aggressive, assertive, strident, interruptive, undisciplined, insubordinate, disruptive, dominating, domineering, or clamoring for power. Rather, women accept God’s holy order and character by being humbly and unobtrusively respectful and receptive in functional subordination to God, church leadership, and husbands. –James Fowler, Women in the Church, 1999.

·         Women will be saved by going back to that role that God has chosen for them. Ladies, if the hair on the back of your neck stands up it is because you are fighting your role in the scripture. Mark Driscoll, founder of Mars Hill nondenominational mega-church franchise.  (1970–)

Why has the main current of Christianity produced a steady diet of misogyny for over 2,000 years? The answer may lay partly in human biology and culture. But it also lies in the Iron Age texts of the Bible itself. The Judeo-Christian tradition of building up men by tearing down women goes all the way back to the most ancient parts of the biblical collection, to the opening pages of Genesis, and continues unabated through the New Testament. (I’ve written elsewhere about 15 of those Bible verses because they partly explain the conservative assault on women.) As Mr. Driscoll likes to remind his followers, “Every single book in your Bible is written by a man.”

Say no more.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington and the founder of Wisdom Commons. She is the author of “Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light” and “Deas and Other Imaginings.” Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.

Emphasis Mine

see: http://www.alternet.org/belief/20-vile-quotes-against-women-religious-leaders-st-augustine-pat-robertson?akid=10642.123424.g7Odcn&rd=1&src=newsletter862731&t=7

7 Jaw-Droppingly Dumb Things Republicans Think About Science

Source: AlterNet

Author:Evan McMurray

It was Texas Representative Michael Burgess’ turn on the GOP’s Bullhorn of Crazy this week. “You watch a sonogram of a 15-week baby, and they have movements that are purposeful,” Burgess said during a congressional debate on the House Republican’s absolutely pointless bill outlawing abortions past 20 weeks. “They stroke their face. If they’re a male baby, they may have their hand between their legs. I mean, they feel pleasure, why is it so hard to think that they could feel pain?”

Burgess’ prenatal masturbation musing is only the tip of the melting iceberg of Republican science denial. Here are seven battier things they believe, from trees causing global warming to fetuses in your Pepsi.

1. Abortion Leads To Cancer, Birth Defects, And Everything Else

Burgess’ absurdity actually masked a very serious GOP belief. The “fetus pain” theory, which holds that fetuses begin to feel pain around 20 weeks, has been the primary logic behind a slew of recent abortion bills in state legislatures. As no reputable science backs the theory up, the GOP has been forced to find anything wearing a lab coat to make stuff up.

Abortions are rare after 21 weeks, and usually occur when a woman develops serious complications with her pregnancy. But some Republicans go so far as to think the health exemption is a cover for the abortion industry. “There’s no such exception as life of the mother, and as far as health of the mother, same thing,” Joe Walsh said in 2012 on his way to losing his House seat. “With advances in science and technology, health of the mother has become a tool for abortions for any time under any reason.” (Republicans have no problem invoking science when it suits their needs.)

Burgess is hardly alone in digging up scientific-sounding nonsense to back up his abortion views. Rick Santorum was the most recent peddler of the long-discounted theory that abortions lead to breast cancer, while out in Virginia, which has a nasty strain of abortion-based delusion, a state delegate advanced the notion that abortions lead to handicaps. “The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion with handicaps have increased dramatically,” Bob Marshall said. “Why? Because when you abort the firstborn of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children.”

2. Everything They Say About Rape

Burgess’ comment was notable for not featuring the word “rape,” the hook on which many right-wing legislators hang their crazy coats, to the point that Stephen Colbert has instituted a “Days Without a Rape Reference” segment.

This started with Todd Akin’s famous “legitimate rape” comment last fall, though the theory is still being repeated. Akin’s comment was so bad that even lawmakers who didn’t entirely agree with it were caught in its net: Richard Mourdock blew a gimme election in Indiana when he tripped himself trying to get away from Akin’s remark.

Like Burgess, Akin’s comment was important not because it was an aberration, but because it reflected a real belief on the right, one that’s beginning to infect policy. Arguing against a rape exemption in his anti-abortion bill last week, Trent Franks stated that the incidences of pregnancy from rape are “very low.” Some see daylight between Franks’ iteration of the rape/pregnancy connection and Akin’s, but it’s minor. And while Akin’s view was rooted in medieval medicine, Franks’ theory traces its lineage right back to Nazi experiments. Whether dealing with centuries-old pseudo-science or its bleak modern mutations, the GOP’s rape/pregnancy link is bad science at its most savage.

3. Climate Change Doesn’t Exist, and If It Does It’s Caused By Trees

Not all Republican science denial involves evil lady parts. Their resistance to the very idea of climate change is so staunch that it bred an entire theory of GOP-specific ignorance.

The least crazy of the party acknowledge climate change is occurring but refuse to link it to human behavior, instead seeing the rise in temperatures as part of a natural cycle. After all, it’s not like Hurricane Sandy was the first extreme weather event in history. “I would point out that if you’re a believer in the Bible, one would have to say the Great Flood is an example of climate change and that certainly wasn’t because mankind had overdeveloped hydrocarbon energy,” Texas congressman Joe Barton said during a House hearing on the Keystone Pipeline. (You will remember Barton from his apology to BP over the company’s oil spill.)

There’s one problem with this: refusing to link global warming to human behavior greatly reduces your options for curtailing it. See Dana Rohrabacher, a far-right California congressman, who found a natural solution to a natural problem. “Is there some thought being given to subsidizing the clearing of rainforests in order for some countries to eliminate that production of greenhouse gases?” Rohrabacher asked during a House hearing on U.N. climate policies.

This is for the Republicans who actually admit climate change exists. Many don’t, and they made sure we knew about it last year when they rejected an amendment that would have simply acknowledged the occurrence of global warming. The amendment didn’t garner a single GOP vote.

It gets worse. In 2012, North Carolina’s legislature went the full-ostrich route. Not only did they refuse to admit that global warming was happening, they actually banned scientists from researching it, passing a bill prohibiting the measurement of sea-levels so nobody could notice they were rising. (The ocean rudely rose anyway.)

4. Breast Implants, On The Other Hand, are a Fine Use Of Science

Okay, most of their science denial involves lady parts, but not all of it’s negative! Tom Coburn proves the GOP would be scientists’ best friend if those nerds would stick to expanding things men want to look at.

“I thought I would just share with you what science says today about silicone breast implants,” Coburn said during a hearing on class action lawsuits, a nagging problem for plastic surgeons. “If you have them, you’re healthier than if you don’t. That is what the ultimate science shows. . . . In fact, there’s no science that shows that silicone breast implants are detrimental and, in fact, they make you healthier.” (They don’t.)

5. No Dead Fetuses In Your Soft Drinks

But the GOP’s science permissiveness begins and ends with breasts; anything that might help with, say, medical research is off the table. Stem cells in particular give Republicans the bends. Where most see the frontier of medical research, Republican candidates for senate see islands of Dr. Moreaus.

“American scientific companies are cross-breeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains,” Christine O’Donnell told Bill O’Reilly in 2007. Talking Points Memo guessed O’Donnell was referencing an experiment in which doctors grew human brain cells within mice—“not the same as an actual functioning human brain, but a demonstration that human brain cells can be made from stem cells”—but they didn’t sound too confident speculating on her inspiration.

At least O’Donnell wasn’t actually a lawmaker. Last year, Oklahoma State Senator Ralph Shortley got wound up over a zany Internet theory claiming stem cells were being used in the production of artificial sweeteners, and proposed a bill prohibiting companies in Oklahoma from using aborted fetuses to make food.

6. Evolution Is (Still) Out To Get Jesus

“I’m not a scientist, man,” Marco Rubio recently told GQ. “I can tell you what recorded history says. I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians. Whether the Earth was created in seven days, or seven actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that.”

But Rubio’s fellow Republicans think they have answered it, as evidenced by the fact that they want schools to teach that humans and dinosaurs used to read GQ together. Republican-controlled state legislatures have been busy trying to pass bills forcing public schools from elementary to college to teach that the world was created 6,000-9,000 years ago.

Their cover for this is the necessity of “teaching both sides” of the debate—though only one has scientific backing—but Georgia Representative Paul Broun recently showed the right’s hand. “All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell,” he said during his (unopposed) run for reelection last year. “And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who are taught that from understanding that they need a savior.”

7. It’s Only Science If Republicans Agree With It

In perhaps the most unintentionally revealing law ever written by a Republican on science, Texas Representative Lamar Smith recently proposed that all scientific knowledge get his okay first. Called the “High Quality Research Act,” Smith’s bill would require any research receiving federal funds to go through Smith’s Congressional Committee on Science, Space and Technology, all in the name of “accountability.” Accountability in this case means agreeing with Smith, a climate change denier who has no problem going after projects he, or his donors, disapprove of.

If the GOP had its way, this is how all science would work: no rising sea levels to worry about, and all the breast implants Congress can afford.

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/gop-science?akid=10604.123424.58nOvN&rd=1&src=newsletter858343&t=7&paging=off

 

How the Right-Wing War on Science Has Made Americans Dumber at Every Level

Source: Media Matters via Alternet

Author: John Whitehouse

“On the April 5th edition of Real Time with Bill Maher, science education activist  Zack Kopplin confronted The Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Moore over myths about science funding, pointing out that Moore, who questioned the need for funding research on “snail mating habits,” is “not a scientist”:

As it turns out, the reason actual scientists are conducting this type of research is because snails carry parasitic worms that kill children:

Watch where you jump in for a swim or where your bath water comes from, especially if you live in Africa, Asia or South America. Snails that live in tropical fresh water in these locations are intermediaries between disease-causing parasitic worms and humans.

People in developing countries who don’t have access to clean water and good sanitation facilities are often exposed to the infected snails. Then they’re left open to the parasitic worms.

The worms’ infectious larvae emerge from the snails, cruise in shallow water, easily penetrate human skin and mature in internal organs.

The result is schistosomiasis, the second most socioeconomically devastating disease after malaria. As of 2009, 74 developing nations had identified significant rates of schistosomiasis in human populations.

Moore is not some fringe right-winger. He is the senior economics writer and an editorial board member for The Wall Street Journal.  And, while on a nationally televised show, he called for killing a government-funded scientific study while bragging about not understanding the research behind it.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because Rush Limbaugh said virtually the same thing on his radio show earlier that day, suggesting that science today is an extension of the Democratic Party:

For conservative media like Moore and Limbaugh, scientific ignorance is a feature, not a glitch. From  climate science and polar bears to economicsto condoms to social sciences to duck penises, conservative media peddle the same anti-science behavior over and over and over. The logic goes that scientists are inherently biased because they care about science. It’s third-rate sophism combined with fourth-rate Luddism.

This is not to say that all scientists are correct just by virtue of them being scientists. Rather, media should respect the scientific method, whereby scientists present arguments with data and rigourously test ideas until a consensus emerges. It’s essentially a free market for scientific ideas. Does that sound like something conservatives should be interested in?

For more on the scientific method and research projects, check out  Zack Kopplin’s petition.

Emphasis Mine

see: http://www.alternet.org/how-right-wing-war-science-has-made-americans-dumber-every-level?akid=10307.108242.DWV8R2&rd=1&src=newsletter822182&t=13

Atheists vs. Christians: Inside One of America’s Bitterest Nativity Scene Battles

From: AlterNet

By: Scott Thill

“Legend has it that the atheist Damon Vix led the charge that stopped the California beach city of Santa Monica from erecting and enabling life-sized Christian nativity scenes that crowded out the seaside views of an increasing demographic of locals and tourists. Vix has made plenty of enemies along the way. As one online detractor wrote [3], “His goals include riding [sic] the world of Christianity and removing ‘One Nation Under God’ from the pledge of allegiance. He is an active member of the American Atheist in Santa Monica and spends his free time doing everything in his power to end free speech in America if it relates to Christianity. Surprisingly he is still managing to live in Santa Monica despite being one of the most hated men in America.”

Vix seems fine with his religious opponents frothing about that decades-long quest, which was validated in November by U.S. District Court judge Audrey Collins, who ruled [4] that Santa Monica could not be forced to open public lands to private displays. Vix explained to AlterNet that he takes the attacks on him in good humor and with a pinch of salt. “I must say that I really don’t care what the hardcore Christians have to say,” Vix said. “Their religion describes the world as being flat; women coming from a man’s rib and therefore being inferior to him; people living inside whales; talking serpents.”

Of Atheism and Terrorism

Vix’s humor on the matter is a refreshing change from his detractors in the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee [5], whose alarming rhetoric conjures up the specters of war and terrorism. They’ve termed a 1979 lawsuit threat from American Atheists [6] a “bomb,” and their crusading attorney William Becker — who continues through failed injunctions and lawsuits to try to change Santa Monica’s mind — accused Vix and his activist accomplices of engaging in “a form of civic terrorism [7].” That accusation was echoed across the continent in Virginia by Loudon County supervisor Ken Reid [8], who, in the pages of Rev. Sun Myung Moon‘s Washington Times [9] called a similar campaign to allow access to public spaces from the non-religious the work of “a group of terrorists…who basically want to stamp out religion.”

“How ridiculous,” laughed Freedom From Religion Foundation [10] co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor, one target of Becker’s terrorism charge. “Christians do not own the month of December, which we’ve been saying for years. But this is a real manifestation of the proprietary feeling that this is their month. And we see this everywhere we go when we complain about nativity scenes on public property, which often stem from the ’50s. Lots of these violations have their heart in the Joseph McCarthy [11] era.”

In fact, McCarthy was mounting inquiries for his ill-fated crusade against communists in the United States Army when Santa Monica’s first nativity scene arrived in 1953. The brainchild of Hollywood actors and producers Joan Woodbury and Henry Wilcoxon, Santa Monica’s nativity celebrations started life in the 1950s as a naked merge of religion and capitalism. Shepherded into being by local businessmen and Chamber of Commerce members Herb Spurgin and Ysidro Reyes — whose great-great-grandfather built Santa Monica’s first house — the religious tradition was pitched to the city as a “common interest of businesses” that “would bring visitors who were potential shoppers into the community.”

It started as a blowout pageant, including choristers, floats and plays, and by the end of the ’50s the number of installations had swelled to 14. The city, which assisted with finance, construction and maintenance, even decided to call Santa Monica the “City of the Christmas Story” during December. According to Gaylor, that remains an ideological and commercial habit that’s hard for the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee to break, despite its recent failures.

“They still do act as if they’re the true citizens and everyone else are second-class citizens,” she told AlterNet. “We’re supposed to go away and not rain on their parade, because our existence alone is enough to spoil their fun. They’re not content with atheists being part of the marketplace of ideas, and to let the people make up their own minds about what they believe.”

Damon the Demon

Damon Vix made up his mind in the 1990s, “when I first saw the displays while working as a driver for the Los Angeles Times,” he told AlterNet — reminding us that he’s not the atheist who started this fight, just the one who stopped it. “I saw the signs that read  ‘Santa Monica: City of the Christmas Story’ and all the Bible quotes, the same Bible that says that people like me are going to hell,” he said. “l felt that the city was telling me that I didn’t belong.”

By then, Santa Monica was undergoing a radical economic development. The once-blighted Santa Monica Pier amusement parks and environs were being transformed by a blocks-long upscale outdoor mall called the Third Street Promenade. Taken together with the Pier, Palisades Park, Muscle Beach and now Apple’s largest store on the West Coast, Santa Monica today has become a shiny walkable California metropolis, churning out more than $1 billion in tourism revenue [12] last year.

That’s about a year after Vix finally decided to act against the religious installations that were offending the sensibilities of an increasingly secular demographic. Santa Monica’s nativity scenes had already been suffering body blows since the 1978 passage of Proposition 13, which soured the city on continuing to finance, assist and underwrite the tradition, whose financial troubles were exacerbated by legal challenges from Atheists United and the American Civil Liberties Union. A brief reprieve, cosmologically speaking, arrived in 1984, courtesy of a Supreme Court ruling in Lynch v. Donnelly [13] arguing that Thomas Jefferson’s hallowed wall of separation between church and state [14] was merely a “useful figure of speech.” A “metaphor,” as Chief Justice Burger, who delivered the opinion, infamously explained.

But thanks to that illogical juridical conclusion — about a nativity scene in Rhode Island, no less — as well the predictable rise of secularity and ongoing decoupling of Christmas from Christ, the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee’s financial and legal challenges inevitably returned. And Vix was there, waiting with open arms and a resolved mind.

“I found out in 2009 that California’s Atheists United [15] had a very small display in the park, a gnome to be precise,” Vix told AlterNet. “So I came up with the idea that if there were multiple Christian displays, there should be multiple atheist displays as well. I decided not to direct my display at the Christians, who were in fact doing nothing wrong other than disagreeing with me, and instead directed my attention to the real problem: The city of Santa Monica and its Winter Displays in Palisades Park program. They were threatened by a lawsuit in 1979, and even though people had complained for decades, the city kept operating the program.

“If they were to attempt the same program today, it would be deemed unconstitutional. However, this unconstitutional program had actually become a tradition! This to me was unacceptable.”

Exploiting Civic Pressure Points

Seizing upon the problem of the city’s privileged relationship with the nativity scenes it had built and supported for decades at taxpayer expense, Damon Vix located Santa Monica’s legal pressure points and pushed hard, alongside his fellow free-thinkers in Atheists United, American Atheists, Freedom From Religion Foundation and others. And finally Santa Monica folded, at first abandoning its Christian exclusivity for Annie Laurie Gaylor’s “marketplace of ideas,” which gave Vix an opening to publicly critique not only dominant theology and local government, but artistic value itself.

“I decided to put up an unattractive fenced-in display, to both keep it safe and to highlight the fact that the program operated by the city didn’t really have any aesthetic value to add to the park,” Vix explained. “Rather than say something myself, I quoted the founding fathers, Supreme Court cases regarding the separation of church and state, quotes from ex-presidents and the words ‘Merry Solstice.'”

While setting up his display, Vix followed a city rule that stakes couldn’t be used to secure displays and banners, so he settled for 600 pounds of sandbags. When he noted to a park supervisor that the Nativity Scenes Committees were stabbing illegal stakes into Palisades Park to support their life-sized displays, the super shrugged and said something about being powerless to enforce the city’s own rules. “The nativity scenes’ running the show,” said Vix.

The Kafkaesque process extended to parking meters, which the city bagged so no one could park in front of the street-facing displays. When the equal opportunity-minded Vix landed his own bagged parking meters — at taxpayer expense, like the nativity scenes — the city called it a day and decided it would much rather have the parking revenue, thanks. The quid pro quomoved on to the unlimited display lots themselves, which Vix started signing up for in 2010. By 2011, Santa Monica shut that down too and started a lottery system of limited spaces, which was further complicated by Vix, who recruited friends to aid his cause.

“Since there were multiple churches, businesses and the Santa Monica Policeman’s Association involved in the nativity displays, I decided to get multiple atheist groups involved,” he explained. “All it took was a couple of emails and phone calls, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Atheists, Atheists United, Generation Atheists, and Camp Quests were all involved. And even PETA asked me to set up a display!”

Eventually Santa Monica caved in and banned private displays at Palisades Park, and the rest is atheist history, decades in the making.

The Post-Religious Present

“We’ve been fighting this for years, and we’re happy to see that the city finally decided that this type of event which used city resources was inappropriate,” Atheists United president Michael Khalili told AlterNet. “Now, the religious organizations that want to display a public celebration of their deity will have to comply with the same laws as everyone else.”

Vix’s crusade also resonates with the shifts in American culture. “The demographics are changing,” Freedom From Religion Foundation’s Gaylor explained. “California is already up there, in terms of the non-religious, which the American Religious ID Survey for 2008 showed is around 18 percent. Now we’re seeing Pew say one in five are non-religious, as are one in three of the youth demographic. Our numbers are continuing to climb, while churches are seeing a continuing decline. So it can’t go on like this.”

“Now that this has been resolved, I feel that there is a lesson to be learned,” Vix said. “Over the last 60 years, the conflicts, lawsuits, threats, anger, insults, vandalism and alienation could have been avoided if the city had never violated this great American ideal of the separation of church and state. It’s a testament to our Founding Fathers’ insight that they figured out a solution to preventing this type of conflict in the first place. In the end, the religious who want to display nativity scenes during the entire month of December have not lost a single civil right — just an unfortunate tradition. The entire city is made whole and Christmas is preserved for everyone.”

Emphasis Mine

See: http://www.alternet.org/belief/atheists-vs-christians-inside-one-americas-bitterest-nativity-scene-battles?akid=9852.123424.ErfrHb&rd=1&src=newsletter766491&t=4

GOP Insider: How Religion Destroyed My Party

 

Via AlterNet, Mike Lofgren’s book: The Party is Over (Viking Press) is reviewed.

Excerpts:

“Having observed politics up close and personal for most of my adult lifetime, I have come to the conclusion that the rise of politicized religious fundamentalism may have been the key ingredient in the transformation of the Republican Party. Politicized religion provides a substrate of beliefs that rationalizes—at least in the minds of its followers—all three of the GOP’s main tenets: wealth worship, war worship, and the permanent culture war….

Pat Robertson’s strong showing in the 1988 Iowa presidential caucus signaled the gradual merger of politics and religion in the party. Unfortunately, at the time I mostly underestimated the implications of what I was seeing…

The results of this takeover are all around us: If the American people poll more like Iranians or Nigerians than Europeans or Canadians on questions of evolution, scriptural inerrancy, the presence of angels and demons, and so forth, it is due to the rise of the religious right, its insertion into the public sphere by the Republican Party, and the consequent normalizing of formerly reactionary beliefs. All around us now is a prevailing anti-intellectualism and hostility to science. Politicized religion is the sheet anchor of the dreary forty-year-old culture wars…

CNN’s Candy Crowley was particularly egregious in this respect, pressing Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann for a response and becoming indignant when they refused to answer. The question did not deserve an answer, because Crowley had set it up to legitimate a false premise: that Romney’s religious belief was a legitimate issue of public debate. This is a perfect example of how the media reinforce an informal but increasingly binding religious test for public office that the Constitution formally bans. Like the British constitution, the test is no less powerful for being unwritten…

the doctrine of “cheap grace,” a derisive term coined by the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. By that he meant the inclination of some religious adherents to believe that once they had been “saved,” not only would all past sins be wiped away, but future ones, too—so one could pretty much behave as before. Cheap grace is a divine get- out-of-jail-free card. Hence the tendency of the religious base of the Republican Party to cut some slack for the peccadilloes of candidates who claim to have been washed in the blood of the Lamb and reborn to a new and more Christian life. The religious right is willing to overlook a politician’s individual foibles, no matter how poor an example he or she may make, if they publicly identify with fundamentalist values. In 2011 the Family Research Council, the fundamentalist lobbying organization, gave Representative Joe Walsh of Illinois an award for “unwavering support of the family.” Representative Walsh’s ex-wife might beg to differ, as she claims he owes her over one hundred thousand dollars in unpaid child support, a charge he denies.

Some liberal writers have opined that the socioeconomic gulf separating the business wing of the GOP and the religious right make it an unstable coalition that could crack. I am not so sure. There is no basic disagreement on which direction the two factions want to take the country, merely how far it should go. The plutocrats would drag us back to the Gilded Age; the theocrats to the Salem witch trials.

Many televangelists have espoused what has come to be known as the prosperity gospel—the health-and- wealth/name-it-and-claim-it gospel of economic entitlement. If you are wealthy, it is a sign of God’s favor. If not, too bad! This rationale may explain why some poor voters will defend the prerogatives of billionaires. In any case, at the beginning of the 2012 presidential cycle, those consummate plutocrats the Koch brothers pumped money into Bachmann’s campaign, so one should probably not make too much of a potential plutocrat-theocrat split.

Some more libertarian-leaning Republicans have in fact pushed back against the religious right. Former House majority leader Dick Armey expressed his profound distaste for the tactics of the religious right in 2006—from the safety of the sidelines—by blasting its leadership in unequivocal terms:

[James] Dobson and his gang of thugs are real nasty bullies. I pray devoutly every day, but being a Christian is no excuse for being stupid. There’s a high demagoguery coefficient to issues like prayer in schools. Demagoguery doesn’t work unless it’s dumb, shallow as water on a plate. These issues are easy for the intellectually lazy and can appeal to a large demographic. These issues become bigger than life, largely because they’re easy. There ain’t no thinking.

Within the GOP libertarianism is a throwaway doctrine that is rhetorically useful in certain situations but often interferes with their core, more authoritarian, beliefs. When the two precepts collide, the authoritarian reflex prevails. In 2009 it was politically useful for the GOP to present the Tea Party as independent-leaning libertarians, when in reality the group was overwhelmingly Republican, with a high quotient of GOP activists and adherents of views common among the religious right. According to a 2010 Gallup poll, eight in ten Tea Party members identify themselves as Republicans…

Ayn Rand, an occasional darling of the Tea Party,…Rand proclaimed at every opportunity that she was a militant atheist who felt nothing but contempt for Christianity as a religion of weaklings possessing a slave mentality…

This camouflaging of intentions is as much a strategy of the religious right and its leaders—James Dobson, Tony Perkins, Pat Robertson, and the rest—as it is of the GOP’s more secular political leaders in Washington. After the debacle of the Schiavo case and the electoral loss in 2008, the religious right pulled back and regrouped. They knew that the full-bore, “theoconservative” agenda would not sell with a majority of voters. This strategy accounts for Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition (who famously said that God sent a hurricane to New Orleans to punish the sodomites)…

Bachmann, Rick Perry, and numerous other serving representatives and senators have all had ties to Christian Dominionism, a doctrine proclaiming that Christians are destined to dominate American politics and establish a new imperium resembling theocratic government. According to one profile of Perry, adherents of Dominionism “believe Christians—certain Christians—are destined to not just take ‘dominion’ over government, but stealthily climb to the commanding heights of what they term the ‘Seven Mountains’ of society, including the media and the arts and entertainment world.” Note the qualifier: “stealthily.”

At the same religious forum where the GOP candidates confessed their sins, Bachmann went so far as to suggest that organized religion should keep its traditional legal privilege of tax exemption while being permitted to endorse political candidates from the pulpit. The fact that government prohibits express political advocacy is in her imagination muzzling preachers rather than just being a quid pro quo for tax-exempt status equivalent to that imposed on any 501(c)3 or 501(c)4 nonprofit organization. But for Bachmann and others of like mind, this is persecution of a kind that fuels their sense of victimhood and righteous indignation.

Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of the Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from “The Party is Over” [3] by Mike Lofgren. Copyright © 2012 by Mike Lofgren

See:http://www.alternet.org/print/news-amp-politics/gop-insider-how-religion-destroyed-my-party