The Biggest Threats We Face From Conservative Religion

By Adam Lee, AlterNet
Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from Adam Lee’s new bookDaylight Atheism.

Beneath our advanced 21st-century economy lies a smoke-belching 18th-century economy. For all our sophistication, we still depend on fossil fuels dug from the earth to power our homes and offices. And it is now abundantly clear that this dependence is becoming a lethal threat. From the burning of coal and gasoline, we release into the atmosphere toxic mercury, acidic sulfur and nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter that produces choking smog and causes asthma and other respiratory sicknesses. But more dangerous, because less noticeable, is the invisible gas carbon dioxide, which is released in vast quantities, billions of tons per year, by the burning of all fossil fuels.

Rising into the troposphere, carbon dioxide accumulates in a stifling blanket, trapping the rays of the sun and warming our planet as surely as a hot car left in a parking lot. In the past, feedback mechanisms in the biosphere prevented excessive warming by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere: the oceans absorb it, green plants drink it, rain dissolves it, carbonate rocks sequester it. But we’re pumping it into the atmosphere at a prodigious rate, burning through millions of years’ worth of hydrocarbon reservoirs in decades, driving the climate system relentlessly out of equilibrium. And decade by decade, global temperatures tick upwards, glaciers recede, habitats dwindle, ice caps fragment, sea levels rise, storms gain strength, the extremes of flood and drought worsen, desert spreads, and the powerful and wealthy special interests who stand to profit by mortgaging the planet attempt to denigrate and marginalize the voices crying in the wilderness to warn humanity of the danger.

But combustible hydrocarbons aren’t the only product of the Middle East that shapes the face of the world today. From those desert sands comes another fuel. Like oil and coal, this fuel has its origins in the distant past; unlike oil and coal, this one is invisible, intangible. Rather than being transmitted through drills and pipelines, it travels through the air, leaping from one mind to the next, igniting conflagrations figurative and literal. Our economy runs on the fossil fuels of oil, gas and coal, but our society runs on the fossil fuel of religion.

Instead of the compressed remains of long-dead living things, the religions that dominate our world today are made up of fossilized dogmas, shaped in the cauldron of a long-gone world and compressed by time and tradition into a rock-hard mass. Religion, too, has its impurities, but instead of sulfur and mercury, humanity’s beliefs are contaminated with impurities of tribalism and xenophobia, fractions of hate and fanaticism and glorification of martyrdom. And when they burn in human minds, instead of smog and acid rain, they give us suicide bombers exploding in crowded streets, the suffocating darkness of fundamentalism, bloodthirsty mobs in the streets screaming for holy war, armies marching forth to conquer under the red banners of crescent and cross, the Twin Towers collapsing in flame.

I’m not claiming that religious belief is uniformly harmful. At its best, religion can inspire human beings to perform acts of great charity and compassion and create works of wondrous beauty. But these good works have been endlessly reported and praised, and they need no additional documentation from me. If anything, people who report on religion have a tendency to only report its good effects, while sweeping the bad ones under the rug or blithely dismissing them as perversions of “true” faith. I seek to provide some balance to these choruses of praise by reminding people that religion has also directly caused many acts of terrible bloodshed, cruelty and destruction.

Worse, many of these evil deeds come about not by twisting or distorting the teachings of scripture, but by obeying them. There is much material in every religious tradition that teaches violence, intolerance and hatred of the infidels. Modern theologians who recognize the savagery of these passages have either ignored them altogether or else have elaborate schemes of reinterpretation aimed at convincing themselves and others that these verses don’t mean what they say. Unfortunately, there will always be believers who see through this charade and interpret the violent verses with the frightening simplicity which their context suggests. These people are a threat, and so long as we persist in believing in books that contain these sorts of dangerous messages, they will always be a threat. It will be one of the major themes of this chapter that people become irrational and dangerous to the precise degree in which they truly believe their religion and take its claims seriously.

I’m well aware that the majority of individual believers are not hate-filled fanatics, but ordinary, decent people. However, as I hope to show, decent people do not need religion to justify their actions, whereas the fanatics do. Good people would be good with or without their religious beliefs, but religion has far too often been used to inspire and promote acts of great evil and cruelty against others who believe differently, and lends itself far too easily to that use. As the Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg put it a few years ago:

“With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes religion.”

The fundamental problem at the heart of religious morality is simply this: religious morality is not grounded in human needs and human concerns, but in an entirely different idea — namely, obeying the will of God. (In practice, the role of God is played by the sum total of teaching and tradition which a believer has absorbed and the religious authorities whom they follow.) When these two align, good results can occur. But when the alleged will of God does not line up with human desires and needs, the results are dreadful.

When a person believes, truly believes, that they know what God’s will is, they become almost impossible to reason with. This is because most religions teach that faith — belief not supported by evidence — is not just acceptable but commendable, and is the sign of a virtuous person. Of course, beliefs that weren’t based on evidence to begin with usually can’t be changed by evidence. This makes religious faith a very dangerous thing, because when a religious believer chooses a course of action that’s evil or harmful, efforts to persuade them to stop will be futile. After all, if God has told you what he wants you to do, any person who has a different opinion must be an agent of evil, and any compromise would be not just foolish but a sinful violation of God’s command.

Now more than ever before, we see this dangerous, dogmatic certainty wreaking havoc all over the world, causing untold harm and suffering to innocent people. When religious believers value obedience to their superstitions more highly than they value the lives of human beings, the consequences are always catastrophic.

The most obvious example was the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Much could be written, and has been written, about the foreign policy decisions, the economic conditions, or the cultural circumstances that inspired such rage and resentment in the Arab world toward the United States. However, the fact remains that religion — deeply held, devoutly believed religion — was the primary motivating factor in the transformation of 19 young men into willing instruments of death. The 9/11 hijackers sincerely believed, as countless other suicide terrorists have believed, that God would reward them for killing themselves in the service of jihad by granting them an eternity of bliss in a heavenly garden of paradise, complete with 72 concubines.

Faced with these facts, some people have gone too far by stereotyping all Muslims as a monolithic bloc united in violent opposition to the West. In fact, despite all the damage that terrorists have wrought in America and Europe, people in primarily Muslim nations have suffered at least as much, if not more, from the evils of Islamic fundamentalism.

Consider the fanatical Islamic regime called the Taliban that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until they were deposed in 2001 (though they’ve been making a violent resurgence). Afghanistan under the Taliban was a brutal theocracy, a state of religious terror both for men and, especially, for women. The Taliban was infamous for forcing women to wear the burqa, a black shroud covering their entire bodies, so that men didn’t see any body part of a woman to whom they weren’t related. Refusal to wear this stifling, dehumanizing garment in public was punishable by imprisonment, beatings, torture and death. Women under the Taliban were forbidden to attend school past the age of eight, to work outside the home, or indeed to leave their home for any reason — even to seek medical care — if not accompanied by a male relative. Even then, women were forbidden to see or be treated by male doctors, even in case of a life-or-death medical emergency. In this cruel and savage society, women were little more than prisoners in their own homes.

This isn’t to say that life under the Taliban was much better for men. Under the fundamentalist Islamic law code of sharia, human rights violations such as arbitrary imprisonment, torture and execution were common. Crimes included having too short a beard or wearing shorts in public. The barbaric punishments for breaking this law included public flogging, amputation of limbs, being buried alive, and execution by stoning, in which the condemned is bludgeoned to death by crowds wielding heavy, jagged rocks.

Saudi Arabia, America’s oil-rich ally, enforces a version of sharia almost as strict as the Taliban’s. All religions other than the kingdom’s fundamentalist Wahhabi version of Islam are banned. Women are forced to wear head-to-toe coverings in public, and can’t legally work, drive or travel without the permission of a man. In one infamous incident from 2002, the mutaween, the Saudi religious police, prevented schoolgirls from escaping a burning building because they weren’t “properly” dressed to appear in public. Fifteen died in the flames.

Islam isn’t the only religion that’s been used to justify violence. Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, often thought of as peaceful faiths, have inspired their share of conflict and bloodshed. But there can be little doubt that next to Islam, the belief system that poses the greatest threat to human liberty and world stability is Christian fundamentalism. In most Western countries, Christianity has lost most of its political power or evolved into more benign forms. But in the United States of America, a belligerent, authoritarian faction of Christian conservatives possesses a great deal of power.

Today’s Christian fundamentalists, for the most part, don’t pursue their goals through violence as Muslim fundamentalists tend to do. Nevertheless, they’re just as committed to their desire to take over society and remake it in their own rigid, theocratic image. Regardless of whether this lust for dominion arises in Christianity, Islam or any other religious tradition, it’s equally tyrannical and should be equally abhorrent to freedom-loving people everywhere.

Consider one of the most obvious examples. Contrary to what some people seem to think, marriage isn’t an exclusively religious rite but confers many civil benefits: the right to visit a sick partner in the hospital; the right not to testify against one’s partner in court; and the right to share health insurance and Social Security benefits, to name a few. There’s absolutely no good reason to deny these benefits to anyone in a committed relationship, regardless of their gender. Yet a majority of American states have voted to outlaw same-sex marriage; some have even advocated making it illegal for employers to offer the same benefits to same-sex couples as they do to opposite-sex couples.

These campaigns are invariably led by Christian conservatives who appeal to prejudice and homophobia dressed up in the guise of “protecting marriage.” The question is inevitably never answered — protecting marriage from what, exactly? Would allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry harm heterosexuals somehow? Would it negatively affect existing marriages in any way? Of course not — a moment’s clearheaded thought should make that obvious enough. But religious conservatives have effectively prevented that moment of clarity by clouding their followers’ minds, inciting paranoia and hysteria and whipping up the flames of hatred. Their rhetoric is virtually indistinguishable from the pre-civil rights era opposition to interracial marriage, although the comparison hasn’t seemed to trouble them.

Some states have carried anti-gay hysteria even further by banning gay people acting as foster parents or adopting children, regardless of their qualifications or their ability to provide a loving and stable home environment. Showing the revolting depths of their hatred and prejudice, some state legislatures have proposed laws that would prevent gay people from adopting children, even if they are related to them, or that would break up preexisting adoptions by gay parents that were performed legally in other states if the parents merely traveled through the state in question with their child.

The most appalling part of this is that the people behind these efforts claim to be “pro-marriage” and “pro-family.” How can these claims be considered anything other than the opposite of the truth? They are not pro-family; they’re fighting against gay families and doing their best to tear those families apart. Nor are they pro-marriage: they’re in favor of restricting marriage, of keeping it off-limits to people they disapprove of. A person who was in favor of marriage would want to make marriage accessible to as many groups of people as possible.

There are two more stories worth recounting that shows the depths of religious anti-gay hysteria, and offers a frightening glimpse of what these would-be theocrats would like the law to be. In December 2006, a schism within the Anglican church over how to treat gay congregants boiled over, as two large, wealthy, conservative parishes in Virginia with over 4,000 members voted to secede from the American branch of the Anglican Convocation and align themselves with the Anglican Church of Nigeria and its ultra-conservative archbishop Peter Akinola. Akinola is the head of the second-largest branch of the Anglican church, with around 17 million members, about one-quarter of the denomination’s entire global membership. He’s also spoken in support of a horrendous Nigerian law that would punish any homosexual activity, private or public — even something as inoffensive as holding hands — with five years imprisonment. Even if not all the members of the American churches agree with Akinola’s beliefs, they evidently don’t consider them to be a deal-breaker either.

The religious right’s obsession with sex, and more specifically its wish to punish people who don’t conform to its ideas of sexual propriety, shows up in other contexts as well. Consider the growing problem of religious pharmacists who refuse to fill certain prescriptions because they disapprove of the use of the drug being prescribed. There’s been a rash of Roman Catholic pharmacists refusing to dispense birth control pills — even to people who aren’t Catholic — because Catholic dogma forbids the use of contraception. In at least one of these cases, not only did the pharmacist refuse to fill the prescription, he refused to return it to the patient in an attempt to prevent her from having it filled at a different pharmacy. And in many states, legislatures are debating so-called “conscience clause” laws that would explicitly make these actions legal.

If we allow pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions on religious grounds, what’s next? Will we see pharmacists refusing to sell antiviral medicine to people with AIDS because they believe HIV is God’s punishment for homosexuals and people who have extramarital sex? (Christian conservatives are on record as opposing the vaccine for human papillomavirus, a common sexually transmitted disease that causes thousands of cases of cervical cancer each year, because they see it as tantamount to a license for young people to have sex. Evidently, they believe that teenagers who aren’t abstinent deserve to get cancer as punishment.) Will Christian Scientists, who believe in the healing power of prayer and shun medical science as a rule, become pharmacists and then refuse to dispense any medicine at all? Will we see doctors blackmailing their patients by demanding that they convert to their religion or attend their church in exchange for medical treatment? Once we allow people to refuse to do their jobs on religious grounds, where will it end?

Even these insults may be just the tip of the iceberg. There’s substantial evidence that the religious right’s goal is to eliminate contraception altogether — not just the birth control pill, but condoms, IUDs, and any other invention that lets humans control their reproductive systems. This springs from their view that sex should only be for procreation, not pleasure. Although this view was once solely the position of Catholics, it’s beginning to appear in strength among the evangelical Protestant right as well.

Followers of this view have launched a variety of tactics to throw up obstacles to people seeking to obtain contraception. Among these tactics are pushing for religious exemptions that allow insurers to refuse to cover contraception, seeking to prohibit the sale of birth control to minors, banning comprehensive sex ed from public schools, and spreading misinformation about the efficacy of condoms in preventing the transmission of STDs. Under both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, religious fundamentalists succeeded in lobbying the FDA to overrule its own scientific advisory committee and deny over-the-counter status to Plan B, the so-called morning-after pill. Most disastrously of all, according to a study by the Government Accountability Office, the Bush administration’s decision to emphasize abstinence-only programs to the exclusion of all other methods forced overseas relief programs to cut funds intended for preventing the transmission of AIDS from mothers to children.

And then there’s the elephant in the room: abortion. The idea that a woman should be able to exercise control over her own body and terminate an unwanted pregnancy is anathema to the religious right, because of their belief that even a one-day-old embryo — a microscopic ball of undifferentiated cells, possessing no organs, no body, no brain, utterly incapable of any kind of thought or feeling — possesses an invisible supernatural appendage called a soul that makes it equal in moral worth to an adult human being. The state of South Dakota’s draconian 2008 anti-abortion law, which made no exceptions even in cases of rape or to protect the health of the mother (thankfully, overturned by referendum) was a particularly cruel, but by no means unrepresentative, example of what religious conservatives would implement if they had their way.

Although South Dakota’s law and other, similar anti-abortion measures have been consistently defeated in referendums, the religious right has been trying to enforce them anyway. In November 2009, a pregnant woman came to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix with severe pulmonary hypertension. The hospital’s ethics committee judged that her death was virtually certain if the pregnancy continued, and the doctors performed an abortion. In response, Thomas Olmsted, the bishop of Phoenix, demanded that such a procedure never be performed there again, not even to save a woman’s life. To their credit, the hospital refused, and Olmsted responded by stripping the hospital of its Catholic affiliation. Sadly, it appears that this was a rare case of courage on the hospital’s part: In surveys published before and since, other doctors working at Catholic hospitals have come forward to say that hospital administrators refused to let them perform life-saving abortions on women suffering severe complications from pregnancy, even if the woman was already having a miscarriage and no possible treatment could have saved the fetus.

The deepest irony is that the religious right’s rigid opposition to contraception and sex education hasn’t produced a more stable or healthier society, but has resulted in the opposite. Among Western nations, the United States has the highest divorce rate, the highest teen pregnancy rate, and the highest rate of STD infection; and within the United States, the highest rates of these social ills are found among the highly conservative, highly religious states usually referred to as the Bible Belt. Meanwhile, a 1999 study by conservative Christian pollster George Barna found that atheists as a group have lower divorce rates than virtually all Christian denominations, including Baptists, Pentecostals, born-agains, and evangelicals.

And just as religious conservatives want to intrude into the beginning of life, they seek to exert control over its end as well. Many conservative Christian denominations, especially the Catholic church, want to ban not just active euthanasia, in which a terminally ill person is administered drugs that cause a painless death, but even passive euthanasia, in which life-extending treatment is withheld from a person who’s terminally ill so that nature can take its course. Instead, these churches argue that a person who is alive must be kept alive, regardless of how badly they’re suffering, regardless of whether there’s any hope of recovery, regardless even of whether the person wants to continue treatment. As one Roman Catholic website puts it, “Human beings do not have the right to decide when we die.” Another religious anti-euthanasia group adds that “even if that life is full of suffering… [w]e have no right to terminate life.”

In all these incidents, a broader trend is visible. Religious conservatives oppose abortion, oppose birth control, oppose gay adoption, oppose same-sex marriage, oppose euthanasia — in short, they want to control how people are born, how they marry, how they raise families, and how they die. During the most private and important moments of a human being’s life, they want to barge in and demand adherence to their rigid, paternalistic creed. Again, because their unwavering religious belief has led them to the blind certainty that they know best how life should be lived, they have no qualms in seeking to intrude upon the lives of others at the most important and personal moments.

There’s one more threat that needs to be mentioned. Despite the outrages upon human dignity that they’ve caused, none of these beliefs directly threaten the future of the human species as a whole. But there is one that does. This is the most frightening and dangerous religious belief of all, the most potentially catastrophic of all the fossil fuels, and it’s alive and virulent today: the belief that the apocalypse is coming soon, and that this is a good thing.

A poll taken in 2002 found that 59 percent of Americans expect the events in the Bible’s book of Revelation to come literally true in the future. In other words, almost six in 10 Americans believe that sometime in the near future, the world will be destroyed. That’s what the second coming of Jesus Christ implies in Christian theology: global disaster and catastrophe, the deaths of hundreds of millions, and a day in which “the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10). A large number of believers are looking forward to this event and believe it’s a desirable outcome. And when people truly and sincerely believe this, their actions will follow suit: either treating the planet where we all live as if it were of no consequence, or worse, taking steps to start this world-destroying war themselves.

Here’s the Christian pastor John MacArthur explaining how his belief in the imminent second coming relates to his views on the environmental movement:

“The environmental movement is consumed with trying to preserve the planet forever. But we know that isn’t in God’s plan.

The earth we inhabit is not a permanent planet. It is, frankly, a disposable planet — it is going to have a very short life. It’s been around six thousand years or so — that’s all — and it may last a few thousand more. And then the Lord is going to destroy it.

I’ve told environmentalists that if they think humanity is wrecking the planet, wait until they see what Jesus does to it.

…This earth was never ever intended to be a permanent planet — it is not eternal. We do not have to worry about it being around tens of thousands, or millions, of years from now because God is going to create a new heaven and a new earth.”

The recklessness and callousness proclaimed by writings like this is unbelievable. These views impact all the rest of us who must share the planet with these people. We all live on this world together, and we’re all connected by what happens to it. Sulfur emitted into the air in one country causes acid rain in another; fertilizer dumped into a river upstream causes toxic algae blooms downstream; carbon emitted by the United States causes melting glaciers in Asia and Africa and global warming in the Arctic. We can’t solve the problem of environmental degradation in one place without solving it everywhere. Yet Christian fundamentalists such as MacArthur shrug off these efforts because they consider the planet “disposable,” and they’re willing to make that decision on behalf of all of us — and let future generations suffer the consequences if they turn out to be wrong.

Adam Lee is a writer and atheist activist living in New York City. Follow him on Twitter, or subscribe to his blog, Daylight Atheism.

Emphasis Mine

How the Conservative Worldview Quashes Critical Thinking — and What That Means For Our Kids’ Future

From: AlterNet

By: Sara Robinson

The Conservative War On Education continues apace, with charters blooming everywhere, high-stakes testing cementing its grip on classrooms, and legislators and pundits wondering what we need those stupid liberal arts colleges for anyway. (Isn’t college about job prep? Who needs to know anything about art history, anthropology or ancient Greek?)

Amid the din, there’s a worrisome trend: liberals keep affirming right-wing talking points, usually without realizing that they’re even right wing. Or saying things like, “The education of our children is a non-partisan issue that should exist outside of any ideological debate.”

The hell it is. People who say stuff like this have no idea what they’re talking about. The education of our children is a core cultural and political choice that reflects the deepest differences between liberals and conservatives — because every educational conversation must start with the fundamental philosophical question: What is an education for?  (N.B.: terminal preposition SIC)

Our answers to that question could not be more diametrically opposed.

A Question of Human Nature

Our beliefs about the purpose of education are rooted in even deeper beliefs about the basic nature of humanity.

All conservative politics springs from one central premise: they believe that human beings are essentially fallen and deeply flawed. Human beings are swayed by uncontrollable passions, we make consistently bad choices and we are incapable of governing ourselves. Given our basic depravity, civilization can only work if we submit ourselves to the external guidance of society’s appointed authorities, and stay on the straight and narrow path our betters have clearly marked out with rules, oversight and punishments. Without those constraints, we cannot be trusted: our own perverse natures would inevitably lure us into ruin.

George Lakoff pointed out that in this worldview, children are born evil, and it’s the duty of the Strict Father to beat it out of them. For their own good, kids must learn to accept the boundaries and order imposed by the authorities who’ve magnanimously consented to responsibility for their wretched and unworthy souls. The main imperative of education is to break the child’s will, force him to conform to society’s expectations, make him an obedient and compliant employee, and prepare him to survive in a hostile and competitive world that will cut him no breaks. Nobody’s going to protect you; for good or bad, you’ll only be given what you earn. What kids need most from school are hard skills and marketable credentials that will enable them to find a stable place in the hierarchy, thus securing their futures.

Libertarian education critic John Taylor Gatto has rightly pointed out that the “hidden curriculum” of public schools is designed from the ground up to reinforce these deeply authoritarian lessons. According to Gatto, the student is trained to eat, sleep, excrete, and think by the bells — no daydreaming about history during math class! She also learns to accept the judgment of teachers, peers and other worthies who are entitled to evaluate her worth; it’s beyond her pay grade to assess her own performance. This lesson fosters a lifelong dependence on external authority, and further quashes self-assessment and critical thinking. High-stakes testing is an artifact of the conservative belief that education is about acquiring a required body of knowledge that’s been determined by experts. If it’s not in the book, you don’t need to know it. And the ultimate outcome — the purpose of this whole process — is to graduate with a credential that will certify your acceptability to the established hierarchies of the economic world.

In the conservative model, critical thinking is horrifically dangerous, because it teaches kids to reject the assessment of external authorities in favor of their own judgment — a habit of mind that invites opposition and rebellion. This is why, for much of Western history, critical thinking skills have only been taught to the elite students — the ones headed for the professions, who will be entrusted with managing society on behalf of the aristocracy. (The aristocrats, of course, are sending their kids to private schools, where they will receive a classical education that teaches them everything they’ll need to know to remain in charge.) Our public schools, unfortunately, have replicated a class stratification on this front that’s been in place since the Renaissance.

Gatto argues that this kind of regimented education is profoundly inappropriate in a democracy. If you teach a child that he is incapable (and intrinsically unworthy) of governing himself — a central assumption of conservatism — then how on earth can he participate in governing his country?

The answer, of course, is that he can’t. And indeed: that is the whole point.

A Democratic Education

Democracy begins with the premise that most people are intrinsically decent and good, and that they can usually be trusted to make the right choices for themselves. Without this humanist belief in people’s essential moral and intellectual competence, a system of universal citizenship and collective governance would be philosophically unthinkable — and functionally impossible. This assumption also has profound implications for education.

Among liberals, the ultimate purpose of both education and parenting is to bring forward the best that lies within us, with the ultimate goal of maximizing the unique potential of each child. The stronger each of us is individually, the stronger civilization is as a whole. Education should, above all, foster self-knowledge and self-discipline, equipping us to make the best possible contributions to the collective — and to pursue life, liberty and happiness wherever those pursuits may take us. It’s hoped that they will take us on many unforseeable adventures — adventures for which we will need to be ready.

Central to this preparation is the development of our own internal authority and judgment, which we rely on to guide us through life and make us thoughtful, moral citizens. It’s assumed that people who are accustomed to this kind of personal freedom will also fiercely resist authoritarian leaders, whom we know we can never trust as thoroughly as we trust ourselves.

Our system relies on citizens who can think critically and clearly about any new situation they’re facing, and reason out solutions to problems without input from others when it’s necessary. And in today’s economy, it will often be necessary. We’ve known for 25 years that the old paternalistic workplaces — the ones with rigid hierarchies, where people could spend 40 years at the same plant — are gone. Most workers these days can expect to change careers two, three or four times over the course of what may well be a 50-year working life.

Given this reality, the college-as-job-training model the conservatives are promoting looks patently insane. Subjects like logic and philosophy, anthropology and rhetoric, foreign languages and history provide the mental flexibility, deep perspective, and sharp critical thinking skills that allow one to make one’s own way on unfamiliar landscapes, a skill that’s useful when the world keeps changing around you. People with rich liberal arts backgrounds are also far better prepared for leadership roles, and better positioned to recognize and seize on whatever opportunities fate throws their way. And survival in the economy of the future is going to depend far more heavily on our ability to create and maintain strong, broad social networks — to make and maintain supportive relationships with people who understand your value.

It’s obvious that stripping these mind-expanding fripperies out of the curriculum — as conservatives are proposing, often with no push-back at all from liberals — serves the narrow, functional conservative view of education and citizenship very well. But we let them win this point at our peril. It’s not exactly accurate — but nonetheless true — to say that the reason we call it “liberal education” is that the more of it you have, the more liberal you’re likely to be. If we buy into the idea that critical thinking is somehow non-essential, we’re not only betraying the entire future of the liberal tradition in America; we’re also depriving future generations of the basic skills and knowledge they’ll need to defend their democracy from the plutocrats who are always standing in the shadows, determined to wrest it from them.

Getting Back to a Liberal Education

Once you understand how very different our underlying worldviews are, the things we need to do to preserve our idea of a progressive, empowering education become far more clear. And once we’ve gotten a firmer grasp on what our own values demand on this issue, the easier it will be to talk about our vision of what American education should be.

Some examples:

Tests are valuable. They give teachers useful feedback about where each kid is, and what can be done to improve his or her progress. But they are only a means to an end – and the end should be a comprehensive, appropriate education. Only totalitarians who reject our democratic goals and values can possibly believe that tests are ends in themselves. There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all education, and no student’s potential can ever be described by a single number.

The same applies to teachers. In a democracy, we find competent people, and then we trust them to do the right thing until they’ve shown us they can’t. Teachers deserve at least this much from us. The grinding, constant oversight is an authoritarian response that de-professionalizes and demoralizes smart people. The metrics used to reward and promote them should reflect the full range of skills they bring to their work, and the actual difference they make in the lives of their students. Let’s make it easy for really talented people to love this job — and then let them do it.

The arts, crafts and humanities matter. From kindergarten through college, we’ve seen 25 years of deep cuts in music, art, lab science, foreign language, school papers, drama departments, sports programs, home economics, and shop class. All these classes have one thing in common: they’re the hands-on subjects where kids spend the most time thinking independently, exploring their own creativity, experiencing themselves as productive and competent, and gaining confidence in useful real-world life skills.

What they learn in these classes doesn’t show up in test scores. But these lessons yield adults who can take care of themselves in a wide range of situations. You may never use a quadratic equation again for the rest of your days, but no matter where you’re headed, your life will be forever richer if you know how to informally test an idea, play on a team, make a satisfying dinner, speak some basic Spanish, handle a wrench and a drill, and write an engaging narrative on a subject you care about.

Teamwork matters. The cooperative skills we learn while playing sports or doing a class project with friends are essential to economic survival in an increasingly interdependent world. High-stakes testing reinforces the conservative message that you’re on your own — and will rise or fall on your own merit, as defined by external authorities who grade the tests. But a truly progressive education focuses on teaching kids to work together, build relationships, and draw their sense of self-worth from their ability to make strong contributions to the group. In the years ahead, which one of these people would you rather be sitting across the table from at a city planning meeting?

College isn’t just about job prep. It’s about developing the leaders who will set the standards for our entire culture. When we short-change students on the liberal arts curriculum, we are dooming the next generation to be led by people whose perspective, vision, flexibility, insight, and compassion aren’t up to the highest standards. If we want our nation to be better, we need to train better minds — and for thousands of years, a firm grounding in the arts and humanities have been the main way civilizations around the world have always developed this talent.

Discipline is not about control or retribution. It’s about encouraging students to make better decisions, exercise some foresight, take responsibility, and recognize the effects their actions have on the larger group. If a disciplinary intervention doesn’t meet those goals, then it’s not effective, and shouldn’t be used.

Vocational ed is not for losers. Our country is a far better place when it’s well-stocked with tradespeople, factory workers, technicians, small business owners, and service providers who have mastered their fields, and take pride in their work. These people are the foundation of our economy, and the real wealth and job creators. When we short-change their training, we’re undermining our own future competitiveness — and cutting the knees out from under the next generation of the American middle class.

And finally: critical thinking is the birthright of every American. We should not aspire to a feudal society where only the elites are taught to think independently, evaluate evidence, weigh complex factors, and make informed decisions. But it will become one — in just a generation or two — if we stop making this thefoundational competence delivered by our educational system. A democracy in which a majority of people are no longer capable of basic critical thinking skills cannot remain a democracy very long.

Our educational system is a product of our deepest values. And the battles we’re having now are, very directly, battles over what we believe is possible in America, and what kind of country we want to be 20 years from now. The conservatives are not wrong: for 150 years, the schools have been the leading promoter and disseminator of progressive values. They are now doing their best to dismantle that system, and replace it with one that produces followers, subjects and serfs.

What is education for? We won’t even be a contender in this fight until we’re committed to our own clear, coherent, values-based answer to that question. How we answer it will shape the country’s future.

Sara Robinson, MS, APF is a social futurist and the editor of AlterNet’s Vision page. Follow her on Twitter, or subscribe to AlterNet’s Vision newsletter for weekly updates.

Emphasis Mine


Why Does Religion Always Get a Free Ride?

From: AlterNet

By: Greta Christina

Why should religion, alone among all other kinds of ideas, be free from attempts to persuade people out of it?

We try to persuade people out of ideas all the time. We try to persuade people that their ideas about science, politics, philosophy, art, medicine, and more, are wrong: that they’re harmful, ridiculous, repulsive, or simply mistaken. But when it comes to religion, trying to persuade people out of their ideas is somehow seen as horribly rude at best, invasive and bigoted and intolerant at worst. Why? Why should religion be the exception?

I’ve been writing about atheism for about six years now. In those six years, I’ve asked this question more times and not once have I gotten a satisfying answer. In fact, only once do I recall getting any answer at all. Besides that one exception, what I’ve gotten in response has been crickets chirping and tumbleweeds blowing by. I’ve been ignored, I’ve had the subject changed, I’ve had people get personally nasty, I’ve had people abandon the conversation altogether. But only once have I ever gotten any kind of actual answer. And that answer sucked. (I’ll get to it in a bit.) I’ve heard lots of people tell me, at length and with great passion, that trying to persuade people out of their religion is bad and wrong and mean… but I haven’t seen a single real argument explaining why this is such a terrible thing to do with religion, and yet is somehow perfectly okay to do with all other ideas.

So I want to get to the heart of this matter. Why should religion be treated differently from all other kinds of ideas? Why shouldn’t we criticize it, and make fun of it, and try to persuade people out of it, the way we do with every other kind of idea?

In a free society, in the marketplace of ideas, we try to persuade people out of ideas all the time. We criticize ideas we disagree with; we question ideas we find puzzling; we excoriate ideas we find repugnant; we make fun of ideas we think are silly. And we think this is acceptable. In fact, we think it’s positively good. We think this is how good ideas rise to the surface, and bad ideas get filtered out. We might have issues with exactly how this persuasion is carried out: is it done politely or rudely, reasonably or hysterically, did you really have to bring it up at Thanksgiving dinner, etc. But the basic idea of trying to convince other people that your ideas are right and theirs are wrong… this is not controversial.

Except when it comes to religion.


Religion is an idea about the world. Thousands of different ideas, really, but with one basic idea at the core of them all: the idea of the supernatural. Religion is the hypothesis that the world is the way that it is, entirely or in part, because of supernatural beings or forces acting on the natural world. It’s an idea about how the world works — every bit as much as the germ theory of disease, or the theory that matter is made up of atoms, or the wacky notion that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

And religion is a very specific kind of idea about the world. Religion is a truth claim. It’s not a subjective matter of personal experience or opinion, like, “I’m a one-woman man,” or “Harry Potter is better than Lord of the Rings.” It is a statement about what is and is not literally true in the non-subjective world.

So if we think it’s a mistaken idea, why shouldn’t we try to convince other people of that?

We do this with every other kind of truth claim. If people think that disease is caused by demonic possession, or that global climate change is a hoax, or that deregulating the financial industry will lead to a robustly healthy economy for all levels of society — and we think these people are wrong — we try to change their minds. Why should religion be any different?

Now, of course, religion is more than just an idea. People build communities, personal identities, support systems, coping mechanisms, entire life philosophies, around their religious beliefs.

But people build identities around other ideas, too. People have intense political identities, for instance: people are often deeply attached to their identity as a progressive, a Republican or a libertarian. People build communities around these ideas, and support systems, and coping mechanisms, and life philosophies. And we still think it’s entirely valid, and even positively worthwhile, to try to change people’s minds about these ideas if we think they’re wrong.

Why should religion be any different?

It’s also the case that letting go of religious beliefs can be upsetting, even traumatic. In the short term anyway. Most atheists say that they’re happy to have let go of their religion… but many do go through a short period of trauma while they’re letting go.

But it can be upsetting, and even traumatic, to let go of all kinds of ideas. It can be upsetting and traumatic to learn that the clothes and chocolate and electronics you’re buying are made by slave labor; that the food you’re feeding your children is bad for them; that you have unconscious racist or sexist attitudes; that driving your car is contributing to global climate change and the possible permanent destruction of the environment.

And yet we still think it’s valid, and even positively worthwhile, to try to change people’s minds about these ideas if we think they’re wrong.

Why should religion be any different?

Yes, there’s a tremendous diversity of religious ideas — a diversity that makes up a large part of our complex cultural tapestry. But we have a tremendous diversity of ideas about politics, too… and about science, and race, and gender, and sexuality, and more. When we look at our history, our complex cultural tapestry has included alchemy, and Jim Crow laws, and preventing women from voting, and curing the “disease” of masturbation, and treating yellow fever epidemics by shooting cannonballs into the air. The world is better off without those ideas. We still have a rich cultural tapestry of diverse lifestyles and worldviews without them. And we still think it was entirely valid, and even positively worthwhile, to try to change people’s minds about these ideas when we thought they were wrong.

Why should religion be any different?

It’s also true that persuading people out of their religion is often seen as proselytizing or evangelizing. Proselytizing or evangelizing about religion has a bad reputation. And there are good reasons for that. Religious evangelists have an ugly history of fearmongering, deception, outright lying, applying economic pressure, using law or force or even violence, to “persuade” people out of their religious beliefs. Not to mention the little matter of knocking on people’s doors at eight o’clock on Saturday morning. It’s no wonder people are resistant to it.

But if that’s not what atheists are advocating? If we’re not advocating any sort of force or coercion, or even any sort of pressure apart from the mild social pressure created by people not wanting to look foolish by hanging onto bad ideas? If what we’re advocating is writing blog posts, writing magazine articles, writing books, wearing T-shirts, putting up billboards, getting into conversations with our friends and families, getting into debates on Facebook? If what we’re advocating is getting our atheist ideas more widely disseminated and understood, and creating atheist communities so people who share our ideas feel safer expressing them? If what we’re advocating is essentially standing up and saying, “The emperor has no clothes” — and offering the best evidence and arguments we can for the emperor’s nakedness?

What is so terrible about that? We do that with every other kind of idea. Why shouldn’t we do it with religion?

Why should religion be any different?

And it’s certainly true that, throughout history, many attempts to “persuade” people out of their religion have resulted in persecution — or have provided the rationalization for it. Human beings have an ugly, bloody, terrible history of persecuting each other over religious differences: anti-Catholic hostility in America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, anti-Muslim hostility in much of Europe today, the Crusades, the Holocaust… the list goes on. And religious persecution often goes hand-in-hand with classism, jingoistic nationalism, ethnic hatreds, and racism — rendering it even uglier. A lot of people can only see persuading people out of religion in this context of persecution, and are horrified by it. And while I disagree with their ultimate analysis, I can certainly understand their horror.

But religion isn’t the only idea whose adherents have historically been targeted with persecution. Political ideas certainly have been. To take an obvious example: Look at Communism. People who thought Communism was a good idea had their lives utterly destroyed. Even if they weren’t actually trying to overthrow the government. Even if all they were doing was writing, or creating art, or gassing on in cafes with their friends. Even if they weren’t really Communists. McCarthyism and other Red scares destroyed the lives of countless people who were simply suspected of being Communists. And like religious persecution, anti-Communist fervor has often been closely tied with nationalism, ethnic hostilities, and more. Immigrants from Eastern Europe, for instance, were often feared and despised as “dirty Commies,” with the political hostility becoming inextricably tangled with the xenophobic nationalism, and each form of hostility feeding the other.

Does that mean we shouldn’t criticize Communism? Does that mean that, if we think Communism isn’t a particularly good system for structuring an economy, we should just keep our mouths shut?

When we criticize religion — just as when we criticize any other kind of idea — we do need to make sure that criticism of the idea doesn’t turn into persecution of its adherents. We need to draw a careful line between criticizing ideas and marginalizing people. We need to remember that people who disagree with us are still people, deserving of basic compassion and respect.

But we need to draw that line with every kind of idea. Political, scientific, artistic ideas — all of them. And we don’t exempt any other kind of idea from criticism, just because that kind of idea has often been targeted with persecution.

Why should religion be any different?

Why should religion be treated any differently from any other kind of idea about the world? Why, alone among all other ideas, should it be protected from criticism, questions, mockery when it’s ridiculous, excoriation when it’s appalling? Why, alone among all other ideas, should we not try to persuade people out of it if we think it’s mistaken?

Why should religion be the exception?

I’ve asked this question more times than I can remember. And I’ve only ever gotten one straight answer. In one argument on Facebook (which was ages ago, so unfortunately I can’t find it and link to it), the person I was debating argued that religious debates and disagreements have a bad history. All too often, they’ve led to hostility, hatred, tribalism, bigotry, even violence and wars. Therefore, he argued, it was best to just avoid debates about the topic altogether.

You know what? He’s right. When it comes to the divisiveness of religion, he’s totally right.

And that’s an argument for my side — not his.

I completely agree with his basic assessment. Religion does tend to be more divisive than other topics. It’s a point Daniel Dennet made in his book, Breaking the Spell: In a weird but very real psychological paradox, people tend to defend ideas more ferociously when we don’t have very good evidence supporting them.

Look at it this way. If people come over the hill and tell us that the sky is orange, we can clearly see that the sky is blue… so we can easily shrug off their ridiculous idea, and we don’t feel a powerful need to defend our own perception. But if people come over the hill and tell us that God comes in three parts, one of whom is named Jesus, and this three-in-one god really wants us not to eat meat on Fridays — and we think there is no god but Allah, and he really wants us to never eat pork or draw pictures of real things — we don’t have any way to settle the disagreement. The only evidence supporting our belief is, “My parents tell me,” My religious leader tells me,” “My holy book tells me,” or “I feel it in my heart.” And if we care about our belief — if it’s not some random trivial opinion, if it’s central to our personal and social identity — we have a powerful tendency to double down, to entrench ourselves more deeply and more passionately in our belief. We can’t have a rational, evidence-based debate about the matter. The only way to defend our own belief is with bigotry, tribalism, and violence.

But if religious differences really are more likely to lead to bigotry, tribalism, violence, etc.… doesn’t that show what a bad idea it is? If the ideas of religion are so poorly rooted in reality that there’s no way to resolve differences other than forming battle lines and screaming or shooting across them… doesn’t that strongly suggest that this is a truly crappy idea, and humanity should let go of it? Doesn’t that suggest that persuading people out of it is a really good thing to do?

So yeah. This wasn’t such a great answer. But at least it was an answer. At least it wasn’t a changing of the topic, a moving of the goalposts, a deterioration into personal insult, a complete abandonment of the conversation altogether. Every other time that I’ve asked, “Why should religion, alone among all other kinds of ideas, be free from attempts to persuade people out of it?” I’ve been met with what was essentially silence.

I’ve gotten tremendous hostility over the years for my attempts to persuade people out of religion. I’ve been called a racist and a cultural imperialist, trying to stamp out the beautiful tapestry of human diversity and make everyone in the world exactly like me. I’ve been called a fascist, have been compared to Stalin and Glenn Beck. My atheist activism has beencompared to the genocide of the Native Americans. I’ve even been called “evil in one of its purest forms” — as have many other atheist writers; I’m hardly the only target of this. All this, for trying to persuade people that their idea is mistaken, and our idea is correct. The atheism itself gets hostile opposition as well, of course: it gets called immoral, amoral, hopeless, meaningless, joyless, and more. But the very idea of presuming to engage in this debate — the very idea of putting religion on one side of a chessboard and atheism on the other, and seeing which one gets check-mated — is regularly treated as a bigoted and intolerant violation of the basic principles of human discourse.

And yet when I ask why — why it’s okay to persuade people out of other ideas but not this one, why religion alone should be exempt from the vigorous criticism that every other idea is expected to stand up to, why religion alone should get a free ride in the marketplace of ideas (and a free ride in an armored car at that), why religion should be the sole exception — I’ve only ever gotten one crappy answer, one time.

Does anyone have a better answer?

Or any answer at all?

Read more of Greta Christina at her blog.

Emphasis Mine


6 People the Media Should Have Talked to About Birth Control That Aren’t Catholic Men

From: RawStory, via  AlterNet

By:David Ferguson

It has been widely remarked that last week’s discussions about the Affordable Health Care Act’s mandate that insurers provide women with free birth control was a little heavy on men and religious figures and awfully light on women and health care experts.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) held a hearing on Capitol Hill about the issue, but declined to feature any women on the panel or hear testimony from female witnesses, prompting a walk-out by Reps. Carolyn Mahoney (D-NY) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).

We at Raw Story have some suggestions for people the news media might reach out to next time questions of women and their access to contraception arise.

1. Dr. Regina Benjamin (Surgeon General of the U.S.)

Who better to discuss an important public health issue than the most powerful public health official in the country? She, unlike most of the people interviewed on the topic, is a doctor and a woman, and has an extensive background in rural health care and understands the difficulties faced by women and families in need.

2. Working moms

One of the revolutionary aspects of the arrival of the birth control pill was that it allowed women to work outside the home. Within the last half-century our society has changed from one where one parent, the mother, was expected to remain at home engaged in child care and homemaking, into a society where stay-at-home parenting is the exception, not the norm. Some doctors and historians would say that the availability of safe and reliable birth control has been an integral part of that transformation.

3. Sarah Palin

Only because her grasp of the English language is so tenuous and fraught with peril that every time she opens her mouth, whatever cause she is advocating gets set back twenty years. Nobody tosses a word salad with quite the mindless aplomb of half-term ex-Governor Sarah Palin. Let’s not forge ther hilarious mangling of the Paul Revere story.

4. A junkie

It is a sad fact of drug addiction that many female addicts are ultimately forced by their addiction to trade sex for drugs. According to one Vanderbilt University study, approximately 350,000 babies are born already addicted to drugs each year. Many drug addicts spend all of their available resources on their habit, putting tertiary concerns like birth control out of reach. Providing these women with free birth control could save our health care system money in the long run, and simplify the already complicated lives of a vulnerable class of people.

5. Loretta Lynn

Simply on the basis of this great song (The Pill).

6. Kathy Griffin

The actress and comedian has spoken eloquently about her Catholic faith, and has famously gone a few rounds with professional scold Bill Donohue and the “Catholic League” in the past. Pretty much everything that comes out of her mouth is hilarious, regardless, and she’s much less stomach-turning to listen to on topics of sex, marriage, and reproduction than, say, Newt Gingrich.

How about you? Is there anyone you believe got short shrift in our national tug of war over women’s right to manage their own bodies? Let us know in the comments.

Emphasis Mine


First They Came After Science Teachers for Evolution. Now Let’s Defend Them on Climate Change

From AlterNet, sourced from  Booman Tribune.

N.B.: We, the 99%, need Church State Separation more than ever!

By: Steven D.

“In state after state, school boards for various reasons (ideological, political, religious, etc.) have objected to science being taught. We are all well aware of the struggles of biology teachers regarding their ability to properly teach their students about evolution. However, the science of climate change is also under attack from many of the same school boards, political ideologues, religious zealots and also from propaganda funded my major fossil fuel companies.

“Critics of the teaching of evolution in the nation’s classrooms are gaining ground in some states by linking the issue to global warming, arguing that dissenting views on both scientific subjects should be taught in public schools,” reported The New York Times (March 3, 2010). “Wherever there is a battle over evolution now,” Lawrence M. Krauss told the Times, “there is a secondary battle to diminish other hot-button issues like Big Bang and, increasingly, climate change. […]

NCSE’s Joshua Rosenau told the Times that he began to notice the linkage after the 2005 decision in Selman v. Cobb County. At issue was a disclaimer about evolution affixed to textbooks; although the text of the disclaimer was not religious, it was held to be unconstitutional because it endorsed the creationist view that evolution is a problematic theory lacking an adequate foundation. “By insisting that global warming also be debated, deniers of evolution can argue that they are simply championing academic freedom in general.”

Science teachers are increasingly under attack for teaching the overwhelming consensus view that (1) climate change is occurring due to global warming, and (2) Human activity, especially the burning of carbon based fuels such as coal, gas and oil which emit greenhouse gases, is the primary basis for that change. And once again, a subject that should be apolitical has become a political controversy because of the Republican party’s whole-hearted embrace of anyone who attacks the science of climate research, whether for economic or religious purposes.

Where once Newt Gingrich, John McCain and Mitt Romney were willing to acknowledge global warming the importance of addressing the issues we face that are a direct cause of our reliance on fossil fuels for energy, now it is next to impossible (outside of the state of Maine perhaps) to find a Republican politician who will publicly state that climate science researchers are not liberal dogmatic money grubbing conspirators out to destroy our economy, our nation and our very way of life. Local Republicans and fundamentalists feel emboldened to challenge climate science instruction in our schools and attack teachers:

“It’s very difficult when we, as science teachers, are just trying to present scientific facts,”says Kathryn Currie, head of the [Los Alamitos High School’s] science department. And science educators around the country say such attacks are becoming all too familiar. They see climate science now joining evolution as an inviting target for those who accuse “liberal” teachers of forcing their “beliefs” upon a captive audience of impressionable children. […]

… An informal survey this spring of 800 NESTA members found that climate change was second only to evolution in triggering protests from parents and school administrators. One teacher reported being told by school administrators not to teach climate change after a parent threatened to come to class and make a scene. Online message boards for science teachers tell similar tales …

“There seems to be a lynch-mob hate against any teacher trying to teach climate change,”says Andrew Milbauer, an environmental sciences teacher at Conserve School, a private boarding school in Land O’Lakes, Wisconsin.

These teachers simply want to present the objective factual basis for human-made climate change. Yet they are being painted as the “bad guys” by the energy industry and local politicos who see benefits from ad hominum assaults on teachers and on the researchers who discovered the link between human activity and global warming. And the result is that our children are lagging behind the rest of the world in science education:

[National Math and Science Initiative] RESPONSE [to declining science achievement among U.S. Students]: In a world that is increasingly dependent on science, we are failing to educate our kids in science. That ís putting them at risk and putting our country at risk, said Tom Luce, CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative. “We need to do much more to engage our students in the sciences. It can be done if we make science and math a priority — NMSI is already proving students can meet this challenge by using programs that have hard data showing they work.

The problem we face is that powerful and influential economic, political and religious forces do not want our children to be properly educated in science. Each of them have their reasons, but the end result is the same: Science teachers are being forced to navigate a minefield of ginned up phony controversies and put the very careers as educators at risk in order to simply teach the facts. Fortunately, at long last, The National Center for Science Education has stepped up to proved aid and assistance to our nation’s science teachers, with a program dedicated to helping teachers confront the objections of right wing attacks on their profession and their ability to teach their students about climate issues.

The Oakland-based National Center for Science Education (NCSE) has announced that it will now offer support to teachers facing resistance to climate science in the classroom, similar to their long-standing work to keep the instruction of evolution in schools. “We’ve already had a couple of calls along the lines of, ‘I know you guys do evolution, but I’ve got this problem with [teaching] climate change and do you have any suggestions for me,’” said Dr. Eugenie Scott, executive director of NSCE.

Scott says parents often argue that schools should teach both sides of a controversial scientific issue. But she doesn’t consider the fundamental conclusions of climate science to be controversial. “The idea that scientific topics that are well grounded in basic science, like evolution or climate change, should be balanced, or that all views should be taught, is not one that is very scientifically or pedagogically supportable,” said Scott. […]

The Center’s approach to dealing with these issues has always been local. “We provide information to people in communities,” Scott emphasized. “We get local people to appear at school board meetings because all politics is local and this is politics.” The Center’s staff isn’t nearly big enough to fly around the country defending climate science in 1,500 school districts. So it provides support to teachers who ask for it. “Teachers in general are conflict-averse; they just want to do their jobs,” explained Scott. Unfortunately that means that it is often easier for a teacher to avoid the issue completely than to stand up for the climate science.

Unfortunately, NCSE is a small non-profit organization that lacks the resources or media access of the Climate denial industry. An industry heavily financed by — guess who — the Koch brothers, among others.

Who’s behind a multi-million dollar campaign to seed doubt about climate change? It’s not just Exxon and Chevron—it’s also Koch Industries, an oil and gas giant that most people have never heard of, according to a new report from Greenpeace. Koch’s extensive funding of anti-climate work makes it the “financial kingpin of climate science denial and clean energy opposition,” says Greenpeace.

The Kansas-based company and its affiliates and foundations spent almost $25 million on “organizations of the ‘climate denial machine'” between 2005 and 2008, according to the report. Koch Industries and the Koch family also spent $37.9 million between 2006 and 2009. “Although Koch intentionally stays out of the public eye, it is now playing a quiet but dominant role in a high-profile national policy debate on global warming,” the report concludes.

So, Executive Director of the NCSE has made a direct appeal for our help at Real Climate, the leading climate science bog on the internet. Here is the text of the appeal that Eugenie Scott, speaking on behalf of the NCSE climate change initiative:

Long a defender of the teaching of evolution, the National Center for Science Education has recently launched an initiative to support and defend the teaching of climate change science. The “support” part has challenges all its own. Unlike evolution, which easily fits into biology and other life science courses, climate science spans multiple disciplines and can fall through disciplinary cracks in biology, chemistry and physics, or appear briefly in more specialized disciplines like ecology or Earth sciences. Moreover, climate science is complex and often non-intuitive, and students (and all too often teachers) stumble over misinformation and misconceptions that are hard to overcome. Many educational institutions are wrestling with how to support climate science in the K-12 curriculum.

But the “defend” part is where NCSE will make a unique contribution. Our experience over the decades helping teachers and school boards resolve the problems that have arisen over the teaching of evolution should stand us in good stead in helping them deal with this newer “controversial science”. Of course, there are many perspectives affecting the objections to climate science education, and each requires its own response.

Some of the denial is literal (It’s not happening! The science is bad!), some of it may be interpretive (it’s maybe happening but people aren’t to blame), and some of it stems more from the implications of climate change (it’s happening and maybe humans are responsible, but someone else is to blame and/or there’s nothing I can do about it). We’re going to help teachers understand where pressure against climate science education comes from, as the first step in helping them construct a response. From the evolution education controversy we learned long ago that one does not solve these problems merely by piling on more or better science: the underlying, motivating issues must be addressed. The science is essential, but not sufficient.

Climate change education should be an integral part of science education. Students should graduate from high school and certainly college with at least a basic understanding of the foundational concepts of climate science so they can understand human activities and how they are impacting climate and other aspects of the earth system.

This is no small task, and obviously NCSE as a relatively small non-profit can only do so much. We need your help.

We have been successful because we marshal allies, like scientists, teachers, parents, and other citizens, at the grassroots. NCSE’s success over recent decades in defending the teaching of evolution has been due in large measure to scientists and others who are willing to support good science education locally and at the state level. We also need scientists to provide us with their scientific expertise.

If you are a climate scientist, please give us your contact information so we can consult with you. Also, your contact information will be helpful to us if something occurs in your region or state where we need a scientist to write a letter, testify before a committee, support a teacher, or help in some other way.

Of course, an obvious way you can help is to join NCSE, but even if you don’t, your expertise will be helpful to us.

Visit our website, and contact our new Programs and Policy Director, Mark McCaffrey, who will be helping spearhead the new initiative, to let us know you support our effort. Teachers will thank you.

Even if you are not a climate scientist you can help with your donations. I know there are many worthy causes that cry out for our attention and our money, but to my mind it is hard to imagine a cause for which support is more critical. The future of our children is at stake as well as the future of our planet. If we allow the Luddites ion the right to prevent science teachers from doing their jobs, we will surely ultimately end up with a poorer economy, a more polluted environment, a more ignorant electorate and a tragic loss for future generations of Americans who will need all the knowledge we can give them so that they can work to prevent or at least ameliorate the climate catastrophes to come.

We have all seen the beginning of such disasters in the extreme floods, droughts, storms, tornadoes, heat wave, drought and famine that stalks our planet in this second decade of the 21st Century. And by beginning I mean just that. The effects of future increases in greenhouse gas emissions will result in catastrophes far worse than any to which we have borne witness to date. Wars, famines, massive migrations and disruptions, deaths from disease and lack of clean water, or lack of water at all, storms so immense that they will make today’s seem insignificant in comparison, coastal erosion and ocean acidification — all of these things are in our future. We need our children prepared, and the way to do that is let our science teachers teach the truth about climate change without fear of losing their jobs.

So please, if you can help the National Center for Science Education in every way you can. Thank you.”

Emphasis Mine


New Low for Right-Wing Anti-Choicers — Exploiting the Holocaust to Push Anti-Abortion Propaganda

From AlterNet, by

Irin Carmon

N.B.: This is WHY separation of church & state is more important than ever!

Saying it’s OK to choose is the same thing as saying it’s OK for Hitler to choose,” says a fresh-faced young man. He’s talking about choosing an abortion in “180,” a 33-minute movie comparing legalized abortion to the Holocaust that has so far gotten over 1.5 million hits on YouTube, thanks in part to heavy distribution by fertilized-eggs-as-people promulgators Personhood USA.

That’s precisely the conclusion Ray Comfort, a mustachioed evangelical pastor and sometime Kirk Cameron collaborator, wants from his eight young interview subjects. And with the help of footage of murdered Jews and fully developed fetuses, it’s what he wants his viewers to conclude, as well. The New Zealand-born Comfort, who says his mother is Jewish, is by no means alone in making the equivalence: Mike Huckabee, who supported Personhood USA’s failed efforts in Mississippi, has often compared the Holocaust and abortion, saying of Nazi extermination, “educated scientists, sophisticated and cultured people looked the other way because they thought it didn’t touch them.” The day before Phil Bryant was elected governor of Mississippi — at the same time the state’s voters rejected the Personhood amendment — he evoked the Jews of Nazi Germany “being marched into the oven,” because of “the people who were in charge of the government at that time” as an argument to vote for it.

But Anti-Defamation League director and Holocaust survivor Abraham Foxman has called Comfort’s film “quite frankly, one of the most offensive and outrageous abuses of the memory of the Holocaust we have seen in years.” His statement didn’t take an explicit stand on abortion or elaborate on what made the film so unacceptable, but he did say that in addition to making a “moral equivalency between the Holocaust and abortion,” the movie “also brings Jews and Jewish history into the discussion and then calls on its viewers to repent and accept Jesus as their savior.”

Obviously, for anyone who supports reproductive rights for women, the comparison is wildly offensive beyond any specter of attempted conversion or co-opting of Jewish tragedy. It requires an unquestioning equivalence between living people systematically murdered for their ethnic, religious or sexual identity and an embryo or fetus dependent on a woman’s body for survival. It also raises the question of who the alleged exterminators are. Those making the comparison would like people to cast the government or politicians in that role — but only because it sounds bad to point out who’s really making the choice, a woman. And for pro-choicers, reproductive rights are a part of a larger idea of bodily autonomy, which happens to be one of the many things denied to Nazi targets, some of whom were subjected to forced sterilization and abortions or horrific medical experiments.

Comfort starts his film by urgently asking bewildered-looking kids in Southern California if they know who Hitler is (“this guy … he had a mustache”). He inexplicably interviews an unrepentant neo-Nazi, then starts showing video footage of murdered Jews in extermination camps alongside pictures of fully developed fetuses. Having declared that Hitler hated Christianity, he asks his interviewees whether they would drive a bulldozer across the bodies of Jews, and then whether they would murder Hitler or even his pregnant mother if they had the chance. If this sounds like a suggestion that the murder of abortion providers is justifiable, the credits at the end helpfully say they don’t condone violence. In that case!

By the end, Comfort is forcefully telling the teens and 20-somethings that they’re blasphemous fornicators, adulterous in their hearts, headed for hell. (He runs into a snag when he demands to know whether one girl has lusted in her heart for a man. “Nope, I’m gay,” she says cheerfully.) Interestingly for a film that anti-choicers have declared stunningly persuasive, most of them don’t seem to care about where he says they’re going.

“180″ and its accompanying book may be the most brazen attempt to co-opt the Holocaust for other ends, but it’s hardly the first. Even before the Internet codified Godwin’s Law – the longer a discussion gets, the more likely someone will be compared to Hitler — Nazi Germany has been a favored comparison of just about anyone on the hunt for an undisputed evil. Nor is it just a tactic of the right, though recently it’s seemed happiest to use it as a cudgel against enemies, down to private equity king Steven Schwarzman comparing Obama’s position on taxes to Hitler invading Poland.

Even Betty Friedan did it: She notoriously wrote in “The Feminist Mystique” that  ”the women who ‘adjust’ as housewives, who grow up wanting to be ‘just a housewife,’ are in as much danger as the millions who walked to their own death in the concentration camps.” But Kirsten Fermaglich, author of “American Dreams and Nazi Nightmares: Early Holocaust Consciousness and Liberal America, 1957-1965,” told me that though Friedan later repudiated the comparison, in 1963, when Friedan published her book, the Holocaust was “not a sacred cow. Nobody complained about it. Certainly no one complained about it the way you’d think they would.”

Of course, at that point, the Holocaust wasn’t even known as the Holocaust. Scholars differ on how and when it shifted as a matter of public consciousness, but Fermaglich suggested it was linked to the growth of identity politics and pride in ethnic heritage in the 1970s — as well as growing Holocaust denial.

“It’s very hard to separate out one’s personal politics from one’s reaction to the use of the Holocaust,” conceded Hasia Diner, a professor of American Jewish History at NYU and director of the Goldstein-Goren Center for American Jewish History. “When it’s being used for something that I agree with, and I respect the speaker, it doesn’t bother me. On the other hand when it’s being invoked for political purposes that I find nefarious and I’m disgusted by the speaker then it seems wrong.” A comparison she found appropriate, for example, was the 1951 petition signed by Paul Robeson, W.E.B. DuBois and others charging the United States with genocide, citing lynchings and wrongful executions. “I don’t think Jews have a monopoly on the word,” she said.

But as for the anti-abortion activists using the Holocaust, Diner said bluntly, “I have nothing but disgust and contempt for them. Not because they use that word. I think everything about them is horrible.” ”

Irin Carmon is a staff writer for Salon. Follow her on Twitter at @irincarmon.

Emphasis Mine


How Christian Fundamentalism Helped Empower the Top 1% to Exploit the 99%

From AlterNet, by Frank Schaeffer

N.B.: Separation of Church and State!

“As the Occupy Wall street movement spreads across the country and the world, we must bring attention to the enablers of the top 1 percent exploiting the 99. Fundamentalist religion made this exploitation possible.

Evangelical fundamentalism helped empower the top 1 percent. Note I didn’t say religion per se, but religious fundamentalism.
Why? Because without the fundamentalists and their “values” issues, many in the lower 99 percent could not have been convinced to vote against their (our) economic self-interest; in other words, vote for Republicans who only serve billionaires.
Wall Street is a great target for long-overdue protest, but so are the centers of religious power that are the gatekeepers of Republican Party “values” voters that make the continuing economic exploitation possible.
Fundamentalist religion –– evangelical and Roman Catholic alike — has delegitimized the US government and thus undercut its ability to tax, spend and regulate.

The fundamentalists have replaced economic and political justice with a bogus (and hate-driven) “morality” litmus tests of spurious red herring “issues” from abortion to school prayer and gay rights. The result has been that the masses of lower middle-class and poor Americans who should be voting for Democrats and thus their own economic interests, have been persuaded to vote against their own class and self interest.
This trick of political sleight of hand has been achieved by this process:
  • Declare the US government agents of evil because “the government” has allowed legal abortion, gay rights, etc.
  • Declare that therefore “government is the problem,” not the solution.
  • The government is the source of all evil, thus anyone the government wants to regulate is being picked on by satanic forces. The US government is always the bad guy.
  • Good, God-fearing folks will always vote for less government and less regulation because “the government” is evil.
  • So unregulated corporations, banks and Wall Street are always right and represent “freedom” while government is always wrong and represents “tyranny.”
Like most evangelical/Roman Catholic fundamentalist movements in history, from the Bay State colonies to the Spanish Inquisition, the American Religious Right of today advocates the fusion of state power and religion through the reestablishment of the “Christian America” idea of “American Exceptionalism” (i.e., a nation “chosen” by God), the form of government adopted by the Puritans’ successors during the age of early American colonialism.
Thus the division between “real Americans” and the rest of us is the “saved” and “lost” paradigm of theological correctness applied to politics. Thus President Obama isn’t a real American, or even a born American, he’s “Other,” a Muslim, an outsider, and above all not “one of us.”
In other words you’re not just wrong, but evil if you disagree with the Elect over abortion, or for that matter peace in the Middle East because you’re “not supporting Israel.”
“Bring America back to the Bible” is really no more subtle than the claim of the Iranian Mullahs to rule in “God’s name” so that Iran too can come back to God. And if you can get Americans to worry about the Bible and not fairness and justice, then you have handed a perpetual victory to Goldman Sachs and company.
How Did We Get Here?

The unstated agreement went like this: Republicans will pander to the Religious Right on the social issues — abortion, gay rights, prayer in schools, creationism in textbooks, and not so subtly the endorsement of religious schools to help white evangelicals and Roman Catholics avoid integration — as long as the Religious Right turned a blind eye to the fact that the Republican Party would sell the soul of the country to corporate America, a country-within-a-country where 1 percent of the population have more wealth than the 99 percent.
Deference to religion masquerading as politics must end, now.
Religion masquerading as politics is not true religion or politics– it is a theocracy-in-waiting. This charade of power grabs in God’s name needs to be exposed, and destroyed.
Democracy will not survive the continuing dirty combination of theocracy and oligarchy. That’s where we’re headed: bankers running the world backed by preachers who don’t care about God but care about power.
The timely destruction of the economic elites and their religious facilitators begins by calling fundamentalist/evangelical/Roman Catholic “religion” what it is: a political grab for power based on literal madness of the sort that makes many terrified of modernity, truth, science and facts and leads them to deny evolution and global warming while believing that Jesus will come back any day now.
To the post-Roe Religious Right, hating America became the new patriotism. If it had not been for the evangelicals demonizing the federal government over abortion and gay rights (as they did before over civil rights) how else would the economic oligarchy have gotten away with making the underclass vote against their own interests?
‘I’m Pro-Life and I Vote’ Bumpersticker Says It All

The evangelical Right helped stall the Obama presidency. And they are only getting going, as their 87 Tea Party congressional freshmen proved by being willing to plunge the US economy over a cliff in order to satisfy their hunger to clip the wings of the “evil” US government and render it useless.
When my late evangelical father and I were running around back in the 1970s and ’80s signing up Republican leaders like Ronald Reagan to “take a stand on abortion” we were outsiders and agitators. Today, the agitators are now actually running the heart of the Republican Party. Some of the most extreme of their number — Perry and Bachmann — are actually running for president.

That’s why no one was surprised that Rick Perry kicked off his presidential race with a prayer meeting surrounded by extremist bigots from the far, far evangelical right.
Protest Churches and Religious Organizations, Along With Wall Street
Fundamentalist religion of all kinds is the enemy of democracy and thus of America. It is also the enemy of working people everywhere, when its bogus moral crusades empower the rich to thumb their noses at our government.
Fundamentalist religion here and around the world must be stopped in its anti-fact, anti-progress crusade. The alternative is chaos, decline, oligarchy and theocracy.

Emphasis Mine


Conservatives Want America to be a “Christian Nation” — Here’s What That Would Actually Look Like

From AlterNet, by Adam Lee

In a campaign speech in September, Rick Perry hit upon some familiar Republican themes. According to a Bloomberg Businessweek article:

Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry, in an appeal to evangelical voters, said “Christian values” and not “a bunch of Washington politicians” should be the touchstone guiding how Americans conduct their lives. …

“America is going to be guided by some set of values,” Perry told a crowd of 13,000 students and faculty members yesterday at a sports arena on the school’s campus. “The question is going to be, ‘Whose values?'” He said it should be “those Christian values that this country was based upon.”

It’s worth calling attention to Perry’s obnoxious rhetorical ploy of using “Christian values” to refer only to his own very specific, right-wing set of beliefs — preemptive war, gay-bashing, tax cuts for the rich, creationism in schools, deregulating corporations, dismantling the social safety net, the standard Republican package –– as if he owned or had the right to define all of Christianity. In reality, there’s such a huge diversity of opinion among self-professed Christians past and present that the term “Christian values” could mean almost anything.

Christians have been communists and socialists (including Francis Bellamy, the author of the Pledge of Allegiance); Christians have supported empire and dictatorship (including Mussolini, who made Catholicism the official state religion of fascist Italy). Christians have advocated positions across the political spectrum, from environmental preservation to environmental destruction, from pacifism to just war to open advocacy of genocide, from civil rights tosegregation and slavery.

This broad range of opinion comes about because the Bible never mentions many of these issues, and addresses others in only vague or contradictory passages scattered throughout its individual books. This gives individual Christians wide latitude to find support in the text for virtually any political position you’d care to name.

However, there’s one area where there’s much less room for debate, and that’s the question of political organization. The Bible sets out a very clear picture of what its authors believed the ideal state would look like. Coincidentally, this is the same subject Rick Perry was speaking to: “those Christian values that this country was based upon.” We can compare this statement to the dictates of the Bible to see what it would mean to have a government based on “Christian values.” Then we’ll be in a better position to decide whether America has such a government.

According to the Old Testament of the Bible, after escaping Egypt and reaching the promised land, the twelve tribes of Israel were united into a single country under David and Solomon. After Solomon’s death, there was a rebellion, and the country split into two separate kingdoms, Israel and Judah, which lasted until the Assyrian empire destroyed Israel and carried its people off into exile. Both these kingdoms survived for several hundred years, and therefore there’s more than enough written history to tell what the Bible’s authors thought of as a good state or a bad state.

But right away, there’s a problem. The Bible never even mentions democracy — that concept was completely unknown to its authors. The system of government it enshrines is divine-right monarchy — and not just monarchy, but kingship. Under normal circumstances, the Bible is very clear that the throne passes only from father to son. (The sole exception was Athaliah, a queen of Judah who came to power in a bloody coup and whose reign lasted only six years.)

Even more to the point, the Bible’s ideal government is unequivocally a theocracy: a country where the church and the state are one, where there’s an official religion which all citizens are required to profess, and where law is made by the priests. There was no religious freedom in the ancient Israelite kingdoms: all people were required to worship the same god in the same officially approved ways, on pain of death. For instance, when Moses comes down from Mt. Sinai and finds the Israelites worshipping a golden calf, his immediate response is to order the butchering of everyone who participated in idolatry (Exodus 32:27). Many of Israel’s subsequent kings do likewise. The Bible goes so far as to say that, if pagan worshippers are discovered in any city, the entire city should be burned down and everyone who lives there should be killed (Deuteronomy 13:12-16).

The Bible also puts a high value on racial purity. The Israelites were the chosen people of God, and were instructed to keep themselves separate. Time and again, they were sternly warned against marrying people of another race, tribe or ethnicity. For instance, the Old Testament pronounces a perpetual curse on the neighboring Ammonite and Moabite tribes, saying that any person descended from either one, even down to the tenth generation, “shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 23:3). In one of the Old Testament’s most gruesome stories, a priest named Phinehas finds an Israelite man having sex with a Midianite woman, and impales them both on the same spear (Numbers 25:6-8). For doing this, he’s praised as a hero of faith, and God rewards him with “the covenant of an everlasting priesthood.” When the Israelites invade and conquer neighboring lands, God instructs them to massacre all the captives, including women, so that they’re not tempted to intermarry with them (Deuteronomy 7:2).

By the time of the New Testament, much of this had changed. Christians weren’t all of one ethnicity, nor did they have their own country. They were scattered throughout the powerful, militaristic Roman Empire, governed by absolute rulers who were brutally intolerant of dissent. In light of this, it’s little surprise that the New Testament teaches the virtue of submission to the authorities. It states unequivocally that earthly rulers, even when they act unjustly, are ordained to their position by God and that Christian believers should obey them without question — in fact, it states that those who resist are in peril of eternal damnation (Romans 13:1-2).

All these ideas, so clearly advocated in the Bible, are utterly contrary to what this nation stands for. The idea of divine-right kingship is what our founders successfully rebelled against in bringing forth this country. America is a democracy where the people choose their leaders, a constitutional republic where the powers of those leaders are strictly defined and limited by law. America is a multicultural, multiethnic nation founded on the idea of welcoming immigrants, the homeless and tempest-tossed of every land. Submission to the established authorities, of course, isn’t an American value: Americans have a long and colorful history of debate, protest, and civil disobedience, and the right to criticize our leaders is sanctified in the Constitution. And most of all, America is a secular nation with a separation of church and state. We have no official faith, no national church as many European countries still do.

But America’s Constitution is more than just a secular document; it’s literally godless. It doesn’t claim that the ideas it contains were the product of divine revelation. It states that governing power comes from the will of the people, not the commands of a deity. It doesn’t assert that God has specially blessed this nation or shown it special favor — in fact, it never mentions God at all. And it mentions religion in only two places, both of them negative mentions: in Article VI, which forbids any religious test for public office, and in the First Amendment, which forbids Congress from passing any law respecting an establishment of religion.

If America’s founders had meant to establish a Christian nation, this is where they would have said so. But they said no such thing. And this leads into a historical fact that the religious right would dearly love to forget: the godlessness of the Constitution was a point of major controversy in the debate over ratification. When it was drafted, the fact that it made no explicit mention of God or Christianity wasn’t a minor oversight. It was a major, deliberate omission that was obvious to all. Religious language was omnipresent in other legal documents and charters of the day, including the ones that inspired the Constitution in the first place.

For example, the Constitution’s precursor, the Articles of Confederation,explicitly gives God the credit for making the state legislatures agree to it: “…it hath pleased the Great Governor of the World to incline the hearts of the legislatures we respectively represent in Congress, to approve of, and to authorize us to ratify the said articles of confederation and perpetual union.”

Going back further, the 1620 Mayflower Compact, made by the Pilgrims just before their landing, begins, “In the name of God, amen” and describes the purpose of their voyage as “for the glory of God and advancements of the Christian faith.”

Another foundational legal document, the 1689 English Bill of Rights, was based on the political thinking of John Locke and may have been part of the inspiration for our own Bill of Rights. This document calls the U.K. “this Protestant kingdom,” states that “it hath pleased Almighty God to make [King William III] the glorious instrument of delivering this kingdom from popery” and declares that no Catholic will ever be allowed to hold the throne of the U.K.

And lastly, there’s the document at the root of the Western legal system, theMagna Carta. Like the others, it’s woven throughout with religious language: its preamble begins “Know that before God…” and states that it was created “to the honor of God” and “the exaltation of the holy church.”

In the light of these documents, it’s easy to see just how unique, unusual, even unprecedented the Constitution is. The United States of America was the first modern republic that was created on the foundation of reason, without seeking blessings from a god, without imploring divine assistance or invoking divine favor. And, as I said, this fact was not overlooked when the Constitution was being debated. Very much to the contrary, the religious right of the founding generation angrily attacked it, warning that ratifying this godless document as-is would spell doom for the nation.

For instance, at the Constitutional Convention, the delegate William Williams proposed that the Constitution’s preamble be modified to read: “We the people of the United States in a firm belief of the being and perfection of the one living and true God, the creator and supreme Governor of the World, in His universal providence and the authority of His laws… do ordain, etc”. A failed Virginia initiative attempted to change the wording of Article VI to say that “no otherreligious test shall ever be required than a belief in the one only true God, who is the rewarder of the good, and the punisher of the evil”. The Maryland delegate Luther Martin observed “there were some members so unfashionable as to think that… it would be at least decent to hold out some distinction between the professors of Christianity and downright infidelity or paganism.”

However, the Constitution’s defenders held firm, and all the attempts to Christianize it failed. And the religious right of the day bitterly lamented that failure. One anonymous anti-federalist wrote in a Boston newspaper that America was inviting the curse of 1 Samuel 15:23 – “Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee.” In 1789, a group of Presbyterian elders wrote to George Washington to complain that the Constitution contained no reference to “the only true God and Jesus Christ, who he hath sent.” In 1811, Rev. Samuel Austin claimed that the Constitution’s “one capital defect” was that it was “entirely disconnected from Christianity.” In 1812, Rev. Timothy Dwight, grandson of the infamous preacher Jonathan Edwards, lamented that America had “offended Providence” by forming a Constitution “without any acknowledgement of God; without any recognition of His mercies to us, as a people, of His government, or even of His existence.”

What the religious right failed to achieve at the Constitutional Convention, they kept trying to do in the following decades. The National Reform Association, founded in 1863 by a group of clergy, proposed a constitutional amendment which would have changed the preamble to read, “We, the people of the United States, humbly acknowledging Almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government, the Lord Jesus Christ as the Ruler among the nations, His revealed will as the supreme law of the land, in order to constitute a Christian government… do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, they repeatedly brought this proposal before presidents and congresses, getting turned down each time. As recently as 1954, the National Association of Evangelicals was still trying to amend the Constitution with language such as, “This nation divinely recognizes the authority and law of Jesus Christ, Savior and Ruler of Nations, through whom are bestowed the blessings of Almighty God.”

Only within the last 50 or 60 years, now that they’ve finally accepted they have no realistic hope of changing it, has the religious right flip-flopped and started claiming that the Constitution meant to establish a Christian nation all along. This staggeringly dishonest, wholesale rewriting of history has become their stock in trade, to the point of having full-time propagandists who obscure historical fact and promote the Christian-nation myth. These falsehoods filter into the political mainstream, until we have absurdities like Rick Perry claiming that the United States, a secular and democratic republic, was based on the legal code of an ancient theocratic monarchy. We, as liberals and progressives, should know better than to accept this falsehood. We have every reason to speak out and uphold America’s proud history as a secular republic founded on reason and governed by the democratic will.

Emphasis Mine


Why Are Religious Conservatives So Scared of Gay Sex?

From AlterNet, by Amanda Marcotte

N.B.: Yet Another Example that Separation of church and State is more important than ever. 


“The past year has been a remarkable one for moving the ball forward for gay rights: the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the addition of New York to the list of states where gays can marry legally, and the Obama administration first declining to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act, and then going on the record opposing it as unconstitutional.

Subsequently, those on the right who are still willing to strongly oppose gay rights are becoming more shrill in their opposition. The National Organization for Marriage, which already had a gold medal in the “bigotry Olympics,” felt the need to respond to these changes by appointing a new leader who had criticized the supporters of Prop. 8 in California for not being bigoted enough, saying that any rights given to gays in relationships was too marriage-like for his tastes.

What gives with all the hatred for gay people coming from conservatives, even as the rest of country is beginning to get over long-held prejudices? Part of it is just straight-up protectiveness of heterosexual privilege. Part of being conservative is relishing things (like rights) other people don’t have, and so of course they object to letting gay people have the things that straight people have always had. But quite a bit of what’s going on is that anti-gay bigotry is just one piece of a larger picture of conservative fear and loathing of all forms of sexuality.

In socially conservative circles, sex is seen as illicit behavior at best, and criminally perverse at worst. The liberal model that imagines sex as a fun, life-affirming way to spend your time simply doesn’t compute. When you think of sex in terms of subversion and criminality, gay sex looms large in your imagination as the filthiest, most sexy-sex there is. Social conservatives simply can’t get past the images in their minds of dudes sticking it to one another, and it completely skews their ability to think logically and fairly about extending basic human rights to gay people.

While right-wing pundits speaking to a national audience have learned to temper their remarks about homosexuality and try to steer the conversation away from opportunities to say ignorant things about gay people’s sex lives, the religious leaders and more underground right-wing media is still singing the same song. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, recently went on the record saying that gay rights will bring in “an outright sexual paganization of society.” Anti-gay activist Scott Lively was on WorldNetDaily again recently suggesting that being gay is a matter of having a philosophy of “sexual anarchy,” as opposed to it simply being a sexual orientation. It’s common for conservatives to suggest that accepting homosexuality means accepting pedophilia, because they see both as outrageous perversions instead of making the distinction between non-consensual and consensual behavior.

The ex-gay movement is further evidence of the religious right’s obsession with gay sex that stems from a larger obsession with sex. The very premise of “ex-gay” therapy is that all it takes to stop being gay is to stop having gay sex. Many “ex-gay” people describe themselves as continuing to lust after members of their own sex, but identify as not-gay because they don’t do anything about it. This reduces being gay to a behavior, when of course most people understand gay as an identity. Just as you don’t stop being straight when you find yourself going through a dry spell, you don’t stop being gay because you’re not having gay sex. But the religious right is so obsessed by sex that they simply can’t get past it to look at people as whole human beings.

The religious right looks at sex the way most of us look at drugs. In their eyes, straight, married sex is an indulgence like a glass of wine at dinner–oh, you know you probably shouldn’t, but they shrug it off, especially if they view you as a wealthy, privileged sort who can “handle” the responsibility. You can extrapolate from there: premarital sex between engaged couples is like smoking pot, cohabitation is like having a cocaine habit, and hooking up casually is like doing meth. In their worldview, gay sex is like heroin, and they insist it’s actually as dangerous as heroin.

The overt hostility to most sex, and only tacit acceptance of in-the-dark-missionary-position-married-once-a-month-sex is pretty much the defining feature of the religious right. Many religious-right leaders are beginning to clue into the fact that their overt anti-pleasure attitudes aren’t good for PR, so there’s been some attempts to remake their arguments against all sex outside of heterosexual marriage to create something more enticing. Ted Haggard, for instance, tried to sell the line that if you’re Christian and wait for marriage, you’ll have “the best sex life.” Even when he was pushing the line initially, it seemed forced, but later revelations that he did not, in fact, think he had the best sex life and instead chose to have meth-fueled gay sex with prostitutes proved exactly how dishonest his claims really were.

Slightly more convincing are various grassroots attempts by religious-right women to actually live the claims that chastity before marriage means nothing but hot sex after marriage. (And of course, you have unmarried fundamentalists like Lila Rose working the “sexy virgin” angle as hard as they can.) It’s understandable that
fundamentalist women feel the need to take this approach.

The hostility toward sex for pleasure hasn’t prevented men in red states from becoming the biggest consumers of porn. Their claims that anti-feminism makes women happier has to butt up with images of sexually liberated feminists doing whatever they want to please themselves sexually. But even a site like Christian Nymphos is shot through with the belief that sexual pleasure is a dangerous force that must be strictly controlled, and that women may only have it if they
sacrifice their autonomy and dignity to a Biblically mandated female-submissive marriage. At their site, single women are not even allowed to leave comments or ask questions. Even knowledge of sex is considered too much for a woman who isn’t under direct control of a man. And for married couples, all sexual thoughts and fantasies are to be directly strictly toward their spouse, erasing their individual sexual natures. In other words, even pro-sex right-wing Christianity is still hostile to the concept that individuals have a right to their sexuality.

The religious right is much more comfortable treating sex like it’s dirty, and then obsessively cataloguing how dirty each act is in comparison with other acts. For an entertaining look at how outrageous this can get, I highly recommend watching this clip from “The Dildo Diaries,” in which the Texas legislature debated whether or not to make anal sex illegal. When challenged about whether or not the law should ban it even for married couples, Rep. Warren Chisum said it should be banned “especially” for married couples, and added, “I can’t believe anyone would do that if they was married.” Much hilarity on the floor of the legislature ensued, but the moment really stands out in history as a crystallization of the social conservative attitudes toward sex: it really shouldn’t exist at all unless it’s within in the confines of marriage and with as little imagination and frequency as possible.

Once you grasp how the social right sees this issue, many of the other issues that matter to them make sense: their hatred of Hollywood for suggesting that sex might be something people do for fun; their jihad against pornography; the war on birth control and Planned Parenthood; objections to abortion rights; support for abstinence-only education; and their objections to the HPV vaccine. And of course, extending any rights whatsoever to gay people. It all goes back to sex, and their sense that it’s a filthy thing to do in all circumstances, though of course filthier in some more than others. But the idea that sex is anything but a naughty thing you should try to avoid seems as much an anathema to them as adding a daily glass of wine to the food pyramid would be to teetotalers. ”

Emphasis Mine


Has American-Style Conservatism Become a Religion?

From AlterNet, by Joshua Holland

N.B.: Separation of Church and State is more important than ever!

“As the American right lurches from traditional conservatism – a go-slow approach to governing that stresses the importance of continuity and social stability – to a far more reactionary brand typified by acolytes of Ayn Rand and Tea Party extremists waving misspelled signs decrying Democrats’ “socialism,” the time has come to ask whether modern “backlash” conservatism has become a religious faith rather than a pedestrian political ideology.

Ideology is grounded in the real world. It offers us a philosophical lens through which we can efficiently process what’s happening in the world around us. Religion is different. It’s a fixed belief system, based on faith, and it is immune to – or at least highly resistant to – challenges mounted by objective reality. Which better describes the belief system of a typical Rush Limbaugh fan or Tea Party activist?

Like religious faiths, the hard-right reveres an original text – the Constitution – and, like all religious fundamentalists, conservatives claim to adhere to a literalist interpretation of it while actually picking and choosing from among its tenets. Just as the vast majority of Christian fundamentalists don’t actually stone their daughters to death when they’re obnoxious to their fathers, the Tea Partiers conveniently ignore more or less the entirety of Article 3. Also like other fundamentalist sects, most conservatives actually have a poor understanding of what the text they revere actually means.

Like the Manicheans – adherents of one of the world’s great religions at one point in history – they tend to see a world defined by a conflict between the forces of light and darkness. The forces of good are decent, conservative, “real” Americans – mostly white, married Christians, but with exceptions made for others who keep the faith. They stand opposed to a wide array of diabolical figures: liberals, gays and lesbians, Muslims, Mexicans, socialists and other foreigners, especially the French.

And like adherents of other religious faiths, they hold a special enmity for apostates. When stalwart conservatives like David Frum started talking about “epistemic closure” – “conservatives’ tendency to operate in an information bubble” – they were pilloried by their fellow travelers, accused of the worst offense: liberal heresy. Not only are moderate conservatives like Kathleen Parker or Christine Todd Whitman ripe targets, but so are red-meat Republicans who stray from the party line to any degree. Even people like former Utah Senator Bob Bennett can be painted as RINOS (Republicans in name only) if they stray from church doctrine even slightly.

Backlash conservatives also have their prophets and their saints. Just listen to Republicans talking about the Founders – a groups of liberals, moderates and conservatives of their day who agreed on very little but are assumed by the flock to have been staunch right-wingers. The faithful conveniently ignore the real-world foibles of their Holy Men. Yes, Ronald Reagan offered amnesty to undocumented immigrants, raised taxes 11 times and ran roughshod over the separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution, but to the believers, he remains as pure as the Virgin Mary is to Catholics. (Reagan would be polling right there at the bottom with Jon Huntsman if he were running for the GOP nomination today.)

Perhaps the easiest parallel to draw between conservatism and religion is the right’s vilification of climate scientists98 percent of whom agree that human activities are changing our world with dangerous consequences. The attacks are reminiscent of the Catholic Church’s running battle with “Copernicans” who believed that the Earth revolved around the sun; a theory that flew in the face of church doctrine. In that sense, Michael Mann of “climate-gate” fame is like a modern Galileo (only Mann has been completely vindicated while Galileo was handed over for trial by the Roman Inquisition and lived out the rest of his life under house arrest).

But I think another belief may be more telling; that cutting taxes always brings in more revenues to the government’s coffers. There are two reasons this claim is more a manifestation of religious dogma than just the usual spin. First, it represents a perfect article of faith – universally held among the brethren but without any discernible basis in reality (see here for more explanation).

In 2007, Time magazine reporter Justin Fox surveyed conservatives on whether they believed the myth. He found a perfect split: all conservative politicians, pundits and operatives bought into it while conservative economists or budget experts — people who have to remain somewhat grounded in evidence — didn’t hesitate to call it out for the nonsense it is, and that included “virtually every economics Ph.D. who has worked in a prominent role in the Bush administration.”

It’s also a relatively new tenet, popularized in the 1970s, when it offered a temporal benefit to church leaders. This is how religions tend to deal with changing circumstances. It was only revealed to the Mormons that blacks should be eligible for the priesthood in the wake of the civil rights movement when college basketball teams were refusing to play Brigham Young University. Conservative Judaism decided that electricity wasn’t really the same as fire after all when people realized how nice it was to run fans on hot Sabbath days. Religious dogma is flexible, changing with the times. The Anglican Communion didn’t split from Rome over some fundamental clash of beliefs, but in order for King Henry VIII to ditch his wife and marry Anne Boleyn. That Rome’s English holdings came under the crown’s control in the process was a bonus.

Although the idea that cutting taxes increases revenues wasn’t new, it was really embraced after the traditional states’ rights argument for “limited government” began to be equated with opponents of civil rights legislation and lost its luster. In the 1950s and 1960s, political scientists had also amassed a pile of research showing that while Americans were quite responsive to non-specific messages about fighting “big government,” they also had very favorable views of most of the specific public services the government performs and didn’t want to see them eliminated.

Conservative politicians had a dilemma: they were on solid ground running on cutting people’s taxes, but faced serious political peril saying they’d offset those tax cuts by slashing popular social safety net programs, education funding, budgets for cops and firemen and the list goes on. And then this new core belief that cutting taxes led to greater cash-flow became part of church doctrine, a tenet that allowed them to go on the stump and promise to cut people’s taxes without cutting the services those taxes financed.

Some articles of faith produce wonderful things. Many believe that Jesus said, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven,” and that belief has led to countless charitable efforts. But other religious beliefs have disastrous real-world consequences – untold millions have died in conflicts justified by faith.”

(N.B.: When Community Chest (United Way) was established in Cleveland in 1919, the founders had to turn to Jewish leaders in the community for ideas, as that tradition had a much more charitable tradition than Christianity).

“When you look around at the aging state of our once-great public infrastructure, know that it is deteriorating, in part, because of an article of religious faith. When you ponder the fallout from the Tea Party’s “austerity recession,” remember that it is as bad as it looks because of a theology passing itself off as a set of ideological preferences. And as those extreme weather events come at us faster and harder, keep in mind that the true believers who saw the world as a contest between good and evil consigned our entire scientific community to the latter category, and fought like hell for years to prevent us from doing anything about it.

This country needs a lot of things, and maybe first and foremost among them is for our brand of conservatism to return to earth as a responsible, evidence-based, secular ideology.

Emphasis Mine