Tag: Christian Right

Can Evangelical Christianity Be Saved from Itself? An Interview with Rachel Held Evans

Source: Valerie Talerico

Emphasis Mine

Rachel Held Evans has been called “the most polarizing woman in Evangelicalism.” She is a New York Times bestselling author of three books and a popular blog in which she wrestles honestly with the cruelties and contradictions in her Christian tradition from the standpoint of a loving insider on a quest to understand God and goodness more deeply. Her most recent book, Searching for Sunday, brings readers along as Held Evans, still a self-identified Evangelical explores and embraces the liturgical ritual of the Episcopal tradition. It is a loosely connected collection of musings structured around the seven traditional sacraments of the Christian tradition: baptism, confession, communion, holy orders, confirmation, anointing of the sick, and marriage.

Tarico: My readers know me to be post-Christian, a self-described spiritual non-theist and ardent critic of the Evangelical fundamentalism in my own roots, and I write largely for an audience of secularists and former fundamentalists. So I may take some grief for this interview. But I am fascinated by your journey and your labor to create space for growth within the Evangelical tradition. What has kept you in the fold?

Held Evans: I still see value in church and Christian community. Christian community can be hurtful and wounding and cruel, but it also can do a lot of good and be healing and show a lot of grace. It can be helpful and healing. Not all churches are bad. A person can simultaneously acknowledge that the church does incredible wounding but the church can also do incredible healing. Christian people can hold both of those things to be true. People can romanticize the church and demonize the church and treat it with cynicism. As someone who tends toward cynicism, I’m trying to be truthful.

Tarico: Some fellow believers see your questioning and critique as a betrayal of Evangelicalism. But in one of your recent blog posts, “Strong enough to be self-critical: In America and the church,” you came down hard on the side of criticism as a sign of love and loyalty. You said, “Mature people and mature communities are strong enough to be self-critical and wise enough to speak the truth in love.” Are there limits on that? 

In this interview, Held Evans discusses both the book and her broader faith journey.

Held Evans: A lot of cultures set limits on how much you are allowed to ask. They encourage curiosity and questioning up to a point but your answers need to fall within a certain framework of what the answers are supposed to be, and I think I pushed up against that one too many times for some critics.

Criticism can be hard to do well, and I am often clumsy at it, but those who advocate for reform in the Church often do so out of a deep love for it. I want the Church to be a more hospitable place for LGBT people, precisely because I want the Church to grow and thrive and welcome all of God’s children through its doors. I want the Church to embrace science precisely because I want the Church to remain relevant in the world and tenable for those who shouldn’t feel like they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith. In my work, I feel it’s important hold both the good and the bad of my faith tradition truthfully, candidly. If I weren’t deeply invested, I wouldn’t care. I wouldn’t speak up.

Tarico: So if not criticism, what do you perceive as the greater threat today to Evangelical Christianity?

Held Evans: I’ve long felt that if evangelical Christianity continues to align itself to a single political party, the danger will be that it will rise or fall along with that political party, that it will assume the identity of the Republican Party rather than the identity of Jesus Christ. I think we’re seeing some of the fallout from that, as Evangelicals are growing more defensive and defeatist as they lose political ground, particularly in the so-called “culture wars.” But I also see this as an opportunity for Evangelicals to have some tough but important conversations about what it means to be evangelical, to be Christian, in the U.S.

If it’s not about winning elections and maintaining power, what’s it about? Maybe it’s about loving and serving the culture rather than trying to control it.

Tarico: Anthropologist Jennifer James has called fundamentalism the “death rattle of the Abrahamic religions.” How do you see it?

Held Evans: I grew up in the buckle of the Bible belt in a conservative Evangelical church with conservative Evangelical parents, and I have almost entirely fond memories of that experience. I would be very cautious of painting all fundamentalists as hateful, closed minded ignorant people. It’s just not true. I’ve seen conservative Evangelical Christians love one another in really beautiful ways. You see the whole church rally around a mom who needs chemo—making meals, taking care of the kids. I was loved very well within that tradition. My parents modeled what it means to be gracious.

I recognize that might have been different if I was gay. I’m aware that being me came with some privilege. But I am wary of painting people broadly with this brush of closed-minded judgment. That said, people do get really stuck—in patriarchal hierarchical marriages for example. Christianity has produced some destructive narratives. I criticize and talk about that because I love the Evangelical community and have incredibly strong warm feelings toward it. That’s why I care that things are not always what they should be. I wouldn’t care if I didn’t also see value in it.

Tarico: Let’s talk a little about marriage, because it seems that two of the issues you  have really wrestled with are the role of women in Christianity, and the question of dignity and equality for LGBT people, including marriage equality.

Held Evans: I don’t agree with Christians who think that what makes a marriage sacred is a man and a woman with a man in charge. What makes a marriage sacred is not conformity to social norms, not how well you fit the Ward and June Cleaver model, not patriarchal hierarchy, but the degree to which there is love and self-sacrifice like we see in Christ, in that relationship. My aim is to say that what makes a marriage sacred and special and life-giving is that mutual love and concern and giving.

Tarico: For some who criticize Evangelical Christianity from the outside, who see it as harmful, what they find most untenable is orthodox Christianity’s exclusive truth claims, the claims that are laid out, for example, in the early 20th century pamphlets “The Fundamentals” that became the basis for our term fundamentalism. Worst, maybe, is the idea that anyone who isn’t an insider is an evildoer who lacks a moral core and is condemned to eternal torture. I say worst, because this is an idea that through history has opened up all manner of mistreatment toward outsiders. After all, burning someone at the stake is peanuts compared to burning them forever. 

Held Evans: I understand why people wouldn’t want anything to do with the Church, I really do. But not everyone reduces faith to where you go when you die. Historically that has been a problem, but not every Christian has reduced Christianity to that. Not every Christian believes that everyone who doesn’t believe as they do is going to hell Christians often act like they don’t understand why people doubt. That can make us seem really detached and checked out of reality.

Something I like about the Episcopal tradition is that it focuses on the mystery of faith:Christ has died; Christ has risen; Christ will come again. There are days I struggle to believe that literally, and there are days when it’s easy. But there is something unique and special about the teachings of Jesus and committing ourselves to following those teachings.

As to exclusivity, I believe people can embrace Christian belief and do Christian things without assuming that God isn’t present in other traditions or that we have nothing to learn from outsiders. I can hold my own tradition with conviction and respect and still think it possible to learn things from my Buddhist neighbors. I enjoy reading atheist and agnostic blogs and learn a ton from their honesty, for example.  We don’t have to choose between conviction coupled with strong faith identity and openness to learning from others or acknowledging their spiritual insights and shared humanity.

Tarico: Your focus on the sacraments is interesting because it strikes me as a move away from belief—from belief-ism toward a focus on practice or praxis, more akin to Dharmic traditions, like Buddhism, and more mystical traditions within Christianity itself.

Held Evans: Much of my evangelical Christianity was an assent to propositional truths. Christianity was something you believed. I’ve come to understand Christianity even more as something you do. It’s sharing communion not just around the altar but around the table. It’s anointing the sick—that’s not an effort to cure someone like a magic charm. It’s acknowledging someone else’s suffering and saying I am present and I am here and we can find god even in this. That is what it means to be Christian and a part of the church. Being in community and experiencing god in that community. The sacraments make that possible.

Tarico: When I think about what it means to be Christian, I’m struck by the bifurcation between liturgical and other traditions. It seems like the churches that have kept the traditional order of worship and liturgy have been more free to explore theologically, while for “Bible-believing” denominations, the thing that is immutable is the theology, which frees them up to be entrepreneurial about music, buildings, outreach, and the order of the worship service. So it’s like people can creatively explore the order of service or they can explore theologically – but not both. 

Held Evans: I’m still exploring why the sacraments are so powerful for me personally, but that’s part of why I was drawn to the liturgy. The culmination of the typical Evangelical worship service is the sermon—the preacher’s interpretation of the text. In a more liturgical service, the climax is the table, gathering for communion. There is something mystical and ever-giving about that. It is centered around the community. It is also something very open to interpretation and people take different things away from it.

In an Evangelical church, people will say “I didn’t feel like I got fed today” as a reference to the pastor. In a liturgical tradition you never say that, because you are fed the communion—the body of Christ. Liturgical traditions give us more space to explore belief, because what unifies us is not shared belief but shared experiences.

Tarico: Let’s talk about the Bible, the center and source of those Evangelical sermons. When I look at the Evangelical tradition I grew up in, I think that the Bible has become a golden calf. The Bible has human handprints all over it and yet people treat it as if it had the attributes of divinity: timelessness, perfection, completion. In an age of the written word, what better golden calf than a golden book? I think of it now as a form of idolatry. How do you see it?

Held Evans: What troubles me is the notion that we can somehow read a sacred text without interpreting it. People say they are just reading the text. That’s not possible. The idea that we can approach a text without bringing our imperfect often greedy often selfish selves to it. It’s crazy to think that anyone is claiming simply to take God at his word.

Tarico: So how do you think about approaching the Bible?

Held Evans: The tendency is to accuse one another of picking and choosing. Of course we do! But how do we pick and choose in a way that is healthy and life giving? What method or metric should we use for doing that? As a Christian, as a follower of Jesus, I think it’s appropriate to think of Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of scripture, that in his life and death he put into practice what scripture was meant to teach us. It seems to me that I can take my cues from how Jesus interacted with scripture, which was always life giving. You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. This offers an illumination of how to approach scripture.

When Jesus was asked by experts on scripture what is the most important commandment, he said, Love the lord your God with all your heart soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and all the prophets land on this. The whole point of it all is love. If we take that posture when we approach the text—To what degree does this help us love God and each other better?, that is a helpful life-giving guide. If Jesus interpreted scripture that way, that’s how I hope to interpret it.

If you are going to scripture to look for a weapon you’ll find it. If you go to scripture looking for healing balm you’ll find that too. So much has to do with what we’re looking for. If we want to use the Bible to hurt other people, we can. If we want to use it to promote healing, hope, love and grace it’s there.

Tarico: Many Christians would argue that the Bible is the final arbiter of any doctrinal dispute; you are saying that the model of Jesus is the final arbiter, the lens through which people need to read scripture.

Held Evans: I believe the Bible is authoritative in Christian life, but that we interpret Scripture through Jesus, who is the ultimate expression of God’s will for us. The notion that we experience Christ only through the pages of the Bible isn’t even biblical! We encounter Christ in communion, in the needs of people who are suffering or hungry, where two or three are gathered in Christ’s name, and so on. When we care for those who are suffering we experience Christ.

God speaks to us through all of sorts of ordinary, everyday things. In a similar way God speaks to us through scripture–through imperfect words. The idea that God is too good to speak through imperfection is mistaken. God uses all sorts of everyday things to reach out to us.

Tarico: I’ve heard the natural order described as “God’s other book.” I guess that would include our experience of each other, of love, community, suffering and healing. It also includes the natural world, including the laws of physics and biology and genetics that increasingly are being unveiled by scientific inquiry. Any thoughts on that?

Held Evans: All truth is God’s truth. If something is true, then it’s true. If the universe is billions of years old and humans share ancestors with apes, then that’s the truth. God can reveal himself through science. More and more even in the Evangelical world I sense there is openness to what the natural world has to teach us. Evangelicals don’t have a great record. There has been science denialism, but I think there is common ground.

Denialism is based in fear, but we don’t need to be afraid, and in fact, this fear is such a denial of the core of Christianity. 1st John 4 says, Perfect love casts out fear. Fear is not a healthy way to view the world, and it’s not a healthy way to view and approach our faith. You cannot love God and be afraid—afraid of the world, afraid of a Bible that isn’t how we think of as perfect or afraid of new discoveries and information. Christians are called to be or do something more.

Tarico: Back when I was a college student at Wheaton, I remember reading an assigned book with the title, Your God is Too Small. I now find that even the god-concept proposed by the author seems too small, too modeled on humanity. But the title—the concept—stuck with me, as I discuss in my own book, Trusting Doubt. It seems like you are working to articulate an understanding of Christianity that is big enough to be compatible with both compassion and tradition, and what we know about ourselves and the world around us.

Held Evans: People fear this God who punishes everyone who is wrong. Really?! We’re all wrong about lots of things, even small ordinary things. When we’re talking about the nature of ultimate reality, we’re going to get some of this wrong. If I thought that God vindictively punished everyone who was wrong, I’d be afraid all the time too. (In fact, I used to live that way and I remember that fear; and it’s really nice to live differently.) Why is it hard to believe in a god who is big enough and kind enough to forgive us for being wrong?

Tarico: They say a book is out of date the moment it is in print. What are your biggest a-ha’s since you finished writing Searching for Sunday?

Held Evans: I feel that way about the other books, but not about this one yet. I’m still in theHey, World! stage. I started writing in my 20s and I’ve wondered if I would regret that. But I say to myself: Rachel, if your last book is completely different than your first book then I think that will be a completely successful life. I’m looking for readers who are waiting to evolve and come along with me. If I waited till I had it all figured out I never would write. I hope I am a different person in twenty years –that would mean I stayed open to change and humble and self-critical, which for me is part of how I aspire to grow in grace and in the love to which we are called by the model of Jesus.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author ofTrusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org.  Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including AlterNet, Salon, the Huffington Post, Grist, and Jezebel.  Subscribe at ValerieTarico.com.

 

 

 

See: http://valerietarico.com/2015/05/08/can-evangelical-christianity-be-saved-from-itself-an-interview-with-rachel-held-evans/

Advertisements

One Christian Group’s Never-Ending, Futile Quest to Save America’s Children from Sex

Source: AlterNet

Author: Amanda Marcotte

Emphasis Mine

(N.B.: the most difficult aspect of blogging an information rich post such as this is to avoid highlighting everything!)

As anyone familiar with the Christian right can attest, there are a great many sayings Christians spout that are less charitable than it would seem. “I’ll pray for you” is a passive-aggressive way to tell someone to shove off. “It’s in the Lord’s hands” means that the speaker cannot be bothered to actually do something about a problem. And “we’re doing this for the children” means that adults and teenagers are doing something the Christian conservative thinks is ungodly, and children will be invoked to excuse attempts to control the choices of older people.

Take, for instance, the annual rite of the media watchdog organization Parents Television Council complaining about the MTV Video Music Awards. No one in the real world mistakes the VMAs for Sesame Street. The show starts at 8pm and doesn’t really get going until later. To make absolutely sure, the show is rated TV-14. Despite the many signposts alerting parents to the fact that this isn’t programming for the little ones, PTC always finds a way to use hand-wringing about the children to demand more censorship of the VMAs.

PTC seems like a very retro organization these days, still hammering on about what’s on TV when everyone has immediate access to whatever entertainment they want through the Internet. But the organization matters, not just because it is symptomatic of the larger tendency on the right to use “the children” as cover for attacks on the choices of older people, but because they are still the biggest organization out there setting the agenda for what kind of media conservatives are going to hold out as evil. You know, because of the children.

And while PTC might not be very successful at getting stuff off TV, it and its proxies in the media are extremely good at spreading the myth that our culture is oversexed, especially to conservative audiences. That, in turn, leads to attacks on sex education,  Planned Parenhood, and activists like Sandra Fluke who want insurance to cover birth control—anyone who is perceived as aiding this supposed over-sexualization.

Because conservative “watchdog” groups, with PTC leading the pack, set this agenda for the right, it’s no surprise that Fox News has picked up on PTC’s obsession with the evils of dancing and the VMAs in particular, such as Bill O’Reilly railing on for multiple nights on Fox News about the supposed threat to girls that the VMAs present and Fox News using the awards show to forward attacks on “modern feminism.” Sexy dancing is available to anyone’s eyeballs whenever they want to see it, but because PTC obsesses over the VMAs, so must Fox News.

Screaming about the supposed effect of the VMAs on children is such a big deal for the PTC that it released pre- and post-VMAs statement. The pre-statement was a threat, which really calls into question what kind of lessons PTC thinks are appropriate to teach small children. “The 2013 VMAs were a public relations kerfuffle for your network that I feel certain you will not wish to repeat,” it warned ominously, even though there is no evidence that the Miley Cyrus performance it referenced did much beyond garner more attention for Cyrus’ burgeoning career.

PTC demanded a TV-MA rating for the show, even though it has no nudity and never anything more ribald than dancing. The TV-14 rating, according to the PTC, “was simply unacceptable to the families who depend on the television ratings system to be applied accurately and to the millions of families whose children are marketed to by MTV.”

The PTC was founded in the ’90s by Christian right activist Brent Bozell, and for most of its life, it didn’t bother to hide that it was an organization rooted in Christian right ideals. It’s been undergoing a makeover to appear more as a secular organization in recent years, hiring Tim Winter, a registered Democrat, to take over from Bozell in 2007. Under Winter’s direction, PTC has made a few moves to actually try to be a bit more convincing when it comes to the claim that they’re in this for the children, including creating a division of its website that takes a stab at pushing for better role models for girls in media.

But looking over the PTC blog, it becomes clear that it’s just the same old reactionary organization that exists mainly to complain about sex and profanity on-air, even in situations where broadcasters have reasonable expectations that small children won’t be watching the shows.

For instance, Winter, whose legal party affiliation as a Democrat hasn’t stopped him from writing for Christian right organizations like One News Now, wrote a piece in early August denouncing McDonald’s advertising.  He wasn’t concerned about the rising rates of childhood obesity or the way that McDonald’s targets children directly for manipulative advertising of incredibly unhealthy food. That’s for people who actually give a crap about children.

No, Winter is mad that McDonald’s advertised on a silly VH1 show called Dating Naked. “The juxtaposition of this historically family brand with such sexually graphic content is shocking,” he argues, even though the nudity on the show is obscured through pixilation and the contestants aren’t engaged in any more sexual behavior than on any other dating show. So McDonald’s can continue to use clowns and toys to encourage kids to eat all the grease and sugar they can stomach, but god forbid a dating show that admits people are naked under their clothes.

Even though bumping and grinding has been part of pop music since roughly forever, PTC has a special obsession with being angry at Miley Cyrus for engaging in the usual pop musician antics. “America Wants More “Sound of Music” – Less “Bangerz” reads one headline where the PTC bloggers unintentionally parody their own religious right obsession with eradicating any acknowledgement of sex from the entertainment industry.

Cyrus gets singled out because she had the temerity to change from a squeaky clean child star to a more mainstream, risqué pop performer. In other words, she grew up. “Miley Cyrus built her career on the backs of teens, ‘tweens’ and their parents. But the content of her Bangerz Tour is wildly inappropriate for children and families, and NBC knows it,” Winter complained on the blog.

Even though Cyrus is now a grown woman, she is obligated to continue acting like she is a child. No big surprise there, as PTC’s entire existence is predicated on using children as a cover story for what they really want, which is an entertainment industry that treats grown adults like we are children.

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

 

See: alternet.org/media/one-christian-groups-never-ending-futile-quest-save-americas-children-sex?akid=12175.123424.DJwUEB&rd=1&src=newsletter1017100&t=6

How the Right Wing Has Been Wrong on the Question of Virginity

Source: AlterNet

Author: Amanda Marcotte

In the past couple of decades, the Christian right has aggressively championed the idea that “virginity”–an abstract concept that usually means someone has never had sexual intercourse before–should be elevated to an aspirational, even holy status. The argument is that being a virgin, at least for women, somehow makes you “pure” and that you should wait until your wedding night to have sex in order to give your husband the “gift” of your virginity, as if your vagina is a piñata that gets busted open once and releases the candy, never to be the same again.

This notion that non-virgins are tawdry and unworthy was pushed by the Bush administration, which manipulated federal funding to try to get “abstinence-only” programs teaching this view of sexuality into every public school in the country. It also surged within Christian right circles with the rise of virginity pledges, purity rings and even purity balls aimed mostly or exclusively at girls to send the message that you somehow become dirty or impure if you have sex without being married.

Well, new evidence has emerged showing that this effort to turn virginity into the measure of a young woman’s worth has been a big, fat failure. New research published in the Journal of Sex Research shows that, for women over the past three decades, feelings of guilt over losing virginity have been in decline. Women who lost their virginity in the years 1980-1991 rated their feelings of guilt as an average 4 on a scale from 1-7, but women who lost their virginity between 2002-2012 rated their feelings of guilt at 3.5.

More interestingly, taking pleasure in their first intercourse, which stayed at a steady 4.9 average rating for men over the decades, went up even more dramatically for women than feelings of guilt went down. The 1980-1991 cohort reported a low average 2.75 score on a scale of 7 when it came to enjoying their first sexual intercourse, but had gone up to 3.3 for the 2002-2012 cohort. Still too low, but the number is moving in a promising direction.

All of this increase in pleasure and decrease in guilt has occured despite the dramatic uptick in Christian right guilt-tripping over sex and pushing the idea that virginity equals purity. Even as Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson were making big public fusses over how they were supposedly virgins, ordinary young women were refusing to feel guilty about sex. The Bush administration tied sex education funding from the federal government to the requirement that schools shun contraception education to push the silly idea that everyone should wait to have sex until marriage, but young women bucked that pressure by having better, less guilty first times at sexual intercourse.

Now, it is possible that all the virginity pressure slowed down the rates of improvement. After all, having to take off that virginity ring in order to have sex was bound to invoke some guilt in women who otherwise wouldn’t have felt bad about sex. (What the virginity rings didn’t do, however, was actually cause young women to wait until marriage. A few did, but by and large , most virginity pledgers also have premarital sex, just like their non-pledger peers.) The most all this guilt-tripping about sex did was slow down a general trend. Overall, the numbers show that women are rejecting the idea that they should want to be virgins and that they should hang onto that status out of fear that they’re somehow spoiled if they have sex.

That’s good, because it just so happens to be true: There’s nothing wrong with not being a virgin. After all, 95 percent of Americans have had premarital sex, and the world has not stopped spinning on its axis. In fact, the truly harmful behavior may actually be putting a premium on virginity. The myth that virgins are somehow “pure” and that a man takes something from a woman by having sex with her can do immense damage to women’s self-esteem, even if they do follow all the arbitrary rules and wait until marriage to have sex.

Earlier this month, the writer Samantha Pugsley, writing for XO Jane, described the serious damage done to her life and her marriage by her “choice,” made when she was a mere 10 years old, to take a virginity pledge, a pledge she actually kept by waiting until her wedding night to have sex. Despite Christian propaganda pushing the idea that waiting until marriage leads to better sex, Pugsley found that her feelings of awkwardness and guilt about sex persisted even after the ring on her finger supposedly made sex okay. “Everyone knew my virginity was gone. My parents, my church, my friends, my co-workers,” she writes, adding that she felt “soiled.” “My virginity had become such an essential part of my personality that I didn’t know who I was without it.”

Eventually, her misery around sex caused Pugsley to get help and eventually come around to seeing that “the entire concept of virginity is used to control female sexuality.” But the concept of virginity and the idea that women who “lose” it are somehow spoiled and should be ashamed has ramifications beyond just the individual damage done to women’s psyches and relationships.

It’s not a stretch to say that much of the Christian right’s current activism is built around the idea that women–at least single women–should remain virgins. The relentless attacks on abortion access, the fight to remove contraception from the list of mandatory services covered by insurance, and the increasing attacks on family planning clinics all go back to this idea that women who choose to have sex outside of the narrow parameters set by the religious right are bad girls who need to be punished. (Yes, married women use contraception and abortion services, but that just goes to show how much the guilt-tripping about sex hurts even women who supposedly have permission from the Christian God to have sex.) Even the right-wing obsession with women who have children “out of wedlock” goes back to the idea that a woman who has sex is used up and worth less than a woman who hasn’t had sex.

So it’s a good thing, for women’s individual lives and for society as a whole, if women are shrugging off efforts to make them feel bad for having sex. There’s still a lot more work to be done, but this new research shows that the trends are heading in the right direction.

Emphasis Mine

See: http://www.alternet.org/sex-amp-relationships/how-right-wing-has-been-wrong-question-virginity?akid=12124.123424.Rr3VND&rd=1&src=newsletter1015426&t=5

Lawrence Krauss Interview

Source:  about.physics.com

Author: Andrew Zimmerman Jones

I had the privilege of meeting with acclaimed cosmologist and theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss on the evening of Monday, April 7, 2014. We met at Wexner Auditorium on the campus of Ohio State University, prior to a showing of his documentary The Unbelievers (in which he co-stars with famed atheist and zoologist Richard Dawkins). Our discussion, though brief – I was the only thing standing between Dr. Krauss and his dinner – covered a wide range of intriguing topics. A summary of the interview is also on the website, but here is the full text (with some edits of my own “ums” and “ahs” and filler rambling):

Andrew Jones: So, the Origins Project just literally had its fifth anniversary.

Lawrence Krauss: Yes, on Saturday [April 5, 2014].

AJ: I’ve seen some of the videos from it. You guys (sic)  host the Great Debates.

LK: Yes, we just had a Great Debate with 3,000 people on Saturday.

AJ: What I really like about the work I see coming out of there is that it’s a very interdisciplinary look at origins.

LK: Everything from the origins of the universe to the origins of consciousness, so it’s about as interdisciplinary as you can get. We call it transdisciplinary. That’s the buzzword at ASU [Arizona State University]. But we try to bring together people from vastly different fields to look at forefront questions and look at them in different ways and see which questions we can make progress in. And these questions, since they’re foundational, are often of interest to the public, so we often have a public event associated with them.

AJ:  Obviously, you got into that through cosmology and the origins of the universe, but what made you decide you wanted to make that the origins of everything?

LK: Well, actually, I began to think about this back when I lived here in this state of Ohio, but as I was thinking of ways to get people interested in the subject, I realized that cosmology, as exciting as it is, alone is just part of the question and that one could bring together lots of different fields and when I started to think about it, I realized that origins questions are really at the heart of the forefront of science. And, as you may or may not know, I have a broad interest in science, well beyond physics, and so I just thought: Well, since origins questions are at the forefront of science, and they are also at the forefront of the public’s interest, it would be a wonderful handle to allow us to look at really interesting questions anywhere, they all fit in an origins framework. And it would allow us to do just what we’ve done, to bring together people from different fields and it’s been incredibly successful. It was ambitious and I think a lot of people thought it wouldn’t work, but it did.

AJ: Yes, I wish something like that had been in place when I’d graduated. I have an undergraduate degree in physics. And, in addition to just being kind of tired of 16 years of college [I meant school], I also kind of got the sense there wasn’t much left to do, because at the time they were writing books like The End of Physics and so on.

LK: Yeah, I know, and that’s an unfortunate thing.

AJ: So if something like this had been there to make it clear how many good, rich questions there were still.

LK: Exactly! We tend to treat physics for kids as if it was done 200 years ago by dead, white men, but that’s just not it, though. The questions are vibrant and they’re of interest and they’re accessible to people, which is one of the reasons that I write and speak about them. Yeah, it’s unfortunate the way that we turn people off by doing that. And ASU, when the President of the university invited me to come, they were particularly attracted by this idea of interdisciplinary. I am part of a school of Earth and Space Exploration that has astronomers, astrophysics, geophysicists, planetary scientists, engineers, all in one place looking at these things. An example of the kind of interdisciplinary work we’re doing.

AJ: So, to get back to cosmology. Of course, your last book [A Universe From Nothing] was on the origins of …

LK: … the universe.

AJ: … of everything. And one thing I know you’ve answered in previous interviews, and I think in The Atlantic interview you really clarified this point, but so just since I have you here, I’ll just double check that my understanding is correct. The book, as I read it, is not saying that this is definitely what happened, it’s saying that we have an explanation of what could have happened. Is that a fair statement?

LK: We have a plausible explanation of what could have happened. More importantly, if you asked “What would be the characteristics of a universe created by nothing ... created from nothing by known laws of physics?” our universe has precisely those characteristics. Now does that prove it happened? No, because we don’t have a theory of quantum gravity, but it’s plausible. It’s become a lot more plausible in the last few weeks, with the discoveries from the cosmic microwave background and the gravitational radiation, which in principle take us back and directly allow us to measure what happened in the first 10-35 seconds of the big bang. But it was just that: This is plausible. And just having a plausible explanation is remarkable. Just like when Darwin developed the theory of evolution, he was plausible. He didn’t have all the data. He had fossil ideas and he had data suggesting this idea worked, and actually compellingly suggesting that it worked, but he didn’t know about DNA or the genetic basis of life and now we do, but at the time it was a plausible argument.

AJ: One of the things that I really like about things you’ve said repeatedly about science is about being honest about how we look at questions and not assuming we have the answer before we start.

LK: No, I think that’s … I mean, we teach kids as if the answers are important. It’s the questions that are important. And I think that not knowing is a wonderful thing and more parents and more teachers should be willing to say that. “I don’t know the answer. Let’s figure out how we might learn what the answer is.” Because that’s what we’re trying to teach in schools. It’s a process. Science is a process of trying to take this complicated world and figure things out and that means not knowing things and try to figure out how to get the answer. And not knowing is what I do for a living.

AJ: In research for this, I read your article on the recent inflation results … the gravity wave article. And I loved that you said, “I did this thing a few years ago. Now that didn’t turn out to be right.” You would never hear a theologist …

LK: Yeah, they know they’re right, which means they don’t know anything.

AJ: But, I loved the honesty about, “We tried this. It didn’t work.” And scientists embrace that, because it leads us forward.

LK: Yeah, well, absolutely. I think, um …

AJ: That wasn’t really a question.

LK: No, I think honesty is a key part of science. Honesty and full disclosure. I like to try and think I do that, take that beyond science. But being wrong is a central part of science and being willing to say you’re wrong. In fact, Woody Allen says in our movie, too, he talks about it. I think the point is that’s how we make progress. I have had, I think, many beautiful ideas and unfortunately nature wasn’t smart enough to adopt them.

AJ: So, I have a couple of questions that are related to again kind of the questions of origins. I was wondering of one thing. In the past, you have expressed … I’m not sure if skepticism is quite the right word, but not exactly being “on board” with string theory as enthusiastically as some people are. Is that still kind of a fair assessment? Or was that ever really fair? Because it’s hard to get a clear handle on it. Or does that fall in the “we don’t know” category?

LK: I wrote a book, called Hiding in the Mirror, which I called a “fair and balanced look at string theory,” in the non-FOX News sense. My point was that string theory is based on a lot of fascinating ideas. However, it has been the least successful great idea in science in the sense that it hasn’t yet made touch with observation in any way. We still don’t know if the ideas of string theory are right. They’re really well motivated; it’s not as if they aren’t well motivated. But it was strongly hyped. And I guess I was against the hype, not the theory. It’s not even a theory. It’s unfair to evolution to call string theory a theory. It’s not a theory. A theory is something that has been tested robustly by experiment and it’s unfair to evolution to call it a theory. I said that many years ago and Brian Greene used to get mad at me, but now he agrees with me. But I think the point is that it’s fascinating and we’re studying it, it just hasn’t had any great successes in terms of demonstrating that it can help us understand the universe. Maybe it will one day. And, as I say, some of my best students have become string theorists, I just wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one. No, just kidding.

AJ: One question I had was about the Higgs boson. One thing that I’ve heard, and I’ve gotten mixed results from different people in the science community, so I’ll get your take on it. I’ve heard that the Higgs boson that’s seen is kind of the garden-variety Higgs. There’s no evidence of supersymmetry

LK: No, there’s no evidence at all, and it’s very disconcerting to many people, because … Actually, many of us thought, I thought – another example of being wrong – I thought supersymmetry would be seen before the Higgs. It was easier, in principle, to be seen at the Large Hadron Collider. So the fact that it hasn’t been seen is telling. Now, what happens when the Large Hadron Collider turns on again next year will be quite important. Now I’d say that there’s more evidence that supersymmetry might be correct after the discovery of gravitational waves from the big bang, because the scale that’s picked out is the scale of grand unification which is picked out if supersymmetry is part of things. So, it gives me maybe a little more confidence that supersymmetry may be seen, but it’s kind of remarkable that it’s all working out at that scale. But if supersymmetry isn’t seen at the Large Hadron Collider, then we know that we’re missing something important. And it’s a nightmare scenario. If only the Higgs is seen, in some sense, it’s a nightmare scenario, because it doesn’t tell us what is happening.

AJ: Well, let’s discuss the film for a few minutes. One thing I’m curious about, and this is probably something you address in the film, but what motivated you to go from kind of the straight just “here’s the facts” science to really being an advocate for atheism, if that’s not overstating it.

LK: I’m not an advocate for atheism; I’m an advocate for science, and that I’ve always been, so there’s nothing new about that. What I am is … By being an advocate for science I’m asking people to be willing to accept the reality, the empirically reality of the universe, the evidence. Having their beliefs conform to evidence, rather than the other way around. And, naturally, that implies – since there is no evidence of purpose to the universe – that implies that the tenets of organized religion in the world are not consistent with science. And one should be willing and upfront to say that. I think that by pretending there are some things which are not subject to questioning, we do everyone a disservice. And so, I think the point, what really got me involved in it was, again, in Ohio, right here, in Columbus, where this movie is. I got involved in the Board of Education here in Ohio was trying to essentially get rid of the teaching of evolution in schools and the biologists weren’t speaking up and I had a public pulpit, so I spoke up, and it got me involved and I came here to a big even with the school board for 1,500 people, me and another scientist debating these two nudnicks from the Discovery Institute. And that kind of got me, just protecting science from religious dogmatism, that sort of established that. And once that happened, I’ve been fighting that fight. And I’m against religious dogmatism. It’s not as if I’m out to be an advocate for anything. Except, atheism is just open questioning. It’s not a belief system. It’s just saying you don’t accept things without evidence or good reason for accepting them and that you allow your beliefs to change. As you pointed out, being wrong is really a central part of science. It’s not a central part of religion, where you assume the answers before you ask the questions, and that does a disservice to thinking and action. And if you don’t base your public policy on sound empirical evidence, then the public policy is going to be irrational. And we can’t afford that in the modern world.

AJ: What is your next project after this?

LK: Well, I have a lot of projects. I’m in the middle of scientific papers. I just wrote, what, 2 last week, because of these new discoveries. I’m writing a new book, but I won’t go into that yet, except that it will follow up on A Universe from Nothing, in a different sense, and address more of the question of why we’re here rather than could something come from nothing. Another fundamental question that in some sense is a religious one. And what I want to do, what I’ve done with these books is show that these fundamental questions that have been the basis of theology and philosophy, science is addressing in new ways. And it’s changing what we mean, but that’s okay. That’s okay. It’s called learning.

Emphasis Mine

See:

Neil deGrasse Tyson Squashes Creationist Argument Against Science on National TV

The evolution of humans anc culture
The evolution of humans anc culture

Source: AlterNet

Author: Dan Arel

“Episode two of “Cosmos,” hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, aired this week. Toward the end of the program, Tyson made one of the best statements one could hope would sink into the minds of young and old viewers alike and—most importantly—creationists.

The astrophysicist proclaimed that there is no shame in admitting you do not know something and that the real shame is pretending to know everything.

Just as we saw Ken Ham do when debating evolution with Bill Nye, Ham was able to claim he knew everything Nye honestly claimed he did not know by simply saying, “Bill, I do know how X happened, it’s all explained in this book,” referencing the Bible. Ham is ashamed about the fact that he cannot admit what he does not know. Instead, he would rather go on pretending to know things he does not know, which is the definition of faith.

Ham even claimed he believes in his views so strongly that nothing can change his mind — a sure sign of someone who believes to know things they do not know and does not care about finding the truth, only sticking to what he wants to believe.

During this week’s episode, Tyson discussed the evolution of the eye, something declared for years by creationists as unexplainable by evolution, and thus evidence that life must be intelligently designed. Tyson masterfully explained how the eye evolved and how well scientists understand this evolution.

The “Cosmos” host also touched on how many species have evolved an eye, but did leave out the fact that there are over 40 known independent eye evolutions, something that very clearly discredits any intelligent design.

However, these facts mean nothing to creationists. Not long after “Cosmos” aired, Jay W. Richards, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute (DI), a non-science, religious based foundation that fights to discredit evolution and replace it with faith based creationism,  tweeted:

On eye evolution, the #Cosmos editors again failed to do a Google Search[.]

Richards’ Twitter missive linked to a Discovery Institute  PDF download that supposedly debunks the evolution of the eye claim. Yet the PDF is nothing more than praise for the Christian Right pundit Ann Coulter and a lambasting of Richard Dawkins, DI’s public enemy number one.

Watching the Christian Right, especially the creationist wing, struggle to counter “Cosmos” each week is like watching a frightened, cornered animal that knows it is about to die. What else could explain the weekly grasping at straws, and the unremitting blasting of social media links meant to reel their following back in as their eyes are opened to the scientific method’s greatness.

Those like Richards, Ham and the creationist lobby will simply stop at nothing to protect the industry they have created. A series like “Cosmos” will inspire a new young group of future scientists to put down their bibles and pick up “On the Origin of Species.” Countering make-believe with facts will encourage young people to leave church and walk into a science lab, to stop putting money into coffers and instead direct their resources toward research facilities.

Creationism’s days are numbered. “Cosmos” frightens the conservatives more than anything has in a very long time. Every day their numbers grow smaller and their grasp on America becomes weaker.

The time is now for a scientifically literate America to return, for scientific innovations to flow out of our borders and spread around the world. We can no longer take a backseat to the world of science and must return once again to the driver’s seat.

“Cosmos” is just the program we need to inspire people in this country and around the world with the wonders of science. Doing so, we realize that the facts offered through the scientific method are more beautiful and satisfying than the offerings of any religion on this planet. A series like “Cosmos” shows the world that facts are always better than fairytales.

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

Emphasis Mine

See: http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/neil-degrasse-tyson-squashed-creationist-argument-against-science-national-tv?akid=11610.123424.QucU1A&rd=1&src=newsletter971566&t=15

Why the Christian Right Is Obsessed With the Collapse of Civilization

article-2386882-1B330734000005DC-507_634x720-630x715Source: Alter Net

(In a few words: ” The culture of white conservative Christians is Not the culture of America”.)

Author: Amanda Marcotte

“Most of us are so familiar with the cluster of issues that compel the religious right—opposition to gay marriage and abortion, hostility to the separation of church and state, hostility to modernity—that we don’t often think about the underlying theme holding these disparate obsessions together. It might even be tempting to believe there isn’t a unifying theme, except for the fact that conservatives themselves often allude to it: “civilization collapse.”

Over and over again, right-wingers warn that all the things they hate, from pro-gay Broadway shows to immigration to multiculturalism, are not just signs of an evolving American society, but portend the actual end of it. The Roman Empire is often darkly alluded to, and you get the impression many on the right think Rome burned up and descended into anarchy and darkness. (Not quite.) But really, what all these fantasies of cities burning down and impending war and destruction are expressing is a belief that the culture of white conservative Christians is the culture of America. So it follows that if they aren’t the dominant class in the United States, then America isn’t, in their opinion, really America anymore.

Once you key into this, understanding why certain social changes alarm the religious right becomes simple to see. Hostility to abortion, contraception and gay rights stems directly from a belief that everyone should hold their rigid views on gender roles—women are supposed to be housewives and mothers from a young age and men are supposed to be the heads of their families. School prayer, creationism and claims of a “war on Christmas” stem from a belief that government and society at large should issue constant reminders that their version of Christianity is the “official” culture and religion of America.

It’s hard to underestimate how much of a crisis moment the election of Barack Obama for president was for the religious right because of this. And his re-election, of course, which showed that his presidency was not a fluke. Even before Obama was elected, the possibility that a black man with a “multicultural” background was such a massive confirmation of their worst fear—that they are not, actually, the dominant class in America–that the campaign against Obama became overwhelmed completely by this fear. The media frenzy over the minister in Obama’s church was about racial anxieties, but it was telling that it was his church that was the focal point of the attack. The stories were practically tailor-made to signal to conservative Christians that Obama was not one of them.

Sarah Palin’s campaign as the running mate to John McCain made right-wing fears even more explicit. On the trail, she notoriously described conservative, white, Christian-heavy America with these words: “We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard-working very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation.” McCain’s campaign tried lamely to spin it, but the subtext was text now. The Christian right believes their culture is the only legitimate American culture, and the election of Barack Obama was a major threat to it.

Birtherism, a conspiracy theory movement that posits Obama faked his American citizenship, is easy enough to understand in this light. It’s an expression of the belief that Obama cannot be a legitimate president, because, in white Christian right eyes, they are the only legitimate Americans. So how can someone who isn’t one of them be president?

That’s why the election of Obama has triggered an all-out response from the Christian right. If they seem more enraged and active in recent years, especially with regards to attacks on abortion rights, it’s because they really are afraid they’re losing their grip on American culture and are casting around wildly for a way to regain what they perceive as lost dominance.

Of course, the belief that they ever were the dominant group in America was always an illusion. It was an illusion when Jerry Falwell started the Moral Majority in 1979. The name obviously indicates a belief that white Christian conservatives are the “majority,” but even then, it had a protest-too-much feel to it. While most Americans, then and now, are nominally Christian, most of them do not belong to one of the fundamentalist groups—including the subset of Catholics who are in bed, politically, with fundamentalist Protestants—that make up the religious right. But it was easier for the Christian right to delude themselves into thinking they spoke for the nation in an era when white men who identify as Christian were nearly all the power players in politics and when the percentage of Americans who identified as non-religious was relatively low.

Nowadays, nearly one in four Americans is not even labeled a Christian, and non-religious people are a rapidly growing minority. More importantly, it’s much harder for members of the religious right to ignore evidence that they simply aren’t the representatives of “real” America and that real America is actually quite a diverse and socially liberal place. Contraception use and premarital sex are nearly universal, the pop charts that used to be mostly white and male are sexually and racially diverse, gay people are rapidly approaching equality, and no matter how hard they try, most Americans just don’t think there’s anything offensive about greeting someone with “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Oh yeah, and we have a black president who doesn’t seem to be bothered that his wife used to be his mentor.

If you ever want an explanation for why some Republicans have grown downright giddy at the prospect of shutting down the federal government, this helps explain why. It’s not a coincidence that some of the biggest Bible-thumpers in Congress are those who are most supportive of finding some way to shut down the government. If you believe America isn’t really America unless the Christian right runs it, it’s not a short leap to look to destroying the system altogether. “If we can’t have it, no one can,” seems to be the guiding principle behind the push to shut down the federal government. They like to frame their claims that America will collapse if they aren’t in charge as warnings. But really, a better word for what they’re doing is “threats.””

Emphasis Mine

See: http://www.alternet.org/belief/why-christian-right-obsessed-collapse-civilization?akid=11274.123424.uMsmoE&rd=1&src=newsletter936195&t=3

Standing Up to the Religious Right’s “Christmas Police”

Source: Humanist Magazine

Author: Rob Boston

“For some reason the Jehovah’s Witnesses like to work my neighborhood. It’s not uncommon for me to come home at night and see a copy of the Watchtower or Awake! crammed under the doormat.

A recent copy of Awake! contained several articles attacking Halloween, a holiday the Witnesses really don’t seem to like. They’re not big fans of Christmas either. In fact, I don’t know if there’s any holiday they enjoy. Devout Witnesses aren’t even supposed to celebrate their own birthdays.

The Witnesses are wasting their time with me. Putting aside their idiosyncratic theology, I could never be part of a religion that frowned so much on fun and celebration.

But their recent literature drop did me one favor: it caused me to stop and think about holidays, specifically how Americans celebrate them now and might do so in the future—and why some people are so threatened by those changes.

This can be a dicey topic for humanists and advocates of church-state separation. Christmas has undeniable Christian connections, but it also has significant secular elements—think snowmen, candy canes, and fruitcake—not to mention Pagan roots. What to do about it? Is it permissible for government to get involved in Christmas at all?

For years now, the Fox News Channel and other right-wing media have been carping about a so-called “war on Christmas.” The implication is that some nefarious force—usually described as a cabal of radical nonbelievers—is seeking to drive the holiday from public life.

The reality, of course, is more nuanced. Christmas is pretty ubiquitous. Trees, Santa figures, elves, tinsel, and so on often start appearing in stores not long after the leftover Halloween candy is put on deep discount.

Some Americans (Christians among them) object to the emphasis on commercialization and money. Others say they don’t celebrate the holiday at all and are weary of the “Christmas creep” that occurs every year.

Then there is a third category, one that a lot of humanists I have talked to over the years fall into: people who celebrate Christmas, but not in a manner approved of by fundamentalist Christians.

Many humanists grew up celebrating Christmas because they were raised in some variant of Christianity. As adults, they see no reason to let it go, so they retain the features they like (family visits, gift giving, parties, etc.) and discard the rest (midnight church services, hymns, prayers, and nativity scenes).

It’s this picking and choosing that so infuriates the religious right. They get so worked up by it that every fall they morph into a force that I call the “Christmas Police.” Religious right groups are certain there’s only one way to celebrate Christmas—theirs—and they don’t want to hear about people who dare to cherry pick. We’re doing it wrong!

Religious right groups take this matter very seriously. Every year, the American Family Association actually enlists people to pore over holiday sales circulars and catalogs produced by retailers and tally up how many times the word “Christmas” is used as opposed to more generic terms like “holiday” or “season.”

From this data, the AFA produces a “Naughty & Nice” list so upstanding Christians will know where to shop. AFA supporters are also instructed to harass any hapless store clerk who dares utter “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” at the checkout.

It all sounds just a tad obsessive. And furthermore it’s silly. Giant box retailers, after all, are hardly the place to go for a spiritual Christmas experience. Who cares what words they’re using? Most of us just want to know what the prices are like.

Humanists, of course, know their history and understand that Christmas was originally a celebration from the classical Pagan era that was given a quick Christian varnish during the time of Constantine the Great. Although we’re not classical Pagans any more than we are Christians, humanists recognize that a winter celebration—when it’s dark and cold in half of the world—fills some human need. If nothing else, it breaks up the monotony and gets people out of the house.

Whether the Christmas Police like it or not, Christmas is now a holiday with significant secular aspects. Government can acknowledge these, but it’s supposed to leave promotion of the religious side where it belongs—with the churches.

That’s never enough for the Christmas Police. Thus, to them, a nativity scene, which would look just right nestled in some greenery in front of a church, must instead be transplanted to the sterile, marble steps of city hall.

At that point, it’s no longer about celebration. By insisting that the government display the crèche or acknowledge other religious activities, the religious right changes the debate in a profound way. The state is being asked to endorse and promote a specific interpretation of Christmas, and it just happens to be the one favored by conservative Christians. That’s a constitutional no-no.

To the Christmas Police, the government’s refusal to embrace its interpretation of Christmas amounts to a “war” on the holiday. Never mind that people are still free to attend services at the church of their choice, decorate their living space as they see fit, pray as much as they like, and so on.

Deep inside themselves, religious right leaders know that Americans aren’t going to stop celebrating Christmas and that there is no “war.” (Have you been to the mall lately?) Rather, what’s really bothering them is that people are celebrating the holiday in a manner that the religious right does not approve of. And the possibility exists that even more people may do this, especially if fundamentalism begins to lose its grip on the nation and the “nones” keep growing in number. That’s what’s keeping the Christmas Police awake at night.

Humanists are a special threat because so many of us are old hands at celebrating Christmas in a non-religious way. That “have-it-your-way” holiday style is our signature, and it really torques off the religious right.

Humanists are leading the way—perhaps brandishing a “Festivus Pole”—and more and more Americans are taking notice and saying, “You mean I can have all the fun with none of the dogma? Sign me up!” It’s a real threat as far as the Christmas Police are concerned. We’ve spiked the wassail bowl with the forbidden fruit of doubt; one delicious sip and there’s no turning back.

The right to celebrate Christmas in a way that is meaningful for you (or not celebrate it at all) is an extension of the right of conscience as codified in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Just as you can read the Bible as a religious tome or as a book of ancient stories and myth, you can infuse Christmas with as much or as little religious content as your conscience dictates.

At the end of the day, that’s what’s really bothering the Christmas Police. It’s not that there’s a war on Christmas, it’s that some people decline to celebrate it as a 24/7 Jesus-a-thon. To them I say, “Get over it.” And to the American Family Association I’d like to add a hearty, “Happy Holidays!”


Rob Boston is director of communications at Americans United for Separation of Church and State and a board member of the American Humanist Association

– See more at: http://thehumanist.org/november-december-2013/holiday-hassles/#sthash.OMNKWVK2.dpuf

Emphasis Mine

See: http://thehumanist.org/november-december-2013/holiday-hassles/

 

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

Source: AlterNet

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

Author:  Amanda Marcotte

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emphasis Mine

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

 

7 Jaw-Droppingly Dumb Things Republicans Think About Science

Source: AlterNet

Author:Evan McMurray

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Everything They Say About Rape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. No Dead Fetuses In Your Soft Drinks

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

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

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

6. Evolution Is (Still) Out To Get Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emphasis Mine

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

 

Unchristian christian right

Source: AlterNet

Author: Amanda Marcotte

“Christianity is a faith that professes to defend the meek and the humble, but many Christians—at least of the more fundamentalist stripe—tend to be more interested in propping up unjust systems and using religion as a cudgel to bully the weak. Obviously, there are plenty of Christians who aren’t massive hypocrites, but when it comes to using religion as a weapon to push hard-right ideology, deeply un-Christian behavior runs rampant. Here’s a few examples of some of the more egregious recent sins of those who claim to be holier than thou.

1) Attempted murder. Tim Lambesis, the lead singer of the Christian metal band As I Lay Dying, was recently arrested in California for trying to hire a hit man—who turned out to be an undercover police officer—to murder his estranged wife. Lambesis and his wife were deeply invested in evangelical Christian culture, even embracing the enthusiasm for overseas adoption that has spread in recent years in the community by adopting three children from Ethiopia.

Lambesis’ alleged crime was the weak choice of just one man, of course, but the rush of online support he got after his arrest killed any hope that followers of Christian rock are made better people for their fandom. Lambesis fans flooded Twitter with such heartwarming sentiments about Lambesis’ wife such as, “Bitch must be crazy/annoying” and “His wife was probably a cunt anyway.” One even suggested, “Praying never trumps taking action.”

2) Enthusiastic support for bullying. The Christian right group Focus on the Family is so supportive of public school students’ “right” to gay-bash that they’ve started a campaign to combat anti-bullying programs called True Tolerance.People for the American Way put together a report on what amounts to a Christian pro-bullying campaign. Christian right activists attack anti-bullying initiatives in schools by claiming they amount to “indoctrination” of students into the “homosexual lifestyle,” even though the programs in question are simply telling kids not to beat up or tease other kids for perceived sexual non-conformity. Focus on the Family pretends it isn’t openly fighting for the protection of gay-bashers by denying that anti-gay bullying is a real problem, but that excuse fools no one who has ever been or even known a teenager.

3) Starving the poor. The biblical Jesus Christ went around helping the poor and the sick and famously fed people with loaves and fishes. His modern-day conservative followers prefer to snatch food from the mouths of the hungry. Tennessee Republican congressman Stephen Fincher showed what lengths conservative Christians will go to ignore their savior’s obvious teachings regarding charity and poverty, when he deliberately quoted, out of context, a Bible verse that says, “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat,” to defend cuts to SNAP, the federal food assistance program.

Not only was the quote out of context—it’s clear that Jesus was all for feeding the poor and alleviating their suffering—it was also a deeply dishonest characterization of people who use food stamps. For one thing, when you have 8% unemployment, it’s just asinine to suggest the problem is that people don’t want to work. But beyond that, research shows that over 90% of welfare benefits go to people who currently have a job or are elderly and disabled and can’t work. In other words, even by the measure of the verse Fincher quoted, the people he would deny food to are entitled to it, having met the basic standard of being willing to work.

4) Demanding the breakup of loving families for ideological reasons. The Christian right loves to go on and on about the importance of family, but what they don’t often admit is they are only talking about their families. The Christian right is forever trying to take away the right to parent from gay people by interfering with gay adoptionsbanning gay couples from using reproductive technologies, and in the case of religious right talk show host Bryan Fisher,encouraging his audience to kidnap children of gay parents and give them to straight people.

This obsession with declaring loving parents unfit because they disagree about religion and politics has even grown beyond this. Writing for the Christian publication Charisma, Republican strategist Raynard Jackson demanded that MSNBC commentator Krystal Ball lose custody of her daughter. Ball isn’t gay, but she has taught her daughter that being gay is okay, which Jackson felt was enough to break up Ball’s family.

5) Denying people basic bodily functions as punishment for non-conformity. The Delaware legislature is quickly advancing a bill that would protect the rights of transgender people to live as the gender they identify with instead of the one they were assigned at birth. Focus on the Family is going nuts, and one main reason is its hostility to transgender people using public restrooms. It’s even gone so far as to suggest that transgender women are sexual predators who just want access to women’s rooms in order to rape cisgender women.

In reality, transgender people want to use public restrooms for the same reason the rest of us do: biological necessity. As Zack Ford of Think Progress notes, this isn’t just a medical, but also a safety issue as well. Making people who present as male use the women’s bathroom, for instance, could be perceived as a threat that could result in fearful or even violent confrontations that are wholly unnecessary. Once again, Focus on the Family’s willingness to let the threat of violence back up its opposition to gender non-conformity runs in strong opposition to the non-violence Christians are supposed to espouse.

6) False testimony. The Christian right loves championing the Ten Commandments and demanding they be hung in every public space imaginable. It’s a weird fetish, since they tend to honor one in particular—“Thou shalt not bear false witness”—more in the breach than in the observance. Christian right activists lie about evolution, women’s bodies, and gay people. One recent and notable example is Mark Regnerus, a right-wing Christian sociologist who has become famous for his tendency to publish intellectually dishonest attacks on gay people.

Regnerus started his spate of false testimony with a fundamentally dishonest study purporting to show that gay parents were worse for children than straight parents. The study was quickly denounced as “bullshit” by a member of the editorial board of the very journal that published it, in no small part because Regnerus only included straight parents from intact marriages while his gay sample drew largely from divorced people and people who had multiple relationships while raising their children. (Some of them didn’t even identify as gay!)

Despite being publicly exposed for giving false testimony, Regnerus is doubling down, making nit-picky and fundamentally dishonest criticisms of studies that show happy gay couples do as well as happy straight couples in the child-rearing game. Apparently, he missed the part of his training as a sociologist where they teach you to compare apples to apples, and resents anyone who suggests that’s an important part of a properly controlled study.

7) Exploiting sick people. The Christian Post reports that Christine Daniel, a former doctor and ordained Pentecostal minister, was sentenced to 14 years in prison and told to pay over $1.2 million in damages to people she conned into believing that her herbal supplements would cure them of cancer. Daniel hawked her fake cancer cure on Trinity Broadcasting Network’s “Praise the Lord” program, and was found to have done things like telling a patient who still had full-blown breast cancer that she was cured. Authorities claim that at least one patient of Daniel’s would have lived if she had gotten proper medical treatment instead of relying on Daniel’s snake oil.

8) Using your position as a religious authority to rape minors. Sexually exploiting minors is such commonplace behavior in churches that Dan Savage of theStranger had to limit his blogging about it to just youth pastors, lest he get overwhelmed trying to note every sex crime committed by a minister, priest, deacon, or any person with authority in a Christian church. Nowadays, having a person in authority arrested for a sex crime is as fundamental a part of being a right-wing Christian church as having anti-abortion pamphlets in the entrance hall to the sanctuary.

Emphasis Mine

see: http://www.alternet.org/belief/christian-right?akid=10567.123424.9Qch-L&rd=1&src=newsletter854356&t=9