Why You Can’t Reconcile God and Evolution

Source: AlterNet

Author: Greta Christina

Emphasis Mine

“Of course I believe in evolution. And I believe in God, too. I believe that evolution is how God created life.”

You hear this a lot from progressive and moderate religious believers. They believe in some sort of creator god, but they heartily reject the extreme, fundamentalist, science-rejecting versions of their religions (as well they should). They want their beliefs to reflect reality – including the reality of the confirmed fact of evolution. So they try to reconcile the two by saying that that evolution is real, exactly as the scientists describe it — and that God made it happen. They insist that you don’t have to deny evolution to believe in God.

In the narrowest, most literal sense, of course this is true. It’s true that there are people who believe in God, and who also accept science in general and evolution in particular. This is an observably true fact: it would be absurd to deny it, and I don’t. I’m not saying these people don’t exist.

I’m saying that this position is untenable. I’m saying that the “God made evolution happen” position is rife with both internal contradictions and denial of the evidence. You don’t have to deny as much reality as young earth creationists do to take this position — but you still have to deny a fair amount. Here are four reasons that “God made evolution happen” makes no sense.

1. It contradicts a central principle of the theory of evolution.

According to theistic evolution (the fancy term for “God made evolution happen”), the process of evolution is shaped by the hand of God. God takes the processes of mutation, natural selection, and descent with modification, and uses them to direct life into the forms he wants – including the form of humanity.

But in evolution, there is no direction. At the core of the theory of evolution is the principle that whatever survives, survives, and whatever reproduces, reproduces. Each generation has to survive and reproduce on its own terms: there’s no selecting for a particular feature that’s harmful now but will be useful ten generations later, after a little more adapting. If a particular trait isn’t either beneficial or neutral to these animals, these plants, these bacteria, in this generation here and now – it’s going to be selected out pretty darn quick. Evolution is all about the immediate present and the very near future: it’s about surviving, and producing fertile offspring that live long enough to reproduce.

And there’s a huge amount of random chaos in the mix. If any of a hundred thousand quirks go a different way, the outcome can be different – sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically. A flood shifts the course of a river, and a plant’s seeds float south-south-east instead of due south, and the seeds sprout on the part of the continent that splits off and becomes South America. An asteroid hits the planet and wipes out the dinosaurs, and these weird rodent-like creatures start reproducing like gangbusters, and in a few hundred thousand years some of their great-great-thousands-of-times-over grandchildren wind up as human beings.

Random stuff happens: if it happens differently, then different living things survive and reproduce, and it all turns out differently. Yes, the particular forms that life takes right now are wildly improbable — and if things had turned out differently, those forms would be wildly improbable. There’s no direction: there’s no selecting for life to take any particular form at any point in the future.

So it makes no sense to say that evolution is real, exactly as the scientists describe it — but that God is guiding it in the direction he wants. If evolution is exactly as the scientists describe it, there’s no direction for God to be guiding it in. God hasn’t got a thing to do with it.

Now, if the evidence suggested that evolution actually did work in this interventionist way — if the theory of evolution were based on it having no direction, but there were a bunch of evidence suggesting that it did have a direction, with some outside force pushing things in that direction — then the “no direction” part of the theory would have to go. And that would be fine. Our understanding of exactly how evolution works has shifted many times over the decades, and if there were a preponderance of evidence pointing to a Divine Tinkerer, we’d simply have to adjust the theory.

Which leads me to:

2. There’s not a scrap of evidence for it.

If there really were a Divine Tinkerer mucking about with evolution, like civil engineers re-directing a river or kids putting sticks in a stream, we’d see signs of it. When we looked at the fossil record, we’d see human knees suddenly re-shaped to better suit upright bipedal walking. We’d see human female pelvises suddenly re-shaped to better accommodate their infants’ larger brains without dying in childbirth. We’d see human brains suddenly re-shaped to better understand long-term cost-benefit analysis. And that’s just the humans.

We don’t see any of that. When we look at the fossil record — and the genetic record, and the geological record, and the anatomical record, and every other record from every branch of science that supports the theory of evolution and investigates how it works — we don’t see any signs whatsoever of outside intervention. What we do see is exactly what we’d expect to see if evolution were an entirely natural process, proceeding one generation at a time.

Now, some adherents of theistic evolution don’t think that God is tinkering with the process every day, or even every millennium, or even every epoch. Some theistic evolutionists are really more like deists: they think God set the entire process in motion, four billion years ago at the dawn of the planet, or 13.7 billion years ago at the dawn of the universe. They think God set the parameters way back in the mists of time, knowing how things would turn out, and is just sitting back watching it all unfold. That’s what they mean by “God made evolution happen.”

But there’s not a scrap of evidence for this, either. If your god is so non-interventionist that he’s entirely indistinguishable from physical cause and effect — what reason do you have to think he exists? In all of human history, the supernatural has never turned out to be the right answer to anything: natural explanations of phenomena have replaced supernatural ones thousands upon thousands of times, while supernatural explanations have replaced natural ones exactly never. So why would you think that an invisible god who set the wheels of evolution in motion, in a way that looks exactly like physical cause and effect, is more plausible than simple physical cause and effect?

As Julia Sweeney said in her performance piece “Letting Go of God, “The invisible and the non-existent often look very much alike.” Given that there’s not one scrap of evidence suggesting that this invisible Divine Tinkerer actually does exist — and a whole lot of evidence suggesting that he doesn’t — why would you conclude that he does?

Which leads me to:

3. There’s a whole lot of evidence against it.

Sinuses. Blind spots. External testicles. Backs and knees and feet shoddily warped into service for bipedal animals. Human birth canals barely wide enough to let the baby’s skull pass — and human babies born essentially premature, because if they stayed in utero any longer they’d kill their mothers coming out (which they sometimes do anyway). Wind pipes and food pipes in close proximity, leading to a great risk of choking to death when we eat. Impacted wisdom teeth, because our jaws are too small
for all our teeth. Eyes wired backwards and upside-down. The vagus nerve, wandering all over hell and gone before it gets where it’s going. The vas deferens, ditto. Brains wired with imprecise language, flawed memory, fragile mental health, shoddy cost-benefit analysis, poor understanding of probability, and a strong tendency to prioritize immediate satisfaction over long-term gain. Birth defects. 15-20% of confirmed pregnancies ending in miscarriage (and that’s just confirmed pregnancies — about 30% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, and asmany as 75% of all conceptions miscarry).

And that’s just humans. Outside the human race, you’ve got giraffes with a vagus nerve traveling ten to fifteen feet out of its way to get where it’s going. You’ve got sea mammals with lungs but no gills. You’ve got male spiders depositing their sperm into a web, siphoning it up with a different appendage, and only then inseminating their mates — because their inseminating appendage isn’t connected to their sperm factory. (To wrap your mind around this: Imagine that humans had penises on their foreheads, and to reproduce they squirted semen from their testes onto a table, picked up the semen with their head-penises, and then had sex.) You’ve got kangaroo molars, which wear out and get replaced — but only four times, after which the animals starve to death. You’ve got digger wasps laying their eggs in the living bodies of caterpillars — and stinging said caterpillars to paralyze them but not kill them, so the caterpillars die a slow death and can nourish the wasps’ larvae with their living bodies.

You’re going to look at all this, and tell me it was engineered this way on purpose?

Yes, there are many aspects of biological life that astonish with their elegance and function. But there are many other aspects of biological life that astonish with their clumsiness, half-assedness, inefficiency, pointless superfluities, glaring omissions, laughable failures, “fixed that for you” kluges and jury-rigs, and appalling, mind-numbing brutality. (See Some More of God’s Greatest Mistakes for just a few of the most obvious examples.) If you’re trying to reconcile all this with a powerfully magical creator god who made it this way on purpose, it requires wild mental contortions at best, and a complete denial of reality at worst.

On the other hand, it is very easy to reconcile all this with an entirely natural theory of evolution. In fact, according to the theory of evolution, it would be hugely surprising if biological life didn’t turn out this way. Again: Evolution proceeds one generation at a time. Each generation is only very slightly different from the generation that preceded it. It makes perfect sense that biological life would consist of awkward, inefficient, ad-hoc adaptations to forms that no longer exist.

And at the risk of anthropomorphizing: Evolution doesn’t care if you’re comfortable. Evolution doesn’t care if you’re happy. Evolution doesn’t need you to be perfect: it just needs you to be better than your competitors, your predators, and your prey. Evolution cares if you survive, and produce fertile offspring that also survive. Actually, even that’s not exactly true. Evolution doesn’t care if you live or die. If you die, something else lives. Evolution doesn’t give a damn who it is.

Evolution doesn’t give a damn about any of this. But God supposedly does. So why did he do it this way? If God is so powerful that he could bring all of existence into being simply by wishing it; if he’s so powerful that he can tinker with the genetics and circumstances of evolution simply by wishing it — why would he wish it to be so clumsy, half-assed, inefficient, jury-rigged, superfluous, and brutal?

Which finally leads me to:

4. If it were true, God would either be incompetent or malicious.

Here’s the thing about evolution. Evolution has led to some truly wondrous, truly amazing forms of life. (Or, to be more precise: Evolution has led to human brains that are capable of the experience of amazement, and that are inclined to be amazed at the variety and complexity of biological life.)

But evolution is messy. Evolution is wildly inefficient. See #3 above. It’s not just the products of evolution that are inefficient, either. The process itself is inefficient — inherently so, almost by definition. If you’re an all-powerful magical being trying to create sentient life, evolution is the long, long, long way around. If you’re trying to get from Point A to Point B, evolution is a slow, meandering walk down convoluted dirt roads, with thousands of stops on the way to visit your doddering uncles who never shut up.

And evolution is brutal. It’s not just that the results of the process are often uncomfortable, frustrating, even painful. The process itself is inherently brutal. The process ensures that most animals die in dreadful suffering and terror: they die from starvation, from injury, from disease, from birth defects, from being torn to pieces and devoured by other animals. Of all the billions upon billions of conscious living beings that have ever existed, an infinitesimal minority got to die peacefully in their beds surrounded by their families. The overwhelming majority died brutally, in pain and fear. And that includes the ones who actually won the evolution sweepstakes, and got to live long enough to reproduce with fertile offspring.

If there were a god who was using evolution to direct life in the direction he wanted, it immediately begs the question: Why? Why on earth would anyone do this?

If God were powerful enough to magically tinker with the process of evolution, in undetectable ways entirely indistinguishable from natural cause and effect — why wouldn’t he be powerful enough to just “whoosh” humanity into existence? If God were smart enough to know precisely how to set the parameters of existence so that billions of years later it would unfold into conscious human life — why wouldn’t he be smart enough to do it in a way that avoided the inefficient, hideously violent processes through which evolution has unfolded, and continues to unfold?

If theistic evolution were true — if there really were a god who either tinkers with evolution to create human life or who set the universe in motion knowing that evolution would eventually result in human life – then that god would either be grossly incompetent or cruelly malicious. That god would have to be either incapable of using the system of evolution to create life efficiently and with minimal pain – indeed, incapable of coming up with a better system for producing life in the first place — or brutally callous to the great suffering he has caused for hundreds of millions of years, and that he continues to cause on a daily basis.

Is that really the god you believe in?

A For Effort, F for Execution

I understand the desire to reconcile science with religion. I really do. People have a lot of reasons to be religious — community, family identity, cultural identity, an attachment to the ritual, a built-in sense of meaning and purpose, a desire to believe that the creator of all time and space personally cares about you, a desire to believe in an afterlife. And I definitely understand the desire to accept science: as flawed as it is, science has repeatedly shown itself to be the best method we have for understanding reality.

I understand that people want their religion to reflect reality. But there is no religion that reflects reality. If you want to accept reality in general, and the reality of evolution in particular, you need to accept that.

Greta Christina is the author of “Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why,” available in ebook, print, and audiobook. She blogs at Greta Christina’s Blog. Follow her on Twitter: @GretaChristina


See: http://www.alternet.org/belief/why-you-cant-reconcile-god-and-evolution?akid=12086.123424.ZIQJ6I&rd=1&src=newsletter1014078&t=11


There Are as Many Atheisms as There Are Gods

Source:Guardian, via AlterNet

Author: Andrew Brown

There are as many atheisms as there are gods. We spend most of our lives disbelieving in things without wasting time asking why, and quite right too. So what is it that makes some particular forms of disbelief intellectually fertile or socially significant?  Nick Spencer’s short history of atheism goes a long way towards answering this question, and anyone seriously interested in religion and irreligion today should read it.

The first shock of the book is just how old the strongest atheist arguments are. Spencer doesn’t quote my favourite, a Babylonian tablet from around 1,000 BC that was referenced in  Robert Bellah’s book, but the Book of Job is certainly a powerful argument against what you might call the corporate PR department of GodCo.

Over in Greece, the logical difficulties of an omnipotent and benevolent God were clear as soon as people got the concepts of omnipotence and benevolence straight. Everything you needed to be an intellectually fulfilled disbeliever in the Christian God was in place by the birth of Christ.

In this light, it’s remarkable not that there are atheists today, but that there were so few in the long centuries of Christendom’s glory. I don’t think persecution or the fear of persecution can account for this. It did not manage to suppress all manners of subtle heresy; why should it successfully suppress the most obvious and radical objection to the whole business?

One answer, Spencer suggests, is that important atheism is always secondary to theism. For any particular atheism to matter, there must be an important conception of God to be rejected; in that sense, atheism is closely related to blasphemy. And the concept of God is itself extremely flexible: some are so strange as to be unrecognisable as gods to other worshippers, which is one reason why the early Christians themselves appeared as atheists to the pagans around them.

Arguments against God’s justice, such as those we see in Babylon, are not arguments against his existence: they are arguments about his character, which presuppose that he has one. Modern atheism, in the sense of a rejection of Christian monotheistic conceptions of God, doesn’t really get started until the 18th century. But by the French Revolution, modern western arguments were clear except for the faith in science, which emerged in the next 100 years.

The study of how these arguments spread and ramified into their modern forms turns out to be historical and political, rather than philosophical. It was impossible to separate a reaction against Christianity from a reaction against the Christian church, and so the forms this opposition took was determined by the role of the church in the societies involved.

In France, Italy and Russia, autocratic and clerical regimes bred a fierce anti-clericalism, which slaughtered thousands of priests and nuns and tens of thousands of believers whenever a revolution brought it to power. In Germany and countries in the German cultural sphere, atheism was far more of an intellectual matter and the Protestant churches went much further towards meeting atheist arguments in good faith.

In Britain, Spencer argues, the weight of the Anglican establishment would have been a much more powerful stimulus to atheism had it not been for the presence of thriving traditions of leftwing Christianity – this was not just Methodism and the socially conscious forms of Anglican belief: the Catholic church in this country was on the side of the working classes against most of the establishment in a way unthinkable elsewhere in Europe. Of course, that had more to do with the situation of Ireland than with theology.  So the atheisms of modern England shadow those of Anglican England, ranging from a mild an undogmatic benevolence to rebarbative sectarian fervour.

Emphasis Mine

See: http://www.alternet.org/belief/there-are-many-atheisms-there-are-gods?akid=12058.123424.ftFHNy&rd=1&src=newsletter1013113&t=13

How Non-Believers Can Counter That Annoying Religious Dogma That Life Without God Is Meaningless

Source: Alternet

Author: Hari Kunzru

Of all the jargon words that get thrown around in British political discourse, “faith” may be the one from which I feel most alienated. If you listen to politicians, “faith” seems to be a nebulous goodness, a state of mind that leads citizens to behave in certain convenient ways. The faithful perform charitable works, like running food banks or homeless shelters – great for reducing the departmental bottom line, or indeed for shifting the burden of dealing with the poor (not to mention the weak, the halt and the lame) from government altogether. The faithful lay down rules for their sexual relations and have prohibitions against socially problematic behaviour such as stealing things or (up to a point) being violent. In general, “faith” makes people much easier to govern – after all, they’re already being governed by God, who has panoptical security cameras and already knows what’s in everyone’s browser history. No wonder politicans line up to praise it. If only everyone possessed this salutary quality!

None of this seems to have anything to do with the actual experience of faith, which I have been struggling to understand since I was first exposed to organised religion as a child. I’m not talking about the kind of religious adherence that’s mainly a badge of belonging. Going to a holiday service or getting married in a church or temple is, for many people, no more than a way of asserting their identification with a tradition or their membership of a cultural group. For me, coming from a family that includes both devout Hindus and Anglican Christians, that kind of allegiance was never straightforward, and the assertion of a religious identity was left up to me. Belief would have to come, not as a comforting experience of group belonging, but as an individual choice. As a child, I waited for faith to make its necessity felt in my life. It never did. The plethora of contradictory rules and prohibitions in the major world religions appeared at best confusing, at worst absurd. Why did God care what I ate or how I dressed or who I slept with? Not everyone’s book could be divinely inspired. Someone had to be mistaken.

Faith, as opposed to “faith”, seems profound, disruptive and potentially terrifying. It is a leap into the dark, a surrender of will and judgment, an enormous risk. It is clearly an experience of great joy for some believers. Equally clearly, it opens others to the darkest and most atavistic impulses. For every person who is consoled or comforted by the belief that there is a God giving order and meaning to existence, another feels compelled to defend their unique truth against the unbeliever.

If one takes faith seriously, as I believe we must, then the idea of a “faith school” starts to seem bizarre. Critical thinking is anathema to faith. It is what one must relinquish, or transcend, in order to take the leap. The young British jihadis who are the object of so much public concern have gone to war for their faith. For them there is no question of comparison between religions, or understanding their belief as primarily a matter of cultural pride. They believe they have submitted to the will of God. This might be acceptable, even useful, to Britain’s political class if their faith was neatly subordinated to nation: “defender of the faith” is, after all, a royal title, and until political correctness went mad, presumably “attacker of the faith” was, too. However, the transnational nature of the ummah will never be reconcilable to the post-Westphalian nation state, so we say they have been “radicalised”, and their leap of faith has made them terrorists. This is the difference between faith and “faith”. The first, for good or ill, radicalizes the believer. The second is a political jargon word for a set of behaviours and practices that enforce social cohesion, or, if you prefer, subordination to the agenda of the ruling class.

In our lazy, dishonest contemporary conversation about faith, the faithless, such as myself, are almost silent. We are usually used as a negative rhetorical marker, against which the faithful can measure their virtue. To those who value tradition, we are deracinated. For those who like their principles founded in some unshakeable transcendental truth, we are feckless and mutable. We are assumed to be morally dubious, too weak or spineless to stand up for anything very much at all. Certainly we are not worthy of “respect”, which is the jargon word for what our political class offers religious or ethnic minorities in lieu of actual inclusion or equality. We are not invited on discussion programmes to describe how offended we feel that our cherished symbols are being mocked. We have no such symbols. Even if our numbers are large, we are rarely heard amid the hysterical yelling. Perhaps this is why the so-called “New Atheists” increasingly sound like a religious sect. It’s the only way to get heard.

I have come to resent this characterisation. My lack of faith has, over the years, formed itself into an active ethical position. I don’t have a sacred text, or beliefs that I wish to place beyond challenge or mockery. None of my positions are beyond argument. I will change them, if persuaded. My dislike of dogma and my respect (as opposed to “respect”) for rational debate doesn’t make me weak. Indeed, I hold that the very contingency of my positions are at the core of their ethical force. If you can’t point to a line in a book, or the dictates of a religious hierarchy to justify your opinions, then you have to own them yourself. You are fully responsible, and that is, in its own way, as radical and disruptive as submitting to the will of the divine. I hold tolerance as a signal virtue, but my tolerance is not absolute, nor is it cowardly. I am not, for example, a pacifist, though I find the notion of a “just war” shabby and despicable. I believe that a secular state is the only way to guarantee freedom of conscience. If I were to run the British educational system, I would establish schools devoted to questioning orthodoxies, not necessarily because everything old or traditional is wrong (quite the opposite – things last for a reason, and often that reason is because they work) but because critical thinking seems to me at least as much of a civic virtue as faith, and we ought to value it, instead of doing it down.

I describe myself as an atheist, but I don’t believe I have special access to a metaphysical truth about the world, or the lack of such a truth. It simply seems to me that the qualities of the divine that believers value – that it gives purposefulness to life, and renders our actions consequential and meaningful – don’t require the existence of a transcendent creator. Occam’s razor suggests that, unless God is necessary, he should probably be left out of the argument. Leading a decent, purposeful, virtuous life isn’t the sole province of religious believers. It certainly has little to do with the dishwater notion of faith offered in our current political conversation.

Emphasis Mine

See: http://www.alternet.org/belief/how-non-believers-can-counter-annoying-religious-dogma-life-without-god-meaningless?akid=12013.123424.E2RlO9&rd=1&src=newsletter1011077&t=11

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


Former Christian Fudamentalist: how science made me lose my religion

Source: Alternet

Author: Valerie Tarico

” Ed Suominen was raised in a small sect of Lutheran Christianity called  Laestadianism. Of the 32,000 denominations into which Christianity has fractured, his is one of the more conservative. Members believe in the literal truth of the Bible, including the creation story. They eschew sins like drinking, dancing, watching television, wearing earrings, and playing school sports. They marry only within their own sect and believe God alone should decide how many children they have. Suominen followed the rules; he met and married the right kind of girl, and together they have 11 children.

But Suominen is also an engineer, trained at the University of Washington. He has been a patent agent and an inventor, and eventually his work with electrical and digital systems led him to notice something his church hadn’t taught him about: the power of natural selection. He was trying to optimize a design, when he  came across a useful software tool:

“You set up an artificial chromosome with each digital ‘gene’ determining a parameter for some widget you want to design. Then you created a population of individual widgets by running simulations with different sets of randomly chosen parameters, and had the widgets ‘mate’ with each other. You repeated this process over many successive generations, throwing in some mutations along the way. Those widgets that worked best in your simulation had the best shot at having ‘children’ in the next generation.”

It was the beginning of the end. After discovering the practical value of evolutionary computation, Suominen began reading about evolutionary biology. The Genesis story fell apart and frayed the fabric of his Christian belief.

Outsiders sometimes scratch their heads about the dogged insistence of creationists that Adam and Eve actually existed 6,000 years ago in a perfect garden without predators or pain, until they took Satan’s bait and bit into a world-changing apple. How is it, 100 years after Darwin, that we are still fighting about what will be taught in biology classes? Why, in their determination to refute evolution, do some Christians seem intent on taking down the whole scientific enterprise?

The answer lies in Suominen’s lived experience. As he puts it, “You don’t have original sin without an original sinner. And without original sin…you don’t need a redeemer.” In other words, the central story of Christianity, the story of a perfect Jesus who becomes a perfect human sacrifice and saves us all relies on the earlier creation story.

After evolutionary computation cracked the walls of Suominen’s information silo, his curiosity and training as an engineer took over. He spent the next year consuming books about Christianity, by defenders of the faith and by critics. He wrote about his spiritual journey in a series of musings now published under the title,  An Examination of the Pearl.

Since evolution is what most compelled his fascination, he began exploring the various ways Christians try to reconcile biblical teachings and biology. The end result was a second book,  Evolving Out of Eden, written with Robert Price, a Bible scholar and former Christian. Suominen launched the project torn between curiosity and a desire to affirm old beliefs. By the end,  he confessed: “I was raised a fundamentalist and spent four decades living as one; I’m still not ready to call myself an atheist. But after co-authoring this book, I just can’t see where there’s any room for a god.”

In a recent interview, Ed Suominen discussed his life-changing journey.

Valerie Tarico: Your book is about evolution, both biological and personal. You’ve been through a change in worldview that most people can only imagine. Does it feel disorienting?

Ed Suominen: Yes, it’s a tremendous change. But I feel much less disoriented than when I was battling cognitive dissonance every day trying to maintain a coherent worldview out of pieces that just wouldn’t fit together. I’d come home from church on Sunday and spend hours or even days trying to recover my intellectual integrity. One part of my brain would continuously play the ominous soundtrack from my childhood indoctrination, repeated in church every Sunday:Believe or be damned. Meanwhile, another part would list off the hundreds of issues that made “belief” impossible and dishonest. And evolution with all of its theological dilemmas headed up that list.

It’s wonderful to be able to stand up and look over that toxic fog of piety and just see, accepting reality for what it so clearly is. I am happier now than I ever was in the church, despite the social loss of leaving it.

VT: Do you ever find yourself wishing you’d never opened Pandora’s Box?

ES: My old church had its annual nationwide summer services right near our home this July. Here I was, within 20 miles of a gathering of around 2,000 members of “God’s Kingdom,” which considers itself the only true church on earth. There were people I’d grown up with, people I’d been with in the pews and on camping trips for my whole life. They stayed in their place, and I stayed in mine, an outsider now. I certainly felt some pangs of longing. But it was only about the people, not the institution that envelops and controls them.

When I listened online to the sermons preached during those services, I wondered how I’d ever taken any of it seriously. One was all about Noah and the ark, and how God’s patience had run out when believers started intermarrying with people from “the world.” It’s an ancient myth copied from the epic of Gilgamesh, and this guy is sitting there doing a gross misreading of the text while taking it all very literally otherwise. The story itself is so ridiculous that many people in the church don’t really buy it. Yet it’s one of those things that you really are expected to believe—the Bible is God’s word, not to be questioned.

VT: How have your 11 children and your wife responded to your changes?

ES: While I was still wrestling with all this, my wife turned to me one Sunday morning and said, “I know this is how we were raised, but I’m not buying it anymore.” She had been doing some reading, too, and that was that. I had to study and ponder and write, even for a while after she made her quiet, no-nonsense departure from the church. She is a wonderful, bright woman whom I love and admire very much.

I respect my children’s privacy too much to talk extensively about their beliefs or lack thereof. That’s their business. But I will say that they seem to all be doing just fine with the changes in my wife and me, from the oldest to the youngest. Our home is a place where they can be free to think and believe, or not believe, for themselves.

VT: Would you say you lost your faith gradually, or might you describe it as a series of plateaus, punctuated equilibrium?

ES: Your “series of plateaus” analogy is an excellent one. I recall a few defining moments, starting with the realization that my God of the Gaps was gone. Evolution provided an elegant and tangible answer to the question for which the guided, supernatural process of creation previously had been my only answer: “How could all of these amazing forms of life, myself included, have just happened to arise?”

Then there was the upsetting day when I spoke with a preacher whom I respected (and still do) after sharing with him some of my thoughts about evolution. I asked him if I really had to reject human evolution and believe in Adam and Eve to be a Christian. He was thoughtful about it, but his response made clear where I stood with respect to the faith we both held dear: Yes, the fall of humankind in Eden is a foundational point of Christian theology. I wandered around in a daze for a while, sad and scared, but realizing that he had only told me what I already suspected.

I enlisted my friend Robert M. Price to see if there was any plausible theological solution. Dr. Price had been serving as a sort of spiritual therapist for me, helping

me deal with the issues I’d been finding with my religion once evolution had “cracked the walls of my information silo,” as you adeptly put it. At this point, our work together turned into a full-blown writing project, and together we plowed through books by Francis Collins, John Haught, Kenneth Miller, and others who claimed to make sense of Christianity in view of evolution. But to us, despite trying to approach the theology with an open mind (which Price does even as an atheist), the only thing sensible about their books were their eloquent defenses of evolutionary science.

VT: Most creationists seem pretty adept at deflecting the evidence for evolution. Why did it get you?

ES: I saw it happening right in front of me on my computer screen. As an engineer with lots of software experience, I understood what the computer was doing. Simulated organisms were evolving remarkable abilities to move, swim, etc., and nobody was designing them to do that. Random mutations and genetic crossover between the fittest individuals in the population produced a new, slightly more evolved population. Repeated over hundreds of generations, it worked.

My reading did nothing but confirm this. All of the arguments I saw against evolution were made by believers in defense of their faith. I tried to look at both sides of the story, but it became obvious that there was only one side with any credibility. The other was just wishful thinking and denial.

VT: Out of all of the ways in which believers have tried to reconcile evolutionary biology and the Christian tradition, which seem to you the most robust or credible?

ES: That’s an insightful and difficult question, because the plausibility of these writers in the realm of theology seems to be inversely proportional to their acceptance of the science. You can head in one direction or the other, but you can’t have it both ways, despite their protests that they can. One of the most eloquent and level-headed about the scientific findings and issues for traditional theology is John F. Haught. Yet his tedious appeals to the “drama” and “aesthetic intensity” of evolution are so far off our credibility meter that it would be difficult to summarize our conclusions without sounding uncharitable. Our view of all these sorts of evolutionary apologetics, his included, might be apparent from the title of one of our subheadings, “Shoveling After the Parade.”

The most robust attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable may well be Philip Gosse’s “omphalos” idea that the universe was created recently with the appearance of great age. Of course, God created Adam with a navel and trees with rings! They wouldn’t be recognizable without those “retrospective marks,” after all. (Christians are faced with the same issue concerning Jesus and his magic Y chromosome.) It’s ridiculous and reduces God to a cosmic cosplayer, but at least it doesn’t try to dismiss all of the Bible’s clear teachings about a young earth and special creation, or fancifully reinterpret 2,000 years of Christian theology.

VT: Your story makes people feel hopeful that change is possible, that individually and collectively we can change and grow. What should people who are invested in science and progress say to creationist friends and family members?

ES: The stakes are too high to expect much rational deliberation of the evidence, I’m afraid. For me, the evidence of evolution snuck in the back door when I wasn’t looking.

Perhaps the best thing to say to creationist friends and family is that you understand why they believe so strongly, and that you’ll be happy to help them whenever they might wish to look beyond those beliefs. The first and most productive step might be getting them to acknowledge, to themselves at least, that religion is the real motivation for every single argument against evolution.

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

Emphasis Mine

see: http://www.alternet.org/former-christian-fundamentalist-how-science-made-me-lose-my-religion?akid=10892.123424.N7fGA9&rd=1&src=newsletter892458&t=9


Mind Raped by the Christian Right

Source: TruthDig, via Alternet

Author: Chris Hedges

“Noel Lyons, a member of the U.S. Ski Team from 1976 to 1981 and once one of the country’s top professional skiers, found herself in a Vail, Colo., hospital in the spring of 2010 after another round of binge drinking. “I had given up on myself,” she would say later. Her boyfriend and sister decided she needed rehabilitative help. Because their resources were limited, they turned to the free Total Freedom Program, a Florida ministry for women and men that identifies itself as Christian.

Cate Iannello, the wife of the leader of Total Freedom Program, “Pastor Guy,” met Lyons in July 2010 at the Orlando airport and drove her to what she called “the girls’ house,” a yellow ranch house in a nondescript neighborhood of nearby Ocoee. Lyons says she arrived “scared out of my mind” and holding a decorative pillow with the image of a buffalo on it. Because the pillow had “past associations” that could evoke demons, she was soon told to put it in the trash.

Lyons walked into the living room with the pastor’s wife. She met a woman there who introduced herself as Connie Prince, “the house mom”—a position Lyons herself would assume eventually. She was introduced to about five other “girls,” all white and ranging in age from the 20s into the 50s, who lived in the house.

The house mom rifled through Lyons’ bag of clothes. She pulled out particular garments and told her, “Well, you won’t be wearing that.” Prince confiscated the small amount of money Lyons had, her Ambien sleeping pills, cellphone and phone card.

“Later on I found out it was inappropriate or had accursed symbols,” Lyons said of the confiscated clothes when we met at the home of a friend outside Philadelphia where she was staying.

Lyons, now 50, toured the group house with a woman named Susan. Susan, in her early 20s, showed Lyons the bedroom the two women would share. It had bare walls and three beds with mismatched sheets, three dilapidated dressers and one closet. Lyons was then taken to the kitchen, where she sat with other women at a table for prayers and dinner. Afterward the women went into the living room for Lyons’ “praying in” ceremony. She was instructed to sit on the floor. The women sat in a circle around her.

“Then they make sure I had no tattoos, which are accursed items,” Lyons said. New arrivals with tattoos had to be specially anointed to excise the demons that the ministry claimed were embedded in tattoos.

The circle of women prayed over her, including in the gibberish of “tongues,” and anointed her with oil. The women walked through the house after the ceremony. They said more prayers in tongues to rid the house of demons. They dipped their fingers in oil and marked the doorjambs with the sign of the cross to drive out evil spirits. “It’s called the Housecleaning Prayer,” Lyons said. “And a lot of times they’ll put a cross over the beds where our heads rest.”

Lyons began to speak to me in a stream of nonsensical sounds to imitate praying in tongues. She instinctively crossed her arms over her chest. “It’s like in chanting,” she said. “I’m holding my heart because I believed that the enemy was trying to get my heart. So I’m always covering my heart.”

She was given a rules handbook and told she had to sign an “intake form” promising to obey the community’s edicts. She read in the handbook that she would be forbidden to contact anyone except her immediate family for nine months, which distressed her because of her relationship with her boyfriend in Vail. The form said she would forfeit the right to sue the ministry, which she found odd. She refused to sign the form without a lawyer. She went to her room distraught and frightened, unsure of what to do. She could not sleep. In the middle of the night she went outside and thought about hotwiring one of the cars in order to leave, but, she said, “I had nowhere to go, and I had no money. I had no contact with anyone.” At 5:30 a.m. she was told it was time for the ritual morning prayers.

“The house mom leads the prayers and everyone has to be in unison with the prayers.” She called these “the paper prayers” because they were printed out on sheets.

“You say your warfare prayer, your deliverance prayer, your third dimensional warrior prayer, it’ll make sense to you later on,” she explained. “It’s all warfare praying.”

Lyons was told to go to a designated spot in the house “where you’re supposed to communicate with God and have your ‘David cave time’ with him.” Before the start of her “David cave time,” Lyons, frustrated by being unable to do her normal physical workout, did sit-ups and push-ups in the living room. As she exercised, “people are just walking by, not talking to me,” she said.

Lyons was told she was allowed only one cup of coffee a day. She was told that she was permitted to speak by phone only with immediate family members and only when a person of the community monitored the conversation.

Every resident, she found, was expected to be an informant if she or he saw someone break the rules. Many of those at the ministry compound had recently come out of prison and were in the facility as a halfway house requirement.

The female residents “become a posse,” Lyons said. “Remember, a lot of these people came from prison. None of the people are qualified to do anything. A lot of these people are supposed to be in a house that transitions them to the real world.”

Breakfast was served at 6:30. And on her first morning in Ocoee she was taken to “morning intercession,” which would occur every day for the three months of Lyons’ initial indoctrination. It was held in a place called the “war room” in another house on the cul-de-sac where the group owns four or five houses. The war room was open and lined on two sides by single rows of folding chairs. The men sat on one side. The women sat on the other. Lyons was told when she entered the war room that she was not permitted to talk to or have eye contact with the men either there or outside. Segregation of the sexes was rigidly enforced. Courtship and relationships could be carried out within the community only if they were approved and mediated by the pastor. Relationships outside the community were forbidden.

All new arrivals during their first three months spent every morning and every afternoon in the war room “doing teachings,” which consisted of listening to recordings from Pastor Guy Iannello’s Eternal Library of 800 Teachings. They were required to take copious notes. Lyons showed me a stack of about a dozen white legal pads filled with her notes. After three months, if program approval was granted, a resident was permitted to get an outside job to help support the ministry. By that time, residents typically had severed ties with most friends and relatives.

The morning routine included recorded religious music followed by prayer. There were prayers for orphans, single mothers or fathers and those who had been abandoned. Then the group prayed in tongues. She wondered: “What does this have to do with helping me with my problem?”

At 8:30 a.m. on her first full day at the compound she was taken to the office to see “Mom,” the pastor’s mother-in-law. She was given a lengthy form and told to circle all her “sins,” such as sex before marriage, lesbianism, sodomy, masturbation, adultery, oral sex, abortion, vanity, self-pity, swearing or cursing. She circled the words that applied to her. It was only later, she said, that she was told that each of these sins was “identified as a demon.”

Lyons, who during our meeting had a box of literature, videos and other materials of the ministry, handed me a tattered red book titled “Prayers.” She opened the book to Page 36. I read the four pages known as the “Sin List.” It included hundreds of sins, among them “loving to curse,” “killing,” “Baal worship” and “sacrificing children to demons.”

Lyons complained to Mom that she could not speak in tongues, to which Mom replied: “Yabba dabba doo. Just start saying, ‘Yabba dabba doo,’ and the Holy Spirit will help you. Fake it until you make it.” Mom told Lyons she was “being rebellious” and that “rebellion is witchcraft.” “That was a huge thing that they played on,” Lyons said, “that whole rebellion thing.”

She still refused to sign the forms. She was ushered into the pastor’s office to see a video called “You Can’t Fight What You Can’t See.” All who were inducted into the community were required to watch it. She met with Iannello on the second day. He told her to sign the forms and give the program two weeks. She signed.

Because Lyons’ second night at the compound was a Tuesday, she was taken with the other members of the community to Way of Grace Church in Ocoee. The eight female residents of the Total Freedom Program community sat on one side of the church, and the 20 male residents sat on the other. About 15 outsiders joined them. Lyons listened to a sermon on obedience to God. Mom told her later that God had put the message in the preacher’s heart to address Lyons’ rebelliousness.

On Friday nights the group held services in the sanctuary of the Ocoee Oaks Church.

During the daily indoctrination Lyons sat in the war room from 8:30 to noon listening to recordings and taking notes. She went back after lunch to sit there from 1 to 4. During the rest of the day she was confined to her house.

“I was trying to do some [physical] exercise,” Lyons said. “They’re like, ‘You can’t do that. You have to put God first. If you get done with God, then you can exercise.’ ”

She repeated to me the core of the pastor’s message: “You came here thinking you had a problem with drugs and alcohol, but this is a Holy Spirit stickup and this is Holy Spirit boot camp. You’re going to find the Holy Spirit. You’re going to find your hope and your faith. You’re going to find God. You’re going to find that which you didn’t have. You’re going to be disciples of God.”

“The constant theme is a chain of command, of authority, God being the ultimate authority,” Lyons said, “and that he [God] assigned people to you to watch over you, your spiritual father.”

“It’s very much like boot camp in the Army,” she said. “Pastor Guy used to be in the [Navy]. He also used to be a big drug lord. Then he got saved, supposedly. So now he has this ministry on the cul-de-sac. A lot of the programming is to get you thinking there’s obedience and there’s rebellion—[and rebellion] is what caused your problems in the first place. They get you hooked into a different way of thinking that your problem is demons.”

“They made me get a food stamp card,” she said, handing me a copy of her application for food stamps. “Then when I got my food stamp card it went to the house mom. The house mom who bought the groceries used all of our food stamp cards.”

By the end of the three months Lyons was broken and obedient. She was permitted to look for an outside job. She wanted nothing to do with those who had been her friends before she went to Florida. She believed they were heathens and conduits of demons into her life.

She was assigned to work in the group’s office promoting ministry events. She called merchants and asked them to donate items or services for silent auctions. She worked in the office for two months. She then took a job at a Dillard’s Department store. She would work there for more than two years. The ministry took rent, her tithe—10 percent of her income—and utility costs from her pay. She also had to pay the ministry $5 a day to be driven to Dillard’s, four miles away. “They [were] nickel-and-diming me to death,” Lyons said.

Lyons said that those who did not work at outside jobs worked for the ministry as “slave labor” and never could save “enough money to leave.”

During her time in Total Freedom Program she saw herself as a part of the ministry. She dutifully confessed all urges, defined as sins, to her prayer group. She was given greater responsibilities within the ministry, including being a house mom. She was filled with self-loathing for “everything that was natural in me.”

“Anything that comes before God is an idol,” she said. “Exercise, my whole past experience, friends. I started to feel like I had this Job experience, this lose-everything experience.”

Lyons had been turned. She was terrified of demons, which other church members said they could see around her in the form of lizards. She fervently recited the litany of required prayers. She dutifully attended the meetings and services. She imposed the rules on others. At night, during her required “Bedtime Warfare Prayer,”she would repeat to herself:

Father, I come to you in the name of Jesus and repent every thought, spoken word, deed, that was displeasing to You and any uncompleted vow that I committed to.

I break every curse that was placed on me either self-imposed or put by any demonic source and anything spoken over me that was not from You.

I curse every corruptible seed that was implanted in me and I command them to wither and die and I loose myself from every spirit associated with those seeds. Allow your righteous seeds to grow and bear fruit for Your glory.

I apply the blood of Jesus over my house upon the roof, walls and floors, upon all members, possessions, automobiles, and my spirit, soul body and dreams in Jesus Name.

I bind up any spirits of terror, fear, nightmares, or torment, every mind-binding, evil, foul, lying and unclean spirit that may try to come and torment me in any way tonight and I muzzle the voice of the stranger. Satan, you and any evil spirit in your kingdom that could be in or around our properties, I bind you and drive you out in the Name of Jesus. Any astral projections or soul travel spirits that could be in or around our property, I command you, in the Name of Jesus, to go back where you came from.

Father, please send Your warring angels to watch over me and to hold back the forces of Satan and his kingdom while I sleep. Send your ministering angels to come and minister to me as I sleep. Holy Spirit please come and flow though me, giving me dreams, visions, health, supernatural rest and let me wake up refreshed. I pray all this in Jesus name.

Patrice, a woman who had left the community, began to talk to Lyons outside the compound. She urged Lyons to get out of the group because it was “unhealthy.” Lyons during a visit from her sister managed to pack her belongings and flee the compound. The group, unable now to hold her, told her she could leave but would fail in the outside world.

After she moved out, Lyons’ job went sour because she failed to make sales quotas. She had few friends at work because her indoctrination had made her “a freak,” she said. She did not engage in what the ministry called “secular talk.”

She gravitated to Christian megachurches that she now calls “sub-cults.” The trauma, emotional abuse and manipulation Lyons suffered at the hands of Total Freedom Program were familiar to me because of the two years I spent investigating the Christian right for my book “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.” In the closed world of the Christian right, pastors, “disciplers” and “prayer partners” define all doubt, questioning or “backsliding” as a sin and the work of Satan. Submission to authority becomes the only proper way to serve God. Critical judgment is abolished. Religious clichés shut down independent thought. All other ways of living become a compact with the demonic. A persecution mentality is pounded into adherents, making them deeply distrustful of outsiders. It is an ideology of fear and abject obedience to authority. And all those who walk away are condemned and branded as apostates. Lyons’ story is the story of millions of Americans who live or have lived inside these hermetically sealed systems of “Christian” indoctrination.

Eventually, Lyons recovered enough of herself to leave Florida. Before she departed she packed documentation of her stay at the Iannello complex, hoping some reporter would tell her story as a warning to others. Through friends she contacted me.

When Lyons drove out of the Ocoee area last week—in her 1991 Honda Civic, with some 236,000 miles on it and duct tape holding up the dashboard—it was emotionally wrenching for her. She repeated over and over to herself in the car: “I’ve got to keep going, I’ve got to keep going. I gotta get out of here now. I gotta get out of here now.”

She continues to be haunted by the indoctrination. She is struggling to shake off a belief system that defined as evil her natural instincts, her thoughts, and her desires for personal happiness and independence. Her speech remains infected with the jargon of the ministry. She says her fight now is to become whole.

The experience with the program “sucker-punched me,” she said. “They took away my self-respect and my self-esteem. They eviscerated me. They took the life out of me. Any natural instinct I had was condemned. I’m doing better [now], but I maintain a certain numbness because of the damage. I never fought so hard, once I realized my predicament, to get myself back.”

Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, is a senior fellow at the Nation Institute. He writes a regular column for TruthDig every Monday. His latest book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

Emphasis Mine

see: http://www.alternet.org/belief/mind-raped-christian-right?akid=10718.123424.hd-b3u&rd=1&src=newsletter872561&t=7

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

Source: AlterNet

Author: Valerie Talico

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

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

Church Doctors and Fathers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Protestant Reformers

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

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

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

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

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

American Patriarchs (Puritan, Mormon, Baptist, Evangelical)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Say no more.

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

Emphasis Mine

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

Exodus “Ex-Gay” Ministry Closes Up Shop

Source: Religion Dispatches


“I long for the day when a gay or lesbian kid feels like the first place, the best place, to call or go for help is the church,” said Exodus leader Alan Chambers, in his opening remarks at the ex-gay ministry‘s 38th annual convention in Irvine, Calif., Wednesday night.

To the ears of most gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, that sounds like nails on a chalkboard.

Church has in fact been the very last place for LGBT people to seek help—a claim validated by the Pew Research Center who recentlyfound that nearly half of LGBT people claim no religion at all. Not a surprise considering that many LGBT folk spent a chunk of their childhood sitting through homophobic sermons and Sunday school lessons wondering if God really did hate and condemn them.

But, and most significantly, Chambers also delivered the dramatic news that Exodus would be shutting its doors. Earlier this year, in an appearance at the Gay Christian Network conference, Chambers admitted that “99.9%” of those in ex-gay ministries never change their sexual orientation.” A short time later Chambers swore that Exodus would no longer use “reparative therapy,” or the notion that you can “pray away the gay,” in their programs.

This week, Chambers issued an apology to the LGBT community, saying he never saw it as the “enemy.”

“I am sorry I didn’t stand up to people publicly ‘on my side’ who called you names like sodomite—or worse. I am sorry that I, knowing some of you so well, failed to share publicly that the gay and lesbian people I know were every bit as capable of being amazing parents as the straight people that I know. I am sorry that when I celebrated a person coming to Christ and surrendering their sexuality to Him, I callously celebrated the end of relationships that broke your heart. I am sorry I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine.

“More than anything, I am sorry that so many have interpreted this religiousrejection by Christians as God’s rejection.  I am profoundly sorry that many have walked away from their faith and that some have chosen to end their lives.

What has emerged to fill the void is a fledgling organization called “Reduce Fear,” that seeks to offer “safe, welcoming, and mutually transforming communities.” When LGBT people hear “safe” and “welcoming” and a new organization from Exodus, it’s natural to be suspicious. 

Julie Rodgers, a speaker for Exodus who has been with the ministry for ten years, since she was 17, says she understands that.

“Time will reveal as we begin this new venture,” she told Religion Dispatches. “Alan coming out with this apology and this move is already an enormous step. We’re saying that gay people matter and where we’ve caused them harm we’re going to own that and work to end that pain.”

When asked if a “safe and welcoming” place would include those who may come to the ministry and may still decide that God calls them to live fully as a gay or lesbian person, in relationship with someone of the same gender, Rodgers said, “We would walk with them toward Jesus and continue to listen together. Ultimately we believe it’s God’s job to convict and it’s our job to love.”

Indeed, LGBT people are used to the love that hopes they will one day agree that the ex-gay ministry is right and their desire to live into their sexuality is wrong. But, Rodgers is adamant that, though they readily admit they hold to a “traditional view of the Bible” on homosexuality, the new organization has no hidden agenda of “change.”

“We recognize our beliefs are not a trump card,” Rodgers explained. “We realize many, many churches hold a more liberal view on this issue and we believe it’s time for us to come to the table and value one another in the midst of our differing beliefs.”

Rodgers also noted that the new organization would probably not seek to change other ex-gay ministries that continue to use “reparative therapy” or other harmful “treatments” on LGBT people.

“We’re not interested in fighting anymore,” Rodgers said. We want to work on suicide prevention and anti-bullying causes. We’re more concerned with seeing human flourishing.”

It’s all very promising and conciliatory talk from an outfit that has done much harm to the LGBT community in the past. But if the new iteration of Exodus is truly committed to dialogue—which invites both sides to be open to changing opinions and ideas—they will be a welcome partner in fostering understanding of LGBT people both inside the church and out.

However, my own suspicion as a theologian is aroused by the new Reduce Fear’s reliance on the Prodigal Son parable as the foundation for its mission. Chambers says Exodus has, in the past, been the older brother who resented the father’s extravagant welcome of his returning son with open arms and a feast instead of condemnation. Now, they seek to be the father, who runs to greet the wayward son as he returns.

I have two problems with this. First, it paints LGBT folk as “wayward” people who have squandered the gifts the father gave them—gifts we LGBT Christians see for what they are and in no way squander. Secondly, even though the son is welcomed back, no questions asked, it’s understood that he’s not going to go out and do it again. The message to LGBT people is clear:—you’re welcome and forgiven, but going back to that “lifestyle” is forbidden.

I hope my reservations are unfounded, because so much is at stake in this move. If time reveals this new organization to be nothing more than a shuffling of the Titanic’s deck chairs then it will only reinforce the LGBT belief that the church is the very last place they can turn to for support.

Emphasis Mine 

see: http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/sexandgender/7160/

Atheists Rejoice! Pope Francis Says You’re O.K.

Source: Salon

Author: Mary Elizabeth Williams

“It likely doesn’t matter much to the atheists of the world that — of all people — Pope Francis is on their side. But he is. And that’s a cool thing for all of us.

In a message delivered Wednesday via Vatican Radio, the new pontiff distinguished himself with a call for tolerance and a message of support – and even admiration – toward nonbelievers.

Naturally, a guy whose job it is to lead the world’s largest Christian faith is still going to come at his flock with a Jesus-centric message. But he’s taking it in an encouraging new direction. In his message, Francis dissed the apostles for being “a little intolerant” and said, “All of us have this commandment at heart: Do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not (a) Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can. He must. Not can: must.”

And the pope spoke of the need to meet each other somewhere on our on common ground. “This commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: We need that so much. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.” It was a deeper affirmation of his comments back in March, when he declared that the faithful and atheists can be “precious allies… to defend the dignity of man, in the building of a peaceful coexistence between peoples and in the careful protection of creation.”

That’s a message that’s vastly different from Catholicism’s traditional “We’re number one!” dogma. Six years ago, the Vatican reasserted the church’s stance that while there may be“elements of sanctification and truth” in other faiths, “that fullness of grace and of truth… has been entrusted to the Catholic Church.” In other words, close but no cigar, everybody else.

The pope was not, of course, addressing the non-believers of the world in his Wednesday sermon, or trying to win them over. Instead, he was telling his Catholics about the importance of cutting outsiders slack. And it’s a hugely important message for Christians to hear. It’s not about being right. It’s about being loving. And it’s a necessary concept, one that needs to be expressed again and again, in a world in which the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor  in Virginia is justifying his repulsive hate speech against gays and lesbians because “I’m a Christian, not because I hate anybody, but because I have religious values that matter to me.” Coming within a week when atheists have been stepping into the spotlighthere in America with their own messages of live-and-let-live tolerance, it’s downright refreshing to get a similar message from the biggest Christian in the world.

There are plenty of atheists out there who will no doubt take the pope’s message with a grain of salt or even flat-out disdain. The last thing somebody who doesn’t believe in heaven could possibly need is some guy in a funny hat telling them that they’re okay in God’s eyes anyway. But maybe, whatever we believe or don’t believe, we can consider that the man is on to something when he speaks about “the culture of encounter.”

Francis notes that the apostles were “closed off by the idea of possessing the truth,” an arrogant certainty that no one group currently has a monopoly on. Where we find each other is in practicing tolerance for our differences, and in finding the commonality of our values. “Doing good,” Francis says, “is not a matter of faith.”

It’s not that faith, for the faithful, doesn’t matter. It’s that belonging to a church isn’t what saves us. It’s belonging to each other.”

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of “Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream.” Follow her on Twitter@embeedub.

Emphasis Mine

See: http://www.alternet.org/atheists-rejoice-pope-francis-says-youre-ok?akid=10473.123424.jYYz0V&rd=1&src=newsletter844873&t=3


My Big Virginity Mistake

Source:Salon, via Alternet

Author: Jessica Ciencin Henriquez

“I was 14 years old when I married Jesus. Not Jesus, the Panamanian who worked at Six Flags. I mean Jesus Christ, the Lord. My parents sent me off to Baptist youth camp in Panama City Beach for the week, and I came home with a tan and a purity ring. I sat with my legs crossed, cramped in a theater with 200 sweaty, sobbing teens as our pastor described the unwavering bonds of sex and why it should only be experienced within the confines of marriage.

The lyrics echoed in the background as he shouted about STDs and unplanned pregnancy from the pulpit. Cause I am waiting for you, praying for you darling, wait for me too, wait for me as I wait for you. One by one we each placed a ring on our fourth finger and made vows to an apparently bi-curious Jesus who took teenage husbands and wives by the dozen that night.

I didn’t buy into a word of it. Jesus as my husband: Were they kidding? But that ring! Silver and engraved with entwined hearts – everyone I knew was wearing one and I’d finally been given the opportunity to get my hands on it. And it wasn’t just the ring. This was a movement with T-shirts and hats and the added bonus of superiority over kids in school who couldn’t keep their clothes on, those sinners. After an intense and very detailed sex talk with my mother , where she stuttered and I blushed and we both used the word “flower,” I was terrified of sex. That and the slide show in sex ed didn’t help one bit. So I scribbled Jesus + Jess on my Bible cover, and I casually mentioned my virginity in daily conversations. I committed to the idea hoping it would ensure a successful marriage. Instead, it led to my divorce.

I don’t know many people these days who married still a virgin. But going to high school in the furniture capital of North Carolina, it didn’t seem so strange that I wore an engagement ring at the age of 19. People admired my decision to marry my college sweetheart and were enthusiastic about my goal of waiting until marriage to have sex. (He actually wasn’t a virgin, but he was willing to wait for me.) Over time, I’d watched my brothers and sisters in Christ lose sight of their celibacy around the time they felt the pull of raging hormones combined with slots of unsupervised co-ed time. But I pressed on in stubbornness until finally, the time had come to replace Jesus as my other half. Twenty may sound early to get married, but tell that to the girl who had her knees locked since puberty and the boy who spent years trying to convince her that just the tip didn’t count.

The morning of my wedding day, I threw up. Everyone assumed that I was nervous about having sex. I wasn’t. But it dawned on me how much we hadn’t learned yet about one another. We had known each other for three years by this point, but there was so much unexplored territory. So what was I supposed to do when my “aha moment” came as a dress was heaved over my head by seven bridesmaids? Plus, my mother had mentioned no less than 400 times, this wedding was costing them a fortune; I was getting married, there was no way out.

“I’ll give you a five-minute head start if you want to run,” my dad said with a half-smile as we walked up the aisle. I held onto his arm tighter, afraid my legs might just take him up on that offer.

When I look back on my wedding day, I remember a passionate kiss at the altar. But after rewatching video footage, I see it was little more than a peck on the corner of my mouth and a long hug. Two years of halting wandering hands as they grazed under blue jeans, and the second we have the permission from God, we hug. These are what red flags look like; my rearview mirror is lined with them.

Our wedding reception was filled with underage drinking and boys wearing their father’s suits. I danced to Top 40 with my friends; he got drunk in a corner with his. We met at the entrance of the country club just before midnight to be sent off through a sea of bubbles, to consummate our marriage. There is nothing that can kill a mood faster than my Colombian grandfather knowingly winking at the man I was about to sleep with. Except for maybe the dashboard covered in condoms, a send-off gift from my new husband’s grooms boys.

He carried me through the door of the hotel room and immediately placed me down in a chair. If my 120-pound body wasn’t too heavy, the 30-pound dress covering it was. Rose petals were scattered on the bed surrounded by a dozen lit candles. I had never been more romanced and less interested in having sex. Was I tired? Was I hungry? Shouldn’t we have been pouncing on each other? I slowly changed into an ivory silk nightgown. When I came back into the bedroom, he was lying down, half undressed, completely hopeful.

“Are you not exhausted?” I yawned into a pillow. “Is having sex tomorrow an option?” I asked, only half-kidding.

“Really? You only get one wedding night, Jess.” Even then, I doubted that would be true.

As he began to kiss me, my mind shut off. I felt his movements and I heard heavy breathing but I thought nothing, it was as if it was something that was happening next to me, or to someone else entirely. It didn’t hurt, I remember that much. Three minutes later when he finished he appeared pleased with himself and I was glad that it was out of the way. I smiled and asked if we could get something to eat. My wedding day began with my face leaning over a toilet and ended in a Waffle House.

Then, as if Jesus were punishing me for moving on, I got a urinary tract infection on the second day of our honeymoon. I sighed in relief when the doctor told me that I should not engage in any sexual activity until I had finished the antibiotics. Seven days later, my wifely duties resumed and almost every time our clothes came off, my mind seemed to check out. I soon noticed that during those few-minute intervals of sex, my mind was focusing on something else, anything else.

“Do you like that?” he would ask after light repetitive movements.

“Yep,” I answered. Lettuce, milk, paper towels 

“Are you close?” he was anxious to know.

“Uh-huh,” I lied. Buy stamps, get my oil changed, send thank-you cards …

This was not lovemaking. There was no bond, no sanctity – this was not the amazing sex I was promised from the pulpit. This was disappointment three to four times a week.

Not long into our marriage, my mother coyly asked how it was going. I joked that there were some women who needed it and some who prioritized it underneath quilting. But I accepted sex as part of the gig and though it was regular, it was regularly awful for me. It wasn’t all his fault. I admit that I was not a willing student but he was no teacher, either. Our bodies wanted different things from one another, so what we ended up with was a horizontal battle. I would hear married girlfriends talk about the joys of make-up sex and continue to sip my coffee in silence. We would fight, and then have bad sex and then fight some more. Every flaw in our marriage and in him seemed much more miserable when combined with the possibility of faking orgasms until death did we part. There was no relief.

Before we got married, I used to love kissing him. We would spend hours attached at the mouth because aside from occasional drunken foreplay, it was all we had. In our marriage, we stopped kissing because who needs kissing when sex is on the table? Me, I did. I needed assurance that some physical aspect of our relationship was working. And when I didn’t get that assurance I pinned it on myself. Maybe I was just that woman you hear about, who doesn’t particularly care for sex. She just slowly dries up until she dies alone. For months I believed that might be me and rather than try something different, he began to believe it too.

Six months into our marriage, the idea of separating seemed more appealing than feigning headaches for the rest of my life.

Had we had sex before our relationship transitioned into a contract, I would have known that there was no passion, no spark, nothing happening between our bodies. I would never have agreed to marry him because sex is a significant part of a relationship and therefore a significant part of our relationship was failing. With the failure of our sex life, I felt like less of a woman, no longer a sexual creature but more of a plant. Sitting there, day in, day out, wilting while I waited for someone to take care of me.

Without having sex before marriage, I blindly walked up an aisle and committed myself to a man who didn’t know me and gave my long-held virginity to someone with whom I had no more chemistry than a second cousin.

Soon after our divorce, he got remarried to someone who suits him better than I ever could have. And years later, I can confirm that I am not that woman who has no interest in sex. I don’t quilt. I haven’t compiled a grocery list in bed in years, and I now know that sex can be amazing … with a bartender who only knows your first name, a pilot you meet on vacation in Costa Rica and yes, with the right guy – sex in a marriage can be beautiful. The key is to figure that out before you find yourself walking down an aisle in a dress that costs more than the family car (my mother has since reminded me). It isn’t the most important thing when it comes to love. But for me, I learned that sex is important enough not to wait.

Emphasis Mine

see: http://www.alternet.org/sex-amp-relationships/my-big-virginity-mistake?akid=10410.123424.qa17XW&rd=1&src=newsletter836553&t=6&paging=off