Tag: United States

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

Source: AlterNet

Author: CJ Werleman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emphasis Mine

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

 

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Why the Christian Right Is Obsessed With the Collapse of Civilization

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

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

Author: Amanda Marcotte

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emphasis Mine

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

5 Christian Right Delusions and Lies About History

Source: AlterNet

Author: Amanda Marcotte

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emphasis Mine

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

 

Why Conservatives Are More Terrified of Sex Than Violence

Source:  Guardian, via Alternet

Author: Sarah Jane Stratford

“If you bothered to listen to the Parents Television Council, you would think that New York‘s tiny IFC Center was evil incarnate when the theatre decided not to enforce the NC-17 rating for the film Blue Is the Warmest Color. The Parents Television Council called the move “shocking” and fretted that this meant “minor children” would be allowed to view graphic sex scenes (because they’ll no doubt be camping on the street to see a three-hour French drama). Though its “stern warning” was not widely reported, it may very well have contributed to the film’s strong box office results thus far.

Everyone is entitled to their beliefs, but here’s where the fury of the Parents Television Council breaks down: these conservatives are so obsessed with sex, but seemingly care far less about violence.

While the Council was wailing about the possibility of a teenager seeing a lesbian film, agunman opened fire at Los Angeles airport, resulting in one death and a number of injuries. That might have been a moment for the PTC, which ranks violence after sex in its list of evils it seeks to regulate on the airwaves, to deplore the shooting and, perhaps, note that there is some credence to the calls for stricter gun control laws (or, at least, less violence on screen and in video games). Real-world violence, however, tends to have little resonance with cultural scolds. It is certainly not worth mentioning when there is cinematic sex to condemn.

The fact that Blue Is the Warmest Color is even rated NC-17 in the first place makes it yet another entry in the discussion, most recently illuminated by Kirby Dick in his documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated, about the hypocrisy and arbitrariness of film ratings, particularly where sex is concerned.

Sex, female nudity, female enjoyment of sex, and especially female enjoyment of lesbian sex, tend to draw the strictest ratings. Violence, however, is given much more of a pass. Even gory violence will be rated R, whereas a women’s sexual pleasure is NC-17.

What’s so scary about sex and the female body? And why is it so much scarier than violence – including violence committed upon the female body?

Concerns regarding sex over violence are nothing new in western society. Sex was, of course, right up there with forbidden fruit. Perceived as instigated by a woman, it then cast women in later religious thought as particularly carnal, a danger that could invite the devil into society. In the Speculum Maius, an encyclopedia used during the Middle Ages, friar Vincent de Beauvais wrote of women’s frivolity, with their “monstrous headdresses” and particularly of the “lascivious and carnal provocation” of their clothing. Women were the “devil’s decoy”, capable of preventing men from achieving holiness.

One of the most famous sexual women in the Middle Ages is Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, who laments “Alas, alas, that ever love was sin”. While she is considered an example of healthy sexuality, her tale begins with a violent rape and ends with the rapist escaping punishment to instead enjoy a sexually fulfilling marriage. We never hear what happens to the rape victim, who likely ends up cast out of society.

Violence was, in fact, justified when aimed at women if they were said to be disobedient. That is, if they asserted some form of independence. While the bulk of victims of the early modern witch burnings were likely women past child-bearing age and thus no longer considered sexual, they were also living alone, ungoverned by male dominance. The witch hunts hinted that women who lived outside the social order deserved violent treatment.

Women’s sexuality has been the target of male study, suspicion, and regulation throughout millennia. Aristotelian philosophy classed women more as property, not individuals, and the idea of their having agency was anathema to a healthy society.

Violence, on the other hand, is a male purview. Men conducted war, carried weapons, meted out punishment. Duels were sanctioned as a means of effecting justice. It’s a historical “boys will be boys” mentality, justified for its ends. Through violence, one can create empires. Sex just replaces those who were lost along the way.

Bad enough that women’s lustfulness could lean men astray. Far worse when that lustfulness is shared with another woman.

The first TV show to depict a serious and erotic lesbian relationship, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, used the specter of witchcraft as a conduit of their romantic connection. The censors cracked down on their relationship – whereas Buffy featured frightening, intense violence, and a fair bit of heterosexual sex, the network was quick to tell creator Joss Whedon that it didn’t want to see any kissing between the lesbians. Terrifying violence was solid entertainment, an expression of romantic love between two young women might damage the children.

If conservative American adults would stop focusing on sex for a moment, they might see that what is really damaging children in the US is an excess of gun violence. The obsession with depictions of cinematic sexuality is a smokescreen for a real discussion of how to protect the most innocent among us.

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.alternet.org/why-conservatives-are-more-terrified-sex-violence?akid=11109.123424.xI8bps&rd=1&src=newsletter919760&t=9

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

 

Is It Anti-Christian To Teach Yoga In Schools?

Source: Care2

Author: Judy Molland

Yoga is now taught as part of the P.E. program in public schools across the country, and at all levels from kindergarten to high school senior. There’s a good reason for that: yoga is an excellent way to ease stress in the busy lives of our students today, it’s open to kids of all athletic abilities, and it doesn’t require any special equipment.

That didn’t stop a family in a San Diego suburb from requesting that their local school district stop including yoga in physical education, arguing that it violated the First Amendment and separation of church and state.

Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock and their two children, who sued the Encinitas school district earlier this year, have lost their case.

On July 1, a judge ruled that a public school district can teach yoga, taking the side of school administrators who argued the practice is a secular way to promote strength, flexibility and balance, and that it does not amount to teaching children religion.

He agreed that yoga is a religious practice, but not the way that it is taught by the Encinitas Union School District at its nine campuses:

“Yoga as it has developed in the last 20 years is rooted in American culture, not Indian culture,” San Diego Superior Court Judge John Meyer said. “It is a distinctly American cultural phenomenon. A reasonable student would not objectively perceive that Encinitas school district yoga advances or promotes religion.”

Hooray for some sanity in this case!

In illustrating his point, Meyer explained that the school district has stripped classes of all cultural references, including the Sanskrit language. The lotus position has even been renamed the “crisscross applesauce” pose!

Superintendent Timothy Baird hailed the ruling, calling yoga “21st century P.E.” that yielded “amazing” health benefits. His district is believed to be the first in the country to have full-time yoga teachers at every one of its schools.

The lessons, funded by a $533,720, three-year grant from the non-profit K.P. Jois Foundation, are offered to the district’s 5,600 students, in addition to regular P.E.

Bizarrely, the lawyer for the Sedlocks, Dean Broyles, said the judge’s ruling was part of a broader bias against ChristianityAccording to Broyles: yoga “is religious and has religious aspects. There is a consistent anti-Christian bias in these cases, and a pro-Eastern or strange religion bias.”

A “strange religion” bias? Is he referring to the eight-limbed tree posters the Sedlocks said were derived from Hindu beliefs, the Namaste greeting and several of the yoga poses that they said represent the worship of Hindu deities?

First of all, I wonder if Mr. Broyles has ever actually taken a yoga class? Does he know what goes on there? Does he imagine the yoga instructor gets everyone into some weird position, makes them hold still and then indoctrinates them in “strange religion”?

Much more troubling in this mindset is the notion that Christianity is the only acceptable religion for the U.S., in spite of the facts that a plethora of other religions exist and that 16 percent of our citizens hold no religion at all. The wonderful multicultural and multi-ethnic mix is one of the main reasons many of us came to the U.S. as immigrants. Indeed, the San Diego region itself is a multi-ethnic area, embracing many religions.

On a practical level, if the Sheldons really believe that yoga is being used to subtly brainwash their kids, they can choose to opt out of the twice-weekly, 30-minute classes, as about 30 families have done.

Apparently Mr. Broyles is not convinced that this is the answer and is planning an appeal.

Meanwhile, the lucky Encinitas students can continue to enjoy their weekly 60 minutes of relaxation.

What do you think? Could it be that the Encinitas school district is trying to brainwash its students?

Read more: http://www.care2.com/causes/is-it-anti-christian-to-teach-yoga-in-schools.html#ixzz2YMjRgwvD

Emphasis Mine

See: http://www.care2.com/causes/is-it-anti-christian-to-teach-yoga-in-schools.html

 

Washington Post-ABC poll shows support for Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage

Source: Washington Post

Author: Robert Barnes and Scott Clement

Most Americans think the Supreme Court got it right last week in decisions that bolstered same-sex marriage, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The court in a 5 to 4 ruling struck down a key component of the the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which withheld federal recognition and benefits from same-sex couples who are married in states where it is legal. The poll found that 56 percent approve of the ruling “providing legally married same-sex couples with the same federal benefits given to other married couples,” while 41 percent disapprove.

By a smaller margin, 51 percent to 45 percent, Americans say they approve of the court’s action on a case involving same-sex marriage in California. The court did not rule directly on California’s Proposition 8, which defined marriage in the state to be between one man and one woman. The justices said proponents of Prop 8 did not have legal standing to challenge a lower court’s decision that it was unconstitutional.Gay marriages in the most populous state resumed last week.

Those results are similar to other surveys conducted since the court’s historic term ended Wednesday.

The Post-ABC poll showed a narrow majority disapproving of the court’s decision on the Voting Rights Act, however. The court struck a key section of the law that singled out some states, mostly in the South, for federal oversight, requiring approval from Washington before any election law changes may go into effect.

Asked if they approved or disapproved on the court’s decision “striking down a key part of the federal law overseeing voting rights for minorities,” only 33 approved, while 51 percent answered negatively.

poll by the Pew Research Center found different results, with slightly more people approving of the ruling than disapproving. More than four in 10 offered no opinion on the question, which did not specify whether the court upheld the law or not.

Those results underscore that public perception of the Supreme Court’s work is often based on its most noteworthy decision, and this term the issue that broke through was same-sex marriage.

According to the Pew survey, two-thirds of Americans knew that the court’s rulings favored those who supported same-sex marriage. There was far less awareness of the voting rights decision.

In the Post-ABC poll, the gay marriage decisions drew strikingly different partisan reactions, while the decision on voting rights showed a deep racial disparity.

On the question about DOMA, support for the court’s decision is defined heavily by ideology, partisanship and age. The poll showed that 79 percent of self-described liberals and 68 percent of Democrats approve of the decision, while 62 percent of Republicans and 61 percent of conservatives are opposed. More than six in 10 independents and moderates approve of the decision.

The age difference was also pronounced: two-thirds of 18-29 year-olds approve, while 56 percent of those over 65 take the opposite view.

The decision was supported in every region of the country except the South, where people were pretty evenly split.

More than two-thirds of Americans feel intensely about California gay marriage case, and equal portions are strongly supportive of the same-sex marriage decision and strongly opposed.

Among those who had an opinion about the voting rights decision — a sizable 15 percent said they did not — less than half of any racial or partisan group approved. More than seven in 10 African Americans said they disapproved of the decision, compared to less than half of whites.

The telephone poll was conducted June 26 through June 30 among a random national sample of 1,005 adults. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Clement is a survey research analyst with Capital Insight, the independent polling group of Washington Post Media. Capital Insight pollsters Jon Cohen and Peyton M. Craigill contributed to this report.

Emphasis Mine

See: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/washington-post-abc-poll-shows-support-for-supreme-court-rulings-on-gay-marriage/2013/07/03/bf4a27c2-e353-11e2-a11e-c2ea876a8f30_story.html?wpisrc=nl_pmpol

 

7 Jaw-Droppingly Dumb Things Republicans Think About Science

Source: AlterNet

Author:Evan McMurray

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Everything They Say About Rape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. No Dead Fetuses In Your Soft Drinks

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

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

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

6. Evolution Is (Still) Out To Get Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emphasis Mine

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

 

Evangelical Groups Claim IRS Practicing ‘Viewpoint Discrimination’

Source: National Memo

Author: Sarah Posner

“Even before the ink was dry on the Treasury Department Inspector General’s report on the IRS, Franklin Graham, son of evangelical icon Billy Graham, wrote a letter to President Obama, demanding that the president “take some immediate action to reassure Americans we are not in a new chapter of America’s history—repressive government rule.”

Graham contended he was in possession of proof of this dire scenario: Last year, he says, the IRS conducted an audit of two tax-exempt organizations he runs, Samaritan’s Purse and The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. To Graham, this is no coincidence. “[P]rofiling by the IRS,” he lectured the president, “was not limited to conservative organizations; indeed, it extended to religious charities—Jewish and Christian—as well.”

Since Graham’s letter hit the pages of Politico on Tuesday, a number of religious right organizations and individuals have claimed that the IRS targeted them for audits, held up their tax-exempt applications, or subjected them to intrusive questioning, all of which they claim amounts to orchestrated anti-Christian bias.

In Graham’s case, though, the IRS was doing exactly what it is supposed to do. His ministries, both 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations, are barred from attempting to influence the outcome of elections, the precise activity for which Graham admits the agency audited them.

Graham’s situation is “quite a different kettle of fish” than the IRS review of the Tea Party 501(c)(4) applications, said Rob Boston, Senior Policy Analyst at Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Unlike 501(c)(4) organizations, which are allowed to devote less than 50% of their activities to influencing political campaigns, there is an absolute ban on electoral campaign activity by 501(c)(3) organizations.

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, for example, has advised its followers to support only “candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel.” That, along with the elder Graham’s promise to Mitt Romney to “do all I can to help you,” were attempts to influence the outcome of the election, said Boston.

Boston said he was actually “surprised” to read Graham’s claim that the IRS had audited his ministries “because we have reported a number of houses of worship for clearer cases of politicking,” with no apparent action by the IRS.

If a 501(c)(3) organization engages in politicking, said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President for Policy and Program at People for the American Way, “it is incumbent upon the IRS to do these investigations.” It has to “ask these questions,” but it “can’t single out a particular group because of their political views, ideology, or religious beliefs.” Any audit of the Graham group alone “doesn’t prove anything” about IRS bias against conservative groups, said Baker.

Observers on both sides of church-state separation issues say such investigations stalled after a 2009 federal court ruling ordering the agency to promulgate regulations under a statute that requires audits of churches be authorized by an “appropriate high-level Treasury official.” The IRS reportedly suspended all church audits until the adoption of rules to comply with the court ruling.

Opponents of the rule against church electioneering hope to provoke the IRS into conducting audits in order to generate a case to mount a Constitutional challenge to the rule.

Greg Scott, Senior Director of Media Relations at the Alliance Defending Freedom, the religious-right group that organizes Pulpit Freedom Sunday, during which pastors flaunt the rule in their pulpits, said that one church, Warroad Community Church in Warroad, Minnesota, “was investigated briefly, but [the] file was closed due to what the IRS called a ‘procedural issue.’”

“Otherwise,” Scott said, “crickets.”

That would suggest that, contrary to claims that the IRS is “targeting” Christian groups, it has been hamstrung from investigating cases due to a bureaucratic failure to promulgate a rule required by the court ruling.

Graham, said Boston, seems to be “deliberately trying to confuse the issue to get play in the media.”

A number of religious-right organizations have jumped on the Graham bandwagon, claiming anti-Christian repression. James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family who, after his retirement, launched a new radio program, maintains that the IRS asked inappropriate questions of his Family Talk Action as it applied for 501(c)(4) status. In a statement, Dobson claimed that an IRS employee told his lawyer she didn’t think the exemption would be granted because the group is “not educational”; it presented only one view, sounded like a “partisan right-wing group,” and was “political” because it “criticized President Obama, who was a candidate.” Dobson claims this is “viewpoint discrimination.”

Dobson, whose organization was eventually granted (c)(4) status, complained, “The American people deserve better treatment from its government than this. Christian ministries and others supporting the family must not be silenced or intimidated by the IRS or other branches of the government.”

Richard Schmalbeck, professor of law at Duke University and an expert on tax-exempt organizations, said that while “it is always dangerous to reach firm conclusions as to ultimate outcomes based on only partial statements of fact received from only one party to a dispute,” the Dobson situation appeared to be a result of bureaucratic confusion. The questions Dobson’s organization received might have been “irrelevant” to a 501(c)(4) determination, but relevant to a 501(c)(3) inquiry. Perhaps, Schmalbeck said, “the agent mistakenly thought that was the case, or mistakenly applied (c)(3) tests to a (c)(4) application.”

Mat Staver, dean of Liberty University School of Law and chairman of the religious-right legal firm Liberty Counsel, also claimed the IRS “targeted” his group, the Freedom Federation. He said that in the (c)(4) application process, the IRS asked the Freedom Federation to provide copies of original content it publishes on its website; to describe its meetings and provide copies of materials distributed at them; and to provide copies of all materials distributed at an event, “including but not limited to event agendas and itineraries, promotional materials, newsletters, educational materials, flyers, and other materials.”

“What business does the IRS have asking these questions?” Staver demanded, adding, “An investigation of the IRS is necessary to stop this agency from pushing a political agenda.”

But Schmalbeck said these questions appeared designed to determine whether the organization’s activities were “primarily aimed at influencing the outcome of elections,” and therefore appeared to be appropriate.

Other religious-right organizations and individuals are offering stories that are mysteriously undetailed. Glenn Beck’s website The Blaze reported that Anne Hendershott, a conservative Catholic professor, was audited by the IRS, and asserted it was because she had been critical of left-leaning Catholic groups and of President Obama. The anti-gay National Organization for Marriage claims the fact that the pro-LGBT Human Rights Campaign obtained a copy of its confidential tax returns “suggests that problems at the IRS are potentially far more serious than even these latest revelations reveal,” and hinted the Obama re-election campaign had played a role. Pharmacists for Life Internationalsays two of its officers and board members were “harassed” by the IRS—but would not identify the employees or the specific nature of the alleged harassment.

Anti-choice groups are also making claims of harassment—some of which were echoed by Republican lawmakers in the House Ways and Means Committee hearing Friday.

Christian Voices for Life, an anti-choice group whose application for 501(c)(3) status was eventually approvedclaimsthe “IRS has sought to know whether the group does ‘education on both sides of the issues,’” and “whether members of the group “try to block people to [sic] enter a … medical clinic.”

Rep. Aaron Schock, an Illinois Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, entered a 150-page exhibit from Christian Voices for Life’s legal counsel, the Thomas More Society, about its and two other Thomas More clients’ treatment by the IRS. Schock maintained the documents showed “horrible instances of IRS abuse of power, political and religious bias, and repression of their Constitutional rights.”

After the hearing, the Thomas More Society issued a statement, “Congress Receives Irrefutable Evidence of IRS Harassment of Pro-Life Organizations.”

With regard to Christian Voices for Life, Schmalbeck said that if the group had applied for tax-exempt status as an educational organization, the agent’s queries about balanced views would have been appropriate, but not if it had applied as a religious organization. One of the letters sent by its lawyers to the IRS maintained the group’s focus “is on educational activities designed to promote respect for life.”

The questions about the activity outside clinics, however, appear to be aimed at a legitimate concern. “[O]rganizations that practice civil disobedience are denied exempt status,” said Schmalbeck. IRS questions about blocking access to clinics, then, were probably “aimed at making that determination, and that would be appropriate,” he said.

The current uproar over the Tea Party 501(c)(4) applications appears to feed a previously existing grievance among conservatives that the IRS is biased against them. When Christian Voices for Life obtained its tax-exempt status in 2011, the Thomas More Society’s executive director, Peter Breen, claimed, “This is not the first time that Internal Revenue Service personnel have attempted to place unconstitutional restrictions on pro-life organizations.”

This area of the law, said Schmalbeck, “is quite complicated, and even IRS agents can make mistakes that do not necessarily reflect political animus.  Still, it would be nice if they were well enough trained that they got these questions right in almost all cases.”

Emphasis Mine

see: http://www.nationalmemo.com/evangelical-groups-claim-irs-practicing-viewpoint-discrimination/

You Wouldn’t Believe How Fast Americans Are Losing Their Religion — But the Fundamentalists Have a Plan

Source:AlterNet

Author:Adam Lee

“Sometime last year, the US quietly passed a milestone demographers had long been predicting: for the first time in its history, this country is no longer majority Protestant [3]. Fewer than 50 percent of Americans now identify as Protestant Christians of any denomination.

This change has come on surprisingly recently, and from a historical perspective, with breathtaking speed. As recently as 1993, almost two-thirds of Americans identified as Protestants [4], a number that had remained stable for the several preceding decades. But sometime in the 1990s, the ground started to shift, and it’s been sliding ever since. Whether it’s the “mainline” Protestant denominations like Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans or Presbyterians, or the independent evangelical, charismatic and fundamentalist sects, the decline is happening across the board. The rise of so-called megachurches [5], like Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in California or Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill in Seattle, represents not growth, but consolidation.

What’s happening to these vanishing Protestants? For the most part, they’re not converting to any other religion, but rather are walking away from religion entirely. They’re becoming “nones [6],” as the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life puts it. It seems likely that this is the same secularizing trend being observed in Europe, as people of advanced, peaceful democracies find religion increasingly irrelevant to their daily lives.

The spokespeople of the religious right have noticed this trend as well, but it’s clear they have very little idea what to do about it. In a column from 2005 [7], Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, declared that “theological liberalism” is at fault for Christianity’s decline, and that the only thing they need to do to reverse it is to make “a bold commitment to biblical authority.” Far from it, the evidence is clear that churches clinging to antiquated dogma are part of the problem, as young people turn away from their strident decrees [8] about gays and women.

But the footsoldiers of fundamentalism haven’t been entirely idle these past few decades. As their power declines in America and Europe, they’re increasingly moving abroad, to developing countries not as far along the secularization curve, where they often find a more receptive audience.

The first example is Uganda, where the most despicable kind of American culture warriors have run amok with horrifying results. Since 2009, the country’s parliament has been debating an “Anti-Homosexuality Bill,” which among other things would establish a crime of “aggravated homosexuality,” punishable by life imprisonment or death.

What’s less well known is that three American evangelical preachers, Scott Lively, Caleb Lee Brundidge and Don Schmierer, visited the country a month before the bill was introduced [9], giving talks about how “the gay movement is an evil institution” which seeks to prey on children, destroy “the moral fiber of the people,” and abolish marriage and the family and replace it with “a culture of sexual promiscuity.” Lively boasted that their campaign was “a nuclear bomb against the gay agenda in Uganda,” and later admitted to meeting with Ugandan lawmakers to help draft the bill, although he professed ignorance of the death penalty provision. Other American evangelicals, including Kevin Swanson [10] and Lou Engle [11], have also expressed their support for the so-called Kill the Gays bill.

It’s not just LGBT people in Uganda who’ve been harmed by the spread of aggressive evangelicalism. American megachurch pastor Rick Warren has a Ugandan protege, a pastor named Martin Ssempa, who has preached aggressively against contraception (in one bizarre public stunt, he burned condoms in the name of Jesus). Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni had formerly been a staunch advocate of the so-called ABC program [12] (consisting of abstinence, monogamy and condom use) which successfully reduced HIV infection rates in Uganda; but thanks in part to Ssempa’s influence and access, the government was persuaded to stop free condom distribution, and as a result, new HIV infections spiked again [13]. (Ssempa, too, has called for the imprisonment of gay people. President Museveni also has ties to the Washington, D.C.-based fundamentalist group “the Family [14],” which has called him their “key man [15]” in Africa.)

American evangelicals have spread their poisonous influence to other African countries as well. A report by Political Research Associates, “Globalizing the Culture Wars [16],” chronicles in detail how American religious-right groups, especially the theologically conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy, have worked together with their counterparts in Africa to foment homophobia and oppose feminism and gender equality. Uganda, Nigeria and Kenya, three major English-speaking African nations, have seen the brunt of this effort. As the report says:

In Africa, IRD and other U.S. conservatives present mainline denominations’ commitments to human rights as imperialistic attempts to manipulate Africans into accepting homosexuality — which they characterize as a purely western phenomenon… As a direct result of this campaign, homophobia is on the rise in Africa — from increased incidents of violence to antigay legislation that carries the death penalty.

In part, religious conservatives are doing this as a power play against religious liberals in their own countries. Most of the mainline Protestant churches in America and Europe, particularly the Episcopal, Methodist and Presbyterian denominations, have rival left-wing and right-wing branches, and the conservatives want to enlist the African branch of those churches to help them oppose and undercut liberal efforts for social justice. (Conservative Anglicans in America want African Anglicans to help them defeat liberal Anglican proposals to let gay people serve as clergy.) But it’s the African people who bear the collateral damage of this cultural proxy war.

Africa isn’t the only place the American religious right is trying to exert influence. Pat Robertson’s legal group, American Center for Law and Justice, has branches in Russia, France, Pakistan, Israel and elsewhere, and recently opened a branch office in Brazil [17]. If its American counterpart is any clue, the BCLJ will devote its time mainly to fighting against the expansion of rights for gay and lesbian people and advocating laws that give Christianity special privileges. With a booming evangelical population and its rapidly increasing economic and cultural power [18], Brazil is a natural place for the religious right to take root, if secular humanists and progressives aren’t ready to counter them.

And when they seize the reins of government here in the U.S., religious conservatives haven’t hesitated to spread their views through hard power as well as soft. The most consequential example is the Mexico City policy [19], also known as the global gag rule. This rule, which was first enacted by Ronald Reagan and since then has been repeatedly reinstated by Republican presidents and canceled by Democratic presidents, states that any group which takes money from American aid agencies can’t perform abortions, refer women to other groups that provide them, or even lobby for more permissive abortion laws in whatever countries it operates in.

Since the U.S. has always been one of the largest supporters of international family-planning efforts, through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), this puts recipients in an unenviable dilemma: to accept American money, they’d have to turn away women in desperate need of abortion, but if they turned the money down, they’d lose the capacity to serve many more women who need contraception, STD treatment, vaccination, and prenatal care. As Michelle Goldberg writes in her book The Means of Reproduction, the global gag rule has forced the closure of family-planning clinics in Kenya, Ethiopia and elsewhere, depriving women of access to basic health services like Pap smears.

The point of all this is that stopping the religious right is a global issue. [20] The harm they do in America isn’t trivial, but they do far greater harm in developing countries where constitutional protections aren’t as strong, and where American money exerts an outsized influence. If we can’t stop them here, there are people all over the world who will suffer much worse repercussions.

The more optimistic way of viewing this is that, when we defeat them at home, we weaken them abroad as well. When they lose elections in the U.S., they can’t control foreign aid money to restrict women’s right to choose. When we expose them as bullying, homophobic bigots, when we chip away at their following, we deny them the flow of donations they use to spread prejudice in developing nations. For better or worse, what happens in America resonates throughout the world. That’s why standing against the religious right is a moral imperative: not just for the sake of people in the First World, but for the sake of people everywhere in the world.”

Emphasis Mine

see: http://www.alternet.org/belief/you-wouldnt-believe-how-fast-americans-are-losing-their-religion-fundamentalists-have-plan?akid=10194.123424.de0x8G&rd=1&src=newsletter810752&t=3&paging=off