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No Cherry Picking!

Relevant to Kim Davis’s situation.

No cherry picking!

Miracle Babies

Another currently relevant comic by The Atheist Pig

The Atheist Pig - Miracle Babies

(click the image to see it full-size at TheAtheistPig.com)

Try again…

I would wager that this is the real reason most people who oppose gay marriage actually oppose it.

The Atheist Pig

More on the Christian sense of entitlement

This morning, I read an article written by Reverend Michael Bresciani titled “National Day of Prayer out says federal judge — America’s identity eroding.” It’s generally more of the ignorance commonly displayed by the religious right when claiming the United States is a “Christian Nation,” though Bresciani does claim that label is inaccurate. He does, however, display much ignorance over the issue in general.

Let me show what he got right, first, though. Regarding the ruling declaring the national day of prayer unconstitutional, Rev. Bresciani says…

With mid-term elections looming only months from now any decision to drop the day would surely add to the growing dissatisfaction with the Obama administration. The move to restrain himself is seen as politically motivated by most and, it is not consistent with his previous stand on Christianity. [sic]

I couldn’t agree more… except for the last bit because I’m not sure what Bresciani is referring to when he talks about Obama’s “previous stand on Christianity.” However, any decision that continues the day of prayer will most definitely be political. The outrage from Christians over their false sense of “persecution” would probably be overwhelming. Obama knows that, and even though the federal judge who ruled the day of prayer unconstitutional did so lucidly, logically, and correctly, the sense of entitlement that many Christians feel because of their religion will most likely compel him to still issue the “Day of Prayer” proclamation. The point that Bresciani makes about it being political is true. It certainly isn’t Constitutional.

Here’s another point of agreement I have with Bresciani… taken slightly out of context because the surrounding text contains points of disagreement.

[…] President Obama’s administration started off in the same vein with his now famous proclamation that America is “not a Christian nation” Of course we are not a “Christian” nation because there is no such thing.

Christianity is something each individual must decide upon for themselves. […]

In fact whenever any religion becomes the “national religion” it ceases to be spiritual and can only become tyrannical. If by not ascribing to the national religion you become a law breaker what would most people do?

Aside from leaving out the key “at least not just” phrase of the “no longer a Christian nation” quote, Bresciani seems to agree that we are not a Christian nation… because Christianity is something personal. I’m not sure he’ll get all that much agreement from many on the religious right, but I’m with him when he says that we’re not a Christian nation… and that Christianity (and religion in general) is an individual decision. His point about a national religion ceasing to be spiritual is another point of agreement, though I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. That it can only become tyrannical is arguable. I don’t think I would consider the Church of England to be tyrannical.

Sadly, that’s about the extent of our agreement. The rest of his article is packed solidly full of straw men, hyperbole, bible quotes, and outright falsehoods. I’m going to hit a few key points, but read his entire article to get the full gist of how “off the mark” Bresciani’s thinking is.

Our national identity and our Christian roots are being ignored, denied or challenged on every level.

Really? Our national identity? Our Christian roots? I have a sneaking suspicion that, to Bresciani, those two are one and the same. If he is absurdly assigning Christianity to our nation’s identity, which seems to be the case, wouldn’t it be right to challenge that nation, given the purely secular nation of our Constitution… that Constitution that prohibits any laws respecting an establishment of religion? As for Christian roots, that’s just more misguided propaganda by the religious right.

More accurately we are a nation that was founded on Christian principles and up to now has had more praying Christians than any other nation in history.

No. No we are not a nation founded on Christian principles. We are a nation founded on secular principles as specifically spelled out in the Constitution. I can’t refute that we have more “praying Christians” than any other nation but praying or not, it doesn’t mean that Christians should be afforded any special rights or privileges. That would most certainly go against the founding principles of our country!

Bresciani goes off the deep end the more he writes.

We know that it’s universally acceptable to refer to some places as Muslim nations but somehow we are ashamed to be called a Christian nation. We also know that if Muslims were denied their right to pray five times per day facing Mecca in Saudi Arabia they would riot, war and die fighting against that ruling.

Interestingly enough. those “Muslim nations” have governments that are very, very specifically Islam-based. They don’t have anything resembling our secular government or our secular founding documents, so it’s quite appropriate to call them a “Muslim nation.” However, given our government and our founding documents, it’s wholly inappropriate and inaccurate to call the United States a “Christian nation.”

The second point speculating about Muslims being denied their right to pray is, I’m assuming, a reference to the “National Day of Prayer” ruling, but it’s an entirely inaccurate comparison. Nobody is this country is denied their right to pray… any time, any place. The NDOP ruling doesn’t take away that right. It doesn’t affect it in the slightest. What it does, is prevent the US government from promoting a call to religious action… something the judge very clearly spelled out in the ruling. Bresciani obviously misses the point.

Going further off the deep end…

If viewed in its converse form, we could say that when secular forces of atheism, agnosticism and anti-Christian bigotry go to the law against prayer in our national life, it is they who have decided to get the fed to make laws regarding the establishment or more accurately, the dis-establishment of religion. This may be the very argument used to challenge the ruling.

Again… completely wrong on multiple counts. The challenges to nationally-sponsored prayer or religious practice are not an attempt to make laws, they are attempts to enforce already existing laws. They are attempts to enforce the basic tenants of our Constitution. None of the laws try to “dis-establish” religion. They keep religion from intruding in government matters… just as the Constitution dictates. Despite what Bresciani seems to think, preventing someone from breaking a law is not the same thing as creating a law.

While the ACLU and others spend big bucks to fight crosses at memorials, nativity scenes, prayer in the congress or any public place, prayer in the military and classroom mentions of God why haven’t we equated that with a huge move to violate our right to religion and a willingness to engage the powers that be to make laws that adversely affect the establishment of religion?

Wow. That entire paragraph is a monstrosity of logical and factual failure. Bresciani not only misses the point, but he misses it to such a large degree that he seems to be arguing against a straw man of monumental proportions.

The ACLU does not fight nativity scenes. They fight governmental displays of nativity scenes (which amounts to illegally promoting a specific religion… again with that pesky Constitution!). Nativity scenes are not banned in non-government public places, as is evidenced by their widespread use by churches, private organizations, and homeowners all throughout the holiday season. The ACLU rightly fights against government-sponsored prayer, but not in “any public place.” They would vehemently fight for your right to pray wherever you want to pray… as long your prayer is not being sponsored or promoted by the government.

Nothing the ACLU does violates a right to religion. The converse is true. They protect people from having religion forced on them by the government and, once again, they are backed up by our Constitution. Bresciani is portraying Christians as being stripped of their privileges and entitlements… as poor, sad, abused victims of persecution… because they are not being allowed to force the government to give them special privileges or special treatment.

This is not a matter of atheists (or any other non-Christian demographic) forcing their beliefs down the throats of Christians. The notion is absurd. The ACLU and other supporting groups are watchdog groups who prevent Christians from doing what they falsely accuse others of doing.

While some atheists will loudly proclaim their beliefs and vociferously decry any sort of religious belief as harmful and ignorant, it is well within their rights to do so. It is also well within someone’s rights to decry atheism… to mercilessly criticize those who do not belief in a personal God who answers prayers. Freedom of speech is a precious right in this country and I (and the ACLU) fully support it. Promote your religious beliefs as loudly as you dare.

They line gets drawn, however, when the government is used to promote your religious beliefs. That’s such a huge key point and is so often missed (or blatantly ignored) by the Christian right when they’re spouting off about attacks on their faith or unfair treatment or persecution. They complain when they can’t use government property to display their religious icons. They complain when they can’t have government-funded public schools promote prayer. They complain when they can’t have the government create a special day calling for religious action. They complain when they can’t make government-funded schools teach a biblical creation stories. They complain when they aren’t allowed to display their bible verses in government courtrooms.

But do they complain that they can’t put nativity scenes in the church’s front yard? Do they complain that personal prayer is banned in a national park? Do they complain that they can’t teach their own children their religious beliefs? Do they complain that they aren’t allowed to meet with like-minded people to worship?

No. No they don’t. And the reason they don’t is that they are allowed to do all these things. They have an unprecedented level of freedom to practice their religion as they choose, when they choose, and where they choose.

The only two caveats are that they can’t infringe on the rights of others and they can’t be funded or promoted or organized by the government. Shouldn’t that be enough? Shouldn’t that freedom be enough?

Evidently, many Christians don’t seem to think so. They want the government to support them… and only them… and to relegate the rest of the citizenry to a lesser standing in society. When they demand the government sponsor a national day of prayer, when they expect the government to display their religious icons, when they expect the government to encourage everyone to participate in their religion… what they are doing is calling for a theocracy.

If the Christian right got their way, our government would be as outwardly religious as the governments in some Middle Eastern countries. Freedom of religion, in their minds, seems to mean freedom to practice the Christian religion… and if you happen to have other beliefs, you should just shut up and keep them to yourself.

Perhaps they don’t want Christianity to become the governmentally-declared religion of our country (because as Bresciani says, it would make it political instead of spiritual), but I have no doubt that many of them would have Christianity as our “official” religion… complete with special privileges and entitlements (much like they have now, in some cases) so that it would be the official state religion in every way except for a legal proclamation. They won’t be happy until we are a Christian nation… and people like Bresciani are pushing for it more every day.

If they could only get rid of that pesky Constitution.

Pure Dobsonian ignorance

On April 15th, a district court in Wisconsin ruled that the National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional. It’s a decision that was a long time coming.

From the article:

Crabb wrote that her ruling was not a judgment on the value of prayer. She noted government involvement in prayer may be constitutional if the conduct serves a “significant secular purpose” and doesn’t amount to a call for religious action. But the National Day of Prayer crosses that line, she wrote.

“It goes beyond mere ‘acknowledgment’ of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context,” she wrote. “In this instance, the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience.”

No doubt the decision will be appealed because it seems the religious right can’t stand to lose an opportunity to have the government endorse their religion. They’ll claim, over and over, that religion belief and practice is a personal thing and that it’s an issue of freedom, but they don’t really seem to grasp the concept that the freedom should apply to everyone. They seem to feel that it only applies to those who share their faith.

Shirley Dobson, wife of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, seems to take her ignorance a step further. She is quoted as saying (emphasis mine)…

“Since the days of our Founding Fathers, the government has protected and encouraged public prayer and other expressions of dependence on the Almighty,” Dobson said. “This is a concerted effort by a small but determined number of people who have tried to prohibit all references to the Creator in the public square, whether it be the Ten Commandments, the Pledge of Allegiance, or the simple act of corporate prayer – this is unconscionable for a free society.”

The highlighted statement is blatantly and unequivocally false. The people who oppose government-sponsored religious displays are not trying to prohibit religious references in the public square. In truth, most of them (if not all) would fully support the rights of anyone to display their religious beliefs in the public square. That is evidenced by the sheer numbers of churches found all across the country. It’s not uncommon to see three or four churches in a two-block radius of some towns. Religious billboards abound. “Jesus fishes” adorn cars. Crosses hang around necks and decorate roadsides. …and nobody is trying to stop it. It’s freedom.

What they are trying to stop is the promotion of religion by government institutions, including nativity scenes on government property, prayer during government meetings and publicly funded schools, government funding for religious organizations that discriminate based on religion, and any other government support, promotion, or favoritism of any type of religious practices.

So Shirley Dobson has it all wrong, but the sad thing is, the religious right will believe her and they will shake their fists in fury over their perceived persecution… because little by little, their ability to use government to push their superstitious beliefs on the rest of the country is being whittled away. They can’t understand that they are not the ones who are being persecuted. They are the persecutors.

Why do they need to display their nativity scenes on government steps when their are literally thousands of churches where the display would be far more relevant. Why do they need to force all children to pray in schools when children can pray at home, in school, on the playground, and anywhere and any time they want already? Why do they need to demand preferential treatment by the government in support of their religion when their god is supposedly all-powerful?

Their outrage and anger is absurd. It’s ignorant. It’s overbearing. It’s self-righteous and arrogant. It’s hypocritical. It’s intellectually crippling.

…all because of their grandiose superstitions.

Rachel calls bull-pucky

Phil Plait is a Rachel Maddow fanboi and I can’t say I blame him. Though Rachel is fallible and has made mistakes before, more often than not, she hits the proverbial nail on the head, so when she gave her commentary on Climategate, the ACORN “scandal,” and other right-wing, anti-reality nonsense, Phil couldn’t resist linking to her video (and commenting on it…worth a read)… and I couldn’t resist watching it.

Another dead-on hammer-strike.

Phil rightly comments that the far right doesn’t have the copyright on nonsense, but the Republican “unholy alliance” it has formed with fundamentalist religion has led it to its pervasive anti-reality stance.

He concludes with this…

Global warming is real. Evolution is real. Vaccines do not cause autism. Homeopathy doesn’t work. These are facts, and they don’t care whether or not denialists spin, fold, and mutilate them. Until we face up to reality, however, they will spin, fold, and mutilate us.

I’ll drink to that.

Religious Bill of Rights… huh?

Yesterday, Phil Plait posted about people in Colorado proposing a “Religious Bill of Rights” for public schools, an idea which sounded disturbing even before I read the text. After reading it, it was pretty evident that the bill is a monument to absurdity. As Phil said, it’s simply not needed and some of the items are basic issues of freedom of speech. However, other items are “unacceptable.”

Phil does a good job of pointing out which items are questionable, which are irrelevant, and which are absurd, so I’ll leave you to your own devices to check out what he says.

However, the “Legislative declaration” section of the bill also does a reasonable job of pointing out its own irrelevance.

For instance (yes, it’s in all caps):

MANY INDIVIDUALS ARE UNAWARE OF THEIR EXISTING CONSTITUTIONAL RELIGIOUS RIGHTS. BECAUSE THESE RIGHTS ARE COMING UNDER INCREASING ATTACK IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM, A METHOD TO RECOGNIZE, PROMOTE, AND ENFORCE THESE RIGHTS IS OF GREAT IMPORTANCE TO STUDENTS, PARENTS, TEACHERS, AND EMPLOYEES.

Religious rights are coming under increasing attack? Perhaps a more accurate statement would be “Attempts to inject religious preference into public schools are being denied.” That aside, if individuals are unaware of their Constitutional rights, perhaps, instead of creating a separate (and silly) “religious” bill of rights, students rights could be “recognized, promoted, and enforced” based on the actual documents used to found and govern this country. I think that would probably be a better use of time and money.

And again…

IT IS BENEFICIAL TO RAISING MORALS AND OBEDIENCE WITHIN THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO FOSTER AN ATMOSPHERE THAT RECOGNIZES AND ENCOURAGES THE CONCEPT AND UNDERSTANDING OF RELIGIOUS LIBERTY THAT WAS SO IMPORTANT TO THE FOUNDERS OF OUR NATION;

I’m afraid this points seems a bit incongruent. Morals and obedience increase with an understanding of religious liberty? The whole statement makes me vaguely uncomfortable and I’m not sure whether it’s because of its general incoherence or because its subtle combination of “obedience” and “religion” sounds darkly theocratic (to say the least).

Phil points out…

And the most pernicious part of all this is it’s clear that the motivation behind this bill is not in the name of religious freedom and tolerance, it’s in the name of freedom and tolerance for one specific religion. As I point out above, I don’t think a radical Muslim would be treated the same way under this declaration as a Christian would. While that may be outside the scope of the bill, it’s important to keep in mind.

Anyway, the entire point has become a mere speed bump in the rearview mirror because the bill has died in committee. Or, as the official statement reads, it has been “postponed indefinitely.” It was rejected on a party-line 4-3 vote, unsurprisingly, but was rejected nonetheless.

When something like this gets full support from Republicans, I often wonder why. Does it show a lack of understanding of our Constitution? Do they really think our country should be a theocracy? Do they really want all non-Christian religions subjugated? Do they really, truly believe that  imposing the Christian religion on everyone is good for this country? Are they so, so blinded by religious fervor that they cannot understand the secular guarantees provided in our country’s founding documents?

I’ll close with the words of Mike Wagner, one of the commenters on Phil’s blog…

“The fact that 3 people voted for it makes me sick to my stomach.”

Past Presidents on The Wall of Separation

In honor of President’s Day, Americans United for Separation of Church and State put together a list of quotes from various presidents regarding religious liberty as it pertains to government. It’s a wonderful list including presidents from Washington to Grant to Carter.

The article starts off with this introduction…

Most people know that Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were great champions of church-state separation. But did you know that James K. Polk had some interesting things to say, as did U.S. Grant?

Some of my favorite quotes from the list:

James K. Polk: “Thank God, under our Constitution there was no connection between Church and State.” (Diary entry, Oct. 14, 1846)

Theodore Roosevelt: “I hold that in this country there must be complete severance of Church and State; that public moneys shall not be used for the purpose of advancing any particular creed; and therefore that the public schools shall be nonsectarian and no public moneys appropriated for sectarian schools.” (Speech, Oct. 12, 1915)

Lyndon B. Johnson: “I believe in the American tradition of separation of church and state which is expressed in the First Amendment to the Constitution. By my office – and by personal conviction – I am sworn to uphold that tradition.” (Interview with Baptist Standard, October 1964)

Check out the rest of list to see some thoughts from our past presidents.

These quotes are an important reminder that, despite the preferential treatment the religious right feels they deserve when they claim the United States is a “Christian nation,” our Constitution was very explicit, both in what it says and what it doesn’t say. There is no mention of any gods or creators… no mention of the Christian religion or the Ten Commandments… no mention of any special rights for Christians or any religion. It does, however, explicitly say that no laws can be passed “respecting an establishment of religion” and that government cannot “prohibit the free exercise thereof.”

Those two clauses in the First Amendment of our Constitution, called the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause,  are generally considered the foundation of our wall of separation between church and state. As Justice David Souter said in a 1994 Supreme Court case, Board of Education of Kiryas Joel Village School District v. Grumet, “government should not prefer one religion to another, or religion to irreligion.”

So, even putting aside the irrational, baseless nature of many claims of theistic religions, our country’s founding document gives no religion any preferential treatment by the government or, indeed, any preference in the general running of our country. If Christians (or any other religion, though fundamentalist Christians are the ones who seem to whine the loudest about this issue) want their ideas to be seriously considered, then they should give serious reasons for their consideration.

…and quotes from the bible are most definitely not serious reasons.

The ignorance is astounding

I managed to get on the mailing list of Worldview Weekend, which tends to be one of the largest repositories on the internet for right-wing, religious, conspiracy-theory crazies. I leave myself on the list for entertainment purposes and I’ve yet to be disappointed. Unfortunately, it’s a little scary, too, because I know there are people who actually believe what’s being presented on the site.

This week, Phyllis Schlafly decided that she was going to take on the role of climatologist in a piece titled Global Warming Is Frozen Over, with predictable results. Here’s her opening salvo.

Whether or not the groundhog sees his shadow on February 2, there’s no denying that January put into a deep freeze the claims of crisis by global warming alarmists. Frigid temperatures destroyed fruit and coral in Florida, and snow fell on Al Gore’s palatial home in normally warmer Tennessee.

What I find most significant is that she thoroughly discredits herself in her first sentence by demonstrating a significant lack of understanding about global warming. She’s not the only one, though, as I’ve seen similar claims made by people all over the internet and even among my friends on Facebook. It’s as if Schlafly (and the others) completely overlook the meaning of the word “global” in “global warming.” They also tend to misunderstand (or ignore?) the difference between “climate” and “weather.” In addition, from what I’ve generally seen, they also have a very thin grasp on science in general… especially when science points to something that contradicts their firmly entrenched political or religious ideology.

Schlafly goes on to bring up the CRU email “scandal” (Climategate) which is essentially a manufactured controversy, calling the CRU an “official collaborator” with the IPCC. She says…

Those disclosures told the world about some scientists’ willingness to suppress climate-change data and rig the process in order to pretend there is consensus among scientists about global warming, to ostracize contrary views, and to promote their globalist agenda.

As anyone who’s honestly followed the incident knows, the CRU emails did no such thing. The inclusion of “globalist agenda” is also discrediting and points to her conspiracy-theory leanings, something which will no doubt endear her to global warming denialists everywhere.

In her rant, Schlafly says that lowering our level of emissions to the level that Obama has proposed will also lower our standard of living to 19th century levels, that Scott Brown’s election in Massachusetts “repudiated cap-and-trade,” and that Osama Bin Laden has blamed the United States for not stopping global warming (as if the notion that Bin Laden accepting global warming somehow means it’s not true). She also includes lengthy quotes from Czech Republic president Vaclav Klaus as if he is some sort of leading climatologist when it seems, based on the included quotes, that he’s basing his analysis on political ideology instead of on science.

Of course, no Worldview Times rant on global warming would be complete without a reference to Al Gore and An Inconvenient Truth and, for an added bonus, Schlafly includes a slam on The Story of Stuff, a video that promotes conservation, albeit in polemic way.

In her conclusion, Schlafly says that what we need to do to solve unemployment and poverty is to increase our use of energy (which is Schlafly’s way of saying “burn more fossil fuels”). Think I’m kidding?

The main cause of unemployment and poverty is the lack of enough energy. Rather than expanding government to limit energy, we should be increasing the use of energy to eradicate hardship.

In the immortal words of Wikipedia… Citation needed.

International Darwin Day Petition

I’m not a big fan of web-based petitions. They’re generally pretty worthless when it comes to actually getting things done, but they also make participation really, really easy. So, in the spirit of supporting the federal recognition of Darwin Day in the United States, I signed this petition put forth by the International Darwin Day Foundation.

In part, it says…

Dear President Obama,

As an American who values scientific inquiry and integrity, I urge you to issue a presidential proclamation recognizing Darwin Day on February 12. Darwin Day is celebrated every year on the anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birthday in 1809, and is a day in which people gather together to commemorate his life and work. Charles Darwin was the first to propose the groundbreaking scientific theory of evolution by natural selection—a theory that has done more to unify and bring understanding to the life sciences than any other—and Darwin Day is a celebration of this discovery and of scientific progress.

I believe that issuing this proclamation will send a powerful message that scientific discovery and integrity in our society are top priorities—priorities that are needed now more than ever as extremists with narrow ideological agendas are attempting to undermine science in our schools.

Please stand with me and countless others who value science and discovery by issuing the following or a similar proclamation on Darwin Day.

Feel free to jump on that bandwagon.