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It seemed so simple at the time

Separation of Church and State


Obama and the Nobel Peace Prize

President Barack Obama - Nobel Peace Prize Winner(I don’t usually get all politicky on this site, but this was something I felt very strongly about and since a huge percentage of Obama’s critics seem to be irrational, right-wing fundamentalists, it’s somewhat (though not entirely) relevant to this blog.)

Since President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize, there’s been a firestorm of criticism with some people even implying that Obama himself somehow used subversive tactics to gain the award… that he used manipulative tricks that somehow succeeded in conning the Nobel committee into giving him the prize.

I’ve yet to hear someone from the right give any sort of acknowledgement that it’s rather nice that the president of our country won the award. Not only will they not even show a snippet of national pride in the matter, but they rail against Obama, crying that he’s done nothing to deserve it… that he’s accomplished nothing noteworthy in his term as president (or in his life)… that the award is now cheapened.

Despite explanations by the Nobel prize committee as to the reasons for their selection, Obama’s opponents continue to see nothing but their own imaginary country-destroying conspiracies, socialist takeovers, irresponsible policies, and egomaniacal rantings of our president and of anyone who happens to come down one step to the left of nut jobs like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. It’s as though they’re so blinded by their frothing hatred for our president, they can’t even acknowledge that the man has some good points… that he does want this country to succeed and to be safer and to be respected around the world… and that he’s working to accomplish that goal.

I can’t say that I agree with everything Obama has done (or rather that the Congress has done), but I do see some glaring goodness from the man. When I voted for him, there were checks in both the pro and con columns, but the things in the “pro” column outweighed the others. National security was in the “pro” column. After the Bush era, I feel that our country was far less safe than before, but in one year in office, I feel that Obama has changed that. Even as early as July, international opinions of the United States were almost back to their pre-Bush levels. Friday, I read an international poll showing the numbers even higher than in July, exceptionally so among Western European nations.

The right-wing of this country will poo-poo those statistics and complain that the country is much less safe and say that Obama has done nothing but lie and collect an unwarranted paycheck. The not-so-thin veil of partisan hatred obscures their vision so much that they refuse to acknowledge, or even see, even small positives about our president.

Obama’s winning the Nobel Peace Prize should be a cause for celebration… an inspiration… a reason to be proud. The Nobel committee explained their position well and an award of this nature is not unprecedented as some would claim. But instead of savoring the pride, the honor, and the inspiration that should come from a Nobel prize, Obama’s opponents, not Obama, cheapen the award. Their wild spewing of vitriolic anger tarnishes the luster of a prestigious, honorable prize that was awarded to a man chosen by the Nobel committee for both his accomplishments and for the promise of what he, and the rest of us, can yet accomplish toward global peace.

Rachel Maddow has more to say.

(thanks to my friend Rob Kent for the link to Rachel’s video)

Religious Tolerance in Queens, New York

Dan Halloran Dan Halloran is running for City Council in Queens, NY. He’s the Republican candidate opposing Democrat Kevin Kim in their race to replace the outgoing councilman, Democrat Tony Avella. Halloran is a partner at a Long Island law firm and chairman of the state Republican Liberty Caucus. He’s also been endorsed by the Queens County Republican Party.

That all sounds pretty standard, right? I thought so, too. So what’s special about this situation?

Halloran is a practitioner of Theodism, a pre-Christian pagan religion that believes in “the Gods and Goddesses of the North, spirits of the land and the memories of our ancestors.” A little bit of reading finds that some of the important principles of Theodism are wisdom, generosity, honor, and hospitality. There’s also some animal sacrifice involved, but it seems to be more of a feast type activity where the “any meat left over is burnt for the gods.” The feast is followed by ritual drinking… which is stopped before “the religious nature of the event doesn’t degrade to a drunken party.” So far, so good.

One would think that Christians (and, by proxy, Republicans) would be outraged by Halloran’s candidacy, but amazingly, that’s not the case. In this article at YourNabe.com, borough Republicans are supporting Halloran and are upset over the characterization of his religion in a Queens Tribune article.

“I think it’s particularly repugnant to have a religious test,” said Queens County GOP Vice Chairman Vince Tabone, who is also the spokesman for Halloran’s campaign. “We saw people trying to do that with [President Barack] Obama and Mitt Romney. Flushing [New York] is a birthplace of religious freedom. It’s part of Queens’ heritage. It’s a community where Protestants and Catholics and Sikhs live side by side.”

Those are refreshing words to hear from a politician, especially from a Republican politician. Tabone continues…

Tabone said Halloran was raised in an Irish Catholic household and that his religion would have no bearing on the Council race.

“I don’t think it will have much resonance,” he said. “It won’t amount to a hill of beans. People in the community are concerned with their quality of life and the high unemployment rate. We have good schools that could be improved.”

I think I like this Tabone guy. It seems he’s all for keeping religion out of politics and allowing candidates to focus on the issues and how to best help the community. That’s admirable.

New York State Republican Senator Frank Padavan also feels the same way. He said that Halloran’s religion wasn’t relevant and had this to say.

Queens has every conceivable religion on the face of the Earth and as long as they are honorable toward their basic goals, then that’s all anyone should be concerned about. Our Constitution provides freedom of religion and as long as they don’t run counter to the law of the land, then it’s not something that should be at all political. Anybody who makes it political is suspect. I’d rather someone have a religion — even if it’s not a mainstream religion — than their being atheist.

Wait… WHAT?!?

Did he actually say that? I’m not sure. Other than the YourNabe.com article, I can’t find another reference to this quote, so I don’t want to jump the gun. I found the same quote, but excluding the last sentence, so I’m not sure if one source left the line out of the quote or if one source added the line.

However, the implications of the line are not insignificant. Without it, it shows a surprising amount of religious tolerance and open mindedness by Padavan. With the line, it puts him firmly in the stereotypical, atheist-hating, religious camp.

If anyone can find another reference to the quote, let me know.

Tea Party Rally a Scattershot Rage-fest

So Obama is like Hitler? From Bay of Fundie comes a slideshow of some of the signs from this past weekend’s “tea party” protest in Washington, DC. I’ve seen a lot of pictures from the event and have even seen a number of signs I do agree with (mostly related to bailouts and government spending), but the number of signs that portray true ignorance is just too great to ignore.

As I posted on my personal blog, protests are more about signs with clever slogans than addressing issues in any detail, but when those signs comprise an incoherent, inconsistent, scattershot collection of complaints with an underlying ignorance of the associated issues, there’s nothing productive about it.

In this slideshow, there are accusations of death panels, mandated abortions, liberal fascism, and communism. There are comparisons of Obama to Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, and Castro. There are complaints about Planned Parenthood, health care, ACORN, child trafficking in prostitation [sic], smallpox vaccinations (!!!), and the word “czar.” Even the tired old “Where’s the birth certificate?” nonsense is rolled out for show and tell.

Glenn Beck 2012? Please, no. There was even a sign with the words “Glenn Beck 2012.”

In other pictures, I’ve seen signs stating that the US is a Christian nation, that we’re “One Nation Under God,” that we need to pray more, and that Obama is a liar. There are plenty of other signs, but along with those signs come some interviews of some of the folks carrying them.

I will grant that the interviews are a small sample and may not be indicative of the ignorance level of the crowd in general, but based on the crazy signs I’ve seen, the interviews may not be too far off base.

What’s the common thread that runs through all the carriers of the more outrageous signs? Is it racism? Fundamentalist religion? Lack of education? Partisan hatred? I don’t really know, but I can make an educated guess at some of the causes. All of the above, perhaps?

Is this anti-Jesus or anti-liberty? The candle flames of racism, ignorance, and religious fundamentalism get fanned and fed by outrageous, hate-filled talk by the likes of Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, and other right-wing talking heads. These commentators help create and instill irrational fear in these protestors with spin, exaggerations, lies, and incendiary rhetoric. What’s worse is that the right-wing politicians do the same… assisted by fundamentalist preachers… assisted by conspiracy-theory proponents.

While some of the protesters had serious signs that indicated rational policy disagreements, a huge number (perhaps a majority) of the signs were simply banners of ignorance… spiteful displays of unfocused rage. In some of the interviews, protesters couldn’t explain what their signs meant or why they held the positions they did. They were just there to vent their nebulous, right-wing, Glenn-Beck-inspired rage to the Washington, DC mall and to be surrounded by others who were just as rage-filled.

We can do that in the United States. Our Constitutional First Amendment guarantees us that right, which is a beautiful thing. It’s one of the things that’s great about our country. When I see people like this taking advantage of that right, especially in a relatively well-mannered and orderly way, it makes me proud of our Constitution.

…but it makes embarrassed about our citizens.

Lying for Jesus in the Sunshine State

From Ron Gold at The Invisible Pink Unicorn comes this gem. Read his post for more info, but here’s the summary.

The Community Issues Council is putting up billboards across Florida similar to the one pictured below.

Community Issues Council Billboard

Where’s the lying bit come into play? Here’s a statement by Terry Kemple, the group’s local chapter president, where she refers to a billboard with the quote "It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible" attributed to George Washington.

I don’t believe there’s a document in Washington’s handwriting that has those words in that specific form," Kemple said. "However, if you look at Washington’s quotes, including his farewell address, about the place of religion in the political sphere, there’s no question he could have said those exact words.

So they’re making up at least one quote about church/state separation issues and falsely attributing it to our first president. So not only are they attempting to discard the establishment clause of the second amendment, but they’re lying to do it.

…but they’re doing the Lord’s work.

Obama to meet with Benedict XVI

President Obama meets with Pope Benedict XVI President Obama is scheduled to meet with Pope Benedict XVI today. I don’t know if anything interesting will come of it, but it will probably be an intriguing meeting if you were a fly on the wall.

With the conservative vs. liberal views and the disagreements on abortion and stem cell research in particular, there could potentially be some uncomfortable moments, but I trust that Obama will handle it well.

It will be interesting to see if Obama gives another shout-out to non-believers, but I doubt that will happen. It’s probably not the appropriate venue for atheist talk. However, there might be some talk about Islam which could spice up the meeting.

I don’t have much confidence that the meeting will accomplish anything productive or beneficial other than, perhaps, some small modicum of camaraderie. When you meet with someone who thinks that condoms increase the spread of AIDS, wafers turn into flesh, dead men walk, and omnipotent beings communicate via burning shrubbery, it’s seriously tough to get a rational message to have any effect.

Maybe they’ll just talk about helping poor people.

Mark Sanford and Christian Morality

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford (R) I wasn’t going to comment on Governor Mark Sanford and his Argentinean affair because that sort of thing seems to happen all the time in politics. However, there have been a few revelations that have added a bit of eyebrow-raising interest and I found myself thinking that, not only is the guy a scumbag for cheating on his wife, but he seems to be a hypocritical religious zealot as well.

From what I understand, Sanford has been a big proponent of “Christian values, character, and honesty” in South Carolina. Since he’s also a Republican, one can generally assume that he’s onboard with the “morality platform” of the Republican party.

That’s just some of what makes his infidelity a bigger deal than it would be for the average person on the street… or Democrats, for that matter. While Democrats do speak of values, honesty, and faith, they don’t do it in the same heavy-handed, in-your-face kind of way that Republicans do, so to the casual observer, it’s a bigger show of hypocrisy when Republicans have a adultery-related scandal than when Democrats do. That said, Sanford seems to have ratcheted up the negative appearance all by himself.

Not only did he have the affair with the Argentinean woman, which reportedly turned sexual only during the last year of their eight-year relationship, but he’s admitted to having “crossed lines” with other women during his twenty years of marriage.

Sanford also said that he “crossed lines” with a handful of other women during 20 years of marriage, but not as far as he did with his mistress.

“There were a handful of instances wherein I crossed the lines I shouldn’t have crossed as a married man, but never crossed the ultimate line,” he said.

He didn’t define the “ultimate line,” but the general assumption is probably that he meant intercourse. Whether he defines it the way Bill Clinton did is another matter.

However you define it, the trouble seems to run deeper than just sex. Sanford repeatedly refers to the woman as his “soul mate,” which seems, to me, like something he wouldn’t say… or feel… if he’s telling people that he’s committed to working things out with his wife.

In emotional interviews with the AP over two days, he said he would die “knowing that I had met my soul mate.”

Sanford insisted his relationship with Maria Belen Chapur, whom he met at an open air dance spot in Uruguay eight years ago, was more than just sex.

“This was a whole lot more than a simple affair, this was a love story,” Sanford said. “A forbidden one, a tragic one, but a love story at the end of the day.”

How is his wife supposed to take him seriously or trust him at all when he says things like that? I’m not suggesting he lie about it. I’m just pointing out that he doesn’t sound like someone who really wants to make nice with his wife. He’s throwing himself a pity party by telling the public that he’s doomed to a life of unrequited love… but, oh yeah… he’ll still try to fall back in love with his wife.

And then, of course…

“I owe it too much to my boys and to the last 20 years with Jenny to not try this larger walk of faith,” he said.

Notice that he doesn’t owe anything to his wife… just to the boys and to a twenty-year timeframe. And what is this “larger walk of faith” to which he refers? Faith in what? Sadly, he doesn’t say.

Perhaps Sanford has faith that he’s just like the biblical King David and will be forgiven by God and allowed to continue on his merry way. Evidently, he’s fond of referring to “moral absolutes” and “God’s law” and other faith-based ideas, regardless of how hypocritical it makes him seem.

He doesn’t seem to be alone in his hypocrisy, either. According to an Associated Press story, Sanford’s “spiritual advisor,” Warren Culbertson knew of the affair, yet in his spiritual “boot camp,” he “passed” Sanford and his wife with flying colors. Defending Sanford, Culbertson said he was simply caught off guard by “the power of darkness.”

Culbertson also thinks that the only thing holding his friends’ marriage together right now is “their vow to God.”

“Because it’s not feelings — it’s not emotions,” Culbertson said, the smile fading from his tanned face. “For most Christians, at some point in your marriage, if you’re married long enough, you do it because that’s what we’re called to do — out of obedience instead of out of passion. And I think that’s where Mark and Jenny are right now.”

Funny how Sanford’s “vow to God” didn’t mean much when he was chatting up his Argentinean mistress… but that’s what’s going to save his marriage now? I find Culbertson’s statement of marriage infuriating and insulting because it implies that only Christians have marital issues and they stay in a marriage out of “obedience” instead of out of love, loyalty, or honor. It’s morally despicable to do what’s “right” because of obedience of the rules in a 2000-year-old religious text rather than doing what’s right simply because it is right… because it’s what you promised to do… because it’s what’s best for your wife and family… because you don’t want to hurt those you love… because you can intellectually overcome your baser nature.

It seems Sanford can’t do that, and despite his spouting biblical statements and comparing himself to King David, he seems to have no grasp on morality… or on decency… or on honesty. The bible doesn’t give him that and it never will… nor will it give it to anyone. While it has some nice things in it, it’s sadly lacking in any meaningful moral guidance, something that is demonstrated over and over and over again, not only in politics, but in everyday life.

Sanford shouldn’t be asking for help from any gods or for forgiveness from anyone other than his wife and kids. They’re the only ones who can grant him any kind of meaningful forgiveness.

Anything else is imaginary.

Mike Pence says Republicans are not Anti-Science

ScienceRepresentative Mike Pence (R-Ind.) spoke to Chris Matthews in defense of Republicans, saying that his party is not anti-science and that this whole “anti-science thing is a little bit weak.”

That, in and of itself, would not be particularly noteworthy. However, in the same interview, Pence goes on to show that he, himself, is quite anti-science… which seems, to me, to somewhat negate his credibility in defending the Republicans on science issues.

When asked if he believed in evolution, Pence replied…

I embrace the view that God created the heavens and the earth, the seas and all that’s in them…the means that he used to do that, I can’t say.

He also expressed skepticism about the science surrounding global warming.

From an article on Politico

On global warming, Pence said that Republicans are “more than willing to stand for clean air,” but added that “in the mainstream media there is a denial about the growing skepticism about global warming.”

I find the claim of a “growing skepticism” to be interesting. If the skepticism is growing, it’s definitely not among scientists with knowledge in relevant fields of study.

Then Pence drops this bit of joy.

“What is science but an exploration?” Pence asked. “Science is an explanation of demonstrable facts, isn’t it?”

I suppose, as a very simple summary, that’s true. However, it’s not particularly accurate. For instance, creationism (and ID), despite providing an “explanation of demonstrable facts” is not science. Science depends on a method, a series of steps, without which you have no science. If you bypass the steps, as does creationism, you can’t claim to be scientific. Pence, in that one quote alone, shows that he really doesn’t get science.

Here’s the video of the full interview (or at least a large part). It’s kind of painful to watch. Matthews keeps pushing the question about evolution, but Pence refuses to give any answer other than his “God created the heavens and earth” answer. Pence also makes the claim that Democrats put ideology over science regarding stem cell policy (?!?). It’s a lot of dancing around the questions on Pence’s part.

He also intimates that schools should be teaching creationism alongside evolution, but doesn’t say it outright.

So on one hand, Pence says the Republican party is not anti-science, but then on the other, his answers show him to be unequivocally anti-science.

Is that irony or hypocrisy?

Barry Goldwater on Religious Pressure in Politics

There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent.

If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D.’ Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of ‘conservatism.’

– Barry Goldwater, Congressional Record, September 16th, 1981

(via Library Grape)

So Much for Catwoman

I’m not even sure how to begin with this one. It seems that the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops finds it necessary to have Senator Danny Martiny file a bill that will prohibit Louisiana scientists from creating human-animal hybrids for experimentation. I’m not kidding.

Conference lobbyist Danny Loar said the bill is designed to be a “pre-emptive strike” against scientists who might want to mix “human and animal cells in a Petri dish for scientific research purposes. . . . It is becoming more of an issue globally.”

Then there’s this statement…

Martiny and Loar said they are unaware of any attempts to do that type of research in Louisiana.

However, that won’t stop them from proposing legislation to ban it. I mean, it’s becoming a global issue! It’s not like there’s more important stuff that should be dealt with in Louisiana right now, anyway. Maybe they should also propose legislation banning the use of insects in space-flight research. I’m unaware of any attempts to do that type of research in Louisiana, but it could happen!

Martiny’s bill would make it illegal to “create or attempt to create a human-animal hybrid, . . . transfer or attempt to transfer a human embryo into a non-human womb . . . (or) transfer or attempt to transfer a non-human embryo into a human womb.”

That’s a far cry from doing some stem cell research. It seems that, about a year ago, the British Parliament approved legislation allowing scientists to mix human and animal DNA in cloning experiments. Any human embryos created this way would be destroyed after 14 days, the goal being to create new stem cells for use in research into the curing of diseases. They did, however, reject using sex cells of a human and an animal.

The Louisiana bill, however, seems to take issue with creating growing creatures in the womb… sort of a Doctor Moreau thing (though he was a vivisectionist). There doesn’t seem to be any attempt by scientists to create any sort of viable human-animal hybrid, yet it seems to be a fear of the Catholic Bishops… enough so to persuade a state senator to propose legislation banning it.

I’m not really sure what’s sillier: the fear that scientists are going to make mutant human-animal hybrids or the fact that a state senator actual proposed a legal ban on the act, presumably with a straight face.

At least Vincent gets grandfathered in.