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religious right

What religion does

Many faiths Lately, I’ve been hearing more and more stories in the news and on blogs about religious people speaking out on quite a few topics… from a religious standpoint. Whether the topic is competing religions, education, church-state separation, politics, science, or human rights, it seems that religious folks, be they Protestant, Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Mormon, or some offshoot, seem to feel that they have sole access to universal truths and anyone who disagrees with them is immoral, unpatriotic, or just plain evil.

Some Christians in the United States are frequently lamenting how they are persecuted… how their religious rights are being curtailed… how their freedom to worship is being stripped away… how their religion is prohibited in any public setting. Many Muslims seem to spew outrage over words and pictures they feel disrespect their beliefs… over opposition to their teachings… over perceived persecution or unfair treatment.

Yet, at the same time, these religious people will attempt to push their beliefs into public policy, into education, into government… all the while seemingly completely unaware of their own hypocrisy; not seeing how their adamant proclamations of superiority are exactly the same as the adamant proclamations of competing religious claims.

Why is that? How is it that some religious people seem completely closed off to the very notion that there are competing ideologies? How is it that some religious people will dismiss conflicting ideological claims without even the passing wonder if their own claims could just as easily be dismissed? How is it that one argument can be discarded as absurd when referring to one religion but that same argument can be held in high regard when referring to another? Why does religion seem to generate so much unrest… so much controversy… so much intolerance?

I’ve created a partial list of ideas with my interpretation of each one. It is by no means complete, nor is it absolute. Based on what I’ve seen, heard, read, and experienced, this is simply my understanding about some of the consequences of religious teachings and religious beliefs. Feel free to correct, debate, or add to any and all of my points.

Religion teaches to be satisfied with not understanding.

This is one of the most pervasive problems with religions, in my opinion, and it’s always been a problem. If there is a phenomenon that isn’t understood… for which science has no current answer… the religious answer is “God did it.” Case closed. From the origin of the universe to the intricacies of biological development, “God did it” is a common refrain heard from religious proponents.

It’s not a real answer. It’s the religious way of saying, “I don’t know and I don’t care.” By attributing the cause to an invisible, all-powerful, undetectable entity, religion absolves its adherents from any investigative work… from any intellectual responsibility… from any curiosity.

Religion teaches to not question authority.

Pope Benedict Probably every deistic religion teaches its adherents to not question authority, whether that authority be a minister, the bible, the Pope, or God. The bible is true. The Qur’an is true. The Book of Mormon is true. L. Ron Hubbard’s missives about Xenu are true (for the right price, anyway). All these religions make absolute claims on the truth. If these claims are questioned, the questioner is branded a heretic… a non-believer… an enemy of God. Obviously, some religions are more strict about this than others, but the truth claims are still the same.

Question God’s motives when hundreds die in an earthquake and the likely answer is something about how He works in mysterious ways… that He has a plan… that all suffering is for a reason. In other words, it’s God’s will. Don’t question it. The Catholic concept of Papal Infallibility is a perfect example of discouraging the questioning of authority. Both Christian and Muslim religions claim that their holy books are the Word of God. In the case of the Qur’an, the claim is that the words (in their original Arabic) are the exact transcription of Allah’s words to Muhammad. If ever there was a demand to not question authority, that’s it.

The problem is that questioning authority is, in my opinion, necessary for a healthy, honest society… especially when the authority figure is making claims of a questionable nature. That doesn’t mean that every time an authority figures makes a statement, he should be challenged. Questioning the skydiving instructor when he says to pull the cord to open the chute probably isn’t prudent. Questioning the priest who says that 10% of your income has to go to the church because God needs your money… that’s a different matter.

Religion teaches a twisted concept of evidence and logic.

When questioned about the existence of God, a common religious response is something like, “God is all around you” or “God is self-evident.” If pressed further on the issue, the responses become more like, “Just look how beautiful the trees are. That can only be God’s work.”

Another response about claims of Jesus’ divinity is the “Lord, Liar or Lunatic” argument (“Lewis’s Trilemma” originally popularized by C. S. Lewis). Logically, it’s flawed, yet I’ve heard it used multiple times in religious discussions that I’ve had in the past year… with complete sincerity.

These are just two examples of how religion twists the ideas of logic and evidence. “Trees are beautiful” is not evidence. Lewis’s Trilemma is not logical. Most of the apologetic arguments for the existence of God have huge gaps in logic (ontological, cosmological, etc). The fact remains that no actual evidence exists to support the existence of God, yet defenders of religious faith will present heaps of what they claim is evidence… because they don’t seem to understand what evidence really is.

The fallback argument is, of course, that it’s just a matter of having faith… which is no evidence at all.

Religion promotes narcissism and self-righteous superiority.

Narcissism and Politics Narcissism and a self-righteous feeling of superiority are byproducts of any religion that claims to be the only true religion. Teaching adherents that they are special because they alone hold the truth and they alone will be saved by an all-powerful god and that they alone are holy in the eyes of that god is a surefire way to create a feeling of supremacy. Teaching that humans are a special creation of an omnipotent creator who watches over them with love and mercy is a surefire way to generate strong feelings of narcissism… especially if the creator is the “right” creator.

These feelings frequently manifest themselves in politics, where religious politicians cry about being persecuted, all the while attempting to gain special privilege for their own religion of choice despite the unconstitutionality of their end goal. Another good example is Christians claiming that the United States is a “Christian nation” because they feel that their beliefs are somehow special… true as opposed to those other religions… solely worthy of influencing government policies (again, despite the Constitution)… even necessary for the United States to succeed. It’s completely false, but they cling to it because “they’re special.”

The narcissism and feeling of superiority create, maintain, and worsen divisions among people of differing beliefs. “I’m better than you” doesn’t make for strong relationships.

Religion advocates intolerance.

Intolerance Hand in hand with the previous point is the point that religion advocates intolerance… partly because of the previous point, but also because some religious tenants explicitly promote intolerance. Islam makes the news on a regular basis for this, but Christianity is no slouch, either. From homosexuality to sexism to disbelief, religions have forbidden people for breaking the (ever changing) rules and have condemned, damned, and killed people for doing so. And even though we don’t live in medieval times, most religions still do at least some of those things.

The nature of the major holy books is that they can be read, interpreted, and cherry-picked to back up almost any position imaginable… not just love and kindness, but also slavery, racism, pedophilia, bigotry, discrimination, murder, genocide, and a host of other positions that, without the holy books, would be not only morally reprehensible, but virtually unthinkable (they’re still morally reprehensible, but sadly, all too thinkable). If a religion’s tenants say that unbelievers should be killed or that people who don’t follow the rules will be tortured for all eternity or that women are inferior or that homosexuals are abominations, it doesn’t leave much room for tolerance and kindness.

Those religious people who are tolerant and loving cannot espouse all the teachings of their religion. They must, in order to maintain their faith, cherry pick certain parts of the bible and follow certain parts of the church’s teachings while rationalizing away other parts or ignoring them altogether. Taking religious teachings as a whole would put them in an untenable position.

Religion promotes immorality.

Prayer and forgiveness I’ve written about this before but it bears repeating… often. Religion, particularly versions of Christianity, certainly do not promote moral behavior. Sure, Christianity offers the whole “carrot and burning-in-hell-for-eternity stick” scenario for encouraging good behavior (which is morally questionable on its own), but based on Christian principles, you can ignore the carrot for as long as you like and simply ask for forgiveness later… with no consequences. That’s about as far as you can get from encouraging moral behavior… to the point of implicitly condoning immoral behavior.

“Go ahead and do your worst,” Christianity says. “Just ask for forgiveness and place you faith in Jesus later and all will be well.”

Of course, if you don’t ask for forgiveness and place your faith in Jesus, then you get the fiery pit… forever. Interestingly enough, Islam doesn’t teach eternal punishment. There’s a “Hell” if you will, but it’s not eternal. It seems that, in this particular case, Islam is a much more merciful religion than Christianity. In Islam, simply asking for forgiveness doesn’t get you out of the punishment, either, so it lacks Christianity’s flaw in that regard. Of course, that doesn’t free it from its own promotion of immorality, including debasing women and pedophilia.

Religious rules can frequently be irrelevant or immoral in their own ways as well, and if you add multiple interpretations and cherry-picking to the mix, things get even more muddied. Certainly, you can dig out some gems of wisdom and kindness from religious doctrine, but you have to work through mountains of rubbish to find them.

Religion promotes inaction.

Religion promotes inaction by encouraging prayer. It’s as simple as that. Other than possibly creating a calming effect on the person praying, prayer does nothing. “Prayer,” as the saying goes, “is the best way to do nothing and still think you’re helping”… or “The hard work of one does more than the prayers of millions”… or “Nothing fails like prayer.”

Sometimes bumper sticker wisdom says it all.

Religion impedes progress.

I can't hear you! Say what you will about the debate on whether religion and science are compatible, the main opponents to scientific research are bible-thumping members of fundamentalist religions. They will deny scientific data, no matter how overwhelming, if it conflicts with their ancient dogma or challenges their ideological loyalties. From the time of Galileo to present day arguments about evolution and global warming an stem cell research, the people on the front lines of denialism are almost exclusively hyper religious.

Evolution versus creationism is probably one of the most publicized debates in this regard. The creationists want their mythology taught in science classes even though it isn’t science by any stretch of the imagination. They’ve tried to couch it in scientific language, calling it “Intelligent Design,” but it’s no more scientific with it’s fancy name. They reject factual data about the age of the universe, the age of the Earth, the age of fossils, the process of evolution, the effects of natural selection, and the unequivocal lineage of humans from ape-like ancestors.

Some of that can be credited toward a belief in a 6,000 year old Earth, but much can be credited to the narcissism addressed earlier. How can a religious believer admit that humans are just the most recent product of the evolutionary process and not a special creation of a loving, caring, all-knowing god? If the holy books are supposed to be true, contradictory facts must be eliminated… either by ignoring them or attempting to discredit them.

Religion is a self-perpetuating hindrance to honest, ethical, and yes, moral living. Despite a religious influence, many people still maintain just such a life… by compartmentalizing their beliefs, cherry-picking which doctrines to follow (“cafeteria Christians”), or simply ignoring doctrines altogether in favor of simply calling themselves “spiritual.” Those who lead a good and moral life do so not because of religious teachings, but because of an innate sense of morality combined with societal norms defining appropriate behavior.

Religion clouds the issue of morality… and many other issues. The disadvantages far outweigh the benefits. The promotion of perpetual ignorance is reason enough for religion to be abandoned. Sadly, that probably won’t happen in my lifetime. Religion doesn’t need the truth. It needs followers.

As Nietzsche said, “Faith [is] not wanting to know what is true.”

Sometimes bumper sticker wisdom says it all.

Why take them seriously?

Here’s why it’s really hard to take the religious right seriously.

“I don’t believe in global warming,” said conservative activist Kim Simac, a horse trainer and mother of nine from Wisconsin who also believes that the teaching of creationism and prayer need to be brought back to public schools.



One delegate, Sue Phelps, drew comparisons between Barack Obama, Fidel Castro and Adolf Hitler – “they were good orators too” – and said the president’s nationality and religion were “unanswered questions”.



“Today in America, far too many young people enter adulthood unprepared for college, career, and life,” said Allan Golston, president of The Gates Foundation’s U.S. Program. [Drew] Dickens agrees and believes that “part of the problem is that we have removed prayer and the Ten Commandments from our schools and curriculum.”


I could go on. When people are that vocal, yet that oblivious to facts, that ignorant of the Constitution, and that eager to force their religious beliefs on others, they’ve really got no room to complain when they are ignored or mocked.

Kevin Jennings appointed to education department

Kevin JenningsKevin Jennings will become the assistant deputy secretary of education for the department’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools. That’s quite a mouthful. According to this article, “the office oversees financial assistance for drug and violence prevention and is in charge of developing program policy for the Department of Education.”

Among his many distinctions, Mr. Jennings has been the recipient of the Human and Civil Rights Award of the National Education Association, the Distinguished Service Award of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and the Diversity Leadership Award of the National Association of Independent Schools. He seems eminently qualified for the position.

So why do I bring this up? Well… Mr. Jennings is gay. Anyone with a finger anywhere near the pulse of the religious right knows that they seem to feel that being gay is equivalent to child molestation, sexual perversion, subversive indoctrination of children into the “gay lifestyle,” and other atrocities offensive to their god. I saw this attitude in full swing in a recent Facebook discussion.

I’ll give some examples of the discussion here, but without names attached to them. I didn’t ask anyone’s permission, so keeping anonymity is important, though the sentiments expressed should see the light of day to expose the homophobia, intolerance, and factual distortions.

Here are the objections raised against Mr. Jennings at the beginning of the discussion.

  1. He is the founder and former executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN).
  2. GLSEN is infamous for the “Fistgate Scandal,” a conference in which young teens were guided on how to perform dangerous acts of sexual perversion, including “fisting.”
  3. Mr. Jennings was quoted as saying “Fuck ‘em” to the “Religious Right.”
  4. Jennings wrote the forward for a book called Queering Elementary Education: Advancing the Dialogue about Sexualities and Schooling.

The poster (I’ll call him “Poster Alpha”) was careful to say that he feels Mr. Jennings has the right to live his life however he wants… which is usually the kind of thing you hear when there is disapproval of the life being led. But here are some of his additional comments.

This appointment is just another example of the grossly poor choices our President is making. At the minimum it reveals very poor judgment. At worst, it is another example of how he and his administration are waging battle on core American values.

I’ve known about this dude for a while. He’s a despicable person, who has taken out his anger on, and focused his debauched standards on traditional family values – I say that without reservation. No one should defend or empower a person who wants to trump parental rights and inflict (yes I say inflict!) debauched sexual values on children. Where the heck is the defense of their purity?? I’m so glad my kids aren’t in public school.

And I might add, if the roles were swapped, and a Republican president were to have nominated someone with an ecclesiastic background, there would be no end to the caterwauling from the Left about imposing religious values in the public school system. Tell me, who is the real threat?

I’m not sure where Poster Alpha got his information, but I’m going to venture a guess that it was a site along the lines of WorldNetDaily or MassResistance.org or some other right-wing religious site. It certainly was not an impartial (or even factual) source. Sadly, Poster Alpha will not reveal his sources, even after being asked.

His initial objections were blatantly silly. The only one that really required much looking into was number two (the “fistgate scandal”), but that was easily done. Here are my reactions to each.

1. Jennings founded GLSEN

That boils down to “Oh my god! He’s gay!” So what.

2. GLSEN is infamous for the “Fistgate Scandal”

This is about GLSEN, not Jennings. In actuality, it’s not even about GLSEN that much. GLSEN was one of three sponsors of a “Teach Out” conference at Tuft University about teens and sexual behavior issues. The voluntary conference was for students age 14 to 21 and an attending student asked what “fisting” was. The teachers answered the question, but the conference was being (illegally) taped by a religious right group member and the tape was then used to manufacture a controversy. You can read about the issue here and here. A quick Google search of “fistgate” will bring up plenty of links, some more dubious than others. You’ll find self-righteous outrage along with more even-handed responses.

Jennings was not present at the event and was not responsible for the content of the conference… and GLSEN was only a sponsor, anyway. So bringing up the issue is just plain petty… and silly.

3. Jennings is quoted as saying “Fuck ’em” to the religious right

In actuality, he was quoted as saying “I’m trying not to say ‘Fuck ’em'” which is somewhat different. Either way, however… so what. I suppose it’s a matter of the religious right being piously offended. Somehow, I think they’ve probably given a “Fuck ’em” or two to groups they oppose.

4. Jennings wrote the forward for a book

The book in question is called Queering Elementary Education: Advancing the Dialogue about Sexualities and Schooling (Curriculum, Cultures, and (Homo)Sexualities). It’s only got one review at Amazon, but they have a good synopsis of the book. It doesn’t seem to be about what the title implies and seems like a thought-provoking, interesting book. However, because Jennings wrote the forward, the religious right seems to find him objectionable (again… “Oh my god! He’s gay!”).

The intolerance and bigotry were rampant in the Facebook discussion, punctuated every now and then with a rational response by someone not frothing at the mouth with homophobic mania. Poster Alpha himself ramped up the rhetoric when he added “traditional family values” to the “core American values” Jennings was supposedly assaulting… along with childrens’ purity.

Here’s a sampling of some of the other nonsense from the discussion. These are from one person. I call him Mr. Froth.

However, when people try to promote their own lifestyles upon impressionable youth, youth that are not their own children, that is where I draw the line.

If Mr. Jennings wants to have children and teach them how to “fist” or any other perverted and dangerous methods of “affection” that he practices, that is his own business. (although, one would have to wonder whether child services would get involved if this were happening) When he insists that teaching these methods to other’s children is “enlightenment,” all he is doing is trying to justify his lifestyle.

If I tried to enter the schools and teach my lifestyle of Christian living, I would be run out and probably sued.

Has our society degenerated so severely that teaching deviant sexual practices is acceptable while teaching Christian principles is not? Apparently, it has.

These workshops are no different than cult recruitment events. They are designed to increase the “membership” of Mr. Jennings following.

Overlooking this incredible atrocity to appoint the man to lead our nation’s education would be akin to overlooking a child serial murder’s past to appoint him as summer camp director simply because he had written some books […]

[Jennings] has his agenda and that is to force his views on others, starting with the very young. He is, in fact, developing a “cult” by trying to indoctrinate his beliefs in these youths.

Get this crap out of the schools and actually teach these kids reading writing and arithmetic! Why is that so difficult to understand? How’s that for enlightenment?

This poster seems to be so worked up in a frenzied, frothing rage that he creates all kinds of demons to attack. Promoting lifestyles? Teaching children how to fist? Perverted and dangerous? Justifying lifestyles? Cult recruitment events? Deviant sexual practices? Being gay is like being a child serial murderer? Forcing his views on others?

There’s so much misinformed bigotry and hatred here that I’m not sure where (or how) to start. I was actually surprised that a comparison to Hitler didn’t pop up because it seemed that’s where Mr. Froth was headed.

Evidently, Mr. Froth seems to think that teaching Christian principles is not allowed. In public schools, religious dogma cannot be taught, but it certainly can be taught in private schools, in churches, at seminaries, at conventions and at any other private events. He also seems to overlook the fact that Jennings did not teach at the mentioned workshop, nor was this information being taught in public schools.

And then the workshop in question becomes “these workshops” and are likened to cult recruitment events which are designed to increase membership… in the gay community? It’s an absurd notion and, with every word he writes, he displays an astronomical amount of ignorance and clouded thinking.

Another poster, like Mr. Froth, seems to think that the “fistgate” conference was taught in a public school as part of the curriculum.

[Jennings] has supposedly run programs about bullying; do his efforts to make schools safe from bullying include the bullying from the left and from the gay rights activists? I feel pretty bullied when the president appoints someone this divisive to such a powerful position over the education of children.

Please let me make myself clear, my objection to the man has nothing to do with his personal sexual choices.

[Children] are being taught by the popular culture to disdain the leadership and advice of their own parents […]. We are now politicizing the sexual and moral education of children.

I read things like that and wonder whether the religious right creates such clouded thinking or if such clouded thinking leads people down the path to the religious right. Here, an attempt is made to play the victim card… it’s not the gays that are bullied. It’s the straight people who hate the gays. Then to say that a presidential appointment is akin to bullying? That shows a complete lack of understanding and empathy for the victims of bullying.

Again, there is the claim of not objecting to the man’s personal sexual choices… while showing exactly the opposite. The claim of “it’s all about the children” only goes so far to cover up the homophobia and disgust.

There’s so much more of this type of talk that went on in the discussion. It ranged pretty far off topic from the original appointment of Mr. Jennings, but tended to focus on sex. It’s funny how the religious right tends to focus so much of their attention and talk on sex while claiming that they don’t care what people do in their own bedrooms.

Mr. Froth and the others have gotten the notion in their heads that there is some “gay agenda” that is being forced into the public school curriculum which isn’t fair since “Christian values” cannot be taught there. It shows an astronomical amount of ignorance on their part. I suppose they think that gays are trying to recruit more people as gays.

The objections raised by Poster Alpha to the appointment of Mr. Jennings are petty and irrelevant. They all stem from a basic feeling of homophobia and a desire to keep children from knowing about “alternative lifestyles,” as if they might somehow become victims of a gay plot to rule the world.

With all the accolades and awards Mr. Jennings has achieved in his career, it seems to me that he’s a fine choice.