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Monthly Archives: November 2009

Tiger Tale

I met this guy (through a thick glass enclosure) a few weeks ago. Isn’t he handsome?

I’m pretty sure he doesn’t eat Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes.

– the chaplain

 
10 Comments

Posted by on November 29, 2009 in photography

 

No God? No Problem.

The American Humanist Association is launching a national advertising campaign this weekend. This year’s slogan, a variation on last year’s theme, is:

The Washington Post/Newsweek had their On Faith panelists answer the following question:

What do you think of the American Humanist Association’s new “Godless Holiday” campaign? The ads, displayed on transit systems in five major U.S. cities, will say: “No God? . . . No Problem! Be good for goodness’ sake. Humanism is the idea that you can be good without a belief in God.” Is this another front on the so-called secular “war on Christmas”? Or is this another example of the pluralistic strength of America? And would you agree with the premise “No God, no problem”?

Daniel Dennett (who, as one of the so-called New Atheists, needs no introduction), said this:

I am delighted with the American Humanist Association’s campaign. It articulates a simple truth that should not even be considered controversial. OF COURSE you can be good without a belief in God….

We can all be good for goodness’ sake, and not because an imaginary God ‘commands’ it (who believes, literally, in such an anthropomorphic commander anyway?) or because we fear eternal torture if we don’t (what a vicious idea!), or because we crave the goodies in an afterlife (what an ignoble, childish myth!). Once we set aside, as beneath respect, those traditional themes of obedience to a supernatural monarch, fear of punishment, and covetousness of reward, religion turns out to have nothing to offer to morality except some inspiring examples of good and courageous behavior that can be appreciated by believers and non-believers alike.

I don’t share Dennett’s “delight” at the campaign (I’m more f’r it than agin’ it, but my attitude is akin to Susan Jacoby’s: “I actually think that proselytizing transit ads for goodness without God are, well, a bit undignified….”), but I agree that the ad’s premise, that people can be good without gods, shouldn’t be controversial. I’m troubled by Dennett’s reference, in his closing sentence, to “inspiring examples of good and courageous behavior” on the part of religious exemplars. As I think about those exemplars and their deeds, I’m struck by how often these people fail(ed) to live up to their moral ideals:

  • Jacob cheated his brother
  • Abraham lied about his relationship with Sarah
  • Jesus cursed a fig tree that didn’t bear fruit out of season
  • Inquisitors tortured people they deemed as heretics and infidels
  • Protestants and Catholics bled Europe dry during religious wars
  • The Catholic Church still refuses to take full responsibility for pedophilia
  • Muslims stone women for being unchaperoned when in the presence of males to whom they are not related

The list goes on and on. One could argue more persuasively that religions have provided enduring moral teachings than that they have provided moral role models. Of course, many non-religious philosophies have also provided enduring moral precepts, so the realm of morality is not, and never has been, exclusive to religions. On that point, Dennett and I agree.

Susan K. Smith, a pastor in the United Church of Christ, had this to say:

I cannot for the life of me understand why humanists don’t just leave people who believe in God alone….

Just like atheists don’t want God pushed down their throats, neither do those of us who believe in God want atheism pushed down ours. People like me who believe in God find comfort in the thought of an Almighty. Belief in that Almighty has been a mainstay of my life and of the life of my ancestors. I choose to continue to believe and will do so, and so I resent people telling me that I should not….

I wish humanists would just go on and believe like they want … and leave those of us who prefer to believe in God alone.

I cannot for the life of me understand how Smith got the idea that this ad is directed at her. I don’t see anything in it that urges her to give up her beliefs. Here’s a newsflash for Smith and other Christians of her ilk: it’s not all about you. Really. It’s not. This ad is not about belittling believers, it’s about encouraging nonbelievers. If you and your peers want to believe in God, go right ahead. Worship him/her/it in your homes and churches. Find all the comfort you want from your faith communities, your hymns and your rituals. While you’re at it, turn your own words around, aim them at yourselves, and keep your religion out of my community’s science curriculum (i.e., intelligent design/creationism). And out of my country’s medical agenda (i.e., stem cell research). And out of my country’s laws (i.e., abortion). Most humanists would be glad to “live and let live,” if Smith and her cohorts would let us do so. But, as long as Smith and Co. insist on pushing their religion into our lives, we have no choice but to push it right back out at them.

Michael Otterson (Mormon) had this interesting take on the issue:

This is a nation that has long cherished the basic, founding freedom to be religious or nonreligious. Members of the American Humanist Association have every right to believe as they do and to communicate those beliefs.

The potential for trouble lies in whether a message like theirs is allowed to descend into ridicule or condemnation of those who do profess a belief in God. Just as those who consider themselves nonreligious expect their lack of belief to be respected, religious Americans should also be able to safely assume their profession of faith will be respected and not just tolerated.

Unfortunately, there is a growing tide of anti-religious sentiment in America….

The American Humanist Association’s appeal for us to “be good for goodness’ sake” is timely and reasonable. I hope they take their own message to heart when it comes to respecting the rights of the rest of us to celebrate a religious holiday with religious language, symbols and special acts of goodness.

I’ll touch on two points. First, the notion that “religious Americans should also be able to safely assume their profession of faith will be respected” is vague and troubling. What does the phrase “profession of faith” mean? I respect the rights of religious Americans to hold and profess their beliefs. I will not, however, respect the contents of their beliefs. That battle has already been fought and the religious have lost it – humanists, atheists, etc., will not respect beliefs that we deem to be either ridiculous, or, in more worrisome cases, dangerous. Second, given the role that the Mormon Church in the USA has played in squelching gay rights, Otterson’s final sentence is rich. Humanists do respect the rights of religious people to celebrate their holidays with their unique language, symbols and rituals; we are not trying to take those things away from them. Otterson and Smith are arguing against a position that is not held by most, if any, humanists. Otterson wants us to respect his rights to practice his religion, while he and his buddies campaign to deny basic human rights to others. Can you spell i-r-o-n-y? I guess it’s never occurred to him that the “rising tide of anti-theism” may be due, at least in part, to the roles that theists play in suppressing human rights.

I’ll quickly touch on two more articles and leave you to read the rest on your own (there are nineteen articles in all).

Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary left this brief, ostensibly cordial (but, actually, smug and self-righteous) message:

We evangelical types have paraded enough of our own in-your-face stuff in public places, so why should we complain when the unbelievers do the same? Nor should we get too worked up when those same folks insist that morality is possible without a belief in God. Actually, the Bible itself teaches that such is the case….

Ultimately, of course, the big question is what–or Whom–we are trusting in as we go about our efforts to “be good for goodness’ sake.” But, as for the Humanists wanting to run their anti-God ads: I say, “No problem”–at least in the short run.

Did you catch that? He ended with the trump card to trump all trump cards – the Threat of Hell! What a humble guy! His cup runneth over with Jesus’ love.

The person who most closely captures my attitude about the whole War on Christmas issue is Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, formerly of Chicago Theological Seminary and now a fellow at the Center for American Progress:

American public holidays are about consumption, not God. Even worse, the Christian faith has internalized this message of cultural Christmas. Christians themselves often forget what Christmas is really about. The humanists really can’t do any more harm to Christians about Christmas than we’ve already done to ourselves.

American holidays, particularly Christmas, are all about the economy. Economists track the health or weakness of the economy based on the purchasing habits of American consumers between now and Christmas….

We’ve set up our entire economy to depend on the sales generated by the hype of “holidays,” particularly Christmas. What could this possibly have to do with God?

The secularization of Christmas isn’t anything new and it can’t be pinned solely or even primarily on atheists, old or new (well, I’ll skip the part about the atheist songwriters who wrote all those great Christmas songs ;) ). The secularization of Christmas has occurred, and often continues to occur, with the full cooperation of Christians. Here’s an example of how a Christian organization does its part to secularize Christmas: the American Family Association opposes the secularization of Christmas by rating “naughty” and “nice” retailers according to how vociferously their sales catalogs promote Christmas rather than a generic holiday season. Moreover, the association urges people to boycott the naughty merchants and do all of their Christmas shopping at the nice stores. See above for the word i-r-o-n-y. For an example of how individuals participate in the secularization of the season, consider this: last year, a friend of mine who bemoans people taking Christ out of Christmas didn’t just take her children to see Santa Claus and get their picture taken with the jolly old fella. Oh no, she went one better: she took her dog to see Santa and got his picture taken too. My suspicion is that Jesus only plays a marginally greater role in her Christmas than he plays in mine. Just don’t try telling her that.

I’ll leave it to others to fight faux religious wars, max out credit cards and do almost everything to excess in this season in which many seem to celebrate excess above all else. As for me, I’ll take consolation in this thought: No God? No problem.

– the chaplain

 
64 Comments

Posted by on November 27, 2009 in atheism, humanism, religion, secularism, society

 

A Thanksgiving Experiment

We all know that one of the primary tenets of scientific method is replication of results. I’m soliciting your assistance in performing a little experiment this weekend.

Part One – Explication/Demonstration of Experiment:

Part Two – Execution of Experiment:

Have A Happy Thanskgiving!
Have A Happy Thanskgiving!
Have A Happy Thanskgiving!

Part Three – Analysis & Conclusion:

Inform your colleagues of the results of this experiment in the comments section.

Thanks for your participation!

– the chaplain

 
12 Comments

Posted by on November 25, 2009 in announcements/news, humor

 

This Shit Has to Stop

I suppose you’ve all heard or read about the new anti-Obama slogan that’s making the rounds in conservative circles.This little gem is available on t-shirts and bumper stickers – Pray for Obama: Psalm 109:8.

For those of you who may not be familiar with that verse, this is what it says:

May his days be few;
may another take his place of leadership.

Standing alone, the verse may not seem too sinister. Maybe it means “may his days in office be few….” Anyone who is inclined to accept that interpretation, however, is gonna have a whole lotta ‘splainin’ to do when that verse is put in its context:

8 May his days be few;
may another take his place of leadership.

9 May his children be fatherless
and his wife a widow.

10 May his children be wandering beggars;
may they be driven from their ruined homes.

11 May a creditor seize all he has;
may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.

12 May no one extend kindness to him
or take pity on his fatherless children.

13 May his descendants be cut off,
their names blotted out from the next generation.

Now, I know that anti-W rhetoric got heated. And, it was often less than kind. But, the right-wing hatred of Obama has gone beyond differences of opinions and grown disgustingly toxic. Then again, there are some who contend that this is simply a joke, a funny meme. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who thinks this slogan is funny is seriously humor-impaired.

A slogan like this would be bad enough if it were merely vicious. What bothers me nearly as much as the malice is the seemingly seamless blending of religion and politics. What kinds of people are drawn toward this slogan?

Jews? After all, the passage comes from the Old Testament. But, somehow, I don’t think many Jews are plastering their Chevys with these bumper stickers.

Muslims? I doubt it.

Buddhists? Yeah, right.

No, the people that seem most likely to be attracted to this slogan are the ones who currently infest the Republican party: rabid, uber-rightwing conservative Christians. Some of them are the kind of people who organize teabagging events to protest taxes and health care reform. And some of them are the kind who insist that the United States is, or ought to be, a “Christian Nation” – with the understanding, of course, that their particular, peculiar flavor of Christianity is the one that should prevail. If this kind of vile, violent, virulent hatred and intolerance for people with whom one disagrees is part of what living in a “Christian Nation” entails, I want no part of it. Furthermore, I will not stand by quietly while they try to wreck my country. I’m all for freedom of religion. And freedom of conscience. And freedom of speech. I am all against theocracy. And oligarchy. And fascism. And I will oppose all of those forces with every breath in my body.

As much as the malice of this simple-minded slogan bothers me, and as much as the narrow-mindedness of the sloganeers bothers me, the thing that bothers me the most about this situation, by far, is the silence of a) Republicans and b) Christians. The Republican party is going to hell in a roller coaster; Republicans aren’t playing a role in the governance of our country, they’re playing count-the-votes in next year’s mid-term election. Listen up, Republicans: get your shit together and do the right thing. Either get some control over the radicals in your ranks or cut them loose. They are a drag on your party and they do not advance the cause of conservative politics. You may think you’re using them, but, be aware, they’re also using you. There’s no guarantee that the civil wing of the party will win the battle for party control. From where I sit, it looks damn well like the radicals have taken over and are well into the process of marginalizing the thoughtful among you. Grow some balls and take back your party, lest you lose not only your party, but your country too.

As for Christian leaders, I’m sick and tired of the deafening silence that accompanies Christian extremism. I commented on this before, shortly after the murder of Dr. Paul Tiller. Ever since 9/11 (perhaps even before then), Christians have urged moderate and liberal Muslims to police the rogues within their camp. Has Tony Perkins spoken out against this ostensibly Christian rhetorical nonsense, this oh-so-clever “joke?” Or Don Wildmon? Or Rick Warren? Or Gary Bauer? To my knowledge, not one of them (nor anyone like them) has uttered a word. If I’m wrong, please provide links in the comments. Listen up, Christian activists: now’s the time to put your money where your mouths are. Tell the violent, theocratic thugs and teabaggers in your ranks to get over themselves and put an end to the reckless rhetoric before someone – like, maybe, President Obama – gets hurt. Or worse. Until Christians start policing themselves and cleaning up their own wretchedly soiled house, they have no business telling Muslims to do so, nor do they have any business trying to persuade non-Christians that they, Christians, are the keepers of the secrets of God’s Kingdom, the bearers of Good News and all other such tommyrot. From where I sit, most Republican officeholders and many Christian political activists look like nothing more than power-hungry opportunists and control freaks. I want nothing to do with people like them and I sure as hell don’t want them running ruining my country. This extremist shit has to stop before we all get so deeply into it that we’ll need bucket loaders to dig us out. The shit has to stop, and it has to stop now.

UPDATE I: Here’s a video of Rachel Maddow and Frankie Schaeffer discussing this matter:

UPDATE II: It seems that a number of Internet vendors have removed this merchandise from their product lines.

– the chaplain

 
65 Comments

Posted by on November 20, 2009 in humanism, politics, religion

 

A Seasonally Appropriate Suggestion

As North America embarks on yet another Christmas season, proponents of abstinence-only sex education may want to reconsider their position:

H/T Camels With Hammers

– the chaplain

 
9 Comments

Posted by on November 19, 2009 in humor

 
 
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