Evangelicals Embrace Mockery of Transcendent Faith

Three years ago, I had the pleasure to interview Terry Kemple, who (by the way) will be on the ballot this year for Hillsborough School Board District 7. Back when I interviewed him, Kemple had helped organize a series of billboards1 around Hillsborough with misleading quotes about the religiosity of America’s founding fathers. Kemple rebutted my point that no historian I had spoken to agreed with the context Kemple’s billboard’s were promoting. “The United States was not founded as, nor was it intended to be, a secular government,” Kemple argued. This disease of America’s evangelical religions makes a few fatal flaws, notably for one, the above assertion that America ought to have a theocratic government. 2 But, Kemple is just a symptom of a larger disease in American evangelical Christianity. A disease that seeks to overturn the Separation of Church and State or, as Kemple said, there is no Separation of Church and State.3

Yet, litigating the constitutional principle of separation and church and state has developed into a fringe movement, not unlike radical animal rights groups (ALF, PETA) or 9/11 truthers. These anti-separationists have self-sustaining forums and websites that aggregate news and re-distribute it through a filter that always argues against the validity and the existence of Separation of Church and state. Behold, this typical gem from SpeakUP, a church rights group:

The Johnson Amendment, upon which [Americans United for Separation of Church and State] bases its letter, is blatantly unconstitutional.  Under the First Amendment, the pastor has the right to determine what is said from the pulpit, not the IRS.

It’s ironic that an organization committed to the “separation of church and state” is arguing for more governmental monitoring and control of churches and pastors.

This is the territory this fringe group wants to carve out. Defend your rights by insisting upon the unconstitutionality of limiting a pastor’s speech. Attack the other side by insisting that by fighting you they are undermining their own pro-separationism. Hold on, you’ll soon see the problem with their argument.

I heard about the Pulpit Freedom Sunday event on the Colbert Report. Stephen Colbert summarizes the Johnson Amendment here and then rips Kemple-clone Jim Garlow a new prayer hole. It turned into a character-breaking moment around 2:57 for Colbert when he attacked Garlow from a pro-religious and pro-separation angle. Its pure gold. Although, I will tackle this issue differently. Just keep Garlow’s words in mind.

The anti-separation fringe takes two points that I find hilariously silly. First, they argue that for 166 years before the Johnson Amendment, pastor’s had unrestricted free speech from the pulpit. Garlow indicates the arbitrary nature of the 50 year old Johnson Amendment is a point against it. Essentially, Johnson wanted to punish two Texas businessmen who manipulated tax-exempt organizations to politick against him.. That’s pretty interesting to me. Because another relic of the Soviet era, the legislation of God onto our paper currency, came out of that same period. At nearly 48 years old, its in some ways an even more nonsense government intrusion into religious affairs. Yet, atheists are regularly rebuffed by similar Garlow and Kemple types when they make that very same argument about the ludicrous national mood that gave us “In God We Trust” on our bills.

Additionally they claim that if the Johnson Amendment were enforced, if churches had taxed status forced on them for their politicking, then the IRS would be violating the Separation of Church and State4. Yet they simultaneously argue that the free speech of pastors ought to be subsidized by the government’s bestowed tax-free status. Essentially, that in addition to their tax-free status, Churches ought to go beyond the stated nature of taxed-free organizations “to promote the common good” and shift into the territory of a political action committee.

However, it’s obvious that both moves compromise the integrity of the speaker and violate separation in its purest form. Either a church is punitively taxed for endorsing a candidate, thus having the government’s hands in its coffers and losing separate status or it speaks freely in favor of candidates with tax-free subsidy, thus having transformed into a tax-free political action committee. Both of these options are having your cake and eating it to.

The only pure Separation argument, if religionists really care about being separate from govermnet interference, results from the status quo this whole event means to undermine: taxed-free status and non-involvement in government. No other option is logically possible. This is what Colbert was getting at in the first place. For many Americans, religion offers the only non-secular refuge from the bombardment of politics into every facet of the American experience. It offers the only place for the average American to seek out the transcendent, a necessarily non-Earthly concern. But, by lumping spiritualism with earthy affairs, Colbert thinks, and he’s not wrong, that these Evangelicals are cheapening not just their faith, but capital-f Faith at large.






[1] Billboards stating: “Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. –George Washington” “…we all agree on our obligation to the moral precepts of Jesus. – Thomas Jefferson.” “God who gave us life, gave us liberty. – Thomas Jefferson”

If that last one reads funny to you, it’s because it has a hidden ellipses that Kemple’s group left out of the billboard. The full quote in the originating text reads: “The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time.” Notice how the imposition of “the” changes the meaning from a specifically Abahamic God to a probably more Deistic God, or even god in forbidding lower-case.

[2] Can a government not be secular and avoid becoming actively and specifically religious? Wouldn’t it be secular if it were not religious, even if this was just an accident and not a stated fact of the Constitution, for example?

[3] Then why argue about it? If its not there. This seems to be a consistent problem with this group. They both argue against the Separation of Church and State and that the Separation of Church and State doesn’t exist anyways in the Constitution.

[4] (which, you don’t think even exists, so does it or doesn’t it? It can’t well be violated by the IRS if it’s not an actual violable constitutional principle, right?)


Tackling Abraham’s Sacrifice of Isaac

Radiolab did a fantastic piece a few years back on the story of Abraham sacrificing the only son he loved – he had two sons, God said kill the one you love which is Isaac, Abraham – being kind of a dick dad – had a favorite son. Its very confusing, but the Radiolab show makes it clear. In doing so they shed some light on tragedy and the human condition in our own time.

Give it a listen and then come back and read the below response.

Although, Robert Krulwich accepts the religious intention of the tale, I think Thomas Paine puts a nice cap on it with his view on the goodness of murder and sacrifice in The Bible.  Krulwich definitely struggles with wanting to conclude with Paine, but makes the fatal error common to all religious minds of “prostituting one’s Reason” as Paine puts it., thus “[preparing] himself for the commission of every other crime.”

As written by Thomas Paine, in “The Age of Reason”.

It seems as if parents of the Christian profession were ashamed to tell their children anything about the principles of their religion. They sometimes instruct them in morals, and talk to them of the goodness of what they call Providence, for the Christian mythology has five deities- there is God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, the God Providence, and the Goddess Nature. But the Christian story of God the Father putting his son to death, or employing people to do it (for that is the plain language of the story) cannot be told by a parent to a child; and to tell him that it was done to make mankind happier and better is making the story still worse- as if mankind could be improved by the example of murder; and to tell him that all this is a mystery is only making an excuse for the incredibility of it.

There’s an online version of The Age of Reason and “ctrl+f” makes my life super easy. Check it out if this interests you.

The Nazi Defense for Child Molestation

Yesterday, Monsignor Lynn of the Philadelphia archdiocese was sentenced to a minimum of three years in prison before he can be reviewed for parole. His sentence may last a maximum of six years.

I previously wrote about this here: http://wp.me/pGXU1-Bh

Below is the Nazi defense for raping children:

After the sentencing, Ann Casey, a friend of Monsignor Lynn for 36 years, said she believed he was a scapegoat and a victim of his intense faith in the archdiocese’s leaders. “It was his vow of obedience to the church that landed him this morning in jail,” she said.

Can you see the “I was obeying orders” in that?

Source = http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/25/us/philadelphia-church-official-to-be-sentenced-in-abuse-case.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

And Still it Rapes

Yes, its about the Catholic Church. I have been out of the loop on this one, so if you haven’t, this time the Archdiocese of Milwaukee admitted to paying off priests accused of molesting children. To their credit, this is because the payoff was faster than administrative laicization (the process of removing a priest’s magical powers?) in terms of removing the priest from his rape dungeon (he does perform magic, he has to have a dungeon right?).

“I don’t know any other organization that when you’re fired from your job because of a criminal act, you get paid to leave your job,” [Peter] Isely [of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP)]. “Obviously something is profoundly wrong with this system that they say is fixed. You’re paying off a child rapist; you’re giving them a bonus check; it’s a bonus basically.”

And no prosecutions! Yay!


Science Literacy as Presidential Criterion

Of course. No one disagrees with the claim that a president of the United States must have a fundamental understanding of science (at least no one without a leaking head wound or blinding religious prejudices). Also, I get that Mr. Otto is writing a book and wants to tease it with lots of leading questions. But let’s just answer the simplest one so that at least it seems like this article gets exactly what about science someone needs to understand to succeed in today’s complicated world.

So what happens to Jefferson’s insight today, in a world dominated by complex science? Science influences every aspect of life, yet very few people have a good understanding of most science.  Is the ever-increasing burden of education that science places on the people making it hard for democracy to continue to function as a viable form of government?  And if it is, what’s the alternative?

The point I want to pick out is that it seems that Otto drags the reader to the conclusion that to understand science at all, you have to be a scientist. That’s simply not the case. In fact, its almost insultingly not the case. People like E.O. Wilson, Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, Neil deGrasse Tyson have all argued that the fundamentals are what count: understanding the scientific method, the meaning of theory and hypothesis, the concept of reserving judgment where evidence doesn’t exist, the humility of the cosmic perspective, the similiarities inherent in Earth’s biosphere (e.g. that humans and trees share a common ancestor).

From talking to my non-scientifically inclined relatives, the crux of the problem seems to be the arrogance inherent in antropocentrism and solipsism. For example, the idea that one’s favoring a particularly sports team affects that team losing in the playoffs – as my uncle claimed last night before the Capitals lost and “proved him right”.

How can we expect any better from our leaders while we participate in the most arrogant thoughts and beliefs about our world – that a cosmic grand-daddy bestows judgment and retribution, that kissing the roof of the car when you run a red light will protect you from cops, the belief in Karma, knocking on wood, horoscopes. The list goes on and these things are just some of the more outrageous examples. However, these symptoms share a common disease – the very American disease that one’s own decisions affect and alter the mechanics of the universe.

If we want a better public understanding of science, let’s skip shoving chemistry and calculus down the public’s collective throat and go straight for a healthy dose of humility about just how small and irrelevant we are.


The Invisible Market

This is a fun thought experiment. Basically, if you do not believe in the concept of a soul, would you be willing to sign a contract transferring ownership of your soul – which you don’t believe in – in exchange for $50.


For the record, I’m with Bruce’s conclusion at the end. I’m all for a market where I can sell a thing I don’t believe in over and over and over. Isn’t that what religion is anyways?

Science Sunday

There’s a video in the link, which I think is pretty damning towards the recent Reason Rally on the D.C. mall. There’s two fantastic quotes. One of them is basically to deny labels to other people who would like to assume they know everything about you based on personality categories.

“I don’t have the time, the interest, the energy to do any of that… My goal is to get people thinking straight in the first place, to get you to be curious about the natural world.”

Similarly, the below linked article also mentions Dawkins – who I think gets a little bit too far away from the whole agnostic stronghold to successfully get back with charitable reasonable comments like the Tyson quote above. Nonetheless:

No matter how strongly Dawkins is associated with atheism, he is first and foremost a scientist. Therefore, “the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like any other,” he claims.


Donate: Make It Known

Yesterday, Facebook added an option to flag yourself as an Organ Donor. Intelligent discussion about what that offers can be found at The Dish* or in the form of a TED Talk, if you prefer.

Some instructions from Facebook on how to do this. Basically, it’s in Life Events under Health and Wellness.

There’s no good reason not to be an Organ Donor. That means people with religious reservations. If your god would like you to take life-saving devices implanted in your body to the grave, then your god is immoral. Period. The end. Still not sold? If you dispute your god and ignore his commandment against organ removal and go to hell, at least you’ll have been a good human on this Earth, and die knowing “maybe I’ll go to hell or maybe I’ll get lucky and be wrong about god being a selfish asshole and I won’t burn forever, but either way I will save the life of a few other fellow humans by doing this.”

*Yes, that’d be how I found out about this.

The Daily Jefferson

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peal...

The below quote often gets snipped down a key sentence – you know which one it is – and I think this is a mistake. Thomas Jefferson probably was not an atheist. However, a modern atheist can read the below quote and see how it may be applied in the very same way said atheist came about said’s deeply rationalized personal atheism:

 But our rulers can have authority over such natural rights only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God. The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. If it be said, his testimony in a court of justice cannot be relied on, reject it then, and be the stigma on him. Constraint may make him worse by making him a hypocrite, but it will never make him a truer man. It may fix him obstinately in his errors, but will not cure them. Reason and free enquiry are the only effectual agents against error. Give a loose to them, they will support the true religion, by bringing every false one to their tribunal, to the test of their investigation. They are the natural enemies of error, and of error only. Had not the Roman government permitted free enquiry, Christianity could never have been introduced. Had not free enquiry been indulged, at the aera of the reformation, the corruptions of Christianity could not have been purged away. If it be restrained now, the present corruptions will be protected, and new ones encouraged. Was the government to prescribe to us our medicine and diet, our bodies would be in such keeping as our souls are now. Thus in France the emetic was once forbidden as a medicine, and the potatoe as an article of food. Government is just as infallible too when it fixes systems in physics. Galileo was sent to the inquisition for affirming that the earth was a sphere: the government had declared it to be as flat as a trencher, and Galileo was obliged to abjure his error.

Thomas Jefferson – Notes on the State of Virginia p. 285 (Query regarding Religion)

*That’s right, the whole book is online at that link. Go nuts with it.

The Synnergy of Sex and Intellectualism

Usually, Foreign Policy hits a pretty dry note. It’s purely an intellectual publication, at least when I read it. So I am going to come right out and infuriate my sexism nerve by pointing out the obvious.

Way to go Foreign Policy. You got me. A patina of glistening obsidian flesh, a slit for seductive eyes and a lustrous crude oil-colored mane. You win. I am sexually interested in reading this piece about women being objectified in the West and abuse in the worst ways in Arab and Muslim countries. You win by losing. Now I am stuck with the worst task imaginable: intellectually engaging with the actual content of the (I have to assume galled) female writer.

Any quote I pull does the article a huge disservice as a whole. It’s simply a must-read. But, here’s something:

I turn again to Saudi Arabia, and not just because when I encountered the country at age 15 I was traumatized into feminism — there’s no other way to describe it — but because the kingdom is unabashed in its worship of a misogynistic God and never suffers any consequences for it, thanks to its double-whammy advantage of having oil and being home to Islam’s two holiest places, Mecca and Medina.


And we’re in the middle of a revolution in Egypt! It’s a revolution in which women have died, been beaten, shot at, and sexually assaulted fighting alongside men to rid our country of that uppercase Patriarch — Mubarak — yet so many lowercase patriarchs still oppress us. The Muslim Brotherhood, with almost half the total seats in our new revolutionary parliament, does not believe women (or Christians for that matter) can be president. The woman who heads the “women’s committee” of the Brotherhood’s political party said recently that women should not march or protest because it’s more “dignified” to let their husbands and brothers demonstrate for them.


My reaction boils down to the argument of a militant vegetarian. Yes, we all agree eating meat is bad and evil considering American factory farming practices. However, actually addressing the problem is much more complicated than shouting how bad and evil everyone is for eating meat. The only practical solution is voluntary removal from the system you disagree with and not sweeping changes from an outside (or revolutionary) force.

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