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This is Why

April 30, 2018 Leave a comment

There’s a quick rebuttal to those that claim that the United States was founded as a Christian country. No, it doesn’t have to do with citing two centuries of court decisions, we don’t have to cite the famous letter of Thomas Jefferson where he explicitly says wall of separation, and no we don’t need to get into the unanimously ratified Treaty of Tripoli where John Adams makes it very clear that the United States is not a Christian country. None of that is necessary to shut down the argument, all you have to do is respond with a simple question: “Which Christianity?”

This will force the arguer to the realization that the idea of a “Christian” defined as someone who believes in Jesus, is a new phenomenon and a very tenuous one at that. For the most part the “Christians” in the United States believe in almost none of the same things. My usual go to example for this type of argument is the candidacy of Mitt Romney for president in 2012. He had to give a speech in which he assured the GOP voters that he would not be a Mormon president but a president that happened to be Mormon. When he gave that speech, I criticized it, because it shouldn’t be an issue. The press called it “Kennedy-like” which was appropriate because forty years prior Kennedy had to make a similar speech in which he had to assure voters that he wouldn’t be taking orders from an Italian guy in a pointy white hat. Now though I have a new example from very recent events.

The House Chaplain, which is a position that is a waste of tax money, was recently forced out by outgoing Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Ok, so the problem with writing this story is that we don’t know why he was forced out. The first report was that the Chaplain, Fr. Conroy, had willingly retired. Then the news changed saying that he resigned at the request of Ryan. This raises an interesting question of whether or not you can be fired from the office of House Chaplain. I assume the answer is yes, but what do you have to do?

Today, Ryan said that the reason was over complaints about pastoral services and not politics or prayers. So let’s break it down, it’s not about politics. That remark is only interesting if you believe the commentary that he was fired for criticizing the GOP tax bill in November. Conroy offered a prayer before voting on the bill that pled lawmakers to keep in mind the growing disparity between rich and poor so that the new bill wouldn’t make that worse (it didn’t work). While many, on my side of the fence, think this is the reason I doubt it since there is substantial time between that prayer and his forced resignation. This would also mean that it probably isn’t about prayers since there is only one that comes up as being controversial.

Unless it’s because Conroy invited a Muslim to give an opening prayer back in October (4th, 2017). However, again, there is too much time between the two events for this to seem reasonable. Though it could be asserted that the pressure was building and the two events in conjunction led to a series of complaints that eventually caused Ryan to fire the Jesuit Priest as chaplain. That might be a reasonable claim but again, the time delay makes it a strange series of events.

Ryan said, to quote, “This was not about politics or prayers, it was about pastoral services. And a number of our members felt like the pastoral services were not being adequately  served, or offered.”

His explanation is nonsensical. “Pastoral services” is a term that could mean a great many things, and without context this is just another example of Ryan not explaining anything. Was Fr. Conroy derelict in his duties? We can assume not because if it were the case then there’d be no reason to obfuscate. Was he not saying the right things? Maybe, but what would that even mean? Was it that the last bulwark of support the current GOP government has comes from those people that don’t believe that Catholics are real Christians? I’m thinking maybe.

The most wide ranging conspiracies, the globalist ones, put the Catholic church in the same league as the Illuminati. Conspiracies surrounding them spring up around the same time as the illustrious organization. Author Eugene Sue in the 18th century French novel “The Wandering Jew” has the Jesuits seeking to steal a secret fortune and usurp control over the world (interestingly, he also wrote the book by which “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” was plagiarized from).

Evangelical fundamentalists in this country eat this kind of thing up. While it’s rare that I take the defense of the Catholic church up, here academic honesty compels me. None of this is real but, and more importantly, it is thought to be real and is preached by ministers that it is real. Yet, both groups are underneath the umbrella category of “Christian.”

Which brings us back to the original question, “Which Christianity?” While a belief in Divine Jesus, anti-abortion, and putting the “Christ back in Christmas” are shared amongst all of the denominations the other differences are so great that it would make sense not to call them the same religion. For instance the Catholic church is opposed to the death penalty. Baptists aren’t Christians according to Mormons because of a whole host of reasons, while Ken Ham style Christians don’t accept the very nature of physical science (though I’m unclear as to whether or not they are flat earthers), some Protestants consider Catholics polytheists because of their focus on Mary. So which of these “truths” makes one a real true Christian? One could claim that it doesn’t matter since everyone has a right to their own beliefs, to which I respond sure, that’s why we have the first amendment–to guarantee it.

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A Religious Duty?

February 26, 2018 Leave a comment

Well I’m impressed, we’ve managed to keep the latest mass shooting in the news for more than a week. If not for the effort of the school’s students this thing probably would have gone away by now, but those plucky young high school students have bitten back at a lobby group and the gun fetishists. What those people forget is while they might be good at verbal sparring, passive aggressive and aggressive social interactions, that’s all these kids know–they are in high school. If their high school experience was anything like mine, that’s four years of constantly having to come up with insults and rejoinders, it’s their life while their opponents just have to remember what they said two weeks ago after the last shooting.

This however isn’t a political blog, though sometimes it steps into that territory–and this post will be one foot in and one foot out. I want to talk about the mass shooting on Valentine’s Day, but I will do so by asking a question: why are Christian evangelicals so in love with firearms?

For those who consider themselves Conservatives, I get it, I don’t agree because they have lauded the 2nd Amendment to a status where it overwhelms all other rights, but it’s part of their political platform. For the conspiracy theorists with the delusional Red Dawn fantasies playing out in their heads, again, I get it–you’re wrong but I get it. It’s these Christians that I don’t understand. How is it that owning an assault rifle has become part of your religion?

One church had scheduled a blessing of assault-style rifles before the shooting but then refused to cancel or reschedule the event after it. Which, fine if they want to keep it going that’s up to them, my confusion is why this is even a thing? I’m willing to bet that there’s a strong overlap between the type of church that does this, the type of preacher that supports it, and the type of parishioner that attends and Apocalypse preaching. After every shooting we can count on these types to offer the same type of reasoning: taking god out of the schools, gay marriage, abortion, etc. They have a knee-jerk reaction to blaming access to these types of guns and want to blame it on literally anything else (even when the shootings happen in churches).

When I was religious, I wasn’t into the Apocalypse stuff. I read Revelations, a few times, but that was mostly because it was so weird. I was into D&D and mythology so that book fit in, though it wasn’t as well written. Being raised Catholic, I was taught that the book was not a literal check list of things that were going to happen before the end of the world but that it was just some of the usual metaphorical literature that was universal amongst end time religions in those days. My “New American Bible for Catholics” is specific in its introduction: “This much, however, is certain: symbolic descriptions are not to be taken as literal descriptions, nor is the symbolism meant to be pictured realistically.”

That’s the general message of every time I was taught this book. Interestingly, this book is where I started to realize that my religion was full of numerology which, at the time,  I did not know was a bullshit pattern recognition coupled with some good old fashioned consequent affirmation. Everything in the book has a number in it: Jesus is a seven horned, seven eyed, lamb for example. If I still had them, I could scan copies of my doodles of these monsters, the beast with seven heads, seven horns on each, and seven crowns on each horn was probably just a mess…especially if I was trying to fit it in the margins of a single subject spiral notebook.

Yet we know that there are those that take this book quite literally and I wonder if the reflexive defense of guns is related. The enormously popular “Left Behind” books and movies by La Haye and Jenkins seem to agree with me. Portraying a world in which all the real true Christians are raptured while those that are not wage a guerilla/terrorist war against the one world government fuels the idea that weapons are needed to fight the Anti-Christ. If this is so, then why is the focus on the war part of this kind of Christian theology rather than on following the teachings and then hoping to get raptured? It seems that this type of Christian has just given up hope and latched on to a “warrior for god” mentality that they, for some reason, believe will grant them eternal bliss in heaven.

No matter the explanation there is an intrinsic relationship with ownership of a gun and a particular strain of religious belief. If Jesus is love, then why do I need an AK, AR, or HK?

This strange bed fellowship is more than likely related to the false sense of persecution that these people feel whenever other groups are granted the same legal rights that they felt were exclusively theirs for the longest time. Pointing out why that perspective is flawed has been the subject of numerous other entries on this blog.

Then again, it could be much simpler. It could be that the religious right is just that in name only. We’ve already seen that they are willing to endorse our current president in the name of family values when he’s defaulted on that several times. It could very well be that these religious extremists will say anything that tightens their control and they’ve been using religion as a cover story for the last several decades. I wish I had an answer to this question, because it sure is mystifying that these sectarians who push a “Jesus is love” message have a unique and directed fetish for a weapon of war.

 

The Limits of Omnipotence

February 20, 2018 2 comments

So my country has had another mass shooting, and I thought it would be relatively easy to speak on that for today’s post, but then I wondered what was the new thing that I could say. Basically, I could just repeat what I’ve said before and just switch out the places. Instead of X I could say “school” or in the case of the Connecticut shooting I could keep the place and just change the age of the victim (my country has a lot of these kinds of shootings). However some politicians and commentators offered  me a new take on it. I was going to come up with the examples but enough people have made the comment that the list is too long and I don’t want to be accused of cherry picking so let’s just say Todd Starnes said it (because he did) and then a whole bunch of other people agreed with him that school shootings are the result of kicking god out of the schools.

Ignoring the fact that “god” wasn’t kicked out of the schools–forced prayer was–let’s examine this claim in detail.

If there is a law which tells me I can’t do X, that doesn’t mean that I cannot do X what it means is that if I do X I can suffer consequences for that action. A law which mandates that I stand for the pledge of allegiance doesn’t force my action by virtue of the law itself, it forces the action by causing me to weight the consequences of the action. If I deem the penalty as too severe I will stand for the poem, if deem it not severe enough than I can choose to sit and possibly suffer the consequence. The same goes for any law or rule. The compulsion is only from consequence avoidance. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn once commented that freedom of speech existed in the USSR as well as the USA, the only difference was that in the USA we had freedom after speech. The difference is important especially when we consider what people like Todd Starnes are saying.

Their belief is that the US passed a law by which “god” was no longer allowed in schools. Now, I doubt that they are so devoid of rational thinking that they believe the literal being was denied access to the school…maybe…but that it was illegal to pray, bring a bible, or anything religious based. So a student “John” cannot pray. This has caused a blanket ban on all religious thought, consideration, or feeling in the school. As a result the omnipotent being that John would have prayed to can no longer find His (because we know what god people like Starnes are talking about and it ain’t anyone other than Jesus) way into the school, or even on school property. As a result, this means that the school shooter gets to unload a few clips of his AR-15 style rifle into some students. QED making prayer forbidden in school caused this.

The implication here is that god is bound by US secular law. Once the law is enacted and the court passes its ruling it’s like Gandalf on the bridge of Khazad-Dum forbidding the supernatural being from passing. What Starnes and his ilk seem to believe, again because it bears repeating, that god is bound by US secular law. That’s the first possibility. The second is the one they actually aren’t saying aloud and is pure speculation on my part, that, they believe god is causing the mass shootings because we don’t allow enough Jesus inside the school. The second, of course, is not something that most religious people believe and should, indeed, find quite offensive. The problem of evil trilemma is almost never solved by eliminating the Omni-benevolence portion in this manner.*

That returns us to the first possibility which severely limits the power of god to even speeding. This would explain a lot of the absence, but it also means that every person living within the US legal boundary has more power than the divine being that Starnes wants back in the schools. Especially those that are not legally citizens, since their mere presence is more powerful than the creator of the universe. This is not a god worth worshipping since its power is so limited, in fact it’s not a god at all.

 

*Though sometimes it’s eliminated by way of “god works in mysterious ways.” Which implies that even the worst tragedies are to some greater plan that involves such intense human suffering and our feeble minds will never grasp the true meaning. It’s not a satisfying answer by any respect but if you hear it enough times as a child you learn to stop asking why (at least that was my experience).

The Irony of the Protest

June 12, 2017 Leave a comment

Not that one. The gay pride parades in various cities over the last few weeks don’t gain much notice to me for the simple reason that I don’t like parades unless I’m in them. Otherwise it’s just a bunch of standing around and waiting.

No, I want to draw attention to the anti-Sharia demonstrations that happened. You know of which I speak, where a few dozen “Real ‘Mericans'” decided to protest against a thing that wasn’t happening, isn’t happening, and is nearly impossible to happen. I think the joke about these protests is that they might as well be protesting against term limits for unicorns.

Let’s play hypothetical here and figure out the steps it would take to get just one Sharia law in place. First you would have to have a city or municipality that has enough of a Muslim population in the US to create the demand for the law. Where is that place?

Our best bet would be Detroit. The city of…Robocop? Or is brotherly love? I forget which. In either case a quick search of the demographic breakdown of Detroit shows that Wayne County in Detroit, with an astonishingly high Jesus denying percentage of 3.5% of the population. That’s pretty small, the “nones” (my people I guess) make up a whopping 54% of the population. We’re more likely to get a statue of Lawrence Krauss in the middle of the county than we are just one Sharia Law on the books, but I suppose the entire area could be Gerrymandered like Austin Texas and maybe that would gain the Islamic population a whole seat on the city council.

Step 2: Now that we have our population we need to get our demand. So what law? Sharia law is just Islamic religious law, and like literally every other religion adherence to the law depends on two main things: the place where you were born and what family you were born into. If we even assume that there are no half-assed Muslims, i.e. the equivalent of those Catholics that only go to church on Christmas, Easter, and whatever family event is occurring (funerals and weddings), there’s still a Sunni/Shia divide that we’d have to assume away for the sake of our experiment. Most Iraqis, which are the sect that immigrated to Detroit in the 80s, are Shia so we’ll just run with that. Not that it really matters because I’m not to up to date on religious laws regarding particular sects of Islam. So let’s just run with a bill that forces women to wear the head scarf in public.

Step 3: Pass the bill. How on Earth could this be done? Unless the group took over every seat on the city council, then the mayor’s office, they would still end up fighting for the law in court. There’s no way that one of the numerous Christian nut jobs like Ken Ham, wouldn’t file a suit against the law before it was passed. There’s no way that the Freedom From religion Foundation or the ACLU wouldn’t file a suit before the law was passed. An executive order couldn’t get this one through.

However, since we’re in the imaginative dream land, let’s assume it was passed. Now it still has to contend with first amendment lawsuits. Now, this would be interesting because all of the Christians who argue for prayer in school love to point out that the “separation of church and state” isn’t in the Constitution so they would have to either admit that the Islamic head scarf law was fine because that’s what the people wanted or they would have to eat crow admitting that it was just a convenience argument for them. Nevertheless, we not only have two hundred years of court cases forming a firm foundation for the excise of religious laws, but also the guy who wrote the Amendment explaining the “separation of church and state” as what he meant. The law wouldn’t make it through the local court.

Unless they took over the local court, in which case it would still be fought at the state level, and there’s no way we can reasonably pretend (or unreasonably) as we have done thus far that the state of Michigan would get an Islamic majority or take over the court system.

Again, we’ve had to assume that this fictional Islamic majority would also want the law.

So what is the protest about? Stoking fear of something that cannot happen in order to make other people feel special. I’ve never read the Man of la Mancha, but I’m told that this is like that. Tilting at windmills, because it’s easy to fight an imaginary enemy than a real one.

I opened this post mentioning the pride parades for a reason. I wonder how many of the people who attended these Anti-Sharia law protests are also on board with LGBT equality. I’m guessing there’s very little overlap between the two on a Venn diagram. I wonder how many of those same people are in board with equal rights between the sexes and think that a woman should maintain autonomy over her own body. Do any of these anti-Sharia people think that there ought to be prayer in schools and that the government should be showing Christmas/Easter displays?

Don’t let them lie about it: this has nothing to do with freedom. The irony of the protests is that these people want the exact same thing that those who would like Sharia law want: religious theocracy. It’s just they want their religion to be the one in charge and not someone else’s. It’s why they get so upset if a school decides not to serve bacon during Ramadan but see absolutely nothing wrong with the same school serving fish on Fridays during Lent. They have more in common with ISIS than they would ever admit.

Blasphemy Law

May 16, 2017 Leave a comment

The charges have been dropped against Stephen Fry, but that does not mean we shouldn’t be having this discussion. Let’s be frank, this is from a person living in a country that voted Trump into office and I get to look down at another country (thus far…) because that’s how backwards and borderline insane this law is. I can try and make fun of the UK, but that’s some pot-kettle bullshit, but Ireland!? You don’t get a pass. Sure, by popular vote, they legalized gay marriage nationwide in 2015, but we only have to go back 6 short years to find the passage of the blasphemy law.

Not 1009, where it would still be wrong, but it’d be understandable, but 2009. Where everyone is starting to get on board with smart phones, where wifi is pretty much expected, and where the global economic collapse had just started to abate.

My oldest daughter had already been born. Which means that she was born into a world where there were fewer blasphemy laws on the books. That’s not progress, that’s regression. Not to sound ethnocentric, or Eurocentric, or whatever-centric; but this is the kind of law you expect that they have in Saudi Arabia…because they do. Which, if we must find some good in this, it’s that this law is proof of what happens when religion and the state mix. It apparently doesn’t matter what religion is mixing with what state. Ireland is a Republic not a monarchy or a dictatorship. As America’s incompetent president continues to talk randomly about churches and freedom, the Irish example is one that needs more conversation because as innocuous as it turned out to be, it’s still abhorrent that this kind of law exists in the first place. Especially, I must stress, that it was passed in 2009.

This story of the Irish blasphemy law goes back to 1937 and the Constitution of Ireland. The Constitution mandates according to article 40.6.1.i:

This continues with article 44.1:

These articles mandate that the Irish government set up a legal statute prohibiting blasphemy passed in 1937, the law was only applied to Christian religions. Also, it’s important that these articles specifically mention blasphemy as a crime that needs to be outlawed. I haven’t read the entire Irish Constitution (my family isn’t that Irish) but I’m pretty sure that it will lack any mention of other crimes.

Note: It does mention one more, treason (article 39).

So the law, passed in 2009 states that (I’ll omit irrelevant portions):

(a) he or she publishes or utters matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion, and

 

(b) he or she intends, by the publication or utterance of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.

The only defense the law offers is that if the utterance or publication has serious value that a reasonable observer would judge. This would mean anything in an artistic, political, scientific, literary, or academic value. The crime is punishable with a fine not to exceed 25,000 euros (approximately 27,000 US).

Was Fry in violation of this law? You be the judge, in the interview Fry is asked about his atheism and what he would say if, when he died, he found himself standing in front of the god he denies existing. Fry replied, “Bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you? How dare you create a world to which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right, It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain. That’s what I would say.”

He then goes on to explain that if it were the Greek Pantheon, it would make more sense as those gods didn’t pretend to be all good, all knowing, or the creators of the world. Here’s the entire 2.5 minute exchange. 

I’m not an Irish detective, nor am I a lawyer. However, given that the definition of “blasphemy” is a “grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion…” it seems like a slam dunk. However, his utterance did not correlate to the second half of the statute requiring an outrage of a substantial number of adherents to the relevant religion. So perhaps that’s why the Irish government dropped the case.

Fry’s comments are nothing new. They are not exactly the most eloquent way of putting the old “problem of evil,” but I do like his delivery. His way of making it a personal conversation in which he scolds the maliciously capricious god. Perhaps it has some kind of performance value. Perhaps that is another reason they dropped the case.

Yet none of this matters because the state should have no compelling interest in the crafting these kinds of laws in the first place. I’ve said it more times than I care to link to: there is no harm in blasphemy. There was no harm in the Charlie Hebdo cartoon, the Danish newspaper cartoons, in Piss-Christ, the Last Temptation of Christ, or the Life of Brian. There are literally no sacred cows.

The only thing that these laws seek to protect is the insecurity of the believer, their fear that other people might have seen what they have and rejected it. What else could it be? Words shouldn’t be able to hurt an all powerful being, but somehow nations and people have deluded themselves into thinking the creative being behind the entire Cosmos needs protection from a few air vibrations if they occur in a certain order.

Sure, to repeat the opening point: some people may think that it’s fine because they didn’t prosecute Fry. Even the wording of the law allows so many excuses that it’s nearly unenforceable. Yet that’s not the main issue, it’s that the Irish Constitution felt that this was necessary enough to mention the need for the law in the first place. Of course if they decide to charge him again, article 16 of the defamation law offers Fry the best defense*:

(1) It shall be a defence (to be known and in this Act referred to as the “defence of truth” to a defamation action for the defendant to prove that the statement in respect of which the action was brought is true in all material respects.

 

 

*Though again, I’m not a lawyer, not Irish, and certainly not an Irish Lawyer. Don’t take legal advice from a blog.

A New Gospel

March 27, 2017 Leave a comment

I’ve gotten into a lot of arguments in the last ten years or so concerning the mixture of politics and religion. My consistent position is that politics and religion should not officially mix. I stress “officially” because it would be wrong to prevent a religious person from entering politics, but their should be no official religious position of the government. What irks me is the faux oppression they try and brag about. “I don’t know why people hate us just for worshipping Jesus,” or “They just hate us because our conservative views are just like Jesus.” Or some variation of that theme.

Let’s clear the air, no one hates these people because they are Christian, what I hate is the sheer blatant hypocrisy of the religious right’s position. I mean, they can’t stand up and talk about how the country is going to hell because we’re abandoning religion while they vote, or tell others to vote, in a manner that is completely contradictory to the very words of the book that allegedly instructs their entire life. A frequent rejoinder in the podcast “God Awful Movies” is that the people who are trying to end war, feed everyone, and cure disease are portrayed as the villains (especially in the apocalypse movies) who must be stopped at all costs. Despite the gospels explaining that feeding the sick, ending war (sort of), and curing illness is the duty of the Christians. I’m obviously not a religious person, but if there is a god, I doubt it appreciates the lip service instead of actions.

Issues such as poverty and healthcare the self-proclaimed, most religious, seem to have the position that the poor should starve and the sick die unless they can find a way to help themselves. Refugees and those in dire situations need to be turned away unless we can 100% certify that they are not dangerous. Both of those positions are in absolute stark contrast to the teachings of the bible, and apparently it’s up to an atheist to elucidate this (to be fair I’ve mentioned the various Christian groups that have come out publicly against the immigration bans).

With all that in mind, I’ve decided to undertake the task of rewriting some of the stories so that Christian theocrats, the ultra right, and the oddly named “freedom caucus” can have a biblical basis for their political views. We’re starting with “The Good Samaritan.”

Luke 10:25|And, Behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? (26) He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? (27) And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord they God with all they heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all they mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.” (28) And he said unto him, “Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.” (29) But he, realizing that he hadn’t read the law because there was a lot of it, and the answer he gave isn’t actually in there, sought clarification, “And who is my neighbor?” (30) And Jesus answering said, “A certain man went from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stole his raiment, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. (31) And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him he thought, “meh, that’s probably someone else’s problem and I have these scrolls to pass out to all of the farmers so that they become aware of the crime of planting two different crops in the same fields.” (32) Likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side thinking, “I will tell the first Legion I see, but for now I must protest those natural philosophers who are claiming that rabbits don’t chew their cuds.” (33) But a certain Samaritan as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him he thought, “This person is in great need of care, probably due to a vicious assault. I should help that person.” (34) As he was getting ready to help, another Samaritan approached and lo, he did ask, “What are you doing?” (35) The man did answer, “helping this man who was attacked.” (36) The second man did answer in reply, “You know not what you do, for this man could be a robber himself, he could be a murderer, or beggar. Do you know this man, of where he is from, or wherefore he ends up lying in this road?” (37) “I do not, he is to me as you are.” (38) “Then must needs, leave him be. For these questions we know the answer not, and the risk be too great if we bring him to our hearth. No, better to leave him to help himself, rather than he learn to live on the charity of others.” (39)  Jesus finished asking, “Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves?” (40) And he said, “All save one, the first thus because his errand was to spread the law, the second as to dispute teaching contrary to the law, and the fourth thus for making sure that the injured person was no threat.” (41) Teacher, the lawyer replied, “what about the third?” (42) “The third only invites calamity unto his house. For is it not written in the law that one should take care with those in whom thy charity lies?” (43) Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. (44) And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. (45) Martha, was busy with the serving, and came to him, and said, “Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? Bid her therefore that she help me.” (46) And Jesus answered and said unto her, “No.”

 

The Outrage Machine

March 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Is it just me or do people want to be outraged at something? Not real things, not things that actually matter or things that are true. In some way I get it, it’s easier to just read a headline and repost. It’s much easier than reading an article and finding out what actually happened, or reading a few articles on the same subject because then, and only then, will the reader actually understand what is going on. It’s closely related to what is now the slander of being called an “elitist” in reference to someone who knows things. If you have an education, if you understand things, that is now apparently a bad thing. Why? Because anyone can be stupid, but being smart, being versed in a subject is hard. It takes work, while having mere emotional reactions armed with a few contrite phrases (“political reasons,” “fake news,” “elitist”) doesn’t take any work.

Last month (February 2017) a Pennsylvania school board agreed to remove a monument of the ten commandments from Valley Junior-Senior High School. A lawsuit was originally filed in 2012, but due to some technical issues had to make it’s way through the circuits. The school district settled and is going to have to reimburse legal fees to the FFRF (Freedom From Religion Foundation) to the tune of 40,000 dollars. In a settlement this is a normal practice. The defendant agreed with the plaintiff and in any lawsuit where money is changing hands the agreement usually confers some recompense to the winner of the case. The school’s insurance company is going to pay the money, not the school. I’m not sure how exactly this translates into tax dollars, but it’s fact that must be stated.

Understanding this type of issue is a complicated endeavor. One must first understand why the lawsuit was brought in the first place. Unlike most of the sites that I checked, it was not to line the pockets of the FFRF, who received the 40K of the 163k settlement. An amount, which they claimed was not a full reimbursement and which we have no reason to think that a five year settlement going through three different courts was going to cost less than 40k. I note it also because in Pennsylvania, a law is being offered in response, that would ban legal fees from being a part of settlement amounts. Or at least legislation is being drafted, which is a terrible idea: because it means that if I sue for negligence because of something objectively negligent against McDonalds, they can bury me with lawyers knowing that I won’t be able financially to fight them even if they know they are wrong. Again, I don’t know how much it costs to hire a lawyer to put on one of these lawsuits, so I’ll just have to take their word for it. Just as I don’t know how much it costs to move a statue.

The removal of the monument is not about money, it’s about not allowing a public institution to endorse a particular religion. Despite what the theocrats want you to think: there’s no way that a ten commandments statue isn’t a religious statue. They like to claim that the laws of the US were founded on the Ten Commandments, which is patently false. The first four are purely religious. The fifth, while not religious is not a legally enforceable item (honor your parents). Rules 6 & 8, are the legally punishable (Murder and Stealing respectively), 7 only matters within a specific type of legal situation (divorce proceedings). Nine is trickier because there’s some debate over what it actually means. If it means the common thing: thou shalt not lie, then it’s not a legal issue. However if it is a prohibition against bearing false witness in legal matters, then that’s the legal issue of perjury. The final commandment, it is just a prohibition on thought crime and not legally actionable either. In all we only have two commandments that could be said to be legally inspiring with two more that could be considered “sort of…but…”

It’s difficult to understand that while the phrase “separation of church and state” does not appear in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, it’s part of our system. The Bill of Rights specifically prohibits the state from endorsing or prohibiting any particular religion, and placing a religious statue in a school does that. Jefferson explained the purpose of the amendment as being just that. The legal result is that you have an all or nothing situation: either you have to allow all of the religions or none of them. Why? Because we don’t want the government getting into the situation of deciding which religions are true and which are not. This is especially important when you consider historical context in which Catholics and Puritans in the 18th century would not have considered themselves members of the same religion. Some Evangelical Christians don’t consider Catholics and Mormons to be Christians now, but imagine how it must have been two hundred years ago. Wisely they decided that it was not the business of the state to make these kinds of adjudications (Scientology and Raeliens included).

Yet, that’s not the issue getting thrown around the internet. It’s all about how this settlement, the court, and the lawsuit; are all about persecuting Christians. Why? Because it’s easier to sell the outrage without really having to understand the issue. Nothing will get a news story spread around faster than a headline which conveys the message that Christians are continuing to be persecuted in a country where it is a) not happening and b) where the religion makes up a strong majority (when you put all of the denominations under the same banner). The headline “School board settles Constitutional violation law suit” isn’t going to get the same travel.

Interestingly some more digging unearthed the reason for the statue in the first place: as a promotion for the movie “The Ten Commandments.” So if we think about, a monument to a religion wasn’t removed a film advertisement was.