Molding Minions

The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently. ~Friedrich Nietzsche

Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you. ~Robert Fulghum

Every year now there is an online event called the International Day of Protest Against Child Religious Grooming. Not only is it a horrendous freight train of a title, it doesn’t even shorten to a meaningful acronym. This is what serves as a protest against hereditary religion, which the atheists who host the event consider to be child abuse. They argue some children suffer emotional scarring being brought up in a fundamentalist religion and wave research studies about to prove it. So far it remains a cyber event, which may explain why you’ve never heard anything about it.

To some it may seem atheists believe they have the market locked on logic and reason by virtue of position, not believing in the mystical big guy with a beard up in the clouds. There is, after all, a great deal to be said for requiring some measure of evidence rather than accepting  centuries outdated stories that give us warm fuzzies about our place in the universe. But many atheists can come off as intellectual snobs and, given some frictional topic of discord, sound close to being unhinged, behave overly emotional,  are often viewed as driven by anger, and at moments don’t act rational at all. Which is only to say they are like any other  group falling under the larger umbrella of creatures called Homo sapiens, subject to all the human frailties that go with it. (A study by the Yale Cultural Cognition Project shows we all use reason to convince ourselves we are right, even in the face of evidence that says otherwise.) That’s not to say this dichotomy is on equal footing, not by a long shot, but only to point out we’re all people. So, lets see…who else likes to tell people how to live their lives because they have the corner locked on morality and truth, and also wave about research to back it up? Sounds like the Religious Right to me.

Regardless of where on the “sounds reasonable to me” spectrum you fall,  how is any ideological group going to enforce their unilateral vision of we-know-what’s-best-for-everyone’s-kids? This is where the libertarian in me comes out, because what a nightmarish totalitarian state that will be,  trying to control what parents teach their prodigy. Lets not forget there are plenty of abused kids out there without the benefit of God’s guiding rod. And don’t get cozy and smug, because a government with that kind of power will be coming after some ridiculous activity you engage (or avoid) soon enough. The very act of raising a child involves indoctrinating them into certain behaviors and beliefs. Not only religious, but cultural and political ones as well. Somebody is bound to think you’re screwing it up. Maybe you’re not feeding them right, you let them ride their bike without a helmet, or, our overlords forbid, they formed their hand into the shape of a gun and “shot” someone. These absurdities already exist and happen in institutions where somebody has too much power (and likely too much time) in their hands. Like the North Carolina food inspector who said a little girl’s lunch (a turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips, and apple juice) wasn’t healthy enough and sent it home. And what did the school substitute for this horrible lunch? Chicken nuggets. Or the 5-year-old in kindergarten who dropped his pants (under another child’s threat), and was made to sign a sexual misconduct form. Thank you so much, Dysart Unified School District, for protecting us from this potential onslaught of prepubescent deviance. When “policy” and rules outweigh common sense, it’s a good sign we have begun to take ourselves far too serious. Somebody needs to get a cluestick and beat the people who engage in this behavior repeatedly about the head.

The anti-religious grooming protesters are not without their nemesis. The Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF, http://www.cefonline.com) mission is not only to bring their kids to Christ, but yours, too. Their ministry vision is “to reach Every Child, Every Nation, Every Day.”  Their purpose “is to evangelize boys and girls with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and to establish (disciple) them in the local church for Christian living.” The CEF, vigorous in its holy mission,  is not without its bit of controversy, either, and has been accused of stealth proselytizing missions violating the separation of church and state in schools across the country, and tactlessly informing children of other religions they are going to hell. Never mind a child much under the age of twelve can’t think abstractly enough to truly understand the concept of God. It might as well be Santa Claus. Not much mention of parental wishes or desires here, either. Because as believers, they know what’s best for your kid and want to save their immortal souls, even if they can’t prove such a thing exists.

Each organization at its core serves its own noble purpose when understood through its worldview. One wants to save kids from out-dated superstition used to frighten and narrow their thinking, and the other wants to save them from hell. And children make such beatific, noble, innocent pawns in the battle for ideology. But despite personal reservations I might have about one’s religious beliefs or their political accord, I’m not going to be the one trying to stop you from raising a particular brand of idiot. Not unless you’re sticking them in the oven to bake or feeding them cock-a-roaches. Though roaches might be better for them than the chicken nuggets.

The protestors argue “the concept of children as the property of their parents comes from antiquity and is part of the legacy of patriarchy. Modern children are conceived as persons in their own right because the notion of one person owning another person amounts to slavery” (www.endhereditaryreligion.com). Children may not be property per se, but you try to take a child away from a mother and tell her it’s not hers, just  because you don’t like the hereditary stories she’s passing along. Children may be “persons in their own right” but they’re very dependent persons. The end hereditary religion peeps argue, in reasonable enough fashion, that any decision to pick a religion should be left until the child has become a “mature adult”–whatever constitutes that. I’m thinking age 30, maybe. George Barna says, “Whatever a child believes by age 13 is in most cases what he will die believing.” (Guess I’m swimming against the tide on that count.) Perhaps the end hereditary religion people believe this as well, which would then tie in neatly to reducing religious pledges in incidental fashion. The CEF believes it, because they had it plastered across the top of a mailer I received once begging for money before it’s too late. I don’t know about the efficacy of Barna’s statement, but I imagine that somebody now is more likely to leave religion after being raised beneath it than to enter it after a secular upbringing. In the public square of debate, where this argument belongs, science and logic have been gaining the upper hand for centuries. It just isn’t going fast enough for some tastes (and is unlikely to ever be fully won).

We seem to suffer under the illusion that if we just pass enough laws, or if we just make government big enough, or implement our holy rules throughout the land–if we could just get those twits over there to cooperate with our righteous vision–then we could solve so much of our bad karma. Like the anti-abortion crowd, there isn’t much word on exactly what would be done with all the religiously abused displaced children. It’s hands in the air and, “Hey, hey! I just said I’d save the kid, not take care of them!” I suppose that would fall to some government function. Joy.

Nietzche said, “At times one remains faithful to a cause only because its opponents do not cease to be insipid.” And Fundamentalism thrives best when it is persecuted. Metaphysical beliefs will never be totally annihilated, that’s the way people are wired, but will adapt and renew in different ways due to discovery and cultural change. Just as it has always done. For the atheist, there is the underlying, unspoken assumption that if religion were gone things would be so much better. In so far as we no longer believe in archaic poetry as literal, sure. Outside of that, we are fully capable of sinking the ship of civilization without the iceberg of religion. The Just So secular society is as much a mythological creature as are the gods. It’s called “heaven,” and there is no individuality there.

Many atheists are also quick to ignore studies that show the benefits of religious faith. Because they can’t throw religion a bone, it’s the enemy. What benefits? As a group, religious people tend to be happier (ignorance is bliss) and live longer lives. They suffer less physical pain. They are more giving, and are less likely to panic under pressure. They are less prone to depression, anxiety, stress, and similar types of associated mental conundrums. Small price to pay, Richard Dawkins would say, to get away from superstition. But according to Nobel laureate physicist and atheist Steven Weinberg “‘it’s hard to live in a world in which one’s highest emotions can be understood in biochemical and evolutionary terms, rather than a gift from God. Instead of the big, comforting certainties promoted by religion, science can offer only ‘a lot of little truths’ and the austere pleasures of intellectual honesty. Much as Weinberg would like to see civilization emerge from the tyranny of religion, when it happens, ‘I think we will miss it, like a crazy old aunt who tells us lies and causes us all kinds of trouble, but was beautiful once and was with us a long time.’ To which (Richard) Dawkins retorted, ‘I won’t miss her at all.'” (quoted from a Newsweek article Losing Our Religion, http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2006/11/09/losing-our-religion.html). But science does leave a void. The discoveries of science are amazing and the universe is beautiful (if harsh), and it provides a greater revelation than any predisposed centuries old theological imaginings. But it is a cold mother. Only our poetic vision and longing can make it anything else.

Least you of religious fervor take the benefits above as vindication of your faith, bear in mind it doesn’t matter the particular flavor of belief to get the joy-joy benefits. Those pagans and people who live down the street and believe in some other god are happier too.  Happiness is not a truth meter. And there is plenty of bad that comes from religion in a diverse society, from fear and hatred of certain groups of ‘other’ people, tribalism, fear (of hell, damnation, disapproval), conditional love, and lack of access to outside information and education, all which research is showing to leave lasting ill psychological effects. This is most pronounced in cults/sects, but can also be symptomatic of harsh fundamentalism. I understand  that many good things have transpired from religious faith but, along with Dawkins, I seriously doubt that it outweighs the bad. You can’t paint over life with a happy brush and make that old oil disappear. It seeps through.

The majority of my family, friends, and people I grew up with are dyed-in-the-wool believers but otherwise normal, everyday people who love their family, children, and friends like anybody else. Sure, many of us now disagree on this tale to make us feel better about our mortality, but that doesn’t make them bad people, or bad parents. I don’t know what my parents believe anymore, if anything, but I do know they love me. Tales of Noah’s ark, Adam & Eve and such as literal realities may be a disservice in this age, but not abuse. Those kids grow up to be like the people who believe Elvis is still alive. But we all live with some degree of personal delusion. We’re all on personal journeys of discovery and wonderment, and our views are bound to get spun around a few times on the trip. Religion doesn’t inherently scar children–terrible people scar children, and they don’t require religion to accomplish the task. Are there children that get abused by religious parenting? The threat of an eternal, burning fire if they don’t behave? Certainly. For some pitiful kids, a “fear of the Lord” is a very palpable, unfortunate affair. And if you happen to be beating your child with a cane to dispense some holy judgment, then likely you deserve a bit of hellfire yourself.  But that isn’t an inevitable result of faith, any more than a well-balanced child is the inevitable result of secular upbringing.

So where should we turn? How should we raise our kids? Rationally we can’t turn to religion, especially those with roots in the Levant because they take themselves as serious as that North Carolina food inspector and the Dysart Unified School District. I’ll give religion the props it has earned, but talking snakes and arks full of animals need to join Zeus and Athena in a Rick Riordan young reader novel. Those are the stories now filling the creative void. Stories that set us free rather than stifling us–Harry Potter, the Lord of the Rings, and so many others. Stories that speak to the human condition without trying to so much condition us. Why else do you think these new and revisionary mythic works have become so popular? We have always understood ourselves through stories, music, and the arts.

The rational, scholarly and scientific part of me loathes seeing those old poetic stretches of our grasp for meaning turned into literal dogma. But from my youth I have loved myth, fantasy, and horror.  Because the stories aren’t real doesn’t mean there isn’t truth behind them, as in any good fable. Joseph Campbell said, “God is a metaphor.” That I find to be true. The problem isn’t that we tell our children fantastic stories to guide their development, but that once they are older the church still keeps their claws in them, teaching these stories as literal truth and historic fact. And then demand an extra 10% tithe to top it off (at least that is less than what the government takes). So unlike the hereditary religion group who say we need to wait until the child is old enough to pick a religion for themselves, to me that is just when “religion” should be letting them go. Just as we let them release Santa Claus, tooth fairies, and other nonsense. But the power of the stories, of who we are and what we aspire to be, of sacrifice, giving and moral character, can remain. Eat the fish and spit out the bones, as the saying goes. Dogmatism destroys those truths when one can’t accept the story as literal, though. That’s when society must, and will, find a new symbolism to cling. And before you enslave your child to a particular “righteous” view, remember how many times your faith and views have been wrong and forced to change in the past, whether that was in regard to science or some End Time failed prophesy. And maybe give them the room to explore that on their own without spoon feeding them your own answers as absolute. 

 

Word Borgs

 

In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia. ~ George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

 

Language isn’t a static thing, it’s constantly evolving. At times that can be annoying. For instance Merriam-Webster says irregardless is a word, even with the qualification of “nonstandard.”

Some words take on new meaning over time. So when somebody says they are gay or refers to a fag today, it’s a safe bet they don’t mean they’re happy or are referencing a bundle of sticks. Most changes in language happen with little hubbub, but others result in cultural uproar. And that is where we find ourselves today with words that keep bobbing to the surface of the cultural headstream. Not only with respect to what those words mean, but who can say and use them.

Some might say I support gay marriage due to my status as a self-proclaimed freethinker, and that I only wish to oppose religion at every turn. This would be a severe error. My support has nothing to do with my disbelief in any particular cooked up mythological sky god. It’s about liberty. And to me, as long as that person isn’t doing any harm or foul to another person’s life, liberty or property and irregardless of my personal opinion of their life choices, who am I to stand in the way? Most religions just aren’t very Hoorah! when it comes to personal liberty, although their proponents might like to think they are.

See, marriage is just a concept, a union between things. Typically that’s the legal arrangement between two people who want to enjoy misery together for years to come. And in America, it has nothing to do with religion. Religion is incidental. Marriage in America more closely resembles classic Roman monogamy than what is in the bible. Amongst my more tolerant Christian friends who really don’t believe morality can be legislated the word is still a stumbling block, though. “Do whatever you want, get whatever benefits and whatnot, but you don’t get to use the M word. That’s the compromise.” Because apparently Christianity seems to think they have a lock on the rightful use of the term “marriage.” Even though it’s a ritual performed by countless cultures through centuries across the globe of varying faiths (or no faith) with no regard at all for Christianity. For Christians it’s an affront to the sacrament of marriage as outlined by God. But by this logic every marriage performed outside of Christendom is an affront. Surely weddings performed under another god’s name, or no god, is as vile an affront to heaven as gay marriage. I don’t recall any passage that singles out same-sex marriage being worse than any of that. Now I know there are those wishful faithful out there who want to believe God thinks gay marriage is A-Okay, but the OT God clearly condemns it, along with a bunch of other thou-shall-nots. The laundry list of nots in the OT is hefty, and by and large Christians ignore almost all of them. And marriage has changed plenty, too, from OT polygamy to mom and dad arranging it for you to this modern-day notion of marrying the person you love, or some such nonsense.

Others claim this is all an “attack” on Christianity and its values. But Christians weren’t pushed in front of this bus, they leapt there on their own. It runs something like this:

Homosexual: We want to get married like other people.

Believer: Not if we have anything to say about it.

And so we have this cultural battle, as we have had many cultural battles. Dancing and rock-n-roll anyone? Society moves forward. At no point do I recall the gay community coming forth and saying Christians had to change their belief. Some other inane things, yes, but not that. If Christians had just said, “We don’t approve, and it’s likely you’re going to burn in hell just like those strip joint operators, and that’s not a real marriage  whatever you say but fine, go ahead”…do you really think there would be a problem? And who isn’t really minding their own business here?

But Christians are in the trenches still. And really, if you run a bakery and you don’t want to bake a gay wedding cake, peachy. I’m fine with that. The vast majority of people are going to be fine with that. Your business. We shouldn’t need a special law for you to turn business down. That’s just a business opportunity for someone else. But in stomping down with your big outraged moral boots, may I suggest you take it a step further, if but for consistency. Hook up your business to public records and refuse business to sex offenders, drug offenders, and anyone convicted of DUI. Also anyone who has been divorced or remarried, as these are also generally no-nos in biblical parlance. You should probably check their FB page as well. Remember, God is always watching, and you don’t want to serve anyone outside His will. But really, people, WTH? There are so many grounds on this issue that Christians have not answered in a meaningful way. What seems clear is that Christians see this as bruising the vision they have of what America should be–a theocracy, and liberty only in so far as it adheres to their God’s laws. Or at least the ones they think count.

You might as well wake up to this, True Believers. The only person you can put under God’s law is yourself. Even if the courts and law ruled in your favor this remains true. Thankfully we don’t live in a theocracy and the courts, including the SCOTUS,  have decided to respect the liberty of others in many cases. I know many fear that might change. For my part, I don’t believe marriage is a “constitutional” right, straight or gay. The idea of the state being in the business of determining what is and isn’t a relationship doesn’t sit well with me. Then there is Erik Erickson of RedState.com who says gay marriage and religious freedom are not compatible. Say what? Because I can think of a few legal things with which Christianity (varying depending on denomination and so forth) isn’t “compatible” but in no way infringe religious freedom including drinking, gambling, titty bars, and premarital sex…just as a running start at this. What makes same-sex marriage the deal breaker? Don’t forget that Christianity has been less than conducive to burgeoning legalities in the past as well, regarding such things as divorce, women’s rights, and interracial marriage. Bible verses were used to keep women under heel in submissive and sometimes abusive relationships and were used to engender racial bigotry, not to mention to support slavery. But society and culture changed, and so did Christianity. It survived. Now women can talk in church and even preach! Holy Bat Hell!  And where is the loss of religious freedom? Unless, you know, religious freedom to you is keeping people under heel and enslaved.

What Erikson fears is “within a year or two we will see Christian schools attacked for refusing to admit students whose parents are gay…churches suffer the loss of their tax exempt status for refusing to hold gay weddings…private businesses shut down because they refuse to treat as legitimate that which perverts God’s own established plan.” Never-minding why a so-called Christian school would essentially punish a child and not teach them because they didn’t like their parents, or the fact that maybe churches shouldn’t be tax exempt to begin with, does he really believe private businesses will be legally forced to shut down because they disagree with a portion of society’s lifestyle? And again, this is where the line is drawn? Are Christian mechanics going to refuse to fix gay couple’s cars? Christian schools are going to kick out students of gay parents? Christian barbers are going to refuse to cut a homosexual’s hair? Really? Seriously?? Because I’ll just go to a gay barber, who’s probably going to give me a better haircut anyway. Does this seem absurd? It’s the Christians drawing the argument. So real big Clue Stick to the head here. You’re not going to be legally shut down, it won’t be necessary. You’re going to shut down because nobody fucking likes you. You don’t have to approve of or be in moral alignment with people to do business with them. Erikson moans that such Christians will be “labeled bigots and criminals.” I don’t know about criminal, but bigots, yes. Tribalistic bigots.  And there is still no infringement of religious freedom. Refusing to provide a service for a paying customer is not religious freedom. At best it’s a personal freedom and matter of free association and at worst bad business. But for Erikson, who is afraid that under a nation that allows gay marriage Christian businesses won’t be able to express their deeply held conviction that homosexuals are going to rot in hell by refusing them service, this is the crux of the matter.

That’s not to say there isn’t blame to go around on both sides of this argument. There are plenty of over-the-top gay activists with fingers dangling over keyboards ready to pop a blood vessel when, say, Dan Kathy says Chik-Fil-A supports the biblical notion of marriage–like that was a huge freakin’ revelation. But ultimately I blame you, Christian Nation, for making me endure all of this. Because face it, you picked this fight. It’s a fight as lost as was the Confederacy. It’s just a matter of what kind of ideological, screeching divide you’re going to tear between people on your way out. And all of this could have been avoided. It should have been no different from not expecting a Jewish restaurant to serve me pork. I wouldn’t walk into a Christian bakery and expect them to whip me up a penis cake. I’d expect them to say they’re not comfortable with that, and many other family oriented bakeries to say same. Likewise, I see no reason why people should expect them to sell a gay wedding cake. Less so than the penis cake, unless maybe it was a gay penis wedding cake…but I digress. We just say fine and move onto the next baker who isn’t so uptight. The only place it might be problematic is small, backwater town America where maybe there isn’t more than one baker. It doesn’t seem to me it should be necessary to have to go to the next town over because somebody doesn’t approve of how you’re going to use a cake or whatnot. It just seems petty. But nor do I think churches should have to perform gay weddings against their wishes. Marriage is a legal institution in this country, not a religious one, and no particular brand of godhood is required. Look hard enough, you’ll find someone to perform the ceremony you want. We’re diverse like that. (However, for you believers, should you want a purely religious wedding without the blessing/acknowledgement of the state and the benefits/tax burdens it bestows, go for it! Live it. Nothing stopping you. God will know, right? Otherwise, you can keep sharing the privilege with others.)

So here we are, where dissension of view is often no longer tolerable. Say something others don’t like–well, then, there must be sanctions against that. They must be forced to comply with *insert offended group here* ‘s world view and condone it as valid. And then there must be laws, rules and regulations, and committees and research and more bureaucracy to determine if somebody’s feelings somewhere, somehow, were hurt. When, if we just didn’t give a frak about how everybody else lived their life and weren’t looking to be offended at every turn, we’d be much closer to copacetic.

The Johnson Amendment

I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend. ~Thomas Jefferson

With the Trumpster still hammering on about the Johnson Amendment, it might be good to look at this again.

“It’s all good for churches to speak out on politics,” say the secularists, right before smugly adding, “if they want to give up their tax exempt status.” Kind of as a “gotcha!” That the religious tax exempt status somehow goes hand-in-hand with keeping mum on politics is assumed. The history of this is worth examining, however.

The Johnson Amendment, which can be found here, is not so much an amendment as a law. Under it, tax exempt 501c3 organizations are described as one “which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.” And, just as “In God We Trust” wasn’t printed on paper money until 1957, the Johnson Amendment has only been with us since 1954. Consequently, the same year that the words “under God” were officially added to the Pledge of Allegiance. When something is older than a large majority, it’s easy to think things have been that way forever. So it’s good to keep such things in perspective.

Senator Lyndon B. Johnson proposed the Johnson Amendment as a political push to silence other particular non-profits speaking out against his re-election. I know, a politician pushing self-serving legislation?? No way!!! Conversely, tax exemption for churches is something that goes back to the founding of the country and beyond. Historically, before 1954 it was in no way tied to what they could or couldn’t say in regards to politics. And, to point it out again, the Johnson Amendment says a candidate can’t be endorsed (or not). Most churches don’t believe they should be endorsing candidates anyway. They can still speak out on policy issues and, given the nature of what religion is, I hardly see how people would expect otherwise.

According to a 2012 NBC article  a Lifeway Research poll, which is part of the Southern Baptist Convention (don’t get much more fundamental than that), 87% of pastors didn’t believe they should endorse candidates from the pulpit. And only 44% had endorsed a candidate, and that was outside of their church role. The poll carried a +/-  3.2 percentage error. Again, if you want religious ideas to go the way of the horse and buggy, let them out into the public square. Religion would like to think of itself as unchanging truth when it comes to its teachings, but that is far from the case. Consider, for example, the historical milestones of women preaching and interracial marriage. All once frowned upon and forbidden and common place today. Religion will come around and adapt as it has always been forced to do, whether that is in regards to accepting powers shrugging it off (see King Henry VIII) or tossing out its musty hymnals to attract a more hip audience (see modern praise & worship). Either that or it will become irrelevant to the day and age.

No doubt there is a wishful desire on the part of some secularists that religious bodies could just be silenced in these regards. As appealing as it may seem to stifle the opposition, that’s not what living in a free, liberty-minded society is about. Many, if not most, secularists are merely nonreligious and content to coexist with a live-and-let-live philosophy. But there is definitely an anti-religious faction out there, the polarized opposition to religious fundamentalism. Religious fundamentalism is not interested in living in a free, liberty-minded society either, consequently. They also want to stifle lifestyle expression that doesn’t fall in line with their holy book and would rather sweep it under the rug and pretend it doesn’t exist. The rest of us get caught between the extremes.

I don’t care for the suppression of expression. History has shown that fundamentalism, whatever the brand,  thrives under suppression and persecution. And the petulant Left seems to be trying their own play at this here of late. It’s a bad idea no matter what ideology it springs from. The persistent faithful’s (and political dogma can be a sort of faith) attempts to make the rest of a free society fall in line with their particular moral code has led to bitterness and resent in like respect. More and more we are a polarized country when it comes to politics and culture with a middle ground of interlocution melting faster than the polar ice caps. The best way to test ideas is not to shut them down, but to drag them out into the daylight to be examined and debated.

Senator Lyndon B. Johnson proposed this restriction on tax-exempt organizations. His target wasn’t churches, as I believe I heard Trump once suggest, but was a political push driven by the fear of communism to silence a couple of secular non-profits speaking out against his re-election. Churches and other non-profits were just fallout from the bill. While it’s not hard to imagine a politician pushing self-interested legislation, that doesn’t inherently mean the legislation is bad. This was not a new issue when Johnson brought it to the fore, and the law should be judged on merit, not just what Johnson may have hoped to get out of it.
Both more and less seems to be made of the Johnson Amendment than is warranted. Both secularists and religious proponents alike seem to like implying that churches aren’t allowed to speak out on political matters, and that isn’t so. Per the IRS “churches and other 501(c)(3) organizations can engage in a limited amount of lobbying (including ballot measures) and advocate for or against issues that are in the political arena.” Churches are more than welcome to speak out on abortion, taxes, healthcare, or whatever. What they can’t do is directly endorse (or oppose) a particular candidate as previously noted. Given what dirt that often comes out on candidates down the road, I can’t imagine why they would want to, either.
Those pastors intent on opposing the Johnson Amendment have organized Pulpit Freedom Sunday, aimed at directly flying in the face of this law. Their consequences? Nothing. And it is worth noting that the number of churches that have ever lost their tax exempt status under the Johnson Amendment is exactly zero. That makes the net sum effectiveness of the law, at least against churches, zero. And, consequently, the abolition of the law as a boon for churches also zero. At least from a pure endorsement perspective. This isn’t really about freedom of speech. Who cares if Pastor Bob endorses Trump from the pulpit? What it comes down to, as it so often does, is money. Money for candidates, and money for churches.
It should be pointed out that it is possible for tax exempt organizations to endorse candidates if they file as, for instance, a 501c4. Churches and other organizations, including schools and the ASPCA among many, file under 501c3. This allows their donors to take tax deductions for their contributions, whereas this isn’t allowed under a 501c4. If they wanted, churches could create separate sister organizations under the 501c4 and get the political input they crave (and some other charities do exactly this). Of course, then contributions to that tax exempt organization would not be tax-deductible, and churches don’t much like that because it cuts back on the giving. Turns out, people aren’t as eager to donate to Jesus when they can’t deduct it from their taxes. But here’s the deal. You can’t deduct from your taxes monies paid to directly support a political campaign, so why should you be allowed to deduct from your taxes monies paid to indirectly support a political campaign through a 501c3? The answer: you shouldn’t. So, there is a workaround here. Churches just don’t want to utilize it. This is why they make it a freedom of speech issue for themselves instead of a campaign finance reform one. And, of course, if the Johnson Amendment were repealed, it gets repealed for everybody, not just churches, who are as singularly self-focused here as Johnson.
Many secularists would like to see churches lose their tax exempt status as a righteous civic duty that brings them in line with the rest of society. It’s a civic duty that would bring many a ministry to its knees, as most churches are not mega-churches or headed by pretentious people such as Joel Osteen. But the secularists that think this have not thought the issue through. Paying in means you get a say. Paying in means you have more political power than ever. Paying in destroys separation of church and state. It’s a bad, bad idea. This is the reason churches remain tax exempt, and why 501c3 tax exempt organizations are not allowed to support (or oppose) particular candidates–so they, churches or otherwise, don’t become tax loopholes for political activism.
So,  while I’m all for preachers having the freedom to speak their mind from the pulpit, I do agree that, as a campaign finance reform measure, the Johnson Amendment is a good thing. And that, as par for the course, Donald Trump has mischaracterized the issue with overblown rhetoric. Again.

 

31 Questions

Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry (CARM) with apologist Matt Slick posted a list of 31 questions for atheists to answer. Many atheists rose to the occasion (or challenge?) and you can find their answers in blogs and YouTube videos around the net. These are wonderful in getting a fuller view of how different atheists think about the issues. However, I consider myself an igtheist or theological noncognivist. Which means, to paraphrase RationalWiki, whereas agnosticism declares “you can’t really know either way,” igtheism states “you haven’t even agreed on what you’re discussing.” The igtheist position is “I have no clear concept of anything labeled ‘God’ nor any reason to suspect that anyone else does either.” But I’m not an apatheist. I find the argument not only interesting, but also socially relevant. While the concept of God may be ambiguous, there are a great many who believe they know exactly what God is and what God wants. On a personal level for people this may be fine, but this often translates into how one perceives and treats others, from chopping hands and heads off to racism to female genital mutilation to saying who can marry whom to what one is allowed to read. I find it hard to be apathetic about these things.

  1. How would you define atheism?

I’m good with Merriam Webster’s definition “a disbelief in deity” or, to rephrase, a lack of belief in god(s). To many atheists/skeptics/freethinkers atheism is a conclusion, not a proposition. Other people may put a different spin on it.

  1. Do you act according to what you believe in (there is no God) or what you don’t believe in (lack of belief in God)?

I act according to my conscience, motivation, and strongest inclination at any given moment (as we all do). After all, not all my inclinations are in agreement with each other. I respond to my environment and how it seems the world operates around me to achieve desired results. My skepticism about the existence of an ill-defined Supreme Being may influence some actions, but no more than the same skepticism regarding other superstitions/mythological beings (ghosts, leprechauns, psychics, and so forth).

  1. Do you think it consistent for someone who “lacks belief” in God to work against God’s existence by attempting to show that God doesn’t exist?

I don’t do this. Nor do most of the skeptical people with which I am familiar, though the confidence  may go higher when presented a case of particular revelatory theism. The burden of proof always lies with the person making the positive claim. Also, is it consistent for a believer to attempt to show that other gods don’t exist? There sure are a lot of Christian apologetics aimed at Mormons, Muslims, Hindus, and so forth. It is not inconsistent to argue against what you think is wrong. What a baffling question.

  1. How sure are you that your atheism properly represents reality?

Theological noncognitivism says nothing about the state of reality, only the state of the discussion regarding god(s). Even within denominations believers don’t agree on what God is or wants. But on a theistic (God giving revelation to particular people/groups) scale I’d say 99.99999%. I have no reason to believe that any of these people who can’t present a coherent definition of God are right.

  1. How sure are you that your atheism is correct?

Isn’t what is correct also what properly represents reality? Unless Mr. Slick means something else by the term “correct,” I understand what’s correct is what also “properly represents reality.”

  1. How would you define what truth is?

If we’re talking about mathematical or scientific truth, it’s what can be reliably proven by experience–or, otherwise, what is correct and  properly represents reality. It’s repeatable (past observations are useful in predicting future results) and falsifiable by what we call the scientific method. One might consider other forms of “truth” that are more subjective–artistic truth, emotional truth, philosophical truth. So I guess it depends on what “truth” we’re talking about.

  1. Why do you believe your atheism is a justifiable position to hold?

Because there is no unambiguous definition of what constitutes God. God is a mental construct and seems best defined as people pretending to know something they can’t possibly know. Therefore it is impossible to determine any position on God’s existence.

  1. Are you a materialist or a physicalist or what?

I suppose I would be inclined towards a physicalist out of the two choices listed, although I am leaning towards a version of neutral monism as an area of current study. What is meant by “physical” is not fully understood and being expanded. Can “thought” be separated from the physical? It seems to at least be dependent on the physical, if not the same thing.

  1. Do you affirm or deny that atheism is a worldview? Why or why not?

As I answered in the first question, to me atheism is a conclusion, and only a conclusion to a single question. That’s not a worldview. However, viewed this way it would be compatible with any number of worldviews from capitalism to communism, from conservatism to progressivism. There are plenty of atheist fiscal conservatives who don’t find a home in the theocratic leanings of the Republican party, which might explain why the majority of Libertarians (according to an informal poll by the Libertarian party) are atheists. This is not to say that atheism isn’t a world view for others claiming the label, but you’d have to get that clarification from them.

  1. Not all atheists are antagonistic to Christianity but for those of you who are, why the antagonism?

This question is painting with a very broad stroke. Not all Christians are created equal here. Are we talking about Westboro Baptist Church, or the person living out their belief in personal privacy? Because I have no problem with the people who want to apply their beliefs to their private lives and find enrichment in magical x. It’s when they start trying to bring everyone else under the heel of their belief that I have problems, such as when creationism is attempted to be passed off as science in schools, or segments of the population are denied privileges (such as the LGBT community for gay marriage) based on unfalsifiable ancient manuscripts. Indeed, Christians in America today seem very enthusiastic about “taking America back for God” and putting everyone under what they believe those rules to be. The only person a True Believer can really put under their conception of God’s thumb is themselves. Stick to that and we’re golden.

  1. If you were at one time a believer in the Christian God, what caused you to deny his existence?

Reason and better arguments, although at this point I don’t deny that existence per se. Many Christians think that something “bad” must have happened for us who turned away, and that may be true in some cases. But not for me. I enjoyed my faith and theology and the fellowship of believers. There were a couple of factors that propelled me to maintain that faith for longer than I might have. At the end of the day, it wasn’t any atheist that swayed me away, but Christianity itself. Just look at all the denominations and various interpretations. That’s a bit of a simplification of my reasons, but it’s a start. That everybody was pretending to know things they  really didn’t, and I was too, and that there is nothing reliable about faith to reach correct conclusions. Now I’ve reached a point that, given that there is no unambiguous concept of what constitutes “god,” I don’t deny that existence; I don’t understand what is even meant by it, and I don’t think believers making the argument really do either.

  1. Do you believe the world would be better off without religion?

Generally speaking I think religious/superstitious belief has done more harm than good throughout history. But, given that I see religion as a human construct, that’s not to say it couldn’t be replaced by some other damaging construct. I believe we are fully capable of wrecking the ship of humanity without the iceberg of religion. However, I believe it is always better to believe in things that can be shown correct and accord with reality than not. If one has a belief that lacks evidence yet will not change or, worse, is contradictory to evidence, that is an unreasonable position. I think we’re better off without unreasonable positions. Also, for the good that religion does do, I find it easier to replace those motivations with secular humanist reasons than for finding justifiable reasons for, say, bombing a building absent the idea of god. Of course this would not eliminate the problem. I’m only saying that, bereft of God, it’s easier to find other reasons to “feed the hungry” than it is to “kill the infidel.” Because, bereft of God, there are no infidels.

  1. Do you believe the world would be better off without Christianity?

I don’t see much difference here from the last question. Even were Christianity to be removed, that leaves a host of other religious rigmarole.

  1. Do you believe that faith in a God or gods is a mental disorder?

No. People are indoctrinated into faith, it is not congenital. However, persistent belief in something without evidence, or contrary to evidence, might be considered delusional behavior.

  1. Must God be known through the scientific method?

I don’t know of any other reliable method to know things exterior to ourselves.

  1. If yes, how do you avoid a category mistake by requiring material evidence for an immaterial God?

I don’t know what “immaterial” is or how it can be known (much less it have consciousness). Regardless, the God of the Levantine religions regularly is said to interact with the material world, so material evidence shouldn’t be an issue in these regards.

  1. Do we have any purpose as human beings?

Not any inherent purpose, but we can give ourselves purpose.

  1. If we do have a purpose, can you as an atheist please explain how that purpose is determined?

People determine what their purpose is. Seriously, this is elementary stuff. But I understand how believers go astray here, because they believe that we must have an ultimate purpose (and have the hubris to say they know what that is). For them, otherwise, life must be meaningless. This is a non sequitur.

  1. Where does morality come from?

People. This is also self-evident.

  1. Are there moral absolutes?

Not that I’m absolutely certain about. I’m open to examples.

  1. If there are moral absolutes, could you list a few of them?

Most any moral, even those that find broad acceptance across multiple cultures (i.e., murder is wrong), falls on some scale with varying shades of grey. Generally I accept the axiom that what is moral is what promotes happiness, well-being, health and/or minimizes unnecessary suffering/harm.

  1. Do you believe there is such a thing as evil? If so, what is it?

Are we talking evil with a capital “E” embodied in some nebulous force or entity? Then no. Otherwise evil is a moral construct created by people.

  1. If you believe that the God of the Old Testament is morally bad, by what standard do you judge that he is bad?

My conscience.

  1. What would it take for you to believe in God?

For starters, a meaningful, understandable definition of what God is. Second, sufficient evidence for which the simplest falsifiable explanation is God. As an aside, if I am to accept the Christian god that is toted about as all-knowing and long-suffering so that none may perish, then that God knows what it would take for me to believe, and that hasn’t happened. Instead of behaving like my own parents, or so many other parents I know, who have done to the best of their abilities to guide their children out of love, this absent parent requires faith. And if you just can’t buy into that, well, it’s eternal torment for you. This doesn’t strike me as the best effort one might make to save the creation they supposedly love so much. It’s absurd. I can’t think of any other instance where faith of this sort would be considered a virtue. As Christopher Hitchens said, that which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

  1. What would constitute sufficient evidence for God’s existence?

Evidence is sufficient if it’s empirically demonstrable and best explained by the hypothesis that God exists.

  1. Must this evidence be rationally based, archeological, testable in a lab, etc. or what?

I don’t know what “rationally based” evidence is. Evidence is empirically based. But, ideally, yes, something along these lines. If it’s not verifiable, it’s not evidence.

  1. Do you think that a society that is run by Christians or atheists would be safer? Why?

Safer for who? At the end of the day, both groups are far too diverse to say that either  would be inherently safer–whatever is meant by that. The society I prefer is one that cherishes liberty, compassion, and evidential  empirical truths. If that society also happens to be one filled with people who believe in a mythical sky god but mind their own business, we’re copacetic.

  1. Do you believe in free will? (Free will being the ability to make choices without coercion.)

Is living under the threat of eternal damnation for making the wrong choice not coercion?? It does seem that most of us have some degree of free will, or at least the illusion, coerced or not. Others, such as the severely mentally ill, may have less so. So biology seems to play its role as well. It’s an interesting area of study, to be sure. But I don’t believe we can dismiss biology as playing a part in determining our behavior.

  1. If you believe in free will, do you see any problem with defending the idea that the  physical brain, which is limited and subject to the neuro-chemical laws of the brain, can still produce free will choices?

As I see it? Maybe. The science is still out on the free will issue. Maybe yes, maybe no, maybe there is some mixture there depending on how we define our terms. However, granted that the brain is “limited and subject to neuro-chemical laws,” this violates the previous definition of free will given here as “the ability to make choices without coercion”–if brain chemistry influences us, that is a form of coercion, and then it can’t be said that true free will exists. But that’s only one definition of free will.

  1. If you affirm evolution and that the universe will continue to expand forever, then do you think it is probable that given enough time, brains would evolve to the point of exceeding mere physical limitations and become free of the physical and temporal, and thereby become “deity” and not be restricted by space and time? If not, why not?

WTH? I might take this as the basis for some fantasy novel. But, yes, I affirm evolution. I don’t know if the universe will expand forever. And I have no freakin’ clue what is meant by “exceeding mere physical limitations.” If you’re going to use such an expression, you better be able to give a coherent definition of what it means. This is just…bizarre.

  1. If you answered the previous question in the affirmative, then aren’t you saying that it is probable that some sort of God exists?

See, the trick here is setting people up to most likely answer the previous question “yes.” So, no.