Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The bankruptcy of a bankrupt church.

The San Diego Diocese of the Catholic Church has filed for bankruptcy. They are the fifth local branch of the Church of Rome to do so in the United States. Others that have sought legal protection from debts are the branches in Davenport, Iowa; Portland, Oregon; Spokane, Washington; and Tucson, Arizona.

The move in San Diego is being done for the same reason as in the other areas. The church there is facing 150 lawsuits due to sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests. The church says it is facing such massive pay outs to the victims of the priests that it can’t afford to pay its debts. In San Diego the church has $156 million in assets.

There are several disturbing aspects to this move by the church.

One is that the church appears to be using bankruptcy as a means of stopping the lawsuits from proceeding thus keeping some embarrassing information under wraps. A lawyer for the victims said: “For three years they’ve told people they want to settle, they want to be transparent. But the moment it became clear the truth will come out through a jury trial, they sought to shut down victims’ ability to get compensated and get out the truth.” One television news report states that the diocese “did not list the names of litigants who have filed sex-abuse claims, indicating that it has petitioned to enter those details under seal.” This looks more like a cover up to me.

The second issue for me is that bankruptcy strikes me as rather immoral. If you owe debts to someone and then file bankruptcy you don’t have to pay them what you owe them. Bankruptcy has always struck me as a form of legalized theft. And theft violates one of the ten commandments -- in fact it violates one of the few commandments that makes sense.

What it looks like to me is that the Catholic Church first allowed and/or covered-up the abuse of children. Then when it was required to pay them compensation for the harm done it files bankruptcy thus stealing the compensation, along with stealing from others to whom money is owed. This is highly immoral but par for the course.

But what really gets me is why the San Diego Diocese is being treated as an independent entity. They list their assets in San Diego and their liabilities. But shouldn’t the church be required to list their global assets and global liabilities?

People forget that they call themselves Catholic because the word means universal. They present themselves as a global entity not just a local one. And they operate as a global entity with corporate headquarters in Rome. The name indicates this. It is Roman because its headquarters are in Rome but Catholic as they are all part of the same body. Their universality is official teaching of the church.

The hierarchy of the church ensures that every priest, bishop, archbishop and cardinal serves under the authority of the Vatican. They are not independent at all. San Diego can’t exactly announce that they renounce the virgin birth and praying to Mary. Anyone who did that would be removed from office by the church leadership under the authority of Rome.

All church leaders are interconnected. There is no independent church. If you are a member of the Roman Catholic Church you are a member of the universal body of Catholics not of a specific church or diocese. You may attend services in a specific area but you are a member of the universal church. If you travel you can worship at any of the Catholic churches you will find and be considered a full fledged Catholic at those churches as well. You know that they are supposed to preach the same doctrines and that they too are under the authority of Rome.

And the cover up of abuse was not just done locally. If Father Kiddiefiddle was caught in San Diego and it proved to be embarrassing he’d be moved. But such moves were often to other regions of the country or even the world. The church universal acted in concert with these cover ups. It wasn’t just a specific diocese.

If the priest from San Diego was caught with a gaggle of Girl Scouts he could, and often was, moved to other cities. The recipient diocese of this priest was also complicit in the cover-up. And if the priest was caught again he would often be moved again to another diocese. They played a game of musical priests. When the music stopped whichever priest was caught was transferred out. But instead of being out of the game he was sent to another diocese where he continued the game.

The crisis of child abuse within the church was not restricted to one region. The Catholic Church lived up to their name -- it was universal -- or at least global which is what they really mean. Priests could be moved anywhere in the world. And remember that the Pope started out as a priest in Germany. The previous Pope began his clerical career as a priest in Poland. He would rise through the ranks. One doesn’t rise without the approval of church leaders above you in hierarchy and Cardinals are appointed by the Pope.

If Ford produces a car that is dangerous and they are found liable for damages the company, not the local dealer, is held responsible. And Ford is less hierarchical than the Roman Catholic Church.

I see no reason why the San Diego branch of this universal body ought to be given bankruptcy protection. It is an immoral shirking of responsibility to debtors and the assets of the church extend around the world and all the way to Rome. They ought not be allowed to pretend their assets stop at the borders of the diocese alone. The only bankruptcy the Catholic Church should be allowed to declare is moral bankruptcy.

Photo: An an example of the incredible wealth of the Roman church and as a testament against their right to file bankruptch look at this photo. That is one of many treasurers sitting in the Vatican. That is model church is made of gold and platinum. Solid gold artifacts are not uncommon. Papal diamond rngs are certainly not unknown. Paintings worth hundreds of millions exist. The sale of just a tiny number of such objects would pay off the debts of all the bankrupt churches.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Antigay Anglican priest defrocked for sexual sin

Jacksonville, Florida is a hotbed of clergy misconduct. In recent months two prominent, and I mean prominent, antigay preachers have run into problems. One of the top fundamentalist preachers in America, the founder of one of these megachurches, is on trial after numerous women came forward and testified that he molested them when they were small children. I’ll have more on that cast later. In fact he’s just part of a whole network of prominent fundamentalists caught in some pretty bad things. And I have to sort through over 100 pages of notes I have.

But the case I will talk about is that of Rev. Samuel Pascoe of Grace Church. Now you know how the Episcopalian Church in the US has split between gay-hating conservatives and others. And you know the gay haters have split off from the church. Pascoe was one of the leaders of that split.

He argued that being gay is sexual sin. Well, it appears he knows something about sexual sin. Now he was stripped of his church for what has been described as a sexually inappropriate relationship with a woman in his church. Apparently while he was attacking gay people he was having an affair and cheating on his wife. Pascoe wouldn’t speak to the press and the conservative group he lead is being mum as well.

If they don’t talk about they think it might go away. The man who replaced him at the church said: “It’s a painful thing that has taken place. And it’s difficult for Sam given the comments he has made on issues of sexual morality.”

A letter to the church says Pascoe “has engaged in an inappropriate relationship with an adult female parishioner.” These days the church should be thrilled it was a female and an adult. They rarely get that lucky. Now there was a time that the church would just say that the relationship was with a female and inappropriate. They go out of there way to mention that the relationship was with an adult. That they do so tells more than they care to admit.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

What if the tomb wasn't empty?

Faith and facts have almost nothing to do with one another. Sure now and then someone will claim that they do. But at the core they are in completely different universes. For the true believer in Jesus there is no fact that will convince them that they were in error. As has been said, you can’t reason someone out of a belief if they weren’t reasoned into it in the first place.

Now and then I’ve asked Christians what piece of evidence it would take to convince them that their religion was false. I’ve never received an answer that was close to coherent.

Now I don’t know if the following theory is true or not. It really doesn’t matter if it is. And please note that all the information I use here comes from a Christian web site.

Basically “a panel of experts, as well as producer and Oscar-winner James Cameron” have said that they have discovered what they believe to be the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth.

Now it is difficult to prove the theory. But the evidence does begin to add up. First the tomb did belong to a man named Jesus. Not uncommon. But he is also “Yeshua bar Yosef” or Jesus, son of Joseph. That is not common at all. While tombs belonging to someone named Jesus have been found before none had this connection. And in tomb was his mother, a woman named Mary. Again it is getting a little too close for comfort.

Two other males were found in the tomb and believed to be brothers to the owner of the tomb. We do know that the New Testament said Jesus had brothers. In fact the author of the book of James is said to be one of them. All in all this is still not quite there. It could be one massive coincidence. But there is one more body as well.

And this one is interesting. It is identified as belonging to Mariamene e Mara and the experts say this means Mary Magdalene. And that brings up another problematic issue for Christians. Under the customs of the day only family members could be buried in the family tomb. So this Mary Magdalene would have to be a relative or the wife of the tomb’s owner. They could check the mitochondrial DNA and determined that woman was not related to the tomb’s owner via the material bloodline.

That doesn’t prove they aren’t related via the paternal bloodline but this is another coincidence that is starting to get rather astronomical.

Another body was also found in the tomb and this one was identified as “Judah, son of Jesus” which would also indicate that the other female body belong to the mother of Judah, or the wife of Jesus.

One archeologist who helped excavate the tomb says he doesn’t think that this could be the tomb of Jesus because “They were a very poor family...” and wouldn’t own a tomb. But this doesn’t mean the tomb wouldn’t have been bought or donated by followers of Jesus. And the New Testament speaks of that happening.

But we don’t know if that every took place. We don’t know if Mary and Joseph were poor. The New Testament says lots of things which are not necessarily true. Maybe it is all one massive coincidence and maybe it isn’t. Everyone involved says that far more investigation has to be done before any definitive conclusion is reached.

But here is what I contend. Even if the tomb were discovered and the body was still attached to the cross Christians would find a reason to ignore it. The evidence is not important.

And I suspect there are some very nervous officials in Israel doing their best to assure that the evidence comes out against this being the tomb of Jesus. As long as all this is 2,000 years in the past it is better for everyone. But if officials from the Israeli agency that investigates archeological sites were to come out and say this was the tomb of Jesus all hell would break out. Many Christians don’t like Jews as things stand and if Israel or Jewish officials are involved in debunking the resurrection there will be hell to pay.

So while I think Christians will ignore this story, even if the evidence continues to mount that it is Jesus in the tomb, I suspect the opposite will happen it the evidence goes the other way. If the consensus is that this probably isn’t the tomb of the Jesus of the New Testament they will seem to find that a verification of the story of the resurrection.

If this isn’t the Jesus tomb that is not proof that the tomb doesn’t exist somewhere. And if there is no tomb that doesn’t mean there isn’t a grave, perhaps one of the countless graves that have been discovered over hundreds of years with no name at all. So this one tomb can only disprove the resurrection. It can’t prove it. But logic and reason don’t work well in the realm of faith. So in the end it won’t matter to the Christians.

But here is what we do know. The tomb was real and the boxes containing the remains were genuine. The names attached to the boxes are not disputed and statisticians says that the odds of the tomb belonging to another family with the same names is about 1 in 600.

It is noted that 71 tombs belonging to a man named Jesus have been discovered in Israel. But none said he was the son of Joseph, none had him buried with his mother Mary and none indicated that a wife, buried with him, would be Mary Magdalene. It will be interesting to watch. I think the evidence is interesting but not fully persuasive myself. But as I said I don’t think it will matter to believers even if the evidence were indisputable. They will find a way to ignore it. They do with everything else.

Photo: This is the tomb in question.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Evangelicalism, abolition and slavery.

The theocratically inclined World Net Daily web site is promoting the film Amazing Grace, as to be expected with their Christianist agenda. Their “film reviewer” writes that this is the story of Wilberforce who lost his father and went to live with an aunt “in whose home he first met the great evangelist George Whitefield, and John Newton. Newton had converted to Christianity and left a lucrative life as a slave trader, and wrote the words of the hymn Amazing Grace."

Anschutz’s film also tells the story of John Newton, the man who authored the song Amazing Grace because Newton was a covert to Christianity and had once been an active merchant in slaves himself. I’ve not seen the film so I can’t say how accurate it is on this matter. I can, however say, that the web site for the film merely claims that Newton repented "over time" but gives no indication of the time involved. Newton’s conversion to Christianity was real. He was on a ship that he thought would sink during a storm and prayed that God would save the ship. When it didn’t sink, and most ships don’t sink during storms, Newton changed his life.

But when I say he changed his life he stopped swearing, he stopped gambling (so he wouldn’t be at Anschutz’s casino) and he stopped drinking. What he didn’t do was stop working in the slave trade. That continued for several more years. Then he had a violent fever and got converted all over again. This time he said it was total conversion and he was at peace. And still he continued working in the slave trade. Trading in human beings didn’t disturb his peace at all. Apparently having a beer was a problem, as was saying “damn” but helping transport human slaves didn’t bother him and if it did then it didn’t bother him enough to stop.

Only in 1754, six years after his conversion, did he retire from the maritime industry but not in moral revulsion against slavery but because he wanted to become an Anglican priest. One has to wonder how many more additional people were sold into slavery because the converted Newton found nothing in his evangelicalism that opposed slavery.

For seven years Newton was rejected for the priesthood. He also tried to be ordained by the Methodists, Presbyterians and others but no one was that keen. He eventually used the influence of a friend and was ordained. It was only in 1779 that Newton ended up in London preaching and it was here he met William Wilberforce, the main character in the Anschutz film.

And it was only now that Newton became an abolitionist. He was a Christian and a slave trader for years. Only after he left the maritime trade, and decades later, did he find himself opposing slavery. He wrote a booklet against slavery in 1787, 33 years after he left the slave trading enterprise. His conversions to Christianity did not stop him from engaging in the transport of slaves whatsoever.

And what of the other prominent “evangelical” influence on Wilberforce: George Whitefield? Whitefield is certainly a far more important figure in the development of evangelicalism than Wilberforce. Whitefield is the man who is often credited with bringing revivalist fundamentalism to America. He toured the American colonies preaching the message of fundamentalist Christianity winning many converts. His campaign was called “The Great Awakening” but what is forgotten, or ignored, is that Whitefield didn’t just support slavery he actively extended it.

The state of Georgia, where Whitefield preached and established an orphanage, prohibited slavery. But in 1749 there was a move to legalize the ownership and trading of human beings and the great evangelical leader George Whitefield was a leader of that campign. His orphanage owned slaves and upon Whitefield’s death those slaves were bequeathed as property to the Countess of Huntingdon, a benefactor of Whitefield who helped pay for his revival campaigns and was a major benefactor of the British evangelical movement.

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography discusses the role of evangelical Christians in ending slavery and it notes: “During the first half-century of religious revivalism, from the 1730s to the 1780s, evangelicals showed little interest in the Atlantic slave trade or the enslavement of Africans. The mid-century progenitors of Anglican evangelicalism.... left no record of opposition to slavery in their deeds or words.”

More importantly it notes that “several important evangelicals... had a vested interest in human bondage.” Rev. Martin Madan was a slave owner who used involuntary human labor on his plantations in the Caribbean. The profits from this venture were used to build a chapel for evangelicals in London. Like Newton, his fellow evangelical slavery, he also wrote hymns.

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography says that the few “evangelicals who took an interest in the enslaved focused exclusively on the African’s spiritual welfare.” Slaves, in accordance with the New Testament, were told to accept their bondage and improve their spiritual condition.

Only in the late 1700s did a significant group of evangelicals become persuaded that slavery was wrong and this was more due to the lobbying of Quakers than to any biblical morality. This group of evangelicals “had initially shown more concern with the promotion of religion than the cause of liberty. If left to their own devices, it seems likely that they would have pursued an ameliorationist programme, rather than the abolition of the slave trade.” They only embraced abolitionism in 1786.

If one group deserves praise in the fight against slavery it is not the evangelicals. It is the Quakers. This sect is not evangelical in any sense of the word and were often persecuted by evangelicals for their teachings. But Quakers consistently opposed slavery, which is one reason for the persecution they suffered at the hands of orthodox believers. Quakers were petitioning parliament to abolish slavery while the evangelicals were still counting the profits from the trade.

The campaign to portray evangelicals as the force behind abolitionism is a false one. And even the major evangelical influences on Wilberforce, Whitefield and Newton, were slavers. Newton’s conversion didn’t stop his slave trading as is claimed by the Religious Right. And Whitefield was a major leader of the campaign to bring slavery to the state of Georgia.

Thanks to George Whitefield by 1810 there were over 100,000 slaves in the state of Georgia. And by the time of the Civil War there were close to half a million. It is probably not an exaggeration to say that this prominent evangelical revivalist alone made it possible to enslave over 1 million people from the time he pushed for the legalization of slavery in Georgia until it was abolished by the Civil War just over a century later. Whitefield helped establish one of the largest slave trading regions in the world. Anyone think Anschutz will make a film about that?

I can’t find a firm figure regarding how many slaves were freed by the 1833 abolition act but I found several references to the compensation paid out by the British government to slave owners. It is said that £100 per slave was paid to the owners who “lost” their property. Elsewhere I read that £20 million in total compensation was given out. That would seem to indicate 200,000 slaves were freed.

If evangelicals wants to take credit for those 200,000 I’m happy to let them do so (though it is not quite accurate). But I would like them to take credit for the additional slavery that existed because of the efforts of George Whitelfield. And from what I see Whitefield’s actions lead to the enslavement of five people for every one that Wilberforce helped free. That comes to a deficit of 800,000 slaves. Evangelicals ought not celebrate and sing Amazing Grace too loudly. Their history in the slave trade is far, far dirtier than they are admitting.

Illustration: Our illustration is of evangelist George Whitefield, slaver.

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The Christianist mogul behind the film.

The man who is ultimately behind the film Amazing Grace, which has evangelicals swooning and claiming credit for ending slavery, is Philip Anschutz, a Right-wing Christian billionaire who was also behind the big Christian push for his film The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. As the New York Times wrote, the films produced by Anschutz “are often designed to accommodate a religiously devout audience.” Anschutz admits he intends his films to push his moral values. He told an audience at a Christian college that he expects the films he produced “to carry a moral message” and that he’s in this “to attempt some small improvement in the culture.”

Anschutz puts his money into films that push a more personal agenda as part of America’s “culture wars” and he is a major funder of the Discovery Institute, the people behind the Intelligent Design fraud. Anschutz is also generous with other far-right groups such as Colorado for Family Values and Morality in Media.

But Anschutz has more ambitious goals than to just fund theocratic groups. He wants to mold America’s culture. And his films are not the only way to do that. He has purchased dozens of major newspapers across the United States including the San Francisco Examiner, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Miami Herald.

Anschutz, who is worth more than $5 billion is often described as a “devout Presbyterian” but his form of Presbyterianism is not what most Americans think of when they hear the term. His is the old fashioned Calvinist kind of Presbyterianism. But a little hypocrisy doesn’t worry him either. He is the owner of the white elephant Millennium Dome in London and plans for it include a super-casino. But the profits from the dome will help Anschutz push his morality agenda even if gambling will be a major source for those profits.

And he admitted guilt in a plot where he inflated the value of his company, Qwest, pushing up the stock price and then dumping his shares at the higher price. For that he was fined $4.4 million.

Anschutz has also been generous to political candidates, almost all of them Theopublicans, particularly to anti-gay candidates. He has donated to Marilyn Musgrave, Richard Santorum (several donations but he lost anyway), anti-immigration advocate Tom Tancredo, George Bush, John Ashcroft, Sam Brownback, Robert Knight (extremely Right) and others.

One of his first film ventures was a dud on the second coming of Jesus. The co-producer of the film, Bob Beltz said: "We wanted something that we thought would have more of a mainstream impact, that would expose unchurched people to the person of Christ in a way that they might walk out of the theater saying, 'Is it possible that Jesus could really be that wonderful?’” It didn’t quite work out that way and Anschutz learned to be a more subtle with his message.

Anschutz wants to make a profit. He doesn’t want to just dump money down fundamentalist blackholes that suck in resources and produce nothing. Amazing Grace is meant to do just that. Just the title and song will push his agenda and he knows it. The song is a favourite in fundamentalist churches during the “altar call” when people are urged to come forward and “accept Jesus”. It pushes the born again message hard and heavy.

Part of the agenda here is to make fundamentalists look good to the public. And if evangelical Christians can get the credit for ending slavery, even if they were, for the most part, avid supporters of slavery, so much the better.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Slavery and Christian Mythology

Christians, especially fundamentalists, are mounting a campaign for another God film they are behind: Amazing Grace. The story goes that a British MP, William Wilberforce, gives his heart to Jesus and is saved and abolishes the evil of slavery. See how great Jesus is.

Understand that there is an organized campaign to falsely tie Christianity to the abolition of slavery in ways not justified by history. They have even organized hundreds of churches to sing the song Amazing Grace (the title of the film) on the Sunday before it’s release. The churches are acting as free advertising agencies for this business venture.

Just as Mel Gibson did with his film the produces of Amazing Grace are giving special preview tickets to ministers to see the film before it opens to the public. Again it’s advertising for the film. They even have a special web site for churches to register their Sunday promotion of the movie. They are shamelessly calling it “Amazing Grace Sunday”. Think of this. Thousands of churches openly promoting a business venture. I counted over 100 churches in Georgia alone that were involved in this promotional campaign. Here is a map showing churches involved in the publicity campaign for this private company.

According to the web site for the film “more than 5,000 churches” have signed up for this publicity stunt. It may be advertising, it may be a publicity stunt but it is given a pious veneer and the Christians are eating it up.

No doubt Wilberforce did oppose slavery. Thomas Jefferson pushed to abolish slavery years before Wilberforce did and Jefferson was no Christian. He failed in light of heavy Christian opposition. And the fact remains that for centuries Christians had no major issues with slavery. Christianity was the official religion of the West since the time of Constantine who made it the official religion in 312. Wilberforce comes along one and half millenniums later.

So exactly what were Christians and God doing for 1,500 years?

Neither were actively involved in any move to abolish the evil of slavery. And the reason for this inactivity is obvious. The Bible condones slavery. The church condoned slavery for most of it’s history. Christianity actively supported slavery for 1,500 years and has only opposed it for 200 years. They have about another 1,300 years to go before they even up the score, so to speak.

The Old Testament didn’t just condone slavery but has God allegedly telling his chosen people to actually enslave others. God actively encouraged slavery. And the New Testament didn’t change a thing. Jesus never had an unkind word to say about slavery.

The closest we come to opposition, and it fails by a long shot, is Paul telling Christian slave owners to remember that slaves, who are Christians, are brothers in Christ. He never thought to tell them to free their brothers in Christ. He never had a word about ending the practice. And he didn’t say the same thing about slaves who weren’t Christians.

That Paul was speaking to Christian slave owners indicates that the early followers of Jesus never thought it wrong to own slaves. As for the slaves Paul told them to obey their masters, Christian or not. In fact Paul told Christian slaves that they should work even harder for their masters “as though you were working for the Lord.” And since that is what he wrote in the New Testament most Christians would say that is God speaking. God wanted hard-working slaves not free men.

Christians were so fond of slavery and servitude that they often used this imagery to describe the relationship between believers and God. And non Christians often spoke out against slavery. Prof. JL Holden said that Paul’s failure to condemn slavery “falls below the human ideals of Stoics of his time like Seneca.” Don’t expect any fundamentalist to finance a film about Seneca. But the church fathers and leading theologians continued to support the practice for centuries.

The first Western nation to free its slaves was not the England of Wilberforce. Even Wilberforce himself mentioned that in the House of Commons, Feb. 18, 1796. What nation represented the forces of godlessness to organized Christianity? It was France, the France that had gone through the French Revolution and was roundly condemned (and often with very good reason I should point out) by the Christians of the West. The godless revolutionaries in France freed slaves in the French colonies decades before Christian England managed to do so.

No one will produce a film about that. They don’t have thousands of French churches across America willing to act as advertising agents to boost movie profits. But on February 4, 1795 the revolutionary First Republic passed a decree which said “the Convention declares the slavery of the Blacks abolished in all the colonies consequently, all men, irrespective of colour, living the colonies are French citizens and will enjoy all the rights provided by the Constitution.”

Revolutionary France did not survive. The forces of Napoleon and order took control and in 1802 they re-established slavery. And over the next few years the cozy relationship between church and state was reinstated. But apparently, in the process, the Christians forgot to tell Napoleon that reinstating slavery was wrong.

Two decades before Revolutionary France had made the first steps to abolish slavery the great American opponent of Christianity, Thomas Paine, wrote his essay about how “Christianized people should approve” the stealing and enslavement of “men by violence and murder for gain”. He was disgusted and called for the end of the practice. The church didn’t listen.

What I find a bit odd is that across the American South, the Bible Belt, churches are joining this publicity campaign. Yet many are affiliated with denominations that came into existence because of their support for slavery. When abolitionism finally came to America it was the godless North that embraced the cause. The good Christian people of the South consistently defended the practice as Biblical. As pressure from the North mounted Southern churches severed their ties with their denominations and formed their own groupings in defense of slavery. (Much as you have Episcopal churches rushing off to embrace an authoritarian bishop in Africa because some of their fellow churches won’t bash gays anymore.)

The fundamentalists of the past were advocates of slavery for the most part and it is no coincidence that today's American fundamentalist movement is strongest in those states that were slave states. Slavery and Bible-believing Christianity went hand in hand.

James Gillispie Birney, in 1842 wrote his pamphlet on American slavery. It was entitled: The American Churches: The Bulwarks of American Slavery. He told his English audience: “The extent to which most of the Churches in America are involved in the guilt of supporting the slave system is known to but a few in this country.”

Four years later another report was written: American Slavery: Report of a Public Meeting held at Finsbury Chapel, Moorefields to receive Frederick Douglas, the American Slave, on Friday, May 22, 1846. It contained a transcript of a speech given by Douglas that day. He said:
“I have to inform you that the religion of the southern states, at this time, is the great supporter, the great sanctioner of the bloody atrocities to which I have referred. While America is printing tracts and Bibles; sending missionaries abroad to convert the heathen; expending her money in various ways for the promotion of the Gospel in foreign lands, the slave not only lies forgotten--uncared for, but is trampled under foot by the very churches of the land. What have we in America? Why we have slavery made part of the religion of the land. Yes, the pulpit there stands up as the great defender of this cursed institution, as it is called.”

Douglas said the most difficult obstacle to end slavery was how closely Christians had connected it to their religion.

“This I conceive to be the darkest feature of slavery and the most difficult to attack, because it is identified with religion, and exposes those who denounce it to the charge of infidelity. Yes, those with whom I have been labouring, namely, the old organization Anti-Slavery Society of America, have been again and again stigmatized as infidels, and for what reason? Why, solely in consequence of the faithfulness of their attacks upon the slave-holding religion of the southern states, and the northern religion that sympathizes with it.”

That being an abolitionist caused one to be labeled an “infidel” ought to be a badge of honor to infidels the world over.

People pleaded with Douglas to mention some instances of the church standing up against slavery. He replied:

“The church and the slave prison stand next to each other; the groans and cries of the heartbroken slave are often drowned in the pious devotions of his religious master. The church-going bell and the auctioneer’s bell chime in with each other; the pulpit and the auctioneers’s block stand in the same neighbourhood; while the blood-stained gold goes to support the pulpit covers the infernal business with the garb of Christianity. We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support missionaries, and babies sold to buy Bibles and communion services for the churches.”

A voice cried out that this couldn’t be true. Douglas lifted the Birney booklet and quoted an advertisement announce the sale of “field negroes” being sold by the church that owned them. He read another account of a woman’s estate, where a quarter of slaves were given to the church so that it could sell them “for the purpose of sending the Gospel to the heathen and particularly to the Indians of this continent.” Douglas says in that case the church turned down the bequest but would have been happy to accept the money directly had the slaves been sold first.

Wilberforce did speak out agaisnt slavery. As did many agnostics, deists and freethinkers who history forgets. But as Charles Bradlaugh put it, for Wilberforce to condemn slavery he had to have become an unbeliever as to some passages from the Scriptures. And even as he campaigned for freedom he failed for decades because of the opposition from his fellow believers. Bradlaugh said:

When William Lloyd Garrison, the pure-minded and most earnest abolitionist, delivered his first anti-slavery address in Boston, Massachusetts, the only building he could obtain, in which to speak, was the infidel hall owned by Abner Kneeland, the "infidel" editor of the 'Boston investigator,' who had been sent to gaol for blasphemy. Every Christian sect had in turn refused Mr. Lloyd Garrison the use of the buildings they severally controlled. Lloyd Garrison told me himself how honored deacons of a Christian Church joined in an actual attempt to hang him.

Much of the inspiration for abolitionism in the United States came from the pen of Thomas Jefferson. His stirring words in the Declaration of Independence preached a different gospel, where “all men are created equal” and endowed with rights. And the good Christians of the south recognized this. At the Second Presbyterian Church of Charleston, on November 21, 1861 a minister rose to preach against the Declaration of Independence. H. Shelton Smith summarized the argument:

“It was this very atheistic Declaration which had inspired the “higher law” doctrine of the radical antislavery men. If the mischievous abolitionists had only followed the Bible instead of the godless Declaration, they would have been bound to acknowledge that human bondage was divinely ordained. The mission of southerners was therefore clear; they must defend the word of God against abolitionist infidels.”
Bishop Stephen Elliott of Georgia preached in 1862 that the libertarian revolution of 1776 was against the Bible.

“Carried away by our opposition to monarchy and an established Church, we declared war against all authority and against all form. The reason of man was exalted to an impious degree and in the face not only of experience, but of the revealed word of God, all men were declared equal, and man was pronounced capable of self-government.”

At the First Presbyterian Church of New Orleans, in 1860, Rev. Benjamin Palmer told the gathered faithful that:
“The Abolition spirit is undeniably atheistic, The demon which erected its throne upon the guillotine in the days of Robespierre and Marat, which abolished the Sabbath and worshipped reason in the person of a harlot, yet survives to work other horrors, of which those of the French Revolution are but the type. Among a people so generally religious as the American, a disguise must be worn; but it is the same old threadbare disguise of the advocacy of human rights. From a thousand Jacobin Clubs here, as in France, the decree has gone forth which strikes at God by striking at all subordination and law. . . . This spirit of atheism, which knows no God who tolerates evil, no Bible which sanctions law, and no conscience that can be bound by oaths and covenants, has selected us for its victims, and slavery for its issue. Its banner-cry rings out already upon the air: “liberty, equality, fraternity,” which simply interpreted, means bondage, confiscation, and massacre. With its tricolor waving in the breeze—it waits to inaugurate its reign of terror. To the South the high position is assigned of defending, before all nations, the cause of all religions and of all truths. In this trust, we are resisting the power which wars against constitutions and laws and compacts, against Sabbaths and sanctuaries, against the family, the state, and the church, which blasphemously invades the prerogatives of God, and rebukes the Most High for the errors of his administration. . . .”

The preachers of the day knew from whence came the spirit of abolitionism. It came from Englightenment thinking not from Scripture. Susan Jacoby, author of Freethinker, says: “"The religiously correct version of American history has never given proper credit to the central importance of the Enlightenment concept of natural rights--or to the anticlerical abolitionists who advanced that concept before the public--in building the case against slavery"

The Jeffersonian concept of natural rights was not Biblical in origin. And it permeated the American abolitionist movment. In opposition to that campaign was the church. That the church eventually surrendered to the spirit of Enlightenment is now being held up as a victory for God.

Christians are celebrating the emancipation of slaves as if their faith had not condoned the practice for millenniums. Their Bible, to this very day condones the practice for it is God’s word and can’t be rewritten by sinful man. They ignore the non-believers who laboured against slavery. They equally ignore the theologians, the ministers, the pastors and church elders who not only condoned the practice but owned human beings a pieces of property themselves.

Churches in denominations founded to defend the inhumanity of man owning man spent a few minutes singing a song promoting a film about one of their own. Instead they should have been on their knees begging forgiveness for the thousands of others who defended the atrocity of slavery. But Hollywood knows that if you want to promote a film and make a profit you want people to feel good. It Hollywood were being honest it would make hundreds of films showing the church advocating slavery for each one showing it opposing the practice.

It is no coincidence that after the liberal values of the Enlightenment spread throughout the Western world that nations began abolishing slavery. Christianity had been there for centuries and nothing changed. But as liberalism spread so too spread the shame of owning slaves. Eventually even the Christians started to feel condemned for their immoral practice. But they stood condemned, not by their Holy Bible, but by the spirit of their age, a spirit that had not come from Christianity and which was repeatedly condemned by the church.

Eventually the church succumbed to liberal temptation. Eventually it recognized rights which their own Bible denied. And now you have Christian after Christian using this movie to tell the story how Evangelical Christianity freed the slaves. Pardon me while I throw up.

Photo: Map of churches in this campaign. Photo of Frederick Douglas.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Letter to Jehovah

Dear Jehovah:

I assume I should be sending this to Jehovah since I was raised in the West. And you are the only true, one god though if I would Muslim and living in Iraq I guess I’d have to write Allah. It does get a bit confusion but I will take it that religious dominance is something like a post office. With god it is best to use the one closest to you.

So I’ll start out with a couple of assumptions which i actually don’t have. One is that you exist and two is that you are Jehovah. For the sake of this letter we’ll just make you God.

Now I’m surrounded by people who believe in you and your absolute, infallible, clear word -- which is called the Bible here. But you knew that already. And they all say that you have revealed yourself to them in one way or another except that they seem to have crossed their wires and come up with different stories. Now for those of us on the outside of this circus that makes it rather bizarre and difficult.

So the main purpose of this letter was to ask why you didn’t make things a little bit clearer. I mean you do know that people have died over these things and others have been willing to kill over them. So it’s not like this are trivial issues. Lives are at stake and I’m assured you would have known this. Which of course raises the question as to why didn’t you make it clearer? You could have saved a few lives had you done so.

Let’s start with this book of yours. Catholics have one version and Protestants have another version. It’s not just that they translated it differently. They have different books. And for the first couple of hundred years no one was really sure what was supposed to be in the book and what wasn’t.

Now after that mess you left you then hand these various manuscripts over to people to copy by hand. Some no doubt were very scrupulous but people are only people. And along the way words were changed, things were added or possibly deleted. We know because we have different copies with these different words in them.

Wouldn’t it have made a bit more sense to drop that bombshell on us when there was the ability to copy what you sent word for word. Instead of scribes in darkened monasteries with quill and ink don’t you think a Bible being sent to Kinko’s would have made more sense?

Ditto for this guy they say was your son or you in disguise or you in a different form, etc. I’m told he was one of the above because he performed miracles, was crucified and rose from the dead. But then all the evidence for that you stuck in the book which has already created so many problems. Bad move God, really bad move.

You could have been a little bit more patient. It’s not like you were running out of time or getting too old to work. And since a thousand years are like a day to you all you had to do was wait a couple of days, Biblically speaking. Now you send down this fellow with your message.

We have CNN and the internet. Then these miracles could have meant something. Have him show up at the Pulitzer Prize dinner and turn the water into wine. That would get the attention of those journalists -- they like wine you know. And he could have done the walking on water bit almost anywhere and received some coverage and documentation. That last part is important.

Now I’m told you had to have him tortured and killed for some reason or other. It was part of your plan. No problem. These days the White House would have been happy to do both. They’d grab him off the streets and whip him off someplace where he can be tortured and die for our sins. Now you arrange a Congressional investigation (you would need to give Congress a backbone first) and then have your son walk into the meeting and announced he rose from the dead and was returning to you and so on. CNN would have covered that. CSPAN would run it live.

I assure you that even a skeptic like me would be impressed. We would have documented proof for the things in which the church is supposed to believe. Instead you give us contradictory accounts in unreliable manuscripts translated by people who, all things considered, simply weren’t that bright.

Now that the story of your son is obvious and the book you sent is far more accurate lets talk about some problems you left behind for your church to solve. Again I only bring them up since people died over these things.

Here are a few suggestions to improve your book.

First, add in a clause that says slavery was, is, and always will be wrong. For a lot of history your people never figured that out. In fact they argued you said the opposite.

Next, how about a general clause that says something like: “If any believe not in me, or believe not the things I have taught. Leave them the fuck alone. Do not stone, torture, burn, execute, behead, imprison or harm them in any way. If you do I shall send you to the lake of fire. You understand? And I really, really, really mean it! I’ll deal with it myself.”

And you could have cleared up a few controversies. Do you know you have had some of your people knocking one another’s heads in over baptism? Sure, you did, you supposedly know everything.

So here is what would have helped. First make it clear that baptism is for a specific group. Say it quite clearly as your followers aren’t that bright. Tell them if it is adults or new-borns who should be baptized. And make it clear whether it is sprinkling, pouring or dunking. Now your followers all say you have already made it clear. But just between you and me they don’t agree on this so obviously something got lost in the translation. (See my first point to you on this one.)

Next, would you mind not playing tricks on us? Your followers, well some of them, tell me that the world is only 7,000 years old. Some say 10,000 but what’s three thousand years between friends? But all that stuff that makes it look millions of years old is a tad bit confusing. I’m sure it is amusing to you to look down and watch people fighting over this at school board meetings. But enough with the joking.

Our country is pretty torn apart about a lot of things and right now and we really don’t need another thing to fight over. And this includes that evolution, creation, intelligent design controversy as well. Would it really have been a bad thing if you had the fossil records match what you say you did?

And finally do you think you could be a bit more active? If that isn’t asking too much. I understand you used to wander around all over the place showing yourself in burning bushes and the like. But it’s been thousands of years. That parting of the Red Sea was nice but you could have put in appearance when that tsunami hit a few years back. As that massive wave is heading for shore what if your hand just held he waters so that they rose hundreds in feet into the air and then subsided. Bet you would have had a lot of converts that day.

And finally you know your followers pretty well. Could you work on them a bit more? Give them a sense of humor and make them nicer. Some of them are really nasty people who inflict a lot of pain in your name. Can you have them cool it?

All I’m saying is you could made a bit of effort here. It really would have helped in lots of way. The way it’s been going it’s almost like you aren’t even there.


PS: Can you give me a clue as to where to mail this damn thing? Also how much postage is needed? Also, if you get this could you let me know? We really need to talk about this guy in the neighborhood who is really screwing everything up for everyone. His name is George Bush and he says you and he are buddies. You might consider getting a better class of friends.


Friday, February 16, 2007

Theopublicans blame Jewish plot for evolution.

One of the “Good ol’ boy” Theopublicans in the Theocratic State of Texas (yet once again) got himself into some hot water. Republican Warren Chisum sent out a flyer promoting a God-fearing Christian web site that will debunk evolution and promote godly science based on the Bible. Chisum is a good Christian -- hence he was the author of a constitutional amendment which explicitly denies gay couples equal marriage rights before the law.

And the flyer in question was the work of another elected Republican, Ben Bridges of the George state legislature -- George is another hotbed of intellectualism. And according to the Dallas News the memo says that evidence “long hidden” shows that evolution was plot imposed by the Jewish “Pharisee Religion”. It says: “This scenario is derived concept-for-concept from Rabbinic writings in the mystic ‘holy book’ Kabbala dating back at least two millennia.”

Bridges is taking heat for it as well and denies he knew anything about the memo which sent people to a web site run by a fundamentalist bigot. The bigot in question, Marshall Hall says that he penned the memo with Bridge’s knowledge and permission. Hall says: “I gave him a copy of it months ago. I had already written this up as an idea to present to him so he could see what it was and what we were thinking.” Hall says his wife has been Bridges’ campaign manager for the last ten years.

Bridges was asked if he disavowed the theories of Hall but skirted the issued while implying that he might: “I agree with it more than I would the Big Bang Theory or the Darwin Theory.” Oh, goodie! We have an elected Republican who thinks the idea of an ancient Jewish plot to impose evolution makes more sense than natural selection in nature. In Georgia this guy is probably considered a moderate. And to show what kind of education one can expect if this man had his way consider this gem of wisdom from him: “I am convinced that rather than risk teaching a lie why teach anything?” I suppose there is a corollary that which apparently Mr. Bridges has put into practice: “Rather than risk learning a lie why learn anything?

Back in Texas Representative Chisum articulately stated: “The stuff that causes conflicts between religious beliefs, you know, I’d never be a party to that.” The man obviously learned public speaking at the George Bush School of Articulation and Grammar. Chisum says: “I don’t agree with bashing Jews, that’s for sure.” Apparently gays are another matter entirely.

Chisum says he never went to the web site he was promoting and was just being a “Good Samaritan” for his fellow Republican legislator. He says: “It that’s a sin, well, shoot me.” Tempting offer, Mr. Chisum. But then it would probably do not good. You couldn’t hit a vital organ if you tried. He’s a Republican so he has no heart and he’s a Christian fundamentalist so he has no brain.” And it would be a very bad idea to put holes in his body considering what he’s obviously full of -- you wouldn’t want that many decades worth of crap seeping out and endangering others.

So what is on this web site? --- and I assure you that with the web layout they use you can’t accuse them of being guilty of “intelligent design” whatsoever. On the front page you learn what Biblical science is like. We already know you have to throw out evolution and you need to believe the earth is supposedly only 7,000 to 10,000 years old. But there are other Biblical beliefs it promotes. One is the “Earth is not rotating”. No spinning globe whatsoever. Equally important is the claim that it isn’t “going around the sun” either. The web site in question provides 67 “scriptural references” to prove that the sun is moving not the earth. And he provides even more Bible quotes to prove that the earth can’t move!

And if the Bible says it then it just has to be true.

They argue that the earth is the center of the universe and the universe revolves around the earth. And the reason people don’t realize this is because of the Jewish conspiracy to destroy Christianity. I’m not making this crap up. This is what these lunatic Theopublicans in Georgia are claiming.

They argue that there “is a list as long as your leg of highly organized One World Government conspiracies. Some have been around for centuries, even millennia. Others are more recent.” And all this conspiracy stuff “was prophesied over nineteen hundred years ago in the New Testament of Jesus Christ! That is something to think about, isn’t it?!” Cue the music for the Twilight Zone.

Now the conspiracy is “SATAN-INSPIRED” this “science” web site says and has one goal “to bring about a One World Government that can establish a One World ANTI-CHRIST religion.” (Please not they write with these excessive capitals not me.)

So while there are just dozens of conspiracies pushing Satan’s plan “there is, nevertheless, One Particular Conspiracy that embodies and yet transcends all the others.” And it does so because: “God foreordained that it be this way because this particular conspiracy is special to His Plans. This particular conspiracy is going to play an irreplaceable and completely understandable part in His Perfect Plan.”

Apparently Mr. Hall’s theology not only teaches him science but history as well. Because he discovers the “granddaddy of all One World conspiracies” to be the “same one Jesus encountered in the Pharisaic Establishment headquartered in Jerusalem nearly 2000 years ago.” This is starting to sound like a book Mel Gibson will be filming. Hall says this Pharisaic plot today “is in position of control globally and doing business through state-of-the-art technology capable of handling its global transactions almost instantly.” This Jewish plot, says Hall is the “age-old Satanic conspiracy which the heartbeat” of all the other Satanic one world conspiracies. And in case you didn’t know Talmudic Judaism, according to Hall is in “control of the pornography industry and all the media” .

This is the sort of “theology” that one often finds rampant in fundamentalist sects. It is exactly the sort of things I heard as a kid at the local Christian school. And this is what the Republican Party has become since it started recruiting Christianist nutters from the American South.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Don't confuse me with the facts.

Some people have an amazing ability to entirely disconnect contradictory beliefs or values. They can look at evidence which proves themselves wrong and walk away unfazed. Their theory of life is something along the lines of: “I know what I believe so don’t confuse me with the facts.”

No where is this astounding ability more apparent then when it is applied to religious faith. I well remember some religious types (fundamentalists) who descended on me one day while I was working. They wished to convert me. Surprise, surprise. One argument they offered is that the Bible was infallible and had no contradictions.

What is a contradiction? Well, here is an example. You met a friend, Sam. He tells you has never seen your other friend Suzy. You are surprised. You thought he had. So you ask: “Are you sure you never met Suzy?” He assures you he is. You verify that you are talking about the same Suzy even. And then he says: “Well the last time I saw Suzy she was wearing that red dress she likes so much.”

“Hold on,” you yell. “A second ago you said you never saw Suzy, ever. Now you say that in fact you did see Suzy and she was wearing the red dress when it happened. You are contradicting yourself.”

He says: “No, I’m not.”

Now what? He simply refuses to acknowledge that this is a contradiction. In most cases you would assume a screw loose. So it was with these fundamentalists. I noted that the Bible says that God is a spirit and that “no man hath seen God”. They agreed that was the case. No one has ever seen God they said. Now we didn’t delve into the idea that Jesus is God and thus anyone who says they saw Jesus saw God. They would argue that the first verse meant God the Father not God the Son -- convenient having several deities who are one but separate (contradiction).

They also agreed that Moses was a man. But the Bible says Moses spoke to God “face to face”. It also says that Moses “saw the hindparts of God”. I think that means he saw God’s butt. So one moment they are face to face and the other “cheek to cheek” or something like that. But it clearly says that Moses and Jehovah had a chat and that Moses saw God.

These two young men agreed that was accurate. So no man has seen God but Moses who is a man did see God. I suggested this was a contradiction. They both said: “No, it isn’t.” And they held firmly to the belief it was not a contradiction. I would ask: “Why isn’t that a contradiction?” The answer: “Because it isn’t.”

We never got any further than that. They refused to explain how they define contradiction and they refused to explain why these two opposite claims were not opposites at all. They just asserted it wasn’t. It couldn’t be since the Bible is infallible. Infallible means there would be no contradictions. So any contradictions you find can’t be contradictions because the Bible is infallible. And you know the Bible is infallible because there are no contradictions. And around and around we go and where we stop no body knows.

What reminded me of that story was an article in the New York Times regarding Marcus Ross, a fundamentalist nutter affiliated with Jerry Falwell and his faux university at Lynchburg.

Apparently Ross studied paleontology and all his academic work was scientifically spot on. He discussed species that existed on earth millions of years ago. In fact he discussed species living millions of years before he thinks there were any species or any earth to live upon. Ross is a fundamentalist nutter. He was already infested with Jesus-think before he went to university. And he insists the Bible teaches the world is not more than 10,000 years old. And since that book says it and that book is true the earth did not exist millions of years ago. And therefore no species existed here millions of years ago.

Contradiction? Obviously. Ross says it isn’t. He says he is merely working in two paradigms -- two contradictory paradigms. If Sam said he never met Suzy in one paradigm but did met her into another paradigm you would give him his meds and tell him to rest.

Ross has written papers about things happening tens of millions of years ago. Tens of millions of years before he says there was anything to happen. Asked about this he says: “I did not imply or deny any endorsement of the dates.” What?

November 22, 1963 John F. Kennedy is shot in Dallas. I have written that. I said that Kennedy was killed in Dallas on that specific date. Now if I were to say that by writing that I am not implying or denying that I endorse that date what does that mean? In fact take the Ross theory of logic and apply it to all the facts contained in that one sentence.

I am neither implying or denying the date in question, the person in question (JFK) or the location in question. I am merely writing something without saying whether it has any meaning whatsoever. Ross is stripping every sentence he makes of all meaning and content. He neither implies nor denies when he says something.

Now he studied paleontology. When he writes about paleontology he writes the facts as they are best understood by paleontologists. But he goes out and promotes creationism using his paleontology degree to endorse the theories he himself won’t use when acting like a paleontologist.

Fundamentalists are like the woman who is beaten by her husband but insists he really, really loves her. Giving her a black eye is proof. She ignores the evidence to the contrary. Worse yet she takes that evidence and twists it inside-out so that it means the very opposite of what it means.

She has so much emotionally invested in her “marriage” that she won’t accept, can’t accept, anything that indicates it is a sham. So she either ignores the facts, “Oh, I just fell down the stairs” or she twists them, “It is how he shows his love to me.” Her very identity is defined by her relationship with this abusive, violent man.

So if something happens it is her fault not his. It doesn’t happen when it does. It means something it doesn’t mean. She has lots of way to justify her situation and avoid the uncomfortable truth that she needs a divorce and he needs jail time.

Fundies married Jesus, the Bible, Jehovah and a host of associated doctrines. Just like Ross and his paleontology or the abused wife and her husband they have many coping mechanisms that allow them to turn a blind eye to the truth.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

What do clerics contribute to moral debate?

A Church of England cleric, with an ecclesiastical rank surpassing any Jesus managed to obtain in his life, asked an important question. He wanted to know what purpose clerics serve if they do not speak out on moral issues. It is a good question and one I would like to tackle.

First, I believe morality needs debate, discussion and investigation. But remember that these are different from merely “speaking out”. The assertion of a revealed morality closes debate, investigation and discussion. As so many Christians are ready to remind us: “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”

The problem I have with clerics is that far too frequently they make bald assertions that are intended to close off debate. When one claims to have revelations from the creator of the universe, and inserts those revelations into an ethical debate, the function of doing so is to end the conversation.

What is there to debate if Jehovah has laid down the law? Or Allah? Or Jesus? Or Zeus for that matter.

if clerics admitted that they are just men without any inside track on what is moral and what isn’t then their input could be of some use. But to the degree that they are theologians they don’t contribute to the discussion but are assassins sent to strangle it.

When we debate moral issues we debate how certain actions impact the individual, his family and the larger community that surrounds him. Those are at least issues which we can talk about rationally. We can define what we mean and point to the results which are either desirable or undesirable. And we can specify what about them makes them desirable or not.

But with theology we can’t really do that. Listen to any religionist and they eventually start talking about “mysteries” and the “unknowable” aspects of a god and his ways. We are led down a blind alley. There is nothing at the end of it but darkness and obtuse comments. There are no answers there.

Consider the following moral issue. An elderly woman is riddled with cancer. It is eating her body away and beyond anything the physicians can do. The pain is agonizing. She is losing control of her bodily functions and her mental faculties are deteriorating. She drifts into comatose states and out in painful, horrific consciousness. She hates every second of it. She is alive but ceased living long ago.

She discusses the situation with her loved ones and the physician. All agree that her time is short and what little time she has will be pure torture. Everyone wants to end the suffering. That is a moral issue.

The rational world debates it by looking at the consequences of policies allowing such actions as terminating her life. What are the benefits? What are the hazards? Can the hazards be avoided? If they can’t do they outweigh the benefits? How would one construct safeguards? What lines need to be drawn and how do we draw them? Who makes the decisions? These are all rational and practical questions.

Into this quandary steps a cleric who lifts his hands and says: “Stop! In the name of God. Stop!”

He will acknowledge that this woman is suffering horribly and that there is nothing we can do to help her. He might even acknowledge that death would be relief to her. But he will assert that God has spoken and life does not belong to man but to the deity. You might plead with him: “Does God want grandma to suffer?” “How can a loving God wish a good woman to endure such torture?” He might try to give some answer but eventually he retreats to the dark cave of theology. Eventually he tells you: “Who can understand the ways of God? His ways are not our ways. His understanding is now our understanding. He has his reasons that we can’t understand.”

He babbles on about mystery but never says anything of substance.

And because he has played the “God card” on the table you are supposed to stop. If you go on you are challenging God and questioning the creator of the universe. So the discussion is over. He has equated crime with morality, and morality with theology. He is thus free to make any assertion he wishes and cover it up with mumbo-jumbo and incomprehensible statements devoid of any real meaning.

Here is where the cleric becomes a danger. Not only does his theology cut off debate but it gives him supremacy over all others. His arguments are the arguments of the deity hence his arguments are superior. Surely the word of god exceeds the debate of philosophers or the wisdom of scientists or the “common sense” of people?

The “God card” is one that grants moral superiority to the person who plays it. If God says X and you stand for X then your position is God’s position and to challenge you is to challenge God. To claim that you are defending God’s views is to claim that your views are the only views worthy of consideration. It is not just a claim to moral superiority but to authoritarianism It is a claim that it’s God’s way or the highway. Follow the rules or get out and if you don’t leave expect the punishment that God wants handed out.

This sort of thinking leads inherently to totalitarianism. The great classical liberals of history frequently spoke of the tyranny of king and priest, of church and state. Why have the two so often been connected? Why is it today that the fundamentalists of all stripes wish to gain political control over nations?

They do so because both church and state are means of subjugating people to the ruling class: to the politicians or the clerics. They ally because both inherently seek the same thing -- the control of others.

Those who believe they speak for God have to seek power. After all who has the right to disobey God? No one! God is God. His rules are supreme. And his representatives, his priests his church, must make sure his rules are obeyed.

So state power always appeals to such people. The Republicans once spoke of limiting government in the United States. That was the Goldwater-Reagan tradition. But the Republican Party became the party of fundamentalist theocrats. So what happens when the new Theopublican Party gained power? They expanded government massively.

They did not end the programs they despised, they converted them into propaganda arms of the church. Did the Republicans end the welfare programs they despised? No they gave them to churches to run with tax funding. They created an alliance between church and state. They have not abandoned the big government of the Left at all -- they have embraced it and merged it with their theology.

And that is the problem of theology. Once you bring God into the equation the only consistent thing to do is to merge more and more of human life into theology. Law ceases to be law but a branch of theology. Science that questions theology is abandoned. Philosophy that is not god-centered is discarded. The moral claims of theology must always seek supremacy. If they are claims from the throne of God what else can they do but seek supremacy? By their very nature they would be supreme to all else.

Theology that claims supremacy eventually must claim power. And it must suppress that which promotes the ungodly. It will creep into authoritarianism because it can not go anywhere else.

So if the cleric speaks on moral issues as a man asserting no divine knowledge, who leaves his discussion in the realm of the earthly and real, he may then have something to contribute. But the moment he starts making assertions based on “mysteries” he is closing off debate and leading us down the road to tyranny. Unfortunately that is what most clerics do. The cleric by his nature tends to speak as a theologian and not as a man. And that is why he ought to shut up.

In the end the unfortunate answer to the Church of England cleric is that clerics not only serve no beneficial purpose but for the most part their presence is malevolent. In the realm of moral debate we would all be better off if they stood silently on the sidelines contemplating the mysteries that can’t be understood instead of opening their yaps and claiming that the nothingness of theology gives them knowledge denied to the rest of us.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The rights of all must be protected!

Mixed emotions are defined as seeing your mother-in-law drive over the cliff in your new car. And I for one have zero sympathy for the hateful messages of Fred Phelps and his demented family -- though many of them are truly the warped victims of an abusive old fool. This video disturbs me. Watch it before I comment.

I can’t say I’m surprised by this. What Phelps preaches is such raw hatred that he offends most Americans. Even antigay Christians find themselves unhappy with his actions. They can’t fault his message since they also believe the same rubbish but they certainly think he does their cause little good. On that they are right.

I personally think that Phelps does more to advance equality of rights than he does to destroy it. People are offended when hatred is made so explicit. But only by seeing explicit hatred do they begin to understand what implicit hatred can led to.

The law should avoid as much as possible the regulation of thoughts and opinions. People ought to be free to express those opinions. Fred Phelps and his nutty family included.

But I assumed it was only a matter of time before something like this would happen. They are lucky it was not worse. Phelps is attacking grieving families as they are burying loved ones. What a vile creature he is for doing that? But the Christianists prey on grief and pain. Like vultures they circle waiting for a corpse so they can use that pain and grief in order to push for a “conversion”. I have watched it happen and I have sat in the churches as they brag about how this works “to bring people to Jesus”.

Phelps, however, is not interested in bringing people to Jesus since he is a hard core Calvinist. He thinks you can’t bring people to Jesus only Jesus can bring people to himself and sometimes he doesn’t want to do that. But Phelps envisions himself as an Old Testament-like prophet preaching against the sins of America. And the great sin of America, in his view, is that the nation isn’t ready to execute gay people. For this reluctance Jehovah sends off soldiers to die in Iraq. (As far as I can see only two people confuse George Bush for Jehovah -- one is Phelps. The other is Bush.)

Phelps counts on the government he is attacking to come in and rescue him when he riles up people. It was the police who whisked this motley crew of malcontents out of the storm not God. Jesus didn’t rescue them. Prayer didn’t save them. They relied upon the idea that people have rights and ought to be protected from assault. They relied upon the very principle they attack.

I understand the rage of the people in Delaware. I sympathize with their fury more than they will ever know. I do not condone their actions. The sanctity of individual liberty should never be susceptible to the vicissitudes of the mob. I know that too easily a mob can lynch a Phelps and then turn and lynch an atheist, a black, a Jew, a gay. Unless the rights of the disgusting fringe like Phelps are protected the rights of none of us are secure.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

These people really, really are insane.

I have previously discussed the Christianists at World Net Daily. These people are seriously demented. These were the lunatics that were pushing the idea that eating soy will turn you gay. One of their insane editors, Mary Jo Anderson, was debating their favorite issue -- the evils of homosexuals. Who would they bash in a world without gays?

Anderson argues that homosexuality really doesn’t exist. Gay people aren’t gay they are just confused (and I thought it was eating too much soy). She’s imbibed all the current chic fundamentalist bullshit. Gays are merely people “who struggle with same-sex attraction”. Just like she struggles with irrationality. As she sees it gays are alcoholic, depressed, suicidal, diseases, child molesting spouse abusers. Gay people making love are “sterile and life threatening. They are irrational--they literally have no meant and make no sense to nature. Thus, such acts are unnatural.” Wow! They also kill Christian babies at Passover and use their blood to make matzoh. Actually I may be confusing Anderson with Julius Streicher. As far as i can tell Streicher didn’t look as insane.

If you are what you eat then Anderson eats tons and tons of nuts -- all kinds of nuts. She asserts “there are no inherently homosexual people; rather there are people with same-sex attraction” which is a “developmental misstep” “during the toddler years”. Someone was toddling all right but I suspect it was gin in a bottle. And to prove she is correct she rushes to the absurd and dishonest “exgay” Christianist movement. These are people who tout as “cured” someone who has numerous heterosexual experiences, is attracted to women but who on a brief occasion had a gay experience. Then when that person never repeats the brief gay experience and continues with his dominant patter of sexuality he is proclaimed “changed” and “exgay”. Or they tell us about “exgays” who later turn out to be only dishonest. But to Anderson the believer this is proof. In the mind of the theologically inclined I am sure it is proof. In a rational world it is bullshit.

Anderson has never seen a god. She has no proof that one exists. But she believes one exists. She has meet gay people. In fact this exchange was in a debate with one. Yet she argues they don’t exist. Reading the Bible and believing it will make a mind so weak it will fall for anything.

For those who don't know Anderson also claims that the forged Shroud of Turin is real! Not only that but she informs us that Jesus had blood type AB. I told you these people will believe anything. But this is a woman who worships a virgin who gave birth to God.

I appreciate Independent Gay Forum for bringing this debate to my attention. It confirms my belief that these people are seriously deranged. They also quoted another very strange argument from another Religious Right publication. In this article some Right-wing kook laments the difficulty of being “chaste on college campus.

Now here is an ostensibly heterosexual young man at his sexual peak. Sure it is difficult to remain chaste. (I really wish most fundamentalists would remain chaste their whole life and stop inflicting their dementia on children.) But this author says that it is getting more and more difficult to stay a virgin. And who is to blame?

Okay, you know where I’m going. You know these people are obsessed with homosexuals. So the answer is gays of course. “If you haven't been a university student for a while, think back to what the sexual climate on campus was like when you were in college. Now imagine what it's like with official university LGBT offices pushing for same-sex marriage and gay rights. ...”

I read the short piece that contained this statement. No where is it explained. He just merely asserts that it is now more difficult to remain a virgin because gay people want to have legal marriages! Sure, you see one gay wedding and the next thing you know you are out there screwing every girl you find!

What kind of logic is this? The more I listen to these people the more I conclude they aren’t simple dumb or irrational. They are insane. That sort of logic doesn’t make any sense. But like the insane have their own system of logic so to does the Christianist. I really would love to know precisely how it is that gay marriage forces straights to surrender their virginity. The answer will be absolutely priceless.

Our photo this week is Mary Jo the nut. Trust me this woman shouldn't get anywhere near a squirrel. They would just see her as one giant dinner.


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