Sunday, July 1

Blog Against Theocracy : Worship, or Not.

This post originally appeared at BG December 30, 2006:

“Despite a full century of scientific insights attesting to the antiquity of the earth, more than half of our neighbors believe that the entire cosmos was created six thousand years ago. This is, incidentally, about a thousand years after the Sumerians invented glue.”

"Speaking to a small group of supporters in 1999, Bush reportedly said, 'I believe God wants me to be president.' Believing that God has delivered you unto the presidency really seems to entail the belief that you cannot make any catastrophic mistakes while in office."- Sam Harris

"Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just." Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia. (All the Jefferson quotes at that link highly recommended.)

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Freedom of Religion has allowed Christianity to flourish in this country. It's sad that a small group of zealots think that is not enough, that if the government and public sphere does not "acknowledge" God in a prescribed way, something's wrong.

And again with the science thing: Christians around the world, and particularly in this country, need to learn the definition of one simple word:

ALLEGORY.

The idea that a story written by ancient people featuring a talking snake means that God himself requires us to LIE about the age of say, The Grand Canyon, is so pathetic as to make our religion a public laughingstock.

The focus on "worship...or not" at the First Freedom First website has to do with NOT the public display of religiousity by elected officials. Believe me, Sam Harris and company will have to hold their noses when Obama gives his acceptance speech in Denver two summers from now. But there is too much pressure from inside the political power structure itself to make everyone join the theist party.

As Garry Wills, a devout Christian (though because he's Catholic some Jesus lovers probably think he's headed for hell) has pointed out in his book, "What Jesus Meant," Jesus did not trust the political world to further his mission for him. In a wonderful NYT op-ed (and yes, it's worth reading the whole thing, several times) Wills says,

It was blasphemous to say, as the deputy under secretary of defense, Lt. Gen. William Boykin, repeatedly did, that God made George Bush president in 2000, when a majority of Americans did not vote for him. It would not remove the blasphemy for Democrats to imply that God wants Bush not to be president. Jesus should not be recruited as a campaign aide. To trivialize the mystery of Jesus is not to serve the Gospels.


The flip side of this coin comes from First Freedom First:

Our private choice to worship, or not, must be protected when we go to work and to school and when we participate in our communities. It is never up to politicians or public officials to coerce us into supporting religious expressions in which we do not believe.


[Flying Spaghetti Monster adherents are also welcome to chime in at BG.]

17 comments:

  1. The idea that a story written by ancient people featuring a talking snake means that God himself requires us to LIE about the age of say, The Grand Canyon, is so pathetic as to make our religion a public laughingstock.

    Quite frankly, some of this stuff is in danger of making our country a laughingstock. At various times I have been in the position of explaining to Japanese or Chinese people that there are actually significant forces in the US who want to have religious mythology taught alongside evolution in science classes -- they stared at me in utter disbelief, as if they thought I must have been making it up. (The dominant religions in those countries have their own creation myths, of course, but nobody there is trying to get them taught as "theories" alongside evolution.)

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  2. mine's up.

    now i'm just waiting for the trolls.

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  3. Jesus was clearly a progressive. He believed in income redistribution. He only had kind words for two groups of people: children and the poor (the same two groups who've always fared poorly under GOP administrations).
    Jesus condemned the rich and the warmongers. If he returned today incognito, I have no doubt he'd be crucified all over again...and the right-wing theocrats would be the ones driving in the nails.

    Marc McDonald
    BeggarsCanBeChoosers.com

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  4. Anonymous5:55 PM

    Thank you for a very rational post.

    Y'know, it's people like you who make me hopeful that the world's gonna turn out alright in the end.

    I really liked the quote from First Freedom First - the right to be whatever religion you want, or have no religion is your choice, and no-one can tell you otherwise. I feel religion is a very personal thing - your faith, or lack thereof, is between you and God.

    Um, anyway I've lurked here before, and today this south-pacific based agnostic felt a need to add her two cents : )

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  5. thanks for de-lurking! You made my day. First Freedom First is great and their website is worth a look.

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  6. I befuddle creationists by demanding that public schools teach that the world was created when Waterbug swam down from the vault of the sky and pulled up some mud, then Vulture flew over to dry the mud with his wings, creating the mountains and the valleys.

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  7. When I was little, I once asked my dad how a garage door opener worked. He told me that a little man lived inside of it and opened the door for us.

    Fantastical tales of magic and the heavens are what we use to describe things we don't understand. Once we understand them we let the fairy tales fall by the wayside. After I learned how a simple electric motor works, for example, I let go of the Little Man in the Opener explanation quite readily.

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  8. Re: "the Little Man in the Opener."

    That's what I love about "progressives." They claim to care about others, and to be open-minded, but they are so dismissive other people's beliefs, to the point of condescension.

    I don't know why I bother to care any more.

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  9. Anonymous4:57 PM

    First of all, let me say I’m no fan of how our government is being run—by either party. Somehow it’s become a game of “us vs. them” for Republicans and Democrats, and that completely misses the point. Who cares about what law gets passed, when the only point to it is who passes it, how that effects the politicians’ track records, who will be offended by it, etc. Politics for the sake of politics is nauseating.

    That said, I’m a socially liberal, legislatively conservative, fiscally responsible (is that conservative or liberal?) registered Republican who’s considering donning the “Independent” mantle (thanks in part to Michael Bloomberg’s recent defiance of the political garbage muddying up the election campaigns). And I’m a disciple of Christ. I say that last, but really it’s the most important aspect of who I am—without that, nothing else has much meaning.

    With that background implanted in your mind, I want to challenge the idea in this blog that the Bible can be selectively interpreted as “allegory.” If we believe any shred of the Bible is literal truth, we must believe that all of it is. Not to say that there isn’t any allegory used in Scripture: Jesus himself taught using parables to get the point across. But it is always very clear when an account in Scripture is allegorical and when it is presented as historical. So how can we say, “alright, I think that the creation account is allegorical because I don’t think that God is capable of creating the universe in the way he says he did,” and at the same time say “I believe Jesus is the Messiah, who was crucified and resurrected for the supernatural, all-encompassing forgiveness of the world’s sins,” ?? It would be less hypocritical to say “I think the Bible”—all of it—“is a nice story that we can learn a lot about life from what’s in it.” But that’s ridiculous. How can we, with any credibility whatsoever, base our faith on a storybook? It’s all or nothing with the Bible—either it’s all true, or it’s all…allegory.

    And where in Scripture does God ever require people to lie for him? AS IF he needs people to cover his tracks for him. The fact is, we have no idea how old the earth is, and scientists would be much better off just saying this than continuously “discovering” and then “re-discovering” the alleged facts about the earth’s conception. Anyone who claims that science has dredged to the surface the mysteries of the ancient cosmos should look back to the 19th century, when they thought the exact same thing. For once, I would like to see a scientist stand up and say “You know, I don’t think we have it all together, us scientists. There are things we don’t know. And things we probably won’t ever know. Sorry for being such arrogant, self-absorbed wankers.” Americans are just so used to the idea that science can explain everything that it’s become foreign for us to think about things of a supernatural or metaphysical nature. The result of this type of worldview is a nation of people who go through life thinking What!? Science can’t explain that! It must not be possible! But on those grounds, things like Liberty, or Beauty, or Love, or an Idea, or Conscience, or Romance, or anything remotely like these would…not be possible. Because science still cannot explain everything.

    Nor should it.

    As for the zealots who want to covert the whole world to Christianity…wouldn’t that include Jesus himself? “Go, make disciples of all nations…”?? It was the last thing he told his followers to do before leaving earth. That cannot be overlooked for someone who claims to be in love with Jesus. He expects us (his followers) to tell other people about him—how he lived, how he exemplified God’s very character, how he is the only way to a fully restored relationship with God. He didn’t sugarcoat his message, either—he was very blunt and abrasive about the fact that he is the only way to restore the severed relationship between God and man. So, if you’re advocating just live and let live, and if someone happens to hear about Jesus then fine, then you are not advocating the way of Jesus. As I type this I am convicted about how little I actually go out of my way to tell people about what a relationship with Jesus has to offer, how it has the power to change their lives, as it did mine. And I seem to recall something else out of the Bible, “at the name of Jesus every [emphasis mine] knee shall bow on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the father.” So ultimately, everyone is going to hear about Jesus anyway, in this life or the next, so it doesn’t really matter how “tolerant” you are now. God usually gets his points across.

    I guess the over-arching theme of what I’m saying is this: it is not possible to compartmentalize your life into Christian life and political/social/scientific life. It would be disobeying what the Bible teaches to do so. Call me old fashioned (I’m only 20, so it would be funny if you did), but I think when God says something, he means it. And if that seems foolish to the rest of the world, so be it.

    Thanks, if you read the whole thing. I’d love to have a meaningful dialogue with anyone, learn where you’re coming from, hear more about your thoughts, tell you more about my own thoughts, or just chat. Shoot me an email!

    James Nordby
    jnordby@tkc.edu

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  10. My money (and soul) is on "allegory."

    I'm a Recovering Catholic with a tremendous respect for Jesus and The Bible. I understand The Ten Commandments to be an amazing template for living a "good life" and try to be guided by them.

    But I can't be part of an organization that has committed wave after wave of genocide in His name. And I'll be damned if I'm going to stand by and watch this country become a Theocracy without doing everything I can to stop it.

    I don't want my great-great grandchildren to have to learn about "The American Inquisition."

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  11. First, I join my Right Honorable Colleague Quaker Dave in his annoyance with "liberal" condesension towards people of faith.

    Second:
    "If we believe any shred of the Bible is literal truth, we must believe that all of it is."

    Why? Christianity survived for nearly two milennia before innerancy and literalism were fabricated out of whole cloth by English protestants. Where (in the Bible) is it written that I cannot be saved through Christ Jesus unless I believe that the Earth was literally created in seven literal 24-hour days (despite the absence of a sun for the beginning)? The answer is, it's not so written; literalism and innerancy are anti-Biblical and diminish Christianity by conflating Bible fetishism into a form of idolatry, not unlike the Israelites who worshiped the staff of Moses. There is one Biblical requirement, and one Biblical requirement only, for salvation, and that is belief in Christ as the Risen Saviour. Period. End of sentence. Full stop. And if innerancy and literalism (like keeping kosher or obeying the Sabbath) are not required for salvation, then why get exercised over it? I long ago decided to put all questions of theology to a simple test: does my answer determine whether or not I go to Hell? If the answer is yes, then it's VERY IMPORTANT and worth getting upset over. If the answer is no, then sure we can debate it, but otherwise, I am content to await the actual answer upon my arrival in Heaven. I suspect there will be a line.

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  12. Hey Blue Gal,

    I'm having trouble believing anybody reads this stuff or that it makes any difference at all. I like civil disobedience and I've been serving on the board of directors at a place called Mesaba Co-op Park. mesabapark.us

    I thought your video was quite amusing and I agree about Kucinich. All I need to ask is What Would Wellstone Do? Support Kucinich!

    Andrew

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  13. That's what I love about "progressives." They claim to care about others, and to be open-minded, but they are so dismissive other people's beliefs, to the point of condescension.

    How much respect would one owe to the beliefs of a full-grown adult who insisted that Santa Claus, or unicorns, or the Easter bunny literally existed?

    I see no difference between such a case and the case of someone who believes in the literal truth of the befuddled collection of bronze-age myths we call the Bible.

    It is unreasonable to demand that I or any other rational person show respect for utter nonsense.

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  14. "It is unreasonable to demand that I or any other rational person show respect for utter nonsense."

    Wow! Just...wow! No Right-Wing Fundamentalist could have said it better. I am constantly amazed at the level of zealotry applied by (some) atheists to mocking, belittling and insulting people who do not share their world-view, all the while (in the sheer brass monkeys category) demanding respect and acknowledgement for their views from everyone else. Therefore, infidel, may I assume that I can apply your standard and act intolerant and disrespectful of anything I find to be "nonesense"? Beginning with atheism?
    To paraphrase, when you gaze into the fundamentalist abyss, the abyss gazes back.

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  15. Thanks, well put. I remember the "allegory" point really coming home for me as a teenager. I remember seeing an episode of Peter Jennings' America or whatever the series was called where a religious man was visibly agonized, saying that if the Bible wasn't literally true, his entire life was meaningless. I was astounded. I wanted to tell him, "allegory." No wonder he and his group wanted to teach Creationism in their Bible Belt school district — sadly, his entire sense of self and the world depended on it.

    As I've commented here and elsewhere, I don't like it when all religious people are painted with the same brush. I'm sympathetic to QuakerDave and those complaining about "liberal condescension" towards religious people, because sadly, there is some truth there, and I have several religious friends who will talk about it with me.

    That said, on a national level, it certainly seems that non-religious folks have a harder time in the political arena and on many talk shows. It's often a given for even the hosts that the religious right care about "family values" and liberals don't, that no liberals are religious, that morality is dependent on religion, and so on. Some of this is because the authoritarian religious right has successfully labeled themselves as the religious Americans, and moderate and liberal religious folks have been shut out or have fallen comparatively silent. But the prejudices against atheists seem much more deeply engrained and less challenged than those against religious people. I also frankly think they're far more dangerous, and are more central to the dangers of a theocracy. In any case, the personal, social dynamic in a given community is often different from the political, national-discourse dynamic.

    Personally, I have no problems with religion. I have problems with some people who claim to be religious, and what they do in religion's name — often in conflict with their own religion's teachings. When I write a critique, I try to make clear that I'm criticizing the authoritarian religious right, not all religious folks and not even all religious conservatives (I have friends who are), since not all of them share James Dobson's far-right agenda. However, most non-religious people I know just want to be left alone. A critique of a a particular religious organization is not necessarily anti-religious, nor must a critique of a religion's actual theology be. I also find "science vs. faith" discussions to be rather pointless, since they're not necessarily incompatible and are completely different paradigms. Religious belief is simply not comparable to belief based on empirical research (and vice versa), but there's no need for the two to be in competition. I'm sympathetic to religious people who feel attacked, but I'm also quite familiar with how the non-religious feel, that they didn't start this fight. Lashing out by anybody in this arena is often overcompensation in a defense of one's essential identity, and that's all too human. Stepping back a bit, a little more precision with terms, and a little more respect all around would be nice. What I like about the Blog Against Theocracy is that people of different beliefs can agree that theocracy is a bad thing. I view the First Amendment and the separation of church and state as pro-religion and pro-atheist, or at least neutral on the matter. As the video Blue Gal linked last time said, and her quotation above says, it's "The freedom to worship — or not."

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  16. Anonymous3:37 PM

    RE: Local Crank:

    "Where (in the Bible) is it written that I cannot be saved through Christ Jesus unless I believe that the Earth was literally created in seven literal 24-hour days (despite the absence of a sun for the beginning)? The answer is, it's not so written; literalism and innerancy are anti-Biblical and diminish Christianity...?"

    Nowhere does the Bible say this. Good point. I hope I did not come accross as an advocate of Old Testament legalism!

    True, belief in Christ is the only requirement for salvation, but my point was this: How can we decide which portions of Scripture to take literally? "All Scripture is God-breathed..." And why did Jesus say "I'm not coming to abolish the law, but to fulfill it" ? It's easy to forget, but Jesus was fully Jewish, which means he lived--perfectly--according to the Old Testament (the Torah) He must have seen SOME value in it :)

    People ask me if I believe in the Bible. I say, no, I believe in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and God Almighty. So your point about idolizing the Bible is also well-recieved. However, the Bible is God's very word to us. He could have chosen to reveal himself to us in another way, but for whatever reason, he decided to give us the testemony of the Patriarchs and disciples. This alone is enough to make me to want to know all I can about it, and get it right.

    Also, are you saying the only reason to "get saved" is to go to heaven? What about...LIFE until then!? Are we just supposed to tread water, and wait for everything to be alright, once we get to heaven? Or was there a better reason for Jesus to come to earth? (John 10:10)

    To others:

    As for science and religion being incompatable--ridiculous!! The greatest scientists of all time were "religious nuts": Newton, Francis Bacon, even Einstein acknowledged the necessity of God's creativity and power. The problem with science today is that it tries every possible way to explain things without even pretending to acknowledging the possibility of a creator...because the scientists already have their minds made up that creationism isn't possible. And that's just bad science.

    Speaking of bronze age myths...one day (well, not day) their was a ball of really hot, really dense...ah, matter. For no reason at all, and without any outside influence, this ball (the size of a cantaloupe) exploded. Ta da! The universe!


    ~James Nordby

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  17. "Nowhere does the Bible say this. Good point. I hope I did not come accross as an advocate of Old Testament legalism!"

    That was how I took it, so apparently the error was mine.

    "How can we decide which portions of Scripture to take literally?"

    The same way we take everything else: by Faith.

    "It's easy to forget, but Jesus was fully Jewish"

    Not by me. Along the lines, I highly recommend The Desire of the Everlasting Hills by Thomas Cahill, if you haven't already read it. Excellent book.

    "He must have seen SOME value in it :)"

    Yes, but He also denounced those who criticized Him (and later Peter) for violating regulations regarding the Sabbath and keeping kosher. Clearly, God is not a lawyer.

    "People ask me if I believe in the Bible. I say, no, I believe in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and God Almighty."

    Well said.

    "This alone is enough to make me to want to know all I can about it, and get it right."

    Also, well said.

    'Also, are you saying the only reason to "get saved" is to go to heaven?'

    Surely not! Faith without works is meaningless.

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I really look forward to hearing what you have to say. I do moderate comments, but non-spam comments will take less than 24 hours to appear... Thanks!