Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Freedom of Religion is Imposing upon the basic Freedom of Others

Many people say that the influence of religious beliefs in a person’s life is beneficial and may even make a person more morally sound, but I would argue that it can be disastrous. It can cause them, in some more extreme cases, to believe that snake handling is a safe practice or that praying to a deity is better than seeking medical assistance. If that is your belief, by all means follow your beliefs. I will even go so far as to wish you luck. At worst, you will be helping to clean out the human gene pool. However, once these crazy religious beliefs, and their inevitably dire outcomes, are pushed onto someone else and they are the ones forced or coerced into receiving the effect of your ludicrous ideas, you have crossed a line and need to be stopped.

This should be beyond obvious in the examples of Islamic organizations like ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, etc, where their actions are directly causing the death and suffering of others. However, what is more easily overlooked in the U.S. is how Christian beliefs are being forced onto other people, especially when these otherwise insane (if not for the guise of religion) beliefs are being forced onto a child who is helpless to defend themselves from their persecutors. Until the age of 18, a person is considered a minor and a ward of their parent or guardian. It is both the right and duty of the custodian to care for and make decisions for their child. It is commonplace and even expected by most people that the child will be raised with the same beliefs as their parents and indoctrinated into their faith. This, in itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. However, when the beliefs of the custodian endanger the life or well-being of the child, it should be obvious that an outside force needs to step in and remove the child from a dangerous, possibly even deadly, situation. It SHOULD be obvious, but for all too many Americans, it is not.

In recent years we have been seeing a wave of news stories about “Religious Freedom” being trod upon. If that were actually the case and there were actually people trying to prevent a certain religious belief system, I would quickly side with those being oppressed. However, in most cases where the phrase “Religious Freedom” is used in the U.S. media, what they actually mean is “Religious Oppression” is being repressed. That is, people are using their religion to restrict the rights or freedoms of others under the guise of “Religious Freedom.. Even now we have a congressional representative who is fighting for the certain Christians to use their beliefs in a way that directly endangers their children’s lives.

Rep. Christy Perry, ironically a Pro-Life Republican, has taken the stance that it is the parent’s right to allow their child to die (of course only after its birth). She has even gone so far as to say, “If I want to let my child be with God, why is that wrong?” Well, Congresswoman Perry, it is wrong because the child does not have a choice. Being born into a cult, indoctrinated from birth and possibly even home-schooled before achieving the age of reason, a child has no defense from the sadistic ideas and beliefs of their parents. I am not trying to say religious believers are intentionally cruel and sadistic to their children. I’m sure they believe their God will step in and save their child, or if not, provide a paradise for their child to reside in the afterlife. However, ignorance and belief that the supernatural should not and cannot be an excuse for the suffering and death of a child. If a mother were to starve a child to death and claim that she believed Elvis had returned from the dead and was taking care of their child, she would be locked away. The notion that the same story could be told, but that the mother would be justified as long as she substituted the name Jesus for Elvis is simply repulsive.

But, while morally repulsive to an atheist like myself, these acts of faith healing or simple medical neglect still seem to be occurring at an alarming rate. A book entitled To Train Up A Child has been responsible for multiple child deaths, not to mention the suffering of an untold number of children. This book advocates the use of cold baths, starvation and beatings with a plastic tube, calling these “biblical child raising techniques.. Parents of nine children from my home state of Pennsylvania were charged with third-degree murder, but only after the death of their second child due to their faith-healing practices. There has also been an outbreak of idiocy regarding the vaccination of children, which in turn is bringing back diseases that should have been eradicated, because of an argument which I had thought was settled in the 1950s.

Whether it be a Christian cult like the Followers of Christ that Rep. Perry defends, or parents who would rather watch their child die than seek medical attention, child vaccinations, or even a case where Roman Catholic bishops nearly cost a woman her life as they decided that the completely non-viable life of a fetus is more important than the survival of the mother, arguing for religious freedom needs to end when that freedom surpasses the individual.
(surpasses the individual?? surpasses the rights? or value? of the individual??)

At first glance, the above scenarios may appear to be extreme. We have also seen that, as with the case of Congresswoman Perry, someone who is a Christian may let slide some heinous acts due to their religious wrappings. Just as we expect moderate Muslims to condemn against terroristic acts, we should demand that Christians speak out against the more fundamentalist actions of their Christian brethren. What we are actually seeing in the media is quite the opposite and that we atheists are being branded as impeding on religious freedoms, when what we are doing is speaking up for the children who cannot do so themselves.

The Religious Right subverting the law to impose their views

The Alabama House committee, despite majority opposition, without any regard to the 1st and 14th Amendments of the Constitution, and with complete disregard of McCollum v. Board of Education, has passed a bill that would require public school teachers to open class every morning with a prayer.

The religiously biased politicians in this case have done an end-run to put enforced prayer into public schools in the guise of teaching congressional procedure. They are not invoking religious privilege or claiming discrimination for not being allowed to pray within the confines of the school grounds in this case, but rather are specifying a 15-minute period at the commencement of the first class of each day to study the formal procedures of the U.S. Congress, which must include a verbatim reading of a prayer from the beginning of the House or Senate meetings.

Rep. Steve Hurst, who proposed the bill, stated, “If Congress can open with a prayer, and the state of Alabama Legislature can, I don’t see why schools can’t.” This statement contains a level of willful ignorance by Rep. Hurst that is quite astounding. The U.S Supreme Court ruling McCollum v. Board of Education is quite clear on this matter. Students in a public school are taking part in a compulsory and tax-supported education system. The imposition of prayer upon those students is a clear violation of the 1st and 14th amendments. Disguising it as a study of Congress is simply an attempt to skirt the laws to achieve the goal of indoctrinating youth into the church.

While it is true that Congress does have a prayer at the opening of their meetings (in my opinion a questionable use of their time), no person within Congress is compelled to remain for the prayer.  As stated by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, “A teacher-led prayer in a public school is undoubtedly different than a prayer in a legislative meeting. First, congressional prayers are directed only at the legislators themselves, who are adults, rather than young and impressionable students. Second, the opening prayers of a legislative session typically has an atmosphere where adults are free to enter and leave without notice. Students in a classroom, on the other hand, are a captive audience and legally mandated to attend school.

The most incredulous part of this bill is that only Rep. Mary McClurkin, chairwoman of the committee, and one other Republican voted “aye” to pass the bill.  Two other Republicans and one Democrat say they voted “no”, while three legislators were not present for the vote. But, the chairwoman says she heard more votes in favor than opposed and called it as such.  House Clerk Jeff Woodard stated that the chairperson of any committee may decide to call a voice vote at their own discretion, and so long as nobody disputes the outcome the voice vote rules.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

It should be no secret, even to those outside of the U.S., that the Republican Party is deeply entrenched in religious belief.  While its presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, has not been strident about his own religious beliefs, his speeches and voiced policies have consistently reflected an adherence to his party’s rather dogmatic Christian point of view.  His support of the Hyde Amendment, which would ban abortions funded by tax payers, his views opposing same-sex marriages as well as civil unions, and his support of displaying religious symbols in public areas by governmental agencies and schools are all obvious leanings toward his Christian supporters.
However, the Governor’s own religious view has been a topic that has been avoided by his campaign. Specifically, the differences between Christianity and the Governor’s own Church of Latter-day Saints have not been much of a talking point since his winning of the Republican nomination. Prior to the other Republicans dropping out of the race it was mentioned by a few news stations, but no in-depth details given. It would also seem that the Romney campaign itself wishes to turn a blind eye to these differences and allow their constituency to focus on their opponent’s imagined religious views, that he is a Muslim in disguise, God forbid. More on that later.
Do American Christians of the Republican party, who believe in a talking snake, a divine virgin birth, and body spontaneously turning into a pillar of salt, know that they are backing an individual whose faith believes in magical underwear and that their prophet translated sacred text while planting his face in a hat, but does not believe that Jesus was born of a virgin?  No wonder the Grand Old Party does not wish anyone to delve too deeply into Mormonism, their beliefs are as crazy as….oh well, never mind.
However, let us not forget that the Democratic Party is in no way innocent of foisting religion upon its members. Those who watched the recent Democratic National Convention know exactly what I mean. The original party platform, actually well written by my humble opinion, tried to be as inclusive as it could in opposition to the Republican demonstrated exclusivity. But, after receiving criticism for not including any deity (I’m sure they meant the Christian God, but I will not limit them) from Republican mouth-pieces, they did not stand by their own platform and declare their intent to include any and all people.  Rather, the leaders of the party backed down and first attempted to add God to their platform via vote then eventually forced the issue, without full consent even of those present. [1]
As for the current President, there is hope that his reasoning outweighs any religious influence.  I was uplifted when I read the following from his book The Audacity of Hope:
I was not raised in a religious household. For my mother, organized religion too often dressed up closed-mindedness in the garb of piety, cruelty and oppression in the cloak of righteousness. However, in her mind, a working knowledge of the world's great religions was a necessary part of any well-rounded education. In our household the Bible, the Koran, and the Bhagavad Gita sat on the shelf alongside books of Greek and Norse and African mythology. 
On Easter or Christmas Day my mother might drag me to church, just as she dragged me to the Buddhist temple, the Chinese New Year celebration, the Shinto shrine, and ancient Hawaiian burial sites. In sum, my mother viewed religion through the eyes of the anthropologist; it was a phenomenon to be treated with a suitable respect, but with a suitable detachment as well. 
On the flip side, his interview with Cathedral Age magazine portrayed a distinctly different mindset, commenting on how faith has influenced his decisions, that he, quoting President Lincoln, has been driven to his knees by the burden of office and even commenting that faith provides a moral framework for the actions of his office. An atheist might hope these are more metaphorical statements or possibly politically driven given the influence of the faithful across the country, but I wouldn’t wager much on that Hope. As for President Obama being a follower of Islam, well that is simply too much of a conspiracy theory to even take seriously. If he were a Muslim, he is extremely bad at it. 
Of course, the problem with religion inside politics is that the premise upon which the believer bases their world view is not only unjustified, but has a retarding effect on their ethical thinking.  Ancient prejudices can be raised to become unquestionable moral truths.  This prevents the evolution of society’s morality despite any good intent.
Altogether, it clearly appears that Christians and their organizations still have a stranglehold on the politics in America, although their grip seems to be weakening ever slightly. As we approach the possibly world affecting election date of 6 November we can still have hope that whomever wins will put aside his religious background, funding, and lobbying, and do what is right for the people, all the people, not just the ones who belief match their own.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Conservative radio and the propagation of idiocy

Last night, during my drive home, I did something I commonly do and tuned into our local conservative talk radio station.  I do this to try to understand the current conservative arguments, mainly to combat them, but also because listening to nothing but the left talking points is a bit limiting.

I listened to the ending of Hannity's show, which I will simply skip making arguments against to get to the point of this post.  Following Hannity was a radio show hosted by Mark Levin.  Admittedly, I know little about Mr. Levin other than what I have heard on the radio, but this information does come straight from his mouth, not misinterpreted through a third party.

Mr. Levin stated that, as a child, he remembered travelling along a roadside and seeing greenhouses and remembering these places being a good thing.  He then went on to state how the "liberal agenda" had turned the once beloved greenhouses into a term that now referred to "bad" gasses.  He said at one point that carbon-dioxide occurs naturally, and therefore it was not and could not be bad for the environment.  Plants crave carbon-dioxide and plants give off oxygen, therefore carbon-dioxide is actually a good thing and is needed for our survival.

Although I am a computer geek, not a chemist or biologist, the lack of logic or understanding of the basic fundamentals involved here is astoundingly obvious.  To not contrast the function of greenhouses to the effects of greenhouse gases, but to make the assumption that since one is beneficial they both are, is a bold leap into the display of Mr. Levin's ignorance.  The fact that they share "greenhouse" in their names is apparently enough to consider them identical.  Then, to make a pronouncement that since plants use CO2 to make oxygen, that obviously no amount of CO2 could possibly be bad for us is simply astounding.

How is it that this person acquired a radio slot, even one on conservative radio?  Even they should realize just how this level of ignorant propaganda can be dangerous!  I guess not, since he is still broadcasting as of a week later.

My hope was that I would feel better after having ranted about the profound idiocy on display throughout conservative radio, but I don't think that it has had any significant effect.  Perhaps Mr. Walker can help me out.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Religious Slacktivism

Slacktivism is not a term most people know or use.  However, it is something that a great many people do, most in complete ignorance of what it is they are doing, or more importantly, what they are not doing.

The website defines slacktivism as, "The act of participating in obviously pointless activities as an expedient alternative to actually expending effort to fix a problem."  Many of the best examples of slacktivism can easily be found on  "If you are against torturing animals click LIKE!", or, "Share to raise cancer awareness!".  This enables anyone to click one button in their browser and move along to the rest of the activities of their day feeling great about themselves.

However, what did this person actually accomplish?  They participated in an expedient act that in no way expended any actual effort to fix the problem that they are so concerned about.  Clicking "Like" does not save an animal from torture.  It does not help fund cancer research.  It is not even as useful as signing an online petition, which is usually as effective and impacting as Facebook acts tend to be.

What acts of slacktivism do accomplish is to give the person a false feeling of involvement.  It allows one to believe they have contributed to a cause that they believe in without impacting their otherwise busy lives.  It makes them feel good.  Isn't that at least something?

No.  In fact, quite the opposite.  That feeling is completely unearned.  The slacktivist now feels as though they did their part, but in fact did nothing.  That feeling will now act, if just subconsciously, to prevent them from taking real actions to help the cause.  When approached by someone earning funds for cancer research and asked, "Would you care to donate to the cancer fund?", the person can more easily and with a clear conscience say, "No, I already 'liked' that once."

Obviously this is a bit of exaggeration, but hopefully we can realize that slacktivism does absolutely nothing to actually aid problems one sees in their society and can actually can hinder real work being done by making people feel happy with themselves through the slightest of acts of nothingness.

Now that we all have a good idea of what slacktivism is, let's look at it in its religious form: Prayer.

Prayer is by far the largest form of slacktivism.  If you think the number of smug slacktivists on Facebook is likely astounding (and you would not be wrong to do so), the number of prayers being said, I can safely say, outnumber the largest Facebook slacktivism rallies in existence.  Prayer as defined by is, "a devout petition to God or an object of worship".  That is, in praying, you ask for the suspension of reality, the laws of nature and physics, by a divine (supernatural) being, in order to change the outcome of a specific event to be in your favor.  It is not really YOU doing anything, is it?  You are expecting the divinity to do it.  This is very similar to clicking "Like" and expecting a grand outcome.

What a total show of arrogance this is!  First, you must believe in a being that is all-powerful, or at least powerful enough to suspend universal constants.  This being is likely, according to your belief, to be the creator of all things, *the* original creature or intellect.  This great and powerful creator of the universe is expected to listen to the aspirations of one of billions of mortal beings and not only take heed, but change what is, that which he/she/it set into motion, to fit your own desires.  You must think pretty highly of yourself to think that what you want is far and above what the creator had in mind.  If a deity set something into motion, what do you think the likelihood is that they will alter their mood based on the desires of one person?  How about a prayer group, a church, or even a whole denomination?  I would think that any divinity who set literally everything into motion would likely not change his mind based on how many prayers were being said or by whom.

Imagine a youth named Jimmy, riding his bicycle down a suburban street.  He does not hear the car approaching from behind and starts to make a left turn.  He is hit by the vehicle and seriously injured.  The parents spend days over the boy in the hospital, praying for his recovery, but eventually he succumbs to his injuries.  It would not be uncommon for a pastor, imam, or rabbi to convey some form of consolation, likely to the effect of, "It was God's will."

Now, let's slip into the idea that the parents, praying over their child, can petition the deity to change its mind.  But, what of those who do not follow this deity or don't believe in a deity at all?  Would the divine choose to let the boy suffer and die because his family chose to not follow his wishes and pray to him?  Or what of the family born in a nation that follows differing beliefs?  Are they simply not listened to?  Should the children of a nation not of the same belief suffer just because of their circumstance?  That would not be a very caring divinity.

I've often been witness to "prayer circles", groups who call each other to notify of pending doom which they then wish to subvert via larger quantities of prayer.  This really reminds me of being on Facebook and seeing, "LIKE then SHARE so we can overcome X problem!"  Is there really a doctor somewhere holding the cure to cancer to himself, waiting, watching Facebook, until there are what he considers enough "Like"s to cure those suffering?  Is God sitting back letting the child die until there are 100 "up-voted" prayers?  Is he saying, "Sure, I could help, but there are only five people praying, it's just not enough for me to bother."?

Of course not.  No deity worthy of worship would do this.  The truth is people pray because they feel helpless and they want to do something, anything.  Most people are helpless in these situations and must wait it out to see if Jimmy's body is able to recover from the trauma.  So their prayers, as with many religious ceremonies, is there to pacify and comfort themselves.  It makes people feel better about their own helplessness.

At this point it must be asked, is this really a problem?  People praying to better their situation doesn't really hurt anyone does it?  Well, it all circles back to belief.  Do they truly believe that their prayer may alter reality?  Perhaps if they simply had more belief, more faith, their prayers would be taken more seriously.  Again, this raises the question of whether a deity that requires more faith to step in is really worthy of praise. But more importantly, should one believe with faith that Jimmy will be healed instead of going to the hospital?  Perhaps this shows lack of faith and should be avoided.  This is a scary thought, even more scary once we realize it happens every day in one of the most advanced civilizations on the planet, and quite a bit more in less advanced areas.

Certainly, though, this is not the norm.  Most prayers are simple, unobtrusive and do no harm.  However, that does nothing to change the fact that just because they are comforting does not make them a reality.  Prayer is slacktivism.  Most people who pray do not seriously expect their prayers to change an outcome.  Those who do believe they can ask the divine to change reality are at best deluding themselves and at worst suffering from a complete mental insanity.  Any god worth his salt would morally know when they should step in to intervene.  Either they choose not to or they do not exist, and either way they are not worthy of respect, let alone worship.