Tag Archives: Religious Right

The One Life I Know I Have

August’s 31 Days of Wonder were an experiment to see how I would feel about refocusing this blog (and my life) on the beautiful and true, spending less time railing against the lies that drive me nuts. That’s hard for me because it’s often the willful manipulation of gullible citizenry that gets me riled up enough to spend an hour or two writing a post. However, as far as I know, I have only one life.  I want to enjoy it, and being peeved is not as much fun as looking at the Mandelbrot set or marveling at the ribosome.

So, for the most part I’m going to hold my tongue. I do plan to write one post about why I left evangelical Christianity, but that will be my last one about religion for a while. As for politics, it will be difficult to rely on others to expose all the lies that will be told between now and election day, but I’m going to try.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the focus on “the beautiful, the true and the wondrous.”

Crucifixions in Egypt

The headline read:

Egypt’s Christians in Grave Danger as Muslim Brotherhood Crucifies Opponents.

It appeared on the Website of the American Center for Law and Justice, a watchdog organization “committed to ensuring the ongoing viability of freedom and liberty in the United States and around the world.” They describe themselves as “a non-profit organization … dependent upon God and the resources He provides through the time, talent, and gifts of people who share our concerns and desire to protect our religious and constitutional freedoms.”

As high-minded as that sounds, their article was a textbook example of the cynical manipulation of a donor base. Whatever your political persuasion, see if you recognize their tactics in the organizations that solicit your money.

It begins sensationally:

Numerous reports have emerged this week that the radical Islamic Muslim Brotherhood, that now controls the government of Egypt, has begun crucifying Christians in that country.

Middle East news media have reported that the Muslim Brotherhood has “crucified those opposing Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi naked on trees in front of the presidential palace while abusing others.” Those opposing the new radical Islamic regime include Christians, and experts have suggested that “extra brutality is reserved for Christians.”

Now that you are all spun up, they say what they have done on your behalf.

The ACLJ just sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her to take action to stop this atrocity.

A copy of their letter is here, signed by two of the ACLJ’s top lawyers.

Crucifixions??? I decided to fact-check. Within 2 minutes, I had located an excellent article that not only debunked the whole crucifixion rumor, but chronicled how it got started.

The remarkable thing is how obvious the debunking was. It makes you say, “Of course!” For example:

…the story doesn’t just allege that a crucifixion has taken place somewhere in Egypt: It alleges that multiple crucifixions have taken place in front of the presidential palace. That would be the equivalent of, say, mass lynchings taking place in front of the White House, or a giant gang rape taking place in front of Ottawa’s Centennial Flame fountain.
 “If that happened, wouldn’t someone, you know, take a picture?” I asked one of the friends who emailed me the WorldNetDaily link [a source of the rumor]. Maybe just a few shots with a cell phone camera from one of the tens of thousands of people who no doubt would have witnessed this Biblical horror in one of the most densely trafficked patches of real estate in the entire Arab world?
And yet, not one of the stories I saw had a photo — or even names or descriptions of any of the supposed crucifixion victims.

If that’s not convincing enough, we have this:

Here’s how one [Coptic Christian] put it in an email to WorldNetDaily: “I am an Egyptian Coptic Orthodox, i.e. Egyptian Christian, my mother and members of my family live within a stone throw from the presidential palace. I talk to my mother every other day. If something like what you mentioned in your article took place, she [would] be the first one to know.”

An ordinary reporter was able to uncover those obvious reasons to doubt the crucifixion rumors. The first reason required no research whatsoever, just common sense. The second only required talking to someone near the scene.

So how come the high-powered lawyers for the ACLJ didn’t exercise that minimal due diligence before wasting the time of our Secretary of State? Are they that gullible and/or stupid?

I don’t think so. They knew no crucifixions were taking place, but saw the rumor as an opportunity to get their donors all fired up. It was all a cynical ploy.

Look at their article and their letter closely. They never actually state that crucifixions have happened, only that “numerous reports have emerged” to that effect. (The one exception is the headline to draw you in. And as many of the contracts I’ve signed have stated, headings don’t count in court.)

Yet a reader — especially one whose mind is already biased toward the ACLJ — will come away with the impression that the crucifixions are a fact so well-established that they merit a letter to the United States Secretary of State.

The American Center for Law and Justice is certainly aware of the American judicial concept of due process. So why didn’t they follow due process in checking out this rumor? It can only be because their real purpose was not to spread truth, but to motivate donors.

Sometimes I wonder if organizations like the ACLJ even believe in their own cause. If they’re for “justice” why don’t they follow basic judicial principles like due process in all they do? Maybe they’re only in it for the money.

On the other hand, maybe they do believe in their cause, and believe so passionately that the ends come to justify the means.

I don’t know what to think. What do you think?

And do you see the ACLJ’s brand of cynical manipulation in the fund-raising appeals from left-leaning organizations as well? From organizations that you support? How does it make you feel? It sure discourages me. I hate supporting the least-evil rather than the good. *Sigh*

Sex-Selective Abortions

[This post is a Beagle’s Bark.]

President Obama recently stated his opposition to a House bill that would have jailed doctors who knowingly perform abortions for sex-selection.

Predictably, the president has been roundly criticized by the Religious Right. Even his defenders acknowledge, “Banning abortions based on sex-selection is something everyone can sign on to in principle.”

I confess that I am uneasy about abortion. Even the most ardently pro-choice people are at some point (surely at 8-1/2 months!). I also think that the reasons the president’s deputy press secretary gave for the president’s position are dubious. So, I am not writing to defend the president’s decision on a bill that I have not even read.

Instead, I would like to challenge those who criticize the president based on their biblical convictions to take the plank out of their own eye before they attempt to take the speck of sawdust out of the president’s.

If sex-selective abortion is bad, surely sex-selective infanticide is much worse. I humbly ask my Bible-believing friends to grapple with the fact that the Bible claims God ordered exactly that.

I am thinking the book of Numbers, chapter 31. God has commanded Moses to take vengeance on the Midianites. In verses 17 and 18, Moses commands:

…kill all the boys, … but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.

Lest we think that this was just Moses’ idea, remember that the chapter makes it clear throughout (verses 7, 31, 41 and 47) that Moses was doing as the Lord commanded.

So, according to the Bible, we have God selecting which children will live and which will die based solely on their sex. Isn’t that exactly what we object to in the case of sex-selective abortions? (The excuse is that this was an act of divine judgment, but see my post here for a response to that idea.)

Next, consider Psalm 139:13:

…you [God] knit me together in my mother’s womb.

The Bible says that God fashions the developing child in the womb. How does that square with the fact that up to half of all pregnancies terminate with spontaneous abortion? Are these “acts of God”? It may be argued that miscarriages are the result of The Fall, but the Bible says that God is still active in “opening and closing the womb.” One of the prophets even implores God to cause miscarriages. The Bible does not depict God as standing idly by while the consequences of The Fall work themselves out.

I will continue to grapple with the abortion issue. In return, will my religious friends wrestle honestly with these troubling Bible passages?

Marriage Is Not the Government’s Business

President Obama’s recent endorsement of same-sex marriage
has gotten people talking. I am late to the party, so maybe I can toss in a question that few people are asking.

Why should anyone need the government’s permission to marry?

The whole thing smacks of feudal times, when serfs needed their lord’s approval to marry. Today, we have freedom. Shouldn’t we be free to make a basic commitment to each other without the government’s say-so? We don’t need the government’s permission to commit ourselves to a particular god; why should it decide which interpersonal commitments are up to snuff?

Let’s get government out of the marriage business.

Wherever government now relies on marriage to determine something, let it use a civil contract. And I’m not talking about civil unions. What I have in mind is much more fine-grained. There could be contracts to establish a household for tax purposes, inheritance contracts, living will contracts, contracts to raise adopted children together, and so on. In each case, the restrictions on who could execute the contracts would be based on the relevant factors for that type of contract, not on the religiously charged concept of marriage.

If you talk with those on the Religious Right, who style themselves as the most ardent defenders of marriage, it’s clear that for them marriage is a religious institution, and their faith makes it especially hard for them to accept the idea of same-sex marriage. But can we not see that even in the context of faith, marriage means different things to different people?

Our country is supposed to allow everyone to practice their faith (or lack of faith). How do we have freedom of religion when we prohibit Muslims from following their custom of polygamy? And have we forgotten that the founders of the Judeo-Christian tradition were polygamous as well? (Yes, Abraham, Moses and many of the other patriarchs had multiple wives.) Finally, does anyone else see irony in the fact that the Republican platform of 2012 will almost certainly include a “one-man-one-woman” plank, and standing squarely on that plank will be … a Mormon?

Did you know that the Bible nowhere defines what it takes to be married? Certainly heterosexuality is assumed, but it’s remarkable how little the Bible actually says about the mechanics of getting married. There is no particular ceremony to follow, and no particular vow to take. And it isn’t until the New Testament that monogamy is unambiguously held up as the ideal. More to the point of this post, no government is invested with the authority to “declare you husband and wife.”

How have we Americans, of all people, ended up with a government that arrogates the right to define marriage not only according to one particular religion’s definition of it, but a late-arriving definition at that?

The first amendment  to our constitution expressly tells government to stay out of the religion business, but we have taken a long time to realize the full implications of that wisely drawn boundary.

  • The first prayer of the Continental Congress (admittedly predating the First Amendment) closes with, “All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Savior.” Recent prayers  are generally less sectarian.
  • The history of blasphemy laws  in the United States may surprise you. As late as 1977, Pennsylvania used its law to prosecute a man who named his business I Choose Hell Productions, LLC. My own state’s general statues still threaten jail time for those who “reproach Jesus Christ.” Yet, one by one, we are realizing that these laws are unconstitutional.
  • It wasn’t until the 1960’s that many people thought twice about things like prayer and devotional Bible reading in schools. Now most Bible advocates realize that a time of silent reflection is probably the most that our constitution will allow.

We have gradually realized that the government does not belong in the prayer business, nor should it police blasphemy. Isn’t it time to realize that it should get out of the marriage business, too?

Let’s go back to the traditional practice of marriages that are covenants between free people – people chosen by each other, not by the government.

Those who want religion to be part of their marriage can enroll a religious leader to conduct a ceremony; those who don’t can pledge their commitment in front of friends or all by themselves. Most marriages will still be between one man and one woman, but a minority will not.

If it’s important for some groups of people to maintain a distinction between their brand of marriage and others, they could copyright a design for special rings.

Wait. That would be kind of like where we are today. Well, I’ve gotta go. One of my kids is asking me to read The Sneetches.

Why Do Atheists Care About Religion?

<< Previous in this series: Why Do Atheists Care About Other People?

I’ve noticed on the CNN Belief Blogs and elsewhere that atheists comprise many if not most of the commenters. That puzzles the believing portion of the commentariat.

When I was a Christian, I, too, could never understand why an unbeliever would care one way or the other about religion. Why would he or she waste time commenting on CNN’s Belief Blogs? Why not just leave religious people alone?

Now on the other side of the fence, I find that there are at least three reasons. [What follows is a Beagle’s Bark. 😉 ]

To Warn of the Dangers of Faith

Many atheists are former believers. We have seen not only the benefits of a faith-based life, but also the damage it can do. Just as evangelical Christians want to warn the world about the peril of hell, atheists want to sound the alarm over the dangers of conservative Christianity. For me, these included the following.

  • I  became morally compromised by having to justify some of the commands and actions of God in the Bible. I’ve posted about this here.
  • I became intellectually twisted by having to fit modern, scientific knowledge into a framework that was forged in the Bronze Age.
  • I became emotionally damaged by believing that my Heavenly Father’s very best plan for the world included so many seemingly gratuitous instances of suffering, and by believing that even my righteousness is like a filthy menstrual rag.
  • I became relationally insecure when the God with whom I was supposedly having a relationship so often did not speak a word to me — at least none that I was able to hear.
  • I became socially toxic due to an excessive, us-versus-them mentality. It’s hard to be both graceful and sincere toward the rest of the human race when the Bible specifically says that “friendship with the world is hostility toward God” and calls all non-believers “fools.”
  • This one did not apply so much to me, but I saw others become bound by fear due to the doctrine of hell. (Here is a gift one otherwise gracious person gave me when I left the church.)
  • …and on and on.

To Do Penance For Our Sins of Faith

Second, some of us former believers feel guilt over our years spent in religion. Warning others away from it is a form of penance. In the Bible, God

This list, too, could go on and on.

During my 40 years as a Christian, I never felt as guilty and ashamed as I did when I realized that the book I had promoted as God’s Holy Word teaches atrocity after atrocity, and all my excuses for it were totally lame. I felt that my hands were drenched in blood. I hope that by speaking out now I can undo some of the harm I have brought on society.

To Protect the Body Politic

And speaking of society, here in America conservative Christianity drives at least one side’s passion in many political issues: abortion, homosexual marriage, school prayer, science curricula, global climate change, and recently even birth control.

While evangelical Christians seek to make their faith-based views into law, they ironically complain that our secular government is trying to deny their religious freedom. I say this is ironic because, far from promoting religious freedom, the Bible demands the death penalty for even a whispered suggestion of worshiping another god. But I digress. For now, let’s just say that the Bible’s definition of religious freedom is “worship Jehovah or else.” When a substantial portion of the American electorate upholds the Bible as God’s Unchanging Word, the rest of us get a little nervous.

That wraps up this series. I hope the reasons I have given for why an unbeliever would care about religion, other people, right and wrong and indeed anything at all make sense. If not, please leave a comment!

Why Would a Christian Politician Lie?

[Warning: This post is a Beagle’s Bark. Follow the link to see what that means.]

[Substantially edited on 8/20/2011.]

In this morning’s post, I observed that the presidential candidates on the Christian Right lie more often than their more moderate or left-leaning colleagues, according to figures on the non-partisan Website, Politifact.com.

Why is this? Why would politicians who claim to be all about The Truth tell lies so often? One would think that lies from Christians who take their faith as seriously as Bachmann, Palin, Perry et al do would be the rare exception. What’s going on here?

Let me say from the get-go that I am not talking about the more moderate sort of Christian politician: people like George H. W. Bush or Barack Obama. I’m talking about those who are most strongly identified with the specifically Christian Right: those who fuel their supercars with vitriol about gays, Muslims, illegal immigrants, etc., and want to “restore” us as a Christian nation.

As a former member of the Christian Right, I think I have some insight into why these politicians might lie.

First, the Religious Right view themselves as serving a cause that is infinitely greater than the petty affairs of men. At stake are the eternal souls of millions of people. Martin Luther is reliably reported to have said,

What harm would it do, if a man told a good strong lie for the sake of the good and for the Christian church…a lie out of necessity, a useful lie, a helpful lie, such lies would not be against God, he would accept them.

By comparison to the infinite importance of even one eternal soul, a few lies are technicalities, right?

Second, the Christian Right believe they’re in a war, not a debate. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard evangelicals apply Ephesians 6:12 to the culture wars:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

If “all’s fair in love and war” then you must have an awful lot of latitude when fighting Satan and his “spiritual forces of evil.”

Third, the Religious Right’s base are conditioned against critical thinking.  As a result, Religious Right politicians know they can get away with big lies…so they do.

That’s a strong charge, but having sat in the pews for 40 years, I can say with some experience that the average evangelical is more concerned with building up his faith and with winning the culture wars than with objectively evaluating the truthfulness of a given proposition. Lip service is paid to critical thinking but when push comes to shove, reason must submit to faith.

Don’t believe me? Listen to what one of the foremost Christian apologists of our age, William Lane Craig, has to say on the subject. Dr. Craig styles himself a great advocate for reason. His Website, named after one of his most famous books, is called ReasonableFaith.org. Craig does not spend much time in the political arena, but he is one of the thought-leaders in evangelicalism. On page 36 of the aforementioned book he states,

Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter, not vice versa.

In a less polite age, Martin Luther expressed a similar thought:

Reason is the Devil’s greatest whore; by nature and manner of being she is a noxious whore; she is a prostitute, the Devil’s appointed whore; whore eaten by scab and leprosy who ought to be trodden under foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom… Throw dung in her face to make her ugly. She is and she ought to be drowned in baptism.  (Works, Erlangen Edition v. 16, pp. 142-148.)

I hope I’ve made my point about the true role of reason in the evangelical church. Is it any wonder that hyper-evangelical politicians are able to lie so boldly to the faithful?

It is ironic that a group that views itself as in an eternal battle against the Father of Lies inevitably finds itself lying to win the battle. Yet, the very importance of the struggle and the certainty that Truth is on their side makes lying inevitable.

Which Politicians Tell the Truth?

Whoever the next president of the United States is, he or she will confront crises that have never crossed our minds. How to respond to terrorists flying commercial jets into skyscrapers was not a campaign issue when George W. Bush campaigned, but the event defined his presidency.

The most we can do to prepare for unforeseen crises is to elect a president who has good character.

Most aspects of character are impossible to measure, but there is one important attribute that can be easily rated: truthfulness. Politicians make statements that are either true or false, and we can see how often they lie.

Politifact on Bachmann

Michele Bachmann's Politifact Scorecard as of 8/18/2011

Of course it’s not quite that simple. A politician’s truthiness will depend on which statements we evaluate, and the truthfulness of some claims can be hard to determine. Nevertheless, as a fun and informal exercise, I went to the non-partisan, Pulitzer-Prize-winning website Politifact.com today and gave it a try.

Politifact on Barack Obama

Barack Obama's Politifact Scorecard as of 8/18/2011

Politifact evaluates the truthfulness of many newsworthy statements made by public figures and rates them as you see in the illustrations here.

For most of my life, I would have assumed that politicians on the Christian Right would tell the truth more often than those damned liberals. After all, they’re Christians, right? I mean, they do what the Bible says and liberals have no moral compass at all. Right?

The data call that assumption into question.

I looked up the ratings of all the candidates for president in 2012. I threw in the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate as well as Vice President Biden for good measure.

I then subjectively divided the field into Christian Right, Secular Right and Moderate/Left.

  • In the Christian Right camp were Bachmann, Perry, Santorum and Pawlenty.
  • The Secular Right were Cain, Romney, Gingrich, Paul, Boehner, and McConnell.
  • The Moderate/Left camp consisted of all the Democrats.

If you care to quibble about some of of my assignments, feel free to do your own study and leave the results as comments to this post. You can also get my raw numbers on an Excel spreadsheet here: Politifact Scorecards 2011-08-18. I’m confident, though, that my main point will remain with any reasonable categorization.

Here’s what I found.

  • Based on the statements that Politifact rated, the most consistent truth-tellers were in Moderate/Left group and the most consistent liars were in the Christian Right. The Secular Right were in the middle.
  • The Christian Right’s statements were False or Pants on Fire 41% of the time. The Moderate/Left’s were in that range less than half that often. Yes, I know that PolitiFact rates only the statements that are provocative enough that people will want to look them up, but still…
  • The two biggest liars were two of the Christian Right’s hottest firebrands. A whopping two-thirds of Bachmann’s statements were either False or Pants on Fire. Rick Santorum’s rating was identical to hers.
  • The most truthful person on the list was our president. In fact, he and Vice President Biden (yes, plagiarist Biden) were the only ones on the list to have False/Pants on Fire percentages only in the teens, at 17% and 18% respectively.

Yes, I know that my study is very unscientific, but it does square with my general experience. It seems that when I hear a truly outrageous statement, it’s more likely to have come from the Right than from the Left. Also, it’s no exaggeration to say that most of the claims that have gotten my right-leaning acquaintances really mad have turned out to be lies spread by the Right.

In a future post, I may speculate on why this study turned out the way it did. [Done, here.] Is Politifact biased? (Check them out before you answer.) Or is it really true that politicians who are known for wearing Christianity on their sleeves lie more often than those who don’t? If so, why might that be? In the meantime, what do you think?