Showing posts with label Religious Persecution. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Religious Persecution. Show all posts

Monday, September 17, 2012

Christian Nation Or Christian Insurgency?

(Thanks to Left Hemispheres for posting this video)

The Thinking Atheist produced this brief and informative video clearly explaining that, far from establishing the United States as a Christian nation, the founding fathers did something revolutionary - they founded a secular nation where freedom of religious belief would be protected for individual citizens while individual citizens would also be protected from religious oppression by churches seeking to impose their religious dogma on the entire population. By protecting individual religious freedom rather than church power, the Constitution protects all people from being forced to follow the religious beliefs of whatever the majority religion is wherever they reside.

Contrary to right-wing propaganda, European nations based upon Christianity were the norm in the late 18th century, not something new and special that the USA brought to the world, thus (according to right-wing myth) securing "God's blessing" on America. Religious oppression by explicitly religious rulers and governments - backed by religious majorities - was also the norm until the United States embarked on its amazing and courageous journey to secular nationhood. And the journey certainly required courage, because the churches fought against the budding new Republic from the very beginning. It was the effort to create a "more perfect union" of states whose citizens would be free from religious and class tyranny - imperfectly executed though it has been - which has been the inspiration for people all over the world for generations. It is an inspiring story precisely because of how difficult it was to wrest power from the churches and to maintain a secular government which is prevented by the Constitution from oppressing people if their religious beliefs do not match those of the majority. The idea of a government by the people - free from religious control - is the single most important thing that sets the USA apart from other countries. In short, it is the separation of church and state that forms the base for that much-vaunted American Exceptionalism!

The truth is that one of the most important driving principles behind the formation of the United States was the recognition by most of the founding fathers that the establishment of separation between church and state would be crucial to the American dream of finally and decisively escaping the ideologically-driven brutality and  class inequality of the Old World. Ironically, early settlers who had fled to the New World to escape religious persecution in Europe had begun to create little microcosms of European religious communities from the moment they set foot on North American soil. Almost from the beginning, formerly oppressed minorities began to persecute people who did not share their religious beliefs. Instead of learning from their own experiences of the war, strife and vicious oppression that religious majorities and religious rulers had used in the rest of the world to consolidate power and control people, many early settlers set up exactly the same kinds of communities in the colonies - grabbing their own chance to be the powerful religion in their newly established "Christian" enclaves.

Wisely, the founding fathers recognized that no new or greater nation could ever be built in America unless those old patterns of church power and persecution could be prevented from usurping the shared governance of the people or from taking away the religious freedom of the American citizen. They fought hard to establish a secular nation in which all 'men' might be equal - and might all have the best chance for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If one religion were to be established as the state religion, then immediately the liberty and happiness of persons outside that religion would be compromised and (as history has shown) their lives would soon be in danger, too. Powerful religions take no prisoners; the constant refrain has been "convert or die".  The founding fathers saw, as many Enlightenment thinkers also understood, that a state religion virtually guarantees sectarian strife, cruel oppression of minorities, extremist insurgencies and holy wars.

Nearly everyone in that era believed in a god and belonged to a religion, but the genius of Thomas Jefferson and the other founding fathers was that they prevented any one of them from being declared the United States' national religion, thus enabling slow but steady progress in education, technology and economics to proceed relatively free from sectarian strife and religious tribalism. But at the core, nearly every religion is based upon a "one true religion" belief which is the foundation of the assertion of the "divine right" to govern that is always used by ambitious religious leaders to justify their insistence upon special status and power in society.  When taken to its logical conclusion, a belief that theirs is the "one true faith" means that its adherents must ultimately conclude that the only righteous course is to convert everyone else to their religion - or eliminate them. The language of "choice" is used in this context to assuage any discomfort the rank and file may have about waging a ruthless campaign to eliminate other religions (and in the process, usually the people who faithfully follow these other religions): if non-believers will not "choose" to convert, then they can be dismissed as willfully evil and eliminated as enemies of the one true god. This has been the moral basis for religious ambition and oppression for thousands of years.

Not so fast, non-Christian Americans!
The GOP says that only Christians
are protected by the Constitution!
The constitution of the United States of America guarantees that individual people have the right to practice whatever religion they choose (or no religion at all). The state is prevented by the First Amendment from stopping people who wish to form a church or to follow the rules and regulations set out by their particular brand of religion. The state is also prevented from establishing one favored religion whose teachings would influence public life, laws and rules of civic and social engagement, because to do so would infringe upon the individual freedom of citizens to choose and practice their own religion. The only way this is possible is because the First Amendment (and the "no religious test" language in Article 6 of the Constitution) also prevents the establishment of a national religion. If a nation and its laws are based on one religion, then clearly the ability of people of other faiths to practice their religion and to avoid breaking their own religious laws will be reduced or even eliminated. This is why individuals, not churches, are protected by the United States' Constitution.

An individual has the inalienable right to freedom of religion including freedom from the oppression of other religions which would interfere with individual freedom. Neither Biblical law, nor Sharia law, nor Halakhah law can be imposed by Christians, Muslims or Jews on people who do not share their faith or who do not choose to follow those religious practices. Not via government, not via private business, not in any way is it legal to impose one set of religious beliefs on the public. Religious practice and belief is a private individual freedom. The Constitution guarantees it and, although it has been under constant attack by religious people from the day it was signed into law, the separation of church and state is quite possibly the only flimsy firewall which has (usually) prevented sectarian strife from exploding in the USA at various times in our history as it has done in every country lacking a Constitutional protection of individual religious liberty.

The idea that the American government or legal system is or should be based upon the Bible - or any holy book - is not only utterly contrary to the founding principles of the country, but it is also inimitable to individual liberty and sectarian peace. A "Christian nation" will mean a nation where non-Christians are second-class citizens, directly challenging the promise of equality in the founding documents. A "Christian nation" will be a nation where, after this brief period of uneasily ecumenical Christian unity which is the final strategy culminating a 200+ years battle to become the established religion, the hundreds of Christian sects will splinter and squabble over whose version of Christianity, in fact, is the true American Christianity. Freed of the founding fathers' restrictions on religious influence in government, the only thing the Christian sects will remain united on is the righteousness of imposing Christianity - some version of it, at least - upon the non-Christians in their midst. Oppressing minority religions and sectarian infighting is something with which the world is sadly all too familiar and it is a very real threat to America if the GOP succeeds in fulfilling the agenda of the Christian right-wing.

The principle of separation of church and state, laid out in the Constitution and supported repeatedly by the founders' writings, is the singular amazing idea which made this country exceptional. Freedom from overt religious rule lifted the United States out of the constant, grinding religious conflicts which have historically torn other nations apart.  In pushing so relentlessly for the destruction of the wall of separation between church and state, the Christian right - and its political arm, the Republican party - will undoubtedly make life miserable for millions of Americans who do not agree with them, and they would be completely fine with that. What conservative Christian Republicans may not expect or even intend to do by voting God's Own Party into power, is that they could literally destroy the United States itself, unintentionally thwarting even their own ambition to control what had been the greatest country on earth.

Further Reading (List courtesy of The Thinking Atheist):

Thursday, August 2, 2012

If the Right Wing Doesn't Speak For You, Who Does?

The inanity of evil: it's only chicken, right? 

Something I've been hearing a lot during the recent chicken flap has been, "But not all Christians are like that! They don't speak for me!" and that kind of makes me wonder: If the Christian right does not speak for you, who does?

I've noticed that most of the people who spoke up passionately about the recent disturbing mob powerplay tended to be people within the LGBTQ community or non-religious people. The moderate Christians who claim to stand independent of the Christian right were conspicuously silent - as they have been on virtually every important social justice fight for the past 30 years. Among their closest non-religious friends, they will preach to the choir, but neither individuals nor church congregations who claim to have progressive views, seem to speak up strongly when the going is tough for marginalized people.

The chicken flap was a chance for people to stand up for justice, but it seems like the moderates just sat down again.

The modern medium of Facebook was the scene yesterday of the following dance, played out on home page after home page of moderate, progressive Christians. It went something like this:

-Moderate Christian posts a mild statement of disappointment in the chicken chain

-A few fellow moderate Christians "like" the post and perhaps add a word or two of cautious agreement. Perhaps a tepid WWJD reference is made. Several non-religious friends add enthusiastic agreement.

-A more orthodox Christian (who is often in the same church with the OP)  fires a warning shot across the OP's bow - comments something like, "I am so surprised to see you posting such an anti-Christian status."

-The moderate Christian at first tries to defend the status pointing to Jesus as the defense (WWJD?!), but the Orthodox Christian watchdog does not accept it, expresses "disappointment" in the moderate Christian and wonders out loud if the moderate Christian is, indeed, a "real" Christian anymore...?

-An awkward but meaningful moment of silence ensues during which a quiet ultimatum is apparently communicated.

-The moderate Christian backs away from his original status, either completely negating it (often deleting it) or performing verbal gymnastics to make it acceptable to the Orthodox watchdog ie. no longer supportive of anything but the moderate Christian's desire not to be shunned by the church community. It's only chicken, after all...what is the big deal, amirite?

The thing is, it is not just chicken. This company spends millions supporting certified hate groups which actively work to oppress and dehumanize LGBTQ people. They spend millions to lobby legislatures to deny LGBTQ people equal rights. They use their power and financial clout against a marginalized and much weaker minority group. They even use their power and money to support overseas efforts to enact legislation to make being gay a capital crime punishable by death. Chick Fil A's legions of supporters have tried to paint this as a question of innocently differing opinions but there is a world of difference between "not agreeing with gay marriage" and actively funding hate groups which literally harm people.

Christians bring in the big guns and the big money.
That disingenuous framing of the situation was taken to a new low when powerful fundamentalists around the country began the campaign to send a warning to the LGBTQ community and to anyone daring to stand with them. The August 1 spectacle was a chilling orgy of hate:  a deadly serious yet exhilarating chance for Christians to make a special point -  to broadcast their bigotry in a big, well-advertized, well-funded and well-attended almost military operation. The Christians were giddy with excitement and power; thrilled that the public message of intimidation - tyranny of the majority - would be thoroughly understood...

If you say the socially conservative right wing does not speak for you, it means nothing unless you speak up for yourself and stand up for the values you claim to hold.  It means nothing to claim that there are millions of progressive Christians out there who want justice for LGBTQ people, for women or for other marginalized people unless those millions speak up for themselves as an important segment of society and stand up in defense of the values they claim to hold. Where are the strong moderate voices challenging and countering the radical right wing voices?  Where are the prominent progressive church leaders speaking out and challenging the hate and bigotry coming from the right wing leadership? Where are they?

The Christian right is doing real harm, ever day, to millions of people in this country. Christians number hundreds of millions of people, control billions in tax-free wealth, are hugely powerful in media and government - and yet, incredibly, the right wing is spinning this as a case of supporters of LGBTQ people bullying Christian supporters of Chick-Fil-A's anti-LGBTQ agenda because they are urging people to boycott the fast food chain." Moderates - who claim that the right wing is only a radical fringe of their religion - have the numbers, the financial clout and the political power to make a difference in this terribly uneven fight - if they truly want to make a difference.

The question is: do moderate Christians really want to see social justice?  Or does the conservative right wing actually, in fact, speak for you?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Next Thing You Know, They'll Want Man-Mouse Marriage!

Fun and Family-Friendly!

Just in case anyone is still clinging to the false notion that aggressive Christianity is a non-issue in countries other than the Jesus-soaked USA, consider a recent situation in Japan.

A lesbian couple approached the Tokyo Disneyland to request permission to hold a ceremony to mark their union as a couple. Japan does not allow same-sex marriage, so it could only be an unofficial "wedding".  Happily, Tokyo Disney agreed to the request. Chalk one up for Tokyo Disney!  However, the couple were barred from exchanging any vows because of "Christian teachings". Wait, what? Christian teachings? Wasn't there a lot of talk recently about how religion for the Japanese, if they had any at all, was some form of vague, spiritual Shintoism? What is that I hear people saying about Japan's enviable secular society? No, it's not. (Cue the "but this is an isolated incident" prevarication).

Warning: Christians, shield your
eyes from this terrifying image!
Anyway, after a brief kerfuffle over "an employee's" dictate that the ceremony must have one participant dressed in groom attire and one dressed in bride attire so as not to "offend" park visitors (an outcry on Twitter and other social media brought about a hasty retraction from Disney, thankfully), the theme park seems to have embraced a position of acceptance, setting the stage for future ceremonies so that same-sex couples can celebrate their union there with family and friends. Considering the cultural pressure against it - not to mention the powerful worldwide Christian lobby - my hat is off to Tokyo Disney for doing the right thing.

In the larger Japanese society, however, same-sex marriage continues to be the same thorny subject that it is in the USA:

"There needs to be more pressure for legal unions between gay people in Japan," said Taiga Ishikawa, one of only a handful of openly gay politicians in the country. "This is only a guess, but I'd say there are more people now who are in long-term relationships and want that to be recognized in the form of a civil partnership."

And of course, there are the usual homophobic and hateful tropes raised by prominent public figures equating marriage between two loving human beings to bestiality, pedophilia and general immorality. In this case, a film celebrity:

Commenting on TV on President Barack Obama's recent declaration of support for gay marriages in the US, the film director and comedian Takeshi Kitano told a fellow guest: "Obama supports gay marriage. You would support marriage between humanoid and animals eventually, then," before questioning the ability of gay couples to raise children.

These vicious and hateful slurs questioning the humanity and morality of GLBT people are one of the most repugnant weapons that Christians use in their bigoted campaign to marginalize and oppress. The "slippery slope" trope is particularly ironic coming from a group constantly balancing on the edge of a slimy slope of their own.  David Barton, Christian apologist and professional liar demonstrates (If you prefer text, read this transcript of a right-wing radio talk show interview with Barton for an even clearer insight into the way these people think, and to understand what they would gladly do once they have the power to do it):

"I don't care what the Supreme Court says". Yes, that's right. He is saying that Christians are above the law.

Christians are adamant in their "righteous" zeal and open about their intention to force everyone in this country to submit to Biblical law and, in due course, to force every country in the world to convert and/or submit to the brand of Christianity that they are aggressively spreading via the modern Christian "missions" movement. Anderson Cooper's interview (CNN) of a defender of the pastor whose horrific anti-gay rant I linked here underlines just where that slimy slope would dump us.

Bible-based law in action.
Christians want the US Constitution subordinated to or replaced by "Yahweh's Law". They are proud about this - don't forget: they truly believe that they are doing what is best for all of us, even if they have to lie, cheat and trick the rest of us to achieve their goal - and they are actively, tirelessly working to bring it about. This Christian version of sharia would reduce women to the status of domestic animals or chattel, would criminalize inborn human sexual orientations and would demand the death penalty for dozens of offenses which our modern morality recognizes are not only not capital offenses but in many cases are not offenses at all. But true Bible-believers honestly believe that is what God wants for us, though we may not understand and resist. Just as they see indoctrinating children with fear of hell before children are old enough to defend themselves against the often permanent psychological impact, they see it as their job to lead those who disagree with them out of "sin" by forcing their religious belief system on them "for their own good".

So, following the logic of Christian antagonists - who hate and revile GLBT people so much they call for their punishment, persecution and even deaths - we should take a closer look at their proposed "improvements" of current laws; laws agreed upon by elected human beings to whom they already believe they are not answerable.  Citizens who value the rule of law which protects our secular society for all citizens need to pay attention to what these Christians say and believe. They believe that their god's law supercedes the rule of civil law - including the Constitution of the United States and the Constitutions of all countries. When pressed on the question of who gets to say what "god's law" actually is, Christians point to the Bible as the final and inerrant authority.

This reality, following the Christians' own logic, begs the question of just where following "Yahweh's Law" will lead us. Conservative Christians have already succeeded in gaining enough power to roll back secular law to deprive women of most of their hard-won reproductive and equal pay rights. Christians have succeeded in denying GLBT people of the right to marry, their right to protection from bullying and a host of other forms of discrimination. Christians have succeeded in circumventing the legal separation of church and state in so many ways that their religion, their calendar and their privileges have become ubiquitous in the culture, and their power continues to grow.

If and when they succeed in changing enough laws that their continued power is assured, what then will stop Christians from imposing every jot and tittle of the Biblical laws upon all people? They already treat women and LGBT people as less than fully human. How soon before they will return us to the Biblical days of stonings for adultery and theft?  Forget "training up a child"; the Bible is clear that a rebellious child must be stoned to death.  What will stop the Christian majority from imposing these and similarly horrific laws on us?

"I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." Matthew:5:18 (NIV)

Christians insist that the Bible is literally, unerringly the word of God.  Those of us who have been avoiding the issue - telling ourselves that Christians just mean some of the Bible is to be followed to the letter, or only the New Testament or only the "red text" of Jesus' words - need to start paying closer attention. There is no way around the fact that the entire Bible is sacred truth to Christians and, in the New Testament, Jesus himself affirmed that the Mosaic laws must not be discarded.

Any doubts people might have about the determination of Christians to enshrine Biblical "truth" into this culture while they push out secular knowledge which threatens their religious beliefs - or threatens the justification of Biblical foundations for their ascension to authoritarian power - must be dispelled. This belief in absolute Biblical "truth" is the foundation of their efforts to force educators to teach Biblical creationism as science. This determination is the source of their push to deny global climate change. It is the impetus behind their efforts to undermine scientific research, to defund public education and to gut the public social safety net.

The Christian accusations against GLBT people have no foundation in fact, unlike my concerns about the slippery slope from Christian influence on secular laws to a return to the brutality and conservatism of a Bible-based legal structure.  There is ample evidence which unequivocally proves that the homophobic Christian hypotheses about the people they hate and fear are false, while there is no evidence that Christians would not persecute non-Christians, LGBTs and women should they gain enough power to do so, and plenty of evidence that they have begun to do exactly that. Indeed, we have a long history that shows just how viciously oppressive, immoral and evil unfettered Christian power can be.

Here is the true slippery slope: If Christians manage to impose any more "Bible-based" law onto the citizens of the United States (and in Canada, and in the UK, and in continental Europe, and in Australia, and in ...), it will only be a matter of time before women lose what remaining human rights they have not yet lost to religious conservatism (including the right to vote), children will be abused and even killed if they do not conform to Biblical strictures, and our dreams of a secular, free and open society of peaceful coexistence will be shattered for generations to come.

It has happened before. I hope we are wise enough to recognise that it could happen again, if we do not take steps to defend our freedom from religion.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Show Some Respect, Damn You!

Respect. How does that work, anyway?

“I have met some highly intelligent believers, but history has no record to say that [s]he knew or understood the mind of god. Yet this is precisely the qualification which the godly must claim—so modestly and so humbly—to possess. It is time to withdraw our 'respect' from such fantastic claims, all of them aimed at the exertion of power over other humans in the real and material world.”
― Christopher Hitchens, The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever

Respect.  We hear a lot about it. But, how do we as individuals and as a society determine who is deserving of our respect? The Paige Sultzbach story last week got me thinking about this.

Most of us are taught that we must show respect for the essential humanity of all people. We are told in school, at work and at home that we must respect other people as our equals - fellow human beings. Beyond this baseline, though, people are usually expected to earn any higher, more deferential level of respect through their meritorious behavior. We are not usually expected to pay respect to people who behave immorally, who harm us or who harm other people. Usually, we are not compelled to respect ridiculous or destructive ideas, either. But there is one glaring exception to these sensible guidelines: religion.

We hear every single day that we owe special, unassailable, respect for the religious beliefs of others, simply because they are religious beliefs. There is no way to evaluate the relative merits of religious ideas because the very act of questioning, evaluating or criticizing religious beliefs is deemed disrespectful and being disrespectful of religion is taboo. This catch-22 situation means that even when religious ideas clearly cause harm to ourselves or others, the cultural taboo which demands unearned respect for religious dogma and practices also forbids questioning them.

More precisely, people are pressured every day of their lives to pay respect - and be subordinate - to the religious majority wherever they live. In Iran, Pakistan or Saudi Arabia (to name a few countries under explicit Islamic rule) that would be the Muslim majority. In the USA, Denmark, Hungary, Canada and Great Britain (to name a few countries with explicit or implicit Christian state religions) it is the Christian majority. Of all of these, the United States was the first to explicitly guarantee in its Constitution that no single religion would be established by the state, thus preventing the official empowerment of one religious group over all others. In this way, the framers of the Constitution hoped to provide the foundation for a truly revolutionary new kind of nation: a country where people could be as free as humanly possible; where the rights and welfare of the individual would be balanced as far as humanly possible with the rights and welfare of the rest of the people, preventing both tyranny of the majority and the rise of theocratic dictators.

Freedom of religion!* 
*For Christians only.
The founding fathers, who were educated in religious and political history, understood that religious sectarianism has always resulted in oppression of minorities and the rise of theocratic dynasties - usually, but not always monarchies. Whether they were monarchies or putative republics, the ruling elites always claimed to rule by divine right. The framers of the US Constitution - James Madison and Thomas Jefferson in particular - recognized that constant sectarian strife and vicious social inequities enabled by the power structures which churches prop up would destroy Americans' hopes for a better life in the fledgling new state as surely as the suffocation of those very hopes had driven them out of Europe. And the founders understood that it was state-sanctioned empowerment of favored groups (nearly always identified by religion) which was the reason why the common people in every country in the world lived in miserable poverty under the rule of religiously-privileged "noble" classes.

Demonstrating a wisdom beyond experience (because such a nation had never been tried before), they determined that, in order to form a more perfect union, the United States must be kept free of the appalling religious strife that had destroyed virtually every great civilization in history before them. They were convinced that freedom of religion in a nation that could not legally favor any one religion over the others would offer the best hope for the country to prosper, by enabling the people to prosper in peaceful coexistence as equals.

But there have always been ambitious groups who seek to restore the bad old days of feudal oppression for their own benefit. There have always been people who consider themselves the chosen ones - the nobility which is called to rule over the lesser classes. Before the ink was dry on the US Constitution, religious groups were attempting to circumvent the prohibition of establishment of state religions. The freedom to practice their own religion has never been enough for some Christians; they have always sought special status and special power. That battle over the separation of church and state has been waxing and waning constantly in the 225+ years since Independence, and while the Constitutional guarantee has held in theory, in practice the religious power-play has succeeded in carving so many inroads into the separation of church and state that the country has been reduced to a de facto Christian nation.

You want to build a mosque? Well, we have news for you.
Just guess whose country we think this is! 
In theory, the First Amendment still protects religious minorities and non-believers from unwanted Christian intrusion into their lives, but in practice this is not so. From public holidays honoring Christian holy days to public religious displays, to compelled silence for Christian prayers in legislatures, in schools and at events of huge public significance, from the casual assumption of Christian privilege and prominence to the very real favoritism via tax exemption and government funding which has enriched churches - secretly and without public oversight - at the public expense, the reality is that churches, especially Christian churches, are intimately entwined with the state. The battle to gain special status and the resulting economic and political power was on from the moment James Madison signed the First Amendment (actually even before) and for good reason from the point of view of the churches. They have benefited enormously from these unconstitutional arrangements.

The truth is that the Christian religion has been quietly empowered both financially and politically, and it aims to gain supreme power by replacing the current republic with a Bible-based state. Christian conservatives will never cede that power willingly. The truth is that when minority religions or the non-religious expect equal respect from the Christian majority, the Christian majority cries persecution and refuses to honor the Constitution that they claim to uphold, but which they are undermining because they hate it as a threat to their ambitions. When a minority's beliefs conflict with majority Christian beliefs, the majority will use every avenue available to force the minority to accept having Christian belief shoved down its throat, even when the Constitution has promised that this will not happen. For Christians, the First Amendment guarantees their religion; they believe that it guarantees that they have the right to strip away the freedom of others to enjoy public life free of Christian proselytizing and the presumption of Christian supremacy. Christians regard the insistence of others that the Constitution guarantees them the same freedoms and rights as Christians as a challenge to Christian rights. long as it is Christianity
Merely requesting that the Constitutional guarantee for religious freedom for all be upheld results in public outcry from the majority, lawsuits, threats and ostracism of the individual(s) who dare to stand up for the right of the minority not to be oppressed by the Christian majority.  Respect for Christian beliefs is deemed of such paramount importance that we must disrespect the beliefs of others or we are accused of persecuting Christians and oppressing Christian belief. On the rare occasions when citizens (sometimes even Christian themselves) push back against the ubiquitousness of Christian belief  - for example  by objecting to its illegal injection into the publicly funded spheres of our society - the Christian majority shrieks that it is being oppressed or persecuted.

The very act of respecting the beliefs of non-Christians - or even of allowing them to be visible, free to simply exist in this society - is perceived by Christians as an attack upon them. In short, the Christian majority claims to be oppressed if they are prevented from oppressing others. It is an amazing fact of western life that the concept of religious persecution has been perverted by the Christian majority to such an extent that it is no longer recognizable as a meaningful description of the reality of what persecution actually means. It has been turned on its head. In the United States today, Christian religious belief is accorded such a level of public respect that it must be deferred to in every situation. In schools, in government offices, in supermarkets, hospitals and gas stations, non-Christians cannot escape the constant demand for public obeisance to Christianity.
Ah, religious respect 
for girls and women.

Last week, a young girl was made the scapegoat in a fundamentalist Catholic power-play. The fact that Christian misogyny is still so open and accepted in society is bad enough, but the repeated expressions of respect by everyone involved - including the victims of the discrimination itself - for this medieval, systemic marginalization of women and girls was little short of amazing. In a breathtaking show of oppositional apologia, the ultra-conservative Catholic school in question brazenly couched its policy of discrimination against girls as "teaching boys to respect ladies". Apparently, the only way to "respect ladies" is to bar them from sports they are qualified to play, deny them opportunities to compete with their ability peers and generally limit their horizons as far as possible within strictly segregated, narrowly traditional gender roles.

The gender roles that Our Lady of Sorrows and similar ultra-conservative Christian organizations advocate for boys and girls tend - as always when "religious tradition" is invoked - to mean these things: active, dynamic, leadership roles for boys;  passive, submissive, invisible roles for girls. In this religiously-fueled zeal to squeeze their female adherents into a suffocatingly circumscribed world of few joys and almost no choices, conservative Christians are exactly like their conservative brethren of other faiths - ultra-orthodox Jews and the Islamist Taliban - which enshrine repression of women into their orthodoxy under the same perniciously virtuous-sounding label of "respect for women".

A lifetime of shrouded invisibility.
Now, that's respect!
These religious extremists do not respect women. Their actions betray that their motives are the polar opposite of respectful; they intend not to respect the rights and autonomy - the humanity - of women and girls, but to deny them autonomy and rights - and their humanity. The purpose of this dogma is to control women for the use and service of men: to keep them subservient, less than men, silenced and invisible. The farce of conservative respect for women is nothing more than a cruelly ironic cover for the conservative campaign for the subjugation of women. There is real harm being done in the name of religion and it ought not to be allowed to continue without vigorous criticism.

I do not respect the beliefs of Our Lady of Sorrows school. I condemn their beliefs and their actions as the  immoral, repressive expression of deeply misogynistic theology. Attempts to establish medieval religious extremism should never go unchallenged in a civilized, egalitarian, free society. We would do well to remember that no society is impervious to the ever-present danger of right-wing authoritarianism. Domestic turmoil usually lays the conditions for the rise of oppressive theocracies, but war and failed government are not the only ways that authoritarian rule can gain a foothold in a contemporary society. Too often, authoritarian theocratic regimes take over when the people of a country have become complacently overconfident in their ability to detect and deflect such extremism. Tolerance of religious oppression is not respectful. It is foolhardy.

It is time to stop paying undeserved respect to religious groups which marginalize and disrespect selected groups of human beings - usually female human beings. People who possess sincere respect for the essential humanity and dignity of others must refuse to offer "respect" for these oppressive ideologies. We must stand up and declare that this behavior is an affront to human dignity. It is immoral and people must have the courage to call it what it is. Religion is powerful. It is powerful enough to call for the elimination of its opponents in most parts of the world, and most religions do not hesitate to do so when they are threatened. But, if people who value freedom of religion and who understand the threat which tyranny of the majority poses will not stand up, then we are - willingly? - participating in the destruction of our own democratic republic.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Bill Donahue Is Concerned About Gay Marriage

via Pharyngula.  Better to laugh than to cry, I suppose!  "(GOP), it's not you, it's - no, no it's you."

Bill Donahue, chief American Catholic (sorry Santorum), is outraged over President Obama's declaration of support for marriage equality for all.  In an interview with Piers Morgan on CNN last night, Donahue was unequivocal about where he stands:

United States Catholic Congress?
Perhaps someday, Bill.
You've got majority Christians
on your side, after all.
"I want the law to discriminate against straight people who live together — I used to call it shacking up, now it’s called cohabitation — I want the law to discriminate against all alternative lifestyles, against gays and unions." Bill Donahue on CNN.

Got that everyone? Phil proudly and publicly speaks for the "moral majority", the Christian right who so enthusiastically supported Rick Santorum, Rick Perry and the entire cast of Bible-believing theocrats who are currently running the Republican party.  He wants the law to discriminate against anyone whose life and "choices" do not pass his the Biblical sniff test.

But wait, what did Jesus have to say about abortion?  Nothing, you say?  Ok, well, what did he say about gay marriage?  Oops, nothing again!  Well, surely Jesus had something to say about a man and a woman and holy matrimony...?

Bingo!  Why yes, yes Jesus DID mention the holy bond between a man and a woman. It is the only currently relevant relationship arrangement that he did comment on: Jesus was against divorce.

Since Christians are fighting against laws
which make Jesus weep, they ought to
 criminalize people who divorce.
You first, Donahue!
""And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him. And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you? And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery." —Matthew 19:1-9.

Phil Donahue, who is divorced, is in a tizzy over gay marriage and abortion, and yet he is curiously undisturbed by divorce, the only social issue of these three that Jesus actually condemned, clearly and unequivocally. Jesus pointed out that the provision for divorce in Mosaic law was made because Moses had to accommodate the "hardness of heart" of the men of his time, but now that Jesus was there, that Mosaic law no longer applies. Old covenant/New Covenant. It's simple, really.

Except that it isn't.

So, let's try to get this straight: Christians want gay marriage and abortion outlawed because they claim that some vague prohibitions of these things appear - however ambiguously and subject to interpretation - in the Old Testament of their holy book. Bible-believers claim that this is solid Biblical law and they will do everything in their power to enforce it - not just within their own religious communities, but throughout society - by working tirelessly to write state laws that force their religion down everyone else's throat. In other words, to establish a Bible-based authoritarian theocracy - the Iran of the west, if you will.

Sure there were hundreds of "laws"
but come on, laws, schmaws.  The
Christian right will decide what is
 or isn't law now
. Got that, everyone?
But wait!  The Old Testament also laid down rules about 600+ other things, ranging from rules about food, dress, associating with people of different genders, tending animals, keeping house and countless other matters of daily life, out of which the brief, often mangled verses that modern Christians point to to condemn homosexuality and abortion are carefully cherry-picked.  Never mind those verses, modern Christians chuckle, they are obviously not meant to bind us today. Only a select few prohibitions are still in effect today, and fundamentalist Christians will decide which ones will become the law of the land, thanks very much to the Christian majority - especially you, moderates; they just could not have done it without you! - which has given them unprecedented political power.

Some Christians, Donahue presumably among them, feel A-OK - actually passionate - about persecuting GLBT people claiming their "authority" to do so is derived from the vicious teachings laid down in the Old Testament. They feel A-OK about tormenting and subjugating women too, denying them free agency and denying them the right to control what happens to their own bodies, citing the Bible as the inerrant source of their knowledge of what is the righteous treatment of women.

Except when a "moral majority" says it is.
Got that, sluts, homos and godless socialists?
Yet, these same Christians argue with no apparent discomfort that they are also A-OK wearing mixed fibers, eating shellfish, not stoning their children to death for disobedience and (usually) refusing to condemn a raped virgin daughter to marry the rapist (other peoples' daughters, of course, are sluts) - rules which are likewise laid down in the very same Old Testament books.  But that is different, they argue. Those rules were only meant for that time and that place. Those rules went by the wayside once Jesus came along. Out with the Old Covenant with Moses, in with the New Covenant through Jesus. Read the black text, follow the red!  Bible-belief is so simple. God is good!

Turning to the New Testament, we find that Jesus never once mentioned homosexuality. If Christians follow the red text, and abide by the New Covenant that Jesus is believed to have made with them, then Christians ought to make no judgement on homosexuality. Further, Jesus specifically stated that homosexuality can be inborn (Matthew 19:12). Indeed, by following other words directly attributable to Jesus, Christians of good conscience ought to be supporting equal rights and fighting for the protection and dignity of those who are marginalized and downtrodden in society, too.

So which will it be, Christians?  Which Testament do you plan to force onto the entire population of the United States when your ambition of a Christian theocracy is fully realized?

Bible-believers unite!
Biblical Law in the USA!
The Old Testament condemns homosexuality and demands that women he subjugated almost totally - mere chattel to be used by men for reproduction. It also demands that parents kill their children for disobedience, and it prohibits countless activities which are widely practiced by Christians today. If the religious right is following the Old Testament, then they had better get right with God and follow all of it, instead of cherry-picking. Stop eating pork and shellfish,  legislate stonings for disobedient children, force your daughters into marriage to rapists; get with the Bible-based program here!

The New Testament emphasizes charity toward the poor, protection for the weak and helpless, loving forgiveness for others, turning the other cheek and above all, refraining from judging others. Jesus said nothing ever about homosexuality (or abortion) and in fact, he affirmed that homosexuality is inborn - which spoils the Christian argument that it is a choice, thus putting them at odds with God's creation, the filthy sinners - and he condemned divorce. Christian self-named "Jesus-freaks" had better get right with Jesus and follow all of his teachings, instead of cherry-picking. Give up your money and look after the poor, accept that homosexuality is inborn and leave your judgement to God, turn the other cheek and above all, no divorce! Did you get that, Bill?

"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment that you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, "Let me take the speck out of your eye," when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." - Matthew 7:1-5

Bill Donahue again: "I want the law to discriminate against straight people who live together — I used to call it shacking up, now it’s called cohabitation — I want the law to discriminate against all alternative lifestyles, against gays and unions."

Gee, Bill. Personally, I want the law to discriminate against hypocritical assholes who wield the Bible as a cudgel against those they hate.

Monday, April 30, 2012

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

The blogosphere was on fire over the weekend with a video and reports about Dan Savage's talk at a high school journalism convention.  Dan Savage is the co-founder of the "It Gets Better" anti-bullying campaign and he was at the conference to speak on the subject. There has been a fierce pushback from conservatives against anti-bullying campaigns, with particular viciousness reserved, as usual, for anti-bullying of LGBT people.

It is impossible to have an honest discussion about bullying without mentioning the Bible. The Bible has been cited by Christians as the authority upon which they base their rejection of homosexuality, and thanks to the extreme privilege of religion in society, this Biblical authority is accepted all too often in society as a defense for "understandable" Christian outrage toward unbiblical "choices".

Incredibly, when Christians persecute their gay peers, the power of religious privilege is so total that society is inclined to regard the Christian bullies as the victims. In fact, as I mentioned in another post earlier today, attempts have been made to grant Bible-based religious bullying specific legal protection in at least one state, formalizing and codifying what has long been the de facto position in virtually every state, anyway.

The moment Dan mentioned the word "bible", a student popped up out of her seat and walked out of the room, followed by a thin stream of smiling, smirking students who were obviously planted in the room to perform this bit of political theatre. One wonders if these student "journalists" heard any of the talks at the conference that did not confirm what they already "know", or were they simply sent there with virtual antennae raised until the dog whistle they were waiting for had sounded, triggering their patently insincere march of Christian persecution.

Several atheist bloggers have posted about this, and the subsequent twisting of the incident in the conservative media. Most were supportive of Dan and proud of the way he reacted by continuing his talk while acknowledging the rudeness of the walkout with the restrained scorn that such a premeditated and clearly orchestrated display deserved.

Behind the scenes, however, it appears that Dan received something far less than enthusiastic support. Although we can only speculate, it appears that forces with the power to destroy Dan's career made it clear that "one simply cannot call anyone’s religion “bullshit” in today’s America". Soon after the incident went viral, Dan Savage bowed to pressure to apologize to Christians for his remarks.

Some bloggers have reacted with emotions ranging from sadness and disappointment to defiance and outrage. Jen McCreight and Daniel Fincke are two bloggers whose approaches are slightly different (Jen is a science grad student; Daniel is a philosopher) but who make the same point:  it is time to stand up and say that religion should not be given unearned "respect" and deference.

From Camels With Hammers:

"Such demands make it clear to me that it is absolutely incumbent on those of us who think religions are bullshit to start saying so more frequently and to fight to stop this trend of insidious undue deference to baseless believing. It is the result of decades’ worth of concentrated effort by the Religious Right to make politics bow the knee to fundamentalist religion combined with the Left’s confused understanding of the value and limits of multiculturalism. No one deserves to be made into a second class citizen on account of their beliefs. But American freedom of speech has to not only politically but morally and intellectually guarantee that all beliefs are open to rational scrutiny by public figures and intellectuals without fear of career reprisals.
Religions do not deserve the support of the rules of politeness when it comes to their truth and falsity. The public sphere should not revere indiscriminately everything that tries to halo itself with the name of religion. The secular public sphere should feel no such shyness about sacrilege, blasphemy and treating religion rudely less it implicitly be in the political thrall of the religious sphere. To so refrain from unqualified, scrupulously rational, public criticism of religion is to favor and support it implicitly. This is intolerable. Forcing atheists to honor the excessive reverences of religious feelings is coercing atheists to treat as sacrosanct that which their own consciences do not judge to be genuinely sacrosanct. This goes beyond normal social politeness and deference to other cultures’ traditions to the point of atheists having to de facto accept religious restrictions in their own right, on account of their being religious. That’s intolerable to my atheistic conscience and should be to other atheists’ consciences as well, as it cuts to our very right to live thoroughly independent of deference to all religious authorities which we don’t believe in." Daniel Fincke, "Follow up on Dan Savage's attack on the Bible that inspired walkouts."

From Blag Hag:

"We can use “bullshit” to describe ideas like astrology, reptilian conspiracies, alien abductions, Big Foot… but God is off limits, despite being equally ridiculous.
That’s why Christian groups cry foul when someone points out flaws in their religion. It’s not their emotions that are so fragile: It’s their faith. Because Christianity, like all religions, simply cannot stand up to questioning. It’s why so many parts of the Bible actively denounce questioning faith. It’s why Christians have to run out of talks and make press releases about persecution. Because Christianity crumbles in the face of history, biology, and analytical thinking. Silencing dissent is the only way for Christianity to survive." Jen McCreight, "Christianity is bullshit, and I'm not apologizing for saying that."

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Is Blasphemy a Victimless Crime?

Just the other day, I read an amusing blog post by Mano Singham about an Indian skeptic, Sanal Edamaruku, who challenged a religious guru - who claimed to be able to kill people using only his religious rituals - to do so on TV.  The resulting show was, as Mano said, hilariously "must-see" TV.

Edamaruku followed that debunking of superstition up with another application of healthy skepticism to a false religious claim, when he was invited by a TV station to investigate a Catholic church's claim that it had a miraculous "weeping cross" in front of its premises. Edamaruku simply applied his knowledge of the physical sciences and discovered the rational explanation for the phenomenon:

"Sanal Edamaruku identified the source of the water (a drainage near a washing room) and the mechanism how it reached Jesus feet (capillary action). The local church leaders, present during his investigation, appeared to be displeased."

It seems that due to the church's "displeasure", this story has taken a dark turn.  The Friendly Atheist reports this morning that a warrant has been put out for Mr. Edamaruku's arrest on charges of blasphemy:

"Yesterday (10th April,2012) Sanal received a phone call from a Police official of Juhu Police Station in Mumbai directing him to come to the said police station to face the charges and get arrested. He also said that FIRs have also been filed in Andheri and some other police stations u/s 295 of Indian Penal Code on the allegations of hurting the religious sentiments of a particular community. Mumbai police has announced that they were out to arrest him. It is apprehended that he can be arrested any moment."

Let's think about this. A church was claiming a miraculous phenomenon on its property. A skeptical thinker doubted the truth of the claim and then proved that the claim was false, showing how the phenomenon was actually caused. Outraged by the revelation that their "miracle" was false, the religious leaders appealed to the law to punish the skeptic for telling the truth.

Asia "Bibi" Noreen
It is hard to believe that this is actually happening anywhere in the world today. Yet, it is happening. Not just in one country, but in dozens of countries dominated by several different religions all around the globe. In first, second and third-world countries - post-modern and pre-modern - blasphemy laws act as a muzzle on free speech when it comes to the free expression of ideas which are not approved by religion.

The threat to Sanal Edamaruku's physical freedom for the crime of laughing when religious superstition was proven false is a chilling example of the oppressive abuse of privilege that religions employ against those who do not share their delusions and who refuse to bow down to their theological authority. Whenever governments (and people) give them the power to do so, religions use blasphemy laws to silence and oppress non-conformists. In many parts of the world, a charge of blasphemy - for actions which religionists claim the discretion to decide - leads to violence and sometimes even death to those accused of the "crime".

Some people say that "blasphemy is a victimless crime".  Of course, they mean that when a person speaks critically about or even disrespects religion, no one is actually harmed by the speech. While this is true in the strictest physical sense, religionists would argue that it is not true of psychological harm.  Blasphemy pains religionists because it challenges their cherished beliefs, which can cause psychological discomfort. Further, blasphemy disturbs a religionist's sense of the proper social order.  Religionists see their religion as the pinnacle of social authority, so a blasphemer outrages them by challenging that authority.

That sort of psychological harm is common in human social interactions, as anyone who was the brunt of a "nyah nyah!" taunt on the playground can attest. In nearly every area of human life, people must cope with their hurt feelings and their sense of injured pride when other people make fun of them - no matter how unjust the ridicule may or may not be.  Only religion is awarded the special status in most cultures which allows them to use the government and the courts to slap lawsuits - or worse - against those with whom they do not agree.

Tellingly, in some countries which have tried to provide legal protection against the very worst kind of ridicule perpetrated on the victims of relentless physical and psychological bullying, the one notable exception to prosecution under the proposed laws is: "sincerely held" religious belief.

The dangerous and undeserved privilege which religion continues to enjoy all over the world is something  against which people who value human dignity and individual freedom must protest, loudly and constantly. Blasphemy may or may not be "victimless", but blasphemy laws enable the kind of religious persecution - and provide legal protection to religiously-motivated violence - which I think is a crime against humanity.

Religion justifies fighting words with wars