Outreach & Events - Freedom From Religion Foundation
Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

%250 %America/Chicago, %2005

Creationist Wolf in Cheap Clothing

If Bush truly wants to "expose people to different schools of thought," will he advocate teaching Darwinism in Sunday School? Shall we insert a chapter from Origin of the Species between Genesis 1 and 2?

Statement by Dan Barker, co-president
Freedom From Religion Foundation

Are we surprised when a president known more for his faith than his intellect advises us that creationism should be taught in public schools? George W. Bush, responding this week to a question about evolution and "intelligent design," gave us his learned scientific opinion: "Both sides ought to be properly taught . . . so people can understand what the debate is about. . . . Part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought."

Does anyone think Bush really cares about an objective academic debate? Our president, the darling of the Christian right, is simply using his office to legitimize his theistic views, which happen to be the origin myth of the believing bloc that voted him into office.

As Christian conservative Gary Bauer pointed out: "With the president endorsing it, at the very least it makes Americans who have that position more respectable."

But there are more than two origin explanations. Does Bush advise "properly" teaching the various Native American creation myths, such as the earth forming on the back of a turtle rising from the waters? Does he insist that the "school of thought" of the Raelians (that humans are cloned extraterrestials) or the Babylonian Enuma Elish (that we sprang from the blood drops of the god Kingu) also be "properly" taught in public science classrooms? Exactly how do you "properly teach" myth and magic in the science class?

The proponents of "intelligent design"--which is just the old creationist wolf in cheap clothing--want us to think that because there seem (to them) to be examples of "irreducible complexity" in living cells, or in other features of the universe, we must conclude that it was designed by an intelligence outside of nature. Since creationists have repeatedly been told by the courts that they can no longer outlaw evolution or teach Genesis in public schools, they are careful not to specify exactly who this designer is, pretending that their hypothesis is merely objective, disinterested science.

Really. Golly, George, who do you think the mysterious Designer is?

Bush and the ID people are fooling no one. Look who cheers when the president makes such remarks: not scientists--who overwhelmingly reject "intelligent design"--but bible toters, theocrats and preachers. Theologian Cardinal Schonborn of Vienna claims that evolution as an "unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection" is untrue. This is not science vs. science. This is poorly disguised religious dogma vs. the fact of evolution.

"Creation science" is three things:

1) An attack on evolution, offering no evidence for its hypothesis of a designer ("Natural selection is wrong, so we win by default");

2) The old "god of the gaps" strategy of seeking supposedly unanswerable questions, and plugging the gap with a deity ("Gosh, we can't explain this, so there must be a god");

3) A story, such as the creation myth in the book of Genesis ("God said it, I believe it").

"Intelligent design" is not science. Its proponents have never had an article published on the topic in any peer-reviewed scientific journal. They conduct no experiments that would prove or falsify their hypothesis. Their conjecture makes no useful predictions, nor can it be mathematically modeled. There are no research labs doing ID science.

And who are they to proclaim that we have reached the end of scientific progress? It is the gaps that drive science forward, not grind it to a halt.

The ancients thought thunder and soil fertility were evidence of deities, but now we know something about electricity, weather, and agriculture. Those gaps have closed, and those gods have died. Isaac Newton, a fervent Christian, played the same game. After brilliantly discovering the laws of gravity that hold the planets in orbit, he failed to come up with an explanation for why the planets move in the same plane and same direction. He impatiently declared that these unsolvable mysteries were evidence for an intelligent designer. But now we know something about the formation of solar systems, and that gap has closed.

Just because today's scientists can't fully answer a particular question, can creationists mandate that no further inquiry is allowed? (Many of their supposed examples of "irreducible complexity," by the way, have already been explained, but this does not seem to discourage them.)

Let's ask creationists: Someday, when these gaps have closed and all your purported examples of "irreducible complexity" have been satisfactorily explained by science, will you abandon your belief in a god?

"Intelligent design" is not true science, vulnerable to disconfirmation. It is merely a prop to legitimize prior beliefs.

Scientists, by the way, do acknowledge design in the universe: design by natural selection, and by the limited number of ways atoms and molecules can combine mathematically and geometrically, or by emergent properties arising from "chaos," and so on. But "intelligent" design is an unsatisfactory hypothesis because it simply answers one mystery with another mystery. The mind of an intelligent designer would itself show signs of functional complexity, raising the question: who designed the designer?

If George Bush really wants to "expose people to different schools of thought," will he advocate teaching Darwinism in Sunday School? Shall we insert a chapter from Origin of the Species between Genesis 1 and 2?

The debate between the supernatural and natural world views ought to be discussed, but not in science class. It's not as though today's schoolchildren have been deprived of hearing about an "intelligent designer." There are churches on every other corner and religious broadcasts across the radio and TV spectra. Let's talk about religion--the good and the bad of it--in a class on philosophy or current topics.

But not in science class. Science teachers should teach science. Those who pretend "intelligent design" is science are missionaries, not teachers.

%250 %America/Chicago, %2000

Is America a Christian Nation?

By Dan Barker

The U.S. Constitution is a secular document. It begins, "We the people," and contains no mention of "God" or "Christianity." Its only references to religion are exclusionary, such as, "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust" (Art. VI), and "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" (First Amendment). The presidential oath of office, the only oath detailed in the Constitution, does not contain the phrase "so help me God" or any requirement to swear on a bible (Art. II, Sec. 1, Clause 8). If we are a Christian nation, why doesn't our Constitution say so?

In 1797 America made a treaty with Tripoli, declaring that "the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion." This reassurance to Islam was written under Washington's presidency, and approved by the Senate under John Adams.

The First Amendment To The U.S. Constitution:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . ."
What about the Declaration of Independence?
We are not governed by the Declaration. Its purpose was to "dissolve the political bands," not to set up a religious nation. Its authority was based on the idea that "governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed," which is contrary to the biblical concept of rule by divine authority. It deals with laws, taxation, representation, war, immigration, and so on, never discussing religion at all.

The references to "Nature's God," "Creator," and "Divine Providence" in the Declaration do not endorse Christianity. Thomas Jefferson, its author, was a Deist, opposed to orthodox Christianity and the supernatural.

What about the Pilgrims and Puritans?
The first colony of English-speaking Europeans was Jamestown, settled in 1609 for trade, not religious freedom. Fewer than half of the 102 Mayflower passengers in 1620 were "Pilgrims" seeking religious freedom. The secular United States of America was formed more than a century and a half later. If tradition requires us to return to the views of a few early settlers, why not adopt the polytheistic and natural beliefs of the Native Americans, the true founders of the continent at least 12,000 years earlier?

Most of the religious colonial governments excluded and persecuted those of the "wrong" faith. The framers of our Constitution in 1787 wanted no part of religious intolerance and bloodshed, wisely establishing the first government in history to separate church and state.

Do the words "separation of church and state" appear in the Constitution?
The phrase, "a wall of separation between church and state," was coined by President Thomas Jefferson in a carefully crafted letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1802, when they had asked him to explain the First Amendment. The Supreme Court, and lower courts, have used Jefferson's phrase repeatedly in major decisions upholding neutrality in matters of religion. The exact words "separation of church and state" do not appear in the Constitution; neither do "separation of powers," "interstate commerce," "right to privacy," and other phrases describing well-established constitutional principles.

What does "separation of church and state" mean?
Thomas Jefferson, explaining the phrase to the Danbury Baptists, said, "the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions." Personal religious views are just that: personal. Our government has no right to promulgate religion or to interfere with private beliefs.

The Supreme Court has forged a three-part "Lemon test" (Lemon v. Kurtzman, 1971) to determine if a law is permissible under the First-Amendment religion clauses.

A law must have a secular purpose.
It must have a primary effect which neither advances nor inhibits religion.
It must avoid excessive entanglement of church and state.
The separation of church and state is a wonderful American principle supported not only by minorities, such as Jews, Moslems, and unbelievers, but applauded by most Protestant churches that recognize that it has allowed religion to flourish in this nation. It keeps the majority from pressuring the minority.

What about majority rule?
America is one nation under a Constitution. Although the Constitution sets up a representative democracy, it specifically was amended with the Bill of Rights in 1791 to uphold individual and minority rights. On constitutional matters we do not have majority rule. For example, when the majority in certain localities voted to segregate blacks, this was declared illegal. The majority has no right to tyrannize the minority on matters such as race, gender, or religion.

Not only is it unAmerican for the government to promote religion, it is rude. Whenever a public official uses the office to advance religion, someone is offended. The wisest policy is one of neutrality.

Isn't removing religion from public places hostile to religion?
No one is deprived of worship in America. Tax-exempt churches and temples abound. The state has no say about private religious beliefs and practices, unless they endanger health or life. Our government represents all of the people, supported by dollars from a plurality of religious and non-religious taxpayers.

Some countries, such as the U.S.S.R., expressed hostility to religion. Others, such as Iran ("one nation under God"), have welded church and state. America wisely has taken the middle course--neither for nor against religion. Neutrality offends no one, and protects everyone.

The First Amendment deals with "Congress." Can't states make their own religious policies?
Under the "due process" clause of the 14th Amendment (ratified in 1868), the entire Bill of Rights applies to the states. No governor, mayor, sheriff, public school employee, or other public official may violate the human rights embodied in the Constitution. The government at all levels must respect the separation of church and state. Most state constitutions, in fact, contain language that is even stricter than the First Amendment, prohibiting the state from setting up a ministry, using tax dollars to promote religion, or interfering with freedom of conscience.

What about "One nation under God" and "In God We Trust?"
The words, "under God," did not appear in the Pledge of Allegiance until 1954, when Congress, under McCarthyism, inserted them. Likewise, "In God We Trust" was absent from paper currency before 1956. It appeared on some coins earlier, as did other sundry phrases, such as "Mind Your Business." The original U.S. motto, chosen by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson, is E Pluribus Unum ("Of Many, One"), celebrating plurality, not theocracy.

Isn't American law based on the Ten Commandments?
Not at all! The first four Commandments are religious edicts having nothing to do with law or ethical behavior. Only three (homicide, theft, and perjury) are relevant to current American law, and have existed in cultures long before Moses. If Americans honored the commandment against "coveting," free enterprise would collapse! The Supreme Court has ruled that posting the Ten Commandments in public schools is unconstitutional.

Our secular laws, based on the human principle of "justice for all," provide protection against crimes, and our civil government enforces them through a secular criminal justice system.

Why be concerned about the separation of church and state?
Ignoring history, law, and fairness, many fanatics are working vigorously to turn America into a Christian nation. Fundamentalist Protestants and right-wing Catholics would impose their narrow morality on the rest of us, resisting women's rights, freedom for religious minorities and unbelievers, gay and lesbian rights, and civil rights for all. History shows us that only harm comes of uniting church and state.

America has never been a Christian nation. We are a free nation. Anne Gaylor, president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, points out: "There can be no religious freedom without the freedom to dissent."

%291 %America/Chicago, %2002

Tithing for Dummies

Vol. 19 No. 9 - Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. -  November 2002

By Dan Barker

My first full-time associate pastor position was at an Assembly of God in La Puente, California. That church has since changed names, but in 1973 it was called Glengrove Assembly--or, as was once printed on an envelope we received there, "Glengrove Ass. of God."

The Assemblies of God are pentecostal--speaking in tongues, faith healing, and so on--and although the people were sincere and kind, I quickly found that church to be a bit noisy for my tastes. I worked there a year and a half before moving on.

But the day I was hired, I was excited to sit down with the senior pastor to discuss terms of employment, duties, and salary. It must have been the power of the Holy Spirit that kept me from grinning when Rev. Milton Barfoot pronounced his name.

When Barfoot told me the salary, I was ready to say "Praise the Lord," until he quickly added, "But we expect all of our staff to tithe."

It was church policy for the three pastors and the staff to give 10% of their salary back to the church. "How can we expect members to tithe if the ministers don't set a good example?" The bible says, "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse" (Malachi 3:10), and Barfoot explained that the "storehouse" is where you regularly worship.

So I dutifully tithed for a while, chopping my salary to 90%. (Christians debate whether tithing should come off gross or net income, but Barfoot assured me it is gross, not take-home pay. I suppose God told him that personally.) Besides tithing, we were often asked to make contributions for other causes, and of course, the staff had to set a good example.

But I felt funny about tithing. This church hired me to do a job. Why should they decide how to manage my giving? After a few months, my tithing became less regular, and I'm sure they noticed.

I was unclear about the concept until about six months later, on a special Tithing Sunday, when we ministers were each called on to preach about the duty and joy of giving to God. While preparing my sermon, I was surprised to learn how thin is the biblical basis for Christian tithing. I delivered the sermon, not sharing what I had learned (which was very little, and therefore very important), talking around the issue about the importance of "giving to God" in many ways that are not limited to money. I'm sure Barfoot and the elders, knowing my tithing was decreasing, thought I was a hypocrite.

I grew less and less comfortable at Glengrove, for many reasons, and when I received a "call from God" to move to another church in central California, I was very happy. (It's amazing how God knew to call me to a church that was less controlling.)

After I left the ministry, I worked as a computer programmer. One of my co-workers, a devout Mormon, felt prompted by God (or his elders) to give an additional 10% to his church--a double tithe! He was often audited by the IRS, he said, because they couldn't believe someone with his income would be that generous.

"It was this shameless, revelatory church marquee, spotted in Escanaba, Mich., that inspired this article," said Dan.

In the Old Testament, tithing was a way for the Israelites to support their priestly tribe, the Levites, who did no work outside of sacred duties. The word "tithe" appears in the entire Old Testament only 27 times, mostly in passing. There are only five places where it is discussed in any detail, and they are conflicting.

In some cases tithing happened yearly (see Deut. 14:22), but elsewhere it was commanded every third year (see Deut. 26:12, 14:28 and Amos 4:4).

The Levites themselves gave a "tithe of tithes" to the high priest Aaron (Numbers 18). But tithing was not just for supporting the ministry; you could use tithes as general charity to help "the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow" (Deut. 26:12). The tithe was 10% of everything you earned or produced, including grain, fruit, and meat (presented as a "burnt offering").

You could borrow against your tithe, for a 20% fee (Lev. 27:30-34). You could sell your tithes for cash and indulge yourself, as long as you didn't forget the Levites (Deut. 14:26-27).

I was surprised to learn that tithes were meant to be consumed mainly by the tither! (It made sense to dispose of meat quickly in that part of the world.) The only restrictions were that tithes be eaten in certain holy places, that the blood be avoided, and that some remain for the Levites (Deut. 12:6-19, 14:22-28).

That was back when state and church were always united. In many countries, 10% was the state tax. Babylonians, for example, used the tithe as a secular tax for royal purposes. Although the Jews appeared to dedicate tithes mainly to sacral purposes, in II Chronicles 31 the king and the priests cooperated in the collection. Samuel told the people that the king would "take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants . . . and he will take the tenth of your sheep" (II Samuel 8:15-17).

In the Old Testament, the tithe was the tax.

Writes Kristi Williams from South Carolina: "Well, here's a rather promising Sunday sermon. Guaranteed to focus us on a hefty dose of guilt, fear, threats and bribes. Amen, and pass the collection plate!"

There is nothing in the New Testament in favor of tithing. Neither Jesus nor Paul commanded believers to give 10% to their local church, or to go to church at all! Jesus mocked the scribes and Pharisees who tithed (Matthew 23:23), and denounced a self-righteous Pharisee who boasted about tithing (Luke 18:9-14). The writer of Hebrews, who observed that the old tithe was collected by the Levites, claimed that times are different now: "For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law" (Hebrews 7:5,12).

Right-wing Christians who want to cut taxes should stop tithing. Why would an omnipotent god need cash, anyway?

New Testament giving was generally freer, less legalistic than the Old Testament; although in one case, the exception that proves the non-rule, church members were struck dead for failing to give 100% (!) to the new communistic church (Acts 5:1-11).

No wonder I felt funny about tithing! I wish I had known enough to tell Rev. Barfoot that he was a bad Christian. I also wish I had saved that money for my retirement. How much would it be worth today?

%250 %America/Chicago, %1991

With Perfect Hatred

By Dan Barker

After Bill Lueders' well-written story about me ran in the Milwaukee Journal ["Wisconsin" Magazine, July 28, 1991], I received a lot of mail. It was nice to hear from freethinkers, some of whom already have joined the Foundation.

I also got many letters from Christians trying to get me back into the fold. Their most common complaint was regarding a comment I made about fundamentalists not being allowed to question. "You must have been raised in a strange church," one woman wrote, "because questioning is encouraged in my fundamentalist congregation. It makes our faith stronger."

Sure.

I did not have the time or inclination to answer each believer personally, but I have been sending out a form letter that shows that bible believers have no choice but to suspend critical inquiry. I Corinthians 10:5 says: "bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." This hardly sounds like an attitude of open inquiry.

Proverbs 14:12 says: "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the ends thereof are the ways of death." In other words, don't you dare think for yourself.

Proverbs 3:5-7 says: "lean not upon thine own understanding . . . be not wise in thine own eyes." In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus said, "Take no thought for your life . . . Take no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought of the things of itself." It seems disingenuous for Christians to claim that there is no restriction against independent thought in the bible.

After all, isn't each denomination and sect committed to a particular theology? Don't they have a "party line" that defines the true believers? (And don't they all disagree with each other about what this "party line" should be?)

As a result of Bill's story, I was invited to be a guest on "Milwaukee's Talking" TV shows, joined by Foundation member Nancy Harris, a former Catholic. On the show, she noted that as a child she was taught the Baltimore Catechism, in which you have the questions, and you have the answers, all neatly laid out--you memorize both, and that is that. Christians can talk all they want about "freedom in Christ," but those of us who were raised in the church know better. True believers are scared to death of questions. Most of them have this fear, whether admitted or not, that their children will come home for Christmas vacation after the first semester of college, having abandoned the indoctrination which was so earnestly instilled during childhood.

Another common complaint in the letters was regarding my mother's comment, quoted by Bill in the article, that after she became a freethinker, "she struck upon the joyous realization that, for the first time in her life, she could love everyone--even homosexuals and prostitutes and people of other religions whom 'Christians aren't supposed to love.' " Many Christians took exception to this, claiming that "God hates the sin, but loves the sinner."

Again, I have to question their sincerity. Does a true believer want his or her child to marry a homosexual, Moslem, or atheist? Would they vote for an atheist for political office? Would they invite them into the inner circle of fellowship at their church? Would they prefer to do business with them? They talk a lot about love, but their actions demonstrate something less. What they really mean by "love" is "concern that sinners will change their evil ways to become just like me." This is hardly love.

Besides, the bible does not support the "love sinner, hate sin" idea. II Chronicles 19:2 says, "Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? therefore is wrath upon thee." Psalm 5:5-6 says that God "hatest all workers of iniquity . . . the Lord will abhor the bloody and deceitful man."

King David wrote in Psalm 139:21-22: "Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? . . . I hate them with perfect hatred." The prophet Hosea (9:15) quotes God: ". . . for there I hated them: for the wickedness of their doings I will drive them out of mine house, I will love them no more."

In Luke 14:26, the loving Jesus warns: "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple." (A Baptist minister on the TV show claimed that I was taking this out of context, but the Greek word here is miseo which means simply "hate," not "love less than me," as some suggest.)

I know it is possible to find a few verses that say "God is love," but this only demonstrates that the bible is contradictory.

In Leviticus 24:16, the bible says that freethinkers like myself should be executed: "He that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him." Leviticus 20:13 mandates the same fate for homosexuals: "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them." None of this sounds much like love, does it?

My mom is right. Atheists and agnostics are not obligated to radiate "perfect hatred." Isn't it nice to be nice?

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