This speech was delivered before the twenty-third annual national convention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Sept. 16, 2000, where Wendy Kaminer was named "Freethought Heroine" 2000.
Hello, you godless sons of bitches.
I'm honored to be your Freethought Heroine this year, though I have to say that calling me a heroine implies that there's some sort of courage in what I do, and I don't think that my work is particularly courageous, considering that I'm based in that hotbed of Unitarianism, Cambridge, Massachusetts. You don't find me in the Bible Belt getting into fights with people who want to force my children to pray. That's what takes real courage. Lawyers at the ACLU often say that the bravest people in the world are our clients. Some of our clients also number among the biggest jerks in the world and that's how they come to be our clients. But, many of them are noble, brave people who put much at risk to stand up for their rights, the rights of their children, and the rights of other people in their communities. If I were to nominate some freethought heroes and heroines of the year, I might pick a collection of ACLU clients.
Enough about heroism. Let's talk about freethought. I read in Talk magazine recently, that Jane Fonda had found god. And I thought to myself, "well, of course, she has," because Jane Fonda is a weathervane of popular culture. She was an antiwar protester when that was the thing to be and then she was an aerobics queen in the 1980s and now she's a child of god. So if you needed any further proof that we're in a period of religious revivalism you can point to Jane Fonda's reported conversion.
Or, of course, you could listen to Joe Lieberman, whose political platform seems to be his religious faith. I don't think anything this year has shown more clearly the link that most people make between morality and religion than the naming of Joe Lieberman as Democratic vice presidential candidate. When Gore needed to establish his morality and to distance himself from Bill Clinton, he picked someone who is aggressively religious.
There has been a lot of breathless talk about the "breakthrough" achieved by the Democrats in putting a Jew, an Orthodox Jew, on the national ticket, but I suspect that Lieberman had a much greater chance of being picked for vice president than any number of secular Protestants, not to mention any liberals. After Lieberman was named there was a wonderful cartoon in the Boston Globe by Dan Wasserman, who's a very good political cartoonist, showing a picture of a woman looking over Lieberman's republicanesque voting record on issues like missile defense, HMO's, and social security, and saying to him, "Funny, you don't look Democratic."
It wasn't surprising to hear Joe Lieberman repeat the canard that the First Amendment protects freedom of and not freedom from religion, though it was a little discouraging. I don't know who authored that particular phrase. I've heard it from such disparate politicians as Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. You hear it all the time. It's irritating because it so clearly misapprehends the First Amendment. Of course the Constitution protects my freedom from Lieberman's religion and his freedom from Al Gore's religion, but you all know that.
It seems to be equally evident that politicians have every right to talk about their religious faith--incessantly, if they must--and Lieberman now claims that he only wants to inject religion into public discourse, not into public policy. In fact, a couple of days after he made his statement claiming that religion was essential to morality and encountered criticism, he sort of took it back. One of his spokespersons said something like, well, you have to understand that he was in a church when he said that--suggesting that we shouldn't have taken his remarks so seriously.
I suppose we can hope that he's insincere. But Lieberman should not be surprised when some people wonder if all this godly discourse might be a prelude to some godly policies. Especially when he suggests that we can somehow achieve freedom of religion without freedom from religion as well. Lately I've been yearning to be free of the moralistic banalities of this excessively pious presidential race. Can't we just stipulate that all of these candidates believe in god quite fervently and regularly pray? Apparently not. Only a small minority of Americans seems to want to be free from religion, though in general I think that they do want freedom from particular religions, especially the ones of which they don't approve.
These have been good years for religion and spirituality movements, which makes them very good years for satirists and social critics. Stories about the supernatural abound. Tales of angels, aliens, conversations with god or the spirits of the deceased, adventures in ESP and reincarnation all compete in the marketplace with established religious beliefs. I always include the broad range of New Age beliefs and popular superstitions, including some popular therapies, in my critique of irrationalism. I hope that when you all talk about freedom from religion you also talk about freedom from superstition in general.
Lately we do have a lot of superstition about, but culture is like real estate--it's cyclical. Sometimes reason is up and sometimes it's down, and sometimes religious faith and magical thinking reign--most of the time it seems. You can find periods in the early 20th century when reason seemed to be ascendant, but for the most part you'd be hard-pressed to find any period in human history when the vast majority of people didn't harbor superstitions of one kind or another. And for the past couple of decades, reason has been in a downturn, at least in popular culture, despite all the scientific advances and our reliance on technology. Actually, New Age culture reflects a very conflicted relationship with science: it combines hostility toward science with a desire to appropriate scientific credibility and expertise, which is why people like Deepak Chopra like to make meaningless references to quantum physics. Chopra, for example, talks about taking us "beyond the quantum," or he prescribes "quantum" exercises for us.
But for all their pseudo-scientific palaver, New Age gurus perpetuate and exploit the myth that our society is excessively rational and that we need to put cold reason aside and embrace our intuitive powers--what pop therapists like to call our "feeling realities." Think with your heart and not with your head was one of the mantras of the recovery movement, and pop-spirituality books like The Celestine Prophecy commonly denigrated reason as the last resort of the unenlightened. The current wave of religious revivalism, which includes New Age and established faiths, encourages a celebration of ineffable, intuited truths: non-rational truths about the existence of god, the reality of heaven, the presence of guardian angels and other spiritual wishes or ideals.
I'd like to talk to you today about irrationalism and the likely effect of faith and piety on public policy, but first I want to spend just a minute or two telling you something about my own attitudes towards religious belief. I'm personally irreligious, just about completely irreligious. [clapping] You don't have to clap for that. I hope that you wouldn't dislike me if I harbored some religious beliefs. Which leads me to my next point: I'm not a proselytizing atheist. In fact, I hesitate to call myself an atheist because I don't really want to define myself in opposition to religion. One of my friends says that she calls herself an agnostic, not an atheist, because to call herself an atheist makes religion seem too important.
I also don't consider myself especially hostile toward religion in general though I may take issue with particular theologies and their effect on the culture. I don't have a lot of patience for all the nonsense produced by some gurus of New Age, although there's probably just as much nonsense that comes out of established religion. One of the main differences, though, between established religions and New Age is that established religion is--established--which means that it's institutionalized. There's a lot of corruption that follows from that but there's also some social utility. Look at the historic contributions made by religious movements and organizations to social justice and welfare. Religion is a complicated phenomenon. You can't reasonably assert that no good has come of it.
I'm also very deeply committed to preserving religious freedom regardless of the form it takes. What's more fundamental than the right to believe and worship as you choose? And, while I consider faith a very poor substitute for empirical reasoning when we are deciding matters of public policy, I don't share the view of some atheists that religion can't coexist with reason or common sense. I find categorical denunciations of religious belief as simplistic as categorical denunciations of disbelief.
So, I'm not about to offer you a version of Jesse Ventura's attack on religion, though I did find his mockery of religion extremely refreshing, mostly because it's so exceedingly rare. It was hard to believe that an elected official was standing up and debunking belief in god. It was quite refreshing. But his assertion that religion is for weak-minded people was a bit facile. Religion attracts strong-minded, highly intelligent people as well as the weak and the stupid and that's what makes it interesting. If it only attracted stupid people, if it were nothing but a collection of banalities, it would be unintriguing and much less powerful.
What you can learn from studying pop-psychology, pop-spirituality, and religious revivalism is that intelligence is often compartmentalized, and that highly intelligent people can be what you might consider very unsophisticated about belief in the supernatural. Upwards of 95% of Americans reportedly profess belief in god. Now you can't possibly think that everyone in this room is smarter than 96% of all Americans. I surely don't. I imagine that there are people who believe in god who are even smarter than we.
It should be obvious that religious people can be equally acquainted with virtue and vice, passion and viciousness, just like nonreligious people, and it's extremely difficult, probably impossible to quantify the historic effect of religious belief on human welfare. The only generalization about religion that ever appealed to me was Mary McCarthy's remark that religion is good for good people.
Usually it makes little sense to talk about religion in general; like the weather, it's highly variable. Despite outbursts of ecumenism, people involved in different religious sects embrace different beliefs about the almighty and the nature of human virtue. Does godliness require that women wear veils or that children be beaten with belts? Does it oppose abortion or support reproductive choice? We can talk about the Catholic Church's opposition to abortion rights; we can also talk about the role that the liberal Protestant clergy played in the early years of the pro-choice movement. Does religion encourage or prohibit interracial marriages? Religion played a fairly strong role in the maintenance of Jim Crow laws; some white supremacists thought that the division of the races was divinely ordained. Religion also played a very important part in the civil rights movement. What notion of godly virtue does a Pentecostal Christian share with a Christian Scientist, a Muslim fundamentalist, a Unitarian-Universalist, a Scientologist, a Reform Jew and a Spiritualist? So often when people talk about religion in America today they should really be talking about sectarianism.
One of the perils posed by contemporary religious revivalism is the tendency to treat belief in a god simplistically as if it were a monolithic unmitigated good, as if faith were always a virtue and never a vice. I realize that fringe movements, like the Branch Davidians, the Hare Krishnas, and a range of insular totalistic groups that we label cults, are scorned or feared, not praised. But they are often viewed in the mainstream as perversions of religion, not exemplars.
The exaltation of religious belief is often a triumph of circular reasoning. It's easy to assert that religion inculcates virtue if you limit your definition of true religion to the groups that seem virtuous to you. And that is pretty much what people do. I am very wary of generalizing about religion. John Dewey said we should never talk about religion in the singular, we should only talk about religions, plural. But, as a social critic, I am in the business of making generalizations, and I think that we can engage in some generalized discussions about the phenomenon of religious faith, the willingness or capacity to believe in deities, angels or miracles, whatever forms they take. We can identify basic human needs served by various religions: the craving for immortality or cosmic justice.
It may be fun to debunk religion (it's often fun to debunk whatever is held sacred), but if you want to be effective in combating the real dangers of organized religion, you have to respond sympathetically to the existential anxieties that fuel religious belief. Life is a series of losses: we're going to lose all the people that we love, we're going to lose ourselves. I don't feel at all contemptuous of people who turn to beliefs in eternal life that I don't share. I understand why people who lost their children in the late 19th century turned to mediums to try to communicate with them.
It is obvious that the promise of immortality greatly enhances the appeal of western religions and contemporary New Age movements. Popular spirituality books tell us that there is no death, and there are a lot of immortality options in the New Age. Either we'll be reincarnated or transformed in some mysterious higher form of energy. Or, with the right attitude and diet we can essentially live forever. That's Deepak Chopra's message. Established western religions generally tell us that if we behave, we will ascend to heaven. According to a 1990 Gallup poll (this is one of my favorite statistics), some three-quarters of Americans believe that they are going to heaven. You have to wonder who they think is consigned to the other place.
People seem likely to believe what they want to hear or what they fear; in either case, emotion preempts reason. So it's not surprising that terrifying accounts of alien abductions coexist in a popular culture with bedtime stories about guardian angels who offer unconditional love. With faith on the ascendant, tales of the supernatural enjoy considerable appeal. We live in very credulous times, so when I talk about the rise of irrationalism, I am talking about credulity, gullibility. I'm talking about the decline of skepticism. I'm concerned with the ways in which our culture celebrates faith and devalues reason and applies habits of faith to questions that require empirical analysis, notably questions of public policy.
It is, for example, perfectly appropriate to take on faith assertions about the divinity of Jesus or the assertion that god loves you: You can only take that on faith. But it is not appropriate to take on faith that ending welfare benefits will end teenage pregnancy. That is an assertion about an empirical reality. Conclusions about, say, the efficacy of the drug war or the power of Christian Science healers to cure cancer ought to be demonstrated empirically.
The irrationalism that discourages questioning and empirical analysis is one very important legacy of the therapeutic culture. And by the therapeutic culture, I mean the ethics and the values that derive from popular therapies, notably the recovery movement, the 12-step movement. It has contributed greatly to the current religious revival.
Consider the quasi-religious reliance on personal testimony. The therapeutic culture exhorts us to substitute feelings for facts, to take personal testimony at face value, especially when it relates to searing personal experience, notably child abuse, sexual abuse. If we cross-examine someone offering testimony of abuse or question her credibility we're accused of perpetuating the abuse. At the very least, cross-examination is considered a breach of etiquette. We're expected to judge the truth of an assertion by the passion or apparent sincerity with which it is offered, as if people were never delusional or simply convincingly dishonest. We're supposed to take stories about extraterrestrials, guardian angels, ghosts and other supernatural occurrences at face value, as well, and in fact the authors of pop-spirituality books depend on our willingness to suspend disbelief and take them at their word when they tell us stories about communicating with god, with the angels or their dead grandparents.
I can't stress strongly enough how much this reliance on personal testimony and this mandate that we take personal testimony at face value contributes to the irrationalism that abounds today. It comes right out of popular therapies, and popular therapies took it straight from the religious tradition of testifying and the conflation of feelings about god's immanence with facts about his existence. There are times, of course, when religious truths are appropriate and irreproachable. There are times when therapeutic truths or feeling realities are perfectly appropriate--in a therapist's office, for example, although even therapists have to be concerned with distinguishing emotional and historical truths. A statement like "my father never understood me" is a subjective emotional truth. A statement like "my father raped me" asserts an objective truth. It's a claim about a historical fact that needs to be investigated.
What are the dangers of confusing feelings with facts? Consider the results of importing therapeutic notions of truth into the courtroom. We saw a rash of wrongful child abuse cases in the 1980s and 90s and the imprisonment of people for crimes that were probably never committed. These cases reflected in part a failure of reason and the confusion of justice with therapy. Believe the children, people said. Take their stories at face value even when the stories were completely unbelievable. A courtroom ought to be a realm dominated by facts, not feelings; by reason, not faith. You should never be discouraged from cross-examining anybody who's making an accusation of criminality.
So, when I talk about the rise of irrationalism, in part I'm talking about an inappropriate reliance on personal testimony as the source of objective truth. I'm talking about confusing the realms of faith and reason. As I've said, people derive a lot of comfort and maybe even some enlightenment from their subjective intuitions about unverifiable spiritual truths, and I don't deny or even want to address the very private benefits of irrationalism. I'm interested in its public perils, in the perils of piety as well as the perils of all the irrationalism spawned by the New Age movements.
One obvious peril is the rise of sectarianism and the marriage of particular religious beliefs with government. Of course, politicians have a right to talk about their faith; but it's irritating and unsettling to hear them use professions of religious faith as signals of their own essential goodness, and when they equate belief in God with goodness, it's easy to suspect that they're beginning to make the case that a good government is a godly one.
That's a very popular belief, because many people do derive their ideals and visions for a just society from their religions, which is not necessarily something I lament. In fact, as a secular person, I'd feel a lot better about George Bush if I thought he really was a good Christian who followed the teachings of Jesus. There might be a lot less people executed in Texas if he were. He might actually become a compassionate conservative.
That's another way of saying that we can learn a lot more about George Bush and all the others by studying their records and observing their behavior than by listening to their declarations of religious faith. The belief that godliness is essential to good government is, at best, inane. You can find people who love God on both sides of most of our controversial debates. So it would be nice if religious people, notably religious people in public life, would acknowledge that religion is not an exclusive source of moral teachings. They need to recognize that freedom from religion does not entail freedom from ethical constraints. I think we need to make clear to the extent that we can how the equation of faith with goodness results in a kind of moral shallowness.
And that brings me back, in conclusion, to Senator Lieberman. I want to spend a couple of minutes talking about his morality. What evidence do we have of Lieberman's goodness? He's pious and puritanical. He represents one traditional American model of morality, and that's what's so depressing. Because if Lieberman is such a deeply moral man who felt that he had to denounce Clinton two years ago because he had an illicit affair with an intern, why was he silent in 1992 when his good friend Bill Clinton rushed back to Arkansas during the presidential campaign to execute Ricky Ray Rector, a convicted murderer who had been effectively lobotomized by a self-inflicted bullet.
I'm not suggesting that no good people support capital punishment, though I do think it is an immoral practice that most good people would oppose if they had good information about it. But the execution of Rector was particularly heinous and most of all violated the religious norms that have shaped our rules about capital punishment. Rector had blown away part of his brain, so he didn't understand what it meant to be executed. He asked if he could save his dessert for after the execution. Legal prohibitions against executing the insane reflect the religious notion that we shouldn't kill people who aren't aware of what they've done and don't have an opportunity to repent and maybe achieve salvation before dying.
This particular drama of sin and redemption is a Christian one. I doubt, however, that Rector's execution seemed appropriate to Joe Lieberman because he's Jewish. I think that only an agnostic or an atheist would find a kind of mercy in the execution of someone who is incapable of anticipating his death. In any case, Jews are supposed to care about justice, if not mercy, and Lieberman has demonstrated very sporadic support for it. He strongly supported some of the most unjust federal laws of recent decades: the 1996 counter-terrorism bill, for example, which greatly limits the right to appeal state court convictions in federal court, and which also allows people to be imprisoned and deported on the basis of secret evidence. In other words, the FBI can come to your door in the middle of the night and say, "We're putting you under arrest," and when you ask "Why are you putting me under arrest," they answer, "We can't tell you. It's a secret." There are, I think, a couple of dozen people in jail under this provision, which targets Muslims and Arab-Americans, not surprisingly. (Prejudice does carve out exceptions to the conventional notion that religious faith makes people good.)
You don't have to be religious to oppose laws like this. All you need is a moral code that mandates some respect for fairness and human rights. So I'd welcome a campaign that revolved around moral questions, like the morality of racial profiling, the nation's prison system, or the war on drugs. But issues like these are political taboos. In their drive to control the center, Lieberman and other moderate Democrats have abdicated moral responsibility for criminal justice. It is, by the way, very important for atheists, agnostics, and skeptics not to retreat from the battleground of moral debate. Don't be afraid of using words like morality and talking about what you think is right or wrong. How else can you make the point that you don't have to be religious to care about morality?
It's been nearly ten years since Democrats coopted Republican rhetoric and a Republican agenda on crime control, with some religious fervor. When Clinton signed the very repressive 1994 federal crime bill which includes new federal penalties for drug crimes, among other things, he said that he was doing god's work. Recently Democrats have adopted what used to be a Republican posture on religion. Having thoroughly corrupted the justice system, politicians are now targeting faith. If I believed in the devil, I'd imagine him rejoicing.
Wendy Kaminer, Affiliated Scholar at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, is a columnist for The American Prospect and is Contributing Editor at The Atlantic Monthly. She serves on the National Board of the American Civil Liberties Union. A lawyer and social critic, she writes about law, liberty, feminism, and popular culture. She received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1993. Her commentaries have aired on NPR's "Morning Edition." Her articles and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, The Nation and Newsweek. Her books include: Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials: The Rise of Irrationalism and Perils of Piety (1999), I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional and A Fearful Freedom: Women's Flight from Equality.
Many humanists suffer from a condition known as apostasy. Fortunately, this condition is not a disease of any sort; indeed, it can be considered more as a cure. It is neither painful nor debilitating, though one may suffer withdrawal symptoms for a short period. However, it is contagious, and those who have it should spread its positive effects as far and wide as possible.
Apostasy is the conscious rejection of previously-held religious beliefs of any kind; those who do so are called apostates. In this respect they differ from other humanists, agnostics, or atheists who have never held religious beliefs. It may be comforting to know that, according to many studies, apostates display certain uniformities and thus cannot be considered as aberrations.
According to B.P. Beckwith1, apostates are generally well-educated, have higher than average levels of intelligence, and enjoy better than average economic circumstances. In North America, people tend to become apostates at younger rather than older ages, are more predominant in the West, and are most likely to be male. Beckwith attributes these characteristics to the growth of knowledge, education, freedom of expression, social reform, health care, and the rise of logical positivism and scientific method, among other factors.
Another researcher, D.G. Bromley2, made a study of what he termed religious disaffiliation occurring in American mainstream and alternative religious groups. He also examined the rapid growth of those who claimed no religious affiliation in the first place, as well as apostates from any one group who adopted another (usually more liberal) set of beliefs.
As can be imagined, Bromley found the whole topic to be incredibly complex, with problems stemming from inconsistent questionnaires, non-uniform terminology, conflicting methodology, and the variety of studies of the many social and psychological consequences of apostasy, both for groups and individuals concerned. He further dealt with the special difficulties of apostates from the more extreme of the cult groups (such as the Moonies, Jonestown, and Heaven's Gate) and with attempts at what is popularly called deprogramming.
One final reference here deals with a detailed study by Caplovitz3 of religious drop-outs among college students, in which factors such as parental relationships, peer pressure, radical political orientation, and individual commitment to intellectualism and rationality are cited as significant. For readers who are apostates from mainline or fringe religious organizations and who may find this topic of interest, there is a wealth of useful material just waiting to be absorbed in any well-stocked city or college library.
Foundation member Glenn Hardie was a founding member of the B.C. Humanist Association, on whose Board he served for many years. He is also a member of the Humanist Association of Canada and the American Humanist Association. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Philosophy, a Master's degree in Adult Education, and professional diplomas in Construction Economics and Property Appraisal. Now retired, he taught project costing at the B.C. Institute of Technology and at the School of Architecture at U.B.C. He is married, with two grown children.
1 Beckwith, B. The Decline of Religious Faith. Beckwith Publications, CA 1985
2 Bromley, D.G. Falling from the Faith. Sage Publications, CA 1988
3 Caplovitz, S. The Religious Drop-Outs. Sage Publications, CA 1977
This business of "the getting of wisdom" has been a slow process for me. As one "for-instance," I have to admit it's taken me--a native-born Wisconsin citizen--most of my life to figure out how to keep warm in winter.
Since I'm a walking buff and have always walked to classes or work every day (a good 45 or 50 minutes), dressing defensively is essential. I met my annual Waterloo trying to keep my toes warm, finally learning only after many years that lightweight hiking boots--not warm-looking fleece boots--are the ticket. A revelation! That and other slowly acquired bits of knowledge ensure that I can happily walk three miles to work even in subzero temperatures. It's a small adventure, Woman Vs. Nature, that I can win--although I am always aware that Nature would gladly freeze me to death should I stop moving.
Ditto for how long it took me to find a warm winter nightgown. Since flannel sheets work, I always assumed flannel nightgowns must be the warmest albeit not the most fashionable. But somehow I was always cold in them. When my mother began singing the praises of the Calida nightgown for warmth, I was skeptical. These are classic ballet-length nightgowns made of the lightest-weight "green" cotton (no formaldehyde), with a graceful cut and nothing to bind. They are produced in Switzerland and sold in this country by several catalogs, such as Garnet Hill. The "luxury item" price alone kept me from trying them out.
One birthday several years ago, my mother presented me with my first Calida. I was immediately converted. (Mothers are always right.) Nothing compares to Calida's softness. It has taken me many cold years to learn that the secret to staying warm is having an air pocket around you, not being cloaked in heavy layers.
Even though its durability makes a Calida gown practical in the long run, it is pricey. So last fall I was delighted to find a Calida gown at nearly half-price in a catalog called "Sierra Outpost" out of Wyoming. It specializes in reduced-price brandname hiking and outdoor gear, but has apparently found a market for seconds and overstocks of the coveted Calida.
Only one problem with the classic Calida nightgown--it's too hot for summer. Leafing through a "Sierra Outpost" catalog last month, I spotted advertised seconds of some sporty, short Calida nightshirts I'd never seen elsewhere.
Eager at the prospect of acquiring a Calida cool enough for summer, I turned to the order blank. I was disappointed I couldn't make a phone order that day--closed on Sundays, kind of unusual in these days of 24-hour-a-day catalog companies. Then I spied the reason why. There, right on the order form, was a drawing of an American eagle with the bible quote, "Jesus said, 'I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.' John 10:10." Yuck.
After laughing out loud at the absurdity of it, I realized I faced an ethical dilemma.
What would you do? I haven't decided. Since "the customer is always right," I may try one more order, with a letter, to see if I can educate this company that not all customers appreciate being preached at. But I'll probably forfeit my longed-for Calida and tell them why they've lost a customer. (If you've ever ordered from this catalog, please complain, too: 1-800-713-4534.)
The day after making this unpleasant discovery I went to my yoga class, held at a public hospital. (Doctor's orders--chronic tendinitis in both elbows.)
After a particularly grueling workout, my personable teacher instructed all of us to end the session by putting our hands in a "prayer" position with thumbs at sternum. Okay. We'd done that before--and it's good for my arms. But this time, she instructed us to chant over and over between breaths: "God and me are one. Me and God are one." I was too startled (and exhausted) to do anything but engage in passive disobedience. As far as I am concerned, what makes this chant a truly unpardonable sin is its bad grammar!
This was too much! Religion with my nighties, and now with my exercise class?
When I got home and told Dan about it, he said disbelievingly (with the fervor of the deconverted): "You didn't complain?!" I replied that I was mulling over the right approach.
I've opted for my concept of subtlety. I arrived early for my next class wearing a "Friendly Neighborhood Atheist" sweatshirt and a smile, as befits the message. My instructor's eyes flickered over my shirt, looked away, and eloquently glanced back. There was no "God" chant this time. But I'm planning to wear the shirt every session, just to make sure.
Besides the secret to warm feet, something I've also been slow to grasp is the infinite chutzpah of the religionist. And they always get you when you're cold or tired.
Annie Laurie Gaylor is editor of Freethought Today and the anthology, Women Without Superstition: "No Gods - No Masters." The Writings of 19th and 20th Century Women Freethinkers.
Flak for "Faith" Funding
Trying to keep money given to religious organizations from being used for proselytizing is hopeless; money is fungible, a wonderful word meaning "interchangeable." If you give money to a church for one purpose, that in turns helps fund the church's other purposes since, obviously, it has more money. . . .
As that great orator, the late Texas state Rep. Billy Williamson of Tyler, once declared during a debate over state aid to Baptist-sponsored Baylor, "Yew CAAAAAAAN'T trade the cross for the cookie jar!"
--Molly Ivins, Ft. Worth Star-Telegram columnist
"Bush's World of Fuzzy PolicyThinking", Feb. 1, 2001
I am for faith-based programs, after-school programs, senior citizens programs, transportation ministries. But I fear federally funded, faith-based initiatives. Don't let them get into your books, because they are wolves in sheep's clothing. Money is seductive; the church needs money, but it needs independence even more!
--Rev. Jesse L. Jackson sermon
Ebenezer AME Church, Fort Washington
Washington Post, Feb. 4, 2001
I believe that a democratic polity requires a secular state: one that does not fund or otherwise sponsor religious institutions and activities; that does not display religious symbols; that outlaws discrimination based on religious belief, whether by government or by private employers, landlords or proprietors--that does, in short guarantee freedom from as well as freedom of religion. Furthermore, a genuinely democratic society requires a secular ethos: one that does not equate morality with religion, stigmatize atheists, defer to religious interests and aims over others or make religious belief an informal qualification for public office. Of course, secularism in the latter sense is not mandated by the First Amendment. It's a matter of sensibility, not law. Politicians have a right to brandish their faith and attack my secular outlook as hollow. That they have such a right, however, does not mean exercising it is a good idea. Politicians also have a right to argue that Christ's teachings are essential to public morality, but few would dare devalue the citizenship of Jews in such a fashion. Why is it more acceptable to marginalize the irreligious with appeals to God and faith?
"Freedom From Religion," The Nation, Feb. 19, 2001
This whole thing is a religious-liberty nightmare. You can't have federal funds supporting sectarian proselytizing.
--Baptist Rev. C. Weldon Gaddy
Executive Director, Interfaith Alliance Time, Jan. 30, 2001
And official promotion of religion even when it's not specific can reach a point where it infringes on the rights of nonbelievers. President Bush has cut off family planning funds for international organizations that finance abortions on the grounds that money given for one thing frees up money for the other. But he does not apply the same logic to his plans to subsidize church-based education. If a birth-control grant to some agency amounts to taxpayers funding abortions, why isn't a grant to a church school essentially forcing me to pay for candles and incense?
--Michael Kinsley, Editor of Slate
New York Times, Jan. 26, 2001
Government neither should impose nor finance religion. Without the utmost scrutiny Bush's initiative could result in the outright government subsidy of religion in the name of social services. . .
One must wonder if David Koresh would have come knocking on the door of the Office of Faith-based Initiatives to get in on some of the federal funds. And we wonder on what grounds the office would say that Koresh's religion was any less legitimate than the mainstream faiths that most people see performing the work that Bush envisions.
Waco (TX) Tribune-Herald, New York Times, 1/31/01
. . . here and in the not-so-free countries of the world, the "freedoms from" were just as critical as the "freedoms to"--that is, the freedom from hunger, from oppression, from persecution and yes, from religion.
It is that wonderful wall of separation between church and state that guarantees these freedoms . . .
I feel my democratic freedom from religion is being violated by President Bush's executive order establishing the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives. . . .
The issue is whether our tax dollars should support sectarian efforts that violate our rights to freedom from religion.
"U.S. a democracy, not theocracy" San Antonio News-Express, Feb. 3, 2001
Americans may not be able to recite the [first] amendment, or perhaps even explain it, but they are instinctively uncomfortable when their government appears to promote one religion over another, or allows discrimination based on religion, or interferes in the freedom of a church or synagogue or mosque. If executed carelessly, Mr. Bush's plan could spring all three of those traps.
New York Times, Feb. 4, 2001
. . . even the staunchest defenders of faith-based programs, like Professor Olasky, admit there is little statistical evidence to show treatment based on religious conversion is any more effective than secular, therapeutic programs.
. . . religious organizations are, by their very nature, evangelical. And for the government to fund them, or support them in any way at the expense of other social programs, could make society's neediest vulnerable to religious coercion in exchange for basic services.
--Christian Science Monitor
Daily Herald, Jan. 30, 2001
. . . Bush has already shown that he won't fund groups that don't adhere to his particular set of moral beliefs. In his first full workday as president, he announced he was yanking funds to overseas organizations that use their own money to provide abortions or abortion counseling. . .
The infusion of religion into government is at the very heart of the revolution that created America. The colonists rebelled not only against the Church of England but also against the Puritanism and Calvinism that forced the citizenry to conform to particular religious views or face the government's wrath.
What Bush risks doing is establishing the legitimacy of one religion over all others, and this is just what our founding fathers didn't want.
"With a Hand on the Bible" San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 30, 2001
The very first act of the new Bush administration was to have a Protestant Evangelist minister officially dedicate the inauguration to Jesus Christ, whom he declared to be "our savior." . . .
The plain message conveyed by the new administration is that Bush's America is a Christian nation, and that nonChristians are welcome into the tent so long as they agree to accept their status as a tolerated minority rather than as fully equal citizens. In effect, Bush is saying: "This is our home, and in our home we pray to Jesus as our savior. If you want to be a guest in our home, you must accept the way we pray."
But the United States is neither a Christian nation nor the exclusive home of any particular religious group. NonChristians are not guests. We are as much hosts as any Mayflower-descendant Protestant. It is our home as well as theirs. And in a home with so many owners, there can be no official sectarian prayer. That is what the First Amendment is all about, and the first act by the new administration was in defiance of our Constitution.
--Alan M. Dershowitz
Los Angeles Time
Bush says he will take international aid away from family planning clinics that in any way, shape, or whisper tell women where they can get an abortion. To Bush, this is a game of Ping-Pong, and now he has the paddle. . . . Bush reinstated the gag rule with the confidence that, aside from Planned Parenthood, Capitol Hill Democrats will not dwell long--or at all--counting the bodies of poverty stricken and sexually trapped women in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. . . .
According to the World Health Organization, complications from pregnancy and childbirth kill 600,000 women every year. . . .
Before Reagan, the United States was seen as a leader in helping nations provide access to family planning. Clinton had begun reasserting that leadership. Bush is taking us back to a blindness about the bodies. He is taking us back to a time when, as far as abortion goes, we were a developing nation.
--Derrick Z. Jackson
"Bush's Cruel Trip Backward", Boston Globe, 1/26/01
. . . I envision a country where untold billions of taxpayers' dollars flow through the government to those religious groups who backed winning candidates, just as parishioners' contributions flow through their churches to the candidates on whom they wager.
. . . The First Amendment also guards against another serious danger. This is the temptation for the state to co-opt religious leaders, appropriate religious symbols, and play on religious sentiments, subverting them all to rally for leaders and policies that cannot be defended in rational debate.
--Prof. Bruce Lincoln
University of Chicago, "Dubya, Defender of the Faith" TomPaine.com
Hundreds of thousands of tax dollars have been approved by the National Institutes of Health to fund a Christian "prayer intervention" study involving African American women with breast cancer.
Freethought Today has learned that the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a component of NIH, has approved the grant to Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. Consulting is Dr. Harold Koenig of Duke University's Center for the Study of Religion, Spirituality and Health, known for his espousal of religion as medicine.
Tax money is slated to fund a study of "a personal and group prayer intervention" on 40 African American women, with 40 others randomly assigned to a control group.
Dr. Koenig told Freethought Today several years of funding are needed because it will take a long time to locate 80 African American women in the Baltimore area who qualify for the study.
Subjects will meet with "Comfort Leaders,"--"a team of African American breast cancer survivors and persons with a background in spirituality" who will receive special training--at a home or "church visit."
The concept, the grant writers noted, is derived from "The Witness Project," previously funded in part by the Centers for Disease Control, based on the precept that "in church people witness to save souls. At the Witness Project, they witness to save lives."
"The CL will meet with the woman and provide her with a small book of inspirations," according to the study abstract. "She will assist the woman in organizing a prayer group of 5-8 women from her church or from her personal network."
The subjects will be given "the Comfort Guide that contains 24 weeks of spiritual messages based on Biblical scripture that guide the prayer for any given week. The women will be offered instruction as to how to gather for prayer and personal witnesses. . . . select[ing] a symbolic scriptural word that to them will signify their recognition of a 'divine presence.' Twice each day the patient is to use the Centering Prayer word to focus on a feeling of peace and inner spirituality. . . ."
The study abstract mentions the researchers' concerns that other prayer by the women and their social network could "replicate or compete with the effects of the study's prayer groups," but considers this "unlikely." The study selects otherwise healthy subjects who are most likely to do well--women with early stage breast cancer who have had no spread to lymph nodes and have undergone a lumpectomy and radiation therapy but no chemotherapy (Stage 1 and 2 local tumors).
"Women who do not identify with a religious orientation or who do not wish to use prayer groups will also be excluded. It is expected that this will be a rare case if it does occur at all," the abstract adds.
Various blood, saliva and urine tests will be taken at intervals of one month and six months to measure "the impact of the prayer intervention" on "stress." Although it is a four- or five-year funded study, the subjects themselves receive only six months of "intervention."
They also note that after six months, the control group will be offered the religious materials and an introduction to prayer groups and "centering prayer," because this "is ethical given the known benefit of prayer. . ."
The grant abstract cites as rationale for the study the "abysmal physical and psychosocial outcomes in African American women with breast cancer and their almost 100% use of prayer for coping."
The researchers also cite a study showing that a majority of African American women "preferred spiritual healing over traditional allopathic medicine, actually causing a delay in seeking care."
"This raises a question," said Freethought Today editor Annie Laurie Gaylor. "If African American women already disproportionately favor prayer and religion for comfort during illness, yet 'have a poorer prognosis at every stage of breast cancer,' as the researchers report, then the conclusion would seem to be that religion is detrimental, rather than beneficial. Ethics should dictate that medically sound methods, not superstition, should be proposed to improve medical outcomes for African American women with breast cancer."
The study does not compare prayer with other activities that could be surmised to reduce stress or make patients feel special, such as instruction in relaxation techniques.
Despite a request on Dec. 1 made under the Freedom of Information Act, Freethought Today has been unable to date to obtain a full copy of the grant proposal detailing requested amounts and salaries. Diane M. Becker, the professor of medicine who is slated to be in charge of the medical monitoring of the women, refused to release that data. She told Freethought Today her best estimate is that approximately $123,000 of tax dollars annually for four years would be appropriated.
An Oct. 5 NIH news release reported that $8 million will be given to a cancer center at Johns Hopkins headed by Adrian S. Dobs, M.D., to implement four projects, one of which "will examine the effects of prayer on disease recurrence, immune and neuroendocrine function of African American women with breast cancer." What has not been disclosed is how the $8 million grant will be divided among the four studies.
Dr. Koenig estimated late last year in a conversation with Freethought Today that between $750,000 and $800,000 over five years would be appropriated. According to a report in Research News & Opportunities in Science and Theology, (Nov. 2000) funded through the Templeton Foundation, Dr. Koenig "hopes that research such as this will help open the door to more studies on the effects that prayer may have on other diseases. . ."
Freethought Today is pursuing its Freedom of Information Act request to confirm how much tax money is in jeopardy.
The following statement was released on January 29, 2001, by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Madison, Wis.-based national association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics) working to protect the constitutional separation of church and state since 1978.
President Bush's newly-announced initiatives on religion pose the most serious assault on the constitutional separation of church and state in our history. Today Bush announced the creation of an "Office of Faith-Based Action" and his intention to tax the American public to support a $24 billion give-away of public funds to church-related groups over the next 10 years.
People who care about our Constitution and its protections should be outraged. It would be difficult to exaggerate the constitutional peril of Bush's full frontal attack on the Establishment Clause.
What is being proposed is a massive religious tax upon the American public. Individuals will be taxed to support places of worship, denominations and ministries which violate their conscience.
Many Americans are descended from immigrants who came to this land to escape such mandatory tithes and taxation, who believed it to be unconscionable to be forced to support churches against their consent. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom:
"[T]o compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of [religious] opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical."
That statute, upon which many state constitutions are predicated, noted that no citizens "shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry, whatsoever." The assurance that citizens cannot be compelled to attend or support a place of worship against their consent has been a cornerstone of our secular republic.
"Charitable choice" is a misleading euphemism for Bush's proposal to fund overtly-religious organizations at all federal branches. Americans will have no choice when we're taxed to support religions under the guise of social services. Needy social service recipients who are at the mercy of religious social services will have no practical choice when they are handed bibles with their soup bowls, or are prayed over when they are seeking a bed for the night. Those applying for jobs with public-funded religious organizations will have no choice if they are hired or fired for religious reasons, because "faith-based" public-supported charities are legally permitted to engage in religious discrimination.
No needy person receiving assistance paid for with public funds should ever be proselytized. The automatic tax-exemption accorded churches is based on the assumption that they will use donations for charitable purposes. Individuals are free to seek out private religious counseling and churches are free to open their doors to the needy. But no religious proselytizing ought to be allowed if the public, made up of a diversity of Christians, atheists, Jews and others, is footing the bill.
Religious social services are already eligible for and already receive significant amounts of public funding. Appropriately, religious social services receiving tax dollars have been required to create a secular arm and a separate account, to remove religious symbols and agree not to proselytize a captive audience coming to them for help. Bush is proposing to remove all these constitutional safeguards and give proselytizing groups carte blanche with public funds.
There is no end to the potential conflicts of interest. For instance, when a Southern Baptist church receives public funds, will it advise battered women to "submit graciously" to their husbands, as their denomination's doctrine now requires? In a small town where a fundamentalist group gets the corner on tax dollars, where will a suicidal gay teenager turn when he needs help? Surely not to a fundamentalist group that considers gays "sinners" and even "abominations." What help can a teenaged girl seeking contraception receive from a public-funded Roman Catholic group freed by Bush's initiatives to force its religious doctrines on public recipients?
Current charitable choice laws do not ensure that recipients would be notified of the right to secular alternatives, or that secular alternatives in fact are available. Nor does it make fiscal sense to set up two forms of public-funded social services, when a secular social service agency can serve everyone, offends no one and does not ride roughshod over freedom of conscience.
We urge all Americans who value our secular Constitution to speak out and oppose Bush's alarming actions and proposals.
The piety of politicians is legendary, so it should not have surprised us when Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Scott McCallum announced he would start his inaugural day with a prayer breakfast.
McCallum follows Tommy Thompson as Wisconsin's governor, since President Bush appointed Thompson to his cabinet to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
McCallum's prayer breakfast would be held in his home town of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, newspapers announced. Naively, we envisioned a setting in a church basement, or possibly the banquet room of a local hotel.
But then came the surprising news. The prayer breakfast would take place at the publicly-owned Commons of the Fond du Lac branch of the University of Wisconsin, and, according to McCallum's office, would be paid for with public funds.
Whoa! A Foundation letter went out to McCallum challenging the constitutionality of this action and encouraging a secular inaugural.
The response from a staffer was that the media got it wrong! It wasn't a prayer breakfast after all; it was an inaugural breakfast, and taxpayers would not be paying for it. It would be paid for by McCallum's campaign fund. Now we had two versions of what was going on.
Trying to figure out the puzzle, we got a copy of the press release sent from McCallum's office announcing the prayer breakfast. Indeed, it was not a media error. It was there in black and white in the press release, "prayer breakfast."
We confirmed with the University in Fond du Lac that rent was being charged for the Commons (a modest $150.00), although exactly who is paying for that and for the catering is still unclear. The final program referred to an inaugural breakfast, but it was reported that a Catholic priest prayed, an Episcopal clergyman prayed and an obscure civil servant prayed. Which would have been acceptable had the ceremony been conducted privately, not on the taxpayers' dollar, and not in a taxpayer-owned public building.
There is no question that religion is intruding more and more in government, at every level. Our objections may not always be heeded, but they must be made.
We urge each reader to constitute a Committee of One to protest state-church entanglement at the community level, as well as in state capitals and Washington, D.C.
One of the reasons President Bush feels free to launch his mammoth, unconstitutional state-church entanglement projects is because there has not been enough pressure and an outcry against entanglement at lower levels.
Churches and tax-exempt religious property abound in our country. Let politicians practice their religion there.
--Anne Nicol Gaylor
Freedom From Religion Foundation
7th Circuit: Remove Decalog
The U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Dec. 13 that a Ten Commandments monument on the lawn of the municipal building in Elkhart, Ind., is unconstitutional.
The appeals court overturned a 1999 district court ruling dismissing the challenge.
In its 2-1 ruling, the court said that constitutional principles "simply prevent government at any level from intruding into the religious life of our people by sponsoring or endorsing a particular perspective on religious matters."
Citizens are required to "come into direct and unwelcome contact with the Ten Commandments to participate fully as citizens of Elkhart," the court ruled, nor could the 6-foot tablet be stripped of its "sacred significance."
Plaintiffs are Elkhart residents William A. Books and Michael Suetkamp.
Kentucky Officials Show Contempt
Officials in McCreary and Pulaski counties rehanged the Ten Commandments in their courthouses in defiance of a federal judge's order. The ACLU filed a motion on Dec. 7 asking that the officials be held in contempt. The officials filed a legal memo in late December insisting the commandments are not "religious" in their overall display of "historical" documents.
Pastors Oppose Courthouse Nativity
Thirty-two pastors signed a letter to county officials in Lafayette, Ind., opposing a Nativity display on the Tippecanoe County Courthouse lawn in December.
The county banned such displays in 1999 after allowing a creche on the courthouse lawn every Christmas for nearly 30 years. After a group of two dozen residents petitioned commissioners to change the policy, the pastors noted, "Their agenda is not reflective of the mainstream Christian community."
Christmas Lawsuit on Appeal
A federal appeals judge told litigant Richard Ganulin of Cincinnati in December that he must show how the celebration of Christmas as a national legal holiday harms nonbelievers.
Judge Boyce Martin Jr. said philosophical or religious objections are not enough to support a lawsuit asking to scrap the designation of Christmas as an official holiday. Martin is one of three judges hearing the case at the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"As a matter of law, it cuts me out, it excludes me, I'm an outsider, I'm an observer. It's a sectarian celebration," Ganulin said.
Ganulin, who sued the federal government in 1998 (and was a speaker at the 1998 FFRF convention), said he is not attacking Christmas, only the unconstitutionality of the federal law making it a national holiday.
A federal judge in December 1999 threw out Ganulin's lawsuit, saying he lacked standing and failed to show how the legal holiday harmed him.
Mojave Cross Removed
The National Park Service agreed in late October to remove a Christian cross from the Mojave National Preserve in San Bernardino County, Calif.
The site of the cross was routinely used as a gathering for Easter and other memorial services, but was not open as a venue for other forms of religious expression, according to the ACLU of Southern California. The complaint was brought by a former Park Service employee.
"Leaving a cross standing on federal land when a service is over promotes Christian beliefs over others, which is not the role of the government. Federal park land is for all of us, whether we are Jewish, Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, or none of the above," said Peter Eliasberg, staff attorney.
Bad Postal Precedent
The U.S. Postal Service announced late last year its plan to issue a postage stamp in 2001 to recognize the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, or "feast of fast breaking," that marks the annual fasting month of Ramadan.
Although the Post Office regulations forbid issuance of religious stamps, the Post Office began issuing "Madonna & Child" stamps in the 1960s. U.S. Muslim groups have lobbied for a stamp for years.
Since there are some 29 million unreligious Americans in this country compared to between five and 10 million Muslims, where is the postage stamp in homage to freethought?
The White Meadow Temple, a Conservative synagogue in New Jersey, filed suit this fall against a congregation member who quit the congregation, contending it was owed $1,455.02, including attorney's fees. Rockaway resident David Slossberg quit the temple in 1996, after being defrauded by an Orthodox Jewish business partner who later went to jail for his crimes. Slossberg told the rabbi he did not have the money to pay dues, nor did he wish to belong anymore.
The synagogue claims Slossberg signed an agreement, which it cannot produce, pledging "dues, assessments, pledges or donations" for the year 1996.
Charles Coppinger, 36, the Arizona Legislature's chaplain for the last four sessions, went on a 90-hour "spiritual fast" in late December to save his job, spending his nights outside the state capitol in an armchair, drinking diluted juice and taking only restroom breaks.
The Senate announced on Jan. 22 it will no longer have a chaplain, but will keep open the chaplain office for visiting clergy invited by lawmakers "to attend their spiritual needs."
Coppinger, whose position was funded privately, revealed last fall that he is gay, resulting in consternation by his conservative supporters. Also causing consternation was a revelation that he had settled embezzlement charges with a previous employee.
State Tax Dollars at Work
New York State taxpayers have spent nearly $2.5 million under the Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act to spruce up churches, synagogues and houses of worship around New York.
The Albany bureau of the Syracuse-Herald Journal (Dec. 18) revealed the legislation authorizing the $1.75 billion bond act, approved by voters in 1996, provides money to preserve properties listed on the state and national registers of historic places. Although the bill did not specify houses of worship among properties eligible for funding, it did not rule them out.
The Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation that administers grants to houses of worship requires that all work be exterior. State parks commissioner Bernadette Castro told the Herald-Journal: "The commissioner does not want something done that will allow only the congregation to enjoy, but rather the whole community to enjoy." The houses of worship are supposed to produce matching grants.
HUD Chastises Lutheran Program
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development "chastised" Lutheran Social Services of Northern California on Nov. 6 for placing HIV/AIDS patients in residential hotels that violate city housing codes and state elevator safety laws, according to the San Francisco Examiner.
HUD official Joan Hall said: "We made it clear that under HUD programs, we expect our housing funds are going to be used to house people in decent, safe and sanitary environments."
Council Prayer Criticized
The City Council in Redwood City, Calif., is unusual among Bay Area cities in starting meetings with a prayer led by local ministers. For the past two decades, Pastor Dennis Logie of Sequoia Christian Church has orchestrated the invocations as president of the Redwood City Clergy Association.
Following criticism by the ACLU, Mayor Ira Ruskin said he found the worship ritual "thought provoking." Council member Colleen Jordan told the San Mateo Daily News: "I believe government was never intended to be godless."
ACLU attorney Margaret Crosby, while admitting the Supreme Court ruled legislative prayer is allowable in the Marsh vs. Chambers case out of Nebraska in 1983, points out the California Constitution is far stricter than the federal.
Bible Classes Create Strife
Controversy is following adoption of bible classes at high schools, such as a class at Duncanville High School, Tex., taught by a retired pastor and former bible college professor. As many as 200 Texas public schools may offer bible studies, although the Texas Education Association doesn't keep track.
The Duncanville class is not a "bible as literature" class. The entire fall semester is spent on the "Old Testament" and the spring semester on the "New Testament." Students must memorize the books of the Old Testament and weekly assigned bible verses, "identify leading kings of Israel and Judah," and memorize the 23rd Psalm, among other assignments.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation launched a major complaint to the TEA in 1995, calling the Texas bible courses "Glorified Sunday School," and noting some school districts were actually using curriculum written for Sunday schools.
In Illinois, the Messac County High School is offering a course on the bible for the 2001-02 school year as an elective "history" class for juniors and seniors.
"To teach it as history, you have to teach facts and accept miraculous events," said ACLU spokesperson Ed Yohnka. "How do they plan to handle teaching the parting of the Red Sea, the Plagues of Egypt or being led by the voice of God? We find this whole approach to teaching bible in public schools troubling."
Utah Tax Credit Urged
A Republican state legislator plans to sponsor a bill in the 2001 session to grant taxpayers up to $2,500 in tax credits for sending students to private and religious schools. State Rep. John Swallow contends it's all in the name of "helping" public education. "We need to get our children taught on someone else's nickel. It's one way to save public schools," was Swallow's unusual rationale. The plan would siphon off $2,500 per student that would otherwise go to public schools.
A new nonprofit group called Children First Utah has raised $1.35 million--$1 million of that coming from John Walton, son of Wal-Mart's founder--to help send low-income children to private schools. Walton is helping to fund 76 Children First affiliates nationwide, then lobbying government to take over the programs. Utah has the smallest percentage of children attending private schools in the nation, at about 2.6% compared to the national average of 11%. Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt does not support tuition tax credits.
Polygamy Will Be on Trial
The first trial for polygamy in Utah since the 1950s has been delayed until late spring, but is putting the practice under the spotlight.
Tom Green, 52, who lives in a cluster of mobile homes in the desert with his 5 current wives and their 29 children, is charged with four counts of bigamy and one count of criminal nonsupport for $50,000 in welfare the state gave his family, as well as one count of child rape.
That charge stems from having sex with his common-law wife Linda, now 28, when she was 13. He married the 5 wives, including two sets of sisters, when they were between 13- and 16-years old. Green has had 10 wives since 1970. It took a 26-page diagram to illustrate all of Green's marriages, divorces and offspring.
Gov. Mike Leavitt, who himself is descended from a polygamous great-grandfather, originally did not favor prosecution of violations of Utah's 105-year ban on plural marriage.
"But this is a man who has taken 13- and 14-year-old children, deprived them of any education, married them, impregnated them, required the state to pay the bill and has raped a 13-year-old girl.
"If we can't prosecute for conduct like Tom Green's, we have no business prosecuting crime," Leavitt said.
The Utah legislature raised the state's minimum marriage age from 14 to 16 in 1998, after Tapestry Against Polygamy, a group of former polygamous wives, championed the reform.
Japanese Proposal Alarms Buddhists
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who just survived a recent no-confidence vote, has caused consternation by campaigning to emphasize religion in schools. Mori wants to update national curriculum guidelines for the first time since 1947, including placing "a perspective on religion" in public schools.
"We absolutely must not repeat the mistakes of prewar Japan, when the freedoms of thought and religion were trampled by compulsory religious education," wrote the head of a Buddhist group, Daisaku Ikeda. Shinto was Japan's state religion during World War II.
Last May, Mori got in trouble for saying, during a speech to Shinto religious officials, that Japan was a "divine nation" centered on the emperor.
Iranian Journalist "Defames Clergy"
The chief editor of the weekly magazine Cinema-Sport, journalist and cleric Ali Afshai, was defrocked and sentenced in late December to four months in prison for "defaming the clergy."
Prisoner: Police Used God
Condemned murderer Raymond Morrison Jr., 32, argued before the Florida Supreme Court in early January that it should overturn his conviction and death sentence because Jacksonville police took advantage of his Christian beliefs to get a confession.
Police officer Antonio Richardson, a church pastor, "ministered" to Morrison during the investigation and took him to the police department chapel. Morrison said he was coerced into giving a statement implicating him in the 1997 stabbing of an elderly, disabled man. Public Defender Chet Kaufman said police used church and religion as "law enforcement arms":
"They talked about prayer, they talked about getting right with God, they talked about being saved."
As a guide for choosing attitudes and behavior, many Christians encourage young persons and others to ask, "What would Jesus do?" That slogan is often abbreviated on Christian jewelry and other items as "WWJD." The idea is that if people would think and act the way Jesus did, the world would be a better place.
But is a WWJD mindset really what the modern world needs? If advocates of that philosophy would examine Jesus as depicted in the bible, they might realize that his views can cause great harm to individuals and communities.
What would Jesus do about the problem of violence in society? The bible indicates he would make it worse by promoting violence as a favored method of dealing with problems. Unlike modern civilized people, he did not limit the acceptability of violence to situations requiring self-defense or the defense of others.
Jesus taught that when he returns to earth, he will cause infinitely more gratuitous violence than is contained in any slasher film. At that time, he will send his angels to gather people and cast them into a furnace of fire, where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Also at this glorious homecoming, he will order persons to "[d]epart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." The book of Revelation tells us that this everlasting inferno is a place where people are tortured forever, where "the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day or night. . . ." That hideous state of affairs is illustrated in Jesus' story of the beggar Lazarus who went to heaven and the rich man who was consigned to Hades. Jesus described the rich man as suffering torment in the flames.
Elsewhere, he indicated that the same fate will befall everyone who does not accept his message. This will include the vast majority of humanity. Thus, we have the role model of the WWJD folks causing not only the death but eternal torture of billions of people--many of them simply because he disapproves of their religious beliefs.
Jesus' parables contain further illustrations of the types of violence he supported. By failing to condemn the violent acts described in those stories, Jesus implied that such behavior was acceptable.
Consistent with his other teachings about the afterlife, Jesus approved of torture in a parable relating to Judgment Day. This story involves a king who forgave a servant's debt but later found the same servant treating harshly a debtor of the servant. Jesus asserted that the king became angry and delivered the servant "to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due. . . ." Jesus went on to say that God will do the same to people who do not forgive the trespasses of others.
There is also a parable in which Jesus condoned dismembering people. That story concerns a servant who, after being put in charge of his master's property, began to bully the other servants and eat and drink with drunken friends. Jesus explained that if the master returns when the servant does not expect him, the master will cut that unfaithful servant in pieces.
Jesus endorsed the killing of defenseless people for their political differences, when he related a parable about a nobleman who went to a far country to receive a kingdom and then returned. Jesus described the new king as ordering that "those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me."
In a parable involving servants waiting for their lord to return from a wedding, Jesus supported the beating of people. He explained that the servant who knew his lord's will but failed to do it "shall be beaten with many stripes." And the servant who did not know his lord's will but "did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes."
Kidnapping and the violent treatment of the victim are other actions Jesus favored, in a parable that compares the kingdom of heaven to a king who made a marriage for his son. When the king saw a guest who was without a wedding garment, he told his servants to "[b]ind him hand and foot . . . and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
So in these parables, Jesus spoke approvingly of persons who torture, dismember, slay, beat, kidnap and otherwise cause extreme misery. He applauded this behavior, and indicated that he and his Father will do the same to people. That lesson, in fact, appears to be the point of the parables. Do we really want persons to think of these actions when they ask, "What would Jesus do?"
Another way that Jesus espoused violence was by supporting the Law of Moses. He said he did not come to abolish that Law but to fulfill it. He warned that anyone who sets aside even the least of the Law's demands, and teaches others to do so, will be lowest in the kingdom of heaven. According to him, it is "easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail."
This approval of the Law of Moses means endorsement of that code's horrible requirements concerning the death penalty. The Mosaic Law prescribes execution as the punishment for cursing one's parents; being a stubborn and rebellious son; being a witch, medium or wizard; worshiping gods other than Jehovah; enticing a friend or family member to worship other gods; working on the Sabbath; gathering sticks on the Sabbath; not being a virgin on one's wedding night (applies to women only); blasphemy; adultery; and homosexuality.
The method of carrying out the executions was normally stoning. For other infractions of the Mosaic Law, the punishment could be a flogging. For certain violations, the penalty was mutilation or amputation. It is hard to imagine how anyone with a brain or heart could uphold such a barbaric and absurd legal code.
Violence Incited against Family Members and Others
Jesus not only implied that he approves of violence in this life, but explicitly asserted that he intends to cause it. Contrary to the "peace on earth, goodwill toward men" talk during the Christmas season, Jesus stated: "Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division . . ." This divisiveness clearly includes violence, for he said he "came not to send peace, but a sword."
In connection with his promise to send a "sword," he explained that he will "set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law." And he predicted that "a man's foes shall be they of his own household." Thus, he advocated divisiveness within families and the use of violence against one's own family members.
Among all Jesus' violent teachings, parents would be wise to consider that one, in particular, when deciding whether to have their children ask, "What would Jesus do?"
Hate Your Family
Besides endorsing violence against family members, Jesus showed in other ways that he is not a supporter of family values. He never married or fathered children; instead, he urged people to hate their families and themselves. In his words: "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."
Desert Your Family
Jesus encouraged people to abandon their families and promised rewards for doing so. He said: "There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God's sake, Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting." He even criticized a man for wanting to say goodbye to his family before leaving to follow him.
There were moments when Jesus apparently had a mood swing regarding his view that people should hate and leave their spouses. But here he swung too far in the other direction, by prohibiting all divorce.
On the subject of divorce, he said: "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. . . . 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." He additionally claimed that anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. On occasion, though, he backed away from a total prohibition on divorce, by allowing it in situations where a spouse has committed "fornication."
Unfortunately, by preventing divorce in all other situations, his teachings require spouses to stay married even when love has irretrievably died, such as where one of them turned out to be extremely abusive and exploitative. To prohibit divorce and remarriage in those cases is simply a prescription for human misery.
Abuse Your Children
Jesus also endorsed child abuse. He specifically approved the Mosaic Law's command that, "Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death." He denounced the Pharisees for not following that cruel and nonsensical instruction, which he described as a "commandment of God."
From these teachings, many persons guilty of neglecting or abusing their family members could receive a green light to continue by asking, "What would Jesus do?" Others would be encouraged to behave likewise. And some spouses who are the recipients of that treatment would have to endure it and not leave the marriage.
Spurn Medical Science
What would Jesus do about the issue of health care in society? He would increase health problems by discouraging reliance upon medical science. He taught nothing about germs, bacteria, sanitation or medical science. Rather, he promoted the idea that disease is caused by demons or sin, and that cures should be obtained by supernatural means. He pointed to demon possession as the cause of epilepsy, blindness, muteness, insanity, convulsions and crippling disability.
Rely on Supernatural Cures
As for the supernatural methods of curing such problems, Jesus explained to his disciples that certain types of demons can only be exorcised by prayer and fasting. On another occasion, faith was the remedy he prescribed, when he cured a leper and then told him that "thy faith hath made thee whole." He also advocated laying hands on the sick as a means of healing, when he promised that a sign shown by believers is that "they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover."
Forgiveness of sin and avoidance of sin are other methods he supported for curing and preventing illness. Right before healing a man who had palsy, Jesus told him: "Son, thy sins be forgiven thee." And after healing a man who had been crippled for thirty-eight years, Jesus admonished him to "sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee."
It is noteworthy that, on one occasion, his cure of choice involved cruelty to animals. He healed a demon-possessed madman by sending the demons, at their request, into a herd of about 2,000 swine. The pigs then ran into a sea and drowned.
Because Jesus thought that the cause of maladies is spiritual, it is understandable that he would recommend supernatural cures rather than scientific ones. But the error of these teachings is shown by the many tragic cases of people--often children--who have died from treatable illnesses after ignoring medical science and following what Jesus did about sickness.
Handle Deadly Snakes and Drink Poison
Jesus also had other views that cause illness and death. He said that his followers can take up serpents--not excluding poisonous ones--without being harmed. And he stated that believers may "drink any deadly thing" without suffering adverse effects. Would the WWJD crowd want their children acting on these teachings?
No discussion of Jesus' unhealthy teachings would be complete without mentioning his views on sexuality. Jesus had some downright crazy and pernicious ideas about that subject.
He was so opposed to sex that he thought people should be sent to Hell for having a sexual desire. He taught that "whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." The book of Galatians informs us that adulterers shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
Mutilate Your Body
To avoid being eternally tortured for having a natural sexual urge, Jesus recommended self-mutilation. He said: "And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell."
He made similar recommendations for preventing other types of sexual activity. Apparently referring to masturbation, he advised that "if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee . . ." to avoid being sent to hell.
And he endorsed castration. He told his followers that "there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it."
Do the WWJD people really want persons to hate sexuality and mutilate themselves in an effort to avoid sexual desire and activity?
Rudeness, Name-calling and Insults
Jesus could be quite rude to people. After he accepted a Pharisee's invitation to a meal, the Pharisee asked him why he did not wash before partaking of the food. Jesus then went into a tirade against the Pharisees, accusing them of injustice and calling them fools and hypocrites. He also said there was nothing inside them but greed and wickedness, which seems inconsistent with the fact that one of them had just invited him to the meal. And he didn't let up this verbal attack after a lawyer protested that he was insulting them. On another occasion, Jesus labeled the Pharisees and scribes as hypocrites, blind guides, fools, serpents, vipers and murderers. This name-calling is hardly the way to win friends and influence people.
The same can be said of his rudeness in the temple. There, Jesus overturned the tables and chairs of the sellers and moneychangers, scattered their coins, and used a whip to drive them and their animals out.
Many judges today would not only impose a fine and jail time for such vandalism and physical assaults, but would also sentence the offender to attend conflict resolution classes.
Although it is difficult to top rudeness in a place of religious devotion, Jesus did so by being discourteous to his mother. While he was at a wedding, she informed him that there was no wine. His curt retort was, "Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come."
Inconsiderate to the Poor and Hungry
Moreover, Jesus likely was discourteous to many people when he, while hungry and looking for food, became piqued at a fig tree that had no figs. The season was not right for the tree to have figs, yet he cursed it and caused it to wither. As a result, no one--including the poor and hungry--could obtain figs from that tree in the future.
Callous to the Sick and Suffering
One of the worst examples of his rudeness--and downright callousness--was shown when a Canaanite woman begged him to help her daughter, who she said was being tormented by a demon. When the woman pleaded for aid, Jesus ignored her at first. Then he explicitly refused to assist her, saying he was sent only to the house of Israel. After that, while she continued her pathetic begging, he added insult to injury by stating that it is not proper to take the children's bread and cast it to "dogs" such as her. He only relented and healed her daughter after the woman argued that "the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." Apparently, if she had not come up with that response, Jesus would have let her and her daughter continue suffering even though he had the power to stop it at any time. Such a man in no way deserves to be a role model for young people.
Productivity, Possessions and the Pursuit of Happiness
Reject Material Possessions
Jesus' teachings are inconsistent with developing productive citizens and eliminating poverty. Our society offers financial rewards to motivate persons to produce goods and provide services that satisfy the needs of others. But Jesus taught people to reject material possessions and financial gain.
He advised a wealthy young man to "sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me." After the young man went away sad, Jesus told his disciples: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."
Along the same lines, he said "whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple." He also taught that a person cannot serve God and money. And he said, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth . . . But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. . . ."
Clearly, Jesus was opposed to capitalist self-interest as a means of motivating people to be productive and useful.
Eschew Food and Happiness
Along with preaching against material possessions, he opposed having enough to eat and otherwise enjoying life. He proclaimed: "[W]oe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep." Poverty, hunger and sorrow were what he advocated for this life. He stated: "Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh."
Thus, unlike the Declaration of Independence, Jesus did not endorse the "pursuit of happiness." Happiness was for an afterlife, not this life. As a result of these teachings, parents can lead their children to throw away the American Dream by encouraging them to ask what Jesus would do.
Don't Bother Planning
The success of most human enterprises is highly dependent on good planning, but Jesus denigrated that activity. He taught his followers: "Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. . . . But seek ye first the kingdom of God . . . and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow. . . ."
In other words, Jesus believed that by focusing on spiritual matters, a person's material needs would be supernaturally met. He therefore saw no reason to think about physical requirements or plan to meet them. Instead, he thought that any physical needs could be met by simply asking God.
He proclaimed: ". . . What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." Reasonable people know that the world does not operate in this manner. The countless unanswered prayers demonstrate that it does not work this way. By telling persons to have no desire for material goods, to not be concerned about obtaining food or clothing, to make no plans for the future, to not think about the next day, and to expect their physical needs to be supernaturally met, Jesus prescribed an attitude likely to produce drifters, derelicts and lunatics rather than productive and valuable members of society.
Injustice in this Life
Jesus' philosophy also is antithetical to producing justice in society. One of his commands was to "Judge not, and ye shall not be judged. . . ." That teaching would eviscerate the justice system by completely eliminating the judiciary.
But under his philosophy, there would be no need for judges anyway. He said to "resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." He further ordered that "him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also. . . . [A]nd of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again."
Under those doctrines, his followers are not to oppose crimes against persons or property. They are even to allow criminals to obtain more than they sought in the first place. The upshot is that crime pays in this life, criminals go unpunished and the victims receive no recompense for the harm done to them. It would be difficult to come up with a philosophy better calculated to produce evil, injustice and misery.
Although Jesus' followers are supposed to accept the shaft in this world, he promised that their docility will ultimately work to their advantage in the next life. He assured them that, "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth."
The Innocent Punished in an Afterlife
Jesus promised that there will be punishment in the afterlife, but his views of justice are logically deficient on that subject, too. One of the basic requirements of justice is that the innocent shall not be punished. Jesus taught, however, that his generation would have to answer for "the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world . . . From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias . . . verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation."
The people of Jesus' time were certainly innocent of harming prophets who lived and died before the existence of that generation. Nevertheless, Jesus proclaimed that his contemporaries would be called to account for the harm done to those ancient prophets.
Disproportionate Punishments in an Afterlife
In order for justice to be upheld, there also must be proportionality between offenses committed and punishments administered. That is one of the principles underlying the U.S. Constitution's Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishments.
But Jesus preached that "he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation."
According to the bible, the Holy Ghost is part of the Godhead, so it is hard to see how that being could be harmed by the words of a puny human being. Yet Jesus indicated that eternal punishment--with no forgiveness--was an appropriate penalty for this harmless act.
Likewise, Jesus claimed that "whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire." Although calling someone a fool is usually rude (such as when Jesus did it), advocating eternal punishment for that reproach is absurdly disproportionate.
The same conclusion applies to his teaching that people deserve eternal damnation for refusing to believe he is the Son of God. The failure to accept that belief harms no one. Yet Jesus required infinite punishment for disbelief in his divinity.
Jesus would flunk out of law school his first year for clinging to such ideas about justice. Children should not be taught to think that way.
Religious Persecution a Natural Byproduct
Regarding Jesus' teaching that unbelief deserves eternal punishment, a further problem is that it can lead to religious intolerance and persecution. If a society really believes that holding incorrect religious views causes people to be eternally tortured, it is logical for that society to view the proponents of heretical religious beliefs as the worst possible wrongdoers in society.
Under that line of thinking, the harm inflicted by other criminals is limited to this world, but the act of promoting erroneous religious doctrines produces infinitely more harm. It causes the eternal torture of the souls of persons who adopt the mistaken religious views. Stopping the proponents of unorthodox theological ideas then becomes imperative. The rationale is that, just as there is a right to use force to protect oneself and one's family from physical harm from a criminal, there is justification to use force to stop those whose promotion of false religious views can harm the eternal fate of people's souls. The result is religious intolerance and persecution.
Further incitement for that attitude is contained in the Mosaic Law's requirement that blasphemers should be put to death, as mentioned above in connection with Jesus' support for the Law of Moses.
So here we have it, the person the WWJD folks point to as an exemplar of virtue! He is a man who supported the use of extreme and unnecessary violence--including torture, dismembering, slaying, beating, and kidnapping--in dealing with people. He also wanted the death penalty imposed for a multitude of trivial acts.
Moreover, he promoted division in society; encouraged persons to hate, abandon, and use violence against their families; prohibited people from divorcing abusive spouses; taught that disrespectful children should be killed; discouraged medical treatment by favoring spiritual means for curing illness; was cruel to animals; said his followers could handle deadly snakes and drink poison; abhorred sexual desire and activity and encouraged persons to avoid both by mutilating their bodies; hurled insults and engaged in rude name-calling; treated his mother discourteously; vandalized property and physically assaulted people; failed to show consideration for the interests of the poor, the sick, and others; wanted people to give away all their property and have no desire for financial gain; espoused hunger and sorrow; denounced planning and self-reliance; said that innocent people should be punished for the wrongdoing of others; promised horrible punishments for harmless acts; and promoted religious intolerance and persecution.
With Jesus holding such views, no wonder the great nineteenth-century agnostic Robert Ingersoll said that if a man were to follow strictly the teachings of the New Testament, he would be insane.88 And insanity is exactly what the WWJD philosophy is. Its supporters need to wake up to the fact that they are advocating extremely irrational and harmful doctrines.
Joe Sommer is an attorney with the state government of Ohio. He received a B.B.A. from Ohio University and a J.D. from the University of Toledo. A member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation for over 20 years and currently a board member, he has also been active with the Humanist Community of Central Ohio for many years. Additional writings by him are posted on his website at www.humanismbyjoe.com.
1 Matthew 13:41-42
2 Matthew 25:41
3 Revelation 20:10-15
4 Revelation 14:11
5 Luke 16:19-31<
6 Mark 16:16; Revelation 21:8
7 Matthew 7:13-14
8 Matthew 18:23-35
9 Matthew 24:45-51
10 Luke 19:11-27
11 Luke 12: 47-48<
12 Matthew 22:2-14<
13 Matthew 5:17
14 Matthew 5:18-19
15 Luke 16:17
16 Leviticus 20:9
17 Deuteronomy 21:18-21
18 Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 20:27
19 Deuteronomy 17:2-5
20 Deuteronomy 13:6-11
21 Exodus 31:15
22 Numbers 15:32-36
23 Deuteronomy 22:20-21
24 Leviticus 24:16
25 Leviticus 20:10. (At John 8:1-11, however, Jesus arguably did not support enforcement of this provision in the story of the women caught committing adultery. But that story is not in the earliest and most reliable New Testament manuscripts.)
26 Leviticus 20:13
27 E.g., Deuteronomy 13:6-11; 21:18-21; 22:20-21; Numbers 15:32-36
28 Deuteronomy 25:1-3
29 Leviticus 24:19-20; Deuteronomy 25:11-12
30 Luke 12:51
31 Matthew 10:34
32 Matthew 10:35
33 Matthew 10:36
34 Luke 14:26
35 Luke 18:29-30
36 Luke 9:61-62
37 Mark 10:9, 11-12; Luke 16:18
38 Matthew 5:32; Luke 16:18
39 Matthew 5:32; 19:9
40 Mark 7:10-13 and Matthew 15:4-6 (Jesus is referring in these verses to Exodus 21:17 and Leviticus 20:9.)
41 Mark 7:7-13 and Matthew 15:1-6
42 Matthew 17:14-21
43 Matthew 12:22
45 Mark 5:1-13
46 Mark 1:23-27
47 Luke 13:11-13
48 Matthew 17:14-21
49 Luke 17:12-19 (And at Mark 5:25-34 and Luke 8:43-48, Jesus healed a woman and then said her faith had cured her.)
50 Mark 16:17-18 (Also, at Mark 8:22-25, Jesus healed a man by laying hands on him.)
51 Mark 2:3-12
52 John 5:8-9,14
53 Mark 5:1-13 and Luke 8:26-33 (Matthew 8:28-32 says the demons were driven from two men.)
54 Mark 16:17-18
56 Matthew 5:28
57 Galatians 5:19-21
58 Matthew 5:29
59 Matthew 5:30
60 Matthew 19:12
61 Luke 11:37-52
62 Matthew 23:13-36
63 See generally, Carnegie, Dale, How to Win Friends and Influence People (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981)
64 Matthew 21:12-13; John 2:13-17
65 John 2:1-3
66 Mark 11:12-14 and 20-21
67 Matthew 15:22-28
68 Matthew 19:21; Luke 18:22
69 Matthew 19:24; Luke 18:25
70 Luke 14:33
71 Luke 16:13
72 Matthew 6:19-20
73 Luke 6:24-25
74 Luke 6:20-21
75 Matthew 6:25-34
76 Mark 11:24 (Similar teachings are at Matthew 21:22 and John 14:12-14, 15:7, and 16:23-24.)
77 Luke 6:37
78 Matthew 5:39
79 Luke 6:29-30
80 Matthew 5:5
81 Luke 11:50-51
82 Mark 3:29
83 I John 5:7
84 Matthew 5:22
85 Mark 16:15-16
86 For additional examples of disproportionate punishments, see the above discussion of Jesus' support for the death-penalty provisions of the Mosaic Law.
87 See footnotes 19, 20 and 24, above, and the accompanying text.
88 Greeley, Roger E., (Ed.) The Best of Robert Ingersoll (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1983), p. 6.
True, the rabid Christian Right only represents a small percentage of the population, but they still number in the millions of organized, dedicated ditto-heads. The leading fanatical religious groups have a combined income of hundreds of millions per year. In militant followers and financial resources, we don't compare in the slightest!
To make this nightmare apocalyptic, consider: If we are to believe the polls, about 90% of Americans are favorable to Christianity. At least 70% believe in angels. About 60% accept as true the salient myths and dogmas of the Jesus Cult. Slightly over one-third believe in the literal inerrancy of the bible. Over 30% are convinced that Christ will return in their lifetimes!
This collective idiocy is due to two interlocking conditions: The tax exemptions for religion permit the fanatics to amass great wealth from donations and business ventures. Hence, they lack for little in spreading their propaganda and effecting political influence. Their task is made incredibly easier by our shoddy educational system. Our schools, at nearly all levels, seriously neglect the teaching of a comprehensive history and comparison of religions. Even when taught, such courses are frequently biased or otherwise inadequate. Virtually absent from curricula are courses that touch upon critical thinking and the need for skepticism. A religion-toadying mass media don't help. The United States has some of the world's finest research institutions, but on average, we are a country of general knowledge and scientific illiterates. Small wonder that among advanced nations, ours is the most religious by far.
It must be impressed upon the freethought community, and anyone else who will listen, that the horrors of the Middle Ages, when Christianity was in absolute control, were not the result of an off-beat biblical interpretation, just one of many possible renderings of Scripture. It is the only logical interpretation possible if the Bible is assumed to be true in every word and to reveal god's will accordingly. The logical end point of rigid belief in biblical inerrancy is brutal theocracy with the stifling of secular learning, the gory suppression of dissent, and the extermination of "witches." The medieval inquisitors, torturers, and gatherers of wood for execution pyres were merely being consistent.
The Christian or biblical reconstructionists whose raison d'etre undergirds the "thinking" of Pat Robertson and his ilk, openly advocate the killing of those with whom they disagree or are found morally lacking in their opinion. Though the lash of the Christian Right now falls heaviest upon abortion physicians and the sexually "immoral," all not in their camp must be made aware that they are next on the list. (See, for example, Frederick Clarkson, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy.)
The rabid members of the Christian Right are so dedicated to their awful cause because they think they are buying a niche in "heaven" and avoiding the "hell" reserved for the rest of us. No matter how groundless and utterly silly this is, to deeply believe it is powerful motivation. Regretfully, history shows that irrational fanaticism frequently overwhelms reason. We must be equally dedicated ourselves to maintain what freedom we have left and leave a world worth living in for our descendants. To fail means an eventual return to the Dark Ages with modern technology to enforce control. (All freethinkers must become activists!)