Tag Archives: religious right

Keep religious morals private

While theists on the political right have been regular contenders in battles over public policy, those on the political left have recently flexed their muscles.  First, there was the letter from progressive Catholics chastising fellow Catholic and Congressman John Boehner for pushing a budget that would cut some social welfare programs. And later, some liberal Christians decried fellow Christian and Congressman Paul Ryan for drawing inspiration from atheist pro-capitalist Ayn Rand.  These Christians on the left argued that Boehner and Ryan were abandoning Jesus’s teachings on protecting the poor and the weak.  The infighting has recalled to the fore a question that had been floating around in my head for a while now: how do theists decide which of their alleged objective moral duties and commands to make public policy, i.e., to impose on everyone?

On one level, it’s strange there’s even a question about this in the first place.   Shouldn’t every alleged divine dictate, no matter how trivial, automatically be a civil or criminal law?  They are, after all, supposed to be objective rules, adherence to which is not limited merely to believers, but mandatory for everyone.  Instead, theists pick and choose, seemingly at random: 

Gay marriage?  No way!  Divorce?  No problem. 

Abortion? Life is sacrosanct!  Adultery? Live and let live. 

Theft? God’s Word prohibits it!  Keeping the Sabbath? God’s Word..! Uhhh..oh, nevermind…

Source: Wikipedia

To make matters even more confusing, theists consistently revise what commands they think should be codified in law.  What was once vigorously outlawed by theists as an unforgiveable affront to God’s Holy Word, punishable by such tortuous means as tongue impalement with a hot iron, is today not only legal but routinely engaged in by theists to boot.  

The historical contingency of what’s supposed to be timeless morality is slightly less bizarre than the unresolved disagreement over just what that timeless morality is in the first place.  Can you use contraception?  Some say yes, some say no.  Drink alcohol?  Some say yes, some say no.  Have multiple wives? Again, some say yes, some say no.  Never in the entire history of theism has there been agreement on what is moral and what is not.  And what agreement there is has often been achieved through overwhelming force rather than voluntary acquiescence.

With all this persistent moral divisiveness and befuddlement, you’d think the reasonable thing for theists to do is keep their morality out of the public sphere altogether, or at least with only deep reluctance turn to scriptures when promoting it in public policy.  But “reason” and “theism” are like oil and water – ne’er the twain shall meet – so instead many shamelessly continue to insist on the primacy of whatever divine command they’ve happened to pull out of the scriptural hat.

I once had a conversation with a Christian who saw no problem with this practice.  Christians, he said, oppose murder and theft based on biblical dictates, and no one has a problem with that. So why should anyone have a problem when they oppose, say, gay marriage on the same grounds?  Objections to promoting one’s religious convictions in the public sphere are really a red herring; religion isn’t really the issue.
As I explained to this Christian (in a post which he deleted), things like theft and murder are violations of liberty, which is independent of religion.  Because one’s religious views happen to align with the preservation of liberty in this or that case does not make them synonymous, nor does it mean one’s religion is the font of rights and responsibilities applicable to all.  Such positions subvert liberty, and that’s what’s being objected to.

The ironic thing is, this is the same defense most theists employ against the imposition of other theists’ supposed divine dictates.  But such opposition is hypocritical.  If you grant yourself the right to impose your religion on others, in a democracy, you’ve granted it to all – and abdicated any grounds to object.

My advice to theists is to keep your religious morality to yourself.  Your efforts at imposing them are wildly inconsistent, which undermines both their authority and alleged objectivity.  If that isn’t sufficient reason, then remember: the sword you wield to force others to follow your morality can just as easily be wielded by someone else to force you to follow theirs.

Perhaps they should take the hint…

Whilst perusing the latest and greatest the intertubes have to offer this morning, I happened upon the site of The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property (TFP), which bills itself as an “organization of lay Catholic Americans concerned about the moral crisis shaking the remnants of Christian civilization”.  Appropriately enough for this collection of Catholic fundies, its online magazine is called Crusade.  Now that’s what I call tradition!

Unsurprisingly, TFP is a staunch opponent of same-sex marriage.  It wrote of the ruling overturning California’s Proposition 8 that the ruling “unmasks how the homosexual movement’s promotion of same-sex “marriage.” [sic] deprives marriage of its rational end, belittles a higher moral law and disregards the majority of California who hold marriage to be sacred.”  Perhaps as a way to demonstrate just how outraged its readers are at the ruling, TFP posted a poll inviting readers to offer their opinion.  Among the choices is “It is an irrational decision denying the nature and purpose of marriage” and “It was a slap in the face of California voters”.

Web site operators should know by now the dangerous terrain they tread putting up online polls.  Over a decade ago, there was the case of Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf winning People Magazine’s online poll for its “50 Most Beautiful People” issue.  More recently, comedian Stephen Colbert topped NASA’s online poll for whom to name its new wing of the international space station.  The lesson is: never assume you’ll get the results you anticipated.  It’s a lesson TFP is probably now just discovering, for when I clicked on its poll results (so far), the following popped up:

 No wonder TFP hates democracy in the church.

No Rational Basis

That’s the sum of Judge Walker’s argument in his decision overturning California’s gay marriage ban (which also seem to nicely characterize the religious beliefs of the ban’s proponents, but I digress…).  To get a good sense why Walker came to that conclusion, here is an excerpt from his decision:

Proponents argued that Proposition 8 should be evaluated solely by considering its language and its consistency with the “central purpose of marriage, in California and everywhere else,…to promote naturally procreative sexual relationships and to channel them into stable, enduring unions for the sake of producing and raising the next generation.”…

At oral argument on proponents’ motion for summary judgment, the court posed to proponents’ counsel the assumption that “the state’s interest in marriage is procreative” and inquired how permitting same-sex marriage impairs or adversely affects that interest. Counsel replied that the inquiry was “not the legally relevant question,” but when pressed for an answer, counsel replied: “Your honor, my answer is: I don’t know. I don’t know.”…

Despite this response, proponents in their trial brief promised to “demonstrate that redefining marriage to encompass same-sex relationships” would effect some twenty-three specific harmful consequences. At trial, however, proponents presented only one witness, David Blankenhorn, to address the government interest in marriage. Blankenhorn’s testimony…provided no credible evidence to support any of the claimed adverse effects proponents promised to demonstrate. During closing arguments, proponents again focused on the contention that “responsible procreation is really at the heart of society’s interest in regulating marriage.” When asked to identify the evidence at trial that supported this contention, proponents’ counsel replied, “you don’t have to have evidence of this point.” (h/t Reason Magazine)

Just the clueless blathering of a liberal San Francisco judge?  Oh, wait

[R]ecommended by Ed Meese, [Walker was] appointed by Ronald Reagan, and opposed by Alan Cranston, Nancy Pelosi, Edward Kennedy, and the leading gay activist groups.

Ouch.  When your ideological bedfellows essentially say you’re full of hot air, that’s gotta hurt.

But…but…won’t someone think of the will of the majority?

This objection, especially when coming from people who should know better, floors me.  I can only think their intention is demagoguery.  The answer to them can be made in three words:  Bill of Rights*.  If the will of the majority is sacrosanct, then the Bill of Rights is superfluous.  Its whole raison d’être is to protect individual rights, particularly those of minorities.  If rights are subject to the whim of transient majorities, then why call them rights rather than privileges?  Coming shortly upon the heals of major decisions regarding the second amendment and gun ownership, supported by many of the same groups now wailing about the reversal of the gay marriage ban, one would think the objection would not even be raised.  The gumption that produces this sort of selective amnesia is breathtaking to behold.

Yet, as noted on NPR this morning, Judge Walker was careful not to couch his decision primarily in terms of law, but of evidence and “findings of fact.”  This makes it less likely that an appeals court will overturn the decision.  As is obvious from the completely vacuous arguments of the defendants, it was easy for Judge Walker to go that route.  It’s almost as if the defendants’ case was entirely…faith-based.

Eventually, those who argue against same-sex marriage will lose, just as they lost against interracial marriage equality decades ago.  As then, there simply aren’t any good reasons to deny any loving adult couple from enjoying the same right most everyone else does – a fact Judge Walker made stellarly clear.  But religiously-motivated action is very rarely ever founded on reason or evidence, is it?  This is what makes it so harmful, and why many seek to contain its pernicious effects to believers themselves.

*Yes, I realize Judge Walker referred to the equal protection clause, which is part of the Fourteenth Amendment, and not any part of the Bill of Rights, which is the collective name for the first Ten Amendments, but the basic principle is the same: the enumeration of rights to protect against, in de Tocqueville’s memorable phrase, the “tyranny of the majority.”

A Christian makes the case for separation of church and state

Members of a society’s dominant religion often think it perfectly natural that faith and politics should overlap. Here in America, for example, Christians whip themselves into a frenzy whenever the privileged status of their religion is taken down a notch, such as when the National Day of Prayer was recently ruled unconstitutional.  To the long-standing principle of “separation of church and state,” many of them they say pffft!  Removing God and His laws from the public sphere inevitably leads to rampant immorality and invites His wrath.  This is a Christian nation, by gum!

It’s unfortunate so many are ignorant of the rationale behind the Establishment Clause of our constitution.  Efforts to circumscribe or role back Christianity’s encroachment on the public sphere are instead interpreted as a commie-liberal-socialist-nazi-atheist-NWO plot to destroy it.

The site Religion Dispatches today runs the perfect rejoinder to these loons.  Not only does it compellingly make the case for separation of church and state, it does so by recalling just why the Founders regarded it as so critically important for the protection of believers themselves:

For the historically minded among us, the reasons for not bringing our spiritual authority into political campaigns are blood red. For nearly 2,000 years our faith fore-fathers were persecuted and oppressed, not always by the irreligious, but more often by competing tribes within Christianity. Clerics would jockey for favor in the kingdoms of men, then use any clout gained to suppress the views of their theological enemies.

Over and again we stamped out those who did not fit into our au courant idea of orthodoxy and we entrenched ourselves into division, using the steel of our ruler’s swords to proclaim our theological certainty. Christians have killed and tortured more of their own than any other group in history, and this was possible solely because of the unholy union of church and state. Pastors gave rulers their blessing, and rulers returned the favor by silencing the pastor’s critics, a fantastic deal for the pastor who courts the powers, but a dangerous and painful reality for those who do not.

Best of all, the article is not authored by one of the usual suspects but by a Christian believer and alumni of Liberty University (RD calls him a “conservative Christian,” a label I cannot confirm), which makes him a tad more difficult to dismiss.  My only quibble with the piece is that it could reinforce the point by citing examples of American intra-Christian killing, thus proving how readily “blood red” history can repeat itself even here.

It’s sad to think such an outstanding article from an unimpeachable source will likely have no impact on the views of the Christian theocrats, for in my experience they’ve largely immunized themselves against reason and sound argument.  I would not have them be reminded – the hard way – why they tread a dangerous path.

Christians persecuted for baptizing children…

…is undoubtedly how some Christianists will spin it, but everyone else will be rightfully appalled by the practice of a church in Colorado Springs baptizing children without parental permission.  It gets freakier than that, believe it or not, for the same church tried to lure a seventh-grader into one of its vans.  Many Christians complain how practices and views which are contrary to traditional Christian teachings are being “forced down their throats,” which is in reality their way of objecting to the mere existence of such things, yet it appears that Christians are the ones truly doing the forcing.

h/t Austin’s Atheism Blog

Why do Christians want to save America?

One of the perennial laments of today’s Christians, particularly those on the right, is the decline of society.  Secular liberals, they say, are whitewashing America’s Christian heritage, taking God out of schools, and imbuing children with moral relativist values.  The results are inevitable: violence, drug use, abortion, failed families, and tolerance.  And when I say inevitable, I mean it.  Many Christians believe this was all foreseen in the Bible.

Now you’d think that Christians would be absolutely delighted to see the world fall apart.  Not only would that confirm what they’ve been saying about man’s inherent depravity, but it heralds the last days before Jesus’s return to restore Truth, Justice, and Apple Pie.  Or something like that.  Hallelujah, right?

Not so fast!  Christians aren’t pleased.  In fact, they’re downright indignant that this “Christian nation” has turned its back on God.  And, by gum, they’re not standing for it.  From scrapping evolution to banning gay marriage, Christians today are fighting to restore Christian values back to the centerpiece of public life. 

Well, pardon me for asking, but why?  Even if you do accomplish all that you seek to do, what’s the intended result?  A postponement of Armageddon?  Jesus didn’t say, “If you’re really, really good, maybe I’ll show back up.”  No!  He said, “Things are going to get really bad, and THEN (and only then) will I make an encore appearance.”

Look guys, face the music, the world is lost.  It’s done for.  It has a one way ticket to oblivion.  The only unknown is the timing, which you have absolutely no control over (God’s Plan, remember?).  Might I suggest simply hunkering down?  You know, try that whole “in the world, but not of it” tactic you say you follow.  What’s the point in forcing others to adhere to God’s law?  Preach the Gospel, and move on already.  It seems you have enough of a hard time following your own rules for you to be worrying about what everyone else is doing.

Well, He did say “creature”…

Stunning exegetical breakthrough?  Or merely the latest in a string of misinterpretations that have resulted in dubious achievements such as the 2,000 year unbroken record of failed predictions of the Christ’s return? You be the judge…

In a discussion generally expressing confidence that their pets will be raptured along with them, one contributor to the Christian Rapture Ready message board (motto: Where hope springs eternal!) observed:

well I always found it weird that Jesus said in Mark 16:15 “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” (emphasis in the original)

Folks, have Christians been grossly remiss in their evangelical calling?  The implications are staggering.  Billions and billions of animalian souls possibly lost due to the singular failure to preach them the Gospel as Jesus commanded.  It’s an oversight our dear contributor has fortunately not been a party to.  She continues:

Always hit me as odd…and maybe it’s even odder that I tell my cat about Jesus =)

That is one blessed cat!  It is not given to us to know whether it repented of its sins and accepted Jesus into its heart, but we can trust that it will almost certainly not die an atheist, which cannot be said for every other creature that has ever existed, including those dear pets the Rapturians hope to share heaven with.

Ok, seriously.  What would we atheists do without sites like Rapture Ready?  For one, it’s highly doubtful we’d get our recommended daily allowance of laughter.  I mean, even the master himself couldn’t make up material this good.

And who’s not a little awestruck by the willful delusion that results in this sort of reasoning?  I figure that if I can one day understand it, solving world hunger should be a piece of cake (no pun intended).

Are we all subject to God’s Law?

A blog on the The New Republic’s website about the progressive narrowing of the religious right’s social agenda reminded me of a question that’s buzzed around in my head from time-to-time.  We all know this agenda includes banning gay marriage and abortion, because the Bible says these are no-no’s, but the question is, why does the religious right seek to make these social issues, subject to punitive legislation, rather than merely private concerns?

Because God hates them?  Well, God hates lots of things, including adultery, divorce, and linen-wool blended clothing (Lev. 19:19), but no one is proposing to outlaw them, which I suppose is fortunate for a few mega-preachers.

Because they violate the Ten Commandments, upon which the entirety of western civilization is allegedly based?  That might work for abortion (Commandment VI), but gay marriage?  Is there some secret 11th commandment they’re not telling us about?  Should we also ban other religions (Commandment I)?  Playing golf on Sunday (Commandment IV)?

Because Jesus specifically forbade them?  No good there, either; he was completely silent on these issues.

Because they’re personally harmed?  It’s hard to see how two same-sex individuals uttering marriage vows harms anyone.  And wouldn’t aborted babies get a ticket straight to heaven?

Because they’re slippery slopes, leading inexorably to the complete destruction of society? I’d think the religious right would want society to fall into moral turpitude, do everything to hasten it, in fact, since that would fulfill prophecy of Jesus’s return (2 Tim. 3:1-4) and the moving in to their new heavenly mansions.

I’m trying quite hard, but I fail to see the religious right’s method for determining when a Biblical injunction should apply only to themselves, and when it should apply to society as a whole.

Even more curiously, these behavioral autocrats believe that man is inherently fallen and will always do all sorts of nasty stuff.  So why should they even care what any non-believer does?  Are laws against certain sins supposed to make the country more moral?  If so, why not scrap the entire legal code and make the Bible the basis of our laws, turn our democracy into a theocracy?  Because, as we know, that’s worked so well in the past.

As a libertarian, I find their professions of faith in freedom hypocritical.  Liberty is not granted piecemeal; it’s not even a grant, but our inherent right.  The best protection of one’s own freedom is the protection of everyone else’s.  A government with the right to trample on your neighbor’s freedom also has the right to trample on your own.  If the religious nannies really practiced what they preached, they would cease being obstacles and live their lives as an example.

If you wish to observe a particular day as holy or refrain from pre-marital sex in compliance with the dictates of your particular religious brand, more power to you.  Just don’t extend those rules to the rest of us, or you may find yourself living by the rules others think you should live by.