From Human Voices:
Religion, does it do more harm than good? Is that even a question that anyone can address without letting their biases overwhelm objectivity?
Watching a program titled The Third Rail on Aljazeera America this morning did little to dispel my suspicions. Larry Taunton, an Evangelical spokesman, asserted that not all religions are equal in that respect, but Christianity "brings benevolence to the table."
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Christians should read this.
"The occupation of our brains by gods is the worst form of occupation."
-- Abdullah al-Qasemi, Saudi Arabian atheist
Part of the reason Westerners often find the Middle East (including North Africa for purposes of this discussion) hard to understand is that we have been taught to think of it as something alien and other, a place on the far side of an Alice-in-Wonderland mirror where everything is different and incomprehensible, where familiar rules do not apply. As a result, we fail to see commonalities between trends and events there and here, and we judge them by different standards.
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From the Pew Research Center:
The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing, according to an extensive new survey by the Pew Research Center. Moreover, these changes are taking place across the religious landscape, affecting all regions of the country and many demographic groups. While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages.
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From PZ Myers at Pharyngula:
Brown has always been a strident defender of religion, and over the years he’s said a lot of incredibly stupid things. But now I have to partly agree with him on this problematic Cult of Dawkins. This is getting embarrassing.
At the RDF website, there is a fundraising page. Fundraising is fine, organizations do have to do that, and so I don’t chide them for having a necessary function on the web; but I do criticize them for two things. What the money is for, and how they are raising it.
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There goes the separation of church and state.
(Reuters) - Tennessee state legislators on Wednesday advanced a bill to make the Bible the official state book, a measure the state attorney general said would be unconstitutional and Republican Governor Bill Haslam has called disrespectful.
The Republican-controlled state House of Representatives voted 55-38 to approve the Bible as state book.
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In recent times, Creflo Dollar had the audacity to ask for $65 million dollars for a private plane. You read that right: a preacher started a GoFundMe site for the sake of raising $65 million dollars. It wasn’t for the sake of saving lives. It wasn’t for the sake of presenting an economic plan to help those in need. In short, Creflo Dollar did this all for selfish reasons.
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Poor Erskine College. They recently had a successful volleyball season, then two of their players came out as gay — which shouldn’t be a problem, except that Erskine is in South Carolina, right there in the front flap of the Bible Tightie-Whities, and trustees and administrators and community supporters freaked out. What to do? Easy. They turned to the Bible and issued a statement.
They banned homosexuality on campus.
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Comment in a Norwegian publication
"...if anyone wants to commit violence in the name of Islam you will have to go through us Muslims first."
From The Times of Israel (Norway):
In the wake of a deadly shooting attack at a synagogue in Denmark last week, a group of Norwegian Muslims intends to hold an anti-violence demonstration at an Oslo synagogue this coming weekend by forming a “peace ring” around the building
One of the event organizers, 17-year-old Hajrad Arshad, explained that the intention was to make a clear statement that Muslims don’t support anti-Semitism.
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From Sabra to Rwanda and beyond, religious fanatics have murdered millions. Is it immoral to blame all believers?
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In response to a Comments by T. Paine
Ryan, so please tell me what you think was the point of President Obama's speech, especially with those particular comments included, if it wasn't to mitigate the actions of these Islamic terrorists?
All religions are guilty of evil? No, but certainly followers of all religions are guilty of evil they have done in the name of their faiths.
- T. Paine, February 8, 2015
And, Ryan, you are crazy if you don't think the truth is controversial. Look at how many truths have been denied by this administration and previous ones that are the very definition of controversial.
- T. Paine, February 8, 2015
From Obama's speech:
"So how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities -- the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religious for their own murderous ends?
Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ. Michelle and I returned from India -- an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity -- but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs -- acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhi, the person who helped to liberate that nation.
So this is not unique to one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith. In today's world, when hate groups have their own Twitter accounts and bigotry can fester in hidden places in cyberspace, it can be even harder to counteract such intolerance. But God compels us to try."
"And so, as people of faith, we are summoned to push back against those who try to distort our religion -- any religion -- for their own nihilistic ends."
This is a reminder that violence is not unique to Islam or non-Christian religions in general and that we should not define religions or their practitioners as a whole according to the actions of a few.
Islamic extremism is one problem. Extremism in other religions is another problem. Painting whole peoples and religions according to the actions of a few is yet another. We shouldn't have to fear being accused of excusing or even supporting Islamic extremism simply by pointing out these latter two problems.
Here's another quote that should be largely uncontroversial, but which is not among conservatives:
"And if, in fact, we defend the legal right of a person to insult another's religion, we're equally obligated to use our free speech to condemn such insults and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with religious communities, particularly religious minorities who are the targets of such attacks. Just because you have the right to say something doesn't mean the rest of us shouldn't question those who would insult others in the name of free speech."
This is *not* the same as saying that insulting Islam is just as bad as killing people who insult Islam. He is addressing two separate problems: the need for free speech and the need for responsible speech.
Since I oppose religion in general, I don't even agree with him on this last point. And yet I can hear or read it without distorting its meaning, without putting words in his mouth or unjustifiably assuming that he is trying to equate the severities of the problems that he raises.
You and other conservatives, on the other hand, are so caught up in your preconceptions about Obama that you can't even understand him when his words are plain. And every time that you misunderstand him, you reinforce your negative opinion of him and add another memory of him saying something that he didn't really say.
Finally, I should issue a correction. I should not have written: "The truth shouldn't be so controversial." I meant: "This truth shouldn't be so controversial."
Ryan can also be found at Secular Ethics, a site devoted to the application of reason to ethical behavior.
When T. Paine is not endeavoring to instruct us on the virtues of conservatism, he writes for Saving Common Sense.
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Why do such things happen?
Ellen Siegel is a registered nurse. She volunteered her services at the Gaza Hospital in Sabra Camp in Beirut in 1982, and was there during the massacre. She described being taken to a firing wall for execution.
They started to march us down the main street of the hospital. As we were marching, we saw dead bodies. They started to holler at us, this militia, telling us that we were not Christian, that we came to help people who hated Christians, that we were terrorists.
A Palestinian hospital worker was executed as he knelt. As other workers were lined up for execution, an Israeli soldier intervened. Ellen Siegel and several others were saved. Between 700 and 800 Palestinians were massacred by Lebanese Christian militias, known as the Phalange. This helps to explain the shouts at the hospital workers on their way to being executed, that they were not Christian because they had come to help people who hated Christians.
There was no general blame placed on all Christians for the massacres. Nor should there have been. Assigning collective guilt on an entire religion because of the actions of a few would itself be immoral.
During the genocide in Rwanda, as 70% of Tutsi living in that country were slaughtered, ten terrified Tutsi looked for refuge in a Catholic Church. They were all shot and killed by the parish priest. An interdenominational fact-finding team found many similar instances of Catholic and Protestant church participation in the killings.
In every conversation we had, with the government and church people alike, the point was brought home to us that the church itself stands tainted, not by passive indifference, but by errors of commission as well.
- Samuel Isaac, World Council of Churches, October 1994
The delegation was careful to make an important point.
...it's not fair to make sweeping condemnations
- Jim Newton, International Director of Communications, World Vision, October 1994
No, it isn't fair to make sweeping condemnations. And that is critical to any sense of truth, isn't it? Yet we cannot dismiss up to a million murders, or Christian participation in their commission. We can draw lessons from horrible atrocities.
One lesson is easy to understand, but hard to apply. Tribalism is the fatal temptation of religious life.
Faith helps us to see a way to transcend the baser side of humanity in favor of what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature. But human nature is not always on the side of the angels. We seek faith because we desire fidelity to higher spiritual truth. Then, sometimes we lapse. Our loyalty goes from devotion to spiritual truth to devotion to our own religious tribe. No criticism of us or people like us is tolerable, and no privilege is declined.
President Obama is coming under political fire. He talked of the religion gone off the rails. He recited the various barbarities of ISIL, those he said "professed to stand up for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it."
He did not restrict his remarks to Islam, but included those who have claimed to speak for other religions, in other places and times. Toward the last, he even included Christianity.
So this is not unique to one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith. In today’s world, when hate groups have their own Twitter accounts and bigotry can fester in hidden places in cyberspace, it can be even harder to counteract such intolerance. But God compels us to try.
- President Barack Obama, February 5, 2015
He is now accused of equating acts of Christians with those claiming to speak for Islam, as if judging a Worldwide Olympics of Religious Cruelty. One writer parrots others, accusing Obama of attempting "to mitigate the actions of these Islamic terrorists..."
Reports say radical Muslim jihadists killed thousands of people in the past few months alone. And yet when you take Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, whatever, their combined killings in the name of religion––well, that number would be zero.
- Eric Bolling, FoxNews February 7, 2015
Some conservatives do seem to restrict their Study of Comparative Religions to the last few months.
A number of people attack the President for saying what he said.
The number of people who actually attack what he said? Well, that number would be zero.
A legitimate point very much needs to be made. We do not paint a religion with a broad brush because of brutal actions by a violent few. The same brush can, in the fullness of time, tar any faith.
We owe our devotion to spiritual truth. We do not sacrifice truth in favor of blind devotion to religious tribalism.
President Obama has suggested that we fight the perversions and distortions of faith, rather attacking any faith itself. He has failed to defend us and those like us from criticism. He has not defended the privileged place we demand.
He is guilty of putting truth first.
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The reaction to the torture by burning and death of a captured pilot came as soon as the video was released. Angry crowds chanted in Jordan. An army spokesman spoke expressed anger.
While the military forces mourn the martyr, they emphasize his blood will not be shed in vain. Our punishment and revenge will be as huge as the loss of the Jordanians.
- Mamdouh al-Ameri, February 3, 2015
ISIL is a breakway group, more extreme than al Qaeda, with an additional dimension. As with al Qaeda, the primary targets have been Muslims who worship the wrong way. The division between Shiites and Sunnis goes back nearly 1500 years. It began with a conflict over who should take leadership after the Prophet Muhammad. It intensified with each battle, continuing like some cosmic Hatfield-McCoy feud. It has been the recent Catholic-Protestant conflict of Northern Ireland, except on steroids.
al Qaeda targeted Shiites, and those Sunnis who do not hate Shiites, and finally those Sunnis who do not hate Shiites with enough intensity. ISIL is an attempt at a further step, to establish an institutional, governing, anti-Shiite super-nation.
But the execution by public burning is more akin to the American Ku Klux Klan in its terrorist heyday. The religious aspect of the Klan is often minimized by those who look back, since the main targets were chosen by race.
The military strategy of ISIL seems to be pure ferocity spilling into frequent barbarity. For a while it seemed to work. But history sometimes loops. Sunni tribes provided a natural base for anti-Shiite al Qaeda. The extreme nature of al Qaeda wore that welcome thin, at least in Iraq. Eventually, Sunni tribes joined against the group.
But the anti-Sunni policy of the Nouri al-Maliki government of Iraq motivated a return to extremism and we got ISIL. That government resigned and ISIL brutality is alienating those same Sunni tribes. History gets a rerun.
The military strategy of ISIL is thuggish and clumsy. Even those who are most suspicious of American intervention are alienated by such barbarity.
The narrative promoted by ISIL is religious. The claim is that leaders of ISIL are the only true representatives of Islam. The hope is that young adherents will be attracted to the fight.
The obvious counter argument is that ISIL is anti-Islamic. King Abdullah of Jordan makes just the case that ISIL is a force against Islam.
Such a horrific crime has no link to our religion, in any way. Muath, the brave pilot, endured in defense of his tribe, his nation, and his country, and has followed the likes of the martyrs that preceded him...
- King Abdullah of Jordan, February 3, 2015 upon the murder by fire of captured Jordanian Pilot Muath al Kasasbeh
The statement is not unique. President Bush, then President Obama have promoted the same anti-terrorist argument.
...the Muslim faith is based upon peace and love and compassion. The exact opposite of the teachings of the al Qaeda organization, which is based upon evil and hate and destruction.
- President George W. Bush, September 28, 2001
Let’s be clear: While this group may call itself the "Islamic State," it is not "Islamic."
- President Barack Obama, September 10, 2014
So, let's revisit arguments by some American conservatives.
There's a reason there was a certain group of people that attacked us on 9/11. It wasn't just one person.
It was one religion.
- Brian Kilmeade, on FoxNews October 15, 2010
There is no question that there is a Muslim problem in the world.
- Bill O'Reilly, FoxNews, October 19, 2010
Muslims were even invited to worship at the national cathedral in Washington, DC.
We're directed by a political correctness so bizarre so disconnected from reality that it does nothing but assist our enemy in our own destruction.
- Jeanine Pirro, FoxNews January 10, 2015
Terrorist leaders conflate Islam with terrorism in the hope of recruiting more terrorists from a small sliver of Sunnis who are young and uneducated. American conservatives who conflate Islam with terrorism provide an echo.
Of course not every conservative is an anti-Muslim bigot.
For those who are, the question is very simple.
Is your desire to defeat terrorism so weak that you are overwhelmed by your hatreds.
From The Denver Post:
LAKEWOOD — Hundreds of Vanessa Collier's friends and family gathered Saturday at New Hope Ministries, sitting before an open casket that held the woman they loved, when suddenly the minister overseeing her funeral stopped the service.
The memorial could not continue, Pastor Ray Chavez said, as long as pictures of Collier with the love of her life, the spouse she shared two children with, were to be displayed.
Chavez said there could be no images of Collier with her wife, Christina. There could be no indication that Collier was gay.
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From the National Catholic Reporter:
ROME Pope Francis strongly defends his repeated criticisms of the global market economy in a new interview released Sunday, rebutting those who accuse him of "pauperism" by saying he is only repeating Jesus' message of caring for the poor.
"Jesus affirms that you cannot serve two masters, God and wealth," Francis states in the interview, bluntly asking: "Is it pauperism?"
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I, like many of my faith, derive much of meaning from the words “born again.” The founder of our denomination, John Wesley, often quoted the first chapter of the Gospel of John, saying that believers are given the right to become children of God, and are “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Often, being born again is used to describe a conversion experience, or the embrace of faith and forgiveness to which that experience leads.
Lately, I’ve been thinking on the writings of John Rawls, a philosopher who died in 2002. Rawls once suggested a thought experiment:
Suppose you are about to be born in today's world. You don't know where, to which parents, to what race, in what gender or sexual orientation.
You may be gay or you may be straight.
You may be a woman, you may be a man.
You may be of any race or ethnicity.
You may be raised in Islam, or in Christianity, or in Judaism, or Hinduism, or in no faith at all.
You may be born into wealth or into poverty or somewhere in between.
You may be graced with brilliant intelligence, or great strength, or musical skill, or some unimaginable talent.
You may be disabled.
- Not to be too horrifying, you may even be a Republican.
What will be certain is that you will have no memory of current life.
Now devise as fair a tax and social policy as you can, knowing that you will be living with the result for your new lifetime. That is to say, your entire life.
Think of the attitudes you wish to propagate in this life, knowing you may live with consequences in another life. An entire life.
I go with those of us who are more fortunate paying a higher share of the burden, and for fairness to those who are different in any of many ways from myself. You may make other choices.
Perhaps we should consider in a new light that unless we are born again, we cannot see the kingdom of God.
Originally Published at Fair And UNbalanced
|In so many forgotten corners of the world,|
|a small infant born in poverty,|
|without a home, without a place.|
|The still, faint hope for the future of the world.|
|An infant so small.|
|A promise so great.|
|Christ is born today.|
Throughout my life, for as long as I can remember, I have lived with a constant ringing in my ears. There has never been a moment without it.
Nobody knows of a common mechanism causing tinnitus, at least not for the high pitched noise that is my constant companion. I have seen speculation about Brownian motion, missing hairs in the inner ear, hyper sensitivity, and on and on. In recent years it has become steadily louder.
Because I have had it so long, I tend to tune it out. I am usually unconscious of it unless it calls to me by a sudden increase in volume. Others are not so lucky. William Shatner has been a victim since a loud explosion on a movie set. The torture caused him to seriously contemplate suicide.
In rare cases, tinnitus becomes "objective" in the sense of being detectable by outside instruments. Sometimes it can even be heard by others. But subjective tinnitus is the medical rule.
A friend, one I admire, once challenged me to produce evidence of God. She has known me for years, and I was flattered at her confidence that I would not be offended or wounded at her derision. In fact, I come from a background of skepticism. I am often more at ease with such antagonists than with the more shrill of those with whom I join in Christian fellowship. I regarded her for a moment or two before answering.
I don't know that my spiritual journey has made me a better person than I was. I do know that it has added a new dimension to my experience. One night in late 1974 I awoke to an intense joy. It is quite possible some strange food ingredient reacted to my chemistry as an hallucinogen. I take it to have been a spiritual experience. But, for the most part, I have looked to my own consciousness as evidence of something more.
I have looked to science, Eastern philosophy, and other strains of Christianity as possibilities. They were intellectually enlightening. But I had to regard them as I do the more certain technical knowledge that atoms in my keyboard are composed of energy and space. Informative, but not at all relevant to my daily experience.
I looked to my friend and told her the truth as it is given to me. I cannot give you the proof you need, I said. My evidence is internal. I can only witness to it. It is quite reasonable for you to dismiss my experience. It would not be reasonable for me to dismiss it.
Like the ringing in my ears, I cannot prove spirituality to someone else. I know it is there because I live with it.
Unlike that ringing, I regret those all too frequent times I have tuned it out.
Originally published at Fair and UNbalanced.
I have always found the concept of atonement by substitution vaguely unsettling. Jesus sacrificed in our place, taking on horrible punishment for our sins, punishment that would more properly be our own. It is a lesson reinforced by scriptural symbolism, lamb sacrificed as a substitute. Dramas sometimes center on Barabbas, the insurrectionist in whose place, quite literally, Jesus died.
Another interpretation has been considered in some circles over the years. I heard it for the first time last week as our pastor spoke. In this interpretation, atonement is defined as consistent with at-one-ment, a pun-like breakdown of the word. Except it has some historical base to it. Olde Englishe use, and pronunciation, were more consistent with the pun. So is alternate, credible, translation from ancient Greek translations of scripture.
I am reminded of the early formulation of the independence movement in India. Mohandas Gandhi believed that truth force or soul force, Satyagraha, could overcome evil. A central tactic was the turning of human hearts away from injustice by demonstrating a capacity for suffering that was stronger than the capacity to inflict it.
In the later application of Gandhi's nonviolent resistance, Martin Luther King described the struggle this way:
We will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. We will not hate you, but we will not obey your evil laws. We will soon wear you down by pure capacity to suffer.
The notion that the human heart can be turned away from substitutes for spiritual fulfillment by the suffering of another has some appeal. It may speak to the central issue faced by Christianity.
In ancient Israel, Jesus spoke, in part, against the literalism of the day. And we often encounter something similar today: the idea that we are saved because Jesus brought to us a better incantation to mutter to God. The veil was torn, morality was changed, we are now saved from God's wrath: but only if we view God with a precise degree of accuracy.
That God came to Earth, walked among us, suffered for us, all in order to help us begin the spiritual walk home, has its own issues. But God come to us as healer strikes me as a sounder view than God as vengeance seeker, creating mankind for an eternity of human suffering, prevented only by acceptance of a slender thread of belief. I will not pick the wings off the fly from now to the end of time if the fly worships me now in the correct way.
God is, in the final analysis, beyond any final analysis: beyond the farthest limits of human imagination. Defining God, as some are inclined to do, is a tricky business, bordering on idolatry. The Lord is in his holy box. Let all the earth keep silent before Him as I explain his dimensions.
Perhaps it is enough to know a small part of larger Truth. What we can grasp and hold close may be enough to set us free. If we are separated from God, then life has some potential for a homeward journey. If Jesus is here to heal, then perhaps that healing begins when his capacity to suffer overcomes our capacity to embrace the enemies of God and man.
At the core, Christianity is presented with a simpler proposition than the defined nature of God: that every soul has an incorruptible worth, that this hard core value remains no matter what we do or say.
We are worthwhile and loved. And there is nothing we can do about it.
Originally Published at Fair And UNbalanced
Conservative James Wigderson gives free space to a critic with just about the response length the anonymous message merits. The message ends with "You don’t think ANY other newspaper would publish your tripe." I dunno. You just can't please some critics. I kind of like the tripe Wigderson writes.
Dwight Eisenhower was once asked what he did, before he was Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe, as an aide to General Arthur MacArthur. His answer was a terse, "Studied Drama." Tim McGaha at Tim's Thoughtful Spot reviews a high point for MacArthur, as MacArthur's skill, a great deal of luck, and the beneficence of a generous divinity led to a critical Pacific victory.