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Christmas Wars: And Now, the Rest of the Story

9:23 am in Uncategorized by Omnipotent Poobah

Disclaimer: I’m an atheist who has nothing major against non-secularists. But sometimes this whole Christmas War nonsense is more tiring than Black Friday sales. Sigh.

Christmas in Regional Command-East [Image 2 of 3]

Christmas in Regional Command-East

“…and now, the reeesstt of the story,” as newscaster Paul Harvey used to say. For the past few years Paul’s pithy prose describes something we should all remember when it comes to the infamous Christmas Wars – look at the other side.

The latest battle has been fought before, yet it never seems to die. Christian organizations in Santa Monica, CA won’t be able to place their annual 14-scene Christmas nativity decorations in the city park and they’re miffed.  The Washington Post headlined the story this way, Atheists’ move halts Christmas tradition in Santa Monica, churches go to court to get it back.

The problem is the atheists didn’t kill anything. They simply applied for slots in a lottery the town set up to allow equal access to the city park. Not surprisingly, city officials grew tired of being accused of being “anti-Christian” for following the law, so they killed it.

Of the 21 available slots, atheists won 18 draws, Christians won 2, and Jews won 1. Since the drawings were blind, I’m not sure how to account for the imbalance, but my guess is atheists put in more applications and Christians fewer. In other words, they played by the rules and won fair and square. Yet, the atheists are a vast anti-Christian plot.

I won’t argue that atheists put up some displays that Christians found offensive and I won’t defend them for it. However, they are as entitled to do that as Christians are to say just as bad or worse things about atheists. The Constitution protects speech, it says nothing about friendly or agreeable speech.

Understandably, there are bad feelings all around – from both sides of the story. Although I follow the “logic” of some of the Christian backlash, it seems pretty lame, and frankly contradictory, to me. Cynthia Dermody offered “10 Reasons Atheists Can Go to Hell Over Holiday Decorations Fight” on Cafemom. Here are her “reasons” (with much of her snark removed): Read the rest of this entry →

The Story of King James and Richard Dawkins

5:39 pm in Uncategorized by Omnipotent Poobah

Uber-Atheist Richard Dawkins recently did something quite unexpected – he came out in support of British education secretary Michael Gove’s plan to send free King James Bibles to every English school. Of course, his unconventional position has, not unexpectedly, exposed him to ridicule from both Atheists and Christians – to the detriment of both.

Dawkins, like many Atheists who know the Bible better than its adherents, is a serious Biblical scholar who believes the King James Bible is world-class literature. As he puts it, “A native speaker of English who has never read a word of the King James Bible is verging on the barbarian.” I’m an Atheist and heartily agree. If for no other reason than its overwhelming literary value it should be taught, along with a wide variety of secular and non-secular literature, in schools.

How Many Moralities Can Dance on the Head of a Pin?

However, Dawkins goes on to say, “Whatever else the Bible might be…it is not a moral book and young people need to learn that important fact because they are very frequently told the opposite.” I don’t completely agree here and that position sometimes attracts the wrath of my Atheist friends.

On the contrary, the Bible is moral book in many ways, it just doesn’t always reflect the moral positions of Dawkins, me, or millions of others. I see it as one of a great number of books and philosophies that can provide moral guidance and I don’t have believe in a God to see that or be moral. It is easy to find inconsistencies in the Bible and support for positions that were more suitable in Jesus’s day, but aren’t so great for the world circa 2012. I recognize some people would say that’s exactly the reason the world is in such a pickle, but that’s an entirely different post.

The Bible is an important book and it provides some useful moral guidance along with many other sources. It just doesn’t provide all THE moral guidance everyone needs or agrees with. That is where I see a great need to teach about the Bible, which is distinctly different than teaching the Bible. There is an equal need to teach about non-Christian sources as well.

You may believe the Bible is a crock of stale communion crackers, but you can’t deny its power as a shaper of history. To fully understand the history, literature, and social mores of the world it is indispensable – just as other religious texts and secular philosophies provide context for the advance of mankind.

Religious texts could, and sometimes are, perfectly at home in an academic environment providing there is sufficient context. We need more study of diverse forms of literature, sociology, and history to heal the fractures that vex us all.

But in the end, Dawkins hits the nail on the head while revealing the hole in his otherwise very thoughtful logic.  He seems to want to emphasize only the bad of the Bible as something dangerous to be taught and to reveal the awfulness of the book. I happen to believe that teaching the bad as well as the good provides a better balanced and complete picture. The devil, if you’ll excuse the biblical reference, is in the details.

Tenterhooks Need to Become More Tender

Atheists and members of other belief systems are rightfully touchy about the overwhelming influence of Christianity, particularly in the US. All the whimpering about Christianity being under siege is nonsensical. The tiny numbers of non-Christians that live in the US are about as able to slay Goliath without the slingshot or the rock and with all his arms and legs tied behind him as they are to lay siege to one of the world’s most powerful religions. You want to see a siege, trying walking in our shoes. Heck, try even keeping your shoes.

For their part, Christians are often offended by non-Christians and are not shy of offending them, to defend their faith. They often see open theocracy as a way to circle the wagons against all the devils out there who they believe would undo their faith in a heartbeat given half the chance. However, Christians also do incredibly important work helping the poor and wretched of the world, advancing the commonly agreed upon moral tenets of society, and providing alternative views of sometimes misunderstood non-Christian morality.

Everyone is on tenterhooks about religion these days and that seeps into governmental actions and personal morality and behavior. We do this because neither side is willing or able to entertain the notion that the other isn’t wholly evil and that maybe we all have a vested interest in doing things together. That doesn’t happen without understanding and compassion, exactly the unbiased understanding and compassion students should learn about in school.

In the end, Dawkins is under no illusion that something so rational will happen and neither do I. He thinks the availability of Bibles will create Atheists. Except for the exceptionally weak of mind, I don’t think that alone will change anyone’s opinion. Knowledge will help people make an informed choice and that is where the chips should fall.

Perhaps too much blood has flowed under the bridge of humanity to allow it. But, wouldn’t the world be a better place we did.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks! More than politics, more than pop culture

Peace Talks in the War on Christianity

12:53 pm in Uncategorized by Omnipotent Poobah

It does not take much for many Christians to throw down the Christian Card and declare war on themselves. They loudly point out the freedom of religion clause of the First Amendment. But, many of them read “religion” as synonymous with “Christian” and “freedom” to abridge all other religions and non-theists. The War on Christmas, laws against sharia, and dismissal of rights for non-theists or atheists run hot and are but a few examples of their self-declared “War on Religion (or alternately, Christianity)” . They take the whole Onward Christian Soldiers thing very seriously in the same way the blitzkrieg was serious.

The latest skirmish is the one aledgedly waged by evil secular humanists  – or future candidates for hell as some would say – over compelling Christian hospitals to offer abortion services against their beliefs.

In this particular war, however, Christians have a point. It’s obvious that if a religion were compelled to offer the offending services it would violate the freedom of religion clause whether the majority of followers – for instance, Catholics – follow church teachings or not. But, that’s a narrow view. It excludes the beliefs of others to benefit to narrow, but powerful, Christian beliefs. The First Amendment applies to them too.

But, there is a compromise.

Many secular people don’t argue so much about religion as they do imposing religious beliefs on others. They object to the government giving religious enterprises special rights by exempting them from taxes and providing funding for some of their enterprises.

The compromise here is easily evident. If religions want to offer services to the public, but not offend their own beliefs, forsaking government funding for religion-owned businesses should be on the table. If a religion wants to operate secular businesses – like schools or hospitals – they have two choices. Stop asking the rest of the nation to pay your businesses in support of your specific religious teachings. Or,  stop providing services to those who do not share your beliefs.

There are positives in this compromise. Religions would no longer be required to provide services against their beliefs. They could provide any service they want to any person they want. The secular community would get relief for their complaints about government policies that are against their beliefs. Both sides get a sturdier wall between church and state to resist the evils of theocracy, which isn’t good for anyone, even the Christians.

However, there are some problems too. People living in areas where religion-affiliated health care is the only practical choice will have to find their care in between different church decisions that conflict with their ability to get dogmatically unfettered care or travel far to find it. However, there are ways to mitigate that issue.

There might also be some degradation of education and charitable services through reduced government funding, but again, there are mitigation solutions for this as well.

Given the religious and political trench warfare of our times, these solutions will never be mentioned, much less adopted. Both sides will agitate for solutions that require total capitulation from their ideological foes. These ideas may make things fairer, but neither side will buy into them.

After all, compromises are “one size fits all” and so, by definition, fit no one perfectly.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

Indiana’s Tyranny: To Require the Lord’s Prayer

12:27 pm in Uncategorized by Omnipotent Poobah

(image: bluejake, flickr)

(image: bluejake, flickr)

 

In keeping with the long and ignoble tradition of plastering the Lord’s Prayer on every flat surface in creation, Christians in the Indiana legislature have introduced a bill to require reciting the Lord’s Prayer at the beginning of every school day.

I’ve no issue with the Lord’s Prayer itself. I suppose it’s as useful as anything in helping accomplish the bill’s goal of, “establishing character and becoming a good citizen.” But prayers seem a little weak for such an important job and there is no proof it works anyway.

I also have no issue with teaching about religion in public school provided it is taught from a sociological or historical perspective and includes all religions and non-theistic points of view. After all, it is an important part of the nation’s history and understanding it can help pull us all together.

I don’t even care if religious groups want to use the school building to hold services as long as they pay the freight for that use and school isn’t in session.

But, I draw the line at requiring the Lord’s Prayer or any other religious custom or action in schools.

It’s true the bill only requires prayers at charter schools which may be partially funded by non-governmental groups. However, charter schools are, more often than not, at least partially funded with government money. And therein lies the rub.

By virtue of that government money, charter schools are open to everyone, not just Christians. Requiring kids to repeat their prayers is heavy handed and a back door to killing the concept of separation of church and state – a separation that inhibits the idea of a thriving and expanding theocracy. And BTW, wouldn’t this bill fall into the category of tyrannical Big Government that steals our liberties in a much more fundamental way than light bulb or low-flow toilet regulations? Read the rest of this entry →

Pastor Mike is a Back Seat Driver

4:18 pm in Uncategorized by Omnipotent Poobah

Disclaimer: I’m a former Christian who is now an atheist. I have nothing against most theists and respect their beliefs – up to the point where they step on mine. However, even in my Christian days I would’ve been appalled by the hubris of this plan.

Bash atheistI’m overjoyed so many religious people are so protective of my soul that they insist upon preaching to me at every chance, attempting to nail the 10 Commandments to every flat surface in America, and being generally pesky with their anti-sharia laws and Defense of Marriage hogswallop.

Pastor Michael Stahl – or “Pastor Mike” – of the Living Water eChurch especially wants to help by entering me in a database called, The Christian National Registry of Atheists, a database to identify heathen atheists, skinheads, cross-burners, etc. No word yet on if he plans a similar Christian National Registry of Muslims.

Of course, I’m sure in his pious and peaceful heart he doesn’t mean to equate me with a sex offender. He just wants to hate the sin, but love the sinner.

Oops! I spoke too soon.

“I mean, think about it,” Pastor Mike says, “There are already National Registrys [sic] for convicted sex offenders, ex-convicts, terrorist cells, hate groups like the KKK, skinheads, radical Islamists, etc..” (But) this type of ‘National Registry’ would merely be for information purposes.”

P-Mikey is All About the Information
Information purposes? Yo P-Mikey, one man’s “information” is another’s unwelcome intrusion into something that is none of your business (I was going to say “Goddamn” business, but I didn’t want to blaspheme your delicate sensibilities).

Christian basherLet’s let the ePastor explain. “Why do this, what’s the purpose? Duhhh, Mr. Atheist for the same purpose many States put the names and photos of convicted sex offenders and other ex-felons on the I-Net – to INFORM the public!”

Read the rest of this entry →