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November 13, 2006

On Theocracies

I'll share with you a moment I had this summer, when I was on a panel at Worldcon, one of those surprisingly contentious ones involving medicine. One of the audience members was talking about, I think, either birth control or abortion (or some combination of those two), and made the concluding remark that she hated living in what she saw increasingly as a theocracy, which she saw as legislating her right to control her own body. My immediate response was to comment that as far as the "theocracy" bit went, we weren't actually living in one and that I suspected we'd gotten about as far we were going to go on that end of things. The reaction to the comment in the audience was not what I would call charitable; indeed, I suspect I lost the room for the rest of the panel.

But, of course, so what. Time has vindicated me. The mid-term elections were not a referendum on "theocracy" -- they were a referendum on Iraq, corruption, and many other more prosaic subjects -- but to the extent that "theocracy" is coextensive with "right-wing fundamentalism," and its influence on the day-to-day functioning of our government, yes, any budding theocracy we might have had was nicely chopped in the neck last Tuesday. The theocratic influence is not gone by any stretch of the imagination, since our President is still the same man he was before the election. But I don't think you can look at the 110th Congress and suggest to me that the right-wing fundamentalist agenda will have the same sort of stickiness it had before. "Theocracy" is not where we'll be going as a nation anymore. I'm not crushed.

But those of you who might have your hopes/fears up for an orgy of Washington godlessness better get ready for disappointment, too, because it ain't happening. The United States is a deeply religious country; its elected representatives are going to have religion (or at least will bow in its direction). What I expect we'll be seeing is religion and the religious continuing to have an influence but that more moderate (and -- gasp -- liberal) religious folks will be having more of a say. If you don't like religion at all this may not be an improvement, but those of us who are not necessarily automatically suspect of religion will see this as an entirely normal thing and a reflection of the complexity of life here in the US. Also (and of course), not every religion or religious person is bent on cultural hegemony; there are lots of churches and religious folk who like the idea of the separation of church and state, which is a fact that has tended to get forgotten over the last several years.

It's also worth noting that the swings in this country are not only political but cultural, even within Christianity, and indeed even within the evangelical movement. I'm on the outside of Christianity so I can't claim this observation as anything other than anecdotal, but it at least appears to me that within US Christianity the fundamentalist movement is on its way down, and that the new hotness in Christianity might as well be called "Bonoism" for lack of anything better: A focus on dealing with poverty and human rights and environmentalism, from a Christian perspective. This is one of those "what's old is new again" things, since Christianity has been actively engaged in issues of poverty and human rights before (the environmental angle may be new; I confess ignorance on the history of Christian environmentalism), and equally have been now, even when those good works have not been in the spotlight. But I can't say I'm not happy to see this aspect of the Christian mission make a comeback in the national perception of the religion. It's nice when some of the prominent aspects of Christianity have more than a tiny bit of Jesus in them.

So, theocracy: Not so much, and frankly, not much missed. But a culturally engaged Christianity as part of a tolerant and pluralistic society? Bring it on. That's not theocracy, that's just people and institutions playing their part. Hard to see a downside there.

Posted by john at November 13, 2006 08:23 AM

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Comments

Steve Buchheit | November 13, 2006 10:32 AM

"But a culturally engaged Christianity as part of a tolerant and pluralistic society? Bring it on. "

I agree. Now if we could stem that evangelical fervor of mission to convert the rest of us, I would be more okay with it.

Also, John, I would remind you that our choice for governors here in Ohio ended up being between an ordained Methodist Minister and someone who formed groups like "Clergy for (candidate)." In the previous election cycle we were constantly reminded how "godly" the candidates were. Fortunately it may not have been the main plank of their campaigns, but it was there.

For the next Presidential campaign, even McCain has cowtowed to the religious when during his previous run he railed against their influence in his party. I'm not as optimistic as you are that were aren't headed for a "kinder, gentler Theocracy."

Jas | November 13, 2006 10:40 AM

I understand why you were thought naive by the rest of the folks in the room. I mean, who actually thought that the American electorate would be smart enough to vote for their own self-interest.

Dave | November 13, 2006 11:05 AM

There's a certain romantic segment of electorate who really, really wants to believe that America is about to turn into _The Handmaid's Tale_, as it would elevate their moral choices to the level of heroic opposition. This urge to believe we are on the cusp of theocracy is made easier by a deep lack of historical or cross-cultural perspective.

In practice, the evangelicals and fundamentalists haven't even had any success in slowing down the loosening of social mores and secularization of our society that has been occurring since about 1910, let alone reversing it.

Undoubtedly some are warming up their text editors now, to tell me about some state court judge in deepest Kentucky who said something bad about the heathen. If you're are bound and determined to go down that path, try to come up with some examples that aren't trivially dismissed as 'creepy hicks acting like creepy hicks'.

(Statement of interest: I'm an apatheist, so I've got no god in this fight.)

Simon Owens | November 13, 2006 11:21 AM

From an atheist's standpoint, religion is an annoyance regardless if it comes from either a liberal or a conservative. Watching Democrats bow to churches seems silly. I don't like the concept of a person using a 2,000 year-old book that has already been proven wrong by science in order to justify anything, good or bad.

I kind of agree with Richard Dawkins, that liberal Christians, though they have good intentions, provide a superstitious justification for the Christian Right. You'll hear Christian Right leaders say, in their argument for prayer in school or some other such nonsense, that 90% of America is made up of Christians. When they use that 90% figure (I'm not sure if that's the exact number, but it's something high like that), they're including liberal Christians, so even moderate Christians are aiding the Right in their machinations. This is why I'm less likely to differentiate between the Christian Right and the Christian left. I just call them Christians, because they're both working from the same text.

tommyspoon | November 13, 2006 11:30 AM

When an atheist is elected president, then I'll rest easier.

Kate Baker | November 13, 2006 11:31 AM

You mean I shouldn't be voting according to my conscience, but listening to whom God tells me to vote for?

I was doing so well in therapy combating the voices in my head.

Thanks. Thanks alot.

;)

Steve Buchheit | November 13, 2006 11:33 AM

Dave, I don't have to look farther a field than the Whitehouse Office of Faith Based Initiatives, which fortunately has also been under-funded.

Next up, our local State Board of Elections, the candidate that believes that "Intelligent Design" should be taught *instead* of evolution won.

Dr. Phil | November 13, 2006 11:34 AM

I think part of what you're talking about is the rediscovery of the concept of stewardship -- that God gave Man the land, but that Man has to take care of the land. I was recently reminded that the term sabbath has meanings more than a day of rest one day in seven. It also has meaning in resting one year in seven, which applies to letting fields of rotating crops lie fallow to regenerate. Which is, I suppose, where the acadmeic concept of sabbatical comes from...

Anyway, the stewardship movement is getting a lot of traction over the "God gave us the land and animals do despoil as we see fit" crowd. Which suddenly puts some of the religious conservatives in bed with the liberal environmentalists, so to speak.

Dr. Phil

John Scalzi | November 13, 2006 11:34 AM

Simon Owens:

"I just call them Christians, because they're both working from the same text."

Yes, well. Conservatives and Liberals in the US are working from the same text too (the US Constitution), and they're all Americans. But I don't think one could accurately suggest there are not substantive differences between them.

I think airily suggesting that merely being a Christian aids the Christian right in its agenda is sloppy thinking and shows rather a lack of discrimination of the very real philosophical and cultural differences between Christian churches here in the US. Merely believing in the same God doesn't suggest that, say the Metropolitan Community Churches has many political aims in common with James Dobson.

What you're saying is "all them Christians look alike to me," which aside from being somewhat hostile is just plain incorrect.

Dave | November 13, 2006 11:38 AM

Dave, I don't have to look farther a field than the Whitehouse Office of Faith Based Initiatives, which fortunately has also been under-funded.

So I'm supposed to be scared of an ineffective trial balloon of a department, destined to be exiled to an office next to that of the Strategic Helium Reserve in two years? It's stuff like that that convinces me of just how incredibly far from being a theocracy we are!

Steve Buchheit | November 13, 2006 11:46 AM

Dave, for a trial ballon of an office, they sure have been expanding
http://www.whitehouse.gov/government/fbci/executive-orders.html

And it was just one of many changes that we've seen in the past ten years (yes, beofre the current administration), I just provided it as the quickest example that one doesn't have to look very far to find these things.

I also hope with the next administration that this office is rolled back. That doesn't mean I don't agree with some of the programs and initiatives this department championed.

Gwen | November 13, 2006 11:50 AM

Yes, well, I think the problem is that far too many people who would love to see theocracy--or wait, is it that they would love to see the Antichrist in power so that the second coming would happen sooner? it's so hard to keep track--are willing to co-opt the more moderate-gasp-liberal Christians (and conservative separation-of-church-and-state supporters--there are conservatives whose opinions are informed by Christianity who can make secular arguments) for their own nefarious purposes. So, no problem with Jefferson being Deist and Washington being so far as I know Christian, but the Dobson crowd has no problem pointing to all of the founders--Tom Paine included--labelling them "Christian" (or "Judeo-Christian"), and saying that that proves that it's a good idea to teach kids to credit God for our country every morning and to stamp "In God We Trust" on our money. (And I know *you* have no problem with that, but your lack-of-problemness doesn't use our founders as props for your views.)
I mean, if these people can take a guy who cut out all the parts of Jesus's speeches that he didn't think he really said (mostly the parts where he claims divinity), and turn him into a God-fearing, anti-choice, Ten-Commandments-in-courtrooms supporter as if by magic--there's a problem.
Then again, they can take "render unto God what is God's and unto Caesar what is Caesar's" and "mine is not an earthly kingdom" and turn it into "pray that elections turn out as James Dobson wants it, and make sure you vote Republican as God wants you to", there's really no limit to their transmutation magic. (Hey, I thought that magic was forbidden...like selling things in churches, and praying on the street corner...)
But I think Jas is right about the "rational voter" naivity. Just turned out that this time voters really did vote in their best interests, and we kept voter fraud from screwing that up.

Simon Owens | November 13, 2006 11:53 AM

"Yes, well. Conservatives and Liberals in the US are working from the same text too (the US Constitution), and they're all Americans. But I don't think one could accurately suggest there are not substantive differences between them."

I kind of anticipated this response before I hit "post" and I don't agree with the analogy. Both conservatives and liberals realize that the constitution was written by man, and is by extension an imperfect document. The only thing that the constitution does is bind them together under the label of "Americans," but both the right and left deviate often from the Constitution and argue for rights that aren't expressly permitted in it, and sometimes argue outright that some parts of it are very wrong (anarchists especially fit into this category).

The bible, on the other hand, is supposedly written by a perfect and omniscient being, who not only knows morals, but dictates them through his own definitions. Christians for the large part think that any moral quandary is somehow represented in the bible, however obscurely, and will often turn to it to find some parable that expressly allows their way of thinking.

The Constitution is subject to Amendments and changes. Because it is recognized as an imperfect document, additions can be implemented. The Bible, though already proven wrong by science, is set down (figuratively) in stone.

I don't think that all Christians are alike in thought processes, but they are all alike that their sole source of justification for those thought processes lies with a disproven document based in superstitious beliefs. There lies the danger, whether liberal or conservative.

Martin Wagner | November 13, 2006 11:55 AM

I think that the woman in the audience was simply reacting to the fact that, at least among a certain contingent of the GOP right, there was a distinct move towards and desire for theocracy. Wacky events like "Justice Sunday" rallies and the whole ID movement have been symptomatic of that. As it turned out in the real world, though, they were not nearly as representative of the American mainstream as they'd led themselves to believe. And they've even begun getting the (accurate) impression that the GOP merely plays them for votes when they need to rally "the base" — getting anti-gay-marriage referenda on ballots wherever the results don't look like a foregone conclusion for Republicans, for instance — but overall, doesn't really take their issues all that seriously (stem cells, a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage coast to coast). While the theocrats on the right certainly made a lot of noise and looked scary for a while there, when the American people got to voice themselves at the ballot boxes, most of the Christian Taliban agenda went into the commode where it belonged. South Dakota's abortion ban, attempts by creationists in Ohio to pack school boards — bye bye, now! Don't trip over a pew on your way out!

Dave | November 13, 2006 12:01 PM

Wacky events like "Justice Sunday" rallies and the whole ID movement have been symptomatic of that.

Precisely the sort of thing I had in mind when I said "creepy hicks acting like creepy hicks". Fascinating in a train-wreck sort of way, but ultimately more-or-less ignorable.

Jeff Hentosz | November 13, 2006 12:04 PM

Steve:

...our local State Board of Elections, the candidate that believes that "Intelligent Design" should be taught *instead* of evolution won.

Do you mean the board in your community or county? Because if you mean the state of Ohio, I heard different: This Columbus Dispatch article from Wednesday is about the pro-science turn the Ohio BOE took last week.

May I say, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore? HAH! Don't hit me.

Steve Buchheit | November 13, 2006 12:12 PM

I have to correct myself, I said above that one of the candidates that was a heavy promoter of ID won. Well, she won in my county by a large margin, but was defeated overall (I'm talking about Deborah Owens Fink). I'm a little more hopeful now, Scalzi, but I'm not ready to lower my guard.

Kevin | November 13, 2006 12:14 PM

What really bothers me is that in 1960 everyone was worried that Catholic JFK would be so bound to his religion and the Pope that it would improperly influence his decision making as president.

Now, if a politician doesn't name Jesus as his personal guidance counselor, and doesn't go to church every week or more, he's considered unfit for office.

Martin Wagner | November 13, 2006 12:14 PM

But a culturally engaged Christianity as part of a tolerant and pluralistic society? Bring it on.

Afraid I have to part company with you on this a bit, John. Christianity will never be part of a wholly tolerant and pluralistic society, because Christianity — indeed, all the Abrahamic religions — disdain tolerance and pluralism innately. Religion divides people. It makes truth claims that are absolute, and the nature of absolutist truth claims is that they summarily reject all alternative claims (evidence notwithstanding) — so much for pluralism. And when a core tenet of your belief system is that all non-members of your belief system are corrupt sinners who deserve eternal torment in Hell, that does not lead to tolerance and compassion for non-believers, let alone make one receptive to their views or concerns. The Bible minces no words, for instance, on the subject of gays: take 'em out and stone 'em, full stop. That's the kind of "tolerance" a pluralistic society can do without.

I know that there are many liberal and moderate Christians who do lead compassionate lives, aren't homophobic, and are generally kind-hearted and tolerant folks. But Christianity isn't the source of those qualities (as those qualities are possessed by any number of non-Christians and atheists as well), and indeed, one could argue those people possess those virtues in spite of their Christianity, and not because of it.

Christianity, or any religion, just doesn't have anything to bring to the table in a tolerant and pluralistic society that such a society could not possess without it. You don't need superstitions about invisible men in the sky doling out tickets to Heaven to get people to be basically decent to one another.

Mike | November 13, 2006 12:20 PM

It's one thing when the conservatives want to shape society in the name of God, but it's so different when the tolerant and diverse liberals use the power of government to compel you to do all the crap they want. The conservatives just caught on to the game plan. You call it "public health," they call it "faith based." Everybody wants to make everybody else act how they want.

Scott Mactavish | November 13, 2006 12:33 PM

I don't think that all Christians are alike in thought processes, but they are all alike that their sole source of justification for those thought processes lies with a disproven document based in superstitious beliefs. There lies the danger, whether liberal or conservative.

Hmm.

How many Christians do you know, Simon?

As a moderate Methodist (no snakes or tambourines, thanks) I find that statment laughable. Not because you believe (or don't) as I do, but because the generaliztions are so broad-assed and the statements so absurd, that I'm sitting here literally laughing at them.

First and foremost, the majority of Christians in the US are average, moderate, sensible people. They find faith for an infinite number of reasons, and interpret the Bible in as many different ways.
They spend a good amount of free time building houses for Habitat, or working soup kitchens, or taking medical supplies to Haiti and very little, if any, time worrying about you. (Unless you ask, of course.)

And that mess about 'justifications'...again, comedy gold. If you think Christians are mindless sheep who flip to scripture to make every moral or philisophical decision, you're either extraordinarily sheltered, or just ignorant. (See Scalzi's definition of 'ignorant'.)

Back to Theocracy.

I find the concept hideous and frightening, as do most people I know, Christian or otherwise. The thought of Pat Robertson holding public office is an affront to common sense and gives me a puckered sensation down where my chair gets warm.

re: Enviromentalism

Can't speak for other churches, but we have a biology professor at ours that takes the teens scuba diving in the Caribbean every year to hammer home the importance of wildlife and preservation. While there, they fix homes in poor neighborhoods and generally have fun as kids should.

Lots of us 'walk the walk' in moderate Christianity, Simon.

Oh..BTW, Simon. I drop the f-bomb on occasion, drink beer and listen to reggae. I don't carry a Bible, 'convert' people or quote scripture, nor do a frown on those that do. But I do find it a bit uncomfortable when fundies get going in a restaurant of in line at Kroger's.

We're all different, but we have thing in common: If you ever lost your home to the weather, or needed help with a job hunt or other life crisis, we would help without question, and expect nothing in return, not even your 'soul'.


John Scalzi | November 13, 2006 12:48 PM

Simon Owens:

"The Constitution is subject to Amendments and changes. Because it is recognized as an imperfect document, additions can be implemented. The Bible, though already proven wrong by science, is set down (figuratively) in stone."

Heh. Well, this rather neglects several things, among them the history of the Bible, including its various now-apocryphal chapters, the various versions of the Bible in use today (note the differences between the Catholic Bible and those of the Protestants) and the rather substantial differences of the book due to various translations. Not to mention the Jefferson Bible. This should suggest to you that there have been changes, and substantial ones at that. As to Amendments, I commend you to The Book of Mormon, as the most notable example here in the US.

Also, as a practical matter, I don't think many Christians would say that all of the Bible was written by God; the Gospels, for example, are clearly written by men; the epistolatory chapters of the New Testament are also clearly written by men. God may have inspired these letters, but there's a manifest difference between writing a letter to explain the ministry of Christ to others, and, say, taking down dictation, as Muhammad is supposed to have done while writing the Koran.

Re: The Bible being "proven wrong by science." Really? Has science disproved the Sermon on the Mount? Interesting. Much the Bible is neither provable or disprovable by science, so saying that the Bible has been "proven wrong" by it is at best over-stating the case. I think you mean to suggest that parts of the Bible are clearly not scientifically accurate, such as the creation myths. This is indeed a problem for those Christians who believe the Bible is scientifically correct. But it's not accurate to suggest that every Christian believes that the stories are literal truth, because every Christian does not. For them, the scientific validity of these stories is not much of an issue.

Moreover, it's not certainly not accurate to suggest that many of the moral or philosophical precepts of Christianity are provable or disprovable by the scientific method -- or that a document being provable or disprovable by the scientific method is relevant for its usefulness. The Constitution of the United States, to get back to it for a moment, has lots of things in it that are not scientifically provable, unless you can somehow manage to craft an elegant theorem that scientifically establishes the right to free speech and assembly, or the right against self-incrimination, or the right for women to vote.

All of which is to say, Simon, that I wish your antipathy toward Christians and Christianity was more informed than it appears to be.

Simon Owens | November 13, 2006 12:53 PM

Scott,

As people keep pointing out to me over and over again, not all Christians are the same, there's liberal, moderate, and conservative Christians. I *know* that there are different kinds of Christians out there, and I interact with them on a daily basis. I know that there are Christians who fight for what any moderate or liberal will call a "good cause." My entire family is Christian.

That is not the point of my argument. My problem lies with their starting point: belief that the bible was divinely inspired by a perfect being. Because it's written in vague parables and symbolism, it can be interpreted in any way or form, as you just pointed out in your post. As I pointed out in my previous comment, at least documents like The Constitution are regarded as imperfect documents, and can be approached as such. When Christians put the Bible up on a pedestal, they're also giving weight to the hateful spewings of Leviticus, even if they try to downplay those entries by giving more credence to the forgiving nature of Jesus' teachings. They're essentially fueling the fire.

The problem that lies with arguments like this is that they often turn into a deeper argument over whether or not there is a Christian God, and I've been avoiding that argument thus far. It creates a message-board black hole that will deviate off topic.

As Scalzi previously talked about in a post awhile ago, think of the invisible pink Unicorn. If someone were to come up to you tomorrow and say that he believes such and such because an invisible pink unicorn told him so, would you give much credence to his words, even if they pretty much agreed with your own political philosophy? No, the only difference between the inivisble pink Unicorn and the Christian God is that more people believe in the Christian God, but arguments put forth for each have just as much weight. Tell me, would you be worried if a politican tomorrow started claiming that his political beliefs are based on what an invisible unicorn was telling him? I certainly would.

Simon Owens | November 13, 2006 01:06 PM

I should add onto the end of that post as a conclusion:

That is why I have distaste for religious arguments, even when those arguments agree with my own set of values and beliefs.

Scott Mactavish | November 13, 2006 01:09 PM

Don't have time to answer in depth, but per my previous post, a theocracy is bad juju, whether it's Christ or Pink Unicorns that the 'leader' bows to.

re: Bible

I don't know one person among my Christian friends (and there are many) that take the Bible literally. In fact most consider it a collection of parables and *gasp* folk-ish tales from which wisdom should be gleaned. And then there's that tricky point of multiple translations, from multiple ancient languages, and so on. Yes, there are certainly Christians who consider the Bible a 'perfect' document, but in the real world, very few would say stonings, and multiple wives and slavery and so forth makes good practice.


alkali | November 13, 2006 01:13 PM

My problem lies with their starting point: belief that the bible was divinely inspired by a perfect being.

If what you are referring to is the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, it is pretty much the mark of liberal(*) Christians that they don't subscribe to that doctrine.

(* Meaning here theologically liberal, which does not necessarily correspond with a particular political point of view.)

CJ-in-Weld | November 13, 2006 01:21 PM

I suppose if belief (or avowed belief) in the invisible pink unicorn had been an integral part of the culture for hundreds of years, and there was demonstrable social utility in the practices surrounding avowed belief in the invisible pink unicorn, and if there was a millennia-old body of moral thought associated with belief in the invisible pink unicorn, then I might give the IPU believer the time of day....

Steve Buchheit | November 13, 2006 02:01 PM

CJ, glad you don't think us Taoism Buddhists are too far gone.

Nathan | November 13, 2006 02:12 PM

Simon,

I hope you won't feel like I'm piling on here, but I think you missed the POINT of the original post. While I cringe when I hear some yahoo trying to tell me I live in a "Christian Country", I have no problem at all with someone pointing out that I live in a "Predominantly Christian Society". I do and I don't have a problem with that.

What I do have a problem with is when Christianity starts being legislated into my life. That's the Theocracy that John happily sees receding.

I think you need to choose what issues are worthy of getting your knickers in a twist over. I, for one, have no problem with Wal Mart putting up Easter decorations or the girl at the supermarket saying "Merry Christmas" to me. Both of those things are done for various reasons, some of them with complete altruism, none of them with the power to coerce. On the other hand, when Intelligent Design pushes evolution out of schools, that's worthy of outrage.

Lighten up a little.

BTW, if you felt preached at by this and feel the need to flash-fry me, go right ahead. This lapsed Jew if perfectly capable of turning the other cheek.

Steve Buchheit | November 13, 2006 02:33 PM

Just an idle question, I wonder how most people would respond if the greeters and chashiers at Wal-Wart said "Salam Malika" to people as they came in and left?

Simon Owens | November 13, 2006 02:42 PM

Nathan,

Let me take my argument to a practical application, so I can better convey my thoughts:

Let's take it to the debate over the rightness or wrongness of homosexuality, which can be compared to previous religious debates over the rightness or wrongness of slavery:

The one side says that homosexuality is wrong because of one specific bible quote. The other side says that it's ok to be a homosexual because of this other bible quote, which crosses out the original. And then back and forth it goes.

What this argument turns into is whether or not Jesus (or some other Christian figure, whether it be an apostle or the Virgin Mary) thinks homosexuality is good or bad. It mires down the argument into a theological loop that goes absolutely nowhere, since the bible contradicts itself on many levels.

If on the other hand, you throw out the authority of the bible altogether, the Christian right member can't dig himself down into the assumption that the basic premise of the bible is true: that it's somehow divinely inspired. He must not only defend the specific bible quotes, but at the same time he even has to defend the notion that the bible is based on any sort of fact or divine revelance. He's no longer able to just hide behind that assumption.

The Christian Right know that this works to their advantage, and that's why they try to push things like Intelligent Design. As one famous creationist said: "Teach the controversy." They try to further the thought that both sides should be given weight, and by doing so they're throwing a wrench into the cogs. Moderate Christians are allowing the Christian Right to throw wrenches into the machine to essentially slow down any action by giving the bible authority. Instead of a debate over whether or not something is right or wrong, the debate is over whether or not Jesus would think it wrong. And since Jesus was somehow all-knowing and yet at the same time mostly taught in vague symbolic parables, this argument is futile.

alkali | November 13, 2006 03:03 PM

The one side says that homosexuality is wrong because of one specific bible quote. The other side says that it's ok to be a homosexual because of this other bible quote, which crosses out the original. And then back and forth it goes.

Er, no. That is not what the debate among Christians about homosexuality is like at all.

The debate you hypothesize could only make sense if it was a debate between adherents to a doctrine of biblical inerrancy. As I noted above, theologically liberal Christians generally don't hold that the Bible is inerrant.

CJ-in-Weld | November 13, 2006 03:07 PM

Steve Buchheit wrote: "CJ, glad you don't think us Taoism Buddhists are too far gone."

Well, let's see. There's a "demonstrable social utility in the practices surrounding avowed belief ..." Check.

There's "a millennia-old body of moral thought associated with belief..." Check.

So Buddhism hasn't been an integral part of this culture for centuries. So what? Two out of three works!

Now the IPUists, they need to be deprogrammed.

;)

Nathan | November 13, 2006 03:15 PM

Simon,

As far as it goes, you're right. Arguing scripture with an evangelical is a losing proposition.

So, let him spout to his heart's delight and then make sure the other guy gets voted into office. Slavery was eventually outlawed....all based on the Constitution. I haven't got a clue how people could have written our constitution while rationalizing owning slaves, but they did. And that same Constitution is flexible enough to correct wrongs.

I don't know how old you are, Simon, but the fact that Gay Marriage is showing up on referenda is something of a miracle on its own. It wasn't so long ago that being gay in public was enough to get you arrested.

So, I'll continue to be optimistic that America eventually finds a way to get things right and I'll continue to do my best to vote out morons, and I'll continue to say "Merry Christmas" back to the girl at Wal-Mart. With a smile even.

And Steve, it's As-Salamu Alaykum. And Shalom Aleichem to you too. (Who's Malika? Is she hot?)

Steve Buchheit | November 13, 2006 03:16 PM

CJ, you didn't say "this culture" you just said "the culture." I figured we could choose which, so I'm going to 3 out of 3. :)

Ann L | November 13, 2006 03:21 PM

What really bothers me is that in 1960 everyone was worried that Catholic JFK would be so bound to his religion and the Pope that it would improperly influence his decision making as president.

Now, if a politician doesn't name Jesus as his personal guidance counselor, and doesn't go to church every week or more, he's considered unfit for office.

Well, see, that's because JFK was Catholic. If he'd been, you know, a real Christian then no one would have been worried.

Seriously. The trouble wasn't that JFK had a religion, but that his religion was Roman Catholocism. There's no contradiction at all, when you look at it that way.

Scott Mactavish | November 13, 2006 03:29 PM

FYI, it's "a Salaam Alechem" and the response is "Alechem Salaam".

Peace be on you, and also with you. I know this because we recently welcomed a Muslim speaker at our church. He spoke on peace, right after a Rabi spoke on the same subject.

I suppose if we as a nation adopted a Muslim holiday and tradition, it'd be acceptable for the WalMarters to greet customers in that manner.

Anyway, gays are welcomed at our church.

And there's no question there are congregations that wouldn't welcome them, which is quite un-Christlike.


Chang, who loves Democracy | November 13, 2006 03:35 PM

It's always interesting to see where these discussions go. Lots of fascinating viewpoints on the topic.

All wrong of course. Tee-hee!

I think we weren't close to a theocracy. The Right all got into an excited reacharound fest thinking it was nigh. And I suspect the Left was feverish about it for other reasons. But the people have spoken and the right is momentarily puzzled after getting clotheslined by Ted Haggard's dirty drawers. (How many metaphor's can I go on un-blocking?)

I'm not a Christian, though I find some aspects of the Bible relevant. My belief in my God doesn't prevent me from believing in the Big Bang or science.

Scott Mactavish | November 13, 2006 03:42 PM

I'm not a Christian, though I find some aspects of the Bible relevant. My belief in my God doesn't prevent me from believing in the Big Bang or science.

Most moderate Christians accept science, big bang, evolution and other theories as much, if not more so, than the idea that two people with fig-leaves on the naughty bits suddenly appeared in a well-groomed garden chock full of ripe fruit and malevolent reptiles.

Chang, who loves Democracy | November 13, 2006 03:46 PM

I firmly believe in naughty bits and frolicking about in a garden. Mmmm. Ripe Fruit.

I am not so down with malevolent reptiles.

Steve Buchheit | November 13, 2006 03:47 PM

Nathan and Scott, thanks for the spelling, I've only heard it, and spell check just doesn't work for that.

SFC SKI | November 13, 2006 03:52 PM

Theocracy in America? Only if you want something to be paranoid about to distract you from genuine threats. The mere fact that atheists can vote and have the same legal rights as Christians do should lay those fears to rest.

I have been to Saudi Arabia, that is much more like a theocracy (as corrupted by human foible as any secular state as well). You can't compare the two.

Scott brings up some great points about Christians in general, the best ones generally walk the walk and influence a small number of others around them, hopefully positively. Personally, I see most televangelists as wasting a lot of time and money that could be better spent in their own communities. While Christ urged his followers to spread the Gospel, I think he'd want to keep it on a personal level.

I'm no Biblical scholar, all I can say is the very nature of faith is such that it can't be proven by science, but it can't be disproven, either. It doesn't I threw out my ability to reason when I chose to follow Christ, either.

Nathan | November 13, 2006 03:57 PM

1. The spelling is irrelevant, since it's a transliteration of Arabic (the first) and Hebrew (the second). As long as it comes out with essentially the correct pronunciation, you've done o.k.

And I still want to know who Malika is.

Steve Buchheit | November 13, 2006 04:06 PM

Malika is a girl a friend tried to set me up with in college.

"She's a nice girl," says he.

"What's wrong with her," says me.

"Nice face and body."

"So why aren't you dating her?" asks I.

"Six inch fingernails."

"Ouch! I like my skin right where it is."

Midwestern Progressive | November 13, 2006 04:13 PM

The mere fact that atheists can vote and have the same legal rights as Christians do should lay those fears to rest.

Unless the atheist happens to be gay or lesbian. Then, he or she does not have the same legal rights as I do.

And the rights denied to him or her are because of the Christian "right."

Nothing is laid to rest here. Think that the American so-called "Christians" are not going to regroup and come back?

Think again. This is not over, from their perspective, not by a long shot. And this is definitely not the time for complacency, for assuming that because the GOP and their theocratic sponsors lost one election, they're giving up.

They won't. I'd encourage right-thinking Americans to remain vigilant to this very real threat.

(Full disclosure: This comment was brought to you by an American Christian (Catholic) heterosexual.)

Nathan | November 13, 2006 04:19 PM

So the ugly truth emerges.

Steve advocates withholding dating rights from those who express themselves with claws.

Shame on you, I say.

Steve Buchheit | November 13, 2006 04:25 PM

Nathan, yup, I'm a baaad boy. That and I didn't get Scalzi anything for Nov 13th.

Chang, who loves Democracy | November 13, 2006 04:48 PM

IS THIS HIS BIRTHDAY???

John Scalzi | November 13, 2006 05:02 PM

No, it's November 13th! Happy November 13th!

Steve Buchheit | November 13, 2006 05:03 PM

Chang, not that I know of, but he was so nice and got us gifts (see todays post on Subterranean). So I feel like the poor host standing at the door doing the catfish out of water routine as somebody is giving them a gift they didn't expect for a holiday they forgot while they are thinking quickly if a half-pound of old Halloween candy in a plastic baggie would be an acceptable return gift.

Chang, who loves Democracy | November 13, 2006 05:05 PM

HA, I see!

It's like in my house when my folks felt they needed a reason to gift me something out of nowhere (rare but well -remembered) my father would say something about St. Swithen's day. That's how I got my first bass. I miss it...

Well, I've been meaning to send Sclazicce some maple-related products. And he has been especially nice to us...

Scott Mactavish | November 13, 2006 05:06 PM

Nathan:

Didn't mean to knit-pick...indeed, your hybrid spelling is correct; part Arabic and part Hebrew.

SFC: Hooyah. Televangelists make my skin crawl, and I find them no more relevant to Christianity than L. Ron Hubbard.

Incidentally, I've mentioned 'Christianity' more times in this thread than in the past five years of day-to-day living. I have life-long friends that have no idea of my spiritual leanings, just as I know nothing of theirs. It's just not casual conversation for me, or most people I know that roll with JC. I guess if that were the case across the board, this whole theocracy thing would be moot.

Not that my way is the 'right' way, it just works for me.

Nathan | November 13, 2006 05:07 PM

Chang,

Your father gave you a large fresh-water fish for St. Swithen's day? This explains much.

Nathan | November 13, 2006 05:12 PM

Scott,

I'm picking nits until there ain't no nits no more. (How many times can you divide a nit by two before there isn't any more nit?)

In my comment, the first spelling represented the arabic and the second represents the Hebrew. The two languages have a number of very similar words and phrases.

My horse is now thoroughly deceased, you know, the one I rode in on?

Adam Ziegler | November 13, 2006 05:48 PM

Scott Mactavish,

If God is real, and God is both omniscient and omnipotent, and yet you are free to apply your own human judgements of morality to the works of God, then it seems to me that you should be asking God some pretty harsh questions regarding his behavior and the general level of suffering in this world he has created. I mean, God's not exactly setting a good example for the rest of us.

But if you don't believe that God is real, or that he is not omniscient or ominipotent, then you're really just faking this Christian thing, right? Gives you something to do on the weekends?

Could you pick a different hobby? Maybe worship a head of cabbage in your basement? Seems no more ridiculous to me than Christianity. Seriously, if you think that Christianity is that malleable, then you seem more like secular humanist who happens to admire some of the teachings of Jesus.

That's fine, but the problem with moderate Christians is that they unwittingly provide cover to people who really do want to exert a theologic influence in policy. By inflating the "Christian" majority, moderates make it seem somehow reasonable to believe that a 150-cell human blastocyst has a soul and thus must not be used for stem cell research.

If moderates like you dropped the label "Christian," it would make it easier for skeptics like myself to defend against the radical and often damaging absurdities espoused by the true believers. As it stands, we athiests are perhaps the most hated of minorities.

Cassie, Republican, conservative Orthodox Christian | November 13, 2006 06:08 PM

Fascinating reading.

I think that those who fear The Handmaid's Tale scenario should be more supportive of the war, as what Atwood wrote describes life under the Taliban and Saudi control. In fact, their convictions should lead them to enlist and demand the right to go to the Mideast now, and fight the Taliban to liberate the women there.

alkali | November 13, 2006 06:09 PM

Adam Ziegler writes:

If moderates like you dropped the label "Christian," it would make it easier for skeptics like myself to defend against the radical and often damaging absurdities espoused by the true believers.

Hey, I've got an idea. Instead of us abandoning our sincerely-held beliefs for your convenience, how about you abandon yours?

(Consumer warning: strictly a rhetorical question designed to illustrate the absurdity of the suggestion; do not ingest.)

As it stands, we athiests are perhaps the most hated of minorities.

Is it that hard for an atheist to get a cab?

PeterP | November 13, 2006 06:29 PM

I was mentioned as an Atheist during a friends divorce in order to discredit him for associating with me.

Of course, this from the same woman who referred to me as a "Satan Worshiping Atheist". I didn't really know what to say-I think pointing out the inherent contradiction there would be entirely lost on her. Never mind that I'm not actually an atheist, but again, parsing the difference between an atheist and an agnostic is probably too much to ask for.

Long story short, I have seen "atheist" used as a derogatory term on more than one occasion, but I wouldn't describe it as persecution. Just the rantings of fools.

PeterP | November 13, 2006 06:33 PM

Cassie:

"In fact, their convictions should lead them to enlist and demand the right to go to the Mideast now, and fight the Taliban to liberate the women there."

No, but if there is an Arabic translation of the book, I would definitely pay to ship a few copies over. Hearts and minds, etc...

Scott Mactavish | November 13, 2006 06:36 PM

Nathan: We're saying the same thing, bro. Now get that horse outta here before it starts stinkin' up the joint.

Adam:

So if I drop my 'label' all together, then you'll have one less protector of the enemy. Or, If I go all-out and become a slack-jawed Falwell acolyte, then know where I stand, and can atatck accordingly. Is that it, in all of its humorous glory?

Or does it just drive you insane that I'm actually cogent and willing to explore issues rather than falling into lock-step with Pat Robertson?

How do you know my stance on stem cell, or anything else?

Does it make me 'less Christian' if I support it? Well, it might make me less zealot, if all zealots believe such research is wrong, and many do.

What you don't seem to grasp is that Christianity is malleable; we have free will to interpret the word as we see personally fit. That's why it's called FAITH, my friend. None of us knows what's really right or wrong or otherwise, and so we search for answers and try to do the right thing in our own lives. How funny that an atheist would actually try to define how malleable Christianity should be, or how one should practice his faith.

Here's the thing Adam... You assume that I judge you or others. Do I? How do you know? What have I done do project that? Oh right...the fundies judge others, so therefore, I must. And the fundies want to block abortion and research and ...blah blah blah, and therefore, I must. Don't make assumptions about me, and I won't assume you're a pentagram-wearing chicken-killer. 'kay, pal?

You'll be hard-pressed to find another person who cares less about how you conduct your life than I.

And in regards to 'God's behavior'...

Man has been left to his own devices and screwed it royally. So don't blame God for those bad choices.


CJ-in-Weld | November 13, 2006 06:37 PM

See, now, these people who believe that athiests can worship Satan are the same kind of undesirables who believe an invisible unicorn can be pink.

Ron | November 13, 2006 06:43 PM

I think people like to act like they're the underdog. It makes for good press. So, the religious right acts like there is a "war on Christmas" or that their marriages are suffering from homosexual attacks, because it makes it seem like they are suffering from an injustice. It's some kind of group self-esteem crisis.

Most people, Christians or atheists, have enough self-confidence not to give a shit what other people are doing, and they let the kooks do their thing. Unfortunately, then the kooks start trying to pass laws controlling freedoms, and people have been ignoring them too long.

The real evil influence, I believe, is the media. Large portions of the media have brought us to the point where we are both ignorant and afraid of things we did not think about much before. It has reached the point where I think about 80% of what I hear on the national news is bull.

Simon Owens | November 13, 2006 06:44 PM

I'm going to have to echo what Adam just said but be much nicer about it: Scott, do you believe in an actual Christian God, one who sits above in Heaven and watches us and decides who goes to Heaven and Hell?

Tell me, if the bible is just folk lore and isn't to be taken literally, what's so great about this God if he can't even do these great things? And since the bible doesn't specifically differentiate between metaphor and the literal, what is your methodization of splitting up what really happened to what is folk-lore? Did Jesus really walk on water? How would you know, since you've already admitted that certain parts are metaphor? By admitting that one thing isn't literal, it creates a domino effect for everything else, since the bible doesn't specify between the literal and the non literal (except for Jesus' parables, which are usually taken to be symbolism by all). What is your method of picking and choosing what's considered metaphor and what isn’t, other than your own whims?

This is just one of the many major flaws in the non-literalist approach. For instance, people who argue for this non-literalist version of the bible say that God didn't really create the world as it currently is in seven days, that each day is just a metaphor for a long time. Oh yeah? Then how come one of the very few times when God himself specifically references those seven days, he's referring to seven 24-hour days? One of the ten commandments goes like this: "Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns." If the seven days are a metaphor, how come one of the few times that God himself addresses it, he takes it quite literally? Why does the original creation myth make reference to both "evening" and "morning," giving every indication that it means a 24 hour day?

If the creation myth is a metaphor for what happened, why does he get everything in the wrong order? Why does the Earth come before Sun and stars, when any scientist will tell you that the stars came before the Earth? Why do the flying creatures come before the land creatures even though any reputable evolutionist will say it's the other way around? How exactly do the plants and vegetation come before the stars? Does this God not even realize that the sun is a star?

In order for something to be taken non-literally, as a metaphor, the metaphor must actually represent something. If you read the bible, it can't even get the order right. I think that just chalking it up to metaphor every time something gets disproved by science is just intellectual dishonesty.

And that's just approaching Christianity from a textual biblical standpoint. That still doesn't answer the much bigger question: Why Christianity? Why not Islam? Why not Mormonism? Why religion at all when there's absolutely no real evidence for any of these religions, other than the anecdotal he-said/she-said kind?

This is just the tip of the iceberg. If you approach the bible and analyze it book by book, there's hundreds of things that don't make a bit of sense. Moderate and liberal Christians just gloss over all these inconvenient passages and explain them away with preferential quotes that contradict them, or they don't bother addressing them at all.

Scott Mactavish | November 13, 2006 06:51 PM

Rob-

You're spot on. Like when the gays want to marry, but are oppressed by the evil Christians. Or the atheists who are damaged by the phrase 'Merry Christmas.' Underdogs all.

Indeed, it cuts both ways.

And I absolutely agree that most people don't give a shit about the lives of others, and that kooks muddy the water for all positions.

Falwell doesn't speak for me, but he is the kook with the bully pulpit.

And as a member of the media, I can absolutely say that much of what you hear is bull...biased to the taste of story editors and shareholders.

Ron | November 13, 2006 06:54 PM

I'd like to point out that that there are people out there who are scholars in religious thought. I would put money on them schooling everyone here in a debate on whether God exists, and the accuracy of the Bible.

I'm saying this not to discourage discussion, but to point out that the argument "Metaphors are intellectual dishonesty" would not hold up under the scrutiny of a real religious scholar. These people do not make things up as they go along. There is a very rational approach taken, right down from the original premise of "There is a God."

That one is not exactly logical. But that's why they call it faith. And that's why arguing about whether God exists is not a particularly productive avenue of discussion, in my opinion.

Especially because most of the world, and the US, and Canada, believes in Him. That's not going to change. And one could argue that if enough people believe, that makes it true...

Anonymous | November 13, 2006 07:10 PM

Ann L wrote:

Well, see, that's because JFK was Catholic. If he'd been, you know, a real Christian then no one would have been worried.


Seriously. The trouble wasn't that JFK had a religion, but that his religion was Roman Catholocism. There's no contradiction at all, when you look at it that way.



That may have been true at the time JFK ran, but it's different now. The fact that John Kerry was a Catholic never even came up as an issue during the 2004 election. No one was worried that he would be influenced by the Pope.

Adam Ziegler | November 13, 2006 07:10 PM

alkali:

Hey, I've got an idea. Instead of us abandoning our sincerely-held beliefs for your convenience, how about you abandon yours?

It's not a matter of convenience when the reality is that the odds of an athiest holding high office in this country are slim and none.

If I convinced you that I sincerely believed that alien robots were sending me messages through my luggage that I should be exempt from taxes, would you be supportive? Or would you try to dissuade me?

Because from my perspective, the alien robots are about as believable as Christianity.

Scott Mactavish | November 13, 2006 07:14 PM

Simon-

I don't have time to defend what I believe, or why I believe it, or how it plays out in the Bible, etc.

It's exhausting, and like teaching a pig to sing, it goes nowhere and annoys the pig.

Why are you so threatend by my beliefs? Why does it matter to you if I believe it's all metaphor, fairytale or absolute truth? Why are you threatened by my choice of interpretation? I do nothing to impress my beliefs on you, yet, you attack as if I just sprinkled you with holy water and smacked you across the head with a crucifix.

Here's the thing. I could care less how you believe, yet, you are so ready to 'disprove' my belief system that you come off just as zany and wild-eyed as Jimmy Swaggart on a coke binge.

Back to my original point: There are many cogent, moderate Christians that could care less how you live, and aren't about to stop believing simply because you are an atheist.

Finally- I have many atheist friends, and we're friends because we respect one another. Perhaps if you took that tack, you'd have less haters in your life.


Laurie Mann | November 13, 2006 07:18 PM

You're right, we're not living in a theocracy.

Yet...

However, sometimes the sense the parts of the country are a theocracy certainly creeps in.

Like Utah.

Or Ohio.

I've been following a very depressing blog this fall, by a woman who lives in Ohio. She had a birth control failure on a Friday night, and immediately tried to get the morning after pill.

She couldn't do it. People refused. It was completely disgusting.

Never mind that the morning after pill does not cause an abortion (http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/04/why_the_wingnuts_hate_plan_b.php if you want to read about the science behind the morning after pill). Since certain religious groups have been brainwashing their people to believe that it DOES cause abortions, and since some of these people work as doctors or pharmacists, sometimes the morning after pill cannot be gotten, even though it's a legal drug.

She wound finding out that she was pregnant, and wound up having to have a surgical abortion a few weeks later.

So when I hear stories like that, I have to assume that it seems like we are in a theocracy, since the quality of life for some is behing impared by other people's religious beliefs.

Scott Mactavish | November 13, 2006 07:28 PM

Laurie:

That's a very good point.

But I'm genuinely curious: the people that refused her request for the pill....

Who were they, specifically? Why did they 'refuse?' Are you sure this is the action of a religious group, or is that how she perceived it?

I'm not trying to poke the hornet's nest here...I'd like to know the facts before forming an opinion.

Is it even remotely possible that she was denied the pill for a medical, or other reason? Or, are you absolutely sure there was a 'religious group' behind it?


Simon Owens | November 13, 2006 07:31 PM

"I'm saying this not to discourage discussion, but to point out that the argument "Metaphors are intellectual dishonesty" would not hold up under the scrutiny of a real religious scholar. These people do not make things up as they go along. There is a very rational approach taken, right down from the original premise of "There is a God."

Your hypothesis here is silly. What does it even mean to be a real religous scholar? Honestly, I'd really like to know. The constant grasp for authority in religion is meaningless, there is no authority, especially when recent statistics show that there are a significant number of Americans out there who call themselves Christian and yet haven't read the entire bible. I find that very humorous that a person can call himself a Christian and yet can't be bothered to actually sit down and read the thing from cover to cover. If that person can be called a true Christian, then I can easily call myself a religious skeptic. The whole "If only religious scholars were here, then you would be pWnEd" statement is laughable. How does one school someone in an ideology when even its most fervent believers admit that the inherent belief in it is based purely on faith? Does religous scholarly attention give you bonus points that make your faith weigh more? At least in philisophical idealogies like Marxism and Socialism and Liberalism, its believers often put forth charts and scientific studies to at least support their thoughts, even if those charts and studies don't offer absolute proof.

There is no debate in what the bible says in these core statements: The bible says that the vegetation came before the stars. The bible says that the flying animals came before the land animals. I've read those in the several different translations that we studied in my biblical text college course. No intellectually dishonest "religious scholar" is going to be able to change that. At best, he or she will try to muddy the waters with obscure historical tidbits, or find some obscure passage somewhere in the old or new testament that seems to cast just a bit of doubt on creation myth if you just squint at it the right way and click your heels three times.

This great authority that Christians give to "religious scholars" who say things that sound really smart doesn't address the problems of even those who are moderatley skeptic.

Simon Owens | November 13, 2006 07:47 PM

Scott,

I'm not attacking Christianity out of some hatred. My entire family is Christian. I grew up going to Church on a weekly basis, went to CCD, took Bible course, became an atheist, then became a born-again Christian in college, went to daily bible group sessions and Christian Fellowship and Church, then became an agnostic atheist again. I've lived and breathed Christianity, and continue to have religious friends and family who I get along with just fine.

More importantly, I love the fact that moderate Christians and liberal Christians disagree and vocalize against the far right.

But in the end, Christianity is a philosophical ideology just like Marxism, just like Socialism, and just like conservatism. It doesn't just theorize on the existence of God, but asserts that that God is interactive in dictating morals in what is right and wrong. Christianity is a moral philosophy.

And as a moral philosophy, it is subject to just as much scrutiny as any other moral philosophy. Richard Dawkins, in his excellent book The God Delusion, talks about how religions have been propped onto this pedestal to where to a certain extent, they can't be attacked. He holds that even though he won't be specifically vehement against religion, he'll treat it just like any other hypothesis, scientific or otherwise: with extreme skepticism.

I noticed you have a blog. I've also noticed that you comment on political matters in it, and that you side with liberalism. Tell me, do you ever attack conservative beliefs on your blog? How is that any different from me vigorously attacking religion?

As to why I don't just go off into my corner and believe my beliefs and let you believe your beliefs, even the most moderate Christians use missionaries. Almost every major religion, whether liberal or conservatives, has missionaries, who think it's perfectly alright to go and explain to people why they should convert to their religion. Which is fine, as long as they don’t physically force their religion.

In that sense, consider me an atheist missionary. It is my belief that our moral decisions shouldn't be grounded in superstitious belief, and that I want to actively promote my non-religious belief.

And besides, this is a religious and political debate thread. What else do you expect?

Scott Mactavish | November 13, 2006 07:49 PM

At least in philisophical idealogies like Marxism and Socialism and Liberalism, its believers often put forth charts and scientific studies to at least support their thoughts, even if those charts and studies don't offer absolute proof.

And you're trying to discredit religious scholars by referencing those losers in human history?

I've read those in the several different translations that we studied in my biblical text college course.

Good creepin' Moses, man. First Marxists, then 'college' courses. Are you over 25? Get back to us when you have some life experience and we'll take you seriously.

Adam Ziegler | November 13, 2006 07:54 PM

Scott Mactavish:

So if I drop my 'label' all together, then you'll have one less protector of the enemy. Or, If I go all-out and become a slack-jawed Falwell acolyte, then know where I stand, and can atatck accordingly. Is that it, in all of its humorous glory?

Not the way I’d put it, but we can say it that way if you like.

Ron, in a later post, pretty much makes my point for me:

Especially because most of the world, and the US, and Canada, believes in Him. That's not going to change. And one could argue that if enough people believe, that makes it true...

I really like that last part. If I can get enough people to believe that I have the largest gold deposit ever discovered under my house, I’ll be rich!

Scott, the rest of your response seems to be in regard to things I didn’t actually write, but I’ll respond to a couple points:

What you don't seem to grasp is that Christianity is malleable; we have free will to interpret the word as we see personally fit. That's why it's called FAITH, my friend.

I grasp that any person is able to make believe any damn fool thing they want, and I can’t prove that it isn’t true. What I don’t grasp is why I am expected to keep my mouth shut when they use those beliefs to start making claims about reality that are not empirically supported.

If your city councilman started out each session by sincerely claiming that he had been divinely inspired by Mordrath, Blood God of Endorion, wouldn’t you be a slight bit alarmed if he had a hand in serious policy issues? Yet, I’m expected to be respectful when our elected politicians speak of their faith.

None of us knows what's really right or wrong or otherwise, and so we search for answers and try to do the right thing in our own lives.

There’s a nice bit of inconsistency: I can’t know right or wrong without God, but God doesn’t come right out and say what right or wrong is, so I have to interpret what God tells me to determine right from wrong. But if you can make such an interpretation, then it seems to me that you can know right from wrong, irrespective of God.

I’m all for healthy contemplation of life’s important questions, and I will respect a well-argued position, but dragging God into the mix is basically just an excuse to use when you start spouting bullshit and don’t want to get called on it.

Man has been left to his own devices and screwed it royally. So don't blame God for those bad choices.

So, hurricane Katrina, our fault? How about the tsunami that killed a few hundred thousand people a couple years back? AIDS? Smallpox? John Travolta? How can anyone believe in a benevolent God in the face of such horrors?

Perhaps my complaint can be better understood via a thought experiment. Suppose there is a group of people who are committed to spending tax dollars on a mountain-sized monument to Zeus. We’ll call them the Olympians. They think that Zeus is real, he’s pissed, and if we don’t placate him right quick, he’s going to zap us but good.

Let’s say I’m opposed to this group, because I think they are crazy. You’re not crazy, but they have really nice barbeque on Thursdays and you kinda like the ceremony of the thing, so you go along with it. Whatever your motivations, when I try to point out that these people are crazy, you reasonably respond that “I’m not crazy, and I’m an Olympian, and therefore it can’t be true that the Olympians are crazy.”

That’s true as far as it goes, but it misses the point. The group advocates crazy behavior. I don’t care if they are all crazy, and I don’t care if people want to be crazy without affecting me, but if they want to be crazy on my dime, or possibly do harm to me or mine, how can I sit still for that?

Scott Mactavish | November 13, 2006 08:06 PM

This thread started as Scalzi's opinion on theocracies, and I was one of the first posters to state that I am firmly against them.

Interesting how it turned into a full-on Panzer attack on Christianity and faith.

I can only imagine what kind of hatred you aim at those that are actually trying to force their be beliefs on you.

I'm out..gotta take the kids to basketball practice.

Sara | November 13, 2006 08:11 PM

Not a religious scholar, just a preacher's daughter, but I have to comment on a few things. Mostly, the non-literal interpretation of the Bible is the belief that God and Jesus exist, but that specific things that human beings wrote about them in the ancient world may not be entirely accurate. I do not believe any part of the Bible was dictated or written by God. I don't think my father does either. Most of the Old Testament is the history of the Jews. It begins with their creation mythology, which fits with scientific reality about as well as any other creation myth from the same timeframe. The fact is that the Jews understood their world in similar ways to their neighbors, and that the early Christians were influenced by the same things that influenced other cults that arose in the Roman empire at the time, and Paul wrote his letters to people living in a specific culture and a specific time. The fact that these people did not perfectly understand the nature of God, and were influenced by the times they lived in, does not prove that God doesn't exist. There's a spiritual component to faith, and either you've experienced that or you haven't but no degree of accuracy of the book can create or take away that experience.

I call myself a Christian rather than, say, a Theist, because I do believe that Jesus Christ was a part of God and overcame death. To call myself something else in order to politically remove myself from the Christian Right seems like surrendering that belief to them. It's a bit of a responsibility to call myself Christian, actually, so the world can see that we're not all like the Bible thumping wackos. Some of us really want to be more like Christ.

Diana | November 13, 2006 08:36 PM

I am amused by the idea that the Bible ought to specify when it's being metaphorical and when it REALLY means one should love thy neighbor. Should novels specify when the sun is actually rising or when rosy-fingered Dawn is merely creeping along the horizon?

I don't think people who are not a member of a religion should expend much thought defining the terms under which people who *do* identify as a member of a religion are allowed to identify that way. They don't make the rules on that topic. I don't know who does (methinks its nobody, or it changes for each tiny faction), but it's not the people outside of the religion, that's for sure.

Laurie Mann | November 13, 2006 08:45 PM

Scott, I can only go by what the woman was told. At least one doctor told her she did not believe in prescribing EC. So since the woman lived in a rural area with limited transportation that day, she was unable to get EC when she needed it.

I lived in Ohio for two years, and remember vividly having people stop me on the street and ask me if my daughter was baptized yet.

Jim said the right answer would have been to say that we were Druids....

Dan | November 13, 2006 08:51 PM

I wonder whether or not we'll see any sort of upsurge in the rhetoric and actions of those Christian dominionists as they see that window on that theocracy closing?

Ann L | November 13, 2006 09:43 PM

That may have been true at the time JFK ran, but it's different now. The fact that John Kerry was a Catholic never even came up as an issue during the 2004 election. No one was worried that he would be influenced by the Pope.

I didn't say anyone was. Just that the current demand that politicians wear their Christianity on their sleeve does not represent any kind of contradition to or change from the situation when JFK was running. The post I was responding to set up what I felt was a false comparison.

And the issue of Kerry's Catholicism did come up, though not quite the same way it did for JFK. It certainly wasn't the same sort of big deal. But various bishops (including one local to me, which might be why it sticks in my memory--that and the fact that I was raised Catholic and live in a largely Catholic city) declared that he shouldn't be given communion because of his stand on abortion rights and as I recall that made national news. Not the same as JFK at all--in this case, it was aimed not at protestant voters who might have been afraid he'd run the US to JPII's orders but at Catholic voters. Still, the issue did come up.

Eddie | November 13, 2006 09:44 PM

I doubt we've seen the last of this Evangelical movement to control the politics of the good old U S of A.

The election sweep was a moratorum on the war,nothing more.

As long as those on the religious right continue to be able to raise huge sums of money they will have influence in the government.

Let's not forget the motto of American style democracy,"Money Talks".

Adam Ziegler | November 13, 2006 10:00 PM

Scott Mactavish wrote:

... it turned into a full-on Panzer attack on Christianity and faith.

I can only imagine what kind of hatred you aim at those that are actually trying to force their be beliefs on you.

It's fair to say that I've attacked Christianity and faith. I manifestly have and will continue to do so, because I think religion does more harm and good.

But I don't hate you, nor do I hate Christians in general. I was raised a Presbyterian, I've read the Bible, and I understand first-hand the sort of moderate views you and Sara have described. I wish that more Christians shared them.

Surveys show that roughly half of Americans believe that God created humans in their present form in the past ten thousand years or so. Federal stem cell research funding is currently on hiatus because of Christian influence. Millions of taxpayer dollars are wasted each year on ineffectual abstinence-only sex education because of religious concerns.

I do not argue against the right to practice religion. People should be free to make their own choices regarding religion, smoking, drugs, alcohol, or any other vice, provided their actions are victimless. But that doesn't mean there shouldn't be debate regarding which choices are better.

If Christians can "hate the sin and love the sinner", then I can advocate against religion without hating those who practice it.

Adam Ziegler | November 13, 2006 10:01 PM

Diana wrote:

I am amused by the idea that the Bible ought to specify when it's being metaphorical and when it REALLY means one should love thy neighbor. Should novels specify when the sun is actually rising or when rosy-fingered Dawn is merely creeping along the horizon?

I am amused by the idea that we should compare the Bible with a work of fiction. I think the comparison is apt.

Steve Buchheit | November 13, 2006 10:57 PM

I think the conversation took a left somewhere, and I apologize if this analogy seems harsh, but Religion and Theocracy have the same thing in common as do Sex and Rape. Sure, both of terms being compared involve similar language to describe actions and "reasons," but the later words have more in common with the concept of "power over the other" as they do with the first terms in the comparison.

While many, especially here, can say with all truthfulness that the Evangelical and Religious pundits don't speak for them, I hope they all understand that those pundits claim that they do speak for you. They are acting in your name. I understand that they are doing this without your consent. You can compare this with the Iraq War. The US Government is acting in Iraq in the name of all citizens of the US, if you consented or agreed with the war isn't the question. When people ask me why I get so upset about the war, this is the reason. I speak up, I write my Senators and Congressmen to let them know how I feel about them acting in my name.

There is a prejudice against non-Christians in this country. Is there tolerance and acceptance? For the most part, yes. As someone who has had people tell me to my face that they "pray for my redemption" more than a handful of times, I can tell you how thin that veneer of acceptance is. Have I been forced to convert? No, but I have felt the pressure to keep quiet about my personal beliefs. There is a growing movement to convert people using power positions more than peer pressure. Do a google search for evangelical and chaplain and you can see one of the first open battles. If you wish to see this prejudice for yourself, this holiday season when someone wishes you a "Merry Christmas" respond by wishing them a "Happy Solstice." See what response you get, watch their face as you say it.

There is also a current trend to rewrite the history of this country to form it around a "Christian Ideal." To hear current public debate you would think the Pilgrims landed not at Plymouth Rock (for all the historical accuracy of that statement) but at Jamestown and formed the seed of every other colonial movement in what became the US. In current thought the west was won with the six-shooter in one hand and the Bible in the other, when it was more true to say that if a person "going west" had only one book with them it was the Complete Works of Shakespeare more often than not.

CJ-in-Weld | November 13, 2006 11:01 PM

Eddie wrote: "I doubt we've seen the last of this Evangelical movement to control the politics of the good old U S of A."

Well, of course not. They try to control politics the same way every other faction does - persuade people to vote a certain way, and then use the advantage of incumbency to maintain power. Isn't that what every organized political group does?

I don't much care for the religious fundamentalist wing of the GOP, but to be fair, they're not exactly sneaky. Or did I miss where they were arming militias? That would make me a little more afraid of theocracy....

Brian Skinn | November 13, 2006 11:06 PM

Martin Wagner:

And when a core tenet of your belief system is that all non-members of your belief system are corrupt sinners who deserve eternal torment in Hell, that does not lead to tolerance and compassion for non-believers, let alone make one receptive to their views or concerns.

Obviously I can't speak for all Christians, but as for this Christian, the actual core belief is that everyone is a corrupt sinner deserving eternal torment in Hell, myself included. The awesome thing about Christianity is, it provides a (remarkably logical) way to dodge that particular bullet and opt for something a little nicer. This thus leads to the (I'd think natural) desire to share this option with others. Of course, this necessitates convincing others that they are in fact horribly corrupt sinners, which most folk aren't real fond about.

I will freely grant that screaming in a person's face about how awful a sinner he is probably represents the least effective way of presenting this argument. Thus why the word "evangelical" leaves such a bad taste in so many folks' mouths.

Also, on-post-topic, theocracy = bad. BUT, law inspired by religious or faith-based values is not intrinsically invalid, given that it goes on the books by the appropriate legislative or ballot-initiative routes. On any particular question your level of agreement and/or mileage may vary. If you're not too fond of where things sit, then evangelize the neighbors with your views. See how well that goes over. ;-)

Ron | November 13, 2006 11:21 PM

Ooooookkaayyyyy.

Someone's cornflakes got pissed in by an evangelical this morning.

You want a good example of something that only exists because people believe in it? The stock market. Heck, take a five dollar bill out of your wallet and look at it. That money can be exchanged for goods and services. Makes sense, right? Wrong. It's just a piece of paper. If somebody from some forgotten Pacific island came here and saw what you could get with little pieces of paper, or just a plastic card, they would think we are all crazy. Our economy exists because we believe in it. But if enough people chose not to believe in it, our economy would collapse. That is why stock markets crash. It's not just something that happens. People just start to think that something they BELIEVED to be worth so much, is actually now worth much less. Nothing physically really needs to happen. A company can go from being worth millions to pennies, but it will still be the same company with the same equipment and the same employees. I am not eloquent enough nor versed enough in the vagaries of stock exchange economics to really drive my point home but hopefully you see what I mean. Other examples of things that might not be TANGIBLE but which we all think exist: logic, fairness, math, beauty, etc. I am not putting God up there with them. Nor am I equating them with a pile of gold. Thank you for not even trying to see my point though.

What I was saying, in a philosophical lets-all-get-along manner, I thought, was that even if there is no God, a lot of people, billions in fact, will act like there is one. And people like you, Adam, will damn well have to deal with the consequences of that. I'm sorry that most people don't subscribe to your belief system. It is deeply unfortunate, I feel, that the Christian right has the influence it does in our society today. I think almost everyone else here would agree with me. But I submit that you, sir, would do well not to spend as much time thinking about which parts of the bible don't really reflect reality. There are people that do that, and if you want to understand the Bible, go talk to them. They are almost definitely very nice people, happy to help you understand.

Your belief that there is no God is just as valid as the belief that there is one. There's no proof. If I had my druthers, the government would not be affected at all by people's individual's beliefs. It is a spiritual issue, which should be separate from secular government. I think faith-based initiatives should not be funded by the government. You are going out of your way to find an argument here.

I haven't seen anybody call atheism a sad, lonely existence without meaning. I sure wouldn't do that. Because it would be BS. But calling someone's spiritual beliefs a fantasy seems pretty hateful, and more importantly, fails to make anything resembling a relevant point.

Nathan | November 14, 2006 12:16 AM

Thanks Ron.

The room was getting a little hostile.

Euan | November 14, 2006 12:38 AM

"If the creation myth is a metaphor for what happened, why does he get everything in the wrong order?"

It's not wrong if God does it.

"Why do the flying creatures come before the land creatures even though any reputable evolutionist will say it's the other way around?"

He just did all that to confuse you. Go ask the disreputable evolutionists. You can find 'em int he bar. They'll tell 'ya. (You may have to buy 'em a few beers first, though.)

Adam Ziegler | November 14, 2006 01:02 AM

Ron, I appreciate your response. And before I reply, I want to say that I do respect your right to believe whatever you choose. But I'm not obliged to agree or keep quiet about my non-agreement, though Mr. Scalzi has the option to decide that I need to keep quiet about it here.

And I do agree with you on some things:

It is deeply unfortunate, I feel, that the Christian right has the influence it does in our society today. I think almost everyone else here would agree with me.

and this:

If I had my druthers, the government would not be affected at all by people's individual's beliefs. It is a spiritual issue, which should be separate from secular government. I think faith-based initiatives should not be funded by the government.

But the stock market analogy doesn't work. I work in the securities industry. I can find evidence that financial markets exist without resorting to faith. There are scientific theories with predictive value regarding the behavior of capital markets. There are uncounted laws, regulations, conventions, treaties and binding contracts that ensure our monetary systems and capital markets will continue to function as intended.

None of this ensures that markets will remain stable, or that people will not decide it is in their best interest to break those agreements or stop participating in the market, but if they do so, it will be based on their examination of empirical evidence. The comparison with religious faith doesn't hold up because faith, by definition, is not based on empirical evidence.

The non-tangible things that you mention are all still susceptible to empirical exploration. If you say that a vase is beautiful we can debate with reference to observable characteristics of the object at hand and the meaning of beauty. We might never agree, but we would have empirical reasons.

What I was saying, in a philosophical lets-all-get-along manner, I thought, was that even if there is no God, a lot of people, billions in fact, will act like there is one. And people like you, Adam, will damn well have to deal with the consequences of that. I'm sorry that most people don't subscribe to your belief system.

That is precisely what I object to, since the consequences of irrational belief are often so tragic. Your statement smacks of "might makes right." What would it mean to "act like there is a God," if there is no God to direct us in what God wants? Who holds the reins then? Men who seek power, that's who.

I don't ask people to share my (non-)belief system, but I'd like them drop the polite fiction that we should be quietly tolerant of beliefs that are not based on evidence but instead on a willful ignorance of how it could be any other way. For example, I have little or no objection to eastern systems of spirituality, such as Zen Buddhism, since they are empirical in nature and do not ask us to accept things on faith alone.

But I submit that you, sir, would do well not to spend as much time thinking about which parts of the bible don't really reflect reality. There are people that do that, and if you want to understand the Bible, go talk to them. They are almost definitely very nice people, happy to help you understand.

Ron, if at this point you think I might believe that any part of the Bible is an especially useful tool for understanding reality, then I'm sorry to admit that I've led you astray somewhere. But your advice here serves to illustrate how men who seek power can exploit those who are willing to accept ideas on faith. Even if most of them are "very nice," we have seen that it takes only a few not-so-nice religious leaders to create serious problems in our society.

Your belief that there is no God is just as valid as the belief that there is one. There's no proof.

... calling someone's spiritual beliefs a fantasy seems pretty hateful, and more importantly, fails to make anything resembling a relevant point.

It's quite funny that we need a word for "atheist" at all. We don't have a word for people who don't believe that Elvis is still alive. We don't have a word for people who don't accept that the moon is made of cheese.

If a man claimed that he should be accorded special priviledges because he is Napoleon and I pointed out that his claim is highly improbable and lacking empirical evidence, no person would label me "hateful." Yet I am called hateful more than once for pointing out what, to me at least, seems a similar state of affairs regarding Christianity.

Justine Larbalestier | November 14, 2006 01:45 AM

It's quite funny that we need a word for "atheist" at all. We don't have a word for people who don't believe that Elvis is still alive.

Sure we do: "crazy".

Andrew Wade | November 14, 2006 03:40 AM

The non-tangible things that you mention are all still susceptible to empirical exploration.

But so too is religious belief. That's not a useful discriminator. There is no reason that we cannot study the psychology of spirituality and the psychology of beauty in like manner. Or the psychology of fairness. Or of justice.

If you say that a vase is beautiful we can debate with reference to observable characteristics of the object at hand and the meaning of beauty. We might never agree, but we would have empirical reasons.

Sure. And debates over the nature of god can (and sometimes do) involve empirical evidence as well. I don't see any useful discriminant here between god and the various (other) illusions (logic, fairness, math, beauty, etc.) we take for granted. Each can be formalized to mechanical rules. But—and this is where claims of empiricism run into trouble—for each there is more than one way to formalize them.

I really do think Christians are mistaken about the existence of God and the divinity of Jesus Christ. But they don't deserve the scorn that has been heaped upon them in this thread merely by virtue of having those beliefs.

Ted Lemon | November 14, 2006 03:59 AM

Justine, what about people who have no opinion one way or the other about whether or not Elvis is alive? Are they merely deluded? :')

Simon, I don't know if I should even bother to mention this, being a Buddhist myself and therefore by definition not a believer in the Christian idea of "God," but your idea of the Christian idea of God isn't actually the Christian idea of God. What it is is a sort of God myth that's perpetuated by kids who go to church but really don't get what it's about. It's what my friends were telling me about God when we were all ten years old. Some people never go any deeper into it than that, and that's why you meet adults who still buy into this idea of God.

If you are genuinely interested in the question of what people believe in who are Christian, you need to do a little reading and learning and talking to people. And if you aren't (and the evidence suggests you are not), then don't make an ass of yourself by pontificating about it.

I can completely relate to your disgust at the ideas that our friends were telling us when we were ten. These ideas are *why* I am a Buddhist, and not a Christian. They make no sense at all, and completely lack any kind of internal consistency. But if you want to know the core teachings of Christianity, go read the Sermon on the Mount. Heck, read Mark and Matthew cover to cover. Don't bother with John - without commentary it's pretty impenetrable, albeit somewhat incendiary, particularly to an avowed atheist. Bottom line: don't waste your time with this old guy with a white beard crap.

And if your gripe about Christianity is that too many Christians buy the old guy with a white beard crap, well, again, I can relate, but these people are ignorant. The Bible doesn't say God is an old guy with a beard. So if you're going to rail against something, why not rail against ignorance itself, rather than just some annoying sub-branch of it?

Danjite | November 14, 2006 05:04 AM

A simple comment:

In the US, non-Christians face a variety of wide-ranging acts of discrimination, personal affront and subtle humiliations on a daily basis.



As do non-whites.



If you don't perceive the first issue, you are a Christian.



If you don't perceive the second, you are white.



Though you may be a white Christian and perceive both- in my personal expereince- your perceptions would place you in the vast minority.



None of you can reasonably deny my perception of my personal experiences- the US is a Christian culture that treats non-believers with contempt and disrespect- even when preaching egalitarianism.

Scott Mactavish | November 14, 2006 05:47 AM

Good morning. Hope everyone decided to leave the numchucks at home. My claymore is in the car today, so let's try to move forward without attacks, eh?

Let's see...Where were we...

Danjite, White Christian here, as evidenced in the scrums above.

There's no question American society is largely Christian, and it's quite unfortunate that any so-called follower of Christ would marginalize you or anyone for believing they way they see fit, or for your skin color. Christianity is actually about acceptance and inclusion, not judgment and exlusion, and the faith has been hijacked by those who use it for financial and political gain.

And I absolutely agree that some white Christians discriminate against non-white, non-Chrisitians. But many do not. I can point to thousands, perhaps tens of thousands or more, of white Christians that participate in multi-faith (Jew, Muslim, Budhist) ministries with non-whites and do so quite successfully.

But hold on a second...are you saying that only whites discriminate against non-white, non-Christians?

Sorry, bubba, that boat's not sailing today.

Go spend a couple of weeks in Brooklyn and really absorb the religious gestalt of the neighborhoods.
You'll see hatred of the Hasidm that originates from several (non-white) minority groups, as well as other blatant acts of non-white on non-white racism.

You have a valid point, Danjite. Let's not muck it up by generalizing so broadly.

If you'd like specific examples of white Christians who are welcoming and inclusive of all races and religions, pay a visit to any Methodist Church and ask to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. You will be welcomed with open arms and you will *not* be thrown into a baptismal pool or otherwise 'converted' or asked to 'become Christian.' You might actually make some friends that you could take to Temple, or Mosque, or Tibet. (Yes, many Christians actually enjoy learning about other faiths, myself included.)

[Caveat: Yes, of course you can volunteer with Habitat without going through a Methodist Church. I'm merely using Habitat as an example because I have first-hand experience with it.]

Adam Ziegler | November 14, 2006 07:37 AM

...so let's try to move forward without attacks, eh?
Attacking someone's stated beliefs is not an attack on that person. I can understand why they might have an emotional response, but saying that a person's claims are unfounded is different than saying they are a bad person.

Question that someone really is Napoleon and that's OK, but question their belief in a supreme being and that's not OK.

At no point have I said that all Christians are bad people, and I readily admit that there are many tolerant, free-thinking people who call themselves Christian. Some of these people do good works in the name of God.

But if I point out that these same tolerant, generous people are defacto apologists for some ridiculous and often harmful notions about the nature of reality, then I'm somehow "hateful."

This notion that we have to be respectful of deeply held but unsubstantiated beliefs merely because they are popular and traditional is what I want to see gone.

Scott Mactavish | November 14, 2006 07:58 AM

The problem is, Adam, you paint all of us as defacto apologists, without knowing a damn thing about our beliefs, or behaviors, as individuals.

I could care less if you respect my faith or not, really. You see, life is working out rather nicely for me, and until someone with a better deal comes along (which is unlikely), I'll laugh off the attacks and enjoy that which has been sent my way.

And BTW, you're free to attack it as you see fit.
Where on this thread, or any other, has anyone denied your right to attack Christianity?

I sense that you hate Christianity because 'society' looks down upon you and mocks you for being an atheist. If that's the root of your hatred for the faith, well, then I can't unring that bell, and encourage you to grow some thicker skin, and deal with the haters in the same manner we Christians deal with you. [By 'haters' I mean those that hate the game, not the players, as you suggest above.]

You act as if we are 'oppressing' you merely by defending that which you attack so passionately.

So be it.

Off to the train. Everyone, even you, Adam...
Have a nice day.

Danjite | November 14, 2006 08:20 AM

Mr. Mactavish:

You applied an incorrect inverse to my post, to wit:

If you don't perceive the first issue, you are a Christian.
If you don't perceive the second, you are white.

The first DOES not mean that if you do perceive the first issue, you AREN'T Christian, nor the second it's inverse.

There are actual, good, sensative and appropriate Christian individuals out there- my statement was regarding a day-in-the-life of a non-Christian in the US, something I have experience with and you, apparently, do not.

Ask any married person over 30 who lacks children how many personal comments and how much crass societal pressure they face about that on a weekly basis.

You also assumed- my guess is based on that second incorrect inverse, that I am not white- which I am.

Okay, beige.

Lecture me not, Please Sir, on broad generalizations. Your own posts indulge in them, allow me my own generalities or please beat your own into submission.

Curiously, I have in fact attended an astounding array of churches, temples and synagouges with a variety of faiths, my long term favorites being an African American Reigious Science Church in deepest Oaktown followed closely by a Hindu ashram in the Himalayas. I have gotten down with my hassidic brethren on Avenue N, and many flavours of Islamists, too.

My street cred is golden. Yo.

I fail to see how you can read into my post the logic leap- in your words: ...that only whites discriminate against non-white, non-Christians?"... I re-read it several times and saw no such implication.

The fact is- and ask any non-Christian identified person who grew up that way- that the assumptions of the society and by-and-large it's individuals is that one is "of-the-faith"- an assumption which by it's very nature is as disrespectful of others as assuming one is heterosexual, white, male or a Yankee's fan when one is not... and if the speaker is all those things and one is not- one is instantly an outsider.

Mr. Wagner's comment is dead on: "Religion divides people." Not that divisions are unnatural, for even fish recognize them. We just don't need to support more prejudicial delineators.

I understand the system is het/white/male/Christian/breeder/Yankee fan biased and it would be only the fool or the societally unaware who suggest otherwise.

Or the het, white, male, christian, breeder Yankee fan.

(Not that it matters, but I identify as white, jewish, het, non-breeder and a curling fan who should use his spell checker more often.)

Adam Ziegler | November 14, 2006 08:49 AM

Scott Mactavish wrote:

... you paint all of us as defacto apologists, without knowing a damn thing about our beliefs, or behaviors, as individuals.

Yes, I think that all Christians are defacto apologists for Christianity. Does that really seem like an absurd claim? My comments have been written based only on your own comments here, not anything I'm assuming about you.

I could care less if you respect my faith or not, really. You see, life is working out rather nicely for me, and until someone with a better deal comes along (which is unlikely), I'll laugh off the attacks and enjoy that which has been sent my way.

That's nice for you. Less so for people who suffer needlessly because of Christian extremism. Perhaps if I saw much more vigorous opposition to this absurdity from moderates like yourself, I wouldn't see your stated belief as part of the problem. But by allowing the notion of a monolithic "Christian" majority in this country to persist, moderates make it easier for extremists to find influence.

That's their right, but I don't have to keep silent about it.

I sense that you hate Christianity because 'society' looks down upon you and mocks you for being an atheist.

After lecturing me about not knowing the details of your existence, you can write this? But since you bring it up, I'm not mocked or looked down upon on a daily basis. And I'm accustomed to having rather solitary positions in some conversations. No, my main concern is about what sort of world my daughter is going to grow up in.

Phillip J. Birmingham | November 14, 2006 09:12 AM

I think that those who fear The Handmaid's Tale scenario should be more supportive of the war, as what Atwood wrote describes life under the Taliban and Saudi control.

Which is why we kicked the Taliban and Saudis out of Iraq!

Uh, wait...

Tripp | November 14, 2006 10:37 AM

Scott,

I'll just chime in with some moral support for your point of view. I'm a white Christian who belongs to a Methodist church which does no proselytizing.

I don't get into any debates on faith because there really is no point. By definition debate is not subject to rational debate.

Nowadays some so-called "Christians," those John identifies as Leviticans, give all Christians a bad name. All I can say is that most of us are not like. Actually I am starting to learn that where I live, Minnesota, is not necessarily like many other places in the US. I think the US population has self-segregated over the past several decades and as it turns out I find many people I agree with in Minnesota. In general I'd classify us as more 'help the poor and try to be like Christ' and in that sense more liberal than the judgemental Leviticans.

Tripp | November 14, 2006 10:40 AM

Adam,

No, my main concern is about what sort of world my daughter is going to grow up in.

Move to Minnesota. That's what I did.

Seriously. The country self-segregates. Life is easier when you live with like-minded people.

Ron | November 14, 2006 10:50 AM

Morning!

Simon and Adam,

I'd like to clear up one or two things. My point about religious scholars, for one. I do not equate them with church leaders, at all. I meant that there are people who take the time to learn about religion. Sometimes it is in a religious institution, like a seminary, sometimes it's a religious college, and sometimes it is a regular university. These people are not moral authorities, nor are they in positions of power. I'm not saying that because they are experts in the Bible and other religious tracts, they can tell regular Christians what to do, nor should they argue with non-Christians over their lifestyles. Okay?

What these people can do, however, is take the amazingly ignorant assumption that most Christians believe "God just went click and then the world was turned on" and turn it into a legitimate discussion on spirituality. The belief in a Christian God is just as valid as Buddhist beliefs. There are interesting and enlightening avenues of discussion about spirituality to pursue. I am not saying that they could "pwn" you, which really ticked me off by the way, but that they could move you from the "God is just like a pink unicorn" idea to one where he is the embodiment of a spiritual entity which is a part of the universe, and not a frickin giant old guy with a beard. You are not being asked to believe in that God here. The point is that it is a very spiritual and beautiful religion, and if you believe Buddhist beliefs have value than I absolutely think that if you knew more about the appropriate parts of Christianity you would believe it has value too.

It is a big religion. Unfortunately when you have so many people involved in something, the main message can get skewed. I am sorry that you and others have experienced some kind of persecution based on religious beliefs. People who do that are small and misguided. People who think the world was created 6,000 years ago are ignorant, and they have been led astray by small religious leaders who would do well to reflect more on the Bible's teachings.

Arguments in this forum against these types of religious beliefs have been met with agreement and support, as far as I can see. I am not sure we are arguing the same thing, here. But anyway, belief in a Christian God does not translate to belief in magic, given the many definitions of God out there. I don't think he/she/it controls anything like tsunamis and bad people. I don't think God created the world in six days. You can talk about why some people believe that, but it would be a colossal waste of time, as it's not very rational. We can agree on that, at least.

Ron | November 14, 2006 11:27 AM

Look, I'm not even particularly religious. I would describe myself as a semi-lapsed Catholic. I am lazy, so I only occasionally go to church. I am not arguing for the religion so much, here, as I am against the superior attitude being displayed. Like all stereotypes, it stems from ignoranc and misunderstanding. (Ha! I stereotyped stereotypes! Sorry.) Some church groups espouse values which are misguided from any rational point of view. Apparently you have been exposed to a few too many of them.

My girlfriend is not religious. She has come up with her own set of spiritual beliefs, involving energy and nature and, well, she just kind of made it up from several different sources. None of it is church related, at all. She is very anti-organized religion.

Before we met, she lived near Toronto for a while. She had a very tough time there. It was lonely. People were not very friendly to her, for whatever reason. It might have been the eyebrow rings and spiked hair, I don't know. ;)

It got so bad that one day, she went to the local church. She didn't really know what was going to happen, having not been to a church in a long time. She was surprised at how accepting everyone was. No one tried to convert her. No one criticized her appearance. They were friendly and open, unlike a lot of other people she had met.

I share this story not because I expect everybody to run out and repent their sins, because the church is so great. It is only to make a small point about a small group of people somewhere that do not discriminate against non-believers or people with alternative lifestyles. Hopefully those who have experienced discrimination will take away the idea that some Christians are not so bad. It comes down to priorities. You can think that the most important part of the religion is Genesis, or you can think that the most important part is "Love thy neighbor." That is the part that I like, and that I use, because I am rational and not crazy or stupid or ignorant or blind, and I don't apologize for people who are. Christian friends of mine complain that anti-abortion protesters or nutbag evangelicals ruin their reputation. That's not what it's about, they say, and people don't understand that.

I believe that most Christian people are like that. If that's the case, your daughter will grow up just fine.

Adam Ziegler | November 14, 2006 12:54 PM

Tripp wrote:

Move to Minnesota. That's what I did.

Your suggestion has merit, that's for sure. I was thinking more Oregon, for the mountains and ocean if no other reason, but same idea. But in the end I don't think this is problem that we can simply walk away from.

I wish I could agree with you that most Christians are not Leviticans, as John describes them. Certainly that happy fiction is consistent with my own moderate Christian upbringing. When was the last time anyone had cause to fear the Presbyterians?

Sadly, I think that free-thinking moderates are a large minority, the true radicals a smaller but far more vocal minority, with the majority being people who go along with the radicals because they can't or won't think for themselves. The moderates, being moderates after all, have a "judge not lest ye be judged" mentality that does little to hold the radical elements in check.

The radicals and their followers are not susceptible to reason and they actively work against the spread of scientific truth that, over time, would undermine their influence. That's why I'm making my comments in a forum with a moderate-leaning audience.

Ron | November 14, 2006 01:53 PM

I just realized I wrote two really big posts in a row. Sorry, I was just having too much fun. :)

I guess the answer is, more moderate people have to start taking responsibility. But by their very natures, they shy away from leadership. Politics sure seems like a dirty business, especially one where normal, modest, moderate, live and let live people wouldn't do very well.
A real catch-22.

Cheers

Tripp | November 14, 2006 02:01 PM

Adam,

Yes, the moderates are not likely to openly denounce anyone professing Christianity, even when they should, I suppose.

Actually that is probably the same situation with Muslims and their radical elements. Some westerners ask "Why don't they all rise together and denounce their radicals" and I think it is for the same reason moderate Christians do not do the same thing.

I hear great things about Oregon. Personally I've factored in what I think the future holds in terms of the fuel crisis and global warming as well as things like pollution, support for education, and simply 'people I can get along with' and that is why I live where I live.

There are a whole lot of really good people out there. Our media and political climate polarizes our views of our fellow citizens and yet time and time again most people find that one-on-one they are treated very kindly be their fellow man.

Here is an example of how I learned I was different from most people. For her schooling my daughter was invited to some 'diversity' seminar, or sometihng like that, dealing with racism in Chicago. She told me some of the sessions. In one of the sessions they confronted the 'N' word and at least one of the participants thought that at one time or another every single white person has used that word - some are just better at hiding it than others are.

I wish I would have been at that session. The honest truth is that I have NEVER used that word, ever, and I have not heard it spoken in probably over 20 years. I am working and living with an educated and fairly tolerant group of people. I like the values of the people I surround myself with. I am thankful for the freedom to do so.

Simon Owens | November 14, 2006 02:57 PM

I've been away from this thread for too long and enough posts have come up that I don't have the time to address all of them, but I thought I'd offer this quote I found today:

"I contend we are both atheists - I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you reject all other gods, you will understand why I reject yours as well." - Stephen F. Roberts

Simon Owens | November 14, 2006 03:00 PM

I should say that I found that quote while reading this article:

http://blog.case.edu/mxs24/2006/08/17/the_journey_to_atheism

...which somewhat mirrors my own journey to agnostic atheism

Adam Ziegler | November 14, 2006 04:35 PM

Tripp wrote:

Actually that is probably the same situation with Muslims and their radical elements. Some westerners ask "Why don't they all rise together and denounce their radicals" and I think it is for the same reason moderate Christians do not do the same thing.

I have little or no personal experience with Islam, but I suspect you are right about this. You may not agree with me that religion itself is the root cause, but the problem is the same.

mythago | November 14, 2006 07:04 PM

You can think that the most important part of the religion is Genesis, or you can think that the most important part is "Love thy neighbor."

Or, you could think that if you're going to decide about what "religion" or a particular religion means, you should rely on more than third-hand sources. Though I believe the usual "the Jews are idiots because they aren't grooving on the words of Jesus" reference is Leviticus, not Genesis.

Anjite - don't worry, if you have children you'll also get idiot comments.

Scott Mactavish | November 14, 2006 07:10 PM

Indeed.

But I am no more responsible for the actions of radical Christians, than Adam is responsible for those that believe in leprechauns, satan, pink unicorns or nothing.

Simon:

You are certainly entitled to atheism, as I am to my beliefs. Yet, I came to my beliefs through actual personal experience, rather than reading Marx or bobble-heading a college professor with a fancy syllabus.

Not to say you didn't have personal experiences; I'm sure you did. But your arguments here would carry more weight if you'd opine with original ideas rather than regurgitating Philosophy 101 texts.

Adam Ziegler | November 14, 2006 09:02 PM

Scott Mactavish wrote:

But I am no more responsible for the actions of radical Christians, than Adam is responsible for those that believe in leprechauns, satan, pink unicorns or nothing.

Neither of us is responsible for their actions, Scott, and I've not made that claim. You're waving your sword at a strawman.

Simon Owens | November 14, 2006 09:56 PM

"You are certainly entitled to atheism, as I am to my beliefs. Yet, I came to my beliefs through actual personal experience, rather than reading Marx or bobble-heading a college professor with a fancy syllabus."

When did I ever claim to read Marx? Other than some specific quotes and passages, I've never read his works. Same goes for college professors--none of them really had much of anything to do with my atheism.

Simon Owens | November 14, 2006 10:05 PM

"You are certainly entitled to atheism, as I am to my beliefs. Yet, I came to my beliefs through actual personal experience, rather than reading Marx or bobble-heading a college professor with a fancy syllabus."

When did I ever claim to read Marx? Other than some specific quotes and passages, I've never read his works. Same goes for college professors--none of them really had much of anything to do with my atheism.

The only time I even mentioned Marxism was to make a point that religion, like other moral philosophies, is subject to the same criticism. The religious people on this board keep pretending that Adam and I have been these vicious, ruthless attackers who have sunk to new rhetorical lows. If you read through our words, however, you'll see that we've been pretty damn respectful, especially for an online debate. Go to any political blog and see the hate-spewing rhetoric, the words "moron" and "idiot" tossed around every five seconds. The reason that you feel so attacked is because society has placed this weird shield around religion, and more specifically Christianity, even though it's just a moral philosophy like anything else.

If this had been a board full of conservatives arguing for one policy, would you have acted the way you do here, where you just say, "Well, that's just what I believe and you have what you believe." No, everyone would have continued to debate back and forth, because they realize that conservatism and liberalism aren't just abstract thoughts, but they're ideas on how we should govern our lives. Christianity is an idea on how we should govern our lives, and therefore has real-world consequences. It's not just a thought. As Condi Rice would have put it, "It's a series of actionable items." So of course people are going to push up against those applications, just as conservatives push up against liberals, and vice versa.

catnapping | November 17, 2006 07:08 PM

I suspect today's increased "popularity" of christianism amongst the rightwing, might have more to do with an us v. them (-if yer not a christian, you are an islamist sympathizer-) than any true conviction of faith.

Mez | November 29, 2006 11:07 AM

First: Having cut the local Christians an awful lot of slack, partly because of the good that some of them do, and partly because I was exposed early to the then-standard moderate Australian version, the behaviour of our local mob, and their constant quoting of the percent of the population they claim as co-religionists finally forced me into filling in this year's Census form as 'no religion'.
For a similar reason I've also decided to try and make sure that the majority of my donations go to non-religious charities.

Second: "I haven't seen anybody call atheism a sad, lonely existence without meaning." Well, just earlier this year that was almost exactly what the opinion piece in Sydney's major 'paper of record' said [At 2:45am, I'm not searching for the link.]. I replied with a short, relatively polite refutation in a letter to the editor defending the morality of the 'no religion' section of the census which unfortunately wasn't published (one reason I have a blog; a place to expatiate).

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