Dec 13, 2007

Wrapped in the American Flag and Carrying a Cross...

As it often happens, especially around xmas time, I get into discussion whether the US is a Christian country. [discussed here in an earlier post] I'm sure you've heard complaints about the attacks on xmas, and what a ..blasphemy it is to say, "happy holidays" instead of "merry Christmas." I thought we are a multi-cultural/religious country whose religious tolerance and separation of church-state are embedded in our constitution.

Early on, it was understood that religious conformity--having an official religion--was a bad thing for a civil society. Why? Well, because it fueled serious conflict. I'd add, if you believe that there's only one absolute truth (often privately revealed) and you identify it with the power of the state, then what prevents you from enforcing it on everybody? Totalitarian regimes are based on such ideologies of the absolute truth; and if you don't "get it," then there's something wrong with you! Do we really want people to be sent to the Ministry of Love and Room 101?

I have to ask, why do the presidential candidates speak so much about their faith? I assume it must be an advantage to do so, right? Of course, it is! In total reversal of European views (which include those who are faithful), an atheist is the least acceptable person to be in public government. Richard Dawkins thinks that it's based on a misunderstanding of what atheists like him stand for.

In the US we ask ridiculous questions of our candidates for public office. For me, the more devout a person is, the more he/she accepts scripture without error, the less likely it is that I'll vote for him/her. I do have a problem with people who:

  • Claim the absolute truth
  • Want to establish a theocracy
  • Believe in the literal reading of any "holy" book
  • Claim private knowledge as revealed to them by gods
  • Think that their god is the only true moral authority
  • Are intolerant of other people's right to worship, hold contrary beliefs including non-belief
  • Want to use the power of our government to push one brand of religion

But, here are some more important and appropriate questions we should ask:
  • Does your faith prevent you from serving on the Sabbath?
  • Does your religion make you a pacifist? [therefore, can't be the Commander-in-Chief]
  • Are you for separation of church and state?
  • Do you accept science & the scientific method? Should the religious view of cosmology be taught as science in public schools? [Intelligent Design, Creationism, etc]
  • Do other faiths and non-believers have a place in your government, in our country?
Instead we have Huckabee who asks if Mormons hold that Jesus and Satan are brothers.... We have leaders who say being a Christian gives you some moral superiority and thus a better claim to political power! Have they been under a rock? You don't have to go back to the Inquisition and the Salem witch trials to get a taste of Christian moral failures. The Catholic Church in the US has paid more than a billion dollars in settlements for priests who sexually abused young boys while its leadership kept quiet. All other Christian churches have had similar problems of sexual abuse and dishonesty. The Evangelicals--the most self-described born-again Christians--have been involved in all sorts of illegal and immoral trespasses as well.

"The fact is I am guilty of sexual immorality. And I take responsibility for the entire problem,” ... “I am a deceiver and a liar. There’s a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring against it for all of my adult life.
Ted Haggard, former pastor of New Life Community Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and former head of the National Association of Evangelicals. He's been one of the many fallen Christian leaders in recent history.

I'm sure we can list many more transgressions by the very religious. This shows that there's no greater morality or sense of purpose, a kinder & gentler policies, and a more caring culture of life simply because someone says he's a fervent believer. Let's leave religion as a private matter. Convince me about your character with the public policy you propose and the consequences of your actions as they pertain to the rest of us!

Obviously, many good things have been done by religious people. There are several people I admire that are religious. I judge them not by their rhetoric and their unproven claims of their version of the supernatural, but I judge them by their character as it relates to me and their actions in this world. The key, I think, is that their faith does not prevent them from seeing reality. Sadly, too many people of too much faith don't see reality! And, the problem is that they want to impose their views on us. I agree with Hitchens on this one, that they won't leave us alone; they're intend upon ..saving us by coercion if necessary!

When humans invented religion their priority was not to appeal to utility & reason, so fear was an absolute necessity. Lords and kings, and rulers of all stripes and denominations have seen the need for the element of fear: it makes easier for people to obey and be controlled.

Fear of punishment maybe still necessary in a civil society, but don't you think most of us should declare that the devil does not exist? Let's take responsibility for our own actions!

Update 12/18/07: My goodness. Ron Paul must have read this post. He just came out with his own attack against Mike Huckabee using the similar phraseology, and quoting Sinclair Lewis who said "when fascism comes, it'll be wrapped in the flag, carrying a cross"!


Saint Nicklaus said...

John Cole at Balloon Juice hugs himself with glee: "Grab the popcorn and soda, because the GOP is providing the nuts." To which Andrew Sullivan says: "I know this is relatively obscure theology, but, hey, this is the GOP. If they insist on fusing religion with politics, the rest of us have to bone up on Mormon teachings."

This SLATE piece is priceless.

Drew said...

It shows that those who openly and strongly profess their absolute devotion to religion are often the worst hypocrites.

Of course, the moral failings of the devout happen all the time, and their sins become more striking because they tell us that their faith is the way to a more moral world! Bonkers!

Great post. (and the other recent ones I've read)

Mill said...

In Europe atheists are plentiful, but what's great is that the majority of people are very happy having an atheist as a neutral entity who deals with doing matters of the state and not be obsessed with the propagation of one brand of religion.

I think this is a good thing.

Constantine said...

Well, where do YOU get your morals from? Even if it's not proven than the Bible is the word of God, it's good that we have a moral guide and a tradition that show people how to behave.
Othewise, it would be total chaos. So, even with the problems caused by religious people, it's good that we have moral absolutes.

Andros said...

If you ask about me in particular, I'm a utilitarian, and a humanist, and a person who doesn't need divine orders or fear to lead a decent life.

Even if we accept the existence of God, then the question is what's god's nature? Obviously, you and nobody else can definitively answer this. Zeus's morality [which He privately revealed to me] is different than that of your god, is it not?

Besides, what was peoples' morality before divine revelation, say before Moses got to Mt. Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments?...

Why, one can make the case that since humans were utterly convinced of their god's infallibility and intolerance towards other religions, some very bad things happened to humanity!

Of course, there are moral values, some more imperative than others. [I don't know what the Bible says about this; are all equally valid? Like fornication and murder?]

Perhaps at one time it was necessary to scare people into obeying the moral code--and to control women, oh, and to keep injurious explotation as the order of things--and to imbue this scheme with divine revelation [I wonder why God tells only a few people and does not all]..

But, com'on, God gave us this brain, for inquiry and critical thought. I say, let's use it, even if it is to question the "creator"...

I don't believe fervently religious people are in any way superior in intellect & morality to the rest of us. The proof of this is evident all around us, since ..ever! In US politics it seems that this myth still holds. Sadly.

A A said...

Andros, do I detect a scintilla of religiousness? (judging from your comments here)

Andros said...

If you mean that sometimes I take things on faith, then yes. ;)

Anne said...

Ah, another Orwellian! Nice.

I mean someone who appreciates George Orwell, not his Big Brother.

J said...

I agree with you that I'd rather see specific policy proposals and not claims of religiosity. Unfortunately (and I do mean unfortunately), the Republicans offer little other than fear, God, guns, and gays...

Andros said...

Look, when a primary contest is tight and with much fluidity, a candidate has to appeal to the political base, or, more appropriately, to those who are going to show up in a bitter wintry evening in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The Republican base has different priorities:
1. Terrorism
2. Moral value issues
3. Immigration (mostly anti-imms)

These are not my priorities. For example, I think that the lack of health care (including preventive and early detection) costs far more lives than terrorism.

The Democrats' priorities:
1. Economy
2. Healthcare
3. Education

Now, why do people have different priorities? I think it depends on a person's knowledge of events, cultural conditioning, level of fear, and the degree of confidence they have during times of crisis....

anderson said...

Of course, we have many groups in this country, influenced by several factors. But, too many don't want to deal with reality if it's ugly, difficult, or someone is promising something better!

Anonymous said...

I don't think I have to be polite to those who either forcefully want me to buy their crap or discriminate against me because I don't buy their crap. And, I m not talking aoubt them having an opposing argument. That's OK with me.

When you try to dispute ancient claims of the divine, you get pelted with unkindness and versions from the Bible. Enough.

I totally agree with the attitude of Dawkins and Hitchens who don't hide their contempt for the nonsense people believe. They're arrogant in the sense that they are debunkers, and this makes people uncomfortable. I understand, who would like it if their world view, or belief system was challenged in such a way?...

Christian said...

You can certainly cite thousands of occasions where the Church and religious people are responsible for much of the evil in the world.

On the other hand, much of the good is because of them as well.

Benedict said...

The atheists like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, and many others did much evil too. People are good or bad, on both sides.

Andros said...

Surely, people are good and bad. A good person will do mostly good; a bad evil things. But it takes religion to get a good person to do evil things.

Andros said...

@ Christian

Hitler was a Catholic like all Nazis except Goebbels. [he was the only one excommunicated by the Catholic Church because he married outside his faith!]

The others (probably atheists) did not do all their crimes because they were atheists. As a matter of fact, they had their own religion: absolute truth, blind faith to the ruler, a historical progress divinely arranged, etc, etc....

They did exactly [you can say the copied theocratic regimes] what a totalitarian ruler would do.

If atheists were the worst of the bunch because they lack morals, then the National Academy of Scientists (US) would have the worst humans since 93% of them profess atheism or agnosticism!

Andros said...

I would also like to clarify my utilitarianism. I believe the following makes sense:
*being good is good; spreads goodness around; this reciprocity is beneficial.

*human being are capable of reason which can guide their actions

*tolerance and free exchange of ideas promotes the general welfare of a society

*liberty of conscience makes people happier; allows them to pursue their own bliss

*better take advantage of this life, here, now--even if it means demanding your rewards now and challenging authority.

*both individuals and society benefit if people are encouraged to think and act freely

Anonymous said...

You're a John Stuart Mill I see. Me too.

Indeed, the base of the two major political parties differs greatly. I don't know who's responsible for that. Both the leaders and their constituents influence each other. It creates a dynamic that's hard to break from.

Both parties are liable to pandering and pushing their bases' emotional buttons.

Andros said...

When people do good things it's good! I appreciate that. It's beneficial to society to have people behaving good, with compassion. I often leave it at that. Especially when the result is the same...

However, I can't help but think of the motives why people do good. Religion can make people behave well and show compassion. But, if you help someone who needs help simply because he's a fellow human in need that's a moral stand.

If you help someone because you either think you'll get some rewards from a celestial Father or some punishment if you don't, then I think it's not a moral act but a calculated action for a bargain...

E J said...

I have to say, I'm enjoying this conversation as much as the post, even if it's slightly off topic.

I wish it didn't have all the moderation, but I understand that it's the price to pay for keeping it civil.

Andros, your latest several posts have been more analytical and "heavier" Good work.


Ayaan said...

I'm stealing from Sam Harris:

If a person doesn't understand that cruelty is wrong, he won't discover this by reading the Bible or the Koran. Both are full of cruelty, more so against those of other faiths.

Sirious said...

You say:
# Claim the absolute truth
# Want to establish a theocracy
# Believe in the literal reading of any "holy" book
# Claim private knowledge as revealed to them by gods
# Think that their god is the only true moral authority
# Are intolerant of other people's right to worship, hold contrary beliefs including non-belief
# Want to use the power of our government to push one brand of religion

There are many people in the Democratic Party that hold these views, but obviously it's the GOP that caters to this kind of ideology.

Julie said...

I think you said in an earlier post that this discussion (in the US) about faith and religious claims is good. Hoping this won't lead to physical violence, it's important to bring out the basic tenets of the religions present in the US.

Most people don't know much about their religion. They hold impressions, misconceptions, participate in a culture that discourages inquiry and debate.

Amanda said...

Of course we have to talk about morals in our society. I'm not a believer, I'd classify myself as an agnostic, and I'm not willing to cede the moral ground to the believers.

I'm going to throw one statistic at you:

Xtians are the 75% of Americans and 75% of the prison population.

Non-believers are 10% and only 0.2% of those in prison!!!

Anonymous said...

Success! Billo declared victory in war on Christmas!

Watch it here

And, no, he won't shut up now!