You HAVE to separate Church and State

If you are going to have a pluralistic society, where you espouse the freedom of the individual to believe as they wish, you HAVE to take religion out of politics. Anyone who denies this is really just looking for a foothold for their particular belief system to gain ascendancy.

While this is an issue I’ve felt strongly about for some time, this particular post is in response to Willard “Mitt” Romney’s recent speech.

In his speech, ostensibly meant to resolve Evangelical Christian misgivings about voting for a Mormon, Mr. Romney cast the feet of this nation in the weighty blocks of Christian cement. The main stream media has primarily focused on his one overt theological reference, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind.”, they seem to give a free ride to the rest of his statements about religion:

“Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom…”

Yet, Willard “Mitt” Romney says that liberty is part of the “great moral inheritance” we hold in common. With the diversity of religious practices, history and theology, it might just be that liberty is an inheritance of our HUMANITY not our religions.

“I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers – I will be true to them and to my beliefs.”

Doesn’t this belie the following statement?

“Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin.

How can he be both true to his beliefs and at the same time prevent his beliefs from exerting influence on his decisions? Either you take the precepts of your faith as a foundation of your world view, or you don’t. If Willard had been president when John F. Kennedy was, would he have seen Black Americans as less than men as his church did? I think this is the crux of the issue. Either you cherry-pick your beliefs, as most of us do, and admit that you are intellectually and morally independent from your religion or you don’t. If you don’t, aren’t you just a pawn of whatever the leader(s) of your faith determine. You can’t have it both ways.

It is an intellectual and moral cop-out to say your political decisions are independent of your beliefs, clearly that is a load of crap. On the other hand, it is also a big steaming pile to claim that your hands are bound by your faith when every day you choose to follow aspects of your faith and not others. If nothing else, shouldn’t we expect intellectual honesty from our leaders?

What has managed to get the attention of the media is the obvious comparison to John F. Kennedy’s speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. While I think the comparison is necessary, most commentators miss the point. Which, I think, is “Why are we still talking about this?” It really points out how far we have NOT come.

“The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation ‘Under God’ and in God, we do indeed trust.

FACTOTEM:One nation under god” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance a little more than 50 years ago. The founders didn’t do that. Neither did they add “In God We Trust” to our currency. That happened around the Civil War and first appeared in 1864.

There was an easy quote for this post. Since Willard decided to lean so heavily on the founding fathers, so did I.

“In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own” – Thomas Jefferson ( Letter to H. Spafford, 1814 )


Carl puts it into perspective

While we are pondering who should be the next leader of the most powerful nation on the planet, I think it is appropriate to put the campaign issues in perspective. So, on the occasion of his birthday November 9, 1934, scientist, author and prescient philosopher, I present Carl Sagan.

His writing and his series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, impacted me in ways that continue to shape who I am and what I believe. His life’s work was exploration and education and while he accomplished so much more than the great majority of us will in our lifetimes, he was gone much too soon.Hopefully, his words will cause you to reflect on what is important and how you define friend, family or neighbor.Peace.

If you don’t have YouTube access here is a version in text.

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Think Again?

OK, so here are a few views on the article “Think Again” by Standley Fish. The article, an opinion piece in the New York Times, is an introduction to new books by Bart Ehrman (“God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question – Why We Suffer”) and Antony Flew (“There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind”).

The author clearly is looking at both books with the question, “Can religion or
atheism be supported based on their explanation of human suffering?”

The first four paragraphs try to provide a context for the discussion, but I find them a waste of space, since he never truly evaluates whether we should be asking the question at all. Mr. Fish quotes from “Paradise Lost” and Paul’s writings in the new testament. Milton’s “Paradise Lost” is a work of fiction. I think many forget that since Milton’s imagery often sneaks into theological discussions. The new testament writings are only valid if you pre-suppose they are NOT a work of fiction at which point the discussion is pretty much over and you are just trying to noodle-out god’s will.

Mr. Fish continues by suggesting that the problem of “the existence of suffering and evil in a world presided over by an all powerful and benevolent deity” is the supporting argument for atheism espoused by Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett and others. He misses that the sole purpose of this line of reasoning is to pursuade the faithful, it is hardly a major pillar of non-theistic reasoning.

While I have no doubt that Bart Ehrman did have a crisis of faith brought on by
the suffering in the world and the classic question, “How can god allow this to happen?”
From my reading of a number of his books and listening to his lectures, I believe he
has no illusions about the very human origin of scripture. Which, one would think, pretty much negates the whole question. If you don’t buy in to the fundamental doctrine of a vengeful god, or a god that participates in daily life, then you don’t need to discuss the “reason” bad things happen.

With regard to Mr. Fish’s comments on Antony Flew’s book. While atheism may be considered the dogma of god denial. I expect most atheists are clear in their recognition that one cannot assert that god does not exist, since you cannot prove a negative. Instead, they assert that the concept of god as it is defined by religion is one made up by man without evidence and, therefore, not worthy of belief.

It goes round and round, just because one cannot conceive of how the intricate workings of nature could occur without a conscious hand at the wheel, doesn’t prove there is a hand. It is just wish-thinking and wanting doesn’t make it so. “How can a universe of mindless matter produce beings with intrinsic ends [and] self-replication capabilities?”, this is a great question. Wouldn’t it be a shame, if we just bailed on the search for the answer and just decided “God did it”?

It is unfortunate that science cannot answer all the questions craved by the human mind. On the other hand, science has only had a few millennium to unravel about 14.5 billion years of known universal existence. It would be truly sad, if we thought we had all the answers and just stopped looking. Some questions, I think, will always be the domain of philosophy, since they cannot be evaluated by the rigor of experiment.

While I have not read Mr Ehrman’s latest book, I would be disappointed to think it begins an ends with the, wholly artificial, religious concept of “evil”. To allow religion to frame the context of the dialog is beyond giving them the home field advantage, it is granting them the ability to write the rules, referee and keep score.

“I believe in God, although I live very happily with atheists… It is very important not to mistake hemlock for parsley; but not at all so to believe or not in God.” Denis Diderot, conceding to Voltaire’s defense of the concept of God (during a letter dialogue sparked by Voltaire’s letter commenting on Letter to the Blind), though quoted from Jim Herrick, Against the Faith (1985), p. 75 (from Positive Atheism’s Big List of Denis Diderot Quotations)

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Why is fiction so frightening?

Recently, I was forwarded the following email from a friend:

Subject: Pass on to anyone with children – Anti-God kids movie

Dear Friends,

Pass this on to anyone who might have children…click on the link below to find out more about the movie The Golden Compass which is to be out in December

Anti-God kids movie coming out:

The interesting thing about this particular bit of fear mongering by the religious right is that it is pretty accurate. That’s correct, the collection of books in His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass, The Amber Spyglass and The Subtle Knife quite purposefully challenge religion. They are also quite fantastic. Smart, compelling and complex in a way that Harry Potter (another difficult fictional character for religious types) doesn’t quite achieve. Of course, how the religious themes play out in the movie is left to be seen. As we know, movies don’t always capture the spirit of the book.

Philip Pullman is not shy about expressing his disdain for organized religion. From an interview with Third Way:

“Well, all right, it comes from history. It comes from the record of the Inquisition, persecuting heretics and torturing Jews and all that sort of stuff; and it comes from the other side, too, from the Protestants burning the Catholics. It comes from the insensate pursuit of innocent and crazy old women, and from the Puritans in America burning and hanging the witches – and it comes not only from the Christian church but also from the Taliban.

Every single religion that has a monotheistic god ends up by persecuting other people and killing them because they don’t accept him. Wherever you look in history, you find that. It’s still going on.”

That is the author’s view in his own words. Seems to me, he clearly expresses why we should all fear and distrust religion. Having said that, His Dark Materials IS A WORK OF FICTION. There are talking armored bears and flying witches! What occurs in the book involves fictional characters in clearly fictional circumstances.

So, why is it that fundamentalist Christians, Muslims, Jews and probably others I’m not as aware of, find this kind of fiction so threatening? It’s all made up stories, right? Well, as a recent Barna Group poll shows, a large number of Americans have a very difficult time distinguishing reality from “made up stories”. If super-beings, magic, ghosts and superstition in general made up your world view, you would find fiction very frightening indeed.

It is particularly important, they believe not to expose their children to these stories. There is the danger that, already indoctrinated in to believing fanciful things, they might find they prefer a mythology that is more consistent, intelligent and caring than their own.

Trying to establish a habit of finishing with an excellent quote. This particular one comes from a friend of mine who is currently reading The Amber Spyglass:

“Well that’s just it. If anything, I thought the books were condemning the hunger for power and dominance that can develop out of ANY organized movement that claims to be ‘Truth’ and ‘Right’, including religion and certainly political systems, whether its capitalism or communism. I was assuming the fight was against the evil urges of power and domination — thinking one’s perspective is so right and justified, and to be pursued at the expense of harming others, that one completely loses track of ethics.”


Free Speech Taking It On The Chin

It’s been a bad month for free speech and, apparently, some people with very, very sensitive feelings.

The comedian Kathy Griffin, proving that you don’t have to make fun of pedophile priests to be edgy, dissed the semi-mythical figure of Jesus during her acceptance speech at the Emmy awards. Lampooning the disingenuous winners who attribute their success to their deity, Kathy Griffin cracked, “A lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award, I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus. … Suck it, Jesus, this award is my god now!”

Reaction to this was swift. The Catholic League condemned her quip as “hate speech” and members of Tennessee’s “Miracle Theater” posted a $90K full-page add in USA Today stating, “Enough is Enough”, referring to the entertainment industry’s supposed anti-Christian bias. You might think that people who were content in their blessings from a personal relationship with the Lord of Heaven, might have taken a more “sticks and stones….” attitude. Well, maybe a backwater professional Christian theater group doesn’t often get the opportunity for that much national attention, do they? I guess they could, if they donated that $ 90,000 to feed children or build a school, or something.

Under pressure from these groups, the TV Academy has opted to cut Griffin’s remarks from the broadcast.

There is a lot that can be said about remark itself. Like how it goes to the very core of comedy, holding up to your face that which is common and revealing it as absurd. That really isn’t important. The important point is that entertainment, satire and public speech should be protected. They are foundational to a free society and the repression of said speech, is the tipping point of a very slippery slope indeed.

Griffin’s response, “I hope I offended some people. Am I the only Catholic left with a sense of humor?” I have a strong suspicion that Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, the cast of Monty Python and Sacha Baron Cohen (aka Ali G), to name a few, would say it is her job to offend people.

But wait, there’s more… “Sally Field’s anti-war remarks were censored by Fox” on and “Why Did Fox Censor Sally Field’s Emmy Speech?” from

A far more troubling incident occurred yesterday when the Senate passed a resolution expressing outrage at a advertisement in the New York Times with the bold heading “General Petraeus or General Betray Us?” Where does this outrage come from, a collective guilty conscience? (“How Dare You”, Michael Kinsley,, Wednesday, Sep. 19, 2007) is a liberal lobbying group with millions of members, it has consistently opposed the war and the current administration. Where is the surprise? Why was it more important for the Senate to take time to respond to an advertisement than supposedly finding better ways to improve the lives of Americans? Where is that same commitment to healthcare, to the economy, to education, to the soldiers and veterans that come home damaged?

Is it really so troubling that a group opposed to the war is skeptical of a report which paints a positive picture of our recent actions there? Is it un-American to be unconvinced?

Republican candidate for president, Rudy Giuliani, ripped Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, for not voting to condemn the message. Using a tactic that has become so commonplace in the Bush years, Giuliani condemned Clinton’s skepticism as turning her back on the troops. Clinton, a member of the Armed Services Committee, is probably privy to many more reports on the situation in Iraq than a former Mayor. It would seem more reasonable for Giuliani to ask, “If she’s unconvinced, what am I missing?”

Again, there is a great deal in the content of the messages from Kathy Griffin and that is worth discussing and is incredibly important to the times we live in and our future, but that is NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN, IF OUR FREEDOM OF SPEECH IS SUPPRESSED.

I was going to finish up with a quote attributed to Voltaire about freedom of speech. You know the one, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend with my life your RIGHT to say it.” Unfortunately, the exact wording is hard to pin down and there seems to be a question as to whether he said it or it was a paraphrasing of his personal attitude. It is not found in any of his writings.

Instead, I will wrap with a quote that I know belongs to the magnificent French poet, philosopher and satirist known under the pen-name of Voltaire. “I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: ‘O, Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.’ And God granted it.” (Voltaire / 1694-1778 / Letter to M. Damilaville / May 16, 1767)


Bush quotes relating to religion

I don’t know which disturbs me more, that so much of his understanding of the world is based on mythology or that much of the time he makes no sense at all.

The word according to Dubya: 50 religious insights from George Bush Collected from: Dubya Speak

Most Frightening: “I am driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, ‘George go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan’. And I did. And then God would tell me ‘George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq’. And I did. ” Sharm el-Sheikh August 2003

Most Obtuse: “I don’t think you order suiciders to kill innocent men, women, and children if you’re a religious person. ” Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin, Jul. 14, 2004