Changed lives and the end of addiction

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In part three of this series, I find myself turning to the crux of the matter. Miracles and magic tricks only sustain a person’s faith until the impact of the event wears off. After that, a person can convince herself that what she saw or felt or heard was just her overactive imagination. The real test of religious conversion is the changed life that continues as a testimony for all to see for as long as that life persists. This is the evidence that means the world: this one and the next.

I want to start with the biggest challenge for anyone attempting to change their lives for the better, addiction. When a person becomes a Christian, they are promised some sort of gift of the Holy Spirit. It is not quite clear what that gift entails. There is a broad range of disagreement on that matter within the church community, and even within any given faith tradition. One of the more commonly held beliefs is that the Spirit provides some sort of power to overcome sin. It makes holy living more of a reality, or at least puts it within the grasp of all believers who really want it.

A person struggling with sin is supposed to be able to come to God with a genuine desire to change, and faith that God will deliver. Repentance, genuine desire to change, and faith that can move mountains is supposed to be enough to get the job done. Apparently, it isn’t. To paraphrase something I used to hear as a kid, dry devils come up wet devils. Baptism seems to convey no protective barrier between a person and their propensity to sin, no matter how much they wish it otherwise.

Addiction is the ultimate sin trap. Once snared, a person will find it more than challenging to break free. Experience tells us that extricating one’s self from sin is simply beyond the capabilities of the average person. Breaking free requires one to be a superhuman human, or a recipient of superhuman intervention. That is where the Spirit comes in. Unfortunately, he doesn’t. It seems to make no difference if one finds addiction after his conversion or before. Addiction proves victorious over the most sincere repentance, and the most direct indwelling of the Spirit.

There are two passages in the bible about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that speak to this matter, yet seem to stand in direct oposition of each other. The first one seems to suggest that the Spirit can overcome the wiles of the devil. The second portrays the Holy Spirit as a powerless passenger in the saved, human body:

By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses Jesus as the Christ who has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God, and this is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming, and now is already in the world. You are from God, little children, and have conquered them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 1Jn. 4:2-4

Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, and join it to a prostitute? Never! And don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the Scriptures say, “The two are united into one.” But the person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him. 1Cor. 6:15-17

If temptation is the devil’s tool, then one having an indwelling of the Holy Spirit should have no problem fending it off because greater is he that is within. But that was from the one writing under the name of John. Paul took great exception to that notion. You are completely in control of the body; the Spirit has nothing to do with what you do or how you behave. It just seems to be along for the ride. Depending on your proclivities, it’s going to be a very wild ride for the Spirit of God.

What hope is there for the person who is addicted to drugs, or worse? John, at least, offers hope that the indwelling Spirit of God is greater than the addiction. Paul puts all the onus on the afflicted who is obviously incapable of freeing himself. If the addict has no hope, who does? Which sin problems stand a chance of being cured by the spirit? Seeing an addict at church trying to conquer he addiction is like seeing a person in a wheelchair faithfully attending a healing church. The amount of cognitive dissonance is too much to bear.

In my decades of faithful service to God, I never found even the most minor sin to be easily dispatched. I received no supernatural assistance with my struggles. My prayer to, “Create in me a clean heart, oh God” fell on deaf ears. My index of good, clean living is no less as a non-believer than it was as a believer. Had there been some observable difference in my own life, that would have meant a lot. The bible tells us that we will be known by our fruits. If that is truly the case, then there are no Christians. The only fruits I see from all the Christians I know are just the fruits of people trying to make it in this world using their best, purely human efforts. I also see plenty of good fruits coming from non-believers.

What also would have meant a lot would have been to see a measurably higher level of the clean living index in the lives of my fellow sojourners in The Lord. At no point did that happen. The pews were full of wet devils, as we used to say. The more I knew about the real lives of pious believers, the harder it was for me to ignore the fact that nobody was experience any kind of life-changing conversion that registered in overall behavior. Whatever power The Lord of the Flies had over people before they gave themselves to Jesus, was the same power he had afterwards. That alone, is reason enough to reconsider the entire faith proposition.

David Johnson

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The inconsistent requirement of faith

I Love You Breakfast Message

Why is it that some are given ample, miraculous evidence to believe, while others are required to have faith without evidence? That is what I mean by the inconsistent requirement of faith. Every important figure in the bible received some sort of faith-abrogating sign from god that removed any doubt about whom they were dealing with and what they should do about it. From Abraham to the lowliest follower of Jesus, people were inundated with signs and wonders acted directly on them, or in their presence. These people could choose to follow or not follow God. But they didn’t have to deal with the paralyzing decision to believe or disbelieve in his existence.

It does not end there. Every other believer seems convinced that they, themselves, have experienced a miracle of some kind or other. They have been healed. They have heard his voice. They have received supernatural guidance. They have seen a vision or dreamed a dream. Their bowl of cereal told them in no uncertain terms that Jesus loves them. They have had some sort of experience that makes it very clear that God is real, and active and their lives. Let’s just pretend that all of those experiences are legitimate. Why should they receive confirmation of God’s presence while others such as me must be content to believe without a shred of empirical or experiential evidence?

If Moses can receive a special visitation from God, where’s my visitation? Where’s my vision? Where are the holy voices in my head? Where’s my healing? Where’s my magic power? It seems to me that those who have received some sort of confirming experience have no right to preach to anyone about faith without sight. That is like a married man with twelve children and 72 virgin mistresses, preaching about fidelity and celibacy. By what right do any of the biblical authors demand faith without sight?

Had I been chosen to receive this special dispensation of experience so freely given to others, I would possibly still be on the side of the angels. Since it is clear that I am required to believe in that which I cannot experience, then I have little choice but to end up where I am. I have no desire to worship a god who requires some to have blind faith, while giving his favorites a peek behind the curtain.

David Johnson

A few extra chapters…

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(This piece started out with a long conversation and a challenge. My friend, Andrew and challenged each other to come up with a list of at least five items that in our opinions, would have served the bible well to include. There are a couple of things common between the lists. Rather than combine the lists as if they were written by one hand, I will include both in their entirety. His contribution will follow the subheading, Addendum

What would it have taken to have kept me on as a believer instead of the enemy of religions faith that I have become? It’s an interesting question, and one that I fully intend to explore in more detail. Consider this the first of several such posts. For me, the main tool for belief is the bible. In my faith experience, the bible turned out to be a critical point of failure. Had I been raised Catholic, I would have a couple of fallback positions when the bible proved unreliable. But instead, I was razed to believe that the bible was the inerrant word of God, and the only authority on which right thinking faith should be based. Perhaps if the bible had a few more chapters, it would not have failed me.

The chapter on the virgin birth

Only two of the biblical writers bother to mention the virgin birth. Neither of them was the first writer. The only person who would have known about that birth would have been Mary. She wrote no books, nor dictated any in her name. Luke would not have known her. And it seems highly unlikely that she would have confided in Matthew, but not John: the beloved apostle who was like a son to her. Yet even the clearly fabricated details about the birth are rather sparse. What was it like to be physically entered by the Holy Spirit? Did she get pleasure from the experience. Joseph sure had a lot to live up to after that. The Catholics solve the problem by suggesting that he never tried, and that Mary remained a virgin, despite the other kids the bible says she had.

How long did the pregnancy last? Did she have morning sickness? Was it a painful birth? Was there a need for any recovery time. Inquiry minds want to know. More than any of those things, it seems like those closest to the situation would have found that miraculous birth something worth writing about. Neither Paul, Peter, John, nor James seemed to know anything about it, or if they did, didn’t think it was very important. Consider the implications of the story. If there was no virgin birth, then Jesus was just another man, in no way a god-man. Christianity as we know it ends right there. Resurrection is a neat trick to be sure, but it had already been done several times before. Literally born of God seed, now that’s a miracle worth writing about. The apostles could have spent a little time on that event.

The Chapter on Paul’s time with Jesus

Paul casually mentions that he spent time with Jesus after his ascension. It was done in the space of a couple of verses, and left us guessing about key details. Was it in Arabia? Was it over the course of three years? Was anyone else present, or was Paul the only one who saw Jesus in this second incarnation? Paul’s authority for considering himself an apostle was based on him being taught by Jesus directly. I would think that Jesus coming back to earth for the purpose of teaching one man the ropes would be pretty big news.

How did the apostles who had been with Jesus take this news? According to Paul, they were cool with it. None of them asked for any corroboration or proof of this encounter. None of the other writers ever discussed the time when Jesus came back to earth to make a new apostle. Even Paul never mentions any details about it. Paul also never produces any notes he may have taken in that three years of having the Lord’s undivided attention? What questions did he ask, and what answers did Jesus give? Did Jesus really spend all that time teaching Paul about church organization? At the very least, we could use another chapter or two on that.

The Chapter on the Great Resurrection

In one verse, Matthew drops the equivalent of an atom bomb that left no reverberations. In one verse, he tells us everything we will ever know about an event that took place after the resurrection of Jesus. In Jerusalem, the graves opened and gave up their dead. Oh, and the temple curtain was torn when Jesus died. It seems Mark, the first gospel writer heard about the temple curtain, but knew nothing about the Great Resurrection. As it happens, neither did anyone else. Save for one verse, the bible is completely silent on this event. I’m pretty sure the city would have been packed with visitors there fro passover. How is it that the apostles heard about the resurrection of Jesus, but heard nothing about the resurrection of all of Jerusalem’s dead?

There is no indication that they were taken into Heaven, or were sent back to their graves. You just have a bunch of people who were dead, and now they were not. Paul should have had at least one companion he introduced as, “my friend who arose from the grave just a few years ago”. Is it possible that not one of these people became disciple of note? None of them ever presented themselves before the courts and got into trouble with the conservatives? Not one of them ever rated a mention by any of the people who contributed to the bible? Really? Really?

The chapter about what it was like to hang around Jesus

If you spent three years with Jesus, especially the last three years of his life during the most important time of his life, do you think you may have snapped a few candids, or shared a few stories? Apparently, none of the apostles did. Paul was supposed to have spent time with Jesus. Yet there is no mention of personal details about the time they spent together. Peter, John, and James are equally silent on the life and adventures of their friend. We know that Paul had a favorite belt and a favorite coat. Why don’t we know this about Jesus. Did Paul really think the world would care more about his personal life than that of Jesus?

James, the brother of Jesus, fills all of zero pages with his fond remembrances of the time he spent with his big brother. It seems natural that James would have at least recounted the time when he came to believe in his brother as Lord and Christ. Perhaps they had one conversation that would prove inspirational. The book of James is not written like it came from someone who grew up in the same house as Jesus. At the least, this represents a few missing chapters.

The chapter that explains what happens next

In a rare fit of straightforwardness, Jesus explains to his disciples what to expect from the end times. The explanation leave no doubt that he was talking about events that would happen in their lifetimes. The only problem is that their lifetimes came and went without the return of the Son of Man. There are apostolic writings that hint at their belief that the end would come in their lifetimes. Some of Paul’s followers were taken by this question, and were led to believe that the end would be soon, perhaps in their lifetimes. Amazingly, we’re still here, and they’re not.

There was no Christian bible at the time. It was decades after the death of Jesus before anyone started writing about the events of his life. No one was left with any clear instruction, or provided any useful expectations. The bible closes without addressing the end of miracles or apostolic succession. Did James and Peter have apprentices? What would be the criteria for replacing them? Were they supposed to be replaced? When he original church planters died out, were there to be more churches planted? By whom? How? Knowing that the religion would be around for at least another two-thousand years, why is there no addendum for the people at various future times? Some instructions on not going through with the Inquisition would have been nice.

We are left with a closed canon, and nowhere to go from there. With only the bible to follow, we are bound by the temporal nature of its instructions. We are left with instructions on what they were supposed to do in particular situations relevant only to them. We have no guidance on how to do church in the 21st century. There is no chapter on smooth transitions from one generation of leadership to another. It would have been nice to believe that the bible was timeless and forward-thinking.

Addendum

The Bible: The Forever Missing Manual

In the information technology arena, there is a popular series with the subtitle “The Missing Manual”. These books provide insight into products whose manuals are either missing or incomplete. While it is not at all politic to ask what is missing from the bible, it is instructive to consider elements that are not found. The following list contains elements that I believe should be included to make the story compelling to individuals.

What Did James Know?

As the brother of Jesus, James had a unique perspective on the figure of the King of the Jews. What do we not find? James does not record any event leading up to the ministry of Jesus. There is no discussion of leaving home, how Jesus’ parents would be impacted, no talk of coping with potential hardship, nor of the desire to recruit and dangers of recruiting others to the divine plan. After the resurrection, James does not record a tender moment between brothers stolen during the doubtless tumultuous period of days before the ascension. It might be argued that these moments were not critical or would not have contained material essential to salvation. However, treatment of family, coping with hardship, and the meaning of the resurrection and its importance cannot be overlooked. Without these topics, what would be left in the bible. Well, the remainder would be a list of vast atrocities that defy explanation.

What Was Missing at the Cross?

John 21:25 leaves us with the knowledge that much more about the life of Jesus is not know than that which is known. That is, the world could not contain the books needed to describe all his life and works. Surely however, Christianity would benefit from the Psalms of Jesus or the Proverbs of Christ. Without these, generations of Christians identify more with Paul, Peter, and James than Jesus. Surely the Teachers words are more to be valued than the student.

We Have Teaching Without Structure.

The area of Biblical hermeneutics is mirky and vague, particularly as it pertains to the New Testament though the Old Testament cannot be said to be clear. We have in Romans 1 a list of sins, We have in Revelation a list of churches. We have in Timothy a list of qualifications for elders. Where is our list of principles for interpretation? Give us a discrete list for systematic theology. We want but cannot “rightly divide” the holy word.

The Words of the Father Are Missing.

As the earthly father of Jesus, we know nothing of Joseph. While he is not the biological father, according to tradition, of Jesus, he was found adequate to the earthly task and apparently proved himself so when Mary was found pregnant. Today, we have an entire generation of young people in this circumstance. The challenges here are unique and the words of Joseph would benefit the world. God must have known this “in the beginning”.

David Johnson

Andrew

Infinite regression: an equal opportunity conundrum

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“”A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever”, said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!
—Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time
via rationallwiki.com

How do Christians get out of having to say something as silly as, “It’s turtles all the way down”? It is through a loophole called, “special pleading”. It works a lot like a “Get Out of Jail Free” card for logic traps. In this case, the logic trap is “infinite regression”. Convinced that the lack of scientific certainty is an opportune insertion point for god, the Christian can ask the scientist, “but where did that come from”, until the scientist is forced to acknowledge that he does not know. Triumphantly, Christian respond that they know the answer, and that the answer is God.

While the scientist can be forced into a spiral of infinite regression. The Christian evades the trap by declaring that God is the end of of the regression: the beginning of everything. He exists outside of time without having a beginning. That is the special pleading. It is off limits to inquire into God’s beginning because he does not have a beginning. If you insist on knowing why god has no beginning, the Christian’s proof is that we declare it to be the case.

The Christian does not seem to understand that the special pleading works both ways. The scientist can also speculate that matter and energy also existed outside of space and time just like god. Why should it be postulated that god was the only preexistent energy? Both the scientist and the theist can appeal to preexistence. It does not make sense for one while being absurd for the other. At best, it’s a tie. It does not advance either case. Otherwise, it is perfectly fair to ask if god is our father, who is our grandfather.

The greater rhetorical weapon belongs to the scientist. When asked about the first moments of existence, he can simply say, “I don’t know”. That is a powerful answer that is underutilized. Not knowing ultimate answers about origins does not unravel any of the work of science. It simply doesn’t matter. Perhaps we are the bacteria from the effluvia of an ancient, bygone society of otherdeminsional aliens. Who cares? It does not harm the scientific enterprise in the least bit. The scientific method is still a reliable way to proceed. If theists are forced to admit that they do not know, their whole world falls apart. Christians are forced into pretending to know all sorts of things they don’t. Otherwise, they would have to admit that they are just guessing about the whole god thing. That would be the true end of faith.

David Johnson

It is past time we rethink freedom of religion: Father Abraham (part two)

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Let’s take a moment to look at the featured image. There is a naked, preteen boy on a pile of stones, being held down by an old man. The man’s left hand is gripping the boy’s face, forcing it down onto the stone. In his right hand is a sharp knife just inches away from the boy’s exposed neck. The old man’s right wrist is being grasped by a much younger looking man who is pointing in the opposite direction. The old man is listening intently to the younger man, but looks decidedly confused. The expression on the boy’s face is abject terror. This picture depicts one of the most important and sacred scenes in all the bible. It is the penultimate moment before Abraham murders his only legitimate son like a goat on an alter, in blind obedience to the Most High.

The story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac is one of the keystone stories of the Judao-Christian faith. For Christians, it foreshadows the sacrifice God will make of his only son. It also demonstrates the kind of faith expected of God’s followers. Only blind, unquestioning faith will do. Here lies the problem with religious freedom. Freedom can never be decoupled from reason. Where there are no speed limits, the speed one drives is not just dictated by physics and the desire to live, but by reason. Freedom of speech can only be understood and properly exercised by reasonable people. The right to bear arms is also dependent on reason, and reason-based limitations. Religious freedom, however, is completely divorced from reason. That makes it untenable.

Reason, freedom, and religion

Allow me to reiterate this key point: Where there is no reason, there can be no freedom! People who are insane still have rights, but no freedom. Depending on the danger they pose to themselves and their society, they may be physically restricted by restraints, masks, etc. People who are insane, by definition, do not have the ability to reason. That is only slightly different from the person who can reason, but chronically demonstrates poor judgment. If a sane person shows poor enough judgement often enough, they will find their freedoms restricted. There can be no freedom without reason.

Religion presents itself as a worldview that rises above the petty concerns of human reason. One does not come to religious faith by reason, but despite reason. There is no reasonable boundary to what religion can be. Satanism is a legitimate religion because there is no way reason can be used to distinguish it from mainstream Christianity. If you accept one as a legitimate religion, then you have to accept the other. It is not as if one makes logical sense and the other does not. Both require blind obedience to invisible gods. Under both would-be masters of the universe, the vast majority of people end up suffering in Hell.

Because religion is not regulated by reason, anything at all can be religion. Dancing with poisonous snakes on your head can be the basis of a religion just as legitimate as orthodox Christianity. The worship of house cats can be the basis of religion. A conviction that the earth is flat might also be a religion. Your religion could be based on the love of serial killers and the hatred of minorities. You might have a religion based on a cosmology that it is turtles all the way down. While there is freedom to believe any unreasonable thing, there is not freedom to practice any unreasonable thing. Freedom of religion has become code for, “I can do anything I want just as long as it can be called religion”. Freedom of religion has become a behavioral blank check. That cannot stand!

The ultimate blank check

Not even a blank check is without limits. The purpose of a blank check is to offer payment for a product or service with an unspecified price. Let’s say you drop your dog off at a vet. You tell them that someone else will be picking up the dog, but that you want to pay right now. Since no one is entirely sure what services will be needed until the dog is examined, you leave the vet with a blank check to be filled out after the price is determined. The amount is limited by the actual cost of services rendered. Even if the vet was unscrupulous, he cannot write the check for more than the amount that is in the bank.

The blank check written to religion has no such limits. Any behavior on which the law and society frowns, can be legitimized as long as it can be framed as religion. Do you want to throw your baby into a volcano or tie him to a pile of rock, cut his throat, and bleed him out like a sacrificial goat? You’re barking mad! …unless god told you to — in which case, you are covered by religion. Did you want to have sex with you neighbor’s three 14 year-old daughters? Pervert! What’s that you say? God told you to? Why didn’t you say so in the first place? Religion. Do you want to teach your kids to be science deniers and magical thinkers? What the heck is wrong with you? Oh, right. Religion.

It is the same blank check that allows parents to get away with allowing their children to die from very curable illnesses. Their religion says to take the mater to a church official rather than a doctor. It is the same blank check that transformed biblical war criminals such as Moses and David into heroes. Their god told them to do those awful things to those babies and little girls. Make it a genocide and you’ve got the makings of an epic song. Add the will of a god to any atrocity and you’ve got a morality tale fit for little children.

The religious blank check is even more insidious than that. It keeps us from exercising critical judgement on an action. At the very least, it greatly retards the process. The moral judgement of religious people is suspect at best, non-existent at worst. Christians are taught morality by fiat. They memorize moral laws by rote. They develop static lists of rights and wrongs. For them, the only reason a thing is right or wrong is that their God declared it to be so. What they do not develop is a sense of moral judgment. Since they never learn why things are right and wrong, they are always reduced to asking what Jesus would do, or what God’s word has to say about that particular thing.

Ask a Christian about the morality of targeting noncombatant civilians in war. Some percentage of them might suggest that it is wrong, but they would be hard pressed to tell you why. You see, all of the war heroes of the Hebrew scriptures did just that at the command of their war god, Jehovah. It was not only okay to target civilians, but required. They have rationalized that since God no longer operates in that manner, civilians are no longer to be targeted. There is no timeless and universal principal on which they can draw. All they can say is that it was God’s will then but not now. They can never say that the God of the bible demanded immoral acts from his followers. The act is not immoral. It is just right or wrong depending on how their god feels about it at the time.

The same goes for laws concerning homosexuality and adultery. The god of the bible assigned the death penalty to both acts. Growing up, it always seemed to be that God was quite a bit more disgusted with homosexuality than garden variety adultery. His followers definitely took the cue. We saw plenty of adultery, however you define it. A person repents and moves on. Homosexuality was a very different matter. It was not only sin, but obscene, like child pornography. More than a sin, it was an abomination. the only thing that made it different from other sins was the way we perceived God’s attitude on the matter.

In my case, the situation was even worse. I knew in my heart that the filthy sodomizers deserved nothing less than the bad death God had originally condemned them to. God wanted them dead. Who were lawmakers to want anything different? But God would not be thwarted. That is clearly why he invented AIDS which we once knew as GRID: gay related immune disease. God was carrying out his judgement in the modern age. Death to the fags! God is not mocked! That is really what I believed. I am now covered in shame for ever holding such a belief. I thought I was being faithful to my god. I was only able to think differently when I was able to let go of a desire to please such a god. Once I developed a moral compass of my own, I realized that true North was in the opposite direction from the god of the bible.

It gets worse. I felt the exact same way about abortion doctors. Whenever I heard about a bombing at an abortion clinic, my inner heart leapt with glee. Another baby murderer got what was coming to him or her. Although God did not have anything to say about abortion, and the fate of abortionists, I had extrapolated that it had to be somewhere in the neighborhood of homosexuality. To be clear, I am just as much against abortion today as I was then. The pro life position does not require crazy fundamentalism. I just no longer want  murder to replace reasoned debate.

There is a fine line between wishing a class of people dead, and giving aid and comfort to those who carry out those wishes. There is an even finer line between that and carrying out those wishes yourself. I thought terrorism against abortionists was a righteous cause. So did the people who actually carried out acts of violence. That is the kind of person you get when moral judgement is replaced with a rigid set of moral laws. Religion short-circuits our ability to develop moral judgement.

Speaking as one of them, we don’t see the atrocities in the same way as other people. We don’t feel the full measure of empathy. Our sense of right and wrong is out of balance. Carrying around a secret hatred of gays seemed downright civil to me since the real penalty was death. Speaking of the “real” penalty, the ultimate punishment for the vast majority of people who ever lived was an eternity in flaming Hell. Just how much empathy was it right for me to have for a person who was condemned to a life of torment for their wickedness. God’s enemies were my enemies. How could I think of them any other way?

That is why conservative social programs are always ultimately focused on saving souls rather than lives. No matter what we say, we just don’t care about the dehumanizing squaller that is the living condition of much of the world’s population. If we have no chance of saving their souls, there is little meaningful value in saving their lives, or changing their living conditions.

Do you know why Christians favor corporal punishment? The god of the bible says that children should be beaten, and prescribes the way to do it. But it is much worse than that. In the back of our minds, those of us who are really knowledgable about scripture know that God ordered truly disobedient children to be dragged to the edge of the city and put to death. If we beat the living hell out of our disobedient children and they can still breathe after we’re done, then they were shown mercy, not abuse. Such is the moral judgement of one who counts “spare the rod, spoil the child” as the last word on child rearing. The type of person I was raised to be should never have a blank check of freedom.

This is not a theocracy

Attention: This is not a theocracy! People who call for religious freedom like to pretend that they are living in a theocracy. They’re not! God is not on the throne of this country. There is no throne. The president is in the White House, and we don’t give him all that much respect. Congress makes laws. The courts ratify them. God has no power or place in the law making machinery of America. Get over it! Right and wrong is ultimately decided in this country by we, the people. If it turns out we don’t like the laws we made, we fire our lawmakers and hire new ones. At no point in the process is a bible consulted.

In this country, we don’t give a damn about what the bible says about abortion or gays in the military. We do not pay respects to disembodied voices or angels from Heaven. If God came down to Washington D.C. in person to express his will, he would have to call his representative. Without a visitor’s badge, he will not even be allowed entrance into the halls of power. If we elected God to congress, he would still only be worth a single vote. We do not live in a theocracy!

No one gives a damn about what your god told you to do. That has no legal bearing. It is a blank check for nothing, serving as legal tender nowhere. Even if God tells you to do something good, it simply doesn’t matter. You can’t build a house for a poor person without licenses and approvals from the government. You can’t give a person a job without the government checking credentials and regulating the process. Calling yourself a missionary does not get you past my No Trespassing sign.

To be clear, I have no problem with individuals practicing their private faith. If you want to smear your face with steaming fresh cow dung five times a day while facing West, and declaring your undying love for John Wayne, knock yourself out. That’s not religious freedom; that’s just freedom. Religious freedom should not entitle you to any privilege not given to me under plain, old, generic freedom. Religious freedom is not a special dispensation of freedom. It is simply a guarantee of freedom regardless of your personal religion. Religious freedom is another way of saying that we will not withhold freedom based on your religion. It is the same as nondiscrimination laws for minorities or women. It does not give those groups more freedom. It just secures the same freedoms allotted to all.

Black freedom does not give me special dispensation to blast loud music and form violent drug gangs. Female freedom does not give women the right to change a baby’s diaper in the dining area of a public restaurant. And religious freedom does not give Christian parents the right to withhold necessary medical treatment and education from their children. In the end, there is only one kind of freedom. It is just called “freedom”. Putting qualifiers on it implies additional freedom to the qualified group not available to others. If that is your idea of religious freedom, you should try to find a theocracy. America is not God’s country. The bible is not the constitution.

Conclusion: liberty and justice for all

Forget about religious freedom. I care about liberty and justice for all: the SAME liberties and justice, not different sets for different groups. No person should be denied a fair mortgage rate because they self-identify as Muslim. I will fight against any such discrimination. However, no Muslim should get a better interest rate because their religion restricts the amount of interest they can pay for property. Religion is being used by people to carve out a special set of rights and freedoms that make them exceptions to the rules of society in general.

If your company has a dress code of long, black pants and a long-sleeve white shirt with no jewelry, that should be the code for everyone. If your religion forbids you (a woman) from wearing pants, that does not give you the right to show up in a skirt or dress. Your employer should not have to make an exception for you. The same is true if your religion requires you to wear symbolic jewelry. Either your religion must be flexible enough to allow you to coexist in the real world with infidels, or you should have to find another job: one without dress codes.

If an employer must make an exception for religion, then he can have no rules at all. If you can wear a skirt instead of pants, I should be able to wear green instead of black. Why should your religious taboo be more important than my since of style? If you can wear your cross, on what basis should I be forbidden to wear a Satanic symbol? I can’t think of any. And why should the exceptions stop there? If your religion requires that you take five breaks for prayer time, why should I be limited to two breaks a day? If your religion keeps you from serving wine as a waiter, why can’t I also opt out of serving shellfish or slaughtered animals? Liberty for religion offers justice for none. That must change.

Justice for all means that everybody is equal under the law. It does not mean that different groups get to make up their own rules based on their superstitions and sensitivities. No one should have to care about the rules and sensitivities of your cult. The moment someone has to care is the moment it is no longer a personal and private faith. Once it becomes a public faith, then it is subject to public debate, public morality, and public regulation.

David Johnson

Even if there was a god…

God

Go ahead. Take your best shot. Give me your best argument for why I should care whether or not your god is real. Don’t bother convincing me that he is real. For the sake of argument, I stipulate the point. He is real to you. Now tell me why that should matter to me. I contend that even if there was a god, any god, it would make absolutely no difference in the price of a gallon of milk. Let’s explore this idea:

The best possible world

If there was a god who created the world, he has already created the best possible world he could. Look around you. This is what was produced by God’s best effort. For undirected evolution, it is not bad. But as the masterpiece of an all powerful god, it leave something to be desired. Disease? Decay? Poop? In what was supposed to be a perfect world, why should these things exist at all? (Uses best Seinfeld voice…) And what’s the deal with natural disasters? Tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes, tornados, forest fires, and floods: they are so stupid, they can’t avoid populations of good people.

Speaking of populations, what about all the bad people? I have already stipulated the existence of your favorite god. But he is either unable or unwilling to do anything about the level of evil in the world. Worse than evil, he does nothing to address the unremitting suffering of large swaths of the population. Belief in god has done the world precious little good so far. Despite the existence of your god, the blind still need guide dogs and the lame are still wheelchair bound. Prayer to this god has cost hospitals no lost business. People are still dying to get into grave yards, and the bones of the dead remain buried. The faithful still end up on prayer lists every week suffering from the same cancer as the wicked. The righteous person is just as likely to get raped, pillaged, and plundered as the heathen. We are living in your creator god’s best world he could make. His existence does not make a nickel’s worth of difference to mine.

To infinity and beyond

I know that many will suggest what happens in this life is not important compared to what happens in the next. But I contend that the next life is also unimportant to me. First, I have no confidence that the god who created this world can do any better the next time around. Consider the biblical story. He created Heaven and the angels, and all was perfect. Except there was the whole Satanic revolt that brought war to Heaven, and a third of the angels agreed with the other guy. What a mess. Then he creates our universe. Some say he did it twice. It doesn’t matter. Both times were disasters. The first ended with the earth being formless and void of life. We can see what a mess this creation has become. We are told that it will end in blood and fire. Now, we are supposed to believe that the worst world-builder of all time is going to get it right the next time around.

We have already established that this is the best world he could have made. The original Heaven was also the best world that he could make. Why should the next one be any better? Another reason the afterlife makes no difference to me is that my fate is the same either way. If moral cowardice caused me to bend the knee to your god, I would still harbor only hate for him in my heart. I do not love god, or the concept of god. I hate him, and everything about him. He is, and has been a monster, not a friend to humanity. I don’t want to spend eternity with him. That is like a woman being forced to marry her rapist. No thanks. Since he already knows this about me, I would be slated for his punishments regardless of my professions of faith. Your god disgusts me. If he is real, there is still no path to a pleasant afterlife for me, except maybe by overthrowing him. You can keep your Heaven. It was not made for such as me.

It’s my life

Finally, I would like to offer the best reason why God’s existence does not matter. It’s my life. If you choose to give your life to your god, congratulations. But you can make no case why I should give my life to your god. Let’s say it is also true that he made the ultimate sacrifice for me. So what? Thanks, I guess. Now get the hell out of my way, I have stuff to do. I do not owe your god a lifetime of gratitude and service. As we have already established, I will end up in your god’s hell anyway. If your god has a problem with any of that, he can take it up with me personally. I might cower before his awesome power, but my mind would not be changed. He can either squash me like a bug, or get out of my way. I do not owe this god my life. I like my life the way it is. I neither want nor need his supernatural meddling. The fact that you do want and need supernatural interference to make it through the day tells me more about you than me.

God always has the option to strike me down. But that is not a reason his existence should matter. Drive-by shooters have the ability to strike me down at any time. Big deal. I’m not going to bow down to them either. My parents gave me life, and sustained it for many years. That doesn’t mean that I am going to start worshiping them any time soon. So your god exists. Bully for you. Besides spicing up the evolution debate, your god’s existence has no bearing on how I live my life. His superior power does not make him right, nor morally fit to judge anyone. So now that I have granted your god’s existence for the sake of this argument, take my challenge. Tell me why your god is worthy of authority. Does might make right, or is there something else? What, pray tell? What makes his moral judgements better than mine. Why should his opinions trump human laws? Why should gratitude cost me a life of servitude? I’m not the one with questions to answer about the existence of your god. You are. David Johnson

David Johnson

It is past time we rethink freedom of religion: no child left behind (part one)

abraham-sacrificing-isaac

In light of the past three stories, I thought it a good idea to take a closer look at what we think of as religious freedom. Under that rubric, a state legislature voted to allow all manner of discrimination.  Another’s education committee voted to require prayer in school. Finally, there was the passing of one who handled snakes in the name of his god. In the United States of America, 2014, all of these things were not just considered, but done in the name of religious freedom. Religion is dramatically retarding the progress of social evolution. Yet we have barely begun the discussion about reasonable limits on its spread and practice. Consider this a conversation starter:

Limited freedom

The first thing we have to do is agree on the necessity of limits. In life, nothing is without limits. I am not even referring to matters of law. Nature, of which we are a part, has definite limits. Our life is limited by mortality. Our activities are limited by physicality. The amount of good or ill we can do is limited by imagination and resources. All law is about placing limits on what we can and should do as members of a society. Even when speed limits are completely lifted, we are not without limits. We still cannot drive as fast as we want to. We are limited by the maximum speed of the vehicle, and the maximum speed we can safely navigate the road. That is a situation where the law recognizes that the natural limits are sufficient.

Laws giving one person freedom to do something, restrict another from doing things that limit that freedom. Even freedoms granted by law are limited. Free speech still forbids speech that amounts to treason or inciting to riot. Slander and liable are also off the table, as is perjury in a court of law. There are so many restrictions of the freedom of speech that it requires much more than a couple of sentences to list them all. The same goes for the freedom to bear arms and the freedom of religion. All legislated freedoms must be understood in the light of their natural, social, and legal limitations. Many act as if they believe that religious freedom should never be hindered by natural, social, and legal limitations. Such people are either immature or whack jobs. I will spend no more time on this point. We now turn our attention to sorting the nature and specifics of those limits.

Religious freedom and children’s rights

Robots have no rights. As of now, robots are not sentient. We can do anything with them that tickles our fancy. We can program them to do bad math just for laughs. We can intentionally program them with false information about the world so that none of their output is reliable. We can spend every waking moment trying to abuse them, insult them, and even frighten them. We do not have to show them a modicum of respect. We own them. They have no rights. The same is true for anything we can own. Ownership changes everything.

But what of children? Who owns the children? I am going to bypass the many philosophical and emotional traps by simply declaring that no one can own a person, and children are people. The conclusion to this syllogism is that no one owns a child. Parents do not have ownership rights to their children. When it comes to the balance of rights and responsibilities, all parents have are responsibilities with regards to their progeny. That means that there are really no such thing as parental rights. The best we can say is that parents have privileges. Those privileges are very specific and greatly limited.

My employer has privileges and responsibilities. I have worker’s rights. He does not own me. I own myself. Based on our negotiations, he has limited use of my time and talent. He has limitations on how he can address me, or invade my personal space. While on the job, he has responsibilities for my safety and well-being. He must provide safety gear and training. He must provide a clean, secure workspace. He is responsible for paying the agreed compensation and tax filings as required by law. He is not my owner and I am not is slave. We are equals in a symbiotic relationship. He cannot run his business without me, or someone like me. And I cannot provide for my household without him, or someone like him. That type of relationship is replicated throughout all aspects of society.

Parents have the privilege of raising children, and the responsibility to provide for them. As wholly owned subsidiaries of themselves, children have all the rights implicit in full personhood. They can gain or loose certain rights specific to adulthood. But they are born with the full rights of personhood. Unlike with a robot, there are physical restrictions on how we handle a child. We cannot beat it, shake it, or cause bodily harm to it. We cannot exploit it for our sexual pleasure. We cannot sell it when we get tired of the responsibilities associated with it. There are even limits on how we talk to a child and what we can say. Those limits may be difficult to enforce, but they are there.

Children, and the right to truth

Before diving into truth, let’s talk about lies. There is nothing illegal about lying in and of itself. In fact, I contend that polite society is not possible in the absence of lies. As social creatures, we have to lie in a thousand little ways everyday. They are the necessary, little lies that make civilization work. Even as mature adults, we cannot handle the unfiltered truth all the time. Any filtered truth is something less than true. Children are even less capable of handling unfiltered truths 100% of the time. There is a fine line between unfiltered truths and outright lies.

I propose that a basic human right is the right to truth. That includes children. However, too much unfiltered truth about too many things can be damaging. This is a particular concern where children are involved. How much truth, and on what subject is proper for children? The answer is a moving target. This is where we have to exercise nuance. We have to walk that fine line between filtered truths and outright lies. In my experience, parents do a lousy job of this, preferring the relative safety of outright lies rather than risking an inconvenient and inappropriate truth. We do this because we overestimate the fragility of children, and the value of innocence.

Children are not that fragile. We always fear that they are more fragile than they are. Their bones do not break with every fall, nor are they riddled with infection every time they eat dirt. Even as babies, we are a lot tougher than we look. The same is true emotionally. Pets die, people die. Parents die. These deaths occur without regard to the age of the child. We live through these things. They do not hinder our growth. Much of a child’s fear and confusion about death is based on the lies and fantasies with which we fill them. They have to square those lies with the reality that is before them. That is a tough job even for mature adult.

Innocence is a thing that only comes in limited quantities, and is overvalued. We define innocence as the ability to remain ignorant of the complexities and dangers of the real world. The expression, “ignorance is bliss”, perfectly capsulizes how we feel about innocence. The innocent person enjoys a glass of milk without the awareness of what it took to get it. It never crosses their mind that someone expended the time and energy to poor it, paid for the cost to store it and cool it, bought it with money they would rather have spent on something else, acquired a job doing some menial task for too little money just to be able to afford it, etc… Maturity is enjoying a glass of milk while realizing and navigating all those realities.

The same is true for danger. The innocent have no sense of danger. To them, the world is designed around their comforts and needs. A sheltered child knows nothing of the dangers around every corner. Bears are cute and cuddly friends, while snakes might try to deceive you with lies. The man known as Grizzly Man never came to  understood the truth about bears. Paster Coots never learned the truth about snakes. In a sense, they were both innocent: ignorant of the dangers posed by the real world. We are only allotted a short period of time for innocence. On certain matters, in certain places, innocence is an indulgence we cannot afford.

We lie to children in an ill-advised attempt to artificially prolong the sate of innocence which we too highly prize. We believe that our desire to prolong the child’s innocence trumps any right to truth she may have. If a child is to be raised in the woods, they have zero opportunity for innocence with regards to wildlife. Snakebites can kill, and bears will happily rip your head off. They must know this the moment communication is possible. If a responsible adult suspects a child is the victim of sexual abuse, there is no more time to worry about innocence. The child must be given enough information to be able to detect the danger, and convey what is happening.

What, then, is the age of innocence? More to the point, what age is right for the death of innocence? The reason this is such a hard question is because it is the wrong question. It assumes that innocence is something we can and should control. It assumes that the child’s guardian is the ultimate arbiter of her innocence. I believe those to be faulty assumptions. We should never be asking how long should we keep the child ignorant of the way the world works. We should be asking how soon we can safely disclose more truths about the real world. The truth is the child’s birthright. It does not belong to us. We must release every last bit of it to the child that she can handle. Protecting innocence by perpetuating ignorance is almost always a bad thing.

A child needs a true answer to every question they are capable of asking. When a child is old enough to ask where babies come from, they are old enough for the answer. I have never understood why the answer to that question was such a shameful mystery. We have no moral problem explaining other biological functions. Try explaining pooping and peeing without making reference to internal and external body parts and functions. The biological details are simply not that complicated or blush worthy. It is the mystery that is titillating, not the facts. Once the facts are known, the child will likely be disappointed and move on to something more interesting.

If you insist that the child is too young to know all the facts, don’t tell them all the facts. That still doesn’t give license to lie about the details. At no age is it appropriate to convince a person that babies come from some fairy land and delivered by storks. Just tell them that babies come from mommies and daddies. That’s the truth. You need not include details that make you squirm. Always tell the truth. But do so in filtered, diluted doses when necessary. Death, marriage, divorce, and war can be handled with equal delicacy.

In our image

Do parents have the right to raise children in their image? Must a daughter walk in her mother’s footsteps? Do parents have the right to intentionally pass on their likes and dislikes, prejudices, hatreds, politics, and religion? For the sake of argument, let’s say that not all worldviews are created equally. Should a parent be allowed to pass on the worst possible worldview to their child? Should alcoholic parents be allowed to indoctrinate their children in the ways of alcoholism? This could be done without breaking any laws. Just glorifying the lifestyle may be enough.

Should a father be allowed to intentionally prepare his daughter for a life of prostitution and pornography simply because he enjoys those things? Remember, prostitution is not illegal in all places. What if he lives in a state where it is illegal? Can he still prepare her for that lifestyle? Do you feel icky even considering the question? Don’t worry. I’m not advocating it. In fact, I am trying to find something that we can all agree is off limits. More to the point, we need to agree that there should be at least some limits on what a parent can imprint onto a child.

A less vile, but equally devastating example would be for a parent to systematically convince their children that 2 + 2 = 5. This, along with a few other falsehoods about arithmetic can utterly destroy a child’s future. She would never graduate, never get a GED, never go to college, never hold a job worth having, and in the end, only be qualified for prostitution and pornography. This ruination of a life can be accomplished just by teaching bad math. Imagine what can be done by simply inputing other bad data.

At what point does this become a child services issue? What if from birth, a parent teaches his child to hate Jews? Not only that, he teaches that Jews are subhuman, worse, that all Jews should be killed on sight by a true believer over the age of 18? How bad does the indoctrination have to get before society steps in and revokes the parental privilege of guiding a child in his formative years? Paster Coots, the snake handler, leaves at least one son behind who follows in his footsteps. How young was that child when he started playing with poisonous snakes in the name of his father’s god? Was it abuse the first time daddy taught the impressionable kid to stick his hand in a basket of serpents for Jesus? At what age did it stop being abuse? I contend that the problem is not the snakes. It is the systematic input of false information about the real world.

It is as if we believe that parents have the right to make their kids as bucktooth stupid as they are. This was true not so very long ago. Today, we require that all US children go to school regardless of the wishes of the parent. We have decided that there are some basic truths that every child has a right to know about the world. Since parents have proven to be poor teachers, slightly better teachers are employed by the state.

With few exceptions, a child cannot grow up without someone trying to teach them how to read and write, do basic math, identify the location of important places on a map, understand the basics of politics and economy, drive a car, exercise and eat nutritiously, play an instrument if the aptitude is there, etc. As bad as public school is compared to other parts of the world, it is so much better than the alternative of allowing children to grow up without a guarantee of basic information about the world. It is a child’s best hope of not growing up in her mother’s image.

When religious freedom and the right to truth collide

Freedoms, religious or otherwise, always only pertain to the individual. All freedoms encounter limits when they impinge on another’s rights. You have the right to believe in any god you choose, and pray to him or her as often and as loudly as you like. You don’t have the right to disturb my sleep when you do it. As a teacher, you can maintain whatever faith-based belief system that suits your fancy. But you don’t have the right to teach it to my hypothetical children. Why should you be allowed to teach it to yours?

The reason you cannot teach the precepts of your god in the classroom is that it is a breach of every child’s right to true and reliable information. Does a child have any less right to true and reliable information when he gets home from school? How much right does a parent have to undermine the state-required instruction? If a teacher assigns a student the homework of reading three chapters of classic literature, and practicing the multiplication table, can the parent systematically forbid the child to read at home or do math with heathen numbers? Can a child really be forced to flunk a grade because her parents insist she only answer questions in ways approved by the religion of her parents?

If that should not be allowed, why should a parent be allowed to convince their children that there is not really any such thing as death. That is a basic tenet of most religions. What we call death is just a passage of one type of life to another. It is the vehicle that takes us to an even better place where no harm can come to you, and you get to have everything you ever wanted. How is a child ever to understand the dangers of the real world if she believes that dying is code for a trip to someplace better than Disneyland? How is that not abusive? How is that legal?

At school, children are taught the best information we have about the development of the universe. At home, they are taught the worst information available. Moreover, they are taught to distrust and disrespect anything taught to them by teachers. Think about it. If the universe was created by God in six days, then the teachers are way off on all their information about the most basic things. The teachers say that the universe evolved over billions of years by undirected forces. How stupid is that, right? The bible says different. Sunday School teachers say different. Parents say different. These two stories are not remotely the same. As a student, if I don’t have to listen to the teachers in matters of science, why should I listen to them in matters of math, English, and history? With parents actively undermining a child’s right to education, it is little wonder that we are so far behind in education

Conclusion: a mind is a terrible thing to waste

I propose that there should be limits on the amount of garbage with which we fill a child’s mind. Garbage in, garbage out is a true maxim in every sector. I do not care how much bad information a person pours into a computer. The computer belongs to them. I also don’t care what lies parents choose to tell themselves. They can lie to themselves about matters of sexuality, health, finances, or science. I only care that children be allowed an environment where they have the best chance to encounter and process true information.

If a parent tells a child that prayer heals sickness, why should the child ever take medicine or quietly submit to a shot? Uncountable numbers of people refuse to take life-stabilizing medications for mental illnesses because they were taught that God, not science is the key to healing. There is material harm in this type of upbringing. How much less secure are our little boys and girls who have been led to believe that an invisible friend with magical powers is watching over them, and protecting them from all harm. When harm does come their way, they are taught that either they were displeasing to their magical friend for some undefined reason, or that it was all a part of the magical friend’s plan. Either way, you should just accept the bad things that happen to you, and try to be a better person as a result. Psychiatric professionals will never run out of clients. There is material harm that cannot be denied.

I will refrain from going into too many details about what religious limitations I feel are appropriate for children. I will offer a couple of broad categories that should be considered. Children should not be taught a worldview that makes death seem like something preferable to real life. If children believe that death is the gateway to a fairy dreamland, they will not be as diligent about protecting and enhancing the one life they actually have. They should not be taught a philosophy that makes them feel that they are something other than a part of nature. In no way should they be taught to believe that they are apart from, or in dominion over nature. They should not be taught things that hinder their future ability to graduate and hold a responsible job. They should not be forced to tout the creeds of evolution deniers any more than they should be made to sing the anthems of the Flat Earth Society.

It goes without saying that any religious practice or belief that endangers the child’s health and safety should be heavily regulated both in and out of the home. Even in states where snake handling is legal, there should be laws about snake handlers with children living in the home. Children should also be restricted from attending such assemblies. There is nothing illegal about nude church either. The kids just have to remain fully dressed, and in another room with fully dressed adults. We already regulate matters of religion as it relates to health. Parents do not get to withhold vaccinations from their children regardless of religion. They also do not get to withhold other necessary medical treatments. On this matter, the legal system is inconsistent.

Finally, they should be free of any doctrines of separatism and exclusivity. This is the seed of all racism. It starts with the stories of God choosing a particular race of people to be his representatives and priests. Exclusivity is just as bad in the Christian scriptures. Jesus makes it clear that he is the only way to God. Anyone outside of that path is kindling for Hell’s fire. Once this idea becomes acceptable, Children have permission to use race, religion, and physical attributes as the basis of acceptable discrimination.

This is not to say that people cannot learn about religion. It is simply to say that there should be formalized regulations as it relates to children. If a parent can be fined for keeping his child out of school, why don’t the same types of penalties apply to a parent that counteracts and negates the instruction provided by school? If it is wrong for a parent to intentionally teach a child bad math and English, why should it be okay to teach them bad science? Perhaps there should be an age limit on proselytizing children. There is a smoking and drinking age. People still choose to smoke and drink. They just have to reach an age where they can make a responsible decision. We really should be talking about an age of responsibility when it comes to declaring one’s allegiance to life-altering worldviews. Ww have a real problem when 7 year olds are immersed into the blood of Christ for the remission of their sins, dying to themselves, rising to a new life of submission.

David Johnson

Mandatory school prayer: welcome to Alabama

prayer_in_school

All last week, while reading a ranting about the legislation in Arizona, I was privately relieved that at least it wasn’t Alabama, my home state. Lord knows we’ve had enough of a well-deserved black eye in matters of church and state. Let another “A” state take the gold in the religious lunacy olympics. Well, Alabama won’t give up that prize without a fight. I just read that a bill made it out of committee to require prayer in school. Here are the things you need to know:

Alabama Legislators Approve Bill Requiring School Prayer Every Morning

A key committee in Alabama’s House of Representatives has pushed through a bill requiring teachers and students at all of the state’s public schools to spend 15 minutes every morning in Christian prayer, even though a majority of legislators present say they opposed the measure.

But that stand seems lukewarm next to the current House measure’s planned compulsion of religion among captive pupils. The bill passed through the chamber’s education policy committee late last week, according to the Montgomery Advertiser:

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Munford, would require teachers to spend no more than 15 minutes in the first class of each day to read, verbatim, opening prayers said before a meeting of the U.S. House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate.

Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin, R-Indian Springs, chairwoman of the committee, said she heard more votes in favor of the bill.

“It’s what I heard as chairman,” she said.

Only McClurkin and one other Republican on the panel actually voted “aye” on the bill. Two Republicans and one Democrat insist they said “no” to the bill in the voice vote; three legislators weren’t even present for the vote. The House’s clerk told the Advertiser that “the chairman of each committee has the discretion to decide the outcome of a voice vote.”

McClurkin also voice-voted through a bill “that would allow students to initiate prayer in school and express their religious views in their schoolwork.”

The sponsor of that bill told the Advertiser: “Every bit of this bill is already legal. It’s just that no one knows it’s legal

First, I don’t believe there is a chance in hell of this getting through all the stages of becoming law. That’s not the point. Militant, religious nutjobs are on the loose, and in positions of power. We give them this power by voting for them, and by not applying reasonable tests of sanity to the people we empower. No one wants to be accused of discriminating against a candidate solely on the basis of religion. Fine. Take religion out of it. Is it okay to discriminate on the basis that the candidate is stark raving mad?

Suppose you discover the perfect candidate who espouses everything you believe in. He gives all the right answers to all the right questions and makes all the right promises. He is affable and believable. The only red flag is that he swears up and down that he visits with Elvis every Tuesday on the King’s private space ship he acquired from aliens in the star system to the right. Elvis, and occasionally the aliens help shape the policy position of the candidate. Is that alright? Can we vote for that person? Sure, he’s going to lower my taxes. But the whole Elvis, space alien thing… Well…

Religious politicians are worse. They say many of the things you think you want to hear. There is just the matter of the invisible being from a higher dimension whom they speak to regularly, and who regularly provides input on what they should do and think. These politicians are intensely loyal to this alien. If he said that 2 and 2 was 5, they would believe it, and reprogram their calculators to agree with the new revelation. They believe this alien told an old man to kill his only son as a sacrifice. They celebrate the faithfulness of that man for being willing to do it without question. They believe that kind of faith should be lauded and emulated. We place those people in positions of power. What did we expect would happen?

In this case, based on what little information I could glean, one person was able to ramrod an asinine bill through a major committee and onto the House floor for a vote, all over the objections of the majority in that committee. There were shenanigans aplenty. Because that one person who believes in the invisible world of angels and demons was voted into office. Alabama has to deal with a bill that makes prayer in school mandatory. Remember, that only took one whack job. Alabama’s legislative branch is full of them.

These types of things are not limited to the Southern states. America’s history of religious lunacy in the state house is legendary. No state is free of it. The federal branches of government are equally tainted. We should not be upset at the politicians. Crazy people do crazy things. We should be upset with ourselves for continuing to place these people in to positions of power, rather than marginalizing them as the basket cases they are. Religious politicians are simply living out the mandates of their faith.

It is time we start taking the implications of that faith seriously. They regard Abraham and Moses as moral authorities. One was willing to sacrifice is living son to his god. The other was party to the murder of every first-born person and creature in the country. It is probably not necessary to mention the war crimes. We wouldn’t elect someone who proudly, publicly admitted that Hitler was one of their role models. Admit that you admire the bible’s worst war criminals, and you get to mandate school prayer, or religiously motivated discrimination replete with separate drinking fountains. There is no end to the harm you can do as long as you wrap your insanity in the cloak of religion.

Stop the madness!

David Johnson