Archive for September 2005

Restoring the Pledge & Ceremonial Deism

September 16, 2005

A federal judge in Sacramento ruled Wednesday that reciting the Pledge in public schools is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. The ruling was immediately denounced by conservative religious groups, and is certain to be appealed. U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales vowed that the Justice Department will fight to overturn the ruling. As a substantive issue, the Pledge ranks right up there with flag burning. Congress added the words “under God” in 1954 at the suggestion of President Eisenhower. This was at the height of the communist witch hunt, at which time the public equated communism with atheism. A half-century later, we might note, the chief enemies of freedom are far from Godless.
–Robert Park’s e-newsletter What’s New? 9-16-05

What’s wrong with the addition of God to the pledge? Who cares? It’s ceremonial deism, remember? It’s been recited over and over again so many times the name of God has become an empty syllable. The reference to “God” in our national motto is “a form of ‘ceremonial deism'” that has “lost through rote repetition any significant religious content.” (Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668 (1984), 716-717.)

Oops. Maybe that’s something wrong with it.

Government prayers or any government religious activity robs it of its meaning. It becomes perfunctory, like filing your income tax or paying your water bill. The mixture of religion and government damages both. It turns the government into a sub-deity of its own and it turns religion into something that stirs the human heart about as much as putting coins into a drink machine.

Stripping the name of God of its meaning is only the first problem with the current pledge.

The pledge of allegiance was rewritten in the McCarthy era of the early 50s and signed into law by President Eisenhower in 1954. The phrase “one nation, indivisible” was replaced with the more (at the time) politically correct “one nation under God.”

The Pledge needs to be restored to its original language. It is vastly more important that Americans stand united–indivisible–rather than be divided by religious issues. The founding fathers could have put references to God in the US Constitution, but they did not. They left out those references for a reason. Even back then the fledgling states were somewhat religiously diverse. The nation certainly is now. Those religious differences have the power to divide us, it fact they have the power to destroy us, and the founding fathers knew that.


Priesthood of the Believer

September 14, 2005

On September 7, Bill Moyer’s addressed the Union Theological Seminary in New York. The text of his speech is in various places around the web. Though long, it’s a good read. You can find it here:

Moyers is a Southern Baptist. At one time that denomination stood for the priesthood of the believer. They had no creed. Nobody told them how to interpret the Bible. There was nobody standing between each individual Baptist and God. No more.

In 2004 the Southern Baptist Convention withdrew from the Baptist World Alliance, an international network of Baptist groups. Paige Patterson, part of a committee that recommended the break cited the reason that the BWA does “not believe in the inerrancy and infallibility of scripture.”

That seems pretty mild. The SBC is a hard right wing denomination, right? The problem lies in the fact that many members of the Baptist World Alliance interpreted scripture in a different way from the leaders at the Southern Baptist Convention. Individual believers–let alone individual churches are no longer free to interpret the Bible as they see it.

There is an interesting sermon here:
by Dr. Gary E. Parker, Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Decatur, Georgia. He sums up his message like this:
“We require none other than Christ and to him alone we go for the water of life. No pope, no priest, no council, and no convention serve this function for us. Jesus alone mediates our relationship to God.”

I can’t find a link from the main church page to this sermon. I found it through a search engine. I have a feeling it has been buried, but I am sometimes thought a raving paranoid.

Fundamentalists hijacked the Southern Baptist Convention in exactly the same style they wish to hijack the US Government. They infiltrate the grass roots. They put their people in key positions. They oust people who don’t agree with them. They alienate people who still possess a morality worth having. They isolate them, eliminate them and replace them with more of their ilk bit by bit. They are doing it very well. They are doing it in state governments all over the place as well as the Federal government. Their aim is total control. They know what you should believe and think and they know how you should believe an think it.

Fundamentalism is totalitarian. Jesus does not mediate your relationship to God, they do. Unless we can stop them.

The Right Not to Be Offended?

September 7, 2005

In a 2001 Ten Commandment display case, Stefan Presser,  ACLU of Pennsylvania Legal Director wrote to the Commissioners of Chester County, PA, in part:

“We are respectful of the fact that a plaque bearing the Ten Commandments constitutes a sacred religious symbol to a large segment of the community,” Presser wrote in his letter to the commissioners. “However, for that very reason, the plaque may offend persons whose beliefs or religious affiliations do not recognize its significance or sacredness.It is for the very purpose of avoiding offense to those who might find themselves in the minority on such issues as the Bill of Rights mandated that the state exclude itself from such religious matters.”

As much as I love and admire the ACLU, this argument is utterly bogus. You don’t have a right to not be offended. The first amendment guarantees to all Americans the right to offend you with their words. The Supreme Court has now ruled that such displays are unconstitutional and impermissibly advance religion. Justice O’Connor enumerated several excellent reasons for their decision. Nevertheless, I still read and hear this absolutely wrong argument all the time.

The Supreme Court is right, county courthouses and other government buildings should not be displaying passages from the Judeo Christian Bible. There are two much better reasons for them to refrain.

1. Such plaques constitute a religious activity on the part of government. They are a backdoor attempt to establish Christianity as the state religion.

The Christian Right openly argues that Biblical law is somehow related to 21st Century law, that Biblical laws are foundational to modern laws. They are not. In fact modern law overturns most Biblical laws.

The Christian Right hopes to legalize an illegal activity by calling it something else. In the 2001 case Commissioners’ Chairman Colin Hanna recited the standard party line still used widely today: “The purpose of the First Amendment is to secure, for all Americans, the freedom of religious expression,” Hanna said.”Their interpretations, instead, seek to stifle the very right it seeks to secure.”

So with a little magic pixie dust “establishing a religion” becomes “free speech.” Very clever. The lines can easily be delivered with a little misty eyed gaze and a catch in the throat.

2. Displaying religious messages in government buildings constitutes an abuse of power.

The argument that removing Bible verses stifles free speech is predicated on the false idea that majority rules in everything. It does not. The majority doesn’t get to decide what religious texts you read or don’t read. The majority does not get to vote on your religion for you. Those decisions you must make alone. Therefore government “speech” is necessarily hampered in this arena. This prevents abuse of power and tyranny of the majority.

I don’t find the 10 commandments to be particularly offensive. Some of the commandments are good advice. The truth is, if I want to read them, I can always open the Bible. I don’t need the government to help me out with that chore.

Atheism is a religion?

September 1, 2005

A couple of weeks ago the Supreme Court ruled that an atheist discussion group in prison must be treated the same as religious discussion groups.

The ruling clarified an earlier ruling that prisons don’t get to define religion as “some really large denomination I’ve heard of.” If the prison gives special privileges to Christian, Muslim and Jewish groups, then they they must accord the same privileges to Wiccans, Native American spirituality and even Satanists.

There was a flaw in that ruling, though, which was quickly pointed out by atheists. The Supreme Court ruling gave religious inmates special privileges not open to non-religious inmates. Prison is a deadly dull place. Religious services are something to do. They break the monotony and provide something interesting to focus on. Attendance at a religious observance is viewed as a privilege and a treat. If you are non-religious, though, you were automatically disqualified from attending such observances. That inequity has now been corrected.

This latest ruling has been spun by Christian Right organizations as proving once and for all that atheism is a religion. That is a lie, of course. The ruling is only an attempt to provide equitable treatment of inmates in federal prisons.

Untroubled by morality, the Christian Right has previously promoted the lie that evolution is exactly the same thing as atheism. This new ruling has added legs to an old argument creationists have pushed for years: since evolution is exactly the same thing as atheism, atheism is being taught in public schools. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled atheism is a religion, schools either will be forced to give equal time to creationism or quit teaching evolution because it violates the Establishment Clause.

Slick. False and vicious, but slick.