Tag Archives: Religion

NYT Journalists Should Not Suggest Atheists Remain Nominal Christians

Robert Worth offers an interesting profile in the New York Times of a former pastor who became an atheist leader, but I wish he had skipped this editorializing toward the end: “I did later wonder if all the public atheism had done DeWitt more harm than good. Couldn’t he have remained a nominal Christian, as so many others have? … Open confrontation with faith, some would say, just provokes angry gestures from the faithful.” It’s like suggesting gay people should pretend to be straight to not anger homophobes.

And the failure to recognize that it’s the same unacceptable intolerance is part of the problem.

The dialogue on this issue continues to revolve around the idea that atheists shouldn’t “provoke” religious people by daring to admit their beliefs (the audacity!), rather than challenging the discrimination and hatred directed toward atheists by some hostile religious people.

I hardly think that, in 2012, a NY Times journalist would ask whether a gay person couldn’t just act publicly straight, so as to not upset certain religious persons, but atheists don’t receive the same consideration (yet). Yes, Worth reports the argument as “some would say,” but (aside from being a lazy journalistic statement) gives no indication that he disagrees with this vague group. It’s a transparent mask to disguise his own editorial voice.

If Worth needed to wonder aloud in his article, “From Bible-Belt Pastor to Atheist Leader,” he could have responsibly followed up his musings by recognizing that public atheism doesn’t “just” provoke anger from “the faithful.” Worth might have acknowledged that social justice movements require brave individuals standing up for their beliefs, especially those who live in conservative religious areas and face the most difficult environment, like former preacher Jerry DeWitt, the article’s subject. It clears a path for those still in the closet to one day come out safely — because they shouldn’t need to hide.

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Why Homeschooling Freaks Me Out

An article on Alternet today bears the ominous title: “An Army of Home-Schooled ‘Christian Soldiers’ On a Mission to ‘Take Back America for God.'” In it, Robert Kunzman discusses some of what he uncovered researching the “Generation Joshua” program for his book on the “world of conservative Christian homeschooling.” Children are quoted calling public schools tools of “the Enemy” and “quite simply humanist churches” out to undermine Christian values. (I guess they’ve never heard of Christian humanists.)

Of course, Jesus Camp probably holds the honor for the most disturbing depiction of anti-science Christian fundamentalist homeschooling: [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DH_wPUVlJ38]

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Read Me On Secular Progressive

By the by–as of last Wednesday, I’m now blogging weekly at Secular Progressive on religion & politics related content, on the kind invitation of founder Mike Tracey.

I made Mike’s acquaintance when interviewing about his scoop at the Campus Progress National Conference, when Bill Clinton admitted to personally supporting same-sex marriage. (See his Nation and HuffPost articles.) It became clear during the course of this conversation that we shared interests in the realm of atheism, religion, and politics, so when he later said he was looking for more contributors to his blog on “Religion, Politics, and Everything in Between,” I agreed to jump onboard. (Granted, “jump” might not be the right verb–I did take a few weeks to make good on my commitment.)

Why Secular Progressive? Bill O’Reilly coined the term “Secular Progressive” to give a name to the group he views as destroying the foundation of society, but us “S-P’s” are more troubled by the consequences of his right-wing rants. Mike reminds us in the blog’s first post that, oh right–“secular progressive” is not an insult. It’s a label to wear with pride:

No longer can those of us who identify as secular and/or progressive allow ourselves to be caricaturized by the likes of O’Reilly without putting up a fight. That’s how the Right stole the term “liberal” and it’s how conservative Christians have demonized the term “atheist.” Us S-P’s have ourselves a set of values, and we happen to think that they’re better than the alternative, or else we wouldn’t hold them in the first place. Rather than undermine society, we think that those values will actually strengthen our communities and our governments.

So look for me at the Secular Progressive on Wednesdays, and check out Mike’s latest on what happens to him after ordering a Book of Mormon. It’s the beginning of a short series of posts–I wonder what will happen next time with the young Elders Wilcox and Marble?

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The Land Before the Fall: Atheist Field Trip to Creation Museum

I wish I could have been in Kentucky last week for the atheist field trip to the Creation, ahem, “Museum,” where “Children play and dinosaurs roam near Eden’s Rivers.” Alas, I couldn’t make it down–but there are plenty of blogs sharing pics and videos, in particular this one from biologist PZ Myers, who is amused that the diet of a T-Rex specifies “After the Fall.”

I’m choosing to share a good laugh with PZ, rather than tearing up over the fact that people actually believe this, about the fuzzy dating: ~2348 BC is cited as the Jurassic, Upper Cretaceous, and Lower Cretaceous eras all in one. As PZ says, “Why does the geology even matter to them if they’re just going to ignore it all and compress everything into one year, a year given with such remarkable specificity?”

But it wasn’t all fun and games at the Creation Museum: one attendee got kicked out for making a snide remark to a friend (he’d earlier been forced to turn his T-shirt, which said, “There’s probably no God, so stop worrying and enjoy your life”).

Oh well. I have to get back to fantasizing about frolicking with Littlefoot in the Land Before the Fall. Does the Creation Museum have tree stars?

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Silence from the Pulpit: Torture and a Moral Voice

Until I was 17-years-old, I was what you could refer to as a “Christmas Catholic.” I’d had the baptismal waters flicked on my face as a baby, and from that point on my sole connection with the Church were the annual trips to Christmas mass with my dad; though by then agnostic and on my way to atheist, Christmas mass attracts many once-a-year Catholics and non-believers who enjoy the carols. Thus, I might have continued tagging along, if not for the unfortunate circumstance of missing Christmas mass that year, and attending the Sunday after as a substitute.

Christmas mass always presented a love and peace affair, so I’d never discovered that the priest in my dad’s town was one of the more political preachers, fond of mixing extremely conservative rhetoric in with his Bible passages. Between the lurid denunciation of murdering unborn babies and exhortations to support the war in Iraq (the war, not the soldiers, completely separate issues), I determined that I would not be attending any mass again. I couldn’t find any pleasure in the carols, knowing what the congregation supported.

Liberal Catholic friends assure me that political priests like this are unusual; I’m not sure whether this is true or not. I’m also not sure whether it’s a positive fact.

A Consortium News article clued me in to an April Pew survey that found a positive correlation between church attendance and support for torture. 54 percent of people who attend religious services at least weekly believed torture was often or sometimes justified, versus 42% of those who go seldom or never. Furthermore, people unaffiliated with any religious organization were the least likely to believe that torture is often justified; white Protestant evangelicals the most. Kudos to mainline Protestants (Episcopalians, Lutherans and Presbyterians), who are the most likely to state that torture is never justified.

I’m an atheist, and I’d fall in the “torture is never justified” bracket. But what interests me–and what Consortium News author Ray McGovern also considers–is that belief in God is not being measured here, but rather affiliation with and attendance for organized religion. McGovern hypothesizes: “My guess is that those who go to church on Sunday expect a modicum of moral leadership.  If the pastor is silent on torture, then torture must somehow be okay.” So, unlike my dad’s priest on abortion and the war, it’s not about what is being said from the pulpit–it’s about what isn’t. Continue reading

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Oh, to be Secular in the Summer

Nation Editor Katrina vanden Heuvel blogged on something atheists had to celebrate this 4th:

“After eight years in the Bush wilderness — and an even longer period of ostracism by the Washington political establishment — a rising demographic of like-minded Americans and a new president are guiding us back to our roots as a secular nation.”

Jaws dropped when Obama referenced nonbelievers in his inauguration speech. Though the day had its issues, from Rick Warren to a multiplicity of religious references and figures, with one word Obama handed a vital commodity to “nonbelievers”: visibility.

Say what you will about Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens, their snark snatched attention for atheism, which it desperately needed. (Now atheism has buses–I saw one of the mobile ads in New York yesterday.) While their less-than-perfectly-tolerant rhetoric might have offended some religious people, nonetheless I think they did more good than harm in capturing the spotlight. People often distrust the unfamiliar, so as long as atheists remain in the shadows, mistrust and misunderstanding proliferate.

Of course, Obama doesn’t need to grab headlines with ploys like Dawkins’ or Hitchens’. All he has to do is make use of his Obama star power, bringing visibility and a modicum of support.

Now, maybe you could complain that he could stand to do better than just a shout-out–and that he steered clear of the term “atheist,” which, for some reason, people tend to have trouble with (I recall a comedian once talking about coming out to her parents as an atheist–they knew she didn’t believe in God, but an atheist?!). He’s paid a lot of lip service to the LGBT community that hasn’t come to fruition either, once citing his Christianity as his reason for opposing gay marriage, and the inroads the Religious Right has made have not been reset to neutral. Just because atheists have been so downtrodden doesn’t mean we should give too much applause to scraps from on high.

Still, I’m happy for any help in confronting prejudice toward “nonbelievers” and helping draw them out of the closet. And for giving atheists a momentary warm fuzzy feeling: though rising above is admirable, it’s easier to treat religion with tolerance and respect when you’re getting a little in return.

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Queer-Friendly Mormons?

What do you think when you hear “gay-friendly Mormon”? Does it have a strange ring? Do you think of Prop 8, and nothing else?

Mormons unhappy with their church’s stance on gay rights have launched a website (ldsapology.org) to gather petition signatures for their “Plea for Reconciliation.” Organized by two California residents in the wake of the Prop 8 campaign, this coalition of active and former members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints state that “the time is right for healing.” Their hope: to convince the church to ease up on its antigay policies, and especially its political intervention and fundraising.

My mother’s side of the family, all being Mormon, have made me more personally familiar with the Church of Latter-Day Saints than the typical non-Mormon (I was baptized Catholic, am now atheist). As a result of these family ties, I’ve frequently found myself correcting misconceptions about the faith: no, they don’t practice polygamy; yes, they are Christian; no they’re not that much crazier than other religions.

BUT I’m also a harsher critic of Mormonism’s problems because, well, they’re family. While bothered by extreme prejudice against Mormonism (often coming from other conservative Christians) that is based on misunderstanding its history and practice, I’m all too aware that it is a predominantly right-wing faith with serious flaws—homophobia being the biggest of my frustrations.

So it was a relief to encounter a more progressive face of Mormonism. A few days ago, the website had a little over 100 signatures; now it’s close to 800, and growing daily.  This pressure, coming from the church’s own constituents, is harder to brush off than outsider criticism, and this is exactly what needs to happen to cause a change in harmful conservative religious stances. And the website doesn’t shy away from demonstrating just how harmful this antigay stance can be, with a list of gay and lesbian Mormon suicide victims and links to heart-wrenching–and sometimes horrific–personal stories.

Right now, ldsapology.org is a small step in a positive direction, but, hopefully, it will inspire other members of the Mormon church uncomfortable with its direction on gay rights to stand up—so that, as time passes, the term “gay-friendly Mormon” doesn’t sound so strange.

Update June 29th: A recent Nation article (disclosure: I’m an intern there) discusses the push for LGBT rights in predominantly-Mormon Utah, including the visibility of queer Mormons in Salt Lake City. While these activists aren’t confronting church policy as directly as ldsapology.org, their political fight certainly sends a similar message. Cheers for more people coming out of the Closet of Latter-Day Saints.

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