2.12.2011

Lady Gaga: More Christ-Like Than The Christian Right


Over at the Washington Post's 'On Faith' blog (via Busted Halo), an interesting question has been raised. Is Lady Gaga, who has been scorned by the conservative right for her flamboyancy and gay rights activism, actually more Christian than her detractors? Whether intentional or not, the article points out, Gaga explores Christian themes of suffering and of humankind's fallen nature in her latest release, Born This Way. Couple these themes with the song's (and Gaga's) reaching out to the marginalized and maligned, and it's not so hard to make analogies.

Regardless of her spirituality (or lack thereof, as the case may be), it does underscore the fact that so many Christians on the conservative right have lost sight of what Jesus was supposed to be all about. As strange as it may be to admit it, Lady Gaga is more Christlike in her actions than the Sarah Palins and the Rick Santorums of the conservative right.

Palin Offers Her Perspective on the Situation in Egypt


"And nobody yet has, no body yet has explained to the American public what they know, and surely they know more than the rest of us know who it is who will be taking the place of Mubarak, and I'm not real enthused about what it is that that's being done on a national level and from D.C. in regards to understanding all the situation there in Egypt." — on the Christian Broadcasting Network, Feb. 4, 2011

2.11.2011

Extreme Makeover: Scientology Edition

This new TV commercial from the Church of Scientology makes you almost forget for a second just how entirely insane the Church of Scientology is.





Answers in Genesis: Ark Park Jobs Link Removed After Church-State Criticism


Answers in Genesis, the organization behind the Creation Museum and the forthcoming Ark Encounter has had a jobs page on their Website for some time.  And until just yesterday, the site had an "Ark Encounter Jobs" link as part of that page (cached page from Feb. 2) -- right above the statement: "All job applicants need to supply a written statement of their testimony, a statement of what they believe regarding creation and a statement that they have read and can support the AiG statement of faith."

The organization's required Statement of Faith would be a problem for Ark Encounter jobs, one would think, since the citizens of Kentucky will be subsidizing the project with their tax dollars.  The statement of faith clearly requires employees to adhere to a fundamentalist Christian faith and a literal interpretation of Biblical text -- a problem for any tax-paying Kentuckians of any other (or no) faith.

Some of the highlights from AiG's statement of faith:
  • The 66 books of the Bible are the written Word of God. The Bible is divinely inspired and inerrant throughout. Its assertions are factually true in all the original autographs. It is the supreme authority in everything it teaches. Its authority is not limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes but includes its assertions in such fields as history and science.
  • The final guide to the interpretation of Scripture is Scripture itself.
  • The account of origins presented in Genesis is a simple but factual presentation of actual events and therefore provides a reliable framework for scientific research into the question of the origin and history of life, mankind, the earth and the universe.
  • The great Flood of Genesis was an actual historic event, worldwide (global) in its extent and effect.
  • Those who do not believe in Christ are subject to everlasting conscious punishment, but believers enjoy eternal life with God.
  • The only legitimate marriage is the joining of one man and one woman. Any forms of homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality, incest, fornication, adultery, pornography, etc., are sinful perversions of God’s gift of sex.
AiG spokesperson Ken Ham has frequently been a source of frustration (and comedy, to be sure) to biologist P.Z. Myers, a noted atheist and highly regarded ScienceBlogs staple (Myers's corner is the popular Pharyngula blog).  Ken Ham has also spent his fair share of time writing about Myers on his blog.  But on Wednesday, Myers brought the Ark Jobs conflict of interest to his readers' attention with a post, "Great Jobs In Kentucky!" The comments section of the page contains lengthy discussion of the constitutionality of such requirements in a place of business partly made possible by tax incentives.  And although, to be fair, the Ark Park Jobs link took users to a page which stated that there currently were no jobs listed, it is notable that the link vanished almost immediately after Myers' post.

It will be interesting to see what, if any, belief system is required to work at the Ark Encounter.  And rest assured that if there are faith requirements, AiG and the Ark Encounter will find themselves in another heated debate about the separation of church and state.  And if there are no faith requirements, then AiG will have found themselves in an unprecedented compromise, when non-compromise is at the core of what they do and who they are. 








2.10.2011

On Being Perceived as a Condescending Elitist When it Comes to Religion

I think we owe it to ourselves to lift up the hood and really take a look at what we believe, and why. It's never pretty when we are honest about belief. It's easy to hit a nerve, and it's hard to not resort to verbal aggression when nerves are struck. I know. I do it all the time.
 

I get in a lot of discussions about religion, including my lack of it, its encroachment on public policy, or its frequent role in denial of basic human rights around the world.  I am misunderstood a lot of the time. this religion stuff is complex, and i have very complex feelings about it. It's easy to be misunderstood, and i realize that goes both ways.

Although folks like Hitchens would disagree, I never in a million years would believe that religion is a poison or a cancer.  to believe that would be to deny my very existence. I firmly believe that religion has been a powerful force in the shaping of human societies. I firmly believe that without religion, I would not be here writing this right now. I know that religion, along with evolved moral codes, has allowed many societies to become more cohesive, to flourish, and to survive. yes, religion has also been a great force of suffering in history. Nothing is black and white. Everything that is good in our world can also be bad, and every shade in between.

I do not for a second believe that religiosity cannot coincide with intelligence. Some of our greatest minds have been devoutly religious. My parents are two of the wisest and most intelligent people I know. My family members, relatives, and many good friends who are religious are way more intelligent than i could dream of being. I also know many non-religious folks who are morons. Quite a few.

Religion covers a broad range of ideologies and belief systems. And certainly we cannot talk about religion without talking about evolution. After all, everything evolves, including religion. It began somewhere, just like anything else. Not only did it evolve, but it played a role in our evolution. This is true and we have the evidence to prove it. As such, I find it just as open to study and dissection as the fields of geology, biology, cosmology, psychology, anthropology, or sociology. When we do look at religion from this perspective, and looking at the vast range that religion covers, we can make the association of certain religious beliefs to knowledge. We know for a fact that religion evolved partially as a means to understand the world in which its practitioners lived. When humans could not understand weather events, the reasons behind night and day, or why people get sick, they explained them with religious beliefs. throughout history, even as we gained more understanding about life and the cosmos and stopped believing that the gods controlled lightning or that demons caused malaria, we still looked to religion to explain more complex things that elude(d) our understanding. Even today, as sore as it makes people to hear or read it, there is research that shows the associations between broad ranges of religious belief and knowledge/education. As un-PC as it may be to point out, the more primitive fundamentalist beliefs (whether Christian, Muslim, Judaism, etc.) are more often associated with the less educated. The less primitive the beliefs, the more educated the believers (or non-) are. There is data to support it. To deny the connection of these associations is to deny that practitioners of currently practiced tribal rituals to oust an illness-causing demon are doing so partly due to lack of knowledge about human illness and biology. We also have to understand that way before the Abrahamic god came on the scene, there were countless primitive religions that covered the earth. Why is it that it took so long for monotheism to take hold if we are to believe that the Abrahamic god himself created us in his own image to follow him? That is a long, crooked path (with endless forks and dead ends) away from him to only come back in the last few thousand years (mere seconds in the time-line of human history).

You can infer what you will from the above statements. Do I believe that believing in the Genesis creation story (in a literal sense) is due to stupidity? No. Do I believe that believing in the Genesis creation story shows a lack of knowledge about what we have learned about life, the earth, and the cosmos? Yes. I believe mostly, however, that people cling to literal biblical interpretations mostly because of willful ignorance. people do not want to invest in understanding the oceans of data supporting evolutionary theory and natural selection. They do not want to consider the mountains of transitional species in the fossil record. They do not want to appreciate the vast, unimaginable stretches of time involved in evolutionary change. It is difficult for people with our lifespans to envision even 1,000 generations, much less hundreds of thousands, or millions. We look at our own children as they grow and do not notice how much they have changed until we look at a photo from the recent past. the change that occurs so slightly from generation to generation over millions of years is impossible for us to fathom.

We are usually told the stories of religion at a young age. We believe them because they are as true to us at that age as is the sky being blue. As we grow older, to unlearn certain stories, or even the literalness of certain stories is like denying our very existence. We fear we will slip down the path to not knowing ourselves; admitting one thing in the Bible is not true will make the entire house of cards collapse before us. This does not have to be true. Francis Collins of the NIH, and former head of the Human Genome Project consistently speaks of the coexistence of religion and evolution.  He is at once an Evangelical Christian and a staunch proponent of evolution.   These things are not irreconcilable. 
 

I realize that the above could further cement the impression that I believe that fundamentalist Christians (or Muslims, etc.) are ignorant, and that I am evolved and more knowledgeable. I don't know why I am how I am. but I can say that I have gotten here not without an incredible amount of research, soul-searching, self-education, and a daily thirst for further understanding the mechanisms that dictate the way life works and how the cosmos behaves.

I would never say that there is not some supernatural force out there that has set it all into motion. I do not know this. There are always things that humans will not understand about the cosmos and about life. But because we cannot explain things does not mean that we must ascribe those things a supernatural origin. I don't know for sure that pixies do not live in the forest, but I have to assume that they do not until I have something that proves to me otherwise.

But the fact that I don't entertain supernatural explanations about the world does not mean that I believe that anyone who believes in demonic possession, or ghosts, is not intelligent. They're certainly entitled to believe those things. I may wonder, however, if they have really ruled out all other possibilities. I may get upset if my tax dollars go to fund ghostbusters, and I may become vocal when public school science teacher teaches my child that ghosts may be just as good an explanation for why a door closes on its own
as changes in air pressure. I may even ridicule him. But that doesn't make me a condescending elitist.  However, that will not stop the ghostbusters from thinking I believe they are stupid. 

And so it goes.




This piece appeared previously on happyrobot.com.