6.10.2011

American Values Network: 'Christians Must Choose: Ayn Rand or Jesus'

Much has been said, since the recent rise in popularity of Ayn Rand among conservatives, about the incompatibility of Rand's Objectivism with the teachings of Jesus. In many ways, they may seem like a perfect fit. Conservatives love capitalism as much, or more, than they love Jesus.

One of the most amusing aspects of the right's love affair with Rand is the fact that she was a staunch atheist who was highly critical of religion. She also happened to be pro-choice and (arguably) a feminist. But either her fans have overlooked these facts in favor of her brand of cold-hearted, free market capitalism and self-reliance, or they are unaware of how much she actually resembled Hillary Clinton. It is, more than likely, a textbook case of willful ignorance.

Most of the accusations of hypocrisy have come from the secular left (and from people who actually like good literature). And, we know full well that conservatives don't listen to those people.

Enter The American Values Network, a progressive faith group started by a former Hillary Clinton aide. The organization has launched an aggressive campaign to pit Jesus and Rand against each other, and to urge Christians to reject the philosophies of Rand.  It's one or the other, they say.  You can't have them both.



I'm not crazy about the ad. I'm not crazy about political faith groups. (I prefer to keep faith and politics in their own separate baskets.) I don't like the way they vilify Rand for her atheism, when there are actual, valid shortcomings to point out (like the fact that her novels are not very good). One absolutely can be an atheist and live a moral life (that is one thing that Rand got right).

But I do like the ad for its bluntness, and its honesty. It's true: even an atheist would tell you that you can't subscribe to Rand's Objectivism and still call yourself a follower of Jesus.

The Batshit Files: News Roundup | 6.10.11

  • Glenn Beck compares media coverage of Sarah Palin to a KKK lynch mob (Media Matters)
      • NOM's Brian Brown: Anti-gay marriage amendments keep LGBT teens safe (Pam's House Blend)
      • Creationists explain that transgender identity is a serious medical problem resulting from The Fall of Man (Right Wing Watch)
      • Those racist anti-choice billboards are back.  This time they're targeting Latinos. (GOOD)
      • 18 killed in wave of homophobic violence in Puerto Rico (ColorLines)
      • Coulter: If my child said he was gay, "Obviously I'd tell him he was adopted...Ask for some help redecorating the dining room" (Media Matters)
          • The North Carolina House voted to pass the “Women’s Right to Know” Act which forces women to wait 24 hours to have an abortion, forces them to see a sonogram and feeds them “information” about the risks of abortion. (Feministing)
          • Limbaugh: "Belief in man-made global warming is a lot like believing in Santa Claus." (Media Matters)
          • God is separately backing at least three different contenders for the Republican presidential nomination (New York)
          • Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed — the 2008 creationist propaganda movie fronted by Ben Stein — is scheduled to be auctioned, pursuant to the bankruptcy proceeding of Premise Media Holdings LP. (NCSE
          • Santorum: Climate Change is a “scheme” for “more government” (Discover)


          'Paul Revere's Ride' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Sarah Palin

          The New Yorker's Ben Greenman reads "Paul Revere's Ride, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Sarah Palin."


          Is Anatomy Destiny? - A Talk By Alice Dreger

          Via TED:

          Alice Dreger works with people at the edge of anatomy, such as conjoined twins and intersexed people. In her observation, it's often a fuzzy line between male and female, among other anatomical distinctions. Which brings up a huge question: Why do we let our anatomy determine our fate?

          Alice Dreger is a professor of clinical medical humanities and bioethics at the Feinberg School of Medicine of Northwestern University in Chicago. She describes her focus as "social justice work in medicine and science" through research, writing, speaking and advocacy.

          She's written several books that study subjects on the edge of norm-challenging bodies, including One of Us: Conjoined Twins and the Future of Normal and Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex and Intersex in the Age of Ethics.

          She says: "The question that has motivated many of my projects is this: Why not change minds instead of bodies?"




          6.09.2011

          Bryan Fischer: Gays Responsible For The Nazi Party

          Bryan Fischer, total dickhead
          Bryan Fischer, of the American Family Association (the hate group sponsoring Gov. Rick Perry's prayer and fasting rally) wants to clear something up.

          He never once said that gays were responsible for the HOLOCAUST. He said that the gays were responsible for the NAZI PARTY (which was responsible for the Holocaust).

          Remember, folks! Bryan Fischer will be praying for America alongside Texas governor and potential GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry on August 6 at the seven-hour fasting and prayer-fest, Response: A Call to Prayer For a Nation in Crisis





          Police Seek 'Psychic' After Search For 30 Bodies Yields Nothing

          In cased you missed it, a tip from a 'psychic' had authorities in Liberty County, TX searching for a mass grave containing 30 bodies. The home of Joe and Gena Bankson was raided by FBI agents, cadaver dogs, and approximately 15 carloads of local police. Two dozen news outlets camped outside the home, and at least two helicopters were spotted overhead. Several state agencies were on the premises.

          And as things go, several news agencies were reporting that a mass grave had indeed been found. Like a nasty virus, reports were passed along, re-tweeted, and the next thing you know, "Texas police, acting on a tip-off, found a mass grave containing 'a lot of bodies,' including the corpses of children."

          At the end of the day? Nada. After wasting hundreds of hours of agency resources and, reportedly, up to $1 million dollars, authorities declared at the end of the day, "There is no crime scene."

          Via Reuters:
          Capt. Rex Evans, a spokesman for the Liberty County Sheriff's Office, said the female caller, who apparently was familiar with the rural property about 50 miles outside Houston, may face a misdemeanor charge for filing a false report. The punishment could include a fine and jail time.

          So, let me get this straight. The Liberty County Sheriff's Office wants to charge someone for sharing her supernatural visions -- supernatural visions which they decided to treat as evidence of an actual real world crime.

          A supernatural vision is not a 'tip.' It's not a 'report.' Charging someone for making a false report because their supernatural vision didn't pan out is like getting mad at someone because they were mean to you in your dream.

          Officers, I believe what you do in this situation is cut your losses and remind yourselves that this is not Scooby Doo.

          6.08.2011

          The Batshit Files: News Roundup | 6.8.11

          People, you so crazy:

          Rainbows have been banned at Mississauga Catholic school (Xtra!)

          Ann Coulter on Kent State massacre: "That's what you do with a mob" (Media Matters)

          Rep. John Labruzzo (R) defends bill banning abortion, compares women seeking abortions to heroin addicts (Think Progress)

          Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) claims that legalizing gay marriage is akin to legalizing pedophilia, incest, and letting three-year olds drive a car. (Right Wing Watch)

          Wash. Times says Palin was "correct" about Paul Revere; "Left Does Not Revere History" (Media Matters)

          Sarah Palin's fans edit Paul Revere Wikipedia entry to make it reflect Palin's unique version of the events. (Computerworld)

          Man tells police he raped woman because he was afraid of the Rapture (Orlando Sentinel)

          'Psychic' tip leads to serious search, but no mass grave containing 30 bodies, as the 'psychic' claimed (MSNBC)

          David Barton: Founding Fathers were against teaching evolution; Revolution was fought to end slavery (Right Wing Watch)

          Herman Cain’s plan for securing the border: Build an electrified Great Wall Of China, fill a moat with alligators (ThinkProgress)

          Massachusetts State Rep. Ryan Fattman (R, duh): If an undocumented woman were raped and beaten as she walked down the road, she should be afraid to come forward. (Right Wing Watch)

          Christian to Walk 160 Miles to Repent for Homophobia

          This summer, British Christian writer Symon Hill will walk from Birmingham to London as a pilgrimage of sorts. He is walking 160 miles to repent for his former homophobic attitudes and beliefs.

          Hill admits he used to campaign against gay ministers and Christian acceptance of LGBT people. He has since become convinced that he was wrong.

          He writes:
          Taking a circuitous route between 16 June and 1 July, I will give talks on the way, challenging the Church as a whole to repent of homophobia and to think differently about sexuality.

          I will be praying for God's guidance and engaging in dialogue with those who disagree.


          An email to The Guardian indicates that Hill's trek is garnering support and publicity from other churches and organizations who share the sentiment:

          Churches in Birmingham, Oxford and London are to host events in June and July encouraging Christians to repent of homophobia and support full equality for gay and bisexual people. All three churches will host talks by Symon Hill, a Christian writer who is walking 160 miles on a pilgrimage of repentance for his former homophobia. The pilgrimage has been welcomed by the former Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries, and the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.

          A call to Hill revealed that the churches mentioned in the email are "neither Church of England nor Roman Catholic. They are Methodist, Reformed and Baptist. So still churches, just not the right ones." I would argue that any churches are "right ones," but I do share the sentiment that this amounts to preaching to the choir.

          Hill told the Guardian:
          It has been harder than expected to find churches willing to host me. There have been churches who were very interested but later found the congregation or the vicar to be opposed to the idea. There are lots of people who support inclusion but avoid talking about for fear of creating a row.
          Luckily, there are people like Hill willing to force the discussion.

          Hill writes on his blog:
          Along with the ednorsements from organisations, I continue to be humbled by the emails and comments I recieve from individuals. This evening, I recieved an email from a Christian mother of two adult children who are both gay Christians. She is proud of them, accepts their faith and their sexuality, and works with a support group for Christian parents with LGBT children, some of whom have difficulty reaching a position of acceptance.

          I am only one of many, many people in Britain and around the world who are inspired by the radical inclusivity of Christ to work for the full equality of gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, transgender, intersex and queer people within Christiainity. I do not think I could do what I am doing without the support of others, and I thank God for all of them.

          For more information on Symon's pilgrimage, see his blog here.

          The 'Sissy Boy' Experiment: George Rekers' 'Ex-Gay Therapy'

          Via Towleroad:
          "In 1970, a five-year-old boy named Kirk Murphy was subjected to an ex-gay experiment. Under the care of Dr Ivor Lovaas and George Rekers, then a doctoral student, of UCLA, he underwent therapy to eliminate supposed effeminate behaviors. In 1974, Lovaas and Rekers jointly published a paper about the boy they renamed "Kraig," heralding his treatment for "childhood cross-gender problems" a success and claiming he had been transformed from a gender-confused homosexual-in-waiting to a healthy, heterosexual young man. On the back of this study, Rekers built a career as an anti-gay activist and a supposed expert in childhood sexual development. He co-founded the Family Research Council and championed reparative therapy to turn gay men straight. In 2003, Kirk, aged 38 years old and gay, committed suicide."

          If the name George Rekers doesn't ring a bell, you may recall a particular anti-gay psychologist and Southern Baptist minister who hired a rent-boy to carry his luggage.

          The following is the first part in Anderson Cooper's The Sissy Boy Experiment, a devastating look at the "experimental therapy" designed to make feminine boys more masculine.



          6.06.2011

          That's Not In The Bible: Phantom Passages and Biblical Illiteracy

          CNN's Belief Blog has an interesting look at sayings, proverbs, and quotes that people often inaccurately attribute to scripture.


          A handful of examples:

          "God works in mysterious ways."

          "Cleanliness is next to Godliness."

          "This, too, shall pass."

          "Spare the rod, spoil the child."

          “God helps those that help themselves.”

          None of these phrases appear anywhere in the bible. 

          There are many things that play into the emergence of such "phantom passages." The number one culprit is ignorance. Most who profess to love and live by The Bible have not actually read very much of it. Confusion is another factor. Sometimes the phantom passage is a distillation of a concept found in scripture (i.e. "Spare the rod" is likely a loose distillation of Proverbs 13:24: "The one who withholds [or spares] the rod is one who hates his son."

          I have added some more quotations that are often inaccurately attributed to The Bible:

          "Money is the root of all evil."

          "Moderation in all things."

          "God works in mysterious ways."

          "God will not give us more than we can bear."

          The Serenity Prayer: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference."

          Aside from mis-attributed quotations, there are also numerous stories from the Bible that have become distorted over the years as people have passed them along in Bible classes, sermons, or in the living room. CNN points out the following examples:

          The scripture never says a whale swallowed Jonah, the Old Testament prophet, nor did any New Testament passages say that three wise men visited baby Jesus, scholars say.

          Those details may seem minor, but scholars say one popular phantom Bible story stands above the rest: The Genesis story about the fall of humanity.

          Most people know the popular version - Satan in the guise of a serpent tempts Eve to pick the forbidden apple from the Tree of Life. It’s been downhill ever since.

          But the story in the book of Genesis never places Satan in the Garden of Eden.

          “Genesis mentions nothing but a serpent,” says Kevin Dunn, chair of the department of religion at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

          “Not only does the text not mention Satan, the very idea of Satan as a devilish tempter postdates the composition of the Garden of Eden story by at least 500 years,” Dunn says.
          To most, this is not a big deal. In most cases, the gist of the story is intact -- and let's not fool ourselves, these are simply stories. But what this does illuminate is the fact that most religious people do not really know this book which serves as a foundation for their lives.  And, as the CNN article notes, we tend to infuse the Bible with our own values and morals, rather than the other way around.

          Take, for instance, the case of the phantom passage, "God helps those that help themselves." As mentioned above, this can be found nowhere in the Bible. It is so often cited as a validation of self-reliance, or to justify our voracious appetites for capitalism and consumerism. It evokes a reluctance to provide for others. No, this is not a biblical quotation.  It can, however, be attributed to Ben Franklin. 

          Sidnie White Crawford, a religious studies scholar at the University of Nebraska, states:

          Yet that passage contradicts the biblical definition of goodness: defining one’s worth by what one does for others, like the poor and the outcast, Crawford says.

          Crawford cites a scripture from Leviticus that tells people that when they harvest the land, they should leave some “for the poor and the alien” (Leviticus 19:9-10), and another passage from Deuteronomy that declares that people should not be “tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor.”

          These examples point to a big problem in America, where, despite the Establishment Clause, scripture finds its way into the political sphere, informing everything from war to healthcare to presidential elections.  It's dangerous enough that we must tolerate religious ideology in public affairs, without having to worry about faux religious ideology.

          From the March 22, 2007 cover story in TIME Magazine, The Case for Teaching The Bible:

          Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the Bible holds the answers to "all or most of life's basic questions," but pollster George Gallup has dubbed us "a nation of biblical illiterates." Only half of U.S. adults know the title of even one Gospel. Most can't name the Bible's first book. The trend extends even to Evangelicals, only 44% of whose teens could identify a particular quote as coming from the Sermon on the Mount.
          I know that many secular folks would argue that a diminishing understanding of an ancient religious text is not such a bad thing. Surely, they may think, every dead religion once had a period where people began to lose interest in, and knowledge about, their religious stories -- this is just one more instance of that.

          Biblical illiteracy is a problem. Not because we need to be more religious as a society, but because the Bible is the most influential book (or, more accurately, collection of writings) on the face of the earth.  It informs countless literary works.  It reverberates throughout history and politics. One cannot study Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., or even George W. Bush without encountering allusions to biblical writings. Many of us would not last very long in a sales job if we only knew the name of one or two products in the company's inventory.  A chemist would be laughed out of the lab if he could only recall a handful of elements (and several faux-elements that were nowhere on the periodic table). Can you imagine receiving a lifeguard certificate only knowing the first step of CPR?  Why is it that we can ascribe to a belief system of which we apparently know so little about?  Not that everyone needs to have exhaustive knowledge of their belief system -- we can never know enough. But the figures from the TIME Magazine story illustrate a level of illiteracy that would be unacceptable in most areas of our lives.

          Although much good is inspired by scripture, The Bible is used on a daily basis to justify violence, oppression, and discrimination (of course other religious texts do as well).  Most often, these justifications, like the phantom passage examples above, are distorted, erroneous distillations of passages devoid of context. They are often cherry-picked from larger passages which, if the context were understood, might encompass an altogether different sentiment or meaning. Too often, passages which are used to justify violence, hatred, or oppression, are adjacent to other passages that are ignored for their lack of relevance in modern society (but somehow, the cherry-picked passage is perfectly applicable).

          Polls suggest that that over 60% of Americans favor secular teaching about the Bible.  Obviously, teaching the Bible, from a literary, historical-critical perspective would be a tough sell in America. Many evangelicals would have issues with this type of warts-and-all presentation that did not include a sales pitch, and many liberals (and those of other faiths) would have issues, since it would be difficult to ensure that teachers were teaching instead of preaching. Other faiths might wish that their holy books get equal time (maybe not such a bad idea, either).  And certainly some vocal atheists would object from the get-go on the grounds that religion is not appropriate for public schools, period, no matter how it is presented. 

          If anything, our society needs to have a better understanding of the writings which have so greatly influenced our society. We should be familiar with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the great speeches from American history (Gettysburg Address, MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech, Daniel Webster's Plymouth Oration, etc.), and the American literature which has contributed to our culture, and which reflects our past ("Huckleberry Finn," "The Great Gatsby," "The Scarlett Letter," "Invisible Man," etc.). Why is the Bible any less important for Americans to be familiar with?

          One benefit that would come from a more biblically literate America would be a decline in scriptural literalism. As we saw above, from the examples of phantom passages, and from the surveys showing our lack of knowledge of what is actually in The Bible, the majority of Americans possess a blind allegiance to something that they truly do not understand.  This is not only embarrassing, it is dangerous.  Biblical literalism leads to a variety of societal ills, including the denial of science, the denial of human rights, sickness, and death. It leads to the rejection of logic.

          If Americans really knew The Bible as well as they proclaim, they would understand that it is a cobbled-together collection of writings by many different people (often writing under the guise of someone else), written over many years, in many different languages, for many different audiences, for many different reasons, in very different times.  It has been translated, and re-translated, edited, and assembled, by a variety of people, with certain books rejected and certain books admitted, for a variety of reasons.  It should be read and understood as such.

          If we, in our time, have erroneously associated this many quotations and passages to The Bible, we can only begin to imagine the misconceptions and embellishments contained within its very pages.

          Rick Perry's 'Response: A Call to Prayer For a Nation in Crisis'

          From the Church Meets State files:

          Texas Governor and potential GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry wants you to join him in Houston on August 6.  He wants you to "take your place in Reliant Stadium with praying people asking God’s forgiveness, wisdom and provision for our state and nation. There is hope for America. It lies in heaven, and we will find it on our knees."

          From the Response Website:

          Fellow Americans,

          Right now, America is in crisis: we have been besieged by financial debt, terrorism, and a multitude of natural disasters. As a nation, we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles, and thank Him for the blessings of freedom we so richly enjoy.

          Some problems are beyond our power to solve, and according to the Book of Joel, Chapter 2, this historic hour demands a historic response. Therefore, on August 6, thousands will gather to pray for a historic breakthrough for our country and a renewed sense of moral purpose.

          It's certainly interesting that a Governor of a state which includes citizens of all faiths (and non-believers) would hold an event which so clearly favors one particular brand of religion. What exactly is going on here, Rick?

          From the Response FAQ:

          What Does The Response Believe?

          We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.

          We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

          We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.

          We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.

          We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.

          We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.

          We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.


          Why is The Response happening? Why should I come?
          We believe that America is in a state of crisis. Not just politically, financially or morally, but because we are a nation that has not honored God in our successes or humbly called on Him in our struggles. According to the Bible, the answer to a nation in such crisis is to gather in humility and repentance and ask God to intervene. The Response will be a historic gathering of people from across the nation to pray and fast for America.

          Who else will be there?
          Governor Rick Perry has invited all US governors as well as many other national Christian and political leaders. People of all ages, races, backgrounds and Christian denominations will be in attendance to proclaim Jesus as Savior and pray for America.

          A few questions they left off of the FAQ:

          Has Rick Perry ever read the Establishment Clause of the Constitution? 

          This event is sponsored by a hate group. You guys know that, right?

          Are you out of your fucking mind?



          The Response Promo from The Response USA on Vimeo.

          Jesus vs. Thor

          Via 9gag.com: