Wednesday, August 11, 2010

International News

The Religious Right, Prop8, SB1070; Partners In Crime

Posted: 10 Aug 2010 04:11 PM PDT

Over the past two weeks the cause of Christian Reconstructionists has been bolstered by proponents of Prop 8 in California, as well as the supporters of SB1070 in Arizona, taking aim at the Fourteenth Amendment. While the subjects of their derision are different, the need to undermine the fundamental principles of equal, inalienable rights, and protection under the law, and weaken the foundations of the Constitution, are shared necessities for all of them.

These three movements share fundamental similarities that make it unsurprising that they have many, though certainly not all, supporters in common. In each case, there is a fundamental desire to make conditional and exclusive those rights deemed equal and inalienable by the Constitution. In each case, those that are most like them are considered more worthy of rights than those that are unlike them.

Although the immigration battle lacks the overtly religious overtones of the Prop 8 campaign, Nationalist Christians easily reconcile the two issues as part of their divinely inspired vision for America. Both policies are exclusive, and both are heavily reliant on an ‘us vs them’ mentality; ‘Us’ being right, and worthy of individual rights and freedoms, and ‘them,’ not. More importantly, their combined assault on the Fourteenth Amendment provides each other with an increased margin for success. In turn, their potential success would provide the Christian Reconstructionists another avenue for the subversion of Constitutional protections against the tyranny of the majority, and for the separation of church and state.

Christian Reconstructionists have long sought to redefine freedom of religion as freedom to impose their religion on society without interference. The success of the Prop8 campaign would serve to further this goal by effectively doing precisely that. The entire argument for the discrimination of homosexuals, and the denial of their civil rights, is based on Fundamentalist Christian doctrine. If this doctrine can be imposed in this case, it can be imposed in others.

The First Amendment to the Constitution protects the free exercise of religion. It does not protect only the free exercise of Christianity, the free exercise of Christians to force others to live by their doctrine, or the preference of Christianity and Christians that they should have special protections and privileges. The founding fathers used the term ‘religion’ in order to express the principle that all religions, beliefs, and world views, have exactly the same status before the law and the government. Had their intention been that Christians, and the Christian church, were exceptional, they would have made at least one specific reference to the religion. Instead, they made no such identification whatsoever of Christianity, Jesus, or the Christian God, and only referred to religion in general. There are no references to Christianity or Jesus in the Declaration of independence or the Constitution.

The laws of the United States are not based on the Christian Bible or any other religious scripture. The principles of American law can be traced through English Common Law back to Roman law, not Hebrew. It was the non-Christian Romans who introduced civil law, trials by jury, and the concept of innocent until proven guilty. These principles are found nowhere in the Bible. The purpose of a written law was to protect people from the potentially abusive power of the state, or a majority; not to define a god’s rules and religious prescriptions for his subjects. Where these principles are clearly evident in the Constitution and the development of American law, they are clearly absent and often contradicted in the Christian Bible and Decalogue.

Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment reads as follows;

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

While it is the first sentence of this section that anti-immigration nationalists find problematic, it’s the second sentence that causes such consternation for the religiously motivated, Proposition 8, anti-homosexual crusaders.

Supporters of Proposition 8 disguise their prejudice by trying to frame it in positive terms. They claim that the motivation behind their efforts is not to discriminate against homosexuals, per se, but to protect marriage and families. If this were the case, one would think that their efforts would be better spent decreasing the divorce rate among their fellow Christians rather than trying to deny others their right to marry whomever they choose.

The Proposition 8 campaign is about imposing Fundamentalist, anti-gay, Christian doctrine on American society. This campaign is about making an inalienable right conditional, based on the tenets of a religion. This campaign is about decimating the principles of the Constitution by subjecting the rights of a minority to the approval of the majority and establishing a law respecting religion; something the constitution clearly prohibits.

While anti-immigration forces differ from anti-gay activists in many ways, the principles of exclusion and the desire to codify majority bias are common to both. The targeted areas of change to the Fourteenth Amendment, purportedly designed to protect this country of immigrants from other immigrants, would create an insurmountable weakness in the American Constitution. American citizenship would become something that could be denied an individual born in America, who has never resided in, nor been the citizen of, any other country, because of the non-violent crime of a parent, and their ethnic or racial heritage.

This is worth reiterating. Citizenship would be denied to an individual born in America based on the non-violent crime of a parent, and because of that individual’s ethnic or racial heritage. This is unconscionable. As disgusting as the term ‘anchor baby’ is, those who would propose such measures deserve a far less complimentary description.

All three of these movements have in common a desire to deny to some the rights that the Constitution guarantees to all. All of these movements attempt to deny individual rights and freedoms, and replace them with conditional privileges, subject to either Christian Doctrine or Majority rule.

Conservative politicians revel in the distractions that divert attention from their lack of a proactive platform and the Democrats seem easily led into the fog they’ve created. Conservatives are fueling the flames of discontent with misinformation, propaganda, and religious rhetoric, while the Democrats are running around after them trying to stomp out the fire with paper shoes. The immigration battle and culture wars are nothing more to the Right Wing than a convenient political situation to exploit in an election year when they seem to have no other tools in the shed. They are either oblivious or unconcerned about the impact these movements could have on the foundation of American society. Their only objective is to win elections, all else be damned. The Democrats need to stop messing around and extinguish the flames at their source.

Christian Reconstructionists, homophobic zealots, and xenophobic nationalists cannot be allowed to erode and subvert the Constitution. While their identified targets seem different, their strategy and desired outcome is very much the same. The inalienable rights guaranteed to all American citizens are viewed as conditional allowances that they want to control. They want to protect their existing majority through their version of ‘14th Amendment’ immigration reform, and then use that majority to deny equal rights, and true freedom of and from religion, to minorities.

The rights of a minority cannot be subjected to a general vote. This is nothing more than a cruel joke to remind the minority that they are in fact a minority, and therefore will loose such a vote because they are.

Americans cannot be denied citizenship based on the crimes of their parents or their racial or ethnic heritage. This violates so many principles of the constitution, let alone principles of justice and human decency, that it boggles the mind that elected officials such as Mitch McConnell would have the gall to suggest such a thing.

Religious doctrine cannot be imposed on American citizens as law, or used to deny the civil rights or liberties of those citizens. Despite the fictitious claims of the Christian Reconstructionists, America has never been, nor was it ever meant to be, a Christian nation where democracy is replaced with theocracy and the Constitution of the Republic is supplanted by religious doctrine and dogma.

The Fourteenth Amendment must be upheld and protected, and the Religious-Right, xenophobic homophobes rebuked for their subversive attempts. The American Constitution was framed and worded with specific intent and the principle of equality is neither negotiable nor expendable. There is no secret meaning known only to Glenn Beck or any other self-proclaimed and discredited scholar with a nefarious agenda. If there is one thing that encapsulates what it means to be an American, it’s the Constitution. Trying to undermine or destroy that is down-right criminal.

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Secular Coalition Applauds Resolution Supporting Fact-Based Education, Denouncing Texas School Board Meddling

Posted: 10 Aug 2010 02:38 PM PDT

The Secular Coalition for America lauded a House resolution (H. Res. 1593) supporting fact-based social studies curricula in public schools, introduced by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) in response to the social studies curriculum established by the Texas State Board of Education, one which imposes a theocratic slant on the teaching of American history and other subjects.The Secular Coalition for America advocates for separation of church and state and is the national lobbying organization representing the interests of Secular Americans – atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other nontheists – in our nation’s capital.

The Texas Board of Education voted this year to change the state’s social studies curricula to teach the falsehood that the U.S. Constitution and American justice derives from Biblical law. Theocrats on the Board also tried – but failed – to eliminate Thomas Jefferson from a list of influential thinkers, to be replaced with religious figures such as John Calvin. Previously, the Board eliminated from textbooks a reference to the scientific consensus regarding the age of the universe – apparently because science contradicts the Biblical date of origin. As school board member David Bradley told the New York Times, “I reject the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state.”

Due to the size of the Texas textbook market, the dictates of its theocratic school board effect textbooks used by public school students all over the country.

“If the United States is to embrace national educational standards, the teaching of our biological, national, and philosophical origins must be based in fact, never religious bias,” said Sean Faircloth, Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America. “The imposition of theocratic bias by the Texas Board of Education underscores the need for any national educational standards to apply equally. Right now standards apply to English and math, but fail to encompass social studies and science as well — the two areas most vulnerable to theocratic meddling.”

Faircloth urged the adoption of H.Res. 1593, saying, “The passage of Rep. Johnson’s resolution would send an unmistakable signal that our Congress will not stand for our children’s education being tampered with to suit a religious-extremist agenda based on religious bias and outright falsehoods.”

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Freethought “Billboard Blitz” in Tampa

Posted: 10 Aug 2010 02:36 PM PDT

In Reason We Trust billboard

The nation’s largest association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics) hopes heads will turn to view a “mini-blitz” of 30 billboards placed throughout the Tampa and St. Petersburg area this month.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., which has more than 15,500 members nationwide and more than 700 Florida members, is taking its national billboard campaign for the first time to Florida.

FFRF’s newest message, showing the face of a penny saying “In Reason We Trust,” is debuting in Tampa. The Foundation points out that “In God We Trust” is a johnny-come-lately, adopted as a motto by Congress during the McCarthy era in 1956. The original secular motto, “E Pluribus Unum” (From Many [come] one”) was chosen by a committee of Jefferson, Adams and Franklin.

“To be accurate, the religious motto would have to say ‘In God Some of Us Trust,’ and wouldn’t that be silly?” said Foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. She pointed out that the nonreligious is the largest-growing segment of the population by religious identification, at 15%.

Other FFRF billboard messages include:
• “Imagine No Religion”
• “God & Government a Dangerous Mix”
• “Sleep in on Sundays”

Several of the colorful billboards have a “stained glass window” motif.

“We want our billboards to be attractive, since our messages are controversial, and freethinkers like stained glass as much as the religious do. But we’d also like to create a little cognitive dissonance. Wouldn’t it be something if you saw this message, ‘Imagine No Religion’ or ‘Sleep in on Sundays,’ in a church?” asks Gaylor.

Since kicking off a billboard campaign in October 2007 in Madison, Wis., the Foundation has added several new designs, placing billboards in 25 states and more than 40 cities, and expanding to provocative bus sign campaigns. These are the first billboards FFRF has placed in Florida, and the most billboards it has ever posted in one area at the same time.

Also going up this week is a new design, “Enjoy Life Now: There Is No Afterlife,” in Watertown, Wis., suggested and paid for by an area FFRF member as “a legacy for my grandkids.” In another August campaign, the Foundation is posting a red-white-and-blue billboard warning, “God and Government a Dangerous Mix,” in Monmouth Co., N.J.

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FFRF vouches publicly for reason in New Jersey

Posted: 10 Aug 2010 02:32 PM PDT

god and government a dangerous mix

FFRF's latest billboard

The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s first freethought billboard is now up in the Garden State of New Jersey.

The billboard faces south off Monmouth Road near Roosevelt Avenue in suburban Oakhurst in Ocean Township and says: “God & Government: A Dangerous Mix,” with “Keep State and Church Separate” below. A capitol dome and red, white and blue colors help get the point across.

The message and design theme debuted in April 2010 in Colorado Springs, Colo., home to Focus on the Family and the free-range conservative evangelical.

FFRF has more than 16,000 members nationally and more than 350 in New Jersey, one of whom worked with FFRF to choose the theme and sponsor the 10×23-foot billboard for one month. Northbound drivers will get a good look at it due to its location off a 40-mph road.

An issue of particular concern to New Jersey advocates of state-church separation is a “backdoor” voucher proposal called the Opportunity Scholarship Act that would benefit private schools at the expense of public education. Advocates, including Gov. Chris Christie and the New Jersey Catholic Conference, make the ludicrous claim that since it would be funded by corporate tax credits, there would be no burden to taxpayers. Corporations that pay state income taxes could take a 100% tax credit for donations made to the OSA fund.

FFRF placed its first billboard in Madison, Wis., (its home base) in October 2007. Since then it has sponsored billboards in about 40 cities in 25 states. Foundation members and contributors are instrumental in these efforts to bring reason to the highways and byways of America.

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said the Foundation opposes public resources going to private religious schools. “Backers of the OSA claim there’s no burden to taxpayers because of the corporate involvement. When corporations get tax credits, the tax burden gets shifted to individuals. It looks like part of the ongoing effort to privatize education in the U.S. and leave the poorer students behind,” Gaylor said.

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Why psychotic patients with religious delusions are harder to cure.

Posted: 10 Aug 2010 02:26 PM PDT

We all hold beliefs that are not provable, and defining when these beliefs cross the line and become psychotic delusions is not easy. It’s clear that such a line does exist, however: every town has its share of people whose religious beliefs fall sufficiently far outside the conventional that they are declared psychotic.

In popular imagination, at least, psychotic delusions often have a religious component. In reality, many psychotic delusions are not religious. However, many delusions involve hallucinations or mind control by unseen agents, and so it’s not too surprising that those who experience them fold them into their religious background. The religious beliefs don’t trigger the psychosis, but they become enmeshed within it.

But do religious beliefs help or hinder those with delusions?

Sylvia Mohr, at the University Hosptial of Geneva in Switzerland, took a look at over 200 psychiatric outpatients at two mental health institutions – one in Geneva and the other in Trois-Rivières, Québec. Half of them had frequent psychotic delusions, and 38 (around one in six of the total sample) had delusions with religious content.

She found that religious nature of their delusions did help some patients to cope. For some, who believed they were being persecuted demons, belief in their god or guardian angel gave them comfort and strength to deal with their condition. This is what one patient said:

The auras say “we will catch him” and “we will kill him,” and they make me feel external pain. At the beginning, I was hopeless and I believed that the auras were strong and superior. I spoke to the priest about the auras, and he helped me to find the courage to fight. God loves me and comforts me. With the help of God, I am winning against the auras. They cannot hurt me anymore, and they are inferior. I don’t speak about this to the psychiatrist, because it is very personal. I do not have a mental disorder, but a physical illness due to the auras, so I take the medication”.

For one patient, who believed he was being controlled by supernatural entities, turning to his priest helped them to understand that his delusion was an illness. Others had similar tails to tell.

However for most patients (55%, in fact), the religious component of their delusions actually made their condition more serious. This was especially the case for those suffering from self-delusions – thinking that they are somebody else. The delusion that you are John the Baptist seems to make it harder to cope with your disease than the delusion that you are Napoleon!

Patients with delusions – and especially those with religious delusions – tended also to be more religious than those. And this is where their real problems begin.

For one thing, despite being more religious, patients with religious delusions actually engage in fewer group religious activities and receive less support from their religious communities than do patients with non-religious delusions. That’s presumably because their religious communities find these religious delusions particularly disturbing.

These patients also are more likely to find that their religion brings them into conflict with psychiatrists and others who are trying to provide mental health support. In fact, one in four of them have come to believe that their religion does not allow them to take antipsychotic medication.

So religion is a mixed bag when it comes to psychosis. For some, it provides solace. For others, however, it increases the danger that they will sink further into their own delusions – a problem exacerbated by the fact that they are shunned by their religious colleagues.For these patients, their religion is more often a burden than a support.

ResearchBlogging.orgMohr, S., Borras, L., Betrisey, C., Pierre-Yves, B., Gilliéron, C., & Huguelet, P. (2010). Delusions with Religious Content in Patients with Psychosis: How They Interact with Spiritual Coping Psychiatry: Interpersonal & Biological Processes, 73 (2), 158-172 DOI: 10.1521/psyc.2010.73.2.158

Creative Commons LicenseThis article by Tom Rees was first published on Epiphenom. It is licensed under Creative Commons.

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Bang! The Universe Verse

Posted: 09 Aug 2010 07:23 PM PDT


Page 22 of BANG! Click for larger version.

Looking for a way to explain the origins of the universe to your kids . . . or your parents? BANG! The Universe Verse is for you!

“In the beginning, before time had begun, nothing existed, and nothing was fun.” So begins your journey through the Big Bang. The narrators, an elderly couple (he looking remarkably like that Einstein fellow) cart an infant about with them for the first few pages, but soon set it aside as they explore the beginnings of time and creation of matter, leading you through elements and relativity for good measure. From the publisher:

“Book one in a three part series, BANG! explains the scientific theories regarding the origin of the universe using captivating illustrations and whimsical rhymes. From the beginning of existence to the birth of stars and galaxies, you’ll learn how matter was created, why stars shine and where where we fit in this wild and crazy universe.”

Lovingly illustrated in white on black, BANG! is a resource accessible to adults and children alike. You can read it free online on Dunbar’s website, request it in PDF format, or buy it in paperback. You may also pick it up on

Dunbar is presently illustrating It’s Alive! The Universe Verse: Book 2. He hopes not just to finish his series of books, but develop lesson plans around them, and reach out to educators and students to encourage scientific curiosity. You can read more about this exciting project, and how you can help, at Kickstarter!

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