Thursday, September 2, 2010

International: Separation of Church and State Border Also Needs Patrol

 

Pat Robertson: Fueling the Mosque Arson

Posted: 01 Sep 2010 01:48 PM PDT

The planned relocation of a 30 year old Mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee has run into official difficulty, as well as arson and vandalism, after the 700 Club descended on the town. Having already obtained approval to build from the Rutherford County Commissioners, new concerns have been manufactured over the alleged increased traffic that may be caused by the Mosque. Anti-Muslim activists and the 700 Club suggest that these concerns may be effective as a means of delaying, or possibly derailing, the plans.

During the August 19 episode of the 700 Club a segment over nine minutes long was dedicated to raising fear over the relocation of the mosque. The segment entitled ‘Mega-Mosque Nation,’ which begins at the 17 minute mark, and ends after the 26 minute mark of the broadcast, includes, among other things, footage of local officials being pressured into investigating alleged dangers proposed by the Mosque.

After explaining that every religion in the area is treated completely equally, Rutherford County Mayor, Ernest Burgess, is bombarded with accusations by 700 Club staff that ‘The Islamic Brotherhood’ will infiltrate this Mosque with the intention of spreading ‘radical Islam.’ While Mayor Burgess was unfazed by the unfounded accusations and remains committed to the equal rights and freedoms of all individuals, County Commissioners have agreed to re-open the case based on the allegations featured in the 700 Club episode.

The Murfreesboro Mosque has received recent media attention after fires were set on the property, damaging three vehicles, and their sign was defaced with the words ‘Not Welcome,’ in spay-paint. As the airing of the 700 Club segment was prior to these actions, it’s difficult to ascertain whether they would have been committed without the fear-mongering and anti-Islamic propaganda provided by Pat Robertson and his staff.

As part of this anti-Islamic campaign, 700 Club reporter, Eric Stakelbeck, interviewed Laurie Cardoza-Moore concerning her allegations that the approval for the Mosque relocation by the Rutherford County Commissioners was somehow achieved nefariously. Cardoza-Moore was introduced as a local activist and documentary filmmaker.

Cardoza-Moore is an outspoken Zionist who, as part of her ongoing anti-Islamic campaign, recently spoke at Park51 Mosque protests. In her speech at the Park51 protests, Cardoza-Moore claimed that Muslims can’t be considered “Real Americans” because they ‘didn’t fight in the revolutionary war.’ Cordoza-Moore believes that the relocation of this 30 year old Mosque is part of a larger conspiracy against the local Christian community and its book and music industry.

In an obvious attempt to stir up fear in the Murfreesboro community, Pat Robertson told his audience:

“It isn’t just religion, just isn’t. Mark my words. If they start bringing thousands of Muslims into that relatively rural area, the next thing you know, they’re going to be taking over the City Council. Then they’re going to be having an ordinance that calls for public prayer 5 times a day. Then they’re going to be having ordinances that there’ll have to be facilities for foot-washing in all the public restrooms, in all the airport facilities, etc, etc. And, before long they’re going to demand, demand, demand, demand, and, little by little, the citizens of Murfreesboro, or whatever little town it is, are going to be cowed by these people. Not to mention their ability to bribe folks. I don’t know whether anybody is getting a pay-off, but it’s entirely possible.”

He goes on to completely besmirch the credibility of the local officials by suggesting that they can, and may very well have been, bought with as little as $300.00. He added that, in reference to the Muslim members of the Mosque, “these guys come in with pots of money.” Mr. Robertson rhetorically wonders for the cameras just how far $10,000.00 could go to buy political favor in a small place like Murfreesboro.

After looking into his studio camera and directly addressing United States representatives, telling them what he feels their actions should be, Robertson had the gall to charge the organizers of this local Muslim congregation with political activism. The blatant hypocrisy of his actions apparently lost on him. He then continues to allow his program to be used as a platform for anti-Muslim activists to spread the kind of propaganda that fuels actions such as the vandalism and arson committed only days later.

During the episode Rebecca Bynum is introduced as a ‘local journalist’ who infers that the funding for the Mosque is questionable. Her reason for making this accusation is that she has heard that other funding, for other Mosques, in other places, have been ‘accused’ of coming from questionable sources, and has therefore seen fit to level the same accusation against this Mosque. If this reasoning sounds sketchy, it may be because the ‘local journalist,’ Rebecca Bynum, is in fact an anti-Islamic propagandist that works for ‘The New England Review’ and has been the News Editor and Board Member of ‘Jihad Watch,’ a dedicated anti-Muslim organization. Bynum”>Her writings accuse Islam of not actually being a religion, and of being responsible for giving other religions a bad name.

The episode describes Murfreesboro as being the ‘buckle of the Bible Belt’ where many of the residents still focus on ‘God and Country.’ The narrative continues by describing how this ‘All-American feel’ will disappear thanks to plans for the Mosque. There is nothing subtle about the threat described by Pat Robertson, Eric Stakelbeck, Rebecca Bynum or Laurie Cardoza-Moore.

This sort of incitement through disinformation and deliberate propaganda is inexcusable. This has the appearance of a deliberate attempt to cause civil unrest and promote hatred against a specific group of visible minorities within a community. Law enforcement is currently investigating these hate crimes that seemed designed to inspire terror in the victims. Pat Robertson has voiced his bigotry and biases in the past, but this latest act of conspiracy with other discriminatory groups to spread a message of fear and intolerance that may have resulted in acts of terror, may just be criminal.

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Review: The God Virus

Posted: 01 Sep 2010 11:22 AM PDT

Most of the recent non-theist literature approaches the topic of religion from a very literal point of view. Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Dennett have been champions of the direct approach: Evolution is this. Religion is that. There is almost certainly no god. Secular countries are objectively less dysfunctional than theist countries in quantifiable ways. To be sure, there was and still is a need for this kind of writing. But there has been something missing.

As refreshing as it may be for us non-theists to hear someone tell it exactly like it is, this approach can be daunting. For many people who were not raised in an environment that encouraged scientifically precise descriptions and in-depth analysis of the nuts and bolts of things, it can be a little overwhelming. And frankly, for many non-theists, it’s difficult to make the link between these books and their own lives. Sure, understanding evolution is great, but what good does that do for Joe Non-Theist who is struggling to live in a theist dominated community? In-depth analysis of epistemology is also great, but how does it help Nancy Non-Believer talk to her theist friends about her lost faith?

The God Virus, by Darrel Ray, Ed. D., takes a different approach. Religion is explained as analogous to viruses, viral infection, and parasites. Using accessible language and familiar ideas, Ray gives us powerful conceptual language for thinking of religion as a self-serving “life form” that replicates, spreads through the population, and influences the behavior of its hosts in self-serving ways.

Though many religionists would probably be challenged by reading this book, its main purpose is not to convince people to become non-believers. Similarly, it’s not meant to be a definitive work on the precise objective nature of religion. Instead, it takes many propositions more or less as read. Unlike much of the atheist literature, you will not find an extensive bibliography, copious footnotes, or tedious step-by-step syllogistic proofs. Reading The God Virus feels much more like a conversation over coffee. And that is a good thing.

The bulk of The God Virus deals with five properties of viruses which are analogous to religion. Viruses infect people. They create antibodies against other viruses. They often take over both physical and mental functions and hide themselves from the host. They have multiple methods of transmission. They program the host to replicate the virus.

Most “recovering religionists” will immediately recognize the power of the antibody metaphor. A great deal of early religious training is designed to insulate us from dangerous questions or ideas. Religious dogma has built in mechanisms for discouraging and even shutting down our capacity for critical thought. From the threat of Hell to guilt to separation from friends and family, religion – very much like a virus – attempts to protect itself from external threats to its propagation.

Viruses spread through “vectors.” For example, a mosquito is a vector for malaria. Religion is also spread through vectors, only we call them priests, pastors or youth ministers. A single vector can be responsible for an epidemic, as witnessed by the success of Joseph Smith, Pat Robertson, and L. Ron Hubbard.

Viruses must mutate to stay competitive in changing environments. Similarly, religion adapts to the cultural and scientific landscape. Galileo and Copernicus’ scientific discoveries were eventually incorporated into the Catholic model of the universe (though not without some wailing and gnashing of teeth). Even Darwin is grudgingly accepted today by some of the more progressive religions. Very few religions can remain virulent while demanding that women stay silent in church, or that children be stoned for disobedience.

One of the most powerful metaphors for me was that of moral manipulation. Religious morality is compared to behavioral changes caused by parasites such as the lancet fluke (Dicrocoelium), which drives its host (an ant) to climb to the top of a blade of grass where it is eaten by a cow, in whose belly the organism reproduces. Using this analogy, Ray explains that moral mandates which are peculiar to religious dogma are not beneficial to the host (the believer), but rather that they are designed for the benefit of the parasite. Prohibitions on birth control do not benefit Catholics directly. But they do benefit the “Catholic Virus” by ensuring that already infected individuals will reproduce as much as possible, creating growth through both time and the population. Moratoriums on masturbation do not contribute to happiness or self-actualization, but they do create unassailable guilt which can only be relieved by “re-dedication to Christ” or other such religious rituals.

Having established the metaphor, Ray analyzes several examples of the religious virus, most notably American Evangelical Christianity. He dissects each aspect of the movement, using metaphorical language which makes it easy for the reader to begin thinking outside of the religious box. By this point in the book, most readers will find themselves incorporating the “virus language” into their thinking. I found – to my delight – that by the end of the book, I was having to work to consciously translate my thoughts backwards into religio-speak. Such is the power of the virus metaphor. It can literally change the way we think about religion.

And that is what it’s all about, isn’t it? For all the huffing and puffing about the evils of religion, isn’t the goal of most non-believers to make the world a better place by effecting change in both believers and religion itself? And doesn’t real change start when we see our world in a new light, one that forces us to abandon our previous conceptions of reality?

This is the power of The God Virus. It’s not meant to offer a sterile, scientific analysis of religion. Instead, it gives the layperson a mighty weapon in the struggle to create a better world with less religious guilt and oppression and more self-examination and self-actualization.

The later chapters of the book deal with the realities of living a religion-free life, and perhaps more importantly, relating to and living alongside religionists. This, I believe, is what has been woefully lacking in atheist literature. Ray takes a very non-judgmental approach to believers, as we would expect from a physician designing a therapeutic regimen for people with a viral infection. He encourages us to separate the victims from the virus, and to design our interactions to minimize the power of the virus without confronting it directly and risking a defense mechanism kicking in.

We non-believers are also encouraged to examine ourselves for evidence of residual viral infection. Even after leaving religion, it is still very common to retain damaging beliefs or behaviors relating to critical thinking, guilt, sexuality, and isolationism. Only with honest -– sometimes brutally honest -– self-examination and introspection can we eradicate the last remnants of the infection. It is frequently a lifelong project.

Though The God Virus is not a direct attack on religion, there is mention in the final chapter of the dangers inherent in the propagation of the virus, especially in its more virulent and deadly mutations. It is clear that this is a problem for all of us non-believers.

I believe that The God Virus is one of the most useful and emotionally appealing metaphors to grace the atheist meme-scape in some time. Unlike so many of the (Flying Spaghetti Monster forgive me) cumbersome and jargon-laden tomes by atheist scientific writers, this book and the concept it promotes are designed for the real workaday world where many non-believers live.

The God Virus is not without its flaws, though in the broad scheme of things, I think the flaws are so minor that they don’t significantly detract from the experience. There are a number of editorial glitches which will presumably be addressed in a second edition or reprint. Most of them are minor misspellings or grammatical errors. As I mentioned, there is no bibliography, which will probably lead to some poo-pooing by religionists and overly pedantic non-believers. Finally, for readers who skim or aren’t careful to digest the first chapter carefully, there is a danger of thinking that Ray claims religion is a literal virus. This is nonsense, of course. We are comfortable with the analogy of a computer virus, even though it’s obvious that there isn’t a literal physical virus inside our computers. We understand that “virus” is a useful analogy for the behavior of the programs which invade our hard drives and operating systems. So we call them viruses. In the same way, we are free to use the language of viruses and viral infections when discussing religion and religious belief.

I’ve had the pleasure of listening to Darrel Ray speak, and to have a wonderful conversation with him while preparing to write this review. I believe his approach to religion represents a potential turning point in the relations between not only religion and atheism but individual religionists and non-believers. It is a simple and powerful metaphor based in the scientific realities of the human mind, which is often overwhelmed when presented with complex and erudite data. Here is a man who has spent his career studying and practicing human relations. With this book, he has taken atheists out of the ivory towers and given them work boots and a tool kit. The God Virusis a must-read for anyone who wants to help themselves and others eradicate the infection of religion and live happy, religion-free lives.

Darrel Ray has created the Recovering Religionists website, dedicating to helping establish and grow local support groups for those leaving religion and learning to cope with God Virus epidemics in their communities. -Ed.

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Separation of Church and State Border Also Needs Patrol

Posted: 01 Sep 2010 12:01 AM PDT

In Utah’s race for governor, a religious issue has popped up that would likely never come up in other parts of the country because it has to do with religious instruction for children during school hours offered by the Mormon church. As part of a legal program known nationally as “released time,” public school children can legally be pulled from school to attend religious classes during normal school hours. In parts of the country where these programs are offered, they are usually weekly events for 30-60 minutes. In Utah, however, they are daily classes and take an entire class period.

Because these classes are so frequent in Utah, when the Democratic challenger for governor, Peter Corron, a Catholic, outlined an education plan that included additional math and science requirements, the incumbent Republican claimed the plan would stop children from attending released time classes, known as “seminary released time” in Utah.

“Electives you’re going to have to give up in Utah under his proposal are gonna be some arts and probably seminary time,” Gov. Gary Herbert, a Mormon, said. “I don’t know that everybody in Utah’s going to think that’s a good idea to give up art and seminary release time in order to have this more rigorous curriculum.”

Corron’s running mate, Sheryl Allen, a Republican and a Mormon, said, “It’s unfortunate that a religious wedge has been interjected by Gary Herbert, because the discussion is about the future of our children and preparing them for the 21st Century.” She also claimed that the charges are unfounded because there is plenty of room in the school day for what is being proposed without jeopardizing religious classes.

So, what’s this all about?

Released time programs have been around in one form or another since 1914 and grew steadily through the 1940s when the first legal challenge was brought in 1945. The case, McCollum v. Board of Education (Champaign, Ill.), ended up going to the Supreme Court. In an 8-1 decision, the court overturned lower court rulings and declared the program unconstitutional. This program was on school property, during school hours and managed by the public school system.

In another clarifying case in 1952, Zorach v. Clauson, the court ruled that a New York State program was okay because it did not involve public school property or personnel. The court even said the public schools could close if they wanted to in order to allow students to attend voluntarily.

With those rulings behind them, released time programs are still around. Each school district must approve of them independently. They are legally protected as long as they remain totally independent from the public schools system. (Information can be found from the Anti-Defamation League’s website here.)

In Utah, however, there is such a tight connection between these programs and the public schools that the Mormon church has built their own buildings right next to the public schools. And, it’s not only happening in Utah. In Idaho, a new high school just opened with an allowed building put up by the Mormon church next to the school.

In Ft. Wayne, In., they have had to stop a program they have had in place for about 60 years because the classes were held in trailers on school property. The replacement plan is still unfolding, and is an initiative called “Rising Stars Ministry” which will look to take place after school hours. Their plan is to put in place something even more involved, however, increasing it from 30 minutes each week in the previous program to two hours in the new one. “We want to incorporate more in this program than we did in the trailers,” said Sarah Deans Adams, Associated Churches director of educational ministries.

There are several organization around the country promoting these released time programs, including School Ministries, Inc., and Released Time Education, among many others at the national and state levels.

These programs are legal when they keep away from public property, personnel and funding. But the line between church and state is exceedingly tenuous and must be strenuously maintained. You can be sure that the people who run these programs will be looking to cross that line whenever possible and set up camp on the other side. A national border patrol of this boundary is as or even more important than the one between the U.S. and Mexico getting so much attention. This border, however, can be monitored by every one of us, and needs to be watched with vigilance.

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Sex Rites: A video introduction

Posted: 31 Aug 2010 10:20 PM PDT

A video introduction for Diana Agorio’s Sex Rites: The Origins of Christianity.

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