When I heard that a Christian Renewal prayer rally called "The Response" would be coming to the largest auditorium in my hometown of Charleston on June 13, I mostly said to myself, "Ho-hum, here we go again with another unproductive prayerfest." But my interest piqued when I learned that South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley endorsed the event and is heavily promoting it. She will be the only celebrity on stage as she welcome attendees and begins the prayer. While Governor Haley is inviting people of all faiths (perhaps even atheists?) to attend, I expect many would be uncomfortable at a prayer rally led only by evangelical Christians whose stated purpose is to exalt the name of Jesus (and nobody else).
I give two cheers for the NBC/WSJ poll that shows Americans would prefer a gay presidential candidate to an evangelical one. That, to me, is a twofer — acceptance of gays and discomfort with evangelicals. But I don’t yet give three cheers because Americans would still prefer an evangelical president to an atheist.
Since 1937, Gallup has been asking people whether they wouldvote for a generally well-qualified presidential candidate nominated by their party if the nominee happened to be a Catholic, Mormon, black, female, atheist, etc.
Gays were not even included in the survey until 1978, and they ranked last. Today atheists are at the bottom. The good news is that there is now less discrimination against all minorities — and in 2012 for the first time a poll indicated that a slim majority (54 percent) would consider voting for an atheist...
First there were the Jews, with their holy book; then there were the Christians, with their holy book; and then there were the Muslims, with their holy book. Together they formed the three major monotheistic religions, with lots in common and lots not.
Christianity, a cult of Judaism that eventually had enough members to rise to the status of sect, became a separate religion when they added their own holy book, the New Testament. For some Christians, this superseded the Old Testament (which Jews call the Hebrew Bible), though Christians also consider the Old Testament holy. Jesus said he did not come to change one jot or tittle from the old law. Subsequent bibles actually contain anywhere from 24 to 66 books, depending on sect. Muslims much later added their own holy book (the Quran), but also consider the Jewish and Christian bibles holy...
When South Carolina leads a national story, it's usually because of a horrible hurricane or racial incident. There hasn't been a major hurricane lately in my hometown of Charleston, but North Charleston recently became the focus of national and international attention when a white police officer named Michael Slager shot an unarmed black man, Walter Scott, five times in the back as he fled after being stopped for a broken taillight.
Since police investigations in South Carolina and many other states almost always exonerate the officer in a questionable situation, it was almost unprecedented for Slager to be arrested and charged with murder shortly after the shooting. However, because of the now-famous video taken by a passerby, I don't credit South Carolina law enforcement for their prompt action. The video appears to show Slager taking target practice on a black man's back, turning the "smoking gun" cliché into something literal. Were it not for the video, an internal police investigation might have exonerated Slager because he initially claimed to fear for his life during a struggle with Scott.
"In Indiana, Using Religion as a Cover for Bigotry," an editorial in the March 31 New York Times, reminded me of a line by Captain Renault in the movie Casablanca as he accepted a bribe: "I'm shocked, shocked to learn that gambling is going on in here." I'm also reminded of lyrics in "National Brotherhood Week," Tom Lehrer's satirical song: "The Protestants hate the Catholics, and the Catholics hate the Protestants, and the Hindus hate the Muslims, and everybody hates the Jews." Conclusion: Religious bigotry is as old as religion, itself.
Although it might not ring as true as in previous generations, religious hate is protected by freedom of religion. We have the right to hate anyone, but not the right to commit crimes. It's OK to hate gays, but not to kill them. Perhaps that's why Bob Jones III, former president of Bob Jones University, a fundamentalist Christian institution in my home state of South Carolina, recently apologized for his 1980 remark that we should follow the biblical injunction of stoning gays to death.
My family shed "tears of joy" on May 14, 1948, when the Jewish State of Israel was established as a safe haven for Jews. I was five at the time and didn't quite understand its significance, but I had been taught that an integral part of Judaism was anti anti-Semitism. A number of Jewish displaced persons (DPs) lived in my neighborhood, some of whom had been in concentration camps. I also had relatives who had died in the Holocaust, and my parents warned me to never trust the Goyim (Gentiles).
When I grew up and evolved from Orthodox to secular Jew, I still felt a non-religious affinity to my Jewish "homeland." I had no desire to make Israel my home, but I viewed it as a prophylactic against future Holocausts. I later learned that the establishment of Israel was not a day of unadulterated joy for everyone -- because Jews settled in a country inhabited by other people and forced many of them to leave. In other words, Israel created Palestinian DPs. Nevertheless, I continued to support Israel, focusing mostly on the anti-Semitism of countries in the Middle East that denied Israel's right to exist. However, I had a more nuanced view that required balancing security for Israelis with human rights for Palestinians.
Periodically we hear Republicans skeptically ask if President Obama is a patriot who loves his country, and is he a Christian? I'm more interested in why people ask these questions, and how their answers of "No" or "I don't know" reveal more about the questioners than about Obama. I'm also interested in how such people respond to these two questions: What is a patriot? What is a Christian?
I could not have had a more patriotic beginning, or so I was taught to believe. I was born on Flag Day (June 14) in 1942, during World War II, at Liberty Hospital in Philadelphia, birthplace of the nation and the flag purportedly designed by Betsy Ross. But my views on patriotism in general and Flag Day in particular have changed considerably over the years.
On my 12th birthday, President Eisenhower signed into law the addition of "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance, saying, "From this day forward, the millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty." President Eisenhower made no mention of the Constitution during this Flag Day ceremony in 1954, perhaps because the Constitution prohibits religious tests for public office and says nothing about any almighties.
"Under God" was inserted at the height of the McCarthy era to distinguish patriotic Americans from those "godless Communists." This melding of God and country turned a secular pledge into a religious one, and caused me to feel less, rather than more, patriotic when I no longer believed in any gods.
Although we tend to deify our nation's founders and hold them up as role models, we act more like them when we question the old order and try to improve it. Criticizing our country and working to eliminate its faults is definitely patriotic -- a lot more so than merely reciting pledges and prayers or waving flags.
One of the many differences between Evangelical Christians and atheists in this country is that the majority of evangelicals believe America is the greatest country in the world, compared to 20 percent of those without religion.
I was horrified when I heard of the tragic murders on February 10 of three Muslim college students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. My sorrow was compounded when I learned that Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, and her sister Razan Abu-Salha were shot by an atheist, Craig Stephen Hicks.
Media, of course, tried to learn as much as possible about Hicks and his motive for these senseless killings. Speculation included his hatred of religion, disputes over parking spaces, and whether it was a "hate crime." In Facebook postings, Hicks said, "I hate Islam just as much as christianity, but they have the right to worship in this country just as much as any others do." Hicks might be more pro-Second Amendment than anti-religion, because one post included a photo of a revolver and the warning, "If you are anti-gun, defriend me NOW!!!" (Several people said Hicks would show up at their door, gun on hip, to complain about a visitor who had parked in someone else's spot.)
February 12, 1809 must have seemed like an ordinary day to those alive at the time, but we now know it was the day that two giants of humanity were born: Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. Lincoln ended slavery in the United States in the nineteenth century, and Darwin made one of the greatest scientific discoveries of the nineteenth century.
But the same people vilified both of these great men, often for the same reason: biblical literalists found scriptural reasons to promote slavery and denigrate the theory of evolution.
Lincoln is now revered for what he accomplished — the humanist principle that it is morally wrong for one person to own another is commonly accepted. But moral issues are more easily understood than scientific ones, which is why so many Americans today who reject slavery still cling to a creationist worldview.
A few months ago, Patton Dodd highly recommended two books for Christians who are experiencing acute and painful doubt. Though I’m an atheist who experiences no such painful doubts, I do experience painless curiosity about books meant to “cure” such doubts. Eternally behind on my to-read list (if I believed in eternity), I decided to read one of these books.
Both recommended books promote liberal Christianity. I only read excerpts of My Bright Abyss, about Christian Wiman’s spiritual growth when confronted with his own mortality, coupled with suggestions on resolving faith paradoxes. I fully read the book with the more intriguing title, The Bible Tells Me So, by Peter Enns. Maybe I was inspired by childhood memories of the song by the same simplistic title.
Most atheists would agree with much of what Enns says about the Bible. I’ll first mention my points of agreement before explaining why we come to opposite conclusions.
Points of agreement
I agree with Enns that the Bible largely consists of made-up stories by unknown authors attempting to explain their views of the world and its origins. These authors sometimes modified stories from earlier cultures to shape their present needs and goals. There are countless biblical contradictions, as well as historical and scientific falsities.
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