“I Can’t Believe You’re an Atheist.”

“I can’t believe you’re an atheist.”

I imagine this is something nearly every openly godless person hears at least once. It is probably preceded by a line of questioning along the lines of “what is your religion or what are your religious views?”

In the absence of that line of questioning, I doubt many atheists tend to bring up the subject.

In my life, bringing up atheism is pretty low on my list. Conversationally, I’d probably mention that I hate mushrooms long before I tell someone I don’t believe in god – especially with an acquaintance. It just isn’t something that is all that important to me.

That said, when I’m asked, I’m not going to lie or skirt the issue.

I’m reminded of a dinner we had a couple years ago in Annapolis. One of my wife’s former co-workers was in town with her family and she graciously invited us along to spend the evening with her parents and brother. I happened to be seated next to her brother who chatted the whole evening about his experiences in seminary and his excitement about serving his god. I certainly didn’t wish to spoil the evening for anyone, especially since we were guests! So I was on guard for the inevitable question – which thankfully never came! Her brother spent the entire time talking about himself, he never bothered to ask about my religious views – so I never volunteered them.

But, this isn’t the norm. The norm is usually a conversation that invariably brings in religion/church, followed by the “what church do you attend?” Or worse, “have you accepted Jesus as your personal savior?”

Why people feel empowered to ask such personal questions is beyond me. However, when asked, I simply respond with: “I don’t believe in god.” Or if I’m in a humorous mood, I might say “I gave up religion for Lent years ago and never went back.”

The look of confusion on the questioners face is sometime priceless. You can tell right away how homogenous some people are and if they are meeting for the first time someone that doesn’t believe in a god. Depending on the situation, and the conversation, the “I can’t believe you’re an atheist” comes out – often followed by “you’re so nice!”

It’s as though the two notions are non-symbiotic. You’re an atheist, but you’re nice – I’m having problems processing this.

But like I said, I rarely volunteer this tidbit of information. “Hi, I’m Sean. I’m an atheist.” Probably is something I’d never say in casual conversation. In fact, I can think of about 1,000 other descriptors that would apply before my lack of belief in a deity came up.

I know it isn’t meant to sound like it, but I’ve begun to think the whole “I can’t believe you’re an atheist” is really a backhanded compliment. Probably not the intent of the person saying it, but how else is it meant to be processed?

So I’ll throw these questions out to the godless people that read this blog – how often do you hear the “I can’t believe you’re an atheist?” and how does it make you feel?

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The Long War

In the Art of War, Sun Tzu observed “If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by.” To wait by that river implies an understanding of history – the key is to have the patience to do so.

The recent Hobby Lobby decision has been cast by the [liberal] media as part of the greater “war on women” as part of the Supreme Court’s ruling that closely held corporations with strong religious views need not adhere to the laws the rest of the country must. The “fight” that is currently taking place within the American court system is often viewed through a religious freedom prism with women and the LGBT community as just part of the collateral damage; however, looking at the issue from that perspective is short-sighted and distorts the bigger picture.

Religion is simply a tool to be wielded in the bigger fight, but that is not what the war is about. Nor is it about women, or even gays and lesbians. This is a fight that has been taking place for at least 80 years. A fight that most people didn’t even know was still taking place!
What is this fight? It’s the grand battle between liberalism and conservatism. The penultimate war of ideology taking place at the same pace a glacier recedes – which is why no one is paying attention.

While it is fair to acknowledge that the true roots of today’s war go back to the Civil War era, we can skip a generation or so forward to American Depression and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administrations response to the economic crisis. Conservatives dominated American politics following the end of World War I and rode the Roaring Twenties all the way to the Great Depression. Conservative ideology, a laissez-faire approach to business rooted in small government, libertarian principles, lacked the requisite tools to wage a governmental response to the economic collapse.

Democrats, in no small part fueled by the progressive movement, campaigned on and won based on an interventionist government approach. This New Deal approach introduced several key legislative ideas that were anathemas to conservatives to include Social Security, the National Labor Relations Act, and the Revenue Act of 1935 that increased taxes on the wealthy for wealth distribution to assist the poor and homeless.

Many of the FDR administration’s efforts were fought tooth and nail by conservatives in congress, then ultimately by the conservative wing of the Supreme Court – so much so that Roosevelt attempted to reorganize the court in order to tilt it more favorably to progressive legislation. While his attempt to change the court through legislation failed, ultimately FDR would go on to nominate nine sitting justices during his tenure as President – all but ensuring the survival of the New Deal to the great consternation of conservatives.

The next swing in the battle of conservative and liberal ideology would play out during the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s over civil rights and Lyndon Baines Johnson’s Great Society agenda. A “judicially activist” Supreme Court fired the first volley in the post World War II era with the Brown v. the Board of Education decision ending segregation in the country. Conservatives, not just southern Democrats (which despite the label were in the conservative camp), bemoaned the ruling as Federal usurpation of state’s rights.

The Civil Rights Act and the creation of Medicare under Social Security in the 60’s were additional blows to conservatism. This is not to paint conservatives as racist bigots – it is simply to acknowledge that the conservative viewpoint is to limit the level of influence the federal government has in your life and in your decisions. The notion that federal government, by law, can dictate who you must interact with in your daily commerce (whether that be racial, religious, or sexual orientation) is against the core principles of conservatives.

“Having embraced the destruction of Jim Crow and the broader cause of promoting black progress, liberals’ belief in the federal government’s plenary power facilitated their support for any measure that would, or might, promote civil rights. Conservatives opposed to racial discrimination, however, had few obvious ways to act on that belief without abandoning their long, twilight struggle to reconfine the federal government within its historically defined riverbanks after the New Deal had demolished all the levees. Mr. Perlstein portrays [Barry] Goldwater, a member of the NAACP who had fought against segregation in the Phoenix public schools while on the City Council, as anguished by the choice between a moral and a constitutional imperative confronting him in the vote on the civil rights bill.”

“In the statement explaining his vote against the 1964 Civil Rights Act Barry Goldwater said that if the people really want the federal government to undertake the tasks set out in the bill, they should amend the Constitution to give the government those powers.”

“Conservatives have spent half a century trying to overcome the suspicion that they are indifferent to black Americans’ legitimate demands, and indulgent toward people who are blatantly hostile to blacks. As a result, the party of Lincoln has become much whiter as it has become more conservative. Dwight Eisenhower got 40% of the black vote in 1956, the first presidential election after the Brown decision and the Montgomery boycott. Barry Goldwater got 6% in 1964, and in the 10 subsequent presidential elections the Republican candidate’s performance has never been more than a slight improvement on Goldwater’s. As Ta-Nehisi Coates recently argued in The Atlantic Monthly, a sizeable portion of the black electorate consists of latent conservatives “who favor hard work and moral reform over protests and government intervention.” Invariably, however, the black American who feels this way “votes Democratic, not out of any love for abortion rights or progressive taxation, but because he feels-;in fact, he knows-;that the modern-day GOP draws on the support of people who hate him.” WSJ

Conservatives mounted a pyrrhic attempt to stem the tide of advancing liberalism in 1964 using Goldwater as their standard bearer against LBJ in the presidential election, and though defeated handily, his platform resonated enough to usher in Ronald Reagan 16 years later.

While the country has been fairly divided ideologically over the last 34 years, with neither the Democrat or Republican party holding significant majorities in the house or the senate (the exception being 2010 with the passage of the Affordable Care Act as democrats controlled both houses for a brief period) , one area that conservatives have been able to make inroads in to was the composition of the Supreme Court.

Of the nine SCOTUS justices, five: Antonin Scalia (1986), Anthony Kennedy (1987), Clarence Thomas (1991), Samuel Alito (2005), and John Roberts (2005) were appointed by Republican presidents. This is the block that tends to represent the majority in 5-4 Supreme Court decisions.

Conservatives that have raged against judicial activism in the past now welcome opportunities to put issues in front of the court – especially since the gridlock in congress almost ensures no significant legislation can pass both houses of congress.
But the court cannot simply rule on issues that are not brought before them regardless of their ideological leanings. In this respect, conservatives have seized the opportunity and the initiative to push back against 80 years of runaway liberalism.

In this respect, challenging aspects of case law, despite being supported by years of precedence rulings and previously failed challenges are far for receptive for the Roberts court. In the case of Hobby Lobby, the true motives had likely nothing to do with limiting contraception to female employee’s health care plans or the religious “values” of the Hobby Lobby owners. It had far more to do with using the issue as an opportunity to challenge the government’s role in interference with their commerce and how it is conducted. Religion and birth control were simply the means to bring the issue to the court.

The Roberts Court has taken a number of narrow (5-4) decisions to roll back certain aspects of progressive gains over the last several decades. These decisions include:

  • Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 573 U.S. ___ (2014) Closely held, for-profit corporations have free exercise rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. As applied to such corporations, the requirement of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that employers provide their female employees with no-cost access to contraception violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
  • Town of Greece v. Galloway, 572 U.S. ___ (2014) A town council’s practice of opening its sessions with a sectarian prayer does not violate the Establishment Clause.
  • McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, 572 U.S. ___ (2014) Limits on the total amounts of money that individuals can donate to political campaigns during two-year election cycles violate the First Amendment.
  • National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, 567 U.S. ___ (2012) The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid is unconstitutional as-written—it is unduly coercive to force the states to choose between participating in the expansion or forgoing all Medicaid funds. In addition, the individual health insurance mandate is constitutional by virtue of the Taxing and Spending Clause (though not by the Commerce Clause or the Necessary and Proper Clause).
  • Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. ___ (2013) Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which contains the coverage formula that determines which state and local jurisdictions are subjected to federal preclearance from the United States Department of Justice before implementing any changes to their voting laws or practices based on their histories of racial discrimination in voting, is unconstitutional because it no longer reflects current societal conditions.
  • Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, 572 U.S. ___ (2014) A Michigan state constitutional amendment that bans affirmative action does not violate the Equal Protection Clause.

However, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. The wedding of religious conservatives to Republican conservatism in 1980, forming a neo-theoconservative wing of the GOP will find the court’s rulings not completely to their liking. The court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act in the United States v. Windsor found that the terms “marriage” and “spouse” to be applied to only one man and one woman to be a deprivation of equal liberty protected by the Fifth Amendment. The limitation of government to interfere in the lives of individuals, regardless of sexual orientation, remains a pillar of true conservatism untainted by the strongly held views of the religious right.
However, the court is likely to be sympathetic to challenges of “government coercion” that forces commerce with homosexuals – especially if religious rights are in play. Again, using religion as the means to the end, expect cases such as the Colorado baker, Jack Phillips, that refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple based on his “deeply held” religious belief to find its way to the SC in the next few years and receive another 5-4 ruling in his favor.

This wouldn’t be because the court hold animosity against the LBGT community (with the possible exceptions of Justices Scalia and Thomas), it’s simply that the slim majority of the court takes exception to the government requiring an individual to engage in commerce with someone they do not wish to – in this case it would be gay people – but once that box is open, it can be applied to anyone if the right rationale is applied.

Don’t be suckered in by the “war on women” or the “war on religion” headlines – these are simply the casualties and the cost of the long war. Right now, conservatives have spent a long time waiting along that river waiting to see the bodies of their enemies float by. Liberals thought they won this war a long time ago and forgot what the fight is really about.

Recommended Reading:

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB121598863003949317

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Who’s Able To Take Their Country Back?

I’m constantly reading how “we need to take our country back.” Interestingly, this sentiment is shared by people on both (or all) sides of the political spectrum. It makes it difficult to understand from just whom we want our country back from.

 

In our representative democracy, the only voice that has any real say at the end of the day is the people that show up at the polls for elections. Want your country back? Get out and vote! Sadly, the vast majority of Americans say one thing but do another.

 

While more than half of the eligible voters (barely) show up for general elections – those every four years when a president is being chosen, the number drops precipitously in off-year or mid-term elections. The national average in the last mid-term election, 2010, was 41% — but that doesn’t tell the real story.

 

Only eight states had half or more of eligible voters cast ballots in 2010. Minnesota had the highest voter turnout in the nation that year with a whopping 55.4% getting out the vote. This compares to 17 states where voter turnout was less than 40%. Texas, with its 32.1% turnout, “led” the way as the worst of all states for civic-mindedness.

 

But national elections, while terrible in terms of voter participation, only present half the bad picture. Our election processes are largely driven by two distinct non-governmental bodies – the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee. Both of these organizations are simply incorporated clubs that provide candidates for our elections. Both political parties in our predominantly 2 party system, hold sanctioned elections internally to see who will represent the club in the final election.

 

Voter turnout in these primary elections is shockingly low. In 2010, for the 42 states that hold primary elections, nation-wide voter turnout was pegged at 17.8% (up from 16.1% in 2006). The other eight states choose their candidates through a caucus process that is even far less representative. In the state with the lowest voter turnout in the 2010 election – Texas – the percentage of registered Republican voters that cast a ballot in the gubernatorial primary election that same year was [drum roll] – all of 11.4%! Of the state’s 13 million registered voters, approximately 1.5 million decided who the Republican candidate would be for the rest of the voting populace to choose from in November.

 

Politicians, and their corporate sponsors and lobbyists, are excruciatingly aware of this dynamic. The net effect, in our “democracy,” is that as a democrat or republican in Texas, 2010 – the candidate only needed to win a plurality of the vote cast. In a statewide race, 6% of the eligible voters casting ballots, was more than enough to put a candidate over the top to represent their party in the general election.

 

Fast forward to November, the winner of the election only requires 16.1% of the eligible voting public to win a senate seat or a governorship. If that candidate pulls 20%, it’s a landslide!

 

While hardly democratic, or even representative, it’s far easier to persuade 1 out of every 8 voters vice 5 of 10 to give you a vote. Keeping voter turnout low is in the best interest of the politician running.

texas 2010

Roughly 11% of eligible voters cast ballots in the Texas Republican primary in 2010. Rick Perry out dueled Senator Anne Richardson, taking 56% of the vote (or roughly 6% of the eligible voter percentage). 32% of the voting public showed up on election day in November and Perry won his 3rd term as governor with about 56% of the vote – a 16 point “landslide” victory.

 

The inherent problem this presents is when it comes to sweeping legislative agendas, either statewide or nationwide. When 84% of the citizens that didn’t endorse a politician are impacted by his or her legislative vote we don’t just have a problem, we don’t have a true Republic.

 

As people in this country sour on politics, the ability to capitalize on voter apathy will continue unabated. Fifty percent of the Millennial generation consider themselves “independent” voters, not affiliated with a political party label. However, in our current congress, only Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) are the only two independents out of 535 representatives currently “serving.” Shunning a party label simply allows increased “voter repression” especially in states that hold closed primaries where only party affiliates have the privilege of casting a vote.

 

As the power to pick candidates at the primary level continues to shrink in the hands of a powerful minority – where instead of wooing 1 of 8 potential voters, politicians can instead focus on the 1 in 10, the ability to “change” things in this country will continue to erode.

 

Presidential elections will continue to have the cachet and ability to draw more than 50% of the voting public – but the off year elections have as much, if not more impact on the legislative agendas and direction that moves this country. These off year elections often involve choosing governors, congressional representatives, senators, as well as state legislators. Winners of these elections often boast of the mandates to enact policies campaigned on as reflective of the will of the people – but who’s will is it? When select, discreet minorities choose candidates for another minority to choose from, we hardly have a representative democracy.

 

Sources:

http://elections.gmu.edu/Turnout_2010G.html

http://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/historical/70-92.shtml

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/03/07/millennials-in-adulthood/

http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0774721.html

 

 

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Funny What A Change In Diet Can Do

Among the advantages of being married to a registered nurse includes having doctor’s appointments made for you. I was informed in January that I was to go to the doctor. I didn’t know why, but I’ve been married long enough to just do as I was told. Hint – if you don’t understand this last statement, recommend watching the following video:

I dutifully showed up at my doctors appointment at the scheduled time and the lady at the reception desk asked why I was being seen. I looked at her and gave her the best answer I had: “Because my wife told me I have an appointment.” She seemed to understand that, looked at her computer, then informed me: “Mr. Asbury, you’re having a physical today.” I thought, well, I am 47. I’m probably due for a physical and proceeded to the poke and prod room….

My doc ordered up a blood test, and the results were pretty scary. My overall cholesterol was sitting at 300, and my LDL’s, the bad cholesterol, was at 190! I was a stroke waiting to happen!

Coincidentally, at about this same time, Ellen was launching her new business, Living Healthy Md. I volunteered to be one of her initial guinea pigs for her weekly course on how to live a healthier life and make better eating choices – something I, embarrassingly, needed to do.

In January, along with the ridiculously high cholesterol, I tipped the scale at 216 pounds – equaling a weight I had attained some 11 years prior. In 2003, I dropped roughly 50 pounds essentially by not eating, substituting my caloric intake with beer instead of food. It was a man’s diet! I should’ve have written a book, but it would have been a very thin book! Don’t eat, drink beer, lose weight. The End!

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Crossing the finish line at the Army 10 Miler

In the years that followed, I began running – a lot! I ran 5K’s, 10K’s, 10 Milers, working my way up to half marathons, and finally culminating in running the Rock and Roll Marathon in Phoenix in January 2008 (4:17 in case you were wondering…). During those years – life was awesome! I never once thought about what I ate or drank – everything I put in my body was fuel to be burned! Wasn’t always the best fuel, but fuel was fuel!

Following the marathon, I lost some of the passion that had inspired me to travel 26.2 miles. My legs never seemed to come back – my times consistently became slower, my distances shorter – I chalked it up to getting older.   At the same time, I began working a job that had me starting my day at the office at 3am. Strange, out of synch hours, coupled with not “feeling good” about working out led to easy excuses to begin skipping out on the gym. To top it off, we were sending kids off to college – a couple of whom played college sports which required us to attend their college events – which meant many hours in the car on weekends going to and fro – there was no time for working out!

But that didn’t change my eating patterns! If anything, it made it even worse – especially road food!

Slowly, but surely, the weight came back. Just as before, I no longer enjoyed getting on the scale to see just how bad it was becoming (unlike when I was losing weight when I was on it daily – sometimes several times!).

I hadn’t made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, or to get healthier – it just happened to be that it began in January with Ellen’s class. After a self-assessment of food intake – it became very apparent that I was not eating nearly enough fruits or vegetables. Now, I like veggies, and even some fruits – but I needed to “learn” to incorporate them in to my daily diet. On top of that, I needed to cut out certain bad habits that I had picked up along the way. Most especially: grabbing snacks out of vending machines (regardless of my attempts to justify the “healthiness” of the choices I was making) and cubicle grazing (taking advantage of gracious co-workers that love to taunt and tempt with public candy dishes at their desks!).

Ellen’s program also stressed exercise in addition to a healthier diet. This still took me several weeks to incorporate in to my daily routine. By mid-February though, a month after being prescribed a statin to lower my cholesterol, I knew I needed to make a commitment to get back in the gym.

What I’ve found, where I could previously pull any number of excuses out of my hat for not going, is treating the hour spent in the gym is essentially the same as attending a meeting you can’t get out of – only this meeting is for me and me alone. Once incorporated in to the daily routine – it’s calendered!

Between the change in diet and time exercising, I’ve begun running a calorie deficit of roughly 4,000-5,000 calories a week (or in other words, 1 – 1 ½ pounds a week). And I’ve been doing this while eating constantly. The biggest change is what I’m eating. This morning (a typical morning) featured a banana, grapes, tangerines, and an apple.

Ellen’s program stresses the health benefits associated with living a healthy lifestyle. Since starting it, I’ve dropped 19 pounds – which is great! But more importantly (or every bit as importantly!) I’ve decreased my cholesterol from 300 to 190 in the space of two months! The LDL drop from 202 to 106! My doc said he’d never seen anything like it before.

Where I was a stroke waiting to happen, my risk for heart disease and a stroke decreased like a rock!

Of course, this doesn’t get me completely out of the woods. I still have approximately 17 pounds I need to lose to get back to my desired weight and I need to maintain the good habits I’ve lived by over the last three months. And, just as important, I need to keep my appointment with the gym on a regular basis without excuse.

If you are having some weight or health issues of your own and you’re looking to make a change – recommend contacting Ellen. Even if you don’t do her program, she can point you to resources that can help – especially if you’re outside of Maryland.

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The Palatability of Agnosticism

There is a noticeable difference in the reaction of the average religious person to the response to the question of belief between “I’m an agnostic” versus “I’m an atheist.”

The former conveys that the declarant remains on the fence and is “swayable” to a belief system, while the latter conveys I’ve evaluated your belief system and consciously rejected it.

Atheism connotes, for right or wrong, a certain amount of surety that is often perceived as almost arrogant.  That perception — even among some atheists – that they are better educated and if only the religious were better informed, they too would be able to see the truth.

Agnosticism lacks that level of surety, and therefore, the arrogance factor – which may play a large factor in making it more palatable for believers.

When you get down to brass tacks though, the difference between atheists and agnostics is simply a sleight of hand.  Both are essentially cuts from the same clothe – which is why atheists and agnostics are often lumped together when polling and research studies of religious views are conducted.

Both groups have a shared absence of belief in a deity.  After this, it becomes a naval gazing exercise.  Agnostics claim there is no way of knowing whether a god or gods exist while atheists claim with a level of certainty that there is in fact, no god.

But these bumper stickers tend to obfuscate the larger commonality between them.  “There is no way to know” is a sleight of hand – it requires a level of understanding of current religious doctrines and a rejection of these dogmas.

Atheists contend that after evaluating the religious landscape that there is a certainty that none of these gods exist. It’s a subtle, but important, hair to be split and it can be the source of tension that sometimes exists between atheists and agnostics.

In my humble opinion, as mentioned earlier, there is little daylight between an atheist and an agnostic.  Neither believes in god(s), nor does either worship, pray to, or observe theistic customs associated with a required dogma.  However, we’ve created our own artificial labels to further define ourselves.  My thesis is that most agnostics are in fact atheists and that most atheists are actually agnostics — myself included.

So why is thmy new tatat I wear (literally) the atheist label en lieu of the safer, more palatable term, agnostic?

My best response is that I have a certainty that all religions are a man-made construct we’ve created over the millennia to best explain the world around us and our place within it.

That said, I’m the first to admit that I do not know if an actual “god” does or does not exist.  I adhere to the prevailing scientific explanation of our origins – from the Big Bang start to the universe 13.8 billion or so years ago to the shared evolution of life on our planet.  So, did god initiate the Big Bang and put all this in motion?  I don’t know — big maybe!  I’m open to the that idea, but I know that the whatever caused the Big Bang is NOT the god of the Bible, the Qur’an, or the Baghavad Gita – each of which is simply a human attempt to understand the origins and meaning of life and incapable of keeping up with the advancing knowledge we’ve collectively acquired over the last 500 or so years.

dawkins-scale

On the Dawkins’ Scale, I would come out a 6. “I cannot know for certain, but I think God is very improbable.” At least the “God” we’ve come to know and think we understand.

Very few atheists, if pressed, could sit there and say there is no god – period.  What they will say is based on what they’ve seen and experienced, none of the gods of current world religions exist.

For me though, the label “agnostic” is something of a cop out.  While accurate by definition, the label conveys the idea of an active search for spiritual belief that has yet to be found.  Atheist on the other hand, conveys I’ve looked, and I’m not buying.

I think many agnostics have come to that same conclusion, but are uncomfortable with the idea of swapping their label.  Though I think if society afforded atheists with the same treatment when asked, agnostics more might be willing to take that next step.

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Random Musing

I never intended for my blog to be solely devoted to “articles.”  In fact, the main reason I started it was to give a little more space for articulating ideas en lieu of a Facebook status.

So the idea crossed my mind the other day that atheists could actually make good pastors for Christian flocks.  I know, you’re re-reading that sentence over again right now and scratching your head really hard trying to get your mind around that statement.

 

But think about it for just a minute – atheists tend to know the Bible better than most Christians.  In numerous debates between atheists and Christians, atheists constantly quote biblical passages, including the words of Jesus, to counter apologetic argument.  I know a couple former pastors turned apostate – they have the requisite backgrounds and understanding of the Bible to continue teaching Christianity.  In fact, there are a number of closeted atheist pastors right now tending to flocks.  Don’t let faith get in the way of your primary means of livelihood!

 

Gandhi once said “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Maybe these Christians Gandhi refers to could stand to learn a little about being “Christian” from a nonbeliever.

 

So, as weird as it sounds, I’m just throwing this out there predominantly to get a conversation going – from all viewpoints.  What do you think?

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An Open Letter to Jan Brewer

Dear Governor Janet Brewer,

I understand that you’ve yet to make your decision as to whether or not you will sign S.B. 1062 in to law by this Friday.

I am neither a resident of Arizona, nor am I gay – so you might question my standing in writing to you on behalf of lobbying for a veto of this legislation.

I love your state and have visited several times over the years; however, if this legislation were to become law, I am bound to boycott the lovely state of Arizona out of principle.

If the bill is passed, Arizona will become synonymous with Russia and Uganda – states that officially discriminate against their citizens based solely on their sexual orientation and sexual preference.  This is not only unacceptable, it is un-American.

I’ve no doubt that, if it were to become law, this legislation could stand up to court scrutiny.  In fact, I’d be shocked if a court injunction was not levied before it could even be challenged. This affords you a unique opportunity.

Your conservative bonafides are well established.  You’ve stood up to the President of the United States and shown you are a strong governor intent on doing what is best for the people of your state in the absence of federal assistance on immigration.  You now have the opportunity to continue to show your strength and resolve in doing what is right for all Arizonans and not just a select few.

That select few is not your homosexual citizens asking for nothing more than to reap the benefits that all citizens in your state – and our country enjoy – it is the minority of Christian lobbyists that do not represent the faith or values of the majority of your Christian constituents.  While the issue of marriage equality may continue to split along the lines of the faithful – the relegation of minority status and the inherent mistreatment that is associated with it is not only un-Christian, it is beyond the scope of American values.

At this point, you alone have the ability to save Arizona from your legislature.  I sincerely hope you make a thoughtful and well articulated position that rebukes this bill sending a clear message to the extreme right fundamentalists that legislation along these lines will not be tolerated in the future.

Most sincerely,

Sean Asbury

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The Big Gay Al Plot to Ruin America

I’m not a conspiracy theory guy.  I’m pretty sure Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing President Kennedy.  I’m pretty sure Barrak Hussein Obama is not a secret Muslim sent to America to win the presidency and destroy the moral fabric of the nation.  I’m pretty sure George Bush didn’t blow up the Pentagon and World Trade Center to justify military incursions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

While I realize that millions of people actually believe in these types of conspiracies – especially those involving the government as behind something nefarious, I’m not quick to latch on.

That said, given the recent spate of religious-driven Republican-led activities to limit the rights of homosexuals in America, it wouldn’t take much to convince me that some nameless gay/lesbian mastermind is using witless politicians like mariachi puppets to further their acceptance as full fledged citizens of the country.  The only person that comes to mind is this guy:

big-gay-alNote the Doctor Evil-like thing he’s doing with his finger.  His wearing of the Boy Scout uniform to corrupt America’s youth – only Big Gay Al* has the wherewithal to infiltrate the back rooms of right minded American politics and plant such an insidious seed, inspiring state legislatures in Idaho, Kansas, Tennessee (pick your southern state) to consider passing laws that directly violate the very constitution these hapless politicians swore themselves to preserve.

Again, if I were the type to latch on to a conspiracy theory, the case could be made that by doing so, by using these simple-minded GOPers, manipulating their homophobia (or in many cases their self-loathing of their own latent homosexuality) to pass laws that only the staunchest adherents of Jim Crow would approve of, is to invite a court intervention faster than you can say: “Is that mauve????”

Add Ted Cruz and Mike Lee to the list of the vacuous. Their co-sponsored legislative effort in the senate to show they hate people too will never go anywhere, but they have to prove they are not soft on gays – in fact, they’re very hard on gays.  Just like Larry Craig!

Only Big Gay Al seems to understand how the constitution works — as opposed to half-witted Republicans who do not seem to understand the role and place of the court to ensure legislation adheres to the constitution.  But then again, there is still a small band of Republicans that see Brown v. Board of Education and  Loving v. Virginia as an interventionist judiciary at its worst.

No, it wouldn’t take much for me to see that Big Gay Al is behind every headline I read of another attempt by Republican lawmakers to show how we should all hate the gay away.  If Big Gay Al isn’t behind it, that would mean that these Republican legislators are really that stupid, full of “Christian” hatred for their fellow men and women.  I’m not ready to see them in that light – especially since the only thing that Republicans say that matters is the economy and jobs.  Hating gay people doesn’t seem to either spur the economy or create jobs – at least the kind that pay anything.

*I cannot find a Trademark for Big Gay Al; however, the creators of South Park are probably not involved in his conspiracy to dupe Republicans in to furthering the gay agenda.

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Creationism as Science

Is Creationism a Threat to the Country, Part II

So if we’ve collectively decided to abandon rationality and teach mythology as science in the public school system, why is the default based on the biblical Judeo-Christian origin myth?  After all, there are hundreds of other mythologies to choose from – and several that are just as compelling!

Why is it we wouldn’t even consider teaching the Cherokee origin myth in the science classroom?

What about Pangu? After all, a billion Chinese can’t be wrong?  Surely the Chinese origin story would make for compelling scientific observation!

Pangu gradually weakened after he separated the heaven and the earth. After he died, his body turned into all the things in the universe. His left eye became the sun and his right eye, the moon. The protruded parts in his body turn out to be high mountains and his blood became rivers. His muscle became the soil field, and his hair and beard became the stars on the sky and grasses on the ground. His teeth and bones turned out to be iron and huge stone while the essence in his body became pearls and precious jade. His breath became the wind and cloud, his shout became the thunderbolt, and the sweat turned out to be the rain. A lot of insects on his body were blown by wind into living human beings.

The fact is, there are countless origin myths throughout the world.  And why would we wish to discount earlier mythologies such as the Aztec, Inca, or Mayan myths just because these ancient civilizations no longer exist?

It was out of this concern, when the debate was centered around “intelligent design,” where the master strategy of the proponents of ID was: “To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies” and “to replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God,” that a new theory of creation was proffered.

In 2005, in reaction to the Kansas Board of Education’s consideration of teaching ID as science in public schools, an Oregon State University physics graduate – Bobby Henderson – offered an alternative creation theory: The Flying Spaghetti Monster as the creator of heaven and earth.  In his letter to the Kansas BOE, Henderson simply requested “equal time” be spent to explore alternative creation theories:

In conclusion, thank you for taking the time to hear our views and beliefs. I hope I was able to convey the importance of teaching this theory to your students. We will of course be able to train the teachers in this alternate theory. I am eagerly awaiting your response, and hope dearly that no legal action will need to be taken. I think we can all look forward to the time when these three theories are given equal time in our science classrooms across the country, and eventually the world; One third time for Intelligent Design, one third time for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism (Pastafarianism), and one third time for logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence.”

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In the end, this entire “debate” is a sham – but an important sham with potentially dire consequences – designed by fundamentalists to ensure their brand of religious views will dominate the public sphere.

This isn’t even an atheist debate.  Millions of Christians in this country believe that our species evolved, that the earth is not 6,000 years old, that the Big Bang theory is a plausible explanation to the origin of the universe — after all, what caused the Big Bang if not God?

This is however, a constitutional issue – this is about the government and public-funded institutions providing preference to a single world-view at the expense of the minority view.  It discounts and disrespects all minority religious beliefs (or non-beliefs).

This is not to imply that people do not have the right to believe in their religious-based creation mythologies. Sunday schools, churches, bible studies abound – these are the appropriate spheres for exploring these theological questions – not in the public school science laboratories — and that includes the study of FSM DNA, blessed be his noodly appendage.  R’amen

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Is Creationism a Threat to the Country?

In case you missed it, the debate on our species origins continues gaining momentum.  On February 4, Bill Bye – yes, Bill Nye the Science Guy – held a debate with Ken Ham.  Ham may not have the same popular cachet as Dr. Nye, but Ham is a leader in the young earth creation movement and the founder of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. 

Dr. Nye, prior to the debate with Mr. Ham, had been outspoken with his criticisms that creation theory should not be taught en lieu of, or alongside, evolution theory in public school science classrooms.  Central to his criticism is the notion that by doing is dumbing down the next generation of scholars needed to move this country forward in science, discovery, and engineering.

Mr. Ham, a self-described Biblical Literalist, holds that the earth was created 6,000 years ago.  That dinosaurs and humans coexisted peacefully with one another until Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden putting in to motion the rest of biblical history.

The push to include creationist theory in public school curricula has been evolving for decades.  The new wrinkle is this near abandonment of the idea of “intelligent design” and to “teach the controversy,” in favor of the original goal:  Biblical creationism.

“Contrary to popular opinion and to media coverage that incorrectly asserts that ID is not based on the Bible, ID is every bit as biblically based as the creationism that preceded it. The movement’s leaders have defined ID in overtly religious terms, identifying the intelligent designer as the God of the Bible and referring to themselves as creationists. However, in order to avoid divisive arguments with YECs (for example, concerning the age of the earth), whom they need as political allies, ID proponents do not use Genesis as the basis for ID. They appeal instead to the New Testament Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. / The same was in the beginning with God. / All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.”

UNDERSTANDING THE INTELLIGENT DESIGN CREATIONIST MOVEMENT: ITS TRUE NATURE AND GOALS, BARBARA FORREST, Ph.D.

This movement to  insert creationist theory in to science classrooms across America continues to gain traction. A recent study by Slate.com examines where public funding is being used to teach creationism across America; though Louisiana and Tennessee certainly stand out on the map.

slate - religion in schoolsIn a recent interview with Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Bill Moyers posed the following:

BILL MOYERS: All right. According to the Pew Research Center, back in 2009, a comfortable majority of Republicans accepted human evolution as a fact. But now, a plurality rejects it. So I ask you, politics can trump science, can’t it?

NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON: Well, in a free, elected democracy, of course. You vote who you want on your school board. There is no provision in the constitution for the government to establish what’s taught in schools. That’s all relegated to the states. Hence, we speak state to state about what’s in their science textbook versus another.

And so that’s the country we’ve all sort of bought into, if you will, or born into. I think it’s a self-correcting phenomenon. Nobody wants to die, okay? So we all care about health. But above all else, among the Republicans I know, especially Republicans, nobody wants to die poor, okay?

So educated Republicans know the value of innovations in science and technology for the thriving of an economy and business and industry. They know this. If you put something that is not science in a science classroom, pass it off as science, then you are undermining an entire enterprise that was responsible for creating the wealth that we have come to take for granted in this country. So we’re already fading economically. If this, if that trend continues, some Republican is going to wake up and say, “Look guys, we got to split these two. We have to. Otherwise, we will doom ourselves to poverty.” And so I see it as a self-correcting, I don’t know when it’ll happen, but they know.

This entire push to abandon science for biblical teaching resides largely within the fundamentalist wing of the Republican Party.

Take for example the words of Mary Helen Sears, a Michigan Republican and candidate for the National Republican Committee:

“How then can we as Christians stay in a party that adopts Homosexuality into the fabric of the tent. I say we cannot. Homosexuals make up less than one percent of the total population. They must prey on our children to increase their numbers. Why then, would we, as a party, entertain this perversion? We as a party should be purging this perversion and send them to a party with a much bigger tent.”

While NDT has faith that reason will prevail within the Republican Party and rationalism with weed out fundamentalism, I don’t share his optimism.  When a ranking Republican member of the House Science Committee addressing Liberty University students states:

“All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.”

I’m reminded, as a student of history, that once upon a time – roughly 1,000 years ago – the Middle East led the world in science, mathematics, literature, and philosophy.  What happened?  Fundamentalist Islam purged the land of thought that diverged from the Qur’an.

America has already slipped, dramatically in many cases, from the rest of the world in science and math.  With a political party that holds science in such disregard as an enemy of its faith, it won’t require much to doom America to the same fate as has befallen Middle Eastern states.

To Be Continued:  If we’re going to teach creationism, should all creationist theory be equal?  Next up, let’s explore other creationist theories and see if they too can be taught in the science classroom…

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