Religion and Politics. It’s said those are the two subjects one should never discuss in polite company, because it just leads to impolite arguments.
But when you write a news commentary column about weird and stupid things, politics comes up often. And, indeed, if I rant about something stupid done by a politician from the left I’m branded a “stinking heartless Conservative”, and when I zing a politician from the right I’m called a “leftist Boulder liberal”. Dare I say that equates to “anti-Democrat” and “anti-Republican” both? That kind of name-calling came to a head, if you will, during the Clinton Sex Scandal, and I addressed both of those complaints with a Special Clinton Scandal Issue and its “Liberal Response“.
When it became obvious that what I do is skewer stupidity, point out hypocrisy, or simply point at silly things and laugh, people started to “get it” and laughed along with me. After all, we all laugh at the stupid crooks I feature, and the dumb drivers, the crazy cops, the restless researchers, the inane inventors, and any number of other silly people that True is about.
But religion? Of course people do dumb things in the name of religion! It’s a big part of many people’s lives. Yet it doesn’t matter how rational, how reasonable, how obvious it is when I write about something funny or stupid committed in relation to some aspect of some religion — someone will choose to take great offense. Even if that person admits he was wrong, such as Jerry Falwell and his outrageous comments after the September 11 atrocities, there are those who feel I attacked them and their beliefs — “proof” that I am “anti- religion” or, more frequently, “anti-Christian”.
It also doesn’t matter that I have argued very forcefully in favor of religious freedom in the United States (such as here), since even when I’m discussing one Christian sect, there’s another Christian sect that considers them “wrong”, so I’m attacked again. Just how secure are these people in their faith that you can’t even talk about issues they demand be afforded the highest priority by others?
Turn the other cheek? Judge not, lest ye be judged? Love thy neighbor? Oh, these are all fantastic ideas, but when it comes time to attack the messenger, no such pithy sentiments are put into action. No, I’m condemned to hell, and if a senior pastor of a Methodist church backs up my position, he is damned to hell too! Seriously — that’s why I came up with my “Get Out Of Hell Free” cards.
Indeed, every time this issue comes up, I get lots of letters of support from the mainstream ministry, but that doesn’t matter — they are obviously “wrong” and the ignorant indignants are obviously “right”. Uh huh.
Let’s get specific. The 9 December 2001 issue contained these two stories:
Religious Tolerance, American Style
The new chaplain at Wisconsin’s Waupun Correctional Institution is a Wiccan. The Rev. Jamyi Witch’s hiring was defended by the state Department of Corrections, which says Witch — and that is her real name — met the job requirements, and barring her based on her faith would be illegal. “I minister to everyone’s needs. I have no interest in converting anyone,” she says. “That would be wrong.” Another full-time chaplain at the facility is Protestant; only about a third of the inmates are Christian. Outraged State Rep. Mike Huebsch, who represents West Salem, promises to strip funding for Witch’s position, even though he previously argued for more chaplains in state prisons. Rep. Scott Walker agrees. “It might actually put inmates in a position that talking to her is contrary to what some of their own religious beliefs might be,” Walker says. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)…Scott, how worried have you been about Catholics talking to the Protestant chaplain?
Religious In/Tolerance II
County Commissioners in Leavenworth, Kan., have revoked the land use permit for the interdenominational 168-acre Gaea Retreat Center over religious rituals performed there, effectively closing it down. The action was in response to a petition by residents which accused the Center of allowing witches and pagans to dance naked around bonfires at night who “may be weaving magical spells.” A spokeswoman for the retreat says the county admits there has been no illegal activity at the facility, and Gaea has filed suit claiming religious discrimination. The Reuters news service noted that “Before its current incarnation, the sprawling site was a church camp.” (Reuters) …It still is.
No, I don’t argue that these stories are “pro-Christian” — that wasn’t the point of these stories. This is: it is true that the USA is a very religious country — in fact, sociologists say it’s the most religious country the world has ever seen, and this is due mostly to the freedom of religion guaranteed by our Constitution. And it’s overwhelmingly Christian. Those facts combine, however: because we are guaranteed religious freedom, and we are overwhelmingly Christian, we have a great responsibility to safeguard the very freedom which allows this to ensure that minority religions are not trampled, that the rights Christians can now take for granted are not denied to others. That’s why they’re coded as basic rights in our Constitution. Yet many ignore that great responsibility which comes with those rights. And that, quite simply, is wrong. It’s hypocritical, and honest Christians will tell you that hypocrisy is a great evil that Jesus warned his followers about.
I will pause to say that most Christians understand all of this very well, and probably agree with all or most of what I’ve said so far. But if you have 1000 quiet, peaceful people all silently nodding their heads and one lunatic is jumping up and down screaming, it’s that tiny minority which stands out. Protesters throughout history have known this. What we need is someone who objectively points out the absurdities to counter the screamer. For better or worse, I have taken on that job.
Am I a religious scholar? I’ve studied religion (which most of the screamers haven’t done) but no, I’m not. And I don’t need to be: we’re talking about observing the human condition, not making religious judgments.
On the one hand, there are a few screaming people, and none of them are ordained ministers; on the other, I have the majority — not silent, indeed, as my mail runs about 50-to-1 in favor of my positions, and that group includes many ordained ministers. Which side is “right”? That doesn’t really matter. I know what I feel, what I believe, and what I stand for, so being called names means nothing to me. When I have something to say, I’ll continue to say it, even though I know I’ll be attacked. If some wish to argue from their own feelings that I am somehow wrong, without having any real idea about what I think, I’ll just do what I’ve always done: look for any reasonable suggestions or criticisms — and ignore the rest. But I know saying that won’t stop it from coming.
Reader Mail on the Subject
Please resist the urge to add more mail to what is included below unless you have a very specific point that is not already represented. The following letters are not representative of the mix of pro and con letters I received — the “cons” are over-represented because they were such a small percentage of the total.
Pastor John in Oregon: “First off, let me tell you that I am a Lutheran Pastor (ELCA) and an avid fan of your This is True. I couldn’t help but write and say ‘Thank you,’ especially concerning your stories of the idiotic things done in the name of Christ. I, as well, try to understand the backlash when people from a religion that states ‘We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God’ get upset when someone points out that fact in color. But it is nice to know we are not alone. [Such things] show us that we can take a lighter look at ourselves, while pointing out the need to get our heads screwed on straight. And it has been said, so I need not say it again, but hell, I am a pastor so I talk a lot anyway so I will say it, your comments at the end each news article make this is True what it is… fantastic!”
Mario in California: “I can only sigh with slight despair when I hear things like this, the petition against the pagans …’who may be weaving magical spells’. Is this the 21st century, or the 17th? What next, burning heretics at the stake? Thanks for bringing these events to our attention. It shows that we can never take freedoms of any kind for granted.”
Dee in Indiana: “The ‘religious right’ attacks you because, purely and simply, this siphons more money out of the uneducated masses’ pockets and into theirs. The bottom line is, fanaticism in any form is unhealthy, and christian fanaticism is no more acceptable than is Muslim or any other variety.”
John in Nova Scotia, Canada: “No doubt a typo by someone. Instead of ‘Christianity’, how about ‘Christinanity’?”
Stephanie in California: “While reading your latest installment about all the ding-a-lings that criticize you for pointing out the stupidity of some religious leaders, I kept thinking of this joke a friend sent me. I thought you could use a good giggle.”
A fundamentalist preacher was taking a walk one day and happened upon a young girl who was playing with something in a cardboard box. When he got closer he could see that in the box was a litter of new-born kittens.
“What kind of kittens are those?” asked the preacher.
“Why, they’re Christian kittens,” replied the little girl.
The preacher walked on, pleased to see that the little girl had Jesus foremost in her thoughts.
A few days latter the preacher saw the little girl again.
“And how are your little Christian kittens doing today?” asked the man of God.
“Oh, they aren’t Christian kittens, they’re Pagan kittens,” replied the girl.
“But…but… I thought you said last week that they were Christian kittens,” sputtered the flabbergasted preacher.
“Oh, they were. But now their eyes are open.”
John in Australia: “I was interested to read your comments on the flak you cop from some Christians. I am a Christian, but I nearly always agree with you! Even if I didn’t, I most likely wouldn’t write to you to complain. If I happen to believe something different, even if I’m right and you’re wrong, I still value your opinion. I have been horrified at some of the things I’ve seen Christians do and say. We’re not all like that, however! Unless we listen we won’t know what the other person is saying, and I think that’s part of the problem with your detractors. If they listened, they would see that you’re not anti-Christian. If I’ve had any issue at all with anything you’ve said in the time I’ve been receiving This Is True, it’s that you’re sometimes rather blunt in the way you express yourself — but I accept that. Sometimes you need to be blunt. If Jerry Falwell (or other Christians — like me) say stupid or insensitive things, they shouldn’t be surprised when someone like you comments unfavourably. Please don’t stop showing up those who need to be!”
Sherri in Tennessee: “I am a Christian, and I try my best to be one in both word and deed. I read This is True regularly, and have always appreciated it. When reading these comments from those who call you anti-Christian, I think of Magellan saying, ‘The church says that the Earth is flat, but I know that it is round, for I have seen the shadow on the moon, and I have more faith in a shadow than in the church.’ Just because someone is supposed to be a ‘learned scholar’ doesn’t make them right. These people that feel so threatened by someone else (namely, you) bringing attention to the small-minded comments (and actions) of such ones as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson that they look up to so much, should consider what Magellan said. Do they believe that ‘the church’ was right back then? Of course not, that would be ludicrous. Their thinking was wrong then, and Mr. Falwell’s and Mr. Robertson’s thinking is wrong now. If someone is threatened because you brought that to their attention, then they need to do some serious self-examination. We need to be aware of what goes on around us, so we never believe that the Earth is flat just because a ‘learned scholar’ told us it was.”
Scott in Alabama: “While I am often embarrassed for people you write about, especially those professing Christians who do things without thinking first, I have never found you to be anti-Christian, or even anti- social. As a Christian, I thought the GOOHF cards were hilarious. As for Robertson and Falwell, I did disagree and was extremely saddened to hear of their comments after 9/11. I don’t blame the ACLU for a ‘sinful’ society. For that, I think I would have to start with myself, and then take care of what I can instead of forcing others to do the same.”
Nancy in Connecticut: “I had spent my whole life resting comfortably in the knowledge that someday I would meet my loved ones in Heaven if I’m a good girl and go to church every Sunday and drop a fiver in the basket every week. In my mid- to late-teens, several events caused me to question my faith. Suddenly I was faced with the possibility that all these comforting thoughts were pure fiction. This is a terrifying place to be. I remained in that place for at least a couple of years. Especially at the beginning of that time, anyone who suggested any flaw which was in any way remotely associated with my faith got a near-hysterical, cornered- animal attack from me. The more relevant their criticism was, the less rational my argument was. The more efficiently someone chipped away at the crumbling foundation of my faith, the more violently I defended it. In my fear, I saw attacks where there were only polite conversations and requests for information. It took me several years to come to beliefs that I’m comfortable with. I’ve examined my beliefs from every angle I can think of, and if someone else offers another point of view, I welcome the opportunity to consider it. I recognize those opportunities as a chance for growth and learning. The fear is gone. Some of the people who react without thinking or understanding may be in the same place I was in when I was questioning my faith. Uncertain and afraid, they interpret any comment as an attack and so they retaliate.”
Don in California: “Every time you make a comment that someone thinks is ‘proof’ of your anti-christian leanings, you get flamed. To paraphrase The Man Himself, ‘the stupid you have with you always.’ Does it occur to you that some people will simply argue with a signpost? There’s nobody home there, Randy. I know you get letters from reasonable people who disagree with you. If you publish those exchanges, the rest of us can perhaps learn something interesting from reading them. [Indeed, I do just that below. -rc] I’ve read your newsletters for years, and I will remain a premium subscriber for as long as you stay in business and I have internet access. I’ve read several of the pages on your site that were inspired by the attacks that you’ve taken for daring to express an opinion in public. The one thing I still don’t get, though I often feel the urge as well, is why you bother trying to answer the reactionaries.”
It is often a waste of time, which is why I try not to answer morons directly. I do try to choose interesting letters, or particularly outrageous or relevant ones, to answer when I do one of these pages. But there’s a wider reason. Part of it is a matter of principle, but that’s not enough of a reason. Part of it is that when a contentious debate comes up, I get a lot of people passing the issues and page URLs around, which helps increase the subscription numbers. That’s nice, but that’s not really enough of a reason either. The main reason is readers love it. True is successful because I point at people doing dumb things — so we can all laugh at their silliness. It’s rather basic, but good, entertainment. So when my own readers do dumb things, why not just shine the light of reason on them and be entertained by them, too? Some readers think I get upset at such “attacks”. Nope. Some think I’m “defensive”. Nope. Some think I ought to just ignore idiotic ranting. Well, that I do — you should see the letters I don’t publish! But when people insist on acting stupid and sending their stupidity in as a letter to the editor, then heck yeah I’m going to use it as part of the entertainment offerings of True!
Kathryn in California: “When I was a staff attorney for a federal district court, I worked on a case in which a Wiccan inmate was banned from using the prison chapel and forbidden to have ‘The Witches’ Bible Compleat’ and tarot cards in his cell. The warden had deemed the material ‘satanic’ and the attorneys for the prison actually argued in court papers that the inmate should not be allowed to practice his religion because ‘animal sacrifice’ might be involved. (This argument was based on a section of ‘The Witches’ Bible’ which discussed the history of Wicca and noted in passing that ancient Wiccans sometimes practiced ritual sacrifice. The inmate had proposed nothing of the sort.) Luckily, the court took a different view of the inmate’s right to religious freedom. The issue in your story is really state-sponsored employment discrimination on the basis of Rev. Witch’s religion. The law could not possibly be more clear on this point. I hope that Rep. Huebsch will be forced to take a remedial class on constitutional law as part of the ass- whupping he will inevitably be dealt by the federal judiciary if this ends up in court.”
Dan in Oregon: “I get upset when people call themselves Christian, and do things that seem to be contrary to what I understand from scripture is God’s desires for us. People like Jerry Foulwell and [Jimmy] Swagger[t] and Pat Robertson seem to show Christ in a very bad light — that is, if Jesus chose them to speak for him, Jesus is not a very nice person. As I think better of Jesus, I can only assume that Jerry, et al, are lying when they claim to speak for God. I think Pagans, Wiccans, etc., have the same rights to worship as I do, and I applaud your standing up for them. Thank you. I have a great desire to see them come to love Jesus as I do, but I know that it will be done in God’s way, which is not thrusting my beliefs down their throat, but by them seeing God working in my life. (This assumes I let God work in my life, and as I’m a typical human, I tend to screw it up a lot. But I’m trying to be a better person, and trying to love other people, not hate them, as Jerry, and ‘friends’, seem to. Again, thank you for all your efforts to shine light on the moral decay of the world. I only wish that people see your work, and learn from it.”
Owen in Arizona: “Hey, I’ve been getting This is True for a while now, and I really enjoy it. I’d just like to say that there are really Christians out there who laugh at the antics of our fellows. I can’t believe the hypocrisy of someone who would say that their religion (Christianity) should be allowed to conduct its own business, but not that of another (say, Wicca). People of other faiths need to realize that we’re not all self-righteous bigots.”
To be sure, I do know this, and have said so many times. Most Christians are pretty cool people.
Steve in Connecticut: “I was an umpire for Little League Baseball in my community. I came to realize that no matter what I called, safe or out, fifty percent of my friends and neighbors would call me blind, nitwit, lunatic, biased, etc. Since half of the spectators would think I was wrong on every play no matter what the call, I might as well just ‘call ’em as I see ’em’. You are doing one fantastic job. As anyone can see, the Puritans and Witch Hunters are still around. Remember the Puritans — those are the guys who left England to seek the freedom to practice their religion. When they got here, they proceeded to persecute anyone who was not a Puritan. Alas, they’re still here.”
Diane in British Columbia, Canada: “May I suggest that there is a strong difference between religion and fundamentalism. The latter is inherently dangerous because it does not allow for growth or change within a constantly evolving world. Therefore, it does nothing to help our evolution head down a compassionate road, but instead causes hatred and intolerance of others’ beliefs, thus allowing hate crimes and violence to flourish. Whether the fundamentalist is Christian, Taliban, or any non-religious way of thinking, this holds true. Thanks for your well thought-out views.”
Omar in the United Arab Emirates: “Whilst I’m on many occassions critical of what you have to say, or the conclusions you seem to reach, your points are always valid and thought-provoking, and you deserve far more respect from that alone than you are given by the followers of ‘The American Taliban’. Furthermore I know what it’s like to be called names, and whilst you can ignore them it makes them no less annoying. I often debate on a certain ‘religious’ discussion forum. So far I am apparently against: Americans, Arabs (I am Arab), Jews (I have a Jewish Aunt), Muslims (I am Muslim), Christians (my mom is Christian), Atheists (my Best friend for the last 5 years is). Furthermore I’ve been called both a religious Zealot and a heathen. I’ve been called both a sexist and a feminist. I’ve been called anti-semitic and have been told I am a Jew. It seems if you try to be totally objective and be totally honest about what everyone is, everyone thinks you’re against them. It’s a shame, but maybe it isn’t such a coincidence.”
Andy in Utah: “Your comments about the criticism your receive from Christians were of course on the mark, but you just aren’t ever going to have your comments accepted in the spirit that they are given without making an express concession that these foibles have nothing to do with the essential ‘truth’ of their beliefs.”
I can’t provide an exhaustive list of things I’m not commenting about. Indeed I’m not making comments on the “essential truth” of any beliefs — or, when I do, it will be so explicit as to not be open to interpretation by even the most objective observer. And even if I were to do that, it would be my opinion, not a statement that my ideas are more valid than everyone else’s.
Dave in Texas: “I want to point out a parallel I noticed this week that I have been telling friends about: Watch the Osama Bin Laden tape, and imagine they are on the set of the 700 Club, with Jerry and Pat. You hear the same level of religous furvor, the same tone and mannerisms. It is absolutely chilling to watch and realize that both are equally dangerous religous extremists. I urge you to try it. I also consider myself a Christian, but I fully understand that I must diligently defend the right of others to believe and practice as they wish in order to protect my own religious freedom.”
Tom in California: “The United States of America, for all of its faults and foibles, is a shining bastion of freedom in this world. Freedom of Religion is all about freedom of interpretation. These freedoms have been paid for by the blood of many. Shame on those who would deny these freedoms to ‘other’ people. They spit on the graves of those fallen patriots who paid the terrible price of freedom.”
Kara in Arizona: “Thank you for all the hard work you put into This is True. You help to keep this nation on its feet, and give us all a deeper look at what really goes on. Your publication has opened my eyes, and for that I am greatly appreciative. Thanks for showing us what we refuse to look at, for opening us up to what are eyes have closed against, and for remaining ever vigilant in your search for truth, freedom and ‘justice for all.'”
Pastor Brad in Quebec, Canada: “I don’t always agree with your assessment of us ‘Christians,’ but I don’t blame you for exposing our hypocrisy. I blame them for what they say and do in the name of Christ. I’m amazed and often frustrated by people who fail to understand what they really communicate. Jesus said that what is whispered in secret will be shouted from the rooftops. So when we say something stupid, it is often the thing that is shouted. I am not frustrated with you — you are simply the messenger. I just wish that the good news would be the thing that was shouted instead. It is good to hear how we are being perceived, embarrassing as it is. I do not believe that all views are ‘valid’, but I do believe that everyone is free to hold their own views. Freedom of choice is one of God’s greatest gifts. It seems to me that much of the problem concerning Religious Tolerance today is rooted in confusion between the terms tolerance and approval.”
Mitch in California: “You may not lean as far to the left as I do, but you do agree with me on one critical point: Skepticism is a virtue. You make a living out of questioning what you’re told, and the more authoritarian the voice, the more assertive your question. And I just wanted to thank you. Thank you for remaining tall, thank you for not backing down, and thank you for defending my freedom to do the same, whatever it concerns.”
Susanna in Australia: “Sorry I’m a bit late to tell you this after so long, but your newsletters really stir me; make my heart start beating; make me angry; make me laugh; make me feel that there’s more out there in the world. So thanks.”
Some wonder in letters to me if it’s possible for Christians to debate this topic without me thinking they were ranting idiots. I find that a very defensive question, since I assume that most of the people who write me are Christians, and most have very intelligent and thoughtful things to say. Sometimes when I get letters from people it turns into an extended dialogue. Such was the case with Brad in Arizona. The following is fairly long, but I think interesting and illustrative. It has been edited for length and flow, but the essence remains the same as the original. If you’re pressed for time, skip this section — down to the next horizontal line.
Brad: I am about as strong a Christian as you will run across. I am very active in my church, even working to perhaps move a bit more into ministry (not necessarily from the pulpit, mind you). One of the most important tenets of the Christian faith is to love your neighbor as yourself. So many Christians forget this whenever someone says or does something they disagree with. As for the Wiccans or others, the best thing I can do, as a Christian, is pray for them and work to have them hear the truth, as I as a Christian believe it to be (BTW, this does not mean forcing them to hear it). Essentially it becomes a case of, the better example I set, as a Christian, the more likely anyone is to want to know what I know or want to follow what I follow. Berating people, insulting them, etc. really only accomplishes the opposite of that, which is to drive people away from the Christian faith and make them not want to know what that Christian is following. All of that being said, our society is fairly rampant with persecution of Christians and Christian beliefs, so it can become fairly easy to feel very defensive. This country was founded so people could be free to worship as they pleased, yet we are told where we can or can’t pray, what we can or can’t say, etc. The ACLU is now attacking even the display of phrases like God Bless America on signs.
Randy: I greatly appreciate your understanding that forcing people to hear your message is counter-productive. For if you expect them to hear you out, they would have a perfect right to expect you to hear them out. And why should anyone be “forced” to listen to things that are against what they believe?! Especially in a country based on religious freedom! I don’t understand your mention of “rampant persecution of Christians” in the U.S., however. Despite our Constitutional prohibitions, our President can — and does — call for citizens to pray and calls upon God, and without criticism from any but the very few on the fringe, who few listen to anyway. So why would you feel any persecution? This country is overwhelmingly Christian, and is in fact the most religious country the world has ever seen. I see no persecution. Further, you’re not “told where we can or can’t pray, what we can or can’t say, etc.” You can pray all you want, even in public schools. What you can’t do is force others — for instance a captive audience of attendees, as you would have in a public school — to hear it! This is exactly what you argue above. Last, the ACLU indeed works to prohibit religious messages on signs — that are paid for by tax dollars. They would strongly defend your right to put that message on a sign that you (or your business) owns. This is very consistent with what you argue above. If you insist on being able to lead public prayers in a public school before a captive audience, then you must insist on the right for (say) Wiccans to also say prayers in the same place at the same time. Not to mention Satanists and others. Because if you have the right to press your religion on others, why shouldn’t they? Because if they don’t, then you are dictating which religions have freedom, which is not religious freedom at all. Since I would not want to hear the prayers of Satanists, I would have to argue that no religion should be allowed to use my tax dollars to preach to me. Can you honestly argue otherwise?
Brad:I agree 100%. If I have the right, so do others. Why do I feel persecution? There are soooo many examples, some certainly fall into your pet peeve of ‘zero tolerance’ problems. I can list item after item of students in school not being allowed to wear a cross on a chain around their neck (nothing obnoxious either, just a small, normal sized cross as so many wear), students not being allowed to show artwork that would have a Christian image of any kind. One example which goes beyond belief of a student being asked to read his favorite story and he read a Bible story. Mind you, the story itself never had the terms God, Jesus, or any other identifying term (I can’t recall which story it was, unfortunately). Essentially, if you never had heard any Bible stories, you would not even have known it was religious, as read it was just a story about people. His teacher would not allow him to read it.
Randy: I agree these are outrageous examples. Certainly children should be allowed to wear crosses in school — and pentagrams, should that be their desire. And I did hear about the school teacher and the story, but was not able to find newspaper stories about it in time for use in True, or you certainly would have read about it there!
Brad: You said “You can pray all you want, even in public schools.” What you can’t do is force others …to hear it!” To a point. It is deemed force if someone wants to pray openly with a group and someone else doesn’t want to. I fail to see why it isn’t okay for someone to remain quiet or not participate if others choose to.
Randy: Would you “remain quiet” if you discovered your child, who is forced to attend school, was subjected to a daily prayer of devil worship? You shouldn’t. I wouldn’t.
Brad: Of course I wouldn’t remain quiet. I wouldn’t keep my child in a school or a situation where that occurred.
Randy: Not everyone agrees with Christianity — or, more to the point, the brand practiced by whomever is in control at the school. To many, a “whatever brand” Christian prayer is just as offensive as a devil worship prayer would be to me; I imagine it would be even more offensive to you. Thus the situation has to be looked at without regard to the religion involved. Else where do you draw the line? Our Founding Fathers were very wise about this: they talked about freedom of “religion”, not “Christianity”, or “Islam”, or whatever. All religions get equal protection under the law. To argue against this argues against the freedom you have.
Brad: Things are so extreme that something like a moment of silence has been challenged by the ACLU because they feel it is forcing people to participate in a religious practice.
Randy: Yes, because it has been made very clear to the courts that such “moments” are subterfuge for getting the prayers of particular religions accepted in schools. If religions refuse to play fair, the rules must be made very tough.
Unfortunately, it ends there without any particular conclusion reached, but it is a terrific example of the kind of thoughtful debate that some readers engage in. I think such open-minded exchanges are quite valuable.
On the other hand, there are the ranters — people with such far-out ideas that I know rational debate will not just roll off them with no effect, they won’t even realize you’re talking to them. I’m going to run one such letter in its entirety, without any changes, because his words and style illustrate exactly the problem I’m trying to reveal with stories like the above: ignorant bigotry and a total lack of understanding of the very freedoms the writer benefits from.
Mitch in Kentucky: When I was in college, (having been raised by hard core leftists) I burned my draft card and gave anti-nuke talks etc. I was immersed in and convinced of the ‘moral equivalence’ of communism and capitalism. On a whim I went to Europe and went behind the iron curtain. (Yes I am that old) Within a few hours I knew that I had been terribly deceived and that there was no legitimate comparison whatever, on any level, between the 2 systems. I then vowed to read books against everything I thought I knew. I have always been more interested in the truth than in being right.
As the result of 9/11 many people have begun to have the absurd lie of the moral equivalency of Islam and Christianity cleared up. It takes only a few hours of honest unbiased research of Islam to find that it has from it’s outset advocated lying, deception, revenge, murder, etc etc. Not only did it’s founder teach and practice these things but the history of islam has never seen any significant pause in killing for the specific purpose of their faith. Not only does the Bible specifically condemn deceit, murder etc., but it also warns that any who justify these things or use God to excuse them will be in great peril. It is180 degrees out from Islam. There is a solid logical reason there is never an islamic democrasy. One must be truely ignorant of it’s precepts to believe it is anything other than an evil, enslaving, belief system. Futhermore, the only real equivalent christian ‘jihad’, (the crusades) misguided though they were, were as the direct result of the moslems overunning jerusalem and killing or ‘converting’ at swordpoint the christians there.
OK, here is the point; As absolutly moronic, uninformed, or deceitful as one must be to utter such things as ‘Islam is a pieceful religion’ etc. How much vastly more ignorant must one be to suggest there is any equivalence between whichcraft of any shade and christianity. The principles that we refer to as morality are at least given a nod and some even respected by islam. Whereas, all wiccas and their ilk are taught that they are soley and absolutly in charge of what they deem right or wrong *AND* they are activly encouraged to violate every precept of conscience and morality.
John (‘Osama made me do it’) Walker is a traitor and should be shot or imprisoned, NOT allowed to promote his views or do as he wishes. So too the witches amongst us are not freedom loving folks just doing their thing. They are activly promoting and practising something that has not one single redeeming value and enslaves all that fall under it’s influence. Only ignorance or evil would suggest that these people, who are the exact equivalent of John Walker only amongst us, should be free to do whatever they wish.
You can try and abuse the constitution etc to excuse it but it just won’t wash. If the constitution has any validity, then like the bible, it must be read as it was written. The founders would not have tolerated people trying to rip the guts out of there culture or society. And if we do we are not proving ourselves enlightened. Rather we are proving ourselve too stupid to keep the freedom we have been given. Remember that it is always upon a foundation of immorality that tyranny comes to power. Regardless of the ‘stated beliefs’ of the tyrant. Throughout history those leaders who where not tyranical without exception held to what we would call the golden rule, though many were not christians. None of these successful non-tytanical leaders advocated immorality (even if they fell into it). They knew to do so meant the end of their nation.
There, dear readers, is the stench of bigotry in its full glory. The ignorance displayed is stunning. What can you learn about people by selectively taking passages from their writings and putting a strange spin on them? Not much, but let’s try it: according to one religion:
- a true adherent must speak in tongues and take up serpents (1)
- Unruly or rebellious children must be put to death (2)
- as must Jews (3)
- and anyone who does simple chores on the Sabbath (4)
- Further, followers of this faith must hate their families and abandon them (5)
- and you must follow all orders from the government, since rulers are placed over you by this religion’s god (6)
- Slavery is permitted (7)
- If you have enemies, you are ordered to love them, kill them, accommodate them, and send them to hell to burn for all eternity (8)
- This religion’s god sent a savior — to cause humanity strife and grief (9)
- Followers should not pray in public, such as in school (10)
- and abortion is OK since a fetus is not a living human until it takes its first breath (11)
- After death, you may not retain your spirit — sorry (12)
Did you guess the religion? You probably did — it’s Mitch in Kentucky’s religion: Christianity, and all of these things are from the Bible. (Remember, I said this is what someone who selectively takes passages and puts a “strange spin on them” could conclude. Clear?) The references:
- Mark 16:16-18
- Deuteronomy 21:20-21
- Luke 19:27
- Exodus 35:2
- Luke 14:26, Matthew 10:35-36 and Matthew 19:29
- Romans 13:1-7, 2Peter 2:10, Matthew 22:17-21, Mark 12:17, Luke 20:25
- Eph 6:5, Col 3:22
- Matthew 5:44, Luke 19:27, Matthew 5:39-45, Mark 9:43-48, Mark 11:13-14, 20
- Luke 12:51-53, Matthew 10:34
- Matthew 6:5-6
- Geneses 2:7
- Eccles 8:8
Let me add that I’m not interested in your telling me that I’ve drawn an incorrect conclusion from any or all of these Biblical passages — that’s precisely the point. You can selectively choose and interpret from any holy book to “prove” how wrong/disgusting/uncivilized/murderous that religion is, whether it is Christianity, Islam, Paganism, or any other faith. I lifted these examples from a quick skim of several anti-Bible web sites, which I found within 10 seconds by using a search engine.
What Mitch didn’t do is study his opponent’s religion before coming to his conclusions. And that’s exactly what many Christians do when they condemn others. They judge, and boy do they leave themselves open to be judged, and very harshly indeed.
So my conclusion to the question? Of course I’m not “anti-religion” or “anti-Christian”. I know what’s in my heart and mind, and it’s not a disrespect for Christianity. I do have feelings of disrespect for liars, for hypocrites, for those like Falwell who twist events for their own gain, and for those who would take the right of freedom to practice religion the way they see fit and simultaneously deny that right same to others — whether or not they are Christian. Outside my own judgement, there are hundreds of readers (who are mostly Christian) who have taken the time and effort to tell me they agree.
Dozens of ministers and pastors (again, mostly Christian) also have written to agree. All this is against a small minority who hurl vile accusations without any objective basis to do so. Those who continue to insist that I am are not acting according to their Christian principles are judging me with a closed mind. I believe such people are insecure in their faith, hypocrites, or both, and such people are not worthy of judging others.
As I noted once before when this topic came up, I’ve found that I can smile at the foibles of politicians, criminals, school officials, landlords, cops, military officers, students, bus drivers, athletes, farmers, animals, royalty, conservatives, liberals, and everyone else but Christians, because if I dare suggest that they are human too, a few crybabies will stamp their feet and shake their Bibles at me, sputtering with quivering, anonymous voices that I’m going to hell. What a sad example of Christianity indeed.
To be sure, in the grand scheme of things complaints from just a few people now and then is not a big deal; what gets me is that they’re mostly not a thoughtful “I disagree with you, and here’s why” (with some terrific exceptions, like Brad in Arizona above), but rather “our merciful God is going to condemn you to suffer in hell for eternity because you do not believe the exact same way that I do.”
Luckily, most Christians use their beliefs to enhance their own lives, rather than use them as a weapon to try to condemn or control others. Most people who believe in God also believe that He has a sense of humor, and know their personal beliefs are not the only way to think. So when I see some self-proclaimed “Christian” like Jerry Falwell using his religion to batter others in an outrageous way, or if I see a story of anyone doing something silly and stupid for us all to be entertained by — and I have something I’d like to say about it — I have a choice: I can whimper and back off because some small-minded hypocrite will consider that “proof” that I’m attacking him personally, or I can speak my peace to the delight of the vast majority of my readers. Guess which path I’ll take? And that, I hope, is the end of this stupid subject! Yeah, right.
Related Onsite Links:
- My call for true religious freedom in the U.S.
- The Rev. Jerry Falwell blames America (and those he disagrees with) for the September 11 atrocities.
- I take on the editor of a Catholic newspaper when he seemingly advocates murder against those who don’t hold to Catholic standards.
- Heck, I can’t even smile at a complete bastardization of the Lord’s Prayer.
- The story that really started the complaints: the infamous feng shui story and the resulting famous Get Out of Hell Free cards.
- Somewhat related, the similar question of whether I’m politically “anti-left or “anti-right“. Neither, of course!
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