What's Up His Sleeve?

I used to know what was on President Obama’s sleeve.  I don’t see it anymore.  So, I’m wondering, what is up his  sleeve?

I’m talking about his faith.  When he was a Senator and seeking the Democratic Party nomination, he often chastised other Democratic candidates for not wearing their religion on their sleeves the way he did.  He talked much, it seemed to me, about his faith.

Readers will remember the dust up that happened when his former Pastor was videoed talking about something controversial–a race issue. He honeyed up to celeb Preacher, Rick Warren.  Now, a big percentage of people apparently believe he is a Muslim.  The tepid response was simply that,  no, the President remains a Christian.  That seems to be about all he has had to say about his faith for a long time.

A President has plenty of opportunity to make much about his faith.  Other Presidents were photographed walking, Bible in hand, to churches near the White House (Presidents Clinton and Carter).  Recent Republican Presidents seemed  to issue press releases telling about church services inside the White House.  This President, neither.

So why is he transparent about everything else he does but not about how he does or does not practice his faith?  We armchair speculators have no way of knowing, of  course.  But, we can speculate nevertheless.  One possibility is that he has had some reexamination of his faith and sees it differently.  Another is that his public expressions of faith just gave him grief and he is tired of talking about it. 

Then, there is the sort of cynical or calculating theory that we love to make about people in politics.  That would go something like this:  He and his political advisors have been watching the  polling of voters about their faith.  This shows that people who identify themselves as “Christian” has stalled out.  Those who do not identify themselves with any religion is growing. The politcal calculation is that it’s best not to wear faith on his sleeve in the way he thought was clever a few years ago.

Which do you believe is the explanation? My guess: It’s all of the above.

Demon of the Day

Religion, at least the fundamentism branch of the Christianity, loves demons.  I’ve often thought we should name our decade after the favorite Christian demon of that decade, instead of “the 70’s” or “the 90’s”.

After WWII the demon was the “communists”.  They were seen as monolithic–united in one mindset to take over the world.  But, of course, they were not  monolithic and could not have taken over the world if they had been united in that goal.  That was a good period for Christianity.  Lots of money was raised and the Christian religion was pushed into the U. S. government in ways that had not existed before. It was stamped on coins, inserted into the Pledge and plunked down on public property in the form of the Ten Commandments.  Where has all that gone?  It evaporated.

 The black race was also a demon for much of that period. Black men were seen to be natural predators of white women.  Black people were portayed as not smart and unclean.  There were dozens of bill introduced in Congress to prevent integration and intermarriage.  This, too, was  great for Christianity.  Churches, and certain passages in the Bible, held that it was only the Christian religion that stood between a noble society and the threat that black people represented.  Whoops.  That was a mistake, too.

Certainly, the two decades from 1990 to 2010 were the decades when the demon was the homosexual.  Gays were first the reason for AIDS.  Then they were a threat to straight marriage.  Gays were a threat because, like the communists and blacks, they were of one mind to take over our society and reduce it to den of sin. And, like the communists and blacks, the gay demon seems to have served its purpose and will soon be left behind like the others.

What’s next? A new demon is needed to keep the faithful coming to church and voting the “right way”.  Not to  worry.  The new one has already been named and is well on the way to being a very successful choice.  The muslims.  Even though anyone paying the least bit of attention can see that muslims are divided into many branches which disagree with each other, they are portrayed within certain segements of Christianity as united with the objective of destroying our society.  The message is identical to the others which now reside in the dustbin of history.

The process of creating demons and using them for political and religious ends goes on for one reason.  It works.

A Career of Swimming Upstream

Before his retirement in 2000, author John Shelby Spong was the Episcopal Bishop of Newark.

His career and popularity skyrocketed when he was asked by a Rabbi how Christians are able to put three people into one.  According to what he wrote in Why Christianity Must change  or Die, his reply was, “The Bible never says in a simplistic way that Jesus in God. Jesus prays to God in the Gospels. He is not talking to himself. Jesus dies on the cross.  It makes no sense to say that the holy God died.  The Bible only says what God is, Jesus is; that God is met in  Jesus; that to see Jesus is in some sense to see God.”

He thought he had been careful and accurate in his answer.  But, his answer was interpreted that Jesus and God were not one and the same.  The answer was so controversial it put Spong on TV and front pages of papers across the country.  His career soared.

What are the great human emotions?

I don’t know the answer to this question.  There must have been thousands of articles written about this in the popular press and in scholarly publications.

One is feeling alone, or, not connected to those nearby.  I’ve worked some in the world of gays and in the world of nonbelievers.  It seems like both worlds are heavy with a loss the what we might call “community”.  Those that are “out” to their friends and families sometimes find they have lost both.  Thus, they  search for some kind of  a community to replace these most common ones.

The Red River Freethinkers are working with a national organization which specializes in helping nonbelievers find a “community”.  This organization has both the money and expertise to do the following: (a.) Unite the various nonbeliever and skeptic groups into one unbrella group.  In this way, there are  several options for anyone wishing to find likeminded friends. (b.) Advertise this united group to the public  so people who might think  themselves alone learn that others like them are nearby.

I think some people in our region will be unhappy with the advertising that goes with this program.  I hope they understand that while churches advertise to reach people in need of a church, and this is a good thing to do, nonbelievers need also to advertise to help this constituency find its home.

Believers & Nonbelievers at Death's Door

Our local Hospice organization is holding a conference on October 5.  Included in the program will be a panel of people representing what is termed “faith groups”.  Each will discuss attitudes toward death of people belonging to that faith group.  Included  will be Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, Native  Amercian, Christian and now, Freethinkers.  Yes, I was honored to be included in this panel.

    How often would the Hospice organization provide end of life services to a Freethinker?  Not too often, if we consider our own small organization to be the only relevant part of the “faith group”.  But, according to the Pew polling group, the probability of providing these services to someone who does not go to church or identify with any church is quite large and growing rapidly.  About one person in four or five does not identify himself/herself with any religion. This group, then, comes in second in size to Christian.  It is not just larger than any of the other nonChristian groups, it is larger than all the other groups combined. In addition, the percentage of  people who say they attend church regularly is about the same as the percentage who self identify as atheists.

   When I’m out and about I encounter end of life questions from people. Just recently, I was in the McDonald’s on Main in Moorhead when a man I had never met introduced himself. He was about my age, 70’s, looked fit as a fiddle, and said, “I doing a little funeral planning. Not pleasant. But, I’d like to have someone from the Freethinkers say a few words at my funeral. There will be lots of, you know, the other stuff. Can you do that?”  I said that since he may out live me, I could not guarrantee I would be there, but someone from Freethinkers would for certain.

So, if a person does not believe there is an afterlife, where does such a person look to find comfort at death’s door?  A famous writer once said, “When you die, you just return to the same state of affairs you had before you were born. At that time, I had no complaints.”

An Old Bogus Argument

Yesterday, I was a guest on a talk radio show. The host wanted to engage in an argument about the merits of moving the Ten Commandments monument now located on Fargo’s City Hall grounds. The host brought up an old argument about the separation of church and state. “The Constitution does not mention separation of church and state. Therefore, the argument you people make is not based on the historical intentions of the Founding Fathers. Further, the Constitution says the goverment shall make no laws establishing a national religion. Congress has not made such a law. So, you guys are off base.”
I always respond to this argument by saying I believe we should follow the Constitution. When the Founding Fathers said “no law establishing a religion” that what they meant was, “no law”. A law which permits and funds advertising one religion over another is establishing a religion. That’s just what the Founding Fathers said we should not do.
It was typical that when I said this, the host changed the subject.