We Need More Mosques

The Freedom From Religion Foundation noticed a billboard was on church property in Columbus, Ohio, and the church was not paying property tax.  It was clearly receiving money from the sign company, but was not paying the $20,000 to local governments it would have paid had it been a regular business.

All across the country, times are tough.  We are becoming ever more aware of who is not carrying their fair share of the burden to pay for our governments’ services.

The property tax system is not simple.  Churches normally pay what is called special assessments, levies for streets, sewers and water lines in their neigborhood.  But, they do not pay for the fire or police services. Those services are free to churches, paid for by the rest of us.

City services, like police and fire, make up about one third of our property taxes.  The other two thirds is for the local school district.  Churches also avoid that tax.

While some may question levying school district taxes against churches, all other businesses have to pay them.  And, when a church uses up space that homes could be built on,  our homes have to cover the losses.

Cities should set a date,  like January 1, 2013, and say no new chruch exemptions after that date.  Existing churches would have ten years to come on board.

Politically, this would happen if we had more Mosques.  People who hate Islam would not want to subsidize them.

Would Anyone Wager on Heaven?

A few years ago, a professor friend told me the story of her departed husband.  They were both professors and when he developed a terminal illness.  They agreed to an experiment.

They were both very religious and believed firmly in the afterlife.  Being academics, they were also curious about learning if it could be verified.

They agreed on a sign or signal she would receive from him after he died.  They were quite certain it would be possible to send such a signal according to what their church taught about the afterlife.  She did not tell me the signal.

After he died, she waited a couple of years, which was about when she told me of this.  Nothing.  She concluded, quite logically, there either is no afterlife or it does not provide the ability to reveal itself. She was more skeptical of the afterlife.

I’ve since wondered about verification of the afterlife.  Recently, Pat Robertson proclaimed confidently he is going to heaven when he dies.  Would he also be willing to place a wager on the verification of this claim?

For example, would be be willing to wager he will have an afterlife and will be able to verify it?  Suppose Warren Buffet offered him a double or nothing proposition.  Robertson wills his fortune to Buffet, but if Buffet can verify Robertson has life after death, Buffet will double Robertson’s fortune and give it back to Robertson’s heirs.

Would Robertson, or any other Christian, take up such an offer?

 

What is the Fight Over the Ten Commandments About?

Eric D. Arreto of the Luther Seminary in St. Paul posted an article today exploring why local governments and their political constituents fight to keep Ten Commandment monuments 0n public property.

One curious part of the struggle to save them is almost none of the 10C fans could recite all the 10C if asked. Furthermore, they ignore some of the laws clearly stated, no working on Sunday and no swearing.

The 10C are important, Barreto writes, to a segement of the public because of the Moses story.  They came in a deal made with God to whom they were indebted at the time.  This deal has come to be looked at, one might say, as a third beginning of time, Adam and Eve and Noah being the other two.

So, the 10C are cultural identity symbols.  They represent something like, “This is part of the deal we Jew/Christians made with God to be free.  It’s who we are and why we’re here.”

While this explanation is interesting, it does not help justify displaying the 10C on public property.  In fact, it weakens the case by emphasizing the religious, instead of the civic, reason for their existance.

Barreto does not write about the political meaning of the 10C monuments.  The political question is, “Who is running this town, anyway?  Is it we upstanding Christians, or, those lowlife atheists?”

The fight is a complicated one.  It’s about culture, religion and politics.

——————————–

Our friend and fellow blogger, Fr. Herbel, asked me to mention his upcoming conference here which I am happy to do:  What is Orthodox Christianity?  Sat. Dec. 3,  froliverherbel@cableone.net   218-289-4693

If It Sounds too Good to be True, It Probably Is.

We’ve all heard and said this saying at one time or another.  Hopefully, we avoid mistakes by thinking in this way.

Once in a while something that seems too good to be true does happen.  It happens when we walk into a store and finding something we’ve been thinking about buying is 90% off its normal price is like this.

Generally,  we aren’t able to apply this cautionary lessen to every aspect of our lives.  There can be no better place to apply it than to religion and cults.  People inside a cult, or belief, are unable to see a truth others on the outside can see clearly.

I was reminded of this last weekend when, at the end of a long evening of debate, a gentleman I know and like came forward.  In his always polite demeaner, he suggested to the atheist they could resolve their respective views by getting together and discussing certain passages from the Bible.

A person outside the faith would hear such an invitation and think, “The Bible’s message is that faith can conquer something that has escaped the human experience since the beginning of time, death.  For some money and an expression of allegiance it promises to  deliver the impossible.  It sounds to good to be true.”

Promises that sound too good to be true are why atheists do not take the Bible seriously.

Does God Believe There Is Only One God?

Competition among the world’s religions has always been fierce.  There are so many gods and the number keeps growing.

In India, so I understand, very ancient Hindu faiths had one set of gods.  As the country spread and new territories were brought under the national unbrella, they brought with them more gods.  Instead of purging the new gods, they were simply added to the approved group.

The thousand or so gods of the world have each sponored several religions. The god of Abraham, for example, has generated both the Christian and Islamic faiths. There might have 10,000 religions.

We know, of course, that each faith believes their god to be a real one and those of other faiths products of the mind, alone.  In history, there are success stories of rulers who pounded home the concept of one god and one ruler into a package that unites its armies and public into a one cause fits all.

I’ve been wondering, if there are real gods, what do they think of each other?  Do they think the other gods are real or just the imagination due to flaws they put into the brains of the humans they designed.

It seems like the god of Abraham thinks the other gods are real.  He admonishes both Christians and Muslims to disregard those other gods and worship only himself.

He did not say they are imaginary, only false.  I take from this they are real, but false gods, impersonating the real god.

Do We Know What the Biblical Writers Really Said?

One of the speakers at this weekend’s Red River Freethinker’s Conference has spent much of his life studying origins of  the Bible. He specializes in the traslations from its original languages to English.  One of his conclusions is it’s really hard to know what was meant in the original languages.

Some of the early troubles with translation was recorded in notes made during the writing of the King James, 1611, version.  Writers back then were not quite as politically correct as today.  They admitted some entire sentences were simply too strange to know exactly what was meant.

We need only go back to the versions of “English” spoken in ancient Ireland and Scotland to see how much language changes over time.  Even by the time of our founding fathers, spelling was still largely phonetic.  Since we do not have perfect knowledge of how words sounded, it throws off further what might have been meant when they appeared on paper.

When Bible literalists hang importance on specific words in today’s Bibles, they may be off the mark from what was actually intended.  One of the examples is references to homosexuality which apparently is based on words over which there is creditable disagreement.  If those who decide to interpret this ancient writing in their own way would keep it within their own circle it would not matter.

Using the Bible as the basis for laws against such specific things as antigay marriage is the problem.

 

Atheists Don’t Keep No Secrets

We Freethinkers are in the middle of our annual conference.  I just have a few minutes to jot down something that I’m wondering about.

Last night was the BIG debate.  The President of Minnesota Atheists debated with a fine debater from Northwest College, formerly Northwest Bible College, in Minneapolis.  They had debated before and have developed a debate format that is polite but also very informative of the two positions.

One of the striking things I took from it was how often the Christian side has to resort to, “That is yet to be revealed” , “That is not ours to know” and “The mystery is part of the faith.”

These come from questions, many from the audience, like “Why does God keep hiding?” and “Why does God allow tragedies and suffering?”

The atheist does not have to dodge such questions because the truth as the atheist sees it does not have been hidden.  Instead of, for example, saying the origin of the universe was caused by someone we know is there but will not show or reveal himself, the atheist can merely say truthly he does not know.

When Christopher Hitchens, the atheist, is asked, “If it turns out there is a God when you die, what will you say to him?”

Hichens says, “I’ll ask him why he did not make himself known?”

 

Working on Sunday is a Sin. Admit it.

When folks say atheists lack the moral foundation provided by Christianity, I always point to working on Sunday.  The Bible condems it, one of the Ten Commandments is devoted to it and it’s been preached against since from day one.  Then, it became morally OK.

To see how morally wrong it was, hear about Lyman Beecher, a nationally known preacher in mid 1800’s.

For Beecher, the most important moral issue confronting America was not slavery, or…wages and working conditions, but the shocking disregard for observance of the Sabbath.  The sabbath…was nothing less than “the great sun of the moral world…the cord by which heaven holds up nations from the yawning gulf of corruption and ruin.”*

At the time he gave some assembled preachers that message, he saw a moral crisis, Sunday mail delivery by the government itself.  The Post Office provided some Sunday mail service  because it was helpful to businesses and to rural people who came into town only on Sunday.

Preacher Beecher embarked on a nationwide campaign to stop this immoral practice. But, in spite of “the word of God”, the majority liked Sunday mail service too much to think it a sin.

The Christian method of deciding what is sinful and immoral has not changed since then.  There are practical reasons to ignore many Biblical rulings on morality.

Atheists and Christians arrive at their moral values in the same way, by figuring it out for themselves.

Freethinkers; A History of American Secularism by Susan Jacoby, 2004. Holt, p. 79.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What If the Economy Never, Ever, Gets Better?

Humans are part of the universe, not its masters.  … the interrelatedness of all things, as expressed in Buddhism, is also lived in the tradtions of indigenous peoples…  Sulak Sivaraksa

This is in an article on Huffington Post, “Buddhism and the End of Economic Growth”.  The article discussed causes of our current economic malaise.  It was an  out-of-the-box way of looking at things.

It got me to wondering what will happen if we have a recession that lasts as long as, say, Japan’s has lasted.  Japan’s has been going on for many years and continues.

Republican McCain was defeated by Obama as the economy deteriorated.  Suppose President Obama is defeated  because of a poor economy.  We would expect the new Republican President and Republican Congress to impliment the reforms they believe will improve things.  But, what if they don’t help at all?  Four years and they are out again.

It seems possible the public might slowly conclude, “You know, nothing the Federal Government does improves things.  Nothing I do, myself,  improves my circumstances.  Maybe this is the way it’s going to be for my lifetime and that of my grandchildren.”

Would we change the way we think?   For example, if nothing in the U. S. was “exceptional” any more, would we retain our religiously based view of “American Exceptionalism”?

Would we like going to the mall if we couldn’t by much there? Would we look more, or less, to our faith?

Christianty has always adjusted to its circumstances.  Maybe it would borrow just a bit from the Buddha.

————————————

Sept 24, two days, Freethinkers conference  :  www.redriverfreethinkers.org

 

 

 

The One Great Source of Moral Wisdom? Ourselves.

Many times, here and around the city where I live, this question is asked:  “What is the source of moral values for Freethinkers?”  The implication being Freethinkers have no way to establish moral values.

Pat Robertson’s approval of divorcing a spouse with altizmers disease surely falls into the category of a decision involving moral values.  He did not quote a Bible verse or any other source of wisdom in his comment.

The idea moral values come from religion seems a hard one to defend.  First of all it needs to be established what moral value one is talking about.  This changes over time.  It used to be about working on Sunday and drinking beer.  Now it is about gay marriage and abortion.  Religious moral values are a moving target.

So, if we don’t get moral values from religion, where do we get them?  We get them the same place humans have always gotten them, from ourselves.  That is, even when people say their faith provides them with a moral foundation, they are really referring to things they figured out for themselves.

What we refer to as moral values are really nothing more than pragmatic decisions we make about our behavior based on our collective assessment of what is good for our society.  Some people lean more toward concluding what is good for them, personally, is the best for society.  Others sacrifice well being for themselves to benefit the greater good.

That’s where our collective “moral values” come from.

———————–

Coming up Saturday, Freethinkers’ conference:  www.redriverfreethinkers.org