Forget Noah, Here’s A Better Flood Story.

Epic floods are part of  the mythology of peoples around the world.  In North America, they are part of both Christianity and many Native peoples.

The stories are almost identical.  There was an upheaval, a leader prepared for a flood, the flood came, but the leader’s clan and all animals were saved.

Here in the Manitoba Museum is the myth of a flood experienced by the first peoples to inhabit North America, the Algonkia or Angonquins.  Their great spiritual figure, Wee-Sa-Kay-Jac, called on the Thunderbird to give people warning the flood was coming.

The Thunderbird, in turn, called to Nekomas, daughter of the moon and of the Great Chiefs, it was coming.  Nekomas called to the moon to delay the flood until she had time to prepare.

One raft was built for the people, another for the world’s animals.  The flood came for a long time.

When Nekomas thought it might be ending, she tossed a beaver overboard to see if it could find land.  It was unsuccessful.  Before she tossed in a muskrat, the muskrat told her if he died, she should look in his mouth to see if he had a bite soil–a sign the flood was ending.

The dead muskrat floated to the top with soil in its mouth.  In the Noah story, a raven and dove with an olive branch were substituted for the beaver and muskrat with mud in its mouth.

All of these myths, that of Noah and a different native one attached below, are fun to read.

The Faithful Must Stop Science.

One of the common things people of faith say to unbelievers is, “If you cannot say where the universe came from, you are forced to admit God created it.”

This is a risky strategy.  To reduce risk, people of faith must halt the march of science backward into time.  Science may discover the origin of the universe.

Here in Winnipeg I read anl article about a University of Alberta discovery.  Scientists found fossilized trails, tiny tracks, made by some kind of slug.  The importance of these imprints is they dated to 585 million years ago, 30 million years before the oldest evidence of life discovered previously. One view is life of any kind started 600 million years ago. The Alberta scientists concluded this slug may be the first form of life able to move itself.

Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion,  discussed the risk of assuming the origin of the universe will never be discovered.  He pointed out how absurd it would have seemed to talk about man going to the moon in the not so distant past.

This is not to say fundamentalists are sitting on their hands.  Their reaction to the march of discovery is to try to stop it.   They want replace evolution in school curriculums with Bible-based creationism.  Some state legislatures have required the inclusion of creationism in school curriculums.  Their intent, I assume, is to later eliminate evolution.

So far, they have not stopped the march of science. They need to redouble their efforts.


Why I’m Proud to be a Freethinker.

Locally, we have a news story that encapsulates everything wrong with religion.  An elementary school teacher in a local Catholic school was fired for privately expressing support of gay marriage.

It all started when her Bishop came to speak to class.  He told them to tell their parents not to vote for gay marriage in the upcoming election.  She thought to herself this was really a heavy political issue to place on ten year old children.

On her annual self-evaluation form, when asked to reflect on the teachings of the church, she wrote she did not agree with its stand on gay marriage.  She was careful not to express this view to her class or parents.  She told her Prinicpal about the remark and thought that would be the end of it.

Later, when she entered the Principal’s office for a routine signing of her contract, there sat the Monsignor, an agent for the Bishop.  She was told to write a letter of resignation, ending an eleven-year career at the school which was by all accounts exemplary. She remains a life-long Catholic.

During all of this there were talks by priests from the pulpet telling people how to vote on the gay marriage issue.  The teacher asked her priest if ever there could be a gathering where people talked to the clergy instead of being talked to. His reply was that could happen, but it would not change divine teaching.

I’m proud to support Freethinkers and not the local Catholic Dioceses.

Believe in God? Blame it on the Social Sciences.

I took my first graduate course about 50 years ago at the University of Puerto Rico.  The professor was from Austria.  I remember being stunned when he said, “The religiosity of a group is determined by how much uncertainty there is in economic life.”  Such a thought had never occurred to me.

This concept is being discussed again.  Scholars are suddenly interested in why some countries and continents remain quite religious while in others it is fading.

An interesting observation was made recently about the nations of Russia and Czechoslovakia.  After the break up of the old Soviet Union, Russia went the capitalist route privatizing vast industries.  Employment was uncertain and medical and social programs were eliminated.  Religious participation, suppressed for many decades,  skyrocketed.

Czechoslovakia took an different path.  It increased public spending on education, health and social services.  People worried less about their future circumstances than did people in Russia. Religious participation has plummeted.

One would have to guess just as many people in Czechoslovakia heard the Bible and were warned of their eternity in hell as in Russia.  The social forces acting on Czechoslovakians caused them to not buy it.

Sometimes U. S. religiosity is attributed to lack of a European state religion–that competing churches sell the faith and keep it alive.  The real reason may be the uncertainty experienced in U. S. capitalism.

When people the world over face uncertainty, they search for some way to control things.   Thinking about a god helps them.

Take Down That Cross!

In San Diego, CA, is a 45 foot high cross put there in 1954.  It was eventually turned into a “Veterans Memorial” on U. S. Government land.

The problem with using a cross to honor dead veterans is the cross is a Christian symbol and not all dead veterans were Christians.  For 20 years Jewish and atheist groups have been trying to make that point, but the cross is still there.

Religious fanatics within the U. S Congress have carried out several maneuvers to keep the cross up.  One was to take control of the property in 2006 so taxpayer funds could be used for legal bills.

The cross was approved in one federal court but that was overturned by a U. S. Court of Appeals.  The Court of Appeals decision was sent to the Supreme Court which refused to hear the case.

That should be the end of it, the cross should be taken down.  But, defenders of the cross say they will start some new proceeding to keep it there.

Those who want to insert more religion into our government and those of us who want secular government are locked in a epic battle that will go on for years to come.   There are other crosses and there are Ten Commandment monuments like the one here in Fargo all on public land and all symbolizing efforts to make government appear more Christian.

My sense is the “passion element” has shifted.  Religion used have the most passion.  Now, it is the other side.

Let’s Agree On This About Gay Marriage.

We need to agree on facts about marriage.

It is often called, “The Institution of Marriage”.  A more accurate term is the “Practice of Marriage”, or, just “marriage”.

Marriage did not originate as a gift from God.  In tribal societies today, and presumably from the beginning of humans, it was a business or survival deal.  Marriages were arranged by others for the benefit of the family or tribe.

Marriage is not for the purpose of having and raising children.  This has to be the case because some marriages do not result in children.  Some children are born to parents that are not married.

Marriage in the Bible was not universally between one man and one woman.  It was often between one man and several women.

Marriage did not originate from religion.  The early, and current, arranged marriages were negotiated by tribal elders or family.  When churches came along they inserted themselves into something that had been established long before they arrived.

We must remember humans did not link sex to pregnancy until a few thousand years ago.  For most of human history, it was believed that women created babies themselves through mysterious powers only they possessed.

Gay people are successful in raising children.  There are conflicting studies about children of single parents and gays and others.  None has been found to be unsuccessful in raising children.

Opposing gay marriage for reasons not grounded in fact is unethical.  One thing we know is stable households, gay and straight, are good for all of us.

Catholics Took a Big Hit This Time.

Just when Catholics thought they had cycled through all the bad Priests, law enforcement opened a new front.  A Monsignor in Philadelphia, head of Diocese personnel, was convicted for assigning priests with suspicious behavior to parish work.  The case also involved another priest.

This is the first time an administrator has been convicted for covering up suspicious priests.  The Church is full of accusations of this kind of cover up.  A Bishop in Kansas City is headed for trial this fall.

The conviction is curious in so many ways.  First, it asks of Catholics, “Why do you give such open-ended authority to your clergy?”

It is simply more circular reasoning where the Catholic Clergy says it was given sovereign authority by God to run the church without oversight.  No one else is authorized to ask God if this is so.

An important aspect of the case is the Diocese spent 12 million dollars in legal fees.  If Catholic clergy are humble men of God, why did they take 12 million dollars from Church programs in an unsuccessful attempt to save themselves from prison?

The Monsignor could have said, “Instead of taking millions from Church programs,  I’ll just take one for the team–plead guilty and others can fill my spot.” That is what Martin Luther King, Ghandi and Nelson Mandella all did.

In spite of its thousands of wonderful priests, the Catholic structure is an invitation to the worst of human impulses.

Constitutional Clash; Religious Liberty Against Church/State Separation.

Advocates of the Religious Liberty Restoration Amendments want the Free Exercise (of religion) Clause to be ranked higher than the Establishment Clause.  The Establishment Clause does not permit government to pass any law  establishing a religion.

Religious liberty advocates deny the clash.  They say the government would step in and balance the church/state separation with religious liberty whenever necessary.

Even if they sincerely believe this, it is quite naive.   It is very difficult for either the government or individuals to get into court to address a grievance.

Courts have not grown in size with our population or standard of living.  They expend considerable effort to keep people out of court simply because they do not have the capacity to hear but a fraction of the cases requested of them.

In addition, the Liberty Amendment concept places religious concerns above non religious concerns.  Someone refused a prescription by a religious pharmacist might be inconvenienced or burdened financially by being required to go elsewhere to get services.  The nonreligious customer would be trumped by the religious pharmacist.  Their rights would not be balanced.

I wonder if atheists could go to court and successfully argue, “Our faith is viloated with  ‘under God’ in the pledge.  We demand the pledge be recited twice, once with it and once without it?”

A group that includes liberal members of several religions said, “We support the separation of church and state and believe public policy should not impose or privilege any religious viewpoint.”  Amen.

Romney Really Needs a Sin, or Sinners, to Demonize.

Last night a fellow called by to chew me out for all the bad things Freethinkers do.  It got me to thinking about how we could help Romney.

There is a new poll which shows more Republican than Democratic voters believe in the literal god.  This always opens an opportunity for Republicans to demonize

Nixon did well attacking anti war protests as un American.  Senior  Bush said atheists were not Americans and demonized the Willy Hortons.

In order for Romney to get the juices flowing among Republican voters he needs to demonize some group.  He is struggling with that.

When he pitches his line about anti gay marriage he doesn’t quote the Bible, he refers to “tradition”.  Anyway, gay marriage is losing its political cache.

Today, he said children of illegal immigrants are not as bad as he had thought they were during the primary. The children of illegal immigrants seemed like good candidates to demonize.  But, their relatives vote and don’t like this, so the search continues.

Another recent favorite has been Planned Parenthood.  A lot of their clients are women with low incomes.  They vote in smaller numbers and, of course, some Planned Parenthood clinics provide abortion.

The problem is Planned Parenthood has the word, “planned”.  This implies birth control.  Birth control is popular.  He needs to keep looking.

I’d suggest Romney demonize Freethinkers.  There aren’t very many of us and, like illegal immigrants, we are different.

If he does decide to demonize us, I hope he won’t just change his mind again.


Where the Bible’s Authors Went Wrong.

An approach to the faith, popular at the Claremont School of Religion, is called  “process theology.”

Process Theology is an approach which says Christianity is not based on what was thought at the time of the Bible, but is an ongoing dialogue where new interpretations of the Bible are compared to new circumstances which arise over time.  This approach, the Process Theology advocates say, is what Jesus, not the Jesus character portrayed in the Bible, but the actual human Jesus, was really about.

The reason he is portrayed incorrectly in the Bible is because it was written by men influenced by Greek mythology.  This caused them to create a Jesus character different than the real Jesus.

The real Jesus was a person who walked around and preached.  He had  exceptional insight into both humans and God, but did not spend all of his life doing this. He was otherwise an ordinary person.

The Greek tradition was about Gods that looked like people but were never on earth.  To make this real person from the world of the Jews into a God put them in a unfamilar place.

To make the story work, they had to introduce “miracles”.  This is where the Greek story telling of Christianity went astray, according to Process Theology.

Process Theology advocates abandoning the notion that orthodox truths of Christianity should not be questioned.  Instead it favors critical thinking and searches for truth without relying on super natural revelations.

They are yet another interesting branch of the faith.