How to Get Rich, Make a Non Religious Case for Christianity.

PT Barnum is quoted as saying, “A sucker is born every minute.” He denied ever saying that. .

There seems a bottomless market for this idea:  “Christianity can be proven without magical thinking. You just have to be trained on how to do it. My book (and paid speeches) will give you just that.”

This trick has been in anti abortion politics. It is the argument there an absolute prebirth time when a human being exists that is separate from religion. Not mentioned is that the moment varies all over the place at one point in history and changes over time.

I recently debated a man named Ryan T. Anderson in Fargo.  He makes a living writing and speaking on the notion there is a case against gay marriage that has nothing to do with religion. Just by coincidence, the civic argument is identical to the one made in religion, that the purpose of marriage is to have children.

Another slick operator is named Nancy Pearcey. She writes books and give speeches on the phony idea that there is a nonreligious proof of a creator. In a previous time she was a young earther, arguing that people and dinosaurs lived at the same time.

Then she morphed into intelligent design. Now, she seems to not use the term intelligent design but says she “equips” young people with the intellectual arguments to defeat nonbelievers. The “intellectual arguments” are nothing but disguised intelligent design.

Why not prosper yourself by making up your own nonreligious religious argument?

[An article on the topic can be linked in comments.]

David Brooks on Our “ME” Culture.

Syndicated columnist David Brooks, conservative and religious, has been writing a lot of introspective material lately.

In a NYT column today he gives his analysis of pop culture. He thinks he knows the point in time when a narcissism took over. The religious right often points to the 1960’s as the time when “selfless” WWII values were replaced by self.

Brooks thinks it happened just after WWII. He says that was when ads focusing on self began to appear. Whiter teeth, better shampoo and closer shaves meant you would be more successful in romance and work.

Atheists and believers accuse each other of narcissism. I doubt there is any amount of debate that would reach a successful consensus of who has more and who has less.

There are some simple observations, however. One is that portions of ancient societies saw the individual as unimportant. It was the tribe or nation not the individual that was important. That thinking still dominates parts of the world.

In the United States, our bill of rights focuses on the rights of individuals, not groups. What could better set the table for focus on self.

The dominant religion, Christianity, also focuses on the importance of self to the divine. That the individual is known personally to the divine adds in the self importance each person feels.

To me, it seems like focus on self goes back much further than post WWII. It was here from day one in our religion and founding documents.

[A link to David Brooks article is in “comments”]

Pope Hands Nuns a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card.

Progressive nuns around the world are dancing the polka today.

The board game, Monopoly, has a “Get out of jail free” card. Nothing could better match that metaphor than the very recent meeting of Pope Francis with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

I discussed here the previous Pope Benedict’s take over of the nuns’ organization about three years ago. The nuns were holding meetings that included controversial speakers. Some of the speakers, and nuns themselves, brought up ideas that were controversial such as female clergy.

Benedict’s male appointees took over management of the nuns. They passed an edict that all nun conferences and programs would have male oversite with veto power.

When I made fun of that sexist bureaucratic theology back then, the discussion page filled with religious management “experts” who informed me groups which fall under the Catholic Church must follow its policies. That is how good organizations work, they said. For whatever reason, the current Pope seems to think keeping a variety of ideas in play is good church management–a different management principle. He met with the nuns and scuttled the entire oversite operation.

This Catholic saga reminded me of a group of women from several denominations and religions who held an international conference a decade ago. For prayers, they decided to all address a universal god, Sophia, the Greek Goddess of Wisdom.

This so annoyed my church, Presbyterians, it refused to contribute to the group after that.

More get out of jail free cards are needed in religion.

[A New York Times article on this topic is linked in “comments”]

Did the Bible Give Instructions on How to Commit the Sin of Sins?

There is a blog bouncing around the net that makes a startling proposal. It is that the Old Testament gave instructions of how to have an abortion. The verses are found in Numbers 5:11-31.

It says that if a wife has been unfaithful, and no one saw her being unfaithful, the husband is to bring her to the priest. The priest is to mix a potion made up of 1/10 ephah of barley and the dust from the floor mixed with water. Left out specifically is any oil or frankincense. The wife is to drink this.

What happens next is grim. If she actually has been unfaithful the dirty water and barley “shall go into thy belly to make thy belly swell and the thigh to rot.”

The blogger had looked up this last sentence in a Biblical commentary. It was said to mean the woman would miscarry and be left unable to carry a pregnancy.

There were lots of comments to the blog agreeing and disagreeing. It was noted this abortion was only made available to a married woman.

In addition, it never quite says explicitly the woman is pregnant. Pregnancy seems implied, however, in that the swelling belly and rotted thigh will only happen if the woman has been unfaithful.

The blogger concluded God approves of abortion in certain circumstances. My view is  the Bible was not written by God, but by wealthy goat herders of that ancient time.

Everyone can decide for themselves if the goat herders endorsed abortion or not.

[A link discussing this issue can be found in “comments”]

Taking Rights From Women, Giving Them to Fetuses.

The political religious right does not call it a war on women. It is called giving rights to fetuses. It’s a war on women regardless of what you call it.

Everything the political religious right does sneaks in the back door. Motives are hidden from view. The current war on women is an example.

Every so often, a drunk boyfriend, ex husband or a stranger physically attacks a pregnant woman and kills her fetus. The political right sees opportunity. It realizes there is political support to prosecute such men. So they pass laws criminalizing anything that harms fetuses.

This puts into play the front line of fetus protection, pregnant women. The number of cases of women prosecuted by law enforcement for one perceived violation or another is increasing. The issue is slowly reaching the public–an article on the topic was in the New York Times recently.

There is currently no known way to limit the roll of law enforcement in the lives of pregnant women. The creative ideas are endless. Is the woman eating the proper food, getting the proper exercise, working at a stressful job, seen coming out of a bar, on a convenience store video buying cigarettes? Laws against these can be perceived as  protecting fetuses.

If the woman miscarries, all these behaviors could be used to accuse her of “murdering her baby.” Lists of pregnant women and surveillance of them are on the way.

Prosecution of women based on this surveillance is already here.

[A link on this topic can be reached in “comments’.]


Most Christianity is Folk Religion.

A Baptist theologian lamented today that preachers, folks in the pews and churches in general have little interest in theology. Churches do not discuss it and if a theologian makes suggestions they are mostly ignored.

He invoked the term, “folk religion.” It means people think they know what their church stands. But mostly what they believe their church’s theology teaches is what they themselves want it to teach.

The denominations themselves are products of various cultural history. The histories of various groups who migrated from here to there guided their religious thinking and how they came to view the Bible. There are factions within the Catholic Church as well. We can see this in the various kinds of approval and disapproval of both the current and past Popes.

All of this would be of no importance whatsoever, were it not for efforts to put theology into civic law. If we are going to put it into civic law, which theology are we going to use? When all of them have a degree of arbitrariness, we are a ship adrift. Better it would be if we left religious people to practice their private religions as they see fit and leave gay marriage and abortion for people to practice as they choose.

I sympathize with people who see theology as terribly important subject matter. The problem with the topic is that it starts with invisible beings, made up history and an underlying motive to control.

It is understandable people pay it little heed.

[A link discussing this topic appears in “comments”]

Praying for Rain and Pricing Water.

I can’t remember seeing a state suffering from drought where the Governor did not urge prayer for rain.

There is one exception to this rule,California. Gov. Jerry Brown has not asked Californians to pray for rain even though the state has been in a drought for a few years now. (I know after saying this some wise acres among my readers are going to point out the states where Governors prayed are out of their droughts and California is not. I can only say I hope that when it starts raining in CA we can agree it rained even without prayers.)

The basic problem with water in the U. S. is that it is considered in politics to be something we all have a right to use. We would be far better off if people were taught water is a commodity sold to the highest bidder.

If water were sold to the highest bidder, California would have plenty of water today, even in its drought. Water is used in CA, and in other states, to grow crops that have little value. That is possible because agricultural water users have political shields that protect them from paying the cost of the water they use.

People in cities do not pay enough either. Sydney, Australia, and San Diego are of a similar size the located in dry areas. Sydney uses have as much water per capita as San Diego.

Governors, including Brown, should pray for higher water prices. Then God would provide enough water.

“Religious Freedom” is a Zero Sum Game.

Some religious people see religious freedom as “free lunch”, something they are entitled to without giving up anything. In reality, religious freedom is another version of the Tragedy of the Commons. The Tragedy of the Commons happened when European farmers saw the commonly owned pasture as a free way to increase their standard of living by grazing more cows. The pastures became overgrazed and everyone was worse off.

Recently an orthodox Jew refused to sit next to a woman on an airline flight. His religion prohibited him from sitting next to ANY woman that was not his wife. Perhaps religious freedom will introduce religious musical chairs to airplanes and some will never take off.

I recommend clergy who make a big deal out of religious freedom take classes in economics so they can learn about the concept of scarcity. When there is a limited amount of time and resources more for one person means less for another. A religious fetish, like deciding who god wants you to sit by, costs someone.

A helpful sign came from a recent experiment. Students who had religious convictions of various kinds were confronted with demands from opposing religions. Commendably, evangelical students were the most accommodating of other religious demands.

Recognizing there are other religious views that will have to be accommodated is the first step in religious freedom reality. Unfortunately, leaders in both Catholicism and some areas of Protestantism simple do not yet understand religious liberty is a zero sum game.

[A link discussing this issue can be found in “comments”.]

Let’s Save Lives By Studying the Religious Mind.

It is an exciting time to be an atheist. We have perhaps the largest atheist celebrities we have ever had. Richard Dawkins is one and even bigger, I believe, will be Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Ali, with her constant 24/7 guards because of a fatwa on her life, spoke last week at the American Atheists convention I attended in Memphis. Yesterday, she was the speaker at the National Press Club.

Her message about Islam is similar to what I write here about Christianity. It must change. She admonishes leaders in Islam to begin teaching that the Koran should be viewed as merely musing of ancient writers and not some document of the gods.

The interesting thing is that the responses I have read to her suggestion about Islam are identical to the responses I get here to my suggestions Christianity must change. The response to Ali is that Islam and the Koran are the truth and the truth cannot change. Christians say the same thing.

I would be the first to agree the dark side of Islam is darker than anything I know about is current Christianity. But, they come from the same place, religion in the human mind. It we could understand how it encapsulates minds and prevents rational thinking from entering we might be able to unlock the good in bad religious people.

The actual truth of both Christianity and Islam is that the faiths have changed over time. The different versions found in each reflect the respective cultures where the changes took place.


What Do All Religions Have in Common?

While traveling the last few days, I’ve had the chance to read a book detailing a young woman’s journey from a life deep in conservative Islam. She lived in several countries while growing up, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya that practiced various versions of the faith. She moved to Europe as a young adult and encountered yet other versions.

When she was a small child just beginning school, her parents told her one responsibility of a good Muslim was to save those of other faiths from hell by converting them to Islam. In her moves from place to place she tried to convert Christians and others, only to be rejected and avoided. She wondered why Allah would bring her so much unhappiness when she was only trying to do what he wanted her to do.

The thing all the threads of Islam have and all threads of Christianity share is absolute certainty. This includes the inability of the believer to fathom he could be wrong.

As the author began to leave the faith, her friends and family were blind sided. It must be a passing phase, they all concluded, because the truth of the faith is so obvious it simply is impossible their friend and daughter could not continue to believe. Absolute certainty meant it was impossible someone in their circle could not believe.

The most peculiar thing is not necessarily the absolute certainty. It is inability of such people see that absolute certainty in other faiths reveals the likelihood all faith is a mental and cultural creation.

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali