CATEGORY: Religion

Charles Keating, high priest of the Church of Jesus Christ Sociopath, is dead

Keating was an icon of the Old Testament morality that defines American culture.

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. – Karl Marx

Charles Keating, the fixer at the center of the infamous Keating 5 scandal, is dead. Let’s all lift a glass to mark the passing of an evil man.

The Economist‘s obit is a must-read.

Mr Keating was so doughty in this holy war that Richard Nixon appointed him in 1969 to the national commission on obscenity. When the commission produced a feeble report, Mr Keating dissented. He wrote that “Never in Rome, Greece or the most debauched nation in history has such utter filth been projected to all parts of a nation.” At meetings of his 300-chapter organisation, Citizens for Decency through Law, he would stride round with a big red Bible in his hand. Sundays saw him devoutly at Mass, with thousands of dollars given to Catholic causes. Such was his local influence that when the Supreme Court ruled that obscenity should be judged by “community standards”, every adult theatre in Cincinnati closed down.

Strange, then, that this knight on a white charger—as he saw himself—was also the man who bilked 23,000 investors out of their savings. The total loss was $250m-288m, and the cost to the taxpayer $3.4 billion. In 1984 he had bought Lincoln Savings, a savings and loan association based in Irvine, California, and turned it into a piggy bank for his own American Continental Corporation. He persuaded Lincoln investors to swap their secured bonds for ACC’s junk ones, claiming that these too were backed by the government. Then he speculated freely in foreign exchange, risky development and tracts of raw cactus desert. Staff were exhorted to prey on “the weak, meek and ignorant”.

Continue reading

Tokyo Panic Stories: a city of the dead

Touring a Japanese graveyard…

The surreality of it was astounding. In Minami-senju, Tokyo, while I was looking for the barely- and roughly-living, through a haze of my own cigarette smoke I found a city of the dead. I savored the irony of that.

Continue reading

CATEGORY: PoliticsReligion

Hobby Lobby hypocrisy: 401k plan invests in contraception

HobbyLobbyEverydayObamacare litigant secretly profiting from the very immorality it publicly opposes.

The story by Molly Redden in Mother Jones, “Hobby Lobby’s Hypocrisy: The Company’s Retirement Plan Invests in Contraception Manufacturers,” is absolutely worth a few minutes of your time. In short: three-quarters of the Hobby Lobby retirement plan investments are in funds that invest in pharmaceutical companies that produce contraceptive devices that Hobby Lobby’s owners object to having covered by their insurance plans: Continue reading


Fred Phelps is dead: the LGBT community owes him a debt of gratitude

An evil man has departed the Earth, but not before inadvertently making it a better place.

Without Contraries is no progression. – Blake

Fred Phelps, founder of Topeka’s Westboro Baptist Church, is dead.

Over the past several years Phelps distinguished himself as one of the most vile people in America, which is no small feat given the high profiles our society has accorded Hall of Fame hatemongers like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.

As he has lingered on his deathbed in recent days, we’ve had a chance to ponder this moment and discuss what the proper response might be. My own pot shot – “may his funeral be well attended” – paled compared to some of the (justified, it must be admitted) rage against the man’s legacy. At the same time, we saw altogether more noble comments from people like Facebook’s First Citizen, George Takei, who reminded us that hate is conquered not by more hate, but by love. Continue reading

A delicate monster

Thoughts on saving a honey bee

After the rains, Brisbane is a drowning pool for baby rodents and all the teeming airborne insects normally fuelled by the sun. It’s an incidental, non-malicious cleansing which some say takes teeny animal souls back to various waiting rooms to wait for rebirth in some other Earthly form.

Continue reading

CATEGORY: ScienceTechnology

Bill Nye’s science vs. creationism “debate” with Ken Ham – some random thoughts

Some musings on the creationism debate between science educator Bill Nye and young-Earth creationist Ken Ham.

I didn’t watch last night’s debate between Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and Creationism Museum co-founder Ken Ham for two reasons. First, I had more important things to do, like kissing my kids goodnight, painting my basement, cuddling with the cats, making my wife’s coffee, and getting a good night’s sleep. Second, I’m generally against scientists debating non-scientists on scientific subjects. Most scientists don’t have the personality or the training to do well in a debate setting, even when they’re right. A non-scientist with training in debate and rhetoric could take the position that the sky isn’t blue and still win the debate against an untrained scientist.

I was even more against Nye debating a creationist, not just because he’s a scientist debating science with a non-scientist. Continue reading

Happy Imbolc from Scholars & Rogues

I’ve never quite understood the conventions surrounding the terms “midsummer” and “midwinter.” Each is used to describe the solstice – June 21st or so and December 21st or so – which are, as you know, the beginnings of summer and winter, not the middle.

Today is Imbolc, which we popularly celebrate as Groundhog Day.(I’m not sure whether Punxatawney Phil saw his shadow this morning, but if he were in Seattle with me he wouldn’t be able to see as far as his nose for all the fog, never mind his shadow.) In Gaelic cultures it’s called St. Brighid’s Day and the Catholics, in their campaign to appropriate all things pagan, call it Candlemas. Whatever you call it, today is the middle of winter.

Pagans of all sorts, both historical and contemporary, celebrate Imbolc as one of the eight Sabbats, or high holy days. Continue reading

CATEGORY: FreeSpeech

Should the First Amendment protect lying?

Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus case asks SCotUS to extend constitutional protections to to those who intentionally lie to voters.

I do not know anyone whose parents or church taught them that lying is permissible and bears no taint of sin: Thou shall not bear false witness is ingrained from childhood in everyone I know. Do not ever lie, we are taught.

So why, then, is an anti-abortion advocacy group asking the highest court in the land to allow it to lie with impunity? At stake in the case is whether the federal government has the legal right to police political advertising for lies. The case involves claims by the anti-abortion group, Susan B. Anthony List, against then-Rep. Steven Driehaus (D-Ohio). From Politico’s Bryon Tau:

During the 2010 election cycle, Susan B. Anthony List accused Driehaus of voting in favor of taxpayer-funded abortions by supporting President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Continue reading

The Sunday Assembly: a weird idea, but a compelling one

When thinking about why churches thrive, understand that religion is far from the most important factor.

Did you see the recent story floating around on the growth of the “atheist megachurch,” the Sunday Assembly? I’m really interested in the concept. Churches have three main draws: religion, community and professional networking. The first of the three is probably the least important to the maintenance of most congregations and community is easily the most important. Continue reading

The Wood of the Suicides, by Gustave Dore (Project Gutenberg)

Dante’s Inferno and contrapasso

Dante created contrapasso – the idea that divine punishment of the damned in Hell would mirror the sin being punished.

Dante Alighieri was born in approximately 1265 in Florence to poor but noble parents. He became involved in Florentine politics, was a delegate to Pope Boniface VIII, was sent into exile when his political enemies (and possibly eventually his allies too) took exception to him, and died in 1321 in Ravenna at the approximate age of 56. He was married into a politically powerful family and fathered several children, but he fell in platonic love with Bice Portinari, ostensibly at first sight at the age of nine. Dante fought several battles over the years, mostly over which faction ruled Florence, but was not a remarkable soldier.

In most respects Dante was an unremarkable man. Yet that one way – his poetry, and especially The Divine Comedy – has had an unusually large influence on not just Italy and the Italian language, but also western civilization and Christianity in general. Continue reading

Stewart Hoover on Pope Francis and the Roman Catholic Church: give it a read

Ross Douthat misses the point: the institution of the church is no longer central to the practice of religion

It wasn’t long after I entered my doctoral program some 20 years ago that professors and fellow students alike noticed in me a certain proclivity for polemic and outright cage-rattling. My instinctive tendency to leaven insight with attitude was on display yesterday as I offered up some thoughts on the early days of one Pope Francis, which have been marked by considerably more in the way of progressivism than perhaps the gentlemen who elected him might have anticipated. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Religion

Pope Francis: I can’t believe the Cardinals haven’t murdered the crazy bastard yet

Progressive reformer can’t be what the College of Cardinals expected…

I don’t traditionally care for popes. The Roman Catholic Church has this really long history of promoting oppression and corruption and ignorance, and there’s the whole pedophilia thing, too. I’m hard pressed to think of an organization that done more raw damage in the entirety of recorded history, and that has always been presided over by a pope.

But I’m starting to warm up to this new guy. He hadn’t been wearing his cool new hat for more than about 15 minutes when he suggested … out loud … to a freakin’ reporter … that atheists can go to Heaven. Meet His Holiness, Pope WTF the First. Of course, the Vatican trotted out the spokesclergy to explain that the Holy Father had been misunderstood. There’s some confusion about the canonical meaning of the word “redeem” and blah blah blah. It was like every speech Reagan ever made, where the spin doctors took center stage as soon as he left the room to tell everybody what he had meant to say. Continue reading

CATEGORY: The New Constitution

The New Constitution: comprehensive statement of principles (draft)

CATEGORY: The New ConstitutionThe original plan when we began this project was to offer the amendments individually, invite discussion, then produce a final document. The course of the process, though, has made a couple things clear. First, there needs to be a period to discuss the entire document in context, and second, while the original “Bill of Rights” approach perhaps had a certain formatic elegance about it, the project is better served by a less formalized articulation of general principles.

As a result, what follows is a restructured draft that accounts for the discussions so far and that also adds some new elements that have arisen since the process launched.

We will compile a final statement of principles out of this discussion.


1)    Organization, Composition and Conduct of Government

a)     Proportional Representation

i)      No political party representing a significant minority of the electorate – and here we suggest five percent as a workable baseline – will be denied direct representation in the legislature.

ii)     All legislative bodies shall be comprised proportionally according to the populations represented and all elected officials should be selected by direct vote of the people.[1]

b)     Public Financing of Elections

i)      In order to eliminate the corrupting, anti-democratic influence of corporate and special interest money on the electoral process, all elections shall be publicly financed. No individual will be allowed to contribute more than a token sum to an official, candidate or political party (perhaps the cap could be in line with the current $2,000 limit for contributions to presidential candidates).

ii)     All corporate, commercial and other private or publicly held entities shall be forbidden from contributing directly to any official, candidate or political party.

iii)   All citizens and collective entities are free to designate a portion of their annual tax contributions to a general election fund.

iv)    No contributions to the electoral process shall be allowed by foreign interests, either individual or institutional.

v)     Election funds shall be administered on a non-partisan basis and no candidate or party demonstrating a reasonable expectation of electoral viability shall be denied access to funding.

c)     Secular Government

i)      The government of the people shall be expressly secular. No individual, religious or quasi-religious entity or collective engage or seek to influence the course of legislation or policy in accordance with theological creed.

ii)     No government edifice, document, collateral, communication, or other production, including currency, shall make reference to religious concepts, including “god.”

iii)   No one shall, in any legal context, including legal processes or oaths of office, swear upon a sacred text.

iv)    Oaths of office shall explicitly require officials to refrain from the use of religious language and dogma in the conduct of their duties.

v)     No government funds shall be spent to compensate employees who exist to serve religious functions. This includes, but is not limited to, the office of Chaplain in various military bodies.

vi)    No religious institution shall be eligible for tax exempt status.

d)     Oversight of Covert Activities

No governmental entity shall conduct secret or covert proceedings absent ongoing oversight by a multi-partisan body of popularly elected officials.[2]

e)     Federal Autonomy

No state or local government entity shall assert special privilege or exemption with respect to established rights granted by the Federal Constitution.

2)    Individual Freedoms

a)     Free Speech, Press and Religion

i)      No government, corporation, commercial or private entity shall abridge an individual’s legitimate exercise of free speech. This includes all political, social and civic speech activities, including those criticizing the government, corporations and business entities and other collective organizations.[3]

ii)     The right of the people peaceably to assemble, especially for purposes of protest, and to petition for a redress of grievances will not be infringed.

iii)   The health of the nation depends on a vital independent check against public and commercial power. As such, no government, corporation, commercial or private entity shall be allowed to abridge the rights of a free and unfettered press.

iv)    Congress will make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

b)     Equal Rights Under the Law

i)      No governmental, corporation or commercial interest, or other private organization shall deny to any enfranchised citizen the rights or privileges accorded to others.

ii)     The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

c)     Freedom from Surveillance

i)      All individuals shall enjoy the right to privacy and freedom from systemic surveillance by governmental entities in the absence of a legally obtained warrant articulating probable cause against the individual.

ii)     The right of the people to be secure in their persons, homes, papers, data, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

iii)   All individuals shall enjoy the right to privacy and freedom from systemic surveillance and data gathering by corporate, commercial or other private or public entities unless they have specifically opted into such programs.

d)     Basic Human Rights

All citizens shall enjoy the right to shelter, nourishment, healthcare and educational opportunity.

3)    Conduct of Business and Commercial Interests

a)     Legal Standing

No corporation, business interest or any other collective entity shall be accorded the rights and privileges attending citizenship, which are reserved expressly for individuals.[4]

b)     Public Interest Standard

No corporate, commercial or other private or governmental entity shall be licensed, accredited or incorporated absent a binding commitment to serve the public interest.[5]

c)     Lobbying Restrictions

i)      In order to further the public’s interest in a free and independent legislature, elected officials shall not be allowed petition the body in which they served, either on their own behalf or on behalf of the interests of a third party, for a significant period of time after the conclusion of their terms.[6]

ii)     No person shall be allowed to assume a position charged with regulatory oversight of an industry in which they have worked in the past five years.

iii)   No elected official shall be allowed to assume a position on any legislative committee charged with oversight or regulation of an industry in which they have worked or held financial interest for the past five years.

d)     Collective Bargaining

i)      All workers shall have the right to organize for purposes of collective representation and bargaining.

ii)     In any publicly held commercial interest where a significant percentage of the workforce is represented by a union, the workers shall be entitled to representation on the corporate board of directors.[7]

4)    Citizen Responsibilities and Service

a)     Mandatory Service

i)      All citizens will, upon attainment of their 18th birthdays, enroll in a two-year program of public service, which may be fulfilled with either civic programs or the armed forces.

ii)     Enfranchisement will be earned upon completion of the public service commitment and a demonstration of a basic understanding of principles informing the political and policy issues facing the nation and the world.

b)     Right to Arms

i)      The right of an individual who has completed a two-year military service commitment to keep and maintain firearms appropriate to the common defense should not be infringed. [8]

ii)     The Federal government will establish guidelines by which enfranchised citizens may obtain firearms for reasonable purposes of sport and self-defense.

5)    Justice System

a)     Due Process and Fair Trials

i)      No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against him or herself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

ii)     In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed five hundred dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise re-examined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

iii)   In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury of professional, trained adjudicators sanctioned by the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; defendants shall have the right to be confronted with the witnesses against them; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in their favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for their defense.

b)     Punishment

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

[1] This disposes of the Electoral College.

[2] An alternative might be to entrust the public court system with the decision. Make all documents automatically become public in N years (and make destruction a federal felony) but the government can petition a federal court to hold them as secret. Court uses a strict scrutiny standard to continue secrecy, advocates for release present arguments and can appeal a secrecy decision (no appeal on orders to release). (Submitted by Evan Robinson.)

[3] This does not prevent said entities from policing explicitly illegal behavior, such as theft of proprietary information or sexual harassment. (Suggested by Carole McNall.)

[4] This item overturns the Citizens United case.

[5] This item eliminates the narrow “interest of the shareholders” doctrine emerging originally from Dodge vs. Ford.

[6] It is suggested by multiple commenters that “a significant period of time after the conclusion of their terms” might best be changed to “forever.” This is a perspective with some merit. In truth, though, we’re discussing a body of people who possess expertise that can, in the right circumstances, be of benefit to the people. A term of five years, for instance, might serve to rid the system of revolving-door corruption without permanently eliminating the possibility that a highly qualified individual may be able to contribute to the public good.

[7] This practice is common in Europe and promotes an environment of collaboration, instead of confrontation, between management and labor.

[8] Weapons systems are constantly evolving and we are now perhaps within a generation of the point where lasers, thermal lances and other currently experimental man-portable devices might be viable. The term “firearms” in this document should not be construed as limited to the sorts of projectile weapons we’re familiar with, but should instead be taken in a broader context. (Suggested by Rho Holden.)


The New Constitution has been a long time in the making, and it would be the height of arrogance to suggest that I reached this point on my own. In truth, I’m an intensely social, extroverted and associative thinker, which means that if I have an interesting idea, it probably emerged from interactions with one or more other people. This is why I work so hard to surround myself my folks who are as smart as possible. If they’re brighter than me, as is often the case, that’s all the better because that means there’s more opportunity to learn.

Some of the people in the list below are known to readers of S&R and others aren’t. Some have played a very direct and active role in my political thinking in recent years, and others contributed less obviously in conversations, in grad school classes, in arguments and debates over beers, and so on. In fact, there are undoubtedly some on the list who will be surprised to see their names, but trust me, each and every one of them helped me arrive at the present intellectual moment. This doesn’t necessarily mean they all endorse the project or want their names attached to it, so if there are things that aggravate you, please direct those comments at me and me alone.

All that said, many thanks to:

Brian Angliss

Frank Balsinger

Dr. Jim Booth

Dr. Will Bower

Dr. Robert Burr

Gavin Chait

Dr. Lynn Schofield Clark

Dr. Erika Doss

Dr. Andrea Frantz

John Hanchette

Sam Hill

Rho Holden

Dr. Stuart Hoover

Dr. Douglas Kellner

Alexi Koltowicz

Dr. John Lawrence

Dr. Polly McLean

Carole McNall

Stuart O’Steen

Alex Palombo

Dr. Michael Pecaut

Dr. Wendy Worrall Redal

Evan Robinson

Sara Robinson

Kristina Ross

Dr. Willard Rowland

Dr. Geoffrey Rubinstein

Mike Sheehan

Dr. Greg Stene

Jeff Tiedrich

Dr. Michael Tracey

Dr. Robert Trager

Dr. Petr Vassiliev

Sue Vanstone

Angela Venturo

Dr. Frank Venturo

Pat Venturo

Russ Wellen

Cat White

Dr. Denny Wilkins

Lisa Wright

CATEGORY: Religion Humanism Atheism

Should the US military be promoting Humanism and Atheism?

CATEGORY: Religion Humanism AtheismContrary to common wisdom, there are atheists in foxholes. Humanists, too. Granted, not a lot of them. But they exist. But do they need a chaplain?

NPR recently did a story about Jason Heap applying to be the Navy’s (and in fact the US military’s) first Humanist chaplain. Jason became an minister in Texas after graduating from Brite Divinity School at TCU. He later graduated from Oxford. And, somewhere along the way, he lost his Christian faith. Apparently when that happens, it does not result in the loss of one’s designation as a minister.

Heap’s application has gotten farther than anyone in the past who tried to follow this path. And some people are really unhappy about how far Heap has gone.

Take Colonel Ron Crews (Retired), who heads the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty. On the Alliance’s Twitter homepage, they leave no doubt about where they stand, “Pursuing a nation where all chaplains, and those whom they serve, freely exercise their God-given and constitutionally protected religious liberties.” For the NPR story, Crews explained,

“‘For God and country.’ That is the motto of the chaplain corps, and someone who comes from a humanist freethinker position could not ascribe to that motto. So it’s by definition of who a chaplain is.”

Heap also faces opposition in Congress, where Representative John Fleming (R-LA) introduced an amendment to the 2014 Defense Appropriations Act to “prevent funds from being used to appoint chaplains without an endorsing agency.” In other words, no denomination, no chaplaincy. Fleming explained,

“This I think would make a mockery of the chaplaincy. The last thing in the world we would want to see was a young soldier who may be dying and they’re at a field hospital and the chaplain is standing over that person saying to them, ‘If you die here, there is no hope for you in the future.’”

After the Fleming amendment passed the House as part of the appropriations act, Religion News Service added, “Currently, the Department of Defense recognizes more than 200 endorsing agents, all of them based on a belief in God.”

Unfortunately for Crews, Fleming, and RNS, they’re all wrong on their basic assumption that the unifying characteristic of current military chaplains is their belief in God. Three short examples.

According to 2012 statistics, there are between 12-14 Buddhist Chaplains. Many are endorsed by the “Buddhist Churches Of America,” a Japanese Buddhist organization originally invited to the US to support Japanese immigrants near San Francisco. Its origins are in Mahayana Buddhism though it became a separate sect in Japan called Jodo Shinsu (“Pure Land”). Although many westerners consider Buddhism a “religion,” it does not concern itself with the worship of a god and certainly Buddhas are not gods. It is best described as non-theist. In the words of Trinlay Tulku Rinpoche, “The fundamental aim of Buddhist practice is not belief; it’s enlightenment.” However, in keeping with tradition in many parts of Asia, it is also not mutually exclusive. This means that practitioners may combine a variety of spiritual practices, some of which may involve various deities or spirits.

There are three Hindu Chaplains in the US military, all endorsed by the Chinmaya Mission West. It is almost impossible to generalize about “What is Hinduism?” as practices and beliefs vary widely from polytheism to non-theism. Chinmaya Mission was founded in 1953 by followers of Swami Chinmayananda, a devotee of the study of the Vedas (ancient Hindu texts). Yoga, meditation, and study are all part of Vedantic Hindu practice, with the goal of understanding and achieving higher consciousness. Among Swami Chinmayananda most famous teaching are “‘Renounce your ego’ is the Lord’s only request. ‘And I will make you God’ is the promise” and “If I rest, I rust.”

Finally, there are between 18 and 22 Unitarian-Universalist chaplains, all endorsed by the Unitarian Universalist Association. The UU denomination is non-creedal but does promote “The Seven Principles,” broad ethical guidelines. To borrow from Will Rogers, “I am not a member of any organized religion. I am a UU.” UU ministers run the gamut from truly ecumenical, to those that lean towards one belief, including Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, or Humanist. None of the Seven Principles demand belief in a divine being. In fact, the state of Texas tried to revoke the tax exempt status of UUs because of their lack of devotion to a deity. It’s not unusual for services to have Humanist themes. One of the earliest services that I clearly remember was presided over by an avowed Atheist. Included in the music for the service were Humanist hymns from the UU hymnal.

So. Colonel Crews and Representative Fleming, it’s time to step away from this one. The US military has already set an example of allowing chaplains from non-theist denominations. Furthermore, the purpose of the Chaplain Corps is to meet the needs of those serving in the military, and there are more self-identified Atheists than Buddhists, Hindus, and UUs combined. Add to that the largest single category of religious declaration in the military, “No religious preference,” with over 22% of the military, about whose needs we know little.

Does the military need Humanist Chaplains? Yes, if it would meet the needs of those who have chosen to serve. This isn’t about the religious preferences of civilians.

CATEGORY: SchadenFriday

It’s SchadenFriday: Vatican gets punked on VSEL’s + From Russia with love

Whatever good The Church(TM) has managed to do over the years, and aside from skeptics’ observations that no good done by religion absolutely requires religion to be done, it’s a simple statement of fact that the Vatican has a sorry legacy when it comes to supporting science.  This week, NBC news contributor Arthur Caplan, Ph.D. highlights an uncomfortable reality:  when the church does support something that looks like science, it has more to do with orthodox wishful thinking and less to do with, you know, science.

With four studies in, to date, that cannot replicate the original “science,” it might be nice to wish for VSEL research to be substantiated, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

In other news, Putin punks POTUS.


Image credit: Rodriguez-Porcel, M., Wu, J.C., and Gambhir, S.S.  Licensed under Creative Commons.


ReligionWeek: Will organized religion destroy your religious freedom?

Organized-Religion4On July 2, America’s real Independence Day, by the way, leaders of a number of churches that doctrinally and theologically do not usually see eye-to-eye gathered at the National Press Club for a “religious liberty” press conference to announce their collective effort to trample individual religious freedom. They released “Standing Together for Religious Freedom: An Open Letter for All Americans.” The signatories to the letter included leaders from Catholic, Evangelical, Mormon, Lutheran, and Jewish organizations and denominations, as well as academics and various values-oriented groups, such as Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council.

The point of their letter and presentations is that the Obama Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services are violating the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause by requiring insurance companies or administrators to provide birth control coverage in separate policies to persons covered by policies paid for by religious institutions opposed to contraception. In the “Standing Together” letter, the objection is described this way:

Very simply, HHS is forcing Citizen A, against his or her moral convictions, to purchase a product for Citizen B. The HHS policy is coercive and puts the administration in the position of defining–or casting aside–religious doctrine.

In short, the heads of some major conservative religious institutions believe that their right to freely practice their religion trumps an individual’s right to not have religious doctrine forced upon him/her.

The “product” that “Citizen A” is being forced to provide is health insurance, which does not violate the tenets of any known denomination, not even Christian Science. A wall has been proposed by HHS to provide separation of church and contraception, but that apparently is not sufficient. It will only be substantial enough if it imposes religious doctrine on employees of religious-affiliated institutions, regardless of the religious leanings of the employees (or lack thereof). And, let’s face it, we’re talking primarily about women’s use of contraception.

One more point: no one is forcing “Citizen B,” the employee, to buy anything. If the religious doctrine in question, a ban on some or all forms of artificial contraception, is truly compelling for the employee, then that should be sufficient for that person to adhere to the prohibition. But, it’s not. In fact, this prohibition does not convince a majority of any faith to eschew contraception (across the US about 60% of sexually-active women use contraception), much less its employees. Perhaps this is a way to attempt to control the behavior of at least some people associated with institution, since members of the flock don’t always toe the line.

But I digress–I wrote about much of this in a recent post on Hobby Lobby and its claim of religious freedom (which, by the way, the “Standing Together” letter implies support for, “we call upon HHS to, at a minimum, expand conscience protections under the mandate to cover any organization or individual that has religious or moral objections to covering, providing or enabling access to the mandated drugs and services.”) [emphasis added]

What’s really interesting is how groups that would not otherwise get along, come together in the name of power and politics.

Let’s start with the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. They oppose interfaith prayer and worship to the point that LCMS pastors were chastised for participating in interfaith services after September 11 and the Newtown shootings. But apparently it was alright, in this case for the president of the LCMS to band together with representatives of the Catholic Church, despite the LCMS aversion to such churches that “attach spiritual or eternal rewards to the works or virtues of men.” This harkens all the way back to Luther and the 15th century argument over whether men are saved by faith alone or through faith and action.

We also have Catholics and Pentecostals sharing the stage. Traditionally, they question each other’s practices. Catholics find the symbolic communion and baptism of Pentecostals wanting. Some Pentecostals, like some Baptists, question the very existence of the Catholic Church and go so far as to call it anti-Christian.

And everyone, despite their past criticisms and questions about its very nature, is willing to partner with the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints–Mormons–to build a bigger coalition against the contraception mandate. Just as Evangelicals and Southern Baptists were willing to endorse Mitt Romney, they are now willing to work with the denomination that was once labeled a “cult” because it suits their purpose.

Speaking of cults, nearly all of the churches “Standing Together” consider the Hare Krishnas to be a cult, calling it variously “sinful,” “deceitful,” etc. Some dismiss it as paganism or “just a Hindu sect.” However, for the purposes of defeating the contraception mandate in the name of “religious freedom,” the International Society of Krishna Consciousness is included. In fact, they seem to be the only non-Judeo-Christian faith to join the group.

Add to that the fact that various Christian denominations that promote the belief that, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man comes unto the Father, but by me” and yet are willing to share the stage with Jewish leaders who do not share that view.


My dad was a very thoughtful man–and also a very skeptical one. He was especially skeptical of Big Business and Big Religion. He said on numerous occasions, “Sometimes things just don’t make sense until you add money into the equation.” I don’t know if he was familiar with L. Ron Hubbard’s line, “If you want to get really rich, start a religion.” But I wouldn’t be surprised if he were.

These religious leaders are joining together to gain power and influence. Dating back to the 1980s, conservative Christian groups (primarily Protestants), banded together to exert influence over policy and elections. But as the religious landscape in the US changed, the coalition had to change as well. The tent, as they say, had to get bigger and more inclusive of religious conservatives from different faiths and denominations. The trend towards more overt involvement in politics by religiously-affiliated groups started after the Clinton administration and it shows no sign of slowing. What the individual religions cannot do on their own, they hope to do by joining together to put the combined weight of their membership behind their policy push, sort of a faith-based cartel. A pseudo Big Religion.

Some Big Businesses, who have no religious limitation on their political activity (and Citizens United to provide them with free speech), already strive to have a maximum impact on elections. Imagine the possibilities if Big Religion and Big Business combining to increase each other’s influence over policy and daily life.

Some people argue that anyone who goes to work for a religiously-affiliated institution has to expect to toe their doctrinal lines and if the employees don’t like they, they can quit and find another job. But what if all businesses are granted the ability to impose the religious beliefs of their owners on the employees?

And what better starting place than with something as innocuous as contraception?

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ReligionWeek: The problem with "faith"

This post originally ran on June 6, 2011, and is being reprinted as part of S&R’s ReligionWeek series.

Well, Tim Tebow’s new memoir is out, and it’s being joyously welcomed by those who think that sanctimonious 23 year-old jocks have something important to say about life. I got to hear some deep thoughts on the book and on the admirable life of young Tebow from the crew of The Stupid Show as I drove around yesterday afternoon, and while I’m fine with people believing what they feel led to believe, I have finally had about enough of what’s being done to the word faith.

Everywhere we turn here in this most evangelical of cultures, we hear that word. Faith. We revere those who “have great faith,” even when they’re not entirely rational about it. Continue reading