Sound the alarm! We all know Christianity is under attack in American civil life. But did you know the military wants in on the Christian bashing as well? According to Fox News contributor Todd Starns, Christians in the military face being prosecuted for “sharing” their faith. These allegations aren’t the first anti-Christian charges lodged against the military. The President received much slack after repealing “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”, Catholics and Protestants were depicted as potential extremists during an Army Reserve presentation and Christians, in the military, were allegedly blocked from accessing a South Baptist Convention’s website. Although the latter two claims were resolved, conservatives still use these occurrences to prove their persecution in the military. Continue reading…
Whether it’s meant sincerely or is just pandering, it is commonplace for politicians to talk about prayer. For example, Newt Gingrich said the following during a Republican Presidential Primary debate on October 18, 2011:
How can I trust you with power if you don’t pray?
The general idea seems to be that prayer will provide some feedback that will lead you down the right path. This brings about some interesting dilemmas. I’ll just highlight a few. Continue reading…
“This is already an old and boring story about old, boring, and deadly ideas.” — Sam Harris
A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece critiquing the tendency of the atheist community to analyze the nature and impact of religion through the exceptionally narrow lense of truth claims and discreet ideas. I summarized my position at one point by arguing that ideas, in and of themselves, have far less agency than atheists usually assume they do. Just as important as the contents of a certain idea is the social, economic and political context which gives rise to it. Atheists tend to ignore these, instead preferring to compose arguments which presume the dominance of ideas, and consequently often end up producing analyses of situations that they have less than stellar understandings of.
And then last week, along came Sam Harris, with this gem of an example of just what I was trying to argue against. Energized by the recent attacks and murders at US Embassies, Harris composed a stirring call for moral clarity – of the sort that comes only in shades of black and white.
Before I get going with what is wrong with Harris’s rhetoric and assumptions, let me state unequivocally that I agree with him completely on the issue of free speech – all nations which claim to value freedom of speech should not engage in any kind of censorship to appease anyone, be they Islamic radicalists or outraged conservative evangelicals or overly sensitive identity-politics laden liberals. Insofar as the liberals Harris criticizes really were recommending restriction of freedom of speech (enforced either through the government or social pressure), to address the problem of radical Islamic terrorism and, more broadly, Muslim alienation, they are wrong. First, it is unethical. Second, it would not work anyway. So let’s make it clear that we agree on that and move on from there.
However, I take serious issue with almost everything else about Harris’s approach to this question.
I recently rewatched the last two installments of PBS’s excellent documentary, God in America, which I’ve seen before. These final episodes deal with the rise of the Religious Right, from its origins as a Cold War creature and reaction against the secular excesses of the 1960s all the way through the Bush administration.
The final portion of God in America seems to make the argument that the political clout of the Religious Right hit an apex with the election of Ronald Reagan, and while evangelicals have remained an important part of right wing politics ever since, they have never really regained the optimism they once had that if only they could get someone in the White House to represent the “Moral Majority,” the legislation that they all craved would finally become a reality.
Renewed hope blossomed shortly with the election of George W. Bush, a sincere evangelical who, unlike Reagan (a believer but hardly a devout evangelical himself), was one of them. However, as his term unfolded it became clear that whether or not he had a personal relationship with Christ, President Bush was not going to put his political neck on the line to seriously prioritize the evangelical agenda. Not that this kept him from starting two wars on the assumption that God put him in the White House to make sure a clear-headed decider was around when the devil struck the USA.
But the remarkable thing about most of the commentary in the last two episodes is how disappointed most of the commenting evangelicals sound. We’ve sold our soul to the Republican Party, they more or less assert, and look what we’ve got for it? Prayer in school is still illegal, abortion on the other hand is not, and in several states, homosexuals are allowed to get married and have children. Certainly on the gay rights front, the grip of evangelicals on the culture and on our politics has done nothing but degrade in the past two decades.
David Barton, the pseudo-historian and Religious Right activist, went back on the Daily Show this week to promote his new book The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson. Now, I haven’t read Barton’s book, so I do not know every wrinkle of every argument within it – nor do I think I want to make the effort, lest you find me in the bathroom the next morning with a bullet through my skull.
But based on the conversation between Jon and Barton, it’s very clear that Barton spends a good time arguing against the belief that Jefferson was an atheist – he was actually a devout man, Barton wants us to believe. So real quick, two things:
I was on a walk with my three year old daughter when she heard one of her favorite sounds; a train’s whistle. In the evenings you can hear the whistle of the local line if you’re in the right spot and things are otherwise quiet. My daughter has taken quite a liking to these trains and it’s not uncommon for us to stop when walking near the tracks and wait for the Sprinter Line to go by on our way to the beach.
She looked up to me, brimming with excitement, and asked, “Train, daddy? Train, daddy?”
“Yeah, sweetie-pie,” I replied, “that’s the train.”
With her excited tone dropping, however, she then said, “No. No train.”
She stopped walking and thought for a moment, looking up and down the street with her hands stretched out, and she said, very matter of fact, “No tracks. No train.”
I was stunned. She was looking for evidence and didn’t see any.
“No tracks, daddy,” she reiterated. “No tracks. No train.”
At three, my daughter already understands the very basic necessity of evidence for the formation of a belief. I did take a moment to explain that the tracks are only a mile away, which is why we can hear the whistle even though we can’t see the train, but I had to commend her on her desire for proof. Continue reading…