Wednesday, November 29, 2017

True Believers Debase Society

No room for anything else

I recently added some historical commentary to a Facebook posting about a biblical tale.  My information was correct, but contradicted the claims of the person who posted the information.   His reply to me was that “I need to believe.”

Apparently, belief can eliminate facts. 

I don’t believe that.  Instead, I believe that unfettered belief causes immense problems, undermining a free society.

For example, belief forces people to ignore research.  Take evolution, for example.  No theory has been studied more, yet no one has ever found a flaw, only an increasing awareness of its complexity.  Recent studies have further verified how natural selection causes creatures to change.

New species of birds
Scientists these days are have observing the birth of a new bird species on the Galapagos Islands.  Other researchers investigated how fast environment forces demonstrative changes.  In one case, researchers put long-legged lizards on an island where short-legged lizards had a natural advantage.  The offspring of the long-legged lizards were short-legged.  The reverse happened, too.  It’s all documented; that's the way science works.  It can be verified; the experiment can be repeated.

Belief must pretend such studies don’t exist, and not just in biology.  Any research that somehow belies belief is suspect, eliminating such fields as geology, astronomy, physics, chemistry and history.

Following the same logic, religious students in my college class rejected evolution because it seems random (it is) and therefore cannot be directed by the God of their faith.  Open minds snap shut when belief arrives.

Any democratic society depends on the free flow of information with the ability to adjust when facts don’t match up with preconceived notions.  Without that, we are living in a religious dictatorship.

True believers at work
Belief doesn’t just spurn hard-earned knowledge.  It tries to impose unproven ideas on nonbelievers.  Every dominant religion has demanded that those who have not accepted the faith either join or die.  Jews, who have rarely had enough power to impose their religious zeal, did that in Samaria when a Jewish theocracy was independent prior to Roman conquest in the first century BCE.

Christians practiced forced conversion for centuries until the Reformation in the 1500s finally broke the Roman Catholic monopoly over daily life.  Islam spread quickly as Muslim armies gave conquered people a choice of conversion or death.  These days, Islam leaders who control countries in the Middle East are still issuing death sentences to apostates. 

Wailing Wall confrontation
Today, ardent Christians in this country are pushing for control of textbooks and perverting science for their ends, such as denying and even opposing efforts to mitigate Climate Change.  Orthodox Jews are doing similar things in Israel, including fighting against women being allowed to visit the Wailing Wall.  Muslim clerics have already perfected such techniques in lands they dominate in the Middle East.

Again, believers don’t want a free society.  They want to control thought.

Belief also divides.  It separates society into “good” and “bad.”  For example, the Missouri Synod chastised a member for daring to attend a community-wide program in Connecticut after a mass shooting there.  Why? Members of other religions were represented, and the minister would only be judged an equal, not superior.

As we have seen in recent elections here, belief obligates otherwise normal people to support pedophiles, neo-Nazis and other scum because the candidate “believes” instead of backing an opponent who isn’t “one of us.”

Free societies cannot function that way, especially one with the founding concept that “all men are created equal” and which promises freedom of religion.
Islamic militants killed fellow Muslims in a mosque.

Worse, all religions fragment as “true” believers try to weed out opponents.  Who are radical Muslims attacking now -- their co-religionists, recently killing hundreds praying at a mosque in Egypt.  The fight between Christian sects spread across Europe in the 1500s, resulting in the deaths of millions.  Orthodox Jews in Israel have attacked Reform and Conservative Jews. 

No one is pure enough.  No one can be.  And society is worse for it.

There are an estimated 4,600 religions in the world.  All of them think they are correct.  All members believe they have found the “truth.”  Most likely, they are all wrong, but that’s not going to stop any “true” believers.

They will continue to demand, to harm, to denigrate, to subvert, to do anything to make their belief supreme, twisting facts, ignoring uncomfortable facts and trying to silence anyone who dares to differ. 

So far, at least in this country, they haven’t succeeded.  However, don’t believe, given the slightest opening, that they won’t continue their efforts to undermine a free society.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history with an occasional foray into American culture.  He holds an ABD in American Studies from Case Western Reserve University.   He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at wplazarus@aol.com.  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  A recent book, Passover in Prison, details abuse of Jewish inmates in American prisons.  His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.



















Thursday, November 16, 2017

Moore Continuing Evangelical Decline


Evangelicals
Conservative Christianity took another body blow with feeble attempts by Alabama evangelicals to counter charges that Republican senatorial candidate Roy Moore was a pedophile.   Moore doesn’t deny dating teenagers while in his 30s; he just says he asked parental permission.  He declined to comment on the now-five women who have come courageously come forward to describe how he harassed them sexually without speaking to their parents first. 

Moore
Despite bleats of outrage from the party and from Republican senators, who withdrew endorsements, Moore is still favored to win the Dec. 12 special election.

Part of the reason is that he is running in a very conservative state where residents spurned the Democratic Party in the 1960s once President John F. Kennedy reversed his party’s long-time pro-racism stance.  The Heart of Dixie is still strongly Republican.

At the same time, Moore is well known, which always helps.  Former Alabama chief justice, he was ousted twice, once when he refused to remove a statue of the 10 Commandments from the courthouse; another time, when he counseled probate judges to ignore the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriages.,

Notice that Moore won re-election after defying Federal law. 

In addition, campaigns cost a lot of money, but someone with a reputation, however sordid as Moore, has an advantage over a newcomer or, at least, one less famous.  Moore’s opponent, Doug Jones, is a former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, not exactly a platform for statewide publicity.
 
He is best known for prosecuting and securing life terms in the 1990s for the two surviving Ku Klux Klan members, Thomas Blanton and Bobby Cherry, who blew up a Birmingham church in 1963 and killed four young girls, and securing an indictment against Eric Rudolph, who set off a bomb during 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and is now serving a life sentence.

Not of that will endear Jones to the racists rampant in the Heart of Dixie.

However, the main reason Moore has retained endorsements has nothing to do with Jones or even Moore’s undemocratic and stated beliefs that gay people should be killed and Muslims evicted from this country.  They support him because Moore is supposedly one of them.

Allison
As the Rev. Mike Allison told the NY Daily News “I still support him.  I'm a Bible-believing Christian, and he is as well,” he said.

Despite reading and writing about the Bible for years, I missed the part in the Holy Book where it’s considered acceptable for adult males to grope teenagers.

Rev. Allison does not stand alone at Moore’s side. Repeated surveys show that evangelicals plan to vote for Moore despite his horrific behavior and abhorrent beliefs.  According to Newsweek, “nearly 40 percent of Evangelical Christians in Alabama say they're now more likely to vote for Roy Moore after multiple allegations that he molested children …”  In a related poll conducted by the Washington Post, “Thirty-four percent of the supposedly devout Christians said that the allegations made no difference in their support for Moore.”

Again,fundamental views trump both common sense and morals.

Robert Jones
In some ways, evangelicals have a hard choice as they face a serious problem: parishioners are deserting the pews.  Recent studies provide “solid evidence of a new, second wave of white Christian decline that is occurring among white evangelical Protestants just over the last decade in the U.S.,” said Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute and author of The End of White Christian America.

 Among the survey’s chief findings:

  • White Christians, 81 percent of the population in 1976, now account for less than half the public — 43 percent of Americans identify as white Christians, and 30 percent as white Protestants.

  • White Christians are aging. About 1 in 10 white Catholics, evangelicals and mainline Protestants are under 30, compared with one-third of all Hindus and Buddhists. Youth is the lifeblood of any organization.

  • The number of evangelicals fell from 23 percent to 17 percent of the public from 2006 to 2016.
Now, about 25 percent of Americans identify with no particular religion. 

As a result, evangelicals must decide to support someone as contaminated as Moore or vote for someone like Jones, whose beliefs are not as rigid and who supports such “anathemas” as equal rights and abortion.

As a result, those evangelicals still trying to retain to their battered beliefs are willing to hold their noses and stifle their gag reflex to vote for Moore.  They did the same thing on behalf of Donald Trump in the 2016 election, rightly seeing him as more akin to their beliefs than Hillary Clinton despite his admission of sexual improprieties. 

Ironically, that approach alienates even more Americans who have not sunk evangelicals’ desperate level.

Fortunately, even some ardently religious folks can’t stomach using votes to support religious views.

Currie
For example, the Rev. Dr. Chuck Currie, director of the Center for Peace and Spirituality and University Chaplain at Pacific University, wrote in the Huffington Post, “I thought that child abuse was an affront to Christian convictions and our Savior. Jesus said at a time when children were not valued that they should be. It astounds many that any Christian would defend Moore. To do so, you have to replace Bible with the GOP platform.”

Accepting Dr. Currie’s contention won’t save evangelicals, but it does serve as a lifeline for those who want to retain their beliefs without surrendering their moral standards.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history with an occasional foray into American culture.  He holds an ABD in American Studies from Case Western Reserve University.   He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at wplazarus@aol.com.  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  A recent book, Passover in Prison, details abuse of Jewish inmates in American prisons.  His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.