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Local Christian admits to excluding atheists in society July 20, 2009

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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Doug Billings

Doug Billings

I ran into this article from a local Philadelphia writer today.  I must say that I was a bit flabbergasted by it.  What a disgusting piece of writing this was.  So full of hate, misinformation, and lack of compassion and love that I thought it was written by his straw-man atheist.

Let’s see where he starts:

Here we go again – another new political building and another new lawsuit brought about by atheists without anything better to do. Is being an atheist really so boring that for fun they spend thousands of dollars on frivolous lawsuits just to get their name(s) in the paper? How dreadfully pitiful. One almost feels sorry for them.

If you don’t know what he’s talking about, it is the issue of the lawsuit concerning the carving of the phrases “In God we trust” and “One nation under God” on the visitor center at the capital.  And right, we are just doing it because we are bored.  We are so lonesome and desperate for attention that we have to mess with him and his ilk.  We are so pathetic.

Oh, right.  They are the ones that are spending thousands of dollars to engrave their phrases on the building which we object to for legitimate reasons.  I’ll get to that.  But first, let’s see what our loving and compassionate Christian friend has to say further along in his article:

Did you know that “In God We Trust” is the official motto of the United States? It is.

This is correct.  However, it has not always been so.  The phrase did not appear on our money until 1864, and the motto was changed to this in 1956 in an act of Congress.  It was not right to do then, and it is still not right.  This is an issue of concern for atheists for two reasons; one is that it keeps on being used as an example of why atheists can be treated like second-class citizens.  The other is that it excludes us in the first place.  It is divisive of our citizens to have something official that does not represent all of us.

Oh wait, our loving Christian friend does not care about that:

First of all you’re correct that the engravings will exclude you. This is the intent. We want you excluded. Keeping idiocy out of the mainstream is a healthy goal.

Um…hmm.  I don’t know what to say to that.  He admits to wanting to exclude us.  Man, that really sounds like dislike, at very least.  Idiocy? Why are atheists idiots?  Isn’t that the cultural debate we are having now?  Has the government sided with you officially? When did this happen? And even if we were idiots, doesn’t the constitution protect our rights anyway?  I mean, even if there were clearly a god (there isn’t clearly a god), our rights as citizens are protected nonetheless.

Let me quote the holy Gospel according to the United Constitution:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

And then the Gospel according to Matthew (22:21):

Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s

Ah, yes, this is indeed a Christian nation.  All that debate during the writing of the Constitution in this very city of Philadelphia, where many times a proposition to include Jesus in the document were rejected.  Jefferson’s idea of the wall between church and state, as he described in his letter to the Danbury Baptist church, indicate this:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.

What does our esteemed Christian Life examiner have to say about such things?

Because of the glorious and unique foundation of Christian principles, precepts and beliefs this country rests upon and due to the indelible imprint the founding fathers gave us by using them in our constitution and declaration of independence, these kinds of engravings and inscriptions will never be eliminated from our government.

Well, first of all the only use of anything god-like was either in the use of the dating system, references tosome vague ‘Creator’ and ‘providence’ in the Declaration of Independence (which has no legal implications for us anyway), and the things I just mentioned above which seek to create a secular nation.  Secular meaning without respect to any religious view, not without religion.

And that is precisely the point.  The reason that these phrases don’t belong on a government building is that they are not only divisive, but they are not in line with the founders of our nation as they agreed in the Constitution.  Those founders discussed these things and the only time religion and god are mentioned in the Constitution are in keeping a separation from the religious beliefs of individuals from the government which is supposed to represent them.

Doug adds the following:

In another gleaming example of her intellectual shortcomings, Gaylor said, “They want this engraving up there because they think God is the foundation of our government. Boy, are they misinformed.”

I could print hundreds of pages with quotes from our founding fathers to modern politicians proving her wrong, but why when she’s so obviously a lunatic? (Please cue up Lunatic Fringe by Red Rider)

Here’s the thing.  Many of the founders were Christian.  Many legislators and lawyers are today.  That does not matter.  The fact is that when it came to forging a document to create a basis for law in our society, what they came up with makes it very clear that not only no religious test will be permitted, but that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, which Jefferson was kind enough to elaborate on for us above.

And granted, Jefferson’s comments outside the constitution can be held with the same skepticism as the Christian fellow-founders that he disagreed with, but the fact is that nowhere in the Constitution is it made clear that the laws of our nation are derived from a god, but instead it says this:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Nothing about God, but “we the people” instead.  What I think is going on is the people that argue God is behind this argue that EVERYTHING is from God.  But this question is precisely what different citizens disagree about.  And since the Constitution does not address this issue, government has to be neutral about the question, even if the people who are supposed to be the representatives are not neutral themselves.

Sure, culturally this nation is steeped in Christian ideas.  But this must be kept separate from the government.  I will never try to prevent a person from practicing whatever his conscience wills in his or her private life, but a government building is not that private life.  A government building is public, and I’m part of that public.  Excluding me because I disagree with the majority violates the essence of the Constitution.

And it does not matter how many of us are atheists, agnostics, etc.  It does not matter if it is 15%, 5%, or .5%.  The point is that by excluding us from our Constitutional rights, people like Doug Billings are invoking the same kind of thinking that allowed rights to be kept from minority races, women, and gays throughout our history.

But Doug isn’t done yet:

No American with any sense will stand for this attempt to whitewash our American religious heritage and Little Miss Annie and her FFRF will remain on the fringe of society because of their own choices, not because the mainstream puts them there. This is the thing about fringe groups – they choose to be on the fringe. No one forces them to be there.

Right, just like nobody forced you to be part of the mainstream (if you are in fact there).  What does that have to do with anything? So those on the fringe don’t matter? People with unpopular opinions are just SOL? That reminds me of groups like the Taliban.  I imagine if the phrase was “In Allah we trust” you may feel differently about this.  Then, perhaps, we would agree that this phrase doesn’t belong there.  But you fail to see, Dougy boy, that “In God is trust” is sectarian and divisive.

It’s time for the fringe groups to stop wasting money and time. They have a right to believe whatever they want and they can choose to remain on the fringe. They just don’t have the right to tie up our courts with frivolity and stupidity.

No, there is where you are wrong.  We all, including you Dougy, have the right to believe whatever stupidity we want to.  The fact is that the government has to be neutral on whether any of them are actually stupid.  We have every right to sue where we see a violation of rights, just as you would do if the phrase “In no gods we trust” were carved on a government building.

And if you did sue because of that, I’d sign on with you.  Because I believe in fighting for the rights of everyone, not only those with whom I agree.  And if you would not sue, then that’s also your right.  My view is that these legal issues are of minor concern…except that people like Doug will perpetually use the presence of such phrases on government buildings as support for their discrimination.


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Blasphemy laws threaten our freedom July 9, 2009

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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Oh noes! Now the Moslems will be after me!

Oh noes! Now the Moslems will be after me!

I don’t know if any of you have been following the recent legislation in Ireland.  I have been reading about the proposed Blapshemy Laws for a few days now, and am concerned.  For those of you who would like to catch up, here’s a resource for you.

Basically, it may become illegal to criticize people’s religious beliefs.

The proposed law states the following:

  1. A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €100,000.
  2. For the purposes of this section, a person publishes or utters blasphemous matter if (a) he or she publishes or utters matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion, and (b) he or she intends, by the publication or utterance of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.
  3. It shall be a defence to proceedings for an offence under this section for the defendant to prove that a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value in the matter to which the offence relates.

Now, the second part of this mentions that the problem is outrage being caused by people who become upset by comments, short films, or cartoons.  Why the hell would anyone riot over such things? And why are the Irish trying to protect people who would? The problem here is religious people, here primarily Moslems, reacting violently because of criticism, not the criticism itself.  It makes perfect sense to riot because someone has implied that your religion is violent, right?

There have been a number of movements in Europe that have moved towards legislating protections for religion in the last few years.  The acceptance of sharia in the UK is one such concession.  Issues concerning whether women can wear burqas in their identification pictures is another (although the French have not sided with accomodation, at least). What is going on here?

Part of what is happening is that Moslems are moving into Europe and the United States in significant numbers.  When I lived in West Philadelphia for a few years, I lived a few blocks away from two mosques and saw women in their burqas quite frequently.  When people move into a place, they bring their culture with them.  That will inevitably involve their concepts of law, morality, and religion.

Now, there are many points of sharia law that differ from the laws of the various nations that Moslems are moving into.  And the openness and liberalism of these nations–places like Belgium, the Netherlands, etc–mean that they will try to accommodate the people that live there.  This, to a certain extent, is admirable.  The willingness to open yourself up to different cultures can lead to a better understanding of one-another and it is at the heart of what a free society is all about.

However, there is a point where in doing so you give up on what that liberalism and tolerance are meant to protect.  Pat Condell says it best, perhaps:

(Also see this one (Ban the burka) and this one (Sharia in the UK))

I agree with Pat Condell here.  Criticism is essential.  We cannot make it a law that you cannot criticize religion.  What will come of speech such as Pat Condell’s if Blasphemy laws are passed? What will happen to legitimate criticism of religion (or any other beliefs) if we are not allowed to say anything that may hurt someone’s feelings?

Religion cannot continue to get a free pass on criticism, as it has enjoyed for so long.  You can criticize someone’s movie tastes, belief in UFOs, but don’t criticize Islam or Christianity!  You might hurt someone’s feelings if you do that.  There is no reason to give religious beliefs a free pass here.

It can only be the height of insecurity that would require religious views to be protected behind walls of legislation.  We must challenge ourselves.  And those that will not, we must allow others to challenge them.  We must force those who make claims about the universe to support their ideas and allow skeptics and other dissenters to criticize their views as they merit.

I simply cannot understand what the Dail in Ireland is thinking.  I hope that it will not pass the Seanad.  And if it does, I hope that some will come out and test this law with blasphemy as loud as one can say it.  I hope that the continuing undue respect, especialy to Islam in many parts of Europe, does not continue.  I hope that people of reason will not be silenced by the fear that is projected by the faithful who feel the need to protect themselves from harsh words or criticism.