It’s Political God(less) Rally Weekend!

First Amendment ELater today, people of all faiths will gather is Washington at the Nationwide Rally for Religious Freedom.  Tomorrow, people of no faith will gather in the same spot for the Reason Rally.  Both sides claim the timing is a coincidence.

Moreover, both gatherings are hopelessly misnamed.

The Rally for Religious Freedom is actually motivated by the new mandate from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that requires all employers provide free contraceptives through their health plans.  Further, it’s organized by two anti-abortion groups, the Pro-Life Action League and Citizens for a Pro-Life Society.  So the freedom they are advocating for is the freedom to observe their religious laws over secular ones.  While I suppose you can argue that’s freedom of a sort, it’s certainly not the sort enshrined in the First Amendment.  And let’s be clear, while cloaked as an “all faiths” gathering, this is a Christian rally.

Meanwhile, the Reason Rally is advocating for the acceptance of atheists as normal non-threatening members of society.  In part. the hope is to also encourage more atheists to come out of the closet by making them less alone.  While that’s a noble goal, a good place to start might be to name your rally something that doesn’t imply that all theists are irrational.  The concepts of faith and reason extend far beyond the notion of God.  Rejecting God doesn’t make you incapable of having faith in anything, nor does accepting God make you immune to reason.

What’s also interesting is that both groups are positioning themselves as the victims.

The Christians, despite being in the vast majority, feel the secularists are launching a war on their religion.  This is as comical as the claims that the LGBT movement is destroying the family.  Just because you don’t get to impose your values on everyone else does not translate to a conspiracy to deprive you of your beliefs.

The atheists, who actually are a minority struggling for acceptance, are staging “the largest gathering of the secular movement in world history” in an effort to appear less threatening.  They are trotting out speakers like The God Delusion author Richard Dawkins, who is a perennial lightening rod for those fearing so-called militant atheism.  Granted, when atheists get militant, they tend to write books rather than buy guns, but it’s hard to see this as a vehicle for winning the hearts and minds of those who fear you.  This is much more like the secular version of showing up in ass-less chaps and chanting “We’re Here! We’re Queer! Get used to it!”

In the end, expect a lot of noise in the news cycles about each event, expect a fair bit of manufactured outrage, expect a lot of unhelpful rhetoric, but don’t expect too much productive to come of it.

Cranston West: The school where Christianity went to die

Jessica Ahlquist
16-year old Cranston West student Jessica Ahlquist

To quote a favorite young lady of mine, “People suck.”

At Rhode Island’s Cranston High School West, student Jessica Ahlquist took issue with the banner hanging in the school labeled “School Prayer.”  She successfully sued her state-funded public school to have a it removed.  This was a classic textbook case of separation of church and state, and U.S. District Court Judge Ronald R. Lagueux even praised her for her courage in his written decision.

This was hardly judicial activism. Any high school civics student should have recognized that this was the inescapable outcome were this issue heard in any court in the land.  Some might argue the law is wrong, but it’s hard to imagine anyone being surprised that it’s the law.

Cranston BannerIt might even be argued that had the school had the good sense to label the banner “School Pledge” and drop the Heavenly Father reference and the Amen that it would have been a completely legal banner.  But they didn’t, and so it isn’t.

Yet it isn’t the loss of this banner that diminishes Christianity. It is the violent threats of retaliation against Ahlquist from other students. In what appears to be a woefully misguided sense of defending their religion, classmates are not only verbally insulting the young activist, but physically threatening her with assault and rape, both in this life and the next. Just a few of the things posted to Facebook and Twitter are listed below.

“May that little, evil athiest teenage girl and that judge BURN IN HELL!”

“I hope there’s lots of banners in hell when your rotting in there you atheist fuck #TeamJesus”

“If this banner comes down, hell i hope the school burns down with it!”

“U little brainless idiot, hope u will be punished, you have not win sh..t! Stupid little brainless skunk!”

“Fuck Jessica alquist I’ll drop anchor on her face”

“definetly laying it down on this athiest tommorow anyone else?”

“Nothing bad better happen tomorrow #justsaying #fridaythe13th”

“Let’s all jump that girl who did the banner #fuckthatho”

“”But for real somebody should jump this girl” lmao let’s do it!”

“Hmm jess is in my bio class, she’s gonna get some shit thrown at her”

“hail Mary full of grace @jessicaahlquist is gonna get punched in the face”

“When I take over the world I’m going to do a holocaust to all the atheists”

“gods going to fuck your ass with that banner you scumbag”

“if I wasn’t 18 and wouldn’t go to jail I’d beat the shit out of her idk how she got away with not getting beat up yet”

“nail her to a cross”

“We can make so many jokes about this dumb bitch, but who cares #thatbitchisgointohell and Satan is gonna rape her.”

I know kids can be stupid and cruel, but I can’t fathom that somehow this level of malevolence is being wielded in the defense of Christianity.  Even assuming that somehow this was well intentioned, in so trying to save their religion they have made it considerably less.  Ironically, atheists are often accused of unfairly conflating religion and violence.  Yet these allegedly Christian students make a compelling case all on their own.

Young Jessica Ahlquist returns to school today for the first time since the ruling on the banner.  Her morning Tweet suggests a high degree of optimism, or maybe hope. “time for school. Woot. #bestdayever,”  I hope she’s right.

WWJD, indeed.

Cee Lo’s version of Imagine angers fans and atheists, but not the Evangelicals

Cee Lo - NYE
Cee Lo Green in Times Square

On New Year’s Eve in Times Square, Cee Lo Green re-imagined John Lennon’s atheist anthem to the horror of many.  Green performed a soulful version of the Beatles’ “Imagine” with the lyrics changed from “nothing to kill or die for / and no religion too” to “nothing to kill or die for / and all religion’s true.”

Twitter was immediately alight with outrage from Lennon fans as well as from the atheist community.  Fair enough.  Beatles fans are notoriously loyal and changing up lyrics is simply treasonous.  And despite Steve Martin’s musical assertion that Atheists Don’t Have No Songs, they do have a precious few… and Imagine was among them, at least pre-Cee Lo.

But the confounding thing would seem to be the deafening silence from the evangelical community.  Yes, at least a celebrity took a glancing blow at the godless.  But the claim that all religion is true should be as disconcerting to Christian fundamentalists  as claims of no god at all.

Activist Christians are pretty adamant there is but one true religion and everyone else is hell-bound.  Further, they complain loudly of being victimized, marginalized, and discriminated against at everything from not being wished “Merry Christmas” by Wal-Mart greeters to not being able to teach mythology as science in the classroom.  So, why doesn’t Cee Lo’s lyrical twist have their collective white cotton panties all in a bunch?

I guess maybe Evangelicals don’t feel threatened by pantheists?  Yet?

Oh no you didn’t

Oh no you didn'tMy morning coffee was interrupted by a gentle knocking on the front door.  On the other side was a delightful older woman and her apprentice proselytizer sporting bibles, Watchtower magazines, and other paraphernalia of the trade.

She opened by explaining they were there to make sure I understood what the bible had to say, because they’ve found many people don’t know.  I politely replied that I had a bible, had read it, and was pretty familiar with what was inside.  I finished by explaining that I really didn’t feel the need for any additional guidance today.

That should have been the end of it, save for a few pleasantries, and I could return to my cooling cup of Joe and my newspaper.  But no.

She reaches into her stack of pamphlets and pulls one out while saying that perhaps she might interest me in some information on God’s creation because science is constantly trying to disprove it, and I might need to know how to respond.

It was at that moment I wished I was a woman and could pull off that whole finger-wagging head-shaking “Oh no you did not” indignation move.  But alas, I’m just a gesture impaired male.  Either way, it was clear my coffee was going to get colder.

I responded, “I’m sorry, but you have to understand that science is not trying to disprove religious mythology.  That is neither its purpose nor its intent.  It exists to explain nature in a way that allows us to predict and manipulate it.  This is a role that religion does not fulfill, nor aspire to fill.  Science is dependent on a method of discovery and rigorous explanation that is completely indifferent to your beliefs.  Science is not a democracy, nor is it dependent on faith.  You don’t get to pick and choose where it leads.”

“You drove up here in a car whose existence is the product of chemistry, metallurgy, physics, and a dozen other scientific disciplines.  You have a cell phone in your purse, you’re wearing synthetic blend clothes, and you’re schlepping out brochures drafted on computers and produced on high-speed printing presses.”

“The world you live in is the product of science.  It’s unfortunate that you feel threatened by aspects of science, but unless you’re willing to go back to your cave and huddle around the fire you need to find a way your theology can coexist with it.  Anything less is a major act of hypocrisy on your part.”

Science doesn’t want to play in your sandbox.  Stop dragging it in.

Steve Jobs Gives Dope-Slap from Beyond

The Westboro Baptist church, which has a rich history of inappropriate and distasteful demonstrations at funerals, has announced that it will be making an appearance at Steve Jobs’ memorial service.  It seems the group found him insufficiently grateful to God in life, and a teacher of sin through his technical gadgetry.

The message was posted to Twitter… from an iPhone.

Westboro's Ironic Message

I’m pretty sure Jobs would have found the irony hysterical.  His legacy has become so interwoven into the fabric of society that even those professing to hate him can’t escape it.

Rest in peace Mr. Jobs.  You are truly one of history’s most talented geeks, and the tech world is less today without you.