My first memories are of picketing ex-servicemen’s funerals and telling their families they were going to burn in hell. For us, it was a celebration. My gramps was the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, so it wasn’t just our religion – it was our whole life. I don’t remember much before the picketing. I was allowed to mix with other kids early on, but over time my world shrank.
We believed it was a Good vs Evil situation: that the WBC was right and everybody else was wrong, so there was no questioning. It was a very public war we were waging against the “sinners”. I asked a lot of questions as I got older, but there’s a big difference in asking for clarification and actually questioning the beliefs you’re taught. I spent so much time reading the Bible, trying to see the world through this very particular framework, that to have truly considered [it was wrong] was inconceivable. I’d seen members leave in the past, including my brother, and the thought of ever leaving the church was my worst nightmare.
Excerpts From Thou Art That (2001)
Metaphors only seem to describe the outer world of time and place. Their real universe is the spiritual realm of the inner life. The Kingdom of God is within you.
The problem, as we have noted many times, is that these metaphors, which concern that which cannot in any other way be told, are misread prosaically as referring to tangible facts and historical occurrences. The denotation—that is, the reference in time and space: a particular Virgin Birth, the End of the World—is taken as the message, and the connotation, the rich aura of the metaphor in which its spiritual significance may be detected, is ignored altogether. The result is that we are left with the particular “ethnic” inflection of the metaphor, the historical vesture, rather than the living spiritual core.
Inevitably, therefore, the popular understanding is focused on the rituals and legends of the local system, and the sense of the symbols is reduced to the concrete goals of a particular political system of socialization. When the language of metaphor is misunderstood and its surface structures become brittle, it evokes merely the current time-and-place-bound order of things and its spiritual signal, if transmitted at all, becomes ever fainter.
It has puzzled me greatly that the emphasis in the professional exegesis of the entire Judeo-Christian-Islamic mythology has been on the denotative rather than on the connotative meaning of the metaphoric imagery that is its active language. The Virgin Birth, as I have mentioned, has been presented as an historical fact, fashioned into a concrete article of faith over which theologians have argued for hundreds of years, often with grave and disruptive consequences. Practically every mythology in the world has used this “elementary” or co-natural idea of a virgin birth to refer to a spiritual rather than an historical reality. The same, as I have suggested, is true of the metaphor of the Promised Land, which in its denotation plots nothing but a piece of earthly geography to be taken by force. Its connotation—that is, its real meaning—however, is of a spiritual place in the heart that can only be entered by contemplation.
From Valerie Tarico
The world has watched in horror while members of ISIS justify the next mass murder or icy execution with words from the Quran, followed by shouts of Allahu Akbar—God is the greatest! If beliefs have any power whatsoever to drive behavior—and as a psychologist I think they do—there can be little doubt that the Quran’s many endorsements of violence play a role in how exactly ISIS has chosen to pursue religious and political dominion.
At the same time, it should be equally clear a sacred text filled with violence is insufficient to trigger mass brutality unless other conditions are present as well. Culture, empathy, education and empowerment—and other factors that scholars understand only in part—appear to have a protective influence, safeguarding even most fundamentalists against the worst teachings of their own tradition. We know this in part because the Bible contains commandments and stories that are as horrific as those being used to justify butchery in Iraq and Syria.
The following 30 violent exhortations are a mix, drawn from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scriptures. The generic word God is used for all deity names, and names of places or people have been replaced with generic terms. How well do you know your Torah, Bible, or Quran and Hadith? Can you tell which is which? Give it a try and then check the key at the bottom.
From Valerie Tarico
Most British people think religion causes more harm than good according to a surveycommissioned by the Huffington Post. Surprisingly, even among those who describe themselves as “very religious” 20 percent say that religion is harmful to society. For that we can probably thank the internet, which broadcasts everything from Isis beheadings, to stories about Catholic hospitals denying care to miscarrying women, to lists of wild and weird religious beliefs, to articles about psychological harms from Bible-believing Christianity.
In 2010, sociologist Phil Zuckerman published Society Without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment. Zuckerman lined up evidence that the least religious societies also tend to be the most peaceful, prosperous and equitable, with public policies that help people to flourish while decreasing both desperation and economic gluttony.
We can debate whether prosperity and peace lead people to be less religious or vice versa. Indeed evidence supports the view that religion thrives on existential anxiety. But even if this is the case, there’s good reason to suspect that the connection between religion and malfunctioning societies goes both ways. It may be hard to measure whether net-net religion does more harm than good, but here are six ways we know that religions make peaceful prosperity harder to achieve.
It’s more difficult for religions to control their believers’ access to information…
While the burgeoning atheist movement loves throwing conferences and selling books, a huge chunk–possibly most–of its resources go toward the Internet. This isn’t borne out of laziness or a hostility to wearing pants so much as a belief that the Internet is uniquely positioned as the perfect tool for sharing arguments against religion with believers who are experiencing doubts. It’s searchable, it allows back-and-forth debate, and it makes proving your arguments through links much easier. Above all else, it’s private. An online search on atheism is much easier to hide than, say, a copy of The God Delusion on your nightstand.
In recent months, this sense that the Internet is the key for atheist outreach has started to move from “hunch” to actual, evidence-based theory. Earlier this year, Allen Downey of the Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts examined the spike in people declaring they had no religion that started in the ’90s and found that while there are many factors contributing to it–dropping familial pressure, increased levels of college education–increased Internet usage was likely a huge part of it, accounting for up to 25 percent of the decline in religious belief. While cautioning that correlation does not mean causation, Downey did go on to point out that since so many other factors were controlled for, it’s a safe bet to conclude that the access to varied thought and debate the Internet provides is persuading people to drop their religions.
During the last 40 years that I have been writing essays, as well as being ordained in the Presbyterian and Congregational churches, many have asked me “do you pray?” My answer has always been “not in the orthodox sense to a “cosmic bellhop, just waiting for me to ring”… but as “meditations” and “reflections”, yes. My morning meditations are on this MYSTERY beyond comprehension, this planet earth… the Cosmos, the Mystery of creation… and finally the Mystery of you… and me. The “ETERNAL LIGHT” as the source behind the creation.
Eternal light… to whose mind the past and the future meet in our eternal now… we seem to be the creatures of shifting time… to whom the past is soon forgotten… and from whom the future seems veiled……..
This day seems to be but a gleam of light between two nights of dark… between two mysteries which are yet ONE… we still sense, and we feel that we are more than we seem… that somehow in some way we are connected with and are a part of the eternal source…
Religiosity in the United States is in the midst of what might be called ‘The Great Decline.’ Previous declines in religion pale in comparison. Over the past fifteen years, the drop in religiosity has been twice as great as the decline of the 1960s and 1970s.
Last year brought a continuation of this decline. 2013 was a new low for the level of religiosity in the country.
How do we track this massive change in American religion? We start with information from rigorous, scientific surveys on worship service attendance, membership in congregations, prayer, and feelings toward religion. We then use a computer algorithm to track over 400 survey results over the past 60 years. The result is one measure that charts changes to religiosity through the years. (You can see all the details of the algorithm here).
From Sam Harris
AUDIO TRANSCRIPT [Note: This is a verbatim transcript of a spoken podcast. However, I have added notes like this one to clarify controversial points.—SH]
The question I’ve now received in many forms goes something like this: Why is it that you never criticize Israel? Why is it that you never criticize Judaism? Why is it that you always take the side of the Israelis over that of the Palestinians?
Now, this is an incredibly boring and depressing question for a variety of reasons. The first, is that I have criticized both Israel and Judaism. What seems to have upset many people is that I’ve kept some sense of proportion. There are something like 15 million Jews on earth at this moment; there are a hundred times as many Muslims. I’ve debated rabbis who, when I have assumed that they believe in a God that can hear our prayers, they stop me mid-sentence and say, “Why would you think that I believe in a God who can hear prayers?” So there are rabbis—conservative rabbis—who believe in a God so elastic as to exclude every concrete claim about Him—and therefore, nearly every concrete demand upon human behavior. And there are millions of Jews, literally millions among the few million who exist, for whom Judaism is very important, and yet they are atheists. They don’t believe in God at all. This is actually a position you can hold in Judaism, but it’s a total non sequitur in Islam or Christianity.
From Brandon Fibbs
From Brandon Fibbs
“Dear Believer, have you ever stopped to consider why you believe what you believe? Have you ever thought about why you chose the religion you chose?…”
From The Hidden Brain
Walking Santa, Talking Christ
Two in five Americans say they regularly attend religious services. Upward of 90 percent of all Americans believe in God, pollsters, and more than 70 percent have absolutely no doubt that God exists. The patron saint of Christmas, Americans insist, is the emaciated hero on the Cross, not the obese fellow in the overstuffed costume.
Two in five Americans say they regularly attend religious services. Upward of 90 percent of all Americans believe in God, pollstersreport, and more than 70 percent have absolutely no doubt that God exists. The patron saint of Christmas, Americans insist, is the emaciated hero on the Cross, not the obese fellow in the overstuffed costume.
From The Daily Beast
Obama is the Antichrist, Republicans are heretics, and compromise is unholy. Politics can’t explain how the right acts.
America has long been the incubator of many spiritual creeds going back to the Great Awakening and even earlier. Only one of them, Mormonism, has taken root and flourished as a true religion sprung from our own native ground. Today, however, we have a new faith growing from this nation’s soil: the Tea Party. Despite its secular trappings and “taxed enough already” motto, it is a religious movement, one grounded in the traditions of American spiritual revival. This religiosity explains the Tea Party’s political zealotry.
The mark of a national political party in a democracy is its pluralistic quality, i.e. the ability to be inclusive enough to appeal to the broadest number of voters who may have differing interests on a variety of issues. While it may stand for certain basic principles, a party is often flexible in applying them, as are its representatives in fulfilling them. Despite the heated rhetoric of elections and the bombast of elected representatives, they generally seek consensus with the minority in order to achieve their legislative goals.
There’s little doubt, outside circles filled with self-delusional reactionaries, that religion is probably the most important force in continuing the oppression of women worldwide. Around the world, various abuses from coerced marriage to domestic violence to restricting reproductive rights are all excused under the banner of religion. More to the point, women’s rights have advanced more quickly in societies that put religion on the backburner, or like the United States, have strict laws separating church and state. But even in the U.S., the main result of the growing power of the religious right is the rollback of reproductive rights and other protections for women’s equality.
Former president Jimmy Carter, who is probably the country’s most prominent liberal Christian, is willing to set aside his enthusiasm for faith to admit this.While doing press promoting his new book A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power, Carter told the Guardian that “women are treated more equally in some countries that are atheistic or where governments are strictly separated from religion.”
Last week, Pew Research Center published the results of a survey conducted among 40,080 people in 40 countries between 2011 and 2013. The survey asked a simple question: is belief in God essential to morality? While clear majorities say it is necessary, the U.S. continues to be an outlier.
In 22 of the 40 countries surveyed, the majority says it is necessary to believe in God in order to be a moral person. “This position is highly prevalent, if not universal, in Africa and the Middle East,” says the report. No surprise there, but Asian and Latin countries such as Indonesia (99%), Malaysia (89%), the Philippines (99%), El Salvador (93%), and Brazil (86%) all fell in the highest percentile of respondents believing belief in a god (small G) is central to having good values.
>Interestingly, clear majorities in all highly developed countries do not think belief in god to be necessary for morality, with one exception only: the U.S.A.
Only 15 percent of the French population answered in the affirmative. Spain: 19%. Australia: 23%. Britain: 20%. Italy: 27%. Canada: 31%. Germany 33%. Israel: 37%.
So what of the U.S.? A comparatively eye-popping 53 percent of Americans essentially believe atheists and agnostics are living in sin. Despite the fact that a research analyst at the Federal Bureau of Prisons determined that atheists are thoroughly under-represented in the places where rapists, thieves and murders invariably end up: prisons. While atheists make upward of 15 percent of the U.S. population, they only make up 0.2 percent of the prison population.
From Godless in Dixie
I don’t typically share highly personal stuff on this blog because my life is intertwined with many others, and they would not want their personal matters to be put on public display. But earlier this week a reader asked me a question which I think deserves a post of its own because it’s about a matter I know many people are facing every day. People who grew up in relatively secularized cultures won’t identify with this issue but anyone raised to be religious will know it all too well. If you were raised to be a devout Christian and later left the faith, you will get why this question touches a nerve. The reader asked:
After you changed, did you ever feel desperation?
My answer likely went in a different direction than he intended because for me, there have been several stages of stress, loss, and pain associated with my leaving the faith, and they started long before I finally let go of those beliefs which had so characterized my life up until that point. I can think of a couple of particular seasons in which I seriously questioned my faith, and those questions never really left me. I posted about that struggle yesterday, and if you haven’t read that yet, please stop and go read that now. It gives you a peek into the mind and heart of a young man sincerely wrestling with his own rationality, trying to reconcile it with his faith. I can still feel the angst from those days emanating from the words on the screen, and for various reasons this still feels so fresh to me. The fallout from that struggle continues for me today.
Most of all, however, I want to draw your attention to the fact that I wrote the journal entry linked above a good six years before I began to honestly face my own questions. If you read the brutally honest things I say you may find yourself asking “Why on earth did you cling to your faith so long after this? How could you? With no satisfying answers forthcoming?” The simple truth is that the cost of leaving my faith was too high for me to allow myself to go down that mental path. Again, I must acknowledge that anyone reading this who has never lived in a highly religious environment (I’m looking at you, Europe, Canada, and the “blue states” within the U.S.) will scratch their heads and wonder what the fuss is about. But anyone from a context similar to mine will “get it” immediately.
This week, NPR published a profile of Taylor Muse, the leader of an Austin-based indie rock band that got their start when they left Christianity. Now, members of Quiet Company pride themselves on music that encourages questioning, or even rejecting, faith and opting for a life of Humanism instead.
Muse, 31, told NPR his adolescence revolved around his Southern Baptist church in Texas. But after he moved away, got married, and discovered Kurt Vonnegut, among other big life changes, he realized he couldn’t participate in Christianity anymore.
“Eventually, I came home from work one day and just told my wife, ‘I think I’m having a little bit of a crisis of faith. I just realized today that I can’t make a case for Christianity that would convince myself,’” he says.
After years of playing in Christian bands, Muse’s realization brought him to Quiet Company, where he and fellow atheist bandmates could write music about life after faith and connect with greater atheist communities. In 2011, they released We Are All Where We Belong, an album about a young man rejecting his religion, and last year they took home 10 honors from the Austin Music Awards.
The refrain from the album title — “where we belong” — is at the heart of Muse’s problem with Christian theology. He says he was taught from the Bible that good Christians don’t store up treasures on earth: They’re supposed to store up treasures in heaven.
“They’re always making the statement, ‘This is not your home, this is not where you belong,’” Muse says. “I wanted to make a record that said, ‘No, actually, this is where you belong. This is your one chance to make your life into what you want it to be. This is your one chance to make the world what you think it can be.’”
According to humanist chaplain and author Greg Epstein, Quiet Company’s music is particularly resounding for atheists, but carries a message universal enough for anyone to appreciate.
From WILLIAM EDELEN
The Contrary Minister
If we are fortunate, at some point before we die, we can discover WONDER. For we who have become so preoccupied with gaining and spending, with winning and losing, have lost sight of the miracles around us. Wonder is the capacity of sustained joy and awe. Wonder is a sense of freshness and spontaneity. Every day is a surprise party. Life is a cafeteria of delights, a new flower, a hummingbird hovering, a cucumber cucumbering.
To sense the ultimate in the common and in the rush of the passing, stillness in the eternal is to live with wonder, with “Ah.”
The purpose of religion for thousands of years has been
As a newly de-converted Christian, I find ex-christian.net to be a uniquely comforting and refreshing lifeline. This is the only place I can candidly assume my self-proclaimed title: humanist agnostic. One question that often arises is how to muster the courage to “come out” to family and friends and own whatever label, best describes one’s new identity outside of faith. I’m grappling with the same conundrum. On one hand, what does it matter what thoughts, ideas and beliefs, my brain is generating? I’m still very much the same person my family and friends have come to know and love. I still spend time with my husband and six kids. I continue to enjoy teaching, composing music, cycling and kayaking. I’m active in my neighborhood and community. If I said nothing, my life would carry on the same way it has for decades, and no one would be the wiser. I can talk the Christian talk and walk the Christian walk with ease, as it has been my identity for over 40 years.
But here’s the problem. I’ve been hungrily devouring book after book from atheist writers, and I crave the freethinking podcasts, which fill up space on my iPod. Even my YouTube subscriptions are tainted with atheist content. But, sadly, all of this life altering, truth-seeking, reason-driven inquiry is done in secret, as if guarding a sordid and illicit affair. I’m in love with this new knowledge, but I can’t tell anyone about it. I really WANT to share what I’m learning with the rest of the world! I want to have open dialogue on Facebook. I want to “like” and “comment” on the juicy quotes from Robert Ingersoll or Sam Harris. But I can’t.
From The Raw Story
Friday night on her MSNBC show, Rachel Maddow cast a critical eye toward former President George W. Bush’s decision to speak at the Messianic Bible Institute, the headquarters of the apocalyptic cult Jews for Jesus.
She compared what we know about Jews for Jesus with evidence of meetings held during the Bush presidency and said that one can only conclude that Bush was trying to bring about the Rapture and the apocalypse in order to hasten the second coming of Jesus Christ.
Mother Jones reported this week that George W. Bush is scheduled to address Jews for Jesus on Nov. 14. The sect is a conservative Christian splinter group that seeks to convert Jews to Christianity in hopes of bringing about the end of the world and the second coming.
The group was one of two apocalyptic Christian groups that met with George W. Bush’s principal Near East and North Africa advisor during the Bush presidency as reported by Rick Perlstein in 2004.
Apparently, Rapture-baiting, pro-apocalypse religious fanatics were holding sway over U.S. foreign policy before and during the War in Iraq, the War in Afghanistan and the rest of the Bush presidency. So it should come as no surprise that the former commander in chief is consorting with these groups in the wake of his presidency.
“It’s an amazing thing,” Maddow said. “I mean, everybody’s religious beliefs are their own, and by definition in this country, nobody’s religious beliefs are better than anyone else’s.”
If you agree with Jews for Jesus that all the Jews in the world should be converted to Christianity and then repatriated to Israel to bring on the apocalypse, Maddow said, that’s your business.
The media failed to tell the real story of how we reached the shutdown and brink of default.
To get what’s happening to the GOP and, to America, you need to understand the theology of the extremist frankly stupid and misinformed evangelical heartland. We don’t have a political problem. We have an evangelical stupidity problem. The Republican Party has fallen into the grip of an evangelical-led group of religious fundamentalists who are either true believers or who know how to cater to them. Now the experience of the hostage taking these “Christians” did in the shutdown is over, it’s worth figuring out how things got so crazy because they will again– until we admit who and what is at the root of our political dysfunction.
In the late 19th Century a battle began between fundamentalists and liberal Protestant theologians. The battle between those who claimed to believe in the Bible literally and those who wanted to bring historic fact, science and nuance to their faith raged on into the 20th Century. By the mid 20th Century the liberals had won the argument but they lost the popular vote as it were. But for all its popularity fundamentalism was no longer intellectually respectable. So it was rebranded by a core group of image conscious preachers and evangelists as “evangelicalism” to take the edge off the scorn reserved for faith rooted in biblical literalism.
The echoes of the bitter theological battle left the evangelicals feeling embattled and adversarial. Then from the mid 20th Century forward, Billy Graham, and many other evangelicals (including my late evangelist father and religious right founder, Francis Schaeffer) convinced a huge swath of America to convert to born-again faith. While the evangelical camp grew the mainline denominations shrank. The fine print of conversion to a hot literal faith
I really wish I didn’t have to keep writing about this all the time on Horror Show Sunday, it’s a tragedy that I have to chronicle far too often, but here we go again. We remember Herbert and Catherine Schaible, who are being prosecuted for the murder of their second child who died of an easily treatable ailment while they just watched and prayed. We remember Jeffrey and Marci Beagley who were found criminally negligent when their teenage son Neil died of complications from an untreated urinary tract infection while they sat at home and prayed, rather than getting him the medical treatment he so desperately needed. There are dozens of other examples I could give, approximately 25 children die each and every year when their religious parents trust prayer over medicine.
[I could have been Neil. My father, a fundamentalist “faith healer” insisted prayer could heal me of my pneumonia when I was dying at ten years of age. Near death, with church people gathered in prayer, I yelled “call an ambulance, I need oxygen!” That broke the spell and I was rushed to a hospital and recovered. ~DS]
Here are another couple of unfortunate examples.
In 2012 in Albany, New York, Greg and JaLea Swezey were found guilty of child endangerment and sentenced to five years of probation after they allowed their 17 year old son Zachery to die