Monthly Archives: March 2012

Rick Santorum and Blue Jays and Burqas

Blue Jays seem like they should be the stars of the “Angry Birds” game.  They are always caw-cawing at everyone, all the while making sure they are getting enough for themselves.  Cardinals and Robins don’t seem to take them too seriously, though they do intimidate the smaller, meeker birds.  That’s why they remind me of Rick Santorum, with apologies to Blue Jays, that is.

Sunday (3/11/2012) morning Santorum was one of the talking heads on the weekly television news shows (this one with David Gregory).  In the seconds it took me to wrestle the remote control from my spouse I had to listen to this Blue Jay in my living room caw-cawing about moral issues like he had been appointed by god – which he does seem to think is the case.  Even worse, he repeatedly mentioned that he was running for president because he and his wife had prayed about it.  If you are trying to convince me that god wants you to be president then your ego is too big and your god is too small.  Ironic, the prayer part though, since many of us in Pennsylvania having been praying Santorum would just go away.

Without taking a breath, he rambled on about what government should stay out of while insisting what government should take over.  Particularly, what the federal government should take over is the control over women’s bodies.  Here we go again, Ricky Blue Jay.

I have never written about abortion before because I consider it a personal ethical issue, not a religious one.  If you are opposed to abortion, then don’t have one.  The rest is none of your business.  I don’t object to the Roman Catholic Church, or any other religion, taking a position on this for its own practitioners.  However, in this secular country, it is not only wrong, it defies the U.S. Constitution for any one religion to impose its morality on everyone else.

Usually the louder the Blue Jay the more likely you will find situation ethics.  Santorum likes to brag about “home-schooling” his children.  Well, that’s not quite accurate.  They are enrolled in a Pennsylvania online charter school, paid for by Pennsylvania tax-payers, even though they are living in Virginia.  His caw-cawing-of-the-day can be found on the link below to a CNN story.  I wonder if he and his wife asked god’s permission to rip-off Pennsylvania like that?

http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2012/03/13/santorum-rails-against-maher-on-christian-madrassa-comment/

But let’s go back to Virginia, for a visit to the Dark Ages.  It is not really for lovers, as their bumper sticker used to say.  It’s for rednecks and misogynists.  My very first blog in April 2010 was about Governor Bob proposing “Confederate History Month.”  The same governor was involved in Virginia’s latest plan to force sonograms on women seeking abortions.  This is legally-required rape using a medical instrument, since the law initially would have required a vaginal probe.  That it passed, minus the “probe,” is a small consolation.  That burqa is sounding pretty good right about now, isn’t it?  (You can read the Reuters update on the Virginia law at the link below.)

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/29/us-abortion-virginia-idUSTRE81S0DR20120229

A more subtle form of demeaning women can also be considered in the context of freedom of religious expression.  For example, I support the right of Muslim women to wear a hijab, but I sure wish they didn’t want to.  In Lancaster County Amish women, and many Mennonites, wear “coverings.”  These are sort of a large yarmulke for women made of stiff white netting.  They cover their heads in deference to God and men.  Ask yourself, do men have to do it?  Of course not.  Again, the same principle as a burqa.

The rhetoric associated with the Virginia law is the ‘War on Women.’  If you actually think it was not going on underground (without regard to political party) then you are either lucky or oblivious.  The same system that patronizes and oppresses women regularly commits other sins.  Listen to the mean-spirited talk by Republican presidential candidates or radio-mouth-piece /hate-mongers and see how fashionable it is to pillory the impoverished, like poverty is synonymous for lethargy, not disadvantage.

When all the children of (at least) this country are well-educated and well-fed, then I am willing to engage in a conversation about abortion, but not before.  To caw-caw about protecting fetuses when already-born children are abused and neglected is a mask for oppressing poor women.  Keep in mind that women of means will always be able to get an abortion, so all the moral superiority by the Santorum Blue Jays of the world is moot for the wealthy.

There is a difference in both religion and ethics between influencing individual behavior and oppressing select human beings or groups of people.  I have written this before, but it bears repeating: protecting patriarchy is about power and control, not about God.  Religious folks trying to bully others into their own ethical system are just arrogant.  Politicians using religious rhetoric to procure votes are the worst sort of prostitutes.  Shameless politicians and religious bullies need to watch some Bill Maher and make less noise.  When I hear Blue Jays I just want to tell them to shut-up already.

-J.B.

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Atheists in Foxholes

As it turns out, there are atheists in foxholes.  As reported in an AP story that ran in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the U.S. Army has 2,500 soldiers who describe themselves as atheist, and 101,000 who report no affiliation, out of approximately 548,000 (11/8/2009 “Faith and furor: Muslims say Ft. Hood gunman does not define Islam”).

When I mentioned to someone that I was reading a book about atheism she said, “Oh, it’s good to know the enemy.”  I admit it was my mistake for trying to have a sensible conversation with a Christian fundamentalist, but calling someone with different religious views an “enemy” is simply not very Christian.  I will return to the vitriol later, but I want to address what I believe are the essential issues first.

I finished reading the late Christopher Hitchens’ book god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.  I am struggling to finish The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.  Both of these books were New York Times best sellers. Since I am a person with a life-long interest in religion, I never felt compelled to study atheism before now and reading both of these books was both challenging and disturbing, as I believe both authors intended.

Hitchens’ book was a brilliantly written page-turner while Dawkins’ book is occasionally amusing but primarily tedious.  For people of faith, or those even mildly interested in religion, it doesn’t make sense to be afraid of, or worse – hate, atheists.  Faith is the opposite of fear, so how intelligent, well-read atheists think should provoke consideration not anger.

The Hitchens’ book builds a convincing case for the negative impact of religion on social history and individual experience, especially in the treatment of children and when connected with politics.  Ordinarily I enjoy sarcasm, but the Dawkins’ book is so relentlessly facetious it was nearly impossible for me to appreciate his perspective.  While Hitchens hoped to influence readers, Dawkins’ was shameless in attempting to convert the faithful into godless.  I found Dawkins’ attempt at proselytizing no more or less offensive coming from an atheist than a born-again Christian.  (See my blog column “Missionary Go Home” 8/25/2010.)

I don’t see value in arguing over the existence of God.  That is ultimately an individual question.  No panel of theologians can prove the existence – nor can a panel of atheists disprove it.  I see theologians denying science or atheists disavowing the possibility of anything mystical equally non-productive.  The intersections that matter are when theologians try to dictate to science or atheists want sanitize culture of any presence of religion.  That time would be better spent by theologians speaking to their own followers and leaving the rest of us alone, and atheists limiting their arguments to the inappropriate influence of religion in this secular society.

Atheists make an important contribution to our culture by being the conscience of religion.  Religion does enjoy too much societal protection legally, financially, publicly, and tacitly.  For example, in a capitalistic country, tax breaks are an enormous practical advantage as well as a demonstration of governmental approval.  There is no real reason why churches should be tax-exempt any more than social clubs.  This will be a future column, but my short answer is that if churches or religious organizations are not contributing social services to those outside of their own group, there is no reason for exemption from taxes.  Locally, I see very little difference between the YMCA and LA Fitness, except that the Y has a better swimming pool and is tax-exempt.

I would distill these issues to a few basic questions.  Primarily, the pivotal question is: Do you believe in the supernatural?  If not, then any god arguments are irrelevant, as well as any discussion on humans having a soul or spirit.  Dead is dead.  That is not a subject that is possible to debate.  As impossible as it is to debate, it is pointless to be angry because that is someone’s point of view.  Both books had stories of hate mail and death threats.  There’s no excuse for any person of any religion to stoop to bullying atheists.  You discredit your own religion.  If someone else’s view is that threatening, then your faith doesn’t really amount to much, does it?

Often I conclude these columns with what I personally believe, and I am tempted to do so this time, but I resist that temptation because it is irrelevant.  I read an amazing book by Hitchens that deeply disturbed me in many appropriate ways.  He influenced my thinking but did not change my point of view.  I am grateful such a great thinker lived among us and was unafraid to ask difficult questions that make us uncomfortable.  I would like to say, rest in peace, but that would be disrespectful.  So, Mr. Hitchens, I celebrate your life and contribution to this planet by encouraging tolerance of atheists and promising to read more of what you wrote.

To the religious, I would say that a faith unquestioned is just stupidity.

-J.B.