Archive for December, 2006


A New Tolerance

Many believe that in order to be tolerant, one must be silent. To give voice to one’s opinions in public may offend someone. Even to discuss religion and politics with family members and friends is largely avoided in American society. We have forgotten that avoidance is not tolerance. In fact, it is avoidance that has made us an intolerant people, incapable of seeing the similarities between those of varying points of view. We have become too labeled and too categorized, finding ourselves with few ways to break out of the mold. Political parties and religion (or lack of either), as well as other organizations and labels, tie us to certain issues and force us to ignore others.

By and large, we are missing the point. Tolerance is an idea designed to help us put aside our differences for a short amount of time so that we can work together for a common good. No matter what we believe, we are still all a part of the same community and somehow, we must work together. If someone is helping you build a Habitat for Humanity house, does it really matter if they are a Christian, Muslim, or Jew? If teachers are largely against No Child Left Behind, does it matter if they are Republicans, Democrats, or Independent? Why must the only conversation be about our differences? The differences between us cannot and should not be ignored, but to make them our only focus will surely lead to the destruction of our civilization.


Freedom of Religion

Though I know that we are entitled to “Freedom of Religion” under the Bill of Rights, I think it needs to be restated so that we are entitled to Freedom From Religion. I understand that the Founding Fathers were mostly religious men and that our country was founded by religious people. But if you are going to allow people to worship as they choose, you must allow for people who choose not to worship at all.

We often talk about the separation of church and state, but we all know that it doesn’t really apply to government. The Ten Commandments are engraved on many government buildings, “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance sometime in the 1950’s, religious organizations are exempt from taxes, and some of the architects of our government made sure that God was mentioned in major documents and speeches. There is a decidedly religious atmosphere in our country. If you are not religious in our society, people assume you are weird or that there is something wrong with you. Many get around this type of discrimination by saying, “I may not be religious, but I am very spiritual.”

Even the school year is based around religious holidays. In many schools, coaches still lead their teams in prayer before a big game. I have worked in several schools where the teachers tried to get to know me by immediately asking about my religious affiliation, or skate around a direct question about my religion by asking me which church I attend. I am often made very uncomfortable by this type of questioning and keep my opinion on the subject to myself, which seems to have been disconcerting to many of my former collegues. When I first moved in with my husband, before we were married, my boss asked me not to mention that fact to other faculty members as they were “very religious” and would have issues with it. I was infuriated. Not only were my living arrangements none of anyone’s business, the thought that co-workers would discriminate against me because of it was absurd, but as I later found out, very true.

Though France has a problem with racial discrimination, I was glad to see that even after the riots they refused to change their stance on religion. They still refuse to allow religious head gear to be worn in public schools and offices, do not allow special privileges for religious reasons, and will maintain the separation of religion from their government at any cost. Viva la France!


The "War on Christmas"

Bill O’Reilly has started to talk about the “war on Christmas“. Usually I try to stay out of this sort of thing, but one statement was just too stupid to pass up. When speaking to someone the other night, O’Reilly said that Christians are offended by being wished a “Happy Holidays” instead of a “Merry Christmas” and that anyone who was offended by being wished a “Merry Christmas” was an idiot. So, I guess I’m an idiot.

I’m not offended by being wished a “Merry Christmas“. That’s a nice sentiment. I always smile and wish that person a “Happy Holidays” or quietly say, “You, too.” What actually offends me is the assumption that I am Christian, or that because a majority of the United States is Christian, it’s okay to bombard the rest of us with religious thought and ideas for a month before the day that isn’t even Jesus‘ real birthday. In case anyone was unaware, there actually weren’t any inns in Bethlehem. The town was just too small.

Jesus is not “the reason for the season”. I think the weather has something to do with it. And the Winter Solstice. And the many holiday traditions that have been adapted from paganism to force heathens to celebrate a holiday that has no meaning to them. Christians say that to remind each other that Christmas is not about gifts, but about celebrating the birth of their Lord. It’s really a shame they need reminding and cannot keep the virtues of Christ in their hearts and minds all year long. If they did that, rather than complaining about a “war on Christmas”, the world would be a much better place.


Intelligent Design

The President said that he believes the myth of Intelligent Design be taught in schools. I call it a myth because it cannot be scientifically backed-up as a theory. Anyway, I agree that Intelligent Design should be taught in a philosophy class. It should be taught with all the other religious myths of creation. Our schools aren’t teaching enough philosophy as it is. Our students are way behind on geography and world cultures. We should be encouraging more critical thought, and what better way to do that than a course in philosophy. The Allegory of the Cave might be a little complicated for middle school students, but there’s no reason it can’t be taught in high school. Our Founding Fathers were philosophers in their own way. Why aren’t we teaching our students to follow in their footsteps?

More importantly, why aren’t we following in their footsteps as well? We have created worldwide internet cafes where we discuss religion and politics, but what about discussing it in our own communities? Why aren’t we encouraging our friends to have philosophical discussions with us? Why is so much time spent discussing Desperate Housewives and so little time spent discussing Dante? Teaching and remembering what the great thinkers of the world came up with when they asked the big questions allows us to build on their ideas and can only lead to greater revelation. Why do we make it so hard on ourselves?


Defeating Intelligent Design

A judge in Harrisburg ruled that Intelligent Design may not be taught as part of the science curriculum, partially because it is a religious idea and cannot be separated from the Creationist hypothesis. Evolution is still being researched, tested, discussed, and reworked. Darwin’s theories are by no means perfect, they are much more scientifically grounded than the idea that a supernatural being created part or all of the universe. Darwin’s ideas are tested, rewritten, and tested again, but Intelligent Design and Creationism are intended to be accepted as fact without the possibility of scientific analysis.

This decision is important because Judge Jones was appointed by President Bush, offering some proof that not all of his nominations are entirely evil. The judge mentioned that he cannot be called an activist because, in His Honor’s words, “…this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on intelligent design, who in combination drove the board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy”.


Umm… The 12 Steps Are Bad, M’Kay

Step 1. We admitted we were powerless over addiction–that our lives had become unmanageable. Addicts are not powerless. They have allowed the addiction to control their lives, but they can take the power back. To allow people to believe that they are powerless is to encourage the belief that there is nothing they can do to save themselves.

Step 2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Addicts must believe in a higher power in order to gain control over their addiction. In many groups, addicts who do not believe specifically in Jesus are ostracized.

Step 3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. Again this forces addicts to believe in a god or higher power and admit that they have no will of their own. This place the responsibility in someone else’s hands and allows the addict someone to blame when they are not “cured”.

Step 4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. This should be step number one. No one can improve themselves without taking a moral inventory. I do take issue with the fact that addicts are not encouraged to get help with this process. Counseling is an essential part of self-improvement for those who have little hope.

Step 5. We admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. The first part again assumes a belief in god making those who do not believe feel hopeless or like outsiders. People only have to admit the nature of their wrongs to themselves. To force people to do so, especially those who are not ready or who have not had counseling to help them through this process is can be seriously psychologically damaging.

Step 6. We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. Besides the fact that you still have to believe in god for this to work, this teaches addicts that only god, not themselves can remove their defects of character. It does not suggest that addicts receive counseling to find out what those defects are, nor does it allow for addicts to educate themselves on other methods of addiction recovery.

Step 7. We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. Again, this suggests that only god can remove a person’s shortcomings. This does not allow people to believe that they can improve themselves, and it certainly does not encourage them to take responsibility for their own actions.

Step 8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. Encouraging people to do this without extensive emotional support is dangerous. Forcing people to do this before they are ready is one of the reasons people start using again. Also, some people who were harmed don’t deserve amends, and this does not afford the opportunity for addicts to make that decision themselves.

Step 9. We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. If addicts speak to people who are not ready to forgive them or speak to them or start this process before they are emotionally ready, it is harmful to all involved. Who makes the decision about whether someone will be harmed in this process? Do you really want to leave it up to someone who has already proven that they are incredibly irresponsible?

Step 10. We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. Who taught these addicts to see things as right and wrong? It is based completely on Christian morality, which is not right for everyone. Again, addicts need to be guided through the process of taking an inventory, and NOT BY ANOTHER ADDICT.

Step 11. We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out. Where does this leave people who do not believe in god or a higher power? Much of this is forces Christianity, not matter what it says about “how we understand him” as evidenced by the fact that Him is always capitalized. Who do you think He is? Any guesses? This also takes choices out of the hands of the addicts, forcing them to believe that god has a plan for them rather than encouraging them to make plans for themselves. What is the addict responsible for, other than prayer?

Step 12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs. So you can only recover if you’ve had a spiritual awakening and promise to ask for a higher power’s help in all of your affairs? And you must prostyletize to others who may not be ready to hear the message, who are too weak to fight it, or in an altered state so that they will believe whatever you say?

The 12 Steps are closer to a cult than a recovery program. Resources to help people actually recover and better their lives are not encouraged or provided nationwide. Religion is forced on those with diminished mental capacity) at least for the time being) and people are taught that there can be o recovery without the help of a god, most often the Christian one. The subjects of counseling and education are systematically avoided, and often belittled.


Cartoon War

The recent tensions over the cartoon depiction of the Muslim prophet Mohammed give a pretty good indication of just how tolerant a religion Islam is. It was not a Muslim who depicted the prophet, nor was it a Muslim country in which the cartoon was run in the paper. The outrage over this perceived offense is an indication of the silliness and intolerance of religion. I am firmly behind the Danish decision not to issue a retraction or apologize for the cartoon in any way. The fact that a French editor was fired over the whole thing is absolutely absurd. Just because freedom of speech does not exist in Iran and other Muslim countries does not mean they have the right to limit it elsewhere. I’m worried about the rise in tensions in the Middle East and what this means for further US military action in that region.

For a better understanding of Islam, read No God But God by Reza Aslan

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I am not perfect. I do my best to practice what I preach, but I am human. My mantra is, "DO NO HARM". I may not always succeed, but I will always try. My goal is to be a better person today than I was yesterday.

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