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Pasolini’s ‘St. Paul:’ a Prophecy of Our Times? January 19, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Capitalism, History, Religion.
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Roger’s note: I was deeply impressed when many many years ago I saw the great Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini’s classic “The Gospel According to St. Matthew,” where he employed a cast of Italian peasants as his actors and depicted a socialist revolutionary Christ utilizing only the text of the Gospel for his script.

This article will not be everyone’s cup of tea.  With a year of theological seminary under my belt (a lifetime ago) and being a born-again Marxist Humanist, I can appreciate the confluence of a liberation theology brand of Christianity with a revolutionary socialist perspective.

 

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http://www.counterpunch.org, Weekend Edition January 16-18, 2015

Signals for Persecution

by LUCIANA BOHNE

The opposite of religion is not communism. The opposite of religion is capitalism (ruthless, cruel, cynical, purely materialistic), the cause of human beings’ exploitation of human beings, cradle of the worship of power, horrendous den of racism.

— Pier Paolo Pasolini

Supposedly an atheist, Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-1975) said he was religious because he blasphemed.  He intended to “blaspheme” in a film about St. Paul.  His film would be religious, he said, because “in ancient sacred rites, as in all the peasant religions, every blessing amounts to a curse.” The script, which he composed between 1968 and 1974, was never filmed, partially because the Vatican, which had awarded him a prize for The Gospel according to St Matthew (1964), attacked his 1967 film, Teorema, the story of a god who descends on a conventional bourgeois family, near Milan. He physically seduces the members—father, mother, daughter, son, and the maid– and leaves them. The consequences of the seduction and abandonment are dire: suicide, promiscuity, madness, and a life-endangering miracle—the levitation of the maid off a high balcony.  Radical ontological transformations. Set on killing himself, the father, naked, climbs a little hill, which the Milanese call “la montagnetta” (the “little mountain”). Covered in greenery now, the hill consists of rubble accumulated from the Allied bombing of Milan in WW II.

The Vatican was not amused. It wrote in its organ, L’osservatore romano, that in Teorema, the devil had visited the family and, therefore, beware of visiting Pasolini at the cinema. In fact, in his characterization of disrupting convention and loosening the passions, the divine had been a Dionysian god, in an apocalyptic manifestation—that is, revelation. You couldn’t blaspheme more unforgivably than to deliver the message of revelation through a pagan god. So, Pasolini’s St. Paul became a casualty of Teorema and was never brought to the screen.

teorema

Still from Pasolini’s “Teorema.”

But we have the screenplay.  Translated magisterially with an excellent introduction by Elizabeth A. Castelli, published by Verso with a preface by Alain Badiou, Pasolini’s St. Paul: A Screenplay, is in Badiou’s words, “a literary work of the first magnitude.” The question at the heart of the work is this: can any revolutionary idea survive institutionalization? As Badiou aptly observes,

This scenario should be read not as the unfinished work that it was, but as the sacrificial manifesto of what constitutes, here as elsewhere, the real of any Idea: the seeming impossibility of its effectuation.

In a sort of spiritual testament, published posthumously, Pasolini wrote:

Every formal religion, in the sense that the institution becomes official, is not only unnecessary for improving the world, but it also worsens it [my translation].

For Pasolini, Christianity in its original context had been a positive social force, opposing slavery and challenging the Roman Empire, but, as the screenplay makes clear, it was a brief revolutionary moment between two laws, the old imperial law of Rome and the new imperial law of the Christian church.  In the interregnum when “the old cannot die and the new cannot yet be born” (Antonio Gramsci) it is possible for a communitarian society of popular democracy to breathe.

It took forty years for the polemical idea of a subversive Christianity to emerge backed by scholarly authority. It is a pity that Pasolini never filmed his St Paul because his treatment of early Christianity undermining Roman domination is central to a revolutionary understanding of pre-institutional Christianity.

Today, Pasolini’s thesis of an anti-colonial Christianity, rising from its eastern dominions (Antioch was the third most important city of the Roman Empire) would have fit in among new perspectives on traditional Pauline studies. Over the last thirty years, researchers and theorists in postcolonial, feminist, and political-anthropology studies have insisted on the importance of context in reading Paul’s letters.  Already in Pasolini’s time, the revision was brewing.  In 1962, a Pauline scholar in Sweden, Per Boskow, had published a study, Rex Gloriae: The Kingship of Christ in the Early Church (Stockolm: Almquist and Wiksell, 1962), which suggested that hidden modes of resistance were to be found in early Christian worship and ritual. A Paul covertly involved in the politics of Empire ran contrary to the Protestant tradition, which saw Paul as the apotheosis of homo religiosus, the “man of faith,” ever since Martin Luther had found in Paul’s Letters to the Romans his own “justification by faith” for breaking from the Church of Rome.

The emerging interest in Paul in the post-war, however, could not be divorced from the question arising about the responsibility of Christianity in the horrors of the genocide of European Jews—the Holocaust.  In the Protestant tradition stpaulparticularly, Paul’s conversion had been constructed in antithesis to Judaism. Definitionally in Christianity, a Christian was not a Jew; therefore, Paul’s origin in Judaism had to be obscured in favor of highlighting a compelling individual quest for salvation in Christ. Did this Manichean version of Paul’s dual identity—and, by extension, of Christianity’s dual identity– contribute to the Holocaust?

The impetus for reading Paul against Pauline tradition had thus become a moral imperative and a historical task. Exegetic studies uncovering resistance in the New Testament took off in earnest and bore fruit in the 1980s. Starting with Simon R. F. Price’s groundbreaking work, Rituals and Power: The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor, on the Roman imperial cult in the cities through which Paul travelled and preached and continuing through the work of political-anthropologist, James C. Scott, Erik Heen, et al., Pasolini’s idea of presenting Christianity as a political actor in the drama between the empire and its eastern, Greek-world subjects would have been validated. No doubt, catching up with the revolution in Pauline studies weighed in on the decision to translate and publish for the first time in English this decades-old text.

We cannot be sure that Pasolini was influenced by the theological turmoil simmering just beneath the surface of Pauline studies in the Protestant world, but we do know that for the years he worked on his St. Paul (1968-1974), he met and regularly corresponded with a sympathetic theologian in the Vatican, who must have been informed of such momentous moral crossroads traversing Christian theology as a result of the Holocaust.  Question about the Vatican’s role in the tolerance to Nazism abounded, after all.

Throughout his mature writings, Pasolini faulted the Church for becoming, as recently as the 19th century, the toy of the religiously apathetic bourgeoisie, the instrument of its legitimacy—in a survival effort, perhaps, to continue to function as a viable institution by accommodating the values of the liberal democracies ushered in by the social struggles of the French Revolution. In Pasolini’s view, the Church’s compromise with a cynical, secular, acquisitive and counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie had taken the soul out of its body. Abandoning the side of the oppressed, the Church had become irrelevant. In fact, more than irrelevant: it had become criminally repressive. But was this compromise with the ruling class singular or constitutive of the evolution of Christianity? Was the worm that turned to eat the heart out of the Church there from its beginnings?

It is, of course, extremely risky to “close the text” on Pasolini’s volatile, self-deconstructing, deliberately unstable works. In an echo of Marx, they scream out, “question everything,” including, and especially, the author. The script appears to be tossing in a furious dialectical vortex of contradictions. No sooner does one think one has grasped Pasolini’s intention than that certainty evaporates. Suffering Paul, for example, tormented and debilitated by a mysterious malady, seems to be representative of the suffering body of humanity, constituting his religious side. His self-assurance in organizing the Christian communities, resulting from his high social class, his education, his professional (and rhetorical) training represents his active, energetic, worldly side.  Who will rescue me from my split subjectivity? (St Paul, Rom. 7:14-25), Paul himself pleads, referring to his bodily needs and the duty to God.  The mental and emotional turmoil the text creates with these contradictions (at least in this reader) derives from the purest and most provocative of Brechtian “alienation effects.”  The film would have intensified this effect, placing the word and the image in a conflict of meaning on the screen.

Nevertheless, I will risk an answer: yes, the screenplay strives to confirm that the worm was there from the beginning.  The account in Acts/ Luke-Acts of the founding of Christianity mystifies history. Pasolini chooses an example: the meeting of the evangelical leadership at an event known as “the incident at Antioch.”  Not only had Paul earned the mortal enmity of the fanatic Pharisees for evangelizing the new religion but also the opposition of Peter and his adherents for converting the Gentiles without “judeiazing” them (that is transmitting the Law of Moses). During the “incident at Antioch,” the script depicts Peter and Paul in a face-off close-up nearly coming to blows over the issue of “judeizing” the Gentiles. Luke, the author of the Acts, a history of the founding of the Church, stands apart, patrician, ironic, amused as the cacophony of the mutinous meeting turns into sullen silence.

Later in his luxurious study, Luke, dispassionate, methodical, writes down, in his “elegant handwriting,” a sanitized version, a précis of an amicable resolution to this world-consequential dispute over the relationship between Christianity and Judaism, at the end of which he rises from his chair and gives a satisfied belch. Judaism lost. Luke is depicted as the consummate propagandist; Pasolini describes him as incarnated by Satan.  To Satan, invisible, Luke will demure, “The Church is only a necessity” (the stress on “only” is Pasolini’s).

To further illustrate Luke’s unreliability, Pasolini gives him an accomplice: Satan.  When the Church is all but founded, with the impending accession of Timothy to the bishopric of Ephesus, Luke and Satan (seen from the back only) toast to “their church” with a bottle of champagne:

They drink and get drunk, evoking all the crimes of the Church: a huge, long list of criminal popes, of compromises by the Church with power, of bullying, violence, repressions, ignorance, dogmas.  At the end, the two are completely drunk and they laugh thinking of Paul who is still there, travelling around the world, preaching and organizing.

In a tone reminiscent of Christopher Marlowe’s iconoclastic, poetically splendid “blasphemies” in Doctor Faustus, Pasolini narrates Satan’s thoughts:

The Church is founded. The rest is nothing but a long appendix, an agony. The destiny of Paul doesn’t interest Satan: Let him be saved and go to Paradise anyway. Satan and his hired assassin [Paul’s eventual assassin, a fascist thug who despises Paul’s “anti-Israelite” ideology] laugh sarcastically, satisfied.

Not only the course of the official church but also Paul’s fate is sealed—there will be no more need for evangelizing; the church will assume  “pastoral care” and manage its faithful from the pulpits of its now proliferating churches.

One of these is in Ephesus, which Pasolini resets in contemporary Naples. While in voice-over we continue to hear Paul’s voice composing his long letter to Timothy, bidding purity, modesty, prudence, continence, gravity, piety — all the virtues of humility that restrain pride — the camera is directed to showing us a scandal of pride, luxury, class-power, and excess:
In a grand pomp, there is Timothy, dressed literally in gold, crushed under the mitre, almost unrecognizable. And all around the multicoloured and magnificently carnivalesque chorus of other priests… A group of authorities:  high officials, puffed up like turkeys in their grand uniforms; political men, in their black, double-breasted suits, with vulgar and hypocritical old faces; the throng of their bejeweled ladies and their servants, etc., etc.  The altar encrusted in gold — a true and real golden calf — full of baroque affectations and neoclassical flourishes, work of total unbelief, official, threatening, hypocritically mystical and glorifying, clerical, of the master.

Ite, missa est. It is finished, except for disposing of Paul whose evangelical zeal seems to be unstoppable and institutionally embarrassing.  St Paul, as noted, is set in the 20th century. The places are, therefore, altered: Jerusalem becomes Paris, mostly during the Nazi occupation (the Nazis stand for the Romans; the Pharisees are the collaborating Petainists and French reactionaries, of whom Paul is one); Damascus becomes Barcelona, in the aftermath of the fascist victory in Spain; Antioch is “rational” Geneva; Athens becomes modern, intellectually shallow, “dolce-vita” Rome; and Imperial Rome is relocated in New York, the belly of the new imperial beast.

After Paul’s conversion to the Word (analogously, to the anti-fascist Resistance), which almost coincides with the end of WW II, his evangelical travels take him throughout Europe, now reveling in post-war consumerism. His travels acquire a picaresque quality. In some of the most satirically comic scenes, he preaches to absurdly inappropriate audiences: in Bonn, he preaches to industrialists, causing a Neo-Nazi riot; in Geneva, he upsets the stolid Christian sympathizers and potential donors with his excessive emphasis on sexual continence; in Rome he bores his idle nouveau-riche hosts with his antique rhetoric of a Christian faith, whereas they anticipated hearing a pop-celebrity mystic, similar to Krishnamurti; in New York’s Greenwich Village, he preaches obedience to authority to an assorted group of black rebels, youngsters high on pot, anti-war activists, feminists, and desperate young refugees from suburban, middle-class emotional and mental entropy. Here, too, he causes a riot, in which the police intervene and arrest him.

So, in the end, if only for reasons of provoking the authorities and causing bad publicity, he has to be got rid of.  Pasolini has him shot (by Satan’s assassin, the fundamentalist pro-Israelite fascist thug) like Martin Luther King—on the balcony of a shabby hotel on the West Side of Manhattan, the exact replica of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.  His blood trickles down to the pavement below to form a “rosy puddle.” The events in the life of this cinematic Paul have stretched from the Nazi-fascist era to 1968, “the era of a false liberalization, actually desired by the new reformist and permissive power, which is also the most fascist power in history” (Quoted in “Afterword” by Ward Blanton; my emphasis).  In other words, to the time of our own postmodernist liberal fascism (Pasolini actually used the term “liberal fascism” in the 1970s).

But what in the end does it matter to us—this ancient crime of the institutional Church? Even the death of suffering, zealous Paul—what does it all matter? For an intellectual like Pasolini and his generation of Italian anti-fascists, wasn’t there an alternative “faith” in scientific materialism—in Marxism? There are passages in the script that expose what Pasolini called the “hypocrisy of [institutional] Marxism,” a theme he had elaborated in Le ceneri di Gramsci (Gramsci’s Ashes) in 1957. For example, he complains that the Italian Communist Party’s culturally bourgeois intellectuals (of whom he was one), are generally divorced from the masses and from Pasolini’s beloved innocent rogues of the young petty criminals of the sub-proletariat (they don’t plunder the Treasury, after all, as do the respectable senators and politicians), from the peasants and laborers, who, unlike the bourgeoisie, still managed to live by the ministrations of human solidarity—by communism, religious or scientific.  In fact, the critique of institutional Marxism, the “party,” etc., runs parallel and is analogous to the critique of the Church—both failed to nurture a proletarian, popular culture to oppose to the hedonistic, individualistic, consumeristic, and finally anti-human ideological perversions of neo-capitalist (his word) bourgeois culture.

And here, I must bring up Gramsci, one of the major and lifelong influences on Pasolini (one of the first was Rimbaud). Figuratively facing Gramsci’s grave he implores his tutor in Gramsci’s Ashes: “Will you ask me, you unadorned dead/ to abandon this despairing/ passion for being in the world?” (Mi chiederai tu, morto disadorno,/d’abbandonare questa disperata/passione di essere nel mondo?) Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937), Marxist intellectual, political theorist, sociologist of culture, was a founding member of the Italian Communist Party and died in Mussolini’s prison.  He is best known for his theory of cultural hegemony (from the Greek, meaning “leadership”), which explains how the class in power maintains its status quo and reproduces it through its cultural institutions.  Lenin had used the term. It was an elaboration of Marx/Engels’ claim that “the ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class,” though the German Ideology, written in 1846-47, was not published until 1932 (and that in the USSR).  If Gramsci’s claim was valid, how was a proletarian revolution ever to occur if the consciousness of the proletariat was shaped exclusively by the education of bourgeois institutions? Or, how, even, could a peasant or labor society sustain the onslaught of the market’s mind-numbing consumerism that was to lead, in his view, to an irreversible “anthropological cataclysm,” which would transform people into things, at once exploiters and exploited, victims and victimizers?  The advent in the mid-50s of the “economic boom” in Italy, the affordability of goods, especially of television, caused the instant imborghesimento (metamorphosis into bourgeois) of Italian everyday life, chronicled satirically in Federico Fellini’s film La Dolce vita, Italo Calvino’s novel, La specolazione edilizia, in Alberto Moravia’s La noia (Boredom), and Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’avventura.

Written in the hedonistic years of the 60s and in the “years of lead” of the 70s, the campaign of terrorism carried out by the Italian secret services—“the parallel state”– in collaboration with the CIA to roll back popular democracy, Pasolini’s St Paul today reads like a prophecy.  Eerily, as though seeing us in the mirror of a not-so-distant future, Pasolini describes a Paris gripped by the terror of Nazi “anti-terrorism.”  Stephen, a young partisan in the budding resistance, hardly of the age of conscription (like Pasolini’s younger brother, Guido, partisan, killed at nineteen in an ambush in 1945) is executed by the Nazis. Paul, at this stage a zealous official, in fact, an uncritical collaborator with the Nazi occupation forces, witnesses the execution of young Stephen.  He is distressed, haunted even, but does not withdraw his collaborating zeal from the Nazi occupiers.  They are the law, and he’s a lawyer.  His duty is to serve the law. “In the face of Paul,” the screenplay reads,

We see something worse than evil: we see cheapness, ferocity, the decision to be abject, hypocrisy that motivates everything in the name of the Law, of Tradition—or of God. All this cannot but render that face desperate, too.

What follows the discovery of Resistance activity and the execution of Stephen is an orgy of cruelty, stretching to the genocidal limits and beyond. Starting with a quotation,  “There was as though a signal for persecution” (Acts 6:1-8:3), Pasolini describes how the obscenity of Nazi repression is to be represented:

New archival documentary material

But this time it must be found from among the most terrible, almost unbearable to watch: arrests, raids, shootings, hangings, mass deportations, mass executions, shootings in the streets and the plazas, corpses abandoned on sidewalks, under monuments, dangling from lampposts, hanged, hooked.  Departures of the Jews for concentration camps; freight cars filled with corpses.

Add head chopping, bombs and poisonous bombs, bombed hospitals and schools. Killer drones. Bombed air-raid shelters.  Medieval-style sieges, (called sanctions) exacting the lives of 500,000 children (on record). Two, three, many Abu Ghraibs: men turned into dogs, obscene sadism of the greatest democracy in the world. Add all this and more, and we see in the archival images of the fascist era the image of our own times.

Can anyone doubt that Pasolini’s St Paul was, indeed, a prophecy?

Luciana Bohne is co-founder of Film Criticism, a journal of cinema studies, and teaches at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania. She can be reached at: lbohne@edinboro.edu

 

Sculpture of Jesus the Homeless rejected by two prominent churches April 13, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Housing/Homelessness, Religion, Toronto.
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Ontario sculptor struggled to find a home for his haunting sculpture of Jesus sleeping on a bench.

Sculptor Timothy Schmalz has created a bronze sculpture called Jesus the Homeless outside Regis College, the Jesuit college at U of T.

Carlos Osorio / Toronto Star

Sculptor Timothy Schmalz has created a bronze sculpture called Jesus the Homeless outside Regis College, the Jesuit college at U of T.

Jesus has been depicted in art as triumphant, gentle or suffering. Now, in a controversial new sculpture in downtown Toronto, he is shown as homeless — an outcast sleeping on a bench.

It takes a moment to see that the slight figure shrouded by a blanket, hauntingly similar to the real homeless who lie on grates and in doorways, is Jesus. It’s the gaping wounds in the feet that reveal the subject, whose face is draped and barely visible, as Jesus the Homeless.

Despite message of the sculpture — Jesus identifying with the poorest among us — it was rejected by two prominent Catholic churches, St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.

“Homeless Jesus had no home,” says the artist, Timothy Schmalz, who specializes in religious sculpture. “How ironic.”

Rectors of both cathedrals were enthusiastic about the bronze piece and showed Schmalz possible locations, but higher-ups in the New York and Toronto archdiocese turned it down, he says.

“It was very upsetting because the rectors liked it, but when it got to the administration, people thought it might be too controversial or vague,” he says. He was told “it was not an appropriate image.”

The Toronto archdiocese tried to help him find an alternative location, including St. Augustine’s Seminary in Scarborough. But Schmalz, who describes his work as a visual prayer, wanted to reach a wider, secular audience. “I wanted not only the converted to see it, but also the marginalized. I almost gave up trying to find a place.”

Now the sculpture stands near Wellesley St. W., outside Regis College at the University of Toronto. It’s a Jesuit school of theology, where priests and lay people are trained, with an emphasis on social justice.

Bill Steinburg, communications manager for the Toronto archdiocese, says the decision not to accept the sculpture at St. Michael’s may have had to do with renovations at the cathedral and “partly to do with someone’s view of the art.”

To some who have seen it, it speaks the message of the Gospels. When theologian Thomas Reynolds came upon it he felt “the shock of recognition.” He quoted the biblical passage: “ … the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

“I’m so used to seeing images of Jesus that are palatable,” says Reynolds.

But recent depictions of Jesus in political and social contexts have spurred controversy.

At Emmanuel College, the educational arm of the United Church where Reynolds teaches, there is a graceful sculpture showing Jesus’ suffering in a crucified woman. Schmaltz says he intended that his Jesus the Homeless can be interpreted as either male or female.

At Regis College, there is a small crucifix of Jesus as a landmine victim, missing a leg; another at the college shows Jesus as an Aztec.

A sculpture in a church in Uckfield, England, shows a euphoric Jesus wearing jeans and a collared shirt.

In 2011, British sculptor David Mach, created an agonized, shouting Jesus out of 3,000 straightened coat hangers that emerge like barbs from the body.

Jesus the Homeless is provocative, says Reynolds, because it ‘punctures the illusion of normalcy.

“In certain ways, Christian communities have been privileged and considered themselves the norm in society and that has made Christians comfortable in our complacency.”

Schmalz, 43, roots the sculpture in his experiences in Toronto, where he trained at the former Ontario College of Art. “I was totally used to stepping over people. You’re not aware they are human beings. They become obstacles in the urban environment and you lose a spiritual connection to them. They become inert, an inconvenience.”

He now lives with his wife and family in St. Jacobs, Ont. When he returns to Toronto, he sees the city differently.

“A lot of people who don’t live in Toronto or a big urban place are shocked to see human forms under blanket on too many street corners.”

The Regis sculpture shows Jesus as a wanderer who depended on the hospitality of others, says Reynolds. “The counternarrative in Christianity is Jesus the outsider.”

Not all embrace this interpretation, as Bryan Stallings and his wife Amy discovered. They run a mission in Branson, Mo., called Jesus Was Homeless, where they serve about 1,000 people a week, many of whom live in the woods and extended-stay motels. They’ve been criticized for the mission’s name.

“People who have issue with it are usually the staunch religious people,” says Stallings, “especially those who follow prosperity teaching and doctrine that says if you are homeless or poor you don’t have enough faith.”

Critics tell him that Jesus wasn’t homeless. “Then we reference Scripture and it sparks tons of conversation.”

The Toronto sculpture, funded by Kitchener real estate developer Peter Benninger, is situated near the front entrance to Regis College. “It’s one of the most inviting and authentic representations of Jesus,” says Rev. Gordon Rixon, dean of the college. “There’s the suggestion there is the king and he is answering our culture with his poverty, vulnerability and weakness.”

Though the slender figure occupies most of the two-metre bench, Schmalz purposely left space at the end for someone to sit close to the slumbering figure, “as uncomfortably as possible.”

Regis College is holding a panel discussion on homelessness in Toronto on Wednesday. For more information email: inquiries@RegisCollege.ca

Should Taxpayers Be Funding Private Schools That Teach Creationism? February 1, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Education, Religion, Right Wing, Science and Technology.
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Roger’s note: What is at issue here is not only the question of publicly funding the idiotic notion of creationism, but the very substance of public education.  Public education (advocated by Karl Marx in the Communist Manifesto) is a sine qua non of democracy.  The massive effort by the extreme right to privatize public education, aided and abetted by Obama and his Education Secretary Arne Duncan, is aimed at replacing what is left of democracy in the United States with theocratic tinged militarized corporatism.

John Scalzi (CC BY 2.0)
Part of an exhibit at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky.

By Zack Kopplin

According to so-called education reform advocates like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his Foundation for Excellence in Education, school vouchers, which allow parents to direct state money to private schools of their choice, are essential because “families need the financial freedom to attend schools that meet their needs.” From Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, to Newark, N.J.’s Democratic Mayor Cory Booker, these programs are backed by politicians on both sides of the aisle, and they enjoy the support of powerful interest groups such as the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and the American Federation for Children.

Voucher programs have been established in 12 states and the District of Columbia, and they are spreading as Texas and Tennessee attempt to create ones of their own. As the use of vouchers has expanded across the country in recent years, new questions have arisen that extend beyond concerns about their appropriateness and legality. We’ve pushed standards, testing and accountability for public schools, so why shouldn’t private institutions receiving vouchers have to meet those same requirements? Should private institutions be allowed to ignore state science standards and teach their students creationism while receiving taxpayer money? Does learning about biblical creation, rather than evolution, really help to meet students’ needs?

I first investigated the relationship between creationism and voucher programs after reading an AlterNet article in June about Eternity Christian Academy in Louisiana. Now removed from the state’s voucher program, the school was using the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum to teach students that the mythical Loch Ness Monster existed and somehow disproved evolution. As I looked further into Louisiana’s program, I found that there wasn’t just one school but at least 20 private ones getting vouchers and thus receiving millions of taxpayer dollars. After reviewing my research, New Orleans Times-Picayune columnist James Gill wrote that “vouchers have turned out to be the answer to a creationist’s prayer.”

This isn’t just a Louisiana problem. It seems clear that the U.S. is facing a national creationism epidemic. In an exposé I wrote posted by MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry, I identified hundreds of additional voucher schools in nine states and the District of Columbia using dozens of different creationist curriculums. These schools are receiving tens of millions of dollars, and maybe even hundreds of millions, to teach religious beliefs in violation of state science standards. With 164 such campuses, Florida’s John M. McKay Scholarships for Students With Disabilities Program contained the highest concentration of creationist voucher schools I was able to uncover. Indiana, which has been marketed as the “gold standard” for voucher accountability, has at least 37 such schools teaching creationism. A couple of its campuses proudly advertise that their students are taken to the Creation Museum on field trips. So far, I’ve discovered 311 creationist voucher schools across the country.

Those 311 schools are not the only taxpayer funded institutions teaching creationism. There are likely hundreds more. Although many are difficult to find, either because they don’t have websites or don’t advertise their creationist curriculum, lots of voucher schools fit the profile of creationist campuses that are already known. On top of this, two states, Arizona and Mississippi, have voucher programs but don’t release the names of participating schools. Officials with the Arizona Department of Education confirmed to me that every private school in the state is eligible to participate in the program, and since I’ve identified private creationist schools there that could be involved, there is little doubt that Arizona is funding some of them. I believe it’s a safe bet that every school voucher program in the country is financing creationism.

These campuses would be shut if they were subject to the same standards as public institutions. The courts have shot down the teaching of creationism and intelligent design with public money over and over again, so why are we letting taxpayer funded private voucher schools teach them? The scientists and educators who devised both state science standards and the national common core standards knew creationism was pseudo-science that would not help American students get the education they need to succeed in a global, 21st century economy. That’s why we don’t teach creationism in public schools. Taxpayers should be outraged that their hard-earned dollars are enabling the mis-education of private school students.

Aside from not meeting these basic academic standards, many voucher schools suffer from other significant problems. Louisiana bloggers have exposed profiteering prophets who sought to capitalize on taxpayer funding for private schools. The Miami New Times reports that voucher schools in Florida are being run by administrators who “include criminals convicted of cocaine dealing, kidnapping, witness tampering, and burglary.” A school in Louisiana’s program was slated to receive millions of dollars from vouchers but lacked the facilities needed to house new students.

Proponents of vouchers argue that diverting money from public to private schools will help students learn by increasing inter-campus competition. But when voucher programs contain institutions that teach creationism instead of science, it’s easy to see that damage is being done to students whose futures are jeopardized by poor education.

Although a judge recently ruled that the way Louisiana funds its school voucher program is unconstitutional, it continues to operate as the state appeals the decision. Similarly, the voucher program in Colorado has been halted by a court injunction. But given the aggressive activity of taxpayer funded voucher programs across the country, we need to fight to make sure that no additional ones are created. And we need to stop politicians in states such as Indiana and Wisconsin from following through on plans to expand already existing programs. Today’s students and our nation’s future demand it.

Zack Kopplin is a science education advocate and winner of the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award in Education and the National Center for Science Education’s Friend of Darwin Award.

U.S. election: Charles Darwin gets 4,000 write-in votes in Georgia November 9, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Religion, Science and Technology.
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David Beasley
Reuters

ATLANTA- A Georgia congressman who attacked the theory of evolution found himself with an unlikely opponent in Tuesday’s U.S. election, when 4,000 voters in one county cast write-in ballots for the 19th century father of evolution, British naturalist Charles Darwin.

In a Sept. 27 speech, Paul Broun, a physician and member of the U.S. House of Representatives Science, Space and Technology Committee, called evolution and the Big Bang Theory, “lies straight from the pit of hell.”

Since Broun, a Republican, had no opposition in the general election, a University of Georgia plant biology professor, Jim Leebens-Mack, and others started a write-in campaign for Darwin, the father of the theory of evolution.

“We don’t feel our interests are being best served by an anti-science fundamentalist representing us on the Science, Space and Technology Committee,” Leebens-Mack told Reuters on Friday.

The write-in votes in Athens-Clarke County will not count officially since Darwin was never certified as a write-in candidate, but Leebens-Mack hopes the campaign will encourage a strong candidate, Democrat or Republican, to challenge Broun in 2014.

“I think there could be Democratic opposition, but even more likely is having a rational Republican who understands issues like global warming, scientific reasoning more generally,” said Leebens-Mack.

Broun received 16,980 votes in Athens-Clarke County, home of the University of Georgia, Broun’s undergraduate alma mater.

Broun’s office issued a statement on Friday that did not directly address Darwin, saying that the congressman “looks forward to representing the … constitutional conservative principles” of his constituents.

The statement also noted that Broun “received a higher level of support from his constituents in Athens-Clarke County this election cycle than in any of his previous campaigns.”

Conservative Christian goes undercover as a gay man October 17, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, LGBT, Religion.
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Roger’s note: Shades of John Howard Griffin’s classic “Black Like Me,” which had a tremendous impact in the era of the Civil Rights movement.

<!–

                    Tim Kurek

Courtesy of Tim Kurek                    Tim Kurek, who posed as a gay man for a year to understand the adversity homosexuals face in the Bible Belt.

                    Tim Kurek

Courtesy of Allen Media Strategies                    Timothy Kurek, centre, poses with friends on his first Pride Day in Nashville, during his year of pretending to be gay.

                    The Cross in the Closet

The Cross in the Closet, Tim Kurek’s book about his year-long experiment.

Laura Kane Staff Reporter, Toronto Star, October 17, 2012

When Timothy Kurek told his mother he was gay, she wrote in her diary that she would have rather heard she had terminal cancer.

Most of his Christian friends stopped speaking to him. “Jesus doesn’t love you anymore,” one said. As he sat outside a café in a gay neighbourhood, a stranger yelled “Faggot!” and threw a full two-litre bottle of cola at his head.

All terrible, painful experiences for a gay man — but Kurek isn’t gay. He’s a straight, conservative Christian from Nashville.

The aspiring writer went “undercover” as a homosexual for a year to understand the adversity gay people face in the Bible Belt. His book about the experience, called The Cross in the Closet, was released last week.

Kurek said the idea came to him after a friend came out as a lesbian. She told him, sobbing, that her family had disowned her.

“While she was crying in my arms, instead of loving her and trying to comfort her, my thoughts were … ‘Maybe I should give it a go and try to save her, get her to repent,’” he said.

Kurek was raised Independent Baptist and told that being gay was a sin. He remembers learning the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, and being taught that God destroyed the cities to punish homosexuality.

But after his experiment, he realized the voice in his head wasn’t God, but religious propaganda.

“I realized I had to kill that voice inside of me, because it was only hurting me and hurting others,” he said.

The only way he could do that, he thought, was to experience what his friend had just gone through. So in January 2009, when he was in his early 20s, he “came out” to his family, got a job at a café gay men frequented and started going to gay bars.

His family was outwardly supportive, although he later found his mother’s diary entry that revealed she was struggling. “I was actually pretty fortunate, compared to a lot of other LGBT folks,” he said.

The first time he went to a gay club, he panicked when a shirtless man began grinding against him on the dance floor.

“I didn’t know whether I needed to punch him in the face or go have a cigarette,” Kurek said.

So Kurek asked a friend, who he described as a “big, burly, black teddy bear,” to pose as his boyfriend, so he wouldn’t be hit on.

He didn’t have relationships with men, but did experience what it was like to wear the label of gay in the South, he explained.

He devotes an entire chapter to the first time he was called “faggot.” To his surprise, it made him weep.

“I had to be held back from attacking the person that did it. I never felt so violated and minimized in my entire life, because of that one word,” he said.

LGBT advocates are divided on Kurek’s experiment. Helen Kennedy, director of Egale Canada, said he can never truly know what it’s like to be gay.

“He can’t see what it’s like to be a gay father, or to be an out man in a straight workplace,” she said. “He’s coming from a place of privilege.”

Irene Miller, president of PFLAG Toronto, agreed, but said she was hopeful the book would change some homophobes’ minds. “Within that evangelical culture, if they listen to his message, then it may do some good.”

When the year had ended, Kurek found his views had completely transformed.

“I went from being a very narrow-minded, hyperconservative Christian to an ally of the gay community,” he said.

His project not only changed him, but also his family and friends. When he revealed a year later that he was in fact straight, his mother said she understood that sometimes you need to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes to understand them.

She is now an avid supporter of gay rights. His new LGBT friends were also supportive, Kurek said.

And rather than destroy his faith, the experiment actually saved it. “To the conservative Christians who read my book, I say, ‘Hey, there’s a much better way,’” he said. “It’s God’s job to judge, it’s the spirit’s job to convict, and it’s my job to love.’”

Why I outed a Christian star August 13, 2012

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Sunday, Aug 12, 2012, www.salon.com

Why I outed a Christian starJonathan Merritt, left, and the author, right. (Credit: Willyum Baulkey)

I’ve been called a bully for exposing gay evangelical Jonathan Merritt. Even I secretly wonder: Was I right?

By

Ever since I outed an up-and-coming evangelical leader named Jonathan Merritt on my blog on July 23, one sentence has been running through my mind: I might have destroyed his life.

It’s not all the angry emails that made me doubt myself – although some have been wildly disapproving. One, from a longtime supporter, said, “Your actions are arrogant, insensitive, and nothing more. There is nothing brave, honorable or noble about what you’ve done. I am parting ways from you ashamed of you and what you have become.” Others called me a self-promoter and a bully. But their criticism is not what bothers me. As RuPaul once said, “What people say about me behind my back is none of my business.”

No, what bothers me, what overwhelms me with guilt, is the concern for what I’ve done to a person I care about. But then I think of how hypocrisy must be exposed. And I think of this: The truth sets you free.

In 2009, I emailed Jonathan Merritt to simply say I found his Op-Ed in USA Today to be interesting. He is a Christian whose writing on religious and environmental issues has been featured in two books and a variety of publications, from the Atlantic tothe Washington Post. Along with frequent appearances on “The O’Reilly Factor,” “Fox & Friends” and “CNN News,” Merritt has become a star among young people of faith. Oh, and his dad is the former president of the world’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention.

Jonathan and I exchanged a few emails, and a year later, in April 2010, we exchanged phone numbers. One night, we started text messaging one another. At this point, I perceived Jonathan to be a heterosexual male. Male he was, but not heterosexual. Jonathan’s text messages became flirtatious, and I became confused.

“Are you flirting with me?” I finally asked him. He admitted he was. And from there, the text messages became very explicit. It was only a matter of days before we met in person. Jonathan was going to be in Chicago at a conference, and he insisted that I be there. Not for the conference but for him.

I knew what it was to be a Christian in the closet. From 2006-2008, I was the host of a syndicated Christian TV show averaging 200,000 viewers a week. That ended after I watched a documentary titled “For the Bible Tells Me So,” a 2007 documentary that explains how the Bible has been wrongly interpreted to condemn LGBT people and same-sex relationships. That movie was the first gay-affirming message I actually listened to and understood, and it helped me unlearn decades of bad theology and scriptural misinterpretations.

I came out in 2008, and at the time I met with Jonathan, I was beginning a national speaking tour with a famous Christian singer, Ray Boltz. Ray had come out six months after me, and we decided to travel together sharing our stories. After our first show in Alabama, I drove to Chicago to meet Jonathan in the lobby of the downtown W Hotel. He had bright blue eyes and boy-next-door good looks. I was smitten. He seemed a little paranoid, though, and it wasn’t hard to figure out why. The hotel was filled with evangelicals in town for the Q Conference, which is like the young evangelical leaders’ version of a TED conference.

Jonathan and I left the hotel and took a taxi to a bar. After a few drinks we took another taxi to another bar. The alcohol was kicking in, and Jonathan’s inhibitions were coming down. In the second taxi, he began to unzip my hoodie after he realized I didn’t have a shirt on underneath. I was shocked by how forward he was — especially with the taxi driver in the car. After the second bar, Jonathan wanted to go to a grocery store for a bottle of wine. He’d had a lot to drink, but he didn’t forget to tell the cashier “no receipt.” As the title of his first book declared, he was “Green Like God.”

We made our way to my car, parked in an open and now empty parking lot. In the back seat of my stylish Oldsmobile Intrigue, Jonathan started chugging the bottle of Riesling and passed it off to me. I’m not one to chug wine, so I sipped. We were alone in the parking lot, surrounded by the skyscrapers.

I kept declining his advances. “I don’t want you to do something that will cause you to live a dishonest life,” I said. After all, my speaking tour was titled “Living True.” But Jonathan insisted it was fine. And I wanted him just as bad.

By the end of the night my lips were raw and chapped from his unshaven face. I felt a little dirty and used, but more than anything I felt bad for him. I knew the guilt that would ensue for him. I’ve been there. It’s so freeing when you connect with another gay person before you’re “out” but when it’s over, you reenter that world of secrets and lies. You’re surrounded once more by the immense social pressure to look and act a certain way within your faith community. Being gay makes you feel so alone. It makes you feel like you don’t belong, like you’ll never escape the torment and spiritual violence imposed on you by bad and broken theology.

I dropped Jonathan off a block away from his hotel at 4 in the morning. He gave me a kiss goodbye and got out of the car. As I drove the three hours back home, watching the sun rise in the east, I ran the night around in my mind. Will I get to see him again? Would he ever come out for me? What if I met his family – what would they make of me? I wasn’t head over heels for him, but I was crushed out, and I couldn’t help imagining a future together, even if part of me knew it was impossible. The sexting and Skype sessions continued for a few more months. Turns out, he did want to see me again. We made plans for another meeting in October 2010 in Atlanta.

But that meeting never took place. My speaking engagement was canceled, and we stopped communicating other than sending the casual “Happy Holiday” text message.

Outing Jonathan was not an easy decision. I mulled it over for more than a year and discussed it with friends. Those conversations always ended in, “Yeah, it’s probably not a good idea.” So, what changed my mind?

I was tired of the lies. I was tired of hearing Jonathan say that being gay is not “God’s best.” Meanwhile he enjoys the company of men. Jonathan’s approach to LGBT people and issues may be less extreme than that of the late Jerry Falwell, but in the end the results and message are the same: Your sexual orientation is a sin and you need to change with God’s help. It’s all lies — and the conversation not only needs to change but the leaders as well.

I’m tired of my humanity as a gay man being invalidated by hypocritical leaders like Jonathan, who then expect my support in return.

But I do feel conflict. I do feel a sense of guilt. And that’s because I do have one regret, which is not discussing it with Jonathan first. That was wrong of me. If I had to do this all over again, I would have contacted him first and then decided how to handle the situation from there based on his reaction. (Merritt has admitted in an interview that “we had physical contact that went beyond the bounds of friendship.”)

Outing a person is complex. There is no blanket formula for how and when and why to do it. I don’t think it’s right in every situation. If someone is in the closet and they’re not making an effort to demonize LGBT people, then I say, leave them alone. But if someone is using a public platform to discuss these issues, and doing that while hiding behind a false identity that ultimately destroys the foundation of the arguments they’re making, then, yes, a full disclosure of that person’s false identity is in order. Go to that person and let them know your intentions. If they refuse to come forward with the truth, then publicly call out their hypocrisy.

I am not asking people to “declare a side in this culture war” as the New York Times suggested in its interview with me. I am asking for our leaders to be honest and transparent. I know we are human. I know we all make mistakes, and there will always be hypocrites. But what is done in the dark can be brought into the light. So lead with integrity. Those are the kinds of leaders we need.

I may continue to be haunted by what I’ve done, but in my heart, I know the truth. Do I think I destroyed Jonathan’s life? I do not. I gave him the opportunity to live life at his best.

Azariah Southworth is a college sophomore at Indiana-Purdue Univ. of Fort Wayne majoring in Media & Public Communication. Once the host of a widely watched Christian TV show, he now dreams of being a cast member on “1 Girl and 5 Gays.”

More Azariah Southworth.

Clergymen brawl during cleanup at birthplace of Jesus December 28, 2011

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The fight erupted between Armenian and Greek Orthodox clergymen who fiercely guard their sections of the Church of Nativity. Bernat Armangue/AP

ROGER’S NOTE: IF HE HAD NOT ALREADY LEFT IT ON EASTER SUNDAY, JESUS SURELY WOULD BE TURNING OVER IN HIS GRAVE.
 Bernat Armangue The Associated Press

BETHLEHEM- The annual cleaning of one of Christianity’s holiest churches deteriorated into a brawl between rival clergy Wednesday, as dozens of monks feuding over sacred space at the Church of the Nativity battled each other with brooms until police intervened.

The ancient church, built over the traditional site of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, is shared by three Christian denominations — Roman Catholics, Armenians and Greek Orthodox. Wednesday’s fight erupted between Greek and Armenian clergy, with both sides accusing each other of encroaching on parts of the church to which they lay claim.

The monks were tidying up the church ahead of Orthodox Christmas celebrations in early January, following celebrations by Western Christians on Dec. 25. The fight erupted between monks along the border of their respective areas. Some shouted and hurled brooms.

Palestinian security forces rushed in to break up the melee, and no serious injuries were reported. A Palestinian police spokesman would not immediately comment.

A fragile status quo governs relations among the denominations at the ancient church, and to repair or clean a part of the structure is to own it, according to accepted practice. That means that letting other sects clean part of the church could allow one to gain ground at another’s expense. Similar fights have taken place during the same late-December cleaning effort in the past.

Tensions between rival clergy at the church have been a fact of life there for centuries and have often been caught up in international politics.

In the 1800s, friction between the denominations at the church — each backed by foreign powers — became so fraught that Russian Czar Nicholas I deployed troops along the Danube to threaten a Turkish sultan who had been favouring the Catholics over the Orthodox.

Those disagreements threaten the integrity of the church itself, which was originally built 1,500 years ago and parts of which have fallen into disrepair. Although the roof has needed urgent work for decades, and leaking rainwater has ruined much of the priceless artwork inside, a renovation has been delayed all these years by disagreements among the denominations over who would pay.

Only recently, the Palestinian Authority brokered an agreement to move ahead with replacing the roof, and officials hope work will begin in 2012.

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright Recalls Obama’s Fall From Grace September 19, 2011

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Published on Monday, September 19, 2011 by TruthDig.com by  Chris Hedges

Barack Obama’s politically expedient decision to betray and abandon his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, exposed his cowardice and moral bankruptcy. In that moment, playing the part of Judas, he surrendered the last shreds of his integrity. He became nothing more than a pawn of power, or as Cornel West says, “a black mascot for Wall Street.” Obama, once the glitter of power fades, will have to grapple with the fact that he was a traitor not only to his pastor, the man who married him and Michelle, who baptized his children and who kept him spiritually and morally grounded, but to himself. Wright retains what is most precious in life and what Obama has squandered—his soul.

The health of a nation is measured by how it treats its prophets. When these prophets are ignored and reviled, when they become figures of ridicule, when they are labeled by the chattering classes and power elite as fools, then there is no check left on moral decay and the degeneration of the state. Wright, who spent 36 years at the Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago’s South Side, since the 2008 presidential campaign has endured slander and calumny and weathered character assassination, misinterpretation and abuse, and yet he doggedly continues Sunday after Sunday to thunder the word of God from pulpits across the country.

I grew up as a Christian. My father was a pastor. I graduated from a seminary. I can distinguish a Christian pastor from the slick imposters and charlatans, from T.D. Jakes to Joel Osteen. Wright preaches the radical and unsettling message of the Christian Gospel. He calls us to live the moral life. He knows that the measure of our lives as individuals and as a nation is reflected in how we treat our most vulnerable. And he knows on whose side he stands. Obama, who like Judas took his 30 pieces of silver and betrayed someone who loved him, withers into moral insignificance in Wright’s presence.

Obama, although his subservience to the war machine and Wall Street mocks the fundamental values of Dr. Martin Luther King, will preside Oct. 16 over the dedication of the King memorial on the Mall in Washington. He will lend himself to the venal cabal of the corporate and political elites who have hijacked King’s image. These political and corporate figures—many of whom donated significant sums to build the $120 million memorial (General Motors, which gave $10 million, uses the memorial in a commercial for its vehicles)—seek to silence King’s demand for economic justice and an end to racism and militarism. King’s vision is grotesquely deformed in Obama’s hands. To hear the voice of King we will have to turn from the choreographed and corporate-sponsored dedication ceremony to heed the words of a handful of men and women who are as reviled by the power brokers as King was in his own life, and yet who battle to keep the flame of King’s message alive.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing that the country would recognize someone as important as Dr. King,” Wright said when I reached him by phone in Chicago, “and recognize him in a way that raises his likeness in the Mall along with the presidents. He’s not a president like Abraham Lincoln or George Washington. But to have him ranked among them in terms of this nation paying attention to the importance of his work, that’s a good thing.”

“I read Maya Angelou’s piece about the way the quote was put on the monument,” Wright said in referring to the editing of a quote by King on the north face of the 30-foot-tall granite statue. The inscription quote reads: “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.” But these are not King’s words. They are paraphrased from a sermon he gave in which he said: “If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.” Angelou said the mangled inscription made King sound “arrogant.”

“I read the explanation as to why we couldn’t include the whole quote,” said Wright, who helped raise $200,000 for the monument. “Kids a hundred years from now, like our pastor who was born three years after King was killed, they’re going to see that and will not get the context. They will not hear the whole speech, and that will be their take-away, which is not a good thing. My bigger problems, however, have to do with all the emphasis on ’63 and ‘I Have a Dream.’ They have swept under the rug the radical justice message that King ended his career repeating over and over and over again, starting with the media coverage of the April 4, 1967, ‘A Time to Break Silence’ message at the Riverside Church [in New York City]. King had a huge emphasis on capitalism, militarism and racism, the three-headed giant. There is no mention of that, no mention of that King, and absolutely no mention of the importance of his work with the poor. After all, he’s at the garbage collectors strike in Memphis, Tenn., when he is assassinated. The whole emphasis on the poor sent him to Memphis. But that gets swept away. It bothers me that we think more about a monument than a movement. He had a movement trying to address poverty. It was for jobs, not I Have a Dream, not Black and White Together, but that gets lost.”

“You look at old guys like me that were alive during that time,” Wright said. “I’m saying ‘wait a minute, you’re missing something, you’re missing something,’ and my grandson—well, my youngest one is 11, he’ll not know that King. I’ll tell him, but what’s going to happen in terms of the curriculum? What’s going to happen in terms of the schools? What’s going to happen in terms of the millions of visitors who go to Washington, D.C.? They will miss that King entirely. We have an idealistic portrait. I think that does violence to what the man stood for and what he was trying to do.”

More ominously, Wright warns, the sanitizing of King has been accompanied by the primacy of a selfish, hedonistic and violent culture which has turned away from values, including self-sacrifice, that make possible harmony and the common good. This selfishness and narcissism, Wright argues, is a form of blasphemy.

“We got so focused in on being No. 1, on being the superpower,” he said. “When the Cold War ends we reign supreme. Empire, corporate interest and business interests take over. We got so focused on that and the media hype, media of course being owned by the corporations, that the founding principles, the core principles that I feel should have been our guiding principles, in terms of becoming what King called ‘the beloved community,’ and becoming what Howard Thurman called ‘the search for common ground,’ got completely lost. We substituted the prayer of Jesus with the prayer of Jabez. Increase my territory. Enlarge my territory. If you notice, Jesus taught us to pray, and I speak as a Christian minister—I realize that the country is not all Christian—but just in terms of the principles that I believe cut across interfaith lines and boundaries is in the prayer. The model prayer the Lord taught us as the Lord’s disciples has no first person singular pronoun. It’s ‘our,’ ‘we,’ ‘us.’ That got lost.”

“We became a ‘me’-focused, kind of dog-eat-dog, Ayn Rand, social Darwinist, survival of the fittest, be strong, and with no care, no concern, no compassion for those that are not born above the scratch line,” Wright said. “And no concern to make the communities in which they live and the world in which we live a community which really cares about all of God’s children, regardless of their colors and regardless of their faith.”

Wright has become something of an expert on the commercial media since he was psychologically lynched by them. The media, selecting clips to tar him, have plastered him with derogatory labels and shut his voice out of the national discourse. He has, like all of our greatest intellectual and moral dissidents, from Ralph Nader to Noam Chomsky, been rendered a pariah.

“The media became interested in profits, in selling airtime, in selling newspapers, in selling magazines, in selling ‘if it bleeds it leads,’ whatever will get us a larger market share of the audience, of the viewing audience, of the listening audience,” Wright went on. “That became the focus, rather than sharing factual news with Americans, and the world, in terms of what’s really going on. That’s no longer important. What’s important is profit.”

“Once that media-spun narrative is out there, from that point on all you hear is critiques of the narrative, deconstruction of the narrative, debates concerning the narrative, affirmations of the narrative, attacks on the narrative, with nobody talking about substance, because we don’t even know what substance is,” Wright said.

Wright insists that the church, especially the liberal church that allied itself with the civil rights movement, is alive, although ignored and unheeded as a voice within the larger society.

“The average church in America has 200 members,” he said. “But they get no news coverage. The news covers the mega-churches, Rick Warren, T.D. Jakes. We’re talking big churches, large memberships. But the men and women who are in the trenches, who have not ‘bowed to Baal,’ the 7,000 more that God told Elijah that God had, are ignored. They’re still there. They’re still doing it. They are not, perhaps—and this is spoken from a 70-year-old, and I would say 50 years of that as an adult looking back—as numerous as they were back in the ’60s. They are fewer and less vocal in number, but they remain. The problem is that the media is not going to put out what guys like your dad and my dad were doing and saying Sunday after Sunday, not just in worship but throughout the week as they tried to make ministry meaningful after the benediction. That doesn’t get covered. I see them still doing, still trying to do what they did back in the ’60s , but not getting the coverage. Let them marry a gay guy, or a gay couple, that’s going to make the news. Let them go up against Wal-Mart, especially Wal-Mart’s treatment of women or its workers, that doesn’t make the news. Because the Waltons, and the corporate giants who control the news, don’t see that kind of work by the church as important. What’s important is that the Supreme Court sided with the Walton family. So that those churches that are trying, that are dealing with poverty, that are dealing with honest conversations about educational reform, that are not jumping on the ‘Waiting for Superman’ bandwagon or Bill Gates, but who are really in the schools, are relegated to the shadows. And from what I see talking to local pastors they’re trying their best to make a difference in the lives of the poor, they’re doing feeding. I just left Fresno and a little small church out there adopted one of the missions [for the needy] in Fresno. They’ve got a place called Tent City in one of the richest counties in the country. Folks are living in tents as if it was Soweto or Calcutta. The guys from that small church in Fresno are going there, because it’s dangerous for the women to go over there, guys are going over there once a week, and they are taking the youth of this church. But that’s not making the news. I’ve seen the church doing all kinds of exciting things around the country, but it’s below the radar.”

“How many times has there been a debt-ceiling vote these past few years?” he asked. “Eighty-seven times. But what becomes news? Well, first of all, don’t mention the number of debt-ceiling votes to the public. The media needs a crisis whether it is the debt-ceiling vote or Obamacare. These are the things we keep in front of the people’s faces. What about the important issues? If it is about the defense budget or the fact that major corporations haven’t paid a penny in taxes, we get—no, no, no, no, no, no, no—don’t put that in front of them. It is ‘low information’ America. It’s ‘my mind is made up—don’t confuse me with any facts.’ I see what the church is really doing, the liberal church, the old-line church, the unpopular churches, the ones that don’t get the coverage. I see them in the trenches seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.”

“Do you know what successful ministry is?” he asked. “When you change and touch the lives of people, when you make a difference in their lives, when you give them hope, when you help them go back to school and get an education. That’s successful ministry. But even seminarians I teach are looking at ministry like it’s a “be like Mike” basketball role model they are pursuing. Instead of important and life-changing questions being addressed, the questions one hears are: How many members do we have? How many CDs and DVDs have we produced? How much money do we make? That’s not a successful ministry. Too many seminary students aren’t interested in making things better. They’re interested in becoming like T.D. Jakes, in building a megachurch. They’re not interested in being in the hood, with those who have lost hope.”

“We don’t want our children to have any kind of critical thinking, we just want them to be able to function in a low-paying dead-end job,” Wright said. “There is no emphasis on teaching the young African-American male to dream. And teaching him, and the young sisters also, him or her, that, OK, education is more than passing scores, how you perform on a test—it has to do with how you live in community with others. It has to do with nutrition. It has to do with poverty. It has to do with the whole person. We are slashing and burning programs at the preschool level. We start with Head Start and early childhood education, and all the way up through the foundational primary grades. Who is going to teach these kids Langston Hughes’ poem ‘Mother to Son’? Who is going to repeat Hughes’ words to them:

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

Wright, who perhaps knows Obama better than nearly any other person in the country, sees a man who sold his principles for the chimera and illusion of power. But once Obama achieved power he became its tool, its vassal, its public face, its brand.

“President Obama was selected before he was elected,” Wright said, “and he is accountable to those who selected him. Why do you think Wall Street got the break? Why do you think the big three [financial institutions] were bailed out? Those were the ones who selected him. We didn’t select him. We don’t have enough money to select anybody. You’re accountable to those who select you. All politicians are. Given those constraints, he is doing the best he can because he is accountable to the ones that put him where he is. Preachers, pastors, ministers, we are not accountable to these people. I’ll never forget one of the most powerful things he said to me in my home, second Saturday in April 2008. He said, ‘You know what your problem is?’ I said, ‘What is that?’ He said, ‘You have to tell the truth.’ I said, ‘That’s a good problem. That’s a good problem.’ ”

“When he was elected to the United States Senate I was asked what advice I would have for Sen. Obama,” Wright said. “I said, ‘Please don’t change who you are, because of where you are.’ Who he was before he got to that position is a very different Barack. Which to me is unfortunate but it’s to be expected because that’s what you chose, you chose to run, to be in that place. I can give you a glimpse into the kind of person he was, which was mind-blowing to me to see somebody with that kind of integrity. He went to his first Congressional Black Caucus meeting the year before he announced that he was running for the Senate. He came back to Chicago and came into my office asking for an appointment. He was heartbroken. It showed to me that night his naiveté and his integrity. He was naive because he was down in Washington trying to get audiences with the Congressional Black Caucus in terms of testing the waters about his making a run for the United States Senate. And it was a meat market. That blew his mind. I’m saying Barack, come on, man—name one significant thing that has come out of any Congressional Black Caucus. Come on. [He] was naive. He told me, ‘My name should be out there right now, last week in September, but I can’t announce.’ I said, ‘Why can’t you announce?’ He said, ‘I don’t know whether or not Carol Moseley Braun is going to run again. I will not run against an African-American woman.’ And I’m saying to myself, what manner of man is this? I know guys who would run against their own mama. You will not run against an African-American female? To have that kind of integrity was awesome to me. He changed. That’s unfortunate.”

“In February 2007 on [a broadcast of] ‘Religion & Ethics’ I said there will come a time when Obama will have to distance himself from me,” Wright said. “Now that’s February 2007. So the fact that he had to distance himself from me does not come as a surprise. What did come as a surprise was how he did it. I’ve heard you describe that your dad laid the foundation upon which you stand. He made you the kind of person you are. I know that when you interview someone and the tears start, you fold up your notepad and put your pen away because you’re not that kind of reporter. If there was somebody from your dad’s church running for an office, and the media comes up to them and puts a microphone in front of their face and says, did you hear what Pastor Hedges was saying about the war? If you disagree, your response is, ‘I disagree with that, next question.’ You don’t have to chastise Pastor Hedges. I just disagree with him. Next question. But [Obama] was listening to people who are politically minded, people who are counting votes. He was not listening to people with integrity. In November and December of 2008 during the ethnic cleansing of Gaza one of the news media persons put a microphone in front of Barack’s face and asked him what do you think about what’s going on in Gaza? He said, ‘We can’t have but one president at a time.’ I told my wife he needed to be on ‘Dancing With the Stars’ the way he danced around that question. That was like a preview of coming attractions in terms of the pragmatist, center-of-the-road, conciliatory, not-speaking-from-principle person the world sees today.”

“And for him to have been a community organizer in one of the poorest communities in the city, Altgeld Gardens housing project, and now to be painted into a corner where he can’t address health care for the poor,” Wright said. “He took the public option off the table. What happened? What happened is politics happened.”

“King would be saying to us the same thing today he was saying in 1967 and 1968,” Wright said. “He would be condemning our nation’s utter disregard for the poor. A strong nation cares about all of its citizens regardless of their color or their race or their religious beliefs. Malcolm, once he broke with the Nation of Islam, and found that God, or Allah, really does have children that don’t look like you, would be appalled by our buying into a military option as a way to peace, as a way to finding common ground. The military option is not an option. King and Malcolm would agree with that.”

“I was walking through the airport a few weeks ago,” Wright said. “I saw on the cover, I think, of Time Magazine, Osama bin Laden’s picture. The caption on the cover said ‘Justice.’ I said, ‘How about murder? It was an assassin’s hit.’ What really bothered me as I read more about it was that Barack and Hillary [Clinton] and the war folk were sitting in the war room watching the hit. There were cameras in the field. It was a hit, two right above the eyebrow. Why, why, why did you murder that man? We have international courts. We have trials like the Nuremberg trials. Why did you murder him? Why not put him on trial? And I sat up in the middle of the night, about 10 days later, with the answer. I said, because you didn’t want him to talk. If he starts talking on the stand everything comes unraveled. We will have to look at the Cheney war machine. A trial would rip to shreds the lies we have been telling ourselves and our American public. We can’t afford that, so we murder him. We murder him and call it justice. That one really hurt. I said to myself, this is the Barack you once knew who cared enough about humankind to work in Altgeld Gardens with the poor, to not run against an African-American female, who now calls for a professional Navy SEAL assassination, a hit, and watches it. It’s like that story you heard your dad preach and you know from seminary in Acts, where the demons said to the seven sons of Sceva, Jesus I know and Paul I know, but who are you? Who have you become?”

© 2011 TruthDig.com

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Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.  His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

Midshipman, Then Pacifist: Rare Victory to Leave Navy February 23, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Peace, Religion, War.
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Christopher Capozziello for The New York Times

Shortly after Michael Izbicki, now 25, graduated from the Naval Academy in 2008, he decided that his Christian beliefs would not permit him to take part in war.

By PAUL VITELLO
Christopher Capozziello for The New York Times

Shortly after Michael Izbicki, now 25, graduated from the Naval Academy in 2008, he decided that his Christian beliefs would not permit him to take part in war.

Published: February 22, 2011 

NEW LONDON, Conn. — The question that changed Michael Izbicki’s life appeared on a psychological exam he took not long after graduating in 2008 near the top of his class at the United States Naval Academy: If given the order, would he launch a missile carrying a nuclear warhead?

Ensign Izbicki said he would not — and his reply set in motion a two-year personal journey and legal battle that ended on Tuesday, when the Navy confirmed that he had been discharged from the service as a conscientious objector.

In the process, Mr. Izbicki, 25, went from Navy midshipman in the nuclear submarine fleet here, studying kill ratios, to resident of a small Quaker peace community a few blocks from the Thames River, where he prays several times a day, studies Hebrew and helps with the organic garden.

He is one of only a few graduates of the nation’s military academies to be granted conscientious objector status in recent years. And while every case is deeply personal, his long struggle for an honorable discharge offers a glimpse of a rarely viewed side of military experience in the post-draft, all-volunteer era: the steep challenge facing any service member — and especially a graduate of a service academy — who signs up as a teenager to become a warrior and then changes his mind in adulthood about his willingness to kill.

The Navy fought his request hard, in much the same way that the Army contested the conscientious objector application of Capt. Peter D. Brown, a West Point graduate and an Iraq war veteran who was discharged in 2007 after a protracted court battle.

Academy graduates accounted for only a dozen of the roughly 600 applicants for the special status between 2002 and 2010, spokesmen for the service branches said. Of those requests, fewer than half were approved. And like many of the other academy applicants, according to lawyers who handle such cases, Mr. Izbicki won his discharge only by taking his petition to federal court.

The Navy rejected Mr. Izbicki’s application twice, questioning the sincerity of his beliefs despite the support of several Navy chaplains and the testimony of two Yale Divinity School faculty members who said his religious convictions seemed to be mature and sincere.

One Navy commander suggested that the pacifist strain of Christianity that Mr. Izbicki embraced was inconsistent with mainstream Christian faith. The same commander likened the Quakers, who supported Mr. Izbicki, to the Rev. Jim Jones and his People’s Temple, a suicide cult.

J. E. McNeil, executive director of the Center on Conscience and War, a nonprofit group in Washington that helps service members navigate the conscientious objector process, said that a case like Mr. Izbicki’s posed a profound challenge to the military. “You were someone they thought was going to be a leader,” Ms. McNeil said. “They spent four years training you. Now you want nothing to do with that world.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, which filed a federal lawsuit on Mr. Izbicki’s behalf in November seeking a reversal of the Navy’s decision, announced on Tuesday that the Navy had granted Mr. Izbicki his discharge. Mr. Izbicki, who has continued to work at a Navy desk job, may have to reimburse the service for all or part of the cost of his education, said his lawyers, Sandra Staub, legal director of the A.C.L.U. of Connecticut, and Deborah H. Karpatkin and Vera M. Scanlon, of New York.

Mike McLellan, a spokesman for the Navy, said Mr. Izbicki had been discharged as a conscientious objector because “the Navy Personnel Command determined there was sufficient evidence to satisfy the requirements for this designation, and determined that it was in the Navy’s best interests to discharge him.”

Mr. Izbicki, a National Merit Scholarship finalist in high school, chose the naval academy at Annapolis, Md., over a bevy of colleges, including the California Institute of Technology, that offered him four-year scholarships, because he felt an obligation to serve his country during wartime, he told investigators in his application for discharge.

He grew up attending nondenominational Christian services in San Clemente, Calif., and remained a regular churchgoer during his four years at the academy, where Christianity is the dominant faith. Cadets are required in their junior year to study the “just war” theory, a doctrine justifying military action, based largely on the writings of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas.

Not until his senior year did Mr. Izbicki register a sense of unease over what he would refer to in his application as “the frankness with which people talked about killing.” He wrote: “The training did not live up to the ideals of the just war as I envisioned them. I saw formulas for calculating the number and types of casualties that would result from using each of our weapons systems. We calculated the extent of civilian casualties and whether these numbers were politically acceptable.”

Still, Mr. Izbicki said, he remained convinced that his Christian beliefs could be reconciled with military culture, and that as an officer he would be able to effect change from within.

After graduating from the academy, he earned a master’s degree in computer engineering at Johns Hopkins University in preparation for what he said he expected to be a career in nuclear submarines.

But Mr. Izbicki said he also began exploring his commitment to Christianity. He studied the Gospels, read widely about the early history of the church, took up Hebrew so he could read the Old Testament in the original, and started to measure his faith according to the evangelical touchstone “What would Jesus do?”

It was in that light that he encountered the exam question about launching a nuclear missile in early 2009, shortly after he was assigned to submariner school at the Nuclear Power Training Command in Charleston, S.C. Seeing the question spelled out like that, he said, made it impossible to hide his emerging pacifism any longer.

“I realized that I could not be responsible for killing anyone,” he later explained.

His answer flagged him for psychological testing, and a consultation with a Navy chaplain, who was the first to suggest that Mr. Izbicki consider applying for discharge as a conscientious objector.

“I had never really heard of it,” Mr. Izbicki, a reserved, soft-spoken man, said in an interview last week at St. Francis House, a Quaker residence. “It was one of those things people did in the ’60s.”

The transcripts of the hearings on his two applications for a discharge — which read partly like a court-martial, partly like oral exams for a doctor of divinity degree — run to more than 700 pages. They include esoteric queries about “just war” theory, the letters of St. Paul and the protocols known as the Six Capabilities of the United States Navy’s Maritime Strategy.

Mr. Izbicki’s beliefs are probed intensely for inconsistencies and deviations from conservative Christian belief.

One investigator, Lt. Cmdr. John A. Price, expresses surprise when Mr. Izbicki says he is not convinced that every word in the Bible is inspired by God. He questions how Mr. Izbicki can be sure, then, that the Sermon on the Mount, on which he bases his claim to know what Jesus would do, is accurate: “You realize that there’s a danger when you start believing that some stuff in the Bible’s not true, because then we might start believing that Jesus is not true.”

At another point, Commander Price asks, “If Jesus was a pacifist, why didn’t he tell all Roman soldiers to leave the army?”

Navy officers tried to persuade Mr. Izbicki to consider alternatives to discharge: Could he become a Navy medical officer or dentist? He replied that his pacifist beliefs were irreconcilable with any effort to prepare troops for battle. “I could not contribute in any way whatsoever,” he said.

Mr. Izbicki said he had made no plans for the future other than a return to his parents’ home in California. His discharge, he said, “has opened the whole world up to me.”

Blasphemy is a Victimless Crime: a Book Review February 25, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in About God, About Religion, Religion.
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Roger Hollander

www.rogerhollander.com, February 24, 2010

The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins, Transworld Publishers (Random House), London, Black Swan edition, 2007.

If it didn’t go against the very spirit of the author’s work, it would be tempting to call Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” the Atheist’s Bible.  Dawkins is no fan of Bibles, Korans, or scriptures of any sort.  He is a fan of science; he is a renowned evolutionary biologist; but he does not make a religion of it.  That is an important point because many of his critics have accused him of just that.

For Dawkins the dichotomy is not the religion of God versus the religion of Atheism, rather it is belief based upon evidence (science) versus belief that is founded upon faith (religion).  He argues passionately and, in my opinion effectively, against those who say the two spheres are mutually exclusive; that faith has nothing to say about science and, more to the point, that science has nothing to say about faith.  If there is a God, for example, as millions of believers believe, who can simultaneously enter into the mind of every human being on earth and listen to prayers and communicate back, then scientists who study the human mind surely would be interested to explore, understand and evaluate the phenomenon.  Dawkins shows how “faith heads” are quick to discount science when it contradicts belief but jump on any shred of scientific evidence that might verify a Biblical notion.  The case study of religious “scientists” who with diligence attempted (using double blind studies, control groups, etc.) to prove that God answers prayers (the result: He doesn’t) is both humorous and grotesque.  I am reminded of an experiment I once read about where religious “scientists” took the weight of dying individuals just before the moment of death and just after, in order to determine the weight of the human soul (which they presumed left the physical body at the moment of death).

If you appreciate the scientific mind, you will love Dawkins.  Along with a comprehensive and penetrating knowledge, not only of his own field of Darwinian studies, but in many other areas of science, Dawkins has the gift of explanation, he is lucid and logical to a fault, and he writes with equal doses of humour and passion.  He is highly opinionated, and that offended many of his wishy-washy post-modernist critics, but his opinions are painstakingly based upon careful and reproducible experimentation, analysis and sound reasoning.

I will not attempt here to review the entire work for it is of epic proportions, but rather to underscore what I consider to be some of its most salient points.  I urge you to read it for yourself.

The God whose existence Dawkins undertakes to disprove is the God of Abraham, the founder of three of the world’s greatest religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam; the alleged Creator of the Universe.  By giving the reader what amounts to a mini-course in Darwinian evolutionary biology, he shows the high degree of improbability that such a deity could have done what He is alleged to have done.  Along the way he dissects, excoriates, and destroys the arguments and theories of those latter day Creationists, who have come up with a false science called “Intelligent Design” in their weasely attempt to introduce Biblical “science” into the science curriculum of public schools through the back door.

Dawkins makes the distinction between agnosticism and atheism, and his major reason for opting for atheism is that agnosticism as he understands it posits an equal possibility of the existence or non-existence of God, whereas he believes the probability is almost nil.  From my perspective it is not that important a distinction; but after having read his entire argument, I tend to agree, especially in this era of the resurgence of totalitarian religious fundamentalism at a global level, that it is important to counteract vigorously and mercilessly conclusions about the reality of our universe that are based upon faith or revelation rather than scientific observation.

It should be noted that this work is not so much an assault on the belief in God as much as it is an attack on religion itself.  When criticized for concentrating on the more extreme fundamentalists, he counters by demonstrating how to a large extent fundamentalist based totalitarian theocracy has moved into the mainstream.  But more fundamentally, he demonstrates that the kind of moderate religion that sees the Bible as metaphoric, for example, rather than literal, nonetheless is telling us to base belief on faith as opposed to evidence, a notion that makes us vulnerable to deception and manipulation.

He bemoans the fact that we tend to treat faith-based notions with kid gloves, that we bend over backwards not to offend religious belief in a way that we would not allow, for example, for political ideas.  Evolutionary cosmology, for example, tells us that our earth is millions of years old, whereas the Bible tells us it is some six thousand years old.  He cites respected scientists who accept the Biblical version “on faith” when forced to choose between science and faith.  Kurt Wise, an American geologist, for example, “… if all the evidence in the universe turns against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate.”

Dawkins would ask us not to credit, in the name of religious tolerance, such deliberate blindness (to give an idea of proportion, believing the Biblical data on the age of the earth would be like believing that New York is about seven yards from San Francisco).

Dawkins is perhaps most passionate when it comes to children.  He asserts, for example, that there is not such thing as a Catholic child, rather a child of Catholic parents.  He sees the indoctrination of children, who are incapable of weighing the evidence and making judgments for themselves, as tantamount to child abuse, an assault on the development of their critical faculties.  He cites Victor Hugo: “In every village there is a torch – the teacher: and an extinguisher – the clergyman.”

In an interesting section of the book, one where is scientific evidence and reasoning is more speculative and open to different interpretation, he gives theories on why religion is so universal and all pervasive from a Darwinian evolutionary standpoint.  To survive the evolution process of natural selection, one must have positive, advantageous characteristics; so if religion is so destructive, how come it has survived and prospered?  One theory is that at one point in human evolution the need to trust (especially parental) authority without question was necessary for survival; organized religion based upon unquestioned belief then is an aberration,  a left-over from an earlier evolutionary stage.

From Thomas Jefferson to Bertrand Russell, Dawkins cites respected sceptics who have chosen reason over faith.  Let us here give the final word to Thomas Jefferson:

“The priests of the different religious sects … dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of daylight, and scowl on the fatal harbinger announcing the subdivision of the duperies on which they live.”

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