Archive for July, 2013

“Religious Freedom” a malapropism for the military

To: Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Howard McKeon and Representative John Fleming (R-LA) and Congressman Mike Conway who responded, again, when asked, again, about the expansion of military chaplaincy to include humanist chaplains, this way (*if sources are correct, these gentlemen may be making identical statements as some of the quotes are credited to all three): Chairman Howard McKeon said if there were atheist chaplains, they would tell dying soldiers they would be “worm food.” Alternatively, when Rep. Fleming was asked what a Christian chaplain would tell a dying atheist soldier whom he believed would go to hell. Fleming said that the chaplain should offer the dying atheist soldier salvation through the Bible.

Nonbelievers are the last maligned minority. Those who would hate have lost the chance to exercise overt discrimination against the other minorities one by one. This has been especially difficult for the religious bigot (in this instance, one who tells us what we believe, then hates us for it). They’ve not only lost the ability to openly denigrate and discriminate against gays and lesbians, but blacks, Hispanics, and other races. I expect that they even have to pay a cursory level of “lip service equality” to other religions. BUT NOT TO US: those who would say there is no supernatural realm.
Perhaps people of bias should not be in a position to affect lives this way. Are these people of ill will? The typical nonbeliever wouldn’t consider telling any dying fellow soldier they might be “worm food.” As for a humanist chaplain, it’s as ludicrous of a proposition that he or she would do anything less than hold high esteem for an individual of any or no belief. This is because the average humanist believes that we all have an intrinsic human worth and that the human spirit is noble and a Humanist celebrant or chaplain is going to embody those qualities at a minimum. I take it these congressmen don’t feel the same nor do they feel that the men and women in uniform deserve that either.
Isn’t it odd that it takes a believer to denigrate people so? And yet we must give many if not most believers the benefit of the doubt. They, too, are people of good will. Fortunately, people of ill will are self-outing. And they can sometimes be turned around. Look at the change in public sentiment towards the LBGTQ community in the last few years. The most dramatic conversions are those who have had the farthest to move. Perhaps we can be Representatives McKeon’s and Fleming’s salvation. Perhaps we can move them toward a more universal caring for all humanity.
Perhaps all Christians in the nation should weigh in. Tell these congressmen if you’re with them or against them. We especially need to hear from less radical positions. If we are not to judge you by your silence, speak up this one time.

This telling us who we are and what we believe, by a person of another belief, is a heinous violation of us as human beings. It dehumanizes us and I have to think that’s how xenophobia developed as a defense mechanism so that we could separate us from them—to hate the “other” who are not us. You can’t give someone an Old Testament stoning if you don’t dehumanize or at least denigrate them sufficiently first.

Rep. Fleming’s statements are a good reason why his Military Religious Freedom Amendment should NOT be passed (or overturned by the Supreme Court upon passage). Fleming said Christians should offer dying nonbeliever soldiers salvation through the Bible. With the Military religious freedom Amendment in place, evidently nonbelievers would have no religious freedom of their own protecting them from such inconsiderate behavior. Somehow this will be twisted to rule against any nonbelievers who should, in turn, wish to proselytize humanism (which none do)—probably because it’s not a religion, eh, Congressmen? Nor would they have recourse against those shielded by this amendment who choose to vigorously proselytize the one true religion—say the folks higher up the chain of command, for instance.
It isn’t difficult to imagine the theocracy these congressmen would put us all under.

Military service people have a different standard of justice meted out to them than civilians, if you haven’t already figured that out. It’s ironic that they have to swear they will uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution when their supposedly guiding document is the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the UCMJ. Don’t think for a moment that this misnomer indicates either justice or uniformity in its dispensation will come forth, especially if you’re a nonbeliever. Just reflect on the sexual assault record and what’s been done about that. And in the face of those huge numbers, we’re told service members need no justice from outside the chain of command. Where else would they get justice?
WWJD? Contrast the toleration of Howard McKeon’s and John Fleming’s words against those of Trent Lott that led to his resignation. The difference isn’t in the degree of bigotry demonstrated as it is no less. The difference lies in a much too broad acceptance of prejudice and discrimination against nonbelievers. We are here to help you see from our mountain top as others have led you in the past to theirs.
When we put someone in congress with a religious agenda, the strength of their commitment to that agenda determines if there is a point where they will put the American people or the U.S. Constitution ahead of their religious goals or not. It’s especially too bad when they have the power to influence service members’ reality to the extent these gentlemen do. Our service members aren’t in a position to fight for their own rights. They can’t redress the government with their complaints and they are held fast in a matrix of constraints. And their freedom and lives are also at the mercy of the UCMJ and who’s in charge of the UCMJ? Congress. This committee, this chairman.
Take it out on us, gentlemen. You have our service members at too much of a disadvantage. They deserve better from you than this punishment for not being believers. I can well imagine that you congressmen espouse the Golden Rule. Are you treating those of differing beliefs the way you want to be treated?
There’s freedom of religion in this country… as long as it’s Christianity.

* The Blaze reports it to be Congressman Mike Conway who said the things quoted while others said it was John Fleming. Also, you can see and hear Howard McKeon say them in recorded video.

July 29, 2013 at 10:54 am Leave a comment

Creationism v. science: Laughable? Pitiable? Innocuous?

The Springboro, Ohio school board recently heard both sides in the “Teach the controversy debate.”   That is, should public schools teach both “theories?”   The science is evolution.   The more questionable theory is usually termed Intelligent Design.

Are these archaic attempts at keeping creationism alive the last vestiges of an earlier era?  If you think it is innocuous, read on. The Dayton Daily News has solicited comments.  Here’s mine.

Nobody in science says anything should be taken on faith.  A healthy skepticism should always be our mode.  Not fearful doubts, but defiant intellectual doubts.  Those of faith fear losing their faith to doubt.  If it was religious knowledge that they had, there’d be no fear.  Interestingly, the process of losing one’s faith usually entails gaining some knowledge.

In a faith tradition,  the believer believes they know something (when applied to the real world proves they are largely incorrect).  Can they approach it with a healthy intellectual doubt?  Is any part of their theory revisable?  They typically take the position that theirs is a sacred truth, beyond doubt.  To have any doubt is tantamount to sin in their book (there an ample history of persecuting dissenters).

The various argument’s Christians go through in trying to get creationism taught in the schools follows a predictable pattern.    1. We are a Christian nation.  The country was founded on it.  Yes, the grip religion has on humanity was too strong even for the founding fathers to free us.   2. It should be Christianity’s myth because that has been our tradition in this country.  Slavery was a tradition in this country, too, as was every form of bigotry and oppression.  3. (Implied but not stated) Evolution is only a theory.  Yes, like the atomic theory or theory of flight and like them, you can challenge and revise any part of it and IF THE ARGUMENT YOU PROPOSE STANDS UP TO THE LIGHT OF REASON  IT BECOMES PART OF THE SCIENCE.   What’s the review and revision climate like among Christian fundamentalists?

Creationists call it the Wedge Strategy.   They know they have to get to the children before their worldview solidifies in their teen years—college is too late and besides they know there’s a conspiracy among almost all scientists and university educators to spread atheism and humanism so the children have to be exposed well before then.  So it is a part of the mission to continue to hammer away at the schools to teach creationism and plant that wedge.  If nothing else, the kids may get the impression that school boards have an agenda and are unfairly suppressing an alternate theory.  Just the discussion of it serves the Wedge Strategy.

Finally, the vocal among them wants to denigrate those who’d like public education to be free of religious bias.   Those voices happen to belong to one narrow band of just one single religion, a religion  that permeates our culture and monopolizes our politics and yet whose followers think they are a put upon minority.   I guess it should be of little surprise when those folks try to foment hatred by dehumanizing those who would free our minds and saying they “are evil to the core.”  That’s the hallmark of the imprint of religion when applied to the child too young.

July 10, 2013 at 6:57 pm 3 comments

Authentic Spirituality

I feel like I should apologize to any beings from off planet.   We humans start with a simple concept and we nuance it (though that’s not a verb–see, a case in point.) until the original idea is only tangentially related to our present pearl of wisdom.    Need some evidence?   There are no end of examples in the dictionary.  How many words have a meaning that has evolved into something else over time?  How many that now have so many shades of meaning different from the original concept?  New iterations, alien to those who were intimate friends of the original thought?   

But I come not to quibble over words.  Well, maybe just a bit more yet.   Take “spiritual” as it is linked to “spirituality.”    Overworked word, if ever there was one.   In one sense of the word, religious people mean something of the soul is affected by something of the divine.    Then I come along and tell you that we are predisposed genetically (not to my credit–see all the scientists, philosophers, and thinkers mentioned in Religion is God’s Way of showing us it’s earlier in Human Evolution than we Thought) to be “spiritual” in the sense of  religiousness, similar to  the neutral connotation of religiosity.

The general thesis that our brains are hardwired to reward us for religious–nay–spiritual thoughts, beliefs, inspired concepts, visions in order to enthrall us to rapturous heights has been argued before.  And, thus, the spiritual urge, by several other names (as mentioned), helps shape our behavior toward the religious.  And the religious benefit each other within their communities, and the stronger the religous community, the greater the survival chances of the individual (thinking of survival in the evolutionary sense).

It’s not quite that direction we want to go however.  But it does set us up to understand that the spiritual experience takes place at the spirit within (though we know this in the sense of the human spirit rather than a soul).  The believer thinks s/he’s spiritually inspired by the divine from without.  We have  learned, though, that the equipage is within.

Though the New Atheist (and, admittedly, I’m not too far from one) might enjoy it if Lancelot’s steed stumbles and his lance crumples on impacting into the dirt, I think we should revive that spiritual steed.  Many of us have that aforementioned equipage–a certain spiritual need and a very real feeling of spiritual accomplishment.  Without some outlet and some experience of the reward that neurochemically validates it, we seem to suffer.

What we need is to find the literal truths (believe what’s true rather than insisting that what we want to believe is true) that satisfy our spritual need and that stimulates and allows our neurochemical reward.  Is that possible?   That is the challenge.  

It would seem that life affirming stories come close.  Events of celebration have an intent that is more or less in that direction.  Naturalism, especially, evolutionary naturalism finds inspiration in the world and the universe.  Humanism (is there evolutionary humanism?) champions humanity and celebrates its nobility.

I’m saying there is a secular side to evolutionary theology and that through recognizing that rising of humankind in our singular ascent, perhaps combines with evolutionary naturalism and humanism to help us know, appreciate, and celebrate the reality of our past, present, and future.

July 6, 2013 at 10:31 am 1 comment


I write for agnostics, freethinkers, atheists and humanists. In my nonfiction, the purpose is the celebration of our noble human spirit. The general pursuit may be Evolutionary Theology, though believers seem to populate that field (so maybe it's evolutionary Humanism). By looking at who we are and where we came from, we can derive much meaning, and perhaps more importantly, understanding, as well as some sense of where we could go.

Religion is God’s Way of Showing Us it’s Earlier in Human Evolution than We Thought

This title is an upcoming book at the publisher's now. I'd like feedback on this title. It's meant to make people think and feel something. And to hint at things for both believers and non- on multiple levels. The book is of a wider scope, though, one which is ultimately a way to grasp more meaning for ourselves. Believers are always telling us our lives don't have meaning without a god. We often counter that it's more meaningful to be looking for our own meaning than to be arbitrarily ascribed it by an imaginary supernatural being. Ultimately, and this is what I think is unique about this book, you'll see how we can be just as spiritual in our own way. Since we've inhertited a capacity for religion (some more than others) as an evolutionary adaptation, believers and non- are both potentially spritual in the same way--but it is an earthly, secular spirituality in which we all can share.