Skepticism, Religion Archive

Friday, April 23, 2010

Christian Group Going to Supreme Court for Right to Flout Rules

I heard a story on NPR on the way in to work this week. A case is being brought to the Supreme Court by a student group, the Christian Legal Society, against the Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. The university has had a long standing policy that in order to be officialy recognized by the university and receive public funding, student groups could not restrict membership on any basis. The local Christian Legal Society (CLS) at the university had for many years followed that policy, but in 2004, when it joined the National Christian Legal Society, it changed its rules to exclude homosexuals or those engaging in pre-marital sex. The university enforced its policy, and revoked its official endorsement of the CLS.

Well, the CLS didn't like that, so they're claiming discrimination. They want to be exempt from the rules because they claim that the rules infringe on their religious rights. To be clear, the university did not ban the CLS from convening on campus, or ban students from joining the CLS, and did not even stop the CLS from using university facilities. They just didn't officially endorse the CLS and give it the stipend that official organizations receive.

I see two issues here - receipt of public funds, and official recognition from the university. I don't see that the CLS has a leg to stand on concerning public funds, and I really don't see that they have much more of a case concerning official recognition. To be affiliated with a public institution, you have to follow the public rules. If you want a private club that excludes members for whatever reason, that's fine. Just don't expect to use my tax dollars to pay for your club, and don't whine when a university won't advertise for you.

(This reminds me of the whole brouhaha during the election season, when churches wanted to endorse candidates but keep their tax exempt status. You don't get to break the rules just by playing the religion card.)

Calvin and Hobbes Comic from Go Comics
Calvin and Hobbes on GoComics

Friday, April 16, 2010

Random Thoughts After a Night at Mass

crossOver Easter weekend, I went to church for the first time in years. (I was visiting family, and that same weekend my nephews were getting baptized, confirmed, and receiving first communion - all at the same mass. Since that was such an important occasion for them, I went to watch it.) It was a bit of a strange experience. On the one hand, it was all very familiar. I remembered when to sit, stand, and kneel. I remembered all the appropriate responses and prayers (even the full Nicene Creed). I felt myself reflexively wanting to make the sign of the cross and all the other appropriate gestures. I still felt the urge from my altar boy days to reach down and ring the bells when the priest was preparing communion. On the other hand, I was now watching the mass as an outsider. I was struck by just how much conditioning there was. It was easy to see how people repeating the same things week after week reinforce their existing beliefs. I realized why it was so hard to break that cycle.

Since it was Easter weekend, the Gospel reading was the story of Doubting Thomas. I'd never questioned the meaning of this story as a Christian, but now, as a non-believer, it's obvious how insidious it is. Thomas heard a group of people making claims of a very, very unlikely event. He did what any normal person would do in that situation, and demanded a bit of evidence. When Jesus showed up, he reprimanded Thomas for being skeptical. The moral of the story is supposed to be that blind faith is better than evidence! That type of thinking is exactly the problem with why rumors and urban myths are perpetuated. If everybody demanded a bit of evidence before accepting stories as true, we wouldn't need dedicated debunkers like Snopes or the Myth Busters.

At one point, I did become rather sad, when the priest started talking of praying for the deceased. It got me to thinking about all the people I knew who had died. I felt a double sense of loss - the first for when those people had died in the first place, and the second for when I finally realized that there wasn't an afterlife, and that I actually wouldn't ever get to see them again. Dealing with the death of loved ones and facing our own mortality is never easy, but at least those who have never been promised an afterlife only have to mourn once.

I didn't take communion myself while I was there. I didn't figure the priest would have been very happy to discover that an atheist had eaten the Eucharist. But to tell the truth, I wouldn't mind having a few wafers to snack on. Like I mentioned above, I used to be an altar boy, and we would occasionally snack on non-consecrated wafers. It may be an acquired taste, but I kind of miss it.

One aspect of mass that I've missed since I quit going is the singing. I was never one of those Catholics who sat there silently, or just mumbled the words during hymns. I sang. I wasn't particularly good, but I enjoyed it. So, going into church, I was thinking that I might enjoy singing hymns again. I tried on the first hymn, but I just couldn't get past paying attention to the words and the meaning of what I was singing. So I didn't try to sing anymore after that (even though I had most of the lyrics memorized and didn't need to look in the hymnal).

Anyway, those are just a few of the random thoughts I had after going to mass for the first time in years. I definitely didn't feel any pressure to return to the church, but it was an interesting experience.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Website Update-New & Revised Religious Essays

The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of AtheismI've added two new essays to my Religious Essays section, along with a collection of quotes (for anyone who reads this blog regularly, the two essays will be familiar). I've also revised most of the other essays.

Friday, March 12, 2010

How Monotheistic Is Christianity?

The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of AtheismChristianity claims to be monotheistic (as do the other Abrahamic religions). It's right there in the first commandment. But if it weren't for the Christians' own insistence on this term, would people really label Christianity as monotheistic?

I'll ignore the trinity for this discussion. The father son relationship would certainly seem to suggest at least two deities, but let's just accept the Christian explanation, and assume that they're different manifestations of the same god.

Let's start off looking at the Catholic saints. There are patron saints for everything, from various illnesses, to occupations, to places. I remember when my wife and I were selling our house, my sister in law suggested we bury a statue of Saint Joseph in our front yard. These characters are deities in all but name.

But not all sects of Christianity accept the saints, so let's move on to another character from Christianity - Satan. Here's a being so powerful that he was able to fight a war against Yahweh. He has his own kingdom, Hell. And many sects of Christianity believe that he's powerful enough to influence events in the universe, and that he's going to wage another war against Yahweh at some point in the future.

Most Christians also believe in angels and demons. Archangels are even mentioned by name in the Bible and other religious texts, such as Michael, Gabriel, Luke, Raphael, Uriel, Metatron, and Azrael. Many Christians also accept the concept of guardian angels. So, while the angels may not be as powerful Yahweh, they do have powers that they can use to influence the world.

Now consider the Greek pantheon. Gaia was the first deity, from whom all the other gods came. After the war between the Olympian Gods and the Titans, there were only three main gods who shared control of the universe - Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades. Yes, there were other lesser gods, but they all answered to those three. It seems like this is fairly comparable to Christianity. There are two primary gods, Yahweh and Satan, and all the lesser gods answer to them. The biggest difference seems to be that Yahweh isn't just a powerful god, he's also the creator god. But other polytheistic religions also have the creator god as the most powerful one (such as Vishnu's role in Hinduism).

Considering all this, it seems that calling Christianity a monotheistic religion is mostly an issue of semantics.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

McLeroy Out

Woo Hoo!In yesterday's primary, the incumbent State Board of Education member, Don McLeroy, lost to the challenger, Thomas Ratliff. I can't say how happy I am that McLeroy is going to be off the BoE. Most of the news stories I've read about the primary bring up McLeroy's stance on evolution, which is certainly a major problem, but it certainly wasn't the only one. I've covered a lot of this recently, so I'll just direct readers to this blog entry for a brief summary of McLeroy's shenanigans (English standards, social studies standards, back door dealings, 'standing up to the experts'). Or, go read this essay from McLeroy's own site, where he downplays teaching children critical thinking skills. The election was close, though, so those of us in Texas will have to remain vigilent in future elections. But for the time being, we can breathe a little easier, knowing that there's one less kook affecting our children's education.


Selling Out