Skepticism, Religion Archive

Monday, December 19, 2011

War on Christmas, 2011

Santa in the CrosshairsWe're well into the War on Christmas, with less than a week left to try to destroy the holiday this year. I've already written my post this year complaining about the Salvation Army, and I've written in years past about the whole War on Christmas, so there's not much for me to add this year. So, I think I'm just going to post a bunch of links.

But first, I think I'm going to make a tradition of something I did last year, and embed a YouTube video of Tim Minchin's 'White Whine in the Sun'.

My previous War on Christmas posts:

The Digital Cuttlefish has quite a few Christmas poems. At the bottom of the first link below, he's provided a list of everything he posted this year. So, I'll just link to that one, plus a poem he wrote last year that I really like.

And that's it for my War on Christmas this year.

Added 2011-12-19 - Okay, one more thing. Here's a spoof on the Charlie Brown Christmas special that I couldn't resist posting (from Calamities of Nature). Just click on the image to see it full size.

Calamities of Nature Comic on Charlie Brown Christmas

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

God in Football

Touchdown JesusI just so happened to watch the Denver Chicago game over the weekend (I'm not a huge sports fan, so that's pretty rare), and I caught the after the game sideline interview with the Broncos quarterback, Tim Tebow. He started off by acknowledging his "Lord and Savior Jesus Christ", and apparently, he's well know for his strong faith.

Athletes thanking Jesus is nothing new. I always thought it was a bit odd to think that God would favor one team's prayers over another's, or that God would be a Broncos fan, but I'd gotten used to it. But, a blog website I read on a regular basis, Why Evolution Is True, also just so happened to discuss Tebow's religiosity, and one of the comments on that site presented something novel.

If you really believe there is a powerful supernatural agent that can actually affect the outcome of a football game in your favor, how the heck is this not cheating? If a powerful psychic was steering the ball around from the sidelines, this is obviously an unfair advantage. Once again, God gets a special exemption.

I'd never looked at it that way before. Anyway, I don't have any deep commentary. I just thought it was funny and I wanted to share.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Salvation Army - To Give, or Not to Give?

Salvation Army?It's that time of year when you can't go shopping without hearing the familiar ringing of bells being rung by the person standing next to the hanging red kettle, wishing you a Merry Christmas, grateful for any change you might have. I'd always given to the Salvation Army, usually more than just a bit of spare change, but now that I've begun paying attention to some of the criticisms of the organization, I wonder whether I want to support them.

First things first, the Salvation Army does a lot of good. Their thrift stores are well known, as well as their help to the needy. Perhaps slightly less well known are their disaster relief, rehabilitation centers, and homeless shelters, as well as a few programs I'm sure I've forgotten. And let me also dispel a prominent rumor. The bell ringers don't take a cut from the red kettle (see Snopes).

But, they're not without controversy. Keep in mind, the Salvation isn't just a charity. They're a church. They take positions on issues that would otherwise have nothing to do with their charity work. Take a look at this page on their site:

Salvation Army USA - Position Statements

They have positions on:

  • Abortion
  • Alcohol and Drugs
  • Economic Justice
  • Euthanasia
  • Gambling
  • Homosexuality
  • Human Equality
  • Human Trafficking
  • Marriage
  • Pornography
  • Religious Persecution
  • Suicide

Their positions are exactly what you'd expect from the religious right. For example, here's part of what they have to say about gambling.

The Salvation Army believes that gambling engages its participants and promoters in an exercise of greed contrary to biblical moral teaching. Gambling at best wastes personal resources, and at worst afflicts millions through a lifestyle of compulsive behaviors and destructive influences.

And just to show what they consider so bad:

Some examples of gambling include casino games, state lotteries, and betting on sports.

Moving on to something that's more of an active political discussion right now, here's part of their statement on homosexuality.

Scripture forbids sexual intimacy between members of the same sex. The Salvation Army believes, therefore, that Christians whose sexual orientation is primarily or exclusively same-sex are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of life. There is no scriptural support for same-sex unions as equal to, or as an alternative to, heterosexual marriage.

And here's the beginning of their statement on marriage.

The Salvation Army affirms the New Testament standard of marriage, which is the loving union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. Marriage is the first institution ordained by God (Genesis 2:24), and His Word establishes its significance (Matthew 19:4-6).

Now, if they just had position statements, as bad as they are, that would be one thing. But the Salvation Army actively works to support their positions. The most famous example from this country was when New York City passed the Equal Benefits Bill, requiring all organizations receiving public funds to provide the same benefits to "domestic partners" as they do to spouses. The Salvation Army threatened to quit receiving public funding rather than abide by the law, which would have in effect shut down the majority of their operations in the city.

Then, there are numerous local incidents - none which are officially supported by Salvation Army headquarters, but which are still rather widespread. Someone else has already covered this pretty well, so here's a link to their article on the issue:

ARISE - Do not donate to the Salvation Army

Here's just a sampling of some of those local incidents:

Aside from how their positions affect their own charitable donations, here's an example of them trying to 'steal' money from another charity. When H. Guy Di Stefano died, he wanted his estate to be split evenly between 8 charities. One of them, Greenpeace International, was absorbed by the Greenpeace Fund between the writing of the will and Di Stefano's death. The money that was to go to Greenpeace International was going to go to the Greenpeace Fund, and none of the other charities had a problem with that, except for the Salvation Army. They argued that because it wasn't the same charity named in the will, that the money should be split evenly between the 7 remaining charities. An agreement was reached, and The Army's lawsuit was dropped.

More Info:
Seattle Times - Salvation Army settles its dispute over Issaquah man's $33 million bequest

And then, there's their cult like treatment of officers in their church. They can only marry other officers in the church. And it's not an empty threat. A few years ago, they did terminate an officer when he became engaged to someone from outside the organization.

More Info:
Christian Post - Salvation Army Leader to Lose Job for Violating Marriage Policy

So, what's a person to do? I think it's up to the person and how they're realistically going to respond. It's not as if the Salvation Army is the only game in town. There are plenty of worthwhile charities that don't have such horrible positions. My wife and I already donate to several charities, but I've decided to donate just a little more to make up for what I used to put into the red kettles.

But, I do think the Salvation Army does much more good than harm. So, if the only way you would donate would be to drop your change into one of their kettles, then don't hold back! Most of your money will go to helping people, and it's better than doing nothing at all. So in that case, go ahead and give the Salvation Army your spare change.

Friday, November 4, 2011

My Book on iBookstore

Book Cover to Leaving Christianity: A Collection of Essays by Jeff LewisI was hoping to have Part II of my yearly book review done this week, but that's taking a little longer than I'd hoped (I'm not as slammed at work as I had been, but I'm still working through many of my lunches). But, on a book related them, I'll mention that my book is now available through the iBookstore. So if you have an iGadget of some sort, you can go get it at the following link:

God? Leaving Christianity: A Collection of Essays

Friday, October 21, 2011

Does Religion Lead People to Inaction?

The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of AtheismI only have time for a short blog entry again this week. I'm up to my eyeballs in work, so my lunchbreaks are getting cut a bit short.

Here's a question I've been pondering for a while. How many times have you heard a Christian, particularly of the evangelical variety, claim that it's not through works that we are saved, but through acceptance of Jesus? Can this attitude lead people to skimp on the works? Can Christianity lead people into inaction when it comes to charity?

Anyway, it's just a question. I think religion does influence people's actions, but I also think that people often adjust their interpretation of religion to match their existing ideology. So, if someone's of a charitable nature to begin with, they'll probably be charitable whether or not they're religious. And if they're of a selfish nature to begin with, they'll probably be more focused on the faith over works aspect of Christianity. I just worry that it could have a negative effect on some people, and skew them towards doing less.

On a related topic, here's an article on Jerry Coyne's website*, Why Evolution Is True, exploring the claim that religious individuals donate more than non-religious individuals. The entry is actually a guest post by Sigmund.

*because Coyne hates the term, 'blog'.


Selling Out