Friday, January 14, 2011

Religious people using facts & reason? Cool!

In his new book Fall to Grace: A Revolution of God, Self and Society, Jay Bakker, the son of Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye Messner, asserts that homosexuality is not a sin:

The simple fact is that Old Testament references in Leviticus do treat homosexuality as a sin ... a capital offense even. But before you say, "I told you so," consider this: Eating shellfish, cutting your sideburns and getting tattoos were equally prohibited by ancient religious law...

The truth is that the Bible endorses all sorts of attitudes and behaviors that we find unacceptable (and illegal) today and decries others that we recognize as no big deal."
Leviticus prohibits interracial marriage, endorses slavery and forbids women to wear trousers. Deuteronomy calls for brides who are found not to be virgins to be stoned to death, and for adulterers to be summarily executed.

Examining the original Greek words translated as homosexual and homosexuality in three New Testament passages, Bakker, and others, conclude that the original words have been translated inaccurately in modern English. What we read as homosexuals and homosexuality actually refers to male prostitutes and the men who hire them. The passages address prostitution -- sex as a commodity -- and not same-sex, consensual relationships, Bakker says. The word homosexual first appeared in an English-language Bible in 1958. Bakker is part of a group petitioning Bible publishers to remove the words homosexual and homosexuality from new translations and replace it with terms that more precisely reflect the original Greek - an action not meant to be more politically or socially correct, but to be more historically and linguistically accurate.

Bakker, 35, is pastor of Revolution NYC, a Brooklyn evangelical Christian congregation that meets in a bar. And he is not alone in the Christian community at this Biblical basis for saying homosexuality is not a sin.

All this came up in a blog by Cathleen Falsani, Religion Columnist aka "God Girl", called Is Evangelical Christianity Having a Great Gay Awakening? Why should an Atheist like me care? Because it's an example of religious people thinking and using reason, history and facts to explore the rules that should guide our lives. And I am always supportive of any effort based on reason, history and facts.

And note how this reason-based, history-based and fact-based exploration by Bakker and Falsani and others hasn't gotten rid of their belief in an invisible super friend. At some point, these folks, and others, have decided that faith in an invisible super friend doesn't have to mean ignoring reason, history and facts. I'm not actively trying to encourage people to abandon that overall belief, but I love any effort that encourages people of faith in an invisible super friend to think, to undertake research and to acknowledge human failings in religious dogma.

Many Atheists are frightened at the rhetoric and actions of many people of faith who are working to suppress science, knowledge, and even basic freedoms and human rights. It's nice to know Atheists aren't the only ones frightened by such.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Atheism: still doesn't cause violence

Yes, spree killer and congressional assassin Jared Lee Loughner as an Atheist. Much is being made of that by people on the far right in the USA. Not so much about his passionate devotion to the things they also feel strongly about, like the gold standard or complete mistrust, even hatred, of public officials. And these are the same people who refused to take any responsibility for:
  • Michael Griffin, a Christian who murdered Dr. David Gunn of Pensacola, Florida in 1993.

  • Rev. Paul Jennings Hill, who murdered Dr. John Britton and James Barrett, a clinic escort, in Pensacola, in 1994.

  • John Salvi, a Christian who murdered two women in two clinic attacks in Brookline, Massachusetts in 1994.

  • Eric Robert Rudolph, a Christian whose bombing of the Atlanta Olympics killed two people and wounded 111 others (1996), and whose bombing of health clinics in Sandy Springs and Birmingham, Alabama and of an Atlanta lesbian bar in Atlanta killed two people and injured dozens of others.

  • Timothy McVeigh, who said in an interview that he adhered to "core" Catholic beliefs and that he believed in God (Time, March 30, 1996).

  • James Kopp, a Christian who murdered Dr. Barnett Slepian in 1998 at his home in Amherst, New York (and has been tied to other shootings of doctors and health care workers in Canada and northern New York state).

  • Scott Roeder, a Christian who shot and killed Dr. George Tiller as he served as an usher at his church in Wichita, Kansas in 2009.
All of those people were driven by their Christian faith to commit those acts of violence. All of them felt their religious beliefs justified their acts. Many believed they would be rewarded in Heaven for those unspeakable acts of violence.

Ofcourse, Christians and others on the far right don't always shirk away from terrorists that promote their "values" through acts of violence: Joseph Stack, an anti-tax and anti-government fanatic crashed his plane into an IRS building in Austin, Texas, killing himself and an IRS worker, Vernon Hunter, who was a Vietnam veteran and church volunteer - Christian bloggers were oh-so-sympathetic to his "plight", one going so far to say "one can’t help but feel the anger and frustration of a man who feels his life has been wasted and his dreams thwarted by a system designed and run by the powerful and self-indulgent... for the most part, one can sympathize with this man."

Atheism has no agenda; it's merely a person's lack of belief in a deity. That's it. A huge range of values can accompany Atheism. The vast majority of Atheists I know are deeply caring, very thoughtful people who have a tremendous amount of compassion for others and enthusiasm for all humankind. But, indeed, I know some Atheists who think war isn't a bad thing, who are anti-choice (believing the government should decide whether or not a woman should be allowed to terminate a pregnancy or carry that pregnancy to term), and who are racists. Just as I know Muslims and Christians who believe all that as well.

Sorry, Fox News and others: you've got a long, long, long way to go to convince any sensible person that Atheism causes violence.