Prof. Robert Cargill on Iowa Public Radio to Discuss Issues of Separation of Church and State in Iowa

I’ve been invited to discuss matters pertaining to the separation of church and state on Iowa Public Radio‘s “River to River” with Ben Kieffer tomorrow, Monday, June 2, 2014, from noon to 1pm.

Iowa Public Radio mugWe’ll likely be discussing the recent proclamation signed by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, as well as the use of public Iowa funds to build a Christian themed park in Sioux City, recent court decisions dealing with prayer at government meetings, and my favorite, the placement of religious monuments on government lands and buildings.

You can listen to the discussion live by clicking on the LISTEN LIVE button on the top of the page here.

Tune in tomorrow. Should be fun.

So much for the separation of church and state in Iowa

HOW IN THE NAME OF IOWA could Governor Branstad sign this? How is the even a part of the Governor’s duties?

The governor of our great state of Iowa recently signed a proclamation calling on the people of the state of Iowa to pray and fast and repent according to the text of the Bible.

Again, we’re not talking about the Governor of Kansas or Kentucky, but of Iowa.

Here’s the video.

Hemant Mehta has offered his thoughts on the matter, but allow me to offer a few of my own.

Proclamation signed and issued by the Governor of Iowa, Terry Branstad, inviting Iowans to pray, fast, repent, and 'come together" under the teachings of the deity YHWH so that the deity will "heal our land".

Proclamation signed and issued by the Governor of Iowa, Terry Branstad, inviting Iowans to pray, fast, repent, and unite (lit. “come together”) under the teachings of the deity YHWH so that the deity will “heal our land”.

The Christian equivalent of Sharia law is alive and festering in fundamentalist circles, and those who support the idea of baptizing of our civic administration are scheming increasingly creative ways to sneak religious language and practices into our supposedly secular government.

Read the text of the proclamation here. And note the last paragraph:

“NOW, THEREFORE, I, Terry E Branstad, as Governor of the State of Iowa, do hereby invite all Iowans who choose to join in the thoughtful prayer and humble repentance according to II Chronicles 7:14 in favor of our state and nation to come together on July 14, 2014.”

Now I know that some will come to the governor’s defense and point out that this is a non-binding “proclamation” and not a law, and that the text of the proclamation merely “invites” Iowans to pray instead of “requiring” them to do so. But this is still the Governor of a state calling on residents to pray and repent “according to II Chronicles 7:14″.

And it is the second part of the above line – “according to II Chronicles 7:14″ – that should give us an even greater pause. To be sure, it is a problem for the governor of a state to call on his residents (many of whom are not Jewish or Christian) to participate in acts of devotion and worship to the god YHWH. But when we examine the actual context of the verse invoked in this proclamation, it is all the more troublesome.

The Governor of Iowa issued an executive proclamation specifically employing the text of 2 Chronicles 7:14 to call Iowans to a day of prayer to the Hebrew god YHWH. But please also note that he called on Iowans to participate in “humble repentance according to II Chronicles 7:14.”

And to what precisely are Iowans repenting? “Repentance” implies the leaving behind of our present ways and the turning or returning to the teachings of the god YHWH. Thus, Governor Branstad just signed a proclamation calling on Iowans to return to the specific teachings of a specific god, so that he will bless our land.

What is troubling is that the context of the verse invoked in his proclamation – that of  2 Chronicles 7:12-18 – specifically states that the reason we should we pray to this deity and do what the deity has commanded, is so the deity will “forgive our sin and heal our land.”

Read it for yourself:

2 Chr. 7:12 Then the LORD appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice.
2 Chr. 7:13 When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people,
2 Chr. 7:14 if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
2 Chr. 7:15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place.
2 Chr. 7:16 For now I have chosen and consecrated this house so that my name may be there forever; my eyes and my heart will be there for all time.
2 Chr. 7:17 As for you, if you walk before me, as your father David walked, doing according to all that I have commanded you and keeping my statutes and my ordinances,
2 Chr. 7:18 then I will establish your royal throne, as I made covenant with your father David saying, ‘You shall never lack a successor to rule over Israel.’

Does the Governor of Iowa believe that prayer, fasting, and repentance to the teaching of YHWH will “heal the land” of Iowa? Perhaps he does. Should the Governor of Iowa be calling on the residents of Iowa to participate with him in this act of sympathetic magic? Absolutely not!

What is all the more troubling is what specifically the verse invoked in the proclamation is calling upon King Solomon to do. Again, context is key in reading the Bible!

Did the Governor realize that the context of 2 Chronicles 7:14 is the building of the temple to YHWH in Jerusalem?

Again, let us look at the verses that appear on either side of 2 Chronicles 7:14:

2 Chr. 7:11 Thus Solomon finished the house of the LORD and the king’s house; all that Solomon had planned to do in the house of the LORD and in his own house he successfully accomplished.
2Chr. 7:12 Then the LORD appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice.
2Chr. 7:13 When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people,
2Chr. 7:14 if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
2Chr. 7:15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place.
2Chr. 7:16 For now I have chosen and consecrated this house so that my name may be there forever; my eyes and my heart will be there for all time.

Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem

The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem now stands where the Temple in Jerusalem once stood.

Did Governor Branstad realize that this Temple to YHWH in Jerusalem no longer stands, that the Romans destroyed it in 70 CE, and that the Islamic Dome of the Rock stands where the Jewish Temple once stood?

Does the Governor of Iowa realize that invoking the text of 2 Chronicles 7 in an executive proclamation may be seen my some many as a call to re-establish the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, which would necessarily involve the destruction of the third holiest shrine in Islam, the Dome of the Rock?

Because this is precisely what many fundamentalist Christian and Jewish organizations want to do: rebuild the Third Temple! And this becomes a much bigger problem when Governor Branstad employs a verse that is regularly employed by religious zealots to call for the destruction of the Dome of the Rock and the re-establishment of the Temple to YHWH in Jerusalem.

Yet, this is precisely the context of the passage referred to in the proclamation! Is Governor Branstad calling on Iowans to “pray” to YHWH, and to “repent” to his teachings so that the Temple that YHWH has “chosen and consecrated” will stand forever?? That’s what the verse implies. That is the verse’s context.


This is a clear violation of the principle of separation of church and state, which was first introduced by Thomas Jefferson and made abundantly clear in our US Treaty of Tripoli, which spells out explicitly that:

The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion“.

I discuss this further in posts responding to claims that the United States was “founded as a Christian nation.”

Let me say this once more clearly:

We were NOT founded as a Christian nation. We we founded as a secular nation by many Christians, but we were NOT founded as a “Christian nation”.

And our Founders had the foresight to see the problems that would arise should the civic government ever engage in favoring one religion over another. This is because the same First Amendment that allows the freedom of religion for Christians also allows the worship of other gods – a clear violation of the very teachings not to worship other gods referred to in 2 Chronicles 7:14! (Cf. Deut. 13:12-16; Exod. 20:3-5; Matt. 4:10; Matt. 22:36-38; 1 Cor. 10:14) The hypocrisy is palpable.

Invoking the First Amendment of the US Constitution to defend the signing of an executive proclamation citing 2 Chronicles 7:14 is like invoking the Second Amendment in issuing a proclamation calling for the confiscation of all firearms. It is the epitome of irony.

Allow me to offer a parallel example from a different religion to demonstrate my point that this is not only a violation of the principle of separation of church and state, but why so many Iowans may have such a strong reaction to the Governor’s involvement with this particular religious decree.

What if a Fundamentalist Islamic group, let’s say, the Islamic Family Leader, invoked the same First Amendment of the US Constitution to ask the Governor of Iowa to issue a non-binding proclamation that called Iowans to repentance to God and cited Qur’an Sura 9:3:

So if you repent, that is best for you; but if you turn away – then know that you will not cause failure to God. And give tidings to those who disbelieve of a painful punishment.

or Qur’an Sura 9:5(b):

But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give zakah (alms), let them [go] on their way. Indeed, God is Forgiving and Merciful.”

Simple enough, right? Same basic message of 2 Chron. 7:14: beautiful holy verses calling on Iowans to “repent” so as not to incur the wrath of God.

So what if Governor Branstad issued a similar non-binding proclamation that invoked these Qur’anic verses? My guess is that this would anger some in the Christian community, who might begin asking questions about the separation of church and state.

And of course, those objecting might actually go and read the larger context of the Qur’anic verses cited in the Governor’s proclamation, and would find that the proclamation deliberately neglected the context of the words coming just before the verse cited in the proclamation, Sura 9:5a:

And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists (which likely includes Christians who believe in a triune God, which the Qur’an repeatedly derides as polytheism. Cf. Qur’an Sura 4:171) wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush.”

Do you think some people might object to this?? Might Christians object to a Qur’anic verse calling on Muslims to ambush and kill non-believers at least as much as many Muslims might object to Governor Branstad invoking averse that celebrates the establishment of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem where the Dome of the Rock now stands? Do you understand how this might make some Iowans unhappy?

This must be the litmus test for invoking religion in state matters. If Christians would object to the Governor of Iowa invoking a Qur’anic verse in an official proclamation, why would they expect others not to object to his invoking a verse from the Bible?

When the elected leader of a secular state calls on citizens of his state to engage in acts of devotion and worship (e.g., prayer, fasting, repentance, etc.) to one god and not to another, the elected leader engages in favoring one religious tradition over another. And while the elected leader may not be “establishing” one religion as the official state religion, by favoring one religion over another, and by calling on citizens to participate in one religion and not another, and by invoking a verse from one sacred book of scripture over another, the elected leader violates the principle of separation of church and state.

Besides, Jesus called on his followers to AVOID large public prayer performances, and instead said,

“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matt. 6:6)

By signing this proclamation, Governor Branstad gains absolutely nothing except a scandal over issues of church and state (and perhaps a sizable campaign contribution or political reconciliation).


In closing, I’d still like to offer Governor Branstad the benefit of the doubt, and believe that he (or at least his advisers) failed to read the “history and purpose” section of the still “under construction” Prayer 7-14-14 website, which is written in the first person by an anonymous author who claims God was speaking to him in visions and dreams.

ScreenCap of the "History and Purpose" page on the prayer7-14-14.com website as of May 30, 2014.

ScreenCap of the “History and Purpose” page on the prayer7-14-14.com website as of May 30, 2014.

Here’s a section from the “History and Purpose” page of the Prayer 7-14-14 website (see screen cap image at right):

“Since 2011 God has been speaking to me through dreams, visions and His word about our NationBelow I have referenced one dream and given two references, in scripture, that show God speaks through dreams and visions and tells us we need to be able to discern the times.. [sic]

Acts 2:17-21
AND IT SHALL COME TO PASS IN THE LAST DAYS, SAYS GOD,  THAT I WILL POUR OUT MY SPIRIT ON ALL FLESH;  YOUR SONS AND YOUR DAUGHTERS SHALL PROPHESY, YOUR YOUNG MEN SHALL SEE VISIONS, YOUR OLD MEN SHALL DREAM DREAMS…I WILL SHOW WONDERS IN HEAVEN ABOVE AND SIGNS IN THE EARTH BENEATH; …THE SUN SHALL BE TURNED INTO DARKNESS, AND THE MOON INTO BLOOD, BEFORE THE COMING OF THE GREAT AND AWESOME DAY OF THE LORD. AND IT SHALL COME TO PASS THAT WHOEVER CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD SHALL BE SAVED!

MATTHEW  16:1-4
WHEN IT IS EVENING YOU SAY, ‘IT WILL BE FOUL WEATHER TODAY, FOR THE SKY IS RED AND THREATENING.’   HYPOCRITES!  YOU KNOW HOW TO DISCERN THE FACE OF THE SKY, BUT YOU CANNOT DISCERN THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES….

ON 4-20-13 God spoke to me through a dream and His word…

In the dream I was writing on a red, white and blue shirt, “Something will start to churn in you today.”  I wanted to change the word to move, but I heard a voice say “NO, it is churn.” I happened to be reading through Hosea again for the third, fourth or fifth time, and I was starting at Chapter 11 that day.  When I got to verse 8, you can see below, it said His heart CHURNS  (just like in the dream)within Him and His sympathy is stirred.

I knew God was is pursuing America to turn back….” (red highlights mine)

Did the Office of the Governor of the State of Iowa really issue a proclamation sponsored by this group??

Sigh.


It is my hope that in the future, elected state officials will refrain from issuing calls for Americans to engage in acts of worship to any god. And if they do persist in this practice, that elected officials would refrain from invoking highly problematic verses from holy books that members of other religious groups might find wholly offensive and alienating.

When the Founders of our nation did mention a deity, they did so in narrowly defined contexts, referring to it, for example, as the “Creator” or as “Nature’s God“, and deliberately refrained from mentioning any specific religion, or from invoking or citing holy scriptures specific to any particular religious tradition.

There is no mention of Jesus or Christianity in the Declaration of Independence. There is no mention of Jesus or Christianity in the Constitution. We were not founded as a Christian nation. God did not write the Constitution. And when a deity was referenced (other than the standard “Year of Our Lord” dating convention), it was in a theistic or Deistic fashion, and not a specifically Christian one. This should serve as a template for those elected leaders who insist on referring to a deity as part of their civic duties.

Calling on citizens to engage in acts of worship to a specific deity and invoking the religious tradition affiliated with that deity only creates problems for the elected official and paints him or her as a tool of fundamentalist religious zealots, who hope to infiltrate our secular government and introduce religious law that our Founders sought to avoid at all costs.


To learn more about the presence of Christianity in our founding documents, take this quiz.

 

New Pew Poll Shows Republicans, Evangelicals Least Likely to Accept Evolution

A new Pew research poll on the “Public’s Views on Human Evolution” was released presenting data that backs up what many political and religious scholars have suspected for some time: that white Evangelical Republicans (particularly older ones) constitute the group that most rejects the basic scientific principle of human evolution via natural selection.

The results are simultaneously unbelievable and yet quite typical, or at the very least, expected.

While only 33% of adult Americans still don’t accept human evolution via natural selection, opting instead to believe that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time”, THAT NUMBER NEARLY DOUBLES TO 64% among white evangelical protestants(!) AND, of those white evangelical protestants that did accept evolution, half of them said that a “supreme being guided [the] process.” As a point of comparison, a majority of Catholics (both white, 68%, and Hispanic, 53%) accept human evolution.

But what is truly disturbing is the continued religio-political marriage between the Republican party and white Evangelicals (the most fundamentalist of whom are spearheading the even more conservative Tea Party movements). While a majority of Independents (65%) and Democrats (67%) accept evolution as the origin of humankind, A MAJORITY OF REPUBLICANS NOW REJECT EVOLUTION – with 48% of Republicans saying that humans “existed in present from since the beginning”, and only 43% of Republicans accepting evolution. And incredulously, unlike trends in nearly every other demographic where science and science education appear to (finally!) be taking root and acceptance of human evolution is increasing, THE PERCENTAGE OF REPUBLICANS ACCEPTING EVOLUTION IS ACTUALLY DOWN 11%(!!) over the past four years, from 54% in 2009 to 43% in 2013.

No wonder many think the Republican party is out of touch. Statistically, Republicans are actually getting DUMBER scientifically! Then again, look at the recent major Republican political candidates and their religious views. Good grief!

Also of note in the survey:

  • Men accept evolution more than women (65% to 55%).
  • Not surprisingly, college graduates accept evolution far more than those with a high school or less education (72% to 51%).
  • And again not surprisingly, younger demographics consistently accept evolution more than their older counterparts, with 68% of those ages 18-29 accepting evolution, roughly 60% of those ages 30-64, but only 49% of those 65 and older accepting evolution. This is likely due to a number of factors, including an increased acceptance of science and scientific principles among high school and college students, the rise of the Internet and the availability of credible information about evolution – information that is not always taught by parents and pastors, and it is also likely a reflection of the increasing rejection of traditional religious institutions by younger generations.

In sum, we now have hard data to support what many of us have observed for some time now: a correlation between older generations, white Evangelicals, the Republican party, and a rejection of one of the basic principles of science, namely human evolution via natural selection.

We can take hope, however, that among both Christian and non-religious groups alike, there is an overall increase in the acceptance of human evolution via natural selection, and that those still rejecting evolution appear to be limited to groups that are lesser educated, Evangelical, and of older ages. Again, this is likely due to an increased acceptance of science and scientific principles among younger generations, the Internet’s ability to provide increasingly credible information about evolution and information demonstrating the fallacies (both scientific and religious) of Creationism, and the increasingly pervasive stigma that Creationism is associated with old, white, conservative, Evangelical Republicans who are out of touch with science, reality, and the majority of the people.


UPDATE: I had the wrong URL in the initial link to the Pew study. It now correctly links to the study.

Reexamining the Claim that Atheists are Smarter than Theists

There is an interesting post by Tomas Rees at Epiphenom that examines the old claim that atheists are, on average, more intelligent than their religious counterparts.

The post examines conclusions from multiple studies done using multiple different methodologies.

In one study, 63 studies measuring IQ vs. religiosity yielded evidence that “the higher a person’s intelligence, the lower the person scored on the religiosity measures”.

The same researcher (Zuckerman) noted that “the relationship is weakest in pre-college (i.e. young) individuals, and stronger for religious beliefs than for religious behaviour (i.e. church going).”

Another study done by Francisco Cribari-Neto and Tatiene Souza examines statistically whether religious culture is related generally to intellectual life.

They were able to show that the link is real, and that it is independent of economic development (both intelligence and loss of religion are independently linked to economic development, but there is something additional to that).

The effect also appears to be strongest in nations at levels of average IQ – as shown in the figure.

People have offered different explanations for these results. I’m less drawn to the idea that it is because religion is irrational, intelligent, educated people simply “know better” or less likely to conform to a popular system of beliefs. Whether or not it is true, it is difficult to quantify.

I am more drawn to the idea that belief, and its subsequent social organization as formal (or informal) religion, is an evolutionary adaptation, and therefore instinctive in our brains. This is what Satoshi Kanazawa has suggested, and is a central thesis of Michael Shermer’s book, “The Believing Brain“, which I’ve blogged about in the past.

Belief in things that aren’t real (e.g., thinking the wind is a dangerous predator) is an evolutionary adaptation that costs individual organisms very little, and is therefore easily adopted and passed to subsequent generations via memes (being taught that things might exist that can hurt you) and ultimately genetically (those that don’t believe this at times get eaten when it’s not the wind, but actually a dangerous predator, thereby removing them from the gene pool).

Therefore belief is evolutionary and instinctive, and it takes intelligence and training to override our natural instincts and break free from our “natural” beliefs. We accomplish the same feat when we learn that optical illusions are, in fact, illusions, that coincidence exists (and that chance happenings aren’t always the result of intentional agency or design), and that noises in the dark aren’t always monsters.

Intelligence and educational experiences allow us to come to a rational conclusion that some things present in our brains as children are mere evolutionarily advantageous devices, but illusory nonetheless. This is how and why we learn that the dark isn’t scary, that there aren’t monsters under the bed, that Santa was a reward-based behavioral modification device employed by our parents to get us to behave as kids (that is, until we figured out that the Santa myth is full of holes and that the evidence doesn’t stand up to rational scrutiny, much like other systems of belief designed to modify our behavior), and that the efficacy of prayer largely matches the statistical probability of chance over the long term and over large samples of people.

Overcoming popular belief(s) takes intelligence and experience, and this is beginning to be shown in study after study.

Give Dr. Rees’ post a read!

HT: James McGrath on FB

On Ad Hominem Cries of “AGNOSTIC” and “ATHEIST” in Response to Scholarly Critique

Deflect. Deflect. Mock, then deflect again. Never address the issue, just deflect, attack the critic, and mock. This passes for “theology” and logic in some circles.

In response to recent posts I’ve made about the Bible’s understanding of certain social institutions like marriage and slavery, a colleague of mine responded immediately, yet indirectly with a logically fallacious and highly ad hominem criticism of agnosticism and atheism.

This is twice in one week for my friend.

I presented a theological problem concerning why the same God of the Bible would slaughter thousands of Egyptian children to free his people from slavery, and then instruct those same people on how to make slaves of their own.

And in response, rather than address the theological issue at hand – that glaring contradiction and theological conundrum posited by the text – my colleague shifted the response to an ad hominem attack against agnostics, arguing (indirectly) that I’m “cudgeling” them with a god I don’t believe exists. The post then rambles on, employing scattered, tangential analogies and other red herrings in the hope of diverting attention for the fact he has no answer to the dilemma posited by my post, or perhaps to disguise the cognitive dissonance necessary to maintain conflicting beliefs.

Of course, the problem with my friend’s line of reasoning is that HE believes God exists, and, HE believes the biblical texts to be an accurate “revelation” of the nature of God. Thus, the burden is to explain why HE continues to believe what he believes in spite of the glaring ethical problem created by such conflicting positions (i.e., God kills to free slaves, and then instructs those freed how to make slaves of their own).

The fact that I don’t believe that the text accurately reflects God – or that God even exists – is completely moot: I’m not the one making the claim that the revelatory text of the Bible accurately reflects God. I don’t believe it does. For me, the problem is solved: the text is a reflection of Iron Age thinking about social interactions (e.g., marriage, slavery, etc.) that has been attributed to God in order to justify it. I realize the conflicting claims don’t make sense, are contradictory, and I dismiss them as the beliefs of an ancient people who felt that the answer to ethnic diversity and religious plurality (so prized and protected today by our U.S. Constitution) was to kill those who don’t believe what they believe because God said so (Deut. 20:16-18).

But my colleague is trapped between claiming that the Bible is the “revealed” authority for social issues of slavery and marriage, and the often appalling actions of the God described in that same Bible (cf. the genocide of the Amalekites ordered in 1 Sam. 15:2-3, or the slaughter of Egyptian children mentioned above), and simply cannot resolve the glaring ethical contradictions contained within it.

And that’s the point of the exercise: to point out that there are horrendous INTERNAL ethical contradictions (note: no appeal to science here, just laying one biblical text along side another) that a believer in the revelatory nature of the social aspects of the texts cannot reconcile.

He can’t do it! So in response, he claims that the one pointing out this discrepancy is somehow the fool. He claims that the one highlighting the contradiction is waving around an “invisible cudgel”, when in fact, I am merely waving around the believer’s cudgel. In this regard, it’s a mirror. If they believe it exists and is real, then they must deal with the damage caused by it. But, if they realize it’s just an ancient set of social contracts attributed to a deity (as I and countless others do), then they don’t.

The believer is simply being hit with the cudgel of his/her own creation. It’s not my cudgel, it’s theirs. These are their claims, not mine. The burden of proof is on them to offer some semblance of a rational defense for their claims, not me, because I don’t accept them! They are the ones saying that the text is “revelation” and therefore binding on modern civil law in the case of same-sex marriage, but somehow not in the case of slavery. My question exposes this, and their only response is to attack the one asking the questions for not believing in the veracity of the contradictory claims.

philosopharaptor_1_plus_1The logical fallacy in my friend’s response is like asking, “How can you tell me that 1+1 doesn’t equal three, when YOU don’t even believe that 1+1=3? You idiot! You’re waving around a false cudgel.”

My response is that his response is circular reasoning combined with a mixed analogy (the “double-double” of logical fallacies), one which is quite easy to expose.

It’s like saying, “You can’t tell me that the claims made by the Flying Spaghetti Monster are contradictory, because you don’t even believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You’re waving around a false cudgel!”

With all apologies, it’s laughable. Simply change the name of the god and even my friend would (or at least should) reject it as silly. I don’t accept the claim precisely because it’s an easily exposed fallacy. It’s an absurd claim couched in circular reasoning.

Yet ultimately, this is the rhetorical tactic all too often employed by those who cannot reconcile their claims in the “revelatory” nature of biblical texts discussing social relationships (slavery, marriage, etc.) with our modern ethic: they tackle the person instead of tackling the problem (the very definition of an “ad hominem” attack), and they deflect from their lack of a solution by laughing, mocking, and declaring, “You fool!” to those asking them to reconcile their contradictory claims.

And even though the entire point of the exercise is to demonstrate that the God they believe to be making the claims is either self-contradictory, outright evil, or nonexistent, they claim that because the agnostic doesn’t believe in this flawed theological construct, they have no right to criticize it.

At the end of the day, his only response is that I don’t believe the fallacious argument, so I am ineligible to point out its flaws. I present a logical dilemma, and his only response is, “ATHEIST!” (or in my case, “AGNOSTIC!”).

This may pass for “theology” and “logic” is some circles, but it sure as She’ol ain’t scholarly.

I shake my head.

An Observation on the God of the Bible and Slavery

God meme "kills thousands of Egyptian children in order to free his people *from* slavery (Exod 12:29-30) immediately instructs his people how to *make their own slaves* (Exod 21:2-7; Lev 25:44-46)"

Has anyone ever noticed that in the Bible, God slaughters thousands of Egyptian children in order to free his people from slavery (Exod 12:29-30), BUT then immediately instructs his people on how to make slaves of their own (Exod. 21:2-7; Lev. 25:44-46)?

Exodus 12:29-30

“At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. (30) Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his officials and all the Egyptians; and there was a loud cry in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.” (NRSV)

Exodus 21:2-7

“When you buy a male Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, but in the seventh he shall go out a free person, without debt. (3) If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. (4) If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s and he shall go out alone. (5) But if the slave declares, “I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out a free person,” (6) then his master shall bring him before God. He shall be brought to the door or the doorpost; and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him for life. (7) When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do…” (NRSV)

Lev. 25:44-46

“As for the male and female slaves whom you may have, it is from the nations around you that you may acquire male and female slaves. (45) You may also acquire them from among the aliens residing with you, and from their families that are with you, who have been born in your land; and they may be your property. (46) You may keep them as a possession for your children after you, for them to inherit as property. These you may treat as slaves, but as for your fellow Israelites, no one shall rule over the other with harshness.”

So God is OK with slavery, as long as they are foreigners.

[And in the NT, slaves are commanded to continue to obey their masters.]

Col. 3:22

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything, not only while being watched and in order to please them, but wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord.” (NRSV)

1 Pet. 2:18

“Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.” (NIV)

Eph. 6:5

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ” (NRSV)

So, tell me again how God is the objective moral foundation for all time?

(And please don’t claim “prooftexting” or “out of context”: these verses mean exactly what they say, and they mean the very same thing in their fuller context. Besides, in what context would the supreme God of the universe ever say that it’s OK to own other people as property?)

(And quick, someone tell me how I am not reading this properly because I do not “possess” the seer stone Holy Spirit. Please tell me that this “revealed Scripture” doesn’t really mean what it says.)

(And before you make the “slavery was totally different back then” argument, read here.)

I welcome comments.

that awkward moment (surreal actually) when Christians dismiss the scholarship of non-Christians

That awkward moment when you ask, "Hey, I wonder if there's been any more public discussion on whether or not I'm saved"...

So it turns out that there has been a discussion online regarding my personal religious views (or lack thereof). Ironically, the subject made its way into the public realm when my friend, Dr. Jim West, introduced the topic as a red herring distraction from a lengthy discussion we had been having about why he continues to support the denial of rights and privileges to same-sex couples when it comes to having their marriages legally recognized by various secular state governments. The discussion where I challenged Dr. West on his fallacious logic regarding what he insists must necessarily follow if same-sex marriage is legalized can be found in the comments here.

In response to our exchange, Dr. West posted this post, in which he introduces yet another logical fallacy (a red herring) which he has used in the past, namely, that only Christians can critique Christianity, and that critiques made by those who are not Christians can be dismissed because they have no vested interest in the preservation of the faith. Or, to use Dr. West’s words,

“…we have different perspectives PRECISELY because I see life through the lens of Christian faith and he does not. It is for this reason that our views on several issues differ…I simply recognize that, at the end of the day, we approach problems and issues from differing starting points.”

Of course, once anyone reads the original disagreement, one quickly notices the inherent logical fallacy is Dr. West’s line of reasoning: my critique was regarding Dr. West’s selective hermeneutic depending on the particular social issue he’s addressing. While discussing slavery, despite the fact that the Bible clearly establishes divinely ordained slavery (Lev. 25:44; Exod. 21:4-6; Deut. 15:16-17) and endorses this previously established slavery (Titus 2:9; 1 Peter 2:18; Col. 3:22; Eph. 6:5), Dr. West opposes it. Similarly, despite the fact that the Bible clearly sees women as secondary in status to men, and that the New Testament commands women to remain silent (1 Cor. 14:34; Col. 3:18; Eph. 5:22-23) and not to have authority over a man (1 Tim. 2:12), Dr. West does not preach the continued suppression of women’s rights in our secular government. And yet, when I asked him why he continues to support the suppression of the rights and privileges of same-sex couples, he responded with a different, more fundamentalist, literalistic hermeneutic, stating:

“…i’m a christian and we don’t have the luxury of dispensing with things just because our culture thinks we should. culture isn’t the final arbiter of truth. revelation is.”

Of course, the blatant hypocrisy and inconsistency of this highly selective hermeneutic is glaring. Are not the passages condoning slavery and the suppression of women also “revealed Scripture”? Why is it that when the biblical revelation orders women to remain silent, Dr. West uses one hermeneutic to work around the passage so as to allow some women to have authority over men in the secular state government, but when homosexuality is condemned in the Bible, all of a sudden this sacred revelation is binding for all time, even for our secular government?

The question I posed to Dr. West was why he inconsistently employed one hermeneutic to read passages he was OK with dismissing, and a different hermeneutic to retain prohibitions against things he didn’t like (like homosexuality). And yet, Dr. West’s response deflected from his own inconsistency, and he proceeded to attack the accreditation of the one pointing out the hypocrisy, namely, me. I wasn’t a Christian, so we simply have to agree to disagree. However, that wasn’t the point of contention! The issue was Dr. West’s inconsistency, not my accreditation.

I based my critique on logic and facts (what the text actually says), and because he had no answer to his inconsistency, he simply ignored the critique, and invoked a rhetorical red herring to deflect from the critique: I wasn’t a Christian, so we’re going to disagree on this.

The only problem is, ignoring a critique does not invalidate the critique. Or, to quote Aldous Huxley, “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”

Or put another way, exposure of genuine logical fallacies and hermeneutical inconsistencies are valid regardless of who is pointing it out. The fact that one is not part of a particular group does not negate said person’s critiques of said group. To argue that one must first be a devout, believing Muslim in order to truly understand and therefore critique Islam is just as fallacious when it is applied to Christianity. (And qal w’homer, it is all the more fallacious when the one doing the critiquing has, in fact, been formally trained in both a graduate Christian seminary and at the doctoral level in one of the top state universities in the nation.) And, Dr. West would be among the first to affirm the notion that a person need not be properly accredited or affiliated in order to convey truth, be it an unaccredited college or an unaffiliated congregant. Dr. West knows that one’s lack of affiliation and accreditation does not limit one’s ability to speak truth.

And yet, rather than answer the question, Dr. West dismissed the critique arguing that since I was an agnostic, my point of view was not binding upon Christians (again, a non sequitur).

So, Dr. James McGrath called Dr. West on his dodge and non sequitur, describing Dr. West’s comments regarding same-sex marriage to be “so ridiculously illogical as to be bizarre”.

In response to this, Dr. West, rather than acknowledge that he had dodged the issue at hand, doubled down on my agnosticism, claiming,

“I didn’t say Bob wasn’t a Christian. BOB SAYS Bob isn’t a Christian. Bob calls himself an agnostic.”

And while the statement is true (although I would ask whether one can question the unprovable faith claims made by a group and still retain affiliation with said group), it continues to miss the point: Dr. West’s entire critique of whatever my personal religious beliefs may or may not be was a diversionary tactic designed to avoid addressing his inconsistent interpretation of passages, as well as his selective invoking of the “revelation” of the Bible. Dr. McGrath went so far as to remind Dr. West that the Israelite Exodus from Egypt is also “revealed” – (in fact, they named an entire book after it!) – and yet, Dr. West has elected to follow the interpretative conclusions of the so-called biblical “minimalists” and deny the biblical accounts of the Exodus as they are presented in the Bible. Dr. West has even written in defense of “minimalism”, and has argued that those who insist upon the historicity of the very “revealed” biblical accounts of the Exodus “are the true distorters of Scripture.”

Once again, Dr. West rejects slavery and the suppression of women, and rejects the historical biblical Exodus, but when it comes to marriage equality for same-sex couples before the law, he suddenly remembers that Scripture is “revelation” that must be codified into secular state law for all time. The selective inconsistency is obvious.

Joel Watts also chimed in with a thoughtful piece asking whether the religious preference of an individual actually matters in a scholarly discussion about the Bible. Mr. Watts rightly challenges Dr. West’s fallacy that “acceptable facts can only generate from acceptable quarters,” and rightly concludes:

“…who the hell cares what religion someone is if their statements are supported by the philosopher’s trinity — facts, logic, and reasoning? Further, the religion of the person, or the lack thereof, does not in anyway limit them from contributing to a discussion on said religion.”

But meanwhile, back at the Hall of Justice, an interesting thing began to occur on James McGrath’s blog; a conversation broke out regarding whether or not I was actually a Christian. I watched as different individuals chimed in with evidence for and against my religious affiliation. The conversation got so bogged down in claims and counterclaims that James suggested that someone take the time to just ask me. So one of the individuals making comments (named “pithom”) did just that: invited me to answer the question once and for all.

And so I did. Here’s the text of my response on Dr. McGrath’s blog:

“that’s not a bad idea. and thanx to pithom for the invitation.

so tell me: where in matthew 25, when the king is separating the sheep from the goats, does it list church attendance, proper position on same-sex marriage, or even belief in the existence of god in the list of reasons given by the king for admission into the kingdom.

where in this passage (matt 25:31-46) does it even mention doing these deeds in the name of jesus?

what is more important: proper action or proper belief?

i say action. lived life is superior to believed life, and i’m not even from missouri.

kind and just deeds are not means to an end; they are ends in themselves. we should not do kind things so we can get something in return (like a hypothetical star in a hypothetical crown in a hypothetical heaven). rather, we should do what is right because it is the right thing to do, understanding ‘right’ as that which builds up self and neighbor and community, and makes others’ lives a little brighter.

if we take care of each other, the afterlife will take care of itself. and if there is none, then we still lived a great life, and our children will speak highly of us at the city gates. and if there is, then all the better.

stop arguing about life after death and start living the one before it. live it well. be merciful. be fair. and love one another.

however you define that, that’s what i am.”

Of course, anyone who has ever read my “about me” page on this blog or my Wikipedia user page should be able to ascertain the answer. But still, my personal beliefs (or lack thereof) are not the point!

Rather, the points are twofold:

  1. One’s personal religious or nonreligious affiliation should not matter in a professional, scholarly debate about the subject matter. Unless one appeals to one’s own faith as evidence in support of an argument, one’s personal religious beliefs, or lack thereof, should be moot. As long as the argument is rooted in facts, evidence, logic, and reason, then it doesn’t matter if the scholar is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist, capitalist, communist, or Martian: sound arguments are sound regardless of who makes them.
  2. The entire discussion over the fate of my eternal soul and my status as a Christian was, from the outset, a diversion from the issue at hand: Jim West’s inconsistent hermeneutic, and his selective appeal to the “revealed” status of Christian Scripture when the condemnation of homosexuality was under discussion. The entire discussion of my agnosticism is moot.

So, Joel Watts decided to have some fun with the situation, and after asking me if he could, posted an online poll asking whether or not I am “saved”. But the poll was designed to highlight the above two points: that in scholarship, one’s religious affiliation or non-affiliation is moot as long as the arguments are sound.

Interestingly, Joel informs me that at last count, with 29 votes cast, over half of those casting votes apparently understand the fallacy of Jim West’s diversionary tactic, and 55% have voted that my religious affiliation “doesn’t matter because facts are facts.” However, I was also intrigued to discover that 34% went ahead and voted “no”, that I’m not saved, and that only a paltry 10% (3 votes) voted that I am, in fact, “saved”.

Thus, from this data we can conclude two things:

  1. that I had better stock up on otherworldly fire retardant, and more importantly,
  2. we can see why fallacious appeals to an opponent’s lack of faith (like screaming “ATHEIST!”) are so effective: nearly half of those casting votes cast judgment on the fate of my soul rather than notice that the poll was designed to test whether voters could recognize the logical fallacy of appealing to my moot religious affiliation. (But I do offer my thanks to those three brave souls who consider me saved. ;-)

I want my friend to change his opinion on same-sex marriage. I want him to see the beam in his own eye – the inconsistency of his hermeneutic – that everyone else so clearly sees. I want him to see that using an appeal to the revelatory nature of the Bible to suppress the civil (not religious, but civil) rights and privileges of LGBTQ individuals is just as wrong as when it was done to slaves in the 1860s and to women in the early 1900s. I want him to stop posting embarrassing (and to many, offensive) comparisons between homosexuality and criminal activities like polygamy and pedophilia, and lumping them all together by arguing, “insofar as they are deviations, they are similar.” Such comments are not worthy of scholars and professionals, but are instead what we have come to expect from many fundamentalist preachers and politicians. I want my friend to change his scholarly opinion, and I want him to stop attacking the beliefs (or non-beliefs) of other scholars making valid points. Again, such sloppy rhetoric is not worthy of scholars.

Rather than make my personal beliefs the topic of conversation, I simply ask my friend to apply a consistent hermeneutic to his reading of the Bible, and to stop singling out gays for special condemnation.


for the back story:

On Genesis 6:6-7 and Political Claims that God is “Pro-life”

Verse of the Day: Genesis 6:6-7:

Gen. 6:6 And the LORD regretted that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.

Gen. 6:7 So the LORD said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

The Hebrew word מחה translated as “blot out” above means “to wipe out, annihilate, destroy”. Thus, according to the passage above, God regretted that he had created humans, contemplated it, grieved about it, and then after considering the matter thoughtfully with his divine omniscience, came to the decision to annihilate humans (save, of course, for Noah and his family and some animals). He regretted that he had made them. He was sorry that he had created humans because they wouldn’t obey him.

THAT IS IN THE BIBLE! THAT IS SCRIPTURE!

According to Genesis 6:6-7, God admits that he deliberately drowned every human on earth. He INTENTIONALLY KILLED EVERY PERSON ON EARTH (except Noah and his family). He killed children, and babies, and even the unborn. According to his own claim, he killed them all - because he said they were 'evil'. Unborn children and 6-month old babies DELIBERATELY DROWNED because they were 'evil' (according to the Bible).

According to Genesis 6:6-7, God admits that he deliberately drowned every human on earth. He INTENTIONALLY KILLED EVERY PERSON ON EARTH (except Noah and his family). He killed children, and babies, and even the unborn. According to his own claim, he killed them all – because he said they were ‘only evil every day’ (רק רע כל-היום). Unborn children and 6-month old babies DELIBERATELY DROWNED because they were ‘evil’ (according to the Bible).

So here’s my question – and let’s set aside the question of whether mass genocide is ever the answer to disobedience or not being praised enough. (Remember: it doesn’t get more “inhuman” than committing mass genocide and drowning all humans.)

But again, here’s my question:

I’m wondering whether God considered all of the unborn children being carried in their mothers’ wombs when he decided to murder all humans.

I’m wondering how some can claim that God is “pro life”, when God not only committed mass genocide – by his own admission AND after careful consideration of the matter – but when he also destroyed all of those unborn children that necessarily would have been carried around by their mothers as a natural part of daily life on earth.

Again, this is not what some atheist claims about God; this is what God claims about himself. He admits he did this.


People of faith must put their faith – and the claims made about their faith – in a real, modern context. Rather than rushing to regurgitate some worn out apologetic claiming, “God cannot tolerate evil,” or “It’s not genocide if God does it,” people of faith must consider that the one they consider to be the “objective moral foundation” for all things ethical at one point in history killed everyone on earth because he regretted creating them! Imagine this same death sentence on the world’s population today. It is nothing less than genocide.

Likewise, people of faith must THINK about the political claims they are making when they attempt to invoke God for their political causes. How can one claim that God is “pro-life” when he admits that he is personally responsible for the destruction of untold thousands of unborn children…because he regretted he had made them (כי נחמתי כי עשׂיתם)! There is no airbrushing this. This is what he claims he did after thoughtful consideration. God regretted that he had conceived and created life, so he destroyed it! And yet some claim that God is “pro life”??

BY ALL MEANS, let’s have the debate about abortion. Let’s talk about how no one wants abortion, how we should be making every effort to reduce the number of abortions that take place each year, and let’s consider a number of different solutions that will place children in the homes of those who want them.

But for the love of all that is and will be – PLEASE STOP INVOKING THE GOD OF THE BIBLE IN THIS ARGUMENT.

God is NOT the one you want to hold up as an example of a “pro life” advocate when his documented solution to regretting the creation of human life was to destroy itboth the born and the unborn.

We can have a sensible discussion and debate about reducing the number of abortions in this country and around the world without making it a religious argument.

Let’s celebrate life. Let’s talk about health of both mother and child. Let’s talk about birth control and adoption. Let’s talk about sex education and the merits of promoting healthy relationships, rather than the continued sensationalization of sex and continued commercial sexual exploitation of both boys and girls in adolescent culture.

But let’s have this conversation without introducing religious claims into the mix. On both sides of this issue, religious claims only muddy the waters and get in the way of actual progress and real solutions.

Views on Evolution by Members of Different Religious Groups in the US

In 2008, the Pew Research Forum published the findings of a survey they did examining the percentage of the US population who agree that human evolution is the best explanation for the origins of human life on earth by members of various religious groups.

Percentage of the US population who agree that evolution is the best explanation for the origins of human life on earth.

Percentage of the US population who agree that evolution is the best explanation for the origins of human life on earth.

The results are fascinating.

But first, here’s a fun exercise: find your religious faith tradition on the bottom of the chart, and look at the traditions to the left and right of you. This allows you to put into perspective your view on the scientific fact of human evolution.

The chart is powerful because it allows US citizens to see where they are on the relative scale of beliefs.

You will note that there are three natural statistical clusters:

To the left, there are the Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, and ‘unaffiliated’ (which could mean anything from atheist to agnostic to “spiritual” to “aliens did it”).

Then in the center, there are Catholics, Orthodox, Mainline Protestants (right at the 50% mark), Muslims, and Black Protestants.

Finally, at the far right, there are the Evangelicals, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The far right category doesn’t surprise me: these three religious groups have led the way in denying science outright for some time now.

Interestingly, the Muslim category was farther left than I expected, probably due to the fact that the media usually portrays Muslims as more fundamentalist than the national average. (Again, Muslims in the US are less likely to be fundamentalist, and therefore less likely to be seen on TV. Rational folks don’t usually end up on TV; just watch any news program or reality show.)

Other than that, there are few surprises. Historically, the most densely populated Catholic parts of the country are in the northeast, where the average demographic is more liberal/progressive and better educated than the national average. Black Protestants and Evangelicals demographically appear in the south, where things lean more conservative and people are less educated than the national average. (Even FoxBusiness says so.) This sociological reality may partially explain the results.

Again, the chart is powerful because it allows US citizens of particular faith traditions to see where they are (and to whom they are intellectually closest on the issue of evolution) on the relative scale of beliefs.

So where are you?

NonStampCollector Comments on the Same-Sex Marriage Debate

NonStampCollector (@nonstampNSC; YouTube; blog) has just posted a short comment on attempts to use Christianity – and especially Christian appeals to biblical mythological accounts like the story of Adam and Eve – in the fight against same-sex marriage in the modern state.

In short, the reason so many otherwise sensible Christians oppose same-sex marriage is Jesus’ appeal to the “marriage” of Adam and Eve in Matthew 19:4-6. In this passage, Matthew records Jesus as speaking about divorce, and in doing so, citing the mythological story of Judaism’s primordial humans, Adam and Eve.

Matthew 19:4-6 reads:

Matt. 19:4 He answered, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’”
Matt. 19:5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?
Matt. 19:6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (NRSV)

Note that Matthew records Jesus as having done a little prooftexting of his own, pulling from the summaries of the two different creation accounts in Genesis.

Gen. 1:27 So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (NRSV)

and

Gen 2:24 Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. (NRSV)

Matthew records Jesus as pulling from two different texts to defend his stance on divorce, specifically, that Christians should NOT divorce.

AND YET, we see no constitutional amendment on state ballots banning divorce, and prohibiting divorced individuals from remarrying, but rather, we find conservative and fundamentalist Christians lining up and spending all kinds money to ban and prohibit same-sex marriage, EVEN THOUGH the text is CLEARLY talking about divorce.

It is yet another example of conservative and fundamentalists deliberately ignoring the glaringly obvious context of the biblical passage (divorce), and instead using said verse to prooftext against something the passage is not at all addressing (same-sex marriage).

So to clarify, conservative and fundamentalist Christians are citing a scientifically debunked primordial religious creation myth from nearly three millennia ago, and then using it out of context in an effort to suppress the modern rights of gay Americans in a state that is founded on the principle that the church and state should be separate.

That is just how far conservative and fundamentalist Christians must stretch – how far they must contort the Bible as well as the founding principles of this country – just to suppress the rights of other Americans. They must cite:

“a moral imperative implied (out of context I might add), within an ancient Middle Eastern story involving a woman made of a man’s rib, being convinced by a talking snake to eat the fruit of a magical tree.”

THAT’S the rationale for denying homosexual Americans the same right of marriage that heterosexual Americans enjoy: magic trees, talking snakes, rib-women, and primordial mythology.

Of course, the real reason this argument is even entertained at all is the much larger problem, which just also happens to be the reason why so many conservative and fundamentalist Christians still cling to the historicity of the six-day creation and worldwide flood myths, despite all of the scientific and contradictory intertextual biblical evidence against them: Jesus quoted them both!

Jesus refers to Adam and Eve in Matthew 19:4-6, and their child Abel in Luke 11:50-51 (and their parallels), and to the flood in Luke 17:27 (and its parallels). And if Jesus referred to things that are mythological or ahistorical or simply did not happen, then people might question his all-knowingness, and maybe even his divinity. And thus, many conservative and fundamentalist Christians cling to scientifically debunked primordial myths, despite all the evidence to the contrary, just so they don’t have to deal with the problem that Jesus is recorded as having appealed to debunked creation and flood myths.

So while they’re at it, why not just take the quotes out of context and use them to oppress gays as well. It makes just as much sense…to fundamentalists.

Anyway, watch NonStampCollector’s video.

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