Our rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness
can only be secured by a state strictly separated from religion

28 January 2010

The Christian Ideal: Suffering

By Diana Hsieh

I'm simply overwhelmed to read Tony Judt's account of a single night stuck in the prison of his body, ravaged by ALS (a.k.a. Lou Gherig's disease). Here's how he describes his basic condition:

By my present stage of decline, I am thus effectively quadriplegic. With extraordinary effort I can move my right hand a little and can adduct my left arm some six inches across my chest. My legs, although they will lock when upright long enough to allow a nurse to transfer me from one chair to another, cannot bear my weight and only one of them has any autonomous movement left in it. Thus when legs or arms are set in a given position, there they remain until someone moves them for me. The same is true of my torso, with the result that backache from inertia and pressure is a chronic irritation. Having no use of my arms, I cannot scratch an itch, adjust my spectacles, remove food particles from my teeth, or anything else that--as a moment's reflection will confirm--we all do dozens of times a day. To say the least, I am utterly and completely dependent upon the kindness of strangers (and anyone else).
Please, go read the whole thing. While I don't know what Mr. Judt's own religious views are, I regard his life as a clear demonstration of the life-hating brutality of Christian doctrine. To wit:

  • Christianity regards suffering like that of Mr. Judt as not merely noble and elevated, but positively divine. It's not good to live fully, happily, robustly according to Christianity: it's good to suffer and die. That's what Jesus taught -- and then he lived and died by that ideal.

  • Christianity regards the body as a vile, despicable prison that leads a person's divine soul astray into the dark depths of sin. Mr. Judt is positively lucky, as his body really is a prison: he cannot indulge pleasures of the flesh, not even the seemingly minor ones like scratching his own itches.

  • Christianity regards Mr. Judt's life as God's property, not as his own. So Mr. Judt must be forbidden by law from ending his own life, if and when it becomes intolerable. If anyone attempts to help him end his life, that person should be imprisoned as a murderer. As a bonus, if Mr. Judt manages to end his own life somehow, the loving Christian God will consign him to the torments of hell for all eternity.

    Of course, many Christians do not live by such dark principles. They are kind, decent people, loathe to see anyone suffering from such a tragic condition. They might even support stem-cell research, and even assisted suicide. To that extent, their values are more American -- loving science, seeking happiness, and upholding individual rights -- than Christian.

    As Leonard Peikoff states in his essay Religion Versus America:
    It is time to tell people the unvarnished truth: to stand up for man's mind and this earth, and against any version of mysticism or religion. It is time to tell people: "You must choose between unreason and America. You cannot have both. Take your pick."

    If there is to be any chance for the future, this is the only chance there is.
    Amen, brother!

    Read more...
  • 26 January 2010

    Biblical Inscriptions on Gun Sights and Kant Speaks from the Grave

    By Gina Liggett

    Last week, a story broke about how the gun site manufacturer, Trijicon, has been for years placing subtly-imprinted biblical references on the gun sights of standard issue combat rifles used by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    Michael Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), which seeks to preserve the separation of church and state in the military, explained that this practice should be stopped because, "It's wrong, it violates the Constitution, it violates a number of federal laws. It allows the Mujahedeen, the Taliban, al Qaeda and the insurrectionists and jihadists to claim they're being shot by Jesus rifles."

    The company has agreed to discontinue this obvious attempt at proselytizing the Christian view to U.S. soldiers, and that it will provide kits to remove the inscriptions---a victory for MRFF and anyone concerned with separation of church and state.

    But what is more menacing about this story is the response by an influential member of the American intelligentsia, columnist Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald. In his January, 23 national column he took a superior-attitude pot-shot at the company president's little work for Jesus by asking, "But is that really faith, when you reduce God to a bigger version of you?"

    In other words, how dare that company president show a glimmer of self-expression of his beliefs--albeit a misguided and totally inappropriate action violating the separation of church and state.

    Pitts shows by comparison what REAL faith should be, best exemplified by nonetheless than the two most saintly figures of the 20th century: Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Mother Teresa's faith drove her to foreswear material riches and spend half a century working to uplift the wretched poor of Calcutta. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s faith drove him to gamble his very life in a dangerous campaign to win human and civil rights for African-American people... [T]he point is that truest faith is not seen in a secret code on a gun sight.....Rather, faith is seen in the substance of a life lived in service to others, lived as if God were "not" in fact one's personal echo chamber in the sky. [emphasis mine]
    Well, my oh my. Isn't 19th century philosopher Immanuel Kant alive and well and speaking to the opinion-makers right from the grave.

    In explaining Kant's philosophy, Ayn Rand says,
    Kant's expressly stated purpose was to save the morality of self-abnegation and self-sacrifice.....As to Kant's version of morality....it consisted of total, abject selflessness. An action is moral, said Kant, only if one has no desire to perform it, but performs it out of a sense of duty and derives no benefit from it of any sort, neither material nor spiritual; a benefit destroys the moral value of an action.
    Who better than Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King, Jr. to demonstrate for us duty of sacrifice without regard to themselves? To Pitts, Trijicon's little slipup with the Constitution to advance the cliche, "there are no atheists in fox holes," is simply a trivial waste of morality. In his view, what society REALLY ought to be striving for is a deeper, broader, truer test of faith: total abnegation of the self in a life dedicated " in service to others."

    That is in fact President Barack Obama's mission: to be the next Mr. Mother Teresa as our President.

    (Violins, please.)

    "His story is the American story -- values from the heartland, a middle-class upbringing in a strong family, hard work and education as the means of getting ahead, and the conviction that a life so blessed should be lived in service to others."
    (This is from the White House website, introducing Mr. Obama as our 44th President.)

    (Stop the violins, please.)

    When a member of the intelligentsia is trying to upstage another Christian, we are having a cultural war. Not only must we continue to fight the puritanical and rights-violating agenda of the Religious Right, we also have a more-focused and committed Religious Left whose altruistic, socialist agenda is already invading our liberties.

    Little do these ostensible opposites realize they were already married in a shotgun wedding many decades ago, presided over by preacher Immanuel Kant.

    Read more...

    22 January 2010

    Deism in the Declaration

    By Diana Hsieh

    My husband Paul Hsieh (of Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine) recently pointed me to an essay by Eric Raymond entitled Deism and the Founding Fathers. I'd definitely recommend reading the whole essay, but I wanted to except a few critical passages:

    Religious conservatives are fond of replying by pointing excitedly at the references to "Nature's God", "Divine Providence", and the "Creator" in the Declaration of Independence.
    Raymond then quotes the relevant passages of the Declaration:
    When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights;

    And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
    Raymond then cites some other passages in Jefferson's writings where he displays as obvious hostility to Christianity. So Raymond asks, "Of what 'God', if not the Christian one, was Jefferson speaking?" He replies:
    The answer to this question -- which also explains the references in the Declaration of Independence -- is that Jefferson, like many intellectuals of his time, was a Deist. The "Creator" and "Nature's God" in the Declaration of Independence, and the God of Jefferson's altar, is not the intervening Christian God but the God of Deism.

    Deism was an early attempt to reconcile the mechanistic world-view arising from experimental science with religion. Deists believed in a remote sort of clockmaker-God who created the universe but then refrained from meddling in it afterwards. Deists explicitly rejected faith, revelation, religious doctrine, religious authority, and all existing religions. They held that humans could know the mind of God only through the study of nature; in many versions of Deist thinking, the mind of God was explicitly identified with the laws of nature.

    Thus "the Laws of Nature and Nature's God"; in Deist thought these concepts blurred together. The phrase "endowed by their Creator" could be rendered accurately as "endowed by Nature". In modern terms, this is an entirely naturalistic account of human rights.
    That's exactly right. Finally, Raymond notes:
    Jefferson’s "altar of God" quote and the references in the Declaration of Independence are easy to misconstrue today because Deism did not long outlive the Founding Fathers. In their time it functioned as a sort of halfway house for intellectuals who rejected traditional religion but were unwilling to declare themselves atheists or agnostics. As the social risk of taking these positions decreased, Deism waned.
    Given the bravery of the early Americans in opposing the British Empire, I doubt that intellectual cowardice was the reason for their deism. I suspect -- although I've not much researched the subject -- that they accepted some version of the Argument from Design. Absent a solid grasp of the fact that physical laws are the necessary expression of the identity of entities and absent an explanation for the great diversity and complexity of living organisms, the Argument from Design would seem quite plausible. It's still flawed, purely on philosophic grounds, but the mistake was understandable in the 18th century. Deism was the rather benign result of that mistake.

    Today, people have far less excuse for believing in God's existence on such grounds, as the scientific and philosophic objections to the Argument from Design are well-known and devastating. They have no excuse for leaping from such arguments to claims about the truth of Christianity. The Argument from Design, even if sound, could not lend the slightest bit of support to the myths and dogmas of Christianity.

    For more, see my three podcasts on the Argument from Design: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. Part 4 is forthcoming.

    Read more...

    14 January 2010

    A Slap on the Hand for Anti-Abortion Terrorist

    By Gina Liggett

    Premeditated Murder

    You may remember the vicious murder of Wichita, Kansas abortion provider, Dr. George Tiller, in May 2009. He was shot by long-time anti-abortion crusader, Scott Roeder, as Dr. Tiller was ushering at church.

    Roeder was charged with first-degree murder and also admitted to the media and in a court filing that he did indeed kill Dr. Tiller, one of the few abortion providers to perform late-term legal abortions.

    Roeder argued that killing Dr. Tiller was justifiable because

    ... the fact preborn children's lives were in imminent danger this was the action I chose. ... I want to make sure that the focus is, of course, obviously on the preborn children and the necessity to defend them… Defending innocent life — that is what prompted me. I mean, it is pretty simple.
    Sympathy for the Anti-Abortion Terrorist

    Now the judge in this case has added to the broader maniacal mission to destroy the right to abortion. Sedgwick Country Judge Warren Wilbert is going to allow Roeder to present a defense for a charge of voluntary manslaughter. Voluntary manslaughter is considered: “Justifiable homicide - That which is committed with the intention to kill or to do a grievous bodily injury, under circumstances which the law holds sufficient to exculpate the person who commits it.”

    A Case of Violating Rights

    What is more egregious than the potential conviction of a terrorist on a charge that would mean little more than going to bed without supper, is two immoral underlying assumptions of the judge.

    The first is a belief (primarily a religious one) that women do not have a right to their own bodies in choosing an abortion. Roeder doesn’t gun down doctors who perform appendectomies, because he probably thinks that people have the right to choose such an operation. The judge would certainly agree with this, and would not allow a ruling of voluntary manslaughter on a premeditated murder of a general surgeon who "kills" appendixes.

    The second immoral assumption is that fetuses have rights. There would be no justifiable defense of an entity that does not have rights. And fetuses are only potential beings, and therefore have no rights at all. If Roeder killed someone in cold blood to defend an appendix that had been removed, it would be ludicrous to call that justifiable voluntary manslaughter. Just as an appendix is the bodily property of a person, so a fetus is the bodily property of a woman.

    In this country, we still have the constitutional protection of a woman’s right to have an abortion. And all the efforts by religious lunatics and politicians alike to eviscerate that right don't change facts: individual rights apply only to living human beings. Hopefully the jury will care about the rights of Dr. Tiller and send Roeder to bed without supper for a very, very long time.

    Read more...

    11 January 2010

    Careful! Don't Say the "A" Word!

    By Gina Liggett

    Okay, here's the story. And I'm not saying a WORD! So get those explosives out of your underwear!

    Three Christian churches were attacked January 8th by three young Muslim arsonists outside the capital of Malaysia over a controversy and supreme court ruling surrounding the publication of the word... (I'll whisper it, ... it's the name Muslim's give for God) ... in a local Catholic journal. Four days ago, 13 non-governmental organizations also didn't like the ruling and put up a fuss.

    They are all upset because the word, "A," should only be reserved for Muslims, NOT non-Ms. The Catholics reportedly were using the word to signify piety, although I think there are probably better choices since there are some "Ms" in this world that like to blow things up.

    These bombers were mad (a common lunatic's excuse for arson) because they wanted the Malaysian high court to annul a ruling allowing the journal to print that particular word. Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak condemned the attacks, which is a good thing (especially since there are other religions besides Islam in that country). He wants to keep the "harmony." But I think a better reason would be upholding that western concept, RULE OF LAW.

    What I can't understand about the "thinking" of the arsonists and 13 protesting non-governmentals is: Don't they think "A" can take care of Himself? That is, I think that's pretty dern blasphemous to say that "A" can't deal with what any scrawny, puny, miserable, infidel, scumbag of a human being might say or print.

    And another thing! That is mighty arrogant of those fire-bombing "Ms". They are supposed to be "submissive," like "A" demands, but they then go around being "A's" public relations spokesperson... I mean, spokesMAN, if you get my drift.

    It appears that the attacking "Ms" were worried that other "Ms" in the country and world would be confused by the cross-fertilization of the use of the word,"A," and quickly convert to "C-ism." I don't mean Communism (they're no fun anyway because they don't serve wine at their Gulags). But the protesters shouldn't have to worry about mass confusion-turned-conversion anyway, because "Ms" are not supposed to utilize their conscious choice. They must simply OBEY!

    And another thing! I don't know what's gotten into these Catholics... I mean "Cs"... because in the Netherlands a couple years ago, a retiring bishop thought all of the main monotheistic believers, the "Js", the "Cs" and the "Ms", should all use the "A" word when referring to "G." Well, some other Catholics didn't think that was such a good idea. But Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic relations, thought it would help interfaith understanding. Uh... I don't think so. I don't think we can have a lot of interfaith understanding with all these bombs some people keep carrying around in their pockets!

    Well. I could say a LOT more. But I think I won't for now. I'll just give thanks to the entire alphabet that I hold REASON as my absolute!

    Read more...

    04 January 2010

    Old Age Tribalism Challenges New Age Barbarism and the Separation of Church and State

    By Gina Liggett

    Suspend the mind and you get... death

    In October of this year, New Age Guru, James Arthur Ray, led about 60 participants on a "Spiritual Warrior Retreat" at the Angel Valley Retreat Center near Sedona, Arizona. The retreat resulted in the deaths of three participants and hospitalizations of several others with severe dehydration and organ damage.

    The main purposes of the retreat were to:

    • Accelerate the releasing of your limitations and push yourself past your self-imposed and conditioned borders (no more coloring inside the lines)...
    • Carve out your own destiny
    • Experience a new technologically-enhanced form of meditation that creates new neurological pathways, allowing you to experience powerful whole-brain thinking (this one's gonna knock your socks off)...
    • Experience, at the spiritual level, the ancient methodologies of Samurai Warriors.
    This was to be achieved by 5 days of fasting, sleep deprivation, journaling, burning the journal pages, mind-altering breathing exercises, and finally by a climactic 2-hour sweat lodge ceremony in a cramped, sweltering, and pitch-dark hot house.

    Despite being called "New Age," there is essentially nothing "new" about this example of religiosity: it was led by a guru who claimed special spiritual knowledge that others don't have, it emphasized the suspension of rational faculty, and it was ritualistic.

    It was led by James Arthur Ray, someone who claims to have superior spiritual knowledge, just like the Pope, Jim Jones of the People's Temple
    or Mohammad. For example, on his website, James Arthur Ray claims to have "the unique and powerful ability to blend the practical and mystical into a usable and easy-to-access formula for achieving true wealth across all aspects of life."

    Ayn Rand calls these people "mystics of spirit", who "declare that they possess an extra sense you lack: this special sixth sense consists of contradicting the whole of the knowledge of your five [senses]... and as proof of their superior ability to deal with existence, the fact that they lead you to misery, self-sacrifice, starvation, destruction."

    And in fact: the participants willingly underwent deprivation of nutrition, hydration, sleep, and maintenance of body temperature in order to induce a supernatural-like spiritual awakening. But these activities deprive the most critical organ of our body -- the brain and mind -- with the life-essential elements of its survival. The health of the body was quick to deteriorate from hyperthermia and hypovolemic shock, which causes multi-organ failure. This wasn't a life-enhancing journey, but a death trap.

    Up the ante: American Indians sue for tribal infringement

    Not unexpectedly, the case is being investigated as negligent homicide by the local sheriff's department, and several civil lawsuits are underway against James Arthur Ray and the retreat center.

    But the most compelling lawsuit is the one being filed by the Lakota Indian Tribe against the United States Government, the State of Arizona, James Arthur Ray, and the retreat center.

    They claim that the incident violates the Treaty of Fort Laramie of 1868, and that the sweat lodge ceremony (one of several sacred rights) represents a "desecration" by causing the three deaths. The lawsuit also alleges that the retreat leader and center committed fraud by impersonating Indians.

    Sam Longblackcat, Lakota spokesman, said:
    We Lakota people continue to fight for our way of life. The sweat lodge -- we call it Oinikaga or Inipi -- is a purification ceremony, to make life. Our sacred way of life was desecrated by a non-native man. This is our property, and there are laws in the United States and in the United Nations that state that these customs are ours and that they are to be protected.
    This is a twist on the violation of the separation of church and state

    I couldn't even begin to unravel the complex historical legal treaty and welfare-state system in place between the U.S. Government and Native American Tribes. But it raises in my mind concerns about separation of church and state.

    The establishment clause of the First Amendment of our Constitution says: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." This has been the basis for fighting the Religious Right's actions to pass laws enforcing a biblical morality on society.

    But why should the American Government be obligated to protect exclusivity in the practice of religious rituals of a particular religious tribal group? Mr. Ray may have been "borrowing" from Native American traditions as part of his eclectic spiritual retreat, but for the U.S. Government to protect tribal domain of those practices would be tantamount to a government-enforced monopoly of religion.

    Freedom of religion means that a person should be free to choose a religion, regardless of its historical background. If Mr. Ray wants to practice his religion, which he says is inspired by many traditions, than he is free to do so by Constitutional protection.

    The Pope and his Vatican authorities in American don't like the way many Catholics practice their Catholicism (for example, Catholics who are pro-choice). But the Church is not suing the U.S. Government to enforce "pure" Catholic practice on American Catholics or to prevent non-Catholics from practicing elements of Catholicism (like many Haitians living in the U.S. who practice a religious mix of Catholicism and Voodoo).

    It is my view that finding for the Lakota Indians in the lawsuit would be an unconstitutional violation of the freedom of religion and the establishment of religion.

    I have no idea how this lawsuit will play out, but the case is fascinating and brings up yet a new challenge in the ongoing battle to not only protect religious freedom but, more importantly, to protect our secular society from religious domination.

    Read more...

    01 January 2010

    In Defense of Secularism

    By Diana Hsieh

    Fellow OActivist Amesh Adalja recently published this letter in defense of secularism in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review:

    Theocrats more harmful
    Wednesday, December 30, 2009

    Despite Brad Tupi's protestations to the contrary in his letter "Secularism harms U.S." (Dec. 25 and TribLIVE.com), secularism is inherent in this nation and it is Christian theocrats like Mr. Tupi who have done more damage to this nation than any secularist.

    While it is true that the Founders often uttered conflicting statements regarding religion, they chose to make the U.S. Constitution and the nation's currency entirely devoid of any reference to a deity -- proof of their desire for a separation between government and religion.

    It is the religionists who have taken the Christian idolization of sacrifice to new heights by creating a welfare state where each is his brother's keeper, women are castigated for exercising the right to their own bodies and people fear openly expressing their sexual orientation.

    As Thomas Paine aptly stated, "mingling religion with politics, may be disavowed and reprobated by every inhabitant of America."

    Amesh A. Adalja
    Butler

    Read more...

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