GOP: 10X more God than bargain-brand Democrats

Plus another of many plugs to come for my book

First of all, I read the DNC 2012 platform after all the hubub about leaving “God” and “Jerusalem” out. I found it on the Internet in .pdf download and the words were there. That's the miracle of the Internet. Bad shit goes away with the click of a mouse.

I've been getting emails from Lucifer now that I published Raising Hell, which is only $1 on Amazon (in Kindle Format) and to be released for iBooks and Nook soon after Thanksgiving.

I tried to block his emails, but being the second most powerful being in the universe (even though it's a distant second) he can assign better hackers to block my blocks.

He was quite pleased with both conventions. Not a single voter changed her mind, but the faithful are plowing their paths to hell with furious hatred and passion. (I myself have posted some witty observations on Facebook, only to be piled on by good Christian Republicans who already believe I'm in Lucifer's pocket.)

No, he's pleased because of the Obama chair. He predicts that by the 2052 elections Americans on both parties will prefer an empty chair to a real person for President. And he will be ready to do the talking for the chair. Besides, by then, they will be warming up to the idea of hell with the rising temperatures on the planet.

Back to the platforms, however.

Clearly the Republicans cornered the market on God in this election with 10 references to God against a single reference from the Democrats. They also win on the references to faith, with a 2:1 ratio (12 to 6). The Democrats only lead the Republicans on references to “church,” which they mention twice and the Republicans, surprisingly, fail to mention at all.

The only explanation I can think of is that “church” is a Democratic code-word for “abortion,” “gay,” or “welcome to the AntiChrist.”

Ironically, the Democrats outscored the Republicans on the use of “family” 26 to 16 (I am excluding references to “family” that are used as tangental phrases, such as “the Castro family” or “family planning”). I'm assuming “family” is really a Democratic code-word for “abortion,” “gay,” or “welcome to the AntiChrist.”

Most of the uses of “God” in both platforms occur in the phrase “God-given.” To the DNC we all have “god-given potential.” The RNC believes Americans have god-given individual rights, right of self-defense, natural resources and talent.

However, this may be Republican sleight-of-hand, considering what the RNC means by these God-given qualities. For instance, the God-given right of self-defense runs directly counter to the Gospels where Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek to, go the extra mile for and forgive those who would do us harm. Jesus believed that defense wasn't a right, but that threatening situations were Christians opportunity to prove their love for others.

I was really intrigued by the RNC position on our God-given natural resources. About these resources, “the Republican Party believes in the moral obligation of the people to be good stewards of the God-given natural beauty and resources of our country and bases environmental policy on several common-sense principles.”

And there's the rub. To the Republicans our most valuable God-given natural resource is people (which slightly undermines the meaning of the words “natural resources”). In other words, we come first. Nature is an also ran resource. This becomes even more apparent when the platform explains those common-sense principles toward our God-given natural resources.

“Economic development and private property must be balanced against environment.” This means, turn over government land and water holdings to ranching, mining and forestry through private ownership. It also means we need to stop politically motivated scientific research (read, global warming studies)

The GOP also believes private ownership has always protected environment, while “worst instances of environmental degradation have occurred under government control.” They probably mean Chernobyl. And of course other government disasters such as the BP Oil Spill, Three Mile Island and the Exxon Valdez.” To sum it up the Platform declares: “people best protect what they own”

Jesus and the apostles agreed. This is exactly what they meant when they told believers to sell everything they have and give it to the poor.

Nor should we forget our God-given individual rights to force people to pray to our God in public, stop Moslems from building prayer centers in our neighborhoods and study Creationism in science classes.

But this is America, and saying God's name as often as possible is the best way to remind God that we're doing his will. Lord knows he doesn't have time to check up on what we're really doing. Like all good Americans, he spends all his time watching FOX News.

And American Idol. God bless American Idol. God loves nothing more than idolatry.

Innocence of children, not ignorance of dolts

When I visited my grandparents, my grandfather would always share with us how important is was to possess the wisdom of Solomon. He usually told these stories to explain how he had caught my uncle and me in yet another fool proof scheme to commit mischief and mayhem.

The wisdom of Solomon helped him ferret out where we stashed the cigarettes (in the tool shed with the deck of cards), who kidnapped my sister’s and cousin’s Barbie dolls and who dressed them in my GI Joe combat outfits (after they had dressed them up in finest princess style so they could give a Barbie fashion show for the entire family).1

He figured out who used the oven door for a pea shooter target (more about this in a later post),who hid the switch that he kept above the coat closet door as a warning to children who planning pranks and misdeeds, who ate the pumpkin pie the night before thanksgiving and who told my sister and cousin that the home made grape juice they just drank had fermented into wine.2

When I started teaching kids for the Texas corrections system, they were just as astonished at how I knew they had been smoking dope in the alley, gone to the convenience store for beer when they swore they were going to the library, and every time they came to class hungover. I could attribute this to the wisdom of Solomon (and he does deserve his due) but the honest truth is that I had long ago figured out how my grandfather became so wise.

Not only did he have his own childhood misdeeds to draw upon, but those of his children and grandchildren as well. And truthfully, I knew how what those kids were up to because I had figured out ways to do the same things. Without getting caught. And, I must confess, the few times I was caught, I figured out how to be such a smart ass they almost wished they hadn’t caught me.

But Solomon wasn’t just a wise ruler, he was a learned ruler as well—his “wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore.” (1 Kings 4:29) He was an incredible biologist and an accomplished writer and poet. (32) These don’t come with “common sense,” but were gifts of learning and discernment.

I mention this because of Sarah Palin’s recent blunder over Paul Revere. I’m not bothered by the fact that she could only place him at the time of the American Revolution, but didn’t know exactly what he did. Many students couldn’t do that much.3 I’m bothered by the fact that, according to the news reports, she had just finished viewing a presentation on Paul Revere.

Sarah, it seems, holds learning in such disregard that she couldn’t even be bothered to pay attention to the presentation she attended to promote her non-Presidential campaign. (Do I need to italicize this? No, I’ll just repeat it. Sarah Palin holds learning in such disregard that she couldn’t even pay attention to a presentation she attended to promote her campaign.)

Now I’m saying it a third time, only in the caption. Forgetting who Paul Revere was isn’t a crime, half of Americans probably have, including some Democrats and Episcopalians like me. But Sarah Palin holds learning in such disregard that she couldn’t even pay attention to a presentation (a presentation explaining who Paul Revere was) that she attended to promote her campaign.

Source: public domain

I’m hardly surprised, since I grew up in a culture that holds secular learning in contempt. It’s part of being raised as a Baptist Preacher’s Kid (BPK). Just about every Christian I knew assured me that they didn’t need “book learning.” They only needed their Bibles and common sense.

In this model, Solomon’s wisdom could not have been the work of study and effort (and exposing himself to the wisdom of other cultures). God just shoved that wisdom in his head by the power of the Holy Spirit. The fact that his knowledge included the physical sciences of the time doesn’t seem to enter the picture. But, if we are to believe the book of Kings, he was as learned as Aristotle and by today’s standards we would want to say, “even Einstein marveled at his grasp of the laws of the universe.”

Solomon wouldn’t have ignored Darwin and the theory of relativity, or even quantum mechanics. In spite of his faith, he would have been conversant.

Instead, many evangelical and fundamentalist Christians want to shield children from such knowledge (and without knowledge, there can be little wisdom). They pull them from public schools and home school them or send them to private schools. And, thanks to laws like “No Child Left Behind,” home schooled students and students of small Christian schools don’t have to take the standardized tests to graduate.

Our kids have to suffer through training for tests at the expense of real learning, while fundamentalists can shield their kids from any such learning and graduate without taking the tests. (And then politicians like Sarah Palin can complain about how unfairly Christians are treated.)

For some reason, many Christians equate ignorance with faith. I know it’s an old joke but I have, in reality, heard evangelists say (with all seriousness) that the King James is the Bible the Apostle Paul carried with him on his missionary journeys. Southern Baptist ministers are expected to attend seminary, but I have met many ministers in small, independent churches who were proud they never made it past high school (if that far).

I would never say education is a cornerstone of faith. Many of Jesus’ disciples were uneducated. But not all of them were. Luke, the author of a Gospel and the book of Acts, was a physician. Paul, who wrote most of the original letters contained in the New Testament, was educated as a Pharisee and quite literate. The authors of John’s Gospel, and the books of Revelation and Hebrews, were aware of Greek and Roman literary traditions.

Nor does scripture ever frown on literacy and knowledge. We owe the origins of American public education to Christian evangelists such as John Wesley and Robert May. Christians needed to be educated to read the Bible, and Shakespeare was as much a part of their vocabulary as scripture. Many even read Whitman, who proudly wrote of his homosexuality.

The sad truth for Christians is, the more we read the more we can detect bull shit, and we get so much of it from liberals, conservatives and Christians that we need our bull shit detectors finely honed. Christians can get upset when I accuse them of bull shit, but that’s exactly how they feel about the teachings of Christians who disagree with them.

Or worse, if it isn’t bull shit, it comes directly from the devil. And if that’s the case, we need to hone those detectors even more. And it can’t just be reading the Bible, because the same verse in the Bible is often used to justify three entirely different beliefs about faith (e.g., “This is my blood.” Real blood, spiritually infused blood, or merely symbolic?4).

If you read only one book that claims to be true, you have no way of knowing if it is, in fact, true. And if all the books you read are by writers who read and cite the same writers, you have no way of knowing whether or not they actually know what they’re talking about.

And if you’re ignorant of history, you might never know how many Christians contributed to modern scientific knowledge (and continue to do so) and who continue to be Christians, even if they don’t believe in either creation or intelligent design. You might never know that the Catholic Church embraced the Big Bang theory (only to back away when some scientists objected).

If I hadn’t read many of the original fundamentalist documents, I wouldn’t know that many fundamentalist writers had no problems with evolution even in the first couple of decades of the 20th century.

Evangelical Mark Noll made a similar case in his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians devalue learning, to their detriment. This didn’t seem to deter his evangelical leanings or his faith. Evangelicals like Jim Wallace embrace the writings of educated writers, and even much of modern science, without experiencing any crisis of faith.

I think Christians equate education with learning about Santa Claus. Many Baptists believe it’s wrong to teach children about Santa Claus because once they learn Santa isn’t real, they might doubt Jesus too. They also believed swimming, dancing and cards were of the devil. And when swimming became acceptable, mixed swimming (boys and girls in the same pool at the same time) took its place on the list.

Similarly, they think learning something in school (like evolution) will lead children to throwing out Jesus. They act as though faith is built on a fragile chain, and losing one link will break it all. Faith is more like a web, or woven cloth. Breaking a thread doesn’t bring down the structure. It allows it to be repaired and even made more sturdy in the process.

Do people reject God and Jesus because they discover evolution is credible? Yes, but much of that is because Christians insist (with many scientists and atheists) that evolution is the link that breaks the chain. They believe that if every word in Genesis isn’t literally true, then the entire Bible is a lie. So naturally, if you believe the chain is broken, you abandon it.

Faith is built on personal experience. It is the ultimate form of empirical knowledge. We believe in the power of Jesus because we’ve experienced the power of Jesus. Just as empiricism is the basis of science, it’s also the foundation of faith.

Does that mean all experiences of faith are authentic, and that all accounts are reliable? No, only the test of time and experience will prove that. The proof of faith is like the proof of an experiment. It must be repeated over time.

Will others’ results differ? Absolutely, just as scientists discover new conditions which call older experiments and theories into question. But that doesn’t make either faith or science invalid. Or the pursuit of philosophy in examining questions of faith (e.g., the book of Hebrews, and many of Paul’s reflections). Or the pursuit of history in discovering how faith has led people astray and also renewed the kindling of the spirit into revival.

I studied Catholicism because my first wife wanted our marriage annulled so that my son Bryan could be embraced by the church. Catholics believe (or at least the ones who taught me believed) God speaks to Christians not just through the Bible, but through people, through nature, through history and many other media as well.

I have no reason to doubt them. This is exactly how God spoke to his followers in the stories of scripture.

Sometimes, he speaks to us directly. Sometimes, we fail to get the message or get it wrong entirely. That’s why we judge each message with all of the tools at our disposal. In short, we need as many bull shit detectors as we can because we can easily confuse the voice of God with our own (or someone else’s) crap.

The problem with politicians like Sarah Palin isn’t that she’s ignorant of facts but that, as a public figure (and, even more disturbingly, an apparent role model for Christians), she shows so much disdain for learning. She isn’t wrapping herself in faith, but a cocoon to protect her from realizing she might be wrong. And when you can’t possibly be wrong, you can’t hear God telling you just how wrong you might be.


1There is a pretty obvious clue here in case you’re wondering exactly how he did it. It wasn’t so obvious to me, however, and I remained in awe of that one at least until I was in high school.back

2By the end of the evening, after drinking a couple of glasses, both Beth and Debbie went to grandmother and confessed how drunk they were. According to Debbie, “I can really feel it.”back

3Primarily because the standardized tests are now so complex and the state mandated curriculum requirements so incredibly micro-detailed that high-school aged students can’t possibly be expected to master them. I know this because I was a consultant on both the Texas standardized texts, and helped to catalogue the curriculum requirements for a dozen states for textbook publishers. In my own field, English, several of the requirements were at a level my professors didn’t cover until graduate school.back

2Another small irony. Have you noticed that fundamentalists, who insist every word of the Bible is literally true, insist that “This is my blood” is merely symbolic? I suspect that’s because the Catholics, who believe much of the Bible is symbolic or allegorical, already claimed that verse as “literal.” Except for this bizarre historical accident, Baptists would have come up with the doctrine of transubstantiation.back


Bill Maher is Christian, or might as well be

The perils of religism

I love Bill Maher for two reasons. First, he understands Christianity better than most Christians. Seriously. Unlike many Christians, he seems to have read the same passages in the Bible that I remember and many Christians ignore.

But he was raised by Catholic and Jewish parents so maybe he had the support of two religious traditions to enlighten him. Being raised as a Baptist Preacher’s Kid (BPK), I only had one, the one that glossed over the verses he remembers and I only discovered—to my shock and horror (and maybe even a little embarrassment)—as an adult.

But I like Bill Maher even more because, in spite of his insistence that he doesn’t care for Christianity in the least, he thinks just like them. It’s amazing, really. He thinks Christians are evil, irredeemable, a threat to our Constitutional rights and the cause of most of the evils in the world.

Wait a minute, less perceptive readers may say, that’s the opposite of Christianity. Readers might believe that because they pay attention to words and overlook what are known as isomorphic (or structural) correspondences. Both Maher and Christians hold the same basic beliefs, they just attribute them to opposing causes. This create a series of parallel beliefs as illustrated by the following table:

Problem Maher Christians
Taking away our Constitutional rights Christian Right Maher Left
Determined to ruin America Christian Right Atheists and Liberals
Ignorant and narrow-minded Believers Atheists and Liberals
Represent everything bad in Society Believers and Tea Party Atheists and Secular Humanists
Want to control our children’s minds Religious Zealots Scientists, Atheists and Homosexuals
Force their values on Americans Christian Right Democrats and Permissive Liberals
The antiChrist controls the Oval Office George Bush Obama

You may find yourself skeptical, but just as the children of alcoholics can recognize addiction and addictive behavior—even when alcohol itself isn’t involved—so can BPKs recognize religion and religious behavior (even when a religion itself isn’t involved).

You see, when I was a kid, members of my family would have attributed the cause of the problems in my chart to Catholics and John F. Kennedy. We may have been raised in the Bible Belt, but if we had to choose between our sisters marrying a Black person or a Catholic, we would have disinherited our sisters.

But Catholics were worse than Black people (aka Negroes) because Negroes could be saved. Unless they were Negro Catholics.1 When I was a kid, mixed marriages didn’t involve Black people and White people (aka Negroes and people), but Baptists and Catholics.

This changed, of course, with the Great Crisis of Faith (GCOF). The GCOF occurred sometime in the 1980s, and is best summed up by a conversation between my Baptist Preacher Father, whose Christian credentials were somewhat suspect to his own Baptist Preacher Father and uncles because he was a more liberal Southern Baptist (yes, it’s possible) and not a true Bible Believing Baptist, and one of my uncles. The conversation went like this:

Uncle2: How can you have leadership meetings with Catholics? They worship the Pope and the Pope is Satan’s puppet.

Father: You know, I discovered that Catholics actually accept Christ too. They have the same Bible except for a few extra books that got thrown in by mistake.

Uncle: Exactly. That wasn’t a mistake. The Pope included those books because Satan told him to. Everything the Pope does or says is from Satan.3

Father: So anything the Pope says is inspired by Satan and we shouldn’t believe it.

Uncle: Exactly.

Father: But the Pope says abortion is evil.

At this point my mother broke in and changed the conversation, but dinner was pretty much over, and my uncle’s family left us to enjoy our after dinner liqueur, cigars and pornography.

But this pretty much summarizes the GCOF. Catholics maybe believed everything Christians (Baptists) found appalling, and they may have taken their marching orders from the Pope, but they were Pro-Life. Suddenly, the heavens opened and Catholics were Christian again.

It also illustrates what I mean when I compare religious behavior to alcoholism.

Now I’m not saying that my father wasn’t guilty of religism himself. He was, as am I, as are all BPKs and is Bill Maher whether he wants to believe it or not.

What are some of the signs of religism?

  • Insisting that you’re right, and anyone who disagrees with you is wrong.
  • Not just wrong, but wrong for America.
  • Insisting there are no conditions under which they could possibly be right.
  • Insisting there are no conditions under which they could possibly have something good to say or good to offer.
  • Mocking unbelievers (e.g., with names like “Religulous”).
  • Lumping all unbelievers into a single category.
  • The absolute total faith that you’re right and they’re dangerous.

As for me, like it or not, I’ve come to accept that it’s perfectly reasonable to believe God doesn’t exist and that God doesn’t hate you if you do. And God is much more tolerant of stupidity than I am.

In fact, the only guy I know of who never, for a moment, exhibited religism was Jesus. And we had to go build an entire religion with thousands of mutually exclusive versions around him.

Including Bill Maher’s religion that Jesus is good and all those who follow him are ignorant morons (which, by definition, would include me).

It’s all in the wiring

Modern neurobiology suggests religism (aka irreligulosity) may not be Bill’s fault. Belief is very much formed by neural connections. The more you accept one conclusion as true, the more you reinforce the neurons in your brain that shape belief.

As a consequence, the brain tends to ignore information that doesn’t reinforce that connection. Unless, of course, you consciously and deliberately make yourself consider that information as a possibility, and start to build a parallel connection.

The more you refuse to consider additional information, the more you erode the possibility of making that new connection. Soon the brain simply refuses to process that conflicting information at all.

Christians may call this faith (and Bill may call this enlightenment), but this is the opposite of faith or enlightenment. This process is literally the process of narrowing your mind.

Nothing I said is contradicted by the Bible, by the way, although I’m sure someone can spin a verse out of context to prove me wrong. Paul understood why other apostles interpreted the faith differently, and he never doubted their faith. Or his.

You don’t have to believe an idea to open your mind to it. Opening your mind to conflicting information doesn’t mean you will lose your faith. Accepting the fact that others may believe differently and still not threaten your world or conscience requires a true act of faith.

Jesus was constantly pointing out how reality contradicted religious tradition and faith. These contradictions never threatened his faith; they shaped his belief and made him stronger and wiser. If people didn’t follow him, he didn’t condemn them or berate them. He simply went on his way and let them go on theirs.

To be like Elisabeth

If I have to acknowledge a TV personality I’ve come to admire, it’s Elisabeth Hasselbeck on the View. I don’t agree with her most of the time, but more than anyone else she seems open to the possibility she could be wrong.

For many years she would come to the View armed with pages printed from the Web to prove that all things Bush and Republican were good and all things Rosie O’Donnell were bad. She would become flustered and petulant and completely defensive. When you see Kristin Wiig do Elisabeth on SNL, that’s the Elisabeth you’re seeing.

Something changed during the 2008 elections. I don’t know what happened. Maybe one of her children showed signs of early onset Democrat and she had to learn to love him anyway. Maybe she caught her husband Tim looking sideways at Maria Shriver and decided to become more rounded to win him back. Maybe the uber-liberal producers at ABC (as if) threatened her job.

But now she seems more open to a wider view of faith and politics. Ironically, now Joy Baher is looking more narrow-minded. More like Bill. The print-outs are gone, the red-faced rants are gone. And, most of all, she seems happier with herself and more confident in her beliefs.

So, Bill, I admire you and watch your show religiously. But please, be more like Jesus (and Elisabeth) and less like Sara Palin. As you have noticed with others (without, perhaps, being aware of the cause), too many neurons on one side of the brain can be unbalancing.


1Don’t judge them too harshly. Most good Christian racists didn’t really believe they were racists any more than Bill Maher believes he’s religiously irreligious. (Except maybe for that passage in the Bible that condemns Black people because they were the descendants of Noah who shamefully looked on his nakedness, which is why they will always be inferior.)

Baptists are tempted to believe that Negroes came from Africa, which makes them closer to monkeys than more advanced white people, but that would mean evolution is true, which, of course, is ridiculous and completely against the Bible.

So this leaves them to suggest that Negroes do funny things, as is proved by all those wonderful jokes they are no longer allowed to tell. But the jokes also prove they don’t really hate Black people because we laugh about them lovingly. On the other hand, there isn’t a single Catholic joke because there’s nothing funny about a false religion that put the antiChrist in the oval office.back

2Not named because he is still alive and I have to talk to him at family reunion, even though he will probably never read this blog.back
3Which, to be honest, I sometimes feel when I listen to Pope Benedict and his hints that maybe it’s time to repeal Vatican II, the way Republicans want to repeal the entire Obama administration.back