Tag Archives: religion

Imposing Religion

In reading an article that a friend sent to me I found this quote from President Kennedy:

I believe in a President whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.

With a slight change it adequately reflects my view on the proper role of religion in American society:

I believe in a citizen whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition of citizenship.

Two Ears, One Mouth

Kim Williams, a friend I met through the local social networking scene, has written a very thought provoking piece at his blog Wishful Preaching:

One day a religion professor – a educated, kind and openly Christian man – suggested I take the risk and talk with one of the better known atheists on campus. He suggested I NOT talk with him with the intent of changing his mind, but rather seek to listen and understand why and what he believed. I forced myself to listen, to ask questions and allow myself to hear another point of view.  At one point he said, "I don't believe in God." Seeking to be open, I asked him, "Tell me about this God you don't believe in." He talked for an hour or more . When he was done I could honestly say to him, "It is interesting. I don't believe in that god either." When spent many hours together over the following years talking about our personal beliefs and similar hopes and fears. He never came to believe as I did (perhaps he did admit a few times he had grown to be more agnostic than atheist),  and I never lost my faith (although I did learn some difficulties with my beliefs). We would both agree, however that we were better because of the friendship.

Perhaps there is something to fear in the failure to listen to others of different beliefs and traditions – that's scary!

Reading this I had multiple thoughts, the most prominent being a question I first asked in my late teens/early adulthood – how is it that the people I find most personify the positive qualities associated with religion are often atheist or agnostic? If being a "believer" is a prerequisite for being a good person then my eyes and ears were lying to me, because I could see for myself that it wasn't true. Heck, some of the nastiest people I've ever met have never missed a day of church so obviously the reverse could be true as well. Over time my belief system evolved to incorporate this bullet point – The fact that people without faith in a higher being could be among the great people in the world is in itself proof of some kind of higher being. 

I know that last sentence sounds like a pretty lame piece of philosophy that your average 14 year old would come up with, so maybe it would be better to explain it this way. I think it's a mistake to say that an atheist or agnostic is not a believer. They simply don't believe in God or a higher being the way I do; I think they believe in humanity, in the basic goodness of people, in the idea that mankind is a net-positive for the world. If you think about it their faith, in the face of all the evidence to the contrary (war, capable people parking in handicapped spaces, reality TV), is as great or greater than the faith of those of us who believe in a higher being. In the end their faith in humanity affirms my faith in a higher being.

The other thought I had while reading Kim's post related to the old saying "you have two ears and one mouth for a reason, and you should use them accordingly" and with the propensity of some folks to constantly proselytize. What I truly loved about Kim's post was that he engaged in the conversation with his friend without the intent to "convert" him or to convince him of anything. Instead Kim engaged him to listen and to learn and in the end I think they both gained immeasurably from it. By using his ears Kim did more to exhibit his faith than he could have done with a million hours of proselytizing, and I think there are quite a few folks out there who could learn from his example. 

I’ll See Your Bible and Raise You a Pagan Spell Book

Last month a public elementary school in Buncombe County, NC was in the news because the school's administrators allowed Bibles to be distributed to students. Here's an excerpt from a story in the Asheville Citizen-Times:

Jackie Byerly, principal at North Windy Ridge, defended the availability of the Bibles. She said they were not handed out, and students had the option to take them. She checked with Superintendent Tony Baldwin and was given permission to make them available.

She said the Bibles arrived Monday morning from a local group of Gideons International, and the box containing the books was opened in the main office. Byerly said the students picked them up during their break time.

“If another group wishes to do the same, I plan on handling that the same way as I have handled this,” she said.

When I read that last quote I said to myself, "Self, I sure hope someone calls her on that." Thankfully my wish has been granted.  From today's news:

Ginger Strivelli delivered on her promise to bring Pagan spell books to North Windy Ridge after the intermediate school made Bibles available in December. She said school officials said they would allow for the availability of her materials, just as they did the Bibles from a local group of Gideons International.

When Strivelli brought the Pagan books to the school Wednesday morning, she said she was told “a new policy is being crafted.”

In all fairness the policy review is a direct result of the backlash from the Bible incident so I don't think this is necessarily an anti-Pagan move by the school system. I'd be seriously worried if they didn't have a policy review.

Having had three kids go through public schools I can tell you that elementary school was an interesting experience – the kids were like sponges soaking up what the adults at school spilled out of their mouths and I can tell you there were a few times I wondered what their teachers were thinking. My favorite example was when my son, who was in 1st grade at the time, asked me who I was voting for in the 2000 election.  I asked him why he wanted to know and he told me he really hoped I'd vote for Bush because his teacher told him Al Gore killed babies in Vietnam.  Seriously.  After several similar experiences through the years I came to the conclusion that elementary school teachers should stick to the same rules we have for polite party conversations: whatever you do don't talk about religion, politics or sex.

A Prayer Tip from Onslow County

I came across a story on the website of the Jacksonville (NC) Daily News website about the Onslow County Manager declining to pray at the county commissioners meeting because of the recent Forsyth County prayer ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.  That ruling held that only non-sectarian prayers can be given to open a government meeting and County Manager Jeff Hudson, who was asked by commissioners to open the meeting with an invocation, was reported by the newspaper as saying "At our last meeting Aug. 1st we did not know of this decision and its implications … I will give no invocation to a generic god … I pray only in the name of my Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. To do otherwise is a tacit denial of my Lord’s name. And since to offer such a prayer from this time forth is in violation of the law, I must refuse to give an invocation." 

Later in the story they interviewed some attendees at the meeting:

During the public comment period, which gives citizens three minutes to speak to items on the agenda, several attendees voiced their objection to the ruling.

Jack Morton, who resides in the Southwest area, said, “There is no prayer worth praying unless it is in the name of Jesus Christ.”

Dr. Eric Jones, a minister at The Bible Church Ministries in Richlands, used his time for public comment to provide a prayer.

After the meeting he said during his 22 years as a minister in the county he has done invocations for commissioner meetings many times.

Jones told The Daily News he was not invited to the meeting by Jarman or anyone else on the board or by any county staff member.

“They can’t stop us from praying in the public part of the meeting … It was my own decision … to pray for our elected officials,” he said. “I was not invited to come it was something I felt the desire to do. (Prayer should be part) of any government assembly, it always has been and there is no need to change it now.”

The story later quotes the legal director of the ACLU of North Carolina's Legal Foundation as saying that they had no problem with people using the public comments period to pray.  

Frankly my biggest frustration during the years that the Forsyth County prayer case has been going on is that people continue to claim that peoples' right to pray is being threatened/denied when in fact they are free to pray to whomever they please during the meetings.  The problem is the government endorsing a certain sect, and quite frankly the Onslow County Manager's quote that " I will give no invocation to a generic god … I pray only in the name of my Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. To do otherwise is a tacit denial of my Lord’s name" helps make the point.  Not only is he a representative of the government, he's a paid representative being asked by electedrepresentatives to give an invocation, and he is publicly stating that praying to any god other than Jesus is wrong. In my mind it's not hard to see how someone could perceive that as government endorsement of a particular sect.

Since the Fourth Circuit's ruling I've had some interesting conversations about this case with some local folks.  At least one, who's an attorney, sees the legal interpretation as flawed and I'll have to defer to his opinion on that, but I still don't understand how people can see this as an infringement on individuals' right to pray and why more people don't just take advantage of the public comments period and offer their own prayers.  No one's going to try and stop them and if someone does I'm willing to bet the ACLU will be there to fight for the person trying to pray.

Should Forsyth County’s Board of Commissioners Appeal?

I've long been on record that I don't like the position of the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners on the prayer case they've been fighting.  For those of you not from the Winston-Salem area let me nutshell it for you: 

  • For years the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners opened its meetings with an invocation delivered by a pastor or priest invited by the Board to give it.
  • The vast majority of those invited to deliver the invocation were Baptist, Methodist or otherwise Protestant.  Many of them invoked Jesus, which made the prayers sectarian.
  • A few years ago a couple of citizens took exception to having to hear prayers at a public meeting and, working with the ACLU, sued the Board over the practice.
  • The county commissioners, defying the advice of their own lawyer, continued their practice and ended up losing in court.  They decided to appeal, once again against the advice of their own counsel, and ended up being represented in court by a conservative group called the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF).
  • The vote to appeal was a close one and what ended up tipping the scales towards appeal is that a local group of church leaders agreed to pay any legal fees not covered by the ADF.  Those fees could be significant if the commissioners lose because they could be on the hook for the plaintiff's legal fees and any damages awarded by the court.

Last week the commissioners learned that they'd lost their appeal at the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  If they decide to appeal that decision it will go to the Supreme Court and that's a big, and potentially expensive, deal. Here's my question:  has anyone checked to see if those local religious leaders will still cover the commissioners' legal expenses if they lose the Supreme Court appeal?  As you probably know a lot has changed in the last couple of years and many institutions' and peoples' finances aren't in the same condition they were then.  I'm not sure the group ever raised the money they pledged in the first place, but even if they did I'd lay better than even odds that some of the pledges are backed more by passion than cash.

Another change since the commissioners voted to appeal is the makeup of the Board itself and I have no doubt that the current commissioners will vote to appeal. You'll notice that I've referred to this as the commissioners' appeal, not the county's.  That's because they alone voted to appeal this case and since they defied the advice of Forsyth County's own legal counsel and got into bed with a conservative advocacy group they alone are responsible for the outcome. 

As I said I don't agree with the commissioners' stance on this, but I'm 99% sure that at least 60-70% of the residents of Forsyth County disagree with me and think that the commissioners should appeal.  That means that in addition to whatever convictions the commissioners have about the case they also have the political cover to appeal because none of them have to worry about losing the next election over it.  If they lose the case they can claim they stood for the traditional values of Forsyth County and if they win the case they become national heroes of the conservative movement and at least one or two can start turning their dreams of higher office into reality. 

By the way, I highly recommend you read the comments on the story at the Winston-Salem Journal.  I think you'll find a version of every argument I've heard against or in favor of the commissioners' position.

Religion, Education and Money

The New York Times has an article that highlights the percentage of college graduates that each US religion has, and the percentage of members of each religion who have a household income greater than $75,000.  

The least educated or affluent? Pentecostals, Jehovah's Witnesses and Baptists.  

The most educated or affluent? Hindus, Reform Jews, Conservative Jews, Anglicans/Episcopalians. 

The most average? Mormons, Lutherans and Catholics.

From the article:

The most affluent of the major religions — including secularism — is Reform Judaism. Sixty-seven percent of Reform Jewish households made more than $75,000 a year at the time the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life collected the data, compared with only 31 percent of the population as a whole. Hindus were second, at 65 percent, and Conservative Jews were third, at 57 percent.

On the other end are Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Baptists. In each case, 20 percent or fewer of followers made at least $75,000. Remarkably, the share of Baptist households making $40,000 or less is roughly the same as the share of Reform Jews making $100,000 or more. Overall, Protestants, who together are the country’s largest religious group, are poorer than average and poorer than Catholics. That stands in contrast to the long history, made famous by Max Weber, of Protestant nations generally being richer than Catholic nations.


Mayor Bloomberg’s Speech

New York City's Republican mayor steps up and explains why the "Mosque at 9/11 Site" story is important, and why it would be wrong to prevent the mosque from being built.  He really hits the nail on the head here:

“This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions or favor one over another. The World Trade Center site will forever hold a special place in our city, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans if we said no to a mosque in lower Manhattan.

“Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11, and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values and play into our enemies' hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists, and we should not stand for that.

"For that reason, I believe that this is an important test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetimes, as important a test. And it is critically important that we get it right.

"On Sept. 11, 2001, thousands of first responders heroically rushed to the scene and saved tens of thousands of lives. More than 400 of those first responders did not make it out alive. In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked, 'What God do you pray to?' (Bloomberg's voice cracks here a little as he gets choked up.) 'What beliefs do you hold?'

"The attack was an act of war, and our first responders defended not only our city, but our country and our constitution. We do not honor their lives by denying the very constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked."