Monday, November 17, 2008

Religulous

The religion of Barack Obama was a major focus of his opponents in the presidential campaign. Decidedly un-christian things were and continue to be said about him, including the absolutely stupid people who called him a Muslim in one breath and ranted about his Christian pastor, Jeremiah Wright, in the next. I am not a fan of those who wield religion as a weapon.

Interestingly, as Barack Obama refers to and is being compared to Abraham Lincoln in his transition to power, Lincoln had his own problems with those purporting to be godly:

As the author Susan Jacoby documents in Freethinkers, her 2004 book on the history of American secularism, presidential candidate Lincoln rued the opposition he faced from 20 of the 23 Protestant ministers in his hometown of Springfield, Ill. Earlier in his career, Lincoln complained about opposition from religious figures who warned Christian voters against him on the grounds, Lincoln wrote, that "I belonged to no church (and) was suspected of being a deist."


I think the most often repeated, yet demostrably false, statement about religion is that America was founded as a Christian Nation. Just the opposite infact, as the founders realized the problems with a state that promoted religion...It always came down to a particular religion and that's just plain wrong. If there is one thing each and every one of us disagrees with each and every other one of us, it is religion.

Here's a test for you:

1. Protestant Christianity is the dominant religion in America. True or False?

2, The fastest growing religion in America is: (a) Islam, (b) Judaism, (c) Evangelical Christianity, (d) The Church of Satan, (e) None of the above.

3. There are more atheists in America than there are Jews in the entire world. True or False?

4. The United States of America was founded by Christians. True or False?

5. The third largest religious denomination in the world is Secularism. True or False?

Got your answers? Feel confidant? Ok, lets see...

1. Protestants will soon fall to fewer than 50% of Americans...False.

2. It's Wicca. Yeah, really.

3. There are about five times as many atheists in America as there are Jews. Worldwide, Atheism is the third largest group with 16% and Jews are about 0.22% of the people on the planet. The statement is true by a very large margin. It should also be noted that "Jew" is a race, not a religion, and that the percentage of Jews who are atheists is greater than the average in Americans as a whole.

4. False, in that America was founded by men with a wide mix of religious views, including Deists and Atheists, as well as Christians. Probably the most intentionally violated provision of the Constitution is stark proof of this: "...no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.."

5. True. Roughly...Christians are 33%, Islam is 22%, Secularists of all stripes are 16%.

The Bill Maher movie, Religulous, is out and proving, as my friend said, beyond any doubt that Bill Maher is a jerk. It also proves that most religious people know essentially nothing about their own religion, but are ready to condemn those with differing religious views and associations. The very comment that Obama might be a Muslim was telling, in that it unmistakenly branded the commenter as a religious bigot, if nothing else.

Maher's parting request in his movie is for non-religious people to speak out about their non-religion. He may be calling for secularists to become a power block like evangelicals or Catholics, I don't know. With 30 million of them in the United States, they certainly could wield voting power if they came together and organized.

The problem is twofold. How do you organize people around the common thread that they are independent thinkers? The other problem may be easier to deal with in the long run. If there is any group who faces greater condemnation by the religious community than Muslims...it is Atheists. A group of folks headed by Margaret Downey are combatting this by driving out the fear that creates bigotry, and they are doing it in the most Christian of methods, by showing love.

In an episode earlier this year in the Philadelphia area, where Downey lives, the stage appeared set for an atheist-vs.-Christian billboards shouting match: Downey and colleagues had posted a billboard on Interstate 95 saying, "Don't believe in God? You're not alone," prompting a local Christian congregation to erect signs with a counter-message promoting God. Instead of escalating the billboard battle, Downey and company asked those who put up the pro-belief sign to join forces and volunteer with them for a Philadelphia charity. The people from the Light Houses of Oxford Valley congregation accepted the offer and teamed up with the atheists to spend a half-day sorting and packaging food for the needy.


Downey says that the religious sometimes try to put down atheists by saying they don't believe in anything, but she says that is wrong.

"We atheists simply add one more 'o' to our belief system — We believe in Good."

When we look for the good in others, why are we surprised when we find it to be common and widespread? There are so many things that we all agree on that we could spend the rest of our lives working together for "Good" without ever having to confront our differences. Is this the moment that we decide to give this a try?

Peace,

Steve

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