31 March 2010


(This post was originally published in February 2009.
I made some revisions and am posting it again.)

My answer to the title question is an emphatic NO!
I’m not saying all religious people are immoral. The examples I give below represent a very tiny percentage of the religious community. What I am saying is:
Being a believer is not a guarantee of moral conduct.

"Morality is not determined by the church you attend or the faith you embrace. It is determined by the quality of your character and the positive impact you have on those you meet along your journey." ---as stated on The Immoral Minority blog.

Societal health:
A study by the Journal of Religion & Society (2005) concluded: “Higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion in the prosperous democracies... Higher rates of non-theism and acceptance of human evolution usually correlate with lower rates of dysfunction, and the least theistic nations are usually the least dysfunctional.”
The Cambridge Companion to Atheism came up with similar findings. High levels of atheism are strongly connected with high levels of societal health: low homicide, poverty, infant mortality and illiteracy rates, high levels of educational attainment, per capita income and gender equality.
In a 1999 study, George Barna, found the percentage of people who have divorced as follows:
Jews = 30%
Born Again Christians = 27%
Mainstream Christians = 24%
Atheists/agnostics = 21%
While I don’t personally believe divorce is immoral, many religious groups think it is a sign of moral weakness.
Ron Barrier, Spokesperson for American Atheists commented: "These findings confirm what I have been saying these last five years... It stands to reason that our families would be dedicated more to each other than to some invisible monitor in the sky. With Atheism, women and men are equally responsible for a healthy marriage... Atheists reject, and rightly so, the primitive patriarchal attitudes so prevalent in many religions with respect to marriage."
James Veverka, in "The moral hypocrisy of the Bible Belt," remarked: "We hear an awful lot from conservatives in the Bible Belt and on the TV about how we all should be living. Certainly a culture that teaches the conservative religious values of the Christian right must have clean living written all over it... It doesn't. Far from it... Joining its history of Biblically correct bigotry and discrimination, it is an area with the highest divorce, murder, STD/HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy, single parent homes, infant mortality, and obesity rates in the nation. As a region, the Bible Belt has the poorest health care systems and the lowest rates of high school graduation."

Sex and religion:
James A. Haught: “Western religions have spent millenia inflicting shame, guilt, repression and punishment upon human sexuality... The West presents... a long chronicle of religious hostility to lovers -- for no rational reason... Every censorship effort, every attempt at sexual repression, still comes from religion.” (“Sex and God: Is Religion Twisted?Free Inquiry, Fall 1997)
Episcopal priest Raymond Lawrence wrote in a national United Methodist journal: "The churches are in danger of evolving into havens for the sexually suppressed or, worse, communities of profound hypocrisy." (Quarterly Review, summer 1985)
Dan Barker, former evangelical minister and current co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation contends that when religious zealots spend so much time thinking and preaching against sex and homosexuality, they become obsessed with it, and eventually they cannot control their sexual urges.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, another co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation) wrote Betrayal of Trust, Clergy Abuse of Children (1988), which chronicles hundreds of cases of sexual abuse by priests, ministers and rabbis in the U.S. I can't help but think that her husband Dan Barker (above) was right.
When an avalanche of accusations against priests, for sexual misconduct, hit my local area, the newspapers were filled with letters to the editor blaming the church for not allowing priests to marry. However, priests who like young boys are not interested in adult women. Others were saying that pedophiles were joining the church to have easy access to children. But one psychiatrist who had treated some of the perpetrators wrote an article that made more sense to me. He argued that men who were Catholic and knew they had a problem, chose to become priests because they thought that if they prayed enough, were pious enough, read the scriptures enough, they would be cured. We see how well that worked.
I was astounded to learn that some bishops were directing priests to deny communion or even recommend excommunication to church members who were openly pro-choice, while at the same time pedophile priests were merely slapped on the wrists and allowed to move to other parishes.

The news media have covered extensively the sexual scandals of Ted Haggard, Jim Bakker, and Jimmy Swaggert, all three ministers who were either morally bankrupt or, at the least, hypocrites. Thus I will not go into the details here. However, suffice it to say they preached often about moral weakness and sin, then did exactly what they were preaching against.

Morality and politics:
I know our lawmakers cannot be perfect and I don’t expect them to be. But when they campaign on moral issues, then disappoint us, then they are hypocrites.
U.S. Representative Mark Foley (Catholic & Republican) who was known as a crusader against child abuse and exploitation, resigned following a scandal involving teenage male Congressional pages. His replacement, Tim Mahoney (United Methodist & Democrat) ran on a platform of restoring morals to Washington. What did he do? He had a two-year affair with a former staff worker. Just about the time that hit the news, it was discovered that he had been cheating on that mistress with a second mistress. Larry Craig (Methodist and Republican) who repeatedly voted Nay on gay rights issues was caught in an airport restroom, apparently soliciting men for sex.

Religion and crime:
There have been many notorious criminals who were church members. You may remember a serial killer who called himself BTK (Bind, Torture and Kill) in Kansas. David Rader, who killed at least 10 people, was a Deacon and the Congregational President of his Lutheran Church.
David Ludwig, the Pennsylvania teenager who killed his girlfriend’s parents was a home-schooled Christian. Mark Chapman who murdered John Lennon had been described by his friends as a “Jesus freak.”
One of the evilest Christians I know of is Fred Phelps, the preacher who pickets and disrupts military funerals. He physically and psychologically abused his wife and all of his children. The only reason he is not in jail is that he convinced his sons that if they told the truth and he was put on trail, that they would go to hell. Phelps is convinced homosexuals are responsible for all the evils in the world. (His son Nate's blog, A Journey to Reason, tells much of his journey from his father's home to atheism. Read his speech to the American Atheists HERE.)
In a report from the Federal Bureau of Prisons (1997) approximately 80% of the U.S. population claimed some affiliation with a religious group and 80% of the U.S. prison population stated a religious preference. Logical, right? But then why, if (at that time) 10% of the general population claimed to be atheist, only 0.2% of the prison population said they were atheists? There are many religious people who argue that prisoners choose to say they are religious because there are benefits to doing that in prison. If that is so, then our prison system is violating the church/state separation provision of the Constitution.
One of the biggest crimes of all, which senselessly kills innocent people every day, is terrorism. Many people don't want to admit that the terrorists are religious people, but that is exactly what they are. They may be of a different religion than those who are shocked by their immoral acts, but as I pointed out in a previous post, Christians killed at least 50,000 people, just as senselessly during the 1st Crusade, and did it in the name of Christ.

Steve Allen: “It is frequently argued that a return to formal religion is the solution to the problem [of corruption.] But the prescription leaves something to be desired, for one finds practically no formal humanists, agnostics, or atheists in the ranks of the corrupt. Most of the embezzlers, swindlers, con-men and thieves... are card carrying members of one religion’s denomination or another that formally pays respect to the Old and/or New Testament.” (Ripoff, a look at corruption in America, 1979)

I repeat, I’m not saying all religious people are immoral. These cases represent very few people among the religious. What I am saying is that being religious is not a guarantee of moral conduct.

William Lobdell: “To the chagrin of evangelical pollsters and leaders, Christians–for the most part–don’t act any differently than atheists. And, in fact, in some categories (divorce rates and racism) evangelicals act worst.”

I know most religious people are good, honest, ethical people. Most non-religious people I know are also good, honest and ethical, yet they aren’t that way because they fear retribution in the afterlife.
copyright 2010 C. Woods

Click on this link for an article by Paula Kirby: "Morality: no gods required."
Click on this link for an article by Austin Cline: "Irreligious People Just as Ethical as Religious Churchgoers"

25 March 2010

QUOTATONS: Random Free Thoughts

• “An eye for an eye makes us all blind.” (Mohandas Gandhi)

• “In this tendency to accept what we find, to believe what we are told, is at once good and evil. It is this which makes social advance possible; it is this which makes it so slow and painful. It is thus tyranny is maintained and superstition perpetuated.” (Henry George, Social Problems)
• “No theory is too false, no fable too absurd, no superstition too degrading for acceptance when it has become imbedded in common belief. Men will submit themselves to torture and to death, mothers will immolate their children, at the bidding of beliefs they thus accept.” (Henry George, Social Problems)

• “Is it really God that created man or is it the opposite?” (Kahlil Gibran)

• “There is nothing more frightening than active ignorance.” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

• “We are the most Christian nation on the planet, yet we have more guns. We live in a society where most folks would react more strongly to registering their guns than registering their children.” (Dick Gregory)
• “We got churches that have a Jew on the cross that wouldn’t permit a Jew in the church.” (Dick Gregory)

• “Books won’t stay banned. They won’t burn. Ideas won’t go to jail. In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost. The only sure weapon against bad ideas is better ideas.” (Whitney Griswold, New York Times, February 14, 1959)

• "Faith is generally nothing more than the permission religious people give to one another to believe things strongly without evidence." (Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, 2006)

• “A man must not swallow more beliefs than he can digest.” (Ellis Havelock)

• “The faith in which I was brought up assured me that I was better than other people; I was saved, they were damned.... Our hymns were loaded with arrogance -- self-congratulation on how cozy we were with the Almighty and what a high opinion he had of us, what hell everybody else would catch come Judgment Day.” (Robert Heinlein quoted by Laurence J Peter, in, Peter's Quotations: Ideas for Our Time, quoted from James A Haught, ed, 2000 Years of Disbelief)

• “All thinking men are atheists.” (Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms)
• “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in shock-proof shit-detector.” (Ernest Hemingway, An Interview with Ernest Hemingway by George Plimpton)

• “I am an atheist, and that’s it. I believe there’s nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for other people.” (Katharine Hepburn)
• “Our Constitution was not intended to be used by any group to foist its personal religious beliefs on the rest of us.” (Katharine Hepburn)

• “Since it is obviously inconceivable that all religions can be right, the most reasonable conclusion is that thay are all wrong.” (Christopher Hitchens, The Atheist’s Bible, Joan Konner, ed. 2007)

• “Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves.” (Eric Hoffer)

• “The longing for certainty and repose is in every human mind. But certainty is generally illusion and repose is not the destiny of man.” (Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.)
• “We are all tattooed in our cradles with the beliefs of our tribe; the record may seem superficial, but it is indelible. You cannot educate a man wholly out of the supersitious fears which were implanted in his imagination, no matter how utterly his reason may reject them.” (Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.)

• “There is in every village a torch - the teacher; and an extinguisher - the clergyman.” (Victor Hugo)

• “Chastity: the most unnatural of the sexual perversions.” (Aldous Huxley)
• “If we must play the theological game, let us never forget that it is a game. Religion, it seems to me, can survive only as a consciously accepted system of make believe.” (Aldous Huxley)
• “You never see animals going through the absurd and often horrible fooleries of magic and religion. Only man behaves with such gratuitous folly. It is the price he has to pay for being intelligent but not, as yet, quite intelligent enough.” (Aldous Huxley, Texts and Pretexts, 1932)

21 March 2010

CHRISTIANS BEHAVING BADLY #20 - proselytizing teacher

This post is about a teacher in Mount Vernon, Ohio who has used his teacher's lectern as a pulpit. He is not an isolated case, but he is the perfect example of someone who is so sure he knows the whole truth, that he imposes his beliefs on public school children, and as a result, has divided a community.
Although the proselytising had started as early as 2003, it came to the forefront when Jenifer Dennis's son came home from school near the end of 2007 with his arm covered with red and swollen welts and blisters in the shape of a cross. She described it as a burn that might have come from a curling iron.
Dennis's son had been burned by John Freshwater, his 8th-grade science teacher, who admitted to using a Tesla coil on the boy, but insisted it was the letter X, not a cross.
Jenifer Dennis who is a Christian stated, "I don't think that [religion] should be the decision of a school teacher. Religion...belongs in church, a home or in a religious class. I don't think any child should feel uncomfortable at school."
Soon after this incident, other allegations came to the attention of school officials. Freshwater had been promoting fundamentalist Christianity and teaching creationism using Legos™ to demonstrate that complex structures can't build themselves. He displayed religious posters in his classes, quizzed students on their religious beliefs, and offered "healing" services.
In June 2008 the school district told Freshwater he would be fired, but had the right to a hearing which has been underway for nearly 2 years. A report to the school board should be complete within a few months.
At the hearings Freshwater denied passing out religious surveys to students but the school's attorney found more than 125 completed forms in his classroom. He denied the Lego™ lessons, too, but a tape was produced on which Freshwater bragged about such a lesson on a right-wing radio station. Handouts denying evolution were produced. Freshwater never allowed students to take them home. He claimed it wasn't to hide anything, only to save paper. Other science teachers at the school stated that Freshwater often referred to the Bible as a source of research.
Many Mount Vernon citizens think Freshwater crossed the line with his proselytizing, but predictably, he also has many supporters. The Dennis family was harassed so much they moved to another town.
Meanwhile Freshwater claimed the school district is after him for keeping a Bible on his desk, and has thus become a martyr for the Religious Right. He filed a $1 million suit against the school and counter-sued the Dennis family. The Ohio Supreme Court dismissed that case in September 2009.
In fact, school officials told him he was allowed to keep the Bible on his desk and read it during breaks. He had been told to stop promoting religion in his classes, but he did not comply.
David Millstone, the school's attorney, stated: "These kids are at an impressionable age...The superintendent wants to protect the students' right to be free from religious indoctrination in the classroom."
Source: Church & State, March 2010
(published by Americans United for
Separation of Church and State)

Update: 10/12/11, A judge upheld the firing of Freshwater. In the judge's ruling, he stated that there was clear and convincing evidence that the school board was right in dismissing Freshwater. See more HERE.

It looks like Freshwater may continue to appeal this case.

18 March 2010

CHRISTIANS BEHAVING BADLY #19 - Antichrist protection

(Click on image for a larger view.)

On 02/10/10, the Virginia House of Delegates approved a bill that some members believe will protect the state from the Antichrist.

The bill prohibits employers and insurance companies from requiring people to implant microchips ---which one delegate said might be the "Mark of the Beast" as described in the Bible. While the bill's sponsor Mark Cole (R-Fredericksburg) says that the bill's goal is to address privacy issues (which may be a reasonable concern) he told The Washington Post, "My understanding ---and I'm not a theologian ---but there's a prophecy in the Bible that says you'll have to receive a mark, or you can neither buy or sell things in end times."
[Does that remark make sense to anyone?]

Some Christian groups believe the Antichrist will force everyone to accept this "mark," which could be a microchip.
House members passed the bill by a vote of 88-9.

Mmmm! What will they ban next? Tattoos? They're marks, aren't they? What about stretch marks? Felt-tip markers? Markets? Question marks? Exclamation marks! Or how about the second book of the New Testament?

Source: Church and State, March 2010
(published by Americans United for
Separation of Church and State)

UPDATE April 2010:
The bill mentioned above has been killed in the VA Senate. Four members of a subcommittee of the Commerce and Labor Committee said that the bill was a solution in search of a problem. (April 2010 issue of State and Church.)

11 March 2010

RELIGION - Rex Walls-style

Jeannette Walls’ 2005 memoir, The Glass Castle, tells the story of her eccentric family, including her atheist father, Rex Walls. (If you want to skip the rest of the review and read about her father's unconventional behavior when accompanying his Catholic wife and children to church, scroll down to the green text at the bottom of this post.)

Jeanette's memoir, which I loved, starts with her first memory as a three-year-old (c. 1963), standing on a chair cooking hot dogs. Her dress caught fire resulting in a long hospital stay and numerous skin grafts for the precocious child who loved the hospital because it was so clean and white, where the sheets were changed even when they weren't dirty.
If you wonder why a three-year-old would be allowed to cook without supervision, that’s exactly what her nurses and doctors asked.
Before Jeannette was released from the hospital, her father gathered her up and ran from the building ---obviously without paying the bill ---in what he referred to as “Rex Walls-style."

This is a prelude to Jeannette's years of growing up with charismatic parents who taught their four children about literature, art, music, history, astronomy, geology, and mathematics, and who encouraged them to be creative, see the world from an optimistic point of view, and stand up for themselves.
At the same time, Rex went from job to job, usually as an electrician at a mining company, rarely holding onto employment for more than six months at a time. He was mostly interested in drinking, gambling, conspiracy theories and creating pie-in-the-sky schemes such as a new way to find gold. He spent years imagining and drawing blueprints for the glass castle he planned to build for the family. He could convince his children that, although other children were told lies about Santa Claus, he could give them whatever star they chose for Christmas, yet he was not above stealing the children’s hard-earned money for alcohol or poker.
Despite a teaching degree, their mother, Rose Mary, preferred painting pictures that no one ever bought rather than work outside the home or make any effort to clean their long series of run-down homes that were infested with rats, roaches, and termites. The children often had to distract employees while their mother shoplifted. During the worst of times, they had no electricity or heat. Despite their miserable existence, Rose Mary encouraged her children to see the positive in every situation.
Jeannette and her siblings searched for food in dumpsters, stole leftovers from classmates' discarded lunch bags, and collected empty bottles to earn enough money to buy something to eat. When bill collectors came after their parents, the family did the skedaddle to another town, Rex Wall-style. Each family member was allowed to choose one item to take to their next home. They lived in various western towns and eventually became the poorest family in Rex's bleak hometown in West Virginia.
The book is a chronicle of parental neglect, told by Jeannette without an ounce of self pity. Life for the Walls children was dismal, yet at times, funny.
In the end, the Walls' story is uplifting, for three of the four children, including Jeannette, used their hard-earned lessons in resourcefulness to escape to New York City to become high-achieving productive adults. The youngest daughter moved to California after spending time in a mental institution. Their parents ended up homeless in New York, by choice, refusing public assistance or help from their children.

Below are two excerpts about religion which reveal the kind of sad, yet humorous, goings-on in the Walls family when Jeannette was nine:
Church was particularly excruciating when Dad came along. Dad had been raised a Baptist, but he didn’t like religion and didn’t believe in God. He believed in science and reason, he said, not superstition and voodoo. But Mom had refused to have children unless Dad agreed to raise them as Catholics and to attend church himself on holy days of obligation.
Dad sat in the pew fuming and shifting around and trying to bite his tongue while the priest carried on about Jesus resurrecting Lazarus from the dead and the communicants filed up to eat the body and drink the blood of Christ. Finally when Dad was unable to stand it any longer, he’d shout out something to challenge the priest. He didn’t do it to be hostile. He hollered out his point in a friendly tone: “Yo, Padre!” he’d say. The priest usually ignored Dad and tried to go on with his sermon, but Dad persisted. He’d challenge the priest about the scientific impossibility of the miracles, and when the priest continued to ignore him, he’d get mad and yell out something about Pope Alexander VI’s bastard children, or Pope Leo X’s hedonism, or Pope Nicholas III’s simony, or the murders committed in the name of the church during the Spanish Inquisition. But what could you expect, he’d say, from an institution run by celibate men who wore dresses. At that point the ushers would tell us we’d have to leave.

* * * * * * * *
Mom insisted that we celebrate Christmas in the Catholic fashion, getting to the [thrift-shop] gifts only after we’d attended midnight mass. Dad, knowing that all the bars and liquor stores would be closed on Christmas, had stocked up in advance. He’d popped open the first Budweiser before breakfast, and by the time midnight mass rolled around, he was having trouble standing up.
I suggested that maybe this once, Mom should let Dad off the hook about going to mass, but she said stopping by God’s house for a quick hello was especially important at times like this, so Dad staggered and lurched into the church with us. During the sermon, the priest discussed the miracle of Immaculate Conception and the Virgin Birth.
“Virgin my ass!” Dad shouted. “Mary was a sweet Jewish broad who got herself knocked up!”
The service came to a dead halt. Everyone was staring. The choir had swiveled around in unison and were gaping openmouthed. Even the priest was speechless.
Dad had a satisfied grin on his face. “And Jesus H. Christ is the world's best-loved bastard!”
The ushers grimly escorted us to the street. On the way home, Dad put his arm around my shoulder for support. “Baby girl, if your boyfriend ever gets into your panties and you find yourself in a family way, swear that it was Immaculate Conception and start mouthing off about miracles,” he said. “Then just pass around the collection plate come Sunday.”



English biologist


• “Agnosticism simply means that a man shall not say he knows or believes that for which he has no grounds for professing to believe.”(What Great Men Think of Religion, by Cardiff)

• “The deepest sin against the human mind is to believe things without evidence.”

• “The dogma of the infallibility of the Bible is no more self-evident than is that of the infallibility of the popes.”(Contoverted Questions, 1892)

• “I have no faith, very little hope, and as much charity as I can afford.”(What Great Men Think of Religion, by Cardiff)

• “I neither deny or affirm the immortality of man. I see no reason for believing in it, but, on the other hand, I have no means of disproving it.”(Letter to Charles Kingsley, 1860)

• “Irrationally held truths may be more harmful than reasoned errors.”(The Coming of Age of the Origin of the Species)

• “I took thought, and invented what I conceived to be the appropriate title of ‘Agnostic.’ It came into my head as suggestively antithetic to the ‘Gnostic’ of Church history who professed to know so much about the very things of which I was ignorant.”(Agnosticism. Nineteenth Century, 1889)

• “Logical consequences are the scarecrows of fools and the beacons of wise men.” (Science and Culture)

• “The only question which a wise man can ask himself is whether a doctrine is true or false. Consequences will take care of themselves.” (What Great Men Think of Religion, by Cardiff)

• “What are among the moral convictions most fondly held by barbarous and semi-barbarous people? They are the convictions that authority is the soundest basis of belief; that merit attaches to readiness to believe; that the doubting disposition is a bad one, and skepticism a sin; that when good authority has pronounced what is to be believed, and faith has accepted it, reason has no further duty.” (What Great Men Think of Religion, by Cardiff)

08 March 2010


Carl Sagan
astonomer, astrophysicist, author

"It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas. If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you. You never learn anything new. You become a crotchety old person convinced that nonsense is ruling the world. (There is, of course, much data to support you.)
"On the other hand, if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an ounce of skeptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish useful ideas from the worthless ones. If all ideas have equal validity then you are lost, because then, it seems to me, no ideas have any validity at all."
From "The Burden of Skepticism,"
Pasadena lecture, 1987,
as quoted in Why People Believe Weird Things
by Michael Shermer, 1997

I'm sure almost every one knows someone who is, as Sagan puts it, "open to the point of gullibility." I have several friends who forward every email they receive, convinced it is true, despite my repeatedly referring them to urban myth websites. They believe in astrology, pyramid power, and believe Sylvia Brown communicates with the dead. One friend paid over $1000 for an electrical device that was supposed to eliminate arthritis pain. When she got no results, instead of deciding the product was defective or even a scam, chose to believe that it was her particular type of arthritis that was the problem.
I think we would all like to believe in miracles. Wouldn't it be nice if we could communicate with our dead parents? Wouldn't it be great if an electronic device could relieve all our pain? It would be great if we could pop a pill to cure any ailment, read our horoscopes to know the future, or feel better after rolling a few crystals in our palms? And it would be just lovely if all we had to do was pray to Jesus to resolve all our problems.
But most of us use our reason to determine what is probable or not.

On the other hand, most of us know someone who doesn't believe anything they read or hear and thinks every new idea is stupid. These nay-sayers, with their extreme pessimism, can be nearly as annoying as those who are gullible Pollyannas.
Most of us fall somewhere in between these two extremes. I would think those leaning toward the skeptical end of the spectrum have a more realistic view of the world, as long as they leave the door open far enough to let a new theory, idea, or hypotheses in the room for some rational exploration before tossing it in the trash.
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