19 April 2012


During the windup to the 2008 election in 2007, George Mason University's History News Network reported:

The 2008 presidential campaign is striking in that it seems to be nearly as much about religion as politics.

Mitt Romney’s much-discussed speech on faith and politics is just one recent example of a trend that has stretched throughout the campaign and across both sides of the partisan aisle. During the seemingly endless string of debates, candidates have pondered what Jesus would do about capital punishment, raised their hands to deny evolution, considered whether America is a Christian nation, described the power of prayer, and eagerly affirmed that yes, the Bible is indeed the word of God.

(Note: all text in this shade of blue in this post designates direct quotes from the article.)

Despite a Pew Research Center study showing that a growing number of Americans  say there is too much religious talk in politics, not much has changed in four years. Four of the recent Republican candidates claimed that God told them to run for office: Bachmann, Cain, Perry, Santorum. Apparently, God didn't tell them they would win the nomination. At times, Santorum sounded more like he was running for Pope than for President.

Republicans seem to wear religion on their sleeves more than their Democratic counterparts, but the Dems aren't blameless. Clinton made speeches in churches more often than Reagan and the two Bushes combined, although those Republicans spoke more often in front of large religious organizations.

In 1960, Kennedy found it necessary to make a speech assuring the American public that he believed firmly in the separation of church and state and, therefore, would not allow his religion to interfere with his duties as president. This is the speech that Santorum claimed made him want to throw up.

What happened between 1960 and today? When did this change? 

According to the History News Network:

...It all began on July 17, 1980.

That evening, Ronald Reagan accepted the Republican nomination for president. Fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals, newly mobilized through organizations such as the Moral Majority, had found their man.

For the previous four years this constituency had tried to like Jimmy Carter who, after all, was an openly “born again” Christian. But Carter had disappointed the political faithful with his insufficiently aggressive foreign policy, support for Roe v. Wade, and general unwillingness to make his faith demonstrably public. Indeed, Carter in his nomination acceptance addresses in 1976 and 1980 made no mention of God whatsoever.

...Approaching the end of his 1980 acceptance speech, Reagan departed from his prepared remarks: “I have thought of something that is not part of my speech and I’m worried over whether I should do it.” He paused, then continued:

“Can we doubt that only a Divine Providence placed this land, this island of freedom, here as a refuge for all those people in the world who yearn to breathe freely: Jews and Christians enduring persecution behind the Iron Curtain, the boat people of Southeast Asia, of Cuba and Haiti, the victims of drought and famine in Africa, the freedom fighters of Afghanistan and our own countrymen held in savage captivity.”

Reagan went on, “I’ll confess that”—and here his voice faltered momentarily—“I’ve been a little afraid to suggest what I’m going to suggest.” A long pause ensued, followed by this: “I’m more afraid not to. Can we begin our crusade joined together in a moment of silent prayer?” The entire hall went silent, heads bowed. He then concluded with words uncommon at the time: “God bless America.”

How do we know that this moment marked a turning point? We ran the numbers.

If one looks at nearly 360 major speeches that presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to George W. Bush have given, the increase in religiosity is astounding. The average president from FDR to Carter mentioned God in a minority of his speeches, doing so about 47% of the time. Reagan, in contrast, mentioned God in 96% of his speeches. George H. W. Bush did so 91% of the time, Clinton 93%, and the current Bush (through year six) was at 94%. Further, the total number of references to God in the average presidential speech since 1981 is 120% higher than the average speech from 1933-1980. References to broader religious terms, such as faith, pray, sacred, worship, crusade, and dozens of others increased by 60%...

...This new age is one that many past presidents would hardly recognize. One can’t help but wonder what would become of a candidate today who, like John Kennedy in 1960, “believe[s] in a president whose views on religion are his own private affair.”

You may also find interesting:
The God Strategy: How Religion Became a Political Weapon in America by Coe and Demke
Amazon.com's description of the book:
This volume offers a timely and dynamic study of the rise of religion in American politics, examining the public messages of political leaders over the past seventy-five years. The authors show that U.S. politics today is defined by a calculated, deliberate, and partisan use of faith that is unprecedented in modern politics. Beginning with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, America has seen a no-holds-barred religious politics that seeks to attract voters, identify and attack enemies, and solidify power. Domke and Coe identify a set of religious signals sent by both Republicans and Democrats in speeches, party platforms, proclamations, visits to audiences of faith, and even celebrations of Christmas. The updated edition of this ground-breaking book includes a new preface, an updated analysis of the last Bush administration, as well as a new final chapter on the Jeremiah Wright controversy, the candidacies of Mike Huckabee and Sarah Sarah Palin, and Barack Obama's victory.

17 April 2012

Everything [about religion] is right until it's wrong...

"Everything is right until it's wrong," says one character in the film "Hemingway's Garden of Eden." He then adds "You'll know when it's wrong." The lines were lifted from Ernest Hemingway's allegedly autobiographical novel published a quarter century after his death.

It made me think of my history with religion.

When I was very young, everything seemed right with religion. "Jesus loves me. This I know, for the Bible tells me so..." are the lyrics we sang almost every week in Sunday school, assuring us that Jesus loved us and that he would protect us. My parents were so certain that this was true, that their love for Jesus was somewhat overwhelming.

For me, religion was right until it was wrong and I knew when it started to go wrong and continued to go wrong for me.

I usually say my religious skepticism began when I was 12, but I can't remember exactly when it started.  I may have been younger.  I remember asking questions in Sunday school that no one could answer, such as, "Why are there no dinosaurs in the Bible?" And when my parents decided our family would read a chapter of the Bible every day before dinner, starting with chapter 1 of Genesis, I was horrified by much of what I read. The God of the Bible certainly didn't seem like he was worthy of praise and worship, only of fear.  And when we arrived at the end of Revelation, we started over so I had to read those horrendous and violent stories again.

After hearing the Hemingway quote, I decided to make a list of what seemed/was/is right with religion and then what I learned is wrong with it.  The list will not be immediately complete, as I will think of new things to add to it over time.

I would be glad to hear your two-cents worth of right and wrong things about religion (religion in general or any specific religion) in the comment section ---and if I agree, I will add them to my lists.


For some people, religion is a comfort.

For some, religion provides a sense of belonging.

Some religious institutions do selfless charitable work, without requiring that recipients listen to sermons or accept their religious philosophies before receiving help.

Many members of religious congregations help each other in times of need.  When my sister was dying of cancer, members of her church drove her to appointments, made meals for her family, shopped and ran other errands when her family was unable to do everything.  I'm sure church members prayed with her, too. I personally think that prayer does no good but, most likely, my sister was comforted by their efforts.

Religion seems to help some people stay out of prison, overcome drug or alcohol abuse, etc.  An equally intense secular program might do as well, but the added incentive of heaven or fear of hell, probably helps. The life of an addict and the effects addiction has on family members and other victims, are probably worse than the negative effects of religion.

Religions teach right and wrong. In general they teach good values, unless they go overboard and expect perfection or use extreme views in hateful ways (such as Fred Phelps.)

Many religious people volunteer time/money for good works ---but so do many non-religious people. (If one disregards money donated directly to religious institutions, atheists actually donate more to charity than religious people.)


For some people, religion is a crutch which allows them to remain dependent, emotionally disabled, or childlike.

Some religious charitable institutions require recipients to listen to sermons or accept its religious philosophy before receiving help, thus the services provided are self-serving, not selfless acts of kindness.

Some religions instill debilitating shame and guilt on its members.

Some religions set moral standards almost no one can achieve and if one is so caught up in preaching against sin, some sins become almost irresistible. (Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, are you listening?)

Almost everyone believes his/her religion is the one true religion. They cannot all be right, but they can all be wrong.

Many religious leaders claim and want their congregations to believe that they are in possession of the whole truth ---yet no one is in possession of the whole truth about anything, especially religious concepts that cannot be proven.

Religion divides us ---pits one religion or one sect against another.  A perfect example is the frequent fights that erupt in the Church of the Nativity and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher between factions of monks fighting over territory within the churches.

Religious people tend to dislike, hate and/or have animosity toward those who disagree with them. Just read the crank mail received by the Freedom From Religion Foundation ---most of it from so-called "good Christians" ---you know, those people who are supposed to love their neighbors and enemies. Many non-believers or people of minority religions have reason to fear all those "good Christians." Students (and their family members) have been threatened and/or attacked physically or verbally after blowing the whistle on proselytising teachers, for example.

Religion can turn people into snobs.  They truly believe they are superior to others who have different beliefs or no religious beliefs at all. On the other hand, I know some atheists who look down their noses at religious people, too. It's the tribe instinct for mankind to do this, whether it be by supporting a sports team or a core belief.

Religion makes some people downright mean. Example: Fred Phelps.

Religion makes some people dangerous. Examples: Muslim terrorists, those who blow up abortion clinics, crusaders, Jim Jones.

Religious leaders have hidden the bad acts of some of its religion's leaders/members in order to keep up the appearance or reputation of the church and/or to hold onto its power.  (The Catholic Church's many sins include corruption in the Papacy, suppression of pedophile priests and abuse in Magdalene homes for women.) This shows that the religion's reputation and power are more important than the welfare of its members.

The Catholic church has threatened to excommunicate members who take a pro-choice stance on abortion. Apparently pedophile sex is not enough for priests to be excommunicated. In Brazil an entire medical team was excommunicated after performing an abortion on an 80-lb. nine-year-old who was pregnant with her stepfather's twins. Because of her age and size she was not expected to survive the pregnancy. Apparently rape of a nine-year-old stepdaughter is not worthy of excommunication.

Religion has been an underlying cause in countless wars. I can name very few wars that have not had religion as, at least in part, one of its causes. There is a theory that wars fought over land eventually end when one side takes definitive control over the property in question.  But religious wars (or any war based on a difference in ideology) never end.

Religion makes people do good in hopes of gaining a ticket to heaven, instead of doing good for goodness sake.

Religions teach myth and superstition as truth, thus blurring the lines between truth and fiction, between belief and rational thought. This results in poor reasoning abilities.

Religion causes wishful thinking which gives false hopes and results in unhappiness when those hopes are dashed.  Our dreams need to be based on reasonable expectations and the knowledge that dreams are usually fulfilled after much hard work and not the result of prayer.

Religious zealots think they can put their religious beliefs above all else, above the laws of their country or community and even above compassion.

Many reconstructionist Christians want to return to Biblical laws ---laws that would permit executions for homosexuality, abortion, or adultery.  Some even advocate public stoning as the preferred method of execution.  This sounds so much like radical Islam ---a religion that Christian zealots hate. (Is it true that we become what we hate?)

Religion seems to be obsessed with other people's sex lives. Sex is sinful before, after, or outside of marriage.  It is sinful with a same-sex partner. It is sinful if it is used as recreation rather than procreation. It is sinful to lust, even if only in one's heart, not in actual acts.

Karen Armstrong argues that in their terror of sex and hatred of women, theologians developed and propagated "the Christian sexual neurosis," an unholy trinity of women, sex, and sin that became identified with Christianity. Christian women have been forced to accept certain prescribed traditional stereotypical roles, as virgins, martyrs, witches, wives and mothers. Even though the women's movement of the 1970s and thereafter has overcome some of this, the Pat Robertson's of the world continue to rant against feminists.

Re: the above statements on sex ---it seems that many highly-religious people are simply jealous of anyone having more or better sex than they are.

In some religions, women are required to cover their hair, bodies and/or faces. I can't help but believe it is not to protect them from lustful men but to punish them for being perceived temptresses.  Islam considers that rape is not a sin on the part of a male, only on the part of the "temptress" female and is actually her just punishment for whatever sins she is perceived to have committed.

Many of the most outspoken of religious people are the worst hypocrites. Examples: Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, Ted Haggard, George Rekers to name only a few.

Some religious zealots blame all disasters on groups they dislike.  Pat Robertson is a master at this.  According to him, almost every disaster (earthquake, tsunami, 9/11) has been caused by God's retribution against homosexuals, abortionists, feminists, liberals, the ACLU, atheists, Hindus, and/or Muslims.  I wonder why God killed so many "innocent Christians" in natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina instead of warning them (as he allegedly did Noah) to get the hell out of New Orleans.

Most of the highly-religious people I know personally have little sense of humor.  What a shame that they can't have much fun.

This will be an ongoing project.  I will be adding more to this post as time permits.

I repeat: I would love to hear your input about right and wrong things about religion (religion in general or any specific religion) in the comment section ---and if I agree, I will add them to my lists.

14 April 2012

The Invention of Lying - Movie Review

Plot Summary:
This film starts with a blind date between Mark (Ricky Gervais) and Anna (Jennifer Garner) who live in a world where everyone tells, not only the truth, but blurts out everything they are thinking:  "Yes, that dress makes you look fat" or "Your baby is so ugly, it's like a little rat."

No one has any imagination or creativity because there is nothing beyond what everyone can see. There are no white lies to save people from hurt feelings. Therefore everyone who is not beautiful and successful lives in a depressing stupor.

Mark loves Anna but she sees him as a loser who would produce fat, snub-nosed children. He is out of her league and, well, Brad (Rob Lowe) comes from a more attractive gene pool.

After being threatened with eviction, Mark suddenly breaks out of his stupor and tells a lie that makes everything better for him. And his lying makes others feel better, too. Everyone  believes everything he says because they can't imagine anyone telling something that "isn't."

Mark had been a screenwriter assigned to writing movies about the 13th century, a very boring historical period. Since there is little of interest to write about and he can't make the Black Plague exciting, he has been laid off. But, as soon as he realizes he can lie, he invents fiction, therefore his screenplays are so fantastic and interesting (albeit inane) that he becomes rich. Everyone believes his fictitious stories are the absolute truth.

Later, at his mother's death bed, Mark tells a lie to make her feel better about dying. He is overheard by the hospital staff and soon everyone believes he is a prophet.

I don't want to give more of the plot away, but the rest of the film involves the conflict of absolute truth and lying and the problems each can cause.

In several on-line reviews, people said the movie started out well and then went downhill, but for me, the opposite happened.  I thought most of the beginning was rather inane, but as it went on, I liked it more ---perhaps because it threw some light on why people believe the things they do.

I wouldn't call it a great movie, but I enjoyed the film. Netflix viewers gave it an average of 3 (out of 5) stars and IMDB readers rated it 6.4 (out of 10.)  Actually, the remarks ran the gamut: loved it, hated it, or so-so.

I liked that it was thought-provoking, yet (as you'll see below) simply "provoking" to some.  It had much to say about religion. As a non-believer, I found parts of it laugh-out-loud funny with lots of low-key humor in-between.

If that isn't enough to make an atheist want to see it, these reviews from Netflix might change your mind:
•"This movie is terrible, boring, not funny, and an attack on religion. If I didn't have to return it, I would put it in the shredder."

•"I thought that it was just terrible! The first 30 minutes or so were great but then they brought in religion and I found it very offensive and I didn't like it at all. It was very hard to finish the movie."

•"**SPOILER** This film is so disappointing. It completely makes fun of religion and seems to say that it is all made up. I felt like it was saying that if you are religious, you are gullible and stupid. I couldn't give it no stars so I rated it as low as I could."

•"The movie ended up being an insult and persecution of Christians everywhere. They mocked everything from God to the Ten Commandments. With the cast that this movie had it should have been really funny, but instead was a complete waste of time. It wasn't worth finishing and I would never recommend it to anyone. It I could give it less than a star I would."

I'm surprised any up-tight religious people got as far as the attack-on-religion parts. I would have thought they would have turned it off during the first five minutes when Anna blurts out that she had been masturbating when Mark rang her doorbell. (Some admitted they didn't watch more than a few minutes of it.)

Yes, it is an attack on religion, but it is fiction and it is a comedy.
Just a few more reviews from Netflix:
•"I loved this movie. It has a unique story line and makes you think outside the box. This is a true humanist movie."

•"Yeah it is anti-christian but it is hilarious...so get over it!!! This movie is great and I would suggest watching this movie."

04 April 2012


Yes, if Jesus ran for president, the GOP would absolutely hate him.

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