Christians I Have Known

My uncle is a Christian; that’s the label he would choose
Believing in the bible, and Rush Limbaugh, and Fox News
He never liked Obama, and he thinks the man should go
He’s a literal creationist; the bible tells him so.

My sister is a Christian; she’s the east coast liberal sort
She’s a feminist (and active, I am happy to report)
Loves the “wall of separation”—as a lawyer, she should know
And believes in same-sex marriage, cos the bible tells her so

My neighbor is a Christian, and she has been all her life
She’s married (I’m delighted!) to her lovely Jewish wife
The congregation blessed them, with their faces all aglow
God himself looked down and smiled; their bible tells them so

My parents both are Christians; they are elders in their church
They know the bible’s history, through scholarly research
They put no stock in miracles—that stuff is all for show
But follow Christ’s example, cos the bible tells them so.

Another Christian uncle—I assume he was, at least;
A minister for decades, till he ran off with a priest—
I don’t know if he still believes, or maybe he’s let go
And did he make his choice because the bible tells him so?

I met another Christian—that’s the first thing that he said
And suddenly, these questions started floating round my head
He’d really told me nothing—he’s a Christian, yes, but, so?
What’s it mean to be a Christian? Cos the bible doesn’t know.

Just a reminder that “Christian” is a big tent–nearly as big, and nearly as meaningless, as “believer” or “theist”. I know it bugs me when writers tell me “what atheists believe”, so I’ll try not to paint with the same broad brush.

Mind you, what I really want to do is find out how closely aligned individual members of a faith community are to the actual tenets of that community… and further, how much they are aware of that alignment. In other words… Three layers: official doctrine, member understanding of official doctrine, and member actual belief.

Step one would be collecting all the possible self-labels, to see which doctrine is supposed to line up… there are thousands, and not all mutually exclusive.

The Devil Went To Concord

The Devil went to Concord;
He was there to raise some hell
With Satanic clothes and music
And with drugs and porn to sell
He would fill young hearts with evil things
Like envy, lust, and hate…
He was climbing up the High School steps
When something whispered, “Wait!”

A mom was in the doorway,
Praying loudly, arms outstretched—
Asking Jesus Christ’s protection
Which the students thought farfetched
What an antiquated notion—
It’s as obsolete as sin
But with Jesus in the doorway
Surely Satan can’t come in

That’s the way some people saw it
And they loved the mother’s zeal
If the school had no objections,
Then perhaps the tale was real
But some others in the district
Find the spectacle quite odd,
Cos the Devil’s merely fictional,
And so, in fact, is God

In a conflict of religious views
A school can’t take one side
So one faith can’t be promoted
And, of course, can’t be denied
Treating everybody equally
Is what it’s all about…
So the law’s the law in Concord
And the praying mom is out.

The full story, relatively neutrally reported, at the Union Leader. Of course, the misLeader is notoriously right-wing, so you have to look at the comments. It’s actually kind of fun, because New Hampshire has a mix of both types of conservative–the social conservatives who support the praying mom, and the (small L) libertarian conservatives who support the constitution.

The Concord Monitor’s editorial, agreeing that the school was right to end the praying. Fewer comments here, of course–a smaller paper–but the first one is the one that inspired today’s verse.

It’s Just A Bloody Cracker!

The flesh of our savior—
A wafer, or host
Is a part of the Eucharist rites
And a miracle happens
Or so goes the boast
With each of the sav(i)ory bites

No longer a cracker,
It’s turned into flesh
(and the wine’s turned to blood, as you know)
Not rotted and nasty
But perfectly fresh
And we gobble it down, even so!

Some call it symbolic,
But we know it’s real—
It’s a truth that cannot be ignored
And once in a while
The blood will congeal
So we’re sure we’re consuming our Lord!

Via Doubtful News, a miracle! A communion wafer is apparently bleeding. I forget–is it believers or atheists who insist on literal interpretations of scripture, and of transubstantiation, and such?

I expect PZ to face charges, now that the wafer has so definitively been shown to be Jesus Himself.

Why Millennials Are *Really* Leaving The Church

“Why are millennials leaving the church?”
They asked, and they pondered and prayed
But the problem, it seems, that they had with their search
Is, they asked a millennial… who stayed.

Over at CNN, there’s a piece by Rachel Held Evans, “Why millennials are leaving the church“. Young people are leaving the church in droves, and the church wants to know why. In this story, the author (who has not left the church) points to the the slick packaging of today’s religion, the selling of sizzle rather than steak, and opines:

Many of us, myself included, are finding ourselves increasingly drawn to high church traditions – Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, the Episcopal Church, etc. – precisely because the ancient forms of liturgy seem so unpretentious, so unconcerned with being “cool,” and we find that refreshingly authentic.

And a bit later:

You can’t hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.

Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus.

But there’s a problem with her analysis, and much of it I suspect comes from her own personal experience. After all, she did not choose to leave. She chose to stay. Having made a decision, we (at least we WEIRD subjects of the psych experiments examining the process) tend to justify our decision–we focus on the elements that support our decision, and minimize the elements that would have favored the path we did not take. What the church needs to do is ask the people who left… and then they need to actually listen. (I had two links for that sentence, illustrating what I mean, and for the life of me I can’t find them. If I do, I’ll update, and it will be worth it.)

But I suspect the CNN piece actually has the answer, hidden in plain sight:

At 32, I barely qualify as a millennial.

I wrote my first essay with a pen and paper, but by the time I graduated from college, I owned a cell phone and used Google as a verb.

I still remember the home phone numbers of my old high school friends, but don’t ask me to recite my husband’s without checking my contacts first.

I own mix tapes that include selections from Nirvana and Pearl Jam, but I’ve never planned a trip without Travelocity.

The thing is, it’s easier to find answers than ever before. The church no longer controls the information about the church, and has long ago lost the ability to control the information about the rest of the world. The plain truth is, there’s nothing the church can provide that clubs, schools, stores, and the internet cannot provide–except god… and there is less and less use for a god with every passing day.

If the restaurant you are sitting in turns out to have absolutely nothing on the menu… it’s not really surprising if you leave.

On “No Atheists In Foxholes”

Why the hell would you get all offended?
Is this something you atheists do?
A colloquial phrase
Said for decades, not days,
And it isn’t directed at you

It just means that whenever there’s trouble
Human nature determines, you’ll pray
Thus a foxhole will be
Wholly atheist-free
And that’s all that we’re meaning to say

So it isn’t directed at atheists
But at regular people, like us
And since turning to God
When you’re scared isn’t odd
There’s no reason to make such a fuss

Since we all turn to God in a foxhole
It’s no insult—it’s just what we see
So it’s all for the good;
We’re just misunderstood…

Yeah, it all sounds like bullshit to me.

Via Hemant, a recent kerfuffle over the phrase “no atheists in foxholes”–the foxnews version of the story is, of course, predictable, as are most of the comments there.

The comments that I want to speak to today, in particular, are the ones that say “hey, it’s just an expression, it’s not an insult to atheists, it just points out that when the shit hits the fan, it’s just human nature to look to a deity for help”. Yeah, we kinda knew what it meant, and the problem comes from the fact that it is both insulting and wrong. Not from any misunderstanding.

It reminds me of another “just an expression”, one my bigoted grandfather used to say. Let me preface this by saying I do not intend to equate the two, just to show the similarity in argument. My grand-dad, intending to compliment someone on doing right by him, would say “that’s real white of you.” Which, of course, was not at all intended as an insult to non-whites. It just meant that the attributes naturally associated with whites were honesty, hard work, integrity, and basic goodness, whereas the associated negative attributes were more what we expect to see in non-whites. Just an observation, you see; just a colloquial expression. Nothing personal, and certainly nothing racist.

When you use a phrase that is built upon an insulting falsehood, it doesn’t get to be grandfathered in just because it’s been around a while. Grandfathers can be bigots, after all.

And for those who are so kindly explaining to atheists how our reactions to the false and insulting “no atheists in foxholes” just show how thin-skinned we are… thanks. Really, thanks. That’s real white of you.

Just In Case The Christian News Network Won’t Allow My Comment…

I really don’t like it when I type a comment on a site, submit it, and it falls into a black hole. Now, it could be simply that it will be approved in due time… but just in case, this is what I said:

If chaplains provide tangible benefits regarding the earthly needs of members of the Armed Forces (which they do–confidential counseling, unlike therapist visits which are part of the official record, is just one example), House Republicans have just voted not just against the best interest of atheist servicemen and women, but also against the best interest of the military in general.

Apparently, it is more important to define the word “chaplain” as narrowly as possible than it is to see to the needs of Armed Forces.

It is true that only a small percentage of the military self-identify as atheists (however, there are many stories of atheists asking for “atheist” tags and being issued “no religious preference” instead, so the numbers of official atheists must be considered the low end of a range, rather than an accurate count), but that number is greater than the number of Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim troops combined. Each of those groups has their own chaplains–implying that the military knows that A) having chaplains with your own world view is important, and B) it is not simply that there are not enough atheists to warrant similar treatment.

The faith communities of the chaplains are not at all a good match for the faith communities of the people they serve. Some Christian sects are under-represented, while others are vastly over-represented. The current kerfuffle looks like nothing so much as a power struggle, with a handful of denominations trying to consolidate the power they have accrued, against the force of a rising tide of change.

Article VI, Section III

When they wrote the constitution
The framers thought it best
To make it clear
An office here
Needs no religious test

To defend the constitution
To the clause, the word, the letter
The framers knew
What best to do
But Congress, now, knows better

A chaplain serves the public trust
And Congress foots the bill
By their decree
A chaplain’s free—
“Choose any church you will”

The framers couldn’t mean, of course,
The godless get a voice!
You must pick one—
You can’t say “none”…
And that’s religious choice

Yeah, so… I was wondering about this chaplaincy thing. Chaplains are (duh) government employees–otherwise, Congress would have no authority to regulate them. Which, smarter people than I have already noted, brings to mind Article VI, Section III of the US Constitution–the “No Religious Test Ban Clause“:

no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

This clause, along with the first amendment clauses, is the basis of what we atheist types like to call the “wall of separation between church and state”. Sometimes called (again, by us atheist types) “freedom from religion”.

But, of course (as I am so often told), there is no freedom from religion, only freedom of religion. That’s the only explanation for the recent votes about atheist chaplains–religious choice must mean “your choice of religions”, not “your choice to worship or not”. Mind you, today’s Congress is not the beginning of the kerfuffle: here’s a nice source discussing the radical nature of the clause at its beginning. (Interesting note–religious types keep reminding me of how often our founders wrote and spoke about God. They don’t notice that there is a conspicuous lack of such talk in the Constitution itself.)

Anyway… I did want to quote one thing I read about the manufactroversy here

Surely some basic equity—allowing service members without a religious tradition to have a safe space to talk about the fears and anxieties that come with military service—would benefit the military as much as it would benefit atheists. But for the House Republicans, it seems that acknowledging the needs of nonreligious service members would be another nail in the coffin of god-fearing America.

I couldn’t agree more.

Concrete Thinking About Atheist Chaplains

A word can have two meanings?
Why, the notion is absurd!
There can only be one essence,
One true meaning of a word!

Ever since the time of Plato,
Though the world itself is real,
We have understood that meaning
Is a heaven-sent ideal

Since a chaplain is a chaplain
Which we must admit is true
We must look at definitions
Not at what the chaplains do

We define them by the sacred
And this usage makes it plain
They must focus on your spirit
And ignore the mere mundane

Why, a chaplain’s not a therapist
A chaplain’s not a friend
A chaplain’s not a man on whom
A soldier can depend

A chaplain serves the sacred, but
He’s useless here on earth
There’s nothing of a chaplain
That is any worldly worth

So it doesn’t really matter
What a chaplain really does
Cos the meaning is the meaning
And it’s what it always was

And it doesn’t really matter
What the soldiers say they need—
Cos… an atheistic chaplain?
It’s preposterous! Indeed!

Involved philosophical rant, after the jump: [Read more...]