I shouldn’t be surprised by what Fox News does ever, but I have to tell you, their response to the shooting in my home state has me furious. In a segment on Fox and Friends, they discuss the shooting as an Attack on Faith, fail to mention Reverend Clementa Pinckney’s role as a State Senator, and don’t even mention the race of the shooter and victims until the very end of the segment, when they do so only to s0w doubt — instead they choose to speculate on the anti-Christian motivations of the shooter and suggest that pastors need to start arming themselves to kill intruders. Turn the other cheek while you reload.
“If we aren’t safe in our churches then where are we safe?” asks Elisabeth Hasselbeck
There are a couple things you should know about my background here. I am trained in historical methods, I have read most of the popularly available books about the history of Jesus and the New Testament written in the last decade, and I love the history of religions. I am also an atheist. My particular brand of atheism, as Christopher Hitchens would say, is very much a Protestant one, an Episcopal one at that. There was no sturm und drang and little in the way of imposing dogma in my upbringing, I had possibly the least contentious relationship one can have with their religion while also not believing in it or understanding the point of it.
Unlike some, my particular atheism has no investment in the idea that a Jesus of some sort did or did not exist, and so no suspension of disbelief is necessary for me to accept the premise of the book. Aslan doesn’t really address the question of Jesus’ existence, partially because it’s not really much of a controversy among historians. Even if you don’t believe in a historical Jesus, however, it’s possible to read the book as a thought exercise. Liberal Christians will also be able to reconcile the figure presented with their faith, to some extent. Fundamentalists and Catholics, however, wouldn’t be able to do so, especially believers in the perpetual virginity of Mary.
The story is basically as follows:
Jesus was a poor man from the tiny town of Nazareth who witnessed his homeland of Galilee impoverished, enslaved, and mistreated by Roman occupiers. Around the age of 30, he became a disciple of John the Baptist, by far the more famous of the two at the time. When John the Baptist was executed, Jesus struck out on his own with a message primarily aimed at overthrowing the Temple and the Roman Occupiers — he was attempting to radically reform Judaism and free the state of Israel. He was killed for sedition against Rome.
He was one of dozens of miracle workers with remarkably similar stories, distinguishable mostly by the fact that, after his execution, his message was carried on by his surviving family and followers, particularly his brother James and, later, Paul. The reason Christianity lasted was because Paul changed it drastically from being a critique of Judaism to being a totally new religion, one that Jesus’ brother James did not approve of. James was killed, as were his followers with the destruction of Jerusalem, meaning that the head of the church changed from being someone who knew the Nazarene and lived in his culture to being foreigners who’d only heard secondhand tales. Christianity is Paul’s reimagining of historical Jesus, a sort of fanfiction version — the Fifty Shades of Grey to Jesus’ Twilight.
The book is not really new in terms of the history it offers, but it is the most readable history of first century Jerusalem that I’ve come across. If you are only mildly interested in the subject or the subject is totally new to you, I cannot emphasize enough how fun it was to read.
Aslan goes to great lengths to reassure readers that the possibility of a divine Jesus still exists within this story, sometimes to the point of annoying this reader, but he also makes a good point about the difference between what modern people accept as history and what ancient people did and the difference between facts and truth. Since the scientific revolution, facts and truth have become more or less synonymous to many people, but the stories told of Jesus were meant to reveal truth about him rather than be facts. In the same way that parables are understood to be lessons about the real world, even if they didn’t happen.
[As a side note, I’d like to thank The Atlantic for putting a link to the original research in their footnotes. Nice touch, actually including the science you’re talking about. Everyone else, take heed.]
While I wasn’t particularly impressed with the article in the Atlantic, there were some good things to be said about the original research (found here if you have access. At the very least you should see the abstract and summary).
First, a word of caution. This is a prospective study. In other words, a study that followed people over time, in real time. That means that there’s a small sample size (159 participants), because it’s hard to find funding for an following a huge group of people. Retrospective studies can offer the ability to have a large group of participants, but also mean that you can quite easily miss important variables. As a result, prospective studies are considered to yield data a cut above that of retrospective. The tradeoff is, the smaller sample size can cause the occasional news site to get super excited about what are pretty conditional results.
What did they do?
Okay, so what actually happened? Researches went to McLean Hospital (an excellent place to get psychiatric care, I hear), and talked to patients in their day program. These are clients who aren’t living in the hospital, but are coming to receive services all day and returning to their homes at night. (This sort of thing is also called partial hospitalization).
All participants were given a battery of statistically sound tests to measure congregational support, religious affiliation, depression, self-harm, and belief in God, as well as psychological well-being.
Of Note: No God was specified, the participants were simply asked “Do you believe in God?” and told to circle a number from 1 to 5, where 1 is defined as “not at all” and 5 is defined as “a strong sense of belief”.
No part of treatment was changed–the researchers were just interested in who seemed to respond best to treatment.
Who did they look at?
The methods section is a little fuzzy on whether they approached 159 patients and two refused from that point, or whether 159 was the total number of participants. Regardless, the sample size wasn’t terrible large.
On one hand, this is a group of people in a very well controlled environment–a hospital–one of the few ways you can have control over environmental factors during the study. On the other, anywhere between many and most–those are the scientific terms–of people with depression and anxiety won’t be hospitalized. So you’ve got a slice of the population with very serious manifestations of these disorders, possibly with presentations that aren’t responsive to traditional coping mechanisms or therapy. [Keep that last part in mind, it comes up again.]
On the other, you have a very particular subset of people with these disorders. Partial hospitalization programs take your entire day–that means you’r either taking time off from your job or not working. While insurance usually covers partial hospitalization, you have to actually have insurance. That means that what we’re looking at here is a subset of people with access to this kind of care.
And what does the methods section say about the demographics?
Most participants were Caucasian (83.6%) and single (61.4%), and there were a high number of college graduates (45.3%). Impairment in the sample was high in that 56% of participants were unemployed, and all patients presented with global assessment of functioning (GAF) scores of <45, representing serious symptoms/impairment.
…Sounds a lot like what we’d expect.
What was found?
Even after controlling for age and gender (Women and those who are older are more likely to believe in God), belief in god was related to having better outcomes in the program. Not related to outcome: religious affiliation. You didn’t have to believe a certain kind of God, you just had to believe there was a god out there.
Belief in God was also related to having greater support from the religious community, (I’m shocked, I tell you, SHOCKED), but not related to having a greater ability to regulate emotions.
So should you convert to vaguely-unspecific-god-belief? Probably not. Researchers actually concluded something entirely different than the title of the article would lead you to believe. It appears that there was an important mediating variable: belief in the success of the treatment process. People who believed in God were significantly more likely to place their trust in the ability of the program to help them.
And that, not belief in God, strikes me as the more important link. People who believe in the the ability of a type of therapy to help them are far more likely to see results of the therapy than those who are skeptical. And it appears that those who have faith in a deity are also more likely to believe in the authority of their psychologists and psychiatrists–perhaps an expected result?
Some words on race as it influences this research:
Black and hispanic rates of admission to inpatient hospitalization care are, as a result, much higher. Without the ability to trust in or access preventative health care, many more are going to need emergency services, including involuntary commitment, which can be an unpleasant process; first responders are often untrained in compassionate care of psychiatric patients. And so the cycle of distrust repeats. Which means fewer minority participants in studies like these, which means care tailored to non-minority clients.
This is…an interesting study.
It’s not badly done by any means. But it is a small sample size, and not very generalize-able to the population of people with depression. I’d like to see more research that examines a cross-section of people in inpatient, outpatient, and therapeutic settings, with a careful eye to the influence of trust in psychiatry. Until then, I’m willing to reach a cautionary conclusion that for white participants who can and need access outpatient programs, belief in god is linked to belief in the promised results of treatment, which leads to better outcomes, with the caveat that the populations of People Who Can Access Outpatient Care and People Who Trust Outpatient Care In The First Place overlap heavily.
* I know I’m actually just talking about two specific minorities in this section. Unfortunately, there’s basically no other research available. If someone say, had extra money to throw at research into other minorities and psychiatric care, they should do that posthaste.
It’s been a very long time since I’ve allowed myself to do video commentary on YouTube. I once had a vlog and it was so thoroughly abused by assholes that I took it down. But, I am short of time lately and it’s less difficult to just sit and talk than to carefully construct an article that I found the video to be the better format for my anger at Child Abuse Supporter Joseph Ratzinger. Here’s a comment and song just for him:
Okay. So, atheists. You might have seen some arguing in the blogosphere lately. You might have heard people with pleasant accents saying unpleasant things about feminists. Or you’ve been ensnarled in a Twitter spat. Or three.
It’s exhausting, and I get it. You want us to all get along and stop writing blog posts at each other, stop arguing amongst ourselves and all that nonsense. It’s hard to wait–to even have to anticipate–the next back-and-forth. There’s YouTube videos and forums and vlogs focused internally. Comments on blogs and blogs about comments.
So, for a second we’re going to talk about ‘pure’ atheism, the non-intersectional vanilla kind.
You know, you’re upset about the last thing the Christian right said. So you say something on r/atheism, Facebook, in public, and the next thing you know, there’s a liberal Christian type saying….
“But True Christians ™ don’t do that!” “But if you read the Bible correctly, Jesus just preaches love!” “The Westboro Baptist Church isn’t REAL Christianity” “The Ugandan kill-the-gays bill wasn’t supported by Real Christians!”
It’s obnoxious. And we, understandably, grouch about it.
Police your own, we say. You don’t get to say ‘I’m Catholic! But I support contraception and choice–I just won’t speak against the Pope’s harmful policies!” You can’t just pretend that people in a religion you choose to be a part of aren’t doing awful things. When you decide to join a group–hell, when you are part of any category–that’s how it works. Shrugging off bigotry and injustice as a ‘different interpretation’ of equally devoted believers and nothing more is intellectually dishonest.
I’m mad. Greta Christina is angry–it’s numbers 94 and 95 out of 99 Things That Piss off the Godless. JT, Ed, PZ, Cuttlefish are frustrated. I think we can agree that the progressive Christians aren’t exempted entirely from critique just by pretending that the rest of Christianity doesn’t sometimes do horrid things.
You know what I’m saying? Right? Right.
Okay, easy vanilla part’s over.
We’re hypocrites if we don’t take this to heart in our own community.
If we’re going to try to act ‘better’–actually, I think that’s arbitrary measure–if we’re going to be intellectually honest, we DO need to be arguing, critiquing, and otherwise speaking up about intolerable behavior. We need to–to cherrypick from the Bible myself–cast the beams from our own eyes.
Stepping out and saying that you don’t want to be involved in all that drama is equivalent to what we object to of the religious. I’m sorry it’s stressful, exhausting, and disheartening. But we’re worth it. The people of this movement, and the people who will be part of this movement are worth it.
You might remember when Chick-Fil-A was in the news a few months back. WinShape, the ‘charitable’ arm of the corporation had been donating to anti-LGBT groups for a while, but Dan Cathy, CEO, had just reaffirmed his inability to understand the meaning of charitable in a few paragraphs of biblical-family-and-tradition nonsense.
You might also remember it from the way your facebook lit up with people FREEZEPEACHing like it was going out of style. (Extra discount available if you add in claims of hypocrisy and constitutional ignorance!) It wasn’t okay to boycott CFA! Cathy was just expressing his opinion! You can’t change your behavior based on what people say! It’s FREE SPEECH and I/we/’Murica have to support it!
Overlying this constitutional illiteracy (tl;dr: Anyone can have their opinion; it’s also totally fine to say it’s a horrible hateful opinion and you don’t get my money if you hold it.) was some sort of belief that it wasn’t that bad. I mean, it’s really hard to find a chicken sandwich, and those waffle fries! To die for, amirite? Besides, who cares where a little money goes–so many corporations are unethical, and you can’t expect me to avoid all of them!
I would hope that when I tell you that Uganda is about to pass their ‘Kill the Gays’ bill as a vile ‘Christmas present’ for the population, you are repulsed. Enraged. I would like to think that you consider the death penalty for so-called Aggravated Homosexuality–being gay and a parent or HIV positive included in this definition–to be immoral and unacceptable.
But if you’ve been arguing for treating CFA as any other restaurant you can’t say you didn’t help it happen. You can’t say that you know that a few cents of your delicious vanilla milkshake didn’t go to a campaign that would make it okay to murder someone for their sexuality. You cannot say you didn’t know. You can’t say it was an accident–WinShape is well aware where their money goes. And one of those places is the Family Research Council which has spoken in support of the Ugandan bill.
So…what if there’s other horrible businesses? I know there are. I know that they will have business practices that appall me. When I find out about them, I will avoid them too, most especially if they shamelessly brag about their commitment to stripping the rights of others. You get a fixed amount of choices in this world. When your chargrilled chicken sandwich with a side of waffle fries (only $4.95!) is worth more than the right of people to just live, you’ve lost me.
Today, I’m giving a (very brief) talk at our interfaith society’s meeting about atheists and death. This is a semi-outline of my points and suchlike. Criticism is accepted and encouraged. A good deal of the highlights are cribbed from this piece: Why Atheism Inspires Me to Seek Social Justice.
Hi, everyone. I’m Kate. Junior, Psychology and Psych. Services double major, president of the Secular Student Alliance, atheist blogger, maker of rambling and self-descriptive lists.
I’m to talk about atheism and how the non-theistic community handles death. The questions that the others on the panel have addressed: their faiths rituals for the death of member, the prayers, the burial rites, aren’t ones I can answer.
Atheism isn’t defined by shared rituals, by prayers, by faith. I can’t tell you what is done by the atheist family of a deceased atheist because there is no script. At its simplest, most defined-by-dictionaries, atheism is a lack of belief in a god or gods. There isn’t a guidebook or a standard or an “ought to” or “should”.
I can’t tell you that atheism makes facing death or bereavement easier, though I’ve heard grieving atheists say it’s true. I can’t say that because I haven’t faced loss as an atheist, and if there’s one thing death does, it’s reminding us of our own humility and frailty.
This is a roundabout way of saying I can’t answer a lot of your questions, I suppose. Here’s what I can say: I can tell you why I face my own mortality and that of my friends more comfortably.
I’ve but this one life to live, and that motivates me more than anything. That means when I see homophobia, when I see sexism or littering or injustice in the world, I must act. I must act because all I have is this very moment. But most importantly, I must act because the person who is suffering, like me, only has this moment for themselves. There isn’t any other happy alternate life for them either.
In religion, heaven (and hell for some), is some kind of equalizer. Die horribly, or unexpectedly, or after a long illness? Heaven means you’re in a better place. It’s a solace for those you’ve left behind. Hell lets us feel more okay about those we find evil, or that guy who cuts us off in traffic. Without that egalitarian afterlife, you can only improve this one. Without ‘just rewards’ and ‘just desserts’, you just have to make this one place and one moment better.
I am taking a class this semester on intersectionality and, unsurprisingly, despite the fact that the class is about Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality, it has also become significantly about religion. You’re welcome. It has also focused on the election a great deal.
One thing that has come up is the idea that Romney’s religion has functioned to oppress him, perhaps not to the extent that Obama’s race or Clinton’s gender might have impacted their lives, but caused problems for him. This despite poll after poll that shows the Christian Right is happy to vote for him.
I struggle with the idea that Romney’s religion creates a significant change on his overall social status. The Church of LDS is considered, inaccurately in my opinion, a sect of Christianity, which is very much in the majority in this country. They have a state that is basically entirely their own and they are overrepresented, slightly, in the US government compared to their population percentage; 2% of the population has 5 senators and 11 congressional members. Compare this to the religiously non-affiliated who are currently 20% of the population and have not a single representative or senator — there is one atheist in congress, and he is a Unitarian Universalist. Self-identified, “hard” atheists, incidentally, make up more of the population than Mormons at 2.5%.
Add to that that the religion is almost exclusively white, middle to upper class, male dominated, married households and it is difficult to interpret the Mormon faith as something that is oppressed. Add to this that being part of the club means that you get massive financial and man-power resources at your command because the church wants to expand its power. Consider that 70% of the money that successfully overturned gay marriage in California came from the Mormon church. No, they haven’t had a president, but I don’t think that is symptomatic of disenfranchisement. The Mormon church is undoubtedly less savory to many Americans than being a Protestant, but it is much more savory than other (non)religious traditions as well.
Sally Quinn wrote an article for the Washington Post last week about the presidential debate and pointed to the fact that Romney’s religion is actually a huge boon for him because he’s part of God’s Own Party and has claimed God as his ally in the debates in a way that Obama has not. And, according to her, that matters because “Part of claiming your citizenship is claiming a belief in God, even if you are not Christian.” In fact, one of the problems Obama has had has been not seeming Christian enough. 17% of the population still thinks he’s Muslim; being Muslim is much worse in the eyes of the American public than being Mormon.
But then, I am undoubtedly bringing my own perspective very heavily into this discussion because I live in a state with this enshrined in its constitution: “No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution.” My identity comes very strongly from that background, and I am sure Governor Romney’s comes very strongly from his Mormon background — but I suspect his rich white maleness is the more important identifier.
American Atheists caused a bit of a stir by putting up billboards criticizing religion up in Charlotte, NC, where the DNC convention is going to be held.
But there is good news for hateful bigots who use their religion to bludgeon other people with fear and loathing: all of the death threats and hate speech have worked. Out of fear for safety, the billboard company and the American Atheists have both agreed that the billboards need to be taken down immediately.
“No subject, no idea should be above scrutiny—and this includes religion in all forms,” Ms. Knief said. “We are saddened that by choosing to express our rights as atheists through questioning the religious beliefs of the men who want to be our president that our fellow citizens have responded with vitriol, threats, and hate speech against our staff, volunteers, and Adams Outdoor Advertising.”
Teresa MacBain, American Atheists’ Public Relations Director said, “It saddens me to think that our country is not a safe place for all people to publicly question religious belief. How can we grow as a nation when such censorship exists from our own citizens?”
I really hope that the American Atheists are in touch with the FBI, because this is incredibly uncool. Even though I’m very disappointed that they have caved to the pressure of the threats, having been on the receiving end of death and rape threats, I can’t say that I blame them. It just makes me angry.
These Christian assholes who claim moral superiority to the rest of the world and especially to atheists get so upset when someone questions their religious beliefs in public that they freak out and threaten to kill them. Are you ready for the best part? This is what the billboard said:
Christianity: Sadistic God, Useless Savior… Promotes hate, calls it love
I think it should be slightly amended:
Christianity: Sadistic followers promote hate, call it love
This could also be titled “how to get unfriended on Facebook”. Always beware of someone asking “genuine, non-rhetorical questions” they want answers to from the opposing side. Sometimes they don’t like your answer. My former FB friend posted the following, in reference to an article by Michael Rowe:
I truly hope this opinion from one man doesn’t reflect the consensus of those who oppose Chick-Fil-A. Is there no room for nuanced or civilized debate that doesn’t resort to character assassination?
Here’s just a sample of how the Chick-Fil-A supporters who showed up on Wednesday are labeled: “(they are) a pageant of banal, cheerful deep-fried American hate, unified in bigotry and detestation of a group of their fellow Americans who were different from them.”
It gets worse when describing Dan Cathy, the owner of Chick-Fil-A: “He’s actually making millions from it, and he’s done it cynically, and at the expense of other human beings, then sharing that blood money with others like him, whose mandate isn’t holiness, but hatred, violence, division, and ostracism.”
Now here’s a genuine, non-rhetorical question I’m hoping to get answered by those who oppose Chick-Fil-A. Do you believe it’s possible for someone to oppose same-sex marriage and not be a hateful bigot? Do you believe that all who oppose same-sex marriage follow a mandate of “hatred, violence, division, and ostracism” that trumps the dictates of Christian behavior?
I am not for redefining marriage, but I also have several gay friends who I love dearly and whose honor I would defend (physically if necessary) if I ever witnessed them being bullied or harassed because of their orientation or for any other reason. Is this love I feel for my friends automatically phony because I oppose same-sex marriage? Do I have deep hatred that’s even hidden from myself? I think not. Christ’s command to love is far too important for me to not take seriously as a dedicated Christian. God loves all his children unconditionally, and woe is any Christian who finds any reason not to love a person whom God loves.
Michael Rowe also makes a point to say that basically those who oppose same sex marriage are not practicing true Christianity. I don’t know if Rowe is a Christian himself, but biblically-based Christianity (Catholic or Protestant) has never supported the idea of same-sex marriage.
So Christians who actually believe in what is almost universally taught are labeled as bigots and phonies. Rowe has no authority to redefine beliefs systems about gender and sexuality and then declare them to be more Christian than what’s been traditionally the case.
Then let’s be clear. Anyone is free to disagree with, or even hate, Christianity if they feel so inclined. And as a lover of liberty I will fight to defend your legal right to smear Christianity six ways from Sunday. But if you think I am a bad Christian (or specifically bad Catholic), because I follow what my church teaches, you are simply wrong.
I know this country is deeply divided ideologically. But if we are to make any progress in bridging the divide it must start with a commitment to cast aside examples of false polarization. Between legalizing gay marriage and keeping it as the status quo is an entire spectrum of thoughtful and valuable opinion that doesn’t automatically involve degrees of ignorance, hatred, or bigotry.
But nuance doesn’t make for good sound bytes.
My answer that got me unfriended:
“Do you believe it’s possible for someone to oppose same-sex marriage and not be a hateful bigot?”
I do not believe it is possible for someone to oppose same-sex marriage and not be a bigot. The denial of rights is inherently hateful. Saying I am better than you is hateful. Saying you aren’t quite a fully deserving human, but a lower caste member deserving of second-class citizenship is hateful. Saying my religion tells me to do this so I don’t care what your religion says, I’m going to make you follow my religion’s rules is inherently hateful. Saying love is wrong is hateful.
“Do you believe that all who oppose same-sex marriage follow a mandate of “hatred, violence, division, and ostracism” that trumps the dictates of Christian behavior?”
As I have seen many Christians who endorse that sort of behavior, I’m not sure I can say that they’re going against their dictates. I do not think they are necessarily violent, but telling a group of people their love is worth less than yours is, again, inherently hateful, divisive, and ostracizing.
“Is this love I feel for my friends automatically phony because I oppose same-sex marriage?”
If a white man has a lot of black friends who he loves dearly but flips his shit when his daughter dates a black man and thinks interracial marriage should be illegal, is his “love for his friends” automatically phony. No. It’s just really fucked up.
To those of us who support marriage equality, what Chick-fil-A and their supporters look like are people who protested integration of schools and the civil rights acts and allowing black people at the lunch counter. And in addition to discriminating against them for who they are, you are punishing them for having the most wonderful thing that a person can have: love.
If your religion wants to be cruel, fine, but don’t enshrine it in law. If you’re mad at invective, just remember how heartbroken those of us who think of gay people as fully human and deserving of happiness are to see them treated so badly. It’s so hard to watch every day, and it’s so hard to watch people get so excited and mean about it, it’s so hard to hear the word faggot and dyke thrown with such invective at people who are fundamentally decent, it’s so hard to see children whose parents aren’t allowed to marry or jointly adopt the child they are raising, it’s so hard to see people deported because their partner is of the same-sex and therefore they cannot get citizenship through marriage, it’s hard to see people say that these wonderful people are destroying America. It’s really hard. And if you really have a heart and can look at these people and say that that’s OK, well, you must not think they’re really people.
So yeah, people called Dan Cathy a bigot — but hey, at least they aren’t calling him a cocksucking faggot who will destroy America just because he is in love with the wrong person.
Addendum to that answer for the blog:
“Between legalizing gay marriage and keeping it as the status quo is an entire spectrum of thoughtful and valuable opinion that doesn’t automatically involve degrees of ignorance, hatred, or bigotry.”
There is no middle ground on the question of whether gays should have equal rights under the law. There may be a middle ground in the debate Christians have over how bad gay people are, but that’s a separate question. I’m sorry to be so blunt, but how you justify your bigotry isn’t thoughtful or valuable to anyone but other bigots.
I’d also add that the gentleman in question is a *good* Catholic, and that’s his problem — sometimes being a good Christian makes you a bad person. It’s a shame, because he’s not a bad person, but he’s wrong and being wrong on this issue causes harm.