Monday, November 29, 2010
I'm going to continue writing, but elsewhere. Come find me at The Cauldron and Crucible, a new blog for spiritual musings and assorted thoughts.
Monday, February 22, 2010
From the New York Times (Oct 2007): A Nation of Christians is NOT a Christian Nation
An article of faith among many American evangelicals is “the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation.”
According to Scripture, however, believers are to be wary of all mortal powers. Their home is the kingdom of God, which transcends all earthly things, not any particular nation-state. The Psalmist advises believers to “put not your trust in princes.” The author of Job says that the Lord “shows no partiality to princes nor regards the rich above the poor, for they are all the work of his hands.” Before Pilate, Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world.” And if, as Paul writes in Galatians, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” then it is difficult to see how there could be a distinction in God’s eyes between, say, an American and an Australian. In fact, there is no distinction if you believe Peter’s words in the Acts of the Apostles: “I most certainly believe now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears him and does what is right is welcome to him.”
The kingdom Jesus preached was radical. Not only are nations irrelevant, but families are, too: he instructs those who would be his disciples to give up all they have and all those they know to follow him.
The only acknowledgment of God in the original Constitution is a utilitarian one: the document is dated “in the year of our Lord 1787.” Even the religion clause of the First Amendment is framed dryly and without reference to any particular faith. The Connecticut ratifying convention debated rewriting the preamble to take note of God’s authority, but the effort failed.
A pseudonymous opponent of the Connecticut proposal had some fun with the notion of a deity who would, in a sense, be checking the index for his name: “A low mind may imagine that God, like a foolish old man, will think himself slighted and dishonored if he is not complimented with a seat or a prologue of recognition in the Constitution.” Instead, the framers, the opponent wrote in The American Mercury, “come to us in the plain language of common sense and propose to our understanding a system of government as the invention of mere human wisdom; no deity comes down to dictate it, not a God appears in a dream to propose any part of it.”
While many states maintained established churches and religious tests for office — Massachusetts was the last to disestablish, in 1833 — the federal framers, in their refusal to link civil rights to religious observance or adherence, helped create a culture of religious liberty that ultimately carried the day.
Thomas Jefferson said that his bill for religious liberty in Virginia was “meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan, the Hindu, and infidel of every denomination.” When George Washington was inaugurated in New York in April 1789, Gershom Seixas, the hazan of Shearith Israel, was listed among the city’s clergymen (there were 14 in New York at the time) — a sign of acceptance and respect. The next year, Washington wrote the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, R.I., saying, “happily the government of the United States ... gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance. ... Everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
Andrew Jackson resisted bids in the 1820s to form a “Christian party in politics.” Abraham Lincoln buried a proposed “Christian amendment” to the Constitution to declare the nation’s fealty to Jesus. Theodore Roosevelt defended William Howard Taft, a Unitarian, from religious attacks by supporters of William Jennings Bryan.
The founders were not anti-religion. Many of them were faithful in their personal lives, and in their public language they evoked God. They grounded the founding principle of the nation — that all men are created equal — in the divine. But they wanted faith to be one thread in the country’s tapestry, not the whole tapestry.
In the 1790s, in the waters off Tripoli, pirates were making sport of American shipping near the Barbary Coast. Toward the end of his second term, Washington sent Joel Barlow, the diplomat-poet, to Tripoli to settle matters, and the resulting treaty, finished after Washington left office, bought a few years of peace. Article 11 of this long-ago document says that “as the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,” there should be no cause for conflict over differences of “religious opinion” between countries.Democracy Requires Minority Rights
Majority rule can not be the only expression of "supreme power" in a democracy. the majority would too easily tyrannize the minority. Thus, while it is clear that democracy must guarantee the expression of the popular will through majority rule, it is equally clear that it must guarantee that the majority will not abuse use its power to violate the basic and inalienable rights of the minority. For one, a defining characteristic of democracy must be the people's right to change the majority through elections. This right is the people's "supreme authority." The minority, therefore, must have the right to seek to become the majority and possess all the rights necessary to compete fairly in elections—speech, assembly, association, petition—since otherwise the majority would make itself permanent and become a dictatorship. For the majority, ensuring the minority's rights becomes a matter of self-interest, since it must utilize the same rights when it is in minority to seek to become a majority again.
The Constant Threat
The American founders—Anti-Federalists and Federalists alike—considered rule by majority a troubling conundrum. In theory, majority rule was necessary for expressing the popular will and the basis for establishing the republic. The alternative—consensus or rule by everyone's agreement—cannot be imposed upon a free people. And minority rule is antithetical to democracy. But the founders worried that the majority could abuse its powers to oppress a minority just as easily as a king. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison both warn in their letters about the dangers of the tyranny of the legislature and of the executive. Madison, alluding to slavery, went further, writing, "It is of great importance in a republic, not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part."
Democracy therefore requires minority rights equally as it does majority rule. Indeed, as democracy is conceived today, the minority's rights must be protected no matter how singular or alienated that minority is from the majority society; otherwise, the majority's rights lose their meaning. In the United States, basic individual liberties are protected through the Bill of Rights, which were drafted by James Madison and adopted in the form of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. These enumerate the rights that may not be violated by the government, safeguarding—in theory, at least—the rights of any minority against majority tyranny. Today, these rights are considered the essential element of any liberal democracy.
One of the most common statements from the "Religious Right" is that they want this country to "return to the Christian principles on which it was founded". However, a little research into American history will show that this statement is a lie. Most of the men responsible for building the foundation of the United States had little use for Christianity, and many were strongly opposed to it. They were men of The Enlightenment, not men of Christianity. They were Deists who did not believe the Bible was true.
When the Founders wrote the nation's Constitution, they specified that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." (Article 6, section 3) This provision was radical in its day-- giving equal citizenship to believers and non-believers alike. They wanted to ensure that no single religion could make the claim of being the official, national religion, such as England had. Nowhere in the Constitution does it mention religion, except in exclusionary terms. The words "Jesus Christ, Christianity, Bible, and God" are never mentioned in the Constitution-- not once.
The Declaration of Independence gives us important insight into the opinions of the Founding Fathers. Thomas Jefferson wrote that the power of the government is derived from the governed. Up until that time, it was claimed that kings ruled nations by the authority of God. The Declaration was a radical departure from the idea of divine authority.
None of the Founding Fathers were atheists. Most of the Founders were Deists, which is to say they thought the universe had a creator, but that he does not concern himself with the daily lives of humans, and does not directly communicate with humans, either by revelation or by sacred books. They spoke often of God, (Nature's God or the God of Nature), but this was not the God of the bible. They did not deny that there was a person called Jesus, and praised him for his benevolent teachings, but they flatly denied his divinity. Some people speculate that if Charles Darwin had lived a century earlier, the Founding Fathers would have had a basis for accepting naturalistic origins of life, and they would have been atheists. Most of them were stoutly opposed to the bible, and the teachings of Christianity in particular.
Yes, there were Christian men among the Founders. Just as Congress removed Thomas Jefferson's words that condemned the practice of slavery in the colonies, they also altered his wording regarding equal rights. His original wording is here in blue italics: "All men are created equal and independent. From that equal creation they derive rights inherent and inalienable." Congress changed that phrase, increasing its religious overtones: "All men are created equal. They are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights." But we are not governed by the Declaration of Independence-- it is a historical document, not a constitutional one.
If the Christian Right Extremists wish to return this country to its beginnings, so be it... because it was a climate of Freethought. The Founders were students of the European Enlightenment. Half a century after the establishment of the United States, clergymen complained that no president up to that date had been a Christian. The attitude of the age was one of enlightened reason, tolerance, and free thought. The Founding Fathers would turn in their graves if the Christian Extremists had their way with this country.
Consider this: IF indeed the members of the First Continental Congress were all bible-believing, "God-fearing" men, would there ever have been a revolution at all?
The New Testament gives clear instructions to Christians on how to behave when ruled under a monarchy, as were the Founders.
1 Peter 2:13: "For the Lord's sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right."
Paul wrote in Romans 13:1: "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resist authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment."
The Founders clearly did not heed what was written in the bible. If they were in fact "good" Christians, there would never have been an American Revolution. Compare the above passages with the Declaration of Independence:
"...when a long train of abuses and usurpations... evinces a design to reduce (the people) under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security..."
Anyone who can think for themselves can see that the Founders were not Christians.
Talk about picking and choosing! The House bill selects quotes useful for their argument, and implies that every member of the Continental Congress felt exactly the same way. No one has ever argued that there were Christians among the founders of this country. But implying that each and every one of them had the same beliefs and set about to purposefully create a Christian nation is preposterous to say the least.
Lots of things that have passed through Congress do so much more because of tradition, not out of uniform belief in those things. For example, continuing on with the words "In God We Trust" on the coinage does not imply that every member of Congress is also Christian. The majority may rule, but they do not represent everyone in the nation. We have dissent, we have opposing views, and we are allowed to express those opposing views through the power of voting, speaking out in public, wearing symbols, and writing blogs such as this one.
I'm opposed to labeling this country as a Christian Nation simply for the fact that it implies uniformity of belief of the citizens. That is catagorically untrue. I have to wonder what our Jewish members of Congress have to say about this. I would fear a majority rule, and a silence of the minority. That is what our Constitution is about, allowing everyone equal protection, equal voice, and equal freedom. The implication that we cannot have morals or ethics without being Christian is something I am going to speak loudly against whenever I have the opportunity to do so.
Why is there such a rush, such an emphasis on getting the U.S. declared as a Christian Nation? What does it do but serve to alienate us from the rest of the world, especially Muslims and Jews? I fail to see for the life of me what possible good it would do to declare an allegiance to any one faith, and to insist on conformity of values and beliefs. Some of the founding fathers may have been Christian, but we need not jump to any conclusions about their intent when it comes to the Constitution. Clearly, in a democracy, the rights of the minority must be protected, or the majority rule becomes the oppressors, the tyrants that the pilgrims and immigrants to this country were trying to get away from in the first place.
Monday, February 15, 2010
In my view, it would be impossible for everyone in the church to adopt that position, because it would tear down the base of loyalty and devotion needed to sustain the church in the first place. They need the myth. It’s the only magical claim they have. It’s what sets the Mormon church apart and lures people to leave their own church behind to join up. People are becoming convinced that the Mormon church has something to offer them that no other church can do: authority and priesthood power. By choosing to remain, those that know better are becoming complicit in upholding the myth.
I chose to leave because I refuse to uphold a church whose claims are designed to “replace” mainstream Christian beliefs. Missionaries don’t limit themselves to non-Christian types, their target group is other Christians. Their bait is a lie, in my opinion. And I have the concern for others of various Christian beliefs, in that I don’t wish for them to chose to become Mormon, live the Mormon lifestyle of “literal belief”, make the sacrifices necessary to belong, and cut off their children and grandchildren who decide it isn’t for them. In my opinion, they would do just as well without the Mormon belief system if they just maintained their membership in whatever Christian denomination they currently uphold.
I can see why others would want to stay to maintain family relationships. But making the case for others to stay is only helping the church continue to draw others in that are not as enlightened as the lucky few are. Lots of people get ex’d for doing what John Dehlin does, and I don’t think it’s right that some get to remain in good standing while others are cut off and bullied into submission. That’s another reason to get out, in my opinion.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
My focus lately has been on Gnostic teachings of the original Christians, the Nag Hammadi Texts, and a new interest in Astro-Theology. And I recently went back to one Sunday of Mormon Church. One Sunday in 7 years, not counting the two funerals I attended. Wasn't much difference. Except all the hugs and "we miss you's" etc. That was to be expected. The little kids I used to teach in Primary are teenagers now. I don't know how many times I recited that my oldest child was 20 now, and my youngest almost a teen. I was only there because I felt like doing something nice for my mom, who was injured and couldn't drive for the past month. But everyone there looked so hopeful, so sure that I had an epiphany and was returning to their fold. There I was, sitting in the meetings with my pentagram ring and my triquetra-hematite necklace. I didn't feel anything but awkward at all the attention. I also didn't feel shame, guilt or remorse for the decision I made to leave the church. I'm on the right path for me, and I know it.
If I were to continue attending, just to be there with mom and take her to church, there is no doubt in my mind that sooner or later, the bishop would be asking to speak with me. There is a file on me in the office. I am a Resigned former member. There was no "court of love". There was no process of excommunication in the works. I simply wrote a letter and told them to remove me from the membership list. That was November of 2002.
I jumped through all the flaming hoops they laid out for me and still they could not give me what they promised. I will have to wait till the afterlife just like everyone else. And I am not going to spend THIS life sitting in endless meetings, and feeling guilty and ashamed of myself. Does that mean I'm going to do the exact opposite? If you ask a staunch Mormon, the answer would be yes, naturally. If I'm not in church feeling guilty, what would be the exact opposite? Sitting in a bar whoring around? Joining a BDSM club and hitting the Swinger's scene? Would I naturally be smoking and drinking and doing drugs, smacking around my kids, and living with STD's?
I'm really shocked at the assumption that morality and religion go hand in hand. Is there no such thing as a moral, ethical person without the Judeo-Christian stamp? Are all non-Christians immoral and unethical people? Have we no moral compass or sense of right and wrong? Really?
One of my favorite quotes is attributed to Abraham Lincoln, although I don't know for sure he said it. "When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That is my religion."
What sets us apart from animals? Our sense of right and wrong. An INBORN moral compass. A gift from the Creator. The power to use logic and reason in our choices. And what does religion do? It seeks to take credit, to squash down our abilities to think for ourselves, to hand over autonomy in exchange for the promise of eternal life. We are not allowed to question, to doubt, to haggle over details, or even have hurt feelings about the way we are shuffled through like sheep. If the Brethren have decided, have chosen, and have pronounced it, then there is no more debate. The thinking has been done. It is left to those in charge, and doubting them is equal to doubting your god. Wow. No thank you. I prefer to muddle on through with my own thoughts and opinions and reason and logic. What I have discovered is that I flow through life like a river flows to the ocean. My thoughts and opinions change with the ebb and flow of life's experiences. I am not secured in a walled-in shelter. I am taking huge risks in being disappointed, in being shocked or confused. But I'm not living under a threat of eternal doom either.
Has anyone stopped to consider that we are all asleep and need to be awakened to the full knowledge and understanding of our divine nature? This is what the Gnostic Christians taught, generations before Jesus. The "resurrection" we need is not from death back to life in a literal sense. It is a transformation between ignorance and truth. Our 'resurrection' comes from gaining knowledge. The only good in this world is knowledge, and the only sin is ignorance. Yet the Mormon way would keep us all dependent upon others for all our wisdom and knowledge, and slam the door on anything that would cause us to question, to reason for ourselves, or to doubt.
If I were to have a vision, right now in this very room, of Joseph, Jesus and God, all together commanding me to take up a pen and write down their words and then go out in the world and tell everyone I know, no one would believe me. Even if it was true, it wouldn't matter. It would still be up to me to get others to believe and trust in me, in my character, and in my ability to relate the experience. If I was extremely good at charisma and charm, I could gather a small following. If I continued to claim more visions and experiences that only happened to me, and I was able to convince a few people that I had seen and spoken with Deities from heaven, it would still be balance upon the precipice of my word, my character, and my ability to convince others. There would be no magical, mystical quality about it. And it wouldn't even have to be true in order for me to accomplish it. I could do just as well with a lie as the truth. Real miracles are subject to the same fate as a lie, and I question and doubt that the Creator would use such means to convince us of anything. Is it more probable that a miracle might have occurred, or that a lie was told?
To quote Thomas Paine in The Age of Reason :
"In every point of view in which those things called miracles can be placed and considered, the reality of them is improbable, and their existence unnecessary. They would not answer any useful purpose, even if they were true; for it is more difficult to obtain belief to a miracle, than to a principle evidently moral, without any miracle. Moral principle speaks universally for itself. Miracle could be a thing of the moment, and seen but by a few; after this it requires a transfer of faith from God to man to believe a miracle upon man's report. Instead of admitting the recitals of miracles as evidence of any system of religion to be true, it should be considered as symptoms of it being fabulous. It is necessary to the full and upright character of truth that it rejects the crutch; and it is consistent with the character of fable to seek the aid that truth rejects."
So, if we want to put anything to the test, it would be a man's character. His ability to see a vision, relate it to others, and become a prophet rests on his moral character. It would not matter if the vision or miracle was true one whit. Because he was the only witness to it, then we would all have to rely upon his word. Having never met Joseph Smith personally, I would then have to rely upon accounts from others, and put my faith and trust in their character. It still would not matter if it was a lie or not. My belief would rest upon witnesses, not upon whether or not I believed such a miracle could occur at all. It is a thousand times more likely that no such miracle ever occurred. And I get that understanding from studying the character of the man who made the claim. This is why it is so upsetting to read volumes of Mormon history, to read the history of polygamy, of other "vision" claims from the same man. It's upsetting to discover just ONE lie in the story. It casts doubt upon the man. That's why there is such a movement in the church to maintain their beliefs and stand firm against any doubts. How would that be accomplished? Willful ignorance. The desire to NOT know any different. The desire to keep believing because so much time and effort has been invested in the cause and it would be TOO painful to realize it was based on a lie. Some people would rather live this way. And to me, that is the real sin. Turning down the use of the one gift our Creator gave us, the use of REASON.