Saturday, December 31, 2011

Christian Flags for the Courtroom

So I return from my vacation to see that something strange is happening in Alcorn County. I know, I shouldn't be surprised to see church/state entanglements but I thought I'd have at least a little reprieve between Dec. 25 and Jan. 1. Wow, I was wrong.

According to the Daily Corinthian, the Woodmen of the World Lodge 64 is donating new flags to the Alcorn County Courthouse. This organization provides a lot of flags to various businesses and non-profits so that within itself is not much of a surprise. The problem comes with the kind of flag being donated:

A group of local leaders including Police Chief David Lancaster, Justice Court Judge Steve Little and Sheriff Charles Rinehart accepted a state, national and Christian flag from Corinth's Woodmen of the World Lodge 64. The flags will be on display in the Alcorn Justice Center's Courtroom. (emphasis mine)

What? These officials accepted a Christian flag and plan to display it in the county courtroom? Say it ain't so! In what universe does anyone think that it's ok to have a religious flag on display in an American courtroom? What kind of message is this sending?

Well, the message I get is that Christian values will be upheld in that court and, therefore, Christians can expect special consideration. That's unconstitutional. The Christian flag has no place in that courtroom.

So first, we need to verify that the Christian flag is indeed being stationed in the courtroom as the article says. Unfortunately, I couldn't link to the article so I'm having to read it straight out of the Dec. 27 paper for you. Also, unfortunately, I'm not a resident of Alcorn County so I lack the ability or standing to take any action.

But some of you do and if this issue is important enough to you, I hope you'll consider checking it out. If you can verify that the Christian flag is indeed in that courtroom, you can make a phone call or write a letter. You can contact the Freedom from Religion Foundation and have them send a letter.

Why should you care? Why should we waste our time on these little things? Because they aren't trivial. They send a clear message of preference for Christianity. The longer these things go unchallenged, the more the people (and the courts) can fall back on the argument from tradition.

It's great to support state and national efforts to keep church and state separate. But sometimes the most important work we can do is to keep things straight at home. The more these small communities have to deal with this stuff and learn, the less of this crap will filter to the upper levels.

It's really important that we address this wherever we find it. Who from among us will make a stand?

*Edit to add photos from the actual newspaper since I couldn't find a link to it online:

Friday, December 23, 2011

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, etc.

DFFT is taking a much needed break from blogging and podcasting. We will be active on facebook and plan to have a video or two out but we have celebrations to attend and what not.

Don't worry! We will be back, probably with a year wrap-up episode. So stay tuned and have a great time the next couple of weeks!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Skepticism and the Criminal "Justice" System

Despite the cries of doom all around us by apocalyptic believers and the perennially depressed who do nothing but piss and moan over how much worse the world is now than it was in the 50s, violent crime rates are actually on the decline in the United States. So when there is a homicide in our sleepy little Mississippi towns, we tend to take notice.

New Albany has been reeling from the shooting death of Amanda Price for about a week now. It seemed a senseless, rather random crime. For the first few days, law enforcement had no clue who had done it or why. Things didn't look very good for those who wanted to bring the killer(s) to justice.

But now there are some new developments in the case. Like everyone else in the general public, I'm not privy to the details. I don't know who is in custody and I don't know what evidence has been recovered to link the suspects to the shooting. What I do know is that the lack of public knowledge has not prevented people from making gross assumptions and becoming lax in their habits. Take for example these three statements from the neighborhood:

"Well, I'm so relieved they finally caught the killer because it was tragic right around the holidays. It's a blessing they got them," New Albany resident William Frazier said.

"Whoever did that should not have done it and I'm glad everybody can start opening up their doors and coming out," New Albany resident Melissa Judon said.

"I didn't know the Price family. It's justice and I feel like it's a really good thing," New Albany resident Courtney Browning said.

First, we haven't seen any charges filed, must less had a trial and convicted the suspect. We cannot know at this point that the killer was caught. Nothing in any of this story can reasonably be construed as any sort of "blessing."

Second, why would you start "opening up" your doors? No charges, no trial, no conviction. You can't just assume the guys in custody are guilty and start leaving your door open as if such a thing could never happen again. If the people in custody are actually innocent, then the killer is still out there.

Third, there's been no justice yet. There's a process and that process is just beginning, not ending. Until we know more, it is not reasonable to presume that we can just sound the all clear and move on.

"They're relieved of course that they have the person of interest in jail and because it kind of gives them peace of mind that they're not coming back," New Albany Mayor Tim Kent said.

I'm sure it does give them peace of mind but it's a false peace of mind at this point. Fortunately, the mayor seems to realize this:

"They're going to make sure they have every t crossed and every i dotted, but I feel good about the evidence that they do have," Mayor Kent added.

I certainly hope so because, at this point, only two things matter to me: 1) everyone who is charged gets a fair trial, and 2) the guilty person is the one convicted.
Americans need to stop blindly accepting police authority and understand that the criminal "justice" system (which I actually now simply call the "legal system" since I see little justice in it) is set up to put away more people for less reason. Private contractors make billions on running prisons. Prosecutors went elections and get promotions based on their conviction rates - not on how well they actually do their job. And law enforcement can score more arrests faster on simple drug possession charges than on actual violent crime cases. There's a great of motivation to rig the system so we must be extra skeptical.

But even if the system were pure, isn't skepticism what it is founded on? What happened to the whole idea of "innocent until proven guilty?" Why do we automatically assume that the guy they picked up and threw in jail is the one who did the killing? Maybe they're right and maybe they aren't. But until there is a trial, we really can't know.

I can understand people's need for an explanation and their desire to feel safe again. However, until the process has fully run its course, we have no way of knowing if the police have the right guys. As with so many other things in our ordinary lives, it really pays to stay skeptical.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rallying the Rational

I had dinner with three of the most important people in my life the other day and we had an interesting discussion about the fate of the world, our role in the culture, and other such trivialities. We were a strange mix: two men and two women; two Christians and two atheists; two parents and two who would never get to be parents. Nathan and I are, of course, the two atheists who won't get to see our son grow up. My sister and her husband are the two Christians who have a bright and beautiful son. In this odd mix of persons and personalities, the most fascinating and sometimes disturbing conversations arise.

My sister and I share a great deal of the same idealism and enthusiasm. We genuinely want to leave the world a better place than we found it. We want to do all we can to help educate people and promote science-based medicine. Where we part company is in our abilities. She is a vivacious, on-top-of-the-world professional who can get things done. I am a reclusive, sometimes misanthropic, person who has to ride the tides of rage of get anything done.

Nathan, of course, shares our idealism and enthusiasm but he is far more circumspect than I. Where I would barrel in with guns blazing, he would knock politely and ask to chat over a cup of coffee. He is the more social, more tolerant, antidote to my rock-hard skepticism. 

And then there is my brother-in-law. He is much more of a realist and a pragmatist than any of us although I do share a high degree of that realism too (it's one of the reasons why I have a hard time putting my idealism into action).  He has a keen ability to read people and assess situations quickly. He is not the kind of person to be underestimated and will probably outlive us all.

So as we are all talking about life in Northeast Mississippi and what we could do to improve it, I kept hearing my own thoughts coming out of everyone else's mouths. 

"I think we need more education."
"How can we get this information out there?"
"Would parents bring their kids to an afternoon class?"
"Would kids look it up on the internet?"

And then the realism: "The information's already out there. Nobody cares enough to look at it and do anything."

How can I argue with that truth? It's been my firm belief for quite a while now that there is really no excuse for remaining ignorant on any subject any more. You might not fully understand it and you might not get it all right but you can look up any subject on the internet and get informed. There is simply no excuse for ignorance. In my days and the days of my forebears, we only had books and the occasional TV program for information. The nearest bookstore was an hour away and we had little money to spend on useless information. If I didn't learn something in school, I had to save up and hope I could order a book on the subject from somewhere.  It's not like that now. Now there is no reason to be totally blind.

So that being said, I can't disagree with the realistic assessment that lack of information isn't always the issue. Sometimes the truth is that people just don't care enough about themselves or society to do any better.

"How do you change a culture?" I asked. We all looked at each other kind of blankly. 

Realism replied again, "You don't."

We're all going to hell in a handbasket, you see. Time flows on regardless of the machinations of individual humans. It ebbs and it flows, sure, but not because of anything that any one of us does. No one person can change the world.

Or can she? I look in my sister's eyes and I believe she could help a person change. I look at Nathan and I believe he can help a person change. But one can only help...not force. A person must want to change and that is where my brother-in-law's staunch realism must be acknowledged. We can lead the credulous to knowledge but we can't make them think.

I internalized all this dialog and I've been musing on it a few days now. Sometimes I feel like I'm wasting my time writing or creating anything. I feel like all my battles are useless. I feel like there is no hope for the world so I might as well just enjoy the time I have left and leave everyone else to rot. 

Then I realize that people have always kind of felt this way. Every generation has thought that the world couldn't get much worse, that the kids were out of control, that there was no hope for the future. When I think of the generations that survived WWI and WWII, I'm ashamed that I look at our problems and think them so grand. We do have some serious problems but, good grief, look at what those poor people faced!

And then I remember that people have changed the world. It wasn't always quick and it has never been painless. Change almost always comes with a price-tag of blood but there have always been courageous ones who have paid it for us. So I stay mindful that things will never change if we lose our vision and stop working to make things better.  It takes everyone pushing together against the status quo to make any kind of difference.

I don't know what the future holds for us rational folks. I'd like to believe that radical religion is losing its hold on America and the screams we hear are death rattles. I'd like to think that we are moving toward a more tolerant era so that we can work together on some of these issues that plague us. But I also realize that established power structures can be very difficult to topple and that we have some serious trust issues eating us from within.

Do we have the courage and the strength to stay in the fight? Should we even bother? It's hard for me to say but my feeling is that I must stick with it. I think I would rather die knowing that I tried to do good and failed rather than die knowing I didn't bother to try. But I also know that I need to keep these voices close to me and listen well to what they say. It is vital that I remain rooted in skepticism but I think it does me no harm to keep my face toward the sun.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Growing Intolerance Toward Intolerance

I have long known Zip Ribar as a letter-writer guaranteed to make my eyes roll up in the back of my head with disbelief. His latest letter to the Sun Herald entitled "A growing intolerance toward Christians"  does not disappoint. I wish to address some of his claims and then one of the comments left on the site.

So many terms don’t mean what they say. “Social Justice” now refers to the redistribution of wealth and power to those who didn’t earn it. “Affirmative action” requires preferential treatment based on race. “Liberty” means the license to do my own thing regardless of the people around me.

Words actually mean whatever the majority decides they mean. That's how language evolves over time.  You can make up your own special meanings but that doesn't mean that anyone else will accept your definition, much less use it. 

So when you decry the current usage of "social justice," I think you need to know that most people who advocate for social justice do not mean robbing the rich and giving to the poor. They mean putting policies in place to prevent corruption and giving everyone real equal opportunity to achieve rather than just the illusion of it. They are not advocating for equal outcomes, just equal opportunity. The difference between those concepts is crucial.

"Affirmative action" does indeed mean giving some preferential treatment based on race. If we as Americans lived up to our ideals, such programs would be unnecessary. The only reason we need Affirmative Action programs is because many Americans still discriminate based on race, gender, ethnicity, and other factors. You can say that's untrue but both the facts and experience prove you wrong. I have worked in quite a few places that did not want to hire a black candidate or a woman who might be pregnant. Perhaps when Americans start obeying the law, we can get rid of programs like this.

And as for liberty, it does mean that I can do my own thing. What it does not mean is that I can do anything with callous disregard for anyone else. I can't drink and drive regardless of what you think. I can't run my car into your living room just for fun. But I can do what I want with other consenting adults in the privacy of my own home and whatever you might think about that isn't really worth a damn.

However, in American, the characteristic intolerance nowadays is not by religious people, but against them, especially where they are in the majority.

That's a big charge. Mind backing it up with some examples or evidence?

Public prayers are being banned from public schools.

Yeah, how dare we hold you to our social contract (the Constitution) which guarantees that the government will stay neutral on the subject of religion. How intolerant of us to ask that the government not tell us how and when to pray. Tell me, has anyone stopped children from praying in schools? I think not!

Creches and crosses are being banned from public sites.

How dare we hold you to our social contract (the Constitution) by demanding that the government either stay neutral or give us all equal time. That's the law. If the government lets you put up your nativity, then we all get to put something up. And if we can't put up our signs and stuff on government property, then you have to take yours down. We're not banning religion - we're demanding the government play fair. What do you have against fairness?

The legal sanctification of infanticide, homosexuality and hedonism proceeds unhindered by Christian scruples.

First, please show me where infanticide has been legalized in the U.S. Oh right, you can't. Next, explain to me how homosexuality has been "legally sanctified" when most states still do not allow same-sex marriage. Again, you can't. As for hedonism, what else is it but the liberty to pursue happiness? Do you hate the Declaration of Independence too now?

The same Sun Herald also reported that the “Department of Justice probes discrimination claims” against the city of Lomita, Calif., for not permitting a local Islamic Center to expand in a crowded part of town. Liberty of Muslims means they have an absolute right to ignore that will of the majority.

News flash for you, Zip. Religious rights aren't up for a majority vote. If this city denied Muslims a permit because it didn't like Islam, then it is breaking the law - just like if they denied Christians a permit because they didn't like Christianity. The First Amendment trumps your petty majority vote. This is not a pure democracy - it is a republic. Learn the difference.

Some may think of this as politically correct. Others, like myself, however, may regard it as a form of federal discrimination against Christians.

You're welcome to think that but your position is wrong and stupid. It's wrong because the federal government is moving toward a more neutral stance which is both ethically and legally sound. It's stupid because Christianity is still by far the largest religious group in the country and, if they really cared about any of this, they could outshine and outspend any other group. But these people aren't really interested in doing the work of Christ - they are interested in sitting back and making the government do it for them. It's lazy religion at its worst.


And now I wish to take on one of the comments by bederest:

This country was founded on the principal that the 'majority rules.'

Not when it comes to Constitutional Rights. Don't go there.

In my 64-years, I have never seen (in your false words) Christianity "forced" down anybody's thoat.

Then you haven't been looking very closely. That's part of your Christian privilege that you need to get over. Every time I see In God We Trust on my money, or hear "one nation under God," or see a Christian cross on government property standing alone, I'm forced to pay for and participate in your religion.

To the contrary, we all have seen the Muslim faith being shoved down our school children's throats, in the name of "Multural Culturalism." No protests form the nihilistic liberals there, though !

No, I've not seen this. I've seen people being encouraged to live together peacefully and respect each other's rights. I have not seen any of us forced to learn Islamic law, recite the Quran, or dress like a Muslim. 

I attended a football game at Milner stadium a few years ago. My neighbor, a Muslim (born in the USA) sitting next to me, refused to stand up for the prayer. I'm OK with that, but when he refused to stand up for the National Anthem, I gave him my opinion of his nhilistic attitude toward the country that feeds him. He refuses to speak to me to this day. Fine with me. I know he hates it when I fly the American flag on the appropriate holiday.

One of the most meaningful patriotic moments in my life was during an event where everyone stood up while the national anthem was played. They took off hats and put their hands over their hearts. I just sat there as I have done since I was in my early twenties when I decided that freedom had nothing to do with going along with the crowd. As I sat contemplating my forefathers who had fought on this land and in foreign countries, I became aware of eyes on me. I realized I was the only one sitting and it had not gone unnoticed. I closed my eyes (probably looked like I was praying) and sank deeper into my meditation. I considered that the freedom that flag and song represented was the freedom to sit quietly and thank my forefathers without having someone take me to jail. That was the freedom so many bled and died for. By the time the song was over, I was in tears - tears filled with gratitude and joy. Everyone else sang a song and had their moment of blind patriotism. I had a moment of sincere reverence for this country's values and the sacrifices many have made to preserve them.

My point is: you don't know shit about what someone is thinking or what they believe just because they didn't stand for the anthem. And if you scorn them for dissent or for exercising their right to sit, then you don't get the point of freedom at all.

The majority of American' s are Christian -- they should prevail, because they are THE MAJORITY! Once again, that's why we hold elections. The MAJORITY wins! Liberals usually find a way to cheat on that though, (dead voters and unregisterd winos) so in the same ilk, they demonize Christianity -- through false information, such as your lying attempt here !

You did go there again. Let me try to spell this out so you can get it. Constitutional rights are not subject to majority whim. You can't just vote out my religious freedom with a 51% majority. If you love this country, then you ought to learn how it works! There is a process for amending the Constitution that requires a hell of a lot more than 51% so if you want to take away my religious freedom, you're going to have to work harder.

Also, there have been several investigations over the past few years into voter fraud and it's quite well known among thinking people now that this whole thing is a myth. For all the mud you're slinging out here, none of it sticks.

This is nothing more than liberal - invented, and directed political correctness. I want my country back!

As someone who grew up in the '50s, the rest of you young liberals have no idea how much damage you've done to the nation, culture and spirit that we once had -- because you just don't have enough knowledge of history or life experience.

You can't have your country back because those days are gone. Things don't stay the same no matter how fondly we may remember the "good ole days." Those who cannot or will not change will ultimately fall.

I get that you don't really understand the world you're living in and I do have some sympathy for you. Things have changed very fast and life looks very different through the eyes of a child than it does through the eyes of an adult. But I fear this sort of attitude is indicative of a desire to keep that precious 50s childhood experience at all costs. It's a delusion fostered and maintained by those who don't want to grow up.

I fear life doesn't give us that option. It moves along as it will.

I must say that if anyone doesn't have any knowledge of history or life experience, it's these two men. They don't know how anything works or why it should work that way. All they see is their Christian privilege eroding and they are crying out like kids having their sweets taken away. 

I'm growing intolerant of all this intolerance. Why can't we just all play fair and get along?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Answering the Critics: Anti-Atheism & the Solstice Sign

More than likely you'll hear some things in here that will require some clarification on my part. I have plans to address some of it at a later time but if something strikes a chord or just hits you the wrong way, let us know below in the comments. Hopefully, I'll be able to hammer my thoughts out in a way that will make more sense now than it did at 5 am. I'm thinking in particular of my comment about not caring what people believe. My actual view is more complicated so you can wait for a future post or just ask me here. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Cling to the Constitution Because We Fought to Have It

Another letter to the editor entitled, "Cling to prayer because we fought to save it."
Another rage.
Another petulant but, hopefully, poignant response.

The Supreme Court, Congress and federal judges are oppressing one religion, Christianity.

Sir, please exit the mothership and return to Earth. Can you please give me one, just ONE, example where a court, a police officer, or a politician has prevented you from going to church or praying privately? Can you show me just one time in the past century when American Christians (except for Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses - who you probably don't consider "real Christians") have been rounded up by their government and imprisoned for their beliefs?

Of course you can't because you're dead wrong.

Christians do not force others to be a Christian, neither do they kill one who decides to leave their ranks, as many religions do.

Sir, have you not heard of ecclesiastical imprisonment and the Inquisitions? Do you not know that the Catholic Church has spent most of existence torturing pagans, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Protestant Christians until they converted, died, or agreed to stop observing their religious rites? Do you not know that Protestants and Catholics have been killing each other for ages in Europe? Do you not know that the Puritans ruthlessly persecuted the Quakers?

It may be that Christians are not supposed to coerce or kill non-Christians but the sad fact is that they have done so for many centuries and some still do.

Other religions can express their religion anywhere in the U.S., but Christians are deprived of free speech.

Sir, again, can you please show me one instance where a Christian was deprived of free speech and another religion was not. Please give me evidence of any single case where Christianity was mistreated in America. You can't because the persecution you describe simply does not exist.

My school teachers taught me about the Founding Fathers of this great nation. These were brave, God-fearing men.

Some of them were but not in the way you think. Do you know that George Washington was an Anglican and usually left before communion without participating? Do you know that Dr. Ben Franklin was born to Puritan parents but became a deist and then later blended his deist and Christian beliefs together, rejecting many of the Bible's claims including Jesus's divinity? Do you not know that Thomas Jefferson was an Episcopalian but his beliefs were far more deistic? Do you know that he accepted the morality of Jesus but not the divine attributions? Do you know that Jefferson made his own Bible by cutting out all the parts he thought were ridiculously untrue or harmful? Do you know that he couldn't stand priests and advocated for a full separation of church and state? Do you know that John Adams and his son John Q. Adams were both Unitarians and did not accept the divinity of Jesus? 

By today's mainstream Christian standards, that means that Franklin, Jefferson, and the Adamses are all in hell.

My teachers taught me about Christianity. The main reason people came to America was religious freedom.

If that's the case, your teachers taught you wrong. Just one more reason why public school teachers should NOT teach religion. There were some people who came to America for religious freedom but most people who came here did so for another reason: wealth. People fled debts and poverty in Europe by coming over here and claiming land. Some groups (like the Puritans) came over here to set up their own little theocracies so they could be free to persecute anyone they didn't like. Greed was the biggest motivator for coming to the New World - not religion.

For my country's freedom, I served almost three years in the U.S. Navy, about half of that in the Pacific on the USS Manila Bay. Then it took another three years to get my health back enough so I could hold a public job. That all was minor compared to what thousands of others serving our country have gone through.

And this is where it gets difficult for me. It would be incorrect for me to say that I'm not grateful for the sacrifices of those who did serve to protect our values and way of life. So many of my family made those sacrifices for the freedom I have that I cannot be ungrateful. But I must be honest here: if you went to war and fought so that you could set up a Christian theocracy here and take away my right to dissent, then I cannot be grateful for that. And while you have not said that you wish to take away my religious freedom, I have to wonder what your intent is when you repeat lies designed to make people like me look like persecutors of the faith.

When the tornado destroyed Smithville, almost everyone heard talking was saying, "I was praying to God and He saved my life."

Again, this is difficult because I had friends in Smithville but I must be honest. Nobody survived because of prayer. If you believe that your god saved those people then you must believe that those who died either did not pray or their prayers were not heard, or they just didn't deserve mercy. Do you have the balls to say that about those people?

A few months later we were ordered not to pray at ballgames. So we tucked our tail between our legs and lay down.

No, the government-operated school was ordered not to pray. It's that "freedom" thing you fought for - the First Amendment. Read it and please get a clue what you were fighting for. And I seriously doubt there was any tail-tucking going on. I expect you were all madder than ole wet hens and probably screamed the Lord's Prayer as loudly as you could. After all, Jesus didn't mean any of that stuff he said in Matthew 6 about not praying in public like a bunch of hypocrites, right?

We are in the process of building our churches back in Smithville. Are we building them back so we can hide in them or are we building them back so we can worship God in them and prepare ourselves so we can carry His message outside the building?

That's very much your business, sir, but I've got to tell you: if you don't offer us a message any better than the lies you've repeated here, we aren't going to listen to you.

The commentary in the Daily Journal on Nov. 13 was sad. Since a prayer by a person that was not an elegant speaker embarrassed Sonny Scott, he should not write about prayer, because he doesn't even know what prayer is about.

No, what's really sad and pathetic, what's really downright embarrassing here, is that you just said that Sonny Scott doesn't know what prayer is about when the very model for prayer he quoted is JESUS CHRIST.  My stars, man, do you not even know which god you, as a Christian, are supposed to pay attention to? Or do you think that maybe Jesus just didn't know what he was talking about when he gave out those instructions? Maybe Jesus was wrong about praying privately to the Father. Maybe he should have been holding up some gaudy sign and screaming like a banshee at the local arena during the gladiator games.

I don't know what you went to war and fought for but I hope you'll review our history and our law and understand that the thing that binds us Americans together is supposed to be freedom. And I've got to tell you, sir, I can't find any sign in your letter that you understand freedom or support it. I hope you'll take the time reflect on this; otherwise, everything you went through was in vain.