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Why I Don’t Say the Pledge July 3, 2011

Posted by frrobins in activism, atheism, Christianity, Church and State, critical thinking, Current Events, Memories, Personal, Pledge, Politics, Religion.
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I don’t say The Pledge of Allegiance. I haven’t since I was in junior high school. One day I’m hoping I will get the guts to not stand during it. Why? Because I find saying the Pledge rather anti-patriotic. I feel that to be an active participant in a democracy you have to think critically and keep yourself informed on issues. Patriotism is not a passive process for me but an active one. Saying someone someone else wrote does not employ critical thinking nor does it illuminate one on important issues facing our country. In fact, I think it discourages critical thinking by inducing everyone to say the same words without thinking about what they are saying.

And since most of us started saying the Pledge in elementary school, this just reinforces the idea to me that it is a rote habit rather than something we are thinking about.

I was probably five or six when my parents explained to me that while they would say the Pledge, they would be silent during the “under God” part. We are atheists and don’t believe in God, and feel that saying “under God” violates our conscience. So for awhile I would say the Pledge and stay quiet during “under God.” Until the third grade when other kids found out I was an atheist and teased me for it. Until then it never occurred to me that I would be teased for not believing in one less god than everyone else, and it never occurred to me that my religious convictions were something to be hidden. Yet when I started a new school having people find out I was an atheist was something that terrified me.

So then I was caught in a trap. I know a lot of people would say that I should have just said “under God” and shut up about it. Yet I have always been driven by the need to live my life truthfully. Even as people around me rejected me, I could never stop being who I was without causing myself extreme mental anguish. So on the one hand I was terrified that if I didn’t say “under God” people at my new school would notice and ask why, yet if I said it I felt that I was being dishonest. It was a horrendous dilemma for an elementary school student to find herself in.

Sometimes I’d say “under God” other times I wouldn’t. One time I even noticed another kid nervously refrain from saying “under God”. I remember wanting to ask him so badly if he believed the same way I did but was too scared to.

Then one day, I’m not sure when, I just stopped saying it. Some days I would, others I wouldn’t. I would always stand so as not to draw too much attention to myself, yet I was quiet the whole time. By the time I finished junior high it was a habit. By the time I was in high school, I’d even stopped putting my hand over my heart.

I’ll make no bones that it started out as a way out of my dilemma and that it is now, as an adult, that I rationally justify my actions. And the reason is that no one should be compelled to say something they don’t believe in. This is America, after all, where we have the freedom to worship one God, or one Goddess, or many Gods and Goddesses, or none at all. This is America where we have freedom of speech, which includes the freedom to not be compelled to spout views you don’t agree with. Yet every morning we compel children to recite words as if they are automatons.

And it’s not just atheists who have moral dilemmas concerning the Pledge. Jehovah’s Witnesses and other Christian groups experience a conflict because their beliefs prevent them from pledging allegiance to anyone other than God.

My questions to people who support forcing others to say the Pledge is, how is democracy served by forcing people to say a pre-written pledge? What do schoolchildren learn about being active participants in a democracy by saying the Pledge? How are we teaching kids to think critically when we are forcing them to spout words unthinkingly from their mouths? How does saying the Pledge foster patriotism? What is gained by forcing people to say things they don’t agree with? Seems to me like it’s just a good way to incite them to rebel.

And to those who say you can just say quiet while everyone else says it, I will point to my above experiences. Staying quiet while everyone else says the Pledge is a good way to paint a target on yourself in school. Kids should not be put in the position between following their conscience and fear of being bullied for being different. Period.

If you want to say the Pledge every morning, go ahead. I won’t stop you. If you want your kids to say it, then say it with them in the morning before they leave for school. Yet everyone else should not be forced to say the Pledge if they are not amenable, and I for one am not.

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The Right to Be Insensitive September 8, 2010

Posted by Dindy in Church and State, Current Events, Islam, Muslims, Religion, Religious Right, Terrorism.
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In the short story The Accident, the great science fiction writer James White tells the story of the origin of Sector General, the interplanetary medical center created to provide medical care to aliens. The story tells of two war heroes of different species, Grawlya –Ki and MacEwan, who had been locked in mortal combat between their spaceships and both crash landed on an unknown world. Determined to learn all he could about his enemy, Grawlya-Ki boarded MacEwan’s ship. MacEwan was gravely injured, dying. Grawlya-Ki did not know when or if his distress beacon would bring rescuers.

After a 6-hour one-on-one battle, the two were probably going to die together. Because there was no longer anything left to fight about and because they had developed a respect for each other during the fight, they began to communicate and in so doing, found that the entire war between their two peoples had been based on a joint misunderstanding.

When the Orligian rescue ship arrived, the two were barely alive and beyond medical help so the Orligians put the control room of the spaceship and the two combatants into stasis and transported them to the central square of the planetary capital of Orligia where for 236 years it served as a very effective war memorial. When medical science finally progressed to the point where the beings’ wounds could be healed, they were released from stasis and eventually founded the Sector General hospital which brought peace to the galaxy through providing medical care for all.

It is to be hoped that something similar will happen with the Cordoba Center, which most Americans know as the Ground Zero mosque even though it is not actually a mosque nor is it at Ground Zero– but since when have facts ever stood in the way of a good sound bite?

There is a great deal of rhetoric slinging about the country about the Cordoba Center, which is actually a proposed Islamic Community Center that will not even be visible from Ground Zero. President Obama lost approval points and raised anew questions about his religious beliefs when he stated that he supported the right of the Moslems to build the mosque and dared to voice the opinion that freedom of religion applies to everyone, not just Christians.

If the Cordoba Center has served as a divisive political issue for the upcoming elections, it has also divided Moslems, many of whom have come out publicly against the proposed center, some on the grounds that it is insensitive and some who state that it is being built by radical Islamists who are thumbing their nose at the 9-11 tragedy.

It is the insensitivity of the proposed Cordoba Center that I keep coming back to. I can fully accept that the developers do not mean to be insensitive. I can completely accept that they mean it to be a center for people to learn more about Islam. However I also think they do not realize that Ground Zero has assumed a hallowed place in the mind of most Americans and that for most of us, 9-11 will forever be remembered as the day our world changed for the worst.  I remember the fear and sense of loss I felt after 9-11, not just for the lives that were lost but for the sense of security that we as Americans had lost. Never again would we be able to feel safe in our own country, on our own land. People who have grown up in places continually torn asunder by war and terrorism have never known what it is like to feel complete safe, but we did before 9-11.

Before 9-11, we were largely untouched by terrorism. We remember when we could board airplanes without having to take our shoes off and without having to discard all our liquids and without having our bags routinely searched. We remember when the New York landscape was dominated by the twin towers and the jarring after images of the cityscape with nothing where the twin towers used to be. We remember when we could check out library books without worrying that the FBI was checking our reading history, and we remember a time when we could buy airplane tickets without having to worry about a watch list.

Our world changed forever on 9-11 and Ground Zero is a continual reminder to us of not only the lives that were lost but the way of life that went with them. While I can wholeheartedly support the constitutional rights of the Moslems to build the Cordoba Center, inside I keep thinking that it is insensitive. I understand that they don’t mean to be insensitive, but it is.

But…

It was insensitive of the NRA to hold their annual meeting in Denver after Columbine, but they did so anyway, and it was their right to do so. We do not have a right not to be offended in this country, and there are no laws against being insensitive. And maybe, just maybe the Moslems supporting the community center are right to force the issue, to say, in effect– “Look, we know you blame every single member of the Moslem religion for what happened on 9-11 but that is not what we are about. We are about community, about learning, about families, and if you come to our center, you might learn something about us.”

It’s kind of the same strategy Rhett Butler made Scarlett O’Hara adopt when he had her wear the very daring gown to the party the day after she was caught kissing Ashley Wilkes. People are going to be talking about you anyway so you might as well give them something to talk about. And people are going to be fussing about Moslems anyway so you might as well give them something to fuss about.  So maybe fifty or one hundred years from now, school children will visit the Cordoba Center and learn about it in schools as a monument to peace and a tribute to how two vastly different groups of people were brought together to form a more perfect union.

The freedom of speech and religion that we have in this country did not come easily. We fought hard for our right to be a nation, for our right to govern ourselves and for our right to make our own decisions about religion. The peace that we usually enjoy in this country was also hard-won, and in many cases it is only a surface peace, hiding a roiling jumble of conflicts beneath. If some of us have to be offended today in order for there to be a chance of peace in the future, so be it. I support not only the right of Feisal AbdulRauf to build the Cordoba Center, but I support the Center itself. May it lead to greater understanding between our peoples.

A Creationist Myth About Science And Evolution May 31, 2010

Posted by Bill in Christianity, Creationism, Evolution, Religion, Religious Right, Science.
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Creationists often point to the fact that science can change.  Using evolutionary science as an example they are always bringing up items such as finding what was thought to be an extinct species still living or finding that land plants existed in the Cambrian period when it had been thought none did or finding that evolution may have occurred in starts and stops instead of a smooth progression as evidence against evolution.   

 Somehow they feel that changes such as these and others show that science cannot be trusted.  That science keeps having to correct itself.   They are blind to the reason why this occurs and why, far from being a sign of weakness, it is one of science’s towering strengths. 

 The reason for this is human knowledge is always incomplete.  We do not know everything and to pretend that we do is both arrogant and foolish.  

 Lets use a logic word puzzle for an example. 

 Suppose that you know that there were four horses in a race and each was wearing a different color.  The question is what horse was wearing which color and in what order did they finish. 

 Given only the information above you couldn’t even begin to guess.  However say that you did some research and found out that the four horses were named Dare Devil, Bitter Twist, After Dinner, and Catch Me. 

 You also found out in your research that the colors they were wearing were blue, red, green, and yellow. 

 We know more but not enough to answer the question with certainty.  We know the names of the horses and the colors that were worn.  We can now speculate on where each horse placed and what color they wore.  And then do the research to see if we were correct.

 Lets say that initially we thought that Catch Me was first and was wearing red.  Next was Bitter Twist wearing yellow, followed by Dare Devil wearing green and After Dinner wearing blue.  

 Now we do a bit more research, looking into newspaper articles, talking to people who were betting on the track that day, talking to jockeys, etc.  And we find out that Catch Me was last. 

 We were wrong on where Catch Me placed.  However does this negate that Catch Me was in the race? 

 No.

 Does this negate that the other three horses were in the race?

 No. 

 Does this negate that each was wearing one of the colors listed?

 No. 

 The basics are still true and are not affected by being wrong on the order.  In fact we are now closer to knowing for sure who place in which spot and what color they wore. 

 In fact our research did verify that Catch Me was indeed wearing red.  So that part was also correct.  We have increased out basic knowledge.  Our total knowledge of the race has increased, although we still do not know with certainty who won the first three spots nor what colors they wore. 

 Next we find a picture of the race taken on the home stretch.  It shows Bitter Twist and After Dinner going nose to nose with Bitter Twist having a very slight lead.  Right on their heels is Dare Devil. 

 Unfortunately the picture is a black and white one so we cannot really discern the colors they wore.  However we make our best guess based on how light and dark the colors were. 

 Based on this evidence we now believe that Bitter Twist won the race and was wearing Green.  Next was After Dinner who was wearing blue.  Third place was Dare Devil wearing yellow.  And of course we already know for sure that Catch Me wearing red came in last. 

 Now while we have some evidence for all of the above the evidence for the first three places is not as certain as that for last place.  And sure enough, after doing even more in depth research we find out that parts of our answer above is wrong. 

 We find out that Bitter Twist stumbled and as a result fell to third place.  We also find out that he was actually wearing blue instead of green. 

 We find out that Dare Devil surged at the very last minute and won the race.  We were correct though in that he wore yellow. 

 Finally we find out that After Dinner, wearing green, actually came in third. 

 Notice how finding out the truth about some of the more speculative parts (because of  current insufficiency of evidence) did not in any way negate those parts that had solid evidence. 

The fact that we were wrong initially on who won the race did not in any way negate the fact that a race occurred, that four horses were in it and that they were wearing different colors.

The fact that we were wrong on the first three places did not in any way negate the above nor did it negate the fact that we were correct on which horse came in last.  And we were correct on some of the colors worn by the horses.

 Science is just like this.  It has a bedrock of well established and amply evidenced theory and facts.  The fact that sometimes it is wrong on some of the speculations based on this bedrock does not negate the bedrock.  

The evidence for evolution occurring is still just as strong as it was before even though scientists believed at one time that there were no land plants during the Cambrian.  Just as being wrong on the order of who won the races did not negate the fact that a race had occurred run by four horses so too land plants in the Cambrian not negate the fact that evolution has and is occurring.

 Further this methodology does not pretend it knows everything and desperately ignore new evidence.  It accommodates it and uses it to increase the bedrock knowledge that science does posses. 

 That is why science keeps gaining in knowledge while those who are so arrogant and foolish as to believe that a book gives them all knowledge lose ground.

What Most Have Forgotten March 13, 2010

Posted by Bill in Christianity, Church and State, Politics, Religion, Religious Right.
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The sight of gallows loaded with the bodies of men and women hanged and sometimes mutilated just for their beliefs. Men such as the Jesuit John Ogilvie who was sentenced to death by a Glasgow court and hanged and disemboweled on March 10, 1615.

The thousands of men and women deprived of their property due to being of the wrong religion with the definition of the wrong religion changing when the English rulers changed. First Protestant, then Catholic, then Protestant again.

The thousands of Lutheran men, women, and children who starved and froze to death when, on October 31, 1731, 20,000 of them were expelled from their homes in Salzburger, Austria by the Archbishop Leopold von Firmian. They were given only eight days to leave their homes.

The drowning of Protestants by the Irish Catholics in 1641. After holding them as prisoners and torturing them, the Catholics then forced them to the bridge over the River Bann, forced them to strip, and then drove them into the water at sword point. Those that survived the plunge were then shot.

Our Founders remembered this and more. It is why there is no mention of Christianity, no mention of God, no mention of Jesus in the Constitution. Our Founders set up a secular state so that freedom of conscience would be guarded for all men.

The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in Paris on August 24, 1572 when thousands of Huguenots (Protestants) were butchered by Catholic mobs. This was just the worst of the many killings and riots that occurred during the 30 years of war between the French Protestants and Catholics that started in 1562.

The Huguenots disemboweling and burying alive priests. The killing of Catholic children. The torture of priests and Catholics during the same 30-year war.

John Rogers being burned alive at Smithfield England, the “first Protestant martyr” executed by England’s Catholic Queen Mary.

The smell of burning flesh as John Lambert was chained to a stake in 1537 at Smithfield, England and then burned. He had defended his conscience and faith after being summoned to an inquisition.

For not enshrining God and Christianity into its text the Constitution was heavily criticized. This omission of God and Christianity was denounced by the Reverend John M. Mason who declared it “an omission which no pretext whatever can palliate.” He went on to warn “we will have every reason to tremble lest the Governor of the universe, who will not be treated with indignity by a people more than by individuals, overturn from its foundations the fabric we have been rearing and crush us to atoms in the wreck.”

Others warned of the dangers of not putting God and Christianity into the Constitution because it would be an “invitation for Jews and pagans of every kind to come among us.” and that “a Turk, a Jew, a Roman Catholic, and what is worse than all, a Universalist, may be President of the United States.”

Our Founders knew that, with most of the states having religious tests for citizenship and holding office, that pushing a thoroughly secular Constitution would be difficult. Yet they did push.

George Washington, John Adam, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and the others of our Founders considered the lack of religion in the Constitution important enough to weather the firestorm of criticism to get the Constitution ratified as it was – without God and without religion.

In fact, eventually all the states would follow the lead of the writers of the Constitution and erect their own wall of separation between church and state.

Anne Hutchison defending her beliefs and being banished by the Puritans from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1637. The same Puritans who were persecuted in England and sailed to the New World carried the Old World’s intolerance of dissent with them. Anne Hutchison, her servants, and 5 of her children were killed by Indians in New York in 1643.

Roger Williams’ defense of the separation of church and state in the mid 17th century. He believed that the state should not be involved in religion at all. He believed that all men — the Muslims, Jews, infidels, and atheists – should have freedom of conscience and for the state to be involved in any way with religion would infringe on this right. His books were banned and burned in England. In America he was banished by the Puritans.

The persecution of the Quakers by the Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1656 the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed laws against anyone bringing Quakers into the Colony or anyone harboring them. They would be fined 100 pounds and then either imprisoned or banished. Other fines included 54 pounds for possessing Quaker books or writings, 40 pounds for defending the teachings of Quakers, 44 pounds for a second offence of defending the teachings, followed by imprisonment until the offender could be shipped out. The laws also allowed corporal punishment ie., whippings, cutting off of ears, boring holes in tongues, and hanging. Mary Dyer, William Robinson, Marmaduke Stephenson were some among many who braved these punishments in order to speak their conscience. All three had been banished, endured flogging, and were eventually hanged.

Today we take the benefits of keeping church and state separate too much for granted. It has allowed us to avoid most of the religious violence that has embroiled much of the world despite our being the most religiously diverse nation on earth.

Even though we are home for Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Protestants, and Catholics we have avoided the strife that plagues India from the Hindus and Muslims, the wars that consume the Middle East between the Sunnis, Shiites, Jews, and Christians, and the violence between the Protestants and Catholics in Ireland.

We take these so much for granted that many do not understand why the state cannot favor any religion; why the state shouldn’t fund or help religious groups and organizations.

In An Essay On Toleration Benjamin Franklin wrote, “If we look back into history for the character of the present sects in Christianity, we shall find few that have not in their turns been persecutors, and complainers of persecution. The primitive Christians thought persecution extremely wrong in the pagans, but practiced it on one another. The first Protestants of the Church of England blamed persecution in the Roman Church, but practiced it upon the Puritans. These found it wrong in the bishops, but fell into the same practice themselves both here and in New England.”

In his statement about why he refused to proclaim a national day of fasting and prayer Andrew Jackson in 1832 said, “I could not do otherwise without transcending the limits prescribed by the Constitution for the President and without feeling that I might in some degree disturb the security which religion nowadays enjoys in this country in its complete separation from the political concerns of the General Government.”

James Madison, the chief author of our Constitution, wrote in a letter objecting to the use of government land for churches in 1803, “The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries.”

The Treaty of Tripoli of 1797, carried unanimously by the Senate reads, “As the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen (Muslims) … it is declared.. that no pretext arising from religious opinion shall ever product an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries. The United States is not a Christian nation any more than it is a Jewish or a Mohammedan nation.”

In a letter John Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson, “I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved– the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!”

These and more statements from our founders, from George Washington to Thomas Paine, from Ethan Allen to Thomas Jefferson all attest to the fact that they set up a secular government in order to preserve the new country that they had created from being torn by religious wars. A country where all men, not just Christians, would be free to follow their conscience and express their beliefs.

During the beginning of the Civil War, the National Reform Association was founded in order to correct the mistake that was tearing our nation apart. No, it was not slavery that was the mistake in the eyes of these clergymen but instead it was the lack of an acknowledgement of God and Jesus in our Constitution.

In 1863 an attempt was made to amend the Constitution’s preamble and there acknowledge not only God but also Jesus Christ as the source our government. A foreshadowing of one of our recent President’s use of Jesus as his political mentor.

The clergy involved in the National Reform Association devised a statement that would not offend any of the mainstream Protestant denominations (they were not worried of course about Jews, Quakers, or Catholics who, being religious minorities, were aghast at the idea). It proposed replacing “We, the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union…” with “Recognizing almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government, and acknowledging the Lord Jesus Christ as the Governor among the nations, his revealed will as the supreme law of the land, in order to constitute a Christian government…” Shades of the Islamic constitution in Iraq.

The National Reform Association met with President Lincoln in February 1864 and presented him with their petition for a Christian government. His response was the observation that “…the work of amending the Constitution should never be done hastily.” and a promise to “take such action upon it as my responsibility to my Maker and our country demands.” He then took no action at all. Neither did Congress, instead tabling the resolution for years until it was forgotten.

Now these and other histories have been forgotten. We have taken for granted the benefits of a secular government. Now a new mythology is being created that our founders would be appalled by. The myth that the United States of America was created as a Christian Nation. We no longer remember why that road is such a dangerous one. We no longer seem to understand why a secular government is necessary for the continued freedom of belief and conscience that we now so blithely enjoy.

Even such seemingly laudable actions such as giving government money to religious charities creates problems and raises troubling questions.

When the government gives money, as in the faith based charity programs, it decides which religions get money and which do not. Is it really any surprise that during President Bush’s Presidency the vast majority of the money is given to evangelical organizations that supported him.  Is it any surprise that only they, out of all the organizations that our government supports with our money, are allowed to discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion with that money.

And how will you react when Moslems charities start receiving money? How about Scientology? Wiccan charities? Secular Humanist charities? Or would you rather that our government start picking and choosing what religions are “worthy” of receiving money and government approval and which are “unworthy?”

Despite all the talk about original intent we are moving away from what our founders intended.

Although some of our founders were traditional Christians, most were not. Many believed that religion encouraged morality in the common people and so followed religious practices. All, though, recognized the danger that comes from religion and government becoming entangled. All recognized the necessity for a secular government. All remembered the reasons why a strict separation between church and state is necessary. I think it is time that many of us read more thoroughly our own and European history and take a good look at the world around us.

I think it is time that we start remembering again.

The United States – A Secular Government, a Christian Culture March 13, 2010

Posted by Bill in Christianity, Church and State, Current Events, Politics, Religion, Religious Right, Schools.
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In Texas we have had our Texas School Board discussing what our social studies and history curriculum should be.  Given that this standard will stay for 10 years and that as one of the largest consumers of textbooks this decision could have a national impact. 

 Needless to say, since this is Texas, the religious conservatives have a nice majority on the Education Board.  Which means that this is not going the way that I think it should. 

 For example, there was a proposal to teach students about why our Founding Fathers considered the separation of church and state of such importance.  It was promptly shot down since the majority of the School Board considers the separation of church and state a myth and the United States a Christian nation founded to be so by our Founding Fathers.

 As evidence they point to several utterances of various Founding Fathers supporting the virtues of Christianity or their actions in supporting religion.  However there are three historical facts that to me shout out very loudly that these people are wrong:  our Founders meant for the United States government to be secular and not a Christian one. 

 The first of these facts is that nowhere in the Constitution, other than a dating convention, is there a mention of God.  There is no mention of Christianity or Jesus.  Nowhere.  This is especially telling since there was a motion to mention Christianity or at least God somewhere in the Constitution.  This motion was not acted upon.  Rather a strange thing to do if they had intended for the United States government to be a Christian one.  Especially considering the fact that every state constitution at that time did mention either God, Jesus, or Christianity. 

 The second fact is that the Constitution barely, and I mean barely, passed.  It was voted on by conventions in every state and in each and every state it was a political battle; one that was lost in some and won in others.  One of the criticisms of the Constitution brought up by many who were against it was that it did not include a mention of God or Christianity.  Yet despite the closeness of the vote and the importance they placed on enacting the Constitution none of the Founding Fathers tried to modify it to gain a few votes.

 The third fact is the Treaty of Tripoli.  This treaty was signed on Nov 4, 1796.  After having been read in its entirety on the Senate floor it was unanimously (23 or the 32 Senators were in attendance) ratified by the United States Senate on June 7, 1797.  The treaty was signed by President John Adams, one of our Founding Fathers, on June 10, 1797. 

 Of interest here is article 11, which states:

 “Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

At a time when George Washington, Thomas Jeffereson,  James Madison, and many of the other founders were still alive this government document explicitely states that the “Government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion”.   It passed without protest, without debate, and unanimously.  And was signed by another of our Founding Fathers, President John Adams. 

When you put these three facts together it is very hard to see how it could be claimed that we are founded as a Christian government.  Especially when you toss in a couple of other supporting facts:

–         There is no religious test for public office.  In fact it was explicitly prohibited.  And this at a time when the state constitutions often did require a religious test to hold public office.

–         The state governments over the years gradually dropped those religious requirements and also mention of God and Christianity; following the lead of the United States Constitution.

–         That there were several attempts to change the Constitution to include a mention of God or Christianity.  There was a large push during President Jackson’s Presidency as well as again after the Civil War.  All failed.  

 Then how can the quotes and actions those who oppose the seperation of church and state be reconciled with these facts.  There are several items to keep in mind here:

–         Not all of our Founding Fathers thought alike ( After all, one did present a motion to include God in our Constitution even though it was not acted upon).  In fact they often disagreed with each other with a ferocity that makes it even more amazing that they managed to find compromises that allowed them to create our Constitution. 

–         There is a difference between a nation’s culture and its government.  While it is undoubtedly true that our culture is Christian it is also undoubtedly true that our Founders set up a secular government as the best way to protect the religoius rights of all.

–         At the time of our Founding the states were not required to follow the Bill of Rights.  That was a limitation on the Federal government and not on the State governments.  What would be proper for a State official to do would not for a Federal one. 

o       This can be most clearly seen in regards to the abolition movement.  Many of the southern states outlawed any books or tracts promoting abolition and arrested those who spoke out against slavery.  Free Speech only applied at the Federal and not the state level. 

o       It was the passage of the 14th Amendment after the civil war which changed this and made the Bill of Rights apply to the State government as well as the Federal government. 

In summary then our Founding fathers did indeed set up a secular government amidst a Christian culture. 

The reason why? 

That is my next blog “What Most Have Forgotten”

The Creation Museum and Science February 27, 2010

Posted by Bill in Creationism, Evolution, Religion, Religious Right, Science.
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I was recently browsing through You Tube and came across a couple of videos about the Creation Museum.  While watching them I was struck by three items relating to evolution and science.

1)      Creationists have always had a hard time explaining how the different animals wound up where they did after the flood.  How did koalas and kangaroos wind up in Australia.  How did the Gila monster wind up in southwestern North America and Northern Mexico and so forth.  These animals are not good enough swimmers to get from Mt Ararat and there is no land bridge for them to walk all the way there (although in the case of the Gila monster you could postulate that it walked over the Bering Strait land bridge, but given that the Gila monster is a desert animal and that part of our globe is most definitely not a desert this does not seem to be a reasonable postulate).

 However I saw that the Creation Museum had an interesting idea.

 “RAFTING

When the flood destroyed the world’s forests it must have left billions of trees floating for centuries on the ocean.  These log mats served as ready–made rafts for animals to cross oceans.”

 Interesting.  Very interesting. 

 Now the start of good science is generating ideas on how the world came about.  The Creation Museum postulated one here.  However good science does not stop with just ideas about how things might have come about.  Good science goes on then to devise ways to test those ideas against the world to see if they are true. 

 For example, Darwin looked at the distribution of plants that he saw during his travels on the Beagle and began to look for ways such a distribution could have occurred.  Especially that of what at one time must have been newly created and barren volcanic islands.  He thought it might be possible that the seeds floated from the lands already populated with that plant to ones that were not.

 So far this is similar to the Creationist Museum’s efforts to explain the geographical distribution of the species after the flood.  However from this point on there is a huge difference.  Darwin went on to test his idea. 

 From  http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20126957.400-darwin-200-planting-the-seeds-of-an-idea.html

 “In March, the BBC TV series Jimmy Doherty in Darwin’s Garden will introduce British viewers to Darwin the experimentalist, as Doherty re-enacts a selection of Darwin’s investigations. Among them are the seawater experiments with which Darwin set out in 1855 to discover whether seawater kills seeds. He feared this question might “appear childish”, but instead it produced intriguing results and unexpectedly profound conclusions.

Darwin wanted to know if it was possible for seeds to survive at sea: if they could, ocean currents might carry them to new lands, thus accounting for the plant distribution he had seen during his Beagle days.

Doherty recreates one of these seed-salting experiments and finds seeds do survive salt. Darwin began with cress, radish, carrots, cabbages, lettuces, celery and onion, at first leaving seeds in salt water for a week before planting out. They all germinated, some more convincingly than others. Only after this success did Darwin try longer periods – such as the month in Doherty’s version. The conclusion is clear: plants that tolerate a month at sea, as many can, could travel the world.”

 Darwin tested his idea.  He went beyond the first step of good science – generating ideas to explain the world – and went to the absolutely necessary second step – testing that idea. 

I have not seen any creationist research on how long dead trees can float.

Do they have any experimental evidence that the global flood they postulate would uproot billions of trees from the ground?   

Do they have any experimental evidence for their idea that dead trees can float for centuries?  

 Do they have any experimental evidence that if they did float for this long that these logs would indeed float to all the contintents from the Mediterranean (I assume this is the starting point since this would be the closest large body of water to Mr Ararat)?

Do they have any evidence on how long it would take such log mats to reach the different parts of the globe?

Do they have any evidence that animals such as the gila monster and the koala and the kangaroo could survive on the logs and oceans for long enough to reach their final destination? 

From what I can tell the answer is no. 

Creationists are good at coming up with ideas (both plausible and, as this one is, implausible).  However they never seem to be able to finish the process off and turn these ideas into actual science.  Instead they seem to inevitably stop short. 

But then I guessed if they finished the process they would have to acknowledge that their ideas have failed.

2)      In another part of the video they showed a sign going over the problem of venom in animals. 

“Though nothing harmed animals before Adam’s sin, venom harms animals in the present.  We do not know exactly how venoms first entered the world. Possibilities include:

Changed use of chemicals (chemicals that once had non-harmful functions at the creation changed to venoms after the Curse).”

What struck me about this is how close this is to evolution.  New structures and features evolved from ones that served a different purpose at the time: the jawbones of  reptiles migrating and changing to become the middle ear of mammels being a good example. 

The only difference, and it is a major one, is the evolution sees this as a result of a natural process occuring over a great deal of time.  Creationists see it as the result of a one time outbreak of God’s anger. 

Perhaps Micheal Behe should consider this sign while thinking about how the flagellum evolved. 

 3)      The final thing that caught my attention was a sign about Noah’s ark and its construction. 

“Building a large door that seals properly is challenging.  Noah could have designed it to seal with a wedge – like fit, but God himself may have solved any waterproofing problems when He shut the Ark door.”

This says volumes about the creationist mind set and why it is not science.  If you come across a difficult problem then use the God did it option instead of keeping on working at it. 

Can you imagine if science had followed that same mindset.  We can’t figure out how disease comes about therefor God did it.  Pray for healing as that is all that can be done. 

Does anyone really want to live without modern medicine. 

In summary I found the my video tour of the Creation Museum a lesson on why Creationism is not science, despite what its all too many believers believe.

–         It does not test its ideas against reality to see if they are true.

–         Even if it did and they failed they could and would use the God did it explanation. 

 Of course I think that most people knew that Creationism is not science.  However it is good to have this idea tested and verified by reality.

Addendum:

As I kept on watching other videos about the Creation Museum I saw a couple of other items that I just could not leave out of this blog. 

Near the entrance of the museum they have a diorama that contrasts the two views of the world – science and religion. It has a dig with two people in it. One of the people is a biologist measuring items, doing calculations, and examining the evidence. The other person is a creationist who is reading the Bible. The clear message is that you do not need evidence, only the Bible to know anything and everything. Any evidence you find must be made to fit the Bible no matter how much you must twist, tear, and distort that evidence.

This fits in well with the second part I noticed. A sign that said “SCIENCE IS HARD, GOD IS EASY”

Finally I loved the one that had WWSD. What Would Satan Do.

The answer. Ask questions.

The more you look at the Creationist Museum the more you see that it is not science. In fact it is the very anti-thesis of science. Which makes the creationists effort to inject their nonscience into schools even more scary.

ACLJ In Africa February 1, 2010

Posted by Bill in atheism, Christianity, Church and State, Current Events, Islam, Muslims, Politics, Religion, Religious Right.
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Just found out that both Kenya and Zimbabwe are drafting new constitutions. From what I have read this is not necessarily a bad thing. However what concerns me is that the American Center For Law and Justice (ACLJ) is apparently going to help both countries out in drafting their new constitutions.

For those who may not know who the ACLJ is, they are a Christian right wing group that loves to take cases challenging the separation of church and state and also suits supporting challenges to evolution. They love all right wing causes from defending torture to stopping healthcare reform. They are exactly the wrong sort of group to provide information on how to write a constitution.

While much of their work may be good – for example their stand against making Sharia Courts a part of the Kenya Constitution – I am afraid that they will write in protections for Christian churches and in particular churches that follow most closely what they believe.   Or at the very least write in protections for views they support. 

At this stage this is more of a strong concern due to their track record on constitutional issues here in America and their strong ties to the Christian right wing. I have not been able to find any specifics on what their exact suggestions in regards to the Constitutions of both countries. I hope my concerns or misplaced but fear they are not.

What would be especially ironic in the case of Kenya would be if the ACLJ helped create a constitution that would allow fundamentalists churches and thoughts to have a greater say in the government. Can you imagine creationists in charge of the museums and science in one of the countries that has provided our clearest fossil evidence of hominid evolution?

I also am concerned about such things as reproductive rights (that includes birth control and is not just a code name for abortion people), gay rights, and religious rights.

As I said I do not have any information on exactly what they are suggesting for the Kenya and Zimbabwe constitutions. And to be honest, given the problems these countries have, the new constitution may still wind up better than what they have despite the ACLJ input.

I do know though that our Constitution was founded without help from Christian organizations or any religious organizations. I know that many of them were against our Constitution at the time of its ratification. And I know why the separation of church and state was instituted in our country.

Given the religious conflicts in Africa between Muslim and Christian that same sort of concern and sensitivity should be present in any attempt to create a new constitution. The ACLJ does not have that sensitivity.

Given the tremendous devastation that AIDS is wreaking in Africa government policies in regards to health and sex need to avoid being limited because of the beliefs of one religion.

The ACLJ does not have that expansive a view.

I only hope that my concerns are misplaced or that their role is limited and that other groups, more moderate, sensitive, and expansive, play a greater role.

Declaring Darwin Day – The Why Not January 31, 2010

Posted by Bill in barack obama, Church and State, Evolution, Religion, Religious Right, Schools, Science, Uncategorized.
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Just recently I found out about a petition circulating to have President Obama declare February 12 Darwin Day. It is an attempt to gain recognition among the general public of the great scientific accomplishments of Charles Darwin and the fundamental place his thoughts, ideas, and theories have in biology today.

 http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/318/t/10503/petition.jsp?petition_KEY=2221

I did not sign it and in fact am arguing against the whole idea.

Let me first state that I am a firm supporter of evolution. I have looked at the evidence and read numerous articles and books from both sides – evolution wins hands down. The fact that organisms have changed and evolved over time is as firm a fact in science as any.

Further Charles Darwin’s theory on how evolutionary change occurs – natural selection – still holds as either the sole or one of the primary mechanisms of evolutionary change.   I also think that Charles Darwin completed the scientific revolution which consisted of changing explanations about how nature works from God did it to natural processes. This had with scientists such as Galileo and Newton in the physical sciences, but finally finished with Darwin taking this view into the life sciences.

There is no doubt that Charles Darwin was one of the greatest and most influential scientists in history.

So why am I not signing the petition and urging others not to sign?

Not because I disagree with what it says but because I believe that this is the wrong way to go about showing the public that evolution is not only good science but a fundemental part of biology. Not only is it the wrong way but I feel it can actually be counter productive.

Currently the only reason creationism is a threat to science is because so many believe and support it. The leaders of the creationist movement (and I am including Intelligent Design which is just a subset of creationism) have managed to organize those numbers into a very effective political machine. It is their mix of religion and politics that is posing a threat to effective teaching of science.

A part of their arguments is that evolution is supported by an atheistic establishment, one that does not want to acknowledge the new “evidences” that show evolution wrong and creationism right (remember the movie Expelled?).

Given that,  imagine how well having the President proclaim Darwin’s Day will play. The creationists, good public realtions swills that they are, will use this as evidence that since evolution could not cut the mustard as a science that the establishment is once again resorting to politics. This petition would only  provide more fuel for their arguments.

My proposal?

 Have President Obama proclaim a Science Day.

A day in which we recognize the achievements and accomplishments of science and scientists such as Newton, Galileo, Einstein, Bohr, and others are recognized and their achievements and influence on our society and world listed and enumerated. And in the company of these giants have Charles Darwin and his Theory of Evolution. Put him in his proper place on a par with Einstein and Newton.

That would be a far better and more effective way to defend evolution than this well intentioned but not well thought out petition.

Hate Crime and God’s Judgement January 12, 2010

Posted by Bill in Christianity, Church and State, Current Events, Politics, Religion, Religious Right, Uncategorized.
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Even though the Christian Right and I have several areas of strong disagreements, we do occasionally find ourselves on the same side of an issue.    For example, we both are against Hate Crime laws. 

I am against them because trying to legally judge what sort of ideas and beliefs should be labelled as hateful and what should not creates a small crack in the foundation of freedom of thought and speech.  The really far out ones are fairly easy to judge, but what happens when the views and ideas start to edge more to the grey areas.  Do we really want a precedent for trying to set up limits for those areas?  I don’t think so. 

Awarding a harsher sentence for those whose views we as a nation find hateful in order to recognize the extra harm that these views have done to the emotional and psychological health of the victims also seems wrong headed.  Isn’t being murdered or assaulted enough? 

And does  Johnny being hated and killed because he was gay create that much more psychological and emotional harm than Johnny being killed because George hated his guts?   Hate crimes give the appearance of crimes against some groups being more heinous than crimes against other groups.

What if an atheist is killed because a Christian hates atheists?  Will that be found deserving of being covered under hate crimes? 

What about a Christian being killed by an atheist who hates Christians?   

With hate crime laws we are starting to legally determine which groups are more deserving of protection than others.  Again, not a good idea from my point of view. 

Anyway I really do not mean to make this a post about why I am against hate crime legislation.  Instead I want to comment on those of the Christian Right who are also against hate crime laws. 

Their stand on this issue seems inconsistent with their religious beliefs. 

Christians strive to live up to God’s standards of justice and righteousness (although knowing they cannot attain such perfection).  They believe that society and government should reflect God’s justice and righteousness.  After  all that is the main reason they are against Gay marriage.

However, part of God’s standards though  involve thoughts.  Come judgement day God will judge not only our actions but also our thoughts. 

Matthew 5:28 – But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

Now admittedly we are not omniscient as God.  But shouldn’t this mean that the Christian should do the best he or she can within the limits of being human?   

In which case why is the Christian Right against hate crime laws?  Seems almost un-Christian.

Are Muslims Violent Liars? November 12, 2009

Posted by Bill in atheism, Christianity, Church and State, Islam, Muslims, Politics, Religion.
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With the recent shootings of 13 people by Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan  there has been a lot of blog activity against Muslims.  Most of them along the lines that Islam is an inherently violent religion and that Muslims are commanded by the Qur’an to lie to unbelievers

Warning, this is an exceeding long blog.  I make no apologies for this for even at its current length it still does not begin to do justice to the question of is Islam inherently dishonest with unbelievers and violent.  I hope that this just makes some of those who think they already know the answer based on readings from certain websites question their certainty and delve deeper into the question using many different resources. 

Lets start by looking at a representative site that promotes this view.  

From   http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/Pages/Statement-on-Muslims.htm

 “Yes, there are Muslims who take issue with these aspects of Islamic theology, but it doesn’t change what Islam is.  Don’t confuse the ideology with the individual.  Don’t draw conclusions about Islam based on the Muslims that you know, be they terrorists or humanitarians.  Islam must be understood on the basis of what it is, as presented objectively in the Qur’an, Hadith and Sira (biography of Muhammad).”

And

 “Even if there is no such thing as moderate Islam, it does not mean that there are no moderate Muslims.”

 Thank goodness this site is not as radical as many.  In fact it is a rather moderate example of its type.

“The Muslims that you know are not terrorists.  More than likely, their interests in life are similar to yours and they have the same ambitions for their children.  They should neither be shunned, mistreated, nor disrespected merely because of their religion.  Their property should not be abused, and neither should copies of their sacred book be vandalized.

Prejudging an individual by their group identity (or presumed group identity) is not only unethical, it is blatantly irrational, since group identity reveals absolutely nothing about a person.  Every individual should be judged only on the basis of their own words and deeds. 

Don’t judge Islam by the Muslims that you know, and don’t judge the Muslims that you know by Islam.”

However although it is more moderate it still makes the same assumptions about Muslims that the more radical sites do, that is:

 1)      The Qur’an not only allows lying to unbelievers but encourages it in furtherance of Islam.

 2)      Islam is inherently violent.  Muslims that say it is not either do not know their religion or are not very religious.

 3)      Muslims who disagree with either or both of the above two points are either not good Muslims or are ignorant about their religion. 

 I disagree with all three statements.  And with good reason because none are true.  In the following I will deal with all three.

 Lets deal with the lying claim first.  These sites quote sections from the Qur’an as evidence that their statements are true.  However how accurate a representation are their quotes? 

 This is from http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/Quran/011-taqiyya.htm

 The Qur’an:

Qur’an (16:106) – Establishes that there are circumstances that can “compel” a Muslim to tell a lie.

Qur’an (3:28) – This verse tells Muslims not to take those outside the faith as friends, unless it is to “guard themselves.” 

Qur’an (9:3)“…Allah and His Messenger are free from liability to the idolaters…”  The dissolution of oaths with the pagans who remained at Mecca following its capture.  They did nothing wrong, but were evicted anyway.

Qur’an (40:28) – A man is introduced as a believer, but one who must “hide his faith” among those who are not believers.

Qur’an (2:225)“Allah will not call you to account for thoughtlessness in your oaths, but for the intention in your hearts”

Qur’an (66:2)“Allah has already ordained for you, (O men), the dissolution of your oaths”

Qur’an (3:54)“And they (the disbelievers) schemed, and Allah schemed (against them): and Allah is the best of schemers.”  The Arabic word used here for scheme (or plot) is makara, which literally means deceit.  If Allah is deceitful toward unbelievers, then there is little basis for denying that Muslims are allowed to do the same.

 Lets now take at  these verses one by one.  My source for both the Qur’an and commentary is

 http://www.muslim.org/english-quran/quran.htm

 Qur’an 16:106 – Whoso disbelieves in Allah after his belief – not he who is compelled  while his heart is content with the faith, but he who opens his breast for disbelief – on them is the wrath of Allah, and for them is a grievous chastisement. 

 Note that TheReligionOfPeace reference has it wrong.  The reference says this verse details circumstances which “compel” a Muslim to tell a lie.  However this verse says a Muslim may tell a lie if under compulsion.  Here is the commentary of this verse.

 Commentary – “Only very rare circumstances are met with early in the history of Islam in which the converts even under compulsion ever recanted.  For instance, Yasir and Sumayyah, husband and wife, suffered death at the hands of the disbelievers because they would not recant, the latter being put to death most cruelly, her legs being tied to two camels which were made to run in opposite directions.  Their son Ammar, however, was not so resolute.  The cruelest persecutions were inflicted on those slaves who had become converts to Islam.  Muir says: “These were seized and imprisoned, or they were exposed upon the scorching gravel of the valley to the intense glare of the midday sun.  The torment was enhanced by intolerable thirst, until the wretched sufferers scarcely knew what they said.”  Yet even under these trying circumstances, which would have maddened even the most resolute man, there were those among these slave-converts who were as firm as a mountain; as in the case of Bilal, of whom it is recorded that “in the depth of his anguish the persecutors could force out of him but one expression, Ahad! Ahad! (One, One God) (Muir)

 So this verse, far from detailing when a Muslim is compelled to lie, instead allows him to lie if under extreme duress. 

 Qur’an 3:28 – Let not the believers take the disbelievers for friends rather than believers.  And whoever does this has no connection with Allah – except that you guard yourselves against them, guarding carefully.  And Allah cautions you against his retribution.  And to Allah is the eventual coming. 

 Commentary – The Muslims, being in a state of war with the disbelievers, were forbidden to look to their enemies to guard their interests or for help of any kind.  The clear statement made in 60: 8, 9 settles the point beyond all doubt.  “Allah forbids you not respecting those who fight you not for religion, nor drive you forth from your homes, that you show them kindness and deal with them justly… Allah forbids you only respecting those who fight you for your religion and drive you forth from your homes, and help (others) in your expulsion, that you make friends with them. 

 In short Muslims can and have been friends with unbelievers.  It is not against the Qur’an.  Now the radical Muslims interpret the war in Iraq and Afghanistan as a holy war of Christianity against Islam and will therefore interpret this verse rather broadly.  However most Muslims do not.

 I will make one more point here.  Just as the Bible has to be looked at holistically to get a proper understanding of what each verse means so too does the Qur’an.  If you treat the Bible the same as this site is doing with the Qur’an then Christianity can be used to justify many atrocities.  It has in the past been used so.

 Qur’an 9:3  – And an announcement from Allah and his Messenger to the people on the day of the greater pilgrimage that Allah is free from liability to the idolaters, and so is his Messenger.  So if you repent, it will be better for you:  and if you turn away, then know that you will not escape Allah.  And announce painful chastisement to those who disbelief.

 It seems the TheReligionofPeace reference did not bother to read the very next verse, shown below.

 Qur’an 9: 4 –  Except those of the idolaters with whom you made an agreement, then they have not failed you in anything and have not backed up anyone against you; so fulfill their agreement to the end of their term.  Surely Allah loves those who keep their duty. 

 In other words if they break their word to you then you are not obliged to honor your word to them.  If they keep true to their word then you have to keep true to yours.  How is that different than what we do?  Did we keep to any treaties we made with Japan in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor during WW 2?

 Qur’an 40:28 – And a believing man of Pharaoh’s people, who hid his faith, said:  Will you slay a man because he says, My Lord is Allah, and indeed he has brought you clear arguments from your Lord?  And if he be a liar, on him will be his lie, and if he be truthful, there will befall you some of that which he threatens you with.  Surely Allah guides not one who is prodigal, a liar. 

 This is an instruction for the believer to hide his faith from the non-believers?  Especially with the admonition about Allah not backing a liar.  The Qur’an is telling a story not giving instructions here. 

 Should TheReligionOfPeace site take the time to read the surrounding context they would find that this story is the story of Moses.  This verse relates a conversation that a believer had with the Pharaoh about Moses.  He is arguing with the Pharaoh for Moses. 

 Qur’an 2:225 – Allah will not call you to account for what is vain in your oaths, but he will call you to account for what your hearts have earned.  And Allah is forgiving, forbearing.

 Commentary – By vain oaths are meant unintentional or thoughtless oaths in ordinary conversation, and by what the hearts have earned is meant an oath intentionally taken. 

 In other words if a Muslim swears an oath then he is held accountable for it by Allah. 

 Qur’an 66:2  – So when they have reached their prescribed time, retain them with kindness or dismiss them with kindness, and call to witness two just one from among you, and give upright testimony for Allah.  With that is admonished he who believes in Allah and the latter day.  And whoever keeps his duty to Allah, he ordains a way out for him. 

 This time it seems instead of not reading the next verse TheReligionOfPeace site did not read the verse ahead of it. 

 Qur’an 66:1 – O Prophet, when you divorce women, divorce them for their prescribed period, and calculate the period; and keep your duty to Allah, your Lord.  Turn them not out of their houses – nor should they themselves go forth –  unless they commit an open indecency.  And these are the limits of Allah.  And whoever goes beyond the limits of Allah, he indeed wrongs his own soul.  Thou knowest not that Allah may after that bring about an event. 

 Read in context – something this site is very much not interested in doing – this is talking about marriage and divorce.  I do not fully understand the Qur’an ideas about marriage but apparently there are limits on when divorce is allowed and it is this to which 66:2 is referring to.  From quickly looking at it there are times when you are allowed to divorce and other times you are not allowed to divorce.  Here is the commentary on 66:1 to help give a little more information about marriage.

 Commentary – The prescribed time is ordinarily, according to 2:228, three courses.  But in the case of woman with child, and in certain other cases, the prescribed time is laid down in v. 4 of this chapter.  It should be noted how every direction in connection with the subject of divorce is followed by the injunction “keep your duty to Allah”, throughout this chapter.  The utmost carefulness must be exercised in the matter of divorce.  Divorce is allowed but the right must be used sparingly and under exceptional circumstances. 

 Qur’an 3:54 – And (the Jews) planned and Allah (also) planned.  And Allah is the best of planners. 

 It  think it might be interesting to go on to the next verse so that you can see what this verse is talking about. 

 Qur’an 3:55 – When Allah said:  Oh Jesus, I will cause thee to die and exalt thee in My presence and clear thee of those who disbelieve and make those who follow thee above those who disbelieve to the day of the Resurrection.  Then to Me is your return, so I shall  decide between you concerning that wherein you differ. 

 Commentary – Makr  is explained by R as the turning of another with ingenuity  or skill from that which he aims at, and he considers makr as two sorts, a good one and an evil one.  Therefore the best interpretation of makara (including both sorts) is that adopted by T, viz. he exercised craft, cunning, art or skill in the management or ordering of affairs with excellent consideration or deliberation, and ability to manage according to his own free will (LL)……Allah is here called Khair al-makirin or the Best of Planners, the qualifying word khair being inapplicable to an evil object.   

 Nothing here about deceit.  Instead, as in the Bible, this is stating that God took the evil idea of killing Jesus and turned it into something good and great instead.  

 Taken collectively this shows that you’re TheReligionOfPeace site is quote mining – lifting bits and pieces out of context and using them to paint a false picture. 

 I was going to quote the Qur’an on honesty but this is getting too long and there are some more things I wish to say.  So instead of quoting I will just state that there are many, many verses on the importance of honesty.  I would suggest you spend some time looking them up if interested.   I will however just quote this from Saheeh Al-Bukhari, a hadith of the Sunni Muslims, as representative of those verse.  This hadith is considered one of the six canonical hadiths of the Sunni’s.

 “Truthfulness leads to righteousness, and righteousness leads to Paradise.  In addition, a man keeps on telling the truth until he becomes a truthful person.  Falsehood leads to wickedness and evil-doing, and wickedness leads to the (Hell) Fire, and a man may keep on telling lies till he is written before God, as a liar”. (Saheeh Al-Bukhari)

 The insidious thing about the claim that the Qur’an promotes lying to the unbelievers is that those sites such as TheReligionOfPeace then blow off anything the more moderate Muslims say in response to terrorism and acts of violence.  When the many moderates in the United States and in the world state that they they abhor what Major Hasan did at Fort Hood and wholeheartedly condemn it these sites then question their sincerity.  Further they then start lashing at out Muslims for not condemning the violence.  Talk about moderate Muslims having the deck stacked against them. 

 Now on to the violence claim.  What I would like to do first is show how Christianity, in the past, has been a violent religion.  And further how verses taken from the Bible can lend support for the claim that Christianity is a violent religion.  

 Now this will sound as if I am trying to paint Christianity as an inherently violent religion.  I am not.  Instead I am trying to show how Christianity, as is Islam today, can be portrayed as such with the use of history and verses from the Bible. 

 Deuteronomy 17:12 (New International Version)

12 The man who shows contempt for the judge or for the priest who stands ministering there to the LORD your God must be put to death. You must purge the evil from Israel.

Leviticus 20:27 (New International Version)

27 ” ‘A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their own heads.’ ”

Deuteronomy 13:6-17 (New International Version)

6 If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your fathers have known, 7 gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), 8 do not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. 9 You must certainly put him to death. Your hand must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the people. 10 Stone him to death, because he tried to turn you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 11 Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again. 12 If you hear it said about one of the towns the LORD your God is giving you to live in 13 that wicked men have arisen among you and have led the people of their town astray, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods you have not known), 14 then you must inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly. And if it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done among you, 15 you must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. Destroy it completely, [a] both its people and its livestock. 16 Gather all the plunder of the town into the middle of the public square and completely burn the town and all its plunder as a whole burnt offering to the LORD your God. It is to remain a ruin forever, never to be rebuilt.

Matthew 5:17 (New International Version)

17″Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

Hebrews 10:28-29 (New International Version)

28Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?

Mark 7:9-10 (New International Version)

9And he said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe[a] your own traditions! 10For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’[b] and, ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’[c]

Luke 19:26-27 (New International Version)

26″He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away. 27But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.”

Matthew 27:25 (New International Version)

            25All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!”

These are some of the verses that can be used to paint Christianity a violent religion.  This is even leaving out the whole book of Joshua, the stoning of rebellious children, and witchcraft.  Now lets look at some of Christian history in regards to violent conversions and enforcement of orthodoxy. 

1) Pogroms against Jews.  From the 11th up to the 15th century there were numerous pogroms against the Jews.  If they did not convert they were burned or otherwise killed. 

 During  just one series of pogroms from 1348 to 1351 over 60 major and 150 minor Jewish communities were wiped out.  A favorite method was to build a house and force all the Jews in the community to enter it and then burn it down. 

I will also mention that a yellow marker on clothing to identify Jews was not a Hitler invention.  From the 13th century until the 18th century Jews were required to wear a yellow badge on their outer clothing. 

 This does not include the more recent pogroms against Jews in Tsarist Russia from the 17th to the 20th centuries. 

 The Biblical justification for this, from  http://www.levitt.com/essays/bloodlibel.html

 When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands and said, “I am innocent of the blood of this Just person. You see to it.” And all the people answered and said, “His blood be upon us and on our children.” (Matthew 27:24–25)

 Matthew 27:25 arguably stands out as one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted passages in all of Holy Scripture. Of the proposed interpretations for Matthew 27:25, the anti-Jewish interpretation is the oldest and most frequently cited in the history of the Church. This view says the Jewish people are permanently guilty and condemned in the eyes of God for their murder of Jesus Christ. As such, the cry of “His blood be upon us” means that the Jewish crowd in Jerusalem admitted full guilt for killing the Lord Jesus Christ and thereby invoked God’s curse upon themselves and their descendants until the end of time. This interpretation first surfaced in the writings of the early church fathers in the second century AD. It became universally accepted by the Middle Ages.

2.)    The suppression of Heresies:  During its first 300 years Christians were not in charge of the government.  Pagan Rome was.  Consequently the worse that they could do with heretics – the “false teachers” warned about in the Bible was to expel them from their midst and attach labels to them such as “fools”, “wild dogs”, and “Servants of Satan”.   That changed though as Christians took over the government.

 The first person to be executed for heresy was Priscillian of Avila in 385, 60 years after the First Council of Nicaea.  I will say that this was at the orders of Emperor Magnus Maximus and over the objections of some Bishops.  However Bishops objections did not last. 

 St. Augustine of Hippo (354–430) was the first major proponent of persecution for heresy.  At first he was for peaceful methods of persuasion but by 400 he began to endorse coercion.  He used Matthew 13:24–30 and Luke 14:21–23 as Biblical justification.  Later Protestants would use the same Biblical verses to justify their persecutions. 

 Everyone has heard of the Spanish Inquisitions, but that was actually only one of many.  Linked to the beginnings of the Medieval Inquisition  was the Albigensian Crusade of 1220 to 1229 which was a military campaign initiated by the Catholic Church to stamp out the Cathar Heresy in Languedoc.

 Reportedly the last person to be burned for heresy by the Catholic church was Giordano Bruno, executed in 1600. 

 3)  Do I really need to mention the wars between Catholics and Protestants?   The executions of Catholics by Protestants and of Protestants by Catholics?   Ireland?

 4)  The killing of witches.  Biblical justifications used were Exodus 22:17 and  Deut. 18:10-12,

 5)  The persecution and executions of Baptists, Quakers and other minority groups in the 17th and 18th centuries.  This occurred both in Europe and America.  This persecution is one of the reasons why the Pilgrims left Europe for America.  And then they started the same with other religious groups once they had established themselves here. 

 Should more modern examples be needed – abortion clinic bombers, those protesting at soldiers funerals, those that promote the killing of witches and gays

 Here is a link to an article about Christians in Africa who mutilate and kill their own children because they believe they are witches and “thou shall not suffer a witch to live”.

 http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/dec/09/tracymcveigh.theobserver

 Now I know that most modern Christians would denounce all of the above as not Christian.  However it was at one time.  And many still believe it even today. 

 A religion is what its followers make of it.

 Now there are many followers of Islam who interpret the Qur’an in a violent manner.  However this is not the only way to interpret it and there are many groups and sects that do not.  These more moderate Muslim voices state that what is needed is a holistic understanding of the Qur’an and the times and circumstances it was written in. 

 The circumstances at the time Mohammed was writing the Qur’an were dire.  He and the other Muslims of the time were being persecuted, killed, driven from their homes.  Because of this a great deal of the focus of the Qur’an was on self defense.  It is this that has been hijacked by the radical Muslims to justify their terrorist tactics and this that those on such sites that I have quoted from use to justify their claim that Islam is inherently violent. 

 From  http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2001/09/0925_TVkoran.html

 “Islamic scholars interviewed by the TV news show National Geographic Today agreed that terrorists such as Usama bin Laden and his supporters are fanatics using Islam to further their own worldly causes.

“In order for them to generate support beyond their small group, they have to latch onto universal symbols, and this is where Islam becomes a target of convenience for them,” says Nyang

People combine pieces of verse from the Koran and use it to justify their actions, says Khouj. “But to understand the full meaning of the verse,” he says, “you have to read the one before it, the one after it, maybe five to six verses to get the full picture.”

The “full picture” of Islam and the Koran, say Khouj and Nyang, is captured by Chapter 5, Verse 32: “[I]f anyone slew a person—unless it be for murder or spreading mischief in the land—it would be as if he slew the whole people. And if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.”

For most Muslims, the callous and indiscriminate taking of human life violates Allah’s wishes. It defies the Koran’s central message and undermines the peace that Islam promises to deliver to all people.

“Human life in Islam is extremely sacred,” says Khouj. “We’re not talking about just Muslim [life], but human life in general.”

 Which brings us now to the third issue – that of the claims that Muslims who do not interpret the Qur’an in the same manner as the radical Muslims are not good Muslims.  That they are either weak in faith or unknowledgeable about their faith  

Does this mean that those Christians today who do not believe as those who burned the witches and Jews are not good Christians?  Does this mean that they do not understand their beliefs or are weak in faith? 

No.

Again, religion is what its people make of it.  There have been more peaceful strains in Islam all throughout its history.  And even now the more radical, violent version is not the majority view.

At this point I would like to point out that Christianity did not really begin to give up its violent ways until the start of the Enlightenment with its emphasis on reason and more skeptical approach to religion; and its finest accomplishment – the creation of a secular state with the United States. 

While this is somewhat over-simplistic, it has a very large kernel of truth in it too.  And that is what I believe Islam needs now, its version of an enlightenment.  I believe it has the foundations of one. 

I am puzzled by those who claim that Islam only has one interpretation.  There are at least three main sects – Sunni, Shi’a, and Sufi – and many smaller ones.  Even within the main sects there are many different thoughts about what the Qur’an means and how it should be applied to the world.  These different thoughts run the gamut from very conservative to very liberal.  To claim that only one is the definitive one is to claim far too much. 

There is no central authority in Islam.  With no central authority there can be no uniformity of belief and doctrine (rather like Protestant Christianity).  Indeed should you look at their Qur’an’s and the other central writings and compare those of the Sunni, Shi’a, Sufi, and Ahmadiyya you will find differences in meaning and emphasis. 

 In many ways this reminds me of some of the creation/evolution disputes (something I am very involved in). 

 There are creationists who say that no Christian can believe in evolution and that any who do are not Christian.  They are false Christians.  And then there are atheists who also say that evolution and science disproves Christianity.  And they both reinforce their opponents point of view.  They both ignore and do not deal with the fact that there is a way to be both Christian and support evolution and that millions of people and thousands of scientists do so. 

So too with the claim by both radical Islam and many conservative voices when they each state there is only one version of Islam that is true and that all others are false.  They feed each others prejudices and biases and fuel each others hatred and fears.  And they both ignore the fact that they are wrong, there are other options.  And those that follow them are good, faithful, and knowledgeable Muslims. 

To continue to view Islam as inherently and inescapably violent and a religion of liars leaves only one option – and that is a religious war.   Which is what the radical Muslims have said all along that we are engaged in – with some support form conservative Christian comments and sites like the one listed here.   

 I do not believe that this is the true case.  I know that other varieties of Islam are real and not a deception.  I know that Islam is not inherently violent and does not promote lying.  I have provided the start of such evidence that it is here.  However it is only a start. 

 I would recommend to all that they should spend some time and effort seeking out the all the sides of Islam- both in its practice and in its theology, and from both primary as well as secondary sources.