Citizenship Confusion: Valedictorian Prays but Should Christians Rejoice?

Each week in Citizenship Confusion, Alan Noble discusses how we confuse our heavenly citizenship with citizenship to the state, culture, and world.

When the State announced that it would no longer include prayer during the graduation ceremony at Liberty High School in Pickens County, South Carolina, Roy Costner IV, a valedictorian, took matters into his own hands. The local school district had received complaints from the Freedom From Religion Foundation about school sponsored prayer in the district and was concerned that FFRF and the ACLU might cause problems if they continued to allow prayer at graduation, so they banned it.

According to the Christian News Network, however, “Costner IV wasn’t going to let activist groups kick God out of his graduation. After taking the podium, Costner took his approved speech and ripped it in half for all to see.” To great applause, Costner IV said the Lord’s Prayer in an act of defiance against the forces of secularism:

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Costner IV’s story has become an evangelical Internet sensation, and the video of his speech has received over 200k views in three days. He and his father will be interviewed on CNN in the coming days. In a society that seems increased antagonistic to the Christian faith, and under a government which some see as systematically oppressing Christianity, Costner IV has been hailed as a hero of the faith.

But is he? Was his act of defiance a bold stand against secular intolerance, or could it have been an instance of blindness toward Christian privilege?

When the Pickens County School District chose to end graduation prayers in response to threats from “activist groups,” it ended school sponsored prayers, which is commonly seen as a violation of the establishment clause. Allowing the State to use Christian prayer in an official capacity can be easily interpreted by citizens as the endorsement of a particular religion, and indeed, the SCOTUS has strongly decided against school sponsored prayer based on this interpretation of the establishment clause.

However, it does seem that the school district also chose to forbid any prayers, even unofficial, unscheduled, unsponsored ones, a policy which debatably infringed upon Costner IV’s rights. According to him, he was explicitly told by his principal not to mention any God in his speech: “She informed us that we could not have anything about religion or talk about God or Allah or whoever we choose to worship.”

Had Costner IV prayed in defiance of the prohibition against any religious references in the graduation speeches, then it would be right for us to support him and his actions. However, according to a CNN report and Christian News Network, his prayer was a protest against the removal of prayer from school in general, including the official, school sponsored prayers:

What he believes is that Liberty, a town with three stoplights and a population of 3,000, “fully supports prayer.” He also believes that organizations such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation . . . should stop meddling in the affairs of the Pickens County School District. The foundation, over this past school year, has leaned on the district to keep Jesus and student-led prayers out of school board meetings.

Costner said he set out to make a statement, one he hopes will inspire others to stand up, too, for what he sees as the good of this country.

“Taking prayer out of schools is the worst thing we could do,” he said.

Costner IV’s protest, then, was not just about his right to share his love for The Lord in his speech, but about allowing public schools to lead official Christian prayers. And it is there where I believe his complaint becomes flawed.

Should Christians Support Public Prayers?
Last year, Drew Dixon wrote a wonderful CAPC feature on a similar controversy over a school district that was forced to end prayers at football games. They also were pressured by the FFRF. In that piece, Drew rightly pointed out the uncharitable assumption which drives the idea that Christian prayers should have an official role in State functions:

The Bible envisions public prayers being offered in the context of local churches because prayer is a theological activity. When we pray to God out loud in church we are expressing what we believe about Him, about His kingdom, and about our place in it. Our corporate prayers teach doctrine and the New Testament is clear that Christians must teach sound doctrine (1 Timothy 1:10, 6:3; Titus 1:9) Thus the local church is an appropriate place for corporate prayer because those who pray are held accountable by the church. They submit to the church’s statement of faith, membership covenant, and leadership. For example, if a member of my church were to pray to Allah in one of our services, we would have reason and grounds to correct this person. Such a prayer clearly goes against our statement of faith and our membership covenant requires us to offer correction.

. . .

Nowhere does the Bible call Christians to pray at government sponsored events. The Bible calls us to proclaim the gospel on street corners and in center of towns and everywhere we go, but it never requires that we force the government or anyone else to publicly honor our religion.

I strongly encourage you to read the entirety of Drew’s piece as it very thoughtfully explores the issue of civic prayers at school functions and shows how misguided it can be for us to fight for them.

Then there is the separate issue of our assumption that it is normal and appropriate for the government to use Christian prayers. Let’s be honest, if a school district in Michigan had officially led Islamic prayers as a part of their graduation, we evangelicals would be citing this as an example of creeping shariah law and would demand an end to the prayers. And it would be reasonable for us to oppose such prayers, just as it is reasonable for the FFRF to ask that the public school not open their ceremonies with a Christian prayer.

There is a blindness here to Christian privilege, an assumption that Christians, and really only Christians, ought to be able to receive State sponsorship. Since Christianity has received privileged status in our government and society from its inception, we assume that we deserve to have continued dominance. So, when a group like FFRF calls for the end of school sponsored Christian prayer, we arrogantly view ourselves as persecuted.

But there is a deeper concern here: Once you allow the secular State to use the Christian faith in their machinations, it is inevitable that the manifestation of that faith will be stripped of its prophetic, power, turning it into blasphemy. I have written about this phenomenon in the past, looking at how the outrage over Obama’s failure to thank God during his Thanksgiving speech was misguided:

Most manifestations of Christianity within American politics amounts to little more than [philosopher Charles] Taylor’s [idea of] ‘vestigial ritual or prayer’ — empty religious gestures meant to appeal to certain patriotic images of a Christian Nation. But what is ironic is that it is precisely these empty symbols that Christians often defend vigorously.

Knowing that the State does not share the same King as we do, should we truly fight for State sponsored prayer? I am reminded of a comment Stanley Fish made in the New York Times regarding the effects of defending crosses on public land, a related issue of civic displays of Christianity:

It is one of the ironies of the sequence of cases dealing with religious symbols on public land that those who argue for their lawful presence must first deny them the significance that provokes the desire to put them there in the first place.

Aside from these more political concerns about sponsored graduation prayers, I have some theological objections. Costner IV’s prayer made little sense in the context of graduation except as an act of protest, a statement that activists should not “meddle . . . in the affairs of the Pickens County School District.” From the cheers and Costner IV’s tone, I worry that he was not really praying, but politically protesting. When prayer is reduced to a political protest in order to defend our right to pray to God in public, is it truly worth fighting for?

To the extent that he was protesting the principal’s restriction upon his freedom of speech, I sympathize with his action, although I would argue that using prayer primarily as a political tool is inappropriate. But since he was also objecting to the ban on school sponsored prayers, Costner IV was also protesting a relatively trivial restriction upon Christianity’s long history of political privilege and coopting by the State.

As secularism continues to gain prominence in our government, it will be critical for Christians to think carefully about what battles are appropriate, what stands are worth taking, what actions are heroic. Not all restrictions on our ability to pray and speak about God in public are wrong. In this instance, I believe it was wrong for the school to forbid Costner IV from mentioning God during his speech, but insofar as it was political protest against a ban on school sponsored prayer, I believe it was misguided and blind to Christian privilege.

About Alan Noble

(Co-Founder/Editor/Columnist) is a part-time lecturer at Baylor University. He received his PhD in Contemporary American Literature from Baylor, writing on manifestations of transcendence in 20th Century American Lit. He and his family attend Redeemer Waco, a PCA church. Alan's passion is studying how believers can be a faithful presence in culture to the glory of God and the edification of others. In addition to editing, Alan writes his column, Citizenship Confusion for CaPC.

---Follow Alan on Twitter @TheAlanNoble and on Facebook.

---For questions, comments, or interest in speaking engagements please email me at noble.noneuclidean [at] gmail [dot] com.

  • Gayle Jordan

    Well-thought out and articulated, Alan. I expect you sometimes feel like a lone voice of reason in the Christian community. From one on the atheism/secular side of the spectrum (and former 40-year Southern Baptist) – keep writing, keep thinking, keep calling your fellow Christians when they cross this church/state line.

  • Brian Westley

    The issue with student speakers at graduation:

    1) If school officials review each speaker’s speech beforehand, it becomes school-approved speech and has the same restrictions that school officials have, i.e. no religious proselytizing, etc

    2) School officials can also decide to not review speeches and allow speakers to say anything at all. Often this will be announced as a disclaimer for the school that they are not responsible for the content.

    Graduations can be set up as (1) or (2). In this case, officials went with (1) but the valedictorian acted as if it was (2). I hope nobody will be surprised when a future valedictorian likewise ignores the rules and, say, promotes atheism or Islam.

  • http://people.ign.com/adamwinters AdamWinters

    I guess I’d have two major complaints about the specific event.
    On the one hand, I don’t think it’s a respectable practice for a student to go through the process for having a speech approved and then make a show of publicly ripping it up and doing something else. If everybody did that, graduations could get really weird and out of control.
    But on the other hand, if it is indeed true that the student was explicitly told by his principal not to mention any God in his speech, then that is absolutely unacceptable to a free society. That sort of thing goes beyond the realm of state-sponsored religion. Telling students they can’t acknowledge their the role of their faith commitments in public speeches boarders on thought-policing. I don’t see why a school would get into trouble for approving a speech in which a student makes reference and application of their personal religious faith, be they Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, or whatever. In that case, I can’t help but applaud such “protest” where a student takes an opportunity to give the figurative raspberry to an educational system that tries to exert too much control over its student body (for further example, see that story of the school that withheld a diploma because a girl wanted to wear a Native American feather with her graduation regalia).

  • rcdcr

    A selfish young man who does not even follow the words of his own God.

    Matthew 6:5

    When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.

  • http://people.ign.com/adamwinters AdamWinters

    I guess my comment went a little off-focus of the actual article. I think the sentiments expressed by Alan here are quite good and it should give us pause to think about the purpose of prayer and whether or not it gives glory to God to reduce it to simple protest. That said, as a high school kid I probably wouldn’t have known to do anything better.

  • Alan Noble

    Brain, thanks for the comment. I’m still conflicted, however, because the principal apparently forbid him from even mentioning his faith in God. What interest does the school have in forbidding a kid mentioning his personal faith, even if the speech constitutes an official, school approved speech?

    I’m inclined to see why as an approved speech they would ask him not to pray, although I’d still disagree. But forbidding any mention of God?

  • Alan Noble

    Gayle,
    Thanks for the kind words. You’d be surprised. Over at The Gospel Coalition, perhaps the biggest, conservative evangelical site on the web, Joe Carter had a very similar take: http://thegospelcoalition.org/mobile/article/tgc/when-prayer-becomes-a-culture-war-protest

  • Alan Noble

    I agree. The only question I have is whether or not the principal actually did tell Costner that he could not even mention God. I don’t think Cosnter was lying, but our memories are funny things, and I could imagine a situation where she told him that it would be inappropriate for him to proselytize during his speech and he misinterpreted that as a prohibition against any mention of God. Of course, this is all speculation. I guess I would like to hear from the principal and/or school board on that claim from Costner.

  • Craig Dumas

    Normally, I’d agree with RCDCR on Matt. 6:5 However given the circumstances, this reminds me more of Daniel 6:10:

    “Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his
    upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he
    got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done
    before.”

    I can understand the logic behind not having a state sponsored religion, but this sounds more like an attempt at suppression than anything else. Because me praying may offend non-Christians, I can’ pray at my graduation?

    I find it concerning that we’re forced into something akin to a spiritual schizofrenia in this country- you can believe what you want, just don’t express it in public. If it’s really our worldview, how can we not bring it with us when we go out into the world?

    Besides, long as there are tests in school, there will be prayer.

  • deadyetliving

    Interesting that Daniel went home and prayed rather than making a big show of it.

  • Craig Dumas

    Guess I should’ve added a little more context to my prior post. Well allow me to further elaborate now.
    The decree issued stated that the people were only allowed to pray to the king. Anyone caught in violation of this decree was to be put to death. Daniel didn’t want to pray to anyone but God. So in protest of this law, he not only prayed to God, he went to the 2nd floor so he was higher up and did so with the windows open (the full wall-length windows) so everybody could see. Sure he was at his house, but he made sure everyone saw him do it.

  • Brian Westley

    It’s not like it hasn’t happened before:

    http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/student-loses-case-involving-religious-message-in-speech

    http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/grad-says-testimony-about-god-censored-from-speech

    It’s pretty much all or nothing (and I for one don’t consider mentions of “god” to be religiously neutral).

  • deadyetliving

    Fair point!

  • Scott Uselman

    I appreciate the article and agree with most of what has been said. However, I think the problem is that we are making assumptions about Costner’s motives. There is only 2 who know what his motive was, God and Costner. I think Matthew 6:5 is about motives. What is more, if someone’s motive is impure, then that person will not receive a reward accept that he or she was seen by others. This is where only God can sort out that person’s motives to decide what blessing that person will receive. And, we may not know what the reward was. I’m not comfortable calling someone selfish because I don’t know what occurred in his heart at the time. I agree that I do not want to open the door to other faiths being allowed to pray, but if you are a believer, then I feel like we should rejoice since God’s Word was spoken, like Paul said no matter the motive the Gospel was preached (Philippians 1:15-18). I applaud the untamed way that Costner shared his belief. Paul was a fool for the Gospel in the 1st Century; and thank God he was. The Daniel reference was a great point. Politically, I think this comes down to federal government minimizing state’s rights again. Sometimes it is needed, but as far as a group from another state telling a county in another state what is acceptable and unacceptable, there seems to be something wrong in that. Great thoughts, and the bottom-line is we are limited to speculation. Yet, if you are a believer, then at least God is in the spotlight again.

  • Susan Gerard

    “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”

    Which action would have been more difficult, to obey his superiors or to obey his impulse to disobey? Often the more difficult thing is the right thing.

    Personally, I feel that subjecting a captive audience to my religious beliefs is, well, offensive, i.e. not honoring everyone. I also wonder at those who feel the need to defend God in this way, as if God isn’t bigger than a high school principle. God in the spotlight doesn’t always make God look good. God can make/allow Himself to look good in the spotlights he chooses.

    He is a teen, however, and not yet very wise about very much. So I would advocate leniency (a scolding). But I would not advocate renown for a supposedly Godly deed, for it was not Godly. Godliness requires humility. It was a bit foolish. It was the mistake of a typical teen: told not to X, then do X.

    I have just a small story to relate this to. I am an ED doc. As such, I have often had a captive audience, say, when I was suturing a large or tricky laceration. These are routine and do not require but a few percent of my thoughts. There, the patient, draped, under a strong light. Lots of time, and always the need for conversation to tend to the patient’s anxiety/boredom. I often fantasized about preaching the Gospel during these quiet, one-on-one situations, but of course I never did, for it would be a gross abuse of the imbalance of power in the situation. So, we would speak about whatever: children, life, accidents, jokes, medicine, his/her work, etc. until the stitching was done. if I had, and the patient’s complaints resulted in my being fired, I would not have cried foul.

    This is kind of what Costner did. I don’t pretend to know Costner’s mind or heart. But I have Scripture and common sense.

  • Esther Starr

    It’s not at all far-fetched given the steps other schools have taken to stifle freedom of religious speech. Let’s not be naive here.

  • Esther Starr

    I wouldn’t have expected that response from Joe. Interesting, but disappointing.

  • Esther Starr

    What Craig said.

  • Esther Starr

    Sounds like this captive audience didn’t mind so much.

  • Susan Gerard

    That’s not a valid point. Did he obey God. Did he do an honorable thing, or did he play his bit part in the ongoing culture wars? Since when has public approval become the yardstick by which the rightness of an action is measured?

  • Esther Starr

    You were saying “subjecting a captive audience to my religious beliefs is, well, offensive.” I presumed you meant “offensive to the audience.”

  • http://goodokbad.com/ Seth T. Hahne

    On the other hand, the Daniel passage isn’t super analogous because Daniel’s government required him to worship a false god. Our government is not requiring this. It is not even preventing worship of the Christian God. What it is doing is saying “Here is a period of time in which, in deference to each other, we prohibit any visible signs of worship.”

    I think a Christian, Muslim, Wiccan, or Branch Davidian ought to be able to use their valedictorian speech to say whatever their little young hearts please (so I disagree with the application of the Establishment Clause in these cases), but I don’t think the Daniel analogy applies.

  • Susan Gerard

    On re-reading, I can see how you could interpret it that way. But I reiterate: since when has public approval become the yardstick by which the rightness of an action is measured? The public approves of abortion on demand, same-sex marriage, gender equality, and a number of issues I’m pretty certain are offensive to you. Are you saying that the response of others is what determines the rightness or wrongness of an action? Read Joe Carter’s response. He’s godlier than I and says it better. The kid was wrong.

  • Esther Starr

    I certainly wasn’t intending to make a blanket affirmation of the bandwagon fallacy. I just thought you made a comment that wasn’t relevant to this story.

    Joe’s a friend and I like him. He got it wrong this time.

  • Esther Starr

    But think about it this way Seth: If we take this entirely passive approach (i.e., merely not doing what is outright blasphemous, refraining from an expression of faith when it’s not absolutely necessary), sooner or later it becomes a kind of denial of Christ. “I can’t pray at my graduation? Oh, okay, I guess I don’t _have_ to… I can’t wear a cross to work? Oh, okay, I guess I don’t _have_ to… I can’t put a Bible verse on my door? Oh, okay…” You see the pattern?

  • http://people.ign.com/adamwinters AdamWinters

    I think such a scenario is likely, but someone in public education should understand that what is said is not usually what a kid actually “hears.” The principal should have made herself very clear what she was and was not instructing him to do on such an important issue.

    An official statement would be very welcome.

  • http://goodokbad.com/ Seth T. Hahne

    That’s not really at all related to applying Daniel 6 to the situation and I think you overstate by a margin to suggest that anyone’s proposing an entirely passive approach. Still, sure, when things are prohibited, it *can* give Christians an easy out in not living their faith. Conversely, it can also galvanize believers into living a better faith. And better need not be chintzy (e.g. wearing jewelry or decorating the home). Matter of taste, that.

  • Esther Starr

    I was actually talking about taping a verse to one’s office door, or having a Bible verse plaque on one’s desk. It’s rather glib to wave away a hypothetical prohibition of such a thing as no big deal, as opposed to the chilling effect that it is. It’s also kind of silly to draw the inference that I’m saying you’re not a good Christian unless you wear a cross to work every day or put a plaque on your desk. I’m just pointing out that if someone forbade me to do so at all, I would justifiably find that more than a little creepy.

    At any rate, is the passive approach not what’s being advanced here? “The kid didn’t _have_ to pray at his graduation, so let’s all pile on him for doing it as a gesture.”

  • Esther Starr

    I bet it felt real good to get that off your chest. Now you can go thank the Lord that you’re not like this Christian highschool student. Enjoy your own reward sir.

  • Ryan Pendell

    Well, regardless of his motive, in the video he’s cheered on by the crowd. I take it that if you pray in public and people start applauding you then clearly you’ve received your reward in full.

  • http://www.fromnothingcomics.com/ Steve Crespo

    Freedom of speech means just that.

    If this young man chose to speak of God- Bless him! If he didn’t- Bless him!

    The debate is silly. The freedom to speak, and the freedom to worship are foundational principles of our nation.

    My view may be condemned as simplistic, but I believe Truth is very simple.

  • Esther Starr

    By the way, I notice that you’ve been going around trolling/shouting your openly anti-biblical lifestyle from the rooftops while still smugly claiming the label of “Christian.” For you to call this young man “hypocritical” is a rich irony indeed.

  • Lou_Ganis

    “Freedom of speech means just that.”

    No, it doesn’t. There’s no such thing as absolute freedom of speech.

    “My view may be condemned as simplistic, but I believe Truth is very simple.”

    It is simplistic, and what you “believe” is “Truth” is irrelevant.

    Furthermore, he was dishonest and deceitful – not very xtian-like. On second thought, it’s very xtian-like

    And what is it with xtians who are compelled to pray and proselytize to “captive” audiences? I never see this happen in the grocery, mall, theater, or restaurants.

  • Lou_Ganis

    “a spiritual schizofrenia [sic] in this country- you can believe what you want, just don’t express it in public.”

    Except of course, that’s not what the issue is. A high school graduation isn’t a public forum nor a revival meeting. A “spiritual schizofrenia [sic] in this country?” Perhaps, look in the mirror.

  • Lou_Ganis

    “this captive audience didn’t mind so much.”

    FYI – Xtain mob majority rule isn’t the law of the land.

  • Esther Starr

    That has zero relevance to the point I was making, but by all means, continue displaying your ignorance. As to your comment, yes, I too have noticed how wonderfully atheist anarcho-tyranny is working out.

  • Esther Starr

    Excuse me sir, but the “I am an internet troll” tattoo on your forehead is glowing. Just trying to help out.

  • Lou_Ganis

    “zero relevance to the point I was making”

    Then why did you include it? That a captive audience “didn’t mind” is what’s actually irrelevant to the point.

  • Lou_Ganis

    “I certainly wasn’t intending to make a blanket affirmation of the bandwagon fallacy.”

    Then write more precisely, because that’s exactly how you came across.

  • Lou_Ganis

    “Just trying to help out.”

    And so you did – immensely so. We get exactly where you’re coming from.

  • Esther Starr

    I’m coming from the Midwest. You seem to be coming from under a rock somewhere. We’d appreciate it if you crawled back. Feeding you is getting boring.

  • Lou_Ganis

    “I’m coming from the Midwest.”

    Do you think that’s somehow witty? In consideration of that comment and these -

    “We’d appreciate it if you crawled back.”
    “Sounds like this captive audience didn’t mind so much.”
    “I just thought you made a comment that wasn’t relevant to this story.”
    “Joe’s a friend and I like him. He got it wrong this time.”
    “I wouldn’t have expected that response from Joe. Interesting, but disappointing.”

    - it’s obvious that there’s a definite pattern of illusory superiority in your replies – one that’s extremely unjustified. You MUST be an xtian.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1357724115 Dennis Lurvey

    I think he talked around but failed to mention, the prayer was against the law. Do christians get to break the law in other areas of their lives?? get to go whatever speed they want, exempt from taxes, get to seal from stores because they are christian?? then why would that think this law is for everyone but them??

    this country was settled for trade//money, not for religious freedom.
    this country had religious wars, executions before the civil war.
    the founders were deists, they believed in “natures god” not your god.
    they saw the religions fighting each other and wrote the 1st amendment.
    xtianity has had a preferred status, but soon they will be equal to all other religions.

  • Susan Gerard

    Mr. Ganis,

    You’ve come late to this debate, but of course you are welcome. I personally believe this kid was wrong. There exists separation of church and state, authorities and laws, which all of us should obey, like them or not. What I don’t understand, though, is the anger you have at the moment of your joining us here. I understand you have discussed this issue on another site. Are you carrying that anger here? Some things that might help me understand: are you an atheist/agnostic/deist/christian/other? Do you believe all Christians are ignominious sheep (*not* trying to put words in your mouth; trying to understand your anger)? Have we all offended you, or is there hope that you might find reasonable Christians? I hope the latter is true. I also believe it is wrong for others to judge you more harshly than they would want to be judged themselves under thinly veiled pretenses.

  • Susan Gerard

    Esther,
    Do you have a facebook page? If you do, would you be so kind as to friend me?
    Thanks,
    Susan

  • Esther Starr

    No I don’t. But even if I did, I’m insanely privacy conscious, so my friends list would probably consist only of relatives and close friends anyway. Sorry! Do you want to e-mail me something?

  • Esther Starr

    I could respond with something similar ending with “You must be an atheist,” but… no, no, I really mustn’t.

  • Susan Gerard

    I’d have to give you my email addy here…:( Also privacy-aware…

  • Craig Dumas

    Although anytime someone speaks in public it becomes a public forum regardless of the content or how palatable the audience considers the content to be, I don’t think anyone is attempting to turn a high school graduation into a revival meeting. I think the young man was simply trying to live out his faith which I would imagine to be rather important to him. In this case, doing so includes giving thanks to God for helping him get through school in such a distinguished manner. It didn’t seem like he was asking anyone to convert (though that is a logical and moral duty of anyone who believes strongly in something to be an ontological truth with such heavy consequences as eternity), he just wanted to say “thank you.” However, it seems people are being told more and more often to keep their spiritual beliefs to themselves which I believe leads to that spiritual schizophrenia I had mentioned before.

    At least that’s the issue I take with the matter. I’d be interested to hear if you had another issue with this. I would also like to hear why you asked me to look in the mirror.

  • Craig Dumas

    I agree, it’s not super analogous to the point where anyone is threatening death for this. The reason I drew this parallel is that both are acts of civil disobedience; they both esteem their love for God above the laws of man when the two conflict.

  • Lou_Ganis

    “are you an atheist/agnostic/deist/christian/other?”

    I’m an “atheist” – if such a description is required. After all, there’s no similar word required for people who don’t believe in alchemy nor astrology. However, everyone is born ” atheist,” and then becomes theist. For the vast majority of people, their religion is determined by birthplace and/or childhood indoctrination. Ironically, everyone on the planet is an atheist about all the thousands of other gods, except for their imaginary god, even though everyone else disbelieves in your imaginary god for the same reason that you don’t believe in theirs.

    “Do you believe all Christians are ignominious sheep”

    No, but the vast majority are sheep, and a significant portion of them ignominious.

    “reasonable Christians?”

    There are always exceptions, and you seem to be one.

    But back to the topic. The actions of the student in question are not about religion nor freedom of speech. They’re about honesty and character. Unfortunately, the vast majority of xtians applaud and encourage dishonesty and deceit in the name of their religion, and that says A LOT about their religion and them, not to mention their comments on forums and blogs such as this one. So, yes, your description “ignominious sheep” is very accurate.

  • Esther Starr

    “Ironically, everyone on the planet is an atheist about all the thousands of other gods, except for their imaginary god, even though everyone else disbelieves in your imaginary god for the same reason that you don’t believe in theirs.”

    Ah, I see you’ve been dutifully reading your Richard Dawkins. Interesting, one could make a similar argument about Barack Obama. We’re apresidentialists when it comes to most people. Some of us just go one President further.

  • Susan Gerard

    Thanks for your reply. As a matter of fact, many Christians believe this young man (and I stress that because we all go through that stage where wisdom and character are still formative) was wrong to have done what he did. As to what constitutes “dishonesty and deceit in the name of (our) religion”, these things would need to be discussed at a different time if I were to agree or disagree with you.

    Regardless, this *is* a Christian blog, so you will be reading things that you disagree with. I am surprised at your initial tone of anger, which, though modulated, still lingers here. I have no problems with atheists (or however you would describe your lack of belief in any number of gods). I have no desire to lump you with others of similar lack of belief and be angry with you. I would never lump you with other atheists, say Stalin or Mao or Pol Pott, and say you are responsible for more killing in the last century than in all of the Crusades, etc., as has been plastered on me at times, as if I was there. All are responsible for their own actions.

    We are indeed all responsible for our own actions, and we (Christians) are actually called to be gracious and loving, and I’m sorry that this has not been your experience of us. I hope that will change.

  • Susan Gerard

    I’ve never read Dawkins, and I hope you’re not speaking for all Christians when you say “we’re apresidentialists”. I, for one, am happy to live in a republic, one with such an amazing constitution and separation of powers, church and state, with an executive branch. It matters far more to me that Christians focus on Christ than that we engage in culture wars. I just wish it were really that way.

  • Lou_Ganis

    “We’re apresidentialists when it comes to most people. Some of us just go one President further.”

    That must be one of the dumbest things I ever read. Not to mention that you apparently can’t ever directly respond with a lucid answer.

    After reading your comments here, I see where Susan got ” ignominious sheep.”

  • Lou_Ganis

    “I would never lump you with other atheists, say Stalin or Mao or Pol Pott”

    That’s mighty “reasonable” of you. However, the Crusades were actually motivated by religion, when the others that you mentioned didn’t murder in the name of so-called “atheism.” How you can leap from the graduation speaker’s dishonesty exhibited in the name of religion to NOT comparing me to Stalin (when I didn’t compare anyone here to mass murders) is quite astounding.

    You all can continue to dance around this all you want, but you can’t ignore the elephant in the room – regardless of whether or not you want to discuss it, and ignoring all the tangential replies, he was dishonest and deceitful in the name of your religion, and the majority of xtians applaud and encourage such behavior.

  • Lou_Ganis

    “I hope you’re not speaking for all Christians when you say “we’re apresidentialists”.

    Especially when it’s completely nonsensical. But, that’s what happens when one thinks in the context of religion.

  • Susan Gerard

    You’re right. That’s one of the stupider things I’ve said. It was insensitive. I’m sorry.
    The Crusades were mostly motivated by greed, ambition, politics, and also spiritual reasons.
    I have no idea what percent of Christians applauded that boy’s actions. I haven’t danced around anything.

  • Lou_Ganis

    “The Crusades were mostly motivated by greed, ambition, politics, and also spiritual reasons.”

    Exactly! Religion, more specifically, xtianity.

    “I have no idea what percent of Christians applauded that boy’s actions.”

    Really? You have NO IDEA? Please! You can make an educated guess by reading all the comments and thumbs up /down/likes for them on the Yahoo! news articles, forums such as this, and the video itself.

  • Esther Starr

    Ah, I see the confusion—perhaps you thought I was a birther. Actually I’m not. I really should have put that argument in quotes, to show how a parallel argument to the atheist’s might proceed when applied to presidents (thereby showcasing its true silliness).

  • Esther Starr

    See my comment above. I meant to put that in quotes. “Imagine how silly it would sound if someone said that about the President…” Actually, there’s a funny “aLincolnism” movement where people take atheist arguments and just replace “God” with “Abraham Lincoln” everywhere. Not seriously, of course, but showing that the serious evidence for Christianity doesn’t deserve to be disregarded anymore than the serious evidence for Lincoln.

  • Esther Starr

    You forgot military. The Muslims were a serious military threat, so initially the Crusades were begun to push them back. Were there ultimately atrocities committed in the course of it all? Yes, but it’s absurd to put that down to the teachings of Christianity.

  • Susan Gerard

    OK, Mr. Ganis. I give up. I have tried to treat you with respect, though I did commit an act of stupidity, for which I apologized. Yet you question my integrity (no, I really do NOT know what %, I have not followed all the outlets, and any guess I made would be uneducated), you continue to be hostile towards me, and you continue to be angry. I am apparently on a fool’s errand.

    I really have nothing against atheists. I truly believe we are all of us, as individuals, responsible for our own actions. I do not respect Stalin or Mao or Pol Pott or other ruthless communists, not because they were atheists, but because they killed millions. And, if you want credibility when you attack ‘xtians’, do your homework on the history of communism and atheism and learn what has been done to humanity in the name of atheism (may I suggest you start by visiting the Global Museum on Communism, dedicated to the 100 million victims of communism worldwide.)

    It seems you feel quite free to denigrate us all for a belief we hold. I hope for your sake that you come to a beneficent place. I wish you a good journey.

    Peace.

  • Lou_Ganis

    “Actually I’m not”

    ?! Actually, I didn’t consider that, nor do I care.

    “(thereby showcasing its true silliness).”

    OK – Would you care to explain “We’re apresidentialists when it comes to most people.” (This is going to be good.)

  • Lou_Ganis

    “Yes, but it’s absurd to put that down to the teachings of Christianity.”

    What’s absurd is for you all to get off on comments about the Crusades, Pol Pot, and “apresidentialists” – whatever that is.

    And as far as I know, nobody claimed that the Crusades were “put down” to “the teachings of Christianity.”

  • Lou_Ganis

    ” (no, I really do NOT know what %, I have not followed all the outlets, and any guess I made would be uneducated)”

    Hmm, ok, how about the headline of THIS article/blog –

    Citizenship Confusion: Valedictorian Prays but Should Christians Rejoice?

    Repeating: SHOULD CHRISTIANS REJOICE?

    Surely you don’t think he means should they or shouldn’t they before they make a decision? Of course not, he’s saying that they ARE REJOICING, and he’s questioning that behavior.

    “I wish you a good journey.”

    I wish you could stay on topic, and that you can develop a much thicker skin without getting so defensive when somebody questions or threatens your faith.

    Yes, I do question the integrity of someone who ignores the obvious in order to avoid taking a position on the topic of the discussion while attempting to avoid it with absurd tangents.

    This is NOT about me, which is how you guys attempt to change the discussion to in order to avoid the topic. It’s not about whether I’m an atheist, or about the Crusades or communist atrocities.This almost always what the religious resort to when their delusion is challenged – when they can’t defend it, they attack those whom they perceive to be enemies of their delusion.

  • Esther Starr

    Just like an atheist might say “We’re all atheists when it comes to most gods, but some just go one God further,” the parody argument runs, “We don’t believe anyone else is the President, so in denying that Obama is President, we’re just going one President further than everyone else.”

  • Lou_Ganis

    “We don’t believe anyone else is the President, so in denying that Obama is President, we’re just going one President further than everyone else.”

    Besides the incongruency of your “parody,” nobody believes such an idiotic idea. It’s something you pulled out of your – hat.

    But it is an indisputable fact that you disbelieve in the other gods that billions of others believe in or once believed in, for the same reasons that you disbelieve in theirs, and they disbelieve in your imaginary god for the same reasons.

    Do you deny that, regardless that I express it as everyone is an atheist except when it comes to their god belief?

  • Esther Starr

    It is a parody and hence designed to be an exaggeration. However, it exposes the absurdity of this particular atheist argument _qua argument_. It’s also designed to spark a little (dare I suggest) reflective thought on what exactly your basis is for denying the existence of the Christian God.

    I don’t believe there’s sufficient evidence to warrant a belief in other gods. However, this does not affect the positive evidential case for Christianity, any more than the lack of evidence for other people’s being President affects the positive evidence for Obama’s presidency.

    Now, if you would like to debate the merits of that positive evidence, fine. However, it should be obvious that each religion must be approached separately. It’s all in probability theory. Or didn’t they teach you that at atheist camp?

  • Lou_Ganis

    ” I don’t think anyone is attempting to turn a high school graduation into a revival meeting. I think the young man was simply trying to live out his faith which I would imagine to be rather important to him. ”

    Uh, that’s what a revival meeting is about.

    “why you asked me to look in the mirror.”

    Because “it seems people are being told more and more often to keep their spiritual beliefs to themselves which I believe leads to that spiritual schizophrenia”

  • Lou_Ganis

    “atheist argument”

    It’s not an argument. It’s an observation of fact. You labeled it an argument because you can’t accept it.

    “I don’t believe there’s sufficient evidence to warrant a belief in other gods. However, this does not affect the positive evidential case for Christianity.”

    LOL! That’s what I said – you disregard all other imaginary gods except for yours. And those who disbelieve in yours will say ” this does not affect the positive evidential case for [insert my religion here].”

    You’re all atheists except about YOUR imaginary god – you just demonstrated it.

    “the lack of evidence for other people’s being President affects the positive evidence for Obama’s presidency.”

    This gets more absurd by the comment – what “lack of evidence for other people’s being President.” What does that even mean? People’s being President? And what “lack of evidence” for it?

  • Esther Starr

    I give up. You’re not interested in having a reasonable discussion, you don’t understand what I’m saying unless I spell it out using small words (even then you persist in being obtuse), subtle nuances are completely lost on you, and you don’t show signs of having even the barest acquaintance with the possible evidences in Christianity’s favor. Your only tactic is to spout talking points from Richard Dawkins (who’s acknowledged by his own peers to be an embarrassment—heavens, read J. L. Mackie if you want to read an atheist who could argue his own case with some academic professionalism and depth) and internet infidel sites, like a broken record. I’ve had interesting conversations with atheists who wanted to learn. Clearly, you aren’t one of them. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some very important paint to go watch dry.

  • Lou_Ganis

    “Your only tactic is to spout talking points from Richard Dawkins”

    First of all, I have no such “tactic.” There is only a point, one that you and and Susan refuse to address.

    I didn’t point this out before, but the alleged Dawkins “talking point” isn’t attributable to him. You’re confused.

    And I give-up on you – why? Because you (and Susan) continue to make this about ME (or Dawkins, or Pol Pot, or the Crusades or any other number of diversions to deflect discussion away from the topic). You simply won’t address my and the blogger’s objections to the graduation speech. The reason is because you can’t. So at this point all you CAN DO is watch paint dry. And it will have the same effect on your ability to think and reply rationally as does your religious delusion.


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