Right wing atheism

Time’s Amy Sullivan draws attention to how a number of Republican leaders are fans of Ayn Rand, the militant atheist whose praise of capitalism led to her ethical principle of the “virtue of selfishness” and her attacks on Christianity for promoting the “weakness” of altruistic love.  We’ve blogged about her before, and some of you have defended her, Christian though you be.  I am less tolerant, having witnessed the family of a good friend of mine torn apart by her influence.  I was interested, though, in the names that Sullivan mentions:

When George W. Bush declared in a 1999 GOP debate that his favorite political philosopher was Jesus, pundits snickered and wondered whether he actually knew any political philosophers. But the answer was politically canny, establishing Bush’s evangelical bona fides with social conservatives.

In contrast, the philosopher GOP leaders quote most reverently these days was vehemently anti-religion, and referred to Christian teachings as “evil” and “monstrous.” Awwwwkward. Fortunately for Republicans, most social conservatives haven’t yet made the connection. (See the dozen Republicans who could be the next president.)

Here’s just a taste of the praise GOP and other conservative leaders have for Ayn Rand:

- Paul Ryan says Ayn Rand is the reason he entered politics and he requires all staff and interns to read her books. Says Ryan: “Ayn Rand more than anyone else did a fantastic job of explaining the morality of capitalism, the morality of individualism.”

- Clarence Thomas requires his law clerks to watch The Fountainhead, and has said “I tend really to be partial to Ayn Rand.”

- Sen. Ron Johnson, Ryan’s GOP colleague from Wisconsin, calls Atlas Shrugged his “foundational book.”

- Rush Limbaugh calls Ayn Rand “the brilliant writer and novelist.”

- Fox News repeatedly promoted the recently released movie version of Atlas Shrugged, airing the trailer on several shows and interviewing cast members.

The conservative evangelical leader Chuck Colson has become so concerned about Rand’s booming popularity in the GOP that he recently recorded a video warning that Rand “peddles a starkly anti-Christian philosophy.” And the Christian group American Values Network, which presents itself as an alternative to organizations like the Family Research Council, has distributed a memo to congressional offices highlighting Rand’s criticisms of Christianity and some of her more controversial comments, including praise for a man who raped, murdered, and dismembered a 12-year-old girl.

via An Atheist Icon? Social Conservatives Worried About GOP Ayn Rand Resurgence – Yahoo! News.

It sounds like some Christian activists and social conservatives are becoming aware of what Rand and the Randites stand for.  Does this herald a split in conservative ranks between those who believe in moral reality and those who don’t, between  Christian conservatives and materialist conservatives?

Bin Laden’s porn stash

From the New York Times:

The enormous cache of computer files taken from Osama bin Laden’s compound contained a considerable quantity of pornographic videos, American officials said on Friday, adding a discordant note to the public image of the Islamist militant who long denounced the West for its lax sexual mores.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity about classified material, would not say whether there was evidence that Bin Laden or the other men living in the house had acquired or viewed the material.

The discovery of the pornography, first reported by Reuters, may not be surprising in a collection of five computers, 10 hard drives and dozens of thumb drives and CDs whose age and past ownership is not known.

But the disclosure could fuel accusations of hypocrisy against the founder of Al Qaeda, who was 54 and lived with three wives at the time of his death, and will be welcomed by counterterrorism officials because it could tarnish his legacy and erode the appeal of his brand of religious extremism.

via Pornography Is Found on Bin Laden’s Computers – NYTimes.com.

Some people are dismissing this announcement as American propaganda, but it shouldn’t be surprising.   The original 9/11 hijackers–bin Laden’s henchmen–were visiting strip clubs right before their suicide mission.  Guilt over his porn addiction was allegedly one of the reasons 9/11 leader Mohammed Atta hated the West and wanted to atone for his sin by attaining the assurance of salvation available only to the martyrs who died waging jihad against the infidel.  And if someone has so little conscience as to execute the mass murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children, why should we think he would have qualms about sexually explicit videos?

This is just more evidence of the paradox that legalism in religion does NOT mean more righteousness; rather, it tends to mean more unrighteousness. This is due to legalism’s  spirit of self-righteousness, loophole hunting, and rationalization.  And above all its lack of repentance and faith in Christ that alone can change a person from the inside and that  bears good fruit.

ADDENDUM:  The Daily Beast reports that Pakistan was found to be the leading nation in internet porn searches. Iran was third. Egypt was fifth.

I don’t think the prevalence of pornography in Islamic countries that insist that women be completely veiled should be dismissed as mere hypocrisy. I would argue that this manifestation of our sinful nature is the occasion of both guilt and hatred for the culture that has tempted them to such sin. Further, I suspect this is a factor in the rise of radical, jihadist Islam.

New movement of the Holy Spirit?

From a collection of responses to the PCUSA’s decision to remove the celibacy requirement for single pastors.  Donald Fortson III observes that

“Church history is crystal clear: Homosexual practice has been affirmed nowhere, never, by no one in the history of Christianity.” Adoption of amdendment 10-A is therefore, by definition, anti-catholic.

Archpriest Siarhei Hardun from the Orthodox Church of Belarus, an ecumenical observer, said this to the Presbyterians at last year’s convention, which passed the proposal that was recently ratified by enough congregations:

“Christian morality is as old as Christianity itself. It doesn’t need to be invented now. Those attempts to invent new morality look for me like attempts to invent a new religion — a sort of modern paganism.

When people say that they are led and guided by the Holy Spirit to do it, I wonder if it is the same Spirit that inspired the Bible, if it is the same Holy Spirit that inspires the Holy Orthodox Church not to change anything doctrinal or moral standards? It is really the same Spirit or perhaps there are different spirits acting in different denominations and inspiring them to develop in different directions and create different theologies and different morals?

via Touchstone Magazine – Mere Comments: ‘Nowhere, Never, by No One.’.

I have been struck by the way theological innovators credit the moving of the Holy Spirit for leading their churches in these new  directions.   That’s the justification being given by Presbyterians, Episcopalians,  ELCA theologians, and others for moving away from traditional teachings, from ordaining women to affirming gay marriage:  the Holy Spirit is showing us new things; this is a new movement of the Holy Spirit.  These mainline Protestants are exhibiting a curious “enthusiasm,” separating the Holy Spirit from the Word of God.

Presbyterians to ordain gays & swinging singles

The Presbyterian Church (USA) opened the door to ordaining sexually-active gays–as well as other single people who want to be sexually-active outside of marriage–by removing the celibacy requirement for single clergy:

After decades of debate, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on Tuesday struck down a barrier to ordaining gays, ratifying a proposal that removes the celibacy requirement for unmarried clergy, in the latest mainline Protestant move toward accepting gay relationships.

The change was endorsed last year by the Presbyterian national assembly, but required approval by a majority of the denomination’s 173 presbyteries, or regional church bodies. . . .

The measure approved Tuesday eliminates language in the church constitution requiring that clergy live “in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness.” The new provision instead requires ministers to “submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life.” Each regional body will decide who it should ordain, and some districts are expected to continue to reject gay and lesbian candidates.

via Presbyterian vote removes barrier for ordaining gays and lesbians after decades of debate – The Washington Post.

Notice that this goes beyond simply allowing gay clergy, though that is what will get all of the attention.  It allows pastors to have extra-marital sex.

The way the church body went about this strikes me as worse than just allowing gays to be ordained.  Statistically, there are going to be more single heterosexuals than homosexuals, and this will permit all kinds of scandalous behavior in the parsonage.  This is worse than accepting gay marriage, since that misguided notion at least locates sex including gay sex within the office of marriage.   This ruling undermines marriage itself.

I’m curious how the Presbyterians construe submitting “joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life” to allow for this.

America’s exceptional arrogance in the bin Laden killing?

While we Americans tend to embrace our “exceptionalism,”  people from other countries often see that as a bad thing.  Britain’s prominent Christian author N. T. Wright excoriates America for our presumption in the bin Laden assassination:

Popular author and New Testament scholar N.T. Wright has accused the world of giving America a free pass for violating Pakistan’s sovereignty and killing an unarmed man during the recent attack that killed Osama bin Laden.

The former bishop of Durham sent a short statement to The Times’ religion correspondent Ruth Gledhill in which he pointed out that Americans would be “furious” if Great Britain’s military had staged an unannounced raid against hypothetical Irish Republican Army terrorists and killed them, unarmed, in a Boston suburb.

The only difference, Wright says, is “American exceptionalism.”

“America is allowed to do it, but the rest of us are not,” said Wright, who is now the research professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. “By what right? Who says?”

President Obama, Wright says, has “enacted one of America’s most powerful myths,” the vigilante hero going outside the law to execute “redemptive violence” against an enemy who has rendered the legitimate authorities impotent. “This is the plot of a thousand movies, comic-book strips, and TV shows: Captain America, the Lone Ranger, and (upgraded to hi-tech) Superman. The masked hero saves the world.”

While this myth may have been a necessary dimension of life in the Wild West, Wright says, it also “legitimizes a form of vigilantism, of taking the law into one’s own hands, which provides ‘justice’ only of the crudest sort.”

“What will we do when new superpowers arise and try the same trick on us?” he asks. “And what has any of this to do with something most Americans also believe, that the God of ultimate justice and truth was fully and finally revealed in the crucified Jesus of Nazareth, who taught people to love their enemies, and warned that those who take the sword will perish by the sword?”

via N.T. Wright Slams ‘American Exceptionalism’ in Osama bin Laden Mission | Politics | Christianity Today.

How would you answer him?   Would we, as he says, object if British commandos killed an IRA operative in Boston?  If so, how can we justify what we did in Pakistan?

Equal rights for atheists

We have had movements for equal rights for African-Americans, women, gays.  The next victimized, discriminated against minority who are demanding approval:  Atheists!

The Washington Post has published an op-ed piece by Gregory Paul and Phil Zuckerman, raising the issue and asking “Why don’t Americans like atheists?”

Long after blacks and Jews have made great strides, and even as homosexuals gain respect, acceptance and new rights, there is still a group that lots of Americans just don’t like much: atheists. Those who don’t believe in God are widely considered to be immoral, wicked and angry. They can’t join the Boy Scouts. Atheist soldiers are rated potentially deficient when they do not score as sufficiently “spiritual” in military psychological evaluations. Surveys find that most Americans refuse or are reluctant to marry or vote for nontheists; in other words, nonbelievers are one minority still commonly denied in practical terms the right to assume office despite the constitutional ban on religious tests.

Rarely denounced by the mainstream, this stunning anti-atheist discrimination is egged on by Christian conservatives who stridently — and uncivilly — declare that the lack of godly faith is detrimental to society, rendering nonbelievers intrinsically suspect and second-class citizens.

Is this knee-jerk dislike of atheists warranted? Not even close.

A growing body of social science research reveals that atheists, and non-religious people in general, are far from the unsavory beings many assume them to be. On basic questions of morality and human decency — issues such as governmental use of torture, the death penalty, punitive hitting of children, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, environmental degradation or human rights — the irreligious tend to be more ethical than their religious peers, particularly compared with those who describe themselves as very religious.

via Why do Americans still dislike atheists? – The Washington Post.

First of all, to answer the initial question, the major reasons atheists aren’t well-liked are evident right there in the column:  the atheists’ habit of condescension, anti-religious bigotry, reductionistic snarkiness, and insufferable smugness.

Second, one has to ask, how, exactly, are atheists being discriminated against?  Are they not allowed to vote?  Are they not getting hired?  Is there wage discrimination against atheists?  Are they not allowed to get married?  A complaint here is that studies show that many people don’t want to marry an atheist and don’t want to vote for one.   If someone doesn’t want to marry you, is he or she violating your rights and discriminating against you?  Should defeated politicians be able to sue everyone who voted against them for discrimination?   I realize that the authors are just demanding social acceptance, but can there be an inalienable right to be liked?

The third point is the most important of all.  Notice how the authors are framing the issues.  Atheists are actually MORE moral than religious people, they say.  They then define “basic morality and human decency” not according to a traditional measure (such as the second table of the Ten Commandments) but according to what is primarily (though not completely) a list of distinctly contemporary secularist positions.  Thus, someone who does not believe in homosexuality, who does believe in capital punishment, who sometimes spanks his child, and who is not an environmentalist is EVIL, lacking basic morality and human decency.

This kind of moral and social inversion, if it catches on, would very soon result in actual and probably legal-driven discrimination against an unpopular minority whose human rights would be violated:  Religious people.


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