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?

Happy National Day of Reason!

In their attempt to become, in effect, a socially-acceptable religion–getting military chaplains, vaunting how moral they are, and evangelizing the unenlightened–atheists are trying to start a holiday.  May 5 is the National Day of Reason!

I love holidays and I love reason, so I am willing to celebrate. . .uh, what is it we are celebrating?  I will try to set aside time to think.  But don’t we need something more to inspire our observance, to give it some meaning?  It turns out that May 5 was chosen simply to counter something else that is on that day, the National Day of Prayer.  The atheists are protesting that by trying to take over the day for themselves.

This demonstrates the weakness of atheism.  It is purely reactive.  Its doctrines are purely negative (there is no God; there is no life after death; there is no meaning in life).  And even when its teachings are put in a positive way–we believe in reason! we believe that material things are all that exist!–there is nothing, really, to celebrate, or even to be happy about.

Actual holidays, on the other hand, commemorate some meaningful event and we celebrate the meaning.  They usually involve some kind of story.  They are deeply, richly, human, evoking family and good memories and inspiration.  And Christian holidays–widely recognized even by devotees of other religions are the best of all–are full of wonder and joy.  The root of “festival” is “feast.”  “Holiday” means “holy day.”   You can’t have a holiday without some sense of holiness.

It’s hard to celebrate an abstraction, such as “reason.”  But, hey, let’s give it a try.  How could we do to make the Day of Reason work as a holiday?  What would be the equivalent of a Christmas tree or Easter basket for the Day of Reason?  What foods should be associated with this day of rationality?  If it ever rates a day off, what should individuals and families do?

National Day of Reason :: About Us.

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.

Atheist chaplains

There apparently ARE atheists in foxholes, and they are demanding their own chaplains.  From the New York Times:

In the military, there are more than 3,000 chaplains who minister to the spiritual and emotional needs of active duty troops, regardless of their faiths. The vast majority are Christians, a few are Jews or Muslims, one is a Buddhist. A Hindu, possibly even a Wiccan may join their ranks soon.

But an atheist?

Strange as it sounds, groups representing atheists and secular humanists are pushing for the appointment of one of their own to the chaplaincy, hoping to give voice to what they say is a large — and largely underground — population of nonbelievers in the military.

Joining the chaplain corps is part of a broader campaign by atheists to win official acceptance in the military. Such recognition would make it easier for them to raise money and meet on military bases. It would help ensure that chaplains, religious or atheist, would distribute their literature, advertise their events and advocate for them with commanders.

But winning the appointment of an atheist chaplain will require support from senior chaplains, a tall order. Many chaplains are skeptical: Do atheists belong to a “faith group,” a requirement for a chaplain candidate? Can they provide support to religious troops of all faiths, a fundamental responsibility for chaplains?

Jason Torpy, a former Army captain who is president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, said humanist chaplains would do everything religious chaplains do, including counsel troops and help them follow their faiths. But just as a Protestant chaplain would not preside over a Catholic service, a humanist might not lead a religious ceremony, though he might help organize it.

“Humanism fills the same role for atheists that Christianity does for Christians and Judaism does for Jews,” Mr. Torpy said in an interview. “It answers questions of ultimate concern; it directs our values.”

via Atheists Seek a Place Among Military Chaplains – NYTimes.com.

HT:  Joseph Knipperberg, and see what he says about it.

Does it seem to you that our military is being used as a means of gaining social respectability?

End of the world countdown

We’ve blogged about how radio preacher Harold Camping is predicting that Christ will return on May 21 of this year.  Journalist Kimberly Winston interviewed Mr. Camping and asked him how he calculated the date with such precision:

If preacher Harold Camping is right, that’s the exact date Jesus will return and the righteous will fly up to heaven, leaving behind only their clothes.

That will be followed by five months of fire, brimstone and plagues, with millions of people dying each day and corpses piling in the streets. Finally, on Oct. 21, the world ends exactly as the Book of Revelation says it will — with a bottomless pit, a lake of fire and, at last, a new heaven and new earth. . . .

Asked how he arrived at the date, he opened his Bible to Genesis and said Noah loaded animals into the ark in 4990 B.C., a number he said he arrived at years ago after looking at carbon dating, tree rings and other data. Paging forward to 2 Peter, he read aloud, “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years and a thousand years is one day.”

Leafing back to Genesis, he said that the seven days Noah spent loading the ark was really 7,000 years. He then added 7,000 to 4990 B.C to arrive at 2010. He added one more year, he said, because there is no year one in the Bible.

As for the exact date of May 21, he pointed again to Genesis, which says the flood began on the “17th day of the second month.” According to the Jewish calendar, which he believes God uses, that is May 21.

“Now I am telling you, that gets pretty heavy when you see this coming right out of the Bible,” he said, looking up from his Bible’s dog-eared pages.

via A durable doomsday preacher predicts the world’s end — again – USATODAY.com.

But. . .but. . .What connection does Noah’s ark and the number of days it took to bring in the animals have with the return of Christ?  I know, the parallels with God’s first destruction of the world, but that can hardly be definitive, especially since God told us that He won’t destroy the world like He did last time.  And how does Mr. Camping know the exact date of the flood?  By carbon dating?  Of what?  And doesn’t he know that those dates are not precise to the year?  And. . .Well, even accepting his premises, I don’t understand how he and his thousands of followers are so sure of his numbers.

At any rate, his claim is meaningful because it is falsifiable.  We’ll know very soon if he is right or wrong.

Apocalyptic madness

The Lutheran journalist Uwe Siemon-Netto has written a piece about the current apocalyptic mood and the religious weirdness this is inspiring.  You should read the whole article.  What struck me, though, was this account of some original reporting of his, in an interview with a leader of that Japanese cult that unleashed the sarin gas a few years ago.  Here is another kind of syncretism:

In Japan in the 1980s, a semi-blind charlatan by the name of Shoko Asahara founded a “neo-Buddhist” sect called Aum Shinri-Kyo. It recruited primarily graduates of leading universities and gained worldwide infamy by producing huge amounts of Kalashnikov rifles and developing chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction. In 1995, they set off a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system killing 12, injuring 54 and affecting thousands of others, a misdeed for which Asahara was sentenced to the gallows; he is now awaiting his execution.

What was that all about? In an interview one of his top lieutenants told me that it was the purpose of this crime to trigger World War III between Japan and the United States, which would result in the destruction of the universe. Why would a bunch of young scientists wish to do that? “Well,” he said, “the Lord Shiva has commanded us to give him a helping hand;” Shiva is the destroyer in the Hindu trinity. When he’s done, Brahma, the Creator, would be able to begin a new cycle of creation.

So here we had a “Buddhist” sectarians killing in behalf of a Hindu god, and to top the syncretistic madness, they explained this in Christian terminology. With his hands on a Bible, Asahara’s white-robed henchman informed me that he and his co-religionists were Christ’s soldiers in the Battle of Armageddon. But who was Christ to them? “An incarnation of Shiva, the god of destruction,” he said.

via The Tsunami and the Apocalypse – Article by Dr. Uwe Siemon-Netto | CyberBrethren-A Lutheran Blog.


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