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.

Taxing companies out of the state

Illinois needs more money.  So it has slapped more taxes on its businesses.  Whereupon more businesses are leaving the state.  So Illinois needs more money.  Here is a lesson in unintended consequences, how governments trying to raise revenue by raising taxes can end up killing the golden goose.  George Will tells the tale, focusing first on the effects of an Illinois law requiring that its on-line businesses charge their customers sales-tax, which has resulted in those on-line businesses leaving the state.  He concludes with this:

According to the Tax Foundation, Illinois has not only the fourth-highest combined national-local corporate income tax in the nation but also in the industrialized world. In Peoria, Doug Oberhelman, chief executive of Caterpillar, has told Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn that he is being “wined and dined” by other governors and their representatives encouraging Caterpillar to invest in their states.

It recently picked Muncie, Ind., for a major manufacturing plant. Says Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels of his neighboring state, “It’s like living next door to ‘The Simpsons’ — you know, the dysfunctional family down the block.”

A study by the Illinois Policy Institute, a market-oriented think tank, concludes that between 1991 and 2009, Illinois lost more than 1.2 million residents — more than one every 10 minutes — to other states. Between 1995 and 2007, the total net income leaving Illinois was $23.5 billion. The five states receiving most refugees from Illinois were Florida, Indiana, Wisconsin, Arizona and Texas. Two are Illinois’ neighbors, three have warm weather, two — Florida and Texas — have no income tax. In January, a lame-duck session of Illinois’ legislature — including 18 Democrats who were defeated in November — raised the personal income tax 67 percent and the corporate tax almost 50 percent. This and the increase — from 3 percent to 5 percent — in the tax on small businesses make Illinois, as the Wall Street Journal says, “one of the most expensive places in the world to conduct business.”

via Working up a tax storm in Illinois – The Washington Post.

The issue isn’t so much lame ducks as golden geese.

“Great Divorce”: The Movie

C. S. Lewis’s Great Divorce is getting made into a movie!  That symbolic/visionary/satirical/fantasy of a bus trip from Hell to a too-solid Heaven would seem to be hard to render in a film, but that’s part of what makes the prospect interesting.  The writer tapped to write the screenplay?  N. D. Wilson (the son of Douglas Wilson, whom some of you may know of).  Justin Taylor interviews him about  the project:

How do you take a set of episodes and turn them into a coherent story while being faithful and without ruffling too many feathers?

Oh, I’m not afraid to ruffle feathers. But any nervous fans out there should know that I’m as dog-loyal to Lewis and his vision as any writer could be. Where I’m adding and expanding and shaping, I am constantly trying to check myself against Lewis’ broader imagination as represented in his collected works—not simply this little volume.

I will admit that when I began the adaptation, I felt like I was jumping off a cliff into (hopefully deep) mysterious waters—you can never completely predict what will happen on impact. But now that I’ve impacted and finished the first draft of the script, I can say that (as a Lewis fan), I’m really, really happy with it. And from here, I hope it only gets better. . . .

The Great Divorce has been referenced a fair bit lately in the Christian blogosphere, with the suggestion that there are similarities between Lewis’s “supposal” and Rob Bell’s “proposal.” And Bell himself recommends the book in Love Wins. Any thoughts on that?

At times Rob Bell (like in the Love Wins video) sounds exactly like the kind of character that one could expect to find in the pages of The Great Divorce. He seems to enjoy chasing and massaging ideas and questions for the sake of the journey of it all and not for the arrival. Landing on objective concrete answers isn’t exactly the goal. That’s not meant as a comment on whether or not Bell is regenerate (we’re graciously saved by faith not works, luckily enough), but it is a comment on where Bell would sit with Lewis in this whole discussion.

And, of course, Lewis put the universalist George MacDonald in Heaven and made him watch the unrepentant damned get back on the bus to Hell. A little wink and gloat at one of his favorite authors. . . .

Assuming you would have done things differently, can you summarize why the Narnia films have not had the same effect on children as the books?

No movie is going to have the same effect as a book (nor should it). Movies are transient singular experiences. They last longer than a stage production, but they should be viewed the same way—as a particular rendition of a fixed story. Someone else can do it again later (differently), but the book will be the same.

As for the Narnia movies in particular, I think they’re doing service to the books (hundreds of thousands of additional units moved), but yes, I would have done things a little differently. But more power to them.

via An Interview with N.D. Wilson on Screenwriting The Great Divorce – Justin Taylor.

U.S. forces kill Osama bin Laden

A major victory in the war against terrorism and in the war of vengeance for the 9/11 attacks:

Osama bin Laden, the long-hunted al-Qaeda leader and chief architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, was killed by U.S. forces Sunday in what officials described as a surgical raid on his luxury hideout in Pakistan.

In a rare Sunday night address from the East Room of the White House, President Obama said a small team of U.S. personnel attacked a compound Sunday in Pakistan’s Abbottabad Valley, where bin Laden had been hiding since at least last summer. During a firefight, U.S. team killed bin Laden, 54, and took custody of his body in what Obama called “the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al-Qaeda.”

via Osama bin Laden is killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan – The Washington Post.

“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven”

The readings in church last Sunday included this passage from John 20:

19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”20When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”22And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

We get into a lot of good theological discussions on this blog.  Some of them get heated–and I apologize when they cross the line of Christian charity–but I know I learn from them.   I’d like to ask the non-Lutheran readers of this blog, what do you do with this passage?   We Lutherans, as is our wont, take it literally:  We see the office of disciple in the office of pastors today, so we believe that pastors, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, can forgive sins.  “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.”   This happens individually, in private confession and absolution, and also every Sunday in corporate confession and absolution.   The whole congregation prays a prayer in which we confess our sins, and then the pastor says, “upon this your confession, as a called and ordained servant of the Lord, I forgive you your sins in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  This often freaks out non-Lutheran visitors.   But I’ve wondered, how do they get around this passage?  One could have a different theology of the ministry and apply that ability to ALL Christians (actually, Lutherans do say that laity too can forgive sins), but surely this passage clearly gives human beings who have the Holy Spirit the power to forgive sins.  This is as clear statement as I can imagine, and I can’t see how it could be interpreted any other way.

So I’m asking, what do you Reformed, Arminian, Baptist, Pentecostal, and adherents to other Protestant Bible-believing theologies do with this passage?

The journalism/Hollywood/political complex

The big social event of the year in Washington, D.C., is last weekend’s White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, which is known as the “prom” for the journalism/Hollywood/political complex.  Dana Milbank of the Washington Post feels guilty about what it has become:

The fun begins, appropriately enough, at the offices of the American Gas Association, where White House reporters are feted by the lobbyists of the Quinn Gillespie firm. More lobbyist-sponsored entertainment comes from the Motion Picture Association. Along the way, journalists wind up serving as pimps: We recruit Hollywood stars to entertain the politicians, and we recruit powerful political figures to entertain the stars. Corporate bosses bring in advertisers to gawk at the display, and journalists lucky enough to score invitations fancy themselves celebrities.

Cee Lo Green sings for us. Seth Meyers tells us jokes. Lindsay Lohan’s ex, Samantha Ronson, is our DJ. All the cool kids — Sean Penn, Kate Hudson, Steven Tyler, Paula Abdul, Courteney Cox, David Byrne and Bristol Palin — want to party with us. A Johnnie Walker “cigar tent” furnishes us with scotch and hand-rolled stogies. We are handed Fiji water, or Grey Goose vodka, to slake our thirst and Shea Terra Organics Vanilla Body Butters to soothe our pores.

The correspondents’ association dinner was a minor annoyance for years, when it was a “nerd prom” for journalists and a few minor celebrities. But, as with so much else in this town, the event has spun out of control. Now, awash in lobbyist and corporate money, it is another display of Washington’s excesses.

There are now no fewer than 20 parties, plus a similar number of receptions, at the Washington Hilton before the dinner. A pre-dinner brunch, once an intimate affair in a TV producer’s backyard, was moved this year to the Georgetown mansion of multimillionaire Mark Ein. Democratic and Republican consultants shell out five figures apiece to join the Cafe Milano owner as hosts. (Cafe Atlantico’s owner, by contrast, is cooking for the Atlantic’s party.)

Time Warner booked the St. Regis for the People and Time fete; Conde Nast has the W Hotel for the New Yorker and the French ambassador’s residence in Kalorama for its Vanity Fair party done with Bloomberg. The MSNBC party is in the Italian Embassy, while others choose the Hay-Adams, the Ritz-Carlton or the Ronald Reagan Building. A few sponsors, generally Hollywood-oriented nonprofits, hold cocktail parties masquerading as charity benefits.

Hungover hobnobbers reconvene Sunday morning at Politico publisher Robert Allbritton’s Georgetown manse to “nosh on hand-rolled sushi and dim sum prepared by Wolfgang Puck’s The Source.” The news release continues: “The Allbrittons’ lush garden, filled with 200-year-old poplar trees, will feature a white century-style tent adorned with blue-and-white ceramics” — not to mention Ashley Judd and Janet Napolitano.

Is it Politico’s job to get Judd and Napolitano together? Is it ABC News’s role to unite “Glee’s” Jane Lynch with White House chief of staff Bill Daley or “30 Rock’s” Elizabeth Banks with national security adviser Tom Donilon? What’s the purpose of Fox News introducing actress Patricia Arquette to Rep. Michele Bachmann, National Journal presenting “The Vampire Diaries’ ” Nina Dobrev to Obama strategist David Axelrod, NPR introducing REM’s Michael Stipe to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, or The Post connecting Trump and House Speaker John Boehner?

I don’t fault any one host for throwing a party or any journalist for attending. Many of them are friends. There’s nothing inherently wrong with savoring Johnnie Walker Blue with the politicians we cover.

But the cumulative effect is icky. With the proliferation of A-list parties and the infusion of corporate and lobbyist cash, Washington journalists give Americans the impression we have shed our professional detachment and are aspiring to be like the celebrities and power players we cover.

via How the journalist prom got out of control – The Washington Post.

Here is the problem:  Both journalists and politicians are trying to become or have been reduced to or think they are Hollywood-style celebrities.   This debases both journalism and politics.


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