Smart people saying smart things

Guy Sayles: “Will Majority Religions Protect the Rights of All?

As a Christian and a Baptist pastor, I believe that the spirit of Jesus includes a refusal to coerce, directly or indirectly, strongly or subtly the conscience of another person.

I also believe that, when the state, in this case the Buncombe County Schools, promotes, actively or passively, a particular religious viewpoint, it becomes an agent of coercion, impinging on the rights and freedoms of people who are served by the schools but who do not share that viewpoint.

… I deeply believe that members of majority religions – in Buncombe County, that means Christians – need to be very intentional and proactive about protecting the rights of people who hold minority faiths or no stated faith.

I encourage school board members to consider that to protect the separation of church and state is not only your duty as a public official but that it is a just, respectful and loving thing to do.

Khalil Gibran Muhammad: “Playing the Violence Card

Recall how Americans responded to high levels of white-on-white violence in the past.

Consider the crime waves of 1890 to 1930, when millions of poor European immigrants came to America only to be trapped in inner-city slums, suffering the effects of severe economic inequality and social marginalization. Around the turn of the century, the Harvard economist William Ripley described the national scene: “The horde now descending upon our shores is densely ignorant, yet dull and superstitious withal; lawless, with a disposition to criminality.” But the solution, Ripley argued, was not stigma, isolation and the promotion of fear. “They are fellow passengers on our ship of state,” he wrote, “and the health of the nation depends upon the preservation of the vitality of the lower classes.”

As a spokesman for saving white immigrant communities from the violence within, Ripley was part of a national progressive movement led by Jane Addams, the influential social worker of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the face of grisly, gang-related youth shootings — “duplicated almost every morning,” Addams wrote — she insisted that everyone from the elite to community organizers to police officers had a part to play.

She and other progressives mobilized institutional resources to save killers and the future victims of killers. Violent white neighborhoods were flooded with social workers, police reformers and labor activists committed to creating better jobs and building a social welfare net. White-on-white violence fell slowly but steadily in proportion to economic development and crime prevention.

In almost every way the opposite situation applied to black Americans.

Meg Jenista: “Sometimes I Think God Made Me Wrong

There is still an operational feminine mystique guiding our churches today, a one-size-fits-all mentality of Christian womanhood. I submit into evidence the “Women’s Interest” section of your local Family Christian bookstore … and the defense rests.

There is a dominant story in our Christian churches about what it means to be a woman. In reality, there are a lucky few women who naturally fit into this story. Other women subconsciously adopt this narrative, pretending it is their own, amputating the parts of themselves that don’t quite fit between the covers of the storybook.

Most women I know are partial-resisters of the story, timidly struggling against but ultimately bowing to the societal hand-slap that comes along with trying to tell the pieces of your truth that don’t comfortably fit the plotline of the dominant narrative. There are some women out there who just flat out resist the story. I would like to meet these women.

As an ordained minister in the Christian Reformed Church, you might suppose I am one of those no-holds-barred resisters. I remember a more conservative time in my life when I assumed that women preachers were all New-Age goddess-worshippers who cut up Scripture to their own liking. But that caricature of women ministers assumes we are “in your face” simply because we exist.

  • JonathanPelikan

    Perhaps it’s the combo of following slacktivist and going through the masterfully-done deconstruction of Jerry Jenkins’ Soon over at Heathen Critique or something, or maybe my mind just made this connection on its own, but consider this:

    Fundies think that freedom of religion is good, right? Specifically, freedom to have religion; freedom from it its grip is clearly Satan. But the folks who want theocracy also might tend to be the folks who say Christianity isn’t a religion, but The Truth or something, right? 

    So therefore, they have absolutely no constitutional right to practice Christianity at all, then. After all, the Constitution never guarantees you the right to be truthful or correct or anything.

    Yes, I know, this isn’t going to affect them in any way if one were to present it like this, because that would require either their defense of the freedom of religion or their belief that itsnotareligonbecauseitsnot to be more than the immediate momentary ‘I will say whatever I need to in order to crush those uppity libruls and women and etc, etc, etc’.

    You know, just like when a Teabagger claims they care about anything relating to the budget or deficits.

  • Helena

    Fortunately the freedom of conscience is here protected by law, so we do not have to depend on the beneficence of the superstitious majority to allow us to hold other beliefs. Though the idea that Christians are in some way capable of protecting minority rights is incredible, given the Church’s history of oppression, murder, and sectarian violence. For a minister of that church to now pretend to champion  freedom is hypocritical. His very institution make sit impossible.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    The bizare thing about US Constitution fetishizers is that they seem to fetishize their particular idea of what the US Constitution means.

    That’s the whole point, though! Constitutions mean things. They don’t exist by themselves in a vacuum. The US Constitution-fetishizers want it both ways, though. They want to be able to prize the Constitution in an idealized frozen-in-amber form while simultaneously reserving the right to state that their particular idea of what it means is the only right one.

    And this is why they don’t respect the very freedoms they claim to love so much: to do so would require the kind of thinking that leads to….

    KIRK: These words and the words that follow were not written only for the Yangs, but for the Kohms as well!

    CLOUD: The Kohms?

    KIRK: They must apply to everyone or they mean nothing! Do you understand?

    But they refuse to believe that laws and Constitutions must apply to all or they are useless.

  • Jeff Weskamp

    “The US Constitution-fetishizers want it both ways, though. They want to be able to prize the Constitution in an idealized frozen-in-amber form while simultaneously reserving the right to state that their particular idea of what it means is the only right one.”
    In other words, these people (who are almost without exception Tea Partiers) treat the Constitution the same way they treat the Bible.

    Mike Littwin, a columnist for the Denver Post, coined the perfect phrase to describe these fetishists:  political fundamentalists.

  • aunursa

    the folks who want theocracy also might tend to be the folks who say Christianity isn’t a religion, but The Truth or something, right? So therefore, they have absolutely no constitutional right to practice Christianity at all, then.

    Some Christians claim that Christianity isn’t a religion.  They say either …
     
    * Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship. 
    or
    * Religion is man’s attempt to reach God, while Christianity is God’s attempt to reach man.
     
    Ironically, in trying to distinguish between religion and Christianity, Evangelicals ignore their own scriptures. New Testament verses that indicate a positive view of religion include 1 Timothy 2:10, 1 Timothy 5:4, 2 Timothy 3:5, Titus 2:12, and James 1:26.
     
    In “The Handbook of Christian Apologetics” Christian authors Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tarelli rejected the idea that Christianity isn’t a religion, “The Christian definition of real religion as God’s search for man presupposes the superior truth of Christianity. This claim may be true — in fact, we believe it is true — but it cannot come at the very beginning of discussion. Definitions should be noncontroversial because they are like the level playing field, or like the universal ground rules, for the game of battle or debate to come. Both sides must play by the same rules in order to communicate.”
     
    Evangelist Gregory Koukl also argued against the idea that Christianity is not a religion: Relationship or Religion

  • JustoneK

    Something that seems to come up in my upbringing in le Bible Belt of the south is that it’s two-part – one part is religion, organized and social, and one part is intimate and highly personalized spiritual.  Of course frequently I’d run into the whole idea of one-upping the intimacy of the spiritual relationship, which is hard enough to quantify.

  • Cathy W

    There is a dominant story in our Christian churches about what it means to be a woman. In reality, there are a lucky few women who naturally fit into this story. Other women subconsciously adopt this narrative, pretending it is their own, amputating the parts of themselves that don’t quite fit between the covers of the storybook.
    This, so much this… so much of the talk of “proper” gender roles seems to assume that a) all men are the same, deep down; b) all women are the same, deep down; c) any man or woman who doesn’t fit into the round hole only *thinks* they’re a square peg because the evil secular culture has told them they are, and we’ve just got to round those corners off with some good old-fashioned Bible. But the thing is: We are not all the same, and there is no one-size-fits-all, and if I have the skills, talents, and interests to be an engineer instead of a homemaker then forcing me to be a homemaker will only make everyone involved miserable.

  • Tonio

    I would go further than Kreeft and Tarelli and suggest that the “not a religion” argument may be about evading not just individual freedom for non-Christians, but also the idea that society would have many different religions. This mindset seems to define the relationship between the Christian god and “man” in societal terms and not individual ones, sort of how the Amish variant of Christianity and the Orthodox variant of Judaism treat the society, the religion, and the culture as a single entity.

  • Nequam

    The bizare thing about US Constitution fetishizers is that they seem to fetishize their particular idea of what the US Constitution means.

    The Onion beat you to it.

  • aunursa

    I’m confused by your response.

    How does the “Christianity is not a religion” argument evade individual freedom for non-Christians?

    How does the “Christianity is not a religion” argument evade the idea that society would have many different religions?

  • Tonio

     Because the argument puts Christianity in a special category above other religions, superseding them, whereas both those things involve society treating all religions equally.  It’s similar to the false distinction between “freedom of religion” and “freedom of worship,” which implies that real freedom is being able to live in a society that treat’s one religion as the norm or default.

  • aunursa

    Ah, I think I understand now.

    I don’t think that the purpose of the argument is for Christianity to be placed in a special category in order to receive preferential treatment from the law and/or society.  Rather, it’s to reassure Christians that God considers Christianity to be in in a special category above other religions.

    The reason I say that is that I’ve seen this argument used primarily in interfaith discussions when a Christian is trying to distinguish her religion from all others.  I haven’t seen this argument used in an attempt to convince others that society should grant special benefits for Christianity.

    Which is not to say that some Christians don’t claim that America is a Christian nation.  Nor that they don’t think that Christians and Christian churches should be given special privileges and preferences over other religions.  Many Christians absolutely do make those claims.  But I haven’t seen them justify those claims by using the “Christianity is not a religion” argument.

  • Worthless Beast

    Skimmed…

    Maybe the problem is with the definition of “religion” – I’m not sure we even know what it is anymore.  “Religion” – having a “bad” connoation in modern society will prompt people who *are* essentially religious to imply that they “don’t have a religion, they have a *relationship* or a *path* or something like that.”   Some people say they are “spiritual, but not religious” and I’m not sure what that even means because if it means “I believe in stuff, but don’t go to church,” then I fit that category, but as soon as I tell anyone *what* I believe, I’ll inevitably be labeled as “religious” despite my unique take on it introverted nature.

    Then I once had a friend who was agonistc/athiest (atheist in what she thought was up, agnostic in that she held the door open to remote possibilities and was comfortable with being friends with religious people witout feeling a need to belittle them) – she claimed that she was spiritual because of the sheer awe she felt over the wonders of nature, the cosmos and art… Yet I’ve met some of her “own” online who’d likely SCREAM at her for that because “spiritual is religious, ew!”

    I’d define a person’s “religion” as “the way they frame the meaning of life and the search thereof” – which is a broad defintion and one I know I cannot use in mixed company… or maybe any company, really.

  • Tonio

     I doubt the distinction between the two suggested purposes is all that relevant, because both amount to Christianity being in a special category. It doesn’t seem realistic that the purpose you suggest wouldn’t at least include a desire for others to give Christianity deserves special treatment. It should be enough for members of any religion to believe that the religion is special to them.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira


    There are some women out there who just flat out resist the story. I would like to meet these women.

    Um… hi? 

    I don’t understand how she’s lived in the world for this long without meeting lots and lots of women who “resist the story.” Is her culture really that arid and suffocating? That’s terrifying. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_XXCAJ2ASBA3KJGMCSLD6VBIBNM Isatu Elba

     Think of it this way –

    If there were no 1st Amendment, Christians would still be the dominant majority (both in terms of number of people and number of people who have political and social power). They would still be safe to practice their religion. There would be probably be sectarian strife but it will probably end up shaking out like a lot of countries in the Middle East, where — while some Muslims are oppressed and marginalized, other Muslims are in charge and Islam as a concept is still afforded respect even though it’s only certain interpretations and traditions that have power. Many members of the religious right seem to be OK with that; they think that, even in the absence of the Establishment Clause and other protections, Christianity — either the whole thing or just their own version of it — will be on the top and they know that the chances of a non-Christian religion somehow dominating the country are slim to none simply due to the numbers.

  • MaryKaye

    Isatu Elba writes: 

    Many members of the religious right seem to be OK with that; they think
    that, even in the absence of the Establishment Clause and other
    protections, Christianity — either the whole thing or just their own
    version of it — will be on the top

    You’d have to be pretty blind to the history of intra-Christian violence and oppression to feel safe in such a situation.  There have been plenty of times and places where Catholics and Protestants were each others’ worst enemies; some where different flavors of Protestants were (Quakers had a very rough time in New England for a while); or you could ask a current presidential candidate if being a minority flavor of Christian is a piece of cake in public life.

    When religious oppression is licit, you’re always just one accusation of heresy away from being one of the oppressed rather than one of the oppressors.  Imagine what would happen to the relatively liberal American Catholics if Rome actually had the power to enforce its decrees.

    I’m not disagreeing with you, by the way–I think you’re right that people feel safe because their group is in a solid majority.  I just think they’re stupidly wrong to feel so.

  • P J Evans

    The ones I’ve met, members of churches that are very conservative and very much sure that They Have The Only Correct Way, would prefer that everyone join their particular sect … whichever one they belong to, not any of those others who are going to go to hell. So Assembly of God members won’t go to secular events held at other churches, even Baptist, even if the building isn’t a church building itself. I doubt that members of either one would be happy if they were asked to go to something at a primarily-Hispanic Catholic church. And they might not want to deal with a primarily-black Protestant church, either. And Methodists and Quakers and Episcopalians are all going to a warm place when they die, because they’re Not Really Christians to the very conservative churches.

  • Tricksterson

    It’s ironic that Baptists were originally one of the strongestproponents (being a minority religion themselves back then) of the seperation of church and state.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I’ve been reminded of Asimov’s old short story, “Trends” quite often these days; although his predictions of a repressive religious revival was off by about 20 years, and it never got as bad as in his story, even in Bush II’s time, his notion that religious revival would begin to dominate politics and its concomitant slowing effect on scientific research has very interesting real-life parallels. That said, he had meant it to be specific to space flight, but it isn’t far removed from predictive power to note that any “scary” new science or technology has sometimes provoked religiously*-motivated backlash.

    Wikipedia article.

    —-

    * generally, in the West, of a fundamentalist Christian origin.


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