Thursday, October 16, 2014

Stonestreet & Huckabee: Liars for Christ

John Stonestreet is a Christian apologist who seems to believe that anyone who’s not a Christian is destined to go on a shooting spree or join a terrorist group. This is because, as far as he’s concerned, secularism turns people into either homicidal maniacs or religious extremists. Like believing a vow of clerical celibacy magically turns priests into pedophiles or pederasts, the sheer ridiculousness of such a claim makes it hard to take seriously. But that hasn’t stopped Stonestreet and other Christian fanatics from repeatedly making such claims nevertheless.  For them, the problem with the world today is that "secular society is a curse," as Dennis Prager put it, because “life is meaningless if there's no God." Ironically, the only people who agree with Stonestreet and Prager just happen to be terrorists.

In his article "Pop Nihilism and the Allure of ISIS: When Materialism’s Promise Proves Empty," Stonestreet condemns, "the materialistic salvation sold to us," which "promises to fill the … hole in our hearts ... with stuff." The “meaningless of (this) secular salvation,” he explains, leads some people to become “bored," and others to “become angry, even murderous." To prove his point, he offers the examples of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, who killed 13 people at Columbine High School, and T.J. Lane, a 19-year-old who shot to death three high school students in 2012. According to Stonestreet, the "emptiness of Western materialism" not only poisoned the hearts of Klebold, Harris, and Lane - who, he feels the need to point out, “were not Muslim”-  it also prompted "two beautiful teenage girls from Austria, aged 15 and 16,” to become “burka-wearing recruiters for the terror group known as ISIS."

 This claim that God needs to be kept in our schools was similarly expressed by Adolf Hitler, by the way. As he put it: 
  Secular schools can never be tolerated because such a school has no religious instruction and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character training and religion must be derived from faith. from our point of view as representatives of the state, we need believing people. (-Hitler, [quoted from Helmreich, p.241])

In addition to Stonestreet's channeling of the Fuhrer, his assessment likewise illustrates a double standard currently employed by some Conservative Christians today. That double standard comes from those who scoff at the suggestion that a lack of financial resources contributes to criminal behavior in poor African American communities, while at the same time declaring that the lack of God in the classroom contributes to shootings like Columbine. In the former situation, blame is focused on the individual who committed the crime, but in the latter, blame is focused on society. By doing so, the responsibility is shifted from those who perpetrate such crimes within schools, to all those who allowed the removal of God from schools. The only problem with such a claim is that God was never removed from schools in the first place. 

The Supreme Court case that people like Rev. Mike Huckabee allege “removed God from our schools” was Engel v. Vitale( 370 U.S. 421 (1962)). Yet Despite the claims of Huckabee and others, this case did not ban school prayer. It simply forbade the state of New York from reciting an official prayer at the start of each school day. People were still perfectly free to pray in school, of course, both individually or in groups. A year later, on June 17, 1963 Abington Township School District v. Schempp (which was consolidated with Murray v. Curlett), 374 U.S. 203 (1963) declared that school-sponsored Bible reading in public schools in the United States was unconstitutional. Again, this case did not prohibit Bible reading in public schools; it simply prohibited the school itself from officially sponsoring such reading.  As Charles C. Haynes of the First Amendment Center wrote, the ruling required “that teachers and administrators neither promote nor denigrate religion,” thus fostering “a commitment to state neutrality that protects the religious freedom of students of all faiths and no faith.”[i]

Claiming that these cases “removed God from our schools” only demonstrates how some Christians are willing to lie to advance their religion. In a previous attempt to scare people into a belief in Christianity, for example, Huckabee used this lie to explain the mass shooting of kindergarten students in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. Talk Show host Steve Deace took that lie even further, claiming that the Sandy Hook massacre happened because “children are taught that there is no God, and thus no real purpose to their lives.”  What both Hucabee and Deace failed to mention, however, was that the person responsible for the Sandy Hook shooting, Adam Lanza, was not the product of a public school system devoid of God. Instead, Lanza attended St. Rose of Lima Catholic School in Newtown before being home-schooled by his mother, an avid gun enthusiast.

On the one hand, such claims falsely suggest that mass shootings did not occur before these cases, or after these cases at schools that focused on God. Both suggestions are untrue. In fact, the deadliest school-related massacre in American history happened in 1927, at an elementary school in Bath, Michigan. There, Andrew Kehoe, upset over a burdensome property tax, wired the building with dynamite and set it off on the morning of May 18, killing 38 children and 7 others. What's more, a number of shootings have happened in schools and other places that focused on God.  

In April of 2012, for example, 7 people were killed at a Korean Christian college in Oakland, California. In August of that same year, 6 more people were killed and 4 wounded when Wade Michael Page opened fired at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. In October, 2006, Charles Carl Roberts killed 5 young girls and injured 6 others at an Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In March of 2005, Terry Michael Ratzmann killed 9 people at a Living Church of God meeting in Brookfield, Wisconsin, and in September of 1999, Larry Gene Ashbrook opened fire on a Christian teen prayer rally at Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, killing 7. 

On the other hand, such claims also assert that, without God, people have “no real purpose to their lives.” As Stonestreet puts it, “nearly every commercial message tells us that … there’s nothing beyond the immediate gratification of this world to live for.” First of all, I've never seen a commercial that actually claims - explicitly or implicitly - that "there's nothing beyond the immediate gratification of this world to live for" (unless it happens to be in the superfine print that can only be read with a bionic eye.)

Second, the list of people whose ‘lives have no purpose,’ according to these ministers of Pop-Christian propaganda, include Stephen Hawking, Alan Turing, the chemist whose work helped discover the double helix structure of DNA, Rosalind Franklin, Thomas Edison, theoretical physicist Peter Higgs, Warren Buffet, George Carlin, Bruce Lee, Mick Jagger, and Mark Zuckerberg.  If their lives are representative of what it means to “have no purpose,” then the rest of us can only hope to be so lucky. Also, such a statement further assumes that working for a better world, peace on earth, ending starvation, curing disease, and generally helping others, does not constitute a genuine “purpose” in life if any of it is done without a belief in God.  The people on the above list, in other words, are all just faking it. And while these atheists find their purpose in life by designing it for themselves, Stonestreet apparently finds his purpose in life by criticizing them for doing what he cannot.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

How Pop-Christianity Reaps What ISIS Sows

Terrorism is defined as “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims,” but that “violence and intimidation” can be used in more ways than one.  While those who commit acts of violence on innocent victims use terrorism directly, those who exploit the climate of fear that such “violence and intimidation” produce use terrorism indirectly.  Radical groups like ISIS, for example, use terrorism to scare people into believing in the God of Islam, but others use the fear of terrorism to scare people into believing in the God of Christianity. Both constitute forms of manipulation used by religious extremists who seek to turn our fear into a dependence on a deity, regardless of what name we call it. 

By using other people’s violence to peddle their own religious beliefs, Christians like Mike Huckabee and John Stonestreet become surrogates for the very terrorists they condemn by willingly advancing the message that such terrorists seek to convey through their violence – believe in God, or die. Although they in no way legitimize the use of violence in doing so, by using fear to convert people to their religion, these Christians help to legitimize the climate of fear such violence creates.

Using fear to convert people to Christianity in the face of violence and intimidation, however, is like Gandhi using the Amritsar massacre, not to encourage people to oppose British rule, but to scare them into becoming Hindu.  It further suggests that anyone who fails to convert is somehow complicit in the violence being committed.  

Both of these ideas are not only lies, but acts of shameless manipulation that use the violence committed in the name of one religion to recruit for another that is equally red in tooth and claw. If one tries to advance Islam by using violence to instill fear, in other words, the other condemns that violence while utilizing the very fear it instills to advance Christianity. Doing so implies that only a Christian morality can save humanity from the evils of groups like ISIS, despite the overwhelming similarities between the morality of Christianity in the past – which includes everything from genocide to slavery - and the morality of ISIS today.  

Even in 1690, the Enlightenment philosopher Pierre Bayle understood how religion, far from supporting ideas about morality, posed a danger to it instead.  As a result, he advocated for a separation between the spheres of faith and reason because, as he put it, religion "is neither necessary nor sufficient for morality." Nor, according to some studies, is there necessarily a positive correlation between the two. Indeed, evidence suggests that religion and belief in God tends to make people less moral rather than more. In Society without God, for example, published in 2008, Phil Zuckerman notes that Denmark and Sweden “which are probably the least religious countries in the world, and possibly in the history of the world", enjoy "among the lowest violent crime rates in the world [as well as] the lowest levels of corruption in the world".  

As the philosopher David Hume observed, "the greatest crimes have been found, in many instances, to be compatible with a superstitious piety and devotion; Hence it is justly regarded as unsafe to draw any inference in favor of a man's morals, from the fervor or strictness of his religious exercises, even though he himself believe them sincere." Hence religion, which many believe to be the basis for humanity’s moral code, can often produce actions and beliefs that are anything but moral.  

Religion was so immoral to the Roman poet Lucretius, in fact, that it prompted him in 50 B.C.E. to write the famous phrase “tantum religio potuit suadere malorum “– to such heights of evil are men driven by religion. The evil Lucretius was referring to in his work De Rerum Natura, was the sort that drove the “hammer of heretics” Tomas de Torquemada to burn some 2,000 Christians at the stake in the service of a merciful God. The Crusades, the Inquisitions, the Christianizing of Native Americans, and the European witch trials of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, all inspired an ungodly amount of bloodshed out of an unwavering devotion to the blood of Christ. 

What all of this means is that the belief that religion and God are necessary for making the world a better place may, in effect, only be contributing to making it worse.  And the pop-Christian who uses the terrorism of fanatics to recruit the fearful into Christianity may be no better than the Roman procurator who, although reluctant to execute Christ initially, did so because of the threats of religious extremists.

Religion is a disease masquerading as it’s own cure.