Religion as Theater

caught in pulpitHave you ever done something nice you’re really not tuned in to and then had to continue or be rude? Often social manipulation relies on this kind of goodwill. It can be worse if you’re a religious leader.

If you’ve ever been lured by your own basic goodness into a situation where you (or your neighbor or both of you) must suffer unjustly, think how your predicament pales next to that of the preachers Linda LaScola and I describe in our 2010 pilot study of five Protestant pastors, “Preachers Who are Not Believers,” and our 2013 book, Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind, which reports on 35 participants from diverse religious backgrounds.

How many little white lies, how many whoppers, how much dissembling, how much systemic hypocrisy have they accumulated in their quest to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable?

None of the secretly non-believing preachers and pastors who have poured out their hearts to Linda in confidential interviews went into the ministry for the money — a laughable goal — or for fame and glory or political influence. A few of them may have been particularly attracted to a career in the clergy by their self-assessment as natural-born preachers, relishing the spotlight for their eloquence or indulging their love of ceremony or showmanship in the service of God. But when their faith wanes, they pay a heavy price for their play-acting, since their congregations include many — or so they must assume — who would feel deeply betrayed to learn that their speech acts had been less than the candid truth.

For many there is still a need for community, social enthusiasm, and even spectacle.

Many of these people miss the traditional ceremonies — the art and music, the processions and rituals — and the sheer opportunity for moments of solemnity in their hectic lives. Well, we already have a well-established set of traditions, needing no introduction, no training or reminders, that could serve here: the traditions of the theater.

When the curtain goes up, the audience goes quiet; everyone realizes that it would be anti-social, and an act of vandalism, to interrupt the actors in the middle of a scene, to stroll up and down the aisles, to talk to one’s companion. The respectful attention almost automatically paid to the activities on stage is at least close kin to the decorum observed when sitting in church. Dramatic ceremony requires a family of attitudes and postures that are infectious — and welcome. Whether laughing or crying, or frozen in horror, we in the audience feed off the synchrony of our reactions with those around us. Just like in church. A theater audience is almost a community.

If people think of church as theater they can assume the speech is a role, a lie even. It doesn’t matter if the pastor is spouting bullshit if you think of them as an actor. Daniel Dennett shows keen insight here. Atheists wonder why we are told to lie when it is a sin to lie. This dissonance is suspended by many when they consider church theater. Atheists use conferences as a kind of revival and community building with well known and “visiting” speakers adding to the mix. It is still a theater as we never agree with everything a speaker says but we support them anyway as close enough.

The main ingredient distinguishing church ceremonies from dramatic ceremonies in theaters is the presumption that the performers actually believe the speech acts they utter so eloquently, actually adhere to the creeds their performances symbolize. Imagine a new kind of theater, which, instead of presenting revivals of beloved musical comedies or yet another version of Hamlet or MacBeth, performed carefully researched, respectfully mounted replicas of Latin masses, Quaker meetings, Congregational Easter Sundays, Southern Baptist baptisms, Oxford College evensongs, revivalist prayer meetings, and any and all variations and combinations of these — whatever the people wanted to experience — without the slightest pretense that the celebrants were anything other than professional actors.

Then add a program of good works, community service, outreach, and a collection plate, and you’d have gatherings that were all but indistinguishable from “real” church services.

Sounds a lot like the new and positive call for community outreach, leadership, and public good works as an expression of the social justice within the movement. A mixture of followers such as skeptics, skepchicks, freethinkers, or whatever interests a group allows an intermingling of attendance that would vitalize the community. But he is also talking about real religions acknowledging their narratives of belief as fictional plays.

The coexistence of both kinds of celebration, believing churches and theater churches, in the same towns and cities might make for some useful confusion. People might begin to wonder if it mattered which one they attended. Since many churchgoers are already in the position of non-believing supporters of their traditional churches, they would be hardly upset to contemplate the possibility that their own minister might be one of them, but just playing a more official role.

It is pleasant to imagine a “real” Baptist minister moonlighting on occasion and playing the role of a Baptist minister in the local theater-church — a role he knows so well — and telling a congregant that it didn’t matter which event she attended. They both serve the same ends.

Another nice transitional step would be for the pastor of a church to announce that next Sunday, “Ecumenical Sunday” perhaps, instead of leading the church’s regular ceremonies, she would be introducing to her congregation the rites and creeds of another religion, so that they could see firsthand what it is like to be an adherent of that religion. Nobody would expect her to believe the creed she declared, and nobody would expect her, or the congregation, to believe the words of the unfamiliar hymns they sang together. But they might well decide that they liked one of the hymns well enough to request it be added to their “real” services in the future, with or without the alien words.

If as an atheist one acts like an anthropologist one attends churches as if studying a forreign culture it is much more easy to suspend judgement to personal investment. I find this really difficult unless it is in other countries, or Native American ceremonies, or other religions in which I know little.

It would be a means of allowing the traditions, changing the moral imperatives, and transitioning to less hurtful interactions. I’m not sure how this would work at all but it is thought provoking. It does help explain how religious people can live with lies and avoid dissonance.

Here’s an interview on the book with Linda LaScola.

Jim Newman, bright and well

Related articles.

Women in Secularism 3, a Subjective Debriefing

women in secularism 3A farm routine knows no weekends. When I attend conferences the suspension of an everyday feeding and work schedule really interrupts the rhythm of life. Coming back home it is hard to reenter, breakthrough the resistance, and do chores again. My mind is overwhelmed with new input and digestion is more like  a rabbit in a snake than a few shrimp and asparagus a la California cuisine lite. I met many amazing people and if I were a millionaire I would make myself poor in donations The topics meld into convergence but I will try. (This is a continuation of my last post.)

“Women Leaving Religion” Candace Gorham, Rebecca Goldstein, Heina Dadabhoy, Mandy Valez, Sarah Jones, Amanda Knief.

The most interesting aspect of this was how hard it is for female people of color to leave. They in particular are tightly woven into the community of religion where too often they are the driving force of adherence and bear the greatest brunt of leaving. The more restrictive and comprehensive the religion the more difficult to overcome the gap that remains.  Issues of self-confidence and sense of certainty are harder for women. A man who has 10% of qualification will feel success but a woman of 90% qualification will feel uncertain. “Just do it,” “go for it,” and the redneck “geterdone” are predominantly male jingoes that aggravate gender relationships where the one side wishes to suspend discussion for action and the other wants more discussion and support.

“Living with A Wild God” Barbara Ehrenreich

Barbara Ehrenreich is a force of nature who has willingly sprung from her blue collar, American West background to happily attack the many absurdities and inconsistencies of conservative and liberal politics, whether the sufficiency of low wages in work or the blinding negativity of the positive psychology movement. Here she asks us to discuss more the seemingly immaterial qualities of what is poorly called the mystic experience. Noting that the words that describe the more phantasmic, subjective, noetic, and numinous are typically religious it is difficult to even engage in coherent dialog because the words have too many religious meanings. Yet the experiences are there regardless of what religion one may have, or not. These experiences do have a place in atheism and materialism and need to be studied and embraced. Certainly not dissed or avoided as deviant oddities because they seem immaterial or not immediately accessed by rationality and science.

“Should We be Concerned with Multiculturalism” Ophelia Benson, Taslima Nasreen, Katha Pollitt, Sarah Jones, Rebecca Goldstein

This seemed one of the most contentious discussions though everyone voiced concern that human rights are universal, moral, and worth enforcing or evangelizing if you will. Members who have left the most fundamental religions have the hardest time separating the ill effects from the social and traditional aspects of the religion. It would seem if you strip religions of their negative aspects all that is left is food and dance, and other arts that are less effable or amenable to criticism. It was easy for some to diss the sacred texts and tropes of their old religion while others were clear that it is the very literalness that is the problem requiring a near elimination of all religious traces for future secular success.

There is a reluctance to remove the religious culture from a people especially in those where the religion is so tightly entwined in the being of identity and every-hour action of those people. Regardless of the religion it is difficult to deny the utility of the religion when it is such a strong part of wheat made you. Recovering from conservative, fundamental religion may make you critical of many aspects but not willing to abandon wholesale the religious utility in its entirety. At least in the US now where dramatic physical abuse is near absent or underground.

It was interesting that circumcision was called male genital mutilation when of course men can still have physical orgasm while women must rearrange their sense for vaginal or mental orgasm. In these senses liberals really have had a hard time in multiculturalism and the labeling of moral relativism. Recovering from this they seem certain that there should be a canon of universal rights for all.

I found myself reacting against this wishing to contextualize it. When colonialism first happened it was a mistake, to me, to invade other people and change their culture whether or not it was oppressive. Whether large disks in the lips, bones in the cheeks, extravagant scarification, child sacrifice, ritualized cannibalism, or moral ostracism it is difficult to distill what is really  moral or not as an outsider without destroying the other we seek to accept. Yet, once we did show up pluralism and diversity cannot be condoned without contamination. Just as we stupidly passed on disease they passed back negative cultural norms.

They rightly showed how we are still culturally biased with issues of nudity, objectifying sexualization, and even homeschooling. Homeschooling is clearly a sensitive subject but there was universal castigation and lack of information where it was assumed there were always none or poor regulations, lack of secular curricula, and a void of social interactions. All of which are not true. I should note we home schooled our three children for most of their life by necessity and choice. It was interesting that what seemed most important was the necessary inclusion of cultural practice on behalf of children’s rights. The desire to ensure fluidity between divisions of class, labor, and gender through equal education. Education of women is such a huge issue that it is easy to forgive this oversight.

Yet, they admitted that much of public education was bad and they chaffed through it and wished it were different. Hmmm. I think while in other areas they have admitted the utility of virtual communities they forget the very recent development of socialized public education as a means not to freedom but labor exploitation.

In the end it seems like liberalism does mean abandoning culture if it doesn’t follow UN-oriented human rights. I wondered though the utility of autonomous communities that choose to opt out like lesbian separatism, communalism, communitarianism, communes, and other secular independents. It would seem that they long for absolute inclusion and maximum fluidity and mobility between any groups.

“Why Women are too Polite about Religion” Rebecca Goldstein, Susan Jacoby

I found this hilarious as Rebecca Goldstein is a very polite person while Susan Jacoby much less so. Guess who got talked over the most? It’s clear that personality plays a huge issue which is genetic. Goldstein discussed this with the example of dominating, self organizing, male chimpanzee behavior where humans are just one chromosome different. Some of this was covered as women having evolved to be nurturing and supportive because they bear children for long periods while men have been more independent. Another cultural part of this is religious men assume women will do the religion and educating of children though women shouldn’t be educated beyond certain levels. The organizing of social events because women need more support due to the incapacitating aspect of child rearing. The successful division of labor means increased demands of time are best met by men who can be absent. Because of oppression women have to ask politely while men can demand. In this case it would’t matter if male or female as a means to survival.

I think it was oddly missed that even cross culturally women have to be better to succeed when they cross socioeconomic boundaries–without being too offensive or the push back is elevated. If civility is social glue than to succeed in male sociability women have to be more polite to be less threatening. Strong women see their success as speaking out. It reminds me of what was called “Watson’s Law” where speaking out about sexual harassment causes more sexual harassment. The opposite of this though is “Rebecca’s Law” where speaking out attracts allies. In the end it’s better to not be silent unless it radically threatens survival.

“A Feminist’s Guide to Surviving the Internet” Lindy West

Lindy West discussed her harassment online and a resulting success that seemed bittersweet to me. Personally I don’t know how to respond politely to this. As far as I am concerned verbal abuse on the internet should be maximally punished without question. Her main point seems to be to pursue the bastards even though the law is inadequate in support. Soraya Chemaly spoke earlier about her success in making Facebook recategorize rape threats under harassment rather than jokes and humor. Earlier as well Surly Amy talked about developing a thick skin even though you shouldn’t have to–it happens anyway if you continue participation. Like unwanted calluses.

I myself Tweeted for the first time during the conference and it only took five tweets for me to get the message “You’re an idiot” and to have to block him and others. Why? Because I responded to the message “Feminists are atheists” with “Atheists are feminists as well”.  Some idiotic male rights activist couldn’t speak politely. Which to me means maybe it is right and just that there needs to be greater enforcement of  civil conversation. (Zinnia Jones came to my twitter rescue and made my self loathing at stupidity less egregious–thank you)

The book “Flame Wars” addressed this years ago but virtual communities still struggle with adding teeth to netiquette. This is a huge problem if you wish to include women and pacifist people in general. My own reaction was to quit tweeting. No one need this crap. To me this proved Goldstein to be correct; civilized humans are still a small step away from negative anarchy and the raw aggression of many animals and primates like chimps. I can see why Hobbes said even a brutal tyrant is beneficial if they make people less aggressive, by any means necessary.

“Why Secularism is Necessary for Women’s Freedom” Taslima Nasreen

Taslima Nasreen is quite clear and beautifully coherent that religion itself, in whole, is accountable for negativity. Religion must be abandoned wholesale. I am sympathetic. If you allow the sacred texts to remain, the negative narratives to be unedited, the danger is the abuse can resurface later when the direct experience of the negativity is no longer felt. Figurative and psychological meanings do not endure negative interpretation. If literalness allows abuse then the texts, narratives, and tropes must change. Gesticulating accommodations and hermeneutics allow too much deviation to negativity. The beauty of law should be its clearness, conciseness, and exactness.

I had a wonderful dinner with Taslimma and another man who was there. I had not read her novels but picked up “Revenge” and read much of it just standing there during a break in the conference. Her fiction writing is like her speech. Lyrical, melodic, with a poetic cadence.

“Women Empowering Women in Secularism” Amy Davis Roth, Debbie Goddard, Melody Hensley, Amanda Knief, Lindsay Beyerstein

This was marked by Amanda Knief a self-proclaimed introvert who completely, totally, and throughly railed on needing more women in leadership roles. As well as voting and participating in local politics. I am thrilled my 12-year old daughter an introvert got to see Knief last fall when we were protesting at SCOTUS. There cannot be too many women in leadership roles. When I joined popular secular groups women were more present in leadership but not boards. Melody Hensley noted that while some boards are more equal male tropes still dominate.  Jesus, we have  along way to go still.

Like last year everyone agreed that numbers count. It is in no way artificial or denying meritocracy to insist that equality in numbers be enforced. There is the idiotic idea as Thomas Sowell endorses that every job should be filled by the most intelligent applicant. If that were true and intelligence were evaluated without genderism women would rise to the top quickly. More the issue is getting women to step up and take the job. More the issue is there must be temporary imbalance until the environment changes such that it engenders equality.

“Exiled from IHOP: an Atheist in Assignment” Lindsay Berenstein

I missed much of this but what I got was on reproductive rights. They are denied because of issues of power. Birthing children allows men to dominate unless they accommodate the support of rearing children and the denial of the need to rear many children for a society to succeed. The ridiculous regulation of abortion has nothing to do with safety and everything to do with oppression.

I really appreciated Lauren Becker’s closing remarks that a way of avoiding offense by saying “you’re wrong” is editing the narrative text.

Jim Newman, bright and well

Women In Secularism 3, Intersectionality

ws3Because I accidentily poisoned myself with Chlorine bleach, prepping a house for painting, I missed training for becoming a secular celebrant. Instead I spent a rare day on the sofa watching secular debates on Youtube. So I was pretty damned excited to be going to SW3 in Alexandria. Nor was I disappointed. I got there early by an hour which meant I got to talk to a security guard who asked what the conference was about; he was from Afghanistan and had worked in the diplomatic corps on minority rights, women’s, rights, free speech rights, and  religious rights. After the US pulled out he came to the states because there is no desire for Afghani diplomacy now. So he works two jobs, is reeducating himself since the US won’t recognize his degree, and wishing he could find a partner–alone, isolated, and without means, but in the US.

The Westin is much nicer than the DC Marriott of last year and I can spread out and have a table on which to write. I know it seems stupid like park visitors rating the park on how clean the bathrooms are or commuters buying a car based on how good the cup holder is. It’s times like this I wish I were more social but then I realize not that many would come by themselves and I am pretty damned situationally social–far more so than anyone else in my family but my sister who can make friends with a parking meter and know the names of their children.

The three topics today were “Online Activism,” “Intersectionality and Humanism,” and “Gender and Free Expressionism.” There was a reception but I missed most of it to get home so I could sleep and not be crushed, well and write this TMI. I did get to say thanks to Soraya Chemaly who is like a brilliant sharp knife of Damascus steal–beware that blade can cut anything but hold it wrong and zing that cut might be you–life begins on the edge. Great to see Amy Roth, Surly Amy, as well. And glimpses of Greta Christina and other fine folk. Zinnia, hell, now I want to be trans. Debbie Goddard is beyond praise.

I’m telling you when I get depressed at how stupid and immoral people are I need to go to this conference as I am so damned impressed with these women it picks me up for weeks, months, years. It’s like intellectual crack with the head life of acid. The flashbacks occur for years but the ego death is righteous. It’s probably just another conference for them but for some of us it’s a watershed experience. Living in the backwater bible belt after years of culture in youth makes me hungry. I may love my privileged life on a pretty, nourishing farm with family and animals, surrealistically pleasant, but the vibrancy of urban exchange feeds me.

In “Online Activism” I am thrilled to see these women recover from the lunacy of trolls, MRAs, and even “rational” atheists themselves like the venerable Ron Lindsey, CFI Boss, who still doesn’t really get it but goes with the program. Thank goodness. Being blind doesn’t mean being stupid all of the time.

Twitter clearly makes many twitter pated and while I remain aloof, cynical, I do get the instant access to information and awareness raising. Memorable is the discussion of #bringourgirlsback where the US-Earth finally gets there is, has been, a world of harm out there. You have to take what you can get and if connectedness means 140-word communication OK then. I feel like they’re on speed and my rural life free of instant attention is dreamy opium or at least laid back weed. Yet, I’m the one with whiplash reflexes.  Multicommunication.

It’s just great to see these people. I’m finally going to enough of these things to have distance relationships like cousins abroad in town for the holidays and it makes me happy. I see Amanda Knief and we commiserate over Greece vs Galloway on the Supreme Court steps where I took my 12-yr old daughter to get a glimpse of how justice works. A pendulum? I am so impatient. And what of those who are hurt while we wait?

Soraya sharp eyed and intuitively awarely intellectual asks if any of us know what intersectionality is. Uhh, uhhh, I’m sorry I was asleep during gender-minority studies class–not really, I was the one saying do you really have to be separatists? That as a naturalist I used to talk about the web of life. We would make a net of string and show if you pulled any one string the other strings stretched or shortened. A very visual way of seeing how any one vector affects the others.

You know intersectionality out here at the farm is whether or not we will actually eat our pasture-raised heritage hogs or sell them because they’ve become friends of my daughter. Uhh, uhhh, I’m schooled again. It’s all cool though. I lived through it in the midst when race riots in school meant we talked shit during English class cuz bitches were stabbing each other in class and teachers were throwing themselves between them–all while waiting to watch “Raisin in the Sun” cuz at least during movie time we weren’t trying to fuck someone up.

Aaah, good times Ann arbor Michigan in 1972 when I pissed off my black girlfriends and lost hope cuz I was an atheist and thought Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell took people the wrong way. I was pretty damned sad actually cuz it was supposed to be about peace and if I coulda crossed that bridge it I mighta had a date for dance. Shiiitt blacks were doing gospel and male gays were being more misogynistic than hetero’s. The only chick that really liked me was the daughter of the art teacher who died that year and I had no fucking clue what to do. I went home, read books, and worked as a grease monkey for an aerobatic pilot. Too bad I didn’t learn to masturbate for another few years.

I digress. I spent some time over the winter, when I was depressed out of my gourd over winter, on Freethought blogs dealing with MRAs, disability freaks, fattie haters, and free speech idiots–course they won’t have me but then I wouldn’t join a club that would. Had a good time being white knight as a temporary gig. Heina Dadabhoy rocks better in speech than even in writing. Jesus, I’m a son of a runaway orthodox jew, cross-eyed, fattie, raised by a single mother, intellectual, artist,  and yet I’m a privileged old white dude? I have had more people hate me cuz I look Jewish than because I am atheist. And before I had my last eye operation at 24 the most common phrase I heard was “what are you looking at?” When San Romero wrote his piece on civility I looked just like the bearded arab denizen they call a person of color. Must be the sun tan. I cut my hair for conferences.  In mormon land they hated me for my beard and wild long hair–satan, 666. I been hated everywhere. Even here in West Virginia near DC I get the famers hating MLK and Obama the first president I actually wished I voted for after idiotically pissing my  vote on Clinton though I suppose the alternative was worse–I shut the hell up or I wouldn’t get help. Don’t feel like a privileged white old guy. Feel like an ass who loves women h, l, g, b, t. q, or otherwise and the men need to get the hell out of the way. Guess I better own up to it.

No doubt we need better psychology and gender studies in schools. As if I give a rat’s ass that it might make the boys feel bad–threatened that they are not god’s gift to the world and women. Go ahead hurt me if you include them assholes. No doubt we need secularists and equality types on school boards.

Shit Soraya forgets her secular point that it’s religions, the big ones the world over that fuck up gender expression. It’s like an aside, 45 minutes on gender and by the way all of the world’s great religions engender the problem. I laugh my ass off, inside, as it’s a white, euro, exprotestant audience where you don’t show emotion. It’s true. The cause is obvious and the details are the time.


They are all so damned smart and moral here I don’t even know how to add to the conversation other than say right on. Soraya Chemaly, Amy Davis Roth, Zinnia Jones, Miri Mogilevsky, Lindsay Beyerstein, Heina Dadabhoy, Debbie Goddard. Pay attention to the future! If these women are it we’re in good hands. Shit. I wish they were the politicians in control. I might finally sleep a full night.

Jim Newman, bright and well

Christians, Not Atheists, are Thin Skinned

thin skinned christianDallas News posts opinion that it is Christians that are hypersensitive to contrary views.

Will, in his article about public prayer and thin skins, seems to make the assumption that it is the atheists who have the thin skins and who need to get over being so “prickly.” His assumption does not totally match with reality. Should Mr. Will care to look at some history, he would find that when prayers other than Christian are given, many times it is the Christians who yelp in protest.

A prominent example of this was when, in 2007, a Hindu gave the opening prayer for the U.S. House, over the sound of hecklers from the gallery and over the protest of a prominent Christian group. Another such example occurred in Arizona when an atheist Arizona representative gave the opening prayer for the 2013 session of Arizona’s Legislature. Two days later, a group of Christian Arizona representatives gathered together to offer up prayers of repentance.

While this does not always happen, time after time, those walking out of prayers by non-Christians or protesting such prayers are Christians, not atheists. I think that Mr. Will has a blind spot generated by his being part of the majority religion.

A commentor reminds of what the bible says about prayer.

“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” -Matthew 6:5-6

Aside from the futility of musing the bible to convince non biblical people to behave a certain way… This passage is sometimes interpreted as Christians having to pray out of sight because of persecution. But it’s more about sincerity, humility, and a personal relationship with god.

1 Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3 so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. 4 They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, 7 and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. 11 He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; 12 whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

The transition of christianity from a people’s religion to a state religion meant making  a big, mandatory show and spectacle. Combine that with evangelicalism’s need to convert the world and all humility and fact checking is lost. Religion can’t be private if everyone is to be “saved.” Religion must be magical to make it powerful in a time of magic where mystery is under every rock. All that’s left is perceived offense.

Mathew creates much confusion in the church as he seems both accommodating to Judaism and gentiles, tradition and innovation, legalism and individualism, apocalypse or not. Whatever you seek you will find in Mathew. It’s  a terrible book with which to govern people’s belief, indicative of the kind of cloudy thinking meant to convert but confounds.

What is clear is the common christian desire to be insulated from criticism because they are certain they have the truth, the only truth. Not surprising when you consider it used to be law and democracy is antithetical to theocracy. Democracy only works in christian religion if everyone already agrees.

Richard Carrier (SMOA 013) discusses this in his book “Not the Impossible Faith.”

Jim Newman, bright and well

Atheist Chaplains

atheist in foxholeAs if a religious chaplain could even begin to help an atheist. It is astounding to me that it is even a question. Of course my secular take on it is why chaplains instead of psychologists, psychiatrists, and professional counselors in the first place? My memory is too strong of Mormon Bishops and Catholic Priests who think they can cure people’s mental issues without any training whatsoever–malpractice. Once you do allow religious psychology in the military then you really must have someone for each sect which makes the entire affair a circus.

Of course the religious right’s insistence that you can’t go to war unless god is beside you shows just how peaceful their god is. You’d think even a just god would slap his forehead and groan every time someone is shot, on either side.

While Fox News is always yammering about how Christian First Amendment rights are supposedly being attacked by atheists, they have no concern about the First Amendment rights of those who don’t follow Fox’s one true faith. Fox friend Elisabeth Hasselbeck recently channeled Gretchen Carlson’s belief that there should be no free speech rights during Christian holidays. And yesterday, in keeping with the patented Fox atheists suck big time meme, Hasselbeck provided a platform for “pre-Vatican II” Catholic Judge Andrew Napolitano’s argument that those filthy atheists do not deserve to have their own military chaplain.

According to Fox News, an atheist group is in the process of lobbying the Defense Department for the appointment of a chaplain. The push for atheists to be represented in the military’s chaplain corps has been happening since 2011 and hasn’t gone unnoticed by Fox News. Fox’s morning Christian show, Fox & Friends hosted Fox’s one true priest and Tim Tebow fan boy, Fr. Jonathan Morris, for a discussion of how the presence of an atheist chaplain would “degrade” the military.” Flash forward to 2014 and Fox & Friends is picking up where they left off.

As the chyron defined the issue as a “controversy,” Jesus BFF, Elisabeth Hasselbeck reported that “an atheist group is demanding an atheist chaplain.” (Notice the more inflammatory use of “demand” as opposed to the reality that the group is requesting this position). She set the propaganda message as a question: “Is the DOD being politically correct?” She tossed to Judge Napolitano who said that while it’s not surprising, given the number of atheists in the military, “it’s surprising that the military is considering it” because – wait for it – “they have lot more important things to do than figure out how to provide a chaplain for an atheist.”

He spoke of how chaplains are provided for other groups “who believe in God.” (Buddhism’s theology is very different from those who, in Napolitano’s world, “believe in God”). He asserted that atheism isn’t a religion and doesn’t fit government statutes which require the provision of a chaplain to the military. In invoking the patented Fox & Friends evil “political correctness” meme, he proclaimed “this is political correctness gone crazy.” As the chyron read “(Non) Religious Freedom, MAAF: Atheists In Military Need Own Chaplain,” Napolitano claimed that the 14th Amendment doesn’t apply here and that “when you join the military, you give up certain rights.”

Unless you’re Christian.

Jim Newman, bright and well


Join Me in Secular Celebrant Training

wedding-ringsCFI as an addition to Women in Secularism 3 is offering celebrant training. I signed up. I must have had a beer or two as I am not really a jazzy celebration person. Everyday I’m alive is a celebration day. Everyday there is something to be happy, sad, mad, or indifferent about. But I get that people like to mark events in their lives. I hope to help those looking for something to their taste.

Though less social now that has more to do with living on a farm and living in a rural area than a lack of sociability. When I lived in Santa Cruz I gave talks to 400-500 people at Big Basin State Park, volunteered moonlight hikes to the sea, and went to concerts 2-3 times a week.

I used to be  wedding photographer as well though that got old quickly–way too much stress everywhere. (The near-constant ringing in my ears is from too many concerts and loud tools without ear plugs.) One time the couple split up before the photo’s were back. Aaah, but another time it was friends in a garden and the photo’s looked amazing.

I had two celebrations for one marriage. One in the Midwest officiated by a high-ranking Episcopalian for my new family (lots of photo’s). One on a California beach, near Ano Nuevo, in a circle with our friends with no officiant but all of us (no photo’s).

Since I live in the Eastern part of West Virginia it is  both the bible belt and a bedroom community for DC and the Technology Corridor. So who knows? I might be useful.

Here is the CFI blurb.

Persons who are not affiliated with any religion constitute 16% of the US population. Unfortunately, the choice of persons to conduct ceremonies for marriages, same sex commitments, memorials, and other rites of passage is usually between religious clergy and civil officials.

For a nonreligious person this can be a traumatic experience. They may be required to go through religious counseling and/or have religious references in their ceremony. They may be prevented from having their choice of music or readings as part of the ceremony. The local minister called on to conduct a funeral/memorial may preach a “come to Jesus” sermon or otherwise use religious references that are not in keeping with the worldview of the person being memorialized. Many of us have seen this done.

Additionally, civil officials are usually not available to do marriage ceremonies at the place and time of the couple’s choosing, but only in a government setting such as an office or the courthouse. Furthermore, these officials are typically personally unknown to the couple. Wedding ceremonies, memorials, and other life passages are extremely important events – they are life’s milestones – and people should be able to have these ceremonies conducted in a manner and by a person of their choosing.

While some people of the secular worldview do not see a need for rituals and ceremonies of any kind, many feel that having a way of marking life passages is important. CFI feels that this is a personal choice and that secular ceremonies – and persons to conduct these ceremonies – should be available to those who want them.

By utilizing the services of a CFI-certified secular celebrant, members of the non-religious community may mark life’s milestones in ways that are most personally meaningful to them. In addition, utilizing certified secular celebrants’ services to perform weddings will assist CFI in bringing legal challenges to laws that allow religious officials to solemnize marriages, but unconstitutionally bar representatives of secular organizations from doing so.

Jim Newman, bright and well